Nicholas McGegan returns to BSO podium for spirited workout

The Baltimore Symphony welcomed Nicholas McGegan back to the podium last week.

His expertise in historically informed performances to music from the baroque and classical eras makes him a valued guest conductor with modern instrument orchestras. They can always use a little jolt from the authenticity crowd.

With McGegan, you also get an abundance of personality, which makes his appearances doubly welcome. On Saturday night at the Meyerhoff, he danced his way through an attractive assortment of familiar scores by Bach, Haydn and Mozart, and something new to the BSO's repertoire -- a suite from Rameau's opera "Nais."

(As a concert-goer remarked on Saturday, McGegan seemed to be at least a third of the way toward ...

the fabulously expressive podium choreography of Joseph Olefirowicz.)

The Rameau suite proved to be a highlight of the evening. For one thing, the music is exceedingly tuneful and colorful, a rich document of the sonic glory that defined the French baroque. McGegan brought plenty of rhythmic drive to to score, but abundant nuance as well, and he drew lively, attentive playing from the ensemble.

Without attempting imitation, the BSO strings nonetheless caught something of the light and lithe character of period instruments, while a good deal of flair also emanated from the brass, winds and percussion.

Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 opened the evening. In tutti passages, the sound struck me as rather mushy at times, but the performance nonetheless proved pleasant.

Qing Li, the violin soloist, offered some vivid phrasing, but the most shining work came from the oboists (Jane Marvine, Sandra Gerster, Fatma Daglar) and the horn players (Philip Munds, Gabrielle Finck).

After intermission, Andrew Balio, the orchestra's principal trumpet, stepped to the front of the stage to play the heck out of Haydn's E-flat major Concerto. It was a great opportunity to be reminded of Balio's technical polish and musicality. His phrasing had elegance, charm and wit in equal measure.

McGegan ensured smoothly flowing support for Balio from the orchestra, which also did polished, character-rich work in the program's concluding dose of E-flat major -- Mozart's Symphony No. 39. The conductor shaped that work with an engaging combination of propulsion and lyrical contour to cap this feel-good concert.


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