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Baltimore Symphony affirms its quality in Carnegie Hall concert

By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

12:53 PM EDT, May 8, 2013

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The good news about the Spring For Music festival at Carnegie Hall is that it chooses American orchestras of all sizes to bring off-the-beaten-path programs to the nation's premier classical music showplace, and charges only $25 a seat.

The bad news is that there isn't enough funding to keep the festival going past next spring.

The good news is that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra got to open the penultimate festival Monday night, and do so with considerable flair, delivering a particularly impressive performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 4 led by music director Marin Alsop.

The performance would make a great addition to the BSO's discography. The bad news is that a BSO Prokofiev recording project was scrapped before it could get really going. (The good news for Alsop is that she plans to record the Fourth with her other orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra.)

It is always a cool experience to hear the BSO in Carnegie. Yes, Meyerhoff Hall and the Music Center at Strathmore are acoustically satisfying spaces, each with its own personality (warmer at Meyerhoff, brighter at Strathmore).

But Carnegie, as the music world knows well, remains in a class by itself. Here, all of an orchestra's colors are richer and more immediate. It's like the sonic equivalent of HD TV.

Repeating the program played locally last week, the BSO soared in the Prokofiev symphony, with a downright lush tone from the strings, crackling woodwinds, confident and smoothly balanced outpouring from the brass, tight percussion.

Alsop again conducted not just from memory, but from the heart, bringing out its lyrical heart, not just its aggressive elements, all very persuasively. She had a fun encore in store, also drawn from the less frequently encountered portion of the Russian repertoire -- a wildly kinetic passage from Shostakovich's ballet "The Bolt."

Earlier in the evening, the strings did admirable work in John Adams' haunting "Shaker Loops." And the orchestra again provided vibrant support in Jennifer Hogdon's barn burner, Concerto 4-3, featuring the crowd-rousing string trio Time for Three.

All in all, a good night for the BSO in the big city. You can hear for yourself, courtesy of WQXR, which has audio of the concert available for streaming.

Spring For Music continued Tuesday night with the Albany Symphony. Next up: Buffalo Philharmonic on Wednesday (music of Gliere); the Detroit Symphony Thursday (Rachmaninoff, Weill) and Friday (all four Ives symphonies); the National Symphony Orchestra on Saturday (a tribute to Rostropovich).