The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is serving up a meaty program this week and is welcoming back some substantial guest artists to help deliver it.
Midori, the supernaturally gifted violinist and energetic champion of music education, makes her first BSO appearance since 2001 playing Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 2. On Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall, she burrowed so deeply into this complex and ever-fascinating score that she seemed to be composing it more than merely playing it.
On technical grounds alone, of course, this would have been a memorable performance. Since wowing the music world at 11, Midori, now 41, has disarmed listeners with her prodigious gifts -- supremely sure intonation, effortless articulation, a wealth of tonal colors. All of that could be savored here.
But the violinist's musicality sealed the deal, so evident and affecting in the way she phrased the second theme of the Allegro (the one using all 12 notes of the scale); the exquisitely introspective approach to the opening of the second movement, sounding as if she were emerging from another world; and the way she sensually drew out the dancing flavor of the finale.
Gilbert Varga, who last visited the BSO in 2010, was a diligent partner on the podium and, a few little bumps aside, the orchestra was in terrific form.
After intermission, a war horse -- Brahms' mountainous Symphony No. 1. Although a little more weight and thrust would have been welcome at the very end of the work, Varga's straight-ahead approach, with an emphasis on propulsion, paid off handsomely.
And the conductor did not brush by the intensely lyrical elements in the score; the second movement had a lovely glow and the famous tune in the finale had a truly songful uplift.
There was an unsettled note or two along the way, but the orchestra turned in a performance filled with dynamic nuance and expressive character. Solo contributions were uniformly compelling.