With something like 17,000 attractive concerts scheduled in and around Baltimore last Sunday, I decided on just one, figuring that I would not be able to concentrate on too much music anyway, what with all the anticipation building for the "Mad Men" season-opener that night. (If I had known what a let-down that would be -- am I the only one who felt that a lot of Sunday's episode was padded and even, gasp, kind of dull? -- maybe I would have crammed in a few more.)
My choice for musical diversion, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's program at Kraushaar Auditorium winding up the ensemble's 2012-13 season, turned out to be a good one, thanks to Soheil Nasseri's performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.
The California-born pianist has enjoyed a plaudit-generating career for more than a decade. It was easy on Sunday to hear why. Nasseri has, above all, a refined command of tone and an intuitive sense of how to sculpt a phrase.
In the first movement cadenza, he unleashed a superb array of colors and dynamics, all the while making the music express something vital, spontaneous, meaningful. There was understated beauty of phrasing in the Andante, a winning combination of drive and gracefulness in the Rondo.
Nasseri's playing seemed to inspire the orchestra, which, effectively led by Markand Thakar, gave the soloist vibrant support.
There was one disappointment from the ensemble -- the violins, which had been impressive earlier this season, but produced a much less consistent sound this time around.
That rather scrawny tone also undercut the orchestra's buoyant performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 39, but there were other rewards, notably some beautiful playing by the clarinets. Thakar's tempos for the symphony were nicely judged, his phrasing elegant.
Unevenness, and not just among the violins, took a toll in the "Langsamer Satz," a gorgeous, ultra-lyrical string work by the pre-atonal Anton Webern that opened the program. (In introductory remarks , Thakar dissed the mature music of Anton Webern before launching into this piece. Tacky.)
And what was with the audience on Sunday? Way too many people got up whenever they felt like it in the middle of the music-making and left the hall, invariably providing still more distraction upon their return. Weird.