Joyous Beethoven 7th caps colorful BSO program

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Not another Beethoven Seventh from the BSO, you say? I did, too, but not after hearing it. Very impressive.

The latest Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program is a one-from-Column-A, one-from-Column-B concoction — something nominally Spanish, but actually Russian (Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol"); something British (the infrequently encountered Violin Concerto by William Walton); something solidly German (Beethoven's ubiquitous Symphony No. 7).

If no easily discernible thread to the repertoire emerged, a consistency of expressive warmth provided all the connectiveness needed Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

BSO music director Marin Alsop turned the podium over to Italian conductor Valentina Peleggi, a past winner of the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship (established by Alsop to boost the number of women in the profession), at the start of the concert for "Cappriccio Espagnol."

Peleggi shaped the score with abundant vitality and lyrical intensity, drawing a crackling response from the BSO. Wyatt Underhill handled the crucial violin solos with an elegant touch.

Ordinarily, concertmaster Jonathan Carney would have handled those solos, but he was backstage limbering up for the 1939 Walton concerto, a work of remarkable originality and depth, not to mention severe technical demands.

If his articulation became fuzzy in some stratospheric passages, Carney's ever-stylish and communicative phrasing carried him along handsomely throughout. He tapped into the bittersweet element in the concerto with especially radiant phrasing.

Alsop did not always succeed in preventing the orchestra from swamping the soloist, but she and the ensemble matched Carney's intense commitment to this endlessly fascinating concerto.

In Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, which will be the sole focus of Saturday night's Off the Cuff program, the strings (with the indefatigable Carney back in the concertmaster's chair) sounded terrific, whether pouring on the steam or producing gossamer articulation. Brass and woodwinds did colorful work. Timpanist James Wyman did his usual solid work.

Alsop ensured keen, dynamic contrasts, even when the piece was at its most rhythmically relentless. And her sensitive phrasing paid continual dividends, nowhere more subtly than in the Allegretto. The last two movements unleashed the tightest, most joyous music-making she and the BSO have delivered this season.

The BSO performs Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 at 7 tonight at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. The Rimsky-Korsakov, Walton, Beethoven program will be performed 3 p.m. Sunday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Call 410-783-8000, or go to bsomusic.org.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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