Some concert programs reveal a clear-cut theme, the repertoire choices related, at least partly, to the others, or balanced in such a way that the total package makes sense.
Then, there’s the latest Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program. I can’t figure out how this one came together, especially the second half. On that portion, Messiaen’s “Les Offrandes oubliees,” a tense reflection the Crucifixion and Eucharist, is directly followed by Gershwin’s decidedly down-to-earth romp, “An American in Paris.” Go figure.
Still, some logic emerged during Friday night’s enjoyable performance at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, led by Christoph Konig in a welcome return engagement as guest conductor.
Instrumentation for the Messiaen piece, written in 1930, is pretty close to that of the Gershwin work from two years earlier (if you overlook saxophones). Likewise, the smaller-scale compositions on the concert’s first half — Ravel’s “Le tombeau de Couperin” and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 — share elements of orchestration. What do you know? A program theme after all.
Konig approached everything with evident affection and drew consistently stylish playing from the ensemble.
The Messiaen score, which generates remarkable drama as much in its prolonged slow, quiet passages as in its uproar (the composer’s depiction of sin), received an impressive performance.
Konig sustained the tension in the hushed opening moments even after someone in the balcony let loose an absurd sneeze that must have been heard in Annapolis. The violins and violas sustained refined beauty of tone in the work’s time-suspending close.
The BSO strings provided warm, nuanced playing in “Le tombeau de Couperin,” matched by elegant contributions from the woodwinds.
Prokofiev’s vivid concerto, filled with the sort of darkly lyrical melodies that fuel his famous ballet scores, found an expert advocate in Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, making his BSO debut. His lush tone and vividly etched phrasing brought out the work’s atmospheric contrasts. Konig provided expert partnering and again drew a sensitive response from the ensemble. Gluzman provided eloquent Bach for an encore.
“An American in Paris” received a crisp, propulsive workout that found the brass and percussion in especially dynamic form.
If you go
The BSO performs at 3 p.m. Sunday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $33 to $99. Call 410-783-8000, or go to bsomusic.org.