The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra welcomed back two 30-something guest artists over the weekend -- Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa and Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan. Both should come back more often.
Khachatryan's visit was overdue. He made his BSO debut a decade ago, playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto memorably. He addressed the same work on this return, and played the heck out of it even more impressively Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The performance was greeted with shouts and whoops not typically expected from a matinee crowd. And no wonder.
This was a sterling performance in technique, to be sure, but, more importantly, in terms of interpretive depth. The hushed opening made that clear; Khachatryan coaxed his first notes as if from some ethereal realm.
Such pianissimo playing, matched in subtlety by the orchestra's strings, cast a spell over the hall (well, for a while -- it was broken soon enough by sonic boom-level sneezes, coughs and other assorted noises).
The violinist tapped intensely into the yearning poetry of the second movement, and phrased with an earthy, quite gripping tone in the finale. All the while, he enjoyed attentive support from Hrusa and the orchestra.
To open the program, the conductor offered Janacek's "Jealousy," the discarded overture to his gripping opera "Jenufa." This compact piece captures the composer's distinctive style neatly, and Hrusa had the BSO articulating it in dynamic fashion; the opening and closing bursts were delivered with particular snap.
Brahms' Symphony No. 4 brought the concert to a satisfying close. So satisfying I'd rank it among the best Brahms performances I've heard this orchestra give.
Hrusa balanced propulsion and repose deftly, taking particular care to shape the second movement's dark lyricism. He had the Scherzo going like gangbusters, but also drew out many a nuance of dynamics along the way. The conductor brought gravitas and many a subtle inflection to the finale.
The playing had consistent warmth and depth, not to mention technical polish. A rich string tone served the music particularly well. Last movement highlights included some noble sounds from the trombones and, especially, the radiant phrasing of principal flutist Emily Skala.