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BSO welcomes back Andre Watts, Mario Venzago

Andre Watts
Andre Watts (Steve J. Sherman)

It was old friends week at the BSO. Pianist Andre Watts and conductor Mario Venzago, who have enjoyed long and productive associations with this orchestra, returned for another round of spirited music-making.

The program traced a line in the development of Austro-German repertoire, from Gluck to Mozart to Schumann. The first of those composers doesn't turn up in BSO concerts often, so it was interesting to hear a sampling of orchestral music from his 1777 opera "Amide."

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Venzago can always be counted on to shape music with an elegance of phrase and a fluid sense of rhythm. He did so Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, helping to make even the less inspired movements in this Gluck suite communicate. His brought out the bold drama of the Finale with particular expressive weight.

A couple of pale patches aside, there was much to enjoy in the ensemble's performance. The woodwinds added colorfully shaded touches throughout.

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In the public eye for more than 50 years, Watts remains a remarkably consistent, satisfying keyboard artist. His burnished technique is matched by clear-headed, sensitive, unfussy  interpretive ideas.

Watts gave a winning account of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 ("Jeunehomme"). If he tended to stay on the surface for the first movement, he plunged beneath in the second and captured its grave beauty with eloquent phrasing. His crisp touch and sparkling expressive flourishes proved delectable in the last movement.

Venzago was a model partner, dovetailing the orchestra's contributions sensitively. The players responded with terrific warmth, dynamic nuance and technical elan.

The orchestra also impressed consistently in Schumann's Symphony No. 4, which delivered its dramatic and tender points with equal effectiveness under Venzago's guidance. His approach reflected historical performance practice in terms of tempo and tone, while giving off an air of spontaneity that paid off with considerable force in the finale.

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