The Baltimore Symphony's latest program offered two halves of equal strength and appeal. That the featured items weren't off-the-rack repertoire -- and that two gifted guests, conductor Hannu Lintu and violinist Hilary Hahn, had a hand in the concert -- made things all the more satisfying.
Dvorak's Violin Concerto has something in common with Rodney Dangerfield. It's doesn't get much respect, you know what I mean? Certainly not the attention lavished endlessly on Tchaikovsky's concerto, for example. I suspect it's because Dvorak doesn't offer a lot of great big, inescapable tunes; there isn't even a splashy cadenza.
Much of this concerto has an inward, rather intimate quality, not to mention a sophisticated approach to structure and thematic development. It's rhapsodic, without getting sticky. Even in the dynamic, dancing finale, there's something unshowy about the music.
Hilary Hahn proved a persuasive interpreter of the score Saturday night at Meyerhoff Hall, enjoying attentive collaboration from Lintu and ensemble throughout.
In addition to her usual, impeccable intonation and articulation, the violinist offered phrasing rich in shading and poetic contour. Her tone was wonderfully juicy in the first movement, sweet and delicate in the second; the finale inspired a prismatic touch.
I was even more impressed with Hahn's encore -- the Loure from Bach's Partita No. 3. She seemed to hold the packed house rapt as she sculpted the stately dance in extraordinarily elegant fashion.
The Four Legends by Sibelius, based on some pretty vivid Finnish folk lore/mythology, do not turn up every day in concert halls (at least around here). As Lintu noted in his often wry introductory remarks, they can be thought of as a symphony. The conductor approached the pieces that way, ensuring a cohesiveness to the experience.
"Lemminkainen and the Maidens of the Island" emerged with a great sweep; Lintu's interest in dynamic contrasts yielded particular rewards. He coaxed an extra-dark, extra-subtle tone from the lower strings at the start of "The Swan of Tuonela," providing a perfect lead-in to Jane Marvine's velvety English horn solo.
The sudden shifts of volume and mood in "Lemminkainen in Tuonela" were superbly executed (some brass chords weren't entirely clean, but the playing from that section still hit the spot). And Lintu had everyone charging through "Lemminkainen's Return" at a bracing clip, producing sparks the whole way. The connection between conductor and orchestra could not have been more palpable.