When Markus Stenz was appointed principal guest conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2014, effective this season, the musicians made their enthusiasm known. When he led the ensemble in a program of Bach and Brahms last weekend, they made their enthusiasm heard.
Sunday afternoon's concert at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall reconfirmed how inspiring a force Stenz can be on the podium, and how effortlessly he can get the BSO to respond with genuine impact.
The conductor's well-judged tempos for Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major had the energetic movements dancing along nimbly, the famous Air unfolding at a graceful gait. The strings offered clean and dynamic playing; the trumpets added especially colorful touches.
The sparkle in the performance captured the life-affirming quality of Bach — and provided a good balance to the death-centric, concluding piece on the program, "A German Requiem" by Brahms.
Although not a fire-and-brimstone sort of Requiem, on the order of Verdi, this reflection on those who are gone and those who mourn them contains plenty of drama. Stenz emphasized that point by applying terrific urgency to the most aggressive passages in the score (crescendos were given stirring force).
But the conductor hardly stinted on the work's lyrical beauty, coaxing wonderful refinements of tone and articulation not just from the orchestra, but the University of Maryland Concert Choir (Edward Maclary, director).
The supple singers, alert to each slight turn of Stenz's hands, hit quite a peak addressing the second movement's mix of darkness and light.
There was luxury casting for the soloists. Bass-baritone Eric Owens, in a welcome return to the BSO, offered his accustomed depth of tone and intensity of phrasing. Making her debut with the orchestra, soprano Lisette Oropesa spun out a radiant sound that communicated every hopeful, calming word in the fifth movement.