Beethoven Fantasy stands up to Ninth


BEETHOVEN'S shining Ninth Symphony was in its own partial eclipse last night at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. To be sure, it was only a small encounter with another body, but Beethoven's rarely played Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra (1808) radiated its own 20-minute excitement in a delightful ensemble staged by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Pianist Jeffrey Kahane was nimble and forceful in opening the piece and then played in delightful teamwork with horns, woodwinds and strings. The Choral Fantasy flowed deliciously when a sextet took over and squeezed in between the orchestra and BSO chorus, all under David Zinman's direction.

Soprano Dominique Labelle, mezzo Victoria Livengood, tenor Jeffrey Thomas and baritone David Arnold were joined by two BSO singers, tenor Gary Leard and soprano Janis Pistell, in the sparkling preview of the theme developed fully in the second half Symphony No. 9.

The BSO's Ninth Symphony (1824) opened stiffly. The quick first movement (allegro) was dull with loose endings and lack of unity. The orchestra recovered in the two later orchestral movements, especially the slow adagio section. Last night the BSO seemed a better adagio than allegro team when playing without voices.

The 90 BSO chorus members carried much of the evening's drama with punchy phrasing and diction for Schiller's "All men become brothers" theme in the fourth movement. They fulfilled Beethoven's own simple ode to joy, "Let us sing more cheerful songs." The soloists grasped the spirit. Labelle and Livengood seemed to overpower Thomas and Arnold, though not unpleasantly when the quartet sang.

Conductor Zinman summoned all forces for a stirring close to the 65-minute triumphant choral scene, the second major choral symphony he's led in a month. Mahler's Symphony No. 8 was a success last month.

Zinman's rear body English, waved at the crowd at one or two points, might have been anticipating the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble. That jazzy group welcomed satisfied concertgoers as they walked outside at the end.

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