Last night in Meyerhoff Hall pianist Misha Dichter, the Baltimore Symphony and its music director, David Zinman, gave a performance that might have been described as "Beethoven with an attitude."
This is to say that they gave a performance of Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 that was cocksure and insouciant and it struck a mood that was quite appropriate to the first and third movements of the piece. Dichter took the opening movement's "allegro con brio" (fast or lively with vivacity) more literally than most pianists do. In an age that takes music too seriously (and, thus, often too slowly), this was a pleasure to hear. When Beethoven writes "allegro," he means fast. Dichter was not always able to articulate the solo instrument's runs and angry explosions with all the clarity that one might have desired, but -- what is more important -- he captured the music's ferocity and drama. And he was able to express all of the music's power and anger without violating its classical framework.
Dichter was less impressive in the slow movement. The playing was pretty -- superbly featherweighted octaves at the beginning of the movement and lovely garlands of arpeggios throughout -- but this is music that asks for repose rather than attitude, and the pianist was not able to supply it. Zinman and the orchestra played beautifully -- as they did in the opening "Consecration of the House Overture" by the same composer.
The concert also included Samuel Barber's First Essay for Orchestra and his Symphony No. 1. These works marked the last time Barber's music appears on a BSO program this season -- Zinman and the orchestra finally record them next week -- and this listener can only say, "Thank goodness!" The orchestra xTC played both pieces well enough, but Barber's music simply isn't strong enough to be heard week after week. It's like chocolate. Eat too much of it and after a while it's just sweet brown goo that makes you sick.