Two-thirds of the way through the slow movement of Schubert's Ninth Symphony there is a tremendous tutti -- a cataclysm of sound that seems to announce the Apocalypse -- that is followed by a plaintive pianissimo that hanges over an abyss.
It is a tremendous moment, one that Gunther Herbig captured magnificently last night in Meyerhoff Hall in his concert with the Baltimore Symphony. It was tremendous because Herbig realized how it fit into the structure of the movement. The conductor's pacing was masterly and the great climax -- when it occurred -- sounded inevitable.
What is said of the second movement can be said of the entire performance. Herbig, the German-born music director of the Toronto Symphony, has few peers in his understanding of the Austro-Germanic Romantic repertory, and he has the technique to put his ideas across. Too many conductors make this music sound almost trivial, and one can sometimes understand the response of the London violinists who began to giggle during one of the work's first performances under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn. But Herbig made the music sound spontaneous, as if it was inventing itself on the spot, which is exactly what R RTC fine performance of Schubert must do.
Brahms' "Tragic Overture" demands an entirely different kind of approach -- and it received one in an equally persuasive performance. In Brahms -- unlike Schubert -- music must have an ordained sense of destination: The two grim chords that begin this work announce the bitter path it is about to tread. Herbig's performance demonstrated some of the same virtues of his Bruckner Sixth Symphony a few seasons back: fast and athletic tempos that still managed to convey the weightiness of the music without a hint of ponderousness.
The evening's soloist was pianist Yefim Bronfman, who gave a fine performance of Liszt's A Major Concerto. Bronfman has monster chops, and almost every note -- in the concerto's black-as-Judgment Day chords, in its brilliant flourishes, and in the slides up and down the keyboard that bring the piece to its vertiginous conclusion -- was in place.
Even more impressive was the sense of wizardry with which the pianist achieved the composer's sleights of hand and the streak of poetry he brought to them.
The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday at 3 p.m.