The sense of an ending is one of the most important things in the craft of music. One would hate to have to judge the place of Christopher Rouse alongside those of Sergei Rachmaninov and Max Bruch, whose compositions shared last night's Baltimore SymThe sense of an ending is one of the most important things in the craft of music. One would hate to have to judge the place of Christopher Rouse alongside those of Sergei Rachmaninov and Max Bruch, whose compositions shared last night's Baltimore Symphony program with Rouse's "Concerto per Corde." But at least one thing can be said about the 43-year-old, Baltimore-bred composer's work: He wrote the best ending of any work on the concert.
In a program note, Rouse said that he had in mind "those great moments of Bruckner and Mahler, when you have this feeling of release, of the skies opening." The composer, who has paid homage to Bruckner before (in his Symphony No. 1), succeeded magnificently on this occasion. There was a sense of transfiguration, of blissful illumination that was almost as wonderful as those in the two composers he mentions -- or, for that matter, in early Richard Strauss.
Rouse originally wrote this piece as his String Quartet No.2, which was composed four years ago for the first Russian tour of his Eastman School of Music colleagues in the Cleveland String Quartet. He revised it two years ago as a piece for large string orchestra. Because of the warm reception Rouse's music has had in the former Soviet Union -- Russian audiences were driven to joyous frenzy by the composer's "Bump" on the BSO's 1987 Russian tour -- he conceived this piece in the largest sense as a homage to Dmitri Shostakovich, organizing it around the German notation D-S-C-H (D, E-flat, C, B), which was the great Russian's musical signature.
It is three movements played without pause, moving from a keening Shostakovichian slow movement into a ferocious neo-Bartokian scherzo and concluding with the aforementioned slow final movement with its affecting coda. Although allusions to other composers abound, this is Rouse at his best. The scherzo -- with its yawps and shrieks -- is murderously difficult to play, but extremely effective. At his best, Rouse is to music what Brian DePalma is (at his best) to film: No one makes a better thriller.
The rest of the concert, which was led by David Zinman, was almost as impressive. Violinist Shlomo Mintz gave a big-hearted and brilliant reading of Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy." The middle .. movements were marred by a few lapses in intonation -- Mintz is a player who takes risks -- but these were inconsequential compared to the strength and intensity with which he put the work across.
And Zinman and the orchestra delivered a performance of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3 that was freer and more exciting than the one they gave in July in the BSO's Summerfest series. The finale was hectic and brilliant to the point of wildness. Zinman almost made the problematic coda -- surely the least effective ending the composer ever wrote -- work, with injections of speed that produced just the right note of delirium.