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Handsome is as handsome plays in Bach piano concerto


Last night's concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Meyerhoff Hall may have found a solution to the aging of the symphonic audience. Before the concert began, this listener and several friends noticed an unusual number of teen-age girls in the lobby. And one had to wonder if the reason for their appearance was the piano soloist, Stephen Prutsman.

Prutsman, a recent graduate of the Peabody Conservatory who has won prizes in several important international competitions, greatly resembles the young Mikhail Baryshnikov -- except that he is taller, blonder and may have even bluer eyes.

Handsome is as handsome does, however, and it's nice to report that Prutsman is a wonderful pianist. With BSO assistant conductor David Lockington, who was also making his debut at a BSO subscription concert, Prutsman played Bach's Concerto No. 1 in D Minor and Carl Maria von Weber's rarely heard Concertpiece in F Minor. Actually, the Bach -- familiar as it is from records -- is an even more infrequent visitor to large concert halls, probably because of the authentic performance movement that has relegated it to the harpsichord. (Last night's performance was apparently the first time it has ever been programmed by the BSO.)

Prutsman's lovely performance showed how foolish it is that we no longer hear the Bach concertos on piano -- at least when they can be performed this persuasively. He possesses a beautiful tone, an unerring sense of rhythm that made the outer movements of the piece unrelentingly propulsive, and the kind of freedom that turned the slow movement into something close to improvisational poetry.

The Weber piece was played with a combination of glittering virtuosity and romantic inwardness that made one curious about how the pianist would fare with the works of Liszt and Schumann. He received a sensitive accompaniment from Lockington in the Bach and one in the Weber that would have benefited from quieter playing by the winds.

Lockington made a fine impression in the program opener, Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis." The performance had a breadth and ardor that penetrated to the bone.

Haydn's Symphony No. 90, which concluded the program, was slightly less successful because the conductor was not always able to combine the energy of his ideas with cleanliness of detail. But he, too, was an attractive figure on the concert platform, making, as he did, the most of the theatrical opportunities that the symphony's comically false endings afford.

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