Concert series should end with a bang. In the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's tony Celebrity Series, those bangs tend to be pieces such as a gigantic Mahler symphony or next month's Verdi Requiem. But in the case of the more popularly based Favorites Series, the first of whose final concerts took place last night in Meyerhoff Hall, the bang was more literal: The concluding selection was Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," which is replete with the sound of cannon and all manner of other noise.
You could say that this final Favorites program was nothing but big bangs: five mostly immensely popular pieces. In addition to the Tchaikovsky, the works were Chabrier's "Espana," Ravel's "Bolero," and Bloch's "Baal Shem" and Kabalevsky's Violin Concerto (with concertmaster Herbert Greenberg as soloist in the last two pieces). All of these pieces -- with the exception of the Kabalevsky -- were familiar to the audience. But this was the genius -- and I'm only slightly exaggerating -- of Music Director David Zinman's programming: Hardly any of these thrice-familiar works ever makes it to a legitimate symphony program.
In 14 years of professional reviewing (and 25 years of serious concertgoing prior to that), I had never heard any of these works -- familiar though they were from records and from radio -- in a concert hall. Much of our most popular music has been relegated to the ghettos of the FM airwaves, pop concerts and TV commercials, and it was good to hear such music in performances that took it seriously.
Chabrier's "Espana" was noisy, splashy and atmospheric; the "Bolero" -- though it lacked a certain amount of seductiveness -- built up to its climax with relentless power; and the Tchaikovsky, in which the sounds of cannon were supplied by synthesizer, had brilliance and momentum (and even a touch of class).
The best music-making of the evening, however, came in the beautiful performances by Greenberg of the Bloch and Kabalevsky pieces. The Bloch pieces are subtitled "Three Scenes from Hasidic Life," and Greenberg -- without sounding self-indulgent -- found exactly the right cantorial tone for the meditative ones and the dance-like joyousness for the happy one. He performed the tuneful Kabalevsky work -- which is made up of equal parts of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and ,, Glazunov -- with verve and sparkle.
The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday at 3 p.m.