BSO plays Grieg with sympathy and lyricism


Grieg is not a composer one associates with David Zinman; except for the occasional Grieg concerto, this listener cannot even remember a single Zinman performance of the "Holberg Suite."

So when eight excerpts from the "Peer Gynt" suites made up the second half of last night's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program in Meyerhoff Hall -- the first subscription concert of the season -- one thought it might merely be the conductor's perfunctory recognition of the 150th anniversary of Norway's most famous composer.

It wasn't. Zinman and the orchestra performed this music with genuine sympathy for and identification with Grieg's folk-like, alternately delicate and heroic idiom. "Morning" had a dewy freshness; "Ase's Death" and "Solveig's Song" achieved affecting eloquence without descending into bathos; "Ingrid's Lamentation" was heart-piercing; "Anitra's Death" was seductively textured and beautifully lit; the "Arabian Dance" moved with furious energy; and the "Hall of the Mountain King" grew to an appropriately grand climax. For a concert so early in the season, the orchestra sounded remarkably good -- as good, in fact, as if it were mid-season. The strings were lush, in tune and homogeneous, and the wind playing was sensitive and assured.

A performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol," which opened the evening, was somewhat less impressive. There was plenty of energy, but not all of the solo playing was as solid as it was in the performances of the Grieg excerpts, and the bravura ending -- some of the splashiest pages in the orchestral literature -- sounded a little rushed and coarse.

The concert also featured the BSO debut -- he appeared here several year ago with the Israel Chamber Orchestra as a prodigy barely into his teens -- of Gil Shaham. This 22-year-old violinist, who has already begun to compile an extensive discography on the Deutsche Grammophon label, has been touted as a successor to the American-Israeli line of Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Shlomo Mintz. Last night when he played Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy," however, Shaham displayed a style that seemed less burly, more refined and, ultimately, less interesting than that of those players. He plays his instrument extremely well, and the audience responded enthusiastically. But this listener heard little of the panache and the rapt lyricism that it takes to make this piece come alive.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8 and Sunday at 3 p.m.

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