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BSO roars through Beethoven but result is clear, precise


One thing proved by last night's all-Beethoven program by the Baltimore Symphony and its music director, David Zinman, in Meyerhoff Hall is that this is an orchestra that can play.

Any ensemble and its conductor that can accurately play the Fourth Symphony at such whiplash speed deserves honor. That they made the performance so musical means they deserve even more.

Zinman, of course, has always led the Beethoven symphonies at unusually brisk speeds, but this Beethoven Fourth was faster than any I can remember -- and that includes the Toscanini and Norrington recordings.

The entire reading of the piece was like a series of carefully controlled explosions. The composer's accented chords bit with knife-like clarity.

That there was more than speed here was apparent in the way the conductor captured the composer's humor -- not just the teasing coda with which the piece ends, but all of its ebullience, its delight in the exercise of its own energy.

There was continuous elegance in the phrasing. (Even in the last movement's cloudburst of 16th notes the orchestra's strings never lost the music's pattern.) There also was beautiful playing by the winds and an overall clarity of texture that made it possible for tympanist Dennis Kain, with his leather-covered sticks, to ring out the piece's rhythms with unusual piquancy.

Zinman may have taken the second movement adagio at a remarkably fast tempo, but the music wasn't rushed, it flowed naturally and lyrically, still able to surprise with its revelations of detail.

The concert opened with a reading of the "Egmont Overture" that emphasized the piece's ferocious anger yet saved enough energy for the blazing coda.

There are other ways to conduct this music -- one thought of Kurt Masur's slower, grander performance with the Leipzig Gewandhaus earlier this season at the Kennedy Center -- but Zinman's was utterly convincing in its way.

The evening's soloist was the pianist Yefim Bronfman, who performed Beethoven's Concerto No. 3.

This was a lovely performance that showed that the middle of the road need not be dull: The first movement was dramatic and intense without sounding driven; it captured the poetry of the slow movement with flexibility of rhythm and delicacy of tone color without sounding mannered. The third movement had seriousness of purpose without eschewing either spontaneity or mercurial wit.

The program will be repeated today and Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

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