Just as he was reaching mastery and leaving behind the Brahmsian conservatism of his youth, the composer Richard Strauss fell under the spell of of Richard Wagner and the $H so-called "music of the future." So infatuated with Wagnerism was Strauss that the young composer acquired the sobriquet of "Richard II."
This came to mind Friday evening in Meyerhoff Hall when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Gunther Herbig presented a program that coupled the recent (1993) Violin Concerto of Christopher Rouse with Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 3. Many great composers receive homage in Rouse's eclectic-but-brilliant music -- but none more than Bruckner, whose great adagios inspired Rouse's remarkable Symphony No. 1 (1988). One hopes for forgiveness for sometimes thinking of the 46-year-old American composer as "Anton II."
Not this time, however. There are moments in the Violin Concerto, which was written for Cho-Liang Lin and was played last night by BSO concertmaster Herbert Greenberg, that evoke Bruckner -- particularly in some glorious-sounding brass chorales each of its two, connected movements and in its ominous, Fafnir-like tread.
Rouse's treatment of the solo instrument puts it -- as it is not in many other contemporary concertos -- at the center of things. The work, which runs about 25 minutes, is organized around the violin in ingenious ways. It opens with an extended, yearning violin cadenza; the first movement "Barcarolle" ends with yet another cadenza in much the same mood -- this time accompanied by a persistent heartbeat by the timpani and lower strings with some exquisite interjections by the harp and celesta; and the piece ends with yet another cadenza -- this time in perpetual motion and packed with furious 16th notes and flying double stops.
It is a beautiful work, accessible yet challenging, and one that is very difficult to play. The orchestra and Herbig acquitted themselves admirably and Greenberg did more than that. Any violinist who negotiates so thorny a work with mastery and performs it with such conviction has a right to feel proud of himself.
The performance of the Bruckner Third was typical of Herbig's work with this composer: there was a genuine identification with the breadth, majesty and other-worldliness of the Bruckner idiom.