The qualities that made Tamas Vasary a great Chopin interpreter were the directness and purity of his musical instincts, his romantic temperament, his ability to organize and express his emotions and a strong point of view concealed by what seemed an unaggressive approach to the keyboard.
These also happen to be the qualities of a great Mozart interpreter. Last night in Meyerhoff Hall, Vasary played, and led the Baltimore Symphony from the keyboard, in as fine a performance of Mozart's Concerto No. 17 in G Major (K. 453) as anyone will ever hear.
The distinctive attribute of the Hungarian's playing has always been its lyricism, but he rose to all the challenges posed by K. 453. There was an ability to stretch phrases without threatening to break them; a variety of attack that produced subtle, quasi-vocal inflections; and a dynamic range and palette of colors that seemed limitless. Refreshing spontaneity was combined with proportion and balance: No matter how beautiful the details, the music's majestic sense of destination was never short-changed.
It did not hurt matters that the Baltimore Symphony played splendidly. The beauty of the string playing was apparent at the opening of the piece and the winds -- particularly flutist Emily Controulis, oboist Joseph Turner and bassoonist Phillip Kolker -- took advantage of the abundant opportunities the composer gave them to shine.
This was a performance that sounded like great chamber music playing. One looks forward to the 6:30 p.m. chamber music performance preceding tomorrow's Summerfest program when Vasary joins four BSO principal players in Mozart's Quintet for Piano and Winds.
Vasary also conducted a performance of the "Figaro" Overture in which somewhat slower-than-usual tempos permitted a more-than-usual highlighting of details.
The concluding "Jupiter" Symphony was also somewhat slow -- at least in its first three movements -- and achieved a genuinely weighty sense of purpose. The final movement, which exploded from the starting block and never let up, could not have been more exciting.
The only relative disappointment came in the concert aria, "Ch'io mi scordi di te?"
It was somewhat marred by what seemed a difference in point of view. Vasary's conducting and piano playing was languorous, even sensuous, while soprano Karen Clift's lovely singing sounded -- musically, not vocally -- brittle and edgy.