BSO handles Brahms ably Music review: Strings and timpani shine.


The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performance Thursday night at the Meyerhoff of Brahms' Fourth Symphony, conducted by Ivan Fischer, gave ample evidence that this orchestra can give great and memorable realizations of the core repertoire of German symphonic music.

The Brahms Fourth can be a minefield of subtle problems for even the best orchestras. Ivan Fischer avoided most of the dangers by keeping to a clear and unsentimental interpretation that drew its passion from Brahms' musical structures, rather than outwardly romanticizing the music. The first movement might have been a little too reserved, but not the last three. The heart of this symphony is a heroic slow movement that has the most gorgeous string passages in all of orchestral literature, and the BSO strings were pure velvet.

Timpanist Dennis Kain again showed that even in basic repertoire, wonderful things abound. His contributions in the third and fourth movements were simply magnificent.

The only real weakness was the frequent inaccuracies of the horn section. The part as written is demanding and exposed, but the level of playing was two notches below the rest of the ensemble most of the evening.

The concert opened with two works that featured the considerable talents of trumpet player Hakan Hardenberger. The Hummel Trumpet Concerto that opened the evening was technically brilliant but also joyously Haydn-esque. The magical slow movement, with its florid trumpet melodies, glowed under Mr. Hardenberger's efforts. The brilliant rondo finale was tossed off with flair and abandon.

The Concerto Piccolo on B-A-C-H by Arvo Part is a thorny work for which one hearing, even by the most sympathetic listener, is not enough. In the slow movement, one is given the most tantalizing hope of Baroque splendors, only to have one's wrists slashed with painful dissonances. The effect is both disturbing and haunting.

The third movement was a thorny fugue, with the orchestra playing as equal partner to the soloist. Conductor Fischer and the strings of the BSO responded mightily to this fearsome music. The solo trumpet part is not outwardly virtuosic, but it is very demanding, and Mr. Hardenberger gave this difficult score his all.

This program, which will be repeated at 11 a.m. today at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, should not be missed.

Pub Date: 3/16/96

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