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Premiere of guitar work disappoints


(This review appeared in some editions of Friday's Sun.)

Perhaps because it is cradled in the arms and held against the heart, the guitar invites expectations about intimacy and tenderness that other instruments do not. It was perhaps the failure of such expectations to be satisfied that led to disappointment with Steven Stucky's "Concerto Mediterraneo for Guitar and Orchestra." The work -- which was commissioned by family and friends of the late guitarist Sophocles Papas -- received its world premiere Thursday night in Meyerhoff Hall in a performance by soloist Manuel Barrueco, the Baltimore Symphony and conductor Gunther Herbig.

Stucky tried to provide Barrueco with opportunities for intimacy in the first two movements by presenting the guitar in chamber-music-like settings and even in duets with other instruments. Unfortunately, it was often the scoring for the other instruments that kept the ear in anticipation.

My response might change upon repeated exposure to the work. I found the third movement, whose Italian subtitle translates as "nocturnal chaconne," compelling in its logic and more intriguing than earlier movements in the ways it set the guitar against the orchestra. And the composer's perpetual motion final movement provided many opportunities for Barrueco to display his remarkable virtuosity.

The concerto -- in which the soloist received a sympathetic, well-rehearsed accompaniment from conductor and orchestra -- was sandwiched between two popular Beethoven works, the "Egmont Overture" and the "Eroica" Symphony.

Herbig's conducting, as always, demonstrated transparency of texture and resilience of rhythm. Both the overture and symphony received urgent, dramatic readings. In the latter there were some especially fine moments -- the gigantic eruption of the first movement coda seemed exceptionally well planned and the central episode of the "Funeral March" was filled with electricity and resolve.

No one can complain about such honest and direct readings -- except, of course, the conductor's admirers. I include myself in that company and found both performances, especially that of the symphony, somewhat lacking in the revelatory strength that marks Herbig's best work.

I suspect he will hit that mark when the program is repeated tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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