All I knew about George Pehlivanian until yesterday was that he was young -- he is in his early 30s -- and that he was scheduled to lead this week's Baltimore Symphony concerts. After hearing him in Meyerhoff Hall last night lead the orchestra in Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (the so-called "Organ Symphony") and accompany violinist Elmar Oliveira in Beethoven's Concerto in D, I know enough to want him hear him again.
That he is a talented conductor was apparent from the the first notes of the program-opening Beethoven concerto. Pehlivanian and the orchestra gave the soloist an introduction that was riveting in breadth, precision and sense of scale. And conductor and orchestra offered noble and sensitive support to the soloist.
It is more than 20 years since Oliveira came to the public's attention as the first (and he remains the only) American violinist to take first prize in Moscow's International Tchaikovsky Competition. He has mellowed considerably since I first heard him perform in Rochester, N.Y. -- in a performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto that rocketed past my ears at Heifetz-like velocities.
His Beethoven performance was thoughtful, lyrical and classically shaped, and had an unforced naturalness of line and phrasing. There may not have been as much magic and rapture as characterized the reading of this piece that Hilary Hahn gave with the orchestra in June, but Oliveira's was first-rate Beethoven -- intelligence in every note and phrase, consistent purity of tone in every register and a sense of fresh and unaffected inspiration.
Oliveira also remains one of the remarkable fiddlers before the public: His conquest of the Kreisler cadenza in the first movement was little short of awesome, as was the nimbleness of his articulation in the final one.
Pehlivanian's reading of Saint-Saens' "Organ" Symphony may have been the finest performance of the work I have heard this orchestra give. Its thrust did not come so much from fast pacing as from the result of incisive articulation from a conductor whose directions were carefully attended to by players who knew the work backward and forward.
There were also many lovely touches: a slow movement that balanced elegiac nobility with romantic warmth, a spectacular entry by the organ in the finale and an imposing sense of weight and grandeur in the work's final pages.
The program will be repeated tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Pub Date: 1/08/99