BSO tunes up in the suburbs


YOKOHAMA, Japan - The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra eased into its Japan tour last night with a respectable performance in a distant suburb of Tokyo. It was, by design, more of a warm-up than a main event, allowing the players to get their musical legs back after the draining trip and only a 30-minute rehearsal just before the concert.

Tonight's appearance at the leading hall inside Tokyo proper - preceded by a more substantial rehearsal - should signal the start of the real action. Not that the first audience, which filled roughly half of the 1,400-seat Parthenon in Tama, seemed to feel cheated. The applause was more than merely polite.

The theater, which sits above a modern shopping/eating complex, justifies its name with a sort of Greco-Deco-Japanese design that gets a temple-of-art point across neatly. Although a pleasant place for a listener to sit in, with bright, reverberant (if not always clearly focused) acoustics, the venue made less of an impression onstage.

The musicians, who took a nearly two-hour bus ride from Yokohama and had no time for a proper dinner, sweltered under the lights, which didn't help their already draggy condition. And they couldn't really hear the acoustical properties from the stage.

"We traveled halfway around the world to play in Centreville," one BSO member said during intermission, getting a laugh from colleagues who take a dim view of an away-from-Meyerhoff-Hall spot where the orchestra occasionally performs.

Despite whatever deflating effects Tama's Parthenon may have had, though, and despite the obvious signs of fatigue that crept into the concert, the BSO came through in many ways. It was gratifying to be reminded of how robust the string tone is, for example; jet lag hadn't taken the bloom off of that. Even during the minirehearsal before the program (attended by about 30 rapt university students), those strings were digging in nicely to the music.

Yuri Temirkanov, who greeted his ensemble with a smile and his traditional two-handed salute, used the run-through to touch up a few rhythmic details in the Scherzo from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and the Waltz Sequence No. 1 from Richard Strauss' shimmering opera Der Rosenkavalier. This didn't quite do the trick for the Strauss piece; the ending, which had sounded oddly limp and slippery last week in Baltimore, still wasn't nailed during the concert.

Too bad one of the better arranged and more satisfying compilations of orchestral highlights from Rosenkavalier wasn't programmed instead for the tour. This one just doesn't provide enough of the Strauss magic or show off the BSO to full advantage. (And the problematic ending is as much the piece's fault as anyone else's.)

Still, the strings know how to milk this stuff, and they did so in performance, producing considerable froth and warmth as Temirkanov kept the waltzes flowing affectionately. Concertmaster Jonathan Carney's solos had particular charm.

The Beethoven symphony came off quite decently, with a bold, mostly well-controlled sound and propulsive tempos. (Temirkanov took much shorter pauses between movements than he had in Baltimore, to taut effect.)

There was much to enjoy in the encores. An old Japanese song, Moon Over the Ruined Castle, which had been a hit for the BSO in Japan before in bass player Jonathan Jensen's glowing arrangement, again set off an appreciative stir. And the breathless Prelude to Act III of Wagner's Lohengrin, once past a scrambled start, delivered a forceful punch.

Earlier in the evening, teen-age violinist Stefan Jackiw reconfirmed the sterling impression he made last week. His account of Max Bruch's G minor Concerto was, if anything, even juicier in tone, more poetic in phrasing here. He's going to make some real waves on this tour. So, I suspect, will the BSO.

Backstage in the music director's tiny dressing room after the concert, the prognosis was succinct.

"Tomorrow will be better," Temirkanov said, taking a sip of a beer. "Yes, better."

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