Souvenirs from the picturesque cities of Salzburg and Florence provided the material for the closing night of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual Summer MusicFest. Like cheery or sentimental mementos that tourists typically pick up, these musical ones abound in upbeat expressions. But they have a slight, wish-I-weren't-here feeling, too.
Mozart's working years in his hometown of Salzburg were not entirely happy ones. The intense beauty of, say, the slow movement in his Violin Concerto No. 5, suggests a heart willing itself to be somewhere else. Even the Andantino from his so-called Post Horn Symphony strikes a deeper, darker chord than you would expect in an otherwise highly festive piece.
More than a century later, while visiting Florence, Tchaikovsky got the first ideas for an endearing string sextet. But he really didn't have such a hot time in that art-rich Italian locale, so his souvenir of the visit has some cloudy, nostalgic, Russian shades underneath all the blazing lyricism.
As guest conductor Gerard Schwarz pointed out to the audience Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, there was a strong link between the chamber music prelude, Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence, and the all-Mozart orchestral program: Mozart was Tchaikovsky's favorite composer. Both put melody first.
The sextet brought together five BSO members - violinist Rebecca Nichols, violists Peter Minkler and Karin Brown, cellists Darius Skoraczewski and Bo Li - and the young artist who would subsequently appear with the orchestra, Stefan Jackiw, taking the second violin part. Although hindered by the foggy acoustics (Meyerhoff is too big a home for proper chamber music), the performance proved highly satisfying.
Strong inter-communication and, above all, unfettered expressiveness enabled the music to sing and sigh to eloquent, stirring effect. The spontaneity in the playing reached a peak in the finale, which had everyone bounding along at a terrific clip, notching up the sonic and poetic power at each turn in the melodic road.
Schwarz, who directed New York's noted Mostly Mozart Festival for two decades, quickly revealed his Mozart credentials in the natural way he paced and shaped the Symphony No. 20. He didn't get the ethereal lightness from the ensemble that MusicFest director Mario Venzago does in Mozart, but he still enjoyed a beautifully balanced, warm-toned response.
There was a fit and vibrant account of the Post Horn Symphony, too, which had an unexpected bonus. When Mozart extracted three movements from his Post Horn Serenade to create this symphony, he left out the minuet that called for a post horn (the instrument once used to announce the mail). Schwarz decided to put that minuet in, adding to the symphony's charm - and providing trumpeter Andrew Balio an opportunity to shine.
In between the two symphonic works came the Violin Concerto No. 5, which showcased Jackiw's remarkably sweet, sure tone and flair for limning a phrase with exquisite taste. The teen-ager, featured on the BSO's Japan tour last fall, communicates easily and meaningfully through his fiddle; he tapped the Adagio's interior world with particular sensitivity. Schwarz and the BSO offered smooth partnering, digging just as tellingly into this souvenir of Mozart's incomparable artistry.