Some composers are embedded in the earth. Their music bubbles up from a deep, 100 percent natural spring, and, no matter how high it might soar, can never sever the tether to terra firma. Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius are perfect examples, and they are perfectly paired on this week's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program.
Mahler's Symphony No. 1 and Sibelius' Violin Concerto both open with a murmur, like grass stirring from a breeze at dawn. Both works proceed to build an organic momentum and power, like the natural world itself, creating vistas of alternately rugged and pristine beauty. But there is much of the human world in each piece, too, including pain, nostalgia, humor, longing and irony.
All of these qualities could be felt strongly last night at Meyerhoff Hall. There wasn't a single been-there-heard-that moment.
Gidon Kremer, making his belated BSO debut, found details, emotions, colors in the Sibelius concerto I never suspected were there. He had the music on a stand in front of him, but clearly had every note inside him.
Capable of producing exquisite tonal shades, and unafraid to add a gritty quality when it suited the material, he captured the work's myriad elements, from the lyrical to the volcanic. The concerto became a sweeping song of the earth, as much as of the heart.
James Judd, substituting for an indisposed Yuri Temirkanov for the third time, once again proved a formidable asset on the podium. The incredible subtlety he coaxed out of the strings at the very start was but one example; throughout, he had the BSO reflecting the soloist's imagination and interpretive fire. Kremer obliged the cheers with a brilliantly delivered encore -L'Aurore from Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 5.
Judd drew pianissimos from the Mahler symphony as compellingly as he did in the concerto, so any outburst gained even more drama and force, but this was hardly a case of dynamic contrasts for their own sake. His interest in the spectrum of feelings and textures that holds the symphony together yielded unusually atmospheric results, from the mystery and promise of spring at the start to the emphatic assertion of natural law at the end.
The performance offered a model of rhythmic elasticity - an essential ingredient that many a Mahler conductor ignores. Marvelous details emerged, particularly in the middle movements. And through it all, Judd had the BSO operating at peak expressive levels. Robert Barney's unaffected bass solo was but one of many individual components in this memorable exploration of Mahler's indelible soundscape.
Where: Meyerhoff Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
When: 8 tonight, 11 a.m. tomorrow (without soloist)
Tickets: $30 to $81 tonight, $20 to $47 tomorrow