Herbig leads BSO in Beethoven, Bruckner


This review appeared in the later editions of yesterday's paper.

Certain great works of music take us to places we wouldn't - couldn't - otherwise reach, places outside ourselves and our routine existence. You never need to pass through a security checkpoint on these journeys, because no harm is possible or even imaginable. Two such works are on this week's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra program. I hated for the trip to end last night at the Meyerhoff.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2, with its beguiling echoes of Mozart and Haydn and gentle hints at the dawn of romanticism to come, generates a sublime eloquence. Here, the fists-at-the-ready Beethoven who would shake the world of music and artistic philosophy is held in check, more than content to dream of poetry and beauty and perfect peace.

Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 is already deep in such a dream when it opens its eyes to the soft, expectant call of a lone horn. The composer said he imagined the old days of knights and chivalry as he wrote the first movement, leading him to dub the whole symphony "Romantic," but the music is way beyond the quaint.

Even the Scherzo, with its mix of hunting horns, galloping rhythms and lilting folk song, belongs to some other, richly idealized realm, not ours. For all of the drama along the way, the score has a transporting lift, ultimately pointing upward (for the devout Bruckner, heavenward), away from all human frailty and care.

Gunther Herbig, a frequent, always-welcome guest conductor at the BSO, proved an expert guide in both pieces, coaxing from the orchestra playing of remarkable control and sensitivity all evening. In the Beethoven concerto, those qualities were more than matched by the soloist, Louis Lortie.

The Canadian pianist took full advantage of one of the recently purchased, very promising Steinways at the Meyerhoff to produce a wealth of subtle colors. His most delicate phrases - such as the haunting passage just before the end of the Adagio, like a distant bugle calling for rest - lingered long in the air. He offered abundant wit and sparkle in the finale, without the slightest showy touch. This was easily one of the most inspired and refined performances of the season.

Conducting from memory, Herbig fashioned an authoritative, gripping account of Bruckner's Fourth. There was never a sense of sprawl, a trap easily fallen into with this composer. Even the most grandly spaced themes were held together by the conductor's sense of proportion, his deft tempos (perhaps the middle section of the Scherzo could have been a little less relaxed), and his remarkable ability to build majestically toward each climactic point in the score.

From the pure beacon of Phil Munds' horn solos to the velvet warmth of the violas, from the most explosive to the most ethereal utterances, the BSO was in exceptional form, sounding deeply connected to the spirit of Bruckner's inspiring vision.


What: BSO, Beethoven & Bruckner

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 11 a.m. today

Tickets: $20 to $47

Call: 410-783-8000

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