A riveting collaboration ignites the concert hall

The Baltimore Sun

It's a wonder the fire alarms didn't go off at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Thursday night. The incendiary matchup of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor Vasily Petrenko and piano soloist Stephen Hough produced one of the most memorable concerts of the season. Tonight's repeat should be just as gripping.

The Russian-born Petrenko, who became principal conductor of England's Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2005 at age 29, put together a hefty program: Shostakovich's daunting Symphony No. 8; Tchaikovsky's sweeping Piano Concerto No. 1; and a rarity (on these shores) by Anatoly Lyadov.

Petrenko dug deeply into the hour-plus Shostakovich work, an eventful journey of the spirit that addresses evil and loss, but, ultimately, holds out a sliver of hope. The conductor ensured an inner pulse in the slow movements and drove the others hard, creating a startling intensity.

Tchaikovsky's overly flogged warhorse headed out of the gate with refreshing vigor as Hough tore into the music with terrific bravura and abundant, yet never sticky, lyricism. Although the British pianist left some notes in the dust, the electricity generated by his risky, fearless performance proved triumphant. For the most part, Petrenko and the orchestra got tightly into the pianist's brisk groove.

At the start of the program, the conductor brought out the charms of Lyadov's Kikimora, a brief, colorful evocation of a Russian fairy tale about an evil spirit.

Throughout the evening, there was plenty of fine playing from the BSO (Jane Marvine's English horn solos were particularly sensitive), but also a fair amount of technical roughness. This was one of those occasions, though, when the collaboration was so inspired, the commitment so strong that such details mattered less than the big, involving picture.

if you go

The concert will be repeated at 8 tonight at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets cost $42 to $68. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.

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