Sunday, January 30, 2011

BSO at Strathmore (Haydn/Sierra/Brahms)

Saw the Baltimore Symphony Orch (for the first time actually) at Strathmore last night--no Marin Alsop tho, the conductor was Spaniard Juanjo Mena.

The first offering, Haydn's "La Reine" symphony was what it was. Nicely put together, priddy, and ample opportunity to think about what I was going to eat after the show. The kind of Haydn that makes me think impolitic thoughts about how maybe our HIP commissars are right and this kind of thing should really only be performed by their approved bands.

A new work, "Sinfonia. No. 4" by Roberto Sierra was quite promising. Sierra trades in rewarding, densely clotted textures driven by a disjointed momentum which uses Latin-identified rhythms for its raw material. The third movement, with its haunting combination of piano and woodwinds was especially memorable. The boisterous finale, in which the percussion came to the fore, was plenty satisfying, but I fear at times Mena wanted it to "groove" more than was really warranted. Much of the power of Sierra's work lay in the tension between these rhythmic fragments, while by the end Mena seemed all to eager to lay down a backbeat and be done with it. Oh, and the brass sounded a little anemic for what one would want in that go-for-broke finale.

The Brahms violin concerto was less convincing, I'm afraid. Mena and the BSO seemed to fall victim to that surest death for all Brahms concertos: treating the orchestra like mere accompaniment. Because when you go to a Brahms concerto, and the man is throwing all the weight of the previous century of concerto making into one big 1000 ton statement, you want to see a fight, right? Well this was more of a polite accord. The big foolproof moments couldn't help but inspire some awe, but otherwise the orchestra always seemed a hair too slow or marred by four-square conducting that leeched much of the life out of the piece. Soloist Augustin Haedlich proved on several occasions that he was capable of the right sensibility (including a badass Paganini encore) but these were isolated incidents. Not sure if the tempo was holding him back or what, but in this piece you need to DIG IN and he never quite DUG.

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