Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Giancarlo Guerrero
The Washington Post


 Call them Tchaikovsky tchestnuts: They're played so perpetually that all prior passion evaporates. How to make the First Piano Concerto and Fourth Symphony sound fresh again? The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gave its answer at Strathmore Music Center on Thursday night: Pair a conductor who literally jumps up and down on the podium with enthusiasm with a young pianist of prodigious technique and striking stage presence.

Nineteen-year-old Natasha Paremski is a Russian pianist in the grand manner, pounding out the concerto's opening chords with unabashed intensity. She was most comfortable playing loudly: Soft passages seemed merely preludes to the next resounding one. Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero abetted this approach by keeping the orchestral accompaniment subdued, then swelling the sound when the piano was silent. The result, especially in the first movement, was a performance structured like a series of mini-cadenzas building to a full-scale one.

It was an unsubtle reading, but an undeniably exhilarating one.

Polished brass was the hallmark of the symphony -- in fact, the entire orchestral tone was burnished. Guerrero made the lengthy first movement a sort of miniature tone poem, emphasizing its tempo changes and tonal contrasts. The strings were luscious in the second movement and piquant in the pizzicati of the third. And the finale was a sonic blast, with Guerrero throwing punches and squeezing his baton with both hands to push the orchestra to ever-greater intensity in a performance that downplayed the symphony's emotional excesses while fully capturing its drama.