Satisfying sonic Sunday: BSO with Belohlavek, Richard Goode at Shriver Hall

03.19.12
Shai Wosner
The Baltimore Sun

On Sunday afternoon, I took in a couple of highly satisfying performances.

First up was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which welcomed back distinguished Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek after an absence of 26 years. I hope his next visit won't take that long.

The program, not surprisingly, focused mostly on Eastern-European repertoire. The exception was Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 -- I couldn't help but think that Dvorak's Piano Concerto would have been even more fun here, in company with that composer's "Carnival," Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta" and Janacek's "Taras Bulba."

The newsiest item was the brilliant Janacek score, which, remarkably, the BSO had never before played. Even if you didn't know\ the extremely vivid story of the 17th century Cossack warrior that inspired the piece -- lots of torture, killing and that sort of thing -- the music's strikingly dramatic character would speak loudly.

Belohlavek brought out its passion and sweep with an authoritative touch, and the BSO ...

responded with expressive fire and technical polish. The third movement, in particular, really took off. Jane Marvine's finely shaded English horn playing was among the the sterling solo contributions in the performance.

A few measures of the Kodaly Dances could have been a little tighter, but the ensemble again showed off its quality as Belohlavek stirred up a highly kinetic account of the prismatic score. Soloists, particularly Steven Barta (clarinet) and Phil Munds (horn), proved admirable. Note, too, the singing tone from the whole cello section in the opening passage.

In the Dvorak overture, the conductor balanced propulsion -- the fast bits truly flew by -- with melting lyricism.

The Beethoven Concerto, too, held many rewards. The soloist, Shai Wosner, commanded attention from the start with his first chord -- arpeggiated, which I can't remember hearing a pianist do.

Throughout, Wosner deftly sculpted the music with an appealingly light and crisp articulation that still allowed a good deal of tonal warmth. Likewise, the performance moved easily between a chamber music intimacy and all-out force. The cadenzas were delivered with terrific drama. Belohlavek provided model support and had the orchestra moving smoothly in and out of the conversation.

After the BSO, it was time for the Shriver Hall Concert Series and a typically eloquent recital by Richard Goode.

The pianist, who hummed along at times (well, I hope that's where the humming emanated from), began with two dramatic Mozart items -- the C minor Fantasie and C minor Sonata, which were linked together to make an even richer statement.

Although Goode had the music in front of him, he sounded thoroughly at home. The playing had a strong dynamic edge that pointed up how much Mozart was pushing the keyboard of his day, paving the way for Beethoven to push it further.

This, naturally, helped connect the Mozart pieces to the next work, Beethoven's Sonata No. 18, which Goode (now from memory) played the heck out of. The dashing Scherzo and witty finale were dispatched with particular brilliance.

Chopin was the focus after intermission. Where some pianists tend to bring out the softer side of the composer's music and others the muscular, Goode managed to honor both. Although he rushed through some waltzes, he still managed to produce lovely touches. Most impressive was his handling of the C-sharp minor Scherzo, marked by understated virtuosity and poetic richness.

I loved, too, Goode's encores -- Chopin's C major Mazurka (Op. 24, No. 2), with its piquant twists and turns; and Schumann's "Traumerei," phrased with effortless grace.