Despite a last-minute change in featured soloist, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Marin Alsop presented a fine performance Saturday evening at Strathmore Music Hall. Departing from their recent string of themed concerts, this program could have simply been titled “well-balanced,” excepting perhaps the lack of anything composed within the last hundred years.
The evening’s overture, Mendelssohn’s own to his “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” featured lively section playing from the strings that was both soft and fleet. The orchestra was at their expressive best during the middle lyrical sections.
…Hakhnazaryan owned every aspect of the work…
Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” for cello and orchestra is a smaller-scale, more reserved feature for soloist than the standard concerto format. Its delicate and straightforward theme remains recognizable throughout the lilting and understatedly virtuosic variations. After months of considerable advertising, Sol Gabetta was unable to perform with the BSO this week and was replaced by lesser-known Narek Hakhnazaryan. The handsome, young Armenian has all the biographical boxes ticked to indicate he is a rising star, but it was his stunning playing that immediately put to bed any apprehensions regarding the stand-in nature of his engagement.
Equipped with a dark, singing tone quality, Hakhnazaryan owned every aspect of the work from start to finish. His treatment of the opening melodic theme established a subtle, almost politely conversational quality. At times, he engaged the orchestra in this playful back-and-forth, and at others, he took a confident, yet disciplined, step to the fore. His lyrical talents and calm demeanor could easily overshadow his virtuosic control of the instrument, which maintained a constant presence but remained sophisticatedly just below the surface. Most importantly, this was a wholly authentic approach to the music, free of any soloistic grandstanding – a nod to the maturity of the young star.
As encore, Hakhnazaryan performed Giovanni Sollima’s “Lamentatio,” for solo cello. Beginning with an eerie and earthy duet for instrument and voice, the audience quickly realized this would be something different. The low lamentation gave way to an acrobatic, even rock-like section that allowed Hakhnazaryan to remove any restraints employed for the Tchaikovsky. Entertaining and bold, but perhaps some would have preferred further display of his exquisitely subtle musicality.
The program’s second half began with “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” by Claude Debussy. This archetype of the impressionistic genre begins with an enchantingly lackadaisical chromatic passage for solo flute that gently goads the full orchestra into an ebbing adventure through warm and hazy sound palettes that feel detached from the constraints of time or hurry. The BSO delivered a breadth of colors and Maestra Alsop masterfully navigated the subtle climaxes.
The weightiest and final work of the evening was one of the suites arranged from Richard Strauss’ opera, “Der Rosenkavalier.” Already this season with the BSO, we’ve been treated to several of the composer’s famous tone poems. Here, in his most popular opera, exists some of his best music, particularly the sweeping waltz themes. As demonstrated in previous concerts, Alsop and the BSO are adept at navigating the dramatic (almost cinematic) style undulations present in Strauss’ music and, again here, they were on form. Special kudos go to all the solo wind players for their singing contributions and the full horn section for the tastefully raucous bellows and shouts. Maestra Alsop again deserves a nod for her ability to pace the expansive linear nature of Strauss’ writing, though, in the waltz sections, perhaps a slightly less controlling hand-on-the-back would have allowed a more elegant glide across the floor.
As the encore, a bit unexpectedly, the orchestra dove into a spritely and playful rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide,” an acknowledgment of what would have been the American musical icon’s – and one of Alsop’s chief mentors – 100th year.
Running Time: 2 hours including a twenty-minute intermission.
This program will be repeated on Sunday, October 29 at the BSO’s Meyerhoff location. For more information on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, click here. For more performances at Strathmore, click here. For Mr. Hakhnazaryan’s artist website, click here.