&ldquoAs Alsop faced the cellos and drew from them the most tremendously shaped phrases with every inflection of her baton, you were aware of being in the presence of greatness.&rdquo
25th September 2017

BSO offers literature-based music and a blockbuster piano concerto

Long before audio books, people could hear the gist of literary works from music alone.

Assorted examples are threaded through the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s programming for the 2017-2018 season, starting this weekend with two richly evocative “tone poems” — Tchaikovsky’s “Hamlet” and Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan.”

These pictorial treats share the bill with the blockbuster Piano Concerto No. 3 by Rachmaninoff. Though not literature-based, it sure is a real page-turner, as packed with incident and emotion as a Tolstoy novel.

The repertoire choices added up to a continuously enjoyable concert Friday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall…

Conductor Marin Alsop tapped into the moody meandering of “Hamlet,” highlighting the most theatrical passages and giving lyrical ones room to bloom…

There is never a shortage of attention to Strauss’ “Don Juan,” but there was nothing old-hat about Friday’s performance.

The music’s mix of swash and sensuality emerged with fresh energy under Alsop’s deft guidance…

Like many a young keyboard artist, Vondracek could not resist speeding when given a chance. But however fast and furious his playing, there was clarity and, above all, expressive impact. He did not slight the gentler side of the concerto, summoning considerable tenderness of tone, poetic subtlety of phrase.

This concerto requires an extra-sturdy rapport between soloist and conductor. That proved no problem for Vondracek and Alsop, who clearly enjoy a chemistry. The orchestra, too, clicked into gear with intensely expressive playing that put the finishing touch on a sizzling performance.


22 SEPTEMBER, 2017

It was just a little over a year ago that the young Czech pianist Lukas Vondracek was in Belgium having just emerged as the winner of the 2016 Queen Elisabeth Competition. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 had been his showcase, and Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, had presided over the performance. At the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday evening, with the BSO on stage, the two reprised their triumph…

Vondracek is a big guy, and playing hunched over the keyboard, his explosiveness was impressive. Alsop, a consummate partner in all this, led the orchestra smoothly through the last movement syncopations as though she and Vondracek shared a single mind. Standing ovations are way overdone in this town, but this one was well deserved.


24 SEPTEMBER, 2017