In performance: BSO in Leshnoff premiere
BSO, Alsop offer new "Starbust," new-sounding Stravinsky with Shaham
by Joe Banno
It’s probably no surprise that a new orchestral piece titled “Starburst” owes a stylistic debt to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets." Baltimore composer Jonathan Leshnoff’s “Starburst," which had its world-premiere Thursday at a Baltimore Symphony concert under Marin Alsop’s baton in Strathmore Hall, called to mind in particular Holst’s evocation of “Mercury," with its skittering string figures, glowering brass and fitful rumbles of percussion.
But more unexpectedly, the engaging, eight-minute-long “Starburst” evoked Bernard Hermann in Hitchcock mode; its sense of teasing mystery and gradually building mischief would not have been out of place in, say, Hermann’s score to “North By Northwest." Happily, Leshnoff’s scintillating color palette and sure command of tension and release transcended such influences to produce a tightly argued, audience-friendly work.
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Next to Leshnoff’s use of traditional tonality, Stravinsky’s 1931 Violin Concerto sounded positively experimental, especially with Alsop’s crisply articulated treatment of its pungent orchestration and Bachian deconstructions. Soloist Gil Shaham delivered the graceful melodic material in the middle movements and the fusillade of bowing effects in the outer ones with accustomed ease, and brought a crystalline beauty to even the slashing accents repeated throughout the piece.
The BSO was at the top of its game all evening – not least in Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, where the fat, saturated string tone and burnished brass reminded us that this was once Yuri Temirkanov’s orchestra. Alsop’s reading – cogent, purposeful, sensitively molded – indulged just enough of Rachmaninoff’s schmaltziness, without letting it overwhelm the long, musical paragraphs she so carefully constructed.
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