Karen Gomyo and Conductor Kalmarâ€™s Wow-Factor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Karen Gomyo and her â€śEx Foulisâ€ť Stradivarius delivered a resplendent performance of Jean Sibeliusâ€™ Violin Concerto at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall May 27. The Baltimore Symphony players then followed this up with their first-ever performance of William Waltonâ€™s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major. Both works demanded big sweeping sound from the orchestra, which delivered under conductor Carlos Kalmar.
None of this grandiosity was apparent from the opener: Benjamin Brittenâ€™s setting of Gustav Mahlerâ€™s â€śWhat the Wild Flowers Tell Me.â€ť The playersâ€™ full effect wafted well off the opening woodwind solo and viola plucks, but any lush rising ripples so characteristic of the prismatic Mahler came across overly restrained.
The stifling reserve didnâ€™t last into the Finnish composerâ€™s violin concerto. Sibelius packs so much virtuosity into these three movements that less-able players are bound to falter. Sibelius had harbored dreams of being the grandstanding solo violinist. Starting, like he did, at age 14, is bound to be difficult. He never even made it into the Berlin Philharmonic. But nothing stops him in composing a flight of fancy and brooding calm that can match the more played Mendelssohn or Brahms concertos.
The gentle opening on the strings tingled the spine and Gomyoâ€™s entrance was incisive yet gentle. Kalmar ensured great suspense from the symphony in its quietest moments, so that groundswells from cello and viola could really rock us from under the seats. Spacious, expansive, and profound playing set the bar for the rest of the concert. Here, before the second movement, the audience had to applaud.
Next, Gomyo skimmed across the pedal chords of horn and woodwinds like a crane swoops gentle over the sea surface. You donâ€™t need to consult the program to know sheâ€™s working on a superior instrument, her range delights: high notes never run saccharine and the lower mahogany register sounds like it could bleed.
Now Kalmar dipped down deep into the well of what the BSO players are capable of or knew when to stay out of their way. He made sure none trod upon the others, and gave Gomyo room to range. Her playful stepwise song rode up with the flute like an exchange of laughter before the second movement ends with a glorious hush.
When the third movement draws gusto from martial bouncing of the cellistsâ€™ bows youâ€™re assured the BSO is so going to nail this work. There were moments of a rich, full body of sound, spread across the orchestra, that approach what you expect from a top-tier orchestra. And all throughout, Gomyo’s darting accomplishment lightens, lifts, and even leads this achievement.
Gomyo, in her twenties, will come back for many future seasons if the applause this evening judges true. Rarely does the BSOâ€™s audience demand an encore before intermission; they did from her. No surprise given the real gusto of concertmaster Jonathan Carneyâ€™s kiss of her hand after the first ovation. With charm of impulse she began a spicy Astor Piazzolla Tango Etude, only to break off, apologizing, that she hadnâ€™t practiced it. She then launched into his more lyrical, glistening Tango Etude No. 4, keeping the spell of her Strad alive in the hall for just one delicious moment longer.
After intermission, the brass and timpani took over. Sir William Walton composed this first symphony 20 years before he got the â€śSirâ€ť before his name. What a feat to follow up the more breathy opener and the reflective Sibelius. The Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major is almost entirely punch, requiring a finale with a second timpani thrown in for full climax. You can easily hear that John Williams had Walton symphonies on his crib sheet for movie scores. After all, Walton scored many a film himself.
The Walton symphony got every ounce of vigor that these players gave when they launched into â€śStar Warsâ€ť earlier in the season. The brass section attacked entrances with fantastic confidence. Expect more when the BSO offers a night of John Williamsâ€™ scores in the summer season (July 22-23).
This program is in the running as one of the best concerts of the season, although this weekâ€™s upcoming Emanuel Ax show could knock it from the perch.
Pianist Emanuel Ax joins mastra Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony, June 3,4, and 5 for an evening of Osvaldo Golijov’s New Work (Henry Fogel Commission Consortium), Britten’s A Young Personâ€™s Guide to the Orchestra, and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. For more information and tickets, visit the BSO’s web site.