The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is concentrating this week on meat-and-potatoes German fare from the the first half of the 19th century.
That might have led to a ho-hum meal, but two German guest artists for the program have ensured plenty of interest.
Make that two multicultural German guest artists.
Conductor Jun Markl, a BSO podium favorite, and violinist Arabella Steinbacher, making her debut with the orchestra, have an interesting heritage in common -- each was born in Munich (a few decades apart) to a German father and a Japanese mother.
Markl's talents have been well-documented here. He has an easy rapport with the BSO, and it showed again Thursday night at Strathmore (the concert is repeated Friday and Saturday at the Meyerhoff).
With a flair for rhythmic spark and lyrical warmth, the conductor set ...
To close, there was Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony. Although not really programmatic, the score is so rich in atmosphere that it's easy to hear the five movements as a set of postcards that capture fond memories.
Markl drew out those evocative qualities, maintaining a keen sense of propulsion without slighting sensitivity.
The orchestra's playing had a few rough edges, but again proved expressive, especially articulating the moods of the last two movements, from awed and reflective to unbuttoned and frenetic.
At the center of the evening came Beethoven's Violin Concerto, a towering work at once youthful and mature, profound and playful. Steinbacher, using a deliciously dark-toned Strad from 1716, proved up to the challenges.
She revealed considerable technical elan, but not the faceless shine that some young fiddlers display. She even sacrificed purity of sound here and there when digging into a phrase.
The spacious opening movement found Steinbacher making many a poetic point; she also offered subtle work in the hushed, expansive Larghetto. The finale's high spirits inspired a burst of engaging personality.
Markl backed the violinist solidly and coaxed vibrant work from the BSO throughout the concerto.
Steinbacher clearly won over the Strathmore crowd in a big way. The hearty, sustained ovation generated an encore, Kreisler's Recitative and Scherzo, delivered with a combination of charm and effortless bravura.
PHOTO OF ARABELLA STEINBACHER BY ROBERT VANO; PHOTO OF JUN MARKL BY CHRISTIANE HOHNE
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