BSO plays major Adams work, led by the composer

Jeremy Denk
Baltimore Sun

Talk about an authoritative performance. Nothing like having an eminent composer on hand to conduct one of his greatest works.

John Adams led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night in a riveting account of his "Harmonielehre," the epic 1985 score that served as a kind of personal turning point.

Here, Adams fused his minimalist style with something more resonant of the past, allowing for harmonies that Wagner would have felt at home, and long melodic lines capable of exuding an intense lyrical pull. In the end, though, it's pure Adams — rich in texture and expressive content.

The orchestra hit a terrific stride in the last minutes of "Harmonielehre," with its exhilarating harmonic tug of war, won, just in time, by rapturous E-flat major — the home key of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, which followed intermission. (The printed program listed the concerto first; placing it last made better sense.)

Jeremy Denk, one of the most interesting pianists on today's scene, tackled the Beethoven work, nicknamed "Emperor" for its grand scale. The concerto doesn't have to be underlined to be effective, and Denk approached it with a refreshingly understated bravura.

The pianist certainly produced sufficient tone and expressive impact, but what caught the ear most was the sensitive, spontaneous phrasing and the pearly quality of his tone when spinning out melodic lines with his right hand.

The way Denk articulated the suspenseful transition to the rambunctious finale was a major highlight in a performance that also had the benefit of careful partnering from Adams and buoyant, cohesive work from the BSO throughout.

Denk's encore, from Bach's "Goldberg Variations," put a subtle cap on the evening.
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