André Watts is star attraction at Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Robert Moody
Washington Post

Sometimes it's best to abandon all pretense. In the typical template for a classical concert, the crowd-pleasing concerto is the appetizer before the big, symphonic main course. 

With conductor Robert Spano presiding, the evening's one contemporary work took its customary place at the start of the concert, like a lone canapé set before a suspicious audience. "Dreamtime Ancestors," from the American composer Christopher Theofanidis, does everything to overcome that suspicion. Inspired by Australian Aboriginal creation myths, the 17-minute piece paints in bright, tonal colors and relies on cinematic gestures: brass fanfares, lush textures, suspense-building tremolos and easy-on-the-ears unison writing.

Spano, a longtime champion of Theofanidis, inspired a vivid and ingratiating performance. But even Spano's advocacy could not save the work's Technicolor pictorialism from sounding a bit too much like John Williams, but without the memorable melodies.

Coming right on the heels of the Theofanidis, Elgar's "Falstaff" impressed all the more with the sophistication of its scene-painting. Spano and the BSO brought to affectionate life this symphonic portrait of Shakespeare's riotous knight, in all its witty and tenderhearted glory.

 Read the rest of the review here