The Washington Post
Saturday, May 20, 2000
In Baltimore, Playful Pianos
By J.F. Greene

There is every reason to have good, clean fun with pianos at a symphony concert, particularly when it is said to be the 300th birthday of the instrument and the program is anchored by a killer piano concerto that requires killer chord work.  Moreover, it is spring – a time for levity and novelty.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's piano program Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall featured actor and opera buff Tony Randall in the role of narrator for Camille Saint-Saens' 1886 "Carnival of the Animals," with pianists Brian Ganz and Eric Conway.  The animal characterizations were carried off with considerable charm and skill, particularly "Aquarium," which glittered and dazzled; and "Pianists," which hints at the composer's view of that breed.  Elegant Randall brought the proper droll touch to the witty verses, and commented slyly that the takeoff on Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville" contained in the "Fossils" segment may reveal Saint-Saens' view of that composer.

Mozart's short Concerto No. 7 for Three Pianos, K. 242, written in 1776 apparently for three of his students, was performed by Ganz and Conway, with Eduardus Halim at the third piano.

The instruments were placed close together, side by side, so that the soloists faced the audience; it was not readily apparent, therefore, which artist was playing what.  While the whole is charming and – again – fun, this is no mere bagatelle.  The interplay of musical forms contributes to a certain fascination with the piece as it unfolds, ever so delicately.

Halim, who has gained prominence in this area for recent performances, and BSO Conductor Daniel Hege took a highly romantic approach to the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor.  Certain passages in the long first movement (about 20 minutes) were caressed, and, in the second movement, other passaged were positively fondled.  It was a popular view, which, together witht eh power and articulation Halim displayed with the cadenza and elsewhere, gave rise to cheers and a standing ovation.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8.