Mario Venzago is a storyteller -- in words, if one is lucky enough to speak with him, but more importantly through the music he shares with audiences. Little wonder, then, that he is a favorite guest conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a hands down choice for Thursday's presentation of Elgar's "Cello Concerto" at Strathmore, featuring award-winning cellist, Sol Gabetta, making her BSO debut.
"Personally, I like the concerto very much," said the Swiss-born Venzago, who also recorded the piece with Gabetta in 2010. "Elgar was very aged when he wrote the piece [but] it was written for young people. It's a little bit the story of a young man that looks back. So I think the combination of me as an older conductor and she as a young soloist is perfect."
Elgar completed his "Cello Concerto" in 1919, just after the World War I, following a four year period in which he all but retired from composing. The ravages of the war inspired this stirring work in which he laments England's lost era of simplicity and peace. Storyteller Venzago dramatically adds to this wistful narrative.
"It is also about aloneness," he continued in a low measured voice with a heavy German accent. "In the last movement, the most beautiful, the cello is playing, always louder and louder. That's probably the old man. And the louder the cello plays, the more the answers are [found] in the orchestra. It's solidarity; You are alone and that's a kind of sadness. But it's also a kind of choice, and therefore, I like the piece very, very much."
|BSO: Elgar's 'Cello Concerto'|
|» Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda|
|» When: 8 p.m. Thursday|
|» Info: $28 to $90; 410-783-8000; bsomusic.org|
By contrast, Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz No.1" is a frenetic retelling of Hungarian poet Nikolaus Lenau's account of the Faust legend, where the title character sells his soul to Mephistopheles for the gifts of perennial youth, wisdom and pleasure.
"Faust finds a violin and Mephisto [plays,]" Venzago explained. "The violin is used to seduce the most beautiful girl in the village. It is a very youthful story with violin and orchestra."
The violin lures Faust and the young woman into a woodland tryst. Needless to say, the work scandalized Victorian England audiences and was banned in London following its premier in 1861.
Only marginally scandalous by today's standards, it is Venzago's pleasure to conduct the work, together with the "Cello Concerto" and with Franck's "Symphony in D Minor," which closes the program.