New works were in the air as two fine orchestras, from Baltimore and San Francisco, came to Carnegie Hall on two consecutive days for an adventurous musical weekend. The piece given its New York premi`ere by the Baltimore Symphony -- making its first Carnegie appearance since David Zinman became its music director -- had a vocal dimension as well as an orchestral one. ``Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe,'' a suite by Dominick Argento, takes its themes from Argento's full-length Poe opera of about 10 years ago, and its words from ``Annabel Lee,'' one of Poe's most familiar verses.
Sung offstage by Paul Sperry, the intermittent tenor part (which can also be taken by a soprano) had a deliberately disembodied quality that suited the moodiness of the piece, which sports such Poe-etic subtitles as ``The Valley of the Many-Colored Grass'' and ``The Sepulchre.'' The rest of the score was as lithe and lyrical as one might expect from a proudly tonal composer who thinks of himself as a member of ``the Mozart, Verdi, Mussorgsky school.''
Poe had strong Baltimore roots, and it happens that Argento decided to become a composer while studying there years ago. His expressive ``Tombeau'' does the city proud -- and made a good opener for an energetic Carnegie program that headed next for the ripe romanticism of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto in C minor (with Andrei Gavrilov the eager soloist) and then delved into the impressionism of Debussy's ``Images,'' all of it commandingly conducted by the capable Zinman.
The San Francisco Symphony visited Carnegie Hall the next evening for, among other offerings, the first New York performance of ``Movers and Shakers,'' by Charles Wuorinen, who rightly considers the title to be an accurate reflection of what happens in the piece -- even though the program notes quote him as wryly saying he has curbed a former tendency to ``bang and crash.''
There's nothing wrong with banging and crashing, of course, if it's done artfully; and Wuorinen's musical inspirations have been traced to such robust figures as Stravinsky and Var`ese in addition to cooler heads like Schoenberg and Carter.
When it wasn't busy moving and shaking, his six-part composition swooped and soared from one instrument or section to another, weaving a muscular tapestry of sound that was aggressively percussive at some points, unexpectedly gentle at others.
Herbert Blomstedt, now in his second San Francisco season, conducted with a vigor that carried the piece's 12-tone sonorities through the cushiony ambience of Carnegie Hall with no loss of bite or crispness. Similar authority on the part of conductor and instrumentalists was felt in the other items on the bill of fare, Sibelius's bleakly beautiful ``Tapiola'' and Beethoven's glorious Seventh Symphony, which was involving even when not as viscerally exciting as it might have been. New York's grandest hall was fortunate to have such gifted visitors pay a call.