The pleasure of the company was its playing not-often-heard music


October 29, 1990|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

There's no doubt about conductor Edward Polochick's knack for building an interesting program. In Friedberg Hall on Saturday night, he and his Concert Artists of Baltimore (a chamber orchestra and chorus) performed important, but rarely heard, works by Barber, Honegger, Vaughan Williams and Dvorak.

And there's no doubt about Polochick's musical talent. The performance that he and his choristers gave of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G Minor for unaccompanied chorus was excellent: every entrance secure, the musical line smooth, each phrase filled with feeling and the ensemble tight.

But if Polochick is at his best when he is in front of a chorus, he can be erratic when he is in front of an orchestra. The worst moments in Saturday's concert came in the slow movement of Dvorak's "Czech Suite." The orchestra's string tone was sour, the wind playing was riddled with errors (several players consistently overblew their instruments) and the rhythm was sodden. Unfortunately, most of the concert was closer in quality to the Dvorak than it was to the Vaughan Williams.

It was a pleasure to hear Barber's "Prayers of Kierkegaard," a work for chorus and orchestra commissioned in 1954 for the Boston Symphony by the Koussevitsky Foundation. Although it looks back at Gregorian chant and flirts (as the more famous Piano Sonata does) with 12-tone technique, this work -- like most of Barber's music -- is filled with the harmonic language of the late 19th century. Neo-Romanticism is now very fashionable -- just listen to most of the new music the Baltimore Symphony performs -- and, to these ears, often very unconvincing. But Barber was a neo-Romantic when it was unfashionable to be one, and the "Prayers of Kierkegaard" is filled with conviction and feeling. The power of the music came across despite a performance in which the musicians and singers were often late with their entrances.

The best music of the evening was Honegger's Symphony No. 2 forString Orchestra and Trumpet. Like the middle symphonies of Shostakovich, this wartime work is filled with lament that verges on despair. In the first movement, Polochick's performance never built the brooding details into a continuous arc. The second movement was somewhat better, but the headlong presto in the third movement became almost unglued and the ensemble between the strings and the offstage trumpet was tenuous.

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