DURING AN AFTERNOON of chamber music presented yesterday by the Concert Artists of Baltimore at the Walters Art Gallery, two songs by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky managed to steal the show. This came as a surprise because the program, entitled "The French-Russian Connection," was focused on music for piano and strings.
Derek Anthony, bass, sang Mussorgsky's "The Song of the Flea" and "The Field Marshall" with flair and power. His richly resonant voice was well-matched to their darkly colored accompaniment, dramatically played by CAB director Edward Polochick.
With these songs, Mussorgsky created a type of mini-opera, complete with character and a fully developed plot. They are a marvel of compactness and directness. Anthony sang them both with the operatic intensity they deserved.
The rest of the concert, after a slow start, eventually rose to Anthony's level of musicality. Violinist Jose Cueto, cellist Daniel Malkin and pianist Nancy Roldan performed Arensky's Trio In D Minor (Op.32). Each is a talented musician capable of playing with agility and sensitivity. And that is what they did. It was unfortunate that it took them until the third movement to do that together.
The first movement, given to soaring outbursts of romanticism amid passages of heavy-footed Russian melancholy, failed to coalesce into the grand statement it is. Part of the problem stemmed from the piano. The acoustics in the Walters' Graham Auditorium are really difficult. At one moment the piano was curiously muffled, and the next it was overpowering. The second movement, a folk-like scherzo, was humorless.
This all changed in the third movement, an adagio marked "Elegia." The expansive melody which binds the movement together is a curious blend of sensuality and gentleness. It seemed to inspire the players to work as an ensemble and the results were truly beautiful. Happily, this spirit continued into the fourth movement.
Gabriel Faure's Quartet Inn C Minor (Op. 15) concluded the program. The same trio of players were joined by violist Jennifer Rende for this work.
Similar in style to the Arensky piece, this quartet is filled with broad gestures, bold and unexpected twists of harmony and mood, as well as passionate lyricism. The musicians dug in their heels and really played this piece, making the most of its almost turgid intensity. Their stylish playing brought the afternoon to a rousing close.