ST. MARY'S Seminary Chapel on Roland Avenue has a longer than ideal reverberation time of five seconds, the time it takes for sound to disappear. The more ideal Meyerhoff Symphony Hall has less than half that. Yet the chapel's beautiful arched stone interior has its own charms, especially this time of year. The visuals more than balance out any echo problems.
Last night, Anne Harrigan, music director of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, provided some listening balance of her own in a holiday pops concert for 600 rapt music fans. Her featured soloist was organist Margaret Budd and the organ is in the rear choir loft. So Harrigan positioned 19 string players near Budd and they all stayed up there making music the first half of the concert.
Then the almost full orchestra of 38 players set up and played in the front altar area for the second half. Without moving an inch except turning around, people could taste the sounds differently from the same perspective in the long, narrow, high chapel. Whatever the acoustics, the exuberant Harrigan led an orchestra that played vibrantly in much of its varied 18th, 19th and 20th century program. Candlelight helped make the setting friendly, even cozy.
It's not the easiest thing to imagine an organ the size of St. Mary's making like a cuckoo and nightingale in song but Budd made it work. In Handel's "Organ Concerto No. 13 in F" ("The Cuckoo and the Nightingale"), her notes flew out and around the chapel in Handel's runs and trills as the strings supported her flights of fancy. Budd's fine reputation as recitalist and organist at the Second Presbyterian Church in Guilford was again confirmed.
The program began with strings and organ swooping along with that galloping warhorse on radio request shows, Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor," constructed in 1945 by Remo Giazotto from Albinoni parts. From on high, Harrigan got everyone's attention early in her surging, romantic treatment.
Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1" (1917) was another piece expertly fabricated this century from original music of the 17th century. Harrigan set a vigorous pace in conveying the idea of a multi-textured Italianate quilt. Leslie Starr played a haunting oboe passage and cellist Gita Roche and violinist Craig Richmond followed in a sensuous duet in the third movement.
The orchestra whipped, dallied and danced through favorite selections of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." Harrigan was an active beat keeper, in constant control, starting and stopping players on a dime, her dramatic style difficult for anyone to ignore.
The BCO repeats the 90-minute concert at the chapel at 8 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $12 and $9. Call 366-8973. Three remaining concerts Feb. 20, March 20 and May 8 will be at Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College.