Concert Artists display impressive strength


May 11, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Even the weakest performance by the Concert Artists of Baltimore Saturday night at Friedberg Concert Hall was a good one. That's how good this group of instrumentalists and singers has become and how much their music director, Edward Polochick, has grown in the five years since they started giving concerts.

The strongest performances of the evening came in selections from Rachmaninoff's "Vespers" for chorus alone. Polochick has always been a persuasive choral conductor -- he's the director of the Baltimore Symphony Chorus -- but this performance was good even for him. Polochick got his choristers to sound authentically Russian -- there is a low B-flat early in the piece that the men made especially chilling -- and the singing throughout was both beautifully contoured and vital. Mezzo-soprano Victoria Lee Miller sang a solo with the impression of peasant weight and uncultured strength that only a sophisticated and cultivated singer can give.

The other choral piece on the program was a real rarity -- Schubert's Offertorium-Intende Voci Orationis, which received its first Baltimore performance. The choral singing was first rate, the soloist, tenor John Weber, produced singing that was sensitive, uncannily even and beautiful, and the playing of the orchestra -- particularly that of oboist Vladimir Lande with his free and sensuous vibrato -- was a pleasure.

It was not just the choral parts of the program that impressed, however. In Schubert's B-flat Symphony, Polochick always found the composer's smile and produced playing of grace and precision from the orchestra. The final movement was taken at an unusually brisk pace -- fast tempos usually prove irresistible to this conductor -- but everything in the music was articulated.

The Dvorak Serenade for strings is a bigger challenge than Schubert. With only a few stands of strings, the difficult writing is more exposed than it is in the famous symphonies, and the hairpin turns -- particularly in the second, but also in the third and fifth movements -- invite disaster. There were no disasters in this fresh and volatile performance, but there were a few areas that pointed directions in which Polochick can grow. The fast tempos that worked so well in the Schubert produced some blurred measures here. And if the upper strings were perhaps a little too loud in the Schubert, such was definitely the case in the Dvorak; dynamic markings that called for softer playing were ignored and sounds that were somewhat shrill and out of tune were produced.

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