Instrumental Weisgall

April 05, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Hugo Weisgall is one of our best composers of vocal music. In fact, no senior American composer of operatic music -- with the exception of Gian Carlo Menotti -- can be said to have enjoyed more success than the Czech-born, Baltimore-bred Weisgall as an operatic composer. Thus it was seemingly a little peculiar that when the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore decided to celebrate Weisgall's 80th birthday yesterday afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art, it did so with three instrumental works.

One uses the word "seemingly" because even in instrumental pieces Weisgall is never far from the world of the human voice. The "Arioso and Burlesca" (1984) -- which was beautifully played by cellist Evelyn Elsing and pianist Arno Drucker -- is really an aria and cabaletta that explores the cello's beautiful vocal registers. "Tangents: Four Episodes for Flute and Marimba" (1985) kept bringing to mind a series of scintillating vocal duets in which the partners were flutist and percussionist. This witty,

almost neo-classical work was played in an appropriately jaunty manner by flutist Mark Sparks and percussionist Chris Williams.

As far as this listener was concerned, the composer's 1982 Sonata for Piano was less successful. In remarks to the audience at the start of the concert, Weisgall said that he tried to write a late-Beethoven-like sonata. And, indeed, this work is serious, powerful, difficult and -- like the earlier composer's last five sonatas -- filled with several voices that emerge from the instrument's middle register. But despite a colorful and virtuosic performance by Joel Wizanksky, the piece emerged as unremittingly dense.

The second half of the program contained the world premiere performance of Lawrence Moss' Quartet for Flute, Cello, Percussion and Piano. This was an impressive 15-minute piece in four sections in which the composer demonstrated real imagination for combining and contrasting the different timbres of his instruments and for unflagging rhythmic vitality.

An early deadline and the necessity of getting to another concert did not allow me to hear Ernst Krenek's "They Knew What They Wanted," which concluded the program.

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