Cellist Roche transforms mournful Schumann Music review

February 22, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The biggest ovations at yesterday's concert by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and its music director, Anne Harrigan, were reserved for and deserved by the evening's soloists.

The first of the soloists was cellist Gita Roche, the principal cellist of the Chamber Orchestra and a member of the Baltimore Symphony. Roche is among Baltimore's most popular musicians. But that was not the primary reason for the warm applause for her performance of Schumann's Concerto in A minor.

Some cellists regard the Schumann as the the greatest concerto for their instrument. It is surely among the most difficult to put across to an audience. It is pervaded by a mournful quality, there are no opportunities for display, and much of the solo line lies in the lower strings. This is a piece in which the unfortunate soloist may find himself making sounds that resemble groans.

Roche is a superb cellist and that was not to be her fate. Her large, powerful tone never lost its quality, her phrasing had the appropriate bardic quality, and her fingers and her bow arm did not let her down. The best thing about her interpretation was its romantic outlook, the way she connected with Schumann's fervent inner songfulness. There is a passage in the second movement in which the cello sings the exquisite melody in slow double stops. Roche turned that moment into the quiet triumph it deserved to be.

The cellist did not always get the support she needed from Harrigan and the orchestra. There were occasions -- particularly during the first and third movements -- when Roche appeared to be playing without a safety net and when the performance threatened momentarily to come unglued.

The concert's second soloist, saxophonist David Stambler, received a better accompaniment in a somewhat simpler piece, Ray Sprenkle's "November," which received its world premiere at this concert. Sprenkle, who teaches at the Peabody Conservatory, has written a beautiful, evocative work that deserves to join Debussy's Rhapsody and a few other pieces as part of the saxophone's classical repertory. The work unfolds in waves of lovely string writing, suggesting at times something of the spirit of "new age music" as well as the composer's familiarity with some of the great jazz written for this instrument. Stambler performed "November" smoothly and sensuously. The program began with Schubert's overture to "Die Zwillingsbrueder" and closed with Dvorak's "Czech Suite."

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