Concert Artists open year with American music Music reviews

November 05, 1996|By David Donovan | David Donovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The 10th anniversary season of the Concert Artists of Baltimore under artistic director Edward Polochick opened with an evening of American music Saturday at Le Clerc Hall at the College of Notre Dame.

The orchestra-only part of the program featured two suites. The first, the Sebastian Ballet Suite of Menotti, dates from the 1940s and was once championed by conductors as important as Stokowski and Bernstein. Polochick imbued the music with fire and conviction. And although the hall's dry acoustics poorly served lyrical violin passages, making them sound sadly wiry, the conductor was also able to deliver enough of the requisite sweetness in the suite's Barcarolle. The solo playing of flutist Kristin Winter-Jones and bassoonist Douglas Kehlenbrick was extremely expressive.

The second orchestral offering was Dominick Argento's delightfully quirky, five-movement "Royal Invitation to the Queen of Tonga." Inspired by the leopard-skin-clad appearance of Tonga's Queen Salota at the 1952 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, Argento combines music of several cultures with considerable wit and contrapuntal incongruity. Polochick and his forces played the composer's musical jokes to the hilt, notably the marvelous "dueling bassoons."

The efforts of the singers were equally impressive, first in an a capella realization of Randall Thompson's "The Peaceable Kingdom." The dynamic range was heart-stopping and the sense of ensemble and subtle coloration in the voices enchanting. The best moment came at the end of the fifth movement, in which the pianissimo closing bars suspended time and the final release kept the magic going. Rosemarie Critcher and Dan Boyer were (( standout soloists.

The final offering was six of the "Old American Songs" by Aaron Copland, in Irving Fine's arrangement for chorus and orchestra. In the demanding baritone solo of the opening "The Boatmen's Song," Randall Woodfield's clear voice soared over the chorus and orchestra with power and conviction. The following songs were interpreted with a winning blend of enthusiasm and simplicity, but the best may have been "I Bought Me A Cat," in which the animal sounds tossed around by the chorus were hilarious and delivered with rapid-fire accuracy. The final "Ching-a-Ring Chaw" was equally exhilarating.

The program, which will become the material for the Concert Artists' first commercial recording, was met with a thunderous and loving ovation, capping what Mayor Kurt Schmoke proclaimed before the concert to be "Concert Artists in Baltimore Day."

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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