Chamber ensemble, setting blend nicely

September 16, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Second Presbyterian Church's gift to the Baltimore music calendar -- two series of free Sunday concerts -- opened this weekend with an appealing blend of chamber music by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians and friends.

The format of the "Chamber Music by Candlelight" series is pleasant: No single instrument or type of ensemble predominates. Though this concert favored the viola, the repertory ranged from a trio for oboe, horn and piano by Carl Reinecke to a cello sonata by Edvard Grieg.

The playing was never less than acceptable, and the warm acoustics of the church, a handsome Georgian building at the triangle intersection of North Charles and St. Paul streets in Guilford, atoned for any balance problems. For instance, the small sound of cellist Chang-Woo Lee is really not robust enough for the sonata; but it didn't get lost, either, thanks to this helpful hall.

In this year of tribute to Brahms, two of his contemporaries were featured: Reinecke, a prolific minor-league musician, and Robert Schumann, whom Brahms revered.

The Reinecke trio -- played by Jane Marvine, oboe; Mary Bisson, horn; and Mary Woehr, piano -- has a dark, brooding first movement and a lovely slow movement. Regrettably, it's disfigured by a trivial scherzo and a worthless finale.

Schumann wrote a charming set of pieces for clarinet and piano called "Maerchenbilder" (fairy tales), but the similarly titled work on this program turned out to be for an odd combination of clarinet (Gordon Miller), viola (Peter Minkler) and piano (Gregory Sioles). I say "odd" because the range and timbre of viola and clarinet are so interchangeable that some works (such as the two sonatas by Brahms) can be played by either. Here, the instruments seemed redundant, though the pieces are attractive enough, and the slow one is quite first-rate Schumann, in his most songful vein.

The undisputed highlight of the concert was Minkler playing the earliest of Paul Hindemith's viola sonatas, Op. 11 No. 4 (1918). The viola was Hindemith's own instrument, and this work is deeply expressive yet unsentimental, perhaps a stoic response to the death and destruction of World War I. Sioles was the accompanist in a very fine performance.

As for the Grieg, well, cellists need repertory, and this sonata gives them something by Grieg to play. He reworked every theme and every device of musical rhetoric, to much better effect, in the C minor violin sonata, some years later.

There are five more of these concerts, each featuring repertory as varied.

The church's other free series, held Sunday afternoons, includes a performance by the Washington Men's Camerata (Sept. 28); the Mozart "Requiem" by Columbia Pro Cantare (March 29); harpsichord duo Vera Kochanowsky and Thomas MacCracken (April 19); and programs of Israeli, Celtic and holiday music, among others.

For a brochure on either series, call 410-889-6819.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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