Elgar, Mahler a touch much

Music: Lush, haunting concert at Peabody full of feeling but perhaps overly substantial.

Classical Music

May 09, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Peabody Symphony Orchestra capped its season Sunday afternoon anchored by the bittersweet tonality of E minor, home key of Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 7.

The two pieces have a few other things in common, chiefly a lush, late-romantic harmonic language and a penchant for long, haunting themes.

Although they approached music from different angles, both composers had a rare gift for making intimate statements as effectively as grand ones; both turned out to be profound valedictorians for the 19th-century world.

And both put themselves so deeply into their scores that there is no mistaking their creations for anyone else's -- though it was hard on Sunday not to imagine a bit of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" bluster running through the finale of the Mahler Seventh.

Elgar's concerto speaks of nostalgia and resignation, Mahler's symphony of struggle and wonder. There is enough musical meat in either work to make a full meal by itself; getting the two at a single seating proved decidedly filling at the Friedberg Concert Hall. (Several patrons must have felt over-fed since there was a steady, and noisy, parade of deserters after each movement of the Mahler.)

For the Elgar concerto, the orchestra welcomed Peabody alumnus Carter Brey, currently principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic.

It's hardly news that he is a superb musician. His impeccable technique, with its unfailing security of intonation and warmth of tone, would be enough to separate him from the pack. Brey is also an exceedingly thoughtful player, someone who taps the heart of the music but does not get sticky over it.

Where Jacqueline DuPre, for example, would make an emotionally wrenching experience out of the concerto, Brey took a somewhat cooler approach, yet still provided plenty of feeling, plenty of poetry.

His masterly performance enjoyed fully attentive support from conductor Hajime Teri Murai and the orchestra.

Many a community would consider itself fortunate to have a resident, professional ensemble that played as cohesively as this student group did during the Elgar.

Things were less reliable in the Mahler, with assorted accidents (and a few fatalities) among the brass, some thin violin passages and occasional lapses of coordination in the symphony's tricky rhythmic swings.

Still, Murai coaxed intensely expressive efforts from his forces, especially in the three marvelous, moody inner movements, with their alternately comforting and troubling nocturnal imagery.

The scherzo, which seems to suggest a whirling waltz of ghostly, unrepentant souls, emerged most tellingly.

Concert's religious works

Just in time for this evening's "Live, Gifted and Black" concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra comes a compact disc recording of last year's concert -- "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes: A Celebration of the Music of Adolphus Hailstork."

Released on the BSO's own label, with production assistance from National Public Radio, the CD is devoted largely to the Virginia Beach-based Hailstork's religious works, including the 45-minute cantata "Done Made My Vow" for speaker, vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra.

The speaker (Harold A. Carter Sr.) adopts the cadences of a preacher in full flower, delivering the kind of inspirational text you might expect at a graduation ceremony aimed at encouraging young African-Americans to honor the heroes of the civil rights movement and to focus on building better lives for themselves.

Complementing the rousing words is highly romantic, often predictable music that owes something to Leonard Bernstein in its jaunty orchestral interludes, something to Randall Thompson in its emphatic closing chorale.

If the musical cliches pile up at times, the sincerity underneath the score provides considerable compensation.

The performance, led by Daniel Hege, is vital and engrossing. The orchestra whips up quite a storm and there are admirable contributions from Carter, soprano Janice Chandler, tenor Gregory Hopkins, boy soprano Darrien Cofield and the Morgan State University Choir.

The disc's highlight comes midway through the eponymous, tripartite piece for tenor, chorus and orchestra in "How Long," which generates a powerful pull as soloist Thomas Young rides increasingly florid waves of melancholy prayer. The rest of the work, conducted sympathetically by Nathan Carter, is earnest, but earthbound.

Two orchestral curtain-raisers, with Hege conducting, fill out the disc. The briefest of them, "Intrada" (less than two minutes), proves a prismatic little attention-grabber and inspires polished playing.

The CD, priced at $15, is available through the BSO and is expected to be for sale soon in some area book and record stores. To order the CD, and for free tickets to the "Live, Gifted and Black" concert featuring cellist Desmond Neysmith at 7: 30 tonight at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, call 410-783-8000.

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