Voices rise for King

Review: The BSO honors Martin Luther King Jr. with a variety of deep, emotional performances.

January 11, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It makes sense to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in music, as well as in words and deeds. His voice was in itself a musical instrument, after all, with a vibrant tone and speech patterns as expressive as an opera singer's phrasing. And his oratory resonated with the rich tradition of African-American spirituals.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's 15th annual King Memorial Concert, held Monday evening at Meyerhoff Hall, contained lots of old-time-religion sounds - from the stately "The Old Rugged Cross" to the hard-driving "I Just Can't Tell You." There was also room for the kind of music that the BSO normally addresses, in this case Tchaikovsky's popular Piano Concerto No. 1.

That concerto provided an opportunity for the BSO debut of an emerging artist - Christina Anum-Dorhuso, a 21-year-old of African and Ukrainian heritage studying at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute. Her straightforward playing exuded assurance and an appreciation for the score's rather mercurial nature.

For the most part, the pianist's technique measured up to the muscular demands of the piece. Here and there, more power would have been welcome, along with a little cleaner articulation. But Anum-Dorhuso offered considerable compensation by paying extra attention to subtler, more reflective moments, achieving particular sweetness and light in the second movement.

Conductor Leslie B. Dunner partnered the soloist fluently. Brass attacks were not always smooth, but the orchestra sounded firm overall. Cellist Seth Low, flutist Elizabeth Rowe and oboist James Ostryniec molded their solo lines quite sensitively.

Other than the brief, dynamic "Drum Song" from Woody Woods' "Ballet Noir" (which gave timpanist Christopher Williams a terrific workout), the BSO stepped back to let the attention shine on the With One Voice Ecumenical Choir and two vocal soloists who brought down the house.

The choral group, whose members come from several church choirs in the area, sang with consistent firmness, rhythmic precision and vivid phrasing.

Sherry Hunt, a prized veteran of the Morgan State University Choir, turned her ample contralto loose on "I'm On My Way to Canaan's Land" and "For God So Loved the World," spinning out wonderfully deep, full-bodied tones. Her technical versatility and emotional, soaring way with a phrase underlined the spiritual message of the evening affectingly.

Soprano Cynthia Hardy, another Morgan State success story, set off vocal sparks in "I Just Can't Tell You" that were matched by the chorus and orchestra brass.

About the only questionable note of the evening came from some orchestral arrangements that put a Hollywood/pops concert sort of gloss on the vocal selections. But Dunner's easy grasp of the material and infectious spirit had a way of minimizing that drawback and provided a strong bond for the evening, which concluded with the traditional, moving sing-along of "We Shall Overcome."

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