Concert Artists show how less is more

Music review

April 30, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The matchup between Yuri Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is not the only intense musical communion going on in the city. Edward Polochick and his Concert Artists of Baltimore enjoy a remarkable rapport that can produce startling, highly satisfying results.

Consider the account of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 Saturday evening at the College of Notre Dame's LeClerc Hall.

There was an electric charge behind the first notes that never let up, a charge that flowed not just from conductor to musicians, but vice versa. This tautness, and Polochick's sensitivity to the inner workings of a score, uncorked the full flavor of Schumann's passionate, propulsive lyricism.

The composer's notoriously "muddy" orchestration clears up considerably when turned over to a chamber orchestra and its lower ratio of strings to brass, as revelatory recordings by such period instrument ensembles as the Hanover Band have demonstrated. The Concert Artists, at about 45 strong, made a strong case for the composer's original intentions.

Bursts of bravura (the "Scherzo" movement rushed by in what seemed like a single breath) were balanced by peaks of expressive power, notably in the melancholy third movement and the last emphatic gestures of the finale.

This wasn't a case of note-perfect playing. The trumpets stumbled at the start; the violins could not always sustain a seamless or full-bodied tone. But the slips were few and minor. Besides, great music-making isn't as much about precision as it is about heart. And this was, at the very least, a heartfelt performance.

The program also offered Strauss' Oboe Concerto, composed in 1945, the same year of his "Metamorphosen" for strings. Where that string work is a profound lament for German art, destroyed physically and spiritually by the war, the concerto is an affirmation of life after darkness. It's also a return to the light, brilliant, tuneful style of Strauss' operas.

The oboe is treated like the star soprano in one of those operas, spinning out endless, beguiling, beautiful lines, while the orchestra purrs and pulsates an accompaniment. The Concert Artists' principal oboist, Vladimir Lande, handled the solo assignment with stylish detailing, a clean tone and mostly effortless articulation; Polochick and the ensemble provided supple support.

The program opened with the witty, slightly nutty "Moz-Art a la Haydn" from 1977 by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke. If Mozart had taken acid, he may well have written something just like this.

Violinists Jose Miguel Cueto and Annaliese Place were the colorful soloists. Their string colleagues got into the spirit of the piece, which calls for some free-form expression, a game of musical chairs and a gradual abandonment of the stage.

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