Playing music, sensitively

May 12, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra wrapped up its 18th season with the kind of program that its fans have come to expect - a creative mix of the familiar and the offbeat.

Never mind the marketing tag stuck onto that program - "Twentieth Century Romantics," which applied to only two of the four composers represented. There still was a unifying aspect to Wednesday's concert at Goucher College: consistently expressive music-making.

Of particular note was the performance of a work by a 19th century romantic, Max Bruch. His supremely lyrical G minor Violin Concerto is an ideal vehicle for Chee-Yun, the Korean-born violinist who can exude a good deal of romanticism even without playing a note. From her first, rapt entrance, delivered with an exquisitely dark and penetrating tone, she caught the tinge of bittersweetness behind the arching phrases.

Throughout, Chee-Yun never settled for merely pretty playing, but set in motion a poetic dialogue with the orchestra, which was sensitively led by BCO music director Anne Harrigan. Although usually heard with a full-sized orchestra backing up the soloist, the concerto didn't lose anything of great value in this smaller setting. The ensemble's strings summoned considerable warmth of tone, while the winds and brass offered beautifully balanced work.

Earlier in the evening, Harrigan showcased those strings in two pieces, written two centuries apart.

Corelli's Concerto Grosso No. 1, with its elegance of proportion and melodic purity, was given a touch of tenderness. Historical concerns were present - vibrato was restrained, for example, and lightness of articulation was emphasized - but there was nothing remotely dry in the sound. Harrigan let the music breathe, especially when it came to final measures. Concertmaster Craig Richmond and principal second violinist Ivan Stefanovic brought color and panache to their solos.

Other than an occasional loss of tonal evenness in the violins, the account of Barber's famous "Adagio for Strings" made its usual, soulful impression. Harrigan neither dawdled nor fussed over the score, but let it unfold with a natural momentum.

The offbeat part of the program was music by Dag Wiren, which doesn't turn up frequently anywhere, except, perhaps, in his native Sweden. His "Sinfonietta," from 1934, was aptly described as "cute" by Harrigan in remarks to the large audience; she might have added "inconsequential."

Well, maybe that's too harsh. Wiren's rather uninteresting melodic ideas are orchestrated with flair, and there's a certain diverting, light-entertainment quality to the piece.

Harrigan tapped that quality in a reading that found the orchestra percolating brightly. Trumpeter Joshua MacCluer's gleaming contributions were especially effective.

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