Concert Artists dish up scoops of Schubert

Review: A delightful encounter with the composer.

October 29, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

"It sometimes seems to me as if I did not belong to this world at all," Franz Schubert is reported to have said. And no wonder. The composer lived for much too short a time - 31 years - and encountered an appalling lack of appreciation for his talents during his lifetime. But he left behind an abundance of sublime music, more than enough to guarantee immortality.

To open its 15th anniversary season, the Concert Artists of Baltimore sampled the Schubert legacy Saturday evening at the College of Notre Dame's LeClerc Hall.

It was a "concept" program, with a grand title - "Ecstasy Through Agony" - and a script by Jonathan Palevsky, program director at WBJC-FM, who appeared in costume as the composer and served as narrator. Throughout the evening, he dispensed roughly equal portions of jokes and historical info, along with a few questionable opinions, at one point making an absurd equation between Rossini and Andrew Lloyd Webber.(The audience clearly enjoyed this smoothly coordinated show. But, if this is a trend - narrative cabaret with concerts - I'm not quite convinced it's a good one.)

The Schubert salute contained more excerpts than complete works. But the opportunity to hear even snippets from the largely forgotten opera Alfonso and Estrella and some rarely encountered liturgical pieces proved welcome.

Conductor Edward Polochick was in his usual animated, thoroughly attentive form. He took the opening movement of the Unfinished Symphony at a brisk clip that emphasized tragic undertones and eliminated sentimentality. (I wish he hadn't started the music while Palevsky was still talking, a practice that, thankfully, wasn't repeated elsewhere.)

Single movements from the Fifth and Ninth symphonies revealed Schubert's felicitous gift for melody and orchestral coloring; Polochick again had both items moving along nicely. The ensemble was in generally polished shape; Vladimir Lande's oboe solo in the second movement of the Ninth had a vibrancy that nearly made it possible to forget how dreadfully dry the hall's acoustics are.

Concertmaster Jose Miguel Cueto, who has been with the Concert Artists from the start, turned in a deftly shaped account of the pleasant D major Konzertstuck.

The choral component of the Concert Artists organization did particularly cohesive, vivid work in the Credo from Mass No. 5. The women of the chorus articulated the jaunty hunting song from Alfonso and Estrella with considerable flair; soprano Faith Okkema warmly sang Estrella's wistful aria that breaks out in the midst of that choral celebration.

There were some examples of Schubert's greatest contribution to music - art songs. Soprano Ah Matejicka sounded pressed and strident in Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel, and Polochick's piano accompaniment was so loud and clunky that this Gretchen could have been operating a buzz saw.

But Matejicka sang an abbreviated The Shepherd on the Rock with warmth and expressiveness with much more sensitive support from Polochick and mostly fluent playing by clarinetist Anne Ament.

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