Ensemble presents a vibrant program

Review: Pro Musica Rara in fine form as it performs works by Bach and Mozart.

January 30, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Pro Musica Rara came up with a strong lineup for its traditional "SuperBach Sunday" program, this one celebrating two giants - Bach and Mozart - and, for good measure, one of Bach's most talented sons. It was a refreshing combination.

The ensemble, devoted to performing music on period instruments and in authentic style, has an uneven track record technically. But, except for one piece that had to be re-started (a Mozart arrangement of a Bach fugue) and an occasional bit of intonation fuzziness, the level of execution this time was admirable.

There also was an unmistakable sense of good old-fashioned enjoyment emanating from the stage at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The music was very much alive.

Greg Mulligan set the tone early with his poised, dynamic account of Bach's A minor Sonata for unaccompanied violin. The phrasing was brimming with character, especially in the mighty fugue that makes up the second movement. He dug deeply into that section, highlighting not just the noble curve of the melodic lines, but also the emotional weight underneath.

Reacting to a burst of applause, Mulligan said, jokingly, "It feels like that should be enough, doesn't it?" After wiping his brow, he plunged back in and continued to make vibrantly expressive points with the remaining movements.

Mozart's homage to Johann Christian Bach - the D major Concerto for keyboard and strings, K. 107, based on one of J.C.'s sonatas - packs a lot of elegance into a short span. Amy Rosser, at the harpsichord, captured that elegance with generally polished playing, complemented by nimble, warmly nuanced support from her colleagues.

Rosser, flutist Sara Nichols (on a baroque flauto traverso) and a full complement of strings turned their attention back to the elder Bach to close the concert. His Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor inspired bravura efforts.

Nichols offered colorful phrasing, and her articulation remained clean even during a delectably over-the-speed-limit romp through the concluding Badinerie movement.

The strings could have been a little tighter at the start of the Sarabande, and the first violins a little smoother in tone, but there was a good deal of control and fluency to savor. The swaggering approach to the Polonaise was particularly effective.

To add visual spice, the musicians were divided by gender for this performance - women on the left, men on the right - but it was a decidedly harmonious battle of the sexes.

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