A marathon of concerts is addicting

Review: Riccardo Chailly leads the pack with a stunning rendition of Mahler's `Resurrection' Symphony.

February 12, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

For some of us, there's no such thing as too much music; its regenerative power is addictive. I was reminded of that over the weekend, attending four concerts in the span of 27 hours.

The first was a stunner - the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam performing Mahler's Resurrection Symphony Saturday at the Kennedy Center, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Under the galvanizing leadership of Riccardo Chailly, the symphony's emotional journey was made palpable, from uncertainty and fear to fervent belief that all things will be born anew. Never mind a few accidents in the brass - the orchestra demonstrated an overwhelming technical and expressive brilliance. The strings excelled, producing a tone that was effortlessly silken one movement, downright granite-like the next.

Mezzo-soprano Petra Lang was in sumptuous, enveloping voice. Soprano Janice Watson quickly recovered from a tentative start to soar sweetly. The stellar Westminster Symphonic Choir from New Jersey intoned its first phrases on the cusp of silence and built majestically in volume and impact. Adding a wonderful touch of theater, Chailly had the choristers sing while seated until the closing lines, reinforcing visually the message of the text: "Thou shalt rise again, my heart, in a single moment."

The conductor's concern for the subtlest and most brazen details yielded an intensely personal interpretation and vital music-making. The ensuing roar in the hall had Chailly lifting his arms like an Olympic gold medalist. I don't expect to hear such a probing Resurrection Symphony soon - unless, perhaps, Leonard Bernstein is resurrected.

It wasn't easy adjusting sonically and spatially an hour later to attend the Concert Artists of Baltimore's all-American program at LeClerc Hall on the campus of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, but it was worth the effort.

Of particular note was Songs and Spells for chorus and chamber orchestra by Baltimore-based composer Robert Sirota. His setting of lines from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is rich in humor, spice and atmosphere; Edward Polochick conducted a colorful performance.

William Grant Still's tone poem Darker America could have used more polished playing, but its bluesy, poignant edge was felt.

Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto had a confident, dynamic protagonist in David Drosinos, principal clarinetist for the Concert Artists. He spun out the lyrical lines of the first movement with considerable warmth; the cadenza needed a little more breadth and vividness. The ensemble had a rough start in the finale, but otherwise provided stylish support.

The chorus delivered several a cappella songs enthusiastically, if not always cohesively.

Day two

Sunday's attractions began in Peabody Institute's elegant Griswold Hall with a program devoted to the music of Christopher Theofanidis, a recent addition to the school's faculty.

Except for an ecstatic moment of trilling and shimmering near the end of the haunting O Vis Aeternitatis for piano quintet that suggested Messiaen (not an unflattering comparison), Theofanidis revealed his voice. He takes something of the intervals and harmony in Greek music and adds a distinctive personality.

The Concerto for Bassoon and Chamber Orchestra exploits the solo instrument's range ingeniously, from growling and grunting to spinning out long, tender lines. Silence, too, is a potent sound in this organic score, written for New York-based bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann. He gave a spectacular performance, vibrantly backed by a Peabody ensemble conducted by the composer.

Among other highlights was Statues for piano, five short pieces that, in essence go nowhere yet have more to say than many works with clear destinations. Chrissie Nanou was the bravura pianist. Flow, My Tears, with its tender recurring motive, forms an eloquent eulogy to eminent composer Jacob Druckman. Violinist Jennie Press played it beautifully.

Song of Elos, with ever-so-artsy poetry by Judith Freeman and sometimes awkward word-setting, was less striking, but it still added to the overall impression that Theofanidis is an unusually skilled, communicative composer.

Finally, Sunday evening at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium came a demi-recital by mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer (followed by questions and answers), the 42nd annual Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Lecture-Performance. With her fast vibrato, evenly controlled registers and keen intelligence, Mentzer is one of today's most interesting vocal artists.

Here, she focused on women as song subjects and song composers, although texts should have been provided for the audience. Mentzer made persuasive cases for the neglected compositions of Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler, and explored Robert Schumann's cycle, A Woman's Life and Loves, with an affecting quality that needed only greater range of expression from her otherwise admirable accompanist Elizabeth Buccheri.

Witty songs by Libby Larson written for Mentzer capped the short, winning program.

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