Haydn oratorio of cold Winter warms hearts

Concert: Seldom heard work gets artistic treatment by orchestra, WMC chorus

Howard Live

February 14, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We don't hear much of Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Seasons these days.

That's a shame because while this musical collage of spring festivals, summer storms, autumnal hunts and cold, gloomy winter nights may not speak with the epic force of The Creation - the Austrian composer's supreme choral masterwork - The Seasons also exudes plenty of magic touches that only Haydn could provide.

And in my book, that makes it worth hearing anytime a band of well-intentioned musicians gets together to pull it out of mothballs.

So I tip my cap to Columbia Orchestra conductor Jason Love and Margaret Boudreaux, Western Maryland College's director of choral music, who brought the orchestra and the Western Maryland College Choir together Saturday evening at Columbia's Jim Rouse Theatre for the Winter portion of Haydn's The Seasons.

They were joined by mezzo-soprano Kyle Engler, tenor Evan Walker and baritone David Griffiths, all stalwarts of the Carroll County music scene.

We must start with the men and women of the orchestra who came across with the sort of vivid, emotionally connected playing this highly pictorial work demands.

Love's strings dug in with admirable intensity as the spinning wheels turned in "Whirring, burring, whirring," the home-spun commentary on femininity sung by the solo soprano and women's choir.

And who could resist the brassy flair dished up by the trumpets in the glorious celebration of virtue that ends the work?

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: The community orchestra may not hit every single note square-on in such difficult fare but, under Love's direction, there's no mistaking the serious sense of artistic purpose with which the musicians play.

Though undersized and not flattered in the least by the acoustical wasteland that is the Rouse Theatre, the choir made its mark with bright, alert singing, especially in the marvelous counterpoint of the final chorus.

Engler was the most polished of the soloists. An instructor of voice at Western Maryland College, she is a true lyric mezzo whose formidable technique allows her to ascend to the upper register minus the tubbiness of tone that afflicts so many singers who share her range.

Griffiths' rather croony style may not always be faithful to authentic 18th-century performance practices, but his tonal warmth and flair for storytelling were put to effective use in the narrative recitatives entrusted to him by the composer. He's a charmer.

Alas, Walker seldom took his head out of his music while delivering his passages in a halting "deer caught in the headlights" manner that added precious little to the majesty of Haydn's score.

Mozart's exquisite "Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola" dominated the first half of the program, and one would have to say that the playing got better as the work progressed.

Problems cropped up repeatedly in movements one and two, as both the orchestral playing and the efforts of violinist Rebecca Anna and violist Rebecca Henry were frequently out of tune.

Passagework from the two soloists could have been more precise as well.(Those aforementioned acoustical gremlins could have been partly responsible for this. Some people who followed the orchestra to a performance in Carroll County the next day reported that Mozart's cause was better served in the more hospitable acoustical confines of the Westminster High School auditorium.)

Even so, there were things to enjoy, most notably the lovely solo cadenza at the end of movement one, and some sparkling work by the horns in the opening and closing sections.

Danail Rachev, the orchestra's assistant conductor, began the program with an impassioned performance of the overture to Mozart's opera The Magic Flute.

Rachev, who will be polishing his craft at the Aspen Festival this summer, conveys an intense, angular presence on the podium - a posture that lent weight to the overture in an appropriate and attractive manner.

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