Savoring Hungarian rhythms

Review: Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's latest program made Gypsy music sparkle.

March 01, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

There was everything but paprika in the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's latest program. Hungarian and Gypsy strains, not necessarily composed by Hungarians or Gypsies, filled Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium Wednesday night. So did people; the place was packed.

Despite stylistic similarities among the pieces in the concert, a wide range of moods and colors could be savored. But the common threads of open-hearted emotion and infectious dance rhythms understandably left the most vivid impression.

Conductor Anne Harrigan started things off with three of Brahms' Hungarian Dances, which received bright, if not always tidy, performances.

The orchestra had some extra help - high school students from the Maryland All-State Orchestra, who got valuable rehearsal and concert experience playing side-by-side with the professionals. Such projects are more commonly reserved for educational or family programs; the BCO's practice of letting students in on a regular subscription concert is commendable.

BCO principal second violinist Ivan Stefanovic provided an extra pinch of dazzle to the evening. Sporting a subtle variation on Gypsy attire, the Yugoslav fiddler tackled two venerable showpieces that prove the international appeal of Gypsy music - Zigeunerweisen by Spaniard Pablo de Sarasate and Tzigane by Frenchman Maurice Ravel.

Stefanovic brought a dark, vibrant tone and just enough schmaltz to the Sarasate score. Aside from a smear or two in the most bravura passages, his technical flair was considerable. He was equally persuasive in Tzigane, digging into the opening solo with particular fervor. Harrigan and the ensemble gave him smooth support.

Two totally Hungarian items completed the program:

The well-known Dances of Galanta by Zoltan Kodaly couldn't be much more atmospheric. Harrigan tapped the bittersweet vein running beneath this earthy music and coaxed vibrant efforts from the orchestra, especially the winds.

Ernst von Dohnanyi doesn't enjoy the attention he should these days. This exceptional composer (and grandfather of eminent conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi) had a gift for creating ingratiating melodies and instrumental shadings. His Serenade in C major, originally for string trio and played here by the full complement of BCO strings, is a case in point. The music takes one inventive turn after another and exploits the instruments in brilliant ways.

Harrigan's sensitivity to the subtlety and sparkle in the score paid off handsomely. The music had a beguiling flow. Julius Wirth delivered the second movement solo eloquently; other stylish individual contributions were made by concertmaster Craig Richmond and cellist Bo Li.

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