A night devoted to voices

Chorus exits on high note

Review: Soprano Janice Chandler and the BSO Chorus, in its last performance, glory in vocal expressiveness.

April 06, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

What could have been just another greatest hits concert turned into something much more last night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Two factors accounted for the transformation. One was the quality of music-making, especially the vocal variety. The other, of course, was the historic and emotional nature of the event - the final chapter in 32 years of volunteer service from the Baltimore Symphony Chorus.

The program juxtaposed the poignant memories of Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the hedonistic, fatalistic, downright noisy outpourings of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Conductor Yuri Temirkanov revealed an affinity for the idiomatic characteristics of each.

The nostalgic beauty of Knoxville, with its James Agee text about the past comforts of family seen through a wise child's eyes, seemed to strike a deep chord in the conductor. If he glossed over some of the subtle pictorial elements in the orchestration, he caught the work's overall atmosphere effectively.

Temirkanov could not have asked for a more eloquent soloist than soprano Janice Chandler. She delved into the poetry with a gleaming tone that captured not just the evocative warmth of the words, but the tinge of bittersweetness behind them.

When the score reached its expressive peaks - the awe over the "one blue dew" of night, thoughts of the inevitable sorrows awaiting the family "lying on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening," the soft pain of realizing that love and security are not enough to answer the search for one's self - Chandler's phrasing was sublime.

The BSO did not always hold up its end of things as exquisitely, but the performance still hit home.

Occasional orchestral slips popped up in Orff's celebration of medieval pain and pleasure, too, along with a few other rough edges of one kind or another. But these were quickly forgotten as Temirkanov pushed everyone onstage into an appropriately unbridled account of the earthy piece. Tempos could be dizzying (notably for In taberna) or deliciously expansive (as in In trutina); phrases were always vividly etched. We're talking one hot Burana.

The chorus, prepared by Frank Nemhauser, summoned a tone with enough richness and firmness to compete with most of the BSO's full-throttle assaults; the men, in particular, made the largest, cleanest sound I've heard from them. Articulation was disciplined and alert to the distinctive edges of each ancient language in the piece.

Chandler was again in fabulous voice; she entered the stratosphere of Dulcissime with extraordinary calm and a shimmering, enveloping tone. Baritone Christopher Robertson offered a terrific array of vocal colors and interpretive nuances, making each word come to life. John Daniecki brilliantly met the challenges of the only tenor solo head on and added some crowd-pleasing shtick to milk every syllable in the song of the roasted swan.

But the night really belonged to the all of those making an unwilling swan song - the choristers, raising their voices for the last time this weekend, thanks to an unfortunate decision that may well come to haunt BSO management. The singers are going out with heads, and voices, raised high.


Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $26 to $68

Call: 410-783-8000

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