Groups turn up volume

MUSIC

Concerts fill area with music by Germans, more

MusicColumn

April 23, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

A crowded weekend of concerts yielded assorted rewards, most with a German accent.

James Morris picked up the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Peabody Institute on Saturday night after singing some majestic Wagner - Wotan's Farewell from Wagner's Die Walkure - with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra.

Never mind the few unsteady notes. What registered was the unforced power and natural authority of this bass voice, not to mention the communicative depth of phrasing.

Here was a Wotan more the conflicted father than supreme deity. Morris summoned remarkable poignancy for the last line addressed to the disobedient Brunnhilde ("Thus he kisses the godhead from you"), and plenty of plangency and drama for the subsequent summoning of Loge and the magic fire.

The singer received attentive support from conductor Hajime Teri Murai, who had the ensemble making a big, often lush sound (complete with six harps). The orchestra also did splashy, mostly polished work in the Ride of the Valkyries.

Elsewhere in the demanding concert, the student orchestra sounded like, well, a student orchestra. Intonation and articulation troubles cropped up repeatedly, most severely in the woodwinds and brass. That dampened the potential bite in Janacek's Sinfonietta and did damage, too, during the premiere of I by Peabody doctoral candidate Jeffrey Lindon.

His score opens on an appealingly Celtic air and becomes a lush, romantic soundtrack in search of a film. Lindon's craftsmanship, in structural organization and orchestration, is clear; the music just needs needs a little more individuality.

Pro Musica Rara came up with a winning program Sunday afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art. A newly built fortepiano, a copy of an 1830s Graf instrument, was the center of attention. In some Chopin pieces, Edmund Battersby revealed the keyboard's range of colors, from pastel to fairly bold; the playing needed just a little more digital finesse to balance admirable rhythmic flexibility.

Battersby was more solid in Schumann's Piano Quintet, providing a good deal of refinement as well as muscle. The string players - Greg Mulligan and Ivan Stefanovic, violins; Sharon Pineo Myer, viola; Allen Whear, cello - blended smoothly and made much of the music's poetry. The whispery close of the second movement was among the expressive high points.

On their own, the strings also offered Haydn's G minor Quartet, Op. 74, No. 3. Except for a few high notes just shy of their intended pitch from Stefanovic, the performance boasted very tight ensemble work and evocative phrasing, especially in the galloping drama of the finale.

Close on the heels of the Pro Musica event, the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra gave a benefit at Shriver Hall for the AMC Cancer Research Center. The main draw was pianist Awadagin Pratt, whose approach to Brahms' Concerto No. 1 was on a truly heroic scale.

One or two flubs aside, Pratt's technique alone commanded respect, with an enormous, never harsh sound and also plenty of subtle tonal shadings. A bold, interesting performance.

Conductor Jed Gaylin kept the ensemble basically on track, though problems with pitch and cohesiveness of attack were not exactly uncommon. As a community orchestra, giving players of varying experience and accomplishment an opportunity to make music, the Hopkins Symphony has built-in limitations. (This was particularly apparent before the concert began, when the players tried tuning up to a dodgy oboe note.)

On the plus side, in Webern's deliciously off-beat transcription of Bach's Ricecare and even more so in Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Gaylin inspired a determined expressiveness. Outbursts in the Schubert work packed considerable weight, effectively underlining the dark beauty of the music.

By the time I made it from the Shriver concert up to Second Presbyterian Church, the Chamber Music by Candlelight program already had started. But I heard enough of David Balakrishnan's String Quartet No. 1 to savor its propulsive rhythms and witty fusion of styles (that one of the movements is called "Eurasian Hoe-down" should tell you a lot).

Ellen Pendleton Troyer's hot phrasing led the way in the performance, which found fellow Baltimore Symphony Orchestra members Stefanovic (fresh from his Pro Musica Rara gig), violist Christian Colberg and cellist Kristin Ostling equally dynamic.

Prokofiev's quirky Quintet received a tidy, colorful account from Stefanovic, violist Noah Chaves, bassist David Sheets (his jazzy riffs were particularly vivid), oboist Leslie Starr and clarinetist Edward Palanker.

At the center of the concert was Brahms's warm-hearted B major Trio. An occasional pitch discrepancy aside, violinist Madeline Adkins and cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski poured on the lyricism, firmly and vibrantly complemented by pianist Inna Faliks.

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