Season capped with Russian music

Chamber orchestra delves into myriad of engaging music

MusicReview

May 24, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra trotted out some Russian warhorses for its season finale Wednesday night and gave them all a satisfying ride.

Music director Anne Harrigan's choices ranged from the soothing to the biting. On the latter side was Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, with its layers of torment, irony and resignation. There are lighter ideas in the score, of course, but, as happens in so many of the composer's works, a bittersweet aftertaste invariably lingers.

Gavriel Lipkind, a young Israeli cellist with assorted competition awards and international performance credits behind him, brought terrific skills to the concerto. There was something almost impetuous and defiant - acerbic, even - in his playing, qualities perfectly suited to music by Shostakovich.

Throughout, Lipkind's tone was ripe, his articulation precise. The soft, delicate phrases in the second movement emerged with particular care and beauty. (Too bad they had to compete, like every other subtle moment during the evening, with a noisy air system in Kraushaar Auditorium.)

The cellist's brilliant efforts were solidly complemented, for the most part, by the orchestra. A few passages could have been more tightly meshed, a few notes from otherwise incisive horn soloist David Bakkegard could have been cleaner.

But admirable strength and character came from the ensemble under Harrigan's guidance.

Earlier, the orchestra offered a charming account of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. The conductor's tempo in the first movement seemed a little too leisurely, but she had the rest bubbling along nicely. Her attentiveness to dynamic contrasts and the transparent textures of Prokofiev's scoring paid off.

The strings nearly always sounded as polished as they were colorful; the wind sections made a similarly vibrant impression.

Rachmaninoff's gorgeous Vocalise floated along engagingly, though a few of the inner voices that complement the principal melodic line disappeared, obscuring the full flavor of the piece.

Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile, which opened the concert on an unusually gentle note, received an inspired performance. Harrigan shaped the music lovingly but without exaggeration or injections of drippy sentimentality.

The pacing was just right, allowing the elegant themes to unfold like the passing thoughts of a pleasant dream. The strings maintained admirable control and warmth, even at the quietest sonic levels; the violins' first, hushed entrance was downright exquisite.

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