Harrigan's last season starts in fine form

BCO's 20th year kicks off nicely

Music Review

October 18, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra opened its 20th anniversary season Wednesday night with a typically colorful program and typically colorful performances.

Never mind that the actual kickoff was delayed by a persistent technical glitch with a short video of photos from the ensemble's archives, intended as a nostalgic salute. Once that little show finally got rolling, it turned out to be mostly images of founding music director Anne Harrigan over the years.

Of course, this is in many ways Harrigan's year, just as it is very much Harrigan's orchestra.

She announced last spring that she will be stepping down in 2004. She will remain as music director through next season, but will leave the podium free for many of the concerts so that potential candidates for her post can work with the orchestra.

That effectively makes this season Harrigan's victory lap, and if the rest of it is as effectively realized as Wednesday's concert at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, audiences are in for some enjoyable music-making.

The video business provided a visual counterpoint during the ensemble's buoyant playing of a short curtain-raising piece by Jim Beckel, who originally wrote it for Harrigan's other orchestra, the Lafayette Symphony in Indiana. The style of the score suggests that Beckel has heard a lot of John Williams soundtracks; it gets in the same sort of propulsive, brassy licks.

The Suite from Appalachian Spring, Aaron Copland's most beloved work, figured on the very first Baltimore Chamber Orchestra program. It made a fitting choice for a reprise now.

Harrigan took an unfussy, flowing approach that released the music's enduring charms. There was much to admire in the responsiveness of the playing, notably the strings and the clarinet and flute soloists. The idea of adding some lighting effects, including the inevitable fade to black at the end, could have come off as too hokey, but it worked nicely.

The rest of the evening was devoted to concertos for two pianos, featuring the Russian-born husband-and-wife team of Valentina Lisitsa and Alexei Kuznetsoff. Their playing remains as impressive as it was when they first came to attention on these shores by winning the 1991 Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Competition in Miami.

This dynamic duo enjoys effortless inter-communication, secure technique and a flair for expressive nuance. Lisitsa brings the greater degree of personality and bravura to the table, while Kuznetsoff's refined contributions enrich the overall effect considerably.

Francis Poulenc's delectably atmospheric D minor Concerto and the breezy elegance of Mozart's E-flat major Concerto are tailor-made for these pianists. They delivered both pieces with equal amounts of elan and sensitivity.

Harrigan missed a couple of opportunities to bring out the snap in Poulenc's score but tapped its lyrical beauty. Her pronounced affinity for Mozart was unmistakable; she had the orchestra shaping phrases with abundant care.

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