Dutch cellist was worth waiting for

MUSIC

Music Column

October 29, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Vying for this year's What-A-Trouper Award is Pieter Wispelwey.

The Dutch cellist played his recital Sunday night at Shriver Hall mere minutes after alighting from a limo that had just brought him through heavy traffic from Dulles Airport, where his flight from Europe came in three hours late. The audience sat patiently in the theater for about 30 minutes past the original starting time, awaiting bulletins: He's on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway! ... He's on MLK Boulevard!

On second thought, maybe Wispelwey should get the Don't-Let-This-Happen-To-You Award instead. After all, musicians (or their management) shouldn't schedule gigs on the same day as an intercontinental flight. Even an on-time arrival would not have given the cellist much breathing room.

(The Shriver Hall Concert Series, meanwhile, had its bases covered. A local cellist had already rehearsed a program with Wispelwey's accompanist, who had the good sense to arrive the day before, and was waiting in the wings.)

If Wispelwey was suffering from jet lag or stress when he finally made it to the stage, it didn't show. His survey of all five Beethoven cello sonatas proved notable for character-rich phrasing and assured technique.

This was playing that offered abundant virtuosity (the finale of the A major Sonata), lyrical warmth (the Adagio of the D major Sonata), drama (the brooding, descending figures at the start of the G minor Sonata, the electricity-tinged silences punctuating portions of the C major Sonata), and charm (the elfin scampering of the A major Sonata's Scherzo).

Throughout, the cellist enjoyed perfectly dovetailed support from Zagreb-born pianist Dejan Lazic, whose music-making had extraordinary clarity and color, even at the softest volume or fastest speed. Like Wispelwey, Lazic clearly cared about each note, how it was sounded, what it might convey. Subtly brilliant pianism.

Shriver Hall should consider signing Lazic up for a solo recital; it would be fascinating to hear him on his own, in a variety of repertoire. And we know he would show up in plenty of time.

More Beethoven

The weekend included another memorable dose of Beethoven, this one provided Saturday night by the Guarneri String Quartet. The venerable ensemble opened the 30th anniversary season of Candlelight Concerts in Columbia with a typically meaty program at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, culminating in a penetrating account of Beethoven's Op. 132.

Like the composer's other late quartets, this one does not give up its secrets easily. Time and again, the ear is led to expect one thing, only to encounter another; the score refuses to play by the old rules, but creates its own. In the third movement, a "Hymn of thanksgiving to the divinity, from a convalescent," Beethoven achieves an almost unbearable level of sublimity.

The Guarneri players, ever alert to Beethoven's multi-layered musical language, reached an expressive peak in that movement, but also communicated richly in the rest of the piece. Earlier, in a Haydn quartet (Op. 54, No. 2), first violinist Arnold Steinhardt's tone sounded rather anemic and his pitch occasionally drifted; the score's spirit and originality emerged nonetheless.

Viktor Ullman's compact Quartet No. 3, finished in the Terezin concentration camp the year before he was sent to his death at Auschwitz, makes up in momentum and harmonic tension what it occasionally lacks in distinctive thematic material. The ensemble gave it a committed, involving performance.

Handel Choir

There was plenty of commitment, too, in the Handel Choir of Baltimore's all-Bach season-opener Sunday afternoon at the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.

T. Herbert Dimmock, marking his 25th season as music director of the 69-year-old organization, led an expressive, mostly disciplined account of the Magnificat. Though weak on tenors, the chorus made a generally cohesive, vibrant sound; the orchestra mostly did the same.

Among the soloists, mezzo Jennifer Blades contributed a warm tone and thoughtful phrases. Bass John Eisenhardt sounded oddly out-of-practice with the rudiments of vocal technique; his pitch, articulation and rhythm were even cloudier when he sang the father in the Coffee Cantata.

That lighthearted cantata, sung in English and given a terminally cute, semi-staged treatment, was further hindered by the intense vibrato of otherwise engaging soprano Kristen Toedtman, as the coffee-craving daughter. The whole presentation ultimately was done in by a distinct whiff of amateurism.

Sound of celebration

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society will open its season by re-creating music director Tom Hall's debut concert with this valued organization 20 years ago. The program celebrates music itself and its patron saint through two vibrant works, Handel's Alexander's Feast and Britten's Ode to St. Cecilia.

Soloists include noted soprano Hyunah Yu and baritone Sanford Sylvan. The concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. Tickets are $16 to $27. Call 410-523-7070.

Getting back to Candlelight Concerts, the next program offers top-notch cellist David Finckel and his wife, pianist Wu Han, performing sonatas by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

The recital is at 8 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Tickets are $28, $24 for seniors, $9 for students. Call 410-715-0034.

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