The musicians of the Columbia Orchestra echoed John Masefield's poetic call to go "down to the seas again," courtesy of a pair of oceanographically charged works by Sir Edward Elgar and contemporary composer Tobias Picker on Saturday night.
Sir Edward's Sea Pictures, a lovely orchestral song-cycle for mezzo-soprano, and Picker's The Encantadas, a musical travelogue of the "enchanted" Galapagos Islands employing a text by Herman Melville, dominated the program.
FOR THE RECORD - A photograph on Page 6B in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun misidentified Jason Love, conductor of the Columbia Orchestra. Above is a correct photo of Mr. Love. The Sun regrets the error.
Picker, that rarest of breeds -- a modern composer whose works are being embraced with enthusiasm while he is still alive -- was on hand to narrate Melville's ode to shifting winds, vicious currents, dancing penguins, pensive pelicans and giant tortoises that hark back to an age when super-sized amphibians and their reptilian colleagues ruled Earth.
Picker's presence at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School pinned a jaunty feather in the local orchestra's cap, while conductor Jason Love and his troops returned the favor by entering fully into the composer's highly pictorial creation.
One of Love's most commendable attributes is his affinity for the modern idiom, and this certainly held true in The Encantadas. It is an atmospheric score to say the least, and the playing captured the composer's shifting, almost visible images.
The din created in the "Delusion" sequence evoked Melville's "screaming flights of unearthly birds" with commendable eloquence. Instrumental swirls and swells testified also to the capriciousness of subequatorial currents and to the power of forceful whirlpools and breaking waves.
The narration pretty much designates The Encantadas as a novelty act on the symphonic stage, but it is an estimable piece, and the orchestra did its audience a true aesthetic service by introducing it so convincingly.
In turn, mezzo-soprano Kyle Engler made a lovely case for the five poetic songs that make up Elgar's album of Sea Pictures.
A lyric mezzo, she was overmatched by the orchestra on occasion, but there was no mistaking the empathic tugs these songs exerted on her musical heartstrings.
She created a gracious, almost flirtatious tone in "In Haven," the short but sweet text penned by Sir Edward's wife, Caroline Alice.
The burgeoning energy at "The new sight, the new wondrous sight" (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) opened up beautifully, and there was more than a touch of wonder as she contemplated the enormity of the deep in Richard Garnett's "Where Corals Lie."
Stylish playing from the Columbians created rolling swells in the "Sea Slumber-Song," and the hymn-like explosion toward the end of the Browning poem was thrilling indeed.
The orchestra also welcomed a pair of winners of its Young Artist Competition to Saturday's performance.
Cellist Laura Hung, a junior at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, gave us a dark, moody account of the first movement of Edouard Lalo's D minor Concerto.
Atholton High's Jason Shafer on clarinet demonstrated both bravura technique and a flair for dynamic contrasts in his stylish romp through Carl Maria von Weber's Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra.