Masterworks Chorale makes its debut

But group's sound needs fine-tuning

Music Review

March 19, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Americans love to sing in harmony - 28.5 million of them in 250,000 choirs and choruses. And more people participate in choral activity than in any other art form. So finds a national study, the first of its kind, just released by Chorus America, a service organization.

The latest local manifestation of this vocal impulse is the Baltimore Masterworks Chorale, founded by members of the former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Sincerity, dedication and determination were easily heard in its debut Saturday night at Catonsville Presbyterian Church; seamless blend, purity of intonation and clarity of articulation were less plentiful. The singers clearly need more time to coalesce, to tighten entrances and shifts in dynamics. The sopranos, in particular, had trouble with pitch and tonal support; they were frequently shy of both in some delicate songs for women's voices by Brahms.

When the full ensemble of about 40 turned to Faure's eloquent Requiem, much more potential was evident. Under the basically firm guidance of music director Mark Hardy, the choristers phrased sensitively, especially in the Sanctus movement, when they generated considerable lyrical power. But the overall sound remained uneven. No reservations about the guest soloists, however. Soprano Rosemarie Critcher's warm, secure voice had the Pie Jesu glowing. Robert Cantrell's rich bass-baritone conveyed the poetic beauty of the Hostias and Libera me passages.

Clinton Adams offered accomplished work at the piano and organ. For the most part, the other instrumentalists fulfilled their assignments ably.

In fine form

Pro Musica Rara presented an appealing, artfully performed program Sunday afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art, one of the best I've yet heard from this period instrument organization. The guest artist was German clarinetist Daniel Boyer, who brought with him a realization of the basset clarinet, a clarinet with an extra low range, invented in the 1780s by Anton Stadler. Mozart wrote several pieces with it in mind, including the sublime Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, the highlight of this concert.

Never mind that Boyer lost control of a couple of notes; his silken tone and natural, elegant phrasing proved thoroughly winning. This exceptional musicianship was effectively complemented by an ensemble of Pro Musica Rara regulars - violinists Cynthia Roberts and Ivan Stefanovic, violist Sharon Pineo Myer, cellist Allen Whear.

Those string players and cellist Doug McNames had fun with two quintets by Boccherini, especially the one subtitled "Night Music of the Streets of Madrid." It's an amusing travelogue, complete with buskers and a military parade, and the mostly smooth performance provided a welcome look at a composer best known today almost exclusively for a single, stately minuet.

Whear, who will become artistic director of Pro Music Rara next season (Shirley Mathews is retiring after 16 years), turned Beethoven's Sextet, Op. 71, for winds into a vehicle for all of the participants in the concert. His transcription didn't quite convince; too much of the original coloring was lost. But, excepting intonation discrepancies in the violins, it was pleasantly played; above all, it gave Boyer another opportunity to spin musical magic on that exotic clarinet.

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