BCO's string show keeps thoughts of war far away

Stylish performance gives Vivaldi's `The Four Seasons' a different twist

Music Reviews

March 22, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

No, it really wasn't a case of fiddling while Baghdad burned. Still, it did feel a little strange coming out of an all-string program Wednesday night to discover that the first strike in the war against Iraq had been made as the music flowed. At least while the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's concert lasted, dark thoughts were easily kept at bay.

The main item on the program at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium was the quartet of concertos for violin and strings by Vivaldi known collectively as The Four Seasons, featuring Jonathan Carney. As Baltimore Symphony Orchestra audiences already know well from his work as concertmaster, Carney is a terrific musician with remarkable technical polish and a very personal style of expression. Here, he had quite a vehicle to showcase his talent and he took full advantage of it. He's no shrinking violet.

Some folks, especially proponents of historical authenticity, tend to downplay the solo aspects of The Four Seasons in favor of a more ensemble experience. Carney kept his violin front and center, generating so many sparks of virtuosity, so many vibrant colors that you might have thought the composer of the piece was Paganini. Carney's work in the outer movements of the each concerto, Summer in particular, had an almost demonic drive.

A few passages of slipping pitch or hard-edged tone proved a small price to pay for such combustible playing. The violinist hardly slighted moments of calm in each concerto; they were invariably molded with great refinement and lyrical grace.

Articulation in the orchestra was occasionally less than sterling, but the musicians made a warm sound and certainly shared the soloist's exuberance and sensitivity. Adam Pearl provided elegant support at the harpsichord.

In essence, Carney led the performance, keeping a careful eye on all the other players, cueing attacks and cut-offs, but Isaiah Jackson served as the official conductor.

Jackson, music director of Boston's Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, presided over stylish performances of two richly melodic works for string orchestra from Britain - Vaughan Williams' Five Variations on "Dives and Lazarus" and Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.

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