Words and melodies are handled with care

Concert Artists, Polochick present regal `Requiem'

Music Review

March 31, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Last year, when the Concert Artists of Baltimore planned programs for this season, the choice of A German Requiem by Brahms would have been a purely musical one.

Given the war in Iraq, that prescient choice seemed all the wiser Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall. It's powerful enough under the best of circumstances to hear how blessed are they who mourn; at a time like this, such words conveyed extra weight.

Edward Polochick, whose affinity for the choral repertoire invariably impresses, conducted a performance of remarkable beauty and depth. His tempos were propulsive, yet never rushed; his phrasing was attuned to each subtle gradation in dynamics, each expressive curve in the melodic lines. He made sure that the music retained an affecting intimacy, even at its most assertive, and that the solid, comforting architecture of the score could be deeply appreciated.

The incisive interpretation was reflected in the response from the forces onstage. The choral ensemble - a combination of the Concert Artists' own chorus and several dozen members of the former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Chorus - produced a warm and sturdy sound, articulated with as much concern for words as the richness of Brahms' harmonies. It was hard to remember that these choristers have not been working together for years. The soloists, soprano Esther Heideman and baritone Randal Woodfield, encountered some strain and tonal unsteadiness, but phrased with eloquence. The orchestra did polished, expressive work.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, which opened the program, provided an opportunity to savor the aristocratic gifts of pianist Ann Schein. Her playing was colorful, poetic, assured (a bump in the finale was easily navigated). A little more punch in parts of the outer movements and a little more gentleness in the middle one would have been welcome, but the naturalness in her phrasing invariably proved winning. Polochick's beautifully dovetailed partnering inspired poised and vibrant support from the orchestra.

BSO at the movies

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offered a cinematic program Saturday night at Meyerhoff Hall. The first half was like a series of trailers - excerpts of classical scores used in recent movies. The main feature came later when composer John Corigliano, martini glass in hand, stepped onstage to give this "Symphony With a Twist" program more content and entertainment.

His interesting, amusing introductions set up Barber's Adagio for Strings and a rousing passage from his own Oscar-nominated score to Altered States (complete with film clip). A sample of his Academy Award-winning score for The Red Violin also was offered (again with film clip), before the playing of the substantial and arresting concert work he derived from that score, Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra. Conductor George Pehlivanian put the BSO through well-timed paces in the movie scenes and ensured a powerful response from the ensemble in the Chaconne, which showcased concertmaster Jonathan Carney's superior musicianship and silvery tone.

Pehlivanian was an awkward host for the earlier portion of the evening (introducing some Wagner used in Apocalypse Now, his description of men "having fun bombing villages" seemed an especially poor choice of words). And there were no film clips to enliven what became a rather routine run-through of items from the classical/cinematic hit-parade.

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