Trio of concert series go out on a high note

Season-enders find performers in fine form


April 29, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The weekend's musical happenings included a sizzling performance by the Corigliano Quartet to close the 50th-anniversary concert season at Evergreen House in Baltimore. For this occasion, the locale was moved from the usual Carriage House site to the charming private theater inside the mansion, where chamber music was a notable hallmark of the Garrett family's residency there during the flapper and Depression eras.

This young ensemble, named for composer John Corigliano, demonstrated remarkable qualities, including what was (to me, at least) a fascinating ability to go without tuning onstage; these players didn't even re-tune between the two pieces on the first half of their program. Maybe that's not really such a big deal, but the caliber of the music-making Friday night certainly was.

The profound beauty the musicians revealed in the slow movement of Beethoven's F major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 1, was but one example. Throughout that quartet, Beethoven's intense originality sounded more potent than ever. Likewise, Smetana's autobiographical E minor Quartet had a riveting power, thanks to the tightly integrated playing and the emotional truth behind the phrasing. The final measures, depicting the composer's struggle with deafness, became particularly poignant.

This group, which makes a noble point of including contemporary music on its programs, also offered the String Quartet No. 2 by Jefferson Friedman, a former student of John Corigliano. The last movement wouldn't suffer greatly from a few splices, but the three-movement score is nonetheless an impressive, arresting achievement. Basically tonal, with some biting harmonic spices, and often propelled by churning rhythms, the music speaks with an intriguing voice. The techno-sound of our world infiltrates the piece in telling ways; so does old-fashioned lyricism. The performance had a brilliant edge.

On Saturday night at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills, the Concert Artists of Baltimore wrapped up its season by giving an exceptionally effective presentation of Rossini's Petite Messe Solenelle -- the "Little Solemn Mass" that served as a kind of swan song for the composer

It is an amazing score. The style takes as many backward as forward glances, the mood shifts frequently between sacred and operatic. There isn't another Mass remotely like it. Even the instrumentation is unusual -- two pianos and a harmonium.

Concert Artists director Edward Polochick opted to use only one piano, which he played with expressive fire. Here and there, I missed the thicker sonority of dual keyboards, but, with James Houston providing dynamic support at the harmonium, there was still plenty of support for the vocalists.

The chorus produced a warm, firmly balanced sound and articulated smoothly, even in the very fast-paced fugues. There was especially beautiful, sensitive singing in the Kyrie section. Members of the ensemble handled the many solos in the piece. Those by soprano Ah Metejicka, tenor David Smith, baritone James Dobson and bass Jason Ryan registered most deeply.

Polochick's imaginative guidance tapped the complementary elements of sincerity, devotion and just plain fun in this extraordinary Mass.

Another season-ending concert, this one for Music in the Great Hall at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, included an incisive account of Dvorak's F minor Piano Trio. At the keyboard, Virginia Reinecke provided a firm foundation for the performance Sunday afternoon with her passionate phrasing and rhythmic flexibility.

Firmer intonation and a more rounded tone would have been welcome from violinist Hasse Borup and cellist Amy Leung, but both players were very much on the same emotional wavelength as the pianist. The two string players did a stylish, if not entirely smooth, job in Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello.

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