A quartet of entertaining concerts

UM orchestra, NSO share stage

Great Hall presents elegant Mozart

MusicReview

November 20, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Last weekend, like most weekends, musical activity was plentiful. I picked out four events and found rewards at each.

The National Symphony Orchestra's week-long residency at the University of Maryland School of Music on the College Park campus culminated with a side-by-side performance with the UM Symphony Orchestra Friday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

James Ross, director of orchestral activities at UM, led the first half. Perhaps his reserved gestures accounted for the reserved, bland playing of Dvorak's Scherzo Capriccioso. He and the part-pro/part-student ensemble connected more strongly in Strauss' profound Four Last Songs. The players provided sensitive backing for soprano Linda Mabbs, whose glowing tone gave the words an affecting poignancy.

Emil de Cou, the NSO's associate conductor, sparked a vibrant performance of excerpts from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, with lots of atmospheric touches and even some Stravinsky-style bite. The orchestra was quite effective at producing layers of shimmering sound in the daybreak music.

On Sunday afternoon, the Music in the Great Hall series at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church presented some first-rate chamber players - pianist Marian Hahn, violinist Lucy Stoltzman, violist Maria Lambros and cellist Lisa Lancaster. They did elegant work in Mozart's G minor Piano Quartet, but I was most struck by their incendiary account of Brahms' A major Piano Quartet. Everything about the performance clicked. The musicians had moved so far beyond worries about articulating notes or keeping together that they could concentrate solely on exploring the poetic depth of the score. Balancing the strings' cohesive blend and tonal weight was Hahn's terrific clarity and symphonic fullness at the keyboard.

Later Sunday afternoon, the Shriver Hall Concert Series presented a welcome recital by Stephan Genz, one of several young German baritones who are powerfully championing the cause of lieder these days. Genz chose one of the greatest works in this genre, Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe, and a sampling of Wolf's Morike-Lieder.

He brought to all of the material an unfailing awareness of the implications in each word and a keen appreciation for the expressive potential in each note. The sequence of wistfulness, anger and resignation in Dichterliebe was masterfully conveyed, nowhere more so than in Ein Jungling liebt ein Madchen, delivered with bitterness and a shrug. It will seem churlish to point out that the singer has a pale low register and somewhat limited power overall. But to be in the presence of someone so intimately connected to this music proved deeply satisfying.

Genz's pianist, Roger Vignoles, could have been a little gentler in places (nothing very dainty about his accompaniment in Wolf's Jagerlied, with its images of bird steps in the snow), but he brought to the recital a communicative skill set that complemented the baritone's very effectively. The drama both men created in Wolf's Der Feuerreiter, right down to the eerie end, was particularly satisfying.

On Sunday night, the Chamber Music by Candlelight program at Second Presbyterian Church contained one very hot item. The five principal string players of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - violinists Jonathan Carney and Qing Li, violist Richard Field, cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn and bassist Robert Barney - joined forced for a sweeping, character-rich performance of Dvorak's G major String Quintet. A few droopy or wiry high notes from the violins caused minor damage.

A Mozart trio was stylishly delivered by violinist James Umber and, especially, cellist Darusz Skoraczewski and pianist Micah Yui. Pieces by Beethoven and Milhaud earlier in the program were marred by surprisingly provincial violin playing.

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