Giving classical music a place to call home

Almost like sitting down in a parlor

December 10, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Everybody knows these are dicey times for classical music. Performing organizations are struggling to raise money and sell tickets; recording companies are struggling to sell classical CDs. So what does An Die Musik, the Baltimore record store with a predominantly classical inventory, do? It moves into a larger space on North Charles Street and expands its activities by opening a little concert hall on the floor above the CD bins. You've got to admire the moxie.

Owner Henry Wong is not finished with his plans for the new place; a wine and tea bar are in the works. But he has already broken in the live performance room, which, as currently configured, seats 80 on comfy upholstered chairs.

The moody, trendy Tord Gustavsen Trio from Norway played there last month to a packed house. On Saturday night, Le Concert Spirituel, a French baroque ensemble, drew a good crowd to the boldly painted room. (The color scheme, inherited from the building's previous occupants, is likely to change. So, I would imagine, is the availability of heat, which seemed in short supply.)

There's no mistaking the potential of this new addition to Baltimore's musical venues. Such an intimate setting, with the ambience of an elegant private home (the structure dates from the early 19th century), cannot help but make any music-making seem more personal and involving. Wong envisions presenting recitals by students and faculty members from throughout the area, along with visiting artists best appreciated in a cozy environment.

The Charles Street/Mount Vernon neighborhood should get a lift from An Die Musik's expansion; the whole enterprise practically screams renewal.

As for Le Concert Spirituel (the name is borrowed from an 18th-century organization that enlivened French musical life), the ensemble featured soprano Anna Bayodi and three period instrument specialists - Herve Niquet, the ensemble's founder, on harpsichord; Helene Schmitt, violin; Julie Mondor, cello.

They focused largely on composer Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, not necessarily the most distinctive baroque composer. Some selections passed through the ears without pausing long enough to leave an impression. Others, especially charmingly delivered excerpts from his opera Daphne et Chloe, exuded color and imagination.

Bayodi's voice needed more firmness and nuance at times, but her singing had an appealing directness. Niquet summoned a good deal of character from the keyboard. Schmitt's playing, especially in sonatas by Boismortier and Jean-Marie Leclair, made up in spirit what it occasionally lacked in pitch or rhythmic sureness.

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