Muspratt impresses in tryout with BCO

January 30, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra welcomed another candidate for music director this week. The job apparently will entail a little bit of stand-up comedy on the side.

In November, Markand Thakar, the first of four finalists conducting the ensemble this season, started off with a monologue and went for a few laughs. Wednesday night, Kirk Muspratt did much the same, sweetening the deal with a diverting clip from the 1951 film People Will Talk that showed Cary Grant as a not-terribly-convincing conductor sparring with a not-terribly-responsive musician.

It seemed as if Muspratt, music director of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra and former resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, connected with the crowd at Kraushaar Auditorium during his opening act. More important, he seemed to communicate easily and effectively with the ensemble once the main event began. There was a particularly impressive performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 102 at the end of the evening. Muspratt maintained a proper, 18th-century

perspective -- structural clarity, tonal transparency, rhythmic vitality (when it was called for) -- but refused to be straitjacketed. The slow introduction of the first movement was allowed plenty of room to breathe and generate tension. The Adagio movement, containing some of Haydn's most heartwarming music, likewise unfolded unhurriedly, with each phrase sculpted most poetically.

Although the third movement was a little on the sluggish side, Muspratt's imaginative nuances kept it interesting. He sure didn't spare the horses in the finale; the notes flew by, with all of their wit and sparkle intact. Excepting a few wiry measures from the violins, the orchestra produced a warm sound and articulated fluently throughout the symphony.

Haydn also made an appearance -- sort of -- at the beginning of the program. The tune in Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Haydn was probably not actually by Haydn, but Brahms didn't know that, and it really doesn't make much difference now. It's still an attractive tune, and so is the piece Brahms made out of it.

Muspratt could have kept the music tauter, but his phrasing was again dynamic. The ensemble, supplemented in this work by 18 student string players from the Peabody Sinfonietta, responded firmly.

Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, a landmark of American neo-romanticism, featured Baltimore Symphony Orchestra member Ellen Pendleton Troyer. A few technical details needed tightening, but her playing, smoothly backed by Muspratt and the orchestra, hit the lyrical vein of the first two movements intensely and took the finale's breathless pace in stride.

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