What a difference a couple of chords can make

MusicReview

March 10, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Intense musical pleasure can come from nothing more than the progression of a few chords, the way the harmonies speak, the feelings and colors they suggest. I was reminded of this over the weekend at two very different concerts.

In the penultimate movement of Zoltan Kodaly's Missa Brevis, performed Saturday night by the Handel Choir of Baltimore, an exquisite harmonic pattern puts a magical, affecting glow around the words Hosanna in excelis. Not that the rest of this 1940s work is any less attractive, but what Kodaly does with those chords somehow elevates the whole score.

On Sunday afternoon, as viola da gamba specialist Ann Marie Morgan and harpsichordist Barbara Weiss explored the baroque charms and challenges of a suite by Antoine Forqueray, a marvelous chord pattern emerged in the La Regente movement, shifting gently and inevitably. It enriched the whole score.

Conducted by the choir's music director emeritus, T. Herbert Dimmock, the Handel singers turned in some of the most sensitive and consistent work I've heard from them. The group still has shortcomings; the overall technical level is often more like that of a respectable church choir, rather than a concert ensemble. But what came through on Saturday at Grace United Methodist Church was strong, communicative involvement.

Dimmock tapped the solemnity and lyricism of Kodaly's Mass. In addition to his responsive chorus, he enjoyed rich-toned, beautifully phrased solos from mezzo Jennifer Blades and baritone Ryan De Ryke (soprano Kimberly O'Bryan did not sound as comfortable). Jonathan Moyer was the superb organist. Kerena Moeller supplemented the instrumental coloring effectively on the cello.

Another 1940s masterwork, Maurice Durufle's Requiem, received an equally attentive performance. Except for occasional weakness of tone or articulation, the choir was in solid form. Blades delivered the Pie Jesu solo eloquently, with subtle support from Moyer and Moeller.

Morgan brought two time machines with her to Towson Unitarian Universalist Church Sunday afternoon for her Music in the Great Hall concert - a viola da gamba and a cello piccolo. She had a little trouble keeping each one in tune (it's a price you almost always have to pay to hear music played on period instruments), but she maintained beguiling musicality.

I particularly liked the rustic touch she gave to the gavottes in Bach's Cello Suite No. 6, delivered on the obsolete cello piccolo. And her idea to incorporate vocal pieces into the suite worked neatly, thanks to the bright, innately expressive voice of soprano Laura Heimes, who sang Mein Glaubiges Herze with particular joy. Morgan, Weiss and Daniel Rippe on viola da gamba backed the singer.

As a bonus, Virginia Reinecke, artistic director of the Great Hall series, accompanied Heimes at the piano in a lovely account of Bist du bei mir, an aria once attributed to Bach.

Morgan characterized Forqueray's third suite for viola da gamba and harpsichord as "wild and crazy." The wildest and craziest bit came in the La Angrave movement, adapted for solo keyboard by Weiss, who relished its sudden bursts of (almost) baroque boogie-woogie. In addition to making the most of that haunting harmonic sequence in the La Regente, movement, both musicians achieved a delightfully elegant lilt in La Du Vaucel.

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