Three separate treats for classical music lovers

Weekend concerts true showing of skill


March 17, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Virtuosity always has its appeal. But when combined with an unbridled joy of music-making, an intense desire to get beyond bravura to the truly important stuff, things really heat up. That combination could be heard last weekend, in varying proportions, at three concerts in the north end of Baltimore.

An ideal mix of technical brilliance and interpretive power characterized the organ recital by Paul Jacobs on Sunday afternoon at Grace United Methodist Church, presented by the Baltimore chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Jacobs, newly named chair of the organ department at New York's Juilliard School (quite an achievement for someone only in his 20s), doesn't seem to have met a challenge he couldn't master.

Whether the organist was bounding through the intricate counterpoint of Bach or letting loose with the mammoth sonorities of Messiaen, his digital articulation and Fred Astaire-worthy footwork on the pedals proved remarkably sure. It was rewarding just to hear such a totally in-command musician.

Throughout the recital, Jacobs made his technique serve the score, just as he put the wide range of the instrument's tone coloring (especially warm woodwind sounds) to maximum expressive use.

There was abundant character in a concerto by Handel, the fast movements truly dancing, and eloquent phrase molding in the Largo of Bach's Trio Sonata, BWV 529. In the rapt, unhurried Eternal Designs movement from Messiaen's The Nativity of the Lord, Jacobs made each harmony count; the God Among Us movement had terrific exuberance and spontaneity, not just thunderous weight.

Jacobs might not have extracted all the in-your-ear humor of Ives' Variations on "America," but the performance was still an awful lot of fun. So was the encore, Bach's D major Fugue, BWV 532, which again revealed the organist's flair for lifting notes off a page.

A similar blast-off occurred a few hours later at Second Presbyterian Church, where a Chamber Music by Candlelight concert, featuring musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and their friends, went into high gear with Tchaikovsky's string sextet Souvenir de Florence. It was a vivid, virtuosic and just plain exhilarating performance.

Violinists Qing Li and Wonju Kim, violists Mary Woehr and Christian Woehr, cellists Ilya Finkelshteyn and Bo Li caught the music's urgent lyricism from the start and never let up. Here and there, subtler playing would have been welcome, but it was impossible not to be swept along by all the passion. I particularly enjoyed the rustic quality Qing Li let into her violin tone in the first movement, the sumptuous duet she and Finkelshteyn offered in the second, Mary Woehr's melancholy phrasing in the third, and the crisp attacks from everyone at the start of the fourth.

Earlier in the program, violinist Ivan Stefanovic took a while to get his tone centered for Brahms' A major Violin Sonata, but he and Amy Klosterman, the excellent pianist, caught much of the score's warmth.

Beethoven's early, never finished quintet for oboe, three horns and bassoon was an intriguing concert-starter. But golden-toned oboist Katherine Needleman and solid bassoonist Phillip Kolker needed smoother collaboration from fellow BSO members Peter Landgren and Mary Bisson and distinguished guest Barry Tuckwell.

On Friday night, the intimate concert series at Evergreen House presented Chatham Baroque, a top-notch period instrument ensemble based in Pittsburgh. The program concentrated mostly on dance-driven 17th-century music. An improvisational feeling enriched Scott Pauley's account of a sonata for theorbo by Johann Kapsberger. He was joined by Patricia Halverson on the viola da gamba for an equally stylish sampling of Marin Marais.

And, with Julie Andrijeski providing some very hot playing on violin, the group turned a sonata by Johann Schmelzer into the baroque equivalent of a brilliant jam session. The whole evening provided an eventful, informative echo from the past.

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