Shriver Hall Concert Series' new season sparkles

March 24, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The invaluable Shriver Hall Concert Series, which presented keyboard magician Lang Lang in his Baltimore recital debut on Sunday, has planned another high-quality array of soloists and ensembles for its 39th season.

The 2004- 2005 lineup includes an appearance in October by the sensational Polish vocal artist Ewa Podles, one of the few, true contraltos to appear in ages. Her recital includes works by Rossini, Dvorak, Turina and Moniuszko. Eminent Russian cellist Natalia Gutman, accompanied by noted pianist Elizo Virzaladze, is slated for a recital in April 2005.

Starting off in September with the Mozart Piano Quartet performing music by its namesake, as well as Schumann and Strauss, the series offers several other notable chamber groups. The Artemis String Quartet, playing Beethoven and Bartok, is due in November. The February calendar includes a joint appearance by the Ysaye String Quartet and the Paris Piano Trio in works by Haydn, Brahms and Franck. That same month, the splendid Venice Baroque Orchestra, directed by Andrea Marcon, will be joined by the popular duo-pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque for a program of Bach, Vivaldi and more.

December will bring rising violin star Leila Josefowicz in a recital that will range from Beethoven and Brahms to Ravel and remarkable conductor/composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. Poetic pianist Nelson Freire will give a recital in March 2005. And, in a non-subscription event slated for May 2005, young pianist Yundi Li, who is generating the kind of praise that greeted Lang Lang's arrival a few years ago, will play music by Mozart, Schumann, Chopin and Stravinsky.

For more information on the 2004-2005 Shriver Hall Concert Series, call 410-516-7164.

Lang Lang

By now, it's hardly news that Lang Lang can play a helluva mean piano, or that he provokes divergent opinions. His detractors (poor, wayward souls) fault him for overly aggressive behavior at the keys, a tendency to push the virtuoso bit. They also love to bemoan his vivid facial expressions and grandly sweeping arms. But even those who have yet to fall under this pianist's spell would surely have melted Sunday night as he played his heart out for the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

It often sounded to me as if Lang Lang were channeling any number of legendary artists from the golden age of piano playing, the days when tempos were ever-elastic, dynamics were exceptionally wide-ranging, personalities were encouraged rather than stifled - in short, when music was always truly, deeply lived. His vaporous finish to Schumann's Abegg Variations was but one example.

He brought feathery articulation to a Haydn sonata, caught the smoldering spirit behind Scriabin's C-sharp minor Etude, and put as much lyrical nuance as technical sparkle into Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise.

Schubert's daunting Wanderer Fantasy unfolded with considerable warmth of expression and a keen sense of drama. Tan Dun's Eight Memories in Water Color could not be better suited to Lang Lang's keyboard sensibilities. The music danced and shimmered beguilingly.

For encores, Lang Lang sculpted Schumann's Traumerei and Liszt's Liebestraum - well-worn pieces most pianists won't touch today - with affecting tenderness. He and his father, a virtuoso on erhu, brought the house down with a dashing Chinese folk song.

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