As day of big unveiling nears, Peabody keeps the music flowing

`Nightcries' debuts at faculty recital

MusicReview

April 02, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Peabody Institute is gearing up to make a big splash with the unveiling later this month of a $27 million campus renovation, accompanied by lots of notable music. Meanwhile, there are still interesting waves to catch at the conservatory.

One example came Tuesday night during a Faculty Chamber Music Recital at Peabody, which balanced standard repertoire by Haydn and Brahms with new - even brand-new - music.

The premiere was by Jonathan Leshnoff, an alumnus of the conservatory who is now an assistant professor at Towson University. His Nightcries for violin, saxophone and piano is an engrossing piece that extracts myriad colors from all three instruments while exploring what might be called the light and dark sides of night.

Leshnoff wrote the piece expressly for saxophonist and Peabody faculty member Gary Louie and used as a stepping-off point events in Louie's life - a few years ago, within a very short span, Louie's father died and his first son was born. You can feel the pull of opposing emotions in Leshnoff's score, with its contrasts between spiky harmonies and lyrical lines (often played in unison); the quiet, slow-fading end suggests a gradual coming to terms.

The new work received a tight performance by Louie, whose ability to produce flutelike high notes from the sax was particularly impressive; his wife, Kirstin Taylor, at the piano; and violinist Elizabeth Mahler.

Chinese-born composer Chen Yi, a former Peabody faculty member, was represented on the program by her terrifically volatile, East-meets-West Qi, for flute, cello, piano and percussion. Plunging surely into this 1997 work's technical demands and powerfully into its expressive currents were flutist Anna Rakoczy, cellist Michael Kannen, pianist Seth Knopp and percussionist Svetoslav Stoyanov.

I bowed out before the Brahms item on the program, but enjoyed the bright account of Haydn's C major Piano Trio from Kannen, violinist Herbert Greenberg and pianist Marian Hahn (her playing was exceptionally fleet and elegant).

Peabody's faculty is rich in talent, much of it under-appreciated locally. One recent addition to that faculty is Israeli-born cellist Amit Peled. That he was invited to join the professorial team in his 20s says plenty. So did Peled's playing Monday night for a handful of people at Goucher College's Merrick Hall.

In Bach's Cello Suite No. 4, he made a vivid character study out of each movement. His Burgundy tone turned a little gritty at times, his articulation a little fuzzy, but he caught the combination of noble beauty and playful warmth in the music; a gutsy drive through the gigue generated quite a spark.

Sensitively partnered by visiting Israeli pianist Michal Tal, Peled also offered a performance of Ernest Bloch's From Jewish Life that was as idiomatic and affecting as it was simply gorgeous in sound.

On her own, Tal made a persuasive case for the Choral Sonata written for her in 2002 by Siberian-born, Israel-based Jan Freidlin and heard here in its U.S. premiere. It could be called the Chordal Sonata, given the clusters of chords that drive much of this continually mood-shifting piece. The gentle, poplike tunes that alternate with dark, aggressive passages come close to sounding trite, but, in the end, the music has an effective weight. Tal played it securely and artfully, which is also how she played a couple of Schubert's Impromptus.

Peabody Camerata

The adventuresome Peabody Camerata will give two premieres this weekend. One is a chamber opera called If I Were a Voice, by Daniel Thomas Davis, who is simultaneously an undergrad at the music conservatory and a history grad student at the Johns Hopkins University. His opera is based on the story of the Hutchinsons, a 19th-century family of singers and social activists.

Also being premiered is a work by Rich Lauver, Peabody's ensemble coordinator, inspired by Alan Seeger's sonnet Who Shall Invoke Her. The piece is scored for the unusual combination of voice, piano, two vibraphones and woodwind quartet. The program also contains The Devil's Herald, by Richard Peaslee, scored for tuba, four horns and percussion.

The Camerata concert is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Peabody Institute, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place. Admission is free. The Davis opera will receive a second free performance at 3 p.m. Sunday.

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