Eroica gives high-energy performance

Weekend also sees tribute to Budd

Music Reviews

May 04, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

When the Eroica Trio emerged onto the chamber music scene in the late 1990s, there seemed to be more attention paid to the players than to their playing. Let's face it - an art form as starved for attention and attention-getters as classical music is going to perk up at the sight of three women who could be mistaken for fashion models.

But, unlike some other head-turning musicians who had only marketing potential, the Eroica members demonstrated considerable skills at engaging the ear. These skills were much in evidence Sunday night in the season-closing presentation by the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

Violinist Adela Pena, cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio and pianist Erika Nickrenz conveyed the tension and pain in Shostakovich's E minor Trio quite palpably. Dvorak's Dumky Trio likewise received an engrossing account, with some impassioned, singing lines from the cellist and particularly solid, colorful work from the pianist.

At times, especially at the start of those two pieces and in Beethoven's under-inspired Kakadu Variations, the string playing was not exactly stellar. But individual shortcomings in tone or technique tended to be forgotten in the heat of the collective effort to energize notes on a page.

Margaret Budd tribute

Margaret Budd, founding director of the valuable Community Concerts at Second and Chamber Music by Candlelight at Baltimore's Second Presbyterian Church, will retire at the end of this season. Friends and colleagues turned that news into a public concert Sunday afternoon at the church to salute her many years of dedication.

With a long list of in-person and video tributes to Budd, the event threatened to turn into a beatification ceremony, but the prevailing mood was lighthearted. And there were some charming performances in between all the encomiums.

Highlights included pianist Awadagin Pratt's soaring account of the Schumann/Liszt Widmung; a charming, nostalgic touch with the old song When Day is Done, played by violinist Ivan Stefanovic and pianist Jonathan Jensen (the stylish arranger); and soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson's unbridled take on a Flanders and Swann send-up of an "Empress of Song" who is actually "stone, tone deaf."

`Clara' premiere

A potent opera might be fashioned from the life of Clara Schumann, the eminent 19th- century pianist. Clara, which premiered Friday at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center in College Park, isn't it.

The new work, with an effective revolving set by Erhard Rom (unfortunately accented by a whole bunch of piano cut-outs hanging above), makes an earnest attempt to bring Clara to life. But Kathleen Cahill's wordy libretto is stuffed with incidents that never really add up to a clear portrait. (Poor diction among the Maryland Opera Studio cast members didn't help the text.) And Robert Convery's score contains an awkward blend of styles, from quasi-Richard Strauss to bouncy circus-style music, that doesn't add up to a cohesive statement or enhance the mood of a scene.

The student cast sounded mostly like a student cast, the orchestra more polished. The production enjoyed sensitive conducting by JoAnn Kulesza and some telling directorial touches from Leon Major.

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