Violinist performs with no frills attached

October 05, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

These days, when classical music is in such a marketing-driven state, like everything else, people are invariably looking for the next hot young talent, preferably with some visual flash. It's so much about fizz and buzz.

Which is one reason why it's worth being reminded periodically of good old-fashioned artistry, un-frilled and unapologetic - the kind superbly represented by violinist Aaron Rosand.

This guy isn't a throwback to a golden age of music-making - he is a golden age of music-making. And, since he's 76, you can take that in more than one way.

The Indiana-born Rosand, who will open the Catonsville Presbyterian Concert Series on Sunday, gave his first public performance 71 years ago and made his debut with the Chicago Symphony 66 years ago. And his career just keeps going.

Some of his best recordings are of very recent vintage. A recital filmed in California last fall, featuring remarkably assured and sensitive playing, will be out on DVD - his first - next month, released by Video Artists International (VAI).

What you will see on Sunday, or on that DVD, is a musician who is all about the music. Behind his trim goatee and poker-faced demeanor (a characteristic less common in our hyper-visual age) is a mind sharply focused on each note, the quality of each tone, the totality of a composer's thought.

Throughout his long career, Rosand has maintained that focus, setting quite a standard for insight, as well as integrity. He has applied it not just to the large-scale pieces in the rich violin literature, but the little gems that used to be a standard part of any fiddler's program.

Selections for the Catonsville recital reflect this breadth. There will be two items by Mozart, Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, Chausson's Poeme, Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, and transcriptions of four works by Russian composers. Accompanying Rosand will be pianist Robert Koening.

The forthcoming DVD, filmed at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., contains the same Sarasate showstopper and Russian music, all delivered with technical aplomb and, above all, exquisitely tasteful, old-world style. Such attributes are like to be keenly felt on Sunday.

Aaron Rosand's recital will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Catonsville Presbyterian Church, 1400 Frederick Road. Admission is free.

This is the sixth season for the church's series, supported entirely through donations. Other artists on tap: The Rome Trio, the Chamber Chorus of the Baltimore Choral Arts Soceyt, pianist Thomas Pandolfi, members of the U.S. Army Field Band, and the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra. For more information, call 410-747-6180.

More season-openers

Several other valuable musical organizations in the region also open their 2004-2005 seasons this weekend.

Of particular note is Pro Musica Rara, which has reached an extraordinary milestone - its 30th season of presenting 17th- and 18th-century music performed on period instruments.

Pro Musica has been around nearly as long as the authenticity movement itself. That movement shook up the music world by reviving interest in historically authentic tempos and textures, rethinking stylistic traits that had come to be accepted as normal and proper.

The difficulties of mastering early instruments, let alone finding a persuasive stylistic voice, are considerable; just staying in tune can be quite a challenge. At its best, Pro Musica successfully meets that challenge as it helps to re-create the past, offering audiences a valuable opportunity to expand aural horizons.

Like so many groups, Pro Musica struggles financially. Concerts were moved to Towson last season, when it became too expensive to remain at the Baltimore Museum of Art, but that lost some subscribers, adding to the pressure.

Maybe they'll be lured back by the attractive programs put together for this season by artistic director Allen Whear. He and fellow cellist Doug McNames will start things off with solo suites by Bach and virtuoso duos by Boccherini and Rossini. This concert is at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave. Tickets are $20, $10 for students. Call 410-728-2820.

Due later this season: the annual SuperBach Sunday, with much-loved works by Bach and Handel, performed by the full Pro Musica ensemble and guest artists; an afternoon of Beethoven and Schubert; and a focus on string quartets, including works by Haydn and the unjustly obscure Joseph Boulogne Saint-Georges, sometimes called "the black Mozart."

Also keep an ear out for these season-openers this weekend:

The Baltimore Classical Guitar Society presents the overdue local debut of subtle virtuoso Pepe Romero in a Spanish program at 8 p.m. Friday at Peabody Conservatory, 17 E. Mount Vernon Place. Call 410-247-5320.

Music in the Great Hall kicks off with the Atlantic String Quartet, made up of Baltimore Symphony members, performing Beethoven and Shostakovich, as well as Frank Martin's Quintet (with pianist Adam Mahonske), at 8 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Sunday at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1710 Dulaney Valley Road. Call 410-813-4255.

The Evergreen Concert Series presents the New Zealand String Quartet at 8 p.m. Friday at Evergreen House, 4545 N. Charles St. Call 410-516-0341.

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