Melting snow is accompaniment to pianist

MusicReview

February 01, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

After-effects of last weekend's wintry mix unexpectedly intruded on the Music in the Great Hall program Sunday afternoon.

Drops of melting snow and ice from the roof of the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church started falling with just enough noise right outside a window to distract pianist Enrique Graf in the silence between movements of a Beethoven sonata.

"It sounds like a metronome," he said to the audience with a laugh. The beat of those drops didn't mesh with the tempos Graf had in mind, but that didn't throw him off a bit.

I'd bet a roof cave-in couldn't have derailed his rock-solid performance of Beethoven's C major Sonata, Op. 2, No. 3. Graf seized on all the bold, brilliant "I'm Beethoven and you're not" ideas in this early masterpiece, making as much out of the exhilarating themes and rhythms of the opening and closing movements as he did of the tenderness in the Adagio.

The bulk of the recital was devoted to sonatas for violin and piano. Joining Graf was Lee-Chin Siow, whose own formidable gifts assured a lively dialogue. The violinist's burnished tone, firm technique and tasteful phrasing provided continual pleasure, as did Graf's own expressive power and second-nature partnering.

The duo found the muscular strength, not just the exotic coloring, in Debussy's G minor Sonata, and took an incisive, intensely lyrical approach to Strauss' E-flat major Sonata. For dessert, the musicians offered a thoroughly winsome, impeccably styled account of Manuel Ponce's song Estrellita, in the classic Heifetz arrangement.

Peabody Symphony

Peabody Conservatory's remarkable, months-long exploration of the Second Viennese School - the music of Schoenberg and his disciples of atonality - opened Saturday night with a bracing reminder of the ingenuity and, yes, beauty to be found in that world.

Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra from 1909 signaled the arrival of what commentator Edward Downes memorably characterized as "an undetonated bomb" - a style so revolutionary that it could not be readily comprehended, even by many musicians, yet so powerful that within a few decades it would become the dominant language of classical composers.

Hajime Teri Murai led the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in a carefully prepared, admirably executed account of these brief pieces that moved beyond their still-astonishing complexities to touch the exotic poetry shimmering behind the notes.

The program also offered works by Viennese-based composers who made their own sizable waves at different times - Beethoven (I didn't stay for the performance of his Fifth Symphony) and Mahler, who was a great friend and mentor to Schoenberg.

Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer, bathed in a melancholy, late-romantic glow, featured Peabody grad student Daniel Seigel. His medium-sized baritone revealed an appealing warmth, his phrasing great concern for textual nuance.

Murai matched the singer's sensitive inflections and drew generally smooth playing from the orchestra.

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