Hard to beat BCO's theme for concert


February 11, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Percussionists can trace their musical ancestors back several hundred thousand years (less, I guess, for evolution-resistant types). The practice of getting sounds and establishing rhythms by striking various objects suggests a deep, natural impulse; the practice of putting those sounds and rhythms into an artistic context requires a degree of imagination that doesn't necessarily come so easily.

For its latest concert, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra focused on clever, colorful examples of employing percussion, from very subtle to hit-on-the-head obviousness. It was one of the most successful examples of thematic programming heard around here in some time.

Serving as bookends for the performance Wednesday night at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium were Rossini's Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri and Haydn's Symphony No. 100. Both have in common a sound effect known back then as "Turkish" - cymbals, bass drum and triangle were among the instruments used to produce that effect, in everything from an opera by Gluck to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Haydn uses the device assertively (his symphony is nicknamed "Military"), while Rossini adds sparkle to his overture from a rather gentle application.

Conductor Markand Thakar ensured that the crash and boom registered vividly in the Haydn work, but never obscured the ingenuity and infectious spirit in the rest of the score. This was a beautifully balanced, nuance-rich interpretation that found the ensemble playing with admirable polish and sensitivity.

The Rossini piece also benefited from Thakar's keen attention to detail. He refused to be hurried, allowing the music's high charm quotient to rise fully, stirring in its percussive flavoring as delicately as saffron in a risotto. Again, the musicians shone, producing a much more cohesive, fully animated sound than at the BCO's holiday concert a couple of months ago.

Percussion took center stage for Darius Milhaud's Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone from 1947. It's a fun work, devoid of pretense, infused with touches of jazz and Latin snap. The BCO's Barry Dove gave a calmly virtuosic, highly expressive account of the demanding solo part and enjoyed smooth backing from his colleagues.

As an encore, Dove and fellow members of the hot Global Percussion Trio, Svetoslav Stoyanov and John Thomakos, offered a kinetic cut from their self-titled debut recording.

One last burst of percussion filled out the program - Michael Daugherty's Flamingo, written in 1991 for the BCO. With a pair of stereophonically placed tambourines driving the action, the brief, urban score flew by in a bright performance.

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