Stopping by the mansions for the melodies and the ambience


September 13, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Music and mansions go together nicely. Something about the richness of a great composition and the richness of a grand residence can create an awfully inviting ambience - especially when you don't have to be even tenuously connected to high society to savor it.

There was a promising turnout Sunday afternoon at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion on Mount Vernon Place for the opening of a new concert series there by the Largely Ludwig Chamber Ensemble.

That same afternoon, a large crowd packed two salons and spilled over onto a side porch of the mansion at the Cylburn Arboretum to hear the first of what is projected to become an annual presentation there.

Just about everything clicked at this inaugural Chamber Music at Cylburn venture. The repertoire reflected sophisticated tastes; the level of music-making was high. The inclusion of German art songs made the concert particularly appealing. (The Largely Ludwig program scored points for offering some, too.)

Baritone Ryan de Ryke brought an engaging emotional directness to the dozen songs of Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 39. Greater warmth of tone and a wider range of dynamics would have added to the effectiveness, but this was still a classy effort made even more so by the eloquent accompaniment of pianist Eva Mengelkoch.

De Ryke also sang a brief song by Mendelssohn, Frage, which the composer subsequently and ingeniously used as melodic kindling for his String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13, one of his most ambitious chamber works. The quartet, performed directly after the song, received an involving performance by a violinists Kenneth Goldstein and Greg Mulligan, violist Karin Brown and cellist David Levitov.

The string players summoned even more technical polish and lyrical fire when they joined the consistently impressive Mengelkoch for a sweeping account of Elgar's eventful Piano Quintet.

The rambling finale wasn't entirely convincing, but abundance of distinctive themes and instrumental colors throughout the piece made for a fascinating experience. The long-breathed slow movement captures Elgar in his noblest mood, which matched the elegant Cylburn surroundings perfectly.

I caught the first half of the Largely Ludwig event at Garrett-Jacobs before heading to the arboretum. (The Ludwig portion, a Beethoven violin sonata, was in the second.)

You don't hear music by Telemann played on a solo piccolo every day. (Jennifer Trimble delivered a fantasia nimbly.) For that matter, Barber's Adagio for Strings doesn't turn up in its original quartet form all that often. (It received a tentative, superficial performance here.) And the Four Serious Songs by Brahms are hardly overexposed.

Randal Woodield's affection and affinity for those profound songs went a long way toward compensating for the baritone's uneven vocal state. A few blurred edges aside, pianist Lorraine Van Dine backed the singer sturdily and tapped much of the music's subtle beauty.

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