Campus a fit for Pro Musica

Period ensemble leaves church

new season to debut at Towson

Music column

May 02, 2006|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Pro Musica Rara occupies quite a specialized niche, performing mostly 18th- and early 19th-century repertoire on period instruments. Such a focus may not necessarily start stampedes at the box office, but the value is considerable.

Getting in touch with the musical past is an endlessly rewarding endeavor, and Pro Musica Rara does it with determination, scholarship and, increasingly, technical elan. For its 32nd season, the organization will demonstrate those qualities in a new place, the Towson University Center for the Arts.

The 160-seat recital hall, the gem of the recently expanded center, should be an ideal fit for Pro Musica, which has spent the past few years in the atmospherically pleasant, but acoustically undistinguished, Towson Presbyterian Church.

The 2006-2007 schedule will include four programs at Towson University, including the popular annual SuperBach Sunday. Other concerts will look at Mozart, 17th-century violin music and dance-inspired works.

Off campus, Pro Musica will collaborate with the Walters Art Museum on a celebration of Italian Baroque at the museum, and with the Handel Choir of Baltimore and Peabody Early Music Department in a diverse program at the Peabody Institute.

For more information, call 410-728-2820 or visit promusica rara.org.

The 31st Pro Music Rara season ended Sunday afternoon with a Franco-centric concert at Towson Presbyterian that featured Kenneth Slowik, artistic director of the chamber music program at the Smithsonian.

Two of Telemann's "Paris" Quartets found the players in deft form. Violinist Ivan Stefanovic articulated the melodic flurries in the first movement colorfully; flutist Sara Nichols and Slowik handled the question-and-answer passages of the second movement with great charm; the Vite and Distrait movements whirled along tightly; and the wealth of invention in the finale emerged compellingly.

There were intonation slips during the afternoon, and an uncooperative instrument caused Nichols to halt and restart a Blavet sonata, but the net effect of the concert was consistently engaging.

To hear the elegant harmonic turns in a suite by Marais, for example, vividly delivered by Slowik, cellist Allen Whear (Pro Musica's artistic director) and harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, was as refreshing as the crisp spring air.

Rostropovich and NSO

The long tenure of stellar cellist Mstislav Rostropovich as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra - 17 years - was not universally admired, but I fondly remember some remarkably passionate concerts during that era.

There were moments Friday night at the Kennedy Center when Rostropovich, back for one of his periodic appearances with the orchestra since stepping down from the top post in 1994, had the ensemble delivering the fire of those old days.

This was especially true in Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, which, even with some untidy playing and a few overly broad tempos, generated quite a lot of heat.

The Rostropovich/NSO era contained lots of new music, so it was not surprising to find a Washington premiere on the program - Correspondances, a 2003 song cycle by notable French composer Henri Dutilleux, who, looking quite hale at 90, was on hand to receive an enthusiastic ovation.

Dutilleux chose the texts from various letters, including one by Van Gogh to his brother, and, quite touchingly, one by Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Rostropovich and his wife written to thank them for their heroic support during his troubles with Soviet authorities.

Scored for soprano (Dawn Upshaw was the expressive soloist) and large orchestra (including accordion), the music finds Dutilleux in strongly communicative form, using his distinctive harmonic freedom to create a rich, yet intimate, soundscape. Rostropovich led the score with conviction and sensitivity.

He also tapped a good deal of the power and misty beauty of Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes.

The evening started with a little self-horn-tooting - the raucous Slava! (A Political Overture) written for Rostropovich and the NSO by Leonard Bernstein in 1977. It could have been played with more drive and flash, but still made a fun reminder of a productive musical partnership.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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