Celebrating 40 years and sounding good doing it

CRITIC'S CORNER

Critic's Corner

Music

May 16, 2006|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society closed its 40th anniversary season over the weekend with a harmonic convergence of powerful music-making and encouraging financial news.

A drive to build up the organization's endowment, which was $200,000 five years ago, has produced more than $1 million in assets and pledges. (The annual budget is about $630,000.)

It's always comforting to hear that any arts group has succeeded in securing support, and this chorus certainly deserves the economic vote of confidence.

Saturday night's concert at Goucher College found the ensemble in typically attentive, smoothly molded form, particularly in the main event on the program - Mozart's Requiem.

Choral Arts music director Tom Hall opted, as he first did with the ensemble 10 years ago, to use the edition of Mozart's unfinished score completed in 1991 by musicologist Robert Levin.

Given the familiarity of the version by Mozart's pupil, Sussmayr, hearing Levin's take on the Requiem is something like suddenly finding arms on the Venus de Milo. The torso is still very much recognizable, but with new, intriguing angles and details.

All things considered, Levin's realization of what Mozart might have done strikes me as perfectly valid and certainly respectful.

Hall seemed to believe in every note of it. His performance had an underlying ropulsion that effectively drew out the drama in the music without slighting moments of reflection.

The firm singing by the chorus was complemented by a sensitive solo quartet - soprano Karla Rivera, mezzo Linda Maguire, tenor William Jones and, especially, baritone Robert Cantrell.

The small orchestra proved mostly tidy and colorful.

Theodore Morrison, founding director of the Choral Arts Society, made a guest appearance to conduct his "fanfare for chorus and orchestra," On a Volunteer Singer, written for the ensemble's anniversary.

It's a brief, witty, expertly crafted piece inspired by a Coleridge verse:

Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing

Should certain persons die before they sing.

No bad thing, indeed.

The program also contained a pleasant, if somewhat unnecessary, "Elizabethan recreation for voices and instruments" by Kirke Meechem called Singing is So Good a Thing. Articulation is so good a thing, too, but the chorus could have been singing in Uzbek for all I could tell.

The Choral Arts Society's 2006-2007 season will include performances of Orff's Carmina Burana, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass, as well as the annual Christmas program, this one featuring jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut.

For more information, call 410-523-7070.

Shriver Hall finale

Another prized Baltimore music organization, the Shriver Hall Concert Series, also marked its 40th anniversary this season.

A few weeks ago, it celebrated that milestone with an extraordinary festival of pianists that generated some of the most memorable performances of the year so far. The regular Shriver subscription series wrapped up Sunday night with yet another keyboard artist and another round of impressive playing.

Canadian-born Angela Hewitt, who has a particular interest in baroque repertoire, devoted the first half of her recital to Bach and Rameau.

In terms of style and technical poise, the performances were admirable. I only wish Hewitt had produced as much warm tone coloring, dynamic inflection and technical sparkle in Rameau's Suite in A minor as she did in Bach's Partita in D major.

Switching gears, the pianist plunged into the romanticism of Brahms and mined much of the expressive gold in his F minor Sonata. The tender Andante and dirge-haunted Intermezzo inspired particularly poetic phrasing, while there was considerable weight and bravura to convey the passionate sweep of the rest.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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