Concert offers quality outside the Beltway

CRITIC'S CORNER

Critic's Corner//Music

May 23, 2006|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Concert Artists of Baltimore, a combination of choral and orchestral forces, routinely provides some of the most imaginative programming and most engaging performances in the region. The finale to the ensemble's 19th season reiterated that point Saturday night at the Gordon Center in Owings Mills.

There was the novelty of juxtaposing a grand warhorse, Brahms' sweeping Piano Concerto No. 2, with rarely encountered works by 20th-century Argentine composers. And there was the intensity of the music-making, so impressive that I wished more people were in the hall to hear it. (Maybe some folks can't believe there could be such quality outside Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, let alone outside the Beltway.)

Edward Polochick, artistic director of Concert Artists, doesn't just have a knack for drawing together solid instrumentalists from the area's large pool of freelancers - other organizations do that, too. What's different is the tightness and energizing spirit Polochick gets from his 40-member orchestra. A similar unity and spark characterizes his chorus of 30.

On Saturday, Alberto Ginastera's mercurial orchestral score Variaciones concertantes emerged with compelling clarity. Both the group as a whole and the many soloists within, from bassist Laura Ruas to timpanist Donna DiStefano, offered vivid phrasing.

A cappella pieces by Ginastera (the drama-rich Lamentations of Jeremiah) and Carlos Guastavino (the subtly colored Three Lullabies) showcased the chorus' versatility and responsiveness.

When it turned to Brahms, the orchestra summoned a big, dark sound that belied its size and provided a firm foundation for the incisive playing of another concert artist - Ann Schein. This former longtime Peabody Conservatory faculty member has enjoyed a notable career as a recitalist and collaborator.

Schein approached the music unaffectedly and with dynamic power. A little technical smudginess here and there proved immaterial in light of the propulsive passion. Polochick was a superbly attentive partner.

For its 20th anniversary season, Concert Artists will offer a musical portrait with narration of Beethoven; an all-operatic program; an intriguing mix of a Shostakovich symphony, a Mass by Vaughan Williams and a string orchestra piece by Britten; and another vocal/instrumental sampling that includes works by Saint-Saens, Copland and Stephen Foster.

In addition to these concerts at the Gordon Center, the organization will present its annual series of holiday and chamber music programs at the Engineers Club in Baltimore.

For more information, call 410-625-3525 or visit cabalto.org.

WPAS finale/future

The Washington Performing Arts Society offered a memorable finale to its 40th anniversary classical music season with a recital by eminent Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini last week at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Pollini is one of the most intellectually insightful keyboard artists of our time and, at 64, is still one of the most technically refined. He does not go in for emotional display; he is not likely to stretch a tempo or a point. But, as he did on this occasion, he can make as startling an impression as the wildest over-interpreter.

His unusually taut performance of Liszt's sprawling Sonata in B minor was particularly compelling. Pollini revealed the ingenuity and the poetry of the score without pushing either out of proportion. The music sounded amazingly fresh. And fast.

The recital also contained several Chopin pieces, including four Nocturnes (he has just recorded all the Nocturnes for Deutsche Grammophon). I would not have minded more sentiment and, in the F-sharp minor Polonaise, more tonal variety, but this was stellar playing nonetheless.

The WPAS 2006-2007 season will feature several potent pianists, including Evgeny Kissin, Yefim Bronfman and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Also scheduled: violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Joshua Bell; mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves; the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Kirov orchestras and the London Philharmonic.

For more information, call 202-785-9727 or visit wpas.org.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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