Music in perfect synchronicity

Critic's Corner//Music

Two performances find conductors, players working as one

Critic's Corner//Music

February 20, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

Explaining the successful chemistry that certain conductors generate with musicians is nearly as difficult as explaining how even a dearly departed Anna Nicole Smith can still manipulate the media and public.

Basically, it seems to boil down to the fact that some conductors exude a combination of confidence, inspiration and animation that sweeps performers along on an artistic high.

I heard two examples of this over the weekend, from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Concert Artists of Baltimore.

German conductor Jun Markl, in his third engagement with the BSO since 2002, had the ensemble playing at the top of its game Friday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, thinking about the color and character of each note, breathing as one.

In the avian-related first half of the concert, Markl gently led his orchestra through the welcoming landscape of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll. The strings, in particular, excelled at producing a warm, lyrical, organic sound.

The hints of birdsong that dot Wagner's work were followed by an all-out celebration of feathered-friend chatter. Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques, for piano, winds and percussion, is propelled with themes and rhythms he took directly from winged creatures, exotic and otherwise.

Pianist Orli Shaham leapt fearlessly and brilliantly into the complex work, finding in the composer's spiky dissonance the stuff of rare, startling poetry. Markl assured a tight fit between the keyboard's dynamic activity and the ensemble's equally colorful contributions.

Water was the dominant theme after intermission. Debussy's La Mer is a score the orchestra has sailed out a little too often lately, but the playing Friday nonetheless had extraordinary freshness and sensuality as Markl artfully molded each melodic wave in this evocation of the sea.

It's easy to conjure up images of pirates and action-packed oceans in Le Corsaire by Berlioz, and it was even easier here, given how Markl got the BSO to buckle every swash in this overture with razzle-dazzle playing.

All evening, the connection between podium and orchestra was as effortless as it was galvanizing and rewarding.

Much the same could be said about Saturday night's performance by the orchestral/choral Concert Artists of Baltimore, led by imaginative artistic director Edward Polochick at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills.

Polochick inspires a level of intense involvement from his instrumentalists and singers that many a conductor would envy. That's how it was on this occasion.

Not that everything emerged with pinpoint accuracy; various little details could have been cleaner, clearer. What mattered was the continual beauty and thoughtfulness of expression.

The clever program looked at 20th-century English and Russian composers with (stylistically) romantic tendencies.

Frank Bridge's Suite for String Orchestra, full of Constable-pretty skies and meadows, received a lovely performance, characterized by dynamic subtleties and warmhearted phrasing.

Polochick had his chorus singing sensitively in Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor, an a cappella piece from 1921 that manages to keep one foot in the Middle Ages.

Rachmaninoff's achingly beautiful Vocalise did not entirely fit soprano Christine Kavanagh, but she spun out some silvery phrases, with eloquent support from the strings.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich (really a concerto for piano, trumpet and strings) ingeniously fuses lyricism, irony, wit and just plain nose-thumbing. Pianist Brian Ganz charged into this volatile mix with remarkable elan, making the music seem thoroughly spontaneous and inevitable.

His bravura performance was potently complemented by the assured, colorful playing of trumpeter Phil Snedecor.

Polochick's seamless dovetailing of all the concerto's elements helped to produce a taut, nearly flammable performance.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

The online version of today's music column includes a review of Sunday's concert by Pro Musica Rara. Go to baltimoresun.com/enter tainment/music.

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