Musicians add finishing touches

Critic's Corner//Music

Critic's Corner//Music

May 01, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

A rash of season finales left a sizable musical wake in recent days.

Louis Lortie, the excellent Canadian pianist, unleashed a flood of Chopin on Sunday night in the last subscription event of the Shriver Hall Concert Series. Lortie addressed the complete Etudes, Op. 10 and Op. 25, as well as the three Nouvelles Etudes - a considerable technical challenge for even the most dexterous of players, a weighty interpretive challenge for even the most poetic ones.

There was an occasional slip and a few questionable interpretive ideas (rhythmic shifts could be jarring), but Lortie's overall playing was as polished as it was eloquent and personal. He seemed particularly relaxed after intermission in Op. 25, achieving a songful, soulful peak in the C-sharp minor Etude and producing great bursts of power in the closing, stormy pair of A minor and C minor pieces.

The generous encore, Chopin's Ballade in G minor, contained remarkable levels of lyricism and virtuosity, whetting the appetite to hear still more of this pianist's affinity for this composer.

On Sunday afternoon, the Handel Choir of Baltimore drew a capacity crowd to the Church of the Redeemer for a presentation of Haydn's brilliant oratorio, The Creation. The turnout - and the performance level - reaffirmed the strides the ensemble has been making in recent years.

I heard Part One, an eventful section covering the first four days of the creative activity described in Genesis. Melinda O'Neal, the choir's artistic director, shaped Haydn's wonderfully descriptive music with an ear for drama and flow. Her choristers were attentive to subtleties of articulation, phrasing and balance. A beefier sound from the men's voices would have been welcome, but that was a minor detail. The orchestra of period instruments hit a few bumps but played with vibrant color.

The guest soloists brought vocal refinement and eloquence of line to their assignments. Just the way baritone Craig Phillips gently shaded a line about snowflakes spoke volumes.

The Peabody Symphony Orchestra gave a remarkable concert Saturday night. The performance, dedicated to the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, found the student musicians in mostly strong form as they tackled challenging fare.

Stephen Jaffe's Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra, premiered in 2004 by the National Symphony Orchestra, packs all sorts of ideas and instrumental effects into 30 minutes. The style is complex, unpredictable and riveting. David Hardy, the NSO's principal cellist and Peabody faculty member who gave the 2004 premiere, was the superb soloist here, impeccable in technique and intensely expressive.

Conductor Hajime Teri Murai ensured a generally smooth rapport between cellist and ensemble. Murai also had the orchestra percolating vibrantly in Network, a 1997 work by faculty member Kevin Puts, who was in a John Adams frame of mind when he wrote this kinetic showpiece.

Prokofiev's mighty Symphony No. 5 needed greater nuance from Murai and tighter coordination from the players, but the bold thrust of the performance registered impressively.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's chamber orchestra series never caught on with the public given its unusual midweek matinee placement and won't be back next season. But the series did generate some fine music-making. Last Thursday's finale, featuring two young American artists, was a case in point.

Guest conductor Michael Christie introduced the BSO to Copland's film score The City and made a strong case for the atmospheric music. He also led a sprightly, poised account of Schubert's Symphony No. 2.

In between came Ravel's Piano Concerto, with Orion Weiss as an exceptional soloist. He caught all the jazzy energy of the outer movements but really hit home in the Adagio. Where, in the opening measures, so many pianists plunk out the haunting right-hand melody as if for the hearing-impaired, Weiss achieved a rare, affecting delicacy and inwardness. Sublime.

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