Many bravos for season's performances, including aerial aria

Critic's Corner//Music

Music Column

June 19, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

The 2006-2007 classical music season, which ended over the weekend, contained lots of terrific performances. I thought that several deserved one more nod of appreciation, so here, in chronological order, is my highest-highpoints list:

Music director emeritus Yuri Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra marked the centennial of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich in October with an incendiary, riveting account of Symphony No. 10 that uncovered the rawest emotions in this defiant score.

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe sang a roof-raising recital for the Shriver Hall Concert Series in December. The sheer amplitude of the voice was notable enough; the musicality she revealed in a wide range of art songs left an indelible impression.

In January, Marin Alsop's first appearance of the season as BSO music director-designate came with some big music and big forces (more than two dozen Peabody Symphony students joined the orchestra). The Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss, considered second-rate by some, benefited greatly from Alsop's faith in the score and the richly atmospheric performance she secured.

For sheer audacity, it was hard to beat the circus act that Timothy Nelson's American Opera Theater created out of Handel's Acis and Galatea in January at Theatre Project. You just don't easily forget the sight of a soprano (Rebecca Duren) singing an aria while doing an aerial act -- upside down. An unusually entertaining package.

In January, the Kirov Opera spiced its annual visit to the Kennedy Center with a retooled, almost Marx Brothers-y version of Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims that frequently spilled over into the theater. Great fun.

February found music director Leonard Slatkin leading the National Symphony Orchestra in an electrically charged, brilliantly played performance of John Adams' Harmonielehre that underlined the score's status as one of the greatest orchestral works of the past 50 years.

Conductor Edward Polochick and his Concert Artists of Baltimore shone in an unusual February program that had room for music by Frank Bridge, Vaughan Williams (an a cappella Mass) and Shostakovich, whose Piano Concerto No. 1 got a delectably volatile performance with pianist Brian Ganz.

In March, Baltimore's Opera Vivente tackled Claudio Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland in a thoughtful updating by director John Bowen that kept the plot's mythological elements from looking at all out of place. Several standouts in the cast and a subtle period-instrument orchestra added to the success.

Music in the Great Hall went far, far off the beaten path in March. The program in Towson featured works by Arnold Bax, Michael Colgrass, Arvo Part, Benjamin Britten and others skillfully and tellingly explored by harpist Elizabeth Hainen, violist Peter Minkler and percussionist David DePeters.

Bedrich Smetana's The Bartered Bride entered the Baltimore Opera Company's repertoire in March with considerable style. Several Czech artists, including a winsome Dana Buresova in the title role and authoritative conductor Oliver von Dohnanyi, helped supply the idiomatic flavor for a production that managed to be cute without turning cutesy.

Another March event found the Handel Choir of Baltimore, Pro Musica Rara, Peabody Renaissance Ensemble and Baltimore Baroque Band collaborating on a vivid, vital performance of Handel's Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, elegantly conducted by Melinda O'Neal.

March also saw Die Walkure, the second installment in Washington National Opera's American-flavored production of Wagner's Ring Cycle conceived by Francesca Zambello. The image of good and evil battling underneath a litter-strewn highway was indelible. Placido Domingo's virile singing as Siegmund was but one stirring sound in a performance filled with dynamic vocal artists.

In May, frequent BSO guest conductor Gunther Herbig sculpted a truly majestic account of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7. This was rapturous music-making, showcasing the best of each section of the orchestra.

Washington National Opera hit yet another peak in May. Jenufa, Leos Janacek's taut, gritty opera about love, lust and small-mindedness, was boldly relocated by director David Alden from an old Czech village to a bleak, urban, 1950s setting. Heading a top-notch cast, Patricia Racette was a revelation of musical insight and theatrical truth in the title role.

The BSO struck gold -- Korngold, to be exact -- in its season finale last weekend. Concertmaster Jonathan Carney brought out the joyous lyricism of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violin Concerto, while Marin Alsop brought out the prismatic orchestral side of the irresistible piece.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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