French lesson by wind quintet at Shriver Hall

Music Column

October 02, 2007|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The music season heated up some more over the weekend, with the help of interesting, effectively delivered repertoire.

After an early-September, nonsubscription event featuring Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Shriver Hall Concert Series opened its annual classical series Sunday evening at the Johns Hopkins University with the superb Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet.

The program provided an immersion course in French music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. From Paul Taffanel's elegant 1880 Quintet to the irreverent 1948 Quintet No. 1 by Jean Francaix, consistent traits were easily detected - clarity of texture, vitality of melodic lines, refreshing harmonic coloring. Just as obvious was the disarming virtuosity of the ensemble.

Things hit a particularly brilliant peak in the performance of that witty Francaix score, with its often manic energy and a wonderfully rude horn part (the instrument is required, in several places, to produce the French equivalent of a Bronx cheer). The Berlin players uncorked the work's clever effervescence with elan, but didn't slight the third movement's contrasting lyricism.

There was remarkable tightness of articulation in Jacques Ibert's Trois pieces breves (perfectly crafted miniatures as satisfying as a chocolate truffle with a surprise filling), and beautifully shaded nuances in a suite by Darius Milhaud.

The playing in the sole non-French item, Samuel Barber's Summer Music, could have been cleaner and more atmospheric, but still impressed.

Throughout the evening, the quintet members made it abundantly clear how they got into the eminent Berlin Philharmonic (bassoonist Henning Trog more than 40 years ago, the others in the 1980s). The almost orchestral variety of tone they produced was a remarkable achievement in itself.

Community Concerts at Second (as in Baltimore's Second Presbyterian Church) launched its 2007-2008 season of free performances Sunday afternoon with a thoughtful, incisive recital by mezzo-soprano Theodora Hanslowe.

She proved especially communicative in a group of five songs by Gustav Mahler with poetry of Friedrich Ruckert. There wasn't quite enough vocal power for the emotional high of Um Mitternacht, but the singer conveyed the tender sentiments of the first three songs engagingly. And she caught, to telling effect, the autumnal resignation of the fifth, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, one of Mahler's most profound works.

Other highlights of the wide-ranging program included some delicately shaded French songs by Reynaldo Hahn, including L'heure exquise, which was exactly that - exquisite. Hanslowe also delivered selections by Purcell, Rossini and Bernstein with considerable personality.

The recital benefited considerably from the singer's attentive accompanist, Craig Ketter, who produced myriad colors at the piano.

On Saturday night, the Peabody Symphony Orchestra opened its season at Friedberg Hall. I caught the first half, which started off with a crackling account of Berlioz's Roman Carnival that found the student ensemble in very promising shape.

Next came the local premiere of a guitar concerto by Puerto Rican-born composer Roberto Sierra. First performed in Spain last May, Danzas Concertantes makes a substantive addition to the guitar repertoire, and an excellent vehicle for soloist Manuel Barrueco.

With folk-flavored tunes and spicy harmonies, the rhythmically alive concerto falls easily on the ear. Barrueco's finely honed technique and ability to create all sorts of subtle tonal shades served the score well, while conductor Hajime Teri Murai ensured a mostly crisp response from the orchestra.

Events worth noting

Music by Jewish composers who got out of Nazi Germany in time to rebuild their careers will be featured in a multimedia program called "It's Oh So Quiet: Exiled Composers in Hollywood" at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Towson University's Center for the Arts, Osler and Cross Campus drives. The free concert will feature students from the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany. Information: 410-704-2787.

Also at the Towson center, Pro Musica Rara, the period instrument ensemble, opens its season by exploring works by Bach and his sons at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Info: 410-728-2820,

There's more Bach on Sunday - his Cantata No. 111, part of the season-opener of the free Bach Concert Series, held on the first Sunday of each month through June at Christ Lutheran Church, 701 S. Charles St. Information: or 410-752-7179.

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