Not game for the Super Bowl? Go for baroque on SuperBach Sunday

CLEF NOTES

January 29, 2009|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,tim.smith@baltsun.com

While many folks will be making last-minute checks on stashes of beer and munchies Sunday, others will be spending the pre-Super Bowl hours reveling in baroque music.

"SuperBach Sunday" is a long-running annual presentation by Pro Musica Rara, Baltimore's intrepid early-music organization. This year's concert features the return of two fine guests, soprano Ann Monoyios and trumpeter John Thiessen. The concert, which promises music by Bach, Handel and Purcell, will be at 3:30 p.m. at Towson University's Center for the Arts, Osler and Cross Campus drives. Tickets are $10 and $35. Call 410-704-2787 or go to promusicarara.org.

That same afternoon, the monthly Bach Concert Series offers a performance of the composer's Cantata No. 148, led by T. Herbert Dimmock, along with other works. The concert is at 4 p.m. Sunday at Christ Lutheran Church, 701 S. Charles St. Admission is free. Call 410-752-7179 or go to bachinbaltimore.org.

Peabody attractions

The Peabody Conservatory has some particularly enticing concerts on the schedule. At 8 p.m. Saturday, Hajime Teri Murai leads the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in a heavy-hitting program that includes Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, Ernest Bloch's Schelomo (with cellist Amit Peled) and Bump by Christopher Rouse, Peabody's composer-in-residence and Musical America's Composer of the Year.

At 8 p.m. Wednesday, several of the conservatory's faculty artists and composers will collaborate on an unusual program that pairs Schubert's evergreen Trout Quintet with a kind of contemporary companion piece, the Quintet for Piano and Strings - known as the Red Snapper Quintet - by Kevin Puts. The concert also includes the earliest-known pieces for unaccompanied bass (by the 19th century's Domenico Dragonetti) and a 2006 score for that instrument by Michael Hersch, written for the evening's soloist, Jeffrey Weisner.

Tickets for each concert are $5 to $15. Call 410-659-8100, ext. 2, or go to www.peabody.jhu.edu.

Concerts in review

I've heard some notable music and music-making in the past week or so.

On Monday night, Amy Briggs dove into the daunting, diverse field of modern American piano music - at one point, nose-first (literally) - and did so to brilliant effect. Presented by the Evolution Contemporary Music Series at An die Musik, Briggs gave a persuasive account of Augusta Read Thomas' Traces, a series of stylistic fusions. The austere beauty of Reverie (an imagined mesh of Schumann and George Crumb) and the intense, vibrant complexity of Impromptu (Stravinksy and Chopin meet Thelonious Monk) proved particularly potent.

Seven of David Rakowski's 80-plus Piano Etudes provided another showcase for Briggs, who seemed to relish the spiky Absofunkinlutely (think boogie-woogie on acid), the misty Palm de Terre, the glittery Cell Division (inspired by the sound of a mobile phone being turned on) and more. Schnozzage called on the pianist to articulate the melodic line with her nose, while her hands filled in subtle textures at either end of the keyboard. It wasn't nearly as silly as the title suggests. Rakowski was on hand to enjoy the dynamic performance.

David Smooke's short and rather sweet Requests was also performed in the presence of the composer. Other highlights included Nico Muhly's Quiet Music, with its tapestry of thick, lyrical chords; and Bruce Stark's elegant, shimmering Waltz. The late rocker Elliott Smith's Waltz #1, in Christopher O'Riley's lush arrangement, needed more tonal warmth to unleash the bittersweetness of the haunting tune.

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, which has suspended operations for the remainder of the season to build up its finances, played a memorable swan-song-for-now Sunday afternoon at Kraushaar Auditorium before a near-capacity crowd. All of the performers donated their services, including eminent clarinet virtuoso Richard Stoltzman, who gave a sublime account of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.

Stoltzman's silken tone spun the exquisite melodies with effortless grace, especially in the Adagio, which also benefited from his stylish ornamentation of the five-note descending theme that ranks among Mozart's most poignant inspirations. BCO music director Markand Thakar dovetailed the orchestral side of the concerto with considerable sensitivity, and the ensemble did some downright glowing work. As a bonus, Stoltzman and Eyal Bor, director of education for the Beth El Congregation, delivered Poulenc's saucy, compact Sonata for Two Clarinets.

Thakar shaped Bartok's Romanian Dances with admirable nuance and drew out the drama, not just the charm, of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8. A little minor roughness aside, the ensemble performed those works in dynamic fashion.

Last week, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra welcomed back Carlos Kalmar to the podium. He fashioned a polished, character-rich account of Haydn's Military Symphony, with buoyant tempos and delectable subtleties of phrasing; the orchestra's response was lithe and sensitive. The famous percussive outbursts in the Haydn work echoed at the end of the program in a complete performance of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 (these gems tend to be doled out as encores, not delivered as a set). Again, Kalmar proved a vivid interpreter, and, again, the BSO sounded thoroughly energized.

Bohuslav Martinu's Oboe Concerto featured one of the orchestra's most valuable members, principal oboist Katherine Needleman, who negotiated the score's mix of elegance and bravura with her familiar aplomb. Kalmar and the ensemble provided attentive support.

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