There's still plenty to mark on the classical music calendar

March 05, 2009|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,tim.smith@baltsun.com

Every week seems to brings bad news in the arts community, local and global, so it's worth taking a deep breath and a close look at all the positive stuff still happening. Consider the next several days on our music calendar, for example, which offer quite a richness of variety. Not bad for such a bleak time.

* Claudio Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea from 1643 is not history's first opera, but one of the most important, thanks to the quality of the libretto - a mix of politics, sex and violence set in ancient Rome, but perennially relevant to any era - and the beauty of the score. Opera Vivente's production, opening at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Emmanuel Episcopal Church and running through March 14, features soprano Ah Hong in the title role and male soprano David Korn as Nero. Joseph Gascho conducts the fine early-music ensemble Harmonious Blacksmith. John Bowen directs. Call 410-547-7997 or go to operavivente.org.

* Peabody Opera Theatre turns to one of the most popular works in the repertoire, La Traviata, Giuseppe Verdi's masterful portrait of a doomed Parisian courtesan. The alternating student casts will be directed by Garnett Bruce, who has fashioned some dynamic stagings for Peabody in recent years. Hajime Teri Murai will conduct. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through March 14 at Peabody Conservatory. Call 410-659-8100, ext. 2, or go to peabody.jhu.edu.

* The exceptional Jun Markl returns to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra podium this week to conduct Stravinsky's Apollo and Mozart's Requiem (with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society). Performances are at 8 tonight and 3 p.m. Sunday in Baltimore and 8 p.m. Saturday in North Bethesda. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.

* The Baltimore Composers Forum gathers tonight for works by the late Stephen Makofski (the concert is being given in his memory), as well as John Belkot, James Brody, Benny Russell, Ariyo Shahry, George Spicka and Mark Williams. The performance is at 8 p.m. at An die Musik. Call 410-385-2638 or go to andiemusiklive.com.

* The economic downturn caused the Concert Artists of Baltimore to postpone its scheduled April performance of Verdi's Requiem until next season, but the ensemble, conducted by Edward Polochick, will proceed with an all-Mendelssohn program as planned at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Gordon Center. The concert includes the Concerto for Two Pianos (with Brian Ganz and Shaun Tirrell) and the Symphony No. 2 for chorus and orchestra. Call 410-625-3525 or go to cabalto.org.

* The Brentano String Quartet, which helped to open the renovated Alice Tully Hall in New York a couple of weeks ago, makes a Shriver Hall Concert Series appearance with pianist Peter Serkin and baritone Thomas Meglioranza in a program of Haydn, Beethoven, Schoenberg and Wuorinen at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 410-516-7164 or go to shriverconcerts.org.

Review roundup

The past week provided lots of musical highs, including the London Philharmonic's brilliant concert for the Washington Performing Arts Society, conducted by the fascinating, galvanizing Vladimir Jurowski last Thursday at Strathmore. And the Baltimore Symphony's eventful program last Friday at the Meyerhoff, conducted by Peter Oundjian - an incisive account of Elgar's Enigma Variations; a passionate performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto with Daniel Mueller-Schott. (For more on these performances, please go to my blog: baltimoresun.com/clefnotes.)

At Grace United Methodist Church on Sunday afternoon, the Handel Choir of Baltimore delved sensitively into the Gregorian chant-haunted world of Durufle's Requiem, guided by Melinda O'Neal and featuring the luminous mezzo Catherine MiEun Choi and eloquent baritone Robert Cantrell. Jonathan Moyer was the brilliant organ accompanist.

The imaginative program also showcased less familiar fare by Durufle - Quatre Motets, warmly sung by the choristers; the Suite for Organ, delivered with terrific flair by Moyer - and rarely heard items by Berlioz, Saint-Saens and Messiaen. Cantrell's rich sound also filled out songs by Faure impressively.

On Sunday night at Goucher College, the 49th Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg concert presented one of today's leading baritones, Nathan Gunn, whose performance of Schubert's song cycle Die schone Mullerin boasted admirable tonal warmth, superb diction and great dynamic variety. Gunn's connection to the texts, his ability to get to the heart of this tale of love found and lost, proved thoroughly persuasive. His wife, Julie Jordan Gunn, accompanied at the piano; a somewhat heavy, monochromatic touch early on gave way to finely nuanced playing.

Tuesday night found the compelling Mobtown Modern organization presenting nearly all of Luciano Berio's Sequenzas, a series of extraordinarily challenging works spanning more than 40 years. I caught two-thirds of the marathon at the Contemporary Museum and was consistently impressed with the caliber of the music-making.

Among the standouts: Marcia Kamper's calmly virtuosic account of the spiky Sequenza I for flute; soprano Julieanne Klein's fearless, riveting charge through Sequenza III, which exploits nearly every possible vocal utterance; Wendy Richman's sturdy delivery of Sequenza VI, with its wonderfully abrasive tremolos; Gabriela Diaz's vivid handling of the skittish perpetual-motion passages in Sequenza VIII for violin; and Brian Sacawa's prismatic performance of the alternately piercing and whispering Sequenza IXb for alto sax.

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