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September 29, 2008

Concert Artists open season in French mood

Edward PolochickIt was a dark and stormy night, but the season-opener by the Concert Artists of Baltimore went on -- and on -- at the Gordon Center with an imaginatively chosen, dynamically delivered French program. I just wish there had been less chat along with it. The 8 p.m. performance started at 8:17, thanks to various preliminary remarks (and didn't end until around 10:20). Artistic director Edward Polochick also added more commentary throughout the evening, as he is wont to do. Maybe it was just me (I admit to being extra antsy that night, wanting to get back to help with a flooded basement), but I really do think that all the talk just got in the way. This music could have easily spoken for itself.

It spoke in a particularly colorful voice at the start with Ibert's wild and wacky Divertissement -- sophisticated cartoon music, really -- which Polochick fired up mightily. Ravel's Mother Goose Suite came in for a sensuously molded account that found the ensemble's woodwinds in admirable form (the solo strings less so). Lalo's Iberian-flavored Cello Concerto doesn't turn up too often. It was offered here as a vehicle for Concert Artists' principal cellist Gita Ladd, who produced a deep, often luxurious tone. She was a little cloudy in some of the bravura elements of the score, but the phrasing was always communicative.

The choral contingent of the organization got a chance to shine in songs by Debussy and Faure (the Cantique de Jean Racine, beautifully realized). There were also some vivid French-language pieces from 1946 by Dutch composer Henk Badings; the womens' voices sounded particularly warm in La complainte des ames.

By the way, seeing Concert Artists' assistant concertmaster Nicholas Currie onstage Saturday reminded me of his participation a couple Sunday's ago in the season-opening presentation of Music in the Great Hall at Towson Unitarian, a program of trios by Hummel, Schubert and Stanley Silverman (a cool, clever, jazz-inflcted score). I had to be in Washington that afternoon, but stopped by for some of the final rehearsal the day before and enjoyed hearing Currie's sure, elegant playing in an ensemble with the fine cellist Pei Lu and always expressive pianist Virginia Reinecke (indefatigable founder and former artistic director of Music in the Great Hall). I imagine they delivered an eventful concert.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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