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October 20, 2008

Baltimore Chamber Orch., Handel Choir a good mix

Markand ThakarIt's always nice to see the area's musical groups collaborating, something that doesn't happen quite as often as it could. The latest example came on Sunday afternoon with the joint season-opener by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and Handel Choir of Baltimore. (Of course, what we really need around here is cooperation with scheduling, so there aren't so many worthwhile events on the same day, if not at the same time, but that's another story.) The concert, which drew a sizable crowd to Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, balanced a crystalline example of 18th century classicism with eloquent, harmonically lush choral works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

To start, BCO music director Markand Thakar led a graceful account of Mozart's Symphony No. 31 ("Paris") that moved along with an effortless propulsion. The performance revealed the orchestra to be in perhaps its most refined shape yet, with the strings equally attentive to technical details and expressive nuance, the winds nicely balanced. Mozart's music will be all over the BOC programming this season; given the elegant achievement here, that abundance is going to be most welcome.

Handel Choir artistic director Melinda O'Neal took the podium for the Five Mystical Songs by Melinda O'NealVaughan Williams, a worthy nod to the 50th anniversary of the great English composer's death. O'Neal was adept at bringing out the unmistakable inner glow that animates nearlly all of his music and that flows with particular power in this score. The soloist, William Andrew Stuckey, used his ample baritone stylishly (one false entrance was quickly covered). The chorus, which sounds more confident and cohesive every time I hear it, demonstrated admirable sensitivity. The orchestra again came through in fine form.

Thakar returned to conduct Faure's sublime Requiem. It's really more of an anti-requiem, refusing to follow the fire-and-brimstone path Verdi and Berlioz essentially followed for their entries in the Requiem genre, or even the considerable drama of Mozart's. Here, the prospect of eternal comfort is the prime focus, and Faure anticipates it with music of shimmering warmth.

Thakar approached the work in straightforward fashion, letting it speak for itself, and paid particular attention to the softest, subtlest side of the score. Although the first choral note emerged a little too loudly, the singers responded thereafter with considerable appreciation for dynamic shading. The tenors didn't produce quite enough tonal body, but they matched the other sections of the group for warmth of phrasing. Stuckey handled his solos admirably. Soprano Rachel Inselman sang the Pie Jesu with an affecting warmth. For the most part, the orchestra's efforts also registered tellingly. Madeline Adkins, the recently appointed concertmaster, offered elegant solo work.

All in all, a heartening start to the season for both organizations.

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTOS (top left, Markand Thakar; above right, Melinda O'Neal)

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:50 PM | | 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 baltimoresun.com/artsmash. 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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