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January 23, 2009

Schumann songs brought to life by William Sharp

The warm sound and insightful phrasing of baritone William Sharp got right to the heart of Schumann's song cycle Liederkreis Wendesday night at Peabody. It was a remarkable example of the vocal art.

Sharp, a member of the conservatory's faculty, has enjoyed a distinguished, wide-ranging career, and all of that experience shone through in this exquisitely nuanced performance, with the sensitive support of the Peabody Trio's pianist, Seth Knopp. A couple of notes here and there may have lacked firmness, but the baritone produced considerable tonal beauty and achieved a conversational intimacy, allowing the nuances of melody and text to register deeply.

Unfortunately, I had fidgety, chatty students to the right of me, figdety, chatty adults to the front of me (not for me to reason why), so part of the experience was not all it could have been. Still, the quality of the music-making conquered all.

After the Liederkeis, one of Schumann's finest chamber works was performed by the Peabody Trio (Knopp, violinist Violaine Melancon, cellist Natasha Brofsky) and violist Maria Lambros. The Piano Quartet, Op. 47, doesn't get the attention of the composer's Piano Quintet, but it should, if only because it contains what I believe to be one of the most exquisite melodies Schumann -- or anyone -- ever wrote, the theme that launches the third movement. The players on Wednesday gave an earnest, but not poetic enough, account of that movement. And the rest of the score didn't exactly soar, either. The performance seemed a little unfinished around the edges. (Beethoven was to be addressed by the Peabody Trio on the program, but I slipped away at intermission.)

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:53 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 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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