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March 10, 2009

Imaginative vocal recital presented by Music in the Great Hall

Music in the Great Hall, a concert series in its 35th season, occasionally ventures into an area that remains problematic with the general public -- art songs. Strange as it is for me to fathom, some folks will volunteer for unneeded root canals rather than submit to an entire program of Schubert lieder. But I'm always delighted to see organizations plunge ahead anyway with such things, as the Shriver Hall Concert Series will do next month when distinctive British tenor Ian Bostridge sings, yes, an entire program of Schubert lieder.

But back to the Great Hall -- actually, Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, where the series presents its activities. On Sunday afternoon, soprano Lorriana Markovic-Prakash and pianist Adam Mahonske (artistic director of the series) teamed up for an imaginative mix of songs that covered several styles and moods. For angst and heartache, there was a sampling of Tchaikovsky (left), including the much-loved "None by the Lonely Heart." For wit and quirkiness, there was Poulenc's song cycle Fiancailles pour Rire. Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs provided doses of the mystical and the earthy. And John Carter's Cantata -- seriously dressed-up arrangements of familiar spirituals -- rounded things out in uplifting fashion.

Markovic-Prakash, like Mahonske, teaches at Morgan State University. She is an engaging, intelligent artist. Her intonation ...

was not as consistent as her expressiveness, however, and a tendency to land just shy of the pitch in the upper register caused some damage. But all the music was delivered with conviction, color and style. The way the soprano built to the emotional peak in Tchaikovsky's "So Soon Forgotten," with its tale of an ended affair, was gripping. And how beautifully she molded that composer's endearing gem, " 'Twas in the Early Spring" -- which seemed all the more perfect on such a prematurely springlike day. Many deft touches characterized the singer's performance of the Poulenc and Barber songs, and Markovic-Prakash proved to be just as compelling an interpreter of the great spirituals woven together in the Carter work.

Throughout the recital, Mahonske played superbly. He relished Poulenc's every piquant harmonic shift and produced many a subtle tonal coloration. He took full advantage of the substantial keyboard codas in the Tchaikovsky songs -- the way he articulated each rolling chord at the end of the searing "Why?" spoke volumes. The firm, expressive playing continued through the concert.

As was the case with an art song program last season, projections of the non-English texts were provided on a screen, the way they routinely are in opera performances. It's a worthy idea that other concert organizations should try when presenting vocal recitals -- anything that helps audiences connect more directly with the music is worth pursuing. And this way, you don't hear all the paper rustling as people turn the pages of printed translations.

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO (Courtesy of National Symphony Orchestra)

Posted by Tim Smith at 4:29 PM | | Comments (1)


Thank you for the excellent reporting of this exciting and appropriate event. It has been a pleasure to know Adam Mahonske as a family friend for many years and to have appreciated his artistic development over the years. He is one of the most consistently pleasing pianists it has been our privilege to know personally. BRAVO !!

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm.TIM

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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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