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March 6, 2009

Jun Markl leads Baltimore Symphony, Choral Arts in pairing of Mozart, Stravinsky

Jun Markl, the German-born conductor who leads the Orchestre National de Lyon, is back on the Baltimore Symphony podium for an interesting program that pairs a pinnacle of the classical style with a gem of the neoclassical.

The audience draw is Mozart's Requiem, of course. I'm not sure how much the audiences will thrill to Stravinsky's Apollo on the first half -- last night at the Meyerhoff, the piece was, let's say, politely received -- but it was great to see this under-programmed ballet score for string orchestra get the spotlight. I wish the performance had been crisper and tighter, with more defined rhythmic details and more confident attacks.

Still, many of the beauties in the piece emerged with character and charm, especially the Pas de deux, which Markl shaped sensitively and which inspired silken-toned phrasing from the ensemble. Concertmaster Jonathan Carney articulated his solos in dynamic fashion. Expressive work by Chang Woo Lee, the BSO's associate principal cellist, also registered nicely.

Markl took a sober, clear-cut approach to the Requiem, setting sensible tempos and shaping phrases artfully. What I missed here and there was a touch of individuality and, in the Lacrimosa, a deeper, more involving emotion.

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society responded to the conductor with vibrant singing. The choristers articulated contrapuntal passages with admirable clarity (Quom olim Abrahae was a prime example) and, aside from a little pitch slippage, maintained a sturdy, cohesive sound. The women's voices floated quite sweetly in the Voca me line, one of most inspired passages in the Requiem, a moment as sublime, in its own way, as anything from Mozart's operas.

The ripe and communicative singing of mezzo Susan Platts made the strongest impression among the soloists. The others -- soprano Christine Brandes, tenor Roger Honeywell, bass-baritone Timothy Jones -- produced less in the way of tonal solidity, but phrased ardently.

The orchestra, oddly enough, sounded small-boned and even diffuse (I don't think it helped to have the trumpets stuck over in a corner away from the rest), and some details in the scoring disappeared when the chorus was at full-throttle. Nonetheless, there was refinement and character in the playing that did register fully. An organist was onstage, but she was more seen than heard.


Posted by Tim Smith at 2:37 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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