Concert review round-up: Concert Artists of Baltimore, Monument Piano Trio
Last weekend offered reassurances that two of the area's fine, homegrown musical resources are entering the new season with flair and imagination.
On Saturday night at the Gordon Center, the Concert Artists of Baltimore offered a wonderfully off-beat program, the sort it can do so well, since it's the only professional chamber orchestra and chorus around.
The choral component was featured in the five a cappella songs of Brahms' Op. 104, beautifully crafted pieces that seem to glow with autumn colors (yeah, I know -- autumnal Brahms is a cliche, but it really does fit). Edward Polochick guided his singers expertly through the music, coaxing a smoothly blended, expressive sound.
The chorus did admirable work as well in Mozart's Solemn Vespers, K. 339, with elegant support from the orchestra. The soloists, among them soprano Jennifer Edwards in the Laudate Dominum movement, handled their assignments with flair.
In between the vocal items came two rarities for strings. Polochick drew out the spice and structural brilliance of Bartok's Divertimento so persuasively that it was possible to forget about some rough patches in the playing. Schnittke's Moz-Art a la Haydn was presented in all its theatrical cleverness (it calls for players to arrive and depart individually on a darkened stage); the resonances of 18th century idioms and 20th century piquancy made their intended effect tellingly.
The only serious disappointment Saturday was the turnout. I've said before that folks here don't know what they're missing. The Gordon Center has superb acoustics, and Polochick and the Concert Artists can be counted on to deliver unusually engaging programs.
Speaking of engaging programs, the Monument Piano Trio regularly
devises them, too, as was the case Sunday afternoon at An die Musik.
A standard score, Beethoven's C minor Trio, Op. 1, No. 3, got things started. Violinist Igor Yuzefovich, cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski and pianist Michael Sheppard demonstrated their familiar rapport and technical poise; the performance had a good deal of drama and poetic inflection.
Then a big novelty -- a transcription by Sheppard of Brahms' Symphony No. 2. The pianist was the first to admit, in remarks to the audience, that the presence of such a transcription on the concert raised the question: Why? Well, because Sheppard loves Brahms, that's why. Works for me. Besides, as I've written before, I have a fondness for transcriptions, from solo piano Wagner or Mahler to souped-up orchestral Bach.
Brahms' Second lends itself to a chamber reduction quite well, for the most part, and Sheppard clearly revealed an ability to preserve the essence of the symphonic tapestry. (The first movement repeat wasn't taken, a common enough, if lamentable, practice in orchestral performances, but I hope that doesn't mean Sheppard didn't include the first ending in his transcription.)
Not surprisingly, the keyboard part turned out to be particularly successful. The voicing of the chords sounded so authentically Brahmsian that it was easy to imagine that the composer had made the transcription himself. A few unsteady violin notes aside, the playing was again polished and powerful throughout from all three musicians, who reached a sweeping virtuosity in the finale. The performance answered the "why" question with an emphatic "why not?"
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CONCERT ARTISTS OF BALTIMORE AND MONUMENT PIANO TRIO