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December 9, 2010

A satisfying night of Beethoven and Britten at Peabody

A music lover could venture no farther than the Peabody Institute in a given season and still get a substantive experience. The quantity and breadth of repertoire explored there is remarkable.

As for the quality, that can be considerable, as the recent production of Massenet's "Manon" reconfirmed. On balance, I'd put Wednesday night's performance by the Peabody Concert Orchestra in the plus column, too.

I've known some folks who look upon this ensemble as the conservatory's second-string orchestra; it's made up mostly of undergrads, while the Peabody Symphony Orchestra features mostly graduate and upper division students. Well, OK, maybe it tends to be a little less polished. But there was much to admire in this program of Beethoven and Britten, led by Edward Polochick, associate conductor and choral director at Peabody.

He has a knack for getting the best out of players -- and not just students, as he demonstrates each season with Concert Artists of Baltimore, which he founded in 1987. Polochick can be counted on to fire up the expressive side of musicians, making it much easier to overlook occasional technical shortcomings.

On Wednesday, there were

intonation and articulation slips, primarily among the woodwinds and brass, creating some ever so piquant chords every now and then, but there was also a commitment behind the notes that paid off handsomely.

Any occasion to hear Britten's Passacaglia and Four Sea Interludes from his compelling opera "Peter Grimes" is welcome (there could never be enough Britten in Baltimore). Polochick brought out the tense mood of the Passacaglia (William Neri's viola solo proved quite effective) and unleashed much of the atmosphere in the Interludes, especially "Moonlight" and "Storm." At its best, the orchestra produced a disciplined, vibrant sound.

The concert concluded with Beethoven's C major Mass, another piece that doesn't come around often enough. A wealth of melodic and harmonic imagination is at work here. Beethoven's treatment of the most dramatic lines in the Latin text is particularly inspired, with many a deft example of word-painting (the descending lines for "et sepultus est," to note just one example).

Polochick, always a compelling interpreter of choral music, clearly relished the richness of the score. His well-chosen tempos and attention to dynamic contrasts assured a performance with abundant drama and lyricism.

Once past the opening note -- the men, unfortunately, landed on more than one -- the Peabody-Hopkins Chorus and Peabody Singers produced a warm, mostly well-balanced tone. The orchestra took an uneven turn once in a while, but generally kept up its side of the music smoothly. The vocal quartet -- soprano Danielle Buonaiuoto, also Diana Cantrelle, tenor Peter Scott Drackley, bass Jisoo Kim -- offered admirably sensitive phrasing.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:15 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes


"There could never be enough Britten in Baltimore" -- hear, hear!

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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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