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January 11, 2011

Sunday round-up: Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Pro Musica Rara

Sunday afternoon offered some pleasant listening.

I started out at Goucher College, where the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra presented one of those Viennese New Year's Day-type programs of froth and mirth. I happen to be rather partial to such things myself, although I sort of understand how the "light" classics of Johann Strauss, et al., might leave some folks unmoved.

Personally, I think Strauss' "Emperor Waltz," to mention only one example, deserves a place right alongside any of the "heavy" classics. It's a masterpiece of melody and also of mood, tinged with nostalgia and bathed in a kind of autumnal glow. Hardly mere dance music. Conductor Markand Thakar shaped that score nicely on Sunday, attentive to rubato and dynamic contrasts. The orchestra encountered occasional roughness, but conveyed the spirit of the work effectively, even getting in some of the distinctive off-beat rhythm of the authentic Viennese waltz.

The first half of the program included more Strauss -- a colorful, straightforward breeze through the "Fledermaus" Overture and a somewhat rocky, but energetic, "Tritsch-Tratsch Polka."

Interspersed with the schlag were a couple of

popular Italian opera arias featuring soprano Rachel Inselman. She gave a rather faceless account of "Una voce poco fa" (coordination between soloist and ensemble could have been tighter), but caressed "Musetta's Waltz" charmingly.

The highlight of this portion of the concert was Mozart's Rondo from the "Haffner" Serenade. The violin soloist was Elisabeth Adkins, the excellent associate concertmaster of the National Symphony. She was substituting on this occasion as BCO concertmaster for her honeymooning sister Madeline, who is also associate concertmaster of the BSO. Got that? Anyway, Elisabeth Adkins delivered the Mozart solo with a sweet tone and consistently elegant phrasing, and she enjoyed attentive support from Thakar and the BCO players.

At intermission, I headed over the Towson University to catch the second half of Pro Musica Rara's annual SuperBach Sunday concert.

Bach's great Double Concerto received a dynamic performance, with soloists Greg Mulligan and Ivan Stefanovic darting through the outer movements quite nimbly and giving the gorgeous Largo an eloquent touch. Their colleagues onstage also played with a good deal of flair.

Tenor Aaron Sheehan, whose work I've admired in recent years with American Opera Theater, employed his warm, supple voice to keen effect in a couple of infrequently encountered arias by Bach and Buxtehude. The latter's "Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab" was phrased with particular expressive finesse.

One little oddity of the performance: The musicians seemed uncertain about when to enter or leave the stage and when to take a bow. I guess even the pros can use a little staging rehearsal once in a while.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Classical, Clef Notes

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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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