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March 28, 2011

Weekend round-up: Concert Artists, Baltimore Concert Opera, Columbia Pro Cantare

After catching the Baltimore Symphony's performance Friday, my weekend continued musically Saturday night at Peabody, where Concert Artists of Baltimore offered an all-Beethoven program.

I could have done without the "Emperor" Concerto in the first half. Pianist Clinton Adams, a fine musician with a long tenure at Peabody and a strong connection to Concert Artists, didn't really have all the technical chops for the assignment; his tone was mostly loud, his phrasing mostly cold. More interesting was the colorful playing from the orchestra, guided by conductor Edward Polochick with his usual flair of expressive contour. The horns came through with particular suavity.

The Ninth Symphony received an intriguing performance. If I didn't know Polochick lives in Baltimore, I would have suspected he had a train to catch. His fast tempos left some of the mysterious power of the first movement untapped, though the dramatic punch he got out of the orchestra offered compensation. The rush through the Scherzo began to sound a little too frantic.

The conductor provided breadth in the Adagio, if not quite enough poetic molding. In the finale, Polochick's faithfulness to the score meant that the recitative-like passages for the cellos sounded too mechanical for my tastes. Later, he had singers and players scrambling to keep up with the propulsion. I enjoyed a lot of that momentum, but didn't just find the overall approach thoroughly persuasive.

The choral forces produced a sturdy sound. The soloists -- soprano Janice Chandler Eteme, mezzo Melissa Kornacki, tenor William Davenport, bass-baritone Robert Cantrell -- sang potently. The orchestra sounded a little thin, a little ragged at times, but basically came through strongly.

Sunday afternoon, I started off with the first half of ...

Baltimore Concert Opera's potpourri program at the Engineers Club, conducted with enthusiasm by Ronald Gretz and accompanied a the piano by James Harp. This was mostly greatest hits stuff, with a few too many finales in a not terribly well-organized mix.

I didn't hear quite enough distinction and technical refinement in the singing, although a few moments stood out: a charmingly delivered ensemble scene from "La Rondine" (what would Andrew Lloyd Webber have done without Puccini for inspiration?); a nicely shaped account of Macduff's aria from "Macbeth" by tenor Steven Sanders; and the end of Act 1 of "Turandot," which found soprano Emily Ezzie delivering "Signore ascolta" with a great deal of tonal warmth, and colorful work coming from the other soloists and chorus.

My last stop was for an off-beat program by the combined choruses of Columbia Pro Cantare and Church of the Redeemer, where the concert was held.

Janacek's setting of "Our Father" is filled with fascinating touches, melodic and instrumental (organ and harp provide the accompaniment). It's more than a prayer; it's a mini-drama, enriched by the composer's trademark harmonic spice and rhythmic pulse. Frances Motyca Dawson drew a generally polished, sensitive performance from her forces, singing in Czech.  For the most part, Devin Mercer handled the demanding tenor solo sturdily. Harpist Iraida Poberezhnaya and organist Henry Lowe were valuable assets.

Dvorak's Mass in D, Op. 86, is a very attractive work, with many eloquent melodies (and a few overused chord progressions at coda time). Dawson did an admirable job emphasizing the lyricism in the original, organ-accompanied score; Lowe provided that accompaniment expertly. The chorus again demonstrated a good deal of technical smoothness and expressive elegance.

The solo quartet did very class work -- soprano Emily Noel, alto Monica Reinagel and, no worse the wear from Beethoven's Ninth the night before, Davenport and Cantrell.

FILE PHOTO

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 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 baltimoresun.com/artsmash. 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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