Concertante enhances Baltimore's chamber music scene
Concertante managed to play under my radar for a few seasons, but I am glad I finally caught up with the ensemble Sunday afternoon with a capacity crowd at the Bolton Street Synagogue.
Now in its 15th season, Concertante started out as a chamber orchestra, then gradually slimmed down. Strings have always formed the foundation, with keyboards and, lately, a clarinet added here and there. The group plays series in three markets -- Baltimore, Harrisburg and New York (the only free series is the one in Baltimore).
The Bolton Street Synagogue is quite an intimate space with clear, if dry, acoustics that served a thoughtful program ideally suited to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. That is not to say Concertante planned such a connection. It's just that all of the selections offered something reflective -- in the case of Beethoven's C minor String Trio (Op. 9, No. 3), something both dramatic and reflective.
That trio inspired a beautifully nuanced performance from ...
violinist Xiao-Dong Wang (Concertante's artistic director), violist Rachel Shapiro and cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach.
A few passages, especially in the finale, could have been more unified in execution, but the phrasing always communicated. The Adagio (talk about reflective) unfolded with particular warmth.
At the center of the program came John Corigliano's "Soliloquy" for clarinet and strings, a commemoration of the composer's father (the senior John Corigliano was longtime concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic).
This poignant, time-suspending work suggests a kind of ghostly dialogue, as if the clarinet were communing with a spirit. But no such fanciful concept need be considered for this music, which speak on its own in a tense, darkly beautiful harmonic language.
Clarinetist Christopher Grymes revealed admirable technical and expressive strengths and enjoyed a smooth rapport with his colleagues (violinist Lisa Shihoten joined the others).
Brahms' Clarinet Quintet, one of the glories of chamber music literature (all music, really), offered the players another opportunity to demonstrate impressive musicality. Tempos were leisurely, without growing slack; phrasing was consistently sensitive.
The room had no reverberation to speak of, but the sounds of that gentle Quintet remained for a long time in my mind afterward.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CONCERTANTE.ORG