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September 13, 2011

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.


Posted by Tim Smith at 4:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes


As a longtime supporter of Concertante, I'm delighted to find that Tim Smith has finally --, inevitably favorably -- found out about Concertante's existence on the Baltimore scene.
Those many other chamber music fans who don't know about Concertante should look into attending the remaining performances this season.

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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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