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October 10, 2011

Incendiary Beethoven Fantasy caps Concert Artists' 25th season-opener

Although the perfect weather kept taunting and tempting me on Sunday, I headed indoors to catch two performances. The first, in the afternoon, was the 25th season-opener for Concert Artists of Baltimore, and a most satisfying season-opener it turned out to be.

I like this group. I have ever since I came to town. Thanks to founding artistic director Ed Polochick, the ensemble can be counted on for music-making generated by intense commitment and, for want of a more technical word, joy. That's what keeps me coming back.

Having relocated this season to the Peabody campus, Concert Artists no longer enjoys the acoustical advantage of the Gordon Center, where an orchestra of under 40 can sound more like 60 and where the string tone, in particular, gains a nice bloom.

Peabody's Friedberg Hall is not quite so forgiving, and there were times on Sunday when little discrepancies in the playing by the violins stuck out.

Such blemishes really did fade, though, in light of all the expressive force onstage. The way Polochick had the orchestra charging through Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony, for example, proved thoroughly invigorating. The familiar music took on a bracing freshness.

The orchestra also did generally supple work in Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos, which featured ...

the downright legendary Leon Fleisher and his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, as soloists. The duo sculpted phrases with their accustomed thoughtfulness and stylish nuance, and they enjoyed typically attentive support from Polochick.

The program was book-ended by music for voices. The choral component of Concert Artists had the stage to itself at the start in Britten's exquisite "Hymn to St. Cecilia." The group produced a warm, generally cohesive sound and, sensitively guided the conductor, sculpted eloquent phrases.

The vocal ensemble was back at the end for Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and did some effective singing in it. The orchestra, too, made a fine showing. Polochick ensured that the quirky, irresistible, piece, with its preview of things to come in the Ninth Symphony, held together. When he got the chance, he didn't hesitate to kick things into warp speed, and it paid off.

The real star, though, was Ann Schein, who tackled the assertive piano solo with a disarming combination of tonal fire power and electric phrasing. She caught the improvisatory feeling of the opening passage and continued to generate a wonderfully spontaneous mood.

So a couple of notes got away from her. So what? The pianist never lost hold of the score's exuberant spirit. That's what counted. In short, Schein shined.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes


What a great concert, and Ann Schein was magnificent. I have never seen her until now. I always heard of her when my kids were teenagers and I lived in Silver Spring. I hope she comes back to Baltimore real soon.

Not only is she a great pianist, but I love her personality. She is so enthusiastic.

Rita Lehr

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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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