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October 25, 2011

Weekend review lineup 3: Chamber Music by Candlelight

My musical weekend wrapped up Sunday night at Second Presbyterian, where members of the BSO and friends offered another program in the series called Chamber Music by Candlelight.

Being free, this presentation of Community Concerts at Second is one of the best bargains in the area. Co-directed by violinist Ivan Stefanovic and clarinetist Edward Palanker, it's also is one of the most colorful. Like the perennially popular chamber music programs at the Spoleto Festival, the Candlelight series mixes together all sorts of instrumental combinations, genres and time periods.

Sunday's lineup was typically wide-ranging and absorbing. The evening started with ...

the Serenade, Op. 73, by Robert Kahn, a German-born composer who knew and emulated Brahms and, to gauge by this piece, must have admired Strauss, too. Although this work dates from the early 1920s, its heart is very late-19th century.

Clearly structured, the score exists in nine different versions, the better to make it marketable. If I am not mistaken, the version heard here for oboe, horn and piano is the one Kahn originally started with. (Hey, this is a blog, so I can end with a preposition if I fell like it.)

The instruments complement each other remarkably well, and the writing, with richly realized harmonies and vibrant contrapuntal action, is consistently attractive. Michael Lisicky (Oboe), Phil Munds (horn) and Mary Woehr (piano) performed the Serenade with equal parts sensitivity and panache.

Another talented trio -- violinist Qing Li, clarinetist Steven Barta, pianist Sheng-Yuan Kuan -- delivered a bravura account of Bartok's spiky, spicy, folksy, sometimes slightly jazzy "Contrasts." Must have been a Bartok crowd that night at the church (who knew?); the performance drew the heartiest ovation of all.

Speaking of contrasts, string quartets from two very different eras and sound-worlds filled out the program. Beethoven's Op. 95, which the composer labeled "serioso" for a good reason,  received a taut, absorbing performance from violinists Rebecca Nichols and Greg Mulligan, violist Karin Brown, and cellist Bo Li.

The C major Quartet by Szymanowski (pictured), a composer whose distinctive music ought to be heard much more frequently, offers considerable rewards. The score boasts an abundance of color, from pastel to blatant; a piquant mix of tonalities; and remarkable richness of atmosphere.

Those qualities were communicated with considerable fluency and expressive power by an ensemble that featured Stefanovic and Brown, along with violinist Kenneth Goldstein and cellist Daniel Levitov.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BSO, 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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