« On the 100th anniversary of Mahler's 'Das Lied von der Erde' | Main | Midweek Madness: Healthy, hearty tip for your Thanksgiving meal »

November 22, 2011

Verdict is in on Baltimore Symphony's 'Jeanne d'Arc' at Carnegie Hall

Marin Alsop may not single-handedly reverse the fate of Arthur Honegger's neglected oratorio "Jeanne d'Arc au bucher," but the conductor is certainly giving it a valiant try.

Alsop championed it over the summer at the Oregon Bach Festival, then in London, Baltimore and New York this month.

It is easy to understand Alsop's interest in the score, which combines a whole mess of styles and hefty ideas.

It's also easy to understand why some folks resist the score, precisely because it combines a whole mess of styles and hefty ideas.

Although I am not convinced by all of the music or the text, I think there's some great stuff in there. This is not just an oratorio, but an experience. I found that experience absorbing and, ultimately, rewarding last week when Alsop led the Baltimore Symphony, soloists and choristers in "Jeanne d'Arc au bucher" at Meyerhoff Hall.

It was fun getting to hear in person a piece I only knew from recordings and music history books, and to hear it performed with such commitment and quality.

But you don't need to read more of my opinions. You want to know what the Big City critics thought after the BSO's presentation Saturday night at Carnegie Hall (I did not get to make the trip). So here's their verdict:

Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times: The stage all but groaned with performers ... A conscientious conductor commanded the podium.

... Honegger was, if nothing else, a master of stylistic fusion. He also was curiously deft at making a relatively short exercise, about 80 minutes, seem long.

Marin Alsop ... presided over the aural orgy ... Last week she pioneered the so-called dramatic oratorio with the excellent Baltimore Symphony on home turf ... And on Saturday she .. conducted throughout with neat bravado ... Caroline Dhavernas spoke Jeanne’s lines with stoic passion. Ronald Guttman offered sympathetic counterpoint as Frère Dominique ...

When all was said and sung, the would-be revival suggested much ado about rather little.

Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times: Marin Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony’s adventurous music director, who is clearly passionate about the 80-minute piece, marshaled the forces in a tightly wrought performance ...

The mishmash of eclectic and sometimes gaudy elements often becomes disjointed and doesn’t gel into a particularly cohesive whole, although Ms. Alsop aptly revealed the myriad musical details of each scene ...

Caroline Dhavernas imbued her portrayal of Joan with dignity, expressive depth and urgency, particularly in her tragic concluding moments. Ronald Guttman enacted the role of Brother Dominic with charismatic flair ...

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:17 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop


From London a few weeks back, at The Arts Desk, this review didn't spare the music a critical mauling, but praised Alsop and the perfomers:

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

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.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected