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October 22, 2012

Pro Musica Rara's season-opener features Scottish songs arranged by Beethoven

Pro Musica Rara's 38th season opened Sunday afternoon with a gem of a program and stylish music-making to go with it.

Folk songs from Scotland, arranged by Beethoven, had a prominent spot in the concert. These items provide a fascinating glimpse into a little known side of Beethoven, who arranged a great number of songs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland (on commission) in between penning some of his most famous and important works.

It may be tempting to dismiss these songs as inconsequential, but that would be a mistake. The composer took the job of arranger seriously, honoring the folk melodies fully and fashioning vivid accompaniment for piano, violin and cello.

The quality and character of Beethoven's Scottish Songs emerged engagingly in the Pro Musica performance at Towson University's Center for the Arts.

British-born tenor Rufus Muller brought considerable elegance of phrase to the material, his voice growing warmer and sweeter as the afternoon progressed.

His account of "Sunset" and "Faithfu' Johny" proved especially eloquent, and he also had no trouble uncorking the jaunty spirits of such numbers as "The Shepherd's Song" and "Sally in Our Alley" (which he embellished delectably).

Violinist Cynthia Roberts, cellist Allen Whear and fortepianist Christoph Hammer backed Muller with playing of admirable nuance and color. The distinctive tonal palette of the period instruments added greatly to the experience.

On their own, the three players also did impressed work in ...

Beethoven's C minor Trio (Op. 1, No. 3), tapping into the music's drama and lyricism. The soft ending was articulated with particular sensitivity.

There was room, too, for instrumental arrangements of folk songs that found a place in Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy," and Geminiani's baroque treatment of "Lady Bothwel's Lament."

A group of Haydn's English songs opened the concert. Muller encountered some uneven patches here, but his shaping of "She Never Told Her Love" was quite stirring, as was Hammer's sensitive keyboard work -- the pianist's playing was not always spotless Sunday, but it had terrific dynamic and rhythmic nuances all afternoon.



Posted by Tim Smith at 1:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 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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