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October 15, 2012

Weekend wrap-up: Concert Artists of Baltimore, Brentano String Quartet

In typical form, the Concert Artists of Baltimore opened its 26th season Sunday afternoon with an imaginative (if overlong) program and avid music-making.

Artistic director Edward Polochick focused on two composers, Mendelssohn and Britten, and chose two works by each -- something instrumental that is widely performed, something choral that is not.

The Britten half of the concert opened with ...

the Simple Symphony for string orchestra, a work from the his 21st year that sounds remarkable mature.

Polochick tapped into the score's lyrical heart, the "Sentimental Sarabande," with rewarding results, drawing from the players considerable tonal warmth and intense phrasing. The bubbly movements, particularly the pizzicato one, had plenty of vitality.

Cantata Misericordium, a telling of the Good Samaritan parable, is something of a mini-opera, fueled by Britten's wonderfully piquant harmonic language and, above all, his keen sense of word-setting and ability to generate vivid drama with an economy of means.

Polochick shaped the music with an ear for detail and a storng sense of momentum. Baritone James Dobson, as the hapless traveler, did not have quite enough power for the most heated moments, but offered telling expression. A few rough edges aside, tenor John Weber, as the Samaritan, sang with admirable sweetness of tone. The chorus sounded firm and bright; the orchestra came through strongly.

The Mendelssohn portion of the program opened with something from that composer's 21st year, a setting of Psalm 115. It's not exactly an earth-shattering score, but it has a vibrant urgency that Polochick seized upon. The choristers and instrumentalists again did sturdy work; the soloists made their contributions effectively.

To close, Mendelssohn's ever-popular Violin Concerto, with former BSO concertmaster Herbert Greenberg as soloist. He gave a mostly tidy performance that could have used, especially in the transition between the second and third movements, a splash or two more of color and charm. Polochick and the ensemble provided smooth support.

A little while later, the Brentano String Quartet opened the 2012-13 Shriver Hall Concert Series in brilliant fashion.

The group's account of Haydn's "Joke" Quartet was so supple and wry, the players so beautifully meshed in tone and temperament, that the program could have ended right there and I would have considered it a full evening.

It was a great demonstration of the Brentano's abilities, not to mention a reaffirmation of Haydn's genius and geniality (you just know Haydn would be the most fun among all the music giants to have a beer -- in my case, a gin and tonic -- with).

Ferruccio Busoni was such a big deal, as pianist and composer, in the late 19th-century and first two decades of the 20th, but only rarely acknowledged these days. The Brentano ensemble did its part to honor him by programming his Quartet No. 2, an intriguing work of dark lyricism and sometimes quirky paths.

The piece was played with conviction and character, not to mention technical finesse. Violist Misha Amory's rich-toned phrases proved particularly effective. (In what might be a mini-Busoni boom, pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin is scheduled to play a work by the composer later this season at Shriver Hall.) 

There was much to savor as well in Brahms' A minor Quartet (Op. 51, No. 2), which found the musicians again producing a superbly cohesive sound, articulating with great clarity and communicative flair.

CONCERT ARTISTS OF BALTIMORE PHOTO
Posted by Tim Smith at 2:26 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 baltimoresun.com/artsmash. 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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