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February 13, 2013

Fine concerts from Music in the Great Hall, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra

It was all happening Sunday afternoon on Dulaney Valley Road.

I started at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, where the Music in the Great Hall series presented the Trio Cloisonne -- flutist Marcia Kamper, violist Karin Brown, harpist Sarah Fuller -- in a colorful program.

Debussy is generally credited with generating interest in this combination of instruments; his Sonata was featured on the second half of the concert, by which point I had moved down the road to another performance.

What I did get to hear was quite rewarding, especially Toru Takemitsu's "And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind." The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem ("Like Rain it sounded till it curved/ And then I knew 'twas wind ..."); the music comes from a magical place where French and Japanese harmonic idioms seem to converge.

The players, all affiliated with the Baltimore Symphony, articulated the atmospheric score with ...

admirable finesse, subtly bringing out the sensual tone coloring.

The Elegiac Trio by Arnold Bax also owes something to the sound world of late-19th, early-20th-century French music. The concise, beautifully constructed piece received a supple performance.

The Trio by Harold Genzmer, a work full of charm, where flirtations with dissonance are invariably resolved peacefully in the final chord, a la Hindemith. The concluding folk song variations -- the wry coda is especially fun -- found the players in vivid form.

I made a dash for it at intermission to Kraushaar Auditorium for the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra's concert, which was in progress when I arrived.

The portion of the Mozart Divertimento I caught found the ensemble's fine string section maintaining a cohesive tone and phrasing with a good deal of nuance. On the podium, Markand Thakar demonstrated the art of the unobtrusive conductor -- minimal gestures, maximum expression.

Things were likewise polished and vivid at the program's close in the deliciously neo-baroque Concerto Grosso No. 1 by Bloch. Thakar had the ingenious music percolating nicely and drew finely detailed efforts from the orchestra and the various soloists within.

The rest of the program showcased guest artist Katherine Needleman, whose work as principal oboe of the BSO has long been admired.

She soared through Bach's A major Concerto for oboe d'amore as if on one breath, sculpting the melodic lines with great flair. The strings, led by the concertmaster, backed the soloist sensitively; the gently rocking second movement emerged with particular warmth.

Needleman was even more impressive in Vaughan Williams' Oboe Concerto. The piece, much of it in the composer's "Lark Ascending" mode, inspired exquisite, mellow-toned phrasing from the soloist, while Thakar and the ensemble provided stylish partnering.

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:12 AM | | 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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