Concert Artists open season in French mood

It was a dark and stormy night, but the season-opener by the Concert Artists of Baltimore went on -- and on -- at the Gordon Center with an imaginatively chosen, dynamically delivered French program. I just wish there had been less chat along with it. The 8 p.m. performance started at 8:17, thanks to various preliminary remarks (and didn't end until around 10:20). Artistic director Edward Polochick also added more commentary throughout the evening, as he is wont to do. Maybe it was just me (I admit to being extra antsy that night, wanting to get back to help with a flooded basement), but I really do think that all the talk just got in the way. This music could have easily spoken for itself.

It spoke in a particularly colorful voice at the start with Ibert's wild and wacky Divertissement -- sophisticated cartoon music, really -- which Polochick fired up mightily. Ravel's Mother Goose Suite came in for a sensuously molded account that found the ensemble's woodwinds in admirable form (the solo strings less so). Lalo's Iberian-flavored Cello Concerto doesn't turn up too often. It was offered here as a vehicle for Concert Artists' principal cellist Gita Ladd, who produced a deep, often luxurious tone. She was a little cloudy in some of the bravura elements of the score, but the phrasing was always communicative.

The choral contingent of the organization got a chance to shine in songs by Debussy and Faure (the Cantique de Jean Racine, beautifully realized). There were also some vivid French-language pieces from 1946 by Dutch composer Henk Badings; the womens' voices sounded particularly warm in La complainte des ames.

By the way, seeing Concert Artists' assistant concertmaster Nicholas Currie onstage Saturday reminded me of his participation a couple Sunday's ago in the season-opening presentation of Music in the Great Hall at Towson Unitarian, a program of trios by Hummel, Schubert and Stanley Silverman (a cool, clever, jazz-inflcted score). I had to be in Washington that afternoon, but stopped by for some of the final rehearsal the day before and enjoyed hearing Currie's sure, elegant playing in an ensemble with the fine cellist Pei Lu and always expressive pianist Virginia Reinecke (indefatigable founder and former artistic director of Music in the Great Hall). I imagine they delivered an eventful concert.


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