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Imaginative vocal recital presented by Music in the Great Hall

Music in the Great Hall, a concert series in its 35th season, occasionally ventures into an area that remains problematic with the general public -- art songs. Strange as it is for me to fathom, some folks will volunteer for unneeded root canals rather than submit to an entire program of Schubert lieder. But I'm always delighted to see organizations plunge ahead anyway with such things, as the Shriver Hall Concert Series will do next month when distinctive British tenor Ian Bostridge sings, yes, an entire program of Schubert lieder.

But back to the Great Hall -- actually, Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, where the series presents its activities. On Sunday afternoon, soprano Lorriana Markovic-Prakash and pianist Adam Mahonske (artistic director of the series) teamed up for an imaginative mix of songs that covered several styles and moods. For angst and heartache, there was a sampling of Tchaikovsky (left), including the much-loved "None by the Lonely Heart." For wit and quirkiness, there was Poulenc's song cycle Fiancailles pour Rire. Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs provided doses of the mystical and the earthy. And John Carter's Cantata -- seriously dressed-up arrangements of familiar spirituals -- rounded things out in uplifting fashion.

Markovic-Prakash, like Mahonske, teaches at Morgan State University. She is an engaging, intelligent artist. Her intonation ...

was not as consistent as her expressiveness, however, and a tendency to land just shy of the pitch in the upper register caused some damage. But all the music was delivered with conviction, color and style. The way the soprano built to the emotional peak in Tchaikovsky's "So Soon Forgotten," with its tale of an ended affair, was gripping. And how beautifully she molded that composer's endearing gem, " 'Twas in the Early Spring" -- which seemed all the more perfect on such a prematurely springlike day. Many deft touches characterized the singer's performance of the Poulenc and Barber songs, and Markovic-Prakash proved to be just as compelling an interpreter of the great spirituals woven together in the Carter work.

Throughout the recital, Mahonske played superbly. He relished Poulenc's every piquant harmonic shift and produced many a subtle tonal coloration. He took full advantage of the substantial keyboard codas in the Tchaikovsky songs -- the way he articulated each rolling chord at the end of the searing "Why?" spoke volumes. The firm, expressive playing continued through the concert.

As was the case with an art song program last season, projections of the non-English texts were provided on a screen, the way they routinely are in opera performances. It's a worthy idea that other concert organizations should try when presenting vocal recitals -- anything that helps audiences connect more directly with the music is worth pursuing. And this way, you don't hear all the paper rustling as people turn the pages of printed translations.

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO (Courtesy of National Symphony Orchestra)

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