Baltimore has experienced a bounty of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, among others, in recent days.
My favorite experience came Sunday evening when Shriver Hall Concert Series presented the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, a chamber group comprising (mostly) of members of the famed Berlin Philharmonic. It's always uplifting to be in the presence of musicians who are at the top of their game.
Brahms' Clarinet Quintet, a piece infused with twilight, received a performance of commendable sensitivity, where the spaces between phrases emerged as meaningfully as any of the notes.
This was every bit an ensemble effort. Clarinetist Alexander Bader did not so much blend smoothly with the strings as blend into them, creating an exceptionally cohesive tonal palette. He and his colleagues burrowed into the score with a keen appreciation for its thematic and emotional connections.
The remainder of the program was devoted to Beethoven's airy Septet, which inspired a performance filled with color, vibrancy and, in the jaunty movements, terrific rhythmic snap. Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, cellist Jakob Spahn and bassoonist Mor Biron made especially impressive contributions, but, like the Brahms, this was a case of uniform effort.
The Scharoun Ensemble Berlin's seamless, polished music-making could have resulted in just a case of great surface appeal. These guys achieved much more, revealing a continual spark of spontaneity and expressive intensity that made all the difference.
On Sunday afternoon at Kraushaar Auditorium, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra finished its season with something unfinished -- Schubert's Eighth -- and something pictorial, Beethoven's "Pastoral." Neither is ideal for this ensemble's modest size (and the hall's unflattering acoustics).
In addition to lacking tonal weight and sometimes cohesiveness, the Beethoven symphony also was hindered by the genteel interpretation of music director Markand Thakar (pictured in thumbnail). It was all very neat and clear, but, even the droll scherzo and bold storm movement came across as rather uneventful, unsurprising. Ultimately, more a drive-by than a tactile walk through the country.
Thakar missed the darker edges in the first movement of the Schubert score, but shaped the second very eloquently, aided by poignant solos from clarinetist William Jenken and oboist Michael Lisicky.
In between the two popular symphonies came the charming, infrequently programmed Romance by Johan Svendsen. Ivan Stefanovic was the violin soloist, offering a sweet tone and elegant phrasing, all the while smoothly backed by conductor and ensemble.
A couple years ago, as a summer season treat, members of the Baltimore Symphony performed an effective Bach-athon -- all six Bradenburgs in one evening. The program was reprised last week as a main series presentation.
Some of the personnel was different this time, but things otherwise looked and sounded very familiar Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall, where I caught the first half. Most of the musicians again played while standing; tempos again reflected an apprecation for historically informed performance practice.
In terms of texture and technique, the account of Brandenburg No. 1 fell shy of the mark, but there was an amiable sweep to the music-making. In No. 4, violinist/leader Madeline Adkins and flutists Emily Skala and Marcia Kamper phrased with admirable finesse.
A string group led by violinist Jonathan Carney did shining work in No. 3, maintaining cohesion and color even during the supersonic dash through the finale. Carney vividly filled in the blanks of the Adagio (just two cadential chords in the manuscript), sensitively backed by Lura Johnson on the harpsichord.