Sunday's musical attractions included the 79th annual performance of Handel's "Messiah" by a choir named for the composer, plus a chamber music program presented by the Shriver Hall Concert Series. A few words on each.
The choir seems to be in fine shape. It maintained a well-balanced sound and articulated with admirable clarity during a matinee at Towson Presbyterian Church, led by the ensemble's new artistic director and conductor of the Handel Choir of Baltimore, Arian Khaefi.
I stayed for the first half of the program (which is not to say half of "Messiah" -- more on that in a moment), but that was enough to reveal Khaefi's calm control and firm sense of rhythmic propulsion. I would have welcomed more dynamic contrasts along the weay; the outbursts of "Wonderful" and "Counselor" in "For unto us a child is born," for example, didn't jump out enough.
The solo quartet offered considerable expressive flair. I especially admired countertenor Charles Humphries, whose mellow tone, crisp diction and beautifully shaded phrasing left a significant mark. He offered terrific embellishments, too. His colleagues -- soprano Hailey Clark, tenor Kyle Tomlin, bass Steven Eddy -- likewise ornamented their lines vividly.
Although I was not expecting a note-complete "Messiah" (I think the BSO is the only one in Baltimore offering that every year), I wasn't expecting such an odd method of abridging, either.
Khaefi oddly cut up Part I, the Christmas portion of the oratorio, leaving off the final portion and ending instead with the soprano aria "Rejoice greatly" -- a far from satisfying place to break for intermission. The Pifa was chopped in half, too. Just didn't do it for me.
That, and the nuisances from people sitting next to me (a couple of chit-chatters and a woman texting the entire first half), contributed to my decision to bail early.
Then it was off to Shriver, where the Miro Quartet and pianist Shai Wosner shared the stage.
When a string foursome has a keyboard player along, you can usually count on a piano quintet -- in this case, the Brahms F minor. But you don't necessarily get to hear the pianist in a solo work, so it was doubly enjoyable to get such an opportunity in this case.
Wosner started the program with Schubert's tender A major Sonata (D. 644). His performance was a little cool, even brusque, in places for my tastes, but there was still sufficient poetry in the playing, not to mention an effective flow.
On its own the Miro ensemble delivered a stirring account of Beethoven's B-flat major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 6. The radiant sound made by the players was impressive enough. The technical flair and, above all, richness of expression provided the finishing touches. The play of light and shadow in the second movement, along with the tension maintained in the finale, proved especially memorable.
The Brahms Quintet found all five musicians digging as much into the score's lyricism as its drama and communicating both with great intensity.
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