Two more music organizations jumped into the 2013-14 season over the weekend, producing vibrant results in both cases.
The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, marking its 31st year, took the stage Sunday afternoon at Goucher College with a cohesive mix of personnel; the strings, especially, sounded much firmer.
There was a fresh and involving quality to the playing throughout the concert, culminating with a warmhearted account of Mozart's "Linz" Symphony, elegantly shaped by music director Markand Thakar.
At the center of the program was Beethoven's Violin Concerto, featuring BCO concertmaster Madeline Adkins, whose appointment in 2008 was a boon to the organization (she's also the Baltimore Symphony's excellent associate concertmaster).
Adkins brought a sweet tone and thoughtful phrasing to the score, achieving a good deal of introspective eloquence in the first two movements and tapping fully into the finale's playfulness (her cadenza in that movement had a deliciously exuberant spark).
The violinist received attentive partnering from Thakar, who drew supple, expressive work from the orchestra.
On Sunday evening, the cello was the center of attention as the Shriver Hall Concert Series launched its 48th season.
With his deep musicality and formidable technique (not to mention a burst of heavy metal-worthy hair), Mischa Maisky has long been one of the most distinctive cellists on the scene. For his first Shriver Hall recital since 1982, he brought an intriguing program that balanced Beethoven and Schubert with short Russian pieces arranged for cello and piano.
Maisky also brought his daughter with him as accompanist. Although Lily Maisky's playing could have used a little more color and presence, the pianist was always attuned to her father's approach to tempos and phrasing.
In Beethoven's Variations on Mozart's "Bei Mannern," the cellist offered a great deal of character, achieved through judicious rubato and dynamic contrast. It was much the same in Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata, where even some rawness in Maisky's tone could not detract from the expressive richness and spontaneity of the interpretation.
The Russian portion of the program was as unusual as it was arresting. Maisky compiled transcriptions of art songs (and a piano piece or two) and arranged them into seamless groupings so they became sort of like the movements of a sonata -- in this case, a sonata of all slow movements.
It was an opportunity for the cellist to show off his ability to produce a singing line, which he did very impressively in little-known items by Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov, as well as such familiar fare as Tchaikovsky's "None But the Lonely Heart" and Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise."
The Anton Rubinstein piece best known in its solo piano form as "Romance" could have used the sort of subtler shading applied in older days by the great Gregor Piatigorsky (one of Maisky's teachers). But that was a rare disappointment amid this feast of Russian lyricism that found the two Maiskys communicating warmly.
One of the transcribed Rachmaninoff songs on the program, "How Fair This Spot," is a particular favorite of mine in its original vocal version -- especially as sung by the incomparable Irish tenor John McCormack, whose 1920s recording, scratchy sound and all, still thrills. I couldn't resist posting it for what, I trust, will be your enjoyment.
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