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Music in the Great Hall concludes its season in fine form

Music in the Great Hall wrapped up its 40th anniversary season Sunday afternoon at Towson Unitarian with two powerhouse artists -- flutist Marina Piccinini and pianist Michael Sheppard. 

I could only stay for the first half of their recital (a performance of Rachmaninoff's "Vespers," one of my faves, beckoned at another locale), but it was a decidedly eventful first half.

Piccinini, a Peabody Conservatory faculty member with a busy international career, established the sweetness and purity of her tone at the outset in the familiar Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck's "Orphee." The flutist's gorgeous legato and refined dynamic shading also hit the spot. Sheppard provided sensitive support.

Carl Reinecke's grandly romantic Sonata, inspired by the Undine myth, brought out abundant virtuosity from both performers. They did not settle for mere technical polish, though that sure was fun. They tapped deeply into the music's colorful character as well and made an absorbing little drama out of the score.

The players jumped heartily a work that's all about unleashing bravura -- a fantasy on themes from Weber's "Der Freischutz" by Paul Taffanel.

Piccinini articulated the wildest passages with ease and clarity, maintaining tonal warmth as she went. Sheppard, an ever-impressive Peabody alum, had something of a field day with the piano part, which revealed downright Lisztian richness in his hands.

Music in the Great Hall is currently without an artistic director. Pianist Lura Johnson announced her resignation last month after five years on the job, but, before departing, she put together an attractive lineup for 2014-2015.

Johnson and three other fine musicians will open the season in September with a program featuring Messiaen's profound "Quartet for the End of Time" -- BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney, Cincinnati Symphony principal cellist (and former BCO principal cellist) Ilya Finkelshteyn, and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra principal clarinetist Anthony McGill.

The season also offers a recital by Hai-Ye Ni, principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with pianist Nathalie Zhu; concerts by the Mendelssohn Piano Trio and C Street Brass; and a recital by pianist Marianna Prjevalskaya.

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