Friday night's 28th season-opener for Concert Artists of Baltimore wasn't at its usual Owings Mills venue, but the Baltimore Basilica, where the ensemble helped celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Diocese of Baltimore.
The overly reverberant acoustics worked against the musicians the whole time, but the spirit came through nicely in a mostly Mozart program capped by a fulfilling performance of the C minor Mass ("The Great") that the composer never completed.
Edward Polochick had his vocal and orchestra forces articulating with admirable care and sensitivity, bringing out the almost operatic drama of this score. The propulsive thrust and dynamic variety at the end of the "Gloria" and the uplift of the "Sanctus" proved especially memorable.
There were strong efforts by the solo singers in the Mass, including soprano Ah Young Hong, featured earlier in a vivid, if somewhat dry-toned, account of the "Exsultate, jubilate."
Another soloist was a late addition to the lineup -- Franciscan friar Alessandro Brustenghi, who records for Decca. The Italian singer revealed a pleasant, good-sized tenor voice and plenty of ardent phrasing in Franck's "Panis Angelicus" and an "Ave Maria" adapted from the Intermezzo to Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana."
On Saturday night, the 42nd season of Candlelight Concert Society opened with a fascinating recital by pianist Menahem Pressler at Howard Community College.
At 90, he remains an exceptionally impressive, downright endearing musician. You can sense his many decades as a chamber player in his avoidance of bravura, his tendency to draw the listener in, rather than impose anything. He could not be more at-one with the music if he tried.
There were blurs in the playing, but no end to the thoughtful phrasing. Mozart's A minor Rondo sounded like the intimate revelation of a close friend; the subtle colors of Debussy's "Estampes" emerged with telling elegance; a group of Chopin Mazurkas received stylish shaping (a Chopin Nocturne, offered as an encore, proved even more compelling).
A misty Impromptu written for Pressler by Gyorgy Kurtag served as an introduction to the main item on the intermission-less program, Schubert's profound B-flat Major Sonata. The pianist hit a poetic peak in the second movement as he extracted the longing underneath the notes.
Brahms' "Wiegenlied," given masterful rubato, brought the concert to a perfect close. (Less perfect was the disruption by a cell phone and someone pounding on a door earlier in the recital.)
Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit, who has made notable visits to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra podium over recent years, outdid himself Sunday afternoon at Meyerhoff Hall with an inspired account of Tchaikovsky's absurdly undervalued Symphony No. 3. (It seemed rather unsporting of the orchestra to use Jan Bedell's belittling program notes for the piece, last played by the BSO in 1980.)
Remmereit, conducting from memory, emphasized the balletic nature of the symphony with well-judged tempos that had the music spinning delectably.
All the while, he made sure that the richly varied tone colors in Tchaikovsky's orchestration came through vibrantly; allowed room for lyrical melodies to soar; and unleashed the wild energy in the close of the outer movements to exciting effect. Even the fugue in the finale ("tedious," Bedell calls it) had terrific pulse and personality.
The BSO responded with panache and power to spare. Each section sounded fully connected to the piece, making the spirit of the playing as impressive as the execution.
The first half of the program showcased principal flutist Emily Skala, who produced liquid tone and effortless phrasing in Mozart's G major Concerto, smoothly backed by a chamber-sized complement of her colleagues.
To open, there was quite a rarity, the Concert Overture in D from 1873 by Swedish composer Elfrida Andree. She had to battle the male bastion of the classical music world in her day (remnants persist, as we all know), but proved her worth in the end.
Though written only a couple years before Tchaikovsky's Third, the overture sounds much older, with many a hint of Mendelssohn and Schumann. Remmereit and the BSO gave the music a warm-hearted spin.