To launch its 30th season Sunday afternoon, Concert Artists of Baltimore returned to Westminster Hall, the scene of its first performance, and delivered a disarming program that managed to pack in the likes of Bach, Mozart and Sigmund Romberg.
Genre-mixing seems to come naturally to Concert Artists and its founding artistic director Edward Polochick. So does the art of making an audience feel at home. This was a cozy event (complete with complimentary beer -- a nod to Oktoberfest), held in a handsome Baltimore landmark that, even with somewhat mushy acoustics, makes for a comfortable concert hall.
The opening classical portion of the concert served up greatest hits with a good deal of freshness. Mozart's string serenade "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" benefited from, among other things, Polochick's delicious tempo-bending in the Romanze and his appreciation for strong dynamic contrasts in the snappily paced Rondo. The musicians did supple work.
Concertmaster Jose Cueto and associate concertmaster Nicholas Currie stepped to the front for Bach's D minor Concerto for Two Violins. They demonstrated a smooth rapport as they spun out elegant phrases, especially in the Largo.
Polochick and the ensemble provided the soloists with attentive support, as they also did for soprano Sarah Berger, who sang sweetly in the poignant aria "Bist du bei mir" by Gottfried Heinrich Stolzel (once attributed to Bach).
For all the genial music-making in the classical portion of the afternoon, I enjoyed the subsequent dollops of operetta, Broadway and Hollywood even more.
A dash through the can-can-fueled Overture to Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" led into some equally spirited Gilbert and Sullivan selections, notably the kinetic finale of "The Gondoliers," which brought Concert Artists' fine professional chorus into the proceedings.
Viennese operetta got a nod in the form of "Yours Is My Heart's Delight," an English version of "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz," the sublime tenor aria from Lehar's "The Land of Smiles." I didn't expect a choral version to be so effective, but an imaginative arrangement, warm singing and Polochick's sensitive phrase-molding made it hit the spot.
An a cappella version of Jerome Kern's "The Last Time I Saw Paris," with a slightly hokey, but charming, touch of "Frere Jacques" tossed in, found the choruses producing a particularly smooth tonal blend.
Romberg's operettas don't get much attention these days, so it was nice to find a medley from "The Desert Song" on the bill. Polochick treated the music with great respect, letting the score's lyricism bloom and revving up the propulsive numbers to keen effect. Soprano Yoojin Jeong and baritone Rob McGinness delivered brief, telling solos.