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Takacs Quartet
Takacs Quartet (Keith Saunders Photography)

I took in a some old and new music at concerts Sunday afternoon in and near Baltimore, finding rewards in both (even though I couldn't stay all the way through either).

The new came in the form of "Strong Language" by the touted young composer Timo Andres. The distinctive piece was written for the Takacs Quartet and given its world premiere by that famed ensemble as part of the Shriver Hall Concert Series, which co-commissioned it with Carnegie Hall (where it will be played this week).

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Andres creates fascinating little journeys out of relatively straightforward themes, expressed in a language that toys with tonality and follows its own structural bent.

In the first movement, what the composer calls "a simple, undulating melody" leads all four players into gradually thickening territory. A middle movement moves from a chordal reflection to an intense burst of passionate drama.

The finale likewise builds in tension, with the instruments exploring coloristic possibilities as they go. At the end, a single viola note sounds after the others have found a kind of resolution on a chord, as if not entirely sure that all has been said and done.

The Takacs Quartet articulated "Strong Language" clearly, vividly and commandingly.

The players opened the program with some of the most brilliant Haydn playing I've heard in a concert hall in ages. The C major Quartet, Op. 74, No. 1, inspired a performance brimming with characterful phrasing that enabled Haydn's wit and ingenuity to be savored fully at every turn. The ensemble's rich, enveloping tone was an intense pleasure in itself.

Before heading to Shriver Hall, I sampled a good portion of Pro Musica Rara's program in its new digs at the tucked-away Maryvale School. The acoustics in the modest-sized theater of the Humanities Hall are on the dry side, but effective.

Cellist and artistic director Allen Whear devised the program around the theme of Restoration England, focusing a good deal on Purcell. Several of that composer's vocal works provided a perfect vehicle for countertenor Ryland Angel, who offered finely focused tone, impeccable diction and natural phrasing.

Angel's delivery of the familiar "Music for a While" proved especially satisfying. In excerpts from "The Fairy Queen," the singer had fun shifting into baritonal range for a time. A classy artist.

In addition to the ever-expressive Whear, the fine instrumentalists for the afternoon were violinist Cynthia Roberts, who did particularly elegant work in music by Nicola Matteis; and harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, who played a Purcell suite in stylish fashion.

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