One can always depend on Edward Polochick and his Concert Artists of Baltimore to come up with interesting programs. Saturday's concert at Friedberg Hall was no exception. Polochick conducted the Baltimore premiere of Bright Sheng's "Two Folk Songs from Chinhai" (1990), Kurt Weill's Symphony No. 2 (1933) and several songs for chorus alone by Brahms, in addition to the always welcome, if familiar, Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor.
The 15-minute piece by Sheng for chorus and orchestra was fascinating. This young (born in 1955) Chinese composer never disappoints. His piano trio of a few years back was masterly and so was his more recent "H'un" ("Lacerations"), which commemorates the victims of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These "Folk Songs," which Polochick's choristers sang in Chinese, are wonderfully contrasting pieces. The first ("Morning Star Lily") is almost Stravinskyan in its changing meters, complicated counterpoint and bright-sounding aggressiveness. The second ("A Pair of Mules") is an exercise in sustained lyricism with a powerful ending. Polochick's fine performances of the pieces were marred only by a moment in the climax of the second song in which his musicians and singers were not perfectly synchronized.
Although Weill's Symphony No. 2 was written in Paris in the year Hitler came to power in the composer's native Germany, it is a work that represents the last flowering of the Weimar Republic. Its spare textures, angular style and clear organization represent not only a first-class compositional talent but also an attitude that tried to make music accessible at the same time it tried to create music with an edge. The first two movements are filled with dark qualities -- the first movement could carry an "inquieto" or "agitato" marking and the second opens with an ominous tread. But the third, despite an angry quality that sounds almost like some of the music from "The Threepenny Opera," has an almost Mendelssohnian, optimistic energy. Polochick and the orchestra gave a fine performance of this unjustly neglected piece.
The Brahms songs were delivered with sensitive attention to line and mood. And the concert concluded with a wonderful performance of the Mendelssohn concerto by Jose Cueto, the orchestra's concertmaster. There may have been a moment or two of slightly flawed intonation, but Cueto performed the piece with the sort of passion and intelligence that lifts an audience out
of its seat.