Until last night's performance in Kraushaar Auditorium, it had been perhaps a year since I had heard Anne Harrigan conduct the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. Sometimes it takes such a period of time to appreciate progress.
In any case, Harrigan gave the best performances I've heard her give -- a lovely reading of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony and an equally fine accompaniment to pianist Stephen Prutsman in Mozart's Concerto No. 15 (K. 450).
The forward thrust in Mendelssohn's "Italian" was substantially different from the taut, somewhat unyielding approach that used to be a feature of the work of this conductor. These were tempos at which the winds and strings sounded particularly radiant, could stay in tune and capture the music's sweep.
The outer movements -- the first one feather-light and the finale --ing -- were exciting, and the middle movements pointed up detail with clarity and affection. Only a very occasional blandness when the music was slow suggested the work of a young -- Harrigan is only in her middle 30s -- conductor.
Prutsman's playing in K. 450 suggested a Mozartean of real depth.
His playing was full of imaginative touches and had a flexibility that never sacrificed rhythmic strength. There was real joy and sparkle in a high-spirited finale that never sacrificed the music's momentum.
But it was Prutsman's treatment of the andante that was especially impressive. His tempos were somewhat faster than those which one customarily hears, but that made sense because they made the music breathe naturally, suggesting the concerto's incipient romanticism without a hint of the Dresden china figurine to which this piece can easily be reduced.
The concert began with Robert Macht's "Kreasi Baru," a 15-minute work in which the composer, who spent a year in Indonesia, uses 10 percussionists to open and close the work, functioning as a gamelan ensemble.
Macht, who teaches percussion at the Peabody Conservatory and who performed in his own piece, made some prefatory remarks about "Kreasi Baru" uniting "the First and Third worlds" and "the sacred and profane," and creating "a global village" by exhibiting "unity in diversity."
Such exaggerated claims can make even a liberal journalist sigh for red meat, patriarchy and a redolent Havana. But the piece proved harmless enough, suggesting nothing so much as second-rate Steve Reich or "New Age" elevator music in its repetitive rhythms and simple, predictable harmonies.