Concert Artists glorify lesser Puccini


The rarely performed "Messa di Gloria" of Giacomo Puccini was given a sterling presentation by the Concert Artists of Baltimore in their opening concert at LeClerc Hall on Saturday night.

Artistic director Edward Polochick and his forces made a very strong case that this early Puccini work deserves a bigger place in the choral repertoire.

Each of the five movements was perfectly realized.

Soloists Paul Cohill, tenor, and Randal Woodfield gave thoughtful, committed performances. Mr. Cohill's voice was a little small, but conductor Polochick was careful not to let the choral and orchestral forces overpower him. The Gloria is the centerpiece of this work, and it was magnificently realized, but the Credo section was simply heavenly.

The vocalists always give their all for Mr. Polochick, but the men of the chorus were especially touching, particularly in the "Crucifixus etiam" portion of the Credo. The orchestral support was marvelous. This is a very good orchestra, but the singers seem to lift it to a higher plane of excellence.

The true champion of the evening was Edward Polochick. He obviously loves this score. More important, he conveyed this passion to his forces, and the early Puccini work glowed from their joint affection. When conductor and musicians come together like this, good music becomes great music.

The first half of the program consisted of three works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sadly, they did not reach the Olympian level of the Puccini.

The Overture from "Figaro" was simply too tame.

The strings were very persuasive, but the winds constantly disappointed. The first bassoon failed orchestra audition 101 in his opening solo, and the final wind flourishes were muddy and not at all convincing. The timpanist seemed overly concerned with over-balancing the ensemble and barely touched the drum heads, sounding anemic and lifeless.

The strings had the "Adagio and Fugue" to themselves, and things got a little better. The problem was that Edward Polochick was conducting a better performance than the one being played, because only about 10 percent of the players had given him sufficient eye contact.

The first half closed with a spirited but not completely convincing rendition of the Concerto for Flute and Harp. Flutist Kristin Winter-Jones let the music speak for itself, and the result was the best Mozart of the evening. Her tonal capacities are wide, and her phrasing is consistent and elegant. Too often, superstar flutists take Mozart for granted. Ms. Winter-Jones is not of this camp.

Caroline Gregg's harp efforts never settled down. The first movement was especially out of kilter, and without Kristin Winter-Jones' anchor, the movement would have been blown miles off course. The slow movement was better and very beautiful.

The finale was the best thing orchestrally on the first half of the program, and the soloists settled down to a satisfying final movement. The cadenzas of the two soloists seemed a little long, but to their credit, the execution was well-coordinated.

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