Chorus soars, orchestra takes shortcuts


The Concert Artists of Baltimore under conductor Edward Polochick have achieved a winning formula in combining choral and orchestral repertoire. Saturday's program, at LeClerc Hall at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, was a little different in that the chorus and orchestra offered separate sets of music.

In this solid, professional series of concerts, one work usually crowns the evening. Saturday, the piece was a heavenly realization of Benjamin Britten's "Hymn to Saint Cecilia." Mr. Polochick and his singers presented this short choral symphony with taste and elan.

The middle mercurial scherzo was spellbinding, and the chorus responded to the wonderful text of W. H. Auden with a strong understanding of the words and a broad range of coloristic variety and vibrant instrumental imitation. Theresa Sweet was radiant in her beautiful solos, and the final mystical section was simply magical. The four soloists -- Susan Schreiner, Anne Lopez, Raymond Aparentado and Jason Ryan -- were marvelous in their short "instrumental" solos.

The chorus concluded the first half with two songs of Charles V. Stanford. The first song, "The Blue Bird," is the great granddaddy of English choral style, with lush harmonies and intelligent writing. Mr. Polochick and his forces were especially sensitive in the pianissimo passages of this work. The first half of the program whizzed to a triumphant conclusion with a lightning version of "Quick! We Have But a Second."

As for the orchestra, it opened the program with a well-crafted performance of the "Suite for String Orchestra" of Frank Bridge. The foreshadowings of Benjamin Britten in this score are quite interesting (Bridge was Britten's composition teacher), but Britten showed much more inspiration. The nocturne movement was the strongest of the suite, and the violas and cellos were masterful.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the music of Tchaikovsky and Haydn. The Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations was a good, honest effort by cellist Marcio Botelho and the orchestra, but there were simply too many fumbles and slips keeping the performance earthbound and ordinary. Mr. Botelho has a generally beautiful sound, but the demands of the score overmatched him.

Haydn's Symphony No. 104 suffered when the orchestra avoided repeating passages, as called for in the score. The truncated version was like a classic Greek structure with half of its columns missing.

There was some spirited playing in the finale, with fine tympani efforts by Donna di Stefano and virtuosic string passages throughout the ensemble.

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