Baritone beguiling at BSO; Music: In the Meyerhoff's 'Classically Black' series, Jubilant Sykes proves to be a crowd pleaser.; Classical Music


Jubilant Sykes is nothing if not aptly named. It's not just that the baritone exudes happiness; he generates it as well. That was evident Friday evening when he won over the crowd at Meyerhoff Hall for the Baltimore Symphony's latest program in the "Favorites" and "Classically Black" series.

Sykes has a mellow voice that falls somewhere between Broadway and opera dimensions, and a distinctive way of styling that, if occasionally in danger of sounding mannered, certainly exudes personality. He put his talents to highly effective use in Copland's settings of "Old American Songs."

With exceptional sensitivity, not to mention superb diction (such an oddly rare attribute among American singers), he caught the gentle essence of "Simple Gifts" and "Long Time Ago." It's possible to take more time with those songs, as well as "At the River," to create a deeper mood of nostalgia. But the combination of almost brisk tempos, along with Sykes' intimate way of phrasing, sounded just right.

When he turned to a pair of spirituals, the baritone used discreet amplification, enabling him to deliver an unusually understated, beguiling account of "City Called Heaven." Mark Rice's orchestration was nicely understated, although "Were You There" veered off into soupy territory by the end.

Conductor Alan Gilbert offered sympathetic support, and the orchestra produced finely detailed sounds, though there was a little trouble adjusting to the singer's carefree approach to rhythm. No such tentativeness cropped up during the rest of the concert.

Haydn's Symphony No. 90 benefited from Gilbert's propulsive beat and attention to subtle details. Aside from some fuzzy brass work, the playing was lithe and colorful, with supple flute, oboe and cello solos. If Gilbert didn't extract all the Latin heat bottled up in Manuel de Falla's suites from "The Three-Cornered Hat," his attention to dynamic contrasts and dramatic flourishes paid off nicely. The strings had many shimmering moments; the winds were in bright, well-balanced form.

Perlman visits BSO

Alan Gilbert continues his stint with the BSO this week in a program featuring Itzhak Perlman in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursdayat the Meyerhoff. Two other chestnuts also are on the bill: Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.

Both performances are sold out, but for $22 you can purchase an unreserved seating voucher, which will get you a seat if there are no-shows -- or standing room if there aren't. Call 410-783-8000.

The BSO's annual "Live, Gifted and Black" concert will present cellist Desmond Neysmith in -Lalo's Cello Concerto at 7: 30 p.m. May 9 at the Meyerhoff. Neysmith, winner of the Sphinx Competition for Black and Hispanic Instrumentalists, is studying at the University of Ohio in Akron.

Alexander Mickelthwate, conductor of New York's Amato Opera and Scarsdale Youth Orchestra, will be on the podium for the program, which includes Duke Ellington's "Harlem" and works by Chevalier de Saint-Georges and A. Jack Thomas.

Admission is free, but advance reservations are required. Call 410-783-8000.

Cello at the Peabody

The Peabody Symphony Orchestra welcomes alumnus Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, for its final program of the season next weekend. He'll play the Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar, one of the aural glories of the Edwardian Age. In addition, Brey will receive the Peabody Distinguished Alumni Award.

The concert, conducted by Hajime Teri Murai, also includes Mahler's Symphony No. 7, perhaps the least appreciated of the composer's works. Don't let that fool you into doubting the symphony's worth. From its funereal opening movement to its unexpectedly giddy finale, the score abounds in engrossing ideas. It also presents one heck of a challenge for any conductor or orchestra.

The performance is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Peabody's Friedberg Concert Hall, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place. Tickets are $16 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for students. Call 410-659-8124.

Also coming up at the Friedberg is the Peabody Renaissance Ensemble. Mark Cudek will lead the program, which includes a lute consort in quartets by Nicolas Vallet. Music by Christobal Morales, Thomas Campion and others is slated.

The concert is at 8 p.m. Friday.Admission is free.

Elgar again

Elgar fans will find another masterwork on tonight's concert by the Towson University Orchestra.

Mark Allen McCoy conducts the "Enigma Variations" on a program that includes Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the members of the Baltimore Trio (violinist Zoltan Szabo, cellist Cecylia Barczyk and pianist Reynaldo Reyes).

The performance is at 8: 15 tonight at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, Osler and Cross Campus drives, Towson. Tickets are $10, or $5 for seniors and students.

In other Towson news, the university's Choral Society and Chamber Orchestra, led by Phillip Collister, will present Gabriel Faure's sublime "Requiem" and other works at 3 p.m. Sunday.Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students.

Collister will switch roles later next week -- he'll be the baritone soloist in Bach's "Magnificat," presented in honor of the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. Faculty members will complete the solo vocal quartet for this program, featuring the Towson University Chorale and Bach Orchestra, directed by Paul Rardin. The performance will be at 8: 15 p.m., May 13.

Tickets are $6 for adults, or $4 for seniors and students.

Both choral programs will be at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall. Call 410-830-2787.

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