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An appealing mix of music and fun


Toss in some tangos, some fairy tales and some Brahms, and you've got a concert by the Apple Hill Chamber Players.

For more than 25 years, this ensemble has been mixing up unusual ingredients to enliven musical experiences; since 1988, it has also been attempting to prove that music can bridge seemingly impassable barriers. Under the banner "Playing for Peace," the group has regularly toured such trouble spots as the Middle East and has awarded scholarships that bring musicians to the Apple Hill Festival in New Hampshire, all in an effort "to inspire friendship, community, peace, and understanding between people of diverse backgrounds, ages, and abilities" (as the mission statement puts it).

On Wednesday evening, the Apple Hill gang stopped in Baltimore just for the fun of giving a free performance at Temple Oheb Shalom, courtesy of the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust. It was, at the very least, a diverting program (except for the couple in front of me who chatted amiably throughout).

The tangos came from Astor Piazzolla, the late, celebrated Argentinian composer who had a marvelous way of transforming that old dance form into something freshly sensual. Violinist Elise Kuder, bassist Richard Hartshorne (taking full advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate the melodic possibilities of the bass) and pianist Eric Stumacher delivered the tangos effectively.

As for the fairy tales - more like the "Fractured Fairy Tales" from the "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" - there were several by the Brothers Grimm, as interpreted by William Bolcom, one of America's most imaginative composers. The 1988 score for viola, cello and bass abounds in Bolcom wit and coloring; assorted animals, a witch and a nagging wife make their appearances in clever detail.

Violist Michael Kelley, cellist Rupert Thompson and Hartshorne took turns reciting summations of the tales before offering the complete works. Other than Thompson's pitch discrepancies in "Jorinda and Joringel," the performances were tight and engaging.

Hartshorne then took the stage by himself to narrate, sing and play his own "Another Fairy Tale," which involved a beaver named Brenda, a birch tree named Billy, a circus, the blues and - you had to be there.

Finally, there was Brahms. His G minor Piano Quartet received a potent account.

A few slips aside, Stumacher provided a solid foundation; he zipped through the finale's most sparkling moments with particular finesse. Although Kuder's violin tone could have been a little warmer and rounder, she complemented the full-bodied, lyrical efforts of Kelley and Thompson. In the third movement, as the martial theme made its initial, delicate appearance, the four musicians hit a winsome peak of expressiveness.

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