There are about as many different combinations of musical works that can be chosen for a single program as there are combinations that can be chosen for a single lottery ticket, which is reason enough not to keep playing the same numbers.
The Concert Artists of Baltimore proved the wisdom of diversifying Saturday night at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, where artistic director Edward Polochick gambled on a mix of old and rare music and came up with a winner.
On the familiar side was J.S. Bach; Dutchman Henk Badings and Swiss-born Frank Martin, two under-performed 20th century composers, provided the invigorating contrast. The novelty of these choices was alone worth checking out; the consistently vivid presentation made the concert doubly memorable.
Things got under way with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. Polochick, conducting from the harpsichord, had everyone digging into the brilliant score with flair. Except for some heavy-handedness in the middle movement, the music danced along brightly. Polochick's playing of the giant cadenza got a little blurry, but had a delightful air of spontaneous combustion about it. Violinist Jose Miguel Cueto and flutist Kristin Winter-Jones articulated their solo lines elegantly. The ensemble's strings did polished work.
The choral of the Concert Artists, ably backed by those strings, delivered Bach's Jesu, Meine Freude with considerable expressive weight. Articulation was clean and clear; the blend of voices generally smooth, the tone always warm. Polochick's familiar concern for subtleties, especially of dynamics, paid off throughout (the crisp accents in the Es ist nun nichts movement were particularly effective). The chorus also excelled in Trois Chansons Bretonnes by Badings. These lushly harmonized songs, with their intriguing texts about the sea, the soul and the libido, reveal a keen artistic imagination. Polochick had his singers responding deeply to the words and the notes. Pianist Clinton Adams provided supple support.
Martin's Petite Symphonie Concertante masterfully exploits the possibilities of string instruments, pitting solo harp, harpsichord and piano against two distinct groups of violins, violas, cellos and bass. An almost spooky opening movement gives way to an anxious Adagio and then a cocky, increasingly frantic march that seems to celebrate a hollow victory.
Polochick made much of this fascinating, potent piece and coaxed an assertive performance. Adams, harpist James Pinkerton and harpsichordist Marvin Mills proved to be a dynamic trio of soloists.