Isabel's untimely arrival on the scene last week disrupted the flow of music, not just electricity. Some performances had to be canceled, others postponed, but the season was clearly back on track over the weekend. A sampling of Sunday's many activities made that quite clear.
In the afternoon, Music in the Great Hall opened its 30th anniversary season at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church with an admirably wide-ranging program, featuring seven solid players from around the region. (This was to have been the second presentation of that program, but Friday night's concert was called off due to logistical difficulties caused by the storm.)
There was a brief premiere to start - Preston Hutt's Interlace for clarinet, oboe, violin, viola, cello and piano. A nervous energy propels the neatly woven piece, which has a worried edge even during its few calm passages. The writing is clear, colorful, assured, but the ear is left wanting more. It sounds like it could be the first movement of a larger work.
Mozart's Oboe Quartet did not find oboist Vladimir Lande at his smoothest, technically, but he and his colleagues caught the sunny beauty of the music effectively.
If Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel had composed under a male pseudonym, she may have received more deserving treatment from music history. Like her brother, Felix Mendelssohn, she possessed a striking lyrical gift, which is particularly impressive in her D minor Piano Trio. That score ought to be much better known. It received a passionate vote of confidence from violinist Peter Sirotin, cellist Lukasz Szyrner and pianist Joel Wizansky.
That tightly blended performance was a highlight of the concert; the collaboration of clarinetist David Drosinos, Sirotin and Wizansky in Bartok's Contrasts was another. They dug strongly into the raucous side of the outer movements; in the finale, they found not just the Hungarian folksiness, but the sly touch of jazz (Benny Goodman commissioned the piece).
There was much to admire, too, in Szyrner's account of Per Slava, a moody, arresting essay for solo cello composed by Krzysztof Penderecki for Mstislav Rostropovich.
The slyly oriental sheen of Poulenc's Rhapsodie Negre, featuring the full ensemble, provided a suitably festive program close.
On Sunday evening, the Shriver Hall Concert Series jumped into the new season with a stellar lineup - the Emerson String Quartet and clarinetist David Shifrin, performing the profoundly beautiful clarinet quintets by Mozart and Brahms.
Each quintet offers a wealth of melodic poetry and a model of structural integrity; if this was all we had from either composer, we would have enough.
Mozart's gentle score inspired a performance of great charm from the players. Shifrin's tone was on the dry side; more varied color would have been welcome. But he and the Emersons remained firmly on the same expressive wavelength, spinning out phrases with remarkable finesse. Every little detail in the score, such as the insistent viola line, superbly articulated by Lawrence Dutton, that emerges in the finale, was attended to in the most natural, engaging manner.
The Brahms quintet, from the composer's last years, is sometimes viewed as practically elegiac. No undue autumnal haze here, but rather open-hearted, intense playing from the ensemble that revealed the aging composer at his most potent. The musicians dedicated their performance to the memory of Stephen Kates, the late, much-missed cellist and teacher who was memorialized earlier on Sunday by friends, colleagues and former students at Peabody Conservatory.