BSO, Morgan choir join with richness, power

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In these cyber-saturated times, there are probably folks who don't give the invention of the printing press a second thought (or a first).

Back in 1840, plenty of people thought the 400th anniversary of that invention was a very big deal. Big enough to generate a celebration in Germany that yielded the single work being addressed this week by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - Mendelsson's Symphony No. 2, Lobgesang (Song of Praise).

The piece gets little attention in most places, but has received two performances locally in the past five years (by the Concert Artists of Baltimore and Hopkins Symphony Orchestra). Every time I hear it I'm more convinced of its worthiness.

The BSO's account last night at the Meyerhoff was led with masterful control by Jun Markl. He seemed tightly connected not only to the structural side of the score, which is held together by a stirring motto intoned at the start by the trombones, but also the sincerity behind Mendelssohn's concept.

Superficially resembling Beethoven's Ninth - three orchestral movements followed by a long finale with solo singers and chorus - Lobgesang does not so much honor one man's invention as proclaim a firm belief in a divine-being source of all inspiration, and thanks for the triumph of light over darkness.

This is precisely the perspective Mendelssohn's public wanted and welcomed. It might be too in-your-faith for some contemporary tastes, but I can't imagine anyone not being won over by music so alive with melodic beauty and rhythmic drive.

Markl had the orchestra playing richly and cohesively.

The Morgan State University Choir, prepared by interim director Eric Conway, produced a disciplined, firmly balanced sound. The singers shaped the a cappella Nun danket Alle Gott most beautifully and summoned terrific power for the closing passage. (Nathan Carter, the late founder of the chorus, would have faulted the many swallowed consonants.)

The soloists helped keep the concert's temperature hot. Christine Goerke's Wagnerian-sized soprano was a little droopy in pitch, but packed with expressive ardor. Soprano Kishna Davis, nearly overpowered, still came through warmly.

One iffy top note aside, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey sang exquisitely; his soft, melting call to the Watchman in the night was but one example.

No one thought to provide reading light in the hall. Why program music with words and distribute translations of texts if you're not going to help an audience follow along?

BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 tonight, 11 a.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $20 to $75; $10 for students

Call: 410-783-8000

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