Lynn Harrell begged the audience's indulgence for his fashion slip-up Sunday night at Shriver Hall. The cellist, a little distracted by the birth of a son a few days earlier in Houston, forgot to pack the black shoes that were to go with his suit. Given how compellingly Harrell played, it wouldn't have mattered a bit had he forgotten his pants, too.
It's always rewarding to hear this man make music. There is an openness and honesty in the way he communicates what is on the page of score and, more significantly, what's underneath. He can even draw you in to works that don't have much going on underneath, a neat talent in itself.
Harrell's recital, presented to a packed house by the Shriver Hall Concert Series, had an electric charge. Adding to the voltage was pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion, whose elegant articulation and remarkably sensitive phrasing complemented the cellist's every step of the way.
The two men achieved extraordinary results in the longest item on the program, Cesar Franck's A major Sonata, the sonata originally written for violin but understandably coveted by cellists. The change of instruments does no damage to this brilliantly organized music with its wealth of impassioned melody. Harrell played the heck out of the sonata, occasionally sacrificing beauty of tone for depth of expression.
Debussy's concise, moody Cello Sonata yielded a taut performance. Harrell and Asuncion delivered Beethoven's genial Variations on a Theme from Mozart's The Magic Flute with the give-and-take of old friends. And they put lots of color and rhythmic interest into a party piece by Chopin, the Introduction and Polonaise Brillante.
The unaffected lyricism the cellist offered in an encore, a transcription of Schubert's beloved song An die Musik, was one more peak in a night of high points.
Pro Musica Rara
For its annual "SuperBach Sunday" concert, Pro Musica Rara looked at one source of stylistic influences on Johann Sebastian Bach, placing pieces by eminent French contemporaries alongside some of his best-known scores.
The program, which drew a strong turnout Sunday afternoon to Towson University's Center for the Arts, offered particularly welcome exposure to Louis-Nicolas Clerambault, whose eloquent cantata Orphee tells part of the legend of Orpheus (the happy, boy-gets-dead-girl-back part).
Soprano Ann Monoyios sang affectingly, especially in the gorgeous, rising melody of Monarque redoute, Orphee's plea for Euridice. A small group of period instruments played admirably, with particular charm and finesse from violinist Madeline Adkins.
Tapas-sized portions of Jean-Philippe Rameau's large-scale, richly evocative opera-ballet Les Indes galantes (The Galant Indies) added up to an engaging meal. Memorable moments included the aria of an Incan maid, with flutist Sandra Miller's smooth articulation and woodsy tone balancing the silvery sound of Monoyios. Highly pictorial instrumental passages inspired tight, vigorous playing.
I caught part of the concert's Bach portion, the E major Violin Concerto. Soloist Ivan Stefanovic and his colleagues encountered intonation discrepancies, but, except for a draggy Adagio, had the music flowing effectively.
The BSO and Shakespeare
Getting in on the Shakespeare in Washington Festival, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offered three Bard-based works and relevant texts over the weekend. This most engaging "Symphony With a Twist" program, conducted by Carlos Kalmar, featured members of the Washington-based Shakespeare Theatre Company.
On Friday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, Kalmar had Otto Nicolai's popular Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor bubbling smartly. He dispatched Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet quickly and routinely but drew vibrant playing from the BSO in the process. Periodic interruptions for recitation took a toll on Elgar's rarely heard Falstaff, but, again, the orchestra did some colorful work.
Throughout, the actors delivered their lines in a refreshingly natural style (no fake British accents) and with a keen appreciation for the musicality inherent in the words themselves.