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Seasons end on a spirited note

The Baltimore Sun

Two organizations wrapped up their seasons Sunday with memorable concerts.

During the afternoon, Pro Musica Rara tried out a seance in a program called "The Spirit of Mozart" that used some fine period instruments for the conjuring. In the evening, Chamber Music by Candlelight balanced big, romantic scores with a lively world premiere.

Pro Musica Rara, now in its 32nd year, has steadily re-energized itself since cellist Allen Whear became artistic director in 2003. Concerts have grown more consistent in terms of technical fluency and overall spirit; repertoire choices have been interesting and rewarding.

On Sunday at the cozy Recital Hall of Towson University's Center for the Arts, Whear, violinist Cynthia Roberts and pianist Edmund Battersby summoned Mozart and two other musical giants of late-18th century Vienna.

Mozart appeared in both his pure and once-removed form. The pure version was his Trio in E major, K. 542, which combines, as only Mozart could, simplicity and depth. It received an amiable performance that found the string players steadying their intonation as they progressed and Battersby making up for any cloudy articulation with elegant phrasing.

Mozart's less direct appearance came via a set of variations for cello and piano Beethoven wrote on the Bei Mannern duet from The Magic Flute. The theme is all-Mozart, the treatment all-Beethoven. Whear and Battersby caught the charm of the piece and most of its bravura.

The keyboard instrument, a handsome looking and sounding replica of one by Mozart's favorite fortepiano builder, Anton Walter, was from TU's collection. Battersby gave this forerunner of the modern grand a workout in Haydn's Andante con variazione in F minor, a work of extraordinary imagination and expressive range, and played it with admirable warmth and character.

In Beethoven's G major Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, you can sense the composer already pushing the limits of the fortepiano, just as he pushed the boundaries of the trio form.

Mozart's spirit still flitters through the piece, especially in the refined curves of the slow movement, but Beethoven keeps popping up to deliver unexpected jolts of rhythm or dynamics. And traces of Mozart nearly evaporate in the whirlwind finale, propelled by a theme that sounds like the direct precursor to Rossini's William Tell Overture.

The musicians turned in a virtuosic effort that caught the Trio's remarkably vibrant character, and its foretaste of the towering composer Beethoven would soon become.

Chamber Music by Candlelight, presented by Community Concerts at Second Presbyterian Church, regularly showcases Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians and an admirably expansive repertoire. Sunday's choices included the first performance of We Three by Brian Prechtl, commissioned by violinist Ellen Pendleton Troyer and her husband.

In this portrait of the couple and their young daughter, Prechtl gives each family member a motif and puts the themes through an entertaining workout for the unlikely combination of violin and percussion. The neatly constructed work is short and fleet, with a pop music-like vitality. Troyer, Prechtl (marimba) and Barry Dove (steel drum and other percussion) delivered it with considerable flair.

The spirit of Mozart floated up in this concert, too. Brahms' String Quartet No. 3, which makes an affectionate backward glance to Mozart's melodic gracefulness, received a refreshing, gently propulsive account from the Atlantic String Quartet.

If Rachmaninoff had composed nothing but his grandly lyrical Cello Sonata in G minor, he'd still rank way up there. The passionate beauty of the music never quits. Cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn dug deeply into that beauty, and was solidly, warmly matched by pianist Matthew Shepherd, who did his thoughtful best not to turn the piece into a piano concerto.


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