Haydn's 'Creation' a welcome concert treat

The Baltimore Sun

With present-day reverberations of the Scopes trial never far from the national headlines, Haydn's pre-evolution-theory oratorio, The Creation, may give some listeners an extra kick. But this retelling of the six-day process described in Genesis doesn't ask anyone to take theological or political sides. It's just great music.

Although one of the highest peaks in Haydn's output, The Creation doesn't turn up in concert all that often, making the Handel Choir of Baltimore's season-ending presentation of the piece Sunday most welcome.

Using a text taken from biblical sources and John Milton's Paradise Lost, Haydn created a masterful kind of storytelling. His depiction of the pre-existence void, accomplished with harmonic unsteadiness that still sounds remarkably daring (especially given the oratorio's 1798 date), and the blazing realization of "Let there be light" are but two of the most famous examples.

The composer took obvious delight in using the orchestra to describe lots of details, including quite a few beasts of land and sea. The vocal writing, for the chorus and the soloists, is equally telling.

The Handel Choir's performance, led by director Melinda O'Neal, will be sung in the original German. The chorus will be backed by a period-instrument orchestra. The concert is at 4 p.m. Sunday at Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St. Tickets are $15 to $40. Call 410-366-6544.

Inspiring music

One of the saddest - and most inspiring - stories from World War II concerns a group of women interned by the Japanese in the Palembang camp on the island of Sumatra. In the midst of dreadful conditions, a remarkable kind of music emerged, at once familiar and otherworldly.

Relying on memory, Presbyterian missionary Margaret Dryburgh jotted down melodic lines of well-known works of classical music, including the Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony and a piano piece by Beethoven. Norah Chambers, a Royal Academy of Music graduate, collaborated with Dryburgh on arranging the music for an a cappella chorus to create an orchestra of wordless women's voices.

The haunting music was first performed in the camp in December 1943. The concerts continued regularly until the early months of 1945, by which point more than half of the chorus had died.

The story of the brave Palembang women, which has inspired TV and movie projects, caught the imagination of Pittsburgh's Shadyside Chancel Choir. The group will perform a program of pieces arranged by Dryburgh and Chambers in a concert led by Margaret Ross Mehl at 3 p.m. Sunday at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1316 Park Ave.

Admission is $10 at the door. More information: 410-523-1542.

Weekend of Brahms

Is it possible to hear too much Brahms? I don't think so. There's something about this guy's music that never wears thin, maybe because his particular version of romanticism never gets sticky.

Brahms provided heady bookends for my musical activity last weekend. Friday night offered an extraordinary feast of his chamber music served by stellar violinist Gil Shaham and first-class collaborators. This nonsubscription event presented by the Shriver Hall Concert Series progressed from strength to strength.

The Horn Trio, Op. 40, received an arresting account, full of deft touches in the phrasing and some viscerally powerful dynamic contrasts. Shaham, with his intense tone and poetic phrasing, had a superb match in William Caballero, principal horn of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the violinist's sister, pianist Orli Shaham.

The buttery sound and keen interpretive insights of mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung enriched the exquisite Op. 91 songs for alto, viola and piano. Paul Neubauer's viola sang out as beautifully as the singer did. Again, Orli Shaham was a most attentive partner.

Like a conversation among five old friends, each with something interesting to say, the Clarinet Quintet captures Brahms at his most intimate and revealing.

Although needing a touch more mystery and tenderness in the first movement, Friday's performance proved compelling. The silken, seamless playing of Ricardo Morales, principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was balanced by equally sensitive work from violinists Shaham and Adele Anthony, Neubauer and cellist Jian Wang.

On Sunday afternoon, Brahms closed a Music in the Great Hall concert performed by musicians who play regularly in the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and other local ensembles - violinists Robert Mutchnik and Celeste Blase, violist Julius Worth and cellist Kerena Moeller.

In Brahms' String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, they did not produce a consistently cohesive sound (Mutchnik's intonation tended to stray into gray areas) but effectively conveyed the lyrical sweep of the score. Moeller's playing was especially potent here, as well as earlier in the program at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, when the ensemble gave a vibrant account of Borodin's Quartet No. 1 in A major.


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