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Luna lights up ASO stage in Rodrigo, Mahler pieces

The Baltimore Sun

The Annapolis Symphony's current management team has been admirably adept at selecting visiting soloists to collaborate with the orchestra. That trend continued last weekend as the local orchestra brought soprano Audrey Luna to town to perform Joaquin Rodrigo's Four Madrigals of Love and the child's evocation of heaven that brings Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony to its celestial conclusion.

The results couldn't have been lovelier. Luna, a lyric soprano with chamber concerts, recitals and symphonic engagements to her credit in America, Europe and Asia, is a charmer of the highest order.

Maestro Jose-Luis Novo, who is planning to perform numerous works with connections to his native Spain next season, got a jump on his Iberian travels as he joined the soprano for Rodrigo's Madrigals. The first two songs are heartbreakingly lovely, as the soprano reminds us that love can wash over us in sadness, while the others speak of nature's joys and of love's happy mysteries.

It's gorgeous music; a nice reminder that Rodrigo, whose Concierto de Aran Juez for guitar and orchestra is one of the 20th century's greatest hits, was a fine composer and anything but a one-trick pony. The soloist brought them to life beautifully, spinning them out as a master storyteller with gorgeous lyricism in the sad moments and with irresistible perkiness when the clouds lifted.

Luna's bright, expressive voice also is perfect for Mahler, whose concluding movement to Symphony No. 4 requires child-like innocence but enough vocal heft to be heard over a full symphony orchestra going about its post-Romantic business. Dancing maidens, sumptuous pears, grapes, beans, asparagus and all sorts of skipping and dancing under St. Peter's watchful eye are part of the vision, and the visiting soprano brought them to life with sweet tone and bright, wide-eyed enthusiasm.

Mahler's Fourth is the perfect symphony for folks who don't much like his music. Poised, classically scaled and relatively cheerful, it is the most disciplined and least draining of the composer's nine symphonies. It begins with sleigh bells, ends in heaven and offers gracious serenity in between, courtesy of a slow movement that is one of Mahler's most beautiful utterances. Only the second movement, with its edgy writing for a solo violin tuned a step higher than usual, imparts a touch of weirdness to the proceedings.

Novo conducted it with a measured elegance that was very much attuned to the spirit of the piece. I like him more and more every time out.

The season's Charter 300 Young Composers Competition came to its conclusion Saturday night with the world premiere of Jacob Bancks' Severn Voyages, a dissonant, rather dour affair that, however clever, wasn't much fun to listen to.

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