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Although the perfect weather kept taunting and tempting me on Sunday, I headed indoors to catch two performances. The first, in the afternoon, was the 25th season-opener for Concert Artists of Baltimore, and a most satisfying season-opener it turned out to be.

I like this group. I have ever since I came to town. Thanks to founding artistic director Ed Polochick, the ensemble can be counted on for music-making generated by intense commitment and, for want of a more technical word, joy. That's what keeps me coming back.

Having relocated this season to the Peabody campus, Concert Artists no longer enjoys the acoustical advantage of the Gordon Center, where an orchestra of under 40 can sound more like 60 and where the string tone, in particular, gains a nice bloom.

Peabody's Friedberg Hall is not quite so forgiving, and there were times on Sunday when little discrepancies in the playing by the violins stuck out.

Such blemishes really did fade, though, in light of all the expressive force onstage. The way Polochick had the orchestra charging through Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony, for example, proved thoroughly invigorating. The familiar music took on a bracing freshness.

The orchestra also did generally supple work in Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos, which featured ...

the downright legendary Leon Fleisher and his wife, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, as soloists. The duo sculpted phrases with their accustomed thoughtfulness and stylish nuance, and they enjoyed typically attentive support from Polochick.

The program was book-ended by music for voices. The choral component of Concert Artists had the stage to itself at the start in Britten's exquisite "Hymn to St. Cecilia." The group produced a warm, generally cohesive sound and, sensitively guided the conductor, sculpted eloquent phrases.

The vocal ensemble was back at the end for Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and did some effective singing in it. The orchestra, too, made a fine showing. Polochick ensured that the quirky, irresistible, piece, with its preview of things to come in the Ninth Symphony, held together. When he got the chance, he didn't hesitate to kick things into warp speed, and it paid off.

The real star, though, was Ann Schein, who tackled the assertive piano solo with a disarming combination of tonal fire power and electric phrasing. She caught the improvisatory feeling of the opening passage and continued to generate a wonderfully spontaneous mood.

So a couple of notes got away from her. So what? The pianist never lost hold of the score's exuberant spirit. That's what counted. In short, Schein shined.


6 years ago | Read Full Story
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