Folger Consort and
Soprano Ann Monoyios The Folger Consort went to the modern extreme of its vast repertoire -- baroque music of the 17th and 18th centuries -- for this past weekend's program, which was titled "Don Quixote." The comic-epic hero of Cervantes' masterpiece has inspired a lot of music, but the two best-known pieces -- the Broadway musical "Man of La Mancha" and the massive orchestral tone poem by Richard Strauss -- are outside the Consort's repertoire. So, besides Quixotic music by Georg Philipp Telemann and John Eccles, the program Saturday night in the Folger Shakespeare Library was filled out with material related to the Homeric hero Ulysses and Henry Purcell's "The Fairy Queen," which is based loosely (very loosely) on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
For this occasion, the Consort abandoned its usual lineup of lutes, viols and recorders and became a miniature baroque orchestra -- string quartet plus harpsichord and double bass -- with guest soprano Ann Monoyios supplying the vocal music. The program continued this season's theme of music related to literary sources, which meant that much of the music was descriptive. In Telemann's "Burlesque de Don Quixote" Suite, the Knight of the Woeful Countenance is shown attacking windmills, sighing with love for Dulcinea, galloping off with Sancho Panza trailing behind. Description was equally vivid in Jean-Philippe Rameau's little harpsichord piece "Les Cyclopes" and in the aria "Usignuol tra rami" by Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, in which Monoyios sang a breathtakingly beautiful nightingale imitation.
Before each of the movements in the Telemann suite, Monoyios read, expressively, a relevant passage from Cervantes. But her primary assignment was singing, music by Telemann, Reinhard Keiser and Purcell, all tossed off with agility, pure tone and a precise sense of baroque style. The instrumentalists played with the idiomatic expertise that always characterizes Folger Consort performances.
-- Joseph McLellan
At Meyerhoff Hall Yan-Pascal Tortelier has a way of conducting French music that generates crowd-pleasing excitement without sacrificing the subtle interplay of instrumental color. Under his baton at Meyerhoff Hall on Friday, the Baltimore Symphony's strings positively glowed in three orchestral movements from Berlioz's "Romeo and Juliet." Given the conductor's flowing tempos, the cellos phrased Romeo's soaring melody in the "Love Scene" with the supple rise and fall of opera singing, and the violins answered with a silken grace.
If some of the players weren't articulate enough for the lightning exchanges in the "Queen Mab Scherzo" -- sluggish attacks caused a loosening of ensemble here -- Tortelier's lightness of touch created the requisite magic.
Ravel's Piano Concerto in G was even more enchanting. Tortelier played down the brasher elements in the score in favor of a lushly scintillating sound, in which Ravel's hothouse orientalisms took precedence over his bluesy apings of Gershwin. By contrast, pianist Jean-Philippe Collard emphasized the angularity and harmonic unease in the writing, making the concerto sound more elusive, more tantalizingly ambiguous than it often does.
Tortelier was scrupulous in his dynamic gradations throughout Ravel's "Bolero." But he also encouraged earthiness in the wind solos, and let the brass blaze away in the final pages. Indeed, the finale's exuberant release of tension -- both in the playing and in Tortelier's unbuttoned podium manner -- brought Leonard Bernstein briefly to mind.
-- Joe Banno
Michael Rabinowitz and
Bassoon in the Wild With all due respect to "Peter and the Wolf," Michael Rabinowitz does not play your grandfather's bassoon. There aren't many musicians in the world willing to tackle this mellifluous but ungainly instrument, usually heard only in the classical concert hall, and Rabinowitz is one of the few who boldly cross the jazz boundary with it. At Strathmore Hall on Friday night, Rabinowitz and his band, Bassoon in the Wild, took the audience on a two-set tour that included jazz standards and original tunes.
From the opening notes of Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove," one noticed the absence of the bassoon's usual silky tone; Rabinowitz's instrument sounds more like airy cotton instead. But he redeemed himself with a graceful musicality and impressive technique. The band, vibraphonist Diana Herold, bassist Andy McKee and drummer Grisha Alexiev, supported him well.
By the time they swung into their second number, a lyrical but oddly unsentimental treatment of "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now," this odd combination of instruments settled in and the audience began to appreciate the full force of the band. McKee got to show off in "Stella by Starlight," riffing effortlessly up and down his ornate 1840 bass. Several tunes brought Alexiev's talents to the forefront, which for the most part were subtle, in accord with the intimacy of the small space.
But if anything could outshine the novelty of a jazz bassoonist, Herold's outstanding four-mallet vibes technique came close. From Latin-tinged "Black Orpheus" to Charlie Parker's "Blues for Alice" to Rabinowitz's original compositions, Herold easily handled the gamut of styles with frequently dazzling results.
-- Gail Wein