Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Today's craving for the super-size symphonies of Gustav Mahler has yet to transfer to those of his contemporary Anton Bruckner. Bruckner's symphonic skyscrapers remain an acquired taste and appear less often in concert halls.
But Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Guenter Herbig, made a compelling case for Bruckner's Symphony No. 4.
To play the Fourth you need a beefed-up brass section with lips of steel. The unified sound of the BSO brass was resplendent -- menacing in the finale, stately in the jovial Scherzo, giving it the flavor of an old-fashioned fox hunt.
Bruckner's opening thunderbolts of brass were imposing. But instead of entering as an unexpected whomp on the head, they were folded in smoothly. Herbig seemed intent to sculpt a singing legato line throughout, yet not every transition was seamless. He was best at building the symphony's many ferocious crescendos. From barely audible wisps in strings to snarling brass in full cry, Herbig meticulously controlled infinite gradations between whisper and scream.
Pianist Louis Lortie opened the concert with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2. The heart of the concerto is its ethereal Adagio, and Lortie's dialogue with strings, in halting soft breaths, was graceful and deeply felt. If the Adagio is the heart, the first-movement cadenza is the central nervous system. With synapses firing wildly, it's as if the music crashed in from another concerto. Lortie highlighted its manic, low grumblings and frenzied outbursts. His overall lithe approach brought out Beethoven's wit. In the rollicking finale, he punched off-kilter rhythms and lent a smiling touch of faux solemnity to the last soft chords.
-- Tom Huizenga
Cleveland Contemporary Dance
Dance Place would do well to present more troupes like Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre. In its Friday performance, the company had a distinctly regional air -- promising, yet unpolished -- but stunning dancer Natasha Colon and director Michael Medcalf's entertaining, heartfelt choreography placed this troupe on the list of companies to watch.
Colon subtly wowed the audience in "In/Visible Gates" by Bill T. Jones dancer Germaul Yusef Barnes. Doubled over, she wrapped her arms around her legs, drawing focus to the supple, staccato articulations of her muscular back.
Another Colon-focused moment came at the culmination of Medcalf's "Through the Storm," the final section of "In the Spirit: Installation Set II," which also contained choreography by Krislyn World. The liturgical work displayed a balance between technique and emotion, so when Colon fell into a fit of religious fervor, the moment was believable and climactic.
Medcalf's "Urban Love Song" broaches the sensitive subject of the "down low" -- African American men with female partners having secret homosexual encounters. Though the choreography grew repetitious during Medcalf, Colon and Jason Joyner's trio, the extensive partnering, all done with one partner behind or underneath the other, never making eye contact, made a strong statement about deception.
The entire company achieved success in Young Park's powerful "Masala," which drew hand gestures from classical Indian dance and acrobatics from Brazilian capoeira. The company moves smoothly. Only when the dancers, particularly Medcalf, overlook transitions in favor of hitting positions does the work become choppy.
The performance also included Park's "Eilene" (a tribute to an Alzheimer's patient tenderly embodied by Colon) and "Between Two," and Medcalf's "Love Suite, Love."
-- Clare Croft
Latin Jazz All-Stars
The Latin Jazz All-Stars don't attract a crowd composed entirely of jazz die- hards. So it wasn't surprising to find the ensemble faced with requests for salsa Saturday night at Blues Alley after unveiling imaginative arrangements of tunes by Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard.
No arms required twisting, however. The septet happily responded with a rendition of "Michael's Mambo" by pianist Hilton Ruiz that proved so rhythmically enticing that at one point trumpeter Ray Vega, saxophonist Mario Rivera and flutist Dave Valentin couldn't resist the temptation to form a sloppy chorus line. "Home Cooking," also composed by Ruiz, later sustained the festive spirit with its funky boogaloo backbeat, rollicking keyboard trills and quirky stop-time shifts. Suffice to say, the audience loved it whenever the band shifted into party gear.
Yet when it came to revealing collective and individual strengths, nothing rivaled the opening performances. Shorter's "Footprints" was full of brash tacks and striking contrasts, starting with Valentin's insistent attack, followed by the now-fiery, now-soulful pairing of Vega and Rivera, and capped by Ruiz's thunderous crescendo. The pianist was in particularly good form, whether fashioning long chromatic descents, hammering chords and dissonances with hands and elbows, or smoothly navigating through the Afro-Caribbean clatter and chatter generated by percussionist Richie Flores, bassist Junior Caberra and drummer Steve Berrios.
Moments later, Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" blossomed anew, too, thanks in part to Valentin's restive cadenza, some burnished front-line harmonies and the warm lyricism emanating from Vega's fluegelhorn.
-- Mike Joyce