The concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society on Thursday was a true occasion -- the second time in barely six months that Beethoven's massive Ninth Symphony has been performed in the brand-new Music Center at Strathmore. Again the acoustics fit this monumental work like a glove, with the orchestra, soloists and chorus sounding as one. Although the singers were positioned high up against the back wall, their voices came through like a thunderbolt that charged through the sold-out hall. Although clapping between movements was a bit annoying, it suggested that many listeners in this magnificent concert hall were experiencing a first-ever concert.
Soon to assume the music directorship of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, conductor Jeffrey Kahane clearly grasped every dimension of this watershed work, a symphony so remarkable that one tends to date all music as written either before or after it. The Baltimoreans came through in a riveting performance, showing their splendid musicianship as a whole, as soloists and in the lightning-quick interplay of strings, winds, brass and percussion that Beethoven calls for. Beethoven's silences were as emphatic as attacks, Kahane underlining the course of a seemingly unremarkable two-note motif as it grows inexorably toward the last movement, a stroke of bewildering power expanding a once-tiny melodic cell into a supreme finale for orchestra, vocal quartet and chorus.
The singers fell short only in their German diction, which was riddled with American diphthongs and slurred final consonants. Soprano Indra Thomas, mezzo Barbara Rearick, tenor Michael Hendrick and bass Morris Robinson formed a foursome that scaled Beethoven's almost insurmountable vocal heights with mellifluous beauty, their voices nicely blended and well balanced.
The evening began with Beethoven's earlier cantata, "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage," in a rather tentative performance that paled alongside the Ninth.
-- Cecelia Porter