Cabell’s haunting Ravel provides the highlight in Baltimore Symphony program
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra got an early start on the Christmas season with excerpts from The Nutcracker Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Yet the premature holiday nugget was decisively upstaged by a pair of contrasted works from John Adams and Maurice Ravel.
The evening led off John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances” excerpted from the composer’s opera Nixon in China. The highly rhythmic music demands a precise layering of pulses. Associate conductor Nicholas Hersh directed the main theme with a relentless drive, softening into the sultry section highlighting the seductive wiles of Madame Mao. Punctuating clangs from the percussion were matched by pianist Lura Johnson on piano with the ramshackle gait of a banqueting dancer.
Soprano Nicole Cabell’s appearance marked the high point of the evening. Last heard at the BSO in Messiah in 2005, Cabell now worked her enchantment in Ravel’s Shéhérazade.
The naïveté of Tristan Klingsor’s poetry married with Ravel’s lush orchestration is a welcome trip to the Thousand and One Nights — an Orient that only existed in the imagination.
Cabell’s richly burnished soprano took us away to a new realm via the music’s exotic waves, and the orchestra playing was just as evocative. After she nailed the final high note of “Asie,” concertmaster Jonathan Carney and associate concertmaster Wyatt Underhill phrased a wonderful duo leading into the coda. Emily Skala’s magical solo in “La Flûte Enchantée,” prefaced Cabell’s hushed, haunting tenderness in the final song “L’Indifférent”. Who could not be moved in hearing her sadness in the final words–“But no, you pass by/and from my doorway I watch you go on your way.”
Hearing Nutcracker excerpts after Shéhérazade made for a jarring transition, with the dances mostly well performed but seeming light and somewhat superficial after the depth of expression heard in the Ravel.
The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at Music at Strathmore. bsomusic.org; 410-783-8000.
Samantha Buker’s published work ranges from classical music criticism to financial journalism. She has written for the Washington Post, City Paper, What Weekly, BmoreArt, and Music at Yale.