The amount of good classical music performed in Maine each year is remarkable, but some concerts stand out as first among equals.

In 2013 it was the piano that took center stage. In 2014 it was the chorus, with two magnificent renderings by the Oratorio Chorale under Emily Isaacson. The revival of the Chorale, in 2013 and 2014, is one of the more remarkable Maine musical events of recent times, comparable to the formation of the new a cappella group, Vox Nova, by Shannon Chase.

The Chorale’s first offering last year was the Brahms German Requiem, with a piano four-hands accompaniment that seemed even more effective than the orchestral version, leaving more room for the chorus and soloists. Brahms’ version of the Requiem Mass, by a not particularly religious composer, has all the more emotional depth in its departure from tradition. Who else could have combined a fugue with a waltz so effectively?

Isaacson’s interpretation was superb. I have not heard it done better in the piano version.

As if to challenge my placement of the Brahms above all others, Isaacson later in the year staged the Mozart Requiem (K. 626) with the Chorale, the Mozart Mentors Orchestra, members of the Bowdoin Orchestra, the Maine Chamber ensemble and the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, and the Bowdoin College Chorus – an ensemble that would have been unwieldy in other hands, but which she controlled with grace and elegance.

Even unfinished, the Mozart Requiem gives Brahms a run for his money.

In terms of excitement, the piano remained outstanding in the 2014 concert lineup. I was particularly impressed by a performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 by Charles Floyd with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra. By treating the old warhorse slowly and thoughtfully, without virtuoso display, Floyd transformed a parlor trick into deeply moving music.

Lise de la Salle, also with the Midcoast, took an entirely different tack with the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3, playing what is arguably the most difficult piano concerto in the repertoire at breakneck speed, with a technique that made it seem easy. The result was more exciting, if not as moving, than Floyd’s interpretation.

From a musical standpoint, both performances were later overshadowed by Andreas Klein, playing the Bach Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052, with the fine Minguet String Quartet acting as a chamber orchestra, courtesy of Portland Ovations.

There were several striking performances of “modern” music during the year, including George Crumb’s “Black Angels for Electric String Quartet – Thirteen Images from the Dark Land,” played by the DaPonte String Quartet, and a revelatory Quartet No. 4 (“United”) by American composer Henry Cowell (1897-1965) by the Portland String Quartet.

The Bowdoin International Music Festival, which had too many highlights to list, also provided a prime example of the overwhelming importance of interpretation. During its Monday Sonata series the Brahms Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Opus 87, was overshadowed by a vastly inferior piece of music, the Violin Sonata in E-flat Major by Richard Strauss. The difference was simply in the performance. One should always be wary of forming a judgment about a composition on the basis of a single hearing, or multiple hearings by the same artist(s).

Last but not least on a list of the year’s highlights was music director Robert Moody’s interpretation of the Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique” (Op. 14) with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. It was all excellent, with sonorities that would have made the Romantic Berlioz happy, but the spectacular waltz movement, “Un Bal,” was as close to perfection as the orchestra has come.

If the past is any indication, we should all be looking forward to 2015, in music at least.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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