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CLASSICAL MUSIC

Thursday, October 7, 2004; Page C05

Washington Musica Viva

For the past six years, Washington Musica Viva has offered bargain chamber music concerts throughout the area. Surrounded by sculptures and paintings Tuesday evening, it presented an evocative and intimate performance at the Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum in Bethesda.

Playing on a Baldwin grand lent by his aunt, director Carl Banner led the way in Faure's Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 89. His watercolors inspired rich, mahogany tones from violinists Sally McLain and June Huang, violist Kimberly Buschek and cellist Jodi Beder. Their first movement flowed with such freedom that one couldn't help but imagine standing on a boat's bow, arms outstretched.


The Washington Musica Viva quintet performed at the Ratner Museum. (Marilyn Banner)

Bass Gary Poster joined Banner, McLain and Beder for Stephen Paulus's song cycle "The Long Shadow of Lincoln," which premiered in 1994 at the Supreme Court. Poster's fluid, vibrant voice espoused Carl Sandburg's text with a prophet's wisdom. He displayed excellent musical command in "Make Your Wit a Guard," a movement ending with a powerful quote from Lincoln's 1862 address to Congress.

Violist Buschek rejoined the trio for Copland's Piano Quartet (1950), and the four painted snow-covered fields in its outer movements and kids in rainwear splashing about in its central movement. Their intriguing read was followed with a passionate performance of Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25. At times they played too heavily for the venue. But when they allowed subtleties to emerge, as they did in the finale, their music was captivating.

-- Grace Jean

I Musici de Montreal

L'orchestre, c'est moi! might apply to Yuli Turovsky, founder and musical director of the superb French Canadian chamber orchestra I Musici de Montreal. The cellist-conductor was physically and musically the sun around which the 15 musicians orbited during its highly pleasurable Tuesday evening concert at the Library of Congress.

Throughout the variegated program, the sleek, black-clad musicians were arrayed around Turovsky in a semicircle. This arrangement worked well when Turovsky soloed in several Ernest Bloch pieces inspired by Jewish folk music, allowing the 14 string players to carefully support Turovsky's melancholic tone and arching lyricism. Denis Gougeon's "Coup d'archets," which the gifted Canadian composer completed to celebrate I Musici's 15th anniversary, was also engagingly rendered. The orchestra responded to Turovsky's skillfully turned phrases with a golden intonation and supple sense of musical line.

Unfortunately, the semicircular arrangement threw balances out of whack in two string orchestra delights, Benjamin Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10, and Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48. It was nearly impossible to hear the inner strings and the burnished violas at the back of the stage. The textures of these sun-dappled scores would have benefited from massing each section together and modulating the sound a bit. Still, it was easy to look past the distortions, as they never strayed from music's central spirit.

Turovsky and I Musici de Montreal are passionate musicians, and they go right to music's guts.

-- Daniel Ginsberg


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