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PERFORMING ARTS

Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page C04

The Libertines

The British music press loves nothing more than to hype the next great British rock-and-roll hope. A couple of years ago, that honor went to the Libertines, a garagey, jaggedly romantic London group that the New Musical Express touted as Britain's best new band. Having its debut album, "Up the Bracket," produced by legendary Clash guitarist Mick Jones may have had something to do with the buzz.

Since then, though, the Libertines have starred in a rock-and-roll soap opera. Drug-addled guitarist and singer Pete Doherty missed shows, went in and out of rehab and was arrested for burgling band mate Carl Barat's apartment. Now that must have made for some awkward band meetings. The group hasn't disowned Doherty altogether, but he has proven too unreliable to take out on the road.

And so it was a Doherty-less Libertines who played for a little over an hour to an enthusiastic crowd Tuesday at the 9:30 club. Barat handled lead vocals and was backed by new guitarist Anthony Rossomando, bassist John Hassall and drummer Gary Powell.

A huge banner behind the stage depicted four riot police officers holding shields, and the imagery is apt for the band's cacophonous sound: a mix of snarling guitar leads, ferocious drumming and slurred vocals, all at a barely tolerable volume. The cigarette-friendly crowd provided the requisite haze as the band tore through about 20 songs including "What Became of the Likely Lads" and "Death on the Stairs." For the show-closing singalong, "I Get Along," 30 or so fans jumped on stage to join the action. Sure, it seemed prearranged by the band's street team, but band and fans alike seemed to enjoy it.

The Libertines aren't making particularly novel or breathtaking music, and at times the show seemed curiously emotionless, but for loud, boisterous rock, they do more than just carry water.

-- Joe Heim

Christoph Berner

Christoph Berner can pack quite a punch at the keyboard. On Tuesday, the young Viennese-born pianist displayed fleet fingers and an arsenal of decibels during his recital at the Embassy of Austria, presented in partnership with the Beethoven Society of America.

The outer movements of Beethoven's Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57 ("Appassionata") revealed Berner at his best: playing quickly and loudly. Sudden pedal stomps and vehement keyboard shoves alternated with filigree moments. Although such contrasting dynamics were striking, Berner rarely wandered from the score's road map. Repeated sections were exactly that -- repeated, so there were few surprises. However, in Schumann's Sonata in G Minor, Op. 22, Berner proved he could sustain a slow, soft movement with multifaceted details; his Andantino melodies had a lyrical sweetness that hinted at despondence. Taking delightful grand pauses in Haydn's Sonata in E-flat, Hob. XVI/49, he exuded wit and charm.

Berner juxtaposed Liszt's "Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este" with Ravel's "Jeux d'eaux" on the program. In both works, the pianist portrayed not the usual fountains sparkling in the sunlight but fountains bubbling in the moonlight.

The evening concluded with Ravel's "La Valse," an impressionistic homage to the Viennese waltz. Imagine a ballroom scene of ghosts dancing about and you'll have a good idea of what this sounded like.

Berner brought the unsettling chromaticisms and growling bass to the forefront, creating a diabolical, sometimes macabre waltz that whirled faster and faster.

-- Grace Jean

Palestrina Choir

The Tuesday Concert Series at the Church of the Epiphany, the only surviving pre-Civil War church building downtown, featured four soloists of the Palestrina Choir in a program of motets by Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus.

The eight pieces selected from the 1579 work "Altera pars selectissimarum cantionum" were thankful vehicles for soprano Joellen Brassfield, who really warmed up after a few motets, the wonderful alto Marjorie Bunday, tenor Michael Harrison (founder of the 18-year-old choir) and bass Darrell Sampson.

The Palestrina Choir devotes itself to the music of Renaissance composers including Thomas Luis de la Victoria, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Clemens non Papa and, of course, namesake Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.

If Tuesday's soloists allow for any judgment on the full choir's performance, its concerts Saturday at St. Peter's Catholic Church and Sunday at St. Luke's in McLean will be an aural treat.

What counts in the "one to a part" pieces by de Lassus is less vocal brilliance than cohesiveness, teamwork and a deep understanding of the subject matter -- all of which the four soloists possess in sheer abundance. The concert, starting just after noon, was a perfect respite.

Well attended as it was, the free event still had plenty of room for downtowners with better plans for lunch than a fast-food sandwich.

-- Jens F. Laurson


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