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Left Bank's Rich American Blend

Monday, January 31, 2005; Page C02

The Left Bank Concert Society's contribution to the Kennedy Center's "1940s and the Arts" festival gave the group a good excuse to present a daring yet cohesive program of infrequently heard American gems.

The most outstanding performance Saturday night at the Terrace Theater was of Elliott Carter's Cello Sonata. Carter, still composing at age 96, has a reputation for writing thorny, academic-sounding music. His intriguing combination of pop and jazz rhythms and angular gestures made sense in the confident hands of cellist Evelyn Elsing and pianist Audrey Andrist.

Chris Gekker's trumpet might have seemed an incongruous addition to a string quintet had he not blended his timbre so artfully in Alan Hovhaness's "Haroutiun." The work was composed in 1948, but its form harked back to baroque times, with open harmonies and a Bachlike fugue.

The tight ensemble of seven sounded like a full chamber orchestra in Aaron Copland's "Quiet City." Gekker and English horn player Mark Hill exhibited beautiful control in this composition for trumpet, English horn and strings.

The concert began weakly with an under-rehearsed reading of Erich Korngold's richly cinematic String Quartet No. 3. The performance suffered from poor tone and intonation in the violins that only got worse as the piece wore on.

But it was especially gratifying to hear the crowd-pleasing performance of Antonin Dvorak's String Quintet, Op. 97. The piece counts as American because it was conceived during Dvorak's summer tenure in Spillville, Iowa. The inclusion of this 112-year-old work in the program provided context to the 1940s compositions that surrounded it.

-- Gail Wein

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