The program sampled Gypsy music (or, rather, classical music inspired by Gypsy music) from Romania to Argentina. The music, particularly in the violins, was passionately intense, fast-moving and virtuosic, beginning with Enescu's "Romanian Rhapsody" No. 1 and ending with Manuel de Falla's "El Amor Brujo" ("Love, the Sorcerer"), which filled the whole second half.
"El Amor Brujo" -- by far the evening's climax -- received not the usual suite of orchestral highlights but a full-scale performance, with five dancers, gutsy canto jondo by mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman and a brilliant solo introduction by flamenco guitarist Richard Marlow.
The dance performance revealed one previously unexplored aspect of the new music center's acoustics: The floorboards of its stage sound spectacular in a foot-stomping flamenco zapateado. Led by conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the orchestra brought proper intensity to the "Dance of Terror" and to the "Ritual Fire Dance," which was performed twice, first with dancers and again (even more powerfully) as an orchestral encore. All the dancers were good; Anna Menendez, Edwin Aparicio and Norberto Chamizo Garrido were particularly effective in Falla's tale of obsessive love reaching beyond the grave.
The evening's intensity began with a dazzling performance of the rhapsody and took on descriptive colors with Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov's "The Night of Flying Horses," a suite from a movie about doomed love between a Jewish woman and a Gypsy man. Ravel's "Tzigane" is one of the most difficult violin solos ever written, but the orchestra's principal second violinist, Qing Li, almost made it look easy.
-- Joseph McLellan
Igor Stravinsky could not have been more wrong. He called Antonio Vivaldi a "dull" composer who wrote the same music over and over. On Friday night at the Library of Congress, the baroque group Rebel proved Vivaldi a composer rich with a sense of excitement, wonder, pathos and virtuosity.
Rebel's concert, "Shades of Red" (Vivaldi had red hair), smartly contrasted sides of the Venetian composer unknown to those familiar only with the ubiquitous "Four Seasons."
The anguished beauty in the Sinfonia "Al Santo Sepulcro" rivals Samuel Barber's famous Adagio. Rebel emphasized the music's silence as powerfully as its haunting, droning strings. Then, as if to jolt us back to life, the group followed with the "Concerto alla Rustica." Gruff bowing from strings and vigorous strumming from baroque guitarist Daniel Swenberg pulled the concerto out of the concert hall into a Tuscan village pub, swinging and rocking.
Rebel, named after the French baroque composer Jean-Fery Rebel, is an ensemble of eight musicians (five strings, harpsichord, lute/guitar, recorder) unafraid to have fun with the music. They enjoy playing loud and fast as needed -- a refreshing approach compared with some anemic period-instrument groups from decades ago.
In America, the recorder is often thought of as a child's instrument. But that's clearly not how Rebel's recorder player, Mathias Maute, sees it. In the four concertos he performed, he displayed a rare virtuosity. With a pure, round tone he swept through Vivaldi's rapid-fire runs, barely taking a breath. The deep expression in the Largo from the Concerto in G (RV 443) proved that Maute may be the finest of today's players, and that Vivaldi can be profoundly moving -- never "dull."
-- Tom Huizenga