Saturday, May 14, 2005

Thursday's Library of Congress concert by the Academie fur Alte Musik, Berlin, pointed up this fine period-instrument orchestra's stylistic omnivorousness. It embraced a lean tone and rhythmic thrust typical of German early music ensembles, a recognizably French brand of regal swagger, the smooth finish of the best English bands, and the punchy, rustic colors of Italian period players.

Stylistic emphases shifted playfully, sometimes within a single piece. The ensemble's wittily elephantine approach to the Minuet in a suite from Handel's opera "Almira" was a startling departure from the spare elegance of the surrounding movements. So was the aggressively staccato treatment of the introduction to Vivaldi's D-Minor Concerto for Two Oboes, RV 535, which gave way to a breezily energetic treatment of the rest of the work.

The distinctive personalities of the players were also allowed to emerge in differing approaches to the music, as in the lively solo interchanges in J.S. Bach's D-Minor Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043, between the extroverted Georg Kallweit (who also led the Academie in the concerto) and the alluringly nuanced Midori Seiler. And the athletic reading of the piece that Kallweit led showed a rather different side of Bach than the more molded, mercurial performance of his Orchestral Suite No. 1, led by violinist Stephan Mai.

Throughout the evening, the orchestra's level of virtuosity, ensemble and interpretive cohesion made the 17 musicians seem to breathe and think as one.

-- Joe Banno

Emerson String Quartet

It was a rare moment at the Music Center at Strathmore on Thursday night. After standing ovations at the concert's end brought calls for an encore, the Emerson String Quartet complied with a surreally tranquil version of the chorale ending to Bach's "Art of the Fugue." The group's account had the impact of a benediction -- not a sound was heard for five hushed seconds afterward in a concert hall filled to the brim.

The Emerson was the first string quartet to play in this new venue. Chamber music ensembles face acoustical problems in capacious concert halls. From my seat about a dozen rows from the stage, the opening Mendelssohn -- his Quartet, Op. 12 -- radiated the shimmering exuberance and dulcet grace this youthful piece needs. But the total effect sounded muted, as if played in another room.

The musicians gave a moving account of Joan Tower's "Incandescent," dedicated to this quartet. The players brought to life all the tension Tower has described as her goal: "What I try to do in my music, particularly in this piece, is to create a heat from within." As the work unfolded, the Emerson gradually collected melodic strands, rhythms and textures, building them up to a white heat that exploded with blinding luminescence at the end.

"Incandescent" did not suffer from sonic problems, but, to some extent, Beethoven's Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131, did. The cello and viola noticeably outweighed the violins, even though this group stands while playing (with the cello on a podium). Nevertheless, the performance was an inviting one, with strains of resignation and ethereal bliss unlike the more unsettling, angst-ridden interpretations of some other ensembles.

The Washington Performing Arts Society sponsored the event.

-- Cecelia Porter

Wolfgang Panhofer

Wolfgang Panhofer's concert Thursday night at the Embassy of Austria was brave, bold and brazen. Brave to go onstage and play an entire recital with just cello, unaccompanied. Bold to present a program of unfamiliar 20th- and 21st-century Austrian composers (plus one lovely Bach suite). And brazen to offer a conceptual encore by an American.

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