MUSIC

The Cravin' Dogs, celebrating their 20th year, brought their normal delirious frenzied style to the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday. By night's end some 20 present and former group members had taken the stage.
The Cravin' Dogs, celebrating their 20th year, brought their normal delirious frenzied style to the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday. By night's end some 20 present and former group members had taken the stage. (Www.cravindogs.com)

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Margaret Leng Tan

Margaret Leng Tan has been called the diva of avant-garde pianism, a label she lived up to in a vigorous performance Friday at the Freer Gallery.

With long, slender arms and large hands, Tan conjured an extraordinary collection of sounds from the piano, plumbing its bowels to produce scrapes, squeals, buzzing bees, woodblocks and windstorms.

Tan's Asian-themed program included Erik Griswold's attractive arrangements of two Chinese folk songs, and Ge Gan-Ru's "Ancient Music," both composed for prepared piano. Tan explained the term, demonstrating how inserting bolts, screws, rubber and even chewing gum into the instrument creates a miniature percussion section. The tin-can high tones and low buzzes became stand-ins for the Chinese pipa (lute) and qin (zither).

But for all the fascinating sounds Tan summoned, an essential ingredient was silence, especially in "The Seasons" by her mentor, John Cage. The Indian-inspired philosophy behind the music claims to imitate nature, but what was actually imitated sounded more like Satie in slow motion, smudges of Debussy and sputtering flashes of color.

Tan closed the concert by connecting two contrasting pieces by Japanese composer Somei Satoh, and delivering a warning, "It's going to get loud." "Litania" built slowly, then blossomed into full rage. Loudspeakers blasted a recording of Tan pounding out an additional part. Then, with her forearms, she pummeled half the keyboard, creating a swirling tornado of sound.

"A Gate to the Stars" followed without pause and provided the calm after the storm. Its warm, slowly unfolding chords let you know you were still alive, and thankful for the reprieve, and for the bold artistry of Margaret Leng Tan.

-- Tom Huizenga

Minetti String Quartet

If you're a card-carrying Mozart fanatic (and if you're not, what's the problem?), you were probably at the great composer's 250th birthday party at the Austrian Embassy on Friday night, where a packed house greeted the young and spectacularly talented Minetti String Quartet.

Let's just say this upfront: The Minetti has a huge future, boasting thoughtful interpretations, beautiful ensemble work, crisp articulation and flawless technique -- not to mention the fact that the players are drop-dead gorgeous.

Yet despite all that, the party got off to a rather slow start, with two very early Mozart quartets (the G Major, K. 156, and C Major, K. 157) that can only be described as slight. The works fluttered prettily like leaves in the breeze, leaving minimal impact on the ears, and were followed by yet more fluff and puff: Franz Schubert's Quartet in E-flat, D. 87. Schubert was only 16 when he wrote it, and it's not completely awful. But frankly, it felt like being stuck at dinner with a precocious, self-involved teenager. Unusual kid, talented, you wish him well, but really . . . doesn't he have somewhere to go while the grown-ups talk?


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