Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kuijken String Quartet

It's hard not to love the early-music crowd. They're infinitely endearing, with their sackbuts and clumsy barytons, their beards dripping with earnest crumbs of musicology. Lovable, right? So please: Why oh why must they mess with Mozart?

The Kuijken String Quartet, four accomplished early-music specialists who have made serious contributions to the interpretation of baroque music, appeared at the Library of Congress on Tuesday night, performing the last three of Mozart's celebrated "Haydn" quartets (K. 464, K. 428 and K. 465).

And the evening should have been a treat. These quartets are frighteningly intelligent and insightful, among the most beautiful ever written. But you wouldn't know that from Tuesday's performance, which -- not to mince words -- was a muddle of woeful intonation, weak tone, sloppy detail, unfocused interpretation and near-total absence of dramatic tension. Despite much rubbing of sticks and strings, few actual flames were produced.

Perhaps some of the mess was due to cellist Wieland Kuijken's being replaced at the last minute by Kenneth Slowik, but Slowik is a fine performer and played quite elegantly. First violinist Sigiswald Kuijken was simply not in good form; his playing felt labored and awkward. And violist Marleen Thiers and second violin Francois Fernandez, despite some valiant efforts, simply lacked the power to steer this shipwreck off the rocks.

-- Stephen Brookes

Be Your Own Pet

While America watched starry-eyed vocalists begging for approval on a certain popular television show Tuesday night, 18-year-old Jemina Pearl was bellowing at the Black Cat crowd as if a nod from Simon Cowell would just make her mad. Pearl's the eldest of Be Your Own Pet, a punk foursome out of Nashville who occasionally need to put homework aside to make like the Ramones.

BYOP blasted through 10 songs during its 25-minute set, and even though the band members are just kids, it's hard to imagine them going at such neck-breaking speeds for much longer. The group, whose debut LP was released in the United Kingdom in January, is not just about frenetic beats and shouting. But any discernible intricacy in recorded tracks such as its debut single, "Damn Damn Leash" (chorus: "You've got me on a leash/a damn damn leash/and it's hard enough to be my damn self"), was sacrificed for energy during the performance, with the thrilling Pearl supplying enough for the whole room: The slight and blond front woman's continuous hair-whipping and convulsive moves make Karen O. look like Cat Power.

Fredericksburg band Pash opened with a more melodic but equally physical 30-minute set of indie- rock: Lead singer Mer Munoz, looking like a junior Chrissie Hynde, did her best to simultaneously dance around the stage and avoid guitarist Erik Bruner-Yang and bassist Ryan Little, whose frequent twirling and instrument-flailing looked like a Three Stooges bit waiting to happen.

-- Tricia Olszewski

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