The Washington Bach Consort featured 20th-century American music in its concert Friday at the Library of Congress.
The Washington Bach Consort featured 20th-century American music in its concert Friday at the Library of Congress. (Washington Bach Consort)
Monday, April 24, 2006

Washington Bach Consort

Audiences seldom get to hear the fine singers of the Washington Bach Consort in 20th-century American music, so their heavily American program at the Library of Congress on Friday night was especially welcome.

The evening started on more familiar ground, with the Sinfonia from Bach's cantata "Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen" played with grace on period instruments -- five strings, baroque oboe and chamber organ. With a flutist and the 20-member chorus joining that ensemble, the Consort delivered a lithe account of Bach's cantata "Er ist das Heil uns kommen her," BWV 9.

After intermission, pianist Scott Dettra replaced the chamber orchestra, and the focus shifted to works by rarely encountered composers. Opera choruses by Aaron Copland and Kirke Mechem alternated with liturgical settings by Edwin Fissinger and Elinor Remick Warren, and poetic settings by William K. Trafka, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Eric Whitacre. If there was the occasional whiff of the English choral tradition in these pieces, most sounded overwhelmingly American, and all were written in a feel-good brand of traditional tonality.

Under J. Reilly Lewis's sensitive direction, the chorus sang with its customary elegance, marrying the clarity, chaste timbre and word-specificity of madrigal singers to the full-throated warmth of much larger choirs. Ten of the chorus members were showcased in solos -- none more impressively than baritone Jon Bruno in a gorgeous and heartfelt rendition of Coolidge's "Echoes."

-- Joe Banno

Trio Solisti

Opening a concert with a work as monumental and all-consuming as Brahms's Piano Trio, Op. 87, is risk-taking in the extreme. Playing at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday, the Trio Solisti (violin, cello and piano) dove into this music's unrelenting passion not only without mishaps but with zealous abandon, poignantly attending to the work's restless dissonances with a knowing grasp of its tightly interwoven counterpoint. At times, zeal gave way to tender lyricism in a transcendent performance.

While traces of central European melodiousness occasionally crop up in the Brahms, they are at the heart of the next work -- Bartok's "Contrasts" for violin, clarinet and piano -- the clarinet part having once been played by Benny Goodman. Offering every possible timbre and more on his clarinet, David Krakauer, who joined violinist Maria Bachmann, cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach and pianist Jon Klibonoff for this piece, pitted Bartok's cleverly urban street sounds against Bachmann's brilliant fiddling style of the onetime Transylvanian countryside, the violin strings unconventionally tuned.

Paul Moravec's "Tempest Fantasy," honored with a Pulitzer Prize in 2004, was the evening's centerpiece. Joined again by Krakauer (sometimes on bass clarinet), the trio lent emotional resonance and rhythmic inevitability to Moravec's torrents of notes.

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