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Monday, May 15, 2006

Daedalus Quartet

Despite the name, the Daedalus Quartet seemed it was flying Friday not on wings of waxy feathers, but rather on jet-propelled rockets of blistering virtuosity.

Since bursting onto the scene six years ago, this young ensemble has been making a name for itself as one of the hottest quartets around -- and at its Corcoran Gallery performance, it showed why.

The program opened with the first of Mendelssohn's string quartets, Op. 44, No. 1, in D. It's a light work that critics love to dismiss. Sure, the drama gets a little high sometimes, the gestures a little too sweeping, but there's so much pure pleasure in it that you forgive the indulgences and yearn for more. The Daedalus gave it a heady reading: The Allegro exploded out of the gate, the Menuetto ached with bittersweet longing, and the Presto con brio -- well, refer back to those "rockets of blistering virtuosity."

While Mendelssohn sweeps you off your feet, Bela Bartok would rather just pull the rug out from under you -- and then hit you with it. His Quartet No. 3 is a wild and unfettered masterpiece, a storm of ear-bending sonorities and inventive, edgy rhythms.

The Daedalus dove into it with fearless abandon -- the music rang gloriously, and the audience emerged wowed and grateful.

But that was mere prelude to Mozart's String Quintet in E-flat, K. 614, which the Daedalus (joined by Roger Tapping on viola) gave a full-blooded, magnificent reading -- one so hot you could almost smell wax in the air.

-- Stephen Brookes

Woodley Ensemble

"Sacred Kaleidoscope" was an apt title for the program that Frank Albinder and his 17-voice Woodley Ensemble brought Saturday to St. Peter's Church on Capitol Hill. The five featured composers (from Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, Sweden and Estonia) explore colors, rhythms and textures in very different ways, and their superposition was in fact kaleidoscopic in its effect.

There were three knockouts among Albinder's choices for his D.C.-based group. Christopher Marshall's five-part "O Fragile Human," written over the course of the last three years on texts drawn from Saint John of the Cross, the medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen and several contemporary poets, draws on a remarkably rich palette of colors and textures and handles them with astonishing restraint and delicacy. Even with the four vocal lines going their individual and busy ways, textures were transparent and balanced. Some of this is due to Marshall's sensitivity, but a lot was thanks to an ensemble that can produce sounds both rich and gloriously focused, that can field fine soloists but also a blend to die for, and that can move seamlessly from a brilliant fortissimo to an equally brilliant pianissimo almost instantaneously.

Daud Kosasih's 2003 "Haleluyah! Puji Tuhan" was a study in intricate rhythms in constantly evolving patterns that built from quiet serenity to ecstasy, and Arvo Part's stunning ". . . which was the son of . . .," a chantlike setting of the "begats" running back 75 generations from Jesus to Adam and then to God, built up tremendous tension in a context of almost surreal tranquillity.

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