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CLASSICAL MUSIC

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-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

Fairfax Symphony Orchestra

Recipe for the finale of the Fairfax Symphony's 49th season: Find two disparate works that both begin in the cellos and basses. Mix well.

This is not as easy as it sounds -- but it generally sounded very good at George Mason University's Center for the Arts on Saturday night.

The first work was Beethoven's infrequently played "Triple Concerto." Beethoven composed about 11 trios for piano, violin and cello -- plus this trio with orchestra, written for Archduke Rudolf of Austria, whose modest keyboard skills are reflected in a minimally virtuosic piano part. But with a modern concert grand, the pianist tends to dominate the trio, as Edward Newman did. He seemed more comfortable with the music than did his wife, National Symphony associate concertmaster Elisabeth Adkins, or cellist Michael Mermagen; both string soloists, especially Mermagen, bobbled some difficult passages. But the tone of the 1774 Nicolo Gagliano cello was lovely, and conductor William Hudson provided thoughtful support.

Rachmaninoff's syrupy, overplayed but still lovely Symphony No. 2 sounded even better. As is distressingly common, the hour-long work was truncated to 45 minutes through cuts in the first, third and fourth movements. This does the piece no favors, making it seem simultaneously amorphous and bloated. Rachmaninoff's motivic structure is actually very elegant -- he is not all "big tunes" and great yawps of sound. The orchestra was top-notch here: warm strings, lovely woodwinds, monumental brass, intense percussion. But this was scarcely a creative end-of-season choice. Recipe suggestion for next year: Add some spice.

-- Mark Estren

Villa-Lobos Trio

Rather adventurously, the young Villa-Lobos Trio focuses as much on classical and contemporary Latin American music as on traditional European fare. Named after the influential Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, who died in 1959, the group is based in Vienna, its tours including concerts in Latin America.

On Friday the ensemble (violinist Florian Wilscher, cellist Katrin Schickedanz and pianist Rosangela Antunes) performed at the Austrian Embassy in music by their namesake as well as Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, Mozart and Schubert. They did much more than merely justice to it all.

In two Piazzolla pieces from his cycle "The Four Seasons" (a third made an encore), the group found the undercoating of brutal restlessness that pervades the late composer's "nuevo tango" style, digging deeply into its brazen dissonances, jazz-pop incursions and conflicting emotions. Strangely, Schubert's Adagio, D. 897 ("Notturno"), fit perfectly with the Piazzolla. Anguished foreboding suffuses both. In the Schubert, the pianist's rippling, harplike arpeggios and the strings' pizzicatos hinted at a nocturnal calm while also conveying the music's dark innuendos.

The musicians' approach to Mozart's Piano Trio, K. 502, was lustrous and commanding. Ever the opera composer, Mozart created a drama here in the guise of a piano concerto; Antunes's luminous keyboard cascades and the strings' delicately matched phrasing were as human as Mozart's characterizations. Though expertly played, Villa-Lobos's Piano Trio No. 2 tended to be long-winded. Yet the musicians played as one, infusing it with the timbres of French impressionism.

-- Cecelia Porter


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