Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Eclipse Chamber Orchestra

Who's heard of Florian Leopold Gassmann, the 18th-century Bohemian opera composer? No matter. His overture to "A House in the Country" got its North American premiere as the opener of the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra's final concert of the season, at the Masonic Temple in Alexandria on Sunday. In its bombastic way, it did the job well. No one could mistake its mission as anything but introductory, and one fully expected to see a curtain go up at the conclusion.

Much the same could be said for the finale of the Mendelssohn Symphony No. 1, which ended the program with the sort of overblown three-minute cadence that you might expect from a romantic 15-year-old, Mendelssohn's age when he wrote it. With its self-important huffing and puffing, a very nice concert was powered to a close.

In between, conductor Sylvia Alimena led her group of about 30 mostly National Symphony players in well-crafted performances of Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" and in the premiere of the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Tom Myron.

The concerto is a big, romantic work, full of Broadway chic, hints of jazz, occasionally overwrought cliches and flashes of big ideas. Its three movements explore all sorts of derivative styles before settling, in the finale, into something personal and original and full of energy. Soloist Elisabeth Adkins, whose day job is as the NSO's associate concertmaster, offered an assured and emphatic reading that was nicely supported by a solid orchestral presence.

The Eclipse does so much so well that its few weaknesses are probably more evident than they should be. In this concert, it was the final polishing of ensemble in both the Ravel and the Mendelssohn final movements that one longed for, more like a sharpening of a focus that might have made a fine performance outstanding.

-- Joan Reinthaler

Ice Cube

After two decades in the rap game, Ice Cube still has it . The menacing voice, the tenacious delivery, the fiery charisma are all still there -- but we're talking about Ice Cube's million-dollar scowl.

Like Elvis Presley's curled upper lip and Gene Simmons's waggling tongue, Cube's furrowed brow is the stuff of legend. He flashed it early and often during his set at the 9:30 club Sunday, using it to punctuate the hit parade of gangsta rap anthems that made him a household name.

Not that the 36-year-old rapper-actor has much to be angry about these days. He's made a remarkably successful transition from South Central L.A. to Hollywood, recently starring in the family film "Are We There Yet?" and producing the buzzed-about TV show "Black. White." But even if he gets more headlines in Variety than the Source, Cube still knows how to rock a crowd. He pleased fans with essential solo cuts "It Was a Good Day" and "Jackin' for Beats," as well as a rapid-fire medley of tunes he penned with gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. The revue had a celebratory feel, and by set's end, his mean-mug had melted into a smirk.

Opening act Clipse is a scowl in progress. Its anticipated sophomore album has been delayed due to ongoing label disputes, and the phenomenal Virginia Beach twosome do little to hide their frustration in the press -- or onstage. They seethed through their hits "Grindin' " and "When the Last Time," replacing cool swagger with hot-headed vigor. Their abbreviated set boiled over during "Mr. Me Too," a slippery new tune they've posted on their Web site. The recording feels murky and mysterious, but onstage it sounded as if they were trying to shout over the din of a UFO crash.

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