Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Washington International Competition for Strings

Eight young musicians competed for more than $30,000 in prizes Sunday in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Though some of the finalists of the Friday Morning Music Club Foundation's Washington International Competition for Strings inevitably ended up winning more cash than others, all of them left one nodding in agreement with Thomas Mastroianni, the foundation's director, who told the audience that these performers proved that "music is in good hands with the future generation."

Interestingly, each of the three first-prize winners (one each for violin, viola and cello) won by playing music from 20th-century masterworks. Daniela Shtereva's reading of the first movement of Bartok's Second Violin Concerto was shot through with fantasy and fire, while Yu Jin brought shapely phrasing and an array of dazzling colors to the first movement of Bartok's Viola Concerto. David Requiro played most of Kabalevsky's Second Cello Concerto, bringing out its wit and dynamism. Of the other finalists, a personal favorite was third-place winner Susie Park, who amplified the drama in her commanding reading of Ravel's showpiece "Tzigane" by theatrically flourishing her bow in the pauses between the work's Gypsy-flavored violin licks.

While the judges deliberated, the Peabody Quartet presented the premiere of the winner of this year's composition competition: Nathan Stumpff's string quartet "The Righteous and the Wicked," which opens with a motif and some stomping chords derived from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song of the same name. It then takes the material on a fun ride with quicksilver pizzicato runs and a semi-contrapuntal breakdown. A blazing wall of sound rises toward the end, then fades out, pop-style; the Peabody rendered the effect vividly, the capper on a committed performance.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

Cathedral Choral Society

Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" may lack the expansive lyricism of requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi and Brahms, but it's no less brilliant or compelling a work. Britten divided the texts of the Latin liturgy evocatively between a soprano, backed by full chorus and orchestra, and a distantly placed, organ-accompanied boy choir. But the composer's masterstroke was to interleave the Mass texts with graphic antiwar poems by Wilfred Owen (who died in the World War I trenches), setting them for tenor, baritone and chamber orchestra.

Britten's angular and haunting melodic lines, pungent orchestrations and sure sense of dramatic pacing were tellingly brought out in the Cathedral Choral Society's splendid performance at the Washington National Cathedral on Sunday. But what registered most, under the batons of Music Director J. Reilly Lewis and Assistant Conductor Scott Dettra (who led the Wilfred Owen sections), was the sheer beauty of the score. The Cathedral Boy Choristers' voices floated ethereally from a far corner of the church, martial brass figures thundered through the reverberant haze, and the full chorus delivered a massive yet marvelously transparent sound.

The soloists -- the opulent-voiced soprano Marina Shaguch, the eloquent and penetrating tenor Robin Leggate and the smooth-grained lyric-baritone William Sharp -- could not have been bettered, and the pickup orchestra played with great refinement, both in the Britten and in a moving, concert-opening rendition of Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten."

-- Joe Banno

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