Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Washington Early Music Festival

Modern Musick seemed right at home in St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Monday night. The baroque chamber ensemble reveled in the resounding acoustics and atmospheric lighting of the 1888 red-brick sanctuary on Capitol Hill.

The Concerto for Strings, RV 118, was a good showcase for the entire ensemble in this all-Vivaldi program. The six players achieved a good chamber orchestra sound, though one occasionally wished for better intonation. The steady basso continuo anchored by harpsichordist Dongsok Shin and baroque bassist Robert Nairn propelled the music forward irresistibly.

Baroque cellist John Moran graced the Cello Concerto, RV 420, with nimble fluency. His dancelike approach to the music kept the performance light, though in particularly frenzied moments the lowest parts of the accompaniment were muddied in the broad acoustics.

Matthias Maute, world-renowned master of the recorder, joined Modern Musick for the Recorder Concertos, RV 375 and RV 441. In his hands, the instrument is an extension of his voice, with a human tone and agile trills that bordered on yodeling. His impossibly rapid yet liquid lines were well supported by the group, with some especially sweet passages by baroque violinists Risa Browder and Leslie Nero and baroque violist Leslie Silverfine.

Maute may have been the headliner, but the St. Mark's Chancel Choir, directed by Keith Reas, delivered a performance of Vivaldi's Credo, RV 591, that rivaled the best professional choruses. Their sound was angelic at times -- not overpowering but clear and inspirational.

The concert was part of the ambitious Washington Early Music Festival, which continues through Sunday.

-- Gail Wein

Mathias Hausmann

To penetrate all the layers of meaning in an art song takes a performance touching on the extraordinary.

Baritone Mathias Hausmann did it beautifully at the Austrian Embassy on Monday, capturing the poet's original intent, sifting it through the composer's setting (which can often twist the poem's tone and rhythm), and then delivering it with finely honed artistry. This is especially important in the German lied, a unique blend of fragile poetic lyricism, melodiousness and a smidgen of melancholy.

Hausmann began and ended his recital with a dozen of Gustav Mahler's lieder from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The Boy's Magic Horn") with songs by Alexander von Zemlinsky and Erich Wolfgang Korngold in between. All date from the Vienna of Sigmund Freud; this year marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Hausmann's lyrical voice swathed Mahler's settings in golden tones, sensing the folk dance spirit here, etching characters in dialogues with operatic drama there, never losing sight of Mahler's signature strains of military drumming and sardonic morbidity.

Korngold's "I Wish You Bliss" was as much a delight as his "Tanzlied" was movingly tragic. Hausmann shaped the Zemlinsky songs with unwavering command and sensitive coloring. And pianist Betty Bullock was much more a partner than a mere accompanist.

-- Cecelia Porter

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