Saturday, July 22, 2006; C08

National Symphony Orchestra

Two famously cursed rings of power had their way with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap on Thursday night -- but proved no match for a ringing affirmation of life.

Conductor Emil de Cou started with a medley from "The Fellowship of the Ring" -- music that fits the film beautifully but sounds like plastic in concert. Then came three superficially exciting excerpts from Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung" tetralogy. "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" is portentous, with its leitmotifs of the ring and its curse, and "Siegfried's Funeral March" is both heroic and deeply depressing. But capping them with "The Ride of the Valkyries," from a previous "Ring" opera, made a musical mishmash that approached self-parody. Wagner would have loathed being played, however well, as pop music.

Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" was far more effective. This 1937 secular cantata is Part 1 of a trilogy, though "Catulli Carmina" (1943) and "Trionfo di Afrodite" (1951) are not often performed. For "Carmina Burana" -- the name means "Songs of Beuren," the town where the manuscripts were found -- Orff eschewed modern harmonies to present medieval poetry about life and love.

De Cou treated this percussive work as sonic spectacle, with the Washington Chorus in full, intense voice throughout. In contrast, baritone Weston Hurt brought nuanced understanding to his solos; soprano Maureen McKay's voice was captivating and subtle in her smaller role; and tenor Javier Abreu had a fine falsetto turn as a goose roasting on a spit. The opening and closing hymn to fate was a dramatic paean to the original wheel of fortune.

-- Mark J. Estren

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Edwin Outwater, descended on the Music Center at Strathmore on Thursday night for an evening of "Mozart's Hottest Hits." Putting the elegant title aside for a moment (what's next? "Beethoven's Funniest Home Symphonies"?), Outwater showed that he is, in fact, an accomplished Mozart conductor, with a lyric sensibility and a gift for blending high drama with subtle, convincing emotion.

The program was, as promised, wall-to-wall chestnuts, from the iconic "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" to the magnificent Symphony No. 41 (the "Jupiter"). But Outwater conjured fresh and engaging interpretations, and the evening felt like visiting old friends who still have a lot to say. He infused the well-mannered "Nachtmusik" with a distinct electrical current, and was joined by violinist Soovin Kim for a sweeping, hugely enjoyable account of the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K. 216.

Kim's a young violinist we're likely to hear more from. A superb musician with a fine tone (that 1709 Stradivarius he plays probably doesn't hurt), he is assured and imaginative. Outwater had a little trouble waking the orchestra from what appeared to be a mid-concert nap, but by the opening of the unbearably tender and gorgeous Adagio, both conductor and soloist were soaring.

The "Jupiter" is, of course, one of Mozart's most relentlessly captivating symphonies. It's also relentlessly complex, especially all that diabolical counterpoint in the last movement. But Outwater produced a near-crystalline performance that kept the music tight and exciting. Definitely hot -- and definitely a hit.

-- Stephen Brookes

Eldar Djangirov

Some jazz keyboardists routinely seduce audiences at the opening of a performance with a light, swinging touch. Not Eldar Djangirov. The 19-year-old Soviet-born jazz phenom took a different tack at Blues Alley on Thursday night by displaying the kind of sweeping virtuosity that keeps piano tuners in business and crowds cheering for more.

The first set began with a dramatic flourish, a trio performance of "What Is This Thing Called Love" that, in one fell swoop, referenced Thelonious Monk's dissonant jabs, Art Tatum's mercurial speed and Ahmad Jamal's multifaceted small group arrangements. From the outset, bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Todd Strait were on high alert, negotiating abrupt shifts in tempo and dynamics with deceptive ease.

Eldar's prodigious gifts were always evident, though there were moments, particularly during the original composition "Point of View," when his playing seemed more aimless than artful. Still, he infused a series of jazz standards with lyricism and soul as well as chromatic vitality. Particularly refreshing was the trio's spacious rendering of "Out of Nowhere," which quietly evolved into a lovely, Bill Evans-like rumination. "Moanin'," on the other hand, was an earthy delight, ringing with gospel chords and vintage soul-jazz overtones. Eldar, who sometimes sounds like a young man in a hurry at the keyboard, dashed offstage following an hour-long set. After some coaxing, however, he returned for an encore. The self-penned "Watermelon Island," a Herbie Hancock tribute that cleverly melds elements of "Watermelon Man" and "Cantaloupe Island," capped the show on a summery note.

-- Mike Joyce

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