Washington Musica Viva Mixes Jazz, Brahms and Schubert

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Place a modern septet between two great classical quintets, season with high-caliber playing in a pleasantly informal setting, and you have a chamber concert of unusual piquancy. Washington Musica Viva served it Tuesday night at the Dennis & Phillip Ratner Museum in Bethesda.

The septet was "The 44 Faces of Funk," by Charley Gerard, in its premiere performance. Ben Redwin (clarinet), Claudia Chudacoff and June Huang (violins), Betty Hauck (viola), Diana Fisher (cello), Richard Barber (bass) and Carl Banner (piano) tackled a work that bounced hither and thither while trying to decide what kind of music it wanted to be. Gershwin? Cole Porter? Benny Goodman? Nightclub music? By the end, after a brief Bach quotation and an actual 44-note theme, the piece still wasn't sure what it was. But its mixture of dance and jazz, dissonance and swing was ingratiating.

The modern work had a tough act to follow: Schubert's marvelous "Trout" Quintet, with its unusual structure (five movements) and instrumentation (bass replacing one violin). This was fine collaborative musicmaking -- minor imperfections only added to the feeling of friends playing for friends. The musicians sat centrally, surrounded by the audience. Unfortunately, acoustics were not ideal: The piano, even playing softly, tended to overshadow the strings. But the fleet-footed performance was joyous.

Brahms's wonderful Clarinet Quintet, dark-hued music that is never dark in spirit, closed the evening. The performance, which focused more on the work's emotion than its architecture, subsided into autumnal warmth and quiet beauty.

-- Mark J. Estren

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