Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Verdehr Trio

There are only so many trio scores featuring clarinet in existence, so the Verdehr Trio -- comprised of the husband-wife team of violinist Walter Verdehr and clarinetist Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, as well as pianist Silvia Roederer -- has commissioned several new works. Some fine music has resulted, along with a share of misfires.

The trio's Sunday evening concert at the Phillips Collection had a bit of both, presenting new pieces from Australia and New Zealand that were mostly engaging but occasionally felt little more original than the concert's title, "Down Under."

The clarinet can bewitch a composer (look at Mozart and Brahms), and the danger is to wallow too much in the instrument's ethereal bathos. "Four Miniatures" of Richard Mills came off well, as the trio struck up tumultuous sounds to match the more pervasive mysterious atmosphere.

Peter Sculthorpe's "Baltimore Songlines," which received its Washington premiere, sounded on first hearing somewhat derivative. The score seemed content to emit silky melodies, which, though attractive, never leavened into something more coherent and powerful. Chirping bird calls, sung from the violin, gave a sense of natural openness but improved little on similar effects in the picturesque music of Respighi and the glowing sound-blocks of Messiaen.

The highlight of the afternoon was New Zealand composer Christopher Marshall's "Three Aspects of Spring." Even in its quieter moments, the music was expressive, speaking in rich textures, confident gestures and quicksilver mood changes.

While a nicely shaped account of Sculthorpe's "Grief Singing" opened the concert, a sometimes growling, sometimes melancholic rendition of Douglas Knehans's "Rive" beautifully closed it out. Bouts of funky intonation detracted little from the Verdehr Trio's generally sensitive and supple playing.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

McCoy Tyner

Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner seldom has much to say in concert, even on special occasions. He let his septet's music eloquently speak for itself during a performance commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Impulse record label at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Sunday night.

Had Tyner retired after collaborating with sax legend John Coltrane on a series of groundbreaking quartet recordings for Impulse in the early '60s, his place in the jazz pantheon would be secure. At 67, he is still a marvel to behold, particularly when stoking rhapsodic improvisations with resounding chords and hammered rhythms.

Although Sunday's performance barely scratched the surface of the Impulse story -- a pre-concert discussion provided context -- Tyner was in exceptional company. In addition to his regular trio mates, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt, the septet featured trombonist Steve Turre, trumpeter Wallace Roney and reedmen Donald Harrison and Eric Alexander.

The pianist was in imposing form from the start, fashioning a brightly re-harmonized arrangement of the pop standard "Will You Still Be Mine?" The Thelonious Monk-like "Blues on the Corner," the gospel-tinged "Happy Days" and the sensuous theme "Angelina," all composed by Tyner, inspired a colorful variety of moods.

Among the evening's vintage Impulse highlights, however, were a vibrant reprise of Curtis Fuller's hard bop anthem "A La Mode" and a swiftly paced, exhilarating take on Coltrane's "Impressions." Well-developed and often dramatically pitched solos by the horn players were abundant, and both Moffett and Gravatt delighted the packed house with their vitality, wit and finesse.

-- Mike Joyce

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