Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Post-Classical Ensemble

Always venturing into new cultural territory, the Post-Classical Ensemble gave three intriguing concerts at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Sunday, the day's extravaganza based on the theme "Beyond Flamenco: Finding Spain in Music." In defining the role of flamenco styles in early 20th-century Spanish music, the Ensemble spotlighted works by two leading Spanish composers, Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla. The group's multimedia spectacle combined folk-inspired Spanish classical music with film, poetry readings, paintings and panel discussions.

Pianist Pedro Carboné opened the concerts with pieces from Albéniz's nearly unplayable "Iberia" (1908), which conjures up mostly Andalusian styles. Scaling the score's extraordinary technical demands, Carboné bolted up and down the keyboard with hand-crossings at NASCAR speeds, imaginatively outlining the music's complex rhythmic folk idioms, densely tangled impressionist textures, clustered dissonances and Moorish-inspired melodies.

Devoted to the "Europeanization of Spanish Culture," the day's second session included a recording of "Iberia" arranged for orchestra; a jazz pianist's 2005 version of it filmed by Carlos Saura; a lecture by José Maria Naharro-Calderón concerning the stereotypical image of Spain as dark, exotic and provincial as expressed in 19th- and 20th-century Spanish paintings; and an excellent performance of Joaquin Turína's "La Oración del Torero" for string quartet.

Again tackling the keyboard with fire and ice, Carboné began the third concert with two works by De Falla composed during his "flamenco" period: the "Ritual Fire Dance" and the "Fantasia Baetica." Both are high-impact challenges loaded with multiple trills and tremolos that Carboné took on with titanic, even heroic, bursts of energy. Conducted by Angel Gil-Ordonez, Carboné and the Ensemble topped things with a brilliant excursion into De Falla's Concerto for Keyboard and Five Instruments, a work of stringent beauty.

-- Cecelia Porter

Cathedral Choral Society

It's hard to imagine the opening Kyrie movement of Bach's B-Minor Mass sounding more gorgeously diaphanous and reverently hushed than it did under J. Reilly Lewis's baton at the Cathedral Choral Society's concert on Sunday. As is customary with Lewis, the orchestra played with a historically aware, vibratoless rise-and-fall to its phrasing, and the chorus delivered its accustomed luminous tone and creamy blend.

But this was far from the chamber-size, one-voice-to-a-part Bach style beloved of more doctrinaire period-performance conductors (and favored by Lewis in smaller-scale Bach works like the cantatas). Instead, an orchestra of some 40 players and a chorus just short of 200 singers lent the piece a breadth of sound closer to the Victorian choral tradition.

Lewis's tempos, too, were strikingly expansive -- even leisurely -- not just in that glowing first movement but throughout the work. (Indeed, including a brief intermission, the performance ran nearly 2 1/2 hours.) But the music never took on bloat -- partly thanks to Lewis's leavening of textures, partly to his loving and meditative approach to the work. Large-scale moments such as the opening of the Gloria and the "Et Resurrexit" section of the Credo blossomed naturally into the National Cathedral's acoustics rather than clamoring for attention, and were all the more moving as a result.

Among a fine array of vocal soloists, countertenor Steven Rickards's supple phrasing and soprano Elizabeth Weigle's bell-like purity of tone stood out most memorably.

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