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Saturday, December 2, 2006

Boston Pops

When was the last time you attended a symphony and cheerfully sang along without getting kicked out? A fair-size crowd did just that at Constitution Hall on Thursday, when the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, the touring portion of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, performed its holiday concert for the first time in Washington.

The first half of the performance was seasonally themed, yet -- much to the dismay of a few whimpering children -- reverent and traditionally classical. With help from the nationally recognized Furman Singers collegiate choir and resplendent soprano Indra Thomas, Pops conductor Keith Lockhart led his orchestra through selections from Handel's "Messiah," for instance, and a muted but lovely "What Child Is This?"

Readings from the Gospel According to Luke and Rabbi Avi Weiss's "Thoughts on Chanukah" were incorporated, as well, before closing with Thomas's truly heavenly rendition of "O Holy Night/Go Tell It on the Mountain."

After intermission, however, it was all trumpet-supplied horse whinnies, jazzy medleys of secular tunes such as "Santa Baby" and "Sleigh Ride" and -- the pièce de résistance -- a walk-on by Old Saint Nick himself, to hoots and applause. (His cheesy jokes about YouTube and "Snakes on a Plane," though, received appropriate groans.) Lockhart was a charming host as he occasionally hopped with delight while conducting and ultimately got the whole place warbling: With lyrics printed in the program, there was no excuse not to sing along with holiday faves such as "Jingle Bells" and "Winter Wonderland." The steamy weather made the evening feel more like Christmas in July, but inside, the Pops ensured you could taste the hot chocolate.

-- Tricia Olszewski

Mozartean Players

Chances are that if you encounter Mendelssohn's splendid D Minor Piano Trio in recital, it'll be played with lush sonorities on modern instruments. But the Mozartean Players' historically minded traversal of the score on Thursday at the Strathmore Mansion reminded us that Mendelssohn's writing can sound even more passionate and trenchant on the instruments of his day.

Pianist Steven Lubin tapped into the mercurial nature of the score, phrasing the cascading runs with an impulsive verve (on Strathmore's mellow, 1850 Broadwood fortepiano) and inspiring his partners -- violinist Anca Nicolau and cellist Myron Lutzke -- to playing of sinewy passion. With tight ensemble work, these musicians made the composer's lyrical passages soar and his darker writing seethe and brood arrestingly.

Preceding the Mendelssohn, the players gave sprightly, affectionate readings of Mozart's Trio in C, K. 548, and Beethoven's Trio, Op. 70, No. 2 -- relishing in particular the martial flourishes in the opening movement of the Mozart -- though the more exposed writing in these works revealed the kind of queasy intonation, papery tone and missed notes in Nicolau's playing that harked back to the period string playing of a generation ago.

Lutzke was more fluent with his period cello. Lubin was very much the leader throughout, and he turned in a sparkling solo reading of Mozart's Variations, K. 265, on the melody we now know as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."


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