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-- Joe Banno

Vanessa Perez

Venezuelan American pianist Vanessa Perez is not to be taken lightly. She stormed through some beautiful works, most of them nearly unplayable, at the Venezuelan Embassy on Thursday, her fiery impetuosity proving her technical prowess in works by Villa-Lobos, Albéniz, Ravel and Rachmaninoff.

Even Mozart's Sonata in F, K. 332, had muscular energy as she raced through the Allegros. The Adagio was pure grace.

Villa-Lobos's "A Lenda do Caboclo" exposed the penetrating darkness and wistful nostalgia of his Brazilian folkloric allusions. In excerpts from Albéniz's Suite "Iberia," Ravel's "Valses nobles et sentimentales" and five of Rachmaninoff's "Moments musicaux," Perez traveled a high-velocity obstacle course of nearly impossible hand-crossings bounding up and down the keyboard and cresting relentlessly in dense clusters of pungent dissonance. Like most pianists attempting these pieces, she missed a few notes.

One only wished for some music with a bit less forte pounding, and for her to take advantage of this Embassy Series event as an opportune time to present works by Venezuelan composers, most of whom are virtually unknown here.

-- Cecelia Porter

Cappella Romana

St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has been around since the mid-6th century and is now a repository of some of the earliest extant notated scores of Byzantine chant. Alexander Lingas and his Cappella Romana brought an evening of this robust and intriguing music to the Freer's Meyer Auditorium on Thursday. They chose portions of a vesper service that would have been sung for a 14th-century feast day of Saint Catherine and excerpts of an Advent liturgical drama, all sung in Greek and all in a subtly ornamented and barely inflected idiom that seemed both solemn and ceremonious.

This is music whose texts are paramount. There is melody and sometimes a solid underpinning of bass pedal point -- but, as with Western chant, nothing to distract from the words or blur their clarity. But where Western chant moves fluidly and outlines the shape of the text, this performance offered squarely cut lines, the ornamental fluttering at the ends of notes barely softening their sharp edges. The seven men of the ensemble blended marvelously but seemed to make a conscious effort to preserve some of the roughness that characterizes "authentic" performances of folk hymns.

Cappella Romana is headquartered in the Northwest and includes in its specialties both early and contemporary music. Its encore, a short contemporary Byzantine hymn, was a more richly colored and softly shaped descendant of what had come before.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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