Arco Voce, With Passion That Came a Bit Late

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

With its core contingent of a violinist, violinist-violist, pianist-harpsichordist and soprano, the chamber group Arco Voce would seem to fit uncomfortably in most periods of Western music. Add a cellist, however, as the musicians did for their performance at the Phillips Collection on Sunday, and the world's chamber repertoire opens to them.

The program was nicely structured to include the music of Schumann, his wife, Clara, and his close friend Brahms (it's the 150th anniversary of Schumann's death). And there was the music of Wolfgang Mozart and his father, Leopold (yes -- we're still celebrating Wolfgang's 250th birthday).

But, as the opening Schumann Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47, made clear, it requires more than the addition of a cellist to take on the world. Schumann expected each musician to be both a team player and a soloist. This ensemble, great at team but puny at solo, seemed too understated to produce a passionate performance. Lines that needed to emerge from the ensemble didn't, and only Steven Silverman on the piano projected the sense of urgency that might have given this music a truly romantic fire.

Confronting several informal divertimenti movements by the Mozarts, however, the strings displayed a jaunty joy and daring that gave this music life and buoyancy. Violinist Elizabeth Field, violist Nina Falk and guest cellist Loretta O'Sullivan collaborated on performances that danced with grace and lightness.

But it took soprano Rosa Lamoreaux to bridge the classical/romantic chasm. She took on songs by Clara and Robert Schumann and Brahms, and settings of "Laudamus Te" from Masses by the two Mozarts, each with its own idiom, and offered poetic and powerfully projected performances that communicated the texts vividly.

-- Joan Reinthaler

© 2006 The Washington Post Company