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CHRISTMAS MUSIC

The Kennedy Center singalong always draws a large and eager crowd, as here in 2002.
The Kennedy Center singalong always draws a large and eager crowd, as here in 2002. (By Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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Cathedral Choral Society

On Sunday, the Cathedral Choral Society's annual "Joy of Christmas" concert packed all it could into Washington National Cathedral: the Choral Society itself and Music Director J. Reilly Lewis, the Children's Chorus of Washington and Artistic Director Joan Gregoryk, the Washington Symphonic Brass, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani, organist Scott Dettra and carillonneur Edward Nassor. There may also have been a partridge in a pear tree.

These excellent performers gave a program concentrating on modern carols that use ancient texts and musical materials. For example, John Tavener's "Remember, O Thou Man," receiving its world premiere, contrasted jubilant phrases with haunting repetitions of its title. Medieval texts also shone in David Sydney Morgan's bouncy "Make We Joy Now in This Feast" and Paul Trepte's shimmering arrangement of the French carol "People, Look East."

Washington composer John Pickard's setting of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," another world premiere, made a fine-grained, imaginative contrast to the familiar Lewis H. Redner setting of the same text. Geraint Lewis's "Tawel Nos" (Welsh for "silent night"), receiving its Washington premiere, soared on a rapt whisper of sound from Kampani and the Choral Society.

The Children's Chorus was in fine voice as well, but the concert's most memorable moment was Kampani's clarion reading of "Adeste Fidelis" from the back of the nave, just before the audience began singing the English version, "O Come All Ye Faithful."

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

Kennedy Center Chamber Players

Aconcert need not be cohesive to be delightful. Case in point: The Kennedy Center Chamber Players at the Terrace Theater on Sunday -- six people plus three disparate pieces added up to plenty of enjoyment.

Clarinetist Loren Kitt, cellist David Hardy and pianist Lambert Orkis handled Beethoven's Trio No. 4 in B-flat, Op. 11 ("Gassenhauer"), with grace and charm. The work's title means "popular song" and refers to the melody of the finale, a big hit in 1797 (from a then-popular opera). This is a jaunty tune of no great profundity, whose variations -- from speedy to thoughtful to martial -- were all played with aplomb.

Orkis went solo in Crumb's "A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979," which Crumb wrote for him. This 15-minute work elicits the many sounds of a "prepared piano," but from an unaltered instrument played from within as well as from the keyboard. The piano's percussive qualities were at once emphasized and attenuated, as Orkis brought forth harmonics, plucking, strumming, and chimes-like and harpsichord-like sounds by stroking and pinching strings and using his palms to mute them. The work is impressionism, Crumb style, of medieval Nativity frescoes. Its predominant impression is of quiet -- which could be awe or emptiness.

For Brahms's wonderful Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, Kitt and Hardy were joined by violinists Nurit Bar-Josef and Heather Ledoux Green and violist Daniel Foster. The near-intuitive flow among the players made the blending of sonorities seem altogether natural. The result was a dark-hued work burnished until it glowed -- a gorgeous capstone for a variegated program.

-- Mark J. Estren


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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