Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Choral Arts Society

The Kennedy Center was decked with boughs of holly Monday night for the opening of the Choral Arts Society's annual Christmas concerts. As expected, it was a hugely enjoyable evening that mixed the familiar with the fresh, showcasing the talents not only of the chorus (under the venerable Norman Scribner), but also of renowned mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore and the talented American Youth Philharmonic.

Opening with the austere and stately 14th-century carol "Angelus ad Virginem" and closing with a singalong version of "Jingle Bells," the program had something for everyone. There were classic choral works (the "Gloria" from Bach's B Minor Mass), recent pieces (John Pickard's lyrical "Beneath the Stars") and -- of course -- carols in abundance, many with a distinct Tyrolean flavor. The ethereal Austrian song "Still Still Still" and a moving re-creation of the original guitar-and-voice version of "Silent Night," as it was first performed in a small church in Austria in 1818, were particular standouts.

Larmore is one of the world's top mezzos, and though the program didn't give her many opportunities to display her fabled virtuosity (her singing, in fact, was a bit understated), she used her dark, rich sound to great effect, particularly in the "Laudamus Te" from Mozart's Mass in C Minor. And while she and the chorus turned in powerful performances, it was the Youth Philharmonic (under the baton of Luis Haza) that stole the show. Made up mostly of high school students, the orchestra played with dazzling precision, delicacy and style, particularly during the purely orchestral selections, like Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride."

The performance will be repeated tonight at the Music Center at Strathmore and Friday afternoon in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall -- a great opportunity not only to hear some of the best Christmas music around, but to catch some young performers who deserve to be more widely heard.

-- Stephen Brookes

Rob Tannenbaum

"Senator Allen, are you here? We want you to come up and sing 'Hava Nagila' with us," Rob Tannenbaum gleefully announced Monday night at the first of two sold-out shows at Jammin' Java (the senator from Virginia was, alas, not present).

Tannenbaum, a music editor at Blender magazine and an occasional guest on VH1, had done a song and standup comedy revue since the late '90s with Sean Altman called "What I Like About Jew."

Though they no longer perform together, Tannenbaum's new show, "Good for the Jews," happily emphasized the "What I Like" catalogue. Now joined by guitarist David Fagin from the band the Rosenbergs, Tannenbaum, in red velvet jacket and ruffled shirt, led the duo through an often-funny set that displayed his shtick -- a mixture of Jewish pride, cultural self-mockery and potty-mouthed innuendo.

The New York-based duo opened with "Today I Am a Man," a harmony-filled bar mitzvah ode that meshed sweet phrasing ("At least I'll get to slow-dance with Emily / I wish she wasn't eight inches taller than me") with trashier puberty humor. Although he can run a theme into the ground (Jewish mothers wondering when their sons are gonna get married) and overdoes the jokey patter, he rebounded with speedy numbers like "Jews for Jesus," with its lament that "like mayonnaise on rye, you make your bubbe cry." In his sole new composition, "Song for Mel Gibson (I'm Full of Love for All)," Tannenbaum portrayed the actor-director blundering through a plea for forgiveness with statements like "reviews of my last movie were great in Iran and France." The twosome closed out with the almost tender "It's Good to Be a Jew at Christmas" ("We got eight nights, they got just one").

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