Monday, February 12, 2007

Woodley Ensemble

The Woodley Ensemble made a persuasive case for the all-but-forgotten Renaissance composer Jean Richafort Saturday afternoon at St. Mark's Episcopal Churchon Capitol Hill. Music Director Frank Albinder elected to present the seven movements of Richafort's Requiem, in their local premiere, dispersed between motets by 20th-century French composers Saint-Saëns, Duruflé, Messiaen, Villette and Poulenc.

By alternating Renaissance and modern works, Albinder was able to showcase his ensemble's stylistic versatility. The 17-voice group etched line and harmony clearly in music dense with interweaving voices and rife with dissonance. Albinder is to be praised for creating a clean and unified sound, one that bears the imprint of Tallis Scholars Director Peter Phillips, with whom the ensemble has collaborated on several occasions.

While providing a vehicle for the ensemble's mastery of 20th-century style (notably the choral-tuning-as-extreme-sport heroics of Messiaen's "O Sacrum Convivium" and the simply beautiful lyricism of Villette's "Jesu Dulcis Memoria"), the sandwich approach did not necessarily enhance the audience's first hearing of Richafort's Requiem.

Written in about 1521, the work is structured around two musical snatches borrowed from Josquin des Prez and set strictly in canon form throughout. This is challenging stuff: To trace Richafort's elaborate manipulation of borrowed material, listeners might do better to hear the whole Requiem uninterrupted, rather than have its movements interspersed with other music. Programming quibbles aside, Albinder and the Woodley Ensemble are to be commended for resurrecting this unjustly neglected Renaissance work.

-- Sarah Hoover

Daniel Bernard Roumain and Co.

If the sound of being alive is the wailing of a violin, then the stage was teeming with life Friday night at the Library of Congress.

Armed with electric string instruments and keyboard, two laptops, two turntables and two microphones, composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and six fellow musicians set out to validate that assertion -- and they succeeded, with a lively, determined performance of original works.

Roumain's compositions are as much an amalgam of musical styles as they are a blend of culture and history.

The classical string quartet meets the rhythms of hip-hop, funk and more in "A Civil Rights Reader," comprising four string quartets depicting key figures from that era.

With a stomp on a pedal, Roumain's plugged-in violin became an electric guitar in String Quartet No. 2 ("Martin Luther King"). He sang as he drew his bow across the instrument.

The Mission SQ Unit -- electric violinists Earl Maneein and Matthew Szemela, violist Jon Weber and cellist Jessie Reagan -- jammed with vigor in the catchy riffs of String Quartets No. 3 ("Adam Clayton Powell") and No. 4 ("Maya Angelou"), while DJ Scientific spun the turntables and vocally produced drumbeats.

In the world premiere of Numerical Music for Violin and Keyboard in Four Movements, Roumain and Wynne Bennett journeyed through pulsating patterns and melodies reminiscent of Philip Glass.

But it was Roumain's intense, meditative encore on a Stradivarius violin once played by Fritz Kreisler that served as a reminder to live life freely.

-- Grace Jean

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