This version of the story has been corrected. A May 7 Style review incorrectly said that Ilana Davidson sang the part of Rosina in the National Philharmonic Opera's "The Barber of Seville" the previous Saturday. The part was sung by Elise Quagliata.
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-- Andrew Lindemann Malone
The Woodley Ensemble, one of Washington's leading chamber groups, sang with gusto and sophistication at St. Columba's Episcopal Church Saturday in a Renaissance program dubbed "Musical Madness."
A madrigal, "Moro, lasso," by the deranged Italian composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, offered the most notorious example of the theme, the prince having murdered his wife and her lover caught in flagrante delicto. Delivered expertly by the singers, Gesualdo's famously shocking madrigal is ripe with deliberate ambivalence, voiced in wildly shifting semitones and perversely contorted harmonies exposing the poem's tortured grief. (The politically powerful composer never went to jail, but the popular belief that his radically expressive music was due to obsessive guilt over his crime has lately been discounted: His psychopathy emerged in his youth.)
The Woodley also gave a magnificent performance of Orlando di Lasso's "Prophetiae Sibyllarum" ("Prophesies of the Sibyl"), a massive series of sacred motets. Under Music Director Frank Albinder, the ensemble met all the music's tortuous harmonic changes and other expressive extremes, including brash changes of pitch and rhythm. Here, as in works by Jacob Handl, Christopher Marshall, Till MacIvor Meyn and an Igor Stravinsky arrangement, the Woodley sang with clean, resonant vowels, immaculate entrances, precise diction and rhythmic agility.
In three settings of unsettling poems by New Zealand composer Marshall (present Saturday), the ensemble easily captured the disturbing essence of the texts, highlighted by absurd melodic twists and pointed dissonances. The singers also gave an expressive account of Meyn's lurid music for Edgar Allan Poe's maniacal "The City in the Sea."
-- Cecelia Porter
American Chamber Players
The American Chamber Players recital at the Library of Congress on Friday presented some refreshingly unhackneyed repertoire. While the program of works for various combinations of instruments represented some heavy-hitting composers, all the music seemed chosen for affability and ease on the ear.
It says much for the evening's breezy tone, in fact, that the most substantial piece played was Beethoven's Septet, Op. 20. An early work scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass, the Septet unfolds in six movements, some of which go on at considerable length. But for all the apparent heftiness in scoring and structure, it stands as one of the composer's lightest works, very much distilling the mood of Mozart's serenades and divertimentos.
The ensemble -- led with verve and flawless phrasing by violinist Joanna Maurer -- offered playing of elegant finish and an apt note of bucolic celebration. Maurer's incisive, sweet-toned work was heard to considerable advantage in American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's cool and emotionally ambiguous Romance for Violin and Piano, for which she was sensitively partnered at the keyboard by Jean-Louis Haguenauer. And although space doesn't permit detailed review of all the fine musicians on the program, flutist Sara Stern deserves special praise for her virtuosic work -- parrying with Alberto Parrini's throaty cello in Martinu's sparkling Trio in F, H. 300, and negotiating the tortuous turns of Saint-Saens's Tarantella with clarinetist Loren Kitt.
-- Joe Banno
The Austrian Cultural Forum continued its six-week-long "An das Lied" series Friday night with a recital by tenor Johannes Foettinger and pianist Markus Vorzellner at the Austrian Embassy. The program, "The Diversity of 20th Century Song," sampled Vienna's conflicting musical trends -- forward- and backward-looking -- in the first half of the 20th century.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold's "Songs of the Clown" did not introduce Foettinger in a flattering way: His stilted English diction and tight vocal production hampered the slight charms these songs have to offer.