PERFORMING ARTS

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Blonde Redhead

Despite the fervency of the fans at the 9:30 club Sunday, New York art-rock trio Blonde Redhead presented like a breathing museum piece, on display to be observed but not interacted with.

Forget crowd-warming -- the only call-and-response in evidence was performance followed by applause.

The effect was understated and theatrical, just like the music on the group's new album, "23." Kazu Makino and brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace drew heavily from their latest release for their short set, avoiding nearly all material that predates their 2004 album, "Misery Is a Butterfly." As a result, the bass-less band moved away from its penchant for dissonant, Sonic Youth-ish edges and toward layered, dream-poppy indulgence that made the show's best numbers mesmerizing and the worst ponderous (although their looped re-creations of their studio work was always impressive).

Makino, who also contributes on guitar and keyboards, largely kept her high voice eerie and soft, occasionally breaking into Bjorkian wails when the group thrillingly allowed its controlled noise to explode.

The singer danced with odd-bird jerks and flung her hair around, and was only drawn into responding to the audience with a mumbled joke when someone requested a song during a quiet moment. When another fan shouted "I love you!," however, she wisely retreated to her between-song silent treatment.

-- Tricia Olszewski

Choral Arts Society

Concerts by the Choral Arts Society of Washington are one of life's few truly reliable pleasures: Artistic Director Norman Scribner has sophisticated, imaginative taste, and the ensemble sounds more precise and integrated with every performance. That was the case, anyway, on Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center, where the chorus turned in deeply satisfying accounts of Mozart, Gershwin and the American composer Morten Lauridsen.

Mozart's Mass in C, K. 337 ("Missa Solemnis"), is often overlooked; it's rather brief for a Mass and lacks the renown of his famous "Coronation Mass." But it's a beautiful work with no lack of surprising turns and moving depths, and Scribner led the group's Chamber Choir in an intense, focused reading, with soprano Theresa Severin soaring through one achingly beautiful solo after another.

The concert version of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" (which headlined the concert) links a dozen of the opera's crowd-pleasers, and Joseph Holt conducted a lively, uninhibited performance. Things got off to a slow start with a rather timid "Summertime," but soprano Janice Chandler Eteme and baritone Alvy Powell quickly loosened up and turned in some gorgeous singing, while Holt spurred orchestra and chorus cheerfully into the rafters.

But it was Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna" that stole the show. Built on liturgical texts that all have to do with light, this 1997 work is absolutely radiant -- even exalting -- with a kind of rapturous joy running through it. Scribner led a lyrical, delicately nuanced performance that was not only stunningly beautiful, but had the rare and unmistakable ring of truth in every note.

-- Stephen Brookes

Lise de la Salle

At 19, pianist Lise de la Salle already has Prokofiev well in hand -- both hands. The second half of her Sunday recital at the Mansion at Strathmore was all Prokofiev, and it was a triumph. De la Salle did not so much play the Sonata No. 3 as attack it, using the contrasting delicate episodes to make the return of the Allegro tempestoso that much more intense.

There was plenty of surface flash in "The Young Juliet," the first of six excerpts from "Romeo and Juliet." The chordal sections of "Minuet" and dissonant grotesqueries of "Masks" were intense. "The Montagues and Capulets" was dramatic, as were the quick rhythmic changes of "Mercutio." But the emotionalism of "Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell" seemed more feigned than genuine.

De la Salle was at her pinnacle in the explosive sonic eruptions of the Toccata, Op. 11, with its perpetuum- mobile flavor and tremendously difficult hand crossings.

The program's all-Mozart first half was not quite as successful. Mozart's piano music looks easier on the page than Prokofiev's, but it requires an interpretative maturity that de la Salle does not have quite yet. The pseudo-orchestral Sonata in D, K. 284, was a little pedal-heavy, its elegant side subsumed into overdone drama. The dark-hued Rondo in A Minor, K. 511, was lacking in nuance. And the "Variations on 'Ah, Vous Dirai-Je Maman' " ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star") were more serious and forceful than necessary. It is a fair bet that the talented de la Salle's Mozart will sound quite different in 10 years -- or even five.

-- Mark J. Estren

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