CLASSICAL MUSIC

Jupiter Quartet, from left, Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel, Liz Freivogel and Daniel McDonough.
Jupiter Quartet, from left, Nelson Lee, Meg Freivogel, Liz Freivogel and Daniel McDonough. (By Christian Steiner)
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Monday, March 31, 2008

Jupiter Quartet

The Jupiter Quartet gave a fine account of itself in works of Mendelssohn, Britten and Brahms on Friday night at the Corcoran Gallery.

The string quartet is well matched technically and personally (including a married couple and two siblings). It is also a high-energy group; the young artists throw themselves into the music with an ardor that at times is near-manic. From the angry snarl (in agitated passages) to the beatific smile (when the music passes into a major key), their faces depict the most intense involvement, which can be amusing, inspiring or irritating to watch, depending on one's temperament. But it is clear that they have worked out every 16th-note and mood change together, and it's always nice to hear complex music rendered with such verve and polish. The quartet's only noticeable weakness is occasionally from its leader, violinist Nelson Lee; his playing is clean and agile, but he uses an intermittent vibrato that tenses up in loud passages.

The Jupiter captured the dolor of Mendelssohn's late F Minor Quartet, with slashing tremolos and a detailed dynamic scheme; the scherzo was particularly affecting. Britten's rarely heard Quartet No. 3 is a very special piece. From its luminous opening with overlapping voices to the tragic tread of the Passacaglia, whose closing pages evoke the spirit of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, this is the work of a master tone-painter and humanist. The Jupiter's performance was exemplary.

The concert concluded with the Brahms Sextet No. 2, with guests Roger Tapping and Natasha Brofsky. Ensemble was a little looser here, but it was a rousing closer.

-- Robert Battey

Guitarist Eleftheria Kotzia

Guitarist Eleftheria Kotzia was among friends when she gave her Saturday evening recital in the warm acoustics of Bethesda's Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ. The Greek virtuoso's appearance was part of the International Conservatory of Music's John E. Marlow Guitar Series, which has put on high-end classical concerts over 14 seasons. The picnic-like atmosphere -- complete with guitar raffle and a witty emcee -- gave the impression of immersion in a hospitable guitar cult.

Kotzia's comfort -- aside from negotiating the steep steps of the makeshift, high-in-the-sky playing platform -- translated into vivid and energetic performances. Most of the concert was given over to scores of little-known Greek composers, evoking images of sun-drenched sea horizons, ancient myths and wild folk dances. Technique assured, Kotzia had a good sense of the music from front to back, bringing out in the contrasts between main themes and accompanying harmonies in Mikis Theodorakis's "Four Epitaphs." A bold rendition of Evangelos Boudounis's "Spring Songs" revealed pop and jazz influences, and she made Dimitri Fampas's "Three Greek Dances" ripple with energy.

In the recital's second half, Kotzia paid respect to the modern classical guitar's Spanish and Latin American roots with soulful and buoyant readings of works by such masters as Rodrigo and Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Kotzia's colorful playing must have been inspiring for the students in the audience, among them Christopher Philip Moy, a Levine School of Music student from Silver Spring who recently won the John and Susie Beatty Music Scholarship Competition for Classical Guitar. Moy nicely played a couple of works at the opening, showing signs of promising musicianship.

-- Daniel Ginsberg


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