The Brentano String Quartet was in fine form. Cynthia Word, below, and her troupe channeled Isadora Duncan.
The Brentano String Quartet was in fine form. Cynthia Word, below, and her troupe channeled Isadora Duncan. (By Christian Steiner)
Saturday, May 3, 2008

Brentano String Quartet

Few ensembles take more of an intellectual approach to music than the Brentano String Quartet, and that is meant in the very best sense: They're not persnickety but joyously inquisitive. At the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Thursday evening, the quartet thoughtfully plumbed the notion of "late style," music written near the end of the lives of great creators and considered especially refined and profound.

The conceit led to a terrific program of Mozart, Elliott Carter, Bach and Bartok, but surprisingly no Beethoven (whose sublime, otherworldly last quartets gave rise to the whole idea of musical late style). Each work received the sensitive, carefully balanced and vibrant performance so typical of a Brentano concert.

Mozart's B-flat Quartet, K. 589, emerged with grace and buoyancy, while lush melodies occasionally pierced through the density and angularity of Carter's 1997 piano quintet; Thomas Sauer was the fine soloist. A poignant reading of the final uncompleted movement of Bach's "Art of Fugue" merged right into the bleak and austere textures of Bartok's Sixth Quartet.

The Brentano made no ultimate statement on the idea of a late style, but such resplendent playing revealed how each composer seamlessly integrated qualities of emotional expression with more objective abstraction. A sureness of craft and a confidence of voice were patently there in each score. And each, including the Carter that is so frequently dubbed forbidding and tough, spoke to the heart and passions as much as the mind and intellect.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

World Dance Theater

"The Dances of Isadora Duncan" provided a rare treat for Washington audiences: the chance to see live the work of one of the founders of modern dance. The 10 short pieces presented by Word Dance Theater at the Ratner Museum in Bethesda on Thursday night were interspersed with commentaries from the dancers.

Duncan, who performed predominantly in Europe in the early 20th century until her untimely death in 1927, left a legacy of choreography that has been preserved and reconstructed through the lineage of her dancers and their students.

The works, mostly solos, were brilliantly performed by three experienced and knowledgeable Duncan-style dancers -- Cynthia Word, Valerie Durham and Ingrid Zimmer. "Prelude"(1902) was a spare, meditative solo performed by Word walking carefully across the stage, occasionally stopping to gesture toward a heavenly realm. Also engaging the theme of spirituality, a favorite of Duncan, was "Angel and Spirit Rising"(1910), danced by Zimmer in a billowing white silk tunic. Her body seemed to float across the stage, like a form-changing cloud, with delicate, fluttering hands reaching toward the sky.

Nature, another favorite theme of Duncan's, was represented by two solos, "Water Study" and "Fire Dance," danced by Word and Durham, respectively. Word whirled across the stage with spiraling arms, the imagery enhanced by her flowing blue scarf tunic. Durham's more spatially confined performance was striking as she stood at center stage, clothed in red, at first flicking her hands until finally the movement grew to consume her whole body like a bonfire.

The final dance of the evening, "Trio Waltz," was a celebration set to Chopin, one of Duncan's favorite composers. The three women, donning jewel-tone gowns, leapt and turned with joyful abandon, an expression of the freedom and creativity that Duncan believed resided in all people.

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