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Often alluding to the heat and humidity, Baker suggested at one point that photo hounds snap away before her inevitable meltdown. Yet she paced herself so well that the concert ended on a high note, with an extended and improvised series of encores that included "Angel," "My Funny Valentine" and "Fairy Tales."
-- Mike Joyce
Wagner Society Singers
The golden age for Wagner singing has passed, but the Wagner Society of Washington is trying to remedy that with its emerging singers program. Under its auspices, soprano Evelyn Lear has coached four singers, presenting them in an 80-minute concert Friday night at the German Embassy. Lear's hyperbolic narration left no doubt of the brilliance of each of her charges, though she could not remember some of their names.
Each singer on the program had attractive moments. Most striking were the Brunnhilde excerpts by soprano Valerie Bernhardt, with a ringing tone on the "Hojotoho!" shouts, along with clarity (alternately tender and piercing) in the immolation scene. Baritone Ryan Kinsella tried to channel Lear's late husband, the Wagnerian baritone Thomas Stewart, in the Dutchman's Act 1 monologue. Kinsella had an intense presence, with the voice a little compressed at the top, except when he opened up at the words "Never death!"
In the scene that ends the first act of "Die Walkure," soprano Julia Rowling had a rounded and rich low range as Sieglinde, but the high notes, which can come out of nowhere, needed some more burnishing. Tenor Bryan Register's Siegmund had a fluttering vibrato that played havoc with intonation, and he lacked that last bit of power for the duet's ecstatic ending.
Accompanist Betty Bullock gave a consistently sensitive approximation of the orchestral fabric of leitmotifs at the piano.
-- Charles T. Downey
Most instrumental-rock groups, no matter how they struggle against the tyranny of song form, end up sounding like novelty acts. Battles, which played Saturday night at the 9:30 club, could also be dismissed as a mere curiosity. Yet there was nothing "mere" about the New York quartet's walloping performance, which was looser, nuttier and more compelling than the band's debut album, "Mirrored."
Battles' lineup might seem traditional: a drummer, a bassist and two guitarist-keyboardists, one of whom occasionally vocalizes. But their music is prog-rock that has been reverse-engineered from techno, with even the live instruments treated to sound electronic. Instrumental riffs and vocal bits were sampled on the spot, becoming loops that underpinned the ensuing passages; and all the musicians save drummer John Stanier toyed with their instruments as much as they actually played them. Tyondai Braxton (son of avant-jazz elder Anthony Braxton) and Ian Williams wore guitars around their necks for most of the 70-minute set, but rarely used them. The evening's biggest crowd-pleaser, the cantering "Atlas," featured only a few scattered shards of guitar.
If the performance revealed the extent of Battles' reliance on synthesized timbres, it also spotlighted the crucial difference between the band and most techno outfits: Stanier's stripped-down drum kit is the crux of the sound. All four players contributed heavily to the complex rhythms, but it was the extraordinary drummer's fluid, muscular beats that allowed the music to breathe. Whether leading the assault or signaling a tempo change, Stanier was always at the heart of Battles.
-- Mark Jenkins