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Venue Does Inscape Ensemble No Favors

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Classical music offerings typically thin out in the summer, leading hungry music lovers to more out-of-the-way venues as they seek out what remains. The local Inscape Chamber Orchestra has inaugurated an offshoot series of smaller ensemble concerts at its home in the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda, near Glen Echo Park.

The sanctuary is open and airy, though its acoustics are a little turbid for mixed groups. Unfortunately, Bohuslav Martinu's Musique de Chambre No. 1 fell victim, with harp, piano, string trio and clarinet stewing in their juices. The low strings simply dissolved in the texture, which was a pity; this rarely heard, piquant, charming work is always welcome. There were intonation problems, but for the most part, the performers seemed to have it well in hand, particularly pianist Danielle DeSwert.

Next came Berg's Vier Stuecke, Op. 5, a 20th-century masterpiece for clarinet and piano. While the church's Yamaha baby grand made little impression in the soup of the Martinu, in Berg's ripe, post-romantic harmonies, it was almost unattractive. Clarinetist Evan Solomon, however, spun glowing, ecstatic lines.

The final work, Mozart's String Quartet, K. 387, suffered from a lack of warmth and flexibility. One guessed that these very capable players were not an established group. Tempos flowed nicely, but often at the expense of Mozart's detailed scheme of dynamics, and the phrases never relaxed, even for a moment. The first violinist got tangled up in his syncopations at the beginning of the finale, and all of the many solos in the piece felt constricted.

-- Robert Battey

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