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National Philharmonic

It was surprising to see Beethoven's monumental Ninth Symphony squeezed into the post-intermission slot -- behind Andreas Makris's "Strathmore" Overture and Henryk Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2 -- at the National Philharmonic's concert Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore.

But this was no monumental Ninth. Conductor Piotr Gajewski made the historically informed choice to observe the composer's fast metronome markings, pursuing them so doggedly that the performance flew by in an efficient, nearly featureless blur. The performance lacked the elasticity of phrasing, emboldened wind and brass lines and whip-crack accents that breathe life into the best authenticist readings of the piece. If his fleet treatment of the slow movement worked -- really making it sound like an urgently sung aria for orchestra -- parts of the Scherzo and Finale were almost comically rushed off their feet.

Gajewski was, however, able to draw committed and polished playing from the orchestra, a robust response from the National Philharmonic Chorale (the sopranos clarion and undaunted by Beethoven's punishing writing) and full-throated singing from his soloists (Linda Mabbs, Patricia Miller, John Aler and Kevin Deas).

Earlier in the evening, violinist Mariusz Patyra dazzled in the Wieniawski with sweet, often luscious tone, superb technique and a boldly projected sound. And the overture (commissioned for the philharmonic's 2005 debut in this hall) fascinated with its satirical treatment of oversize symphonic rhetoric. More music by Makris might have proved a wiser choice after intermission.

-- Joe Banno

Musica Aperta

The Sunday concerts at the National Gallery of Art are one of the city's treasures, a regular dose of well-performed music that requires no ticket or reservation fee. For the opening of the museum's fall season Sunday night, Musica Aperta premiered "Mystics," a thought-provoking theater piece accompanied in part by atmospheric piano music by Arvo Pärt and Federico Mompou.

Fermí Reixach and Scott Morgan portrayed a prisoner and his cruel guard. The only dialogue was drawn from the mystical poetry of Saint John of the Cross, as the two men enacted a stunning reversal of their respective roles. By the end, the saint baptized the guard in the central fountain of the West Garden Court, a gesture recalling his own torture in the opening scenes. Movements from the string quartets of Henryk Górecki provided violent rhythms, with some tuning infelicities made more prominent by amplification. The most beautiful musical moment came from soprano Rosa Lamoreaux's golden-voiced angel, who comforted both prisoner and guard with a radiant performance of Osvaldo Golijov's "Lúa Descolorida."

Two examples of early music, less anachronistic for the time of John of the Cross's imprisonment, were compromised by the addition of Muzak-style soprano saxophone, modeled on Jan Garbarek's "Officium" album. With the National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble physically separated from the saxophone and other instruments during the concluding selection by Cristóbal de Morales, the singers' pitch settled into its own intonation world. It was much more pleasing to hear the group sing unadulterated Renaissance polyphony from the dome of the West Building in the minutes before the concert began.

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