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Anthony Hamilton; Calexico; Kuss Quartet and Loudoun Lyric Opera

Kuss Quartet

There was tension in the air Thursday night at the Library of Congress. The young, forward-thinking Kuss Quartet was in town, and amid the cozy offerings of Haydn and Schubert was a work by Helmut Lachenmann, the hyper-modernist German composer whose ear-scorching works turn instruments into scraping, hissing noisemakers.

So we hunkered down with our fingers by our ears, ready for the onslaught. But Lachenmann's String Quartet No. 3 ("Grido") turned out to be an absolutely astounding and captivating piece of music, a marvel of invention and -- for all its strangeness -- undeniable beauty. Sure, Lachenmann pushes the sound palette into sometimes harsh areas. But he does it with such seamless logic and full-throttle imagination that the work unfolds as a gripping narrative from beginning to end.

Not everyone agreed, alas ("the worst piece of music I've heard in 25 years," one listener observed). But Lachenmann is clearly a composer of extraordinary gifts, and "Grido" ranks -- to these ears anyway -- among the most notable new works of the past decade. The rest of the evening, by comparison, felt like pudding -- comforting pieces played well but without a lot of poetry or depth. Haydn's String Quartet in D, Op. 64, "Lark," made for an amiable start to the concert, and if you like your Haydn slightly chilled, you were in luck. Schubert's String Quartet in A Minor (D. 804), "Rosamunde," followed the Lachenmann and was balm to many ears, but it, too, was an oddly restrained performance; warm and pretty but too polite to set the room on fire.

-- Stephen Brookes

'Gianni Schicchi'

It was a dark and foggy night -- outside. In the Monroe Auditorium at the Leesburg Leisure World on Thursday evening, all was cheerful and witty in Loudoun Lyric Opera's production of Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi."

Despite some rough edges, a sense of fun propelled the production. The story of Dante's 13th-century malefactor, who cheated the Donati family while pretending to help it, is updated to 1923 -- making costuming easier but creating anachronistic references to Giotto, the Medicis and Dante himself.

Puccini's Schicchi is motivated by love for his daughter, Lauretta. Daryl Ott's bluff, blustering, rather ragged voice -- which showed warmth in "Addiom Firenze" -- contrasted nicely with that of Adrianna Sgarlata, who sang "O mio babbino caro" in a light, sweet, slightly breathy soprano.

As her lover, Rinuccio, Keith Craig emoted well, but his voice, thin on top, was not equal to "Firenze รจ come un albero fiorito." Bailey Whiteman was both imperious and vocally strong as the odious family matriarch, Zita. Smaller roles were nicely handled, with Robert Thomson III as a buffoonish Dr. Spinellocio and third-graders Alexander and Daniel Butler (sons of LLO President Pamela Butler) amusing as put-upon messengers.

The 18-month-old company's music director, Cuong Hung Van, cued the cast clearly and provided more-than-serviceable piano accompaniment.

The performance repeats at 8 p.m. today at St. David's Episcopal Church in Ashburn and at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Carver Center Theater in Purcellville.

-- Mark J. Estren


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