Performing Arts

Soprano Abigail Haynes Lennox was the soloist with Inscape.
Soprano Abigail Haynes Lennox was the soloist with Inscape.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Inscape Chamber Orchestra

Exotic locales are natural daydreams on a cold, rainy day, and Inscape Chamber Orchestra encouraged such fantasies at Bethesda's Episcopal Church of the Redeemer on Sunday with a program of works by Maurice Ravel, Maurice Delage, Joseph Hallman and Paul Hindemith.

In Ravel's "Soupir" ("Sigh"), the first of three settings of poems by Stéphane Mallarmé, pure-voiced soprano Abigail Haynes Lennox exuded the "infinite languor" of which the poet wrote. But although the set's orchestration is relatively light, it surges and deepens at many points, with penetrating glints from the woodwinds -- too much for Lennox's compact sound.

"Quatres Poèmes Hindous" ("Four Hindu Poems") by Delage, a Ravel pupil, contained similar passages of voluptuous color on a subdued backdrop, with quavering melismas and bent cello pitches setting the scene. In these works especially, Artistic Director Richard Scerbo led with fluidity and elegance.

Hallman's "Three Poems of Jessica Hornick," a world premiere, had features reminiscent of Dominick Argento, contemporary soundscapes and Renaissance music. Most memorable were its interlude and epilogue, with all instruments rambunctiously experimenting and the singer vocalizing to piccolo heights. Better vocally suited to this work, Lennox was radiant.

The most intriguing arias, however, came from the orchestra. In Hindemith's "Hérodiade" ballet, the title character grapples with complex emotions while talking with her nurse. All the instruments, singly or joined together, took their turns representing Hérodiade's tangled thoughts. The solo-heavy work was a nice way to showcase Inscape's players, though some were distinctly more appealing than others.

-- Ronni Reich

Smithsonian Chamber Players

The fortepiano lies somewhere in the evolutionary path leading from the harpsichord and clavichord to today's concert grand. With a lighter framework than the modern piano's, double (instead of triple) stringing for many notes and a smaller range, and with a lighter and shallower action, it has a transparency and agility that make it an ideal foil for mid-19th century composers.

A gorgeous fortepiano built by Maine resident Rodney Regier shared the honors Sunday evening with members of the Smithsonian Chamber Players in a program of the two Mendelssohn piano trios at the Renwick Gallery, and it gave these opulent pieces a lightness and clarity that's not possible with a modern grand in the mix. Pianist Pedja Muzijevic was able to preserve a sense of delicacy amid the avalanche of notes that Mendelssohn threw at him, and cellist Kenneth Slowik and violinist Vera Beths, whose instruments were strung with gut, could dig into their most lyrical passages without overwhelming the piano. The romantic passion was still there. But it was a lithe passion, not an overweight one.

Unsurprisingly, the Chamber Players chose quick tempos. The three are ardent chamber musicians, and the elegant ensemble they achieved in the midst of the scurry of both trios' scherzos had an unpremeditated feeling of total freedom. At the same time, they took a straightforward and matter-of-fact approach to lyrical passages that allowed the music to speak for itself. There was no pulling on the rhythmic flow or wide vibratos for emphasis. There was simply Mendelssohn and the communication of the pleasures of companionable musicmaking.

-- Joan Reinthaler


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