Washington Chorus at Atlas Performing Arts Center

Friday, March 13, 2009

As a refreshing change from the Washington Chorus's accustomed concert format, their music director, Julian Wachner, presented an evening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Wednesday that focused on music by, and conversations with, a single composer -- Wachner's longtime friend and colleague, Trevor Weston.

Hearing Weston describe his varied musical influences -- everything from Hildegard von Bingen to Kiss, from roots-blues to Bernard Hermann -- one might have expected to hear something more wildly poly-stylistic than his safely neo-Romantic, Anglican-tinged choral writing. Not that there weren't novel features in a couple of the pieces: "The Gentlest Thing" set a harmonically ambiguous trio of solo singers against a warmly tonal background, to sly effect, and the 9/11-inspired "Ashes" introduced affecting moments of aleatoric babbling and call-and-response antiphony between a reduced contingent of the Washington Chorus and their guest-artists, the Congressional Chorus.

But more surprising than anything in those works was the stylistic shift heard in the evening's non-choral music. In both the solo-cello piece, "Arioso" (played masterfully by Steven Honigberg), and the haiku-based "Life Goes," scored for soprano and chamber ensemble, a more angular, emotionally cooler tone took over. Again, these weren't groundbreaking scores -- both were decidedly user-friendly samplings of musical modernism. But "Life Goes" revealed a subtle, kaleidoscopic range of instrumental color, and soprano Julieanne Klein's intense, dark-hued performance brought out the drama under the music's shimmering surface.

The Atlas's mercilessly antiseptic acoustics worked for "Life Goes", but denied the well-honed choral performances the bloom and blend they needed.

-- Joe Banno

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