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Kronos Quartet, Wu Man, Post-Classical Ensemble, Moscow State orchestra


Post-Classical Ensemble

In the Post-Classical Ensemble's all-Liszt, "Angels and Devils" program at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall on Saturday night, contemplative works were set beside music of a more "demonic" character, highlighting a dialectic this composer explored throughout his career.

If the angels ultimately won the evening, that was due in large part to pianist Mykola Suk, whose reading of the great B Minor Piano Sonata sidestepped granitic force and rhetorical showboating in favor of an introspection that hinted at the spiritual. Suk's solo playing in the irredeemably kitschy concerto "Totentanz" was also remarkably nuanced, its many iterations of the "Dies Irae" theme directed inward, rather than toward the balcony. Conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez drew lovely, chamberlike sonorities from the Ensemble orchestra, both here and in the "Pastorale" movement from the oratorio "Christus," where some ravishing wind playing brought to mind Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll."

The more overtly "angelic" music on the program -- the late-career choruses "Inno a Maria Vergine" and "Ave Verum Corpus" (written when Liszt took priestly vows) -- bask in an airy, Italianate lyricism that is leagues away from the extroversion of "Totentanz." If the performances by the Georgetown University Chamber Singers, under conductor Frederick Binkholder, were not the last word in ensemble attack or seamless blending, the warmth and commitment of their phrasing was unmistakable.

Now, if only someone could fix the long-ailing Gaston Hall heating system, its incessant clanking and squeaking wouldn't continue to ruin the experience of classical music in this gorgeous venue.

-- Joe Banno


Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra

The Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra, a medium-size ensemble, is perhaps a little underpowered for the program of Russian romantic works it brought to George Mason University's Center for the Arts on Saturday. Its mission, however, is to broadcast the glories of the 18th-through-20th-century repertoire to the Russian hinterlands and, for a studio-based task such as that, it is probably ideally proportioned.

The conservative path that conductor Alexei Kornienko steered through Rimsky-Korsakov's Overture to "The Tsar's Bride" and his sprawling orchestral suite "Scheherazade" served to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of the orchestra. With undersize sonorities, the elegant statement of a well-balanced and agile woodwind section were easily heard, and the "Scheherazade" violin solos, played impressively by the concertmaster, emerged in sinuous and sensual lines. On the other hand, sloppy entrances and string fuzziness that might have been covered up by more expansive sounds weren't, and the brass sounded remarkably spineless.

It is clear why 21-year-old pianist Alexander Sinchuk won the 2009 International Rachmaninoff Piano Competition in Moscow. His performance of the Rachmaninoff "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" was all light, energy and balance. Those same virtues, however, were not nearly as poetic when applied to the Chopin etude he played as an encore.

Cellist Julian Schwarz was the soloist in the Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme, an ideal piece for a young (Schwarz is 18), emerging musician with solid technique and some interesting ideas. The son of Seattle Symphony Orchestra conductor Gerard Schwarz, he found the songlike qualities in this music, shaped it with poetic inflection and delivered it with a compelling warmth.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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