On a sultry day, a flute-lute program easily warmed to

Monday, July 26, 2010

As Saturday's triple-digit temperatures turned the usually bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood into something of a ghost town, it wasn't surprising to see a sparse turnout for the Capitol Hill Chamber Festival's opening program. But the 30-odd souls who braved the swelter heard some lovely rarities for period winds and plucked instruments at St. Mark's Episcopal Church -- albeit in rather purgatorial heat that resulted from air-conditioning being sacrificed for the delicate tone of the instruments.

The first half of the program -- featuring Jeffrey Cohan on Renaissance and baroque flutes and Oleg Timofeyev on lute -- was, indeed, a quiet affair. Much of the musicmaking had the carrying power of hushed conversation, with the echo phrases of a solo flute piece by 18th-century composer Jacques Hotteterre all but inaudible. But their tenderness of phrasing could often be magical, as in a set of anonymous 17th-century Scottish tunes for solo lute, and a sonata for flute and lute of lively and varied expression by late-baroque composer Nicolas Ch├ędeville.

After intermission, the musical discourse turned more robust, with flutes of later provenance and a Russian seven-string guitar being employed. If Louis Drouet's incessantly busy "God Save the King" Variations overstayed their welcome, a solo guitar fantasia by Russian romantic composer Vasily Sarenko proved arrestingly beautiful. Cohan seemed pushed to the limits of his virtuosity throughout the program, but never produced an ugly note. And while Timofeyev's technique wasn't the cleanest, the buzzing strings and approximately struck notes were easily forgotten beside such stylish playing.

-- Joe Banno

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