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Such songs as "Africa'' and "Xarit'' were sung mostly in Wolof, with snatches of French and English. The music roved more widely, from desert blues to jazz-rock to a drum solo that (briefly) emulated such British bashers as Keith Moon and John Bonham. The two guitarists employed a bright, chiming tone that made the group sound like an all-percussion orchestra, but Ndiaye sometimes switched to reggae's chunky strum, providing both rhythmic and tonal contrast. The band's style was so wide-ranging that a klezmer interlude wouldn't have come as a great surprise.
While Ndiaye did some exuberant high-stepping, few in the audience were inspired to dance. The venue's high-ceilinged grandeur no doubt discouraged some potential hoofers, but the music itself was a bit intimidating. With their shifting cadences and avoidance of vocal refrains, Ndiaye's songs lacked the easily grasped hooks of Western pop. Though tracking the group's musical permutations was challenging, it was rewarding.
- Mark Jenkins
A chamber ensemble from the National Philharmonic drew ovations from a full house Saturday night when it played at Strathmore's concert hall in Bethesda. Under conductor Piotr Gajewski, the program, all for string orchestra, was an expectedly winning one, pairing Tchaikovsky's familiar Serenade in C, Op. 48, with Vivaldi's equally popular "Four Seasons," Op. 8, with Korean-born violinist Chee-Yun as the soloist. The National Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster, Nurit Bar-Josef, also starred in the Vivaldi, teaming up with Chee-Yun in some fast and furious episodes of virtuoso figuration.
A supremely taxing work for every player, the Vivaldi is really four concertos wrapped into a sequence of movements that pictured landscapes reflecting spring, summer, fall and winter. The composer calibrated timbres and textures to accompany his own descriptive sonnets that speak of Mother Nature's seductive birdcalls, rippling brooks, crashing thunderstorms or even a lazy summer day. (Contrary to traditional commentary, you can't chalk up Vivaldi's fanciful, if naive, reflection of moods as a first example of programmatic music; it has thrived for centuries. And, interestingly, other composers besides Vivaldi have come up with Four Seasons music, including Franz-Joseph Haydn's oratorio of that name and Astor Piazzolla's "Four Seasons" depicting Buenos Aires street scenes popping with tango rhythms.)
Chee-Yun met all the technical demands of this music and then some. At once playful and passionate, her bow was consistently precise even at NASCAR speed. Her tremolos shimmered and tender lyricism pervaded slow movements while she moved seamlessly between rapid-fire shifts as soloist or member of the full orchestra. Gajewski guided the orchestra in an energetic, nuanced partnership with the soloist, deftly coaxing without forcing Vivaldi's relentless underlying beat.
The concert opened with a sometimes amiable, sometimes impassioned performance of the Tchaikovsky Serenade, transporting listeners to a melancholy born of the endless Russian steppes. Strathmore's well-balanced acoustics supported the chamber orchestra's focused, full-bodied sound.
One distraction, however, plagued the evening: disruptive clapping after every one of the movements of both works. A pre-performance announcement could have warded off these interruptions.
- Cecelia H. Porter
For a program at the Washington National Cathedral on Friday evening, the Folger Consort assembled a 19-piece chamber orchestra of guest artists to play a work of uncharacteristically recent vintage for these early-music specialists, John Cage's "The Seasons."
Written before Cage's name became synonymous with avant-garde provocation, "The Seasons" is an accessibly modernist work that offers bursts and shimmers of seductive color. The Folger Consort offered an arrangement incorporating period strings, synthesizers and the contemporary percussion the score calls for, which lent the writing a strikingly spare, almost Bartokian chill.
It was tempting to hear the blazing summer sun or the rumbling of autumn storms in Cage's strangely beautiful score. But the composer was exploring philosophical influences from India here, so the aural pictures were likely more of the listener's creation.
There was little in the way of specific "seasonal" evocation in a set of four "Fancy" movements from 17th-century violist Christopher Simpson's "Seasons" suites. Arresting contrapuntal give-and-take and wistful melodies floated above the mournful drones.
A smaller complement of musicians played the Simpson pieces with verve, if not always with shared notions of intonation.
In Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," the full orchestra made an appealingly gutsy sound and brought the score's piquant inner voices nicely to the fore, if often at rather dogged, foot-dragging tempos.
Aside from recurrent flatness in the opening movement of the "Autumn" concerto (which went well beyond the faux-drunken playfulness written into the piece), Julie Andrijeski gave a warm,wittily inflected reading of the violin solos.
- Joe Banno