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Baths and Braids highlight youthful show

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But floating atop this deceptively spare instrumentation were agile melodies and shimmering harmony vocals - utterly mesmerizing and with more than a hint of the English folk-ballad tradition and the sophistication of Leonard Cohen.

White deftly switched from pick to fingerstyle guitar, and he seemed particularly to enjoy the waltz time signature. On the pulsating title track "Barton Hollow," he played a dark-sounding resonator guitar.

The softness of Williams's soprano counterbalanced White's Americana grit. On the melancholy "Falling," she made a breakup - "I can't help falling out of love with you" - sound like the sweetest dream. When they traded lines, as on "Birds of a Feather," it was like a perfect vocal cocktail.

Their seemingly oddball rendition of the traditionally chipper "You Are My Sunshine" exposed the standard's lyrics for what they are: incredibly depressing.

The audience was reverently hushed for much of Civil Wars' set. But Williams and White broke the ice with an out-of-left-field coffeehouse cover: Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."

Even on a lonely acoustic guitar, the groove was irrepressible.

- Scott Galupo

New York Festival of Song

If you flip through the more than 100 programs that pianist, coach, scholar and impresario Steven Blier has crafted for his New York Festival of Song productions over the years, it is clear that the night and all its possibilities loom large in his imagination. The recital-cum-theater piece that Blier and his artistic partner, ael Barrett, brought to the University of Maryland's small Gildenhorn Recital Hall on Saturday, titled "Night & Day/USA: Americans Working and Dreaming," featured sleep, or lack of, as a framework for songs of work's pleasures and drudgeries, its humor and humiliations.

These were all American songs - the oldest one, Ives's gentle setting of "In the Morning" - and most fit comfortably into the cabaret category. But Blier has always embraced good popular song with the same seriousness and respect he has accorded the art song repertoire, and the evening's splendid performances - by soprano Sari Gruber, mezzo-soprano Liza Forrester and baritone James Martin (with a cameo appearance by tenor Joe Shadday, a University of Maryland graduate student) - were as notable for their musical subtlety as they were for their sharp and deliciously spicy theatricality.

In songs by Bernstein and Bolcum, Weill, Rorem, Hoiby, Cole Porter, Waits and others (some songs that Blier dug deeply to unearth), diction was immaculate. There was as much power expressed in the softest lines of Jerry Leiber's "I Ain't Here" as there was tenderness in the robustness of Porter's "Dream Dancing" - and it was in "Dream Dancing" that Blier took the wraps off his pianism and let loose on Porter's swing with exuberant sexuality.

Blier, who shared the accompanying role with Barrett, was, as usual, also the master of ceremonies, knitting the program together with a sophisticated humor and self-revelatory philosophy that gave the evening a feeling of having been a gathering of friends.

- Joan Reinthaler

CLASSICAL MUSIC

Opole, Philharmonicof Poland

The Opole, Philharmonic of Poland orchestra is undertaking its first U.S. tour and appeared Saturday night at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. With the ease of travel and increasing cross-fertilization of musicians throughout the world, the technical level of even provincial bands has risen rapidly in the past few decades. But with this proficiency comes a certain homogeneity, and it is harder and harder to discern any particular national sound or style in orchestras from one country or another. On old recordings, the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra were like red and white wine, and the groups actively maintained their distinctness.

The Opole, 65 years old, is a good mid-level orchestra. But it played a standard repertoire that every other orchestra in the D.C. area does (Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven), and sounded no different. The Opole is roughly at the level of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, though perhaps a little tighter in the strings. The woodwinds were strong (the bassoonist in particular), but the horns were imperfect in attack and intonation.

Music director Boguslaw Dawidow is a warm and urbane musician, but he could certainly demand and get more from this band. Rhythm does not come from his body (as it did with Bernstein or Solti), and musical architecture was often slighted - climaxes rarely made any effect, and the many accents in Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony went for naught.

Pianist Evgeni Mikhailov eschewed any showoff affectation (which always gets points with me), and his efficient technique made light of the virtuoso passage-work in the finale of Chopin's Concerto No. 1. But there was little fantasy, and the slow movement was sluggish.

- Robert Battey


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