Medieval poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut tells of a vision in which he was promised "fame above all other men." The promise was kept; Machaut was both the Beethoven and the Robert Frost of 14th-century France, and his music is still performed today -- twice, recently, in that small corner of Washington that includes the Library of Congress and the Folger.
Music for a While, a skilled ensemble whose instrumental nucleus (Judith Davidoff and LaNoue Davenport) earned towering reputations in the New York Pro Musica, performed Machaut last night at the Library of Congress. The players wore medieval costumes and framed the concert in a loosely woven dramatic structure, with narrator John Genke taking several roles, along with soprano Sheila Schonbrun and countertenor/baritone Christopher Kenny.
The style tended a bit toward blandness, but that may be proper for audiences unfamiliar with the music. Machaut was often treated as a predecessor of the Renaissance; some works sounded like they were trying to be madrigals. A recent Machaut program by the Folger Consort was more rowdy and more interesting, giving some songs a bit of Arabic flavor in keeping with the more radical new theories on this music. The medievalism in "La Fontaine Amoureuse" was old-fashioned, pre-Raphaelite, viewing medieval people (ever so slightly) as figures in painted plaster or stained glass. There is no denying the skill and polish of Music for a While (though a few of the songs seemed pitched at the edge of comfort for the singers' voices). But for those whose interest in medieval music goes beyond a bit of occasional quaintness, the Folger interpretation was considerably more interesting. add e Dumbarton Concert --By Joan Reinthaler Special to The Washington Post
The fourth concert of this season's Dumbarton Concert Series last night brought together the Dubow-Elsing-Weigert Trio and an intrepid audience that dared the elements to enjoy a very nice evening of music.
The program was selected with variety and a change of pace in mind. There was a Mozart Trio to begin with, Ross Lee Finney's expansive Trio No. 2, and, finally, Tchaikovsky's effusive Trio, Op. 50. Mozart wrote trios for less formal occasions and, suitably, this performance, while graceful, had a naive air about it.
Finney's piece is busy but purposeful. He has nice lyrical inclinations and his harmonic vocabulary, while limited, is handled fluently. The ensemble was at its best here and provided a convincing reading.
Tchaikovsky had a fine time with two of the three movements of his essay into what was for him the strange territory of the trio idiom, but then he ran out of steam and ideas. The finale is just a weak echo of the glories of the first movement and the humor and wit of the second. The ensemble also had some problems with the piece, loosing their concentration occasionally in the heat of prolonged romantic fervor.
In some respects these artists were more impressive individually than collectively. Pianist Dionne Weigert is a poetic musician who has a marvelous sense of the movement of a line. Cellist Evelyn Elsing plays with rich breadth, and Marilyn Dubow is a tense but agile violinist. What was missing from their playing was the added dimension of intimate ensemble, something that may develop after more experience together.