Viennese classics Thursday night; Gershwin last night; Wagner, Dvorak and Brahms tonight, with some fiddler named Perlman. In summer concerts at Wolf Trap, the National Symphony's programs change so rapidly that there isn't a whole lot of time for in-depth rehearsals. And most of the time it doesn't matter much, because the programs are usually built with Top 40 classics -- music the orchestra could play in its sleep.
That circumstance explains why Schubert's Fifth Symphony and Beethoven's Seventh sounded so good Thursday night, and Mozart's 16th Piano Concerto -- K. 451 in D -- sounded (particularly at the beginning) a bit ragged around the edges. It didn't help that Jean-Pierre Rampal, the originally scheduled soloist, had to cancel because of bronchitis and pianist Peter Serkin was a late substitute.
But the real problem was that K. 451 stands just outside the standard repertoire; it is not all that difficult, but the players do not have it at their fingertips. Serkin sounded fine; he plays it frequently -- he is scheduled, in fact, to play it four times with the NSO at the end of next April. By then the orchestra's ensemble playing should be a lot better.
Conductor Gunther Herbig led performances that were well disciplined and free of eccentricity. The third movement of the Schubert is often played with more intensity and can bear it, and the second movement of the Beethoven did not need to begin quite so briskly. But these are small points, matters of personal taste. Even at its not-so-bad worst, at the beginning of the Mozart, this program offered a pleasant way to spend a warm summer evening.
The Angry Samoans
The Angry Samoans aren't Samoan, of course, and these days they don't seem very angry either. This quintet of wise-guy part-time rockers from L.A., who once shared the sound though not the spirit of hard-core punk, revealed its current agenda by opening its Thursday show at the 9:30 club with "Next Big Thing," the Dictators' tongue-in-cheek hymn to stardom. "I like the oldies better too," claimed singer and guitarist Mike Saunders, but the band didn't seem nearly as dedicated to hard-core head-banging as did the slam-dancing audience. Though much of the performance was devoted to high-speed early ravers like "I'm in Love with Your Mom," the band seemed most comfortable playing '60s-garage-band tribute songs from its latest record, such as "It's Raining Today."
Opening was the pounding Massachusetts punk-metal trio Dinosaur, whose self-indulgent jams were redeemed by J Mascis' ethereal guitar harmonics.
For a lot of jazz fans, vocalist Chris Connor fell into that "whatever happened to ..." category until she renewed her recording career recently. Best known for her brief stint with the Stan Kenton band and for her subsequent albums, Connor never really quit singing, and her dark voice, unfussy delivery and well-chosen songs still make for a very entertaining combination.
Though her voice has grown huskier, it hasn't lost its appeal. If anything, it seems more intimate, maybe even wiser now. At Cates through Sunday (with pianist Bob Kaye and bassist Steve Novosel), Connor sticks to standards, mostly songs like "Round Midnight," which suit her warm and deliberate phrasing extremely well. When the tempo quickens, she also swings easily, through a brisk Johnny Mercer tune or a samba-soft version of "I Concentrate on You," without losing sight of the lyric.
Kaye, who formerly worked with the Buddy Rich band, is an imposing pianist. Along with Novosel, he provides Connor with strong yet sensitive support.
Eric Bogle had a hard act to follow at Ireland's Four Provinces Tuesday night: a brief recitation of some of the glowing reviews he's received over the years. But the Scottish-born, Australian-based folk singer and songwriter, who accompanies himself on the guitar, soon proved himself worthy of the praise.
Bogle's sharp wit was responsible not only for the amusing anecdotes that punctuated the show but also for such wickedly funny songs as "He's Nobody's Moggy Now," the tale of a cat's unseemly demise, and "Do You Sing Any Dylan?," a folkie's endlessly frustrating quest to keep his own identity.
Even more impressive, though, was Bogle's collection of finely drawn ballads. Although war and social injustice were recurring themes, powerfully stated, tributes to his mother and the late Canadian songwriter Stan Rogers reflected a similar sensitivity and craft. All but a few numbers were nicely fleshed out by bass and lead guitars -- that is, when the sound system wasn't acting up. Manchester String Quartet
A large crowd was richly rewarded as it braved the heat to hear the Manchester String Quartet play a trio of works by a masterful jokester, a teen whiz kid and a budding revolutionary Tuesday evening at Washington Cathedral. Hyun-Woo Kim played the prominent first violin part with assurance in Haydn's Quartet in E flat, Op. 33, No. 2, finely blending with violinist Jane Bowyer Stewart and violist Lynn Edelson Levine while Glenn Garlick's sensitive cello anchored the group. The Presto, complete with trick endings, was a good-humored romp.
The group moved effortlessly from fugal patterns to lustrous chordal passages in Mendelssohn's splendid quartet in A minor, Op. 13. Beethoven's Op. 18 Quartets, showing a healthy appreciation of the traditions he was beginning to bend, occupy a charmed territory on the cusp of the romantic era. The group's performance of Op. 18, No. 6 sparkled with finely turned phrases, skirmishes and shared insights, all combining to close the program with a thoroughly enjoyable musical conversation.