Inside the packed Warner Theatre Thursday night, the feel-good atmosphere was full of sunsets, cygnets, dolphins, nebulas and the soul-massaging music of new age's Mannheim Steamroller, making its Washington debut. The mixed-media instrumental concert, the brainchild of percussionist and composer Chip Davis, combined electronic and acoustic music with bucolic videos, crystalline lights and great gobs of incensed fog. The soothing -- and, at times, numbing -- tones melted the enthusiastic audience into a puddle of relaxed muscles.
Much of the material came from Mannheim's successful series of "Fresh Aire" albums, which range in theme from baroque to 20th-century avant-garde, with echoes of natural sounds like the sea and the wind.
The first set suffered because of computer overload. Synthesizers beeped and bleeped so much that it was jarring on "Midnight on a Full Moon," manufacturing the plastic sounds that are computer music's worst.
But the second set brought the instruments and state-of-the-art technology into harmony. In "Crystal," the howling electronic winds and simple pipes combined to evoke a barren and creepy winter night. Then the group scaled down with the pure medieval "Christmas Sweet," using only the simple instruments -- mandolin, harp, reed, recorder, cello and violins.
By the end it was back to high-tech, but with care. On the second encore, Mannheim delivered a new-age "Silent Night" as a mirrored ball sent out splinters of light. The sound was warm and sweet, a counter to the blustery weather outside.
The show continues through tonight. Kara Swisher Forough and McCracken
The husband-and-wife duo of violinist Ali Forough and pianist Carolyn McCracken chose an excellent combination of works for their Kennedy Center Terrace Theater recital Thursday night. The pair, selected to tour the Orient as part of the USIA Artistic Ambassador Program and presented on that series, played Leclair, Franck and Shostakovich with intensity and drive.
The opening Sonata in D, Op. 9 No. 3, by the 18th-century composer and violinist Jean Marie Leclair, offered a bright tone and nice phrasing. Ornaments and double-stop passages were clean, and intonation was mostly even and clear.
Franck's Sonata in A might have fared better in places with less vibrato. The last movement's canonic material was neatly focused, however, and the instrumental balance was well planned throughout.
Shostakovich's imposing Sonata, Op. 134, was delivered with powerful insight. The duo showed a wide range of expressive capabilities, a keen awareness of texture and a very solid technical command. Kate Rivers