Robert Battey, a young cellist with a strong technique and a rather reserved sense of expressiveness, brought a program of baroque, romantic and contemporary music to the Phillips Collection yesterday afternoon. Battey's convincing sense of phrasing, his lean, full tone and his detached, almost patrician approach worked well for most of the program, but his intonation -- which started shakily and never really firmed up -- regrettably undermined what was otherwise impressive playing.
Warming up with a Boccherini sonata, Battey showed his finest playing almost immediately in the Sonata, Op. 11, No. 3 of Paul Hindemith. Assured and precise, Battey brought vivid detail and deep understanding to the music. And while it could never really be called impassioned, this was, overall, fine and engaging playing.
Battey seemed to lose his concentration, however, in the Bach Suite No. 5 that followed. A loose, rhythmically slack rendition, it was marred by intonation problems and a general lack of conviction. He recovered well in the Mendelssohn Sonata No. 2, however, turning in a charming performance that won him an encore, a short piece by Granados.
-- Stephen Brookes
Sonatas by Haydn and Barber made up the first half of last night's recital by pianist Francis Conlon at the National Gallery of Art. Haydn's Sonata No. 52 sounded polished and sensitive, with lots of attention to phrasing. Barber's effective and seldom-heard score was far more dramatic than the Haydn, however. Conlon gave listeners brilliant passage work in the second movement, tightly controlled tensions leading to an epic climax in the third movement and an exciting fugue with just the right splash of virtuosity in the final movement.
Ravel's "Gaspard de la nuit" was played with a richly sensuous tone and evocative use of the pedal. In this piece the somewhat muddy acoustics, which had been a liability in the first half of the program, were turned to good effect by the performer.
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 closed the program, and sounded almost like an encore after the more substantive pieces that went before. Conlon played the music, the piano and the room with expert skill in this piece.
-- Daniel E. Gawthrop
Having just returned from a tour of Japan and the Philippines, and feeling a bit under the weather to boot, Ahmad Jamal seemed somewhat reluctant to sit down at the piano at Blues Alley Saturday night. The thunderous ovation he received as he stepped off stage must have cheered him.
Certainly the crowd's spirits were lifted, buoyed by both Jamal's rhapsodic virtuosity and the inspired dialogues he created with his bandmates, especially percussionist Seldon Newton. Surrounded by a colorful array of instruments, some conventional and some not, Newton proved wonderfully adept at accenting Jamal's fierce rhythms and softly shading such romantic ballads as "All the Things You Are." Much of the music, especially funk numbers like "Acorn," was enlivened by James Commack's rubbery bass lines and drummer Dave Bowler's insistent beat. Still, it was Jamal's bold sense of dynamics that set the tone for each piece.
The band performs at the club through New Year's Eve.
-- Mike Joyce
Junior Cook's opening set at One Step Down Saturday night made one nostalgic for the kind of music he once played with the Horace Silver group. Bluesy, soulful and at times charged with a hard-bop momentum, the performance was also a reminder of a special role the tenor sax has played in jazz, with Cook saluting Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and other giants along the way.
"Bye Bye Blackbird" opened the show, a leisurely and lyrical arrangement that allowed Cook to embark on a few melodic tangents without disturbing the tune's fundamentally hummable charm. A similar warmth and feeling was evident on "The Christmas Song." Some of Cook's finest moments came later, when he turned his attention to more harmonically challenging material, vibrant and full-throated renditions of "It Can Happen to You," "Moment's Notice" and "Stablemates."
Backing Cook with more than just the usual support were pianist Gene Adler, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Lenny Robinson. All of the arrangements left room for plenty of give-and-take, and each member of the trio took advantage of the opportunities.
-- Mike Joyce
New York String Orchestra
The hands of Bach, Brahms and Haydn rested on Alexander Schneider's shoulders Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, where he led a magical performance by the New York String Orchestra. The group of high school and college musicians, chosen by audition, had all the assurance, poise and understanding of a professional ensemble.
Bach's "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 3 was given a rich performance by the full complement of strings that laughed in the face of authenticity, but nevertheless satisfied. The musicians, sure in their technique, allowed all the contrapuntal textures to come through. Pamela Frank and Peter Wiley were eloquent soloists in Brahms' problematic Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Cello.
The Symphony No. 90 in C by Haydn was ready for the recording studio, as the musicians gave a lesson in grace and stylish elegance. The delicate strings and marvelously glistening wind solos demonstrated that this music can still be performed on modern instruments, while keeping all the attributes of their original counterparts.
-- Norman Middleton