When lebhaft, the German word for lively, appears in the titles of three of a piece's four movements, this is nothing to be taken lightly. Tuesday night at the Library of Congress's Summer Chamber Festival at the Coolidge Auditorium, a polished trio took heed of what was liveliest about Schumann's "Fairy Tales," Op. 132, for clarinet, viola and piano -- without sinking into harmless niceness.
To this late, great work, clarinetist Loren Kitt, violist Miles Hoffman and pianist Edmund Battersby brought subtle contrasts and an unmitigated poetic atmosphere -- arguing musically for its recognition as the 19th century's finest neglected chamber work.
However, a concern for shaping gorgeous lyrical lines nearly drowned a performance of Earl Kim's "Scenes From a Movie, Part I: The Seventh Dream," based on Rilke's parable. The solo passages for strings and piano -- especially the opening waterfalls of sound that might have been at home in Wagner's "Das Rheingold" Prelude -- poured forth effectively as the trio kept pace with the piece's abrupt shifts in volume. But the singers' extroverted performances, rooting out what they could say directly, was little suited for an ironic German narrative drawing heavily on dream states.
To say that soprano Linda Mabbs fared better in the Schubert would be an understatement. Her bright, bold and very optimistic assessment of "Shepherd on the Rock" was certainly the evening's most riveting event.
Unlike Mabbs, baritone Charles Damsel is not blessed with ravishing vocal timbre, but he is a fine dramatist who projects his ideas convincingly. In Ravel's "Don Quichotte a` Dulcine'e," his ability to think through his character's contradictions shaped a vivid, well-balanced reading.