Auryn String Quartet
The Auryn String Quartet, an elegant group of Austrian musicians who put on a stunning show of artistry in their American debut several years ago, is the featured ensemble in this year's three-concert series "Schubert, Schubert and Schubert" that opened at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall last Friday night. Their assignment for this first concert, assisted by cellist David Soyer, was the C Major String Quintet, and, from previous experience, they might have been expected to bring to the music a fresh spontaneity and their special way with sonority.
It never happened. Instead, the performance seemed self-absorbed, precious instead of passionate and premeditated instead of magical. In the first movement, the rhythmic eruptions that are an ecstatic counterpoint to the movement's gorgeous melodic duet were subdued to the point of pallidness. The motions seemed hectic rather than urgent, and there was no consistent direction to the dynamic scheme. A similar urbane fussiness pervaded the rest of the piece too, providing a performance that was well bred but sexless.
The rest of the program was simply unfortunate. Soprano Brigitte Poschner-Klebel, who was to sing songs of Schubert and Berg, was ill, and her replacement, Julia McKinstry, was not prepared, technically or musically, to perform.
The longer conga player Pancho Sanchez and his seven-piece band performed at Blues Alley Tuesday night, the hotter the music became. Over the span of two sets, in fact, the Mexican-born, Los Angeles-based percussionist led his ensemble from Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" and Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" to James Brown's "Cold Sweat" and Wilson Pickett's "Funky Broadway," as sophisticated jazz harmonies and salsa, mambo and pachanga rhythms gave way to full-tilt funk.
Even so, the band's Afro-Cuban thrust was hard to resist no matter what the tune. While congas, bongos, timbales and other percussion instruments made for an explosively percussive mix on some pieces, they also created insinuating dance rhythms that had almost everyone in the band and the club swaying in unison. Whether bold or subtle, the infectious polyrhythms were offset by trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo, trombonist Art Velasco and saxophonist Gene Burkert, who deftly colored the jazz standards and often punctuated the other tunes with fiery exclamations.