The Kennedy Center Theater Chamber Players' commitment to inventive concerts in which contemporary works sit alongside selections from the recent and distant past can leave audiences enlightened or somewhat puzzled, depending on how clearly the intended connections come across. Saturday night at the Terrace Theater the ties that bound were not readily apparent, as the group went about its time-traveling ways with offerings that ranged from Frescobaldi to Peter Maxwell Davies.
Maxwell Davies' "Antechrist" for piccolo, bass clarinet, violin, cello and percussion opened in a fierce, mystical fashion, the sort of overture to uncertainty that rivets attention but left one guessing what direction the program might take. His sextet "The Bairns of Brugh" followed, with violist Robert Dan and marimba player Albert Merz sustaining the action as part of a string-wind-percussion texture of haunting beauty. The Theater Players journeyed back three centuries for a terse Baroque section featuring soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson in the centerpiece, Schuetz's "Paratum cor meum, Deus," flanked by two Frescobaldi instrumental canzones. Bryn-Julson and pianist Dina Koston brought great passion to three Hugo Wolf songs taken from Book One of the "Spanisches Liederbruch." Koston's right-hand figurations underscored the text's urgency in "Fuehr' mich, Kind, nach Bethlehem!" ("Lead Me, Child, to Bethlehem").
After intermission, Koston led off the all-Bach second half with a lucid performance of the Prelude and Fugue in A-flat, BWV 886, from the "Well-Tempered Clavier II." Two organ chorale preludes and a fughetta handled by Donald Sutherland set the stage for Cantata 51: "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen," BWV 51 ("Rejoice in the Lord, all ye lands"), in which trumpeter Emerson Head's contribution was an especially joyful foil to Bryn-Julson.