Romantic-era piano music by Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Rachmaninoff composed the heart of Ann Schein's well-played if somewhat conservative piano recital Sunday night at the National Gallery of Art. Schein, a faculty member at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory, is clearly at home in these big 19th-century works. She understands the technical demands of this music, meets them easily and is particularly adept at making the structure of the works clear. Her playing of Beethoven's "Les Adieux" Sonata, which opened the concert, was a strong example; every moment was musically sensitive and yet the logic of the piece was clear, each idea and gesture leading easily to the next.
These details are the mark of an admirable musician, of course, but it remains to be said that this was truly square playing, in a conservative style that occasionally struck me as too self-consciously "correct." Missing from the evening's performance was the unkempt side of these romantic works. We got the style and the charm, but little sense of surprise. That said, Schein's playing still provided a lot of fine moments, including a particularly beautifully phrased encore performance of Rachmaninoff's G Major Prelude, Op. 32, which closed the evening. Arhthur R. Smith
The Baltimore folk trio Helicon is an extremely resourceful and eclectic ensemble. Its principal instrumentation -- dulcimer, guitar and flute -- could easily make for tedious, one-dimensional music, but thanks to an unusually colorful repertoire, the band avoided that problem altogether at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church last night.
Much of the program centered on tunes from unlikely sources -- an Italian harpist fond of playing South American melodies was responsible for one; a scratchy recording of an obscure Romanian dance number inspired another. In combining those tunes and other oddities with more familiar sounds from Ireland, Scotland, France and the United States (as well as some traditionally oriented original material), flutist Chris Norman, dulcimer player Ken Kolodner and guitarist Robin Bullock created music full of bright textures and appealing melodies.
Joining the trio for the second half of the concert was Freyda Epstein, a singer and fiddler best known for her work with Trapezoid. Her dark, pliant voice not only added a welcome tinge of blues and jazz to the program, but it brought a soulful intimacy to the ballads she performed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and Norman Blake. Epstein also contributed to the "fiddle madness" medley that brought the show to a vibrant close. Mike Joyce