Mount Vernon Orchestra

The Mount Vernon Orchestra is one of those thriving community-based orchestras that energize the Washington area cultural scene and weld it together. On Sunday, under conductor Ulysses S. James, the group brought an imaginative mix of music by Felix Mendelssohn, George Gershwin and other Broadway songwriters, and the American composer Richard Peaslee to Alexandria's Washington Street United Methodist Church.

Supported by harp and strings, soloist Gilbert Hoffer alternated between the fluegelhorn (a cornet-tuba cross) and the trumpet for "Nightsongs" by the little-known Peaslee (b. 1930). Hoffer's versatility--he has appeared in everything from the Philadelphia Orchestra to Stan Kenton's band--stood him in good stead. He adapted skillfully to both roles, plumbing the fluegelhorn's depths and mounting the trumpet's elan against a responsive orchestra.

Peter Haase was the meticulous soloist in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, his gentle way with the bow as effective for the graceful Andante as for the speedy bravura movements. In a set of Broadway show tunes, tenor Charles Williams matched his burnished voice with dramatic conviction.

In George Gershwin's "Catfish Row" Suite from "Porgy and Bess," the orchestra sounded at home with the lyrical reminiscences but struggled somewhat in the more tempestuous sections.

The concert will be repeated on Sunday.

--Cecelia Porter

Remembering Ernst Toch

Ernst Toch was a star in 1920s Berlin, one of those brash, talked-about modernist composers, famous alongside Paul Hindemith and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. A decade later, as a refugee in Hollywood, Toch's aura of fashionability was lost, and he found work writing film scores and teaching. He later described himself as "the forgotten composer of the 20th century"--one of many, to be sure, from the fertile Weimar era, a scene that overflowed with talent.

A concert Sunday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum revived Toch's music for an afternoon with two pieces, both from 1925. And while both were soaked in the jittery, bittersweet, lyrical cabaret style that keeps Kurt Weill's music popular, Toch's nature is more introspective--spunky but not foolhardy.

Toch's Capriccetti for Solo Piano, Op. 36, received a crisp performance from Kathryn Brake, where the bright, show-tune character of the opening movement progressed toward a brisk finale in neat, logical steps.

But where the piano solo benefited from a sharp-edge precision, the Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra, Op. 35, needed to swing a bit more to reach full bloom. It's certainly an attractive work, offering plenty of flashy solos for the 10 players in the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, conducted here by Sylvia Alimena.

Cellist Steven Honigberg covered the thorny solo part with an understated brilliance.

Separating the Toch pieces--in handsome, careful playing by Brake--were Agi Jambor's Piano Sonata (1949), a chromatic and masculine-sounding late-romantic work, and two glistening Preludes (Nos. 5 and 8) from Olivier Messiaen's set of Eight Preludes.

--Pierre Ruhe