Barry White, Earth Wind & Fire

Barry White and Earth Wind & Fire provided a lesson in contrast with their performances at the MCI Center on Sunday night. While White was successful with an understated presentation of his classics, Earth, Wind & Fire emphasized spectacle over substance, ultimately weighing down what could have been a better set for the eclectic ensemble.

With a clean backdrop of translucent pastels and an impeccably dressed band, Barry White opened with "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up." Throughout his presentation, White connected with the audience using little more than hand gestures, a wave of his black handkerchief and convincing facial expressions. And though his ad-libbing was a bit repetitive, it scarcely mattered because of the power in White's deep baritone. He performed newer songs, including the recently released "Staying Power," but White was most captivating purring oldies "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" and "You're the First, the Last, My Everything."

Earth Wind & Fire started strong with a solid rendition of "Shining Star." The band's set was satisfying enough, but such needless antics as the guitarist using his teeth to play his instrument were distracting. Philip Bailey and Sheldon Reynolds traded vocal leads throughout the evening. Bailey displayed his falsetto during "Reasons" and then it was Reynolds's turn with "Love's Holiday." Still, the set was anticlimactic--more show than song.

--David Wall Rice

Sunrise Quartet at Harmony Hall

The Washington area is remarkably conservative when it comes to contemporary music. A case in point is the concert of music by local composers performed by the excellent Sunrise Quartet on Sunday. Sure, it conflicted with the Redskins-Cowboys game and, yes, the venue, Harmony Hall in Fort Washington, is pretty far off the beaten path for some (but an excellent hall it is, with fine acoustics). Still, the meager audience reflects the area's lack of adventurous spirit and a reluctance to try something new.

The program did have its ups and downs. Louis Reichwein's String Quartet No. 1 was full of nice thematic ideas and interesting textures and was clearly the work of someone in command of the technical language of the quartet of instruments. But these ideas seemed to be strung together without much sense of direction, and the piece could have used some cutting.

The first two movements of Allan Blank's String Quartet, written in 1989, were delightfully light, intricate and playful, even where they sounded contemplative. Blank throws his thematic material around in ways that are reminiscent of the medieval technique called "hocket" and that demand virtuosic coordination from the members of the quartet. The last two movements, much more passionate and dramatic, seemed mostly heavy-handed restatements of the two earlier movements and not nearly as attractive.

Marshall Ocker's String Quartet No. 3, "Songs of the Sea," is actually a quintet for strings and soprano. It is a piece that combines rather obvious allusions to the sea--the wave shape of the material in the opening movement and the reference to the tune "A Roving" in the last movement--with a quite inventive middle movement that featured soprano Marcella Calabi working with a poem called "First Lesson" by Phillip Booth. Calabi has a voice with a broad vibrato and a singing style that is probably better suited to opera than to chamber music, but she handled the text with nice attention to the dramatic power of the consonants.

The performances by the Sunrise Quartet were uniformly excellent, and the Capital Composers Alliance, which sponsored the event, is a wonderful advocacy organization that supports new music by local composers.

--Joan Reinthaler