Edmund Barton Bullock

Edmund Barton Bullock is a pianist's pianist.

In a concert Monday at the French Embassy, Bullock appeared with violinist Sheng-Tsung Wang, soprano Michelle Kunz and cellist Benjamin Myers.

Bullock can immerse himself deeply in piano sound, transmuting the keys into a diversity of styles from Beethovenian gestures and Bullock's own whispered impressionist sallies to Rachmaninoff's visceral harmonies.

Nevertheless, Monday's concert, sponsored by the La Gesse Foundation, was less than satisfying. Bullock's overriding involvement with the keyboard came at the expense of the partnership that ensemble playing demands. In Beethoven's Violin Sonata in F, Op. 24, Bullock's playing missed the give-and-take central to this mellow dialogue of equals. As it was throughout the evening, the piano was opened full-stick, nearly canceling out Wang's delicate phrasing and nuances. Similarly, Myers's discriminating view of the cello's role in Rachmaninoff's G Minor Sonata was clouded by the stormy thrusts of Bullock's keyboard sorties.

The pianist himself set his "L'Ame de la Gesse" to poems in the symbolist fashion by Paule Verdier and Cecilia de Medicis, the foundation's creator. The music merely echoed French impressionist idioms, and Kunz lacked the technique needed to support her voice, which remained under pitch most of the time.

--Cecelia Porter

Okros Ensemble

Monday night at Paint Branch Unitarian Church in Adelphi, a packed house of folkies, nostalgic Hungarians and assorted lovers of world music were transported to a landscape of shepherds, Gypsies and three-day wedding celebrations by the stellar Okros Ensemble. Among Hungary's most soulful and virtuosic folk revival bands, this chamber-size group of string players--two violins, three violas, bass and cimbalom, with legendary Transylvanian violinist Sandor Fodor (known as Neti) and ethereal vocalist Agi Szaloki--tore through a program of csardas, laments, rhapsodies and story-songs so sonorous and emotionally wrenching that one could barely keep one's hands from clapping or one's eyes from misting over.

The delights were many. Certainly the 77-year-old Neti, an impish fellow who can play fiendishly quick figures over and over for minutes at a time without missing a note, lent authenticity and spark to the proceedings. But there was also the alternately astringent and lushly romantic sound of Kalman Balogh's ornately carved cimbalom (the Eastern European equivalent of our hammer dulcimer). And the wonderfully nasal, keening quality of Szaloki's voice, not to mention this slip of a gal's delicate dance steps. And the insistent drone of the violas and bass under the violinists' close harmonies, myriad ornamentations and slightly bent notes. Even the explanations of each selection, by the ensemble's scholarly leader, Csaba Okros, proved as charming as they were informative.

The concert and dance party that followed, co-sponsored by the Birchmere, were the opening event of the Institute of Musical Traditions concert series. If this evening was typical of the season's offerings, we can look forward to some ecstatic and enriching music.

--Pamela Sommers