Dresdner Kreuzchor at
Washington National Cathedral
When a boys' choir with a long history of excellence presents a concert, the performance inevitably invites comparison with such outstanding boys' choirs as those of Leipzig and Vienna, or New York's Harlem Boys Choir. In a program of sacred a cappella music Friday at Washington National Cathedral, the Dresdner Kreuzchor unfortunately did not meet those high standards. The effect seemed one of struggle (with heads buried in the music), missing the precision shown here last week by the Chamber Choir of the Berlin Academy of Music.
Perhaps conductor Roderich Kreile had little time to acclimate his singers to the cathedral's reverberant lengths (I've heard that the Dresden group does splendidly in its acoustically bright home church). The boys--150 of them, ranging in age from 9 to 19--often showed intonation problems. In sacred works by Bach, Purcell, Barber, Brahms, Bruckner and others, even the choir's German diction was foggy, and the sopranos, and sometimes the basses, outweighed the middle voices.
After his regal Bach prelude and fugue, organist J. Reilly Lewis offered John Knowles Paine's "Concert Variations on the German National Anthem" (as wrongly listed on the program). To this reviewer, it proved unsettling amid the sacred fare. Its American composer based his piece on Haydn's tune, titling it--accurately for 1860--"On the Austrian Hymn." The German version (once known as "Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles," now with a different text) wasn't a national anthem until 1922.
Robert Edward Smith
The Fine Arts Series at Eastport United Methodist Church continued in Annapolis Friday with composer and harpsichordist Robert Edward Smith. His program ranged from Francois Couperin's chantey-like "Les Ondes" to Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in E Major (K. 380), which unleashed the harpsichord's deep, powerful bass.
Other short but evocative Couperin (1668-1733) selections were "Le Superbe ou la Forqueray," "Les Baricades Misterieuses," "Le Carillon de Cithere" and "Les Vieux Seigneurs." Two of the surviving harpsichord compositions of Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) followed ("La Livre," "La Dauphine"). Airs and dances, including "La Volta," "The Nightingale," "The Fall of the Leaf" and "Wesley's Wild" (a "fiddle tune"), further demonstrated the versatility of the harpsichord.
Members of the audience unfamiliar with harpsichords were amazed at the size and variety of sounds produced by Smith's instrument. They crowded around him after the concert to ask how the seven pedals, the two keyboards and the plucking mechanisms worked. Smith, who teaches harpsichord at the University of Hartford, seemed happy to oblige.
If you're not a member of Washington's classical guitar community, attending a concert in the John E. Marlow Guitar Series feels a little like crashing a party. Almost everyone in the audience seems to know one another and all about the performers. Tim Healy's rambling pre-concert and post-intermission remarks (he is one of the concert managers) have all the affable, aw-shucks qualities of an improvised dinner speech, and a drawing for door prizes completes the informal atmosphere.
The performances, however, tend to be anything but offhand. On Friday, Manuel Barrueco brought an elegantly played program to Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. It included transparent readings of an arrangement of the Bach G Minor Sonata for unaccompanied violin and a group of idiomatic pieces by Turina delivered with a carefully crafted palette of colors.
But it also included, in the second half, music that was a little farther off the beaten path. There were five lovely short pieces by Lou Harrison that explored varied styles and textures. These were all firmly rooted in the guitar's mother tongue but independent of the Hispanic flavor that colors so much of the repertoire. A movement of Ernesto Lecuona's "Cuban Dances" with unexpected harmonic progressions, Enrique Ubieta's "New York Rush" with a stunning finish that died out to nothing and three lyrical dances by Mangore were all played with the delicacy that one expects from an accomplished guitarist and with the imagination one can only hope for.