Musicians From Marlboro

What you can count on from a Musicians From Marlboro performance is interesting programming and an opportunity to preview young and talented artists before their names hit the headlines. What you can't count on is an identifiable common personality. That comes with an ensemble's long association, and Marlboro fields transient teams of young musicians who perform with and are coached by a seasoned mentor.

The group of fine string players that performed at the Freer Gallery on Wednesday did well in a sort of generic way with a demanding program of passionate and intricate pieces that allowed them little time for repose or for breath. The absence of a cello in the Dvorak C Major "Terzetto" for two violins and viola leaves the ensemble more exposed than usual and makes balance and sonority more difficult. Violinists Soovin Kim and Colin Jacobsen and violist Kirsten Johnson gave a well-coordinated and energetic reading. Despite a couple of awkward moments, it was convincingly Bohemian.

Schoenberg's Op. 45 String Trio is a sequence of eruptions tempered by moments of quiet and contemplative beauty. It is the kind of music that makes people wonder whether there is real aesthetic content in music conceived as an intellectual abstraction. Jacobsen, violist Scott Lee and cellist Peter Wiley gave a poised and focused account that nonetheless seemed to be pretty hard work.

The concert ended with an uneven performance of the Brahms Op. 111 String Quintet that was at times robust and effusive and at times strangely static.

--Joan Reinthaler

Marie-Claire Alain

One of the world's foremost organists performed Tuesday evening at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda. The admiration Marie-Claire Alain has won for her discriminating taste and unfailing subtleties was evident from the sizable contingent of area organists in the audience. Now in her seventies, Alain is a member of a remarkable French musical family that includes her brothers Jehan and Olivier and their father, Albert, not an unusual constellation in a country where musical traditions die hard and composer-groups like those of Les Six rally around a common aesthetic creed.

Tuesday's recital attested to the inclination toward the mystical of the Franco-Belgian organist school, as expressed through the coloristic resources of organ registration (pipe combinations chosen to produce specific sonorities). These effects, elaborated in improvisatory style, have even crept into the orchestral music of Saint-Saens, Franck, Faure and Messiaen, all of whom were organists.

While probing the timbres of Westmoreland's 50-rank, four-manual Aeolian-Skinner instrument of 1957 (restored in 1994), Alain matched uncanny inventiveness in registration with meticulous articulation and breathtaking pedal work favoring toes over heels.

These qualities, combined with the rather arid acoustics of the church, worked most effectively for the French classicism of works by Nicolas de Grigny and Claude Balbastre, the dense counterpoint sharply defined by the instrument's handsome complement of trumpets and other reed stops. So also with two chorale (German hymn) settings of J.S. Bach and his Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548 (for me the most telling), all requiring clarity of both texture and rhythmic pulse.

The music of Cesar Franck and the Alains--Jehan and Albert--demands the lag time provided by the capacious reaches and stone surfaces of French Gothic churches. While controlled plasticity marked Marie-Claire Alain's version of Franck's peripatetic "Fantaisie" of 1878, staggering foot coordination with hands switching manuals, plus dazzling registration, ignited the works of the Alains into sheer fireworks. But they lacked the reverberation time needed to blend timbres, leaving little for this music to say, for their color potential far outweighs any structural interest.

--Cecelia Porter

Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson is, to use a phrase from one of his more popular songs, a walking contradiction. He's the counterculture Rhodes scholar who birthed such period-piece classics as "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down." He's also the guy who played the lead in "Convoy," the 1978 love story of a trucker named Rubber Duck and his CB radio. Fans of both personas packed the Birchmere on Tuesday night.

And Kristofferson rewarded them all grandly. Though a folkie at heart, Kristofferson favored the pacing of a punk show. He blitzed through 33 songs in less than two hours and, to make sure he had time for all his best-known material (including both standards mentioned above), delivered all his thank yous while the band kept playing.

Kristofferson's ragged guitar strumming and his band's loose playing turned the attention to his words. His tales of lost romance, including "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)" and "Good Love (Shouldn't Feel So Bad)" remain hardy.

Kristofferson, however, doesn't rail against the establishment quite as righteously anymore, being so far removed from his days as a janitor at a Nashville studio. He now lives in Hawaii and pals around with pro golfers, not revolutionaries.

But Kristofferson knows a rich underdog is still an underdog, and "My Sister Sinead," his supportive message to Sinead O'Connor written after she was booed off the stage at Madison Square Garden during a Bob Dylan tribute several years ago, is testament to that.

Those in the crowd desiring the beefcakey Kristofferson yelped wildly when he peeled off his leather jacket and tossed it aside, revealing a sleeveless T-shirt. For anybody wondering whether, at 63, Kristofferson still has the sculpted biceps that co-starred in "A Star Is Born," well, as Rubber Duck might say: That's a big 10-4.

--Dave McKenna

Type O Negative

Type O Negative wraps itself in the gloom and doom that characterizes most goth-metal, but the Brooklyn-based quartet doesn't seem to take itself too seriously. Tuesday night at the 9:30 club, Type O offered up a night of dark, epic originals as well as several playfully wrought covers of rock classics.

The band played a few songs before hitting its stride. Singer and songwriter Peter Steele's rumbling baritone, normally one of the group's most striking assets, sounded somewhat tired, and Josh Silver's keyboard work was mostly lost under the volume of Steele's bass and Kenny Hickey's guitar. Eventually the musicians found the right balance and Steele's voice emerged strongly.

Type O Negative often covers other artists' songs in its own ominous style, and two of the evening's highlights were devilishly crafty, thrashed-out versions of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" and the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R." An excellent take on Black Sabbath's "N.I.B." featured an energy and sparkling vocal harmonies that Ozzy Osbourne never imagined. Another standout was the band's own "Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)," Steele's lament of goth-love gone bad, in which he urged the audience to join in on the wry chorus "Loving you was like loving the dead."

--Woody Irvin