Pianist Juana Zayas

The Cuban-born pianist Juana Zayas appeared Monday evening at La Maison Francaise as part of its ongoing Chopin Festival marking the 150th anniversary of the composer's death.

The barcarole, Chopin's Op. 60 in this instance, is a 19th-century atmospheric genre intended to console with rhythm suggesting the gentle lapping of waves--a kind of waterman's lullaby. Mendelssohn's barcaroles, like those of some of his contemporaries, tend to express the notion of gentle comfort. Chopin's, though, often break out in impetuosity and turbulence, qualities that Zayas ably conveyed.

The B Minor Sonata, Op. 58, is well-trod territory in the domain of many generations of pianists, so a listener is tempted to seek out a fresh interpretation. Such was not the case with Zayas's performance. Yet in the Allegro she re-created a full measure of Chopin's musical architecture, attained not only with the obvious long-breathed legato and pedaling but with lucid phrasing for climactic moments both large- and small-scale. Though the Largo bordered on the labored rather than the needed lyrical reflection, the Finale took off on the wings of high bravura, spontaneity and a pulsating drive.

The meditative passages of the Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1, were somewhat bogged down in a bass line that prominently overrode the theme. This was not true in the Ballade, Op. 38, as breathtaking in its fiery episodes as it was serene at times of quiet.

In the three waltzes of Op. 34, Zayas thoughtfully carried off that delicate balancing act of stressing the crucial first beat by sliding into it after an infinitesimal delay, confirming why so many of Chopin's works are ideally suited to ballet despite their lofty degree of stylization.

It is irreverent to say so, but Zayas's version of the "Grande Polonaise Brillante," Op. 22, only served to justify Victor Borge's parodies of 19th-century overclimaxed zeal: an inability or unwillingness to end a piece. This was exacerbated by Zayas's troubling habit of humming, which only increased as the program progressed.

--Cecelia Porter

Innocence Mission

If Grammy awards were presented for Nicest Band, the Innocence Mission would have a brimming trophy case. The Lancaster, Pa., trio seemed genuinely friendly in front of a small but dedicated coterie of fans at the Birchmere on Monday night. They responded nicely, with a simple set of folk rock that achieved almost all of its modest goals.

The Mission is built around the singing and songwriting of Karen Peris, who sings in a manner akin to Natalie Merchant, and, like Merchant or Iris DeMent, has a penchant for twisting notes and pronunciations into unusual melodic shapes. Her husband and guitarist Don contributed reverb-laden guitar accents during the best songs, including "Where Does the Time Go?" and the opening "Lakes of Canada."

Bassist Mike Bitts handed his instrument to Karen for "Snow"-- a nice change of pace--and when she returned to guitar, the Mission played a version of John Denver's "Follow Me" that was better than the late singer's original.

The trio's lone failing was that its nice folk-rock formula occasionally became repetitive, notably in a few selections from its mostly solid new record, "Birds of My Neighborhood." Luckily, the Perises understand brevity, and by the time Don contributed a nice lead vocal on his tune "I Was in the Air," the set was well on its way to becoming a triumph of simplicity, whose strength is easy to sum up: It was really nice.

--Patrick Foster