Violins of Lafayette At the Corcoran

The Violins of Lafayette dubbed Sunday's program in the Corcoran Gallery's exquisite Salon Dore "A Rococo Noel," though only two of the nine pieces performed had anything to do with Christmas. As it happened, Michel Corrette's two "symphonies" based on traditional carols proved to be the most charming of the evening's many 18th-century rarities.

Piquantly orchestrated and effervescent, both works featured a precursor to the clarinet called a chalumeau (expertly played by Owen Watkins). Considering its folksy, keening tone, the instrument might just as well be called a klezmer d'amore.

The Lafayette's period strings played with verve and bite under violinist-founder Ryan Brown. Winds percolated to stylish, virtuosic effect in a Leclair overture, a Telemann "Concerto a 4" and the eighth of Couperin's Concerts Royaux. Charles Sherman, playing a splendidly robust harpischord built by John Phillips, made much of two warmly communicative "Pieces de Clavecin" by Jacques Duphly.

Amanda Balestrieri has the airy, girlish purity of tone typical of early music sopranos. If she also shares their blanched, less-than-substantial top notes, that was of little consequence in Mondonville's lovely psalm settings or the charming secular cantata "Le Bal de Cythere" by the richly prolific Anon.

The Violins of Lafayette are a model period-instrument ensemble: theirs is playing of elegance and sinew and the exhilarating commitment of true believers.

--Joe Banno

Voce Choral Ensemble In Reston

Memories of living in Poland have always been dear to this writer when it comes to the Christmas season. As the last leaves would fall from birch trees, sweet and melodious voices would begin to sing Polish Christmas carols--among the most poignantly beautiful in the world. Chopin even incorporated one--"Lulajze Jezuniu"--into his Scherzo in B Minor for piano, Op. 20. That lullaby, together with other carols from Poland, Italy, Russia, Ukraine and England, was presented Saturday in a largely a cappella concert by the Northern Virginia choral ensemble Voce.

The performance, at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Reston, was directed by Kenneth Nafziger.

The most memorable moment of the evening came in Bob Chilcott's contemporary English song "Mid-Winter," when the choir and piano evoked images of snowflakes falling on a quiet winter day.

The sweet and lyrical voice of soprano Gretchen Newman was especially notable in William Mathias's English work "Sweet Was the Song." Soprano JoEllen Richardson gave a sensitive reading of the aforementioned Polish Christmas carol; and Barbara Verdile provided impeccable intonation and atmosphere with her flute and piccolo.

Unfortunately the group's intonation wasn't always consistent, and some of the soloists and accompaniment sounded quite tentative. But most of the time the ensemble sang sensitively, and its employment of dynamic nuance helped give melodic lines a distinguished and ethereal sense of lightness and grace.

--Bob Waters