Karen Kohler

Karen Kohler sketched a credible interpretation of Marlene Dietrich in a cabaret concert accompanied by pianist Uli Geissendoerfer Friday evening at the Germany Embassy. Though her soprano didn't quite resonate with Dietrich's worldly timbre, that didn't really matter because the classically trained Kohler created her own version of the detached feminine archetype. The concert, presented by Embassy Series, celebrated the centennial of Dietrich's birth.

With a cool stare, gloved gestures and slightly naughty allusions, Kohler projected a tempestuous Berlin cabaret singer tamed by love. She opened with three numbers from Dietrich's breakthrough movie role in "The Blue Angel," alternating verses in English and German.

Songs composed by Friedrich Hollaender for various Dietrich films dominated the first half of the concert. The rousing "Boys in the Backroom" matched Kohler's Texas-honed style. "Ruins of Berlin" and "Black Market" were standouts. Kohler's voice may stretch to find the Dietrich rumble, but she has the stance and emotion just right. Mixing songs and choice quotes from Dietrich's admirers, the musicians steered the concert through the performer's life.

Dietrich counted 170 songs in her repertoire, which she trotted around the world accompanied by Burt Bacharach during her third career as a nightclub chanteuse. (Dietrich's professional career began with classical violin study; she then acted onstage and in films.) Kohler belted out 10 of these touring songs in the second half of the program, including "Makin' Whoopee," "You Do Something to Me" and a clever vocal duet with Geissendoerfer in "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." By the time the duo launched the wartime anthem "Lili Marleen," the illusion of Dietrich was complete.

-- L. Peat O'Neil

Eddie Palmieri

Seated alone onstage, Latin jazz bandleader Eddie Palmieri began his concert at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Friday night by playing thematic variations on piano with the passion and force of a frustrated percussionist. Inspired by the legacy of Art Tatum, the concert series' namesake, and reflective of Palmieri's lifelong embrace of classical music and jazz traditions, the recital served as a rhapsodic prelude to a performance charged with contagious dance rhythms and a bright confluence of brass and reeds.

Moments later, when Palmieri assembled his seven band mates onstage, the audience helped bolster the rhythmic pulse by clapping in sync with the 3/2 clave beat that propelled the Tito Puente composition "Picadillo." The tune was certainly appropriate for the occasion, since Palmieri was collaborating with several veterans of Puente's band, and it was the first piece to provide a vibrant showcase for the horn section. Trumpeter Brian Lynch contributed fiery exclamations and fully developed improvisations throughout the evening. Alto saxophonist Ivan Renta sometimes conjured a bluesy swagger, especially on "Bolero Dos," while Mario Rivera, playing tenor and soprano saxes, added full-throated tones and serpentine melodies to the mix. Of course, the rhythm section had its say as well, most emphatically when Jose Claussell was featured on timbales or when Palmieri put storming clusters of chords into motion.

As impressive as the solos were, though, the ensemble passages generated the most color and clout, with the band vigorously reprising "La Libertad" and "Comparsa" on the way to an extended standing ovation.

-- Mike Joyce

Zehetmair String Quartet

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) wrote music that looks you in the eye, juts out its jaw and says, "You got a problem with that?" Once heard, it rivets your attention, and you are likely either to love it or hate it. If music means anything to you, indifference is hardly an option.

Friday night at the Library of Congress, the Zehetmair String Quartet gave a larger-than-life performance of his String Quartet No. 1 that offered abundant reasons for for loving it -- jagged rhythms, abrupt changes of tempo, razor-edged harmonies, exotic sounds from muted strings and violent, fast-moving, virtuoso passages. It is dedicated to the conductor Hermann Scherchen, who was very active in recordings at the beginning of the LP era, and some of Scherchen's brilliantly eccentric musical personality, and also of Bela Bartok's, may be detected in this music without detracting from its originality.

It is music that generates and expresses intense feeling, and the Zehetmair Quartet was clearly in touch with all its nuances.

A larger-than-life approach, though appropriately somewhat smaller in scale, worked surprisingly well in Haydn's Quartet in C, Op. 74, No. 1, which opened the program, and Schumann's Op. 41, No. 3, which concluded it. Schumann's work, full of melodies and mood swings, seemed to suit the group's style as well as Hartmann. Haydn husbands his themes carefully (how else could he have composed more than 100 symphonies and more than 70 quartets?) and the Schumann composition contained enough material for three or four Haydn quartets. Neither composer offered the group any serious challenge.

-- Joseph McLellan