Early Music Festival

An occasion like the inaugural concert of the Washington Early Music Festival, given on Sunday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, merits a little pomp and circumstance. Accordingly, the early-music choir Chantry and the baroque chamber orchestra Modern Musick presented works originally performed for a truly grand celebration: The coronation of George II, king of England, in 1727.

The highlight of both that coronation and this concert was Handel's four Coronation Anthems. The anthems are some of Handel's most exuberant choral music, and Chantry relished the opportunity to sing them, declaring "God save the king!" with unfettered joy. Modern Musick provided energetic support, with resounding brass and timpani overcoming the occasional missed note. Conductor David Taylor kept choir and orchestra well balanced in St. Patrick's resonant acoustics.

The Coronation Anthems sounded even more brilliant when juxtaposed with the other works performed on coronation day, like the meditative plainchant "Veni Creator Spiritus" and a solemn "Te Deum" by Orlando Gibbons. A litany setting by Thomas Tallis received a particularly moving performance from Chantry, with wrenching dissonances beautifully controlled and bass John Uhrig warm and clear as the solo leader. The concert was a fine inauguration for what one hopes will be an annual boon for area early-music enthusiasts.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

The Unicorns

If their online tour diary is to be believed, the Unicorns kept things lively on recent U.S. tour dates: banned from a Kansas City club for inviting the entire audience onto the stage, using a metal cage in their act in Denver and riling Cal State University, Fullerton, where they "stole a bowling ball, ate people's food out of their hands and refused to play any of our songs." The Canadian trio acted like choirboys by comparison at the Black Cat on Sunday night, happily essaying their gooey-centered, lo-fi pop oddities for an entertaining hour.

Nick Diamonds and Alden Ginger are the Unicorns' driving forces (Jamie Thompson provided crunchy rock drums), trading vocals, guitars, keyboards and bass -- often during the same song. With whimsical tunes such as "Sea Ghost," "Tuff Ghost" and "Ghost Mountain" (there was a "Haunted House" interlude as well) and their fondness for pink ties, the band landed halfway between the Wiggles and Sebadoh. Moments of chiming introspection ("Inoculate the Innocuous") and pop spaz-out -- "I Was Born (a Unicorn)" howled, "I missed the ark but I could've sworn you'd wait for me" -- kept them just beyond the realm of twisted Nickelodeon parody, but the Unicorns continue to mark themselves as off-kilter pop magicians whose pop prowess is anything but fantasy.

-- Patrick Foster

Washington Men's Camerata

Two decades ago, a few alumni of the Cornell and Harvard glee clubs decided there weren't enough men's choruses in the nation's capital. Eager to sing, they joined forces, forming what would become the Washington Men's Camerata. On Sunday evening, the Camerata celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater with a solid performance full of musical vitality and a healthy dose of fun.

Clearly, the 70 members of the Camerata love to sing.

And they sing with polished musicality, crystalline diction and tender tonal warmth under Frank Albinder, the group's music director of five years. With associate conductor Michael Patterson at the piano, the Camerata performed a cross-section of its vast repertoire, each piece representing one of its past seasons. The selections included works by Faure, Janacek and Poulenc, to name but a few.

Even if you haven't heard of Franz Biebl, chances are you have heard his "Ave Maria," an a cappella work ubiquitous in the male chorus canon. To cast new light on the familiar favorite, Albinder placed a chorus of nine singers behind the audience. That simple move created a stirring and haunting surround-sound experience -- and one of the evening's best performances.

The Camerata concluded the performance with a vibrant trio of drinking songs: "What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?," Schubert's "Trinklied" and Carl Orff's "In Taberna" from "Carmina Burana" -- a fitting way to kick off the Camerata's post-concert celebration.

-- Grace Jean

The Washington Men's Camerata celebrated its 20th anniversary with a concert at the Kennedy Center.