New Dominion Chorale's

'Summer Sing'

The Durufle Requiem, for all its wafting beauty, is one tough nut to crack for the chorus. An amalgam of impressionism and faux Gregorian chant, it changes time signatures and springs harmonic surprises nearly as often as the singers pause for breath.

No one understands the rigors of Durufle's writing like the audience of amateur singers who became the chorus at the "Summer Sing" sponsored by New Dominion Chorale on Tuesday at Western Presbyterian Church. But the event was more notable for the frequent instances of euphony this dedicated group of ad-hoc choristers achieved than for those moments when the ensemble -- to quote the wryly supportive conductor Donald McCullough -- "crashed and burned." As someone who joined in the singing, I can tell you that the hour of rehearsal that was offered is laughably short for this thorny work. But the satisfaction of hurdles overcome during the subsequent run-through was not inconsiderable.

McCullough was an engaging and efficient guide through the process, tapering dynamics, refining vowel coloration and stressing the need for increased breath support and heightened diction during quiet passages. Robert Burner's clarion, tightly focused baritone was an asset in his brief solos. Donna Grant Sprudzs's mezzo was serviceable. Kudos to Diane Shupp and New Dominion Chorale Artistic Director Thomas Beveridge -- on piano and organ, respectively -- for rendering the restless and irregular orchestral part with sensitivity.

-- Joe Banno

20th Century Consort

At the National Cathedral

In celebration of George Crumb's 75th birthday, the 20th Century Consort is presenting a series of concerts at Washington National Cathedral featuring works by the composer and his musical influences. On Tuesday evening, the consort headed heavenward with an atmospheric performance that seemed to transcend time.

Before sitting down to Crumb's four-hand "Celestial Mechanics," pianist Lambert Orkis quipped, "Don't try this at home," as he positioned myriad items, including two squeegees and metal rulers, inside the lidless grand. With their score pushed away from the keyboard, Orkis and James Primosch often affected a piano tuner's stance; sometimes standing, with an arm or two in the piano, they plucked, struck and damped strings while their free hands played rapid-fire rhythms on the keys.

Such techniques conjured noises usually heard in haunted houses or horror films: muted rapping, eerie echo effects, rubbery-sounding tremolos and violent string glissandos. The colorful and suspenseful intensity with which they performed the piece likely inspired some listeners to experiment back home.

For Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," clarinetist Paul Cigan, violinist Elisabeth Adkins, cellist Rachel Young and pianist Lisa Emenheiser lulled the audience into a meandering orbit with meditative and subdued melodies. Cigan and Adkins effectively tiptoed about the cathedral's acoustics.

Unfortunately, the acoustics and lidless piano turned Bartok's "Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm" from Mikrokosmos Vol. 6 into a muddy mess, but Emenheiser handled it as best she could.

The series continues July 13 and 20 at 7:30 p.m.

-- Grace Jean