Two compositions evoking the voices of children shared the program Tuesday evening at Washington National Cathedral.

In its ongoing celebration of composer George Crumb's 75th birthday, the 20th Century Consort, conducted by Christopher Kendall, paired Crumb's "Ancient Voices of Children" with a chamber arrangement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony.

It was an inspired coupling, performed with this ensemble's usual precision and polish, and curiously enhanced, in some segments, by the cathedral's resonant acoustics.

The most surprising part of the program was Mahler's symphony, which maintained its distinctive identity in an arrangement for a dozen players plus Kendall and soprano Lucy Shelton.

With a string section consisting of just a quartet, the music perhaps lost some depth of texture but compensated in linear clarity, the many solo passages projected in sharp relief.

Among the excellent soloists, first violinist Elisabeth Adkins stood out for the quantity and quality of her work, and particularly for her exquisitely Viennese phrasing of some passages.

Shelton had a lot of challenging music to sing, between the Crumb settings of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca and Mahler's last movement, which quaintly presents a child's vision of the joys of heaven. She handled it superbly, with only a moment of tentative intonation in the Mahler.

The Crumb, an intriguing series of fragments, hints, allusions and overtones, provided surreal music with many special effects to match the surreal texts.

Particularly striking was Shelton's singing into the piano along with child treble Christine Burns, their voices mysteriously altered by the vibrating strings.

-- Joseph McLellan