Marilyn Moore-Brown

And Debra Tidwell

Fans of opera and musicals gathered at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Sunday for a concert featuring two local artists, soprano Marilyn Moore-Brown and contralto Debra Tidwell. Presented by the In Series, the performance -- equal parts recital and cabaret -- was a gratifying mix of arias, art songs, show tunes and ballads.

With a fluid voice that improved as the afternoon progressed, Moore-Brown maintained a natural, dramatic artistry in her performance, with the responsive Carlos Rodriguez on piano. In "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Handel's "Rinaldo," and "D'Oreste, d'Ajace" from Mozart's "Idomeneo," she displayed impressive command of coloratura. There were a few strained high notes, but to the singer's credit, they were mostly on pitch -- no easy feat coming out of these arias' strenuous passages. A trio of French songs, among them Bizet's "Ouvre ton Coeur," glittered like gemstones.

And as fine as those morsels were, with John Carter's Cantata, a five-movement amalgam of spirituals and jazz, Moore-Brown proved she could sing nonclassical styles equally well.

So charismatic was Tidwell's stage presence in the second half that she transformed the museum's auditorium into a cabaret. Pianist Dan Sticco, whose thoughtful vignettes accompanied song introductions, was her talented stage partner. Singing with excellent expression, Tidwell was charming in Stephen Sondheim's "I'm Still Here," humorous in Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" and moving in T Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello's "Scarlet Tide." Toward the end, some flat high notes and sloppy pitch entrances indicated vocal fatigue, but her energy and spirit never flagged.

-- Grace Jean


Bach Consort

In 1733, J.S. Bach penned a birthday cantata for Prince Friedrich of Saxony titled "Hercules at the Crossroads," which imagined Hercules (read: Friedrich) choosing between sexually alluring Vice and politically advantageous Virtue. The music from "Hercules" wound up later in Bach's "Christmas Oratorio," its earthiness and politicking retooled into wonder at the nativity.

J. Reilly Lewis conducted a buoyant performance of "Hercules" with his Washington Bach Consort at the National Presbyterian Church on Sunday, teasing carnal suggestion out of the swoony rising figures in the aria "Schlafe, mein Liebster" and revving his fine period band to an exuberant final movement. As ever, the Consort chorus turned gently swelling attacks and vibratoless sustained notes into an evocative halo of sound ideally suited to this music.

Soprano Jacqueline Horner, alto Patricia Green, tenor Joseph Gaines and bass James Weaver were a uniformly strong ensemble here and in a lovely, if musically less ambitious, cantata by Bach's Leipzig contemporary and musical rival, Christoph Graupner. Furthering the Leipzig theme, the Consort performed a captivating Concerto for Two Horns by Telemann (R.J. Kelly and John Boden better than most at taming the notoriously truculent, valveless horns), and a plaintive motet by Bach's predecessor at St. Thomas Church, Johann Kuhnau.

The Consort's new organist, Scott Dettra, gave a superbly phrased, virtuosically dazzling reading of Bach's Toccata, BWV 566, to round out this satisfyingly varied program.

-- Joe Banno