New Dominion Chorale
You can't easily forget Thomas Beveridge's "Yizkor Requiem," performed by the New Dominion Chorale on Sunday under the composer's direction. A memorial to Beveridge's parents, the decade-old work is as moving in the relevance of its concept as in its sheer musical immediacy.
The text is an elevating fusion of the Hebrew "Yizkor" ("He remembers") -- the memorial service for Yom Kippur and other Jewish observances -- with the Christian Requiem Mass. In a symbolic merging of the two memorial rites, Beveridge juxtaposes a Hebrew text with a Latin (or sometimes English) one, sung either in alternation or simultaneously. But rather than an exact re-creation of the two services, Beveridge omits, for example, Christian references to the Day of Judgment -- and inserts the Lord's Prayer, evolved from the Hebrew kaddish. Other parallels between the two services abound in Beveridge's piece.
In its performance at Alexandria's Schlesinger Concert Hall, the chorale's confident, involved account matched the kind of dramatic energy Handel assigned to his oratorio choruses. Cantor and tenor Benjamin Warschawski intoned the Hebrew with magnitude and solemnity, Sharon Christman's soprano paired sonority with carrying power, and Delores Ziegler's mezzo had a radiant clarity.
Schubert's mini-oratorio on an Old Testament theme, "Miriam's Victory Song," aptly prefaced the "Yizkor." The music's uncanny archaic flavor owed much to Handel and an even earlier Catholic baroque legacy. Here Christman had a resilient clarity; chorus and orchestra also contributed to the intriguing performance.
-- Cecelia Porter
Choral Arts Society
The Choral Arts Society gave a resounding demonstration of compatibility between 20th-century music and ancient Latin texts Sunday night in the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. Two conductors participated in the demonstration: the society's artistic director, Norman Scribner, in Francis Poulenc's reverently rambunctious "Gloria" and guest conductor Leonard Slatkin in Carl Orff's irreverently rambunctious "Carmina Burana." The three soloists were soprano Laura Whalen, tenor Robert Baker and baritone Stephen Powell, and the Children's Chorus of Washington joined in for the last part of "Carmina Burana." Together with a large orchestra, they produced some glorious, overwhelming but precisely controlled sounds.
First came the Poulenc, a prolonged cry of joy, with just enough moments of shadow to give a necessary contrast.
Scribner masterfully balanced the various sections of his massive chorus, producing a sound that generated great power without losing transparency of texture. Whalen's high notes had the pure, almost disembodied quality that Poulenc's music seems to demand.
For the "Gloria," she was gowned in white, but after intermission she wore a red gown -- as the text of "Carmina Burana" specifies ("rufa tunica"). Her role was considerably more complex, torn between the demands of love and virtue, and she dealt effectively with its challenges. Powell, given the rollicking verses of the Archpoet, sang with panache. Baker, assigned some of the toughest music ever written for a tenor, sang the song of the roast swan with proper pathos. Slatkin put the complexities and extremes of "Carmina Burana" in a fine perspective.
In both works, the choral singers deserved special commendation for the clarity with which they sang the Latin.
-- Joseph McLellan
Gil and Orli Shaham
AKennedy Center Concert Hall audience couldn't get enough of Gil and Orli Shaham on Sunday afternoon: Not until the siblings had played through three encores were they allowed to make their final exit. Presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society, the duo's first joint performance at the center surely won't -- and shouldn't -- be their last.
The Shahams skipped along musically hand-in-hand in three Mozart sonatas for violin and piano, performed with simplicity and a cerebral yet emotional finesse.
Many times pianist Orli would peer over her shoulder at her brother as their instruments conversed. Other times violinist Gil would inch next to his sister, turning away from the audience to ensure spotlight equality. Whether subdued at an impressive tissue-paper-thin volume or radiantly bright in tone, the duo imbued the sonatas in G, K. 301; E Minor, K. 304; and A, K. 305, with pearly elegance and precise amounts of pathos and wit.
If the pair's musicality was carefully meted out during the Mozart sonatas, it broke free like a cascading river in the second half, unleashing Prokofiev's "Five Melodies" and Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80, with stirring intensity. In the latter, the Shahams created a sort of musical cognitive dissonance through simultaneously beautiful and perturbing sounds, such as creepy violin runs during the meditative piano theme. The effect was so entrancing that when the last note faded, listeners hesitated before breaking the spell with applause.
-- Grace Jean