I Bambini di Parnasso

Atrio of early-music specialists who call themselves I Bambini di Parnasso brought music of 17th- and early-18th-century Spain and Portugal to the warm, dark interior of St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The concert was part of the richly varied Washington Early Music Festival, featuring mostly local musicians and mostly music of the Iberian peninsula.

Wednesday's program offered some familiar names: the Spanish composer Jose Marin and Domenico Scarlatti. The latter's services to the courts of Lisbon and Madrid must have qualified him, for the purposes of this concert, as either a Spanish or Portuguese composer, but he might similarly have been claimed by the Italians or the Poles. Two unfamiliar names, Jayme de la Te y Sagau and Santiago de Murcia, contributed some of the evening's most interesting moments.

The musicians of the ensemble were mezzo-soprano Alisa Marie Grundmann, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and guitarist/theorbo player Charles Weaver. Together (and occasionally individually) they provided a window on a repertoire that could sound mainstream baroque one moment and deliciously Iberian the next. This was particularly evident in the two cantatas by Jayme de la Te y Sagau, each a set of stanzas, recitatives and arias declaiming the sorrows of unrequited love. Esfahani and Weaver (here playing the long-necked theorbo) provided fine support, with Weaver frequently echoing the vocal line and Esfahani adding exuberant ornamentation.

Grundmann had the task of telling the story. She is an intelligent and accurate singer with a nice, agile voice, and clearly she felt the pathos of the message she was reciting, but the absence of audible consonants robbed her singing of a useful dramatic tool and the music of a great deal of dramatic power.

Weaver gave a splendid reading of two excellent guitar pieces by Murcia, and Esfahani rolled through five of Scarlatti's sonatas with clarity and poise.

-- Joan Reinthaler Seal

For a guy who, as a performer, is basically a disco artist, Seal sure is macho.

Seal, born Sealhenry Samuel in England in 1963, entered the Wolf Trap stage on Wednesday sporting what could be called a sympathy belly, what with his new wife, Heidi Klum, expecting the arrival of a little supermodel this summer. But the extra beef didn't keep Seal from stripping down to a cutoff T-shirt early in his 90-minute show, or prevent his mainly female audience from swooning with every one of his sweaty, smooth moves.

On "Waiting for You" he bounced up and down to the dancehall beat with the microphone stand held high over his head like an Olympic weightlifter, inspiring the flock to bounce and throw their arms in the air. When Seal waded into the crowd during his 1994 pop dance hit "Bring It On," the pandemonium up front was of the sort instigated when Oprah gives away Pontiacs.

Backed by a funky quartet and flaunting a pastel-heavy lighting scheme, Seal is touring in support of a greatest-hits CD and live DVD. He favored the good-beat-and-you-can-dance-to-it pop singles he's charted since breaking out of the British house music scene (the crowd's favorites being 1991's "Crazy" and 1994's grandiloquent "Prayer for the Dying").

One of the few curveballs Seal threw the fans on this night was a rendition of a David Bowie rarity, "Let Me Sleep Beside You," on which the predominant processed disco sound was temporarily replaced by big guitar riffs. From its rather muted reaction to the tune, however, the crowd let on that it hadn't shown up for obscure covers or arena rock. It came for romantic cheese like "Kiss From a Rose," during which the band dropped off so Seal could coo like a supersized Marvin Gaye, as couples swayed and singles thought about couples.

-- Dave McKenna