National Symphony Orchestra
The National Symphony Orchestra, led by Music Director Leonard Slatkin, entertained, moved and uplifted listeners on Friday evening during its "American Originals" program at Wolf Trap.
Soloists Kishna Davis and Arthur Woodley, along with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, joined the NSO for concert selections from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," as arranged by Robert Russell Bennett.
Making confident NSO debuts, Davis and Woodley sang from memory, with emotions and drama fit for any operatic stage. Soprano Davis has an unusual talent for what is best described as musical wailing; she can send her voice soaring and plummeting throughout her range with ease -- a skill effectively employed during "My Man's Gone Now" and "Summertime." Woodley, whose baritone has a sweetly spiced edge, sang with bel canto fluidity while swinging away in "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing," "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin' " and "It Ain't Necessarily So."
In "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," both soloists sang with such believable chemistry that their kiss at its conclusion nearly sent sparks flying.
Slatkin kept the NSO and the Choral Arts Society in energetic sync with these talented performers, producing a joyous "Oh, I Can't Sit Down" and a celebratory "Oh Lawd, I'm on My Way."
The NSO's excellent first half included a loving interpretation of Barber's Adagio for Strings, Op. 11, full of breath and long phrases; rumbling and tender accounts of Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"; and a brightly driven performance of Bernstein's Overture to "Candide."
-- Grace Jean
Filene Young Artists
Every summer, the Wolf Trap Opera Company offers tutelage and performance opportunities to a select group of young singers before sending them on to professional careers. On Saturday evening the company presented four of this year's Filene Young Artists in an impressive recital of 20th-century American songs at the Barns at Wolf Trap.
With a powerful burgundy voice, bass Jason Hardy won the audience over with his humorous antics and expression in James Sellars's "JNNY," and Christopher Berg's "Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed)," and his lusty portrayal of the Wolf in "Hey Little Girl" from Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." But he set aside the comedy to sing poignantly in Richard Pearson Thomas's "Jordan."
Soprano Marjorie Owens commanded a rich, voluminous voice, singing with haunting intensity in Lee Hoiby's "Jabberwocky" and Paul Moravec's "The Rose and the Nightingale." Whenever she lightened her sound and vibrato, as she did during Adam Guettel's "Migratory V," her voice carried more emotional impact.
The sweet, flute-like timbre of Evelyn Pollock's soprano coasted dreamily in "Penelope's Song" by John Musto. Her voice naturally filled the role of Little Red Riding Hood opposite Hardy's Wolf and took a wistful turn in William Harvey's "When I Have Fears."
Javier Abreu's romantic-sounding tenor clung to the lyricism of Guettel's "Hero and Leander." He sang Berg's "To You" as though serenading a lover outside her window.
Artistic Director Steven Blier pulled double duty as accompanist and host, navigating the piano parts deftly and giving witty explications of the songs and composers.
-- Grace Jean
Elizabeth Baber and Charles Weaver
In its closing days, the Washington Early Music Festival became even more festive than usual by presenting noontime concerts on weekdays, when most early-music fans are presumably working. Those who used their lunch hours to scoot over to Capitol Hill's St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Friday, though, caught a treat: soprano Elizabeth Baber and lutenist Charles Weaver in a captivating program of Spanish songs from around the turn of the 16th century.
The stunner of the afternoon was Baber. Her voice is incredibly pure and sounds nearly effortless; the texts she sang came across with remarkable clarity. While her performance of Josquin des Prez's "Ave Maria" had an angelic brightness and dedication, eleswhere she showed an ability to seduce; in "Al alva venid," a lament for an absent lover, every note seemed to ache for a future meeting. Weaver supported her adeptly and displayed impressive chops in his few solo pieces, particularly the appropriately spontaneous "Fantasia que contrahaze la harpe en la manera de Luduvico," wrtten in the improvisational style of the eponymous instrumentalist.
The duo also showed imagination in programming, organizing a plethora of short pieces into linked sets. The most striking set collected songs describing the assault on the last Moorish outposts in Spain. The ugly jingoism of the texts (alluded to in remarks by Weaver) contrasted uneasily with the lovely melodies and the impeccable performances, and when Baber dropped into speech for the last line of the final song to declare victory, the effect was a little chilling -- both for the content and because it broke the spell her voice had cast.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone