Raul Midon

Some call them universal truths; some call them cliches. At the Birchmere on Sunday, Raul Midon's lyrics brimmed with them. "Everybody can be somebody, everybody is free to make a difference." "Every day I wonder why peace on Earth's so hard to find."

And you know what? It didn't matter. The words took a back seat to Midon's assured, easygoing demeanor, clarion voice and remarkable musical sense. He plucked the strings of his acoustic guitar with the jackrabbit speed and grace of Jose Feliciano -- who like Midon is blind, and to whom he is often compared. But he sounded more like George Benson, with a soulful croon and a jazzman's knack for combining guitar and voice in unexpected harmonies. As he played, his right forearm stayed still against the guitar body -- the agility all came from the wrist and fingers. "That was faster than I even usually play it!" he quipped at the end of the ebullient "Sunshine." "I think I was thinking about Cuban coffee."

Time will tell whether Midon succumbs to showbiz or keeps the rough edge that lends his voice the urgency of a song sung bravely in a dark alley. He wasn't above exploiting his gifts to please the crowd; more than once, he let his voice soar to unexpected heights or ring out for marathon lengths. After claps and whistles at the mention of the song "If You're Gonna Leave," he commented, "There was a time, not so very long ago, when the only way I could get applause was to do -- " he strummed a chord and crooned, "Georgia . . ." With chops like his, he'll get used to it.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

Chamber Music Recital

The oboe is a much-maligned instrument. Oboe jokes run almost as rampant as viola jokes. But there was no need to poke fun at the sweet and expressive sounds of rarely heard double reed repertoire at Sunday's recital at Westmoreland Congregational Church.

Reverberant acoustics enhanced the sound of a baroque trio sonata by Jan Dismas Zelenka. Oboists Shawn Welk and Katherine Young played the adagio as lyrically as an aria. With bassoonist Dean Woody, bassist Edgardo Malaga and organist Amy Klosterman, they did a fine job of playing baroque music on modern instruments. The performance suffered from balance problems, however. Bassoon and bass were often more prominent than the oboes, and the organ could hardly be heard.

Top-notch string players -- violinists Regino Madrid and Allison K. Bailey, violist Tam Tran and cellist Diana Fish -- joined Welk for Arnold Bax's sultry and romantic Quintet for Oboes and Strings. The ensemble reveled in the dense harmonies and original Irish melodies and played the final jig with gusto.

Henri Dutilleux's sonata was a good vehicle for Young's impressive technique, and she made musical sense of the intense and sometimes jazzy post-romantic melody. Klosterman's piano, however, threatened to overpower her at times.

John Marvin exploited the dark timbres of two oboes and English horn in his Music From the Night. The systematic layering of lines worked well, particularly with Welk, Young and Kathryn Meany Wilson in perfect unison. Wilson's exquisite English horn cadenza was the pinnacle of the piece, but a lack of variety in the composition made the work fall flat about halfway through.

-- Gail Wein

Raul Midon's winning way with a song overcame his cliched lyrics.