David Finckel and Wu Han
"We thought it would be fun to take an audience through 300 years of history in two hours," said pianist Wu Han from the stage of the Gildenhorn Recital Hall at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Friday night, during a concert titled "The Unfolding of Music." She was performing with cellist David Finckel, her husband and partner in musicmaking and the ArtistLed record label. Finckel punctuated his wife's talks with funny, vaudeville-style perplexed faces.
Han engagingly sketched musical shifts from Bach to Benjamin Britten using anecdotes, musical examples and insightful analogies. Her best analogy compared enjoying the exotic tone colors of Debussy with savoring the flavor of French wine -- which made it disappointing that the duo pushed his cello sonata too hard to really let the colors blossom. Schumann's Adagio and Allegro also was impeccably played but lacked a certain genial repose.
The duo sparkled in Bach's first sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord, though, making it sound utterly natural on their cello and piano. Their exciting take on Beethoven's third cello sonata emphasized its shifts between striding, heroic themes and intimate lyricism. And the fiendish difficulties of Britten's sonata for cello and piano posed no problem for this duo, who gave a hair-raising account of the thorny perpetual-motion finale and a central slow movement in which time seemed alternately to erupt and stand still.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone
The National Philharmonic presented an energetic evening of Mozart and Beethoven during its season-opener Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore.
Led by Music Director Piotr Gajewski, the philharmonic gave a bright and airy performance of Mozart's Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" -- a contrast to the moody opening of the composer's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, featuring Christopher Taylor at the keyboard.
The tall pianist often hunched over as he played, his fingers eliciting alternate sounds of pearly luminescence or dark intensity. The orchestra reciprocated with delicacy and passion. In the Romance, Taylor played with an expressive elegance. His exaggerations of the main melody's staccatos offered a charming counterpoint to the movement's otherwise lyrical structure. The finale's mischievous and impetuous qualities brought out the pianist's flair for suspense and drama.
While Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92, inspired jubilant sounds, the orchestra never quite achieved the same level of musical subtlety and dynamic diversity that came so naturally in the Mozart works. The violin section dominated; it was a welcome respite to hear the violas and cellos tiptoeing their way in the second movement. The orchestra made all the necessary scenic stops in the final two movements, but blazing new musical trails might have proved beneficial for audience and musicians alike.
-- Grace Jean
The BoDeans' take on pop-reggae was fun back in 1986, when it was part of the Wisconsin band's debut album, "Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams," but it was bigger and badder at Friday's show at the 9:30 club, what with Bukka Allen pumping away on a very un-Caribbean accordion, Eric Holden's bass rattling the balcony and Kenny Aronoff beating to beat the band.
The audience nearly took over "Still the Night," urged on by singer-guitarist Kurt Neumann.
Aronoff fuses eloquence and attack more seamlessly than any drummer on the roots side of rock: Put hammers in his hands, and he'd pound out a skyscraper -- while threatening to knock it down.
He, Allen and Holden provided a firm foundation for Neumann and Sammy Llanas's late-'80s repertoire of hits: "Dreams," "Only Love," "Still the Night" and "Fadeaway."
Newness came in the torqued-up arrangements; the songs from the group's latest, "Homebrewed"; and the opener, Shannon McNally, whose ability to "Ooooh" ought to win an award. On "Sweet Forgiveness," she imbued passive-aggressive lyrics ("Forgive my love . . . I'm angry to the bone") with even more colors: she evoked sympathy, scared you a little, and still sounded downright gorgeous.
-- Pamela Murray Winters
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra
The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra opened its 2005-06 season Saturday at George Mason Center for the Arts with a not altogether comfortable collaboration. There was pianist Claude Frank, just shy of 80, pouring his wisdom into a lyrical and technically crisp performance of the Beethoven "Emperor" Concerto No. 5 while the orchestra plodded along, heavy-footed and pedantic-sounding. The horns and the bassoons struggled, and the strings, well-balanced and sonorous, missed opportunities to match Frank in shaping phrases and maintaining momentum.
After intermission, the orchestra was much more focused for the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony. Conductor William Hudson paced this expansive work carefully and was judicious in the use of dynamic extremes. The clarinet opening was powerful (the clarinets were in top form throughout), and although the horns and bassoons continued to have problems, the rest of the orchestra offered just what had been missing.
The FSO has planned an impressive nine-concert season and will offer, for the first time, chamber music concerts. It is a solid orchestra with a loyal following, and the programs provide affordable opportunities to hear fine music in a fine hall.
-- Joan Reinthaler
Pianist Christopher Taylor was soloist with the National Philharmonic.
The BoDeans offered a bigger and badder sound Friday at the 9:30 club.