Borodin String Quartet
At the Library of Congress
As the remarkable recent discovery of one of Beethoven's last manuscripts revealed, the composer viewed his "Great Fugue" in B-flat as a work in progress well after publishing it in a string quartet version as Op. 133. Little wonder that performances of this original -- even an account as clear and thoughtful as the one the esteemed Borodin Quartet gave on Wednesday evening at the Library of Congress -- often have a wonderfully strange, ever-evolving feel.
The Borodin's "Great Fugue" was not so much glistening and incendiary as it was ruminative and deep. From the expectant initial chords to the strident part writing for each individual instrument, the music emerged like a vivid double helix. Each Borodin member -- violinists Ruben Aharonian and Andrei Abramenkov, violist Igor Naidin and cellist Valentin Berlinsky -- played against one another one moment and came together the next in a sublimely simple passage.
This illustrious Russian ensemble, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, similarly went to the guts of Beethoven's String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, especially in the push-and-pull of the opening movement and the compressed finale.
The concert began with a glowing rendition of Alexander Borodin's rarely heard String Quartet No. 1 in A, giving plenty of room for the Russian composer's shapely folk-inspired melodies to breathe. This warm reading showed what an enormous shadow Beethoven cast over his followers, including stunning references to the "Great Fugue" and the exotic ambiguity of the master's late style.
-- Daniel Ginsberg
At Lisner Auditorium
Brazil's carnival invaded Lisner Auditorium for two hours Wednesday -- and somehow the man next to me slept through most of it. Daniela Mercury, the queen of axe -- a high-energy blend of samba, house music and just about anything else funky -- boogied and sang for two hours, joined every hip-shaking step of the way by boisterous Brazilian nationals who helped sell out the room. Little Nemo missed quite a party while he was in slumberland.
The 40-year-old Mercury looks like a petite version of Demi Moore, but her nonstop dancing recalled the young Madonna -- with a much better voice. Mercury ran around the stage for 120 minutes with only a handful of short breaks, yet her singing never faltered and she never sounded short of breath. Meanwhile, I became winded just standing up during the second song, "Maimbe Danda," which is when Mercury's Brazilian fans leapt out of their chairs and jammed the aisles to sing and dance to the Afro-Brazilian techno stomper.
Security guards soon cleared the walkways, but there was no way to keep the audience in its seats; Mercury and her music wouldn't allow it. The persuasive performer often made eye contact with fans near the front, urging them to get off their keisters and shake it. Late in the concert she was even able to coax a late-term pregnant woman back on her achin' feet. By the time of the encore songs "Vide Gal," "Olha o Gandhi Ae" and a medley of "Rapunzel" and "Maimbe Danda," the audience had jammed the aisles again and security just let it go. You can't stop the Brazilians; you can only hope to contain them -- or not, because it was impossible to resist the ebullient mood Mercury and her 10-piece band created. Unless, of course, you're a narcoleptic.
-- Christopher Porter