Dar Williams

"Please stick around for Dar Williams," deadpanned Nate Berkus of Girlyman after that trio's opening set at the Birchmere on Monday, and he got the big laugh he'd intended.

The 38-year-old New England singer-songwriter had family, friends, charity workers and many fans in attendance, and although it's impossible to say whether she pleased them all, she pleasantly surprised more than a few.

Williams's songs often brim with words, so much so that in an acoustic setting, the ideas too often overwhelm the art.

Here, though, backed by a full band -- occasionally augmented by Girlyman's harmony vocals -- those brainy compositions flourished. "Beautiful Enemy" boasted the clockwork timing and sardonic edge of early Elvis Costello.

The hippie-karma anthem "Echoes," written by others, was put into action by Williams, who as a touring artist has featured a different community organization at each of her shows, as part of the "Echoes Initiative." (The Alexandria Seaport Foundation had a display in the lobby.)

Her mind-over-heart approach did lend a certain cool remove to many of her songs -- they sometimes pleased without cutting too deeply.

One exception was "The One Who Knows," featuring Williams's acoustic guitar, Julie Wolf's piano and their two voices; the incandescently beautiful expression of love from a parent to a child was dedicated to Williams's in-laws, who looked after her young son.

Knowing when to shout and when to whisper, when to laugh and when to mourn: Williams has become quite the embodiment of the early Byrds, if not Ecclesiastes.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

David Korevaar

Pianist David Korevaar is on the music faculty of the University of Colorado, and his recital at the Phillips Collection on Sunday was the sort of didactic, sometimes enlightening exposition that leaves you with more than just a pleasant afternoon of music.

The two big pillars of repertoire on the program, the Beethoven Sonata in A, Op. 101, and the Ravel "Le Tombeau de Couperin," were delivered with a sure command of two very different cultural idioms. His Beethoven moved from the dreamy to the abrupt and from the ephemeral to the insistent, all with equal conviction. His Ravel had an immediacy that spoke in believably Gallic tones, and even a memory lapse, which had him start the second-movement fugue over, did not significantly interrupt the progress of the suite. You can learn about style and structure from performances such as these, and you surely can admire the technique and intellect that make it all possible.

It was the rest of the program, however, that communicated directly from the heart. Korevaar discovered the three-movement, passionately impressionistic piece "Sillages" by Louis Aubert, a Frenchman who outlived Debussy by half a century, in the University of Colorado library, and he played it as if he had given birth to it. The musical scene is a riverbank and, in Korevaar's hands, the water surged, the church on the shore teemed with activity and the picture shone in vivid color. A similar sense of commitment illuminated Korevaar's reading of "Nocturne No. 8" by Lowell Liebermann. This is a delicate and transparently textured piece, and Korevaar played it with just the quiet sense of repose it needed.

-- Joan Reinthaler

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams performed with a full band Monday at the Birchmere.