Matt Haimovitz

Aman carrying a cello walks into a bar. It sounds like the setup for a bawdy joke, but for Matt Haimovitz it's the beginning of another performance on his latest tour.

The cellist began playing nightclubs a few years ago, seeking an alternative to the traditional concert hall and endeavoring to shed some of the formality of chamber music. On this tour, the theme is "Goulash!," hearkening back to Haimovitz's Eastern European roots with music by Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly and Gyorgy Ligeti.

Iota Club and Cafe in Arlington was an ideal spot for Haimovitz's chamber clubbing. On Sunday night, Haimovitz and violinist Andy Simionescu opened the show with transcriptions of Bach's Two-Part Inventions. Competing with the murmur of the crowd and clink of glasses, Haimovitz cut through the din with his extraordinary musical touch.

Haimovitz and Simionescu skillfully fashioned a dramatic suite of Bartok's Duos, miniatures reflecting the composer's fascination with folk music. They captured the sound of joyful dancing, woeful lament, bagpipes and buzzing mosquitoes with their committed, stylistically concise interpretation. Haimovitz's perfectly executed double-stops and artistic phrasing in a sonata by Ligeti kept the momentum going through this thought-provoking piece for cello alone.

On the whole, the program was riveting, but I lost interest partway through Kodaly's Duo. Though Haimovitz's and Simionescu's impressive technique never waned, the 25-minute piece felt about 15 minutes too long.

Haimovitz saved the best for last, bringing out three cellists from Montreal's McGill University, who sank their bows into a beautiful arrangement of Bartok's Romanian Dances with zest and zeal.

No club date would be complete without a bit of rock-and-roll, and Haimovitz obliged with a resounding arrangement of "Kashmir," the 1970s Led Zeppelin tune.

-- Gail Wein

Washington Bach Consort

The Washington Bach Consort took a welcome departure from its baroque fare Sunday afternoon, presenting a varied Christmas concert spanning five centuries at the National Presbyterian Church in Northwest Washington.

Led by Music Director J. Reilly Lewis, the chorus's 24 singers demonstrated fluid technique in several Renaissance works and proclaimed with cheery elation and power in various 20th-century choral pieces. But it was the romantic compositions on the program at which the group excelled.

In Pavel Chesnokov's "Spaseniye Sodelal," based on a Kievan chant, Lewis stretched out phrases like taffy and inspired the consort's men and women to linger on extended endings. With a rich tone, the singers spun out a seamless performance of Brahms's folk-song-infused "Taublein Weiss."

Mendelssohn's "Es Wird Ein Stern" had an operatic quality, as befits the third oratorio meant to bridge the composer's "Elijah" and "St. Paul." The choristers pursued its dramatics as fiercely as they expressed the emotions embedded in Poulenc's "O Magnum Mysterium." For Berlioz's "L'Adieu des Bergers," the chorus sang with hushed warmth, growing successively softer until the sounds simply dissolved.

The consort normally appears with its own period-instrument orchestra, but it opted Sunday for the accompaniment of organist Scott Dettra, who also performed several J.S. Bach works with brilliance. Throughout the concert, the group also featured some of its own in polished solos.

-- Grace Jean

Maggie Sansone

Maggie Sansone has built her Celtic music dynasty in the small Anne Arundel County town of Shady Side, so it was fitting that she would stage the second show of what she jokingly called her "world tour" in nearby Owensville. Christ Episcopal Church, built in 1863, was a picturesque setting for the first of two Celtic Christmas concerts on Sunday.

In opening remarks, the Rev. Saundra L. Cordingley, the church's rector, described the music as both spiritual and earthy. It was this latter quality that gave the show its special charm. Laura Byrne on Irish flute and pennywhistle, Rosie Shipley on fiddle and Lisa Moscatiello on vocals and guitar played with boldness and joy. Byrne's flute boasted that uniquely Irish combination of legato and lilt. Shipley brought a barn-dance bravado to the Appalachian tune "Frosty Morning." And Moscatiello sang the beautiful, strange "Cherry Tree Carol," which she described as "a very human story": Mary beset by food cravings, Joseph sulking about the baby's paternity, and Jesus ending the quarrel with a miracle from inside the womb.

As for Sansone, her primary instrument is the hammered dulcimer, a contraption in grave danger, in the wrong hands, of sounding like a music box. Sansone wielded her hammers gracefully and inventively, filling "What Child Is This?" with lush embellishments and leading "Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella" at double the usual tempo.

"Christ Church Bells," a perfect choice for both venue and instrument, was chased by a song not found in the hymnbooks in the pews: a Scottish tune called "Bottom of the Punch Bowl."

A similar program will be presented at the Birchmere on Dec. 18.

-- Pamela Murray Winters


Tosca is an electronica duo featuring DJ Richard Dorfmeister and his classically trained piano partner, Rupert Huber. On Sunday, the band's 9:30 club show, under the "Dwell Dell Sound System" banner, was supposed to be a huge affair: Four hours long! Amazing light show! Wicked live band!

Well, there was no live band. The closest things were when Huber meandered through a 40-minute ambient keyboard solo to begin the event and MCs Rob Gallagher and Tweed chanted over a Dorfmeister DJ set. Meanwhile, the psychedelic images Fritz Fitzke projected on a screen over the stage didn't stimulate sensory overload, and the gig lasted a mere three hours -- though that was plenty.

So rather than being the mind-bending techno extravaganza it was purported to be, Tosca's "performance" -- Dorfmeister and Huber never actually played music together -- felt more like a tiny li'l rave, which seemed to suit the crowd at the less-than-full club just fine.

But Huber's electric-piano performance was self-effacing to a fault. As he tinkled away, images of human silhouettes, stars and jungles danced above his head. In fact, the projections were the only things dancing at that point; the audience just chatted away as the background music remained there.

Things picked up considerably when Dorfmeister got behind the wheels of steel -- or rather CD players built for disc jockeys -- and the Austrian proved why he's such an in-demand DJ and remixer. For most of the next two hours Dorfmeister blended techno, dub and big beat in a seamless dance-floor construction that pumped up the party. But as the music began to slow and the midnight hour approached, the audience began to thin. A set-ending, and seemingly unironic, spin of the Beatles' "Come Together" sent the crowd scurrying off into the night.

-- Christopher Porter

Cellist Matt Haimovitz performed with violinist Andy Simionescu at Iota.