|Wow. I heard something cool.|
Geoffrey Gordon, a Cedarburg composer with an international career, heard the premiere of his Duo Sonata. Horn players Gregory Flint, of the UWM faculty, and Neil Kimel, of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, commissioned the four-movement sonata. They played it with Chicago pianist Kuang-Hao Huang.
Gordon opens this swashbuckling work with a fanfare of the sort that could signal a five-alarm fire. The two horns swoop upward again and again in arpeggios to plateau on intense trills in all three instruments. The three instruments chase one another upward in these passages before arriving in vibrating knots of harmony.
Ominous scuttling in the cavernous depths of the piano and creepy, vague sustained stretches of almost melody in the horns give the second movement a tinge of horror. Assorted muting effects in the horns add grotesquerie to the mix.
In the second movement especially but throughout the sonata, Gordon plays the master of suspense. He makes us feel that the music has a tonal center, but then he refuses to land on it -- maybe once in the last movement, and then not at the end. The relentless, subtle tension of that device is a big reason this music puts you on the edge of your seat.
So also do the many startling effects, the most striking being the machine-gun repetitions that Flint and Kimel miraculously energized with very little respite in the electrifying third movement. Or the way the piano seemed to tumble down a dark well at the outset of the fourth movement.
Flint, Kimel and Huang gave this music just the rip-roaring reading it needs. Exciting stuff.
Jonathan Monhardt wrote a much lighter set of five miniatures for Flint and flutist Jennifer Clippert. His witty ostinato variations sound like twittering machines whose complex interlocking parts sometimes mesh smoothly and sometimes go comically awry. The flute part often plays disjunct repeating patterns suggestive of computer noises as conceived in sci-fi films of the 1960s. Monhardt gives a little needed relief from the comedy with a bit of veiled, mysterious night music in the fourth movement. Monhardt holds the piece together by basing the last four movements on some element drawn from the percolating first movement. Flint and Clippert breezed by its formidable rhythmic challenges and made the music fun.
Daniel Asia's Why (?) Jacob, an elegy for a friend who died in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, alternates versions of a wan little folk song with dissonant Expressionist outbursts that run wild up and down the piano keyboard. In Elena Abend's hands, it sounded like the improvised expression of sorrow and cherished memory. Which was exactly right.
Abend and soprano Tanya Kruse Ruck have been working with composer Lori Laitman (b. 1955) and intend to record a full CD of her songs. The six they performed Wednesday suggest that this is a worthy project. In these "Days and Nights" songs, on poems by Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, Francis W. Bourdillin and Christina Rossetti, Laitman draws on American vintage pop idioms. Several feature Latin beats, and one sounds like Gershwin. But a some clever twist -- a developmental extension, a tangent into something completely different, a rise to an unlikely level of intensity, outbursts of vocal and pianistic virtuosity -- lifts these compositions beyond imitation. They sound at once familiar and new, borrowed yet personal.
Kruse Ruck has a big, operatic voice and was quite overwhelming in this intimate hall. I'm wondering if she might follow Laitman's lead and drop into a more vernacular sound here and there, and save the artillery for when Laitman goes off the pop-music tracks. The contrast might be interesting.
|Claude Monet The Water
Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899),|
oil on canvas. Paris, Musée d'Orsay.
Baritone Kurt Ollmann, Clipper and pianist Jeffry Peterson performed the Poèmes de Jade song cycle by Thérèse Brenet. Brenet, born in 1934, is alive and well and living in Paris.
This cycle, on French translations of old Chinese poems, is the stuff of dreams. Take No. 5, for example:
Their green dresses are so like water lilies
that we take their dresses for leaves and their faces for flowers
Then we realize that young girls are bathing among the water lilies
The dreamy harmonies and melodies extend the language of Debussy. The songs pass as clouds or aromas, even the one about the madman plucking the stars from the sky. Brenet writes full-blown melodies, drops into Sprechstimme and at the end to speech.
Ollmann made it all languid, luxurious, exotic, hallucinatory, hypnotic, and very French.
More Tom Strini music reviews here.