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In performance: "Currier and Ives"

Web-only review:

21st Century Consort transcends gimmickry with well-matched "Currier and Ives"
by Joan Reinthaler

Occasionally all the stars seem to align for an event, and Saturday's 21st Century Consort concert at the Smithsonian's McEvoy Auditorium was one of those times. The program -- music of Sebastian Currier and Charles Ives (and hence called "Currier and Ives") -- might have been a gimmick, but in fact these two American composers, who wrote a century apart, were ideally matched. The Consort's Artistic Director Christopher Kendall structured the program with a sure ear for balance and subtlety -- trios at the beginning and the end, with songs and piano solos in between -- and he assembled a superb group of artists in violinist Elisabeth Adkins, clarinetist Paul Cigan, cello player Rachel Young, pianist Lisa Emenheiser and baritone William Sharp.
(read more after the jump)

Whereas many composers have written etudes, lessons in technique dressed up as performance pieces, Currier writes etudes for the mind. His trio "Verge," for piano, violin and clarinet, which began the concert, has nine short movements titled "almost too fast," "almost too slow" and so on through "too mechanical," "dark," "light," "fractured," "much," "little" and "calm." Each one hovers on the "almost" border (really a challenge for the performers to keep it there) and does so briefly and brilliantly. His textures are transparent, his harmonies fluid and, though he often has the instruments going separate ways, his sonorities are coherent. Emenheiser handled his piano pieces, "Scarlatti Cadences," a dalliance on stock Scarlatti idioms, and "Brainstorm," a more abstract exploration of angular thematic material, with wonderful clarity and delicacy.

If Currier demands that the listener integrate his music's ingredients in the mind, Ives demands almost the opposite, that the listener separate out its component parts but hear them all simultaneously. Although his songs are almost straightforward (and Sharp delivered some with just the right amount of corny fervor and appealing longing), his Trio for violin, cello and piano is full of his favorite Ives-ism -- the jumbling of several hymns, songs and patriotic melodies together into chaotic sonorities that conjure up turn-of-the-century scenes (in this case, his years at Yale), but then magically morph into the most banal of harmonies. This reading preserved the chaos, order and resulting humor with panache.

-- Joan Reinthaler

By Anne Midgette  |  December 7, 2009; 6:10 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Next: Ode to S. Ambrogio: "Carmen," live


Here's a concert tip for this week for anybody who loves Enescu. Try not to miss the recital Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater by Remus Azoitei and Eduard Stan. Azoitei is the youngest ever violin professor appointed to the Royal Academy of Music in London, and together with Eduard Stan has recorded for Hanssler the integral of Enescu's music for violin and piano. While Enescu's own recordings (alongside Dinu Lipatti) remain unbeaten, Azoitei and Stan are very much the version of choice for modern recordings. Indeed, Azoitei's Impressions d'enfance is better than Gidon Kremer's recording - to give an example. Sadly, they will not play Impressions on Wednesday, but the 3rd violin sonata, which was heard in this area in the last few years from Midori and Hilary Hahn. But their recording of this work is also outstanding.

And if you cannot have too much Enescu (surely I can't), on Thursday evening the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra will play the delightful Dixtuor for Winds.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | December 7, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

We might like Brahms and Enescu (and admire this strong programming by the Romanian Cultural Institute), but the Shanghai String Quartet is giving the regional premiere of Krystof Penderecki’s new and autobiographical Third String Quartet (“Leaves from an Unwritten Diary” – based upon Hutsul folk-song) tomorrow night at the Freer Gallery at same time as the Enescu.

WETA will also be broadcasting the Azoitei and Stan recording of the Enescu A minor “Torso Sonata” tonight just after 10 PM; so as not to conflict with tonight’s live Tigran Mansurian portrait concert at Baird Auditorium, sponsored by the Embassy of Armenia.

Perhaps tomorrow night just after 10 PM, that station will broadcast selections from the Kashkashian, Mansurian and Schulkowsky recordings of music of Komitas and Mansurian, on the ECM recording label.)

We are also counting on WETA to broadcast the Krystof Penderecki SQ regional premiere at a later date. (The work was commissioned by the University of Richmond, Montclair State University, and the Polish Cultural Institute).

Posted by: snaketime1 | December 8, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

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