Sunday, November 10, 2013

Great Danes, Not Great Works

  The Danish Quartet’s appealing and considerable abilities were squandered in a post modernist program proffered by Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two. The evening’s concert, of the American Peter Lieberson’s Piano Quintet, the Dane Hans Abrahamsen‘s Ten Preludes for String Quartet, and the Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for clarinet and String Quartet should have been bracing, refreshing and soulfully meaningful. Through the weakness of the selections, it was a night of constriction, triteness and exasperation. Mr. Lieberson’s Piano Quintet is written in a post-serial language spiked with consonances and melodic contours with plenty of various intervals larger than an octave. The plethora of quarter and eighth notes of the first movement, Celebratory and Joyful, was as rousing as falling bowling pins. In the second movement rhythmic interest was more developed, but not so harmonic. The concluding fugal section was a gloss on Cape Breton fiddling music that the composer heard in Nova Scotia where he was a director of a Buddhist meditation program. Though somewhat enlivening this grey porridge, it still lacked enlightenment. The pianist was the dynamic Gilles Vonsattel.

   Mr. Abrahamsen’s Preludes could have delighted by their tonal naiveté, but ten of them eventually proved cloying. Each successive piece was more confusing, with cute twists in their codettas, until the baffling last. Of this final the composer clarifies: ‘Like in the fairy tales one could say "There, this was a true story".’

However, the Danish Quartet’s performance was excellent, with sounds autumnal that ranged from golden beams of dappled light to dusky veiled tone, and our heartfelt thanks go to them for refusing musically simplistic solutions through harshness.
   Closing the program was Mr. Golijov’s ponderous The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, a kabbalist 13th century rabbi, whose music is burdened by heavy religious allusions. The composer claims to hear three historical Jewish languages in its respective movements: Aramaic, Yiddish and sacred Hebrew, but this interminable work, mostly of dragging music, was undifferentiated, though klezmer touches brought smiles and nods from the audience. Featured here was the promising Canadian clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, indefatigably working her way into the scene as a force to be reckoned with.

Semitic music in its immense variety is arguably the most specific to any authentic realization. Nothing less than a cultural immersion does this music deserve. The bland score could excuse a characterless performance, but it was unseemly for Ms. De Guise-Lanblois in the post concert discussion to casually trump that in her preparation she had taken a few (!) klezmer lessons. Apparently she learned to attach annoying bulges to the ends of notes in micro-phrases, and her vibrato skirted dangerously close to the bubbling sounds of trapped water in the instrument. It was very impressive to hear her make the bass clarinet sound like a piccolo E flat, but why would a composer ask for such a thing? I’ll leave Mr. Golijov to speak for his music. “Blindness, then, reminded me of how to compose music as it was in the beginning: An art that springs from and relies on our ability to sing and hear, with the power to build castles of sound in our memories.”

The public’s response was tepid, but made curious by a partial standing ovation. Afterwards in the elevator a couple granted that it was an “interesting” evening. It will be a great pleasure to hear the Danish String Quartet again in more interesting repertoire.


1 comment:

  1. There is a distinct ring of truth here, I can almost imagine the works...