Chamber Music Society offers a Rautavaara premiere and memorable Messiaen
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented a wide range of contemporary music Friday night at Alice Tully Hall centered on Messiaen’s masterpiece Quatuor pour la fin du temps. The evening began with four works from the last twenty years, the program managed to put forth a vast swath of the current musical landscape.
The first work by American composer Pierre Jalbert, Visual Abstract (2002), is based on three images: a bell, a church dome, and a group of dancers. Scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, Jalbert is extremely successful and evocative in painting the visual inspirations. In the middle movement, Jalbert precisely captured the sense of infinity and awe one feels when staring up into a cathedral’s dome from the inside – the textures of the six instrumentalists weaved and ebbed seamlessly without obvious time or structure.
Especially stunning was the inclusion of a bowed vibraphone, which blended effortlessly into the palette and created an otherworldly expression. Percussionist Ian David Rosenbaum shone in the third movement, an evocation of dancers, which came to a rhythmic and raucous finish.
Elliott Carter’s Esprit rude/Esprit doux II (1995) was written for Pierre Boulez’s 70th birthday. Rosenbaum played marimba in this cheeky, but dense piece, joined by flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois. However thick, the musicians never stopped conversing with each other – imitating and responding in a dialogue marked with seamless clarity.
Clarinetist and composer Jörg Widmann performed his own Fantasie for Clarinet (1993), a piece that dives into klezmer, jazz, and Romantic fantasy idioms. The piece travels through a good deal of the instrument’s extended technique and pitch and dynamic range, and Widmann showed certainly showed his technical mastery. Particularly impressive were his exceedingly slow and large-range slides, and ability to go from raunchy multiphonics to lyrical playing as soft as the ear can hear.
The first half of the program closed with a joint commission from the Library of Congress and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Variations for Five by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, was premiered the night before at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Written for string quartet and additional cello, the music is lush and Romantic, and showcases the first cellist with solos at the beginning of each movement. The Amphion String Quartet and cellist Nicolas Altstaedt provided excellent advocacy, though ultimately Rautavaara’s quintet stays squarely within its narrow soundworld. Each movement seemed to be a continuation of the previous without much change in the texture, beautiful as the music often was.
Messiaen’s wartime Quatuor pour la fin du temps is a stark reminder of the power that music can hold over a listener. Written in a German prisoner-of-war camp, Messiaen’s quartet demands the performers remove the audience from their current place and time and portray a bleak and austere beauty that is simple and often static.
The Chamber Music Society members did just that Friday night, capturing the timelessness of the work, and the audience was clearly captivated by Messiaen’s powerful music. Violinist Nicolas Dautricourt, clarinetist Jörg Widmann, cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, and pianist Gilles Vonsattel were remarkably successful in creating the proper atmosphere and maintaining it to the coda.
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will next perform 7:30 pm. April 17 at the Kaplan Penthouse. The program includes Viñao Khan’s Variations for Marimba, Sebastian Currier’s New Work (New York premiere), Detlev Glanert’s Noctambule (U.S. Premiere), Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel, and Fred Lerdahl’s Fantasy Etudes. chambermusicsociety.org.