Diamond’s music and influence shine on with KeyedUp Music concert
The KeyedUp Music Project presented a concert Saturday night at the Tenri Cultural Center that was a fully satisfying reminder of the fundamental and important pleasures of melody, harmony, and well-made music.
The concert was also an equally welcome, and rare, opportunity to hear music by David Diamond. One of a coterie of mid-20th century American composers who wrote consistently excellent pieces and trained the generation of composers who followed them, Diamond—like William Schuman, Peter Mennin, and others—has never been in fashion.
His presence was substantial at Tenri. The theme of the concert was “David Diamond and His Legacy,” expressed through his own Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, and by music from peers Francis Poulenc, Percy Grainger, David Del Tredici, and Diamond’s student, Daron Hagen, the latter two world premieres.
Poulenc was first, with two short pieces for two pianos, L’embarquement pour Cythére and Elégie, played by the Split Second Piano Ensemble—pianists Marc Peloquin and Roberto Hidalgo. These are nice bits of concentrated Poulenc, music with a straightforward effect and stylish craft. L’embarquement, written for a short comedy film, is especially charming, a mix of silent film music, the dance hall, chansons, and Jacques Tati.
Peloquin and Hidalgo played it and the somber, song-like Elégie, with elegance and expressive weight. The two grand pianos easily filled the Tenri space with sound, but even in passages that called for both to pedal heavily, the details of the music were consistently clear; chords didn’t smash together but sat with each other, melodic phrases and bass lines worked together in counterpoint.
Fundamentally, it was Split Second’s rock solid tempos that made the configuration work. Even in the densest and most energetic passages, they kept everything moving along, with the compositional interstices clear and open to what the music was doing, like stained-glass windows on a bright, sunny day.
This was important in Diamond’s concerto, which has his voice: harmonic richness, strong rhythms, a feeling of poised energy and a sense of bigness. The music handles the paradox of the title by having the two pianos work together to introduce thematic material, then alternate short solo statements and accompaniment from each.
In less capable hands, the music would be too dense, but this was a terrific performance.
The piece is in three movements and has an orchestral shape and sound. The way Diamond keeps the solo music and accompaniment close to each gives it the sound of a transcription of one of his excellent symphonies. Arnold Schoenberg supposedly called Diamond “a young Bruckner,” but Diamond’s music comes through the objective sieve of Stravinsky, and his grandeur is captured inside classical structures. His sound in this piece is something like Joseph Cornell, delicate objects used to explore unsayable things.
Peloquin was joined by an ensemble for Hagen’s Nocturne, which is scored for piano, bass, and string quartet. The piece shares with Poulenc and Diamond the virtues of elegance and straightforward communication on the surface with a deep well of feeling underneath.
From a moody piano solo, Nocturnes grows into a lyrical journey from darkness to light. It is full of horizontal and vertical expansive gestures.
The form is roughly like an extended song. What at first appears to be a B section, with energetic syncopations that explore a different mood than the earlier music, turns out to be a snappy, clever, extended coda that sets up the final mood and resolution. The final solo piano playing, quiet, dark,and accompanied by Tenri’s rattling radiators, sounded like a serendipitous haunting.
After intermission, Peloquin premiered Del Tredici’s demanding, involving Late in the Game. This is a set of four pieces, “Farewell, R.W.”, “Gloss,” “Bittersweet,” and “Monk.” The sections are linked, if not by music (like a quote from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and a subtle feeling of Chopin) then by mood—there is throughout the wrenching sense of looking back on life, of laughing and crying simultaneously over sweet memories and lost loved ones, a lyrical rage against the dying of the light.
These are again like songs, with carved melodies full of wrinkles and unexpected but fascinating detours, all subject to constant and gradual variations. The musical line goes deep into personal reveries and is buffeted by vicissitudes, but never loses its way. Peloguin played with a feeling of being deep inside this compelling and emotionally complex music.
The perhaps unintentional theme of songs was capped by the finale, Percy Grainger’s Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for two pianos. Grainger’s transcription loses Gershwin’s swing but reinforces his marvelous melodies and harmonies, the precision beauty of his forms, the energy. Under Split Second’s hands, the chords were explosive, the phrases supple, and one could hear all the lyrics in one’s head as the music flowed along with the stately strength of the Hudson.
KeyedUp music project presents “The Magic of Andre Previn,” with soprano Harolyn Blackwell 8 p.m. April 30 at the Tenri Cultural Center. keyedupmusicproject.com