December 21, 2005
Music Review Speculum Musicae
An Evening of Sensuous and Serious Modernism
By BERNARD HOLLAND
An uninstructed observer could have mistaken Monday night's Speculum Musicae program at Merkin Hall for a rear guard action in behalf of modern composition. An audience of 50 or so listening to four new-music veterans negotiate five pieces might indeed have seemed forlorn, but this was only new music doing its business - leading its quiet, everyday and worthwhile life removed from grand events, big-five orchestras and major concert halls.
Only one work could be called new. David Rakowski wrote "Inside Story" this year, while Charles Wuorinen's "Fortune" goes back to 1979. The evening was, as so many of these events are, colleagues playing for colleagues. Some of the music was very good, most of it interesting and all of it very well played. Curtis Macomber, violinist, Aleck Karis, pianist, Allen Blustine, clarinetist, and Chris Finckel, cellist, faced musical and technical puzzles with remarkable skill and true engagement. They have been doing this kind of music for many years, and a few gray hairs are showing. They also know it isn't likely to make them rich.
Jacob Druckman's "Dark Wind" and Toru Takemitsu's "From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog" shared, in their different ways, an earnest pursuit of beautiful sound. Mr. Druckman's combinations of violin and cello tone showed a man in love with both instruments; the Takemitsu finds delicacy in the extreme ranges of the violin and the piano. Their mirror opposite was Mr. Wuorinen's two-movement quartet at the end, hard-bitten and complex - a tough guy next to these two soft and curvaceous duos.
Chou Wen-Chung's "Windswept Peaks," also for all four instruments, was high-strung, tumultuous and given to sending short phrases back and forth between the different parts. Mr. Rakowski's three movements begin with scurrying figures and sharp banging interruptions; they continue with a kind of baritonal nocturne and end with rumbling tremolos and a terribly complicated piano part running beneath them.
Beauty in the feel-good, hedonistic sense was as absent here as it was in Mr. Wuorinen's "Fortune." One could split the evening into two camps. One side says, "The sensuous is still important"; the other, "Here is the news, not all of it pretty."