Sunday morning, August 15, 2010, 10:00 a.m.—my, that time came early! But not for Laura Mercado-Wright, the mezzo-soprano soloist in Luciano Berio’s Circles (1960), which was the centerpiece of this fourth concert in the Tanglewood Music Center’s Festival of Contemporary Music. The texts, based on poetry by e. e. cummings, were supposed to have been distributed but weren’t, which is a shame. Nevertheless we did have the excellent program notes by Robert Kirzinger to explain their use, a gradual deconstruction from understandable linguistic meaning to phonemes and sheer vocal effects. Written for a mezzo-soprano of wide range and extraordinary capabilities (Berio’s wife, Cathy Berberian, with whose voice Mercado-Wright’s could be compared with favor), two percussion players, and harp, this too is an early “Classic” work of the period still in the repertory, though performed infrequently. Mercado-Wright may safely call this “her own” now with her masterful performance and the perfect voice for it: rich but not fat; a low range that speaks, and a high one that is graceful; and perfect diction for projecting words or sounds. The exacting percussionists Zachary Crystal and Kyle Brightwell, as well as harpist Michael Maganuco earned kudos as well.
The concert opened with Irving Fine’s Fantasia for String Trio (1959), performed by New Fromm Players Katherine Bormann, violin, Pei-Ling Lin, viola, and Kathryn Bates Williams, cello, with the beautiful form and expression we have come to expect from them at this Festival. Although known to be a dodecaphonic work, the Fantasia was written by a master of counterpoint, and this is how we are apt to hear it a half-century later.
Helen Grime was a Tanglewood Fellow in 2008, and her then-commissioned Clarinet Concerto was premièred at these concerts last year. At a panel discussion then, organized by Augusta Read Thomas, Grime emerged as an articulate spokesperson for the music of her time and place (Great Britain). At this year’s concert, her 10 Miniatures (2009) for solo piano was given its American première by Nolan Pearson, who amazingly has performed works of this length at every concert in this year’s TFCM. Each of the 10 short pieces focuses on a coloristic cell and develops it into some larger form. Unfortunately, this piano is not resonant in the upper ranges—in fact makes almost no musical pitch, which interfered or even destroyed some of the points. But Pearson’s performance was exemplary.
After intermission we heard first Olivier Messiaen’s Pièce pour piano et quatuor de cordes (1991), premièred as a very brief 90th birthday gift to the Viennese music publisher Alfred Schlee. It was here performed by the New Fromm Players, violinists Joseph Maile and (again) Bormann, Lin, Bates Williams, and Pearson. This was followed by Alexander Goehr’s Since Brass, nor Stone, fantasy for string quartet and percussion, op. 80 (2008), being given its American première by the same quartet with Takehiko Mochizuki, percussionist, whose role served almost as a running virtuosic commentary to the music of the quartet. This is an extended single movement that seems to end with a question mark rather than a cadence that is somehow refreshing.
Michael Gandolfi is on the composition faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center this summer, and the concert as a result of his exercise for his students was previously reviewed in these pages. His Design School (1995) concluded this concert, and is a good example of his ear for color. The four movements, “Fibonacci’s Fanfare,” “Photoelectric Effect,” “Reptiles,” (being a musical representation of the lithograph by M. C. Escher) and “Matrix Mechanics,” not only reveal his sense of humor but also hint at the compositional form involved, which he describes in his own notes. The work is scored for flute (Marie Tachouet), oboe (Amanda Hardy), clarinet (Gergiy Borisov), bassoon (Luke Varland), violin (Stephanie Bibbo), viola (Evan Buttemer), cello (Amber Docters van Leeuwen), double bass (Ha Young Jung), and piano (Angel Cabrera). In this piece Gandolfi explores the sounds of combinations of instruments in the same range, for example the high harmonics of the flute and violins, or the rumbles of the lower regions of the piano and the double bass. Once again at this year’s TFMC we were in the hands of the very capable Romanian violinist and conductor, Cristian Macelaru.