in: Reviews

September 23, 2013

Far Cry Strings on Fire

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Just hours before the autumnal equinox, A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra were consuming “Tapas” in Calderwood Hall at the Gardner Museum. Pieces by Arcangelo Corelli, Edvard Grieg, and Paul Hindemith were programmed in unusual back-and-forth crossings with six preludes of Jean Françaix—“kind of sprinkled around the program… as preludes to the different works.” Thus spake the Gardner’s Resident Chamber Orchestra. Not a note of the string concert scheduled to begin at 1:30 would be heard until 15 minutes later. How many of you worked your way around the Red Sox and Sunday afternoon traffic, then found a parking space so that you were on time?

As sure as the sun will be setting all ablaze in the western skies on this special evening of September 22nd, A Far Cry would, in its inimitable way, blaze their way through works that were distinctly French, German, Norwegian, and Italian. In Françaix’s preludes, “Aperutra” and “Elegia,” A Far Cry’s voicings resulted in a good amount of feathery French timbres with sensory appeal. The acoustics of that “cold box,” as one listener described Calderwood Hall, transported most every detail of Far Cry’s bowing art.

Before these notes sounded, “a few short words” were in order from Far Cry. When do you applaud in such an unusually planned concert we were asked. Their answer was “clap anytime you are so moved.” No applause followed these first two preludes, which, as it would turn out after we heard all six by the end of the afternoon, had the most direction, that is, most of the time ears could follow the music in linear fashion. That would not be so of the overly complex sophistications of the remaining four by very French Françaix.

Some audience members were already confused by the time the first work was underway, Hindemith’s Five Pieces for String Orchestra Op.44 No.4 dating from 1927. However, A Far Cry really brought the crowd of string music lovers to attention with the three livelier movements. When this resident ensemble at the Gardner completely fell into step, all those strings were on fire. German punctuality in their ensemble-bound deliveries was at its most gripping inducing spur-of-the-moment clapping along with vocalized approvals. Consistency, though, remains an issue for this local conductor-less organization.

Following another Françaix prelude, Grieg’s “Holberg Suite from the Olden Time” Op. 40, composed in 1884 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Danish-Norwegian humanist playwright, spiraled to heights of string music making. The Präludium (that would make a prelude preceding another prelude) caught fire, but here, never let up. The Sarabande pushed the second beat of the three beat patterned dance with naturalness that would invite an imaginary Terpsichore teeming with an elegant choreography. The Gavotte moved well. In the Air, that gift of Far Cry fire so well-known and inspiring to its audiences, burned too long. It was time for calmer, cooler ways. And so, with the final Holberg number, Rigaudon, heat exhaustion began creeping in.

During a brief intermission, a table with tablecloth, chairs, a coffee pot, and cups appeared in the performing space. Next, during Rossini’s String Sonata No. 2, in A Major, which he composed at the age of 12, several criers sat it out, taking a break, sipping away. What, I would ask, was this all about? “Tapas?” After a few early laughs, I do not believe anyone really noticed the alien cafe. Again, “fire, fire, fire, raging all about,” this time most noticeably with the treble unison scalar riff in the violins. Far Cry was at breakneck speed. The section-ending passage became a sonic curiosity unto itself.

Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 11, seemed a strange way to end “Tapas.” While it was the ending work, yet another one of the French preludes, this one entitled Finale (of all things), climaxed the experimental concert with a string replication of the sonic boom. As to the harpsichord in the Corelli, it could barely be heard, if at all.

A Far Cry announced it will be soon forming its own recording label. How brightly will their fire burn on CD? I look forward to their welcoming some calm and reflection into their youthful style of playing, though please don’t put the fire out.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net

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