IN: Reviews

Compassion Through Time


Pianist Judith Gordon

With plenty of compassion, cellist Rhonda Rider and pianist Judith Gordon advanced an up-to-date inventory of  mazes, pulls and drifts at Boston Conservatory’s Seully Hall Thursday night.

With all that goes on in Boston, this time was ever so dead-on. Thinking of that impugning of waterfowl from Stravinsky where he asserts that listening takes effort instead of hearing, which is what ducks do, Rider and Gordon asserted humanity—to which maybe even ducks would gravitate.

In their one-hour program of four works with a brief breather, the two artists braved old stamps. For starters, this timing fostered alertness. Furthermore, it promoted a singular shape to the evening.  One wonders why so many other music makers are not as imaginative.

Dedication (1990) by Erkki-Sven Tüür took to intense inside piano string scraping and plosive plucks led up to by incisively probing and shifting cello strings. Such was then countered by tonal musings. Rider and Gordon synced in lyrical, now danceable, now folkish likenesses each coming after the developing scraping and shifting idea. Striking it all was. It resembled an overture in ways.

Yu-Hui Chang’s Through Time…with Shr (2009) followed. Nothing about the pieces or the composers appeared on the simple program sheet. Rider wanted us to know that Chang’s piece was “newly revised just this fall.” In this, another somewhat short cello and piano piece, Rider and Gordon pealed off dialogues of moods.

The language of Through Time…, partially derivative of 20th-century Viennese pathos, and Bartókian night music, rose to exquisite status as the Rider-Gordon team easily reevaluated the shadowy references. Focusing on them rewarded over and again, the two seemed made for each other.

Rider then took on the elemental, Curve with Plateaux (1982) by Jonathan Harvey. Somewhat longer but still on the short side, positing the primal, yet world informed, this solo work moved through three spheres. Rider’s low howls, cast with surprising affection, would turn emotional in midrange then spiritual in high range.

The angular, angry, impersonal, obtuse saturating of recent inventory went happily missing, in good part due to Rider, who illuminates through an inspired hospitality. Crystalline whistling, glissando harmonics feathery sailing, all came genuinely, generously touched. Had she heard the Japan’s shakuhachi or China’s pipa? 

If Dedication had elicited a sound picture of stylistic differences, Through Time dialoging on moods, and Curve with Plateaux both primally and worldly cognizant, then the profuse intricacies of Elliot Carter’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948) bespoke intellectualism. And to top it all off, Rider and Gordon showered benevolence on it while giving extreme care for the smallest detail.

Rhonda Rider (file photo)

For the Moderato, Gordon excellently walked the piano, then, in the Vivace, molto leggerio, danced it like a starlit sky. Rider first tantalizingly hummed on her cello then crescendoed, in so timely fashion, to a gratifying arrival. In that Vivace, she bared eye-opening rapidity and ear-bending deep-space shots. Rhythmic joyousness mounted between the two players.

Their Adagio-take bravely and unswervingly pronounced Carter’s American determinism. Their darting inter-playfulness fully penetrated the closing Allegro.

The printed notes described Rider as an “advocate of contemporary music.” I would say that is putting mildly. And for Judith Gordon, we read “She has explored repertory from Bach to Boulez.” And to “explore” I would add, “made discoveries.”

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.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).


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