Introspection and catharsis abided on the Pickman Hall stage Saturday with Radius Ensemble’s “Solace,” an eclectic set of comforting pieces highlighting composers who suffered within or escaped from totalitarian regimes along with a pairing of two living composers, an underplayed oddity, and a titan of the repertoire. Eugene Kim on cello, Aaron Larget-Caplan on guitar, Megumi Stohs Lewis on violin, and Randall Zigler on bass, joined the core ensemble.
Osvaldo Golijov compiled the majority of Lullaby & Doina from the score he wrote for the 2000 movie The Man Who Cried, taking much from “Entendre Encore” (I still believe I hear) from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (the two different worlds met in the movie itself). Extracting score cues under the melody of “Entendre Encore,” Golijov constructed a decent hybrid of both composers’ styles, though he seemingly emphasized Bizet’s melody over his own material. Sarah Brady on flute and Eran Egozy on clarinet sounded like one instrument. The strings of Lewis, Noriko Futagami on viola, Kim, and Zigler supported the winds admirably and functioned well in the solos, especially Futagami, whose throaty C string playing complemented the clarinet well. The main star of the show, however, was Egozy. When he played, this reviewer paid full attention; his phrasing of the decidedly more folk-like and klezmer-like passages spoke to a deep understanding laid bare for everyone.
Eclogues, Op. 206 of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco sets an odd combination: flute, English horn, and guitar. Brady and Radius founder Jennifer Montbach on English horn joined Larget-Caplan in trotting out this underplayed set of bagatelles. Through the lynchpin of the flute, the strange combination of voices functioned pretty well. There were some cracks in the orchestration between the guitar and English horn, but that is not the performers’ faults. Brady and Montbach once again became a single voice, responding to one another lyrically and smoothly when in imitation and united as a single complex voice when in harmony. Larget-Caplan stretched the limits of the sound of the guitar, experimenting with other playing positions most others do not tend to use: sul tasto, sul ponticello, finger vs. nail, etc. It’s refreshing to hear and very rewarding. The piece itself, though, left a lot to be desired. Castelnuovo-Tedesco, despite having excellent melodies and a highly exploitable palette of timbres, instead crafted formulas to use over and over again: English horn states a phrase, flute responds, guitar plays like a piano and accompanies on chords. Rinse and repeat. The fourth movement broke the trend by reversing it, with much-needed freshness after stifling loops of the same ideas over and over.
Responding to the shooting of noted Islamic women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai, Elena Ruehr (in attendance that evening) wrote Lift for solo cello. It clearly had moved Miriam Bolkosky of the core ensemble. Before she set he bow on the strings, she discussed what the work meant to her, a visual sensation that reminded her of Yousafzai’s home she had to flee for speaking out. Though perhaps that sensation did not translate to the audience as well as she hoped, Bolkosky did an admirable job with the solo. The lower register material at times mirrored that of an organ or a choir, multiple voices resonating with the help of the cello to expand the instrument far beyond any perceived limitations. At times, it sounded as though there was more than one instrument playing in the lower registers, thanks to the power of the overtone resonance. The upper register, however, did not fair as well. What was intended to be lyrical sometimes came across as choppy, bow strokes cutting the smoothness of attack that the low register basked in. Some notes also took a moment to settle, Bolkosky needing a noticeable moment to lock them in. Despite these issues, Bolkosky delivered.
A firework of a piano trio rounded out the evening. Shostakovich’s incredibly personal and introspective Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67 resonated with pianist Sarah Bob when she too became grief stricken (this reviewer cannot recall why), mirroring what Shostakovich felt upon the death of close friend Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky. Grief begetting grief. How appropriate. Lewis and Bolkosky, and Bob truly thundered, especially through the third and fourth movements, which became the brain and bite of the evening, as personal anxiety and anger mixed with the pervasive and unwanted hand of Papa Stalin through Soviet Realism. Bob and Lewis ruled here, as though they went through the composer’s tragic loss with him, filling the notes with angst in the third movement and biting grit in the fourth. It should be released on CD for the world to hear.
The radians began their 20th anniversary season with a bang rather than the soothing whispers the concert’s theme suggested. The group’s been all about dichotomy whether intentionally or. Pay attention when a performance of theirs comes up. It really can be life changing.