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Folksy Goings-Around Via Radius


George Crumb (file photo)

Radius Ensemble’s selections of Dohnányi, Janáček, and Mazzoli recast somewhat the classical scene with folkish ways and hues, while its Crumb choice focused on the decaying ambit of autumn. Throughout the Saturday night concert, the ensemble repainted Longy’s Pickman Hall with its particular brand of colorism, the best part being saved for last.

How well has George Crumb’s Eleven Echoes of Autumn held up since its creation in 1965? Composed for violin, flute, clarinet and piano, the four instruments more often trade off than play as an ensemble. Crumb’s spaces hardly ever fill up. A time plan with clocks, heartbeats and the like he does not adopt, rather, his writing floats the notes up in the air with only traces of gravity.

His slowly unfolding music allows for catching details up close, something resembling a microphone acting as a magnifying glass. For its part, Radius played the magnifying glass to a T. The “decay” in Federico Garcia Lorca’s words, “…and the broken arches where time suffers” were vocalized, another Crumb feature.

Sarah Bob began soundings inside the piano as discerningly as anyone could possibly make them; her crisp punchiness on the keyboard later on made the concert grand a brilliant, percussive instrument. Refined flutter-tongued wisps from Sarah Brady’s flute would later take off into a cadenza of first-rate flutings.

Clarinetist Eran Egozy’s moments of air-surround sound unmistakably conjured those broken arches, that eerie disembodiment. Violinist Megumi Stohs Lewis drew finely etched harmonics, clearly piercing the otherwise empty spaces. This four spoke together as one, given Crumb’s highly idiomatic scoring involving extended techniques.   

If not for Radius, there would have been little for listening to in this scrupulously waning and color-bound autumnal nod, yet this foursome kept on its finely tuned way throughout despite Crumb’s semi-sonic somnolence.

Some folksiness emerged in Radius’s view of Ernő Dohnányi’s Serenade for String Trio, Op. 10. This 1902 piece had more to say. After all, its very nature spoke optimistically about life. Katherine Winterstein, violin, Noriko Futagami, viola, and Miriam Bolkosky, cello, showed solid trooping posture in the Marcia movement, with a good bite of the bow. The viola and violin sang out with warmth and nuance in lyric melodies of the Romanza.

The Scherzo steamed ahead yet left no easily memorable flavor. The trio’s Tema con variazioni nudged along lovingly. As to the whole, could there have been less contemporary dash and more of the “good old days,” circa 1902. 

Inspiration for Missy Mazzoli’s “Tooth and Nail” came from the jaw harp perhaps better known as the Jew’s harp. A most entertaining and instructive moment followed intermission when we were treated to a live, but brief, introduction to the tiny mouth harp. It made for some very welcome glee at Pickman.

Noriko Futagami then got her earbuds in place and again took up her viola. “…an astonishingly creative interpretation of jaw harp musical traditions in Uzbekistan within a modern electronic context,” as the publicity ran for the 10-minute piece, it was not. Pretend folksiness or, at best, second hand smoldering drifted and jarred. Again, appreciating Futagami’s playing was all that was left for this listener. Hers can be an opulent as much as an expressive voice, though one always on musical guard.  

Saved for last were the more rustic winds in a kind of musical uncommon sense rarely around these days. Mládí (Youth) by Leoš Janáček had boyishness stamped all over it—as it should. Anne Howarth set the tone for the radian’s with surges of wondrous high-spirited, boisterous horn utterances. Jennifer Montbach’s warmly cultivated oboe phrases, Brady’s delightful piccolo part, along with a most refreshing show of life-sized human nature from all the others, Egozy, Jonathan Russell on bass clarinet, and Rachael Elliott on bassoon, found in Mládí’s Moravian folk tune roots, a perfect match.

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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