Palpable anticipation prevailed in Jordan Hall on Friday the 13th for A Far Cry’s 13th season opener geared to “…exploring the conflict and connection between the virtuous and the virtuosic.” If slightly forced as an argument, in action, the concept proved worthy of reflection through a far-ranging group of works.
Bach’s 6th Brandenburg, which omits violins, wafted warmly with two violas, three cellos (originally written for two viola da gambas and one violincello), one bass and harpsichord. Violists Sarah Darling and Jason Fisher played with gusto, danced as they phrased, and the entire ensemble soared together. The initial movement, generally rendered as an Allegro or Allegro Moderato, actually has no tempo noted. Tonight, it seemed moderato, clear and decisive. The Adagio is evocative and sounded with yearning phrasing to its final imperfect cadence. The final Allegro seemed merry.
Appearing with evident glee, the entire violin section participated in 5 selections from Luciano Berio’s 34 Duetti per Due Violini, short pieces written between 1979 and 1983, each one specifically dedicated to someone important to the composer and featuring a harder and easier part. The group offered II- Shlomit (Almog), which has a short and klezmerisch feeling to it with mixed meters; VI- Bruno (Maderna), which Berio wrote as reminiscent of the “functional” music he and Bruno composed together for radio or tv programs at such speed that it surprised onlookers; VIII – Peppino (Di Giugno), after the Italian physicist who collaborated with Berio in electronic music; XXXIII—Lorin (Maazel), which includes pizzicato techniques; and ending with XX- Edoardo (Sanguineti), played by all of the violinists (as was Berio’s intent). Sanguineti, an avant garde poet, and Berio were both fascinated by transformation of small vocal units and collaborated extensively. This last duet encapsulates these small units in a number of voices, 7 short solos, allowing more than two players to participate. It is rare to experience so many personal references within apparent pedagogical intent delivered with panache and verve; but Far Cry managed!
Contemporary Japanese composer and sound artist, Reiko Yamada, a Berklee graduate who subsequently received a DMA from McGill, composed New Shadows in the Raw Light of Darkness for AFC in 2007, and delightedly updated it for this performance. Inspired after hearing several of the early concerts by A Far Cry, Yamada wrote most of the work while in Taos, New Mexico during a brief fellowship at the Helene Wurlitzer foundation. Distinct lines for specific players stand out, as do themes of the Southwest—with its clouds, high desert with its specific, sharp scents, dance, dreams and celebrations. The first minute of the piece provides slow, lyrical promise, proffered quietly by the Criers. Then follow some conversational moments, with individual instrumentalists nearly chirping, as if birds at morning twilight, or even a murmuration. Looking at parts of the score, one can “see” the distinct parts of the Southwest environment and spirit captured in the piece. The sonorous conversation between the Bass viol and first violin between four and five minutes evoked many Southwest memories for this listener. A chorale evocative of Bach, fugal components reminiscent of Beethoven, and dance-like elements and dreams knit together this piece and the wider brocade of the evening. New Shadows should be heard often!
“Virtuosic” befits Soovin Kim’s exemplary performance of the iconic Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major as well as the ensemble’s rendition of the “largest” work it has yet tackled (requiring a number of “Guest Criers”). Kim’s parsimonious yet quietly joyful physical style belies his expansive, all-encompassing and deeply emotional sound. Kim, who garnered first prize at the Paganini International Competition at age 20, and earned other distinguished awards, is a sought-after performer worldwide and also is revered and cherished as a mentor and teacher, as is now also the case for tonight’s program’s curator, Crier violinist Robyn Bollinger.
Happy comments buzzed through the hall and into the reception and beyond. The next AFC concert comes soon—September 29th.