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Radius Resplendent at Eventide

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(Julie Ingelfinger photo)

Radius Ensemble’s Eventide contrasted compositions of three contemporary composers and reached back into the night air of Mozart’s 18th-century Vienna in a wide-ranging menu at Longy last night while a crisp sky sparkled over Cambridge.

Gene Koshinski’s spirited and concise Get It, for cajón/hi-hat, cymbals and bassoon (or bari sax) amused yet enchanted. Originally written as a solo for bassoonist Jefferson Campbell, it is, frankly, far more interesting as subsequently revised, adding the cajón with cymbals, as played tonight. Get It takes a popular music genre and bends it to let the bassoon have its day—I mean evening. New York-based bassoonist, Adrian Morejon, was charismatic as his bassoon sang out, and Robert Schultz demonstrated his percussion prowess with verve.

Be Still My Soul by flutist and composer Rhonda Larson, grafts new structure onto the familiar melody and harmony of Katharina von Schlegel’s 18th-century hymn, which Sibelius incorporated into Finlandia (1899). A native Montanan, Larson eschewed Juilliard for a conservatory in Moscow, Idaho, winning a first place National Flute Award in her last year there; she has become an innovative force in the world of fluting. Tonight, flutist Sarah Brady surpassed the technical challenge presented by a composition that involves simultaneous singing and playing the initial theme, which lends an eerie yet commanding harmonic sound to this short piece. The first bars of ethereal flute-voice harmony charm, yet the later sections can sound ultimately etudinous, despite the pleasant notation. Not so this evening, as Brady’s delicate and intent phrasing allowed the later harmonies to wrap themselves around the room with the composer’s intended reverberations.  

David Gompper’s 2003 Kuta Meula (Old Stick) III for flute, bassoon, piano and percussion centers on the Native American Yaqui melody of the same name; the melody is carried mainly by the flute (Brady) and bassoon (Morejon). The work celebrates the original melody and its meaning faithfully. Seven drumbeats incite drum rattles, drumming and three notes for the flute (F sharp, G sharp and A sharp), precede a B-flat tune. Then more drumming. With its introduction, variations and long, dreamy third section, Kuta Meula a past world. The companion video entitled Huya Ania (Wilderness World) created by Sheilah Britton for the premiere performance magically enhanced the music. The flute’s phrasing evoked the Mesoamerican desert with its haunting possibilities and spirituality. Percussionist Schultz proved more than equal to providing masterfully evocative sounds on marimba, drumming and more. Pianist Yoko Hagino lent her effective accomplished energy to excellent effect.

The Ensemble in Eventide (Sam Brewer photo)

Following intermission, the Radius circled back to Viennese night air of centuries past. Mozart wrote his unusually C minor-keyed wind Serenade No. 12 (K. 388/384a) around 1782-3, and later transcribed it for string quintet (labeled as K 406/516b).  As K 388, scored for pairs of oboes (Jennifer Montbach. Mary Ciconetti), clarinets (Eran Egozy, Rane Moore), horns (Nick Castellano, Brooke Boehmer) and bassoons (Morejon, Rachael Elliott), it consists of a complex yet sometimes lyrical 4-movements, on which Mozart never commented extensively. The initial sonata-form C-minor Allegro had incandescent moments, particularly from the oboes and clarinets, but sometimes felt overloaded and even ponderous, owing to the tutti sections, not the players. The Andante in E-flat major from the first singing clarinet provided a delicate and choir-like interlude with masterful ensemble playing. The C-minor minuet, with its canons–a canon with the two oboes and then the bassoons and then a C-major, ternary Trio—reflected the pleasure of ensemble playing. The final spirited Allegro, built on imaginative variations, echoed pleasurably. The prowess and mutual respect of the players was much in evidence throughout—and much appreciated.

Given its consistently imaginative and thematic programming and superb playing, the next Radius evening, Ellipsis, November 16th, is worth putting on your calendar now.

Amateur pianist and long-time music lover Julie Ingelfinger enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at Mass General Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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