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The Challege of the Diagramless

Review of Concert

Radius Ensemble

Saturday, February 7, 2004, 8:00 PM
Edward M. Pickman Concert Hall, Longy School of Music, Cambridge, MA

The Radius Ensemble is a Boston-based chamber music presenter founded five years ago that devotes a noteworthy portion of its programming to repertoire written in the last 100 years. February 7th saw this intrepid bunch perform three contemporary music selections.

Of these, the oldest and most tightly built example was Irving Fine’s Partita for wind quintet. While resolutely neoclassical in ethos—its five movements bearing such subtitles as "Gigue" and "Introduction and Theme"—there are no slavish kowtows to hoary forms or Stravinskian style peccadilloes. Fine co-opts classic procedures as a springboard for imaginative flights of fancy. And melodies and textures are personal to its composer. In short, Fine is fine indeed. Performers Orlando Cela (flute), Jennifer Montbach (oboe, artistic director), Eran Egozy (clarinet), Sally Merriman (bassoon), and Anne Howarth (horn) put forth a dubious ensemble balance at times, but otherwise played the piece ably; sound quality and rhythmic execution were appealingly vigorous.

Garden of Joys and Sorrows by Sofia Gubaidulina and Insult to Injury by Curtis K. Hughes both made "all over the place" a virtue instead of a shortcoming. The latter’s two movements sport architecture both satisfying and unconventional—unique, risky, and utterly successful. Gritty dissonance, octave passages, ersatz Irish jigs, and ostinato textures coexist surprisingly well within an emotional world that is bleak but not depressing. Violinist Biliana Voutchkova and pianist Sarah Bob gave it a terrific, hard-hitting presentation. In her work, Gubaidulina builds a remarkably cogent and viable edifice from three disparate ideas: a supple opening flute melody marginally tonal in focus, trill/tremolo gestures in the harp, and "Reveille"-like triadic harmonics from the viola. While an overall narrative curve shape is traced, there’s plenty of breathing room for the music to explore fascinating byways during unfolding. It’s powerful, vital stuff. Flautist Cela, joined by violist Annette Klein, harpist Franziska Huhn, and narrator Robin Young performed wonderfully well, never allowing this mercurial opus to seem scattered or ill-considered.

Judging from this concert, the Radius Ensemble is a most welcome addition to Beantown’s new music roster of worthies. Here’s hoping they’ll be providing comparable listening joys to local audiences for years to come.

--David Cleary

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