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Sleeping, Waking, Dreaming: Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble

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The Repulsive CD (an alternate view)
by Joseph Pehrson

Sleeping, Waking, Dreaming: Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble

Sunday, September 18, 2005, 7:30 PM
First Church in Boston , Boston , MA

In one sense, the Dinosaur Annex Ensemble's season opener proved highly unusual. Surprisingly, two of its best selections were originally written for performance by other Boston area new music groups.

Richard Cornell's Nocturne (2001), an Alea III commission from a few years back, neatly alternates sections of disjunctly expressive and nervously jittery solo viola writing, discreetly enhancing it all with a pre-recorded backing derived entirely from altered timbres produced by this oversized fiddle. The work's coda, featuring slow, haunting string lines festooned with a fuller tape texture, furnishes a conclusion both telling and logical. For Pierrot ensemble plus percussion, Still Raining, Still Dreaming (1996, revised 2001) by Arthur Levering is an intense, multihued, post-process delight. Initially composed for the Boston Musica Viva, it outlines a clear ternary structure with a piano cadenza centerpiece.

Not all the worthy listens here were recycled goods, though; Wakefulness (2005) by Jeff Nichols received its world premiere as well. It would have been worth hearing for its unusual scoring alone, featuring a contralto soloist with mixed septet accompaniment. But fortunately, it also proves a fine specimen of the East Coast school, crammed with mercurial, yet luscious instrumental writing that never inundates the singer despite its copious variety.

Ruth Lomon's piano quartet Shadowing (n.d.) pleased less, its scalar contrapuntal lines layered onto each other in a densely caked mass that proves hard to sort out. Nor is a clear sense of architecture readily apparent. And Emergence (1983) for bass clarinet and percussion by Stefan Hakenberg, while filled with imaginative wind writing, lacks focus in unfolding and distinction in material, imparting nothing memorable to flesh out its neatly delineated four-part format.

Performances were excellent. Special kudos go to violist Anne Black (sporting a substantial tone and natty fingers), bass clarinetist Diane Heffner (featuring excellent control and expertly executed special effects), and percussionist Robert Schulz (putting forth delicate high battery sonics with taste and jovial good nature). Ellen Rabiner's contralto singing was wonderfully scrumptious, as richly toned as gourmet chocolate yet perfectly enunciated. Artistic director Scott Wheeler conducted the Levering and Nichols works with skill and insight.

Thanks to Dinosaur Annex for showing that a little snitching can sometimes be a good thing.

--David Cleary