Left Bank Concert Society, Polishing Works Old & New
The Left Bank Concert Society is a group as strongly committed to recent works as it is sensitive to traditional fare. Its performance at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Saturday was an exciting smorgasbord of new and old.
For openers, the musicians offered two works from the late 1990s that go beyond conventional modes of expression: songs from Ned Rorem's cycle "Evidence of Things Not Seen" and Brian Ferneyhough's "Unsichtbare Farben" ("Invisible Colors"). Both ask listeners to bypass the obvious, or "visual," aspect of hearing. But they come from two very different worlds.
Soprano Linda Mabbs, mezzo Dolores Ziegler and pianist Audrey Andrist offered a radiantly beautiful version of the Rorem, which twists tonality and poetic expression in a deeply personal way. Unaccompanied, violinist Sally McLain navigated expertly through Ferneyhough's ferociously difficult 11-minute trial, which toys with a listener's wildest expectations. She met harrowing technical challenges: daring melodic leaps, harmonics (some almost soundless), tremolos, tempos in flux -- no joy ride here. Yet she conveyed a sense of shifting layers of sound nudging each other like Earth's tectonic plates.
Clarinetist Paul Cigan, violinist David Salness, cellist Evelyn Elsing and Andrist gave a riveting account of Paul Moravec's neo-tonalist "Tempest Fantasy" (2002). The first movements bathe three characters from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" in contrasting lights: Ariel hurls through space with furious repeated motifs, Prospero languishes in nostalgic reverie, Caliban is awash in fugal episodes. The fantasy spins on to end in persistent unease.
Selections from Hugo Wolf's often satiric "Italienisches Liederbuch" were beautifully rendered by Ziegler and Andrist. Mabbs, Cigan and Andrist closed the evening ebulliently with Schubert's bucolic mini-cantata "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen." Local conductor Joel Lazar gave an informative, even intriguing pre-concert lecture.
-- Cecelia Porter