Left Bank Concert Society's Program Evokes the Spirit of Schoenberg

Left Bank Concert Society artistic directors David Salness, violin, and Evelyn Elsing, cello.
Left Bank Concert Society artistic directors David Salness, violin, and Evelyn Elsing, cello. (Left Bank Concert Society)

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Arnold Schoenberg -- who, a century ago, developed the dissonant 12-tone method of composition -- was a tangible presence at Saturday's Left Bank Concert Society program at the Terrace Theater. The only score of his they performed was the pre-atonal string sextet "Verklaerte Nacht." But the ensemble's febrile reading emphasized the growling cellos, jabbing violas and slithering violins that disrupt its lush, post-Wagnerian harmonies and presage the dissonance of his later works.

Jagged, unrelieved Schoenbergian dissonance was what "Intermittences" and "Caténaires" -- solo piano pieces written within the last few years by the still-prolific, 100-year-old Elliott Carter -- were all about. As played with astonishing clarity and muscle by Audrey Andrist, they sounded all the more startling placed right after Dominick Argento's conscious rejection of Schoenberg -- his lovable, 1962 hybrid of ear-seducing neo-romanticism and harpsichord-based baroque scoring, "Six Elizabethan Songs" (which soprano Linda Mabbs sang glowingly).

Most intriguing, Laura Elise Schwendinger's 2005 piece, "High Wire Act," seemed to leave Schoenberg out of the equation entirely. Her harmonically free-ranging, tintinnabulary scoring -- with its canny use of violin harmonics and flute phrases played directly into the open piano, to suggest aerialists in flight -- evokes Stravinsky's early ballets. The work gives a vivid sense of what modern music might have sounded like if the spiky, polytonal version of impressionism Stravinsky developed in those works -- rather than Schoenberg's 12-tone method -- had become the template of choice for modern composers to embrace or reject.

-- Joe Banno


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