Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The eyes had it before the ears Sunday at the Hirshhorn Museum; passing through the exhibit of Saul Steinberg just outside the museum's auditorium was a perfect visual preparation for the sounds which would be produced by The 20th-Century Consort in the evening's program of chamber music.
Like virtually all of Steinberg's work, the program had fantasy as its theme. Much of the music, like Steinberg's paintings and drawings, was a vehicle for the display of unusual technical ability; some of it was witty in a surreal way that called his style to mind; and some of it featured disorienting shifts of perspective, as he does so often.
Like Steinberg's work, the music often seemed brilliant though somewhat contrived. This was particularly true of Paul Reale's "Mysterious Death of the Magic Realist," which took musical style, and their interactions and transmutations as its subject matter; and of William Penn's Fantasy for harpsichord, which was brilliantly virtuosic as well as (sometimes) hilarious in its contrast of long, running, toccata-style passages, ominous block chords and a dazzling variety of approaches to the tone cluster.
The final, relatively new piece on the program, Wallace Barry's Fantasy in Five Statements for clarinet and piano, was succinct and solid in its epigrammatic, Stylistically varied dialogues between varied dialogues between the two instruments.
The two modern clasics on the program were Stravinsky's Four Russion with Songs, with soprano Lucy Shelton (a last-minute substitute) singing brilliantly and Hindemith's Kammermusik No. 3 with a superb solo by cellist Barara Haffner.