What kind of sound would you expect when the author of "A Clockwork Orange" turns his energy to composing music? Those who expected something with a rock flavor, or perhaps something electronic with a remote kinship to Beethoven's Ninth, must have been surprised last night at the Library of Congress when the Laurentian Chamber Players performed "The Brides of Enderby," a new composition for voice and chamber ensemble by Anthony Burgess.
The merits and the limitations of the work may be summed up by saying that the music (if not the words) could have been composed by any of a dozen well-regarded contemporary composers. Burgess was, in fact, a hungry composer before he became a successful novelist, and the quality of "The Brides of Enderby" indicates that his earlier lack of spectacular musical success was not a result of lack of skill.
Although it was not so described in the program, "The Brides of Enderby" has the form of a five-part song cycle, based on poems (or fragments of poems) attributed to F.X. Enderby, a fictitious poet about whom Burgess has written three novels. The poems, circling around subjects related to love, are most artfully constructed and so is the music that now enhances them. Burgess manipulates a sort of mainstream post-tonal idiom deftly, with a fine sense of dramatic structure and the emotive values of the words.
Unfortunately, Burgess has made quite a bit of his music higher in pitch and louder in dynamics than soprano Catherine Rowe found comfortable last night. Similar problems appeared in the second of Ravel's "Chansons Madecasses," which she sang otherwise with a good feeling for French style, a pleasant tone in her lower registers and an apt sense of the barbaric landscape Ravel evokes.
The remainder of the program was pleasantly diverse, relatively unfamiliar and well performed for the most part. Flutist Gerardo Levy and oboist Ronald Roseman had a good time with Ginastera's witty, wellcrafted and melodious Duo for flute and oboe, and the audience shared their enjoyment. In a suite arranged from the music of Francois Couperin, Michael Rudiakov's cello rather outbalanced Joel Spiegelman's harpsichord, but it did so with such a rich tone and firm technical control that one hates to complain. The four instrumentalists also played well in a Telemann trio sonata -- except that, again, the cello was unduly prominent, and this time it was playing only the uneventful notes of a continuo part.