In keeping with its tradition of presenting the unusual, the 20th Century Consort asked actress Hermione Gingold, herself one of a kind, to join them at Baird Auditorium last night for a performance of "Facade," a rarely heard classic from the 1920s. A collaboration between composer William Walton and the poet Edith Sitwell, the work sparkles with verbal pyrotechnics set to acerbic music played by a chamber ensemble. It is witty, puzzling, touching, slightly decadent in its crisp insouciance, and consistently fascinating.
Together with counter tenor Russell Oberlin, Gingold recited the tongue-twisting verses. She seemed to be having a glorious time, using that raspy voice of hers to pull every possible bit of sense and humor from the words as she growled, snarled, skipped, teased and tripped her way along. Equally enjoying himself and equally enjoyable, Oberlin addressed his part with a high spirited rhythmic sense that caused lines to snap and crackle in delightful fashion. The musicians under Christopher Kendall provided a crisp and carefree bounce that was the perfect complement to the verbal games.
In the first half of the program, pianist Lambert Orkis proved a lucid and articulate guide through the transcendental thickets of Ives' massive "Concord" Sonata. Never losing his way, despite the formidable complexity of the music, and uncovering much of the work's inner beauty as well as its sinewy qualities, Orkis gave an exceptionally strong performance.