Another in the remarkable series of world premieres presented over the years in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress occurred last evening when Milton Babbit's "Dual" for cello and piano and Morton Subotnick's "The Axolotyl" for solo cello were given their first airings.
Although neither may exactly leap into the standard repertoire, there were considerable merits to be found in each, thanks in large measure to the riveting performances accorded them by Joel Krosnick, who is the cellist for the Julliard String Quartet, and pianist Gilbert Kalish.
The new works actually received sneak premieres about two hours before the official ones, during a public session at which the composers analyzed their endeavors. Babbitt's discourse on "Dual," full of such useful phrases as "successive subsumption," was not terribly illuminating, but Krosnick and Kalish made great sense out of the music's complex interaction of rhythm and dynamics.
Subotnick explained that his work attempts to express his curiosity about what life on Venus might be like with its strange atmosphere playing havoc on our preceptions. By using a solo instrument and an "electronic ghost score," a device which constantly alters the undulations of the cello's pitch, it really was possible to sense something rather ethereal as Krosnick moves through the brilliantly concocted melodic maze.
To round out the premieres, there was Bach's Suite No. 5 in C Minor for unaccompanied cello, which found Krosnick in surprisingly haggard form, and a very rare Sonata by noted British musicologist David Francis Tovey. The latter owes a bit more to Brahms than it probably should, and is often too overwrought for its own good, but Krosnick and Kalish were in top form throughtout.