Of all the darlings of the old avant-garde, George Crumb is surely the most likable. His "Voice of the Whale" remains one of his most accessible and lovely works, with its private onomatopoeia of animals long gone and its fantastic storybook colors. It was played by the Aeolian Chamber Players with guest virtuoso Katherine Hay, and it sounded as fresh and vigorous as ever.
It was a performance of rhythmic and dramatic strength rather than careful musicality, except for the aristocratic simplicity of Hay's magic flute. The aural images were always vivid, as in the third variation when the pulse of the flute's configuration was palpably communicated to Peter Basquin's piano and then captured by the glissando of Jennifer Langham's cello -- tuned for the occasion well below its usual depths. There was primeval splendor in the chinoiseries created by a glass rod placed on the piano strings, its parody of Strauss' "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" nicely articulated. And the bridge of whistles that carries the work to its final "Sea Nocturne" was not as surprising as the serenity induced by the entrance of a cloud of B-flat major.
Mendelssohn's Trio in C minor found the violin and cellos not always in agreement about the proper key, but the conviction of Basquin's piano was enough. The concert opened with Debussy's "Premiere Rhapsodie" and closed with Bartok's "Contrasts."