Last night at the Hirshhorn Gallery, the 20th Century Consort gave the premiere performance of "Into Eclipse," a powerful dramatic piece by Stephen Albert. Based on Seneca's account of the Oedipus legend, the five-movement work is scored for 12 instruments and a tenor who gives voice, in turn, to Creon, a chorus and Oedipus.
The program notes asserted that Albert made no effort to heighten, musically, Seneca's already nightmarish vision, but, effort or not, the music could very well have stood alone in its evoking of terror and ghostly presences. Albert is a master of instrumentational nuance. String tremolo backed up by bells painted scenes of real forboding. Brass punctuation and the delicate collaboration of harp and piano gave shape and definition to a host of dire possibilities.
The instrumentalists, under the incisive direction of Christopher Kendall, outdid themselves. But the star of this performance was tenor David Gordon, whose felicitous combination of splendid voice, intelligence and consummate musicality created a role it would be difficult to match. He projected horror with an expressionless, vibratoless accuracy that was chilling. He accepted fate with lyrical grace and provoked it with power.
Only in the second movement, where the instruments overwhelmed the singer and his words, was the piece less than arresting.
Another splendid performance was turned in by flutist Sara Stern, who played Tower's "Hexichords" with control over every last dip of vibrato.
For the first half of the program, there were Debussy's "Premiere Rhapsody" and Rochberg's "Dialogues," both elegantly played by pianist Lambert Orkis and clarinetist Loren Kitt; and a fine reading, by Orkis, of Stravinsky's Serenade in A.