Something curious is happening to the Contemporary Music Forum, and perhaps it reflects what is happening in contemporary music. It has not exactly become the musical establishment, but it is changing. Last night's program at the National Institutes of Health (which will be repeated Monday at the Corcoran Gallery) seemed to have more melodies than the group's whole first 10 years of programming.
Part of the melodic content can be explained by the predominance of Italian composers in the program: Malipiero's Sonata for violin and piano, Berio's Sequenza III and the "Belsize" String Quartet of Elizabeth Brusa, which won a competition sponsored by the Friday Morning Music Club and was having its world premiere. The Malipiero is a beautifully lyrical work that manages to have the emotional impact of tonality without violating the essential equality of all 12 tones. It was well-performed by pianist Walter Pate and violinist Helmut Braunlich.
For Brusa's Quartet, Braunlich was joined by violinist Rachel Schenker, violist John Pruett and cellist Eric Edberg in another exploration of the new lyricism. In this two-movement work, melody can be felt growing -- putting itself together, stretching and testing its strength -- as the music proceeds. It is lovely; and it is good to welcome that word back into the descriptive vocabulary for contemporary music.
Berio was interpreted by soprano Marilyn Boyd DeReggi, who was coached in the work by the composer. The Sequenza is an elaborate treatment of a short and seemingly simple text, with the unaccompanied singer improvising detours, interruptions, dramatic interpolations and implied commentaries. Last night, it was a monodrama of shyness, confusion, fits of hysteria, stuttering and nonsense syllables -- a brief, compelling, touching and sometimes funny little psychodrama that sounded more like the Forum's traditional fare.
Also in that tradition was "Inflections II" by Robert Hall Lewis -- a collage of small and apparently disjunct motifs, a study in continuities and contrasts of texture with special attention to the value of silence as part of the texture. Hearing it for the first time was like eavesdropping on a heated discussion in an unfamiliar language.
Ben Weber's Serenade, Op. 39, which concluded the program, is an enjoyable, unproblematic bit of neo-classicism whose clear-cut forms are spiced with piquant harmonies. Like the entire program, it received a skilled, loving performance.