For the final concert of their 1984-85 season, the Contemporary Music Forum chose to focus on the music of Great Britain -- specifically, the music of Peter Maxwell Davies, Alun Hoddinott and Thea Musgrave.
Though Hoddinott's "Nocturnes and Cadenzas" for clarinet, violin and cello was an arid, undistinguished piece, the other two composers lived up to their considerable reputations. Davies, founder and director of the acclaimed Fires of London Ensemble -- a group that will appear next fall as part of the Washington Performing Art Society's series -- is a man with a distinctly theatrical bent. His "Door of the Sun" for solo viola was a tour de force of great variety, passion and technical invention. Made up of seven short sections, "Door" affords a performer the chance to trill demonically, launch into agitated double-stops, and try out marvelous pizzicato variations that turn the violin into a lyre or banjo. Jennifer Rende delivered a masterly rendition of this imaginative piece, and her best moments came toward the end, when she bowed her way into the upper harmonic stratosphere.
Thea Musgrave is probably best known for her operatic works, the most recent of which chronicled the life of Harriet Tubman. The Forum chose to tackle her "Chamber Concerto No. 2" an intricate composition for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Written in homage to composer Charles Ives, Musgrave's concerto comes off cheeky and unconventional, just the way Ives liked his art. It starts out rather impressionistically, with each instrument carving out its own elegant niche. Eventually, the tension builds, the dissonances multiply, and suddenly bits of "Swanee River" and snatches of other popular songs seep to the surface. In the process, the listener's expectations have been charmingly circumvented.
The program also included two selections by American composers: Lawrence Moss' shimmering and sophisticated "Apre s Lude" for flute and percussion, and Richard Brooks' crankily atonal "Violin Sonata."