Otto Luening has been an active composer for 81 of his 87 years, amassing about 400 pieces whose stylistic variety is the product of his intuitive approach to organizing sound. Chamber music makes up the largest portion of Luening's catalogue, and Wednesday night at the Terrace Theater eight representative works traced the career of this self-described "octogenarian prodigy."
One could scarcely have assembled a stronger cast than pianist Gilbert Kalish, violinist Paul Zukofsky and cellist Joel Krosnick, who share impeccable credentials for performing 20th-century compositions, live and on record. As a trio, and in duet and solo contexts, these musicians provided lucid interpretations that probed Luening's multilingual musical language.
Krosnick and Kalish showed that tonality and atonality, folk dance allusions and elegiac melodies can coexist peacefully, in the Suite for Cello and Piano. Kalish carefully delineated the resonant sonorities of the Short Sonatas, Nos. 6 and 7, written in 1979. The simple virtues of bowed open strings became vital ingredients in two solos apiece by Krosnick and Zukofsky.
Luening's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (1922) compressed the intensity of a Beethoven-length trio into a single movement. Exotic harmonies and fresh textures, set off by pairing piano with violin and cello, brought a sense of urgency and optimism, which the ensemble captured in full. Ensemble, as Luening mentioned after the concert, is a three-way proposition, involving the score, good performers and a good audience. That's exactly what he got.