The Cuarteto Latinoamericano's concert at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Saturday presented not only music of uncommon interest but performances that projected the composers' intentions with a mix of virtuosity and restraint. The program of music by Latin American composers offered five pieces of outstanding originality and craftsmanship.
Perhaps the most intriguing (and troubling) work was the String Quartet No. 4 by Mario Lavista.
In a single movement of oddly disquieting and, for the most part quiet, tone clusters (the four strings producing four very different tone qualities, plucked notes, harmonics, scratchy tones, and sounds made right at the bridge of the instrument), the music does not so much progress as dwell on small bits of ritualistically repetitive figures. There are moments where intervals of open fourths and fifths sound like the earliest of Western church music, and while texture and repetition seem to take the place of harmony and rhythm, the music still feels coherent.
The program notes made clear how successful Lavista was at doing what he set out to do. The piece had been commissioned by a woman who wanted music to "accompany her soul after the death of her body." The timelessness, the ritual, the hints of ancient homophony were splendidly communicated even without the written explanation.
The short and zany "La Venus Se Va de Juerga" ("Venus Goes Partying") by Jorge Torres Saenz was a delightful, rhythmically disorienting romp, played with joy and wit. Gabriela Frank's "Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout," the six movements echoing the sounds of Andean panpipes and other native instruments, needed and got a carefully balanced performance.
The quartets by Diego Vegas and Silvestre Revueltas that opened the first and second halves of the program are solid works in the mainstream of 20th-century neoclassicism.
They explore the boundaries of tonality and offer challenges to even the most well-coordinated ensemble, all of which were easily met in this performance.
-- Joan Reinthaler