Clarinetist Nicolas Baldeyrou began playing with his back to the audience and in the course of a few minutes strolled around the stage, stopping at five more music stands to complete Pierre Boulez's "Domaines." Baldeyrou's mobile performance Friday was part of this year's final concert of the French Embassy's exciting Contemporary Music Series. Baldeyrou displayed superb technical facility and imagination in probing his instrument's panoramic color-scape. Boulez's piece summoned him to venture -- in an order Baldeyrou chose randomly -- through endless fluctuations of sonic effects, often reflecting electronic-acoustic musical language. Wispy echoing motifs alternated with lightning-quick trills and barely discernible pitch changes.
Cellist Alexis Descharmes joined Baldeyrou (sometimes on a bass clarinet) in duos by Daniel A. d'Adamo, Kaija Saariaho, Michael Jarrell and Magnus Lindberg. Besides the Boulez, they soloed in pieces by Saariaho, Luciano Berio and Henri Dutilleux. Descharmes's way with his instrument combined astonishing facility with control and seeming ease, as in his remarkable account of Saariaho's "Spins and Spells," a piece entailing Olympian technical feats including misty tremolos, nearly infinitesimal open-string shadings, and delicate, closely spaced harmonics produced by slithery glissandos sliding down the cello fingerboard. As a finale, the duo cavorted through Lindberg's busy music for a screening of Buster Keaton's comic antics in the 1928 silent film "Steamboat Bill, Jr."
-- Cecelia Porter