Some musicians have been known to carp about having to play new music, especially when it is abstract and conceptual to the point of lacking any tuneful melody or comprehensible sense of rhythm. Avoiding those disappointments is one of the goals of Inscape, the intrepid chamber ensemble based in Bethesda, which opened its new season Thursday night with a concert at the Mansion at Strathmore. The evening was a mixture of old and new, centered on a few contemporary selections from their debut album, “Sprung Rhythm,” released in July on the Sono Luminus label.
The Inscape musicians enjoy a long and special relationship with the three young composers featured in the concert and on the recording. All in their 30s, they write music that is neither retrogressive nor forbidding. Justin Boyer’s “Con slancio” percolated through a series of moods as the composer tried different ways to make his chosen instruments, bass clarinet and string quartet, see eye to eye. In “Along an Icy Pond With a Frozen Moon,” Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis drew bright and glassy sounds from the same string quartet players, hitting a climax in an intense passage with all strings high in their range.
Two pieces by Joseph Hallman singled him out as the one to watch, especially “Imagined Landscapes,” six atmospheric miniatures inspired by the nightmares of H. P. Lovecraft. Even the use of whispers, shouts and other noises did not seem like a cheap effect but part of a musical whole, a complement to the composer’s skillful handling of each instrument. Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro” and the larghetto from Mozart’s clarinet quintet rounded out the program. Heard less often because of their unusual instrumentations, here they showcased the fine playing of clarinetist Evan Ross Solomon and harpist Cara Fleck.
Downey is a freelance writer.