In celebration of its 10th season, the District’s home-grown Great Noise Ensemble reprised some of its first-decade favorites Friday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Both Sean Doyle’s “Letters From Zelda” and Tom Schnauber’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” hits in the ensemble’s earlier performances, proved their durability this time around. And the song cycle “Sacred Cows,” a crisis-of-faith statement by GNE artistic director and conductor Armando Bayolo that opened its inaugural program, closed this one powerfully.
All three of these works are scored for voice (in the case of “Sacred Cows,” for two voices and a “chorus” of three women) and various combinations of the instruments GNE regularly fields — a string quartet plus bass, one each of the regular orchestral winds plus saxophone, percussion, harp and piano and, for this concert, a banjo. All three works, though quite different in style and intensity, are beautifully crafted, and under Bayolo’s sure leadership Friday, all three got the kind of focused, intelligent performances a composer dreams of.
“The Walrus and the Carpenter,” a spoof on the Baroque in four “arias” and three recitatives, sports a sea chantey, a disheveled march, a broadly seedy tango and, on the words “I weep for you, the Walrus said, I deeply sympathize” (after the two ate their oyster friends), a “lament,” blatantly but delightfully lifted from Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas.” Mezzo-soprano Tracy Elizabeth Cowart took this on with unaffected sweetness, and only occasional vibrato, and the delicate instrumental score, with its birdlike sounds and gentle sea noises, featured an exceptionally well-balanced flute-clarinet-string ensemble.
The four of Zelda’s letters to her estranged husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, which are the texts for Doyle’s cycle, document her decline into madness, and the music, calm and introspective at first, goes through its own disintegrating process.
Soprano Lucy Perry handled the set with just enough operatic drama to add extra shape to the character and navigated its vocal demands with a broad range of emotion. And “Sacred Cows,” built on nine texts that range from Aristotle to Frank Zappa, and music as enigmatic as Aristotle and as nasty as Zappa, got an amplified, chic, pop-star reading by mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen and baritone Andrew Sauvageau that distanced itself miles from orthodoxy.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.