The past week’s concert schedule has been loaded with contemporary music, from an anniversary celebration for Louis Andriessen to a residency by British composer Oliver Knussen. In the midst of it all, the Library of Congress hosted a performance of yet more recent music Thursday, as part of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s touring program. A slate of musicians performed selections from the past two decades that were paired with the monumental “Quartet for the End of Time” by Olivier Messiaen.
Pierre Jalbert’s “Visual Abstract” brought together three brief descriptive movements eliciting a broad range of sounds from its six players, including a timeless stasis in the second movement (“Dome of Heaven”) and a frenetic dance in the third. Elliott Carter’s “Esprit rude/Esprit doux II,” composed in honor of Pierre Boulez’s 70th birthday, was the most densely packed work of the evening, with the musicians frantically conducting the beat with heads and shoulders to keep it all together.
The world premiere of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s lush second string quintet, “Variations for Five,” was led by Mihai Marica, the cellist of the Amphion String Quartet, with expressive solos leading to each movement. A second cello part further tilted the work toward lower sounds.
The Messiaen piece was centered on the virtuosity of clarinetist Jörg Widmann, who was incandescent and otherworldly of tone in the solo third movement, as he had been in his own composition, “Fantasie” for solo clarinet, in the first half.
Pianist Gilles Vonsattel and violinist Nicolas Dautricourt, both contemporary-music specialists, provided excellent contributions, especially in the seventh and eighth movements. The “Quartet” succeeds, as it did here, if its gently, irregularly pulsing repetitions seem to suspend time for the listener, giving an aural glimpse of God’s eternal present outside the universe.
Downey is a freelance writer.