ollage - extraction without anaestheticThe question is, would you ask Christopher Rouse to recommend a dentist for you? Or, for that matter, would you buy a second-hand car from him?
Christopher Rouse has written a piece called The Surma Ritornelli. It takes us -- we are told in a program note -- on "a musical voyage in the form of a dental anatomia" with six movements described as:
Left View of the Jaw
Upper Row of Teeth
Right View of the Jaw
Lower Row of Teeth
Frontal View of the Jaw
Assuming such was his intention, Rouse successfully recreated for the audience the pleasures of an extraction without anaesthetic. It got so painful at times, that one musician -- not playing for a stretch -- was seen to stick his fingers in his ears.
But, like many things which are painful, Rouse's music was also wickedly enjoyable. It didn't take much imagination to visualize one's worst enemy -- rather than oneself -- in the demon dentist chair and sit back and wryly smile.
Rouse likes to make a lot of noise, and Collage did not let him down. Brass was assertive and brilliant; percussive sounds were gripping. At one point the sound seemed to buzz round the ensemble as a wasp in a whirlpool; but all the big boys backed off enough for pianist Christopher Oldfather to be heard producing an excrutiatingly nasty noise (reminiscent of a deformed chalk screeching across a hard-worn blackboard) on an instrument he later described as a "water fountain -- it's a hippie instrument: My sister has one."
As Tech readers will doubtless be aware from Professor Harbison's recent column, the Collage budget is low. So, for special effect, Collage didn't import any dental equipment, but settled on a brake drum (as in car brake drum) suspended from a bent clothes hanger. The clothes hanger unfortunately proved to be insufficiently strong to withstand Oldfather's hammer blows on this scrapyardulum, which fell off the hanger, depriving the audience of further enjoyment of its musical eloquence.
Seriously, though, Rouse's piece displayed a well-tempered inventive flair: it was sensational, it was fascinating, and it showed musical originality too.
I also liked Robert Selig's Reflections from a Back Window. It's a work with strong jazz and pop connections. At times it seems a bit superficial; but the more complex passages have a reflectiveness given more strength when put in the relief of the lighter strains, making this extrovert work explore motifs from the inner psyche too.
I was less happy with Edward Cohen's Fantasy for Clarinet, Piano and Percussion. There are some interesting exchanges between piano and percussion, but the clarinet seemed out of place. And in between the few passages that fired the attention, there seemed too much that was loose and untidy.
The evening ended with Stephen Albert's Into Eclipse, Five Arias for Tenor and Chamber Consort. Albert's work was given a tight performance by Collage, and a lyrical rendition by tenor David Gordon.
Into Eclipse is based on Ted Hughes' adaptation of Seneca's Oedipus, and Albert's music tells the story with power. The influence of Benjamin Britten seemed to enter in at several key points, and Gordon's voice had a transparency that reminded one of Peter Pears' striking performances of Britten's work. John Harbison's feel for the balance between instruments evoked subtle colors from contrasts, colors that vied with but ultimately melded with Gordon's completely involved singing.
The Waverly Consort gave a delightful recital in Jordan Hall on Saturday evening. On a theme of "Welcome Sweet Pleasure," we were treated to a tour of "Music of England's Golden Age." It was a pleasant evening with several high spots: O vos omnes, a motet for six voices by Richard Dering was sung with a spiritual solemnity; David Ripley sang Can she excuse my wrongs with Virtue's cloak? with much character, and the final two items: the anonymous Scottish 16th century Pleugh Song and equally anonymous Cry of London were captivating.
The Pleugh Song is a form of 16th century advertizing: a plow crew extol the virtues of their ox to win over the patronage of a lord. Descriptions of plowmen, ox and plow-parts were amusing, and were made the more witty by energetic and crisply-coordinated singing. The Cry of London then provided more entertainment and the opportunity to acquire -- in voice if not in fact -- samples of new mackerel, a housemop, four ropes of onions, a quarter of good smelts, and a barrel of treacle.
After that, you'd need a trip to the dentist...