Leave it to the Kronos Quartet, that peerless ensemble defined by the contemporary music it plays so superbly, to take on an added dimension Friday at Schoenberg Hall, UCLA: a program featuring soprano Jane Manning.
Inspiration for the agenda may have begun with the auditorium's namesake, whose early Second Quartet, Opus 10, presaged the other two items scored for strings and soprano. But there was nothing arbitrary or gimmicky about the evening. As usual, the Kronos--violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud--did its trail-blazing to high artistic effect.
Berthold Tuercke's "Auf der Galerie" is an exquisite setting of its Kafka text, a long-breathed surreal image whose words (narrated by Manning) evoke a compelling love fantasy. The instrumental framework, jagged and slashing accents surrounded by spurts of mercurial lyricism, actually cinematizes the emotions.
But Barry Guy's "Strange Meeting," which uses the anti-war sentiments of Wilfred Owen as a kind of neo-expressionism, conjured (through amplification) a hallucinatory chaos that shattered the poet's sensibility. Nevertheless, Manning brought to the high declamatory passages a vaulting heroism and dispatched the hissing-humming-snarling effects, as did the instrumentalists, with theatrical conviction. Between these two works came Gyorgy Kurtag's "12 Microludes," its distilled essences focusing the ensemble's sonic acuity.