If the moon looks sick, if gigantic, black butterflies blot out the sun and a beheading follows a hanging, it must be Fright Night at the movies, right?
Close. Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" missed Halloween by a week, as members of XTET--a new local ensemble--presented it at West Los Angeles College Thursday evening.
Here was a "Pierrot" with a difference. For one thing, the group claimed this to be the first area performance of Andrew Porter's strong English translation, necessarily based on the German translation that Schoenberg used, rather than the original.
For another, there was Daisietta Kim as the lunatic reciter/songstress. The role usually attracts heavier voices, but Kim proved she could moan, shriek, and whisper with the best and come closer to the part as notated than most.
More important, Kim found much of the textual irony and macabre musical wit, without scamping the inherent histrionics of the blood-soaked imagery. There was indeed a method in her madness, and it worked.
In technical agility and whole-hearted commitment to the score, she was ably seconded by Gary Woodward, flute/piccolo; David Ocker, clarinets; Lyndon Taylor, violin; Kazi Pitelka, viola; Roger Lebow, cello; and Gloria Cheng, piano. They captured every nuance of Schoenberg's spare, demanding, atmospheric music.
XTET is a group of ten musicians (the "X" is a Roman numeral--get it?). They might have paired "Pierrot" with something featuring the three players not performing in it. Instead, they chose a sort of cultural context for "Pierrot," with Viennese music of the prior generation.
Violinist Jennifer Woodward joined the "Pierrot" group in an earnest account of Strauss' "Emperor" Waltz, as arranged by Schoenberg. The strings opened the short program with a curiously restrained reading of Wolf's "Italian" Serenade.