What's in a name? Monday night at the Japan America Theater, it was "Berg and After: Expressive Chromaticism." Two years ago, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group's program would probably have run under the "New Romanticism" banner.
How immediate the influence of Berg was on pieces by Steven Stucky, Frank Campo and Gyorgy Kurtag seems an open question. But they were undeniably expressive and chromatic, and intent on the seduction of the listening ear.
Commissioned and recorded by the Ensemble InterContemporain, lauded at length in New Yorker magazine, and heard locally last year at the Ojai Festival, Kurtag's "Messages From the Late R. V. Troussova" is the hot song cycle of the 80s. With its trendy mix of passion and alienation garbed in a glittery musical coat of many colors, "Messages" is the "Miami Vice" of the classical scene.
Kurtag's lush, bravura scoring frequently overwhelms singer and words. In the practical sense, soprano Susan Narucki did not always dominate the large, often busy ensemble. In an aesthetic sense, it seems to contradict the lonely Angst of the text, although there are moments of restraint, and Kurtag is not above word-painting.
Narucki, a veteran of the Ojai performance, sang the wide-ranging lines in the original Russian with vocal freedom and considerable dramatic point. Conductor David Alan Miller displayed an accommodating flair for controlling accent and tension.
Miller also conducted the West Coast premiere of Stucky's "Boston Fancies," a buoyant, elegant set of seven miniatures for a mixed septet. Witty, somber, flirtatious and athletic in turn, "Boston Fancies" have a welcome sense of kinetic momentum, as well as an intellectually coherent structure.
A similar instrumental eloquence pervades the "Canto Notturno" by Campo, a composer on the faculty at Cal State Northridge. Campo's effects are often subtly allusive rather than declarative, but there is plenty of perceptibly shaped energy in the work as well.
Though at times a dialectic duo, the viola and percussion in "Canto Notturno" often form a single voice of varied shadings. Richard Elegino and Mitchell Peters handled the respective parts with fluent conviction.
Clarinetist Lorin Levee and pianist Zita Carno opened the program with Berg's Four Pieces, Opus 5. Their tight, rapt reading was marred by the constant influx of listeners advancing to the front seats.