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New Music L.a. 1987 : Speculum Musicae At Japan America

March 16, 1987|DONNA PERLMUTTER

Maybe there is such a thing as glutting the concert market, after all. Either that, or some other factor has to explain what went so wrong Saturday for Speculum Musicae that only 50 people showed up at the Japan America Theatre.

Certainly the high reputation of this superb New York-based group should, by any measure, have attracted a sizable crowd. But as New Music Los Angeles 1987 Festival wound down, this event might just have represented one too many.

Too bad, because the program was stimulating and the performances faultless. And, unlike some of the speculative festival offerings, this one consisted of a blue-chip agenda; the composers ranged from Cage through Babbitt, Kraft, Davidovsky and Schoenberg.

If there was a logic or progression to discern, it had to do with levels of complexity. To start things off there was Cage's "Six Melodies," played for all its simple delicacy by violinist Benjamin Hudson and pianist Aleck Karis, virtuosos who rendered the exposed writing with a light touch and a sweetness utterly apt.

More refinement, dramatically filtered, came in Babbitt's "Two Sonnets," a setting of otherworldly poems by Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, sung by Jan Opalach who managed the falsetto passages and wide intervals with remarkably dulcet tones.

Kraft's "Gallery 4-5," which flirts with a grabby chromaticism, introduced some opulence to the aural scene. Its various devices--sensuous glissandos, energized minimalist motifs for piano, misterioso leanings--proved tantalizing.

The finale, Schoenberg's "Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte" used Opalach as speaker to the full instrumental complement of six. Here was music more densely written and sweepingly dramatic than anything that preceded it--a rousing, brilliant conclusion.

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