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Music Reviews : Philharmonic New Music Group Opens Umbrella Series

November 14, 1990|JOHN HENKEN

The "Green Umbrella" opened on a typically diverse and thoughtful program, featuring a pair of premieres and the deft, spirited playing of the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group.

But for all that, a lone voice in some 8-year-old miniatures made the strongest impression Monday at the Japan America Theatre.

Susan Narucki has championed Gyorgy Kurtag's fey songs here several times since her 1986 Ojai Festival debut in his "Troussova" cycle. Monday she applied her pliant soprano to the "Attila Jozsef Fragments," 20 coherent images of haikulike clarity and brevity.

Each is a single exhalation of perfectly fused monody. The influences are many, from Schoenberg to folk song, but the results are impossibly natural, as though text and music suddenly burst into existence through spontaneous generation.

Narucki expressed all the wonder, the chill despair and sensuous abandon of the work, singing the original Hungarian with effortless point and infinite vocal variety.

She returned at the end of the program for Lukas Foss' "Time Cycle," in the chamber version of the 1960 classic. Again, Narucki provided elegantly sustained and articulated phrases, in suitably lean, gleaming voice. Oliver Knussen conducted the score--neo-romantic before its time--with an emphasis on understatement and precision.

Given Narucki's accomplishments, it seemed a loss that William Kraft's "Pierrot Mute" had its first performance as an independent instrumental work, rather than in its alternative function as interludes for his "Pierrot Lunaire" settings. It is, nonetheless, a characteristically colorful, pertinent piece, drawing its imagery from the absent poems.

Kraft led the mixed sextet in a delicately balanced, rhythmically lithe performance.

The other premiere--West Coast only--on the agenda was "Winternacht," a pallid depiction of the seasons from 1978 by Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen. Despite a reliance on motivic cells, his methods are more pointillistic than minimalist. Knussen guided a mixed septet in its gentle, episodic grind through an inconclusively closed circle.

Michael Gandolfi's "Personae," on the other hand, is an intense tour de force workout for nine interactive soloists.

Though firmly structured, its brash, often beguilingly lyrical lines and kaleidoscopic scoring suggest a single collective instrument with a personality disorder, ultimately achieving quiescence rather than integration. Knussen elicited a vivid account of the 1985 work from the New Music Group.

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