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Music | MUSIC REVIEW

Engaging trip into the last century

May 16, 2003|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

XTET's stated agenda has been to celebrate music of the last 100 or so years. As such, the skilled new-music ensemble, in concluding its 17th season Wednesday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, yielded a doubleheader with the programming of William Kraft's "Settings From Pierrot Lunaire," a late 20th century response to Arnold Schoenberg's early 20th century classic.

Kraft's seamlessly blended instrumental and vocal work (sung with moxie and clarity by soprano Daisietta Kim) has been heard in these parts many times but is still rewarding. Kraft's house brand of neo-Impressionist writing is eloquently filtered through Serialist thinking, and he makes the hybrid language work -- sing, even.

A quintet, conducted by Donald Crockett, alertly essayed the score, as Kim conveyed emotional suspension and delicacy on "Mein Bruder" and showed a touch of dark camp in the final moments of "Selbstmord" (Suicide), making a self-hanging gesture with her scarf.

Later in the evening, Kraft's work enjoyed a parallel in Jacob Druckman's engaging 1992 piece "Come Round." A similarly configured ensemble, but adding clarinetist Emily Bernstein, navigated Druckman's fastidious design, keeping an exciting, running balance of activity and stillness. This intricate musical mobile is composed of fragments, including a recurring appearance of almost-resolving 10th intervals. The final movement boasts increasingly fast and ever tighter musical knots, deftly performed here.

Opening the program, Anne LeBaron's "Waltz for Quintet" wears its waltz factor lightly, moving around in time and harmony and suggesting a blithe mix of Webern and jazz. Percussionist David Johnson donned his composer's hat -- and wore it well -- with "Dark Wing." He played marimba, with Roger Lebow on cello. Unlikely allies or a sympathetic, destined pairing? We opt for the latter, according to this lovely, accessible and unabashedly sensuous score.

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