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Music Review

A Far Cry’s glorious spectrum of sound

By David Weininger
Globe Correspondent / September 26, 2011

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The fifth season of the conductorless string orchestra A Far Cry began on Friday in near silence and ended in a glorious, noisy racket. In between came subtly shaded sounds, polished ensemble, and an enthusiasm that spanned about 250 years of music - all the things that have made it one of Boston’s most admired groups over its first four years.

The orchestra opened with Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,’’ a piece emblematic of the composer’s tintinnabulist style: simple triadic motifs unfolding like a series of increasingly plaintive sighs. The sound blossomed like light gradually suffusing a cave, then gently receded.

If the ecstasy of “Fratres’’ is directed inward, Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’’ is its extrovert twin, so warm and open-hearted is its embrace of the listener. Besides producing a string tone so rich it was impossible not to enjoy, the Criers did a superb job differentiating the layers of sound produced by each group of players. Poignantly, they dedicated the performance to violist and frequent guest Alicia Doudna, and her fiance, Andrew Kratzat, who were seriously injured in a car accident this summer.

The meditative spell was broken by Steve Reich’s hammering “Triple Quartet,’’ one of many works by the minimalist composer that captures the teeming energy of New York. Its motorific dissonances suggest a mechanism on the edge of falling apart. A brief, wary oasis leads to further machinations.

The second half of the program was given over to fugues, beginning with “Contrapunctus XIV’’ from Bach’s “The Art of Fugue.’’ This brilliant piece of counterpoint was left unfinished at Bach’s death, and there was a story - now regarded as apocryphal - that the composer had died while writing it. Several scholars have produced completions of the score, but A Far Cry chose to end its careful, well-ordered performance at the point where the manuscript breaks off into unsettling silence.

They waited barely a moment before plunging into Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge,’’ an unexpected and very cool transition between two pieces that, besides being fugues, share almost nothing. Originally the conclusion to the String Quartet op. 130, the “Grosse Fuge’’ is Beethoven’s most unhinged expression of his late style. No performance of this tempestuous creation is perfect, but A Far Cry’s was polished and secure without sacrificing the music’s raucous essence. A terrific, promising season start.

David Weininger can be reached at globeclassicalnotes@gmail.com.

CORRECTION: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this review gave an incorrect opus number for Beethoven's String Quartet in B-flat. It is opus 130.