Boston Musica Viva makes the most of time
Boston Musica Viva opened its 2011-2012 season Friday with “Time Cycles,’’ a quartet of 20th-century American works that cast an uneasy eye on the ravages of time.
Lukas Foss’s “Time Cycle’’ (1960) is a vocal piece whose four sections draw on texts from W.H. Auden, A.E. Housman, Franz Kafka, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Mark Berger’s String Trio No. 2 (2007) takes its cue from T.S. Eliot’s Cape Ann-inspired “The Dry Salvages,’’ the third of his “Four Quartets.’’ David Froom’s “Circling’’ (2002) is a seven-minute, three-movement work in which clarinet and flute circle each other. And David Rakowski’s “Thickly Settled,’’ which was getting its world premiere, proposes to “evoke the once-bustling, back-road settlements of rural Massachusetts.’’
Cast in four movements and three interludes, all with titles from the poem, Berger’s Trio aspires to Eliot’s “intersection of the timeless with time.’’ Bayla Keyes (violin), Peter Sulski (viola), and Jan Müller-Szeraws (cello) balanced deftly between pain and prayer, oscillation and ostinato, bowing and plucking, giving us the different voices of Berger’s sea howl and his sea yelp.
“Thickly Settled,’’ for violin, viola, clarinet, and piano (same lineup as for Olivier Messiaen’s “Quatuor pour la fin du temps’’), with BMV music director Richard Pittman conducting, conjured the New England of H.P. Lovecraft rather than Charles Ives. There were pockets of brooding bustle, and William Kirkley’s clarinet kept evoking “The Twilight Zone.’’ The third and last movement didn’t quite live up to its hilarious title: “Pipistrellosamente,’’ or “like a bat.’’ “Circling’’ also has descriptive titles - “Tête-à-tête,’’ “Pas de deux,’’ “Duettino’’ - and Kirkley and flutist Ann Bobo made them work, butting heads in the first movement, dancing together in the second, engaging in a friendly cutting contest in the third.
“Time Cycle’’ is a 12-tone affair in which the soprano’s phrases keep rising to an edge of hysteria and the piano minces mockingly in 12-note phrases, as if to suggest the hours of the day. The texts are beset with clocks that can’t tell us what time it is and bells that knell our mortality. Pittman led a chamber version (clarinet, piano, celesta, cello, percussion) with soprano Jennifer Ashe that did justice to Foss’s Cubist portrait of time, but it was only in the last section, to Nietzsche’s “O Mensch! Gib Acht!’’ that the text became intelligible.
At the 1960 premiere of “Time Cycle,’’ Leonard Bernstein treated the work to a second performance. Boston Musica Viva didn’t need to do that - it had already given its audience plenty to think about.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.