BSO's 'Tabula Rasa' filled with delicious monotony

October 24, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Two months ago after surgery I was tied to an I-V filled with morphine. The sound of that stuff as it filtered out of the bottle and into my blood stream was not monotony; it was as sweet as any music I had ever heard, and I began to understand nirvana not as a goal achieved or a final resting place but as a process of plunk-plunk-plunk . . . .

That came to mind last night in Meyerhoff Hall when David Zinman conducted Baltimore Symphony players in Arvo Part's "Tabula Rasa" -- a double concerto the Estonian minimalist wrote in 1977 for the violinists Gidon Kremer and Tatiania Gridenko, string orchestra and prepared piano.

The second and last movement of the piece is about 25 minutes long and it consists almost entirely of repeated figures in the two solo instruments over similarly repeated figures in the supporting ensemble.

Its monotony is most delicious. The plaintive rise and fall of that ceaselessly repeated figure induces a trance state that brings one close to sleep without putting one there.

Part's inspiration is clearly medieval chant. But he has written this music with enough sense of movement so that the stasis created is imbued with a feeling of becoming.

The washes of color from the prepared piano -- deep, tolling effects that suggested the use of bells in such musical forbears as Mussorgsky -- inspired something like awe, as did the end of the piece, with its final phrases retreating into the depths of the double basses at barely audible levels.

The performance by the soloists -- Herbert Greenberg and Joseph Bykov -- and the players was eloquent and showed remarkable endurance (it is arm-strainingly difficult).

The program began with Aaron Jay Kernis' "musica celestis" for string orchestra -- a work that also owes a good deal to chant and to Richard Strauss, with a conclusion that suggests the "Four Last Songs," as it refines itself out of existence in an ascent into ever higher realms.

Sandwiched between these works were busier pieces by George Crumb and David Dzubay.

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