Lerdahl's brilliant 'Marches' creates an original language

December 15, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Much new music nowadays seems to echo -- often with allusions and sometimes with direct quotations -- the music of the past. Fred Lerdahl's "Marches" for clarinet, violin, cello and piano is no exception.

The work was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of && Lincoln Center, performed by it at Lincoln Center in New York in its world premiere Sunday afternoon and repeated here last night at the Baltimore Museum of Art in a concert sponsored by the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore.

This 15-minute piece refers to a number of famous marches -- one could identify allusions to the second movement of Schumann's Fantasy in C Major and to Mahler's Symphony No. 5 and try to capture snatches of Mozart and Shostakovich before they disappeared -- but that wasn't the point of the music.

Lerdahl succeeds in incorporating all of this into his own language. The composer made a listener feel he was listening to music he had heard all his life, all the time surprising him with the sudden changes and surprising turns -- sometimes inward, sometimes full of dramatic sweep -- that this brilliantly organized single movement contained.

The fine performers were clarinetist David Shifrin, violinist Ani Kafavian, cellist Fred Sherry and pianist Lee Luvisi. The concert -- the first in the Baltimore society's 1992-93 season -- also featured superb performances of Bartok's "Contrasts" for clarinet, violin and piano and Dvorak's Piano Quintet.

The variegated moods of the Bartok triptych -- the sardonic wit and jazzy insouciance of its outer movements and the brooding lyricism of its central one -- were captured beautifully.

The excellence of Shifrin, the music director of the society who has made a fine recording of this piece, was no surprise. But violinist Carmit Zori was something of a revelation. This young violinist played the music with the energy of a hellion and the control, accuracy and range of color of a master.

If Luvisi played a subsidiary role in the Bartok -- the composer wrote the piano part for himself, allotting starring roles to the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the clarinetist Benny Goodman -- he was the dominant factor in the performance of the beloved Dvorak quintet that concluded the concert.

Luvisi, who teaches at the University of Louisville, is one of the best pianists in this country and he led this piece with warmth, spontaneity and magical beauty of tone.

The playing of the string quartet -- violinists Kafavian and Zori, violist Walter Trampler and cellist Sherry -- was not quite in the same league because its lower strings did not match the upper ones in energy, refinement and accuracy of intonation.

The next concerts in the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore series take place at the BMA Jan. 25, Feb. 22 and April 4.

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