Polaris reflects brilliance of modern composers' works


March 16, 1993|By Robert Haskins | Robert Haskins,Contributing Writer

Contemporary music concerts are best when they represent 20th century composers in both their historical breadth and their aesthetic diversity. The performing ensemble Polaris, which performed last night at the Baltimore Museum of Art, was successful on both counts.

Recent works such as Meyer Kupferman's "Five Flings" (1980) took their place alongside two sturdy "classics" of modernism, John Cage's Amores (1943) and Luciano Berio's "Circles" (1960).

The Amores was written during the period of Mr. Cage's heavy involvement with percussion and with the "prepared piano" -- a grand piano fitted with screws, pieces of rubber and other materials that transformed its characteristic sound into one evocative of a Balinese gamelan ensemble.

The performers, pianist Robin Kissinger and percussionists Barry Dove, Patricia Johnson and Craig Lawyer, were all fine, but only Ms. Kissinger successfully captured the sense of ecstasy so crucial to this music.

Berio's "Circles," a riveting setting of poetry by e.e. cummings, is one ofa half-dozen vocal chamber masterpieces produced in this century.

Mezzo-soprano Kyle Engler, harpist Sonja Inglefield, Mr. Dove and Ms. Johnson captured the work's brilliance perfectly. They are all performers who possess virtuosity of a high order, as well as a flair for dramatic, almost visceral theater.

Baltimore's own rich composer community was represented by Christopher Mandras' "The 28 Angels Ruling in the 28 Mansions of the Moon" (1987). The dark, chromatic content of Mr. Mandras' music is complemented by a delight in suave irony and an agreeably post-modern disdain for stylistic dogmatism. Ms.Engler, violinist Ivan Stefanovic and pianist Clinton Adams gave the work a reading that was intelligent and expressive.

Not all of the works on the program, unfortunately, were of uniformly high quality. Claude Baker's "Divertissement," for instance, provided a half-baked hodgepodge of faux Mozart and Schoenberg. Its musical jokes were as subtle as a sledgehammer.

To its credit, however, Polaris performed the work with great verve. It will be good to see the ensemble when all the music its members perform matches their considerable abilities.

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