Music is field day for percussionists

Review: Newer works got bang-up performances this week.

November 08, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

New or recent music, of varying types and quality, cropped up this week at two venues.

On Tuesday evening at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's Fine Arts Recital Hall, pianist Paul Hoffmann and percussionist Tom Goldstein offered a program of works from the last decade or so - with one exception. That exception was an excerpt from Olivier Messiaen's gargantuan piano piece Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jesus, which has lost none of its bracing, individualistic quality since 1944.

Messiaen's virtually unclassifiable style, with its exotic harmonies and prismatic keyboard writing, could not help but overshadow the other items on the concert, to one degree or another. Few 20th-century figures created such truly original art; up against even a snippet of Messiaen, many of today's composers simply sound ordinary.

Hoffmann's performance was assured and compelling; I couldn't help but wish for more.

Anneliese Weibel's C.I.R.C.A., from 2000, proved intriguing. The piano, often played on the inside, and assorted percussion instruments (including rows of suspended clay pots) offered minutely detailed, carefully coordinated spurts of mostly subtle tones - a stuttering dialogue.

Andrea Clearfield's Double Play from 1999 put keyboard and percussion through a more seamless, no less taut, conversation. A passage of mutual pounding (one on drums, the other on the piano case), had a kinetic energy; later, the music suggested an accelerating train. Hints of lyrical grace toward the end added yet another dimension to a vibrant work.

Malcolm Goldstein's that is poetry as ... from 1993 wittily re-creates the wordplay of a John Cage poem. There is humor, too, in a 1990 piece by Tom Pierson for snare drum that had Tom Goldstein playing the drum stand and the floor before he was through.

Works by Jarad Powell and Stuart S. Smith proved more effortful than eventful, but Hoffmann and Goldstein gave them the same commitment and technical finesse.

The Baltimore Composers Forum presented a mixed bag Monday evening at Goucher College's Merrick Hall. Most of the music would have been banished from universities and conservatories just a few decades ago on the grounds of insufficient modernity.

Neo-romanticism abounded, as did some pop- and folk-style doodlings. Allegany Suite, a 2001 evocation of Maryland's Allegany County for solo piano played by its composer, Paul R. Schlitz Jr., combined all of those elements into an elegant, if rather faceless, blend.

A 2000 piano piece composed and performed by Robert Hitz, Dance of Light, was a pretty, vaguely new-age trifle with a penchant for cliche. Alan Duckworth, a retired chemist and amateur composer, contributed Limbic Diary from 1991 (nicely played by Douglas Heist); it was a study in earnest imitation of assorted light music styles, with the occasional unexpected twist.

Lorraine Levender Whittlesey's Memoria Technica from 2001, a salute to Lewis Carroll word games, was given a stylish account by the Morpheus Trio that almost made it sound as clever as it clearly aimed to be. Bruno Amato's moody, often virtuosic, musically rich Seranata from 1999 for solo guitar easily outclassed the rest of the program, and was brilliantly articulated by Risa Carlson.

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