Boston Musica Viva serves up a multimedia feast

November 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm

By Stefanie Lubkowski

Boston Musica Viva performed Saturday night at Tsai Auditorium.

Boston Musica Viva’s concert provided an audiovisual feast with a world premiere collaboration between Richard and Deborah Cornell, and older favorites Saturday night at Boston University’s Tsai Auditortium.

A fitting opener for this well-crafted program, Pierre Jalbert’s Visual Abstract bristled with energy throughout all three movements with contrasts in texture and tempo. While the first movement drew its inspiration from bells, the music centered on the jumble of overtones and noise inherent in their attack rather than their resonance—spinning initial clanging chords out into a flurry of soloistic flourishes from the ensemble.

The second movement provided stillness and a melancholy yearning before the piece returned to its kinetic origins in the final movement. Throughout, Richard Pittman’s unflappable and understated conducting maintained precision and kept the ensemble in sync with the projection. Created after the piece was premiered and recorded, Jean Detheux’s video was less inspired in its use of Stan Brakhage-style abstraction and organic textures reminiscent of water ripples and ice crystals.

The world premiere of Wind Driven was both the centerpiece and the highlight of the evening. A perfect marriage of sound and vision, the seemingly fragmentary nature of Richard Cornell’s music and Deborah Cornell’s video collage coalesced into a beautiful and meaningful unity.

The three sections of Wind Driven are bookended by field recordings of storms, one occurring off the Massachusetts shore, the other in a canyon. In the first part, short, often angular, gestures bubble up from the storm’s sibilance and are mirrored on the screen with graphics of birds and the movement of organic images underneath contour maps.

This skillful integration between the field recording and the ensemble created an atmospheric beauty that was missing in the middle section, where the ensemble alone articulated a declamatory, chorale-like theme in between elongated iterations of the initial instrumental gestures. Here pianist Geoffey Burleson’s assertive touch and Bayla Keyes’ warm viola tone contributed much to the rich and variable texture.

The emergence of the second storm recording heralded the beginning of the third section. Once again, instrumental gestures emerged seamlessly from the soundscape, but here, the gestures were more sparsely spaced. Deft use of bass clarinet and pizzicato cello created an appealing darker mood, especially in tandem with the images of hands appearing underneath the contour map in Deborah Cornell’s compelling video.

The second half of the program focused on two of Boston Musica Viva’s old favorites. Peter Child’s Tableaux, written for them 20 years ago, began with “Shimmer,” a movement that perfectly lived up to its name with Impressionistic piano chords constantly undulating against slowly swaying melodies from the violin and clarinet.  The second movement, “Chimaera,” juxtaposed a series of rhetorical gestures that were often spiky and sometimes petulant, like a discordant conversation. “Quietus,” in which a placid, wandering theme is spurred into action by booming piano interruptions, was the most riveting. While the fourth movement promised a raucous finale with its playful, jazz-inflected motives and lively percussion, under Pittman’s restrained direction, this “Stomp” felt too timid.

Berio’s Folk Songs provided both a satisfying finale and the perfect platform for mezzo-soprano Krista River’s beautiful tone and agile expressiveness. From her light touch with the lilting “Black is the color” to the full operatic verve she applied to “Mottetu de tristura” (Song of Sadness), River moved effortlessly through the varied emotions and stylistic nuances of these eleven songs, supported by the equally versatile ensemble.

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