Robison, A Far Cry offer a nocturnal program on a sunny afternoon

April 22, 2013 at 8:57 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Paula Robison teamed up with A Far Cry Sunday afternoon at the Gardner Museum.

As the sun beamed in the golden Sunday afternoon outside, the Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall filled with the sounds of night as A Far Cry, Gardner’s resident string orchestra, performed a program of nocturnal-themed music.

Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik led the way. The musicians rendered the composer’s most famous serenade with clean playing and control throughout, though their approach didn’t always bring out the music’s expressive lines and overall warmth. Their reserved take on the first movement came off as too sedate, and they didn’t explore the full dynamic range of their instruments. The lyrical lines of the second-movement, Romance, though played with polish, lacked a singing quality.

But by the minuet, the Criers warmed to the piece, and the movement went with more ensemble force and intensity. The musicians carried that energy into the spirited Rondo, where their occasional use of rubato and slight pauses added shape to the phrases’ architecture.

The ensemble teamed up with flutist Paula Robison for a svelte reading of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flute and Strings in G minor, Op 10. No. 2.

In its six short movements, “La Notte” explores a range of nocturnal themes from scary, agitated episodes to moments of repose. Robison and the orchestra provided fire and precision for the stirring figures of the latter movements. And Robison’s sweet flute tone, imbued with a slight breathy quality, was especially expressive for the slow third and fifth movements.

As with the Mozart, the musicians seemed overly cautious in the beginning. The opening Largo lacked punch, coming across staid and unaffecting. And the second-movement Presto, subtitled Fantasmi (phantoms), could have used more flair and a quicker tempo.

But these problems vanished with the following work, Arthur Foote’s A Night Piece for flute and string orchestra, which Robison and the Criers performed with tender phrasing. Here, Robison’s velvety tone provided a tinge of longing and melancholy to Foote’s evocative musical setting of Wordworth’s poem.

After intermission, the Criers explored more disturbing nocturnal images with Kaija Saariaho’s Nymphéa Reflections.

A sound piece similar to Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, Nymphéa Reflections comprises whistling harmonics, scratching blocks of dissonance, and jagged glissandi in its six sections. The Criers held nothing back here, from the heavy grating textures to the music’s eerie nuanced passages. The finale called for the musicians to whisper phrases from Arseniy Tarkovsky’s poem “Now Summer is gone” in counterpoint to screeching and shimmering string chords, which they achieved with a haunting effect that echoed the poem’s refrain “But there has to be more.”

And more A Far Cry gave. The Notturno from Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2, despite a few spots of wavery intonation, showcased the Criers’ rich ensemble sound in the piece’s singing lines that, as the concert’s closer, greeted the coming dawn.

The Gardner Museum’s next concert will feature pianist Ran Dank in music of Chopin and Rzewski 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Calderwood Hall.

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