Composer Henri Dutilleux (photo by Myles Granger)
The resulting work by Ravel was supposedly polished off in a hurry, but his creation was perfect in its display of the new instrument. The harp, often an accompanying instrument, here comes to the forefront, surprisingly able to carry a melody over all the other instruments in a few instances, and Dotian Levalier, principal harpist of the National Symphony Orchestra, was marvelous. Levalier played with weight and grace, and the distinctive sweeping sounds of the instrument were gorgeous in her rendering of what was, at the time, a new chromatic sound, via the pedals. Though the harpist shone in particular, the ensemble as a whole blended beautifully, with each instrument weaving lightly through and among each other.
Henri Dutilleux, a living French composer, is known in the area because he had a close relationship with the National Symphony Orchestra and director Mstislav Rostropovich. This work, Ainsi la nuit (1976), would have perhaps had a better effect had it not been preceded by an ill-conceived spoken and played introduction to it, articulated by cellist David Hardy. The work has seven movements, with “parentheses” in between that recapitulate old or foreshadow new material, and with no time between. Foreseeing possible confusion among the audience as to where the titled movements began and ended, the musicians played the first few measures of every movement, and then proceeded to play the parenthesis preceding that movement and its transition into the movement itself. Needless to say, this was a long, drawn-out introduction to a piece that stands firmly on its own, and which does not need a thorough analysis for audience-members’ untrained ears. Dutilleux has exacting and quirky standards, and a love of harmony above all else. Out of his dissonant twentieth-century sound will emerge lush and richly intricate harmonies that seem to hearken to an earlier century. Always technically rigorous, the musicians acutely captured the jarring sounds of this string quartet, only to come together to create richly sonorous harmonies.
Cecelia Porter, Harp takes center stage in Chamber Players' varied program (Washington Post, April 27)
The Kennedy Center Chamber Players offer one more program to end this season (June 6, 2 pm), a program featuring quintets by Gieseking and Schubert, as well as Szymanowski's Mythes for violin and piano.