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Cygnus Ensemble at LoC

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Charles T. Downey, Tribute to Fritz Kreisler at the Library of Congress
Washington Post, February 6, 2012

available at Amazon
H. Meltzer, Brion (inter alia),
Cygnus Ensemble
The Library of Congress’s tribute to Fritz Kreisler on Friday night had an unintended consequence. The Cygnus Ensemble and friends noted the 50th anniversary of the eminent violinist’s death with a performance of some of his compositions. But while it was a heartfelt nod toward the impact of Kreisler as a performer, it also showed him to be little more than a dilettante composer.

Harold Meltzer’s intriguing sextet “Brion,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, provided the damning comparison. Based on Meltzer’s visit to Carlo Scarpa’s postmodern mausoleum and garden for the Brion-Vega family, near Venice, the work is a haunting evocation of the site’s enveloping silence and architectural gestures to the meeting with infinity it commemorates. The almost toneless twittering of breathy piccolo, in imitation of the birds that pierce the quiet, punctuates the work structurally. Folksy or bluesy guitar and mandolin formed transitions between sections, and quasi-minimalist repetitions set in motion jagged, dissonant motifs, with the oboe getting the only soaring melody, set clarion-high. The Cygnus Ensemble, which made the first recording of the work (for Naxos), performed this rewarding music expertly, with James Baker’s clear conducting as rhythmic guide. [Continue reading]
Cygnus Ensemble
With guest artists Miranda Cuckson (violin), Daniel Panner (viola), and Blair McMillen (piano)
Library of Congress

Music by Harold Meltzer (see his interview with Hilary Hahn) and Fritz Kreisler (listen to a recording of Kreisler's string quartet by Kreisler et al.)

This was the Washington premiere of Meltzer's Brion -- see pictures of the Brion-Vega Cemetery in San Vito d'Altivole, not far from Venice, and this video of a walking tour through the site, and read the thoughts of Kyle Gann on the piece.

1 comment:

William Anderson said...

I appreciate the good fight that Mr. Downey is waging against bourgeois Washington. I was delighted to see Harold Meltzer benefit from a juxtaposition with Fritz Kreisler! Yes, as Kyle Gann says, Meltzer is "generous". So much more remarkable for the fact that Meltzer's generosity does not involve a rejection of the 20th C. musical developments that Kreisler was avoiding. There wasn't even a name for it when Kreisler was alive. Meltzer calls it set class music, and as dry as that may sound, that is a very important distinction. Meltzer's occassional aural connections with post-minimalism are sneaky, subversive, perhaps.

I got a kick out of all the Kreisler stuff, especially the string quartet. (The word, "verklärte" appears in the parts. The piece has some ambitious program that I'd like to know about.)

Obviously the audience ate up the Kreisler. I was angling for some mention in the program notes of Hermann Broch's essay Hugo Von Hoffmansthal and His Time. Broch's essay on kitsch is also indispensable. A very broad gloss-- Baroque music and Baroque political institutions were the empty gestures and emblems of pomp and power to the bitter end of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Kreisler and Segovia and Manuel Ponce did not kick the habit. Stravinsky's neo-Baroque music knowingly spoofs the habit. Mahler, likewise, but he died with the empire.

Several things make the world safe for the enjoyment of Kreisler now.

1--two world wars
2--the Broch essays, Mahler Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and a line that for the moment might culminate with---
3--the success of Meltzer

The Broch essay as a preemptive strike in the program notes would have helped the audience bridge the gaping chasm between Kreisler and Melzer. I assume everyone makes all these connections, but I suppose Mr. Downey is wiser to avoid that assumption. The fight isn't really over.

Let's compare Kreisler's quartet with David Del Tredici's recent quartet. The Orion Quartet recorded Del Tredici's piece, and I imagine it will be available soon.

I will try to scan the Broch essays (in translation) and post them here. I think they are out of print.