A smart, eclectic closer

By David Weininger
Globe Correspondent / May 18, 2009
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To close out its 11th season, Chameleon Arts Ensemble assembled the kind of adventurous program with which it's built its reputation: smart and eclectic, stretching from the 19th century to a world premiere. All five works were loosely linked by the theme of ecstasy, but this seemed less important than the permutation of styles, as well as tight and committed performances.

Two duos opened the program. Schumann's Fantasiestücke, Opus 73, were heard in the version for cello and piano. They are some of his most elegantly lyrical creations, and they were played with strict attention to balance and clarity. Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel," played here by clarinet and piano, is kind of a lullaby, with quiet arpeggios in the piano and wisps of melody from the clarinet floating above. Rafael Popper-Keizer was the cellist, Kelli O'Connor the clarinetist; Vivian Chang-Freiheit was the excellent pianist in both.

Shirish Korde, a composer of Indian descent, wrote "Zhikr: Songs of Longing" for Chameleon, and Saturday was its premiere. Scored for soprano and seven instruments, it integrates Eastern and Western traditions in a thoughtful and substantial way that goes beyond world music cliche. The strings, flute, harp, and percussion form a lush background for the soprano's part, which ranges through a variety of vocal styles drawn principally from Indian classical music. The final movement, "Ecstasy," features a kind of scat singing while the instruments dive in and out in irregular patterns. Two interludes for tabla drums were among the piece's most memorable moments. They were played by Aditya Kalyanpur; Elizabeth Keusch was the outstanding soprano.

A sensitive performance of Takemitsu's atmospheric "Rain-Spell" followed intermission. The Japanese composer possessed a unique sense of instrumental color; here the sonorities of five instruments, along with some expressive silences, evoke a gentle rain shower in some distant, nameless land. The evening ended with a rendition of Fauré's Piano Quartet in G minor that was notable for its livewire intensity. The performers - violinist Katherine Winterstein, violist Scott Woolweaver, pianist Gloria Chen, and Popper-Kezier - played with a surging momentum that never flagged.

During intermission, concertgoers could be overheard marveling at the program's breadth and wondering why other groups aren't as adventurous. Chameleon makes daring seem easy.

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE At: Goethe-Institut, Boston


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