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Music Review

‘Angry’ drama, stormy Schubert at Yellow Barn

An ensemble of 11 cellos and a double bass performed Brett Dean’s “Twelve Angry Men’’ last Thursday. An ensemble of 11 cellos and a double bass performed Brett Dean’s “Twelve Angry Men’’ last Thursday. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe)
By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / July 18, 2011

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PUTNEY, Vt. - Yellow Barn, the summer music school in southern Vermont, provided an oblique dose of community theater in its Thursday concert last week, with a performance of Brett Dean’s “Twelve Angry Men.’’ A tone poem interpretation of Reginald Rose’s jury-room drama (and Sidney Lumet’s film), the piece translates a familiar plot (an individual voice vs. the crowd’s groupthink) into a let’s-put-on-a-show ensemble of 11 cellos and a double bass.

Yellow Barn’s purpose provided the critical mass of faculty and students to field a deep cast; the rustic locale made it feel almost like summer stock.

“Twelve Angry Men’’ is accomplished in its eclecticism, mixing gently dissonant neo-Romantic correlatives and modernist sound effects with ease. Gaunt melodies wheel over creaking glissandi and polyrhythmic commotion.

Shifting loyalties within the ensemble are subtle, but there for the noticing; once it reaches its Barber-like verdict, the piece takes a bit too long to wrap up its deliberations, but Dean’s sound-world is consistently inventive. The performance was keen, the ensemble fluently shifting between chamber-music attentiveness and massed richness.

The rest of the concert was in a similarly dramatic vein. Franz Schubert’s “Lebensstürme’’ was appropriately dark and stormy, but also thoughtfully proportioned across its wide canvas; pianists Yundu Wang and Michael Bukhman, discerningly intense, conjured a bit of Grimm-like forest amidst the Vermont countryside. Wang was joined by oboist Mark Hill and violinist Alexander Sprung for Jacques Hétu’s Op. 82 Trio, written in 2009, one of the late Canadian composer’s last works. Superbly constructed - and superbly performed - the Trio shapes sparklingly unsettled tonality into efficient figures, lean musical stagecraft.

The drama did become forced at times. Violinists Jennifer Curtis and Nicholas Mann, violist Steven Laraia, and cellist Bonnie Hampton gave Haydn’s Op. 77, No. 2 F major Quartet too vigorous a workout, stamping through Haydn’s elegantly tricky dances with aerobic aggression. But violinist Olga Caceanova, violist Roger Tapping, and pianist Qing Jiang made genial declamation of Brahms’s Op. 40 Trio, every line, no matter how vehement, rounded off with aplomb.

Summer entertainment should always be so comfortably, confidently thrilling.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri@gmail.com.

YELLOW BARN Seth Knopp, artistic director

At: the Big Barn, Thursday