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Musica Viva spans cultures to bid adieu


On Friday, Boston Musica Viva and its music director, Richard Pittman, presented their final concert of the season, titled "Roots," four works drawing on folk and/or nationalistic influences.

Chou Wen-chung's "Twilight Colors ," a world premiere, evokes Hudson River Valley sunsets and Chinese landscape painting. Chou, a longtime Columbia professor, espouses Chinese artistic virtues -- minimum brushstrokes of maximum expressivity -- but his sound-world is uniquely personal. String and woodwind trios converse in a shifting atmosphere, one group daubing a sonic wash while the other essays heightened lines; lucid melodies are delicately passed from player to player. It's music of unobtrusive but compelling eloquence.

Chou's piece drew the listener in; Lee Hyla's "Polish Folksongs" (also a premiere) was boisterously extroverted. Hyla's ebullient, Ivesian instrumental gallimaufry layers tunes in joyous cacophony, then gives them slightly cockeyed harmonizations. In the second movement, a rocking piano ostinato and an incongruous but convincing hi-hat and bongo tattoo drove a stomping, tail-chasing dance; in the third, a murky dirge became the foundation for further polyrhythmic jumbles, punctuated by raggedly thrilling choruses.

Olly Wilson's thoroughly modernist Negro-spiritual deconstruction "A City Called Heaven" opened the evening, its second Boston-area performance of the year. Collage New Music's January reading emphasized momentum, the syncopations driving toward each subsequent bar. By contrast, Boston Musica Viva (who premiered the piece in 1989) fattened up the offbeats; the results were looser and funkier, bringing the vernacular influence to the fore. The music, infectiously, works both ways.

Also revisited was a 2004 commission, Mario Davidovsky's "Sefarad," four medieval Spanish-Jewish lyrics in dissonant, meticulous, illuminated settings. Davidovsky summons a subtle, boundless palette from a percussion-laden quintet; at the end, a Mosaic sermon suddenly explodes with flamenco-style clapping from the ensemble.

Davidovsky's exacting vocal lines span huge ranges, often within the same measure; baritone Sanford Sylvan made it not only sound easy, but idiomatically natural, with a sensitivity to both text and timbre that brought out the psychological drama of the epigrammatic textures. The players seized each phrase with rousing commitment; pianist Geoffrey Burleson and percussionist Bob Schulz, in particular, combined virtuoso dash with alert empathy.

The concert was also an unofficial valediction for local heroes Hyla and Sylvan, who are taking up new jobs in Illinois and Canada, respectively.

If Thoreau was right that distant friends make the earth seem spacious, it was an apt sendoff.


Boston Musica Viva

Richard Pittman, music director

With: Sanford Sylvan, baritone

Music of Wilson, Chou, Hyla, and Davidovsky

At: Tsai Performance Center, Friday