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Music Review

Musica Viva opens season in fine form

Mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal was featured in a Paul Hindemith song cycle. Mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal was featured in a Paul Hindemith song cycle.

Back from summer hiatus, Boston Musica Viva opened its 39th season of new music on Friday in fine, incisive form, under the familiar direction of Richard Pittman. The program highlighted recent and venerable German imports with one welcome domestic interloper.

Detlev Glanert has emerged as one of Germany's leading opera composers; "Geheimer Raum" ("Secret Room"), a 2002 octet, combines his dramatic sense with a lucid ear and an expressionist sensibility. Within "walls" of increasingly claustrophobic, obsessive motives, Glanert's oft-harsh harmonies expand on atonality - a sardonically triumphant triad is one of the work's reference points. The spark, though, is Glanert's terrific way with instrumental color: chimes vibrating into silence, strings smearing into ringing chords, the sounds colliding at the end in quiet, disorienting chaos.

Jörg Widmann, composer and clarinet virtuoso, has the bass clarinet take the lead in his moody, astringent 1999/2000 ". . .umdüstert . . ." ("darkened"), an American premiere. Rane Moore, in a tour-de-force performance, wrung every possible sound out of the instrument: shrieks, murmurs, wails, panicked breathing. But all the things going bump in the night never gave chase. Combinations that might have made bewitching moments - growling bass drum dovetailing scratchy low strings, Romantic-heroic piano scales accompanying clarinet gasps - stretched into static minutes.

Far more effective was Paul Hindemith's 1922 song cycle "Die junge Magd," six George Trakl poems heavily laden with gloom and mortality. Hindemith's music, for flute, clarinet, and string quartet, breaks with Romanticism - instead of overripe decadence, the poetic decay becomes eloquent, crumbling dust. Mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal, simultaneously intense and eerily gentle, pared her voice down to a vibratoless echo as the heartbroken young maid retreated into death, her tone disappearing into Alicia DiDonato's keening flute.

From Boston stalwart (and newly-named NEA Jazz Master) Gunther Schuller, "Four Vignettes," a world premiere, was played twice: vintage, crackling modernism, leavened with vibrant instrumentation and a taut sense of shape. "Atmospherics" blurs together softly dissonant sonorities with overlapping and misdirection - brief solo flourishes claiming attention just long enough to change the backdrop.

In the dense, sharp "Capriccio," the six players didn't so much drive the rhythm as circle it like a feral cat, clawing and stalking the beat. "Dreamscape: Found Objects" is inspired by Dalí paintings, an expertly-crafted alien landscape in a vein perhaps too familiar from countless science-fiction soundtracks - sustained tones, whistling harmonics, pointillistic interruptions. But the final "Scherzo fantastico," a mini-concerto for celesta (Geoffrey Burleson) and glockenspiel (Bob Schulz), was bright, busy, and bracing: pennies from heaven.

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Boston Musica Viva

Richard Pittman, music director

At: Tsai Performance Center, Boston University, Friday