Verge and Aleph at the Embassy of France
Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 10:22AM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • April 28, 2008 

Ken Ueno
The Verge Ensemble, the adventurous new-music group in residence at the Corcoran Gallery, joined forces with the Paris-based Ensemble Aleph on Friday for a concert at the Embassy of France that demonstrated the value of trans-Atlantic cooperation in areas beyond mere trade and politics. Mingling their personnel, the two groups gave a nod to the past with a graceful reading of Ravel's Piano Trio in A Minor, but focused on edgier works written in the last decade or two.

The composer Ken Ueno amplifies traditional instruments to uncover new worlds of sound, and his "Contemplation on Little Big Muff" gave Christophe Roy's amplified cello a strange and unsettling intensity, probing into sustained tones and building drama from the timbral textures that were revealed. There were few concessions to loveliness, but the piece had a fascinating, elemental power that resonated long after it ended.

More immediately delectable were the two "Recitations" by French composer George Aperghis, sung with charming delicacy by the elfin soprano Monica Jordan. Light, playful works for solo voice, they hover somewhere between song and sound poetry, drawing on a range of effects from birdlike fluttering to deep-voiced growls.

Christopher Culpo
A lullaby with a war scene in it is an intriguing idea, but Paolo Prestini's "As Sleep Befell" -- while often lovely -- never quite gelled, drifting instead through a landscape of soft edges and earnest intentions. Dominique Clement's "Let's Go" was more colorful, incorporating taped snatches of film dialogue into a lively, lilting piece.  But "After Midnight, Before Dawn" by Christopher Culpo was the real gem of the evening. Written for string quartet with two percussionists, it's a strikingly vivid work that explores the elusive worlds of sleeping and dreaming, to hallucinogenic effect.

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