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Verge Ensemble at the Corcoran Gallery of Art

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • September 19, 2011

The Verge Ensemble, one of the region’s most eclectic new-music groups, took a slight, um, verge away from its usual multi-instrumental, multimedia programs on Sunday afternoon to focus only on piano music. Maybe the idea was inevitable: Verge, after all, includes not just one but three top-notch pianists, each with a distinctive and highly developed musical personality, and it was illuminating to hear them side-by-side.

Jenny LinBut the program also underscored how diverse the piano music of the past half-century has been, from the mathematical rigor of Karlheinz Stockhausen to the evocative tone-painting of Canadian composer Andrew MacDonald. The concert (held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where Verge is in residence) was bookended with contemporary arrangements of Bach, and there were a few masterworks of contemporary music.

Stockhausen’s dauntingly detailed “Klavierstucke IX” was given a reading by Jenny Lin so precise and nuanced it seemed to extend the capabilities of the piano itself, and Lin was joined by the equally virtuosic Lura Johnson for the gorgeously enigmatic “Jatekok” by Gyorgy Kurtag. But equally intriguing music came from lesser-known composers.

Jeffrey Mumford wrote his “of ringing and layered space” with specific pianists — including Lin and Johnson — in mind for each of its five sections. The title seemed to apply particularly to Lin’s movement; with its complex array of melodic lines over a wash of pedaled strings, it had the quality of an insistent dream. Johnson’s movement was earthier and more extroverted, with even a hint of barrelhouse here and there; both were fine, satisfying works.

Johnson also turned in a hugely entertaining account of Derek Bermel’s “Turning,” a freewheeling, anything-goes set of variations on what the composer calls a “made-up Protestant hymn,” that drew on everything from African village songs to swooping romanticism. It was a little cartoonish at times and not entirely cliche-free, but that was part of the fun. And despite its title, MacDonald’s “After Dark” was no dreamy nocturne; this was a wild romp through an imagined world that comes alive in the moonlight, given a spectacular reading by Audrey Andrist.

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 12:17PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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