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Rodin Museum
07/22/2012 -  & July 28*, 2012
Philippe Hurel: Phasis – Figures libres – Loops II – ... à mesure
Tristan Murail: C’est un jardin secret, ma sœur, ma fiancée, une source scellée, une fontaine close...

Argento Chamber Ensemble: Carol McGonnell, Vasko Dukovski (clarinet), Nathalie Joachim, Jill Sokol (flute), Arthur Sato (oboe), Gina Valvano (bassoon), Dan Wions (horn), Sycil Matthai (trumpet), Mike Lormand (trombone), Matt Ward (percussion), Joanna Chao, Steven Gosling (piano), Clara Lyon, Cyrus Beroukhim (violin), Stephanie Griffin (viola), Michael Haas (cello), Doug Balliet (bass), Michel Galante (conductor)

(Courtesy of Argento Chamber Ensemble)

Michel Galante, musical director of the New York based Argento Chamber Ensemble was on Philadelphia’s WRTI radio talking (interview by J. Michael Harrison) about the concepts of “spectral” music and previewing the performances of his group on successive weekends at Rodin Museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway. As interesting as Galante was about the theories of spectral, you didn’t really need to know anything about the musicology to be transfixed by the ensemble’s performance at the Rodin on July 28 called Spectral Impressions: Music of Philippe Hurel. This was a musical adventure everyone in attendance seemed to be glad they were in on.

The stage set up in the museum’s gardens that made for a sublime setting that played to the musical concepts, but the weather didn’t cooperate and a sudden summer rain brought everyone inside the museum itself. The audience‘s enthusiasm was not dampened, though, and they took in the Rodin collection to fill the time. With things still dicey outside, the concert began inside museum’s main gallery. Violist Stephanie Griffin playing a work by Tristan Murail, the composer featured in the previous week’s concert.

Griffin chose C’est un jardin secret, ma sœur, ma fiancée, one source scellée, une fontaine close..., a dizzying solo for viola with a sound that just enveloped the museum. Murail’s fantasia of lustrous string lines with Griffin fiddling furiously next to Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. Next was Hurel’s Loops II (2000-2002) masterfully played by solo vibraphonist Matt Ward. Ward hammers out polyrhythm that keep blooming opaque sonic matrix and he played off a slight echo effect in this space that added to its lushness. Spectral music contouring light and shadow of bronze, marble and Beaux Arts recesses.

The sun finally came streaming in and everyone returned to the gardens, with Galante introducing M. Hurel, who was in attendance for the world premiere of his composition Phasis (2007-2012). This work was led by Carol McConnell’s solo clarinet in a snaking lead crosscurrent to the rest of the players.

Hurel’s effects in Phasis - dense chord fragments, catapulting electronic spikes, radiating tonal pools - just appeared and vanished. Steven Gosling piano was also on a floating track, with eerie strums off the strings with one hand and key distortions on the other. The chromatic strikes toward the end was reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. Meanwhile, the colors and shapes in the open air, the late sun streaming through trees and the scent of lemon oregano coming up from the flower beds made it all the more intoxicating.

Then Hurel’s ... à mesure (1996) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano just was trance inducing, with the effect of reverse line lyricism cutting over Joanna Choa’s mach speed (yet light) dexterity on piano and Watts’ percussive vibe blur shadowing her.

The concert concluded with Hurel’s Figures libres (2000-1), an octet and perhaps the most concrete piece that interacted with the dusky environs and tuning us into Argent’s rarified spectral frequency. The runaway strings, at unbridled clips by Griffin and Clara Lyon, with the counter drama of Michael Haas’s sustained cello lines heard in the pauses.

Argento delivered a memorable performance full of stellar musicianship and conceptual mystique. Maestro Galante is obviously completely engaged with creating something unique with these musicians.

Argento Chamber Ensemble

Lewis Whittington



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