Lineage, performed last night at the Heliconian Club, is the latest show from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang who brought us Evolving Symmetry in September. Lineage featured German music from Schubert to Rihm so much more in my sweet spot than the French theme of the earlier show. It was intriguingly constructed with three sets each of a pieces from Mendelssohn’s Lieder Ohne Worte and a Rihm song setting. In between we got first Berg and then Webern, Schoenberg and Schubert. It sounds bizarrely eclectic but the contrast between quite experimental pieces and more obviously accessible fare was very satisfying. Also the sense that there is both a thematic unity and a tendency to experiment in a lot of German music regardless of period.
The Mendelssohn pieces were certainly the most conventional and obviously romantic of the pieces and this was brought out by Alice Hwang’s lyrical approach to them. The Rihm songs are fascinating because, in a sense, they represent a step back from some of the more intense experimentation of the 20th century (though by North American standards are still quite avant garde). Two songs; Hochroth and den 28, December 1775 are extremely sparse in both vocal and piano parts and seem to be flirting with tonality. In an odd way they are quite gentle. The texts are fascinating and the setting of them very expressive. The middle song of the Rihm pieces; Blaupause was simultaneously more expressive and much closer to what one might think of as late 20th century German music; tougher, more atonal, more violent, more perhaps what one might expect from a student of Stockhausen. All three were given excellent, text sensitive readings by Adanya Dunn and Alice Hwang.
In between the Mendelsssohn/Rihm sets we got first Alban Berg’s Vier Stücke for clarinet and piano with Brad Cherwin joining Alice. This is very early, pre twelve tone Berg. It’s obviously a demanding piece to play and mixes playfulness and violence in a very intriguing way. It’s probably a good example of what was happening in that period between tonality being all but abandoned and newer formal systems emerging. Excellent work from both players.
The chunkiest set started off with the Webern Quartet Op 22 with Madlen Horsch Breckbill on violin and Kevin Harris on Bassoon joining Brad and Alice. This was fascinating. In one sense it’s very formally structured but not in the sense of a continuous musical line. Rather the violin and woodwinds throw fragments of fragments at each other with one taking up the phrase of another like a slightly mad atonal jazz band while the piano provides something weirdly like a ground bass. It’s very virtuosic and fun if you want it to be!
This was followed by Schoenberg’s Geben an Pierrot which is entirely typical of Pierrot Lunaire and thus one of the seminal pieces of 20th century music. This was followed by what looked on paper a curious choice; Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. Apart from being one of the few pieces around for piano, clarinet and soprano why do it? I found it curious how advanced and experimental it sounded, especially the slightly crazy last third. This really was, for its day, pushing Lieder to new levels of expressiveness. A very subtle and clever choice.
All in all Lineage was a very intriguing and rewarding way to spend the early part of a snowstormy evening. I’d like to see more of this rep from this group. The complete cycles from which the Rihm songs were drawn and a complete Pierrot Lunaire perhaps?