Scott Lindroth, Chair of the Department of Music at Duke University, has written a lot of music for diverse ensembles, but few of his compositions have had the immediate popular appeal of Nasuh, which received its official premiere on February 14 before a capacity audience in the Nelson Music Room. The new work, for soprano and string quartet, is a setting of a tale by the mystical poet Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-73), given in a translation by Coleman Barks, one of our leading Rumi scholars. Lindroth has wrapped the story, which centers on the transformation of Nasuh from a bathhouse interloper and voyeur to a person with profound spirituality. Those who were reading the poem for the first time may have wondered, at the outset, why Lindroth had bothered..., but as the piece unfolded, the reasons became manifest, and at the end there was sustained applause for the soloist, the distinguished contemporary music specialist Susan Narucki (who has previously performed in Durham), and for the Ciompi Quartet. The music, clearly the work of a master composer, has an air of mysticism about it, and it was sung and played with keen attention to the score's many nuances. A handsome booklet containing the text was provided to attendees, but for the most part Narucki's projection of the text was so good that the printed words were not needed. Those words are introduced, accompanied, and enhanced from time to time by varied and invariably engaging instrumental music. The Ciompi Quartet has demonstrated its passion for new music, some of which may become the "classic" music of future generations. Lindroth's Nasuh would appear to be a strong candidate for additional performances here and for a life of its own, beyond the confines of the academic institution that enabled its creation and helped launch it. (For more information on the poet, see http://sca.uwaterloo.ca/Nordenhal/rumi.html [inactive 3/05]. The story is summarized at http://www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0134/_P21.HTM [inactive 9/04], but the version used by Lindroth is far more engaging.)
The concert included a second work sung by Narucki with the CQ. Hindemith's Melancholie, Op. 13, is a memorial to a friend of the composer who perished in the so-called Great War. Its four poems, by Christian Morgenstern, address, in turn, primroses serenaded by blackbirds, the mists, blood dripping into the cup of death, and weariness, and the transformation that accompanies death. In a sense, then, this piece complemented "Nasuh," but only obliquely. We don't hear much vocal music by Hindemith - our loss. This is a powerful set of songs, and the songs were dramatically delivered. The third number, "Dunkler Tropfe," with pizzicatti in the low strings depicting blood dripping into that cup, was particularly impressive. The finale, while perhaps a bit contrived, proved moving, too, and again the response of the audience was strong. Hindemith's Melancholie is included in the CQ's newest CD (Albany TROY603), along with music by Earl Kim, Arvo Pärt, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, sung by Narucki (Kim and Hindemith) and tenor Steven Tharp and featuring pianist Jane Hawkins.
The program began with Beethoven's Second Quartet, in G Major, Op. 18/2. In it, Beethoven looks back at the traditions he inherited and would transform, but there's little transformation in the work itself. It received a surprisingly Romantic interpretation, at the outset, free and at times freewheeling. One could perhaps make the point that first violinist Eric Pritchard intended to project the piece's heritage as a leader-dominated score, but it stuck this listener as out of keeping with the Ciompi's usual modern, "democratic" approach. In any event, there was, to these ears, too much leading fiddle, and some of what we heard was not as polished as we've come to expect. Or perhaps it was the brisk tempo of the opening movement. In any event, things settled down as the performance progressed. There were some wonderful interpretive touches, including some use of portamento, mostly from Pritchard, and at the end there were smiles all around.
The concert's final work, Dvorák's "American" Quartet, also began somewhat rambunctiously, but the players - including violinist Hsiao-mei Ku, violist Jonathan Bagg, and cellist Fred Raimi (not to be confused with that aforementioned poet Rumi) - quickly slipped into the groove and the results proved heartwarming. Look for lots more Dvorák in 2004, the 100th anniversary of his death .