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The advantage of calling the Kimmel Center’s new music series Fresh Ink is that “fresh” is relative, combining “new” with “refreshing” on this program of music for violin, Jennifer Koh, and piano, Reiko Uchida, ranging from 1942 to the present.
 
“Relax, and leave the driving to us,” John Adams recommends for his 1995 Road Movies. Lively, energetic, light, the piano ground rolls along with violin commentary; repetitive, but with enough variation to be identifiably Adams. But then the ground switches to violin with percussive piano punctuation. When the piano ground returns, it’s almost an old soothing friend, and the commentary has a jazzy swing. The very slow hypnotic second movement has a motif that extends and elongates in a duet. The closing is back to a fast ride with jagged non-stop rhythms.
 
Gyorgy Kurtag pulled together short selections from earlier pieces Signs, Games and Messages for solo violin in 1995. Distilled and intense is how the soloist describes this Romanian composer’s work; I would add short and percussive phrases, and vastly differing moods – violence, sorrow, folk music, dance and classic Bach.
 
In Lou Harrison’s 1998 Grand Duo you hear long echoes of held notes in the piano, under a scalar motif with violin melody above. The “estampe” movement reminded me of the Adams in its ground and cadenza format, but not as user-friendly.  The center movement is a spare and delicate counterpoint, the slow movement is two melodies played simultaneously, and the close is a lively polka that just ate up the bow.
 
Poulenc’s 1942 Violin Sonata references Spanish music in this commemoration of Lorca. The first movement is a rhythmic theme and development with a surprisingly sweet and poignant melody. Poulenc quotes Lorca’s poem “the guitar makes dreams weep” for the second movement and its plucked strings, muted melody and romantic lushness. The presto tragico movement has internal contrasts, minor versus major, serious versus sweet melodies, dense notes versus open space, and a sudden ending.
 
And then we come to the world premiere of String Poetic by Philadelphia composer Jennifer Higdon – five poetic songs based on her own poems – a series of visual impressions: jagged climb, nocturne, blue hills of mist, maze mechanical and climb jagged.  Each of these is a stand-alone work, in particular the ineffably poignant “piece of night – night of peace” Nocturne. Blue Hills of Mist begins so smoothly it seems an extension of the Nocturne, but includes some of the Jagged Climb influence in its increasing drama and grandeur; the plucked string effect in both piano and violin has an Oriental effect that ends in mid-air. Amazing Mechanical explores a maze of speeds without losing its forward momentum, and Climb Jagged reprises the rhythmic opening.
Fresh Ink Series
Kimmel Center
Philadelphia, Pa
October 21, 2006
(Reposted from Penn Sounds 10/26/06)

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