Saturday, March 27, 2021

Tales out of school: IU Jazz Faculty teaches and preaches in rare club gig

Led by a grateful John Raymond, a septet of Bloomington-based jazz musicians stoked the fires of post-pandemic hopefulness with a scintillating show Friday at the Jazz Kitchen.
IU jazz faculty ensemble lets itself go at the Jazz Kitchen.

The trumpeter mentioned to the first-set audience that altered teaching has been virtually the Indiana University jazz faculty's sole outlet for about a year as gigs dried up with the sudden decline of public music-making a year ago. 

The ensemble, every one of whose members is an adept soloist as well, delivered a program in which energy and cohesiveness proved thoroughly compatible. A plethora of original charts helped present an impressive profile of the IU program, and the delivery was close to impeccable.

 I liked the leader's "North," with its suggestion of hard-working idealism that gathered intensity in Greg Ward's alto solo. That set up ensemble vigor that may have become  overloaded when Raymond moved into the spotlight. He adopted a Hubbardesque excess of the sort that many find irresistible from qualified trumpeters. And why not project that maestro's exuberant style in his very hometown? But to me it risked distorting Raymond's own compositional prowess.

Wayne Wallace, who couldn't be present for this engagement, was conspicuous as composer. The first piece, whose title I didn't catch, showed how expertly the group can coalesce around a solo in progress and point a path forward. A kind of robust interlude in unison, with two trumpets and two saxophones in the front line, followed a snare-drum fusillade by Sean Dobbins. That led to a powerhouse solo by the pianist, Luke Gillespie, who widened his comfort zone by channeling his inner McCoy Tyner in a second solo. The theme returned in full cry for a final statement.

Wallace was later represented by a more lyrical number, "Night Air," which featured a fine trumpet-flugelhorn dialogue between Pat Harbison and Raymond. There was also a defining solo by saxophonist Tom Walsh, who put lots of expressive space into his display, giving everyone time to feel what he was getting at and how cogent the message was. Bassist Christian Dillingham helped establish the nocturnal atmosphere by exploiting the mellow side of the electric bass.

Brent Wallarab, a well-known faculty member hereabouts as co-leader of the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, was also away from this engagement, but he showed up as a composer with the ballad "Creature Comfort." The arrangement had a fine balance of solo work and ensemble support, and good solos by Raymond and Gillespie, who was more rhapsodic this time around. (University teachers of jazz, I assume, have to be somewhat like musical magpies to be effective with students and at home in a wide range of styles.)

Wayne Shorter's "Angola" was the one time in the first set when the band ventured outside the IU orbit. It attained white heat in solo exchanges between altoist Ward and tenorman Walsh, set up by Dobbins' tom-tom-heavy solo. Ward also got exhibition space as a composer, with a driving piece (trumpeters tacet)  that recalled Billy Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G," a memorable showcase for Dizzy Gillespie long ago on the Duke Ellington album "Jazz Party." Mind you, I'm not calling this plagiarism; I'm calling it inspiration. "Edgewater" seems like an inspired kissing cousin to "U.M.M.G," which I've loved for about 60 years.

Luke Gillespie's hard-hitting solo drew applause midway through — a rare occurrence for any  jazzman who doesn't happen to be a drummer. And the veteran pianist, who is well-represented on CDs under his name, got pride of place as the band ended the set with his stirring, anthemic "Blues for All," featuring a richly harmonized theme in four horn voices.

Harbison, a sage on the IU jazz mountaintop, distinguished the performance with a wise and witty solo. Drummer Dobbins was all smiles after the first chorus; so was I. The ensemble re-entered with some stormy simultaneous improvising before everything dwindled effectively to a few well-considered phrases from Dillingham. The audience ovation had notes of both balm and hearty gratitude.

[Photo by Rob Ambrose]


No asterisk called for: Minnesota Orchestra's Mahler Tenth feels complete, authentic

 Many years ago, in the palmy days of American magazines, a large, heavy edition of Esquire would arrive at our house once a month. My dad's name was on the address label, but I was always welcome to read each issue. Fascinating photos, features, books reviewed by Dorothy Parker, movies by Dwight Macdonald (he rarely liked anything). Sometimes, jauntily risque features and cartoons.

Tom Wicker's "Kennedy Without Tears" was the most gripping memorial piece on JFK I ever read.  The special issue on The Golden Age of Jazz I still own, with its monumental photo of a bunch of jazz immortals in a group portrait in front of a Harlem brownstone. Sometimes, there

were jauntily risque features and cartoons. There was male fashion wisdom of a degree I have always fallen short of realizing. All in all, despite Hugh Hefner's pretensions, Playboy seemed sophomorically louche and irredeemably frat-boy in comparison.

And Arnold Gingrich, a devoted amateur violinist and the magazine's publisher, engaged Martin Mayer, the first critic of classical music I ever read regularly. Mayer was otherwise well-known as a meticulous journalist about technical subjects involving business, politics, and the law. In his role as Esquire columnist, he was insightful and conscientious in his reviews and interviews across, as I remember, the entire range of Western classical music.

All this is by way of introduction to my review of a new disc: Osmo Vänskä conducting the Minnesota Orchestra in Deryck Cooke's conscientious completion of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10 in

Gustav Mahler on board, April 1911
F-sharp major.  Mayer once wrote that there were just two composers -- Mozart and Mahler -- who thrilled him in every piece, yea, in every note that's come down to us under their name. This struck me as something more than saying those eminent Austrians were his favorites or the greatest composers ever. It was saying that they were great in a way that unfailingly reached him and moved him and that he found perfect in detail and overall. They reached him in all respects in toto.

Well, I'm not quite there with Mozart and Mahler, though my admiration is huge. (Some naughty wag will wonder  if an alliterative attraction to the letter "M" may have had something to do with Martin Mayer's love.) Mayer's praise struck me as a teenager as unique and worth considering; who else hired to write about music would be so bold as to declare any pair of composers wholesale perfect?

In the case of this recording, every note famously did not proceed from Mahler's pen, so the Mayer standard may not have to apply, even from those who like what Cooke has made of what Mahler left behind.  For many years the composer's widow, Alma, accepted no reworkings or completions of what her husband's death at 50 in 1911 had compelled him to abandon. Then shortly before her death in 1963 she relented, and many Mahlerians have joined her in approval since.

The Adagio opening movement is virtually all Mahler's, and thus makes a certifiable limit to what Mahler purists among conductors (Pierre Boulez among them) would program. "Here be monsters" in the two Scherzos, less so in the cryptic "Purgatorio" that separates them, and the gargantuan finale, some conductors have implicitly declared, like ancient cartographers doubtful of what lay beyond their known world.

Cooke's completion became known to me years after my regular acquaintance with Mayer's music criticism. I don't have to find every movement beyond the first to have climbed most of the way up Parnassus. They are all idiomatic, however, and display the skill needed to flesh out sketches in Mahlerian terms. The first movement, on the other hand, reaches the heights. Speaking as a listener, not in any sense a composer, I would not change a note of it.

I first felt this with Cooke's version as interpreted decades ago in Wyn Morris' recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. With Morris or Vänskä, there is something almost scary about how thoroughly that first movement reaches me: conscientious, inspired use of all the materials, no wasted motion, a sense of the rightness in every phrase, one of the great exhibitions of counterpoint in the rare accents given to that kind of texture in High Romanticism. It's not a matter of sticking a "greatest music ever" label on it. It's just that the movement seems to amount to everything it could have been, everything it had to be. I'm in Mayerland here.

A phrase fondly recalled from the spacey viola introduction will come back in the most uncannily right way. The dissonant climax is so well prepared for, and yet surprising upon every impact. How can that be? That must be part of the definition of perfection in a work of art: every element seems fresh and inevitable at the same time. What was THAT? you exclaim to yourself, and then: Of course; what else could it be? This music breathes the same air as the spirit of the Creator in Genesis: And it was good, saith the justifiably self-satisfied God.

Osmo Vänskä is sure-handed with Mahler 10.
Vänskä handles dynamic levels well, often drawing from his Minnesotans precisely gradual contrasts. Sometimes he seems to go beyond Morris' clarity to display the fullest possible blooms of Romanticism in twilight. Morris, especially in my beloved first movement, hews to a slightly paint-by-numbers explicitness. I have wondered if Morris' having collaborated with Cooke in the studio had the Welsh conductor leaning in the direction of introducing an essentially new work to the world a bit cautiously.

No such restraint seems to shadow
Vänskä. The new recording features fine knitting together of contrasting elements, with which this symphony is replete. Such cheek-by-jowl construction has elicited vigorous disapproval from conductors like the late Raymond Leppard, who scorned gratuitous display and prized unity of effect: the focused, unbombastic Fourth was the only Mahler symphony he favored. 

The Minnesota Orchestra's phrasing is always shapely, and even transitional material gets enlivening accents. There's an almost bewildering variety of orchestral color in the first scherzo, and in the second, waltzes that flag and sink into sardonic humor, anticipating the woes of the title characters in Stravinsky's "Petrushka" and Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin."

The finale includes a beautifully played flute solo in the introduction that floats hauntingly like the horn solo in a similar position in Brahms' first symphony. The main body of the movement presents the string sections in the sturdy exposition of the symphony's long farewell. The music falls away into a controlled nothingness Mahler seems to have anticipated for himself here even more definitively than he does in ending his ninth symphony. 

For sentimental reasons, No. 9 was conceived as the place where 19th-century symphonists had to close their books. Recordings like this one hint that there might have been much more to come in Mahler's case. But for many years his muse had been death-driven, nudged by her host's heart condition, so who knows? It is fatuous to speculate. We are fortunate to have a complete No. 10. This is not like imagining the Venus de Milo with arms. In the new recording, this feels like the completion of all we treasure about Mahler.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Laureate Series brings back to town two distinguished IVCI participants for a duo recital

 A new work gives special distinction to this week's concert appearance by Bella Hristova and Juliette Kang right away. But after the bracing "Miasma" by Nokuthula Ngwenyama opens their duo recital, there is plenty to revel in for pure charm and comfort. An audience of about 90 at Indiana Landmarks Center got the direct effect with the "live" presentation on March 23. The concert, part of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis' Laureate Series, can be accessed online at through April 9.

The young composer was on hand to supplement from the stage the challenging program notes she wrote for patrons.  "Miasma" is an in-depth response to Covid-19, based on musical interpretation of the virus' genetic protein sequences. That way of working makes the piece of extraordinary interest during the pandemic. 

But when we emerge from this global health crisis, "Miasma" may also deserve currency as a worthy successor to other works for solo violin, evoking J.S. Bach and Eugene Ysaÿe. To be sure, it's often hard to detect much viability for new music beyond the advocacy of its premiering artist. Yet the legacy of both Ysaÿe and Bach remains strong among all concert violinists, and the roots of the new piece appear to be strong.

Juliette Kang and Bella Hristova

In fact, when Hristova commissioned the work through a Young Concert Artists grant, she requested that Ngwenyama keep in mind the music of both the late romantic Belgian and the baroque German composer. Both are honored without the lame veneration of pastiche. The arresting opening has rapid tremolo figures flecked by left-hand pizzicati. A sweet melody emerges, of which Hristova makes the most; the romantic flair and love of the violin at its most idiomatic connect directly with the Ysaÿe persona. 

There is a sense of crisis that's woven amid reflective episodes. Suggestions of tension and disturbance, mirroring the anxiety the virus continues to generate, lead to flashy passagework, some of it in sequences a la Bach. The ultimate effect is that of virtuosity triumphant, with a retrospective acknowledgment of adversity overcome. The emerging calm of understanding infectious diseases once ascribed to "bad air" reflects the way the viral code of the current virus ends in a long series of As; so does "Miasma," with A sounded in different registers in conclusion.

Kang's solo turn comes with Fritz Kreisler's Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice, op. 6. After the firm annunciatory quality of the first part, the Scherzo-Caprice lives up to its light-hearted name, rhythmically nimble and charming in Kang's performance. Joined by pianist Chih-Yi Chen, Kang offers two pleasant miniatures by the short-lived French composer Lili Boulanger: "Nocturne" and "Cortege." Boulanger managed to express a personal style in her small output; these two pieces put forward the fragile and playful aspects of her nature, respectively.

The gold medalist from 1994 (Kang) and the laureate from 2006 (Hristova) joined forces in two works.  Ysaÿe was again heard from in his Sonata in A minor for Two Violins. Sometimes his works seem content to be about the violin more than about the music itself; that's an acceptable emphasis when it's carried out with so thorough a grasp of the instrument as this composer always displays. And that's what we hear in this duo sonata, which gives Kang and Hristova  great opportunity to show how well they work as a team. The tempo suppleness and matching of tone and expressiveness are first-rate in this performance — from the strongly defined opening to the bravura finish of the last movement. 

With Chen at the piano for the program finale, the duo presented Moritz Moszkowski's Suite in G minor for Two Violins and Piano, an expansive work in four movements. The trim compactness of the first movement is less a feature in what follows. The work relaxes into a tenderness at moderate tempo in the second movement, in which Kang's and Hristova's feeling for the Polish composer is quite evident. The slow third movement, with its languid, drifting phrases, is distinguished once again by a tempo flexibility that the pianist fully shared. The dashing rondo finale, capped by a brilliant coda, has attractive episodes to contrast with the main theme, including some fine moments of display for the piano.

The encore, which the audience response Tuesday night fully encouraged, is an ingratiating, frankly trivial waltz by Dmitri Shostakovich from his Five Pieces for Two Violins. It helps banish any pandemic anxiety that may have been fueled, however worthily, by the program's brand-new piece.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

'Dreams of a New Day': A baritone's intense, subtle survey of songs by black composers deserves attention

Finale: Baritone sings and plays "Birmingham Sunday."

 "I, too, sing America," begins a famous poem by Langston Hughes, supplementing the archetypal proclamation of Walt Whitman.

A setting of the Hughes poem by Margaret Bonds is the centerpiece of "Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers" (Cedille), a recital in which  Will Liverman's overwhelming belief in the music is linked to a well-nuanced technique and means of expression. Paul Sanchez adds vivid accompaniment at the piano through most of the program.

Liverman commands a voice of operatic heft (which is borne out by his professional resume), yet the contrasting charm of his tender, intimate manner is authentic. A few songs, such as Henry Burleigh's "Till I Wake" in its final measures, display his  smoothly linked falsetto range.

Bonds is perhaps the best-known of black women to have composed art songs. "Three Dream Portraits" is a triptych using Hughes' poetry. Her music to them never withdraws from the explicit, direct expression characteristic of Hughes. 

"Minstrel Man" meets the poet on his own trenchant terms: the bitterness of a sad clown, representing acceptance of black culture as entertainment when full acceptance was out of the question.  The middle song of the set, "Dream Variation," links nocturnal calm to the virtues of racial pride, quietly expressed. The lyrical import has a pointed subtext insofar as  "night comes on gently / Dark like me."

The historical fulcrum that promised to balance black and white realities in American high art was the acquaintance in New York of Henry Burleigh and a distinguished European visitor, Antonin Dvorak, who taught at a conservatory where Burleigh was a student. Through the black musician, Dvorak became acquainted with the music of a people not very far removed from slavery. The Bohemian composer was impressed, and through what he learned from Burleigh, publicly advocated that American composers make use of the folk traditions that were at home here among people of color. American composers partially rose to Dvorak's challenge, but some of the reception of new music influenced by black and American Indian traditions was faddish and short-lived. 

Burleigh's own work, represented here by "Five Songs of Laurence Hope," reaches deeply into a variety of texts. Especially moving is the music's response to "Among the Fuchsias," an enraptured hymn of devotion to a beloved, the object of some mysteriously forbidden liaison. Liverman's dynamic control is particularly stunning in this song. And the way the baritone moves easily between registers is well showcased in "Genius Child" by Robert Owens.

Two contemporary composers are included. Leslie Adams (b. 1932) composed an "Amazing Grace" to his own text that has nothing to do with the well-worn hymn of that title. It's one of the Liverman/Sanchez duos triumphs in this recital. The other composer, Shawn E. Okpebholo (b. 1981), lifts up as memorials two black churches where terrible atrocities occurred: the 1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingtham, Ala., resulting in the death of four girls, and the 2015 gunning down of the pastor and eight Bible study parishioners at Emanuel AME in Charleston, S.C.  The composer uses a ballad-style lyric by Dudley Randall for a song commemorating the first event; a prose poem on the Mother Emanuel slaughter brings up a musical setting just as responsive to a much different text.

To close out the program and add further resonance to the Randall/Okpebholo piece, Liverman sits down at the piano and plays his arrangement of short-lived folksinger Richard Farina's "Birmingham Sunday," a song many will know from Joan Baez's performance. It's a little outside the repertoire signaled by the disc's subtitle, but it nonetheless comes off as a perfect finale. Little wonder that the jacket art and the disc itself carry photos of the singer with a raised fist.




Saturday, March 13, 2021

In "No. 6," IRT presents a family drama in which an outsider brings social unrest home

The continuing drama of American racial tension, brought to a head several times in recent years  through fatal encounters between police officers and black people, comes to the stage of Indiana Repertory Theatre. The old movie-poster hype of "ripped from today's headlines!" has never been more apt.

Felicia listens intently to the assertive matriarch Ella.

The audience the new show deserves will miss the highly charged communal effect of a play cryptically titled "No. 6" because of the need to watch it at home (live-streamed through April 4). The performance wrings the heart authentically and with difficulty underlines Americans' need to understand one another across our continuing racial divides. 

We stand on common ground already, but it seems to be crumbling under our feet in different ways. This riveting drama propounds the lesson for blacks and whites to learn empathy as the key to social justice and peace.

The most explosive triggering event, the death of George Floyd under a cop's knee last May, was uppermost in my mind on the day I saw the live-streamed "No. 6": a huge payment by the City of Minneapolis to the victim's family at the same time as the trial of his killer is about to get under way.

The drama boldly pits a close-knit family's desire to survive, specifically to maintain a family business,  against civil unrest situated on historical fact: the police killing in Cincinnati of an unarmed teenager in April 2001. With such a foundation, T.J. Young lards his 90-minute play with well-timed surprises and redirections. It's under the shrewd direction of Dwandra Nickole Lampkin, with astute camera work by WFYI. The apartment setting (designed by Rob Koharchik) conveys hard-earned middle-class status and, with a wealth of family photos on the walls, the importance of kinship.

Matriarch Ella (Milicent Wright) has concluded that public protests, especially when community anger leads to rioting, need to be put aside. Private life must be prioritized, because she's had to move beyond enough personal hardship to make a modicum of success possible. She runs a downtown corner dry-cleaning establishment with her two children, young adult twins Felix and Felicia. In the first scene, Ella is fiercely cranky and overprotective; the qualities give the role a comic tinge at first. IRT veteran Wright is a past master of inflecting serious roles with just the right amount of twinkle and sass.

The daughter (LaKesha Lorene) is focused on paleontology, and her museum work has been sufficiently devoted and original to earn the respect of senior colleagues. She's eagerly awaiting news of a scholarship to take her studies to the next level. Lorene at first seemed to be delivering her lines in a calculated, over-explicit fashion, but once we learn that Felicia is on the autism spectrum, the way she puts across the character made sense. And she handles scenes showing the young woman's trance-like breakdowns under stress in an eerie and moving manner.

The son's practical streak is undercut by resentment of the control he is under and the absence of his father. Jamaal McCray has the character's fundamental decency in hand. At first, he sometimes lacks an essential, mysterious ferocity. The shock of his dragging up the stairs an unconscious white man and dumping him on the living-room couch needs to be reinforced by more street-toughness and deal-with-it bravado. 

Unwilling guest Kelly and his captor Felix look for damage.

Later, in a tense scene with the man, now effectively hiding from the outside turmoil, McCray rises to the spirit of the antagonists' fierce, honest dialogue as they investigate damage to the business downstairs during a lull in the riots. Lighting the scene primarily with the flashlights they hold vividly symbolizes the truth each man is struggling to illumine and face up to.

Emerging foggily from impairment into anger before revealing his woundedness and glimpsing enlightenment, Michael Stewart Allen portrays Kelly, the family's unwelcome guest. He's an off-duty cop who had gotten drunk at a neighborhood bar before tangling with Felix. In fits and starts, we find out why he's in this place and this condition. It becomes clear he stands for the burden that all white people, especially those in law enforcement, must carry. "Your idea of us is different," Ella says accusingly near the end, when the play becomes a little too overloaded with mutual lecturing, Still, the point is driven home well when she adds: "You don't get to hide no more."

The scene reminded me of the parallels and contrasts with America's racial dilemma in the mid-20th century. I've been reading Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel "Invisible Man." The import of the title then was that the authenticity of the black experience could not be seen by white Americans, who dealt with a blurry simulacrum, often verging on caricature, that made up their image of African-Americans. 

Ellison's narrator says poignantly, after describing an incident in which he beat up a white man after an accidental street encounter: "Most of the time...I am not so overtly violent. I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers."

Today, the 24/7 news cycle and viral social media allow none of us to be sleepwalkers. Young's play shows how both sides are in the spotlight, even though it will take them a while, and much hard work,
to really know the other. Ellison's novel depicts an array of threats to the narrator's true identity, some of which surely pertain today and saturate the whole spectrum of African-American life.

But we all may be lucky that invisibility can no longer be sustained either for self-protection or to avoid necessary knowledge of people who are not like us.  Earlier, just after Ella learns some crucial facts about Kelly, she says sharply to him:  "I ain't saying you ain't hurting — I'm saying you are late to the party."

"No. 6," the meaning of whose title must remain hidden until you see the play, reminds us that this open-invitation party is likely to change all of us, as it should.

[Photos by Zach Rosing]

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Returning to the concert stage, Pacifica Quartet offers Shostakovich and Fanny Mendelssohn for Ensemble Music Society

 Familiar visitors  to Indianapolis, the Pacifica Quartet on Wednesday helped revive the local concert

Austin Hartman, Mark Holloway, Simin Ganatra, and Brandon Vamos

scene under the auspices of the Ensemble Music Society. Implicitly saluting Women's History Month, a little-known work by Fanny Mendelssohn opened the program, followed by one of the more important pieces among Dmitri Shostakovich's 15 string quartets.

The Pacifica, resting on a quarter-century foundation, continues its residency at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. The personnel with which it made its reputation in the last decade has changed; since 2017, violist Mark Holloway and second violinist Austin Hartman have upheld the ensemble's reputation alongside two of the original members, first violinist Simin Ganatra and cellist Brandon Vamos.

Out of an abundance of pandemic caution, I caught the performance via live stream. A small audience was present in the concert hall at Indiana History Center. The event marked the Pacifica's first in-person concert since last March, Ganatra gratefully informed the two audiences in post-concert conversation.

To get the special qualities of taking in such a concert remotely out of the way first: It's an adjustment to blend the visual and aural concert experience virtually. The camera work (by CameraMusic) was adroit but necessarily partial to providing visual variety. Besides the three close-up angles (first violin, viola, and second violin and cello), there was a full-frontal view of all four musicians. I preferred that one, despite the slightly obstructed (by equipment) view, so that seeing what everyone was doing matched what I was hearing. 

There were occasional lapses of synchronization between sight and sound, whose technical basis escapes me. Finally, I came away with a few questions about ensemble balance, wondering, for instance,  if electronic projection of the sound through my home computer magnified the viola (especially, but not solely, at the beginning of the Shostakovich quartet's second movement). All in all, I was grateful for the opportunity Ensemble Music and two partner chamber-music societies provided.

On to the music. Fanny Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E-flat appealed to the Pacifica, the first violinist said post-concert, because its lack of a sturdy performance tradition allowed the group to approach it as a new score. Relative lack of advocacy by other ensembles cleared the way for the Pacifica to forge a fresh interpretation.

The serious demeanor of the first movement, underlined by imitated phrases passed around, gave away to some lightening of texture and mood toward the end; it almost seemed too concise. The Allegretto that followed displayed some of the characteristic animation and tidy organization of music by the composer's brother, Felix. But the finale confirms the greater influence of Beethoven, with many free-running passages contrasted with majestic long notes showing an assertive individuality that Fanny was not allowed to develop over a restricted career as short, but not as illustrious, as her brother's. 

The third-movement "Romanze" had a "sighing" cast in the abundance of downward phrases in both melody and accompaniment; it struck me as the most successful movement of the four, reflecting the composer's predilection for song forms. The Pacifica's sensitivity to dynamics was good but somewhat neutralized, I suspect, by the leveling effect of microphones.

Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 3 in F major, op. 73, is a grandiose, effective exhibition of his complex emotional temperament. Its stature is comparable to another much-admired work, No. 8 in C minor, also in five movements. The earlier work was produced after the composer and his nation had passed through the crucible of the Second World War. The composer was well along in his conspicuous career, already marked by having run afoul of the Soviet authorities in the 1930s. In this work, the full technical aplomb of mature Shostakovich is linked to a rich expansiveness throughout.

I like drier renditions of this music, but the Pacifica's more outwardly expressionistic interpretation also suits it. Shostakovich is a composer with a puzzling variety of openness and irony, much light and shadow when it comes to heartfelt anguish set beside full-throated affirmation. Sometimes the affirmation is striated with mockery, as in the Third Quartet's marches.  He was a competent melodist, but in a spikier vein than his older contemporary, Prokofiev. The Pacifica quite evidently loves those melodies, as well as the intensity of mood. 

It may never be settled how much Shostakovich's compositional profile was shaped by repressive circumstances and to what degree what you hear is simply what you get of the "real" man and what he might have produced anyway under less frightening conditions. Tuesday's performance of the Shostakovich F major quartet allowed the mystery of this music to be illuminated, if not settled. The Pacifica, having recorded the whole cycle for Cedille in the past decade with its earlier membership, is entitled to have the way it has staked claims to this body of work fully acknowledged and admired.