There was some tough going through the Spektral Quartet’s offerings at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Arts Center on Sunday — a lot to wrap your head around. Except for the Beethoven “Grosse Fuge,” which, after almost 200 years, is still a tough nut to crack, everything the group played has been written within the past three years. Some of it was playful, some engrossing and some just bewildering, but the piling-on of challenge on challenge may not have done justice to some of these pieces, especially those at the end of the program.
That the quartet (joined at times by flutist Claire Chase) handled all the slithering, dodging, sputtering and explosiveness thrown its way with such aplomb was impressive. They are a marvelous foursome, and made most of the hurdles in their path sound easily surmountable — sometimes even fun.
LJ White’s “Zin Zin Zin Zin,” a series of instrumental grunts and splatters that sounded for all the world like a conversation among a group of Neanderthals, was a terrific satire on the inflections that give language meaning. Dai Fujikura’s “Lila” (Sanskrit for “Play”) for unaccompanied flute had Chase popping and singing into her instrument with a lighthearted abandon that was the very essence of playfulness. And perhaps the afternoon’s most intriguing performance was in Sky Macklay’s “Many Many Cadences,” which was just that — repeated avalanches of sped-up, hymnlike endings to begin with and then the interweaving of slithering string slides that oozed toward resolving cadences but oozed right past them, over and over.
Two movements from David Remnick’s “The Ancestral Mousetrap” that had the members of the quartet playing while singing some weird texts about body parts falling off and decaying were in the bewildering category. Katherine Young’s kaleidoscopic transcription of David Russell’s “I’m Hiding Your Present From You” and Anthony Cheung’s five-movement “The Real Book of Fake Tunes” for flute and quartet suffered from coming late in such a demanding (for the audience) program. And the Beethoven was Beethoven, a little overwrought in this reading but wonderful anyway.
- Joan Reinthaler