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New music around here frequently suffers from a total separation between the cerebral, arm-chair composer and the practicing performer. The Lukas Foss Improvisation Chamber Ensemble showed how delightful the result can be, when the writing hand knoweth what the performing hand doth. Spontaneity is the obvious thing to expect of an improvisation ensemble, but a surprising coherence revealed careful planning. The rare feeling that the music and the instruments had to go together gave the sounds a special excitement.
The ensemble has invented its own repertoire of sounds, and for such a small group--clarinet, cello, percussion, piano--the repertoire is surprisingly large. The combination of clarinet (Richard Dufallo) and vibraphones (Charles Delancey) suggests a small organ in a big church. I've never heard anything like low clarinet tones played flutter-tongue against the head of a kettle drum.
On woman suggested that the work for piano four hands-two on the keyboard (Lukas Foss) and two with mallets on the strings inside--be called "Murder in the Cathedral." In "Air Antique," cellist Howard Colf's delicate, ghostly left hand pizzicati held the audience literally gaping. Assisting countertenor Richard Levitt transformed his voice into a dazzling clarion in an improvisation on an Italian madrigal, "Dolcissima mia vita."
Granted that sensationalism alone justified a few of the tricks, and that some of the techniques, repetition and antiphony, were too extended, still the musicians in this ensemble do what many others don't--listen, and listen intensely.
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