Tobenski-Algera Concert Series
Hadar Noiberg, flute / Chris Cullen, clarinet / Philip Wharton, violin / Ryan Murphy, cello / Rob Frankenberry, piano / Ingrid Gordon, percussion
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church / Chelsea, NYC
2. to his love
3. [enter Ophelia, distracted]
4. of cabbages
5a. Of Blooming Boys by Gods Belov’d
6. The Hunted Enchanters
5b. Of Blooming Boys by Gods Belov’d
7. as a seal upon your heart / at Roissy
Paul et Dargelos takes its title from Jean Cocteau’s novella Les Enfants Terribles. Cocteau is a favorite author of mine, and I have always found Paul’s adoration of Dargelos to be particularly compelling. After a quiet, Copland-esque opening, the movement centers around a folk-like theme that undergoes several variations. This theme, appropriately, is also the material for the Gymnopedie found in movement 5.
Paul et Dargelos segues directly into To His Love, for cello, percussion and piano. This movement, which takes its title from Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, is a dialog between the cello and percussion, with the piano providing a hazy backdrop. As the conversation grows in intensity, it suddenly erupts into a wild solo for the percussionist. The two conversationalists spent, they part ways, and the piece moves directly into the next movement.
[Enter Ophelia, distracted] is, clearly, a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For some reason, this stage direction has always stuck in my mind since I first read the work in high school. Here, the flute is our ersatz Ophelia, the snare drum her inner demons driving her to “distraction”, and the violin a soothing balm to her shattered nerves. The movement culminates in the flute’s scream of anguished frustration.
of cabbages, for solo cello (and referring to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass), is a foil to Ophelia’s twitchy neuroses. Here, the cellist noodles with a quadruple-stop C-major chord, and a circus-like motive, all the while commenting both physically and vocally. The cellist is asked to snap, whistle and stomp, and is given one moment to put his or her personal stamp on the piece, with a note marked, “Your noise here.” I’ve heard performed squawk like some huge, ungainly bird, and even belch! (The performer of the latter sound worried that I might be offended. My only comment in rehearsal was, “Can you do that louder?”)
Of blooming boys by Gods belov’d, a reference to the myth of Zeus and Ganymede in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, is, appropriately enough, a Gymnopedie, that form created by Erik Satie reputed to be dances for naked boys. Here, the clarinet plays the melody, supported by the slow meanderings of the piano and punctuated by the light skittering of the violin.
The movement is sharply and loudly interrupted by The Hunted Enchanters (a reference to the play in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita that leads to Humbert Humber’s downfall), which makes use of the entire ensemble again. The movement is a machine infernale that plows forward, building up steam until it explodes with the screams of the flute and clarinet. There’s a brief lull while the music again builds to another violent eruption, which brings the movement to as abrupt an end as it started.
The Gymnopedie, having been so violently interrupted, starts again tentatively, this time infected by some of the disjunct motives from the machine infernale. The movement slowly builds to a climax very different from the violence of the previous movement. The shrieks and wails of the recent eruptions are replaced with slowly arpeggiated triads in the clarinet and violin supporting the piano’s clangorous bass and melody in parallel fourths in the upper register of the keyboard.
As the Gymnopedie’s climax dies away, we return to the Copland-esque material from the beginning of the piece in the doubly-titled movement as a seal upon your heart / at Roissy. These are references to the Song of Solomon (I have written a setting of “Set me as a seal” for choir) and Pauline Reage’s The Story of O. I chose to pair these two works for several reasons: both works are, at the most basic level, about love. Both are also “pornographic.” After a slight variation on the opening material, the piece starts to unravel, and all of the themes and motives come back in a jumble that builds to a return of the violence of The Hunted Enchanters. At the end, though, we return to a fuller, lusher version of the opening matieral, which ends quietly and peacefully.