The concert would have graced Lincoln Center; for it to take place at the Dunaway Center in Ogunquit Friday night was little short of phenomenal.
The world-renowned Cassatt String Quartet, with pianist Adrienne Kim, played four major contemporary works, including a world premiere. And each one was introduced by the composer.
The compositions varied tremendously in style, but each was given a thoughtful, lively and technically flawless performance. No composer could have asked for more.
The first work on the program was “Cadmium Yellow” by Laura Kaminsky, a string quartet in one movement that attempts to depict, primarily through timbre, the various emotional effects that can be realized by that color. The range of sounds the composer could wring from four stringed instruments was incredible.
“Chrome Yellow” was followed by the world premiere of “Cartas de Frida,” a piano quintet by Samuel Zyman, a Mexican composer who teaches at Juilliard. My favorite work of the evening, it is based upon three letters by Frida Kahlo to her off-again-on-again husband, Diego Rivera.
Each movement faithfully follows the emotional contours of the letter, from loving resignation through the most violent of passion and stages in between. Zyman’s style is dramatic but basically tonal and melodic, using Latin idioms. I was groping for analogies when a friend suggested Korngold (the noted film music composer) meets Ravel. He was close, but Zyman has a quality all his own.
After intermission came “Lift High, Reckon; Fly Low, Come Close,” a piano trio by Anna Weesner. As the composer pointed out, the verb-adverb title is long, but the music, more dissonant than Zyman’s, describes such encounters, perhaps intellectual versus sensual, quite accurately, with a wide range of effects, including some beautiful dripping water sounds that reminded me of Alban Berg.
More concrete imagery, but also emotionally accurate, was in the five-movement quartet “Quijotadas,” by Gabriela Lena Frank, which depicts scenes from the career of Don Quixote, ending with his awakening from illusion after a beating by donkey drivers.
Frank also employs Latin American rhythms and forms, but transformed by a thoroughly modern — and definitely non-nostalgic — sensibility.
Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at [email protected]