There was something refreshing about Gloria Cheng's recital at Santa Monica College on Saturday evening.
It didn't last long--just more than an hour. But it was a very intelligently planned hour. Consisting entirely of 20th-Century works, her program seemed to have the right combination of contrast and congruity.
The pianist opened with Virgil Thomson's Five Etudes. The composer cleverly molded the didacticism of technical exercises into interesting musical miniatures, and these Cheng rendered with command and style, albeit with limited emotion.
In Mario Davidovsky's "Synchronisms No. 6," the integration of acoustic and electronic sounds seemed particularly keen, and the taped sounds effectively highlighted entrances, sharpened contrasts and added timbral variety. Cheng delivered the pointillistic and rhythmically complex part with assurance and precision.
Paul Lansky's "Modal Fantasy" isn't modal in the old sense. Sounding freely atonal, the three-movement rhapsody meanders through thick and busy textures without much direction. But Cheng brought a good deal of emotion, warmth and insight to the work.
John Adams' "Phygian Gates" completed the program. Instead of trying to hypnotize his listeners, Adams changes the activity frequently, and "Gates" offers more rhythmic, textural and tonal variety than most "minimalist" works. (Only its abrupt ending seemed out of place.) Cheng played the reflective middle section thoughtfully and brought drive and purpose to the juxtaposed ostinatos that make up most of the 25-minute work.