Polish and adeptness characterized the four works performed by the Almont Ensemble on Sunday night--even if the program lacked adventure or bold statements. A 50-member audience, many of whom are composers, warmly received the laudable performances at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena.
The world premiere of Daniel Kessner's "Droning," for clarinet and viola, opened the evening with the tightest, most provocative composition. Extending the notion of droning, Kessner exchanges static tonal accompaniment and busy atonal solo lines between viola and clarinet, hypnotically maintaining a steady pace. Cynthia Fogg, viola, and Al Rice, clarinet, performed the slowly unfolding music masterfully.
The most ambitious undertaking was by the ensemble's cellist, Tom Flaherty. His Quintet, "Good Times" (1985), makes use of neo-classic devices--such as an obvious sonata allegro form--but also elements of Gershwin-style jazz and Ives-styles dissonance.
Although his music would have raised few eyebrows 60 years ago, Flaherty succeeded in his intention to write sophisticated, enjoyable parts for the ensemble's full forces--Flaherty, Fogg, Rice, David Stenske, violin, and Charlotte Zelka, piano. Despite minor technical problems, the performance proceeded spiritedly.
Lee Hyla's "The Dream of Innocent III" (1987) found Flaherty adroitly sawing through a continuous amplified cello part laden with harmonics and dissonances and punctuated by pop-style percussion--performed with dead-on accuracy by Theresa Dimond--and a busy piano part--performed less accurately, but convincingly by Zelka.
A sentimental selection was the Piano Trio (1976) by Martin Boykan, one of Flaherty's composition teachers. Similar to the music of Elliott Carter, this highly atonal, difficult music proved an exciting addendum to an otherwise conservative evening of music-making.