The third installment of "The Pierrot Project: Homage to 'Pierrot Luna" produced nine new settings of Albert Giraud's Symbolist poems, Wednesday at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute. Lucy Shelton and the Da Capo Chamber Players were the protagonists on this occasion.
The project, brainchild of ASI director Leonard Stein, celebrated the 75th anniversary of Schoenberg's 1912 masterpiece by commissioning American composers to set the texts from Giraud's cycle not used by Schoenberg, but using the same forces employed by Schoenberg. With mild doses of Expressionism transformed by the personalities of each composer, the compositions in Wednesday's concert, with a couple of exceptions, fell short of a flattering showcase of new works honoring the Viennese master.
One of those exceptions, William Kraft's "Mein Bruder," proved mesmerizing with an impressionistic canvas of tone colors and delicate use of dissonant chords .
Shelton mastered the deftly wrought Sprechgesang part. The Da Capo Chamber Players assisted with careful, sometimes inhibited, attention.
Leslie Bassett's frisky waltz "Eine Buhne" maintained a scholarly profile using carefully crafted musical ideas, often quoting other works. His "Herbst" followed similar footsteps, but in a more somber way.
A violin and piano imitating cricket chirps and cursory use of a 12-tone row added little to Ursula Mamlok's "Die Laterne." Paul Cooper's pulsating "Die Wolken" and "Sonnen-Ende" also provided fleeting moments of interest. Marc Neikrug's symmetrical, unsophisticated "Kopfe! Kopfe!" and Donald Harris' routine, academic "Nordpohlfahrt" and "Selbstmord" found even less moments of intensity or originality.
Yet after an intermission, a captivating performance of Schoenberg's original "Pierrot Lunaire" redeemed the otherwise lackluster evening, easily upstaging the newer compositions. Credit goes to Shelton for an exuberant, dramatic execution of the Sprechgesang part and, of course, to Schoenberg.