The great sorrow of contemporary music is not a lack of premieres, but the inconsistent performance histories afterwards. New music specialists, struggling to keep abreast of current production, can seldom afford the luxury of looking back, and nobody else seems to care.
Which leaves works such as Henze’s “Kammermusik 1958" all dressed up in robes of acclaim with nowhere to go. Rare performances of it tend to settle in memory with the weight of myth.
The performance on the latest Monday Evening Concert, at Bing Theater of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, may not be the stuff of legend but it amply demonstrated the power and grace, the fertile imagination and sensitive text-setting of the piece. A big, formally clear song cycle with revelatory instrumental interludes, “Kammermusik 1958" is both immediately ingratiating and stubbornly persistent in the ear.
Gerhard Samuel, a familiar champion of contemporary music here since his days as associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the early 1970s, led an octet of local virtuosos in a deft, occasionally blocky account that found its greatest inspiration at the most crucial point, the aching bittersweet benediction of the Adagio epilogue.
Tenor Randall Gremillion and guitarist David Tanenbaum were the protagonists, in music written for Peter Pears and Julian Bream. Gremillion did not sound in the best of voice, but he used his resources with intelligence, articulating the often convolute lines cleanly and let the febrile music carry Holderlin’s allusive text naturally, lucid on the surface but with dark manias never far away.
Tanenbaum is well-practiced in Henze’s music, and he supported Gremillion with flexible point. He played the three Tientos with fluent drive and expressive nuance, firmly projected.
The pertinent, well-chosen program also featured a world premiere, Samuel’s “Outcries and Consolations” for 13 players. It reflects much of the instrumental language and color of Henze, in a vivid, fragmented collection of thematic parodies. It shares some of the emotional subtexts of “Kammermusik,” in the nervous outcries and shimmering consolations.
The two “Kammermusik” soloists also had independent vehicles. Tanenbaum, however, proved virtually inaudible in the austere Sonata of Peter Maxwell Davies, even when not overwhelmed by the astonishing audience noise level in the hall.
Gremillion acted skillfully in the “Melodrama” from Berio’s iconoclastic “Opera.” He spoke with neurotic, stagy purpose and sang urgently in the structurally rigorous, climatic absurdist monologue. Samuel and the MEC forces backed him with accommodating flair.