One aspect of Frederic Rzewski’s protean accomplishment is a sort of transcendental mimicry. He has a geometer’s concern for form and a cartoonist’s flair for immediate and economic imagery.
Rzewski is also much noted for making socio-political statements through his art. Don’t imagine, however, that there was anything the NEA might refuse to fund, Wednesday evening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Not many laughs, either, ironic or otherwise.
The 53-year-old composer joined the California E.A.R. Unit in a program of his recent work, in the Bing Theater. Brightest and best was the newest, the Sonata for piano composed earlier this year.
Traditionally shaped over an ostensibly rigorous mathematical base--each of the 27 variations in the third movement lasts 13 and 1/3 seconds, we are told--the piece is large in scope and energy. It uses a wide range of popular tunes for thematic material, quickly and deftly transformed and recombined in a kinetic kaleidoscope, reminiscent in spirit and effect of John Zorn’s hectic sound collages.
Rzewski stated its virtuosic case with obvious authority in its U.S. premiere. The composer’s invention flags at times, where numerology seems to overtake inspiration, but the pianist buoyed those sections with intensely expressive playing.
Also heard in its first U.S. performance was “The Waves,” a pseudo-minimalist fragmentation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 60. Actor Michael Morgan declaimed the text with a desperate clarity and odd robotic passion, while the seven Uniteers noodled short motives, paradoxically regimented semi-improvisational chaos finally resolving into stoic unison.
Low-energy, low-imagination improvisation was also at the center of last year’s “Aerial Tarts,” a “rock-out” piece that simply doesn’t. Though the Unit has not done badly by vocal exercises such as Stockhausen’s “Stimmung,” its popular parody here seems merely crabby.
Acidic, sociologically correct mini-drama “Spots” completed the program. The performances of these rather arch satires seemed technically dead on, but also emotionally dead and at a minute apiece, too long for mere irony.