MUSIC REVIEW : Engrossing Ray Recital at Neighborhood Church


Recent, neglected or revival-worthy music seems to be the focus of the new recital series PianoSpheres. The display of personal virtuosity, when it occurs, is a bonus.

Both elements emerged, however, Tuesday night when Vicki Ray, up to now a low-profile high achiever in new-music circles, gave an engrossing performance at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena. Ray offered recent works by Erik Santos, by her husband, Donald Crockett, and by James Mobberly.

She also revived pieces by Cage, Berg, Busoni and Knussen. Through it all, Ray showed that kind of musical thoroughness and technical panache that puts a composer’s thought directly before the listener.

The most engaging item here proved to be Crockett’s wondrous, kaleidoscopic, tightly organized “Pilgrimage,” a rainbow of a work that utilizes instrument--in this case a very resourceful new Fazioli--and player inventively.


In 13 colorful minutes, the composer explores timbres, textures and hidden voices, purposefully evolving a set of variants on a melodic fragment, moving from lightness to substance. The achievement is stunning.

Mobberly’s brief (6-minute) mixed-media piece “Caution to the Winds” (1987) also became provocative, its balance of live-and-tape playing solid, its virtuosic demands met without effort, its fervid but controlled sound-images well-served.


Santos’ apparently improvisational, certainly thrown-together, suite “Air Chunks” (1992) displayed cleverness but not a lot of cohesion, often crossing over that fine line between looseness and chaos.


Crockett and Santos were both on hand to share the approbation of a receptive audience.

Two perfectly awful, thematically linked pieces, Busoni’s “Berceuse” (1909) and Oliver Knussen’s “Sonya’s Lullaby” (1977), sullied this otherwise admirable enterprise. Despite careful delineation of their lugubrious, rather similar, contents, Ray was unable to make these pointless morceaux charming.

Two important historical items, Cage’s gamelan-wanna-be, “The Perilous Night,” for prepared piano, and Berg’s Sonata, Opus 1, began the program stylishly.