MUSIC REVIEWS : Unaccompanied Bryn-Julson Turns Difficult Into Delightful

Pianists do it all the time. But when violinists, cellists or singers do it, it's considered a feat.

Phyllis Bryn-Julson, a reigning diva of 20th-Century music, did it, Sunday night, and it was, clearly, a feat: She sang an entire program, six difficult and complex musical scores of varying lengths, without need or benefit of accompaniment. This was, literally, a solo recital.

Benefiting the Southwest Chamber Music Society, one of Southern California's larger purveyors of intimate musical expressions, Bryn-Julson presented mostly unfamiliar music by Charles Boone, Luciano Berio, Gyorgy Kurtag, Georges Aperghis, Richard Felciano and Cathy Berberian. She first gave the program in Vienna in October.

But don't stop reading: Those names may conjure up aural images of beeps, bloops and three-octave leaps, but this program, though consisting of both serious and lighthearted musical expressions, became, in the performance, plain fun. Or, more accurately, complicated but followable fun.

Berberian's cartoon-inspired "Stripsody," which closed the program (and which Nicolas Slonimsky calls, in Baker's Dictionary, "an arresting soliloquy of labial and laryngeal sounds"), emerged with all its myriad sound-references intact; more important, it was hilarious. Berio's still fascinating "Sequenza III" (1966) also got the full treatment.

The bittersweet, semi-comic pieces, Aperghis' eight-part "Recitations" and Kurtag's 20-item "Attila Jozsef-Fragments" became exceptionally effective dramatic cameos, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, always pointed. Concert singers like Bryn-Julson do not always get credit for their acting; this soprano deserves prizes for her ability to create character and situation within seconds and to sustain moods as long as she chooses.

This multicolored performance also included the U.S. premiere of Felciano's light and crafty "Streaming/Dreaming," with the composer in the audience. Incidentally, Bryn-Julson used the venue--a comfortable, high-ceilinged, acoustically bright former Armory in downtown Pasadena--cannily.

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