Most extraordinary that night was the tenacity and pinpoint control through the Fourth Quartet of Giacinto Scelsi, that remarkable Italian mystic who fashioned long and thrilling works out of the microtones clustered around a single note, delivered as if from another
planet. Henryk Górecki’s Second Quartet, composed 15 years after the Third Symphony on which his fame rests, is another kind of haunting work. Like the Scelsi, it too draws huge musical breaths out of not very many notes, leaving the sense that the music had taken place somewhere inside the listener rather than on the stage.
Just the opposite, of course, applies to George Crumb’s Black Angels, which tends to howl an audience into submission with its anti-Vietnam yawp. For the first time in many hearings, however, I had the sense of a performance fulfilling the notes and the intricate stage directions, reactive to the specified louds and softs and the range of referential material threaded through the work — but with the spirit that moved its creator’s pen strangely lacking. Could it be that the secrets of Black Angels are now beyond the reach of performers too young themselves to have felt the tragedy that motivated this horrifying, spellbinding music? That would count as the Vietnam War’s latest casualty.