OPERA NEWS - Anthony Roth Costanzo, Claire Chase & David Moody
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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Anthony Roth Costanzo, Claire Chase & David Moody

NEW YORK CITY
SubCulture
5/7/15

Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and flutist/new music specialist Claire Chase teamed up for an unusual and uniquely rewarding concert at New York’s SubCulture on May 7. The centerpiece of the evening was the world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s Domination of Darkness, a new song cycle on poems of Wallace Stevens. “This is one of my strangest pieces,” Fairouz announced with winning candor before the performance. Surely it was a daunting undertaking, given the density of Stevens’s poetry and the (one might well think) limited coloristic and harmonic possibilities available from the countertenor/flute combination. Yet the imaginative and ever-resourceful Fairouz provided a compendium of different ways to mingle the two timbres. He used the flute pointillistically, melodically, and accompanimentally in relation to the shapely and communicative vocal lines. Accordingly, Costanzo and Chase adorned, complemented, and provoked each other, displaying unusual mutual sensitivity to each other’s timbres, gestures and rhythms. Costanzo has a velvety yet powerful sound, an impressive dynamic range, and unusually intense commitment to what he is singing at any given moment. In this innovative, immediately appealing cycle, he put the poems across with startling clarity — obscure allusions, extended metaphors, and all. The highlight of the set was probably “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” in which the author provocatively declares religion to be as much a fiction as poetry. The performers accentuated the subtle humor in Fairouz’s setting of this imagined encounter, with Chase’s flute doggedly mirroring the sharp rhythms of Costanzo’s vocal lines at consonant intervals.

Joined by pianist David Moody, Costanzo and Chase also performed the opening and closing arias from Cantata BWV 170 by J.S. Bach, whom Costanzo described as “our favorite experimental composer.” In that spirit, they delved into the Bach as if it were an intriguing, endlessly surprising contemporary work.

The concert opened with Marcos Balter’s spare, fascinating Alone, which Chase said the composer was inspired to write for her while listening to her practice Debussy, Varèse, and Bach at an artists’ retreat. The flute plays a meditative, ornamented melody while the countertenor sustains soft tones and also runs his finger around the rim of a glass, producing (in this case) a perfectly tuned B as a ground tone. Periodic light triangle strokes completed the remarkable soundscape. Later, Costanzo sang reverentially for Suzanne Farrin’squietly intriguing “Si come” from la dolce morte, a monodrama based on love letters of Michelangelo. With its reverential, cantorial inflections, the short yet compelling piece seemed simultaneously ancient and modern. Chase soloed in Balter’s startlingly original Pessoa for five bass flutes, one live and four recorded. It started out with slurred, airy murmurings and built to mellifluous, swirling flurries of sound before tapering off again with a sense of uncertainty.  All in all, this was a refreshingly unconventional evening, with music-making of the highest order. spacer

JOSHUA ROSENBLUM

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