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Music Review

Wintry, and warmer, sounds from Dinosaur Annex

CAMBRIDGE — “Winter Fancies,” Dinosaur Annex’s Sunday concert at Harvard, had plenty of atmosphere, though not much of it was stereotypically wintry. Then again, winter itself isn’t always very wintry anymore, in ways the program matched: provocative juxtapositions of brisk cold and disconcerting warmth, inclement and calm. Given the changes in culture and style the new-music group has weathered over 38 seasons, why not an accounting for a change in climate?

The most atmospheric piece was a premiere: “In Thin Air,” by Yu-Hui Chang (also the group’s co-artistic director). The music starts high, busy, quietly but anxiously intense: Gabriela Diaz’s violin skittering through harmonics, percussionist Robert Schulz shadowing with bristling metallic rolls, Donald Berman gathering icy chords from the top of the piano keyboard. A middle movement brings the violin down to warmer, lower strings; in the finale, anchored by richer piano chords, the violin again ascends, but to repeat a kind of broken-chord mantra, before fading into a distant, bright haze. It’s a bewitching piece, impulsive but cogent, elusive but enveloping.

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It was surrounded by contrasting climes. Annie Gosfield’s 2003 “The Harmony of the Body-Machine” (given sharp soul by local cello hero Rafael Popper-Keizer) cultivates the cello’s wiriest sounds — more harmonics and bracing, near-the-bridge bowing — and lets them roam a recorded accompaniment of industrial cast (literally, much of the source material recorded in German factories), until the machinery’s whir and whine coalesces into modal melody. “Jácaras,” a 2006 set of variations by Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon (performed by Diaz, Popper-Keizer, and Berman) reversed that pattern somewhat, slashing, off-kilter dances giving way to extended techniques hinting at more fathomless themes: a wild party intercut with the uneasy, expansive nocturne outside. Daniel Godfrey’s 2005 “Luna Rugosa” was a more traditional nocturne, the water-reflected “wrinkled moon” of the title brushed in deftly tweaked impressionist colors. (Popper-Keizer and Berman were joined by clarinetist Diane Heffner and flutist — and co-artistic director — Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin.)

The finale, Steven Stucky’s “Boston Fancies,” was an outlier, temporally (it was written in 1985 for another local group, Boston Musical Viva) and in mood. Unlike the rest of the program’s landscapes, the music felt more indoors, more self-contained. With violist Anne Black joining the program’s other six players, and under Jeffrey Means’s crisp direction, the score offered rooms full of expertly fashioned new-music artifacts. Still, it was wintry in its own way, a soundtrack for coming in from the cold — or even the not-so-cold.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri
@gmail.com
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