After death and darkness, a happy ending from A Far Cry
With a concert title like “Happily Ever After,” it’s only natural that music from Alfred Hitchcock’s murder-thriller “Psycho” would be on the program — no?
FWEEP, fweep, fweep! The Criers were in the house.
A Far Cry, the conductorless band of string players, closed its seventh subscription season Friday at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall offering a trademark eclectic bill starting in Renaissance Italy and ending with Finnish fiddle tunes.
In between came “Psycho”: A Narrative for String Orchestra, a concert edition of the Bernard Herrmann film score (it’s a bit unnerving to watch how similar to stabbing knives the bows of enthusiastic violinists can be), and a heartfelt rendering of Aaron Copland’s Suite from “Appalachian Spring.”
The opening “Moro Lasso,” an AFC arrangement from a book of madrigals by Don Carlo Gesualdo, showcased the way complex harmonic progressions and rhythmic patterns pass seamlessly among the 16 Criers, most of whom stand and sway while playing. The effect was an almost woozy sense of aural shape-shifting, with sounds drifting like spirits around the stage.
The madrigal’s original text — excerpt: “ “I die, alas, in my suffering“ — went unsung, but printed in the program, it segued to “Psycho.” Bassist Karl Doty noted in remarks to the audience that the film explores “some of the ugliest parts of humanity.” The playing was wickedly wonderful.
The program’s second half turned from darkness toward joyful optimism.
“Appalachian Spring” is often heard as a full orchestral suite, but it was conceived as ballet music. AFC added guest instrumentalists on piano, flute, clarinet, and bassoon to give a reading true to the work’s roots, if not the night’s most inspiring performance. An authoritarian baton can nail treacherous change-ups and spark musical exclamations; AFC’s democratic approach yielded a piece more safely collegial than thrilling.
The concluding Finnish Fiddling Suite by JPP (Järvelän pikkupelimannit, or “Little Folk Musicians of Järvelä”) was halted for about 15 minutes shortly after beginning by a health emergency (an audience member was helped out by medical personnel), but then the Criers dug into arrangements by Doty to deliver a foot-stomping romp, and the audience responded in kind, with whoops, whistles, and a roar after the group dashed off an encore recap that began with the shout, “WHAT ARE THE LIMITS?”
Happily, none that mattered, came back the reply.