by Melanie Wong
France’s premier contemporary chamber group, Ensemble Linea, arrived at CUNY’s Elebash Recital Hall Friday night while in the midst of their second overseas tour. While officially a sextet—flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano—plus conductor, the group's programming incorporates any variety of these instruments, including auxiliaries such as E-flat clarinet, piccolo, and bass flutes and clarinets. With a goal of furthering the United States’ exposure to contemporary French music, Ensemble Linea’s program consisted only of works dated 1978 to the present.
The program opened with two quintets for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano: Philippe Hurel’s Pour Luigi and Tristan Murail’s Treize Couleurs du soleil couchant. Hurel’s ultra-academic, postmodernist piece was a cacophonous, atonal polyphony unified by its rhythmic components. In contrast, Murail’s use of live electronics proved to be a fascinatingly eerie study on color. Inspired by ring modulation and using a wide variety of extended techniques, each instrument added its own unique sound and effect while the piece gradually crept from light and open to dark, heavy, and crippling with pain. Ensemble Linea were fabulous in their execution and showcased extreme control over their instruments during the piece’s countless niente beginnings and subtone playing.
After the duo’s exit, a quartet of flute, violin, cello, and prepared piano tackled the U.S. premiere of Raphaël Cendo’s Rokh I (the full Rokh consists of three movements that can be played together or separately). Named for Shahrokh (the mythological bird from the Arabian Nights tales), Cendo explains that Rokh I is the “most diversified part” of the epic, which represents the “cyclic aspect of life, death, and resurrection.” A frantic and percussive opening eventually quieted down and Ensemble Linea creaked and croaked through Rokh I’s strange world. The ensemble gave an effectively surreal performance and excelled in the piece's technical challenges.
Bruno Mantovani’s playful d’un rêve parti served as the big finale for the evening. The name is a play on the words “rave party” and, accordingly, the piece borrows heavily from techno and house genres. With a strong, relentlessly beating bass, the semi-tonal piece was reminiscent of a psychedelic trip gone wrong (or very right), and altogether an intriguing intellectual twist on today’s popular dance-party music.
In an evening of fully avant-garde music, effective delivery is imperative for success, and Ensemble Linea’s unmatched vigor and precision allowed them to achieve just that.