Is it True? The First All-Rădulescu Concert in New York?

United StatesUnited States Horatio Rădulescu: Portrait Concert: Either/Or, Park Avenue Christian Church, New York City, 28.1.2012 (BH)


Richard Carrick, piano
Stephen Gosling, piano
Margaret Lancaster, flute
David Shively, percussion
Alex Waterman, cello

All-Horatio Rădulescu:

Eterno, Op. 103 (2002, U.S. premiere)
return to the source of light (sixth piano sonata), Op. 110 (2007, New York premiere)
Dizzy Divinity I, Op. 59 (1985, New York premiere)
The Origin, Op. 99 (1998, U.S. premiere)
Exil intérieur, Op. 98 (1997)


Before this concert by Either/Or at Park Avenue Christian Church, flutist Margaret Lancaster came onstage before this concert began to double-check the five music stands holding the score to Horatio Rădulescu’s Dizzy Divinity I, presumably so she wouldn’t have to turn pages during the score’s nonstop demands. Her breathless performance, tackling microtonal pitches combined with pulsing, irregular rhythms – roughly halfway through the concert – felt like a heart struggling to maintain its beat. It was also a potent reminder of how some recent composers have tested the physical limits of the instrument.

Rădulescu, a Romanian composer who died in 2008, seems virtually unknown in this country. (Richard Carrick, one of the pianists, said that this evening’s concert may have been the first portrait of his work in the United States.) He studied at the Bucharest Academy of Music, and later with luminaries such as Ligeti, Stockhausen and Xenakis. Although he can be considered something of a spectralist, his work is quite different from some of those who are better known such as Tristan Murail and Gérard Grisey. Rădulescu combines his sounds with a brutal starkness, occasionally throwing in Romanian folk melodies.

Take the sixth piano sonata, called return to the source of light – demonically played here by Stephen Gosling – which begins with a repeated low note, hammered relentlessly before higher-pitched chords break in like shafts of light. There is a whiff of Messiaen in the sharply accented blocks of color, and some of the skeletal directness of Galina Ustvolskaya. Similarly, The Origin (for two bass drums) is obsessive and intense, its powerful strokes punching the listener in the gut – at least, as presented here by David Shively.

Following with only a brief pause, Mr. Carrick and cellist Alex Waterman plunged into Exil intérieur, written in 1997, after the composer had moved to Heilbronn, Germany. With the cello in a rigorous, groaning andante, the piano supplies accents – raw, unstoppable. At one point Rădulescu creates a glittering texture using the piano’s high pitches combined with the cello in harmonics. Later a delicate folk melody drifts in; later still (in the final movement, titled “the origin”), the mood turns vigorous and aggressive, as if piano and cello are pounding out some kind of angry tribal ritual.

Before the concert proper, Mr. Shively gave a striking (pun intended) version of Eterno, for seven “monks’ bells,” found in Romanian Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The composer recommends simantras (2”x4” wooden planks, suspended vertically) each precisely tuned to match selected overtones of a low C (32 Hz). When struck with hard mallets, the planks emit a resonant thud – not as oxymoronic as it may sound – compelling listeners’ attention like an eerie prelude, with the church’s resonance amplifying the dramatic result.

Bruce Hodges