A requiem composed for his parents by Buffalo New Music Ensemble director Ferruccio Germani was the big work premiered on the ensemble's program Friday night in the Burchfield Art Center at Buffalo State College.
"In Memoriam Matris et Patris" (1990) is a somber, dirge-like work for three male voices and instruments, including flute, clarinet, string quartet, piano and percussion. It is music like a procession that a couple of times seems about to lead into the light, only to retreat and retrace steps of grief.
Germani favors slow-moving scaler passages employing the augmented second, that most heart-breaking of melodic intervals. It's hard to believe he resorts to such a time-worn device. It is old hat, and not to care that it's old hat, and oh so easy to grasp, is the credo of the minimalist.
Just as surprising is the composer's major harmony affirmation, which is what all the grief leads to, and which is not lasting. Germani makes us feel cheated -- he gives us the sunny affirmation then pulls down the curtain of gloom. It is honesty, perhaps.
Vocal and instrumental sections alternate; text is sung, and then feelings aroused by text are aired by the instruments. These stretches of instrumental music are perhaps the most depressing, for in their repetitions, in their inability to discover new ground and break free of gloom, you feel not only a terrible constraint. You feel you are lost, and the way is aimless.
The scoring carries sure effects we've experienced to death. What doleful interval sounds better from the viola than the minor sixth, the great crying interval? How better grieve than with the sound of muffled bass drum, how better bring a crescendo of triumphant feeling than by producing a roll on a cymbal?
There is perhaps theatrical music on a small scale in this requiem, on a minimalist scale. For how is it possible using a restricted musical language (and Germani is not here a maker of fresh melodies or harmonies) to excite strong feeling?
If you wanted to make a joke about a requiem here are all the devices -- but I'm sure Germani is not making a joke. What you miss are fresher means for expressing sincere feeling.
Germani conducted the ensemble, with Scott Gray-Vickrey, countertenor, Michael DeLano, tenor, and Spencer Craig, baritone.
The first part of the program had two works that bore a striking resemblance to each other. George Crumb's amplified piano piece, "A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979," performed by Scott Tinney, is music of sustained resonance and dense harmony. The two sides of its coin are delicacy and primitivism, but such is the sense of ease in the manufacture that you wonder if the currency is sound.
The other work was Germani's "Psalmi" (1981) for piano and baritone. The antique cymbals were an obvious touch of Crumb, as was the singing of Craig into the body of the piano. The sense of theater in this piece is successful because Germani allows us to indulge the emotion of triumph -- he does not pull away from the effect he aims to achieve.
Buffalo New Music Ensemble
Works of Crumb, Germani
Friday in the Burchfield Art Center.