Camerata delivers a charge of the new

January 15, 2008

There always is a buzz of curiosity, anticipation — and nerves — surrounding a world premiere, especially in a classical world that still hosts too few. That palpable atmosphere was in the air at Fleischmann Auditorium on Friday afternoon, when Camerata Pacifica gave the official world premiere of Ian Wilson’s “Heft, for Flute and Piano.” The verdict: Thumbs up.

Camerata Pacifica founder and flautist, Adrian Spence, commissioned the piece from the Irish composer, and on Friday afternoon, Mr. Spence navigated its challenging score splendidly, alongside virtually unerring pianist Warren Jones.

Clocking in at 25 minutes and threaded through with dissonance and “difficult listening” moments, “Heft” is an enticing and substantial, though not necessarily easy-going, piece of music. It’s a journey of dark and light, clenched intensity and melancholic reflections, and it’s an impressive chamber feat.

Whatever rigors to come, “Heft” opens airily — literally — with softly tolling alto flute multiphonics (the extended technique of producing two tones simultaneously). The implied connection to wind and nature is seconded by harmonic piano washes, suggesting the language of nature-loving composer Olivier Messiaen.

Such a post-impressionistic introduction, repeated at the end as a neat framing device (this time on concert flute), soon gives way to edgier, expressionistic writing. Harmonic tensions and flitting lines between flute and piano establish a hard, quixotic spirit. A fast, agitated section gives way to a rhythmically unhinged, musing passage, and the musical landscape keeps moving and morphing.

Although flute is clearly the lead character in Mr. Wilson’s new piece, the piano part is integral and highly active, often underscoring the shifting emotional terrain or answering and mimicking the flute material.

Along the way, some old-fashioned Modernist business drifts into the writing, but overall, it’s an attractive and engaging contemporary piece. By mixing impressionist and expressionist elements and avoiding any easy dogmatic stylistic stamp, Mr. Wilson has crafted a piece deserving to enter the ranks of contemporary flute repertoire.

Rounding out the “lunch” concert were two radically different Mozart works from 1788, three years before his death. The Trio for Piano and Strings in G, K. 564, played with suitable neatness by Mr. Jones, violinist Catherine Leonard and cellist Ani Aznavoorian, was one thing — an agreeable Mozart moment with a festive, folk-like finale.

But the real scene stealer here was the rarely played, attention-worthy solo piano obscurity, the Adagio in B Minor, K. 540, played with illuminating depth by Mr. Jones. In comments to the crowd, Mr. Jones described it as a “quirky, ambiguous, desolate” work. Fair enough. Other adjectives spring to mind, including pensive and enigmatic.

While Mozart’s signature clarity and craft were evident, other qualities somehow snuck into the music. Its formalities slid sideways into language emotional eddies, and colors shifted, disarmingly, between brooding minor mode and tender major keys. Brooding almost wins out in the end, except for a feint of gentle resolution on a major chord, like a whispered wish for a happy ending.

It’s an oddity, and a loveable one.