• Jeu de Tarot
: Review

This absorbing program comprises two recent works and one older one by David Felder, a long-time and important member of the faculty at the University at Buffalo (formerly SUNY Buffalo). Jeu de Tarot (2017) is a violin concerto with chamber ensemble of 12 players. The British musicologist Tim Rutherford-Jones notes the allusion to Stravinsky's Jeu de Cartes but claims no other relationship other than the title. I on the other hand hear some clear Stravinsky references in both the first movement, `The Juggler' and the third, `The High Priestess'--there may be others. Rutherford-Jones writes that each movement depicts a scene evoked by portrayals of 22 characters in the tarot, especially those described by the Russian esotericist Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky in his New Model of the Universe of 1917. He suggests that the detail of portrayal is largely a matter for the listener: to quote Philip Glass about Einstein on the Beach, "the more you know about him, the more you know what the piece is about".

As a listener whose knowledge of the tarot more or less begins and ends with the 1960s serial Dark Shadows, my hearing of the work is that each movement evokes very well what one can glean simply by reading the movement title. For instance, `The Juggler' (also known in some tarot decks as `The Magician') suggests a series of illusions created by the dramatic gestures of the solo violin, amplified or perhaps commented upon by the ensemble. The Empress is more ceremonial, punctuated by colorful sounds from the ensemble (including a prominent place for percussion, piano, and synthesizer). The haunting final movement, Moonlight, begins with stratospheric high notes and glissandos in the violin; gradually a brooding but placid deep-voiced accompaniment begins in the ensemble. The harmonies and figurations are thoroughly post-tonal, the rhythmic style mostly very freely flowing and sometimes settling into brief, more pulse-oriented passages. Composed for the great violinist Irvine Arditti, it's a superb vehicle for his imaginative virtuosity, and the playing of Ensemble Signal under Brad Lubman only adds to the performance.

The title of Felder's string quartet, Netivot (2016), is Hebrew for "paths"; the strings are supplemented by electronics, and the work can be performed with optional film. Here the music offers both serene contemplation and ecstatic devotion. Rutherford-Jones notes Felder's music shows the influence of spectralism in the frequent appearance of two notes that are almost in tune, creating various kinds of beating effects--they make a strong impression here. Like the younger JACK Quartet, the Arditti is admirably suited for this kind of string writing. The understated intensity of this work is particularly appealing.

The final work, Another Face (1988), reacts to Kobo Abe's novel The Face of Another, which tells the story of a scientist who receives a face transplant; Rutherford-Jones notes that the novel is "a disturbing meditation on the meaning of identity". For solo violin, it traces the slow transformation of a series of short ideas and again reveals the consummate artistry and technical brilliance of Arditti. Sound throughout is crisp and detailed.