Bruce Hodges virtually attends the performance at National Sawdust, New York, on 16 April 2021
At National Sawdust, a venue known for its pristine sound, the Fromm Players at Harvard presented violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Conor Hanick in four works, starting with Duo (1996/99) by Rebecca Saunders – with every delicate gesture audible. But the more aggressive sequences also registered: Cuckson’s grating glissandos, along with Hanick reaching inside to strum the piano strings in pleasantly caustic counterpoint. Languid phrases from the violin were often in contrast to courtly tiptoes on the piano, intertwining as the mood grew ever calmer.
Renowned for her contemporary programming, the violinist followed with the premiere of Jeffrey Mumford’s fleeting cycles of layered air (2020), packed with nervous gestures, rapidly changing filigree and double-stops. Pizzicatos play a strong role, including the forceful array that ends the exercise.
Composer Dongryul Lee was enthralled with Cuckson’s playing and wrote her the virtuosic microtonal exercise A finite island in the infinite ocean (2020). Given the title, passages sound like dense reefs of exotic corals. In the first section, arpeggios and double-stops abound, and as the tension escalates, a stratospheric note ends it all. The second part is quieter, more like a lullaby. In an appealing illusion, the violinist created a faint echo effect, as if subtly enlarging the space.
Hanick returned for the closing work, Natasha Barrett’s Allure and Hoodwink (2014), with electronics adding to the complex timbres – as if radiating out from the violin and piano. As the ‘hoodwink’ ensued, agitation increased. Scratchy glissandos left electronic debris in their wake. Near the end, in a striking sequence, the electronics came crashing in, only to devolve into quiet clicking. Cuckson’s implacable control only underlined the contrasts.
Photo: John Rogers