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concert:nova's "Gothic Halloween" Gripping

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Oct 22, 2014 - 3:42:20 PM in reviews_2014

The ever-resourceful chamber ensemble concert:nova dipped into the Gothic Tuesday evening at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

In the spirit of the season, c:n borrowed from Edgar Allen Poe with "A Gothic Halloween," a program including readings of Poe’s short stories “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Masque of the Red Death” by storyteller Jason Podplesky.

They did it in a fitting spot, on the set of the CSC’s current production of “The Birds,” the horror story by Daphne du Maurier, made famous by the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film (Hitchcock said he took inspiration from Poe for his suspense films).

On the program were “spooky” works by J.S. Bach, Bernard Herrmann, Franz Schubert, Gyorgy Ligeti, Samuel Barber, Michael Daugherty and André Caplet.

Music by Ligeti and Caplet accompanied Podplesky’s gripping readings: excerpts from Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Métamorphoses nocturnes,” for “The Cask of Amontillado”; Caplet’s “Conte fantastique d'après Poe” (subtitled "Masque of the Red Death") for harp and string quartet for “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Caplet’s work was exquisitely timely, considering the current epidemic of Ebola in West Africa.

Keyboardist Julie Spangler opened the evening with a dramatic reading of the Toccata from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (itself used in more than one horror movie). This was followed by excerpts from Herrmann’s “Psycho” Suite from the 1960 Hitchcock film. Violinists Eric Bates, Gerald Itzkoff and Mari Thomas, violists Rebe Barnes and Margaret Dyer and cellist Theodore Nelson gave it -- forgive the pun – a fittingly slashing reading.

It was baritone Edward Nelson’s turn to quicken pulses with Schubert’s “Der Doppelgänger” about a desolate lover discovering his double in the moonlight. This along with Herrmann’s “Psycho,” furthered the theme of the program’s first half, insanity.

Keyboardist Spangler kept the spell intact with her performance of the relentlessly fixated, Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale, from Ligeti’s Musica ricercata. This led into Podplesky’s first Poe reading, also set to Ligeti’s music. Cast in the first person, with Podplesky as the vengeful Montresor, it was devastating in its effect. Nelson joined Podplesky as Fortunato, Montresor’s hapless victim, who in “The Cask of Amontillado,” is buried alive by Montresor to redress an insult.

Nelson, accompanied by string quartet, closed the first half with a fine performance of Samuel Barber’s “Dover Beach” to Matthew Arnold’s bleak, ambiguous verses.

Theme of the second half was fear, which brought violists Barnes and Dyer to the front for Daugherty’s 1991 “Viola Zombie.” This was a delightful mashup of horrific effects, including col legno (striking the strings with the wood of the bow), pizzicato (plucking the strings), glissandi (sliding between pitches), ponticello (bowing next to the bridge for a raspy effect), tremolo (rapid reiterations of the same pitch), rapid, slithery scales and references to TV’s “Twilight Zone.”

Harpist Gillian Benet Sella, garbed in a white cape and pointed hat, was joined by string quartet for French composer André Caplet’s “Mask of the Red Death,” given another harrowing reading by Podplesky. The music, which alternated with the readings, was spellbinding. One could not help but think of the current anxiety about Ebola in Poe’s tale of a nobleman, Prince Prospero, who shuts himself up in his castle with a group of friends to avoid a deadly epidemic ravaging outside. The Red Death – a mysterious guest at a party given by Prospero – has the last word in Poe’s story, taking Prospero and all his guests with him.

The concert repeats at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 719 Race St. downtown. Tickets are $25, $30 at the door, $12 for students. Call (513) 739-6682, or visit www.concertnova.com/tickets. Listeners are invited to come in costume.