Music from Salem opened its 22nd season Saturday night at Hubbard Hall and devoted the second half of its concert to composer Gerald Busby’s work.
Busby, who was in attendance, specializes in writing chamber music, which he calls the zenith of collaboration. His music embraces that ethic.
In his “Viola” for voice and viola, the estimable mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger intoned, acted and joyously whooped it up in the very amusing lyrics that Craig Lucas provided describing how the singer felt about the sound of a viola.
Meanwhile, violist Lila Brown sawed away on a mournful tune and occasionally supplied facial expressions in response to the singer’s queries. It was a very theatrical duet and the capacity crowd loved it.
In the world premiere of his Quartet for Piano and Strings, Busby was much more serious. Brown, violinist Judith Eissenberg and cellist Rhonda Rider worked in close harmony as they interacted or responded to pianist Judith Gordon’s punctuations or occasional statements. They did very well with the often difficult parts.
The piece started strongly with Gershwin overtones in the piano but quickly evolved into fast, percussive rhythms and busy, intense strings. In the slower second movement, the piano was independent of the strings, which continually passed small motifs around. There was little lyricism but more a creation of a mood, which, as it segued into the faster final movement, became unsettling and dark. It built mysteriously with no real tonal center; the viola had a long haunting melody against fiercely plucked strings and rippling piano chords, and then the whole thing ended in a great cry. There was an inner ferocity in the entire piece that propelled it and, at the end, consumed it.
The crowd loved it. The piece was funded by more than 50 local people through the Cambridge Commission.
The concert began with Nessinger, Rider and Gordon in five of the 168 settings Beethoven made of Scottish folk songs. They’re light, tuneful and short and the players lovingly phrased the uncomplicated harmonies. Nessinger, one of the most theatrical and dramatic singers around has an expressive face and a sometimes knowing eye, which lent almost too much to the sweet lyrics. “Faithful Johnie” and “Bonny Laddie” were the best.
The four instrumentalists were excellent in Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major. Tempos were lively, the ensemble was well balanced, techniques were clean, even dainty, and the mood was bouncy.
The next Music from Salem concert is on Sunday.