ACME and Carolina Eyck at the Baryshnikov Arts Center

The German composer Carolina Eyck’s recent Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet (Butterscotch Records) is an enjoyable exploration of the commonalities between two very different types of instruments, willfully and humorously exaggerating their different tonalities. Performing it live with the ACME string quartet as a part of the Baryshnikov Arts Center Salon series on November 4th, however, the piece seemed to lose some of its wide-eyed charm.

The evening began with the strings alone playing Little Blue Something, a nicely wobbly 2012 piece by Bryce Dessner inspired by the Czech folk/classical duo Irena and Vojtěch Havlovi. The short piece fell into different iterations of central theme, but most of the time felt like a traditional song for multiple voices, with melody lines overlapping and complimenting each other.

Carolina Eyck

Carolina Eyck

That was just prelude for the main part of the evening, which featured Eyck joining the strings with her theremin. They opened with a section of the suite not included on the record, simply titled “Woods,” with Eyck quite literally seeming to be revving up. The strings played pizzicato with Eyck sounding like a small engine trying to turn over before they fell into sync in a very quick melody that grew percussive with the bouncing of bows. It floated past before the strong and recognizable violin lines of “Oakunar Lynntuja (Strange Birds)” snapped into place. But somehow, the theremin failed to snap with it. Throughout the seven-section suite, in fact, it was the composer who seemed to be holding back the most.

Eyck wrote the string parts and improvised over them for the recording of Fantasias and her performance on record is lively and filled with a sense of discovery. In performance, Eyck embodied the role, practically dancing on her stool, moving not just her hands through the electromagnetic sound field of her instrument but performing exaggerated motions with her arms, rolling at the neck and waist with a smile on her face like she was Dorothy seeing colors for the first time. (The glitter she wore on her face didn’t take away from that assessment.) But the sounds emanating from her instrument didn’t fly with such abandon. Still, there were moments of simple beauty. “Leyohmi (Luminescence)” held tight in a lovely midrange meditation, the theremin melding with the strings more closely than on the record.

Having played the piece, recorded and (presumably) played it back again, her improvisations might, understandably, have become more guided. Or, perhaps, she was seeking something more sublime, or simply suffering from jetlag. In any event, Eyck played it closer to the chest. There are parts of the record that sound like the upper register of an early disco 12”  strings keeping pace while a synth goes wacko. That’s the fun of the album, and that wasn’t to be found at the concert.