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Friday, March 15, 2019

Michael Jon Fink, Celesta

In one of the latest Cold Blue releases we get some remarkably resonant music for celesta. It is a program of dream-like sequences, 12 pieces in all by Michael Jon Fink. The album is simply entitled Celesta (Cold Blue Music CB0053). The music is all of a piece, wistfully in a Radical Tonality zone, yet too one feels the ghosts of Erik Satie and the John Cage of "Cheap Imitation" and perhaps of Morton Feldman too, but never directly, instead rather as the kind of nocturnal ambiance that, hmm, I suppose might ultimately go back to Chopin at times.

What makes it "radical" is the nearly intentless melodic form.Yet there is periodicity and elemental song form at times too, like a music box lullaby, like the stuffed animal my friend had when we were both probably three-years old? Music boxes and celestas have common tone colors of course and perhaps the wind-up boxes of childhood one recalls involuntarily when one hears the instrument.

Yet it seems that Michael Jon Fink is aware of all that on some level and captures what the celesta was meant to sound like with music that is not unlike music-box Satie, perhaps. It is captivating, almost childlike, moving and a catalyst to a Brown Study steady state. Recommended for sure.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cimarosa, L'Impresario in Angustie, Farsa per musica, Soloists, Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, Aldo Salvagno

Sometimes we do not know what we want until we get it? So when the name comes up of Dominic Cimarosa (1749-1801), I know I should listen more to...something more of his, but what? Brilliant Records gave me a good answer in a new recording of his opera buffa L'Impresario in Angustie (Brilliant 95746). It is the original one-act work nicely disposed, clearly sounded, performed with some zest and fit onto a single CD.

The liners summarize the reception-performance history nicely. Fourteen years of opera writing preceded L'Impresario, by my count no less than 11 works. So then sometime around 1786 L'Impresario saw its premiere with some of the most prominent opera buffa stars of the day in principal roles. The plot centers around a sort of play-within-a-play (cf., Hamlet, 200 Motels) about an opera impresario and his attempts to stage an opera with comic antics a result. It was a great success, resoundingly received and performed all over Europe. No less a personage than Goethe was an admirer.

In 1791 a revised version translated into German by Goethe himself was staged. A two-act version came into being in 1793 but the new music was not by Cimarosa. But in the meantime Cimarosa wrote in 1792 Gli orazi e i curiazi, which the liners inform us is considered his masterpiece (and of course that reminds me how much there is yet to learn).

After a century of neglect L'Impresario was revived in the 1930s with stagings in Turin and at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. And now we have this fine performance on CD with convincing soloists and the Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, all under conductor Aldo Salvagno.

After a few listens the music has come alive for me and I am happy to say that everything brings me a good amount of pleasure on this disk. The Brilliant price makes this an attractive offering too. Happily recommended. It is a good thing, for both widened appreciation of the period and the joy of engaging music well performed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Art Electronix, Monumental Dump Remixes

The latest album from the prolific duo Art Electronix, that is The Monumental Dump Remixes (No Stress Netlabel NN_LP078_12_18), affirms Varese's axiom that "the present-day composer refuses to die!"  The Ukranian Experimental Electronics tandem of Eugene and Catherine has a very tangible immediacy. There is an Industrial tang to this 30-something-minute program of some five riveting sound panoramas.

The music has a slightly psychedelic edge to it I guess you could say. And I mention that only because it may help to give you some clue as to what you are going to hear. No, that does not mean you might expect to hear Pink Floyd-like essays from the halcyon days of yesteryear. Rather there is a floating poetic haze of sounds that gels each in meaningful ways in terms of unabashed electronicity. More like Mimaroglu and early Olivieros than some sort of Rock-anthemic presence.

There are loops that hold interest because they have sounded interesting to the duo and chosen to go with other sounds that seem interesting. Like a poet who chooses words because they sound well together,  so Art Electronix lays out sounds with similar intent. The effect is more poetic than structurally ambitious. The "wow" feeling you might have (I do) is not a sort of "isn't this clever?" reaction, or even "isn't this profound?" It may in fact be profound in sound, but profoundly poetic more so than profoundly form-innovative. It has abstract meaning, yet it most evocatively "means."

It sounds like a sound factory of your dreams, perhaps, a kind of post-industrial take on the Industrial landscapes we see slowly fading away from our planet, or parts of our planet that I know more fully than others.

So I come to this a bunch of times so far and it increasingly lets my ear-imagination go to meaningful places. So consequently I come now to you with my recommendation that you wipe clean your mind of expectations and give this album a listen. It is fearlessly avant and widely unpretentious in its impact--with the same kind of joy-in-sound that early Electronic Music once nearly always had. The sheer joy of hearing can be heard happily on the Monumental Dump Remixes. I strongly recommend you give this one your ears! Kudos to Art Electronix for their creative art.

The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus, Ensemble for These Times

There is a world of Hungarian composers many of us outside the zone of hearing may well know not much or nothing about. That is quite clear listening to The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus (Centaur CRC 3660). The Ensemble for These Times and soloists bring us a nicely turned sample of music by the likes of Lajos Delej (1923-45), Gyorgy Justus (1898-1945), Miklos Rozsa (1907-95), and Sandor Vandor (1901-45).  You may know Rozsa at least by name, the rest probably not. And this music will doubtless be new to you. Their music is first and foremost Hungarian. It has a Hungarian expressivity and a kind of latent folk strain to it. That before it is Modern, exactly. It is neither quite Modern in some bloop-blip sense, nor then is it gushingly Romantic either.

The performances are quite good.

From Rozsa we have his "Duo for Cello and Piano." From Vandor there is the vocal and piano "Air" (and the vocalist's vibrato is a bit wider than I am used to I must say but otherwise you get the full musical impact), "A fan a levelek," "Kovacs," "borzalom," "Onarckep," all songs. Then we hear a delightful "3 Piano Miniatures" by Delej, followed by his jaunty "Scherzo" for cello and piano. The album closes on Justus's waltz "Ugy neha este" a somewhat sentimental piece that I'll admit seems less compelling to me, with the return of the piano-vocal duo above. I am less moved but try and listen to the notes rather than the performance, which will move you if the music already does somehow I suppose.

I come away from this happy to hear this music. I'll admit I am temperamentally disposed to a Hungarian-inflected classical music and so by nature of the well wrought examples I would not otherwise hear, I am very glad to have this to play again. It is fascinating music and if you are interested in such things it will be a solid and illuminating addition to what you can know and like from that neighboring world.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Florence Beatrice Price, Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor, Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter

The music of Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) comes to us now in this timely release of her Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor (Naxos 8.559827). She was, as we read on the jacket blurb, the very first Afro-American woman to have a work performed by a major American orchestra, with the premiere of her first symphony in Chicago in 1933. Perhaps most importantly her music sounds every bit as relevant today as it must have sounded then.

So we have in this program that very symphony that filled the air of the concert venue in Chicago, the 1932 Symphony No. 1 and to confirm her inventive talent and add to our appreciation we have the World Premiere recording of the Symphony No. 4 from 1945.

The jacket to this CD notes her affinity with Dvorak, and one might note in the First Symphony certainly the influence of his Symphony "From the New World," and understandably the treatment he gave to the spiritual "Going Home." You hear that a bit in the course of the First, but then you hear also Afro-American "folk" strains appearing in various very appealing ways, and at times scales in minor modes that are not divorced from traditional Afro-American lifeways.

The Fourth is the slightly more remarkable work and it shows further development and a sureness of compositional objectives that the First has too but we hear even more of it by 1945. It is remarkable that this is a First Recording at this late date, but then we know how much there is yet to discover out there and should be happy that this is now available to us. As you listen you will recognize the "Wade in the Water" theme, which is nicely interwoven into a symphonic matrix that sings out lyrically and glowingly.. The Third Movement "Juba Dance" again returns to a traditional form that the first addresses as well, but this time with perhaps even more aplomb.

After quite a few listens I can most certainly vouch for these performances by the Fort Smith Symphony under John Jeter. And I come away from it all with a firm and heartening conviction that Florence Beatrice Price is a composer of world-class stature whose music in this program sounds timeless and as classic now as it must have sounded when she first wrote it. Heartily recommended.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cecilia Lopez, Red - Machinic Fantasies

From Cecilia Lopez this morning we have a 2-CD set of what one might call Industrial-Sustain-Process-Noise Electronics Soundscaping. It is called Red - Machinic Fantasies (XI Records XI 140 2-CDs).

The first disk is the "Red" part. It was created-recorded in October 2017 at Harvestworks (NYC) as part of her Harvestworks EAR Residency. Five parts make up the whole. Imagine a whistling tea kettle as a basis for a sound universe, only there is no tea kettle, no sound like that but then a sound not entirely un-like that, either. That is a good start to understanding "Red" at least from the outside.

Kurt Gottschalk in the liners raises a question. Is this music recordable? Of course the fact that it has been released as a two-CD set makes the question philosophical and possibly rhetorical. Kurt notes that Frederic Rzewski first made this comment in his hearing on stage in regards to the music of Morton Feldman. Maybe, Kurt thinks some more, no music is recordable. Well sure, we always make some compromise in the totality of an "is" when we agree to reduce a three-dimensional world of the "actually making" into sound only. or even with a video, sacrifice some of the sensual itness of the music for a flat-screen and loudspeaker equivalent. And the immediacy and inter-interminateness of the "live" situation freezes when embedded in recorded media. Yet it was originally there and so is captured for us nonetheless.

The point Kurt is making too of course is that there is something conceptual about the performing of Ms. Lopez's music, an action element that can only be missing in the frozen dialectic of "then" in a recording. But so too we have today a fetish for process at times in the Modern music world and cool for that but like O. Henry's shut-in in the story of the "Last Leaf" the point for the beholder who cannot be there in person is this the Piagetian "there-gone" dichotomy maybe? It is a child-like state we enter and it has an amnesiatic component. We only know the "here" if the recorded hear and we forget the rest of life's here-ness endlessness.

So back to "Red."  It is a layered tapestry of sustains and partial presence-sounds and it is not uninteresting with successive hearings. It is quite interesting in fact, or it is to me.

"See Your Food" was the name of the cafeteria in my neighborhood in Chicago years ago and perhaps Mr. Gottschalk is right. The seeing and knowing how something exists may be a good deal more than the sheer facticity of its existence.  So seeing your beans and franks before and as you eat them. Is it live or is it Memorex? Well of course in the CD world everything is Memorex. Just like movies are created out of hundreds of sound and image bits, so music necessarily. Only then too with commercial recordings like film releases "live" is a thing we are denied. So that we reconstruct the thereness of it, even if in studio music it is a make-believe all-over all-at-once thereness. Like a painting is a composite of moments of painting. And so alas to that but so also all the better in that we can reproduce it for ourselves at will by simply putting it on.

So yes, "Red" is available to us in this recorded version whenever we want. As the composer responded to Kurt Gottschalk's quandary, "it doesn't do justice" to the work itself, no doubt. But then a work is only in potentia always so long as it is not sounding, and so a not-sounding-at-all to the listener is the larger injustice to the work I guess. isn't it? So we might be happy for this release. I am.

The second work, "Machinic Fantasies," filling the second disk is the more conceptually interesting of the two. That is not to say automatically that it is the most sonically interesting. It was commissioned by and recorded live at Roulette in New York in 2018. The main part, the centerpiece of the work is a kind of turret-tial civil-war derived gatling gun sounding while rotating at the turn of a crank. It is the composer's ingenious adaptation of the old gun mechanism with a loudspeaker affixed inside it, so that sounds partially revolve, devolve and counter-volve I suppose you could say. Cecilia creates the matrix of actions that are the composition and she also creates the electronics. There are two "performers, spinners" and then also a trombone and a trumpet player. As it turns out the processually interesting operations create a sound universe that too is most certainly stunning. So there we have it.

And in the end I come out of the listening with the feeling that I have engaged with two works that are very definitely of interest sonically. It is a "home made" sonic design series that excels in that the innovative processual element intervenes into the performance space to make present a world we can re-create in the recorded space of "play back."

And so we have something that fascinates and jogs the aural imagination. If you are willing to suspend judgement and just listen patiently, you in time enter two meaningfully open sound spaces. Very recommended if you are willing to travel some distance to let this sound sculpture perform inside of you.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Goldstone and Clemmow, Gershwin and Ravel: Music for Piano Duo

Here we are the day after Ravel's birthday and so an opportune time to speak of the CD at hand. It has been wafting through my ears just now and I am most certainly the better off for it. I speak of the piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow and their recent Gershwin and Ravel: Music for Piano Duo (Divine Art 25055).

There are many things going for this album. Goldstone and Clemmow seem ideally suited for the repertoire. They can work together as one instrument, no matter if they are very rubato or in tempo, they phrase with impeccable musicality, they are technically formidable and they utilize those abilities to realize this music with taste, plus they run the gamut of piano-touch strengths to bring out the music in all its poetic truth.

Both Gershwin and Ravel embraced to greater and lesser degrees Jazz as it was emerging and flourishing in the beginning decades of the 20th century. Both died in 1937 and so they cut a similar temporal swath in the century's musical developments in ways that oscillated between the Jazz-ish camps and the Modern Classical realms as well. Gershwin was perhaps the more Jazz-influenced of the two--and that had something to do with his songwriting Tin Pan Alley involvement of course.

The repertoire covered so nicely here shows Gershwin at his most Jazzy and as definitely Modern-oriented because not at all appreciably Romantic. What is most interesting is that Gershwin in these piano versions shows more plainly the spiciness of his harmonies at times and sounds less dated, which in some ways had to do with some of the Pop-Jazz (eventual) cliches. And of course Gershwin's songs and the chord changes to them had perhaps the most critical influence on later Jazz. We hear all of that in the original two piano version of his "'I Got Rhythm' Variations." But then we hear percolations too in his original piano duet version of the "Cuban Overture" and of course the original two piano version of his "Rhapsody in Blue." All of this Gershwin sounds very much the more vital and originally Modern in these original instrumentations. And thanks to Goldstone and Clemmow we get a very exciting reading of every bar of these works.

The Ravel half of this program gives us insightful readings too, but for slightly differing reasons. The "Mother Goose" music for piano duet is the first of the three works that reminds us that no matter how wonderfully masterful his orchestrations are, and he is a true master, to hear the sounds and sequences on the piano is to revel in just how startlingly inventive his music was even without the orchestral spellbinding. So that we hear with the "Goose," and too with the short and somewhat rare "Sites auriculaires."

But then the composer's piano duet version of the "Bolero" is about as startling a thing as anything on this fine set. The riveting rhythmic and melodic-harmonic insistence of the long buildup is a rejuvenation, a revelation, and so well played as to be a must-hear!

Highly recommended. Goldstone and Clemmow shine brightly and the music is sterling.