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Friday, April 29, 2016

Pedro Iturralde, Complete Music for Saxophone and Piano

The music of Spanish composer Pedro Iturralde (b. 1929), as heard in his Complete Music for Saxophone and Piano (Naxos 8.573429), is both eclectic and original. Eleven pieces are performed with a lively and spirited demeanor by Juan M. Jimenez on alto and soprano saxes,  and Esteban Ocana on piano, expanded on one number by the addition of Claude Delangle on alto. All pieces are in new versions for world premiere recordings.

We get throughout in varying degrees the Spanish folk tinge, along with an Eastern European folk influence--on the "Suite Helenica" and the "Aires Rumanos." There is also a pronounced jazz influence that forms an important part of his style, as in "Tribute to Trane," "Jazz Waltz" and others. The jazz aspect may sound vaguely Brubeckian, foundationally McCoy Tyneresque at times, something perhaps of the Bill Evans harmonic wealth, but also with traces of earlier jazz styles, so perhaps a bit of Gershwin, boogie-woogie and such.

There are in addition two pieces for piano solo the composer felt it important to include.

The saxophone parts are singing, sometimes rather virtuoso oriented, but always a prime carrier of melodic line, with the piano part forming an indispensable accompanying role.  The liner notes mention the scarcity of available recordings of his work so this volume becomes even more worthy. All three performers studied Iturralde's style sets in depth before attempting these performances and it most certainly shows in the results. Both Jimenez and Delangle have beautifully projecting tones and Esteban Ocana gives us a bubbling exuberance in the piano parts, the combination bringing the music fully alive.

Iturralde comes across as a composer very much of his time and place, but not so much a modernist per se. This is music that takes on traditional Spanish, eastern and mainstream jazz tonalities and runs with them in a specially personal way. There is a kind of joyous demeanor to most of this music that one does not often counter today. If you set aside expectations and let the music have its way you are in for a very accessible musical ride that takes no shortcuts on musical substance and yet speaks with a straightforwardly infectious enthusiasm and tonal elegance. This is not meant to be cutting edge new music, but it succeeds via a kind of natural contemporary way, with a knack for vivid melodic songlike strains and lively rhythms.

Nicely done! It may well be essential listening for those who seek full coverage of contemporary Spanish new music or the saxophone repertoire, somewhat less so but very pleasantly so for others.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Schoeck, Complete Violin Sonatas, Maristella Patuzzi, Mario Patuzzi

If the music of Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) is perhaps not as well known as it deserves to be, it no doubt has something to do with the tumult of the era in which his musical career began. He was of the generation that came to age when a stylistic crisis was in the air. The very nature of the musical language was at stake. He shared with such generational luminaries as Webern, Berg, Stravinsky, Bartok, Kodaly, Casella, Pizzetti and Szymanowski the need to devise personal solutions to the malaise of the times. (All this can be gleaned via the excellent liner notes to the album at hand.)

Schoeck was well prepared via studies in the Musikschule in Zurich and then several years under the tutelage of Max Reger in Leipzig. The composer ultimately found a neo-classical modernist approach with a rhapsodic, yet expressionist flair.

His Complete Violin Sonatas (Brilliant 95292), as played with great charm and grace by Maristella Patuzzi on violin and Mario Patuzzi on piano, cover early and somewhat later periods of his work: the "Sonata in D Op. 16" from 1909, "Sonata in E Op. 46" from 1931, and the "Sonata in D Wo022," written in 1905 and revised in 1953. We hear in the "Sonata in E" a more modern approach. The other two sonatas are delightfully lyrical and romantically effusive though never gushingly so.

The works show both the youthful and the more mature Schoeck, a talent with substantial inventive abilities. It is music that is decidedly worthwhile and beautifully played. He was of his time yet not comfortably classed as a radically advanced stylist. Yet there is great beauty and substance to these works. The Patuzzi's give the music near-definitive performances. It is most certainly a good introduction to the composer if you do not know of him. And the music wears well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Diego Castro Magas, Shrouded Mirrors, New Music for Guitar

Today, an album of startling virtuosity and modern new music of great interest and complexity. Diego Castro Magas is a classical guitarist who internalizes the formidable demands of these compositions and produces performances that shine with the luster of brilliant architectonics and make very much alive some ravishing music.

The album is Shrouded Mirrors (Huddersfield Contemporary Records HCR10). On it six contemporary composers give us six fascinating high modern and/or postmodern works that reward with labyrinthian expressionism and fully idiomatic guitar passagework. These are the sort of things one would not trust to just any old classical guitarist. They require someone with great technical facility and a full understanding of the new music idiom.

Every work has something going for it, be it microtonalism/unusual tuning in Brian Ferneyhough's "Kurze Schatten II" (1983-89) or Wieland Hoban's "Knokler I" (2009), mesmeric repeating complexes with a kind of aural kaleidoscope feel as in Bryn Harrison's "M.C.E." (2010) , or complexes of jagged abstractions that extended what a guitar is usually called upon to do, as with Matthew Sergeant's "bet maryam" (2011), Michael Finnissy's "Nasiye" (1982, rev. 2002), and James Dillon's "Shrouded Mirrors" (1987).

It is music where both the performer and composer stand out as bringing the contemporary modern classical guitar to new levels of avant brilliance. A most impressive program. Anyone who revels in new music that expands the boundaries and enters fearlessly the frontiers will find this one exceptional. And even the novice will be mightily impressed, I would think, with the level of achievement. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tom Cipullo, After Life, Lori Laitman, In Sleep the World is Yours, Music of Remembrance

Today, a world premiere volume of recent American works, the short opera After Life (2015) by Tom Cipullo and the song cycle In Sleep The World is Yours (2013) by Lori Laitman (Naxos 8.669036). The chamber group Music of Remembrance under Mina Miller gives us a well paced and nicely realized chamber orchestra backdrop. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, baritone Robert Orth and soprano Ava Pine perform the principal roles well for the opera. Megan Chenovick does a fine job in the soprano role for the song cycle.

Cipullo's After Life imagines an afterlife meeting of the ghosts of Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein who struck up a warm and mutually productive friendship in pre-WWI Paris, then gradually drifted apart, culminating in a turn to the right for Stein and to the left for Picasso--and subsequent opposing stances regarding occupied WWII Paris. The opera is a ghostly dialog about those decisions, the role of art in desperate political and social circumstances, what they might reflect on looking back today and the personal vulnerabilities of each.

The music is modern neo, basically tonal, well wrought, a meditation on the horrors of the epoch and its available responses.

The 20-minute Laitman song cycle gives us the poetry of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, a Jew who died in a Nazi Ukranian labor camp in 1942. It is stylistically akin to the Cipullo work, a bit more lyrical, and ultimately neo-romantic with a bit of a lineal relationship to Samuel Barber, perhaps. It is moving music.

The coupling of the two works makes perfect sense thematically and stylistically. Both are well worth hearing and well performed, very good examples of some of the significant tonal modern work being made right now in the US.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard, Sound X Sound, Music for 9 Pianos

Composer Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard has been doing a series of short compositions, each released on a 7-inch vinyl pressing. The "Sound X Sound" series is devoted to the gathering of a particular class of sound generators to form an ensemble that then plays minimal mini-sequences that concentrate on a particular class of sounds repeating in a kind of musical cloud of ebbs and flows, something like the sound of an orchestra of crickets on a spring or summer night. I've covered the first two here, one for recorders, another for an orchestra of digital tuners.

Today we have the third volume, Music for 9 Pianos (Hiatus 014). It continues where the others leave off. The amassed sound of the pianos is slightly less startling than the recorders or digital tuners, because we've been exposed to multiple piano sounds before, though not quite like this.

"Descending Piece," occupying side one, is devoted to rapid downward moving glissandi, first in the upper range, then the lower. "Partial Piece" (side two) gives us a series of sustained, gradually decaying note clusters, then a swarm of repeated notes.

Lokkegaard succeeds in giving us a sort of unidimensional sound world once again, two short pieces that have a unified series of objectives that in their brevity and singleness of purpose carry the day.

You may want to begin with the recorder or tuner volume first, but together all three capture our aural imagination quickly and then as quickly they are gone.

Recommended for those who would appreciate an uncompromising sound stage of unified aural clouds. More volumes are apparently in the offing. Give a listen!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Messiaen, L'Ascension, Tom Winpenny

Olivier Messiaen, as the liners to today's CD helpfully remind us, enrolled in Marcel Dupre's organ class at the Paris Conservatoire in 1927, though before this he had never even touched a cathedral organ. By the late '20s-early '30s he was composing music for the organ with an astounding depth, maturity and a deeply mystical quality. In the end his organ music has become one of the highlights of 20th century music, a triumphant culmination of the symphonic and freely fantasiatic beauty of the French Organ School. The liners note his affinity with the Charles Tournemire of L'Orgue Mystique, and I heartily affirm that, having the good luck to grab a fine LP set of the work in the days of the now long defunct Music Heritage Society. There is affinity but then a further evolution of the style as Messiaen became a composer of great gifts.

So all of that can be readily heard and experienced in a new volume of early Messiaen organ works, L'Ascension (Naxos 8.573471). Tom Winpenny gives us a beautifully dramatic reading of the works in all their glory.

"L'Ascension" in the 1933-34 organ realization is the most famous of the works in the anthology, and justly so. We get two early works only discovered in the '90s, "Diptyque" (1928-1930?)  and "Prelude" (1928-30?). They are solid additions showing more plainly perhaps his roots in the French School. But then we are also treated to "Le Banquet celeste" (1928) and "Apparition de l'Eglise eternelle" (1932), which like "L'Ascension" show deep originality.

There is everything going for this latest Winpenny Messiaen release. Anyone who wants to better understand Messiaen's place as one of the greatest modernists of all will find this volume illuminating, giving you the beginnings of his special journey into his own mystically Catholic world and the exceptional ways he expressed that way of being. And as an example of the French School at large, the connexions are clear. But most of all this is very moving music, very well played.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ana Sokolovic, Folklore Imaginaire, Ensemble Transmission

Canadian composer Ana Sokolovic gives us a measured chamber music with a logical narrative quality that is most definitely contemporary yet has ties to classic modernism of last century in its harmonic edginess. We find her in great form with six recent works on the anthology Folklore Imaginaire (Naxos 8.573304).

Ensemble Transmission handles adroitly and expressively the performance duties on this album, with six artists participating variously in the works as called for. The instrumentation varies from solo works--"Vez" (2005) for solo cello, "Mesh" (2004) for E-flat clarinet, "Trois Etudes" (1997/2013) for piano, "Un bouquet de brume" (1998/2013) for bass flute and piano, "Portrait parle" (2006) for violin, cello and piano and finally "Ciaccona" (2002/2011) for the sum total of instruments plus percussion.

Each work speaks with a musical language of its own, rhythmically alive, periodically grouped into phrase "sentences," so to speak,  and eloquently expressive, sometimes humorously so. There are extra-musical subtexts often enough. "Mesh" includes directions to the clarinetist the composer originally found with a hot-air hand dryer. "Portrait parle" gets its inspiration from a 1900 French police chart meant to aid in the identification of human subjects, the "Twelve synoptic tables of physiognomic traits."

Whatever Ms. Sokolovic addresses in these works, many in first recordings, the music comes to us in memorably declamatory prosaic form, a highly aesthetic and elaborate kind of musical Morse code that signifies a self-referential content with a refreshing directness and originality.

The music wears well and leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction that one has encountered significant modern contemporary music.

I recommend this one and I myself look forward to more music from Ana Sokolovic.