Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Lutoslawski, Dutilleux, Cello Concertos, Johannes Moser, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Thomas Sondergard
And what of us, if we were alive then? In my case I was in no position to be exposed to either unless by chance a well-distributed budget label came out with a recording. That was more or less the only chance I might have had of hearing the music then. That says a great deal of the importance of those budget lines to the musical upbringing of a young lad such as I. At any rate I do not recall either composer being accessible to me in any way in those days.
All the better to have something new and worthwhile to hear later in life. We are fortunate with the present-day release of the works that they are played with Promethean drama by cellist Johannes Moser and equally, spectacularly seconded by Thomas Sondergard conducting the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin.
The Lutoslawski is an expressive landmark of the period, vividly filled with alternating High Modern brimstone and reflective meditation in ways we find Lutowslawski especially superior in setting about. The cello part is in every way heroic and transcendent while the orchestra parts comment upon the solo passages and create new expressive situational possibilities in ever masterful and convincing ways.
The Dutilleux is no less monumental in its ambitions, and no less successful in its results. Nevertheless he looks inside his musical creative self for another kind of inventive moment, more memory intensive perhaps, in a Modern-Impressionist reverie. The music moves forward in ever vibrant, rhythmically linear terms. Perhaps the music is somewhat less momentously High Modernist, but then there is a color-lyric element that replaces the Lutoslawski dynamic and we feel on different grounds, no less vivid but stylistically other. That is good.
It would be hard to top the performances. Moser is fully prepared and also fully in tune with his part and the orchestra has passion and intelligence under Thomas Sondergard. The works are central highlights of the last part of last century. Indispensible I would say.
Monday, January 21, 2019
ONIX Ensemble, Hard Core, Dodecaphonic Gems by Boulez, Ishi and Carter, Alejandro Escuer, Jose Arean
The wonderfully enthusiastic and precise ONIX Ensemble, comprised of talented young artists from Mexico, present three masterworks by the aforementioned composers, performed live with extraordinary grit and imagination. This on the recent album Hard Core (Cultura JBCC281).
It is music of breathtaking complexity. It is extraordinarily hard to play well. ONIX takes it all in stride and manages to sound uniquely individual in the process. I will not say that they make it sound easy. But they make it sound like it really is supposed to sound like they make it sound, and really that is far more important, isn't it?
"Le Marteau sans maitre" by Boulez is undoubtedly one of the chamber masterpieces of the 20th century and a Boulez breakout work. ONIX gives the ravishing pointillist-counterpoint an impetus of their own. This is High Modernism at peak impactfulness. It is also one of the very best of versions, without a doubt. The voice-flute-guitar-viola-percussion instrumentation and approach is a sublime Webernian phenom but with a treatment even more brilliantly Boulezian.
"Aphorismen" by Maki Ishi takes an acoustically lively gathering of violin, viola, cello, percussion and piano and gives it a very original twist, with contrapuntal flair that understandably feels a bit more Eastern.
Elliot Carter's concluding "Triple Duo" is a 1983 gem, a deeply concentrated later-period astral meditation for flute, clarinet, violin, cell, piano and percussion.
The music represents some peak heights of Utopia-Futurism and it is done with brilliance. You really should hear this one, and no doubt you should have this one too, if you want the best of New Music in your collection. Highest of recommendations.
Saturday, January 19, 2019
There are seven works by seven composers, Peter Sculthorpe, Wendy Hiscocks, David Mastanka. Don Banks, Graeme Koshine, George Rochberg and Barney Childs. Each comes vividly alive in McCabe's hands and then moves on for the next. In the end you are left with a strong impression, a feeling that there has been a superior engagement with some very attractive Modern piano music.
Hear this by all means!
Galuppi's sonatas are a model of simplicity, lyricality and buoyancy. Peter Seivewright plays it all with the charm and enthusiasm it demands. It is disarming music that makes a point not to be profound and that is refreshing.
Friday, January 18, 2019
And so today I duly report in on an album that has gotten my attention and indeed my approbation. It is called Song Lines (Naviar Records) and the music is by Simon McCorry. Is it "Classical?" It is drone, it is soundscape, it is Radical Tonality, it is post-Modern. It fits into the New Music fold perfectly well and perhaps we should leave it there and just listen?
The music is in five segments or movements. Each is magical in its own way. Some of the sounds seem sampled from conventional instruments, some Electroacoustic in a wider sense, in others I hear strings, cellos, quite obviously at some point a tabla. In all cases there is a snug fit between means and ends.
The main idea is that this music has a folksy magic to it that is quite beautiful. Every part fits together with every other part and the music seems at all times purposeful and directional. There is the Indian echoes of the drone to be felt much of the time, and a modal-elementality well thought-out. The music has the density of a small chamber orchestra most of the time. The weight and the movement of the music seems at all times right for itself though.
I suggest that this will appeal strongly to you if you are in any way drone-scaped in your soul. Highly recommended for those who self-select according to that critereon. Nicely done!
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Isang Yun, Sunrise Falling, Dennis Russell Davies, Matt Haimovitz, Yumi Hwang-Williams, Maki Namekawa, Bruckner Orchestra Linz
Some 24 years after his death there are signs that his music is again receiving the attention it deserves. The two-CD set at hand is a most auspicious and welcome event. Sunrise Falling (Pentatone Oxingale Series 5186 693) involves some key orchestral works, some important concerted works for cello (Matt Haimovitz) and violin (Yumi Hwang-Williams) interspersed with chamber works, primarily music that further explores cello and violin potentialities. The vast majority were written in his later career in the '70s and '80s and gives us a vivid window onto his fully mature Modern voice.
There is a logic to the sequencing that makes total sense. Disk One is oriented toward the cello and so we find the 1976 "Concerto for Violincello and Orchestra," a middle-grounding "Interludium A for solo piano" (1982), then to "Glisses for Solo Cello" (1970) and a rather breathtaking orchestral "Fanfare & Memorial" (1979).
Disk Two gives us a violin-centric perspective with "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1" (1981), a later work notable for its partial, rooted return to tonality while keeping to the original sound-color palette he utilized so well, "Kontraste. Two Pieces for Solo Violin" (1987) and "Gasa for Violin and Piano" (1963).
Conductor Dennis Russell Davies, Haimovitz, Hwang-Williams and the Bruckner Orchester Linz devote a great amount of care and sympathy towards this music so we can get a true idea of the exceptional qualities of the last decades of output from the master composer. There is a use of space and breadth in this music that one might think of as Asian or especially Korean, but that is in conjunction with a focused expressivity (not necessarily un-Korean) and High Modern torque that ever exists together in a kind of pure realm of total aural conviction that becomes clear when you give the music a close reading over multiple listens.
The determined creation of an alternate High Modernism becomes ever more understandable when one gives the music an extended chance to live inside the apperceptive musical self. Every note has a place in the totality yet there is also a feeling of real-time expression and a living musical humanity that comes through in striking ways.
It is an important program played beautifully. It will go far if you take it seriously in presenting to your deep listening self Isang Yun the fully flowered brilliance. It is an important moment of retrospection all Modernists should find heartening. Revival is in the air. Bravo!
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Monteverdi, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
Wikipedia reminds me that the only manuscript version we have today is a three-act manuscript dating from 19th century Vienna. The work was premiered in 1640 and really it was from the 1970s on that the music underwent significant revival in our world.
I later supplemented the Santini version with the early '70s first complete recording by Concentus Musicus Wien under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. That to me was superior in the way it pursued updated original instrument performance practices, but there were things I liked about each and I kept the both versions actively until some upheavals threw my vinyl connection to the winds in part. The path from version-to-version reminds me how I assimilated the music, first primarily in melodic-harmonic terms, later also the timbral uniqueness of the era, and finally as a whole in relation to other wholes of the period and beyond. As a very first Opera in the history of such things it was of course important to hear but then the brilliance of Monteverdi becomes primary early on because the music stands out and bears up wonderfully well.
And now I have the pleasure to be introduced to a brand new version of the complete opera as performed by distinguished soloists, the Monteverdi Choir, and English Baroque Soloists (instrumental), all under John Eliot Gardiner (SDG 730 3-CDs). It comes in a very attractive hard cover book-like package with full libretto and notes.
The performances in the Gardiner version are excellent. This may be the finest singing of any version I have yet to hear. The soloists have a wonderful grasp of the embellishments available and sometimes delve into the music with an emotive gusto one is used to hearing in later Italian Comedic style. And it works nicely. The instrumental parts are played with great vivacity, care and attention to period detail.
After 46 years living with this music my enthusiasm is undiminished. Monteverdi is inventive to a point rarely reached by any composer regardless of the period and there is an almost folk-like directness to much of the music here that Gardiner brings out especially well. In fact of the three versions I have lived with this one stands out as the most detailed and sonically engaging. Perhaps Monteverdi's first opera Orfeo is the more exciting work to many listeners, yet there is something to Ulysses that sets it apart as completely unique. Anyone serious about the musical heritage we inherit should probably have a recording of this opera, and this recording seems to be the new benchmark.
That is not to say that my neighbor was wrong about Bluegrass. You should listen to that too! But that is another matter among other matters.