Friday, June 22, 2018
It may or may not be a coincidence that the compositional period represented by these works spans a time between 1965 and 1974, which was a very creative whileCfor a certain ongoing adventurism on the musical scene. Cool Jazz was pretty much a dead issue by then, whereas there were significant forays into Third Stream ventures prior to this by Jimmy Giufre, John Lewis, William O. Smith and others more or less one way or another lumped into the cool bin at some point. From 1965 to 1974 these was room for others to step in and indeed Heinrich Stadler and Friedrich Gulda and a few other Europeans along with some notable American voices did interesting compositional work. And I must stop a moment and say something about the AACM during this period. They may well be the more important of all the "serious" jazz composer-performers with some claims to "Classical" "crossover" status during that period. This is not the place to discuss that however.
It is not my intention to give some comprehensive overview of the rise and fall of the Third Stream by say 1975, for that another time. A light sketch here is all I might want to do to set up this recording. So the CD is upon us.
I will say right off the bat that none of this music on this album has been or will be destined to move mountains in a stylistic or cutting-edge sense. The works have much room for improvisation and reflected the sort of Post-Bop musical world in which Gulda dwelled with his Jazz persona. The music has something of an eclectic quality to it. We have takes on a Boogie-Woogie/Classical nexis, then variations on the Doors' iconic "Light My Fire" (that very much strikes me as worthwhile), the multiple Jazz stylings of the ten-part "Play Piano Play," And more besides.
Anyone familiar with the Gulda presence in earlier days will find this volume captivating and reaffirming. Those coming to his music for the first time will be no doubt pleased with what they hear so long as they do not expect from it some world changing paradigmaticism!
Martin David Jones handles performance duties with sympathy, charm and a musicality that is heartening. If perhaps he is not especially by way of the evidence here a world-class improvisor it nonetheless shows you perhaps the sort of pianist who might well be attracted to the music. The improvisations set off the music well and perhaps not as much the other way around. Yet after a thorough immersing in this program I must say my appreciation of Gulda the rather brave straddler of Jazz and Classical camps comes to life once again to my pleasure. I am glad to have it!
If Gulda never wound up being a Duke or a Monk, how many do? For that we have Duke and Monk. That takes nothing away from the enjoyment of hearing this music.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
And as to the works themselves, all come from the first decade of this century. Two of three are in World Premier Recordings and all are vital and moving High Modernist beauties that in many ways are less a total abstraction so much as abstracted-yet-concrete embodiments of Sierra's fertile imagination.
Sierra, many will know, hails from Puerto Rico. There are Carribean strains in his work and you will hear them on this program. It is an important aspect much of the time but I will at times leave it to you to pick up on them. He integrates those elements fully and nicely, as well as anybody ever has and that is saying a great deal.
The title work, "Kandinsky" for violin, viola, cello and piano (2003) pays homage to the breakthrough abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky and his work. The music as one might expect has a High Modernist abstracted quality. It is music of a demanding sort for the players, who must shift into various expressionist modes continually yet always in a sort of multi-linear, unified presentive way.
The Latin strain is excitingly present in the "Sonata for Clarinet and Piano" (2005--06) via a gloriously dance like Salsa opening movement that is followed by a sort of explosive expansion of the rhythmic cells and melodic-harmonic implications of the beginning. This is spectacular music for sure.
Then we hear Seltzer and Sachs explode forward on their own in their performance of the piano four-hands "Thirty-Three Ways to Look at the Same Object" (2005-08). It is a glorious tilt at the windmills of our minds and the windmills lose!
There you have it. I cannot recommend this more strongly to those who cherish a Modernist flourish that is on the edge of tomorrow yet lets us know where some of the roots lie! Finely crafted brilliance played remarkably well. So get it. It is Naxos inexpensive and worth every single penny by far. Sierra is a treasure.
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
The pristine freshness of the Boys' Choir and the crisply modern accompaniment of the instrumentalists make for a kind of timeless naivety, an unassuming, unpretentious directness that grabs the listener, if the listener is me anyway, right from the start.
I cannot help recall nicely Carl Orff's music for children as I listen. Not because Lutoslawski takes something from Orff so much as both capture a sort of insouciance, a boyish-girlish unconcern that masks a kind of naive passion for being alive if I might try to pin down how it feels to listen, the bright sound of the music as you hone in on it despite whether you closely examine lyrics or otherwise.
As I review and listen to Lutoslawski's Children's Songs this morning I relate it all to the story-novel I am writing right now. And it connects. Not for some plug about it but because it relates to my state of mind recently. And that helps me explain the charm of this music. Insouciance, a deliberate unconcern, a freedom given by the sheer facticity of not knowing, well it is worth contemplating. So what's wrong with the idea that children do not have to be aware of everything? They will have plenty of time for the dreary world later on. And in that even if such a state of being may no longer be so easy to realize in a kid's head now that she-he can literally stumble on everything and by an early age, even then, it can be a deliberate bracketing for a time as an adult in order to feel the visceral immediacy of NOW. I think that's not so bad a thing so long as we know we must as adults grasp what is happening in our world. And so we should not shrink away from truth! But there are times too when we can bask in the sun and just let the thingness of the world take over our beings for a time.
So I bracket that thought myself with a little highlighting to admit it is a more general expression than what I might ordinarily communicate in a review. Yet it explains pretty directly what is most lovely about this music. Central to this music is the idea that childhood is childish, and that is a good thing. The songs assume and encourage children to be the special beings they are. And it assumes that civilization encourages and protects children always! And the music. It is not unabashedly Modernist. And perhaps it is best that it is not. For it has a innocence to it that comes with a diatonic singfulness. And so all the good of it is wonderfully fresh. That these were written in 1947-1954 should I suppose give us some insight as to how it all sounds the way it does. In listening and appreciating the music though all that does not matter, at least at first. No more than knowing the history of, say, Dostoyevsky's thoughts and style would explain The Brothers Karamazov. It is in the end secondary to reading and experiencing the novel as it unfolds before you. So too these songs. They are sheer delight. Just listen. For now that is enough!
Monday, June 18, 2018
Bill Whelan, Riverdance: A Symphonic Suite, James Galway, Helena Wood, Zoe Conway, RTE National Symphony Orchestra, David Brophy
When I realized I had a chance to review today's CD I did so willingly without especially anticipating everything that it would contain. After all I knew something of the Riverdance music via extensive clips of the performance version on Public Television, but I did not think very much about it other than I was glad to listen.
So I popped the CD on my player first time last week. As it played I recognized parts and others not, but it all was nicely imbued with echoes of traditional Irish dance music and I came to understand something of Bill Whelan's flair and brilliance for concocting such things. And in the end I came to appreciate fully the grouping of three works that comprises the album--which might be called "Orchestral Music" but instead is named after the most familiar work, Riverdance: A Symphonic Suite (RTE Lyric CD 155).
The performances have much to recommend them. Soloists Sir James Galway on flute, Helena Wood on violin and Zoe Conway on fiddle realize their parts with artistry and a true feeling for the Celtic lining they are called upon to give to our musical air. The RTE National Symphony under David Brophy bring to the music all the enthusiasm and grace one could hope for, and the sonics are pretty near spectacular.
So to the music directly. The three works, that is. We are treated to "Linen and Lace" for starters, a danceful reel-ful Irish folk adaptation with the limber beauty of Maestro Galway on flute. There is pastoral repose in parts of all three works and it is a thing to drift within.
"Inishlacken" continues the lovely windings through hill and dale, this time with the evocative and beauteous pairing of fiddle and violin, the folkish and the classical edges of the music. And too the rhythmic energy of Whelan's music becomes ever more palpable.
Of course because of the step-dancing showcase that Riverdance so wonderfully is in its stage version, the rhythmic agility we hear so nicely rendered in "Inishlaken" comes even more dramatically to the forefront in "Riverdance: A Symphonic Suite." The spinning of exciting, shifting meter Irish Gaelic melody so wonderfully present helps the vibrant music stand quite well on its own as a thing-in-itself.
And as I come out of the listening experience with some repeated close listens I now can say that the entire program has a very effective climactic build-up that culminates in the Riverdance music. Could Emerson, Lake and Palmer have done a version of this Orchestra Suite? Sure and no doubt it would have been stirring. Yet the Orchestral Suite version would be ultimately the one that brings out the earnest pulsating lyricism of the music best, and is indeed the one to go for nearly 40 minutes to a kind of rapture. Copland's "Rodeo" comes to mind as a parallel, and both are in that sense worthy of one another for how they make of folk dance and orchestral-modern-classical a new thing, a new trunk grown out of the roots.
And now I must put some sort of sum to the thoughts I have typed out here. This music is not cutting-edge Modern so much as it is a folkish miracle of lyricism, if you will pardon the turn of phrase. When I think of the meteoric rise of Riverdance in decades prior I think of the joy that it gave to my workmate, now alas gone, a step dancer herself in her youth, and how that infectious joy readily contaged me. I listen to the whole sum of that music in the suite and know that there is nothing accidental about its success. Whelan is as sure-handed a Modern nationalist as anybody has been. And yes, there is joy and beauty to this music. It deserves the renown it has gotten for a critical ear does not find it at all musically facile. It is concentric, contentful, and stirring fare for anyone with a folk urge, a Celtic tinge, a Gaelic feeling that needs to be satisfied symphonically. If you are someone towards music as Anthony Bourdain (RIP) was to food, this will open you up! Bravo!
Friday, June 15, 2018
It is music as worthy of our attention as anything that exists. It is superlative music in every way, and occupies a kind of special place even among Bach keyboard works for the wealth of invention and melodic thrust, and a somewhat less contrapuntal approach at times. It is series of works that sound equally well on piano as harpsichord. Over the years I have been taken by a couple of piano performances of the Partitas, namely a very obscure mono Remington recording by Jorge Demus and a much more well-known Columbia 2-LP offering by Glenn Gould. Each give us a great deal to appreciate in how a pianist might approach the music, but then there have been harpsichord versions of course and I have revelled in many of them as well.
The new Menno van Delft harpsichord performances rank up there among my absolute favorites. There are a number of reasons. The CDs were recorded among the Cobbe Collection of early keyboards in Hatchlands Park, England, and there is a spacious, resonous headroom in the stereo audio-imaging that allows the harpsichord sound to breathe quite nicely. Second, the instrument is a 1784 Christian-Gotthelf Hoffman model, of which only two survive. It sounds truly grand, quil-like in the best sense with a lower registered that stands out remarkably for its tone color.
Add to this the considerable prowess and intimate understanding Menno van Delft gives to this music. His performances are spirited, inspired and very bravura. The Partitas have some much varied charm and brilliance and Van Delft rises to the occasion with a well-ornamented reading as exciting as it is period-worthy.There is a bit of rubato as appropriate but not a great deal.
In short this is a rather triumphal recording of music ever triumphal. It is a cornerstone of Bach's astonishing inventiveness that all should hear in depth. And although there are other recordings to rival this one, I can think of no better way to hear the music than on this Van Delft offering.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
It is somewhat difficult to pigeonhole Child's music. Then again pigeonholing is never a great idea anyway. Suffice to say that Child's music is tonal yet not eclectic so much as carrying on the Modern Extended Tonal Orchestral tradition. There are moments in "Shanti" where you hear a pronounced debt to the Messiaen of the "Turangalila" years, and those passages are rather uncanny in that way. Yet this is a but a moment in the whole confluence of sound events. The overall impression is of an original, imaginative inventiveness.
"Jubal" starts off the program, a paean to music. It condenses an entire four-movement symphonic overview into a very eventful 15 minutes of music. There is energy and expressive elements, a very sure authorial voice and orchestrational brilliance. It never fatigues nor does it conform to everyday expectations as to what might come next.
"Adirondack Voices" brings folk elements into a kind of lyrical-atmospherical, somewhat Americana tinged mix of alternately delicate and robust invocatory descriptive strengths.
"Shanti" changes the mood to mystery, detailed orchestral questions without set answers, probings of spirit and substance, ineffability. The concluding portions of the work are beautifully hushed and knowingly unknown.
I am taken with this music and its refusal to "come clean" and render the obvious. It is a complex and ever challenging journey into the inner within an outer. He has the freshness of plein air painting yet the hermeticism of Dutch Renaissance and Vermeerian allegory, all in a highly developed orchestral modernism that is a joy to hear. This may be something of a sleeper but all the more reason to hear it!
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
And then there is the whimsical side, the structurally wayward side, and other sides that this review article need not address, particularly as I have not thought it through to a point where I might cover every wrinkle.
Yet there is one side not yet mentioned that is especially important to the review today, namely his processional pensativities. They are quirkily modern, far from facilely intuitional in terms of a listener's ready grasp. One nice aspect of the Satie Complete Piano Works 3, New Salabert Edition (Grand Piano 763) is that a solid block of "processional" Satie is taken together as a whole by pianist Nicolas Horvath.The block begins with "Preludes du Nazareen" and ends with "Prelude de 'La Porte Heroique du Ceil'" It occupies some 64 of the generous 84 minute playing time. Then flows a somewhat more rapid tempo series of musings beginning with the "Gnossienne No. 6" and ending with "Danse de Travers II." It is a satisfying sequence, a sort of unified summing up of two very Satian approaches to harmonic-melodic sequencing, the unexpected twists and turns in a music far from following the expectations of periodic symmetry that might have been assumed in the piano music of his time, or much of it at least. Interestingly the potentially marathon "Vexations" is placed within this block of music, clocking in at a mere seven minutes, and so it appears to us not as the day-long bizarre mesmerisation it can have when following faithfully Satie's suggestion to play it again and again. For that one can turn to other performances. Here it takes its place with other slow moving, winding processionals.
The entire projected complete Horvath reading of Satie solo piano music began when he approached Satie musicologist Robert Orledge and asked him whether he might serve as Horvath's artistic adviser on a proposed complete reading. As it happened Orledge was at nearly the same time asked to edit the complete opus for a proposed Salabert Edition of the music. A number of errors had crept into the published versions of the works, some in part due to a slightly lax proofreading job on the part of the composer. Orledge was to correct these misprints by referring to the original manuscript versions. He also perforce was charged to cull through early versions of some works, alternate readings, fragmented, partial works, student works and such things as piano accompaniments to songs both his and of others. From all that Orledge was to cull a kind of definitive performing edition of as complete an opus as seemed desirable given these variabilities.
In the course of this third volume we are treated to one World Premier recording of the previously unheard 30 second fragment "Airs a Faire Fuir No 2 (version plus chromatiques)." A sizeable number of revised-corrected pieces also occur here for the first time. Namely of the "Prelude du Nazareen," "uspud," "Dances Gothiques,""Prelude de 'La Porte Heroique du Ciel,'" "Sans Titre, ?Gnossienne," "Pieces Froides, Airs A Faire Fuir" and the Froides "Danses de Travers," and finally the "Danses de Travers II."
I have not done A-B comparisons on the revised works, but certainly nothing seems amiss. Neither though did I find myself in a drop-drawers state of astonishment. We do not always need that to be pleased in any event.
As for the Horvath readings, there is a great deal of limpidity and lyrical, non-virtuoso poeticism called for in much of the music. Horvath perhaps is not entirely perfect at times, yet his performances have a touching freshness and lack of pretense that seem to me nicely hewing to the spirit of these works. In that way perhaps you hear the Satie a little bit more than you hear the pianist, which is in no way a bad thing. Horvath is pretty selfless throughout.
The Satie pieces on this volume alternately haunt and beguile, and sometimes both. If you do not know the solo Satie, and if so where have you been? Seriously though if you have not delved deeply into the brilliant complete opus, this volume will give you a big leg up if you remind yourself to pay attention and not let yourself wander away into the thickets. The New Edition samplers might want to start with this volume as well. And for the Horvath performances, he is authoritative in choice of tempos and amount of rubato, though others have done perhaps more at times by taking liberties. Still, this is a welcome addition to the librares of all Satie acolytes and champions.