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Friday, July 31, 2015

Grego Applegate Edwards Discusses His New Two-Volume Electro-Acoustic Work "Aurora Dreaming"

Greetings to anyone out there reading this. My third and fourth albums are now out, so I thought it might be timely to talk about them a little bit on here, since they are not going to be on the radar I suspect of any of the media channels out there as yet. Plus the objective of course is to attract listeners. So once again I am putting together a little fake interview of self-with-self.

Self: So you persist in releasing music CDs in spite of the fact that the market is glutted with indie product? Do you think you are a big deal or something?

Grego: No. Not a big deal. Far from it. In fact I am broke, little known and, at this point, my partner and I are living a life of poverty with the road ahead very unclear financially. I am the opposite of a big deal. But after a lifetime of considering music as a composer, player, listener and of course as a writer I do think I have something to contribute. So we have the two-volume electro-acoustic work just now out, Aurora Dreaming, which is available on Ruby Flower Records as Aurora Dreaming I and Aurora Dreaming II: Finale. The idea or root story behind it all is that the mythical Aurora creates the Northern Lights nightly by her special dreaming activities. Aurora Dreaming represents a full night of all that.

Self: What made you come up with Aurora Dreaming?

Grego: Since my high school days I have been interested in so-called electronic music. I did a good deal of fiddling around with tape recorders when young and it culminated in taking in a lab course at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in 1972. Synthesizers were pretty new then. Of course there was by that time a rather sizable volume of works to be heard on record, by the French school of musique concrete with Pierre Schaeffer and his school, the "Americans" Ussachevsky, Babbit, Mimaroglu, then John Cage and his associates, and the Darmstadt folks, Stockhausen most especially, still further the synthesizer-based composers like Rudin, Wuorenin and Subotnik. I listened to and appreciated most all of it, and tried in my own way to get a widely dense and pointillistic scatter of sound. Then later I discovered Reich's early work, Oliveros and the ambiance of Fripp and Eno. By then I had stopped composing for a time. But with the new digital sound modules, synths, digital processing and editing, by the turn of this century, I began getting the elements of a studio together and experimenting with what sounds were possible. That studio is no more for the moment, but the tracks were at a stage where I could process them on PC-based digital editing software and so the later phases of production were done on a comparatively integral and modest set-up.

Self: And of course in the meantime "electronics" had become a mainstay of pop, some rock, and hip hop.

Grego: Yes. The rock element still interested me but "beats" and such I didn't see myself getting into much. I liked the cosmic expanse that some ambient psychedelia offered, and Fripp and Eno's albums had a big appeal for me. Most of all I liked the quasi-orchestral possibilities that the new digital technology offered.

Self: So what does that mean?

Grego: Digital technology allows you to layer and fine tune, to "orchestrate" the sound to a much greater degree than when I was back with some elemental analog means at ages 14 to 18. Plus I am not entirely sure back then that I had a coherent vision of what I was after. If something came out sounding right, I went with it. I tried things and they were either interesting or less so. But there wasn't a lot of reworking or editing. partly because I didn't have access to sophisticated equipment for any length of time, plus I was not thinking as conceptually as I might have. Now I can go through composing stages in much greater detail. Plus after years of listening to all kinds of music, I am more focused in what I want to do. So essentially the entire Aurora sequence developed over several years of time. I built up more or less complex layers of sound using synthesizers, very electric guitars, bass, percussion, drums, natural sounds, voice and a tiny bit of sampled things, the latter exclusively on the first couple of movements. Once I had obtained a mix of the various elements, and that in itself was quite involved with many attempts...anyway once I was happy with the various balances I subjected the master mixes to further modifications. Ultimately I was after a highly ambient series of gradually changing sound plateauxs, with sections representing Aurora drifting off to sleep, her first dreams of the night, and then on to some very deep (and sonically dense) late night dreams, climaxing just before the dawn, when Venus (the Morning Star) appears and then the creeping sleep-quiet comes on--in response to the first rays of dawn. Without the digital multi-track platform I never would have been able to tune the sound in the ways that I did. I am happy that the result is dynamic and pretty cosmic, and that the textural aspect is quite colorful, I hope.

Self: Well, so maybe folks will find it interesting then?

Grego: I hope so! It's more about slowness than speed, more continuous than rapidly scattered, more harmonic than melodic, blocks of density with varying degrees of note clusters laced with noise, not static but except in a few sections not conventionally pulsating. The two volumes taken together represent one evening of Aurora and her sky painting, her slumbers and heaven-embracing dreams.

Self: So what kind of music is it?

Grego: I don't know except that it has something to do with the electricity of rock, sometimes a bit of the openness of improv, but in all that a sort of continuity of electro-acoustic poetics. There is most definitely some of the immediacy of the highly electric psychedelic ambiance such as I've been exposed to from the days of Hendrix on, yet more long-formed and so having some relation to new-music classical. As I went through the various stages of building up the music I was never exactly sure until towards the last stages where precisely it was going, though there was a general vision. I did not set out to follow any special style-set so much as I went with my intuitions building up, tearing down, rebuilding, transforming until I began to see where it was all headed.

Self: Where do you see this fitting in as far as your future music is concerned?

Grego: I think it is a pause point for me. Unless there is an opportunity to create thick washes of live instruments playing in real time I think I've taken this sound as far as I would like it to go. Upcoming releases are going to be more pulsating and directional than this. We'll see after I get the rest of this music out what sort of live music possibilities develop. Meanwhile I hope people will go the little extra and get this set, the second volume which is priced at $9 to encourage more folks to take a chance. I hope there will be lots of listeners and that they open themselves up to where the music can take them. There is a real journey there sonically. This is not designed to make me money, but to give people an experience.

Self: OK, then. Here is a link to the Amazon site and Volume 2's ordering info. From there it is easy enough to call up the first volume info as well.

Copy and paste this url into your browser:

James Adler, Introspections

We last encountered pianist-composer James Adler back in July 3, 2013 with his James Adler and Friends CD (see the post on this site). He returns with another wide-ranging offering called Introspections (Albany TROY 1529).

As before James combines his own music in various configurations with that of others he feels affinity with, in which he performs as the pianist: Keith Cummines' "Three Works for James Adler" (2013-14), Paul Turok's "Clarinet Sonata, op. 110" (2011) (with Alexander Fiterstein on clarinet), and Seth Bedford's two movements from "Three Postcards for Piano" (2011-2013).

Then there are the Adler compositions: "Suite Moderne for Strings" (1982), "Psalm for Michael" (2003) for piano, oboe (Virginia Brewer) and cello (Eugene Moye, Jr.), "Six Little Variations on Noel Ancien" (1986) for piano and flute (Cain-Oscar Bergeron), "Twisted Tango" (2012) for piano and tenor saxophone (David Babich), and finally the song cycle "3 Introspections" (2014) with tenor Malcolm J. Merriweather, plus oboe (Brewer) and piano.

The music is quite decently performed. James Adler excels as performer-pianist without necessarily showing a huge amount of virtuosity. These works are not about that. It all hangs together stylistically in the modern neo-classical and post-romantic expressionist style, with an emphasis on the former.

The pieces are all well-crafted and bear scrutiny as they give pleasure. I would not put it in the top-ten releases of modern music I've covered thus far this year, but I would suggest that there is much to appreciate in this music.

It is worthwhile! Hear it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Beethoven, Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin, Volume 1, Ian Watson and Susanna Ogata

The sphere of original instrument recordings in classical music continues to expand. I first became aware of such things sometime in the mid-to-later '70s, primarily in the large ensemble realm. It was a revelation. Then solo piano recordings began appearing. I may have missed others at that time, but in the realm of chamber music for mixed instrumentation there seems to have been a special burgeoning in the last several decades. We have been treated to some very fine period-style recordings of Beethoven chamber music lately for example and I have covered many here. Today another excellent one, Beethoven's Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin, Volume One (CORO 6138), as played by Ian Watson, piano and Susanna Ogata, violin.

The fortepiano used on the CD is contemporary with Beethoven's day and sounds rather glorious. The violin is period as well. With the sonorities and balance there as Beethoven originally conceived of them, we hear something different. Of course the pianoforte of Beethoven's time was more subdued, the volume lower and the registers less inclined to "ring out." The violin subsequently is more prominent in the mix. The result is revelatory, the piano passagework less dominant yet of course luminously present as realized with the sonarities involved.

Volume One covers the Sonata No. 4 and Sonata No. 9 "Kreutzer." As the artists state in the liners, the aim is "to recreate the white-hot emotions and passion that these sonatas must have generated in their first performances."

That certainly seems to be the case, to my ears. Watson and Ogata give us warm, empassioned readings filled with zest and brio, but given the original instrumentation they do that without the sort of clangorousness one gets with the modern piano especially.

These are beautifully alive readings, lacking nothing in virtuoso presence but sounding more articulated and transparent. The original instrument balance is such that you hear each part with a new clarity. I've noticed such things too with the original instrument recordings of Beethoven's Cello Sonatas and Piano Trios (covered here).

And original instruments or not, Watson and Ogata give us excellent performances. Add the pristine sound as Beethoven must have conceived it and you have something really fine indeed. I look forward to volume two!

Meanwhile this is a highly recommended offering. It brings me joy!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Volume 6, The Sixteen

The Sixteen's seminal recording project of the choral music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) shows no sign of flagging with the release of Volume 6 (Choro 16133). Far from it. Italy's most accomplished and advanced composer of contrapuntal sacred music of his era had a vast output, sufficient to fill many CDs. He wrote more than 100 masses alone! The "Volume 6" continues the Sixteen and Harry Christophers' masterful survey.

On the program this time out is the "Missa L'Homme Arme," a substantial work on a theme that in the day was quite popular. Palestrina did two settings of it and this one is very fine indeed! We also get his "Song of Songs" nos. 16-18 and a brace of shorter single-movement works.

They show Palestrina once again as the master he was. And as we have come to expect, Christophers and the Sixteen give us pristine, fresh, glowing performances that reach back through the ages with great understanding and sympathy, and create versions that speak to us volumes.

Perhaps the only question might be, exactly how many volumes of Palestrina do you need? That of course depends on the depth of your collection, but for me there is no question that all six volumes are essential each in its own way, that with the Sixteen and Christophers involved six volumes are not at all too many. The music is too beautifully done here. Were the Sixteen to continue on to ten or more volumes I would feel the same way. At any rate you can get a copy of Volume 6 with no fear that there is anything wanting. Even on its own this is one ravishing disk! The shimmering glow of the vibrato-less choir articulating fully the beautiful part writing is exceptionally moving!

Very recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Frederik Magle, Like A Flame, New Music for Organ

New solo cathedral organ music in the grand tradition? Frederik Magle's Like A Flame (Proprius 2061 2-CD) is very much that. He improvised some 60 works in a marathon session over two days. 23 works were selected out of that for this recording. These were sufficiently and outstandingly inventive such that Magle transcribed them all so that others too might perform them. Good idea.

He is playing the brand new Frobenius organ in Jorlunde church, Denmark, an instrument he was responsible for designing sonically. It sounds quite beautiful.

This is music that is modernly tonal and reaches back to the symphonic organ work of the French school, Tournemire et al., but has the Magle touch and brilliance throughout.

He is young and very able. The music jumps out of the speakers with contrasts of intensity and quietude, some remarkable improvisations that have a multi-dimensional depth one expects of such music. Yet this is in no way generic but sonically present continuously as original and sweepingly expressive.

I like the music all the more as I have listened all the more often. It is a remarkable achievement. All organ afficionados will find this much to their liking, I do believe.

Very recommended.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Torvund/Thoresen/Schaathun, Abstraction in Folk Art, Ingfrid Breie Nyhus

The thematic unity in the album at hand today has to do with using Norwegian folk songs as a basis for new music compositions for piano and electronics. Pianist Ingfrid Breie Nyhus thoughtfully and thoroughly takes on three works for a programmatic CD entitled Abstraction in Folk Art (LabLabel LAB002).

The works at hand: Oyvind Torvund, "Abstraction in Folk Art" for piano, electronics and cassette players (2014), Lasse Thoresen, "Solspill" for piano (1983), and Asbjorn Schaathun, "Nations" for piano and live electronics (2014).

All of the music partakes in transformed, reworked folk phrasings and tonality, broken out of rigid musical straightjackets to breathe freely as abstractions of the new music sort.

Ms. Nyhus focuses on the all-important flow of the phrases to reveal to us the sometimes jagged, sometimes torrential, always reshaped structures of pianism in partnership at times with electronic transformations.

What seems especially interesting to me is that the music generally deconstructs its folk material so that we get something wholly other, wholly new-music oriented. In an analogy with visual arts, these aren't cubistic reframings of recognizable objects so much as abstract expressionist reformulations of form and color that share something of the essence of folk modes but transform them into somewhat unrecognizable all-over, irregular patternings.

That I hope is helpful as an analogy. In any event Ms. Nyhus gives us a very pianistic take on the music. All three works share a re-representationalist outlook, which gives the program a very special unity-in-identity. It is some rather wonderful music, fantasia-like yet airborn by a musical wind that drives the sonic elements forward in an ordered regrouping.

I find the music both rather ultra-modern yet no doubt quite readily accessible to any serious listener. Bravo Ingfrid Breie Nyhus! Bravo composers!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Honegger, Jeanne D'Arc au Bucher, Marc Soustrot, Barcelona Symphony & Catalonia National Orchestra

Arthur Honegger, 20th-Century master modernist, seems to get less attention out there in the recent present than he did earlier on. Sure, some works still form a cornerstone of the repertoire but much else in his pretty vast output has been subject to benign neglect, relatively speaking. Often enough the vocal works don't get the attention they deserve, mostly.

Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher (Alpha 709) is a good example. I know there have been a number of previous recordings, not many of late, and in fact I have never heard the work up until now. The recording at hand offers a very respectable, even quite good performance. Marc Soustrat conducts the Barcelona Symphony & Catalona National Orchestra with various amassed choirs and Marion Cotillard & Xavier Gallais as the principal soloists. The libretto was written by Paul Claudel. It received its first performance in 1938 in concert version, the staged version would have to wait until 1942.

The prologue was written later on, in 1944. It is followed by eleven scenes. The present recording takes up 75 minutes. There are some dialog segments, some quasi-sprechstimme with orchestra and choral background, necessary for the narrative but sometimes less interesting as music. The whole is vintage Honegger, moody and dramatic. It is not rabidly modernistic, but extends a tonality outwards in Honegger's brilliant way. It took me a number of listens to get into the music but I eventually did.

It may not be the end-all of Honegger vocal works. There are others of course, some really seminal. Jeanne d'Arc may not be Honegger at a masterpiece level but it is very effective, even haunting at times. Soustrat, the Barcelona orchestra, the choral forces and the soloists capture the moodiness of the work quite well. There may be better versions from the old days but I have not heard them.

Anyone who reveres Honegger will find this release essential. I for one am glad it exists. If you are a full-bore 20th century classicist you will want this one.