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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Roberto Sierra, Kandinsky, Continuum, Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs

There are albums that to me are exactly as one might hope, though maybe exactly not what you already know of course. And so with the offering today. Roberto Sierra has ever been to me a composer that being very much himself epitomizes something very good about the music of today. So we get that on the recent CD Kandinsky (Naxos 8.559849). The contemporary chamber gathering Continuum is in charge of the performances, with Directors Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sach sharing the piano duties, ever amazingly and fittingly I might add. Everyone involved has concentrated and applied their considerable interpretive skills to make these performances a remarkable thing, to set off Sierra's music in as nearly ideal a manner as we might ever hear.

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

Witold Lutowslawski Opera Omni 07, Children's Songs, NFM Boy's Choir, Andrzej Kosendiak

When I first heard about the Witold Lutoslawski Opera Omnia (Complete Works) Project, I wondered whether it was necessary to hear absolutely everything. Now that I have had a chance happily to hear Opera Omnia 07, Children's Songs (ACD 242-2 NFM 46) I suspect I would want to hear all of it. For I am heartened by this excellent volume of songs sung beautifully by the NFM Boys' Choir and accompanied elegantly by the Lutoslawski Quartet, the LutosAir Quartet and instrumentalists from the NFM Filharmonli Wroclawskiej.

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

J. S. Bach, Partitas, Menno van Delft

There is much I could say about Johann Sebastian Bach's Partitas in general and this new recording for harpsichord as recorded by Menno van Delft (resonus 10212, 2-CD set). I will say I hope enough to give you the idea of what you would get with this one.

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

Peter Child, Shanti, Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Gil Rose

The remarkably essential Boston Modern Orchestra Project continues with a latest volume in their recordings of American orchestral music that deserves wider exposure. Today an album of the post-millennial orchestral music of Peter Child, entitled Shanti (BMOP Sound 1057). The BMOP orchestra under Gil Rose gives us excellent performances of three of Child's works, "Jubal" (2001), "Adirondack Voices" (2006), and the title work, "Shanti" (2011).

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

Erik Satie, Complete Piano Works 3, New Salabert Edition

There are a number of reasons why the lover of the Satie solo piano opus finds the experience of repeated listenings a virtually unparalleled joy. The most obvious one has to do with the sensuous untrammeled lyrical beauty of something like the Gymnopedies. Even the casual TV watcher might be exposed to that in, say, a coffee commercial that features the most well-known one. And so perhaps many people know of this, though they may not all attach the melodics to the Satie name.

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.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Mussorgsky-Gorchakov, Pictures at an Exhibition, Prokofiev, Cinderella, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya


I was carrying on last week about the descriptive Modernist works that caught my ear in the first important leg of my listening life. To that list I most certainly could add the two works contained on a new live performance release as played by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Namely Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (here in the somewhat rarely performed 1955 orchestration by Sergei Gorchakov) and Prokofiev's Cinderella (FWSO ((Live))), the latter for this recording-performance in a selection of 13 movements from the original ballet score.

To call Mussorgsky a Modernist is of course not strictly factual. After all he wrote "Pictures" in 1874 and was not at all a typical practitioner of such things as modernity. By other measures he was enormously influential as a lineal forebear to later Russian modernist masters like Stravinsky and Prokofiev. So the juxtaposition of Mussorgsky's "Pictures" and Prokofiev's "Cinderella" seems very appropriate and stylistically nearly synonymous.

So then to the Mussorgsky. The Ravel orchestration of "Pictures" that has come down to us is brilliant and seemingly has defined for good and all our idea of what the orchestral version should sound like. It of course bears the stamp of Ravel's impressionist palette, which gives certain movements great color. The Sergei Gorchakov has the disadvantage as coming along at a time (1955) when most no longer thought of other orchestrational possibilities. Nonetheless this alternate orchestration gives us a fresh look at what can be done. There is generally something rather more Russian to be heard here, less colorful but more dramatic. Perhaps it is more rough-hewn, heavier, closer to the Mussorgsky solo piano version. "The Great Gate of Kiev" and the "Introduction-Promenade" thematics seem more elemental and rousing. Some of the character study movements seem harder edged, thicker, more pressing in their immediacy. The performance has much to recommend it. Harth-Bedoya and the Ft. Worth musicians put their heart and soul into it. There is the kind of extra oomph one can get in a live performance and it is a very good thing.

Turning to the Prokofiev and its post WWII 1945 mood alternating elation, fatefulness and really some remaining clouds of gloom, the music is as memorable as anything Prokofiev wrote. The clock-midnight theme is as evocative and Modernist as anything Prokofiev ever did. There is beauty in the bluster of some of it, a sad hopelessness in some of the romantic themes, or that is how I feel the music in this time of my life. Harth-Bedoya has wisely avoided the several suites Prokofiev put together from the original score, and instead chosen thirteen numbers from the full score.

In my own personal view it is hard to top the complete ballet as done by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, USSR Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra, but then that runs several hours. For a 40-minute encapsulation this version is hard to beat. There is plenty of scampering energy to the gallops; there is passion and a feeling of potential doom to the midnight music, and there is passion to be heard in the romantic movements.

I cannot imagine readers here who do not know either of these works. If there are any this is a good place to hear the works, with the proviso that "Pictures" is not in the version the world is used to hearing. Yet that should not stop you. Those who know both works intimately would benefit from this program because the Ft. Worth outfit seem filled with joy, enthusiasm and energy in their performances and the sum is different enough that you will no doubt gain something nice in the hearing. This one is a nice surprise! I recommend it.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Poulenc, Les Biches, Les Animaux modeles, Sinfonietta, RTF National Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Luc Tingaud

Lest we forget the orchestral works of Stravinsky in his French period along with works by Milhaud and Poulenc have a certain unmistakably communicative Modernism and a joie de vivre that in the right performances seem as fresh and current as baked bread just out of the oven.

The RTE National Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud  give to us a very animated and enthusiastic reading of three such gems by Francis Poulenc, namely Les Biches--Suite, Les Animaux modeles--Suite and Sinfonietta (Naxos 8.573739).

You know you are in for some detailed and dramatic readings from the first strains of the "Rondean" movement of the Suite from "Les Biches." And you recognize immediately from the presence of the performances how much the works demand a sympathetic vision to bring them fully to life. And this program has all of that in abundance.

If I might interject an experiential note at this point which might help explain my attitude toward the performances of these compositions, I will now do that. In my own life I had a phase in my listening and appreciation that led me one-by-one to listen heavily to Modernists that had as one of the bases to paint sequentially scenarios through orchestration and tonality. It is clear that the 20th century ballet as a form had much to do with the music as it was structured in a story line. So Stravinsky's Petrushka, Firebird, Rites so much told Modern-leaning tonal stories that were such an influential basis for the pre-radical-avant scene. So then we had also some of Debussy's works, Milhaud's Le Creation du Monde, Honegger's Pacifica, Copland's Appalachian Spring, Kodaly's Hary Janos and on and on. Then of course we contemplate here Poulenc's Les Biches and Les Animaux modeles.

My point is to say that there was a time when I immersed myself deeply in these works. That exposure in turn influenced me about thinking about orchestral Modernism, and one should not forget another extreme side of the programmatic descriptive,  Richard Strauss Hero's Life, etc. At some point I discovered the more absolute music sides of Modernism and dwelled there for a rather long time. So Webern, Berg (though the Violin Concerto and Wozzeck are surely descriptive as well as abstract), Schoenberg (he belongs in both camps), Varese, Stockhausen, Boulez and a certain side of Messiaen, Penderecki, Xenakis, Carter, etc., preoccupied much of my attention, at that time more so than the descriptive Modernists who I had for a time grown tired of.

And now each of the classic descriptivist compositions more or less I have been reawakened to again by vibrant new readings of the scores. And at the same time the Modernist absolutists I more firmly connect in my mind with Bach and no longer see as periodically modern tabula rasa.  I bring this up because maybe such cycles of appreciation are not entirely alien to others, that my experience is shared by others on the quest to understand all in our time as well as the past? ? And in this view the very vibrant readings of the Poulenc Ballet Suites are most timely for me and inevitable maybe, inevitable for the need to regenerate some past loves as described above? In this view and bounding back and forth between absolute or semi-abstraction and literary descriptive styles may characterize a wholistic pattern of listening to modern  music but also to music within history in general and to compositional trends as well, as they play out recurrently as perhaps bouncing between opposite poles, today of course as well as in past sequences?

And all of that situates this particular recording in my own listening cycles. The end point is that this fine program is a good one to remind you of how essential the most essential Poulenc can be, as heard by these lovingly attentive renditions.  OK, you might say, but two of the works come to us in the Suite form, and "Les Animaux modeles" is missing some of the suite movements at that. So what? This disk goes over some high ground without trying to be complete, and the ground it does cover it does very profoundly, I guess you could say.

So the release seems both timely and necessary to me. But as for what it could be for you, I think it exemplary as a either an introduction or reaffirmation to Poulenc the orchestralist. So this one comes to you very highly recommended.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Kyle Gann, Hyperchromatica, For Three Retuned, Computer-Driven Pianos

There was an old Odyssey LP out when I was a teen that dealt with quarter-tone music. Charles Ives' momentus music for quarter-tone pianos was on that disk, as well as several other modern compositions in the idiom. It was very much a revelation to me and as much as I expected some music revolution to come from the world's exposure to that music it never quite took place. Sure, there have been other, good-to-excellent additions to the possible universe of detunings and retunings but there was no mass exodus from the tempered scale into microtonality.

I realized at some point too that the avant garde in music might never quite replace what has been assumed outside of the vanguard. In the end we coexist in a multi-stylistic world where no one has been granted a hegemony and many of us recognize that stylistic plurality at the end of the day is a boon for those listeners and music lovers who would rather not be forced to choose a single way of moving forward in the way that Beethoven so wondrously changed virtually all classical music that followed. That post-Beethovian world is often enough implied even today as a framework for those more traditional modernists. And even some at the very edge in some ways.

Well at the same time the working within re-tuned and detuned modalities continues somewhere in the new world always. Lou Harrison and Harry Partch have been celebrated as the brilliant composers they were and with their music comes a new situation for tuning, often enough.

As far as Ives' initial foray into quarter-tone music, the situation was about the poly-tune-al rather than polytonal. Kyle Gann has created a startling set of some 17 pieces "for three retuned, computer driven pianos" recorded in lively sonic details onto two-CDs and taking some 155:42 to play back in its entirety. In many ways this music is in the direct lineage from the Ives quarter-tone piano works. Rather than keeping on while not saying, let me get the title and label out of the way now. The works as a whole go under the name Hyperchromatica (Other Minds Records 1025-2 2-CDs). There are to be heard poly-tune-al, polytonal and sometimes polyrhythmic dimensions. All with a compelling and ever-differing compositional clout. . .

First, about the tuning itself. Gann divides the octave into 33 just-intonated tones, each a harmonic of E Flat.

And so like Ives at least most of the time these are tonal and through-like compositions that if they were not hypertonal and hyperchromatic in their radical division of the spectrum of tonal divisiveness would have a kind of homespun melodic-harmonic communicativeness that sounds compositionally direct. For that you have to imagine how these pieces might lay out in a tempered-scale rendition. And in some many ways Gann like Ives recognizes that a kind of literal laying out maximizes the sort of recognition that a diatonic-chromatic unfolding of an alien sort of tuning system makes possible.  The listening mind thereby becomes hyperresponsive to the eerie consistency of the alternate tuning universe in imaginary parallel to conventional tempered laying out. So the listener can identify and mentally measure aural space as she hears. Or he hears.

Later on there are more spatially processual pieces that play with simultaneous gestalt rabbit-duck velocity oscillations that contrast against the tuning expansions to work on multiple levels.

It all rivets to attuned receptive listeners and creates the effect you have or might have had when viewing for a protracted period the upside-down image in an old camera obscura. At first there may be a kind of queasiness when acclimating to this dramatic tuning. Then like the camera obscura experience the perceptive mind may compensate (it eventually did for me) and you suddenly turn in your mind the sound image rightside-up, so to speak. Or in simple terms you learn to hear the new proportions and a retuned world in its own right as natural and consistent.

All this experience can be had repeatedly by getting the music and playing it over again. There is no other real way to understand the music except via the senses, over time and much more than a few times. The effort is well worth it. Bravo! It is a major landmark in microtonal music.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernandez, Tempus Viellatorum, Fiddle in the Music of the XIII Century


When the ears might grow weary of a continual onslaught of a same style, period, or genre, there are surely other things to turn to. For me Early Music provides such relief. Given the creative and more exacting reconstructions characteristic of  Early Music performance practices that began more or less in the '70s of last century it can be exciting to hear what is being done today.

A nice example of that is to be found in the recent title Tempus Viellatorum: Fiddle in the Music of the XIII Century (Enchiriadis EN2047). It features oval medieval fiddles as played by Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernandez. He plays fiddles with or without a lateral drone, with several different bows as reconstructed from the period. Joining him are several Early Music dedicated instrumentalists playing the citole, a Medieval lute, the muse, a bagpipe, a frame drum without jingles played in the manner of Persian traditional music, a tambourine and wooden clappers.

The music affirms the drone-fiddle roots we think of when we think "fiddle." Melodies wind around themselves in a sort of Early Music ethnicity. Troubador/Trouvere melodies arranged for fiddle bump up against Conductus refrains, things that suggest the dance, things that contemplate--and some 800 years after we have a chance to hear them again nicely played. It gives me goose bumps to be on an intersection to this time, to these sounds. It is a most rare opportunity when you think about it. Of all the things missing now these works have survived.

They affirm in the best of new period performance practices that it in the end it should feel less like a reconstruction and the more like a living breathing music to us, for us, in us like all ancient things somehow must if we give them a chance. And for that it matters slightly less when listening if everything we hear is exactly how, to the last quaver, someone at some time might have played it. We do not know everything there is to know with total exactitude. Good performances like these convince that there was such a thing as a relaxed, somewhat loose and less a hugely prescriptive way to play the music and like all older music it survives as how people of our time imagine it, right? These are many reasons to appreciate the new performance practices as authentic in spirit. And so we smile as we hear this. So I do.

Yes, as one of my very influential teachers once asked, "but ALL music is ethnic music, isn't it?" Sure. It is. And no one of us is not without some "eth"! That is not to say that we should weaponize it, for we all ultimately came from the same cradle. We are in the end one humanity. We can partake of ethnicity of any branch and know that in the end it is one tree. Or so I would suggest.

Nonetheless when you hear this music performed in this way you cannot help but affirm that Medieval Europeans like all of us anywhere or at any time have distinctive cultural predilections and face it, if there is a debate about rising to some music, we should rise to all worthy music not just the parochial and the local. Or we alternately can take the knee and no disrespect is intended. We benefit when we have freedom and choice, to play a music or not, to rise to it or not to rise, to bring something to the rest of us about what we feel is wrong, or what we feel is right to do. And what music IS, it is not for any one person to prescribe. Freedom is freedom to choose what we furnish our lives with. And how it means something special to us.

I do not mean to get topical, but it does occur to me that WE have the choice as freely human to define what music should do for us, not some "authority." And if you should get a hold of this music and listen intently, no one should tell you how you must respond to it. The response should be honest and measured by what feelings the music invokes in us, in the time in which we live.

Along those lines this album if you listen repeatedly gets increasingly singular. Thematic treatment is more folkish than scholarly, less mannered than plainly ornate, so to say. Anyone who seeks out New Music comes full circle by respecting equally Old Music, for in its own way as performed as we tend to today it is as new as it is perennial and eternal. Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernandez gives us focused and brilliantly concentric readings of this music. You should hear it. So too, your children should hear it. Your love ones should hear it. Your friends should hear it. There is nobody that should not hear it. We may travel through time in a straight line, or at least many of us think we do. Yet spirals and recurrences have an important place in gauging who we have become. So listen, then. I recommend you do.




Monday, June 4, 2018

David Kechley, The Walbrzych Project, Philharmonia Sudeka


Not everything you put on a CD player for the first time is obvious or self explanatory. So when the two-CD set The Walbrzych Project (Innova 932) came out of the mailer and I put it on, I honestly did not know what to expect. It is the music of David Kechley, as performed ably by the Philharmonia Sudeka.

The first rather unexpected thing is that the first CD only runs around 10 minutes. It is the orchestral introduction "Karasuma: A Fast Funk for Orchestra." The second CD only runs around 40 minutes. It is the full symphony "Wakeful Visions/Moonless Dreams." So why does the composer split up the music in this way?

The answer does not matter because the music is very worthwhile. David Kechley has an unmistakable sort of Modernist Americana way about him. Not that he tries to idealize the American music he grew up with so much as he writes in brilliant unforced ways a music that assumes the music in the air around him, somehow. What that means is that you can hear roots in this music, and they are put to excellent use in creating music that is very well wrought, brilliantly orchestrated, and in the end very much Contemporary Modern and engaging.

"Karasuma" has a very rhythmic demeanor. It glows with tonal radiance and works through a kind of Americana Funk transcendence that really stays in the mind. As an introduction to the symphonic work that follows it is slightly Coplandesque minus the Appalachian marriage but with that dappled lyricism that marks Appalachian Spring--all that without resorting to imitation. There is a jazz aura as well. It plays itself out nicely in a Modern Classical manner a la Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein, again as belonging to a lineage not as a copycatting.

The "Wakeful Visions/Moonless Dreams" sequence that follows does not disappoint. There are dense and exciting rhythmic movements that remind nicely of the sort of rhythmic thrust of Stravinsky's Rite. And then too, the quieter more lyrical side of Kechley is on display in this work and it is equally engaged and magnetizing. And is that a quotation from Prokofiev I hear? Yes, surely. Is that from Cinderella? Or maybe The Flaming Angel? (Prokofiev's tragically underappreciated opera, I mean.) And Kechley transforms it and makes of it a talking point, so to speak.

There is something very characteristic in this music, a virtuoso sound-depiction ability one comes to expect from only the most lucid and eloquent of compositional voices. All the names I've mentioned above and then perhaps add Messiaen? So for all that there is something more than Americana at work here, it is true. It is a music of sunlight.

I come away from this music impressed and satisfied that there is most definitely something to it all. You acolytes and devotees of the Contemporary Modern, hearken! This album has much to recommend it. Give it a few listens by all means. See what you think. I am happy to have this one.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Crossing, If There Were Water, Music of Stratis Minakakis and Gregory W. Brown, Donald Nally

The Crossing is to my mind up there among the very best of choral ensembles for Contemporary music (and you will pardon me if I capitalize music style terms. I spent too many years in the college textbook publishing world I guess. It is pedagogical more than punctuative-ly sound). If there is a brand new acapella work to be had, one feels confident that The Crossing will do it justice.

And with the CD at hand today they most certainly do so. I speak of the recent If There Were Water (Innova 998). It is a recording of two new works, Stratis Minakakis's "Crossing Cycle" (2015/2017) and then Gregory W. Brown's "un/bodying/s" (2017).

I must say that both works seem ideally suited to these sweet voices, as much as anything could be suited to anybody. Minakakis' five-part work trades in ancient Greek mythological terms with a musical score that is freshly and vividly situated in a sort of ancient ritualistic-in-Contemporary-Modern harmonically spicy-tangy palette extraordinaire. The close intervallic soundings are so nicely visceral that they neary take on some ambrosian chant from heavenly outer space aura. And the more wide-voiced soundings contrast and give outside musical air to it all. It is music so well conceived and brilliantly performed that it almost transcends on close listen what one might expect to experience.

Gregory W. Brown's "un/bodying/s" addresses water as a transformative thing for human culture and life itself, drawing on the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in Western Massachusetts, 1936-46, and the after-consideration of water as an even wider metaphor. He draws on old and even archaic styles in his re-formation of collective voices as collective human being. The shape-note, archaic carol  singing reference is an attention getting moment, yet the whole work it its five parts gives out with ancient echoes within an ultra-beautiful Modernist expression.

The stunning quality of the choral renditions is such that one feels transported to a super-human realm where the voices sing to us of the metamorphic beauty of being human. Or that is how I hear it all as I listen with increasing appreciation each time out.

I can say that this album stands out for the exceptional artistry of the Crossing and the subtly full and original compositional stances of Maestros Minakakis and Brown.

Anyone who loves the collective choral potential of human voices and wants to know what new music has been made available for them would do very well to get this album, the sooner the better. It is a blockbuster, there is no doubt in my mind.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Claude Debussy, Reflets, Piano Music, Eliane Rodrigues

After spending some time with the recording at hand, I realized it very much needed a review. And so, readers, I dutifully make my morning appearance fully prepared to embrace the music as I embrace the spring now long established outside my door (and inside, as moths etc., have made themselves at home in my inner sanctum, as is their wont). I see it will not actually be available until June 6th, but that is a mere week away as I write this.

And so I tell you of pianist Eliane Rodrigues's recording of some select Debussy solo piano music, Reflets (Navona NV 6164). I have lived with this music in multiple recordings over the years, some made famous in time, so why bother with a new one? I might have asked that question myself a few weeks ago, yet now that I have listened closely to Eliane Rodrigues have her way with this music, I realize that I might have missed a whole dimension of the music had I not heard these versions. Part of that is how a particular performance can after many listens become a base node of comparison but also in some ways stultify your conception of the music in its pliability. If nowhere else solo piano works can have enormous latitude. Especially in this aspect of Debussy, where rubato can give you so much possibility or, in some unfortunate examples, perhaps run off the rails in a sort of self-indulgence? Speed and variability of temporal momentum are key factors, as of course is the infinitude of touch possibilities and dynamics, of phrase shading. As to the negative side of such possibilities I do not have a particular performance in mind, I think only of a general situation where artistic freedom is at a maximum. To have freedom does not guarantee that an artist takes good advantage of such a thing.

So the good news is that Rodrigues takes great advantage of the freedom to give us fresh, sparkling, even brilliantly pianistic readings of some very wonderful Debussy. Like her recording of Chopin's Nocturnes (Review on these pages. Type Debussy or Rodrigues in the search index box above to find that one.), we hear the executive and imaginative abilities of Eliane put to excellent use.

She has her way with some lyrical gems--the "Suite Bergamasque," the "Ballade," "Pour le Piano," "Arabesque No. 1" and "Images, Book 1 and Book 2." After a few listens you come to appreciate the bright state-of-the-art recording and Eliane Rodrigues' special freshness. It gives the music new life, or it does for me anyway. I do not doubt it would do the same for you. It is the musical equivalent of comfort food to me, a meatloaf and mac and cheese inside a grand piano! Get it and feel good for a change!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Kenneth Newby, Elegeia, Music for Mixed Ensembles, Gamelan Semara Dana, Flicker Ensemble

Happy discoveries are part of why I do the blogs. Today one of the most happy lately, that of the music of Kenneth Newby. He contacted me on-line and kindly sent me a number of CDs. They are all quite interesting so I will be covering them in their totality. Today his album Elegeia (FAC 201702), which forms Volume Two of his Emergence Trilogy.

The first thing that strikes me and it does so with a palpable strength is that this is music of recurrent cycles that vary but also make room for figures not part of the cycle per se. The second is that the music that puts circles into tiny orbits is not so much pointillistic as it is Chuck Close-ian in the way there are many mini-geometrics which when heard as a whole form the image of the music in processual terms. This--like a Close portrait--involves the many figurations as joined into a matrix of a singular image if you apprehend the whole as you hear.

There is gamelan/no-gamelan presence in that some of the cells inserted into the larger matrix may have a broadly related gamelan tonality. And then of course the movement for Gamelan Semara Dana interacts directly with gamelan lines transformed and transfixed by Kenneth Newby's present-day musical mind. There is a kind of gamelanic implication to much of the music.

Yet there is a great deal more than that. The presentation of the music often enough is very much Modernistic in presence-absence rhythmic palpability. Given the sound colors evoked and the totality of the hockette-like instrumental interplays in the end is a aural canopy of sound-stars within space-silences, soundscape painting that goes further onward than typical Minimalism by in part realizing a sort of post-Serialist maze building labor that allows the listening mind to breathe-free and so to avoid the trance-through-monotony frame of mind of classical Minimalism. So if I were to label quibble I suppose I might place it both in a New High Modernist and an Ambient Hockette place, supposing that such a wack-a-mole grid actually is present to our synthetic imagination..

The point when all is said and done is that the crafting of the sequences and their fleshing out as specific tones on specific instruments gives us an endlessly fascinating set of sound mobiles both original and model-exemplary. The performances by the Flicker Ensemble and Gamelan Semara Dana are very well situated to the interplay of the music, confidently and appropriately articulated so we get the music in ideal terms.

All of the music on this program interconnects, some more directly than others. There is not-quite-Warholian seriality in "Swarm I" for string octet and "Swarm II" for string octet and brass. "Snark" for muted trumpet and orchestra has a six-movement sequential resonance born of shifting patterns in space.

"Khora for Pauline Oliveros" is mixed ensemble poignancy with well-echo atmospherics and a spatially evocative quality that pivots around a gamelan movement for a sort of near and far familiarity-strangeness that is quite appealing. "Crepuscule for Barbara" for prepared piano and orchestra  resonates with the Thelonious Monk "Crepuscule" without directly referencing it, yet more importantly builds upon Cagean spatial Zen in very interesting ways.

The full impact of this album is felt in later listens yet the music is immediate in its direct communication to the listener. By evidence of this CD I would certainly say that Newby is a definite original that works in musical terrains that have some deep roots in Modernism and the beyond of it in the past 30 or so years.

I strongly recommend this album to anyone wanting to keep conversant with important music happening today. I predict that Newby's stature in New Music will grow steadily in time. He deserves a close hearing.

Monday, May 28, 2018

"We, Like Salangan Swallows...", A Choral Gallery of Morton Feldman and Contemporaries, The Astra Choir, John McCaughey

For as long as I have been a serious listener to New Music, I have appreciated the music of Morton Feldman. He is to me like listening to the ocean, only maybe better. Like the ocean surf, you expect within a certain set of guidelines the hissy, watery pulsations of foam and brine. So with Feldman the music is nearly always very quiet. Sometimes the music as Feldman himself remarked can unfold in endless patterns and variations like a Persian carpet. Other times he is less patterned and more atmospheric. Always he is mysteriously quiet. Long tone are the rule and happily so.

We get an opportunity to commune meaningfully through some more Feldman music right now with a new release entitled  We, Like Salangan Swallows..." A Choral Gallery of Morton Feldman and Contemporaries (New World Records 80794). The Astra Choir under John McCaughey form the very solid and cultivated structural foundation for this program. Instruments are added as needed now and again.

Essentially the album gives us thirteen worthy and spacey miniatures and/or mid-ly miniatures (say 15 minutes) for choral with or without chamber orchestral accompaniment.

Choices of repertoire on his program are so interesting that you find yourself experiencing vibrant Feldman composing in varyingly subtle sub-styles  (mid period and later) as compared with related contemporary composers and their ways. In the process of experiencing each well-performed work we get a sort of spectrum of New Music choral possibilities that are not entirely removed from Morton's own sensual treatment of the voice.

So for example the Pauline Oliveros "Sound Patterns" (1961) gives us a lively change of pace with its playfully noisy vocalisms when contrasted with a Morton Feldman of "Chorus and Instruments" (1963), "Voices and Instruments" (1972), "Voices and Instruments 1" (1972), and "The Swallows of Salangan" (1960). There is an almost monk-like austerity yet a sensual beauty to Feldman's vocal works, a haunting wordless ghostly peace and wonder world.

So we pit the Feldman works and the Oliveros with Feldman's colleague Early Brown and his "Small Pieces for Large Chorus" (1969). The connection is more plainly there than it perhaps it seemed to some listeners around 50 years ago.

And then there is truly added value to experience some of the less familiar choral new music on the program, such as Will Ogdon's "Three Statements" (1956) Warren Burt's "Elegy" (2013), and Robert Carl's "The City" (circa 1983-93).

I find choral Modernism a wonderful thing when it is done well. In this batch and its fine performances we feel that the voices are lovingly considered with every bar, that this is not music that an instrumental ensemble could perform with no noticeable drop off. No, rather we get music truly imagined with the dreamy possibilities of a gathering of fine vocalists sympathetic to the new. The close and edgy harmonies sound so human yet angelically  etherial, the long sung lines seem heaven inspired, the sounds of the voices are utilized creatively to get textures no instruments or electronics could truly simulate.

So we have New Music which by virtue of being primarily choral can be new upon new, so to speak. It is music with depth, music to drift into remote climes. All is well, all is very well performed, and I must not hesitate for a moment and instead urge you to go get it! You will be glad I think.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Olivia De Prato, Streya

Every day for me there is both new music and "New Music." Happily there never seems to be the least lack when I sift through for the worthy ones. Today there is something that has really caught my ear. It is an album of some six New Music compositions featuring Olivia De Prato on violin, featuring at times electronically enhanced violin and/or an independant electronics score. The album's name is Streya (New Focus Recordings FCR 193).

The first and most important thing about this album is the phenomenal way Ms. De Prato utilizes extended and more conventional techniques to create very convincing musical expressions on her violin. Whether it be a matter of transformative soundings from scrapes to double stopped glisses or with contrensic virtuosity and a kind of post-Bachian solo sublimity, Olivia De Prato gives us near breathtaking performances.

The six compositions all presume a single solo violin as the central fulcrum, then build on that premise by constructing wonderfully alive possibilities that Ms. De Prato takes well in hand and makes her own. The music when adopting the electronically enhanced violin choice makes the violin a thing out of concrete space and time to allow recurrences and synchronicities of violin self to violin self. Then of course for the works that configure the violin solo part alongside an electronics backdrop we can experience anything from chamber intimacy to near orchestral densities. Soundscapes are nearly always the result in the lush horizontal unfolding of tone and sound over time.

And in the course of the program we are treated to a single 5-10 minute work each from Samson Young, Victor Lowrie, Ned Rothenberg, Taylor Brook, Reiko Futing and Missy Mazzoli. Victor Lowrie's "Streya" deserves the slot of title cut. It is quite haunting.

What you get in the end is a very creative, intelligent, brilliant album of violin music at its most modern and advanced. Olivia De Prato is a wonder of the world, for those who appreciate the new in New Music and also for any lover of the violin well-played.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Marianna Bottini, Alessandro Rolla. Concertos for Solo and Orchestra, Gianpaola Mazzoli, Orchestra dell Istituto Musicale "Luigi Boccherini" di Lucca



When you get complacent about music you need to shake things up a bit. In the brick-and-mortar record store days I used to go into one with the express purpose of taking a chance on something I had no idea about. Everything in the stacks in the LP days was laid out in alphabetical order and you chose of course to look in a bin that demarcated what you were limiting the search to, whether Classical, Jazz, World-Folk, or Rock, or whatever else. And the presence of liner notes and cover art could give you some idea of what you were getting. I think back and realize that much of my music appreciation education consisted of following a lead but basically flying blind. So Bach, Coltrane, Blind Willie Johnson, Mbuti song, the Mothers of Invention. . . all originally involved taking a chance on the unknown!

Nowadays that urge to explore new musical avenues can be satisfied in my regular reviewing rounds. If I come across something unknown I can request a copy for review. Other times people send things unbidden, unknown. So I keep stepping into new streams and finding out about music I would not otherwise know. The advantage to you, dear readers, is that when I discover music of interest I pass it along via these reviews.

Today that continues with a recording of Concertos for Solo and Orchestra (TACTUS TC00008) by unknown Italian Classical Era composers Marianna Bottini (1802-1858) and Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841).  The cover reproduces a painting of Ms. Bottini at the keyboard, very much in her prime, an arresting image of a musical person looking straight out of the picture frame unabashedly. Is her music as bold as she appears to us today? I would not say it is in any way reserved. So then I guess it is, yes. Certainly the music of both composers has a great deal of gregarious charm.

So to give credit to the music makers here first off, the Orchestra dell Istituto Musicale "Luigi Boccherini" di Lucca under conductor Gianpolo Mazzoli give the music a sweeping period brio and sweetness that goes far in putting the music forward in ways we can certainly relish. The soloists for the concertos are also first rate, namely Gianni Bicchierini on piano, Remo Pieri on clarinet and Tomasso Valenti on viola. There is a warmth to these performances that is also forwarded by the excellent quality of the sound recordings.

We learn from the liners that Marianna Motroni Andreozzi Bottini was a very prolific composer during her lifetime, that by marrying the Marquis Lorenzo Bottini she entered a very musical family. Yet most of her composing took place before her marriage, from the ages of 13 through 21!

Alessandro Rotta lived to the age of 84 in an age marked by a heightened nationalism in Italy. The "Concerto per Viola e Orchestra" has come down to us only in the survival of the solo viola part. Claudio Valenti has reconstructed or rather invented an idiomatic orchestral part that rings soundly true to the viola solo part.

Ms. Bottini gives us two charming, inventive and sometimes even glorious works that show her definite command and talent for orchestral writing. The short two-movement "Concertone per Pianoforte a piena orchestra" is an exuberant and rousing work with a pronounced sweetness.

The "Concerto di Clarino in Beffa" gives us another fine example of her work, with some ravishing clarinet parts and a pronounced orchestral flair.

Even if you had no inkling that you would want to hear two unknown but accomplished voices in the Italian Classical Era, you night find this music much to your liking, Plus, face it, how many  considerable women composers do we know of from this period? Here is one! I do not hesitate to recommend this to you. It is music of a substantial sort from a neglected avenue of the past.








Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"...through which the past shines...", Works by Nils Vigeland and Reiko Futing, Daniel Lippel, John Popham, Nils Vigeland

A sleeper is always a welcome thing. For it is something you put on knowing nothing of what to expect and in time it hits you as something quite important. That right now for me is the album entitled "...through which the past shines..." Works by Nils Vigeland and Reiko Futing (New Focus Recordings FCR204P). It is a series of chamber works for solo guitar plus guitar and cello, and one longer work for guitar, cello and piano.

The first thing that hit me and what is important to note straight off is the remarkable classical guitar performances by Daniel Lippel. He has a very beautiful tone, righteous phrasings and a kind of transcendent way of sounding his parts. I sometimes while listening forget it is even a guitar, it is so musically right, the technique so solidly put in the service of the music itself.

So Daniel is on guitar, solo for six of the works, joined by John Popham on cello for two of the eight works. Popham convinces in his interactions both for his adhesion to an ensemble sound and the poignant beauty of his playing. Then composer Nils Vigeland joins the two for a ravishing trio on the title cut. He is eloquent in his role as pianist.

And as for the compositions, five by Nils Vogeland, two by Reiko Futing plus an arrangement of an old song by Reiko, they have a very modern, tonal and expanded tonal naturalness to them. There is a fundamental foundational quality to it all. It is as if we finally as listeners and music makers have become so conversant with the combination of avant and post-avant idioms that a fluent and knowing musical conversation is now further opened up and very possible for those who can speak it and those who can listen. That is very so with this program.

The music could be improvisational in its spontaneity, yet it all shows a tightening in execution and a rarified sort of discursiveness that most group improvisations cannot quite get to, as beautiful as they might be. It is the projective staging of the music that stands forward in the mind's eye. The music is at once Modern but also timeless. It is not noisily extroverted in its insistence (and nothing wrong with that to my mind), but it nevertheless insists, make no mistake.

In the end the more you put this one on, the greater the riches it yields. It is a fortuitous and by that a critical meeting of compositions and players covering works from 1990 through to 2017, performing what surely is a music of right now.

It may not have occurred to you that you need to hear this. After all there are so many other things by established big names and the music of the enshrined dead. With any luck this album might be looked back upon as a highlight of what is going on today. So be on the ground floor of that and get inside this music. I think you will glad you did.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Michael Hersch, Images from A Closed Ward, FLUX Quartet

Living composer Michael Hersch (b. 1971) is a leader among High Modernists composing right now. I say that based on recordings of his music, namely Last Autumn  (see review from April 8, 2015), A Breath Upwards (see April 4, 2018) the Blair Quartet recording of Images from A Closed Ward (see March 5, 2014) and The Sudden Pianist (see June 4, 2013).

Hersch does not create music that sounds like it comes out of a laboratory or a math department at a prominent university (though I should be quick to point out that I like either sorts of things regardless). Instead there is a high level of drama and expressivity to the works I have heard, palettes of consonant and dissonant tonality working in tandem depending on the needs of the work, and at times an underlying extra-musical thematics that turns the music into a kind of narrative or meta-narrative that is more than just notes situated in space.

This latter is very relevant to the CD on the docket for this Monday. It is a new recording of Hersch's moving string quartet, Images from A Closed Ward (New Focus Recordings FCR 199). The first recording as I mention above featured the Blair Quartet. Ths time out we have the FLUX Quartet doing the honors.

As Aaron Grad puts it in the liner notes, Hersch often enough addresses the difficult theme of "loss and psychological instability." From A Closed Ward treats this condition as a central concern, at the same time as it provides a musical analogy to the visual content. It all began when Hersch encountered American visual artist Michael Mazur when they both happened to be in Rome--that is to say that Hersch was in Rome on a Rome Prize Fellowship. At the same time Mazur had a number of etchings on display at the American Academy. This was all about illustrations provided by Mazur for a new translation of Dante's Inferno.

Hersch saw the show and was impressed by it. He recognized in Mazur the visual equivalent to where Hersch was going musically.  At some point they met and hit it off. Mazur's initial signature pieces came out in the '60s, two sets of etchings and lithographs entitled Closed Ward and Locked Ward. The images were harrowingly dark renditions of a near hopeless sadness, an ugliness that served to isolate each from others. These works became central to the string quartet Hersch began in 2009.

And of course that quartet is what we hear so dramatically rendered in the present recording. What perhaps is most striking musically is a deliberate blocking out of one after another of short string groupings of sound, mostly simultaneously sounded yet with an unpredictability in both the voicings and the uttered periodicity. The voicings themselves are sometimes spread out in pitch so that the instability of the voicings correspond in many ways to the etching contents. There can be sharp dissonances and less dissonant voicings in contrast, the latter of which seem to want to more forward into more dissonance, or my ear hears it that way--as opposed to the old classical way of letting a dissonance sound as a movement towards a consonance.

So in the sympathy Hersch feels towards the Mazur patients, who seem to suffer mostly from their very isolation, we get a musical analogy or analogue of a series of soundings all interrelated but in a psychoacoustic sense never exactly interconnected, or in other words deliberately made  to conjoin yet existing in a ghastly solitude. I accidentally when looking for Hersh's birthdate online brushed up against a Times review that remarked on Hersch's dark pallet but also the moments of ecstasy. Honestly I did not hear that so much as unrelieved and rather hopeless sadness, sometimes quiet, sometimes like a cry of anguish. There seems to me no real relief in sight in the actual tone-movement forward. Still, the aesthetic brilliance of the way the tone blocks bump up against one another yet remain alone, that makes the listener zero down on the sheer sensual tone utterance quality. It is the manner of expression that fascinates and heartens the listener, that transcends the awe-ful presence of the subject matter, the patients and their struggles. From pain comes a pleasure in the referents, taken aside from the signifieds!

I hear this new version by FLUX. I love it. I find it different enough that I am glad to have it along with the Blair version. This may be the definitive performance though. If you for the moment only have resources to explore one, I recommend this one. The work is a milestone in quartet literature! Bravo!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bruno Bettinelli, Chamber Music, Trio, Improvvisazione, Due movimenti

Every month as a reviewer brings me a spate of composers I have yet to discover. Some from right this moment, others recently gone, others of course from some earlier period. Today we have yet another, one Bruno Bettinelli (1913-2004).

Bettinelli was a successor to the Italian 20th century lineage of composers that include Respighi and Casella, somewhat less so the Serialist-and-beyond camp of Dallapiccola, Maderna, Berio and Nono. Yet there is a structural concern to be heard in his works and an abstractive flair that makes him a full Modernist at heart. At least that is what I hear and appreciate on a new recording simply entitled Chamber Music, with mention in the subtitle of three of the important works to be heard in the program, Trio, Improvvisazione, Due movimenti (Naxos 8.573836).

Performances are first-rate. The music? Compositions cover a pretty vast period of time from 1968 to 1991. None of the works are trifles, all are uncompromising small chamber configurations ranging from two solo guitars ("Divertimento" 1982), flute and guitar ("Musica a due" 1983), voice and guitar ("Due liriche" 1977), violin and piano ("Improvvisazione" 1968, "Due movimente" 1977), to violin, cello and piano ("Trio" 1991).

What is perhaps most remarkable about these pieces is their refusal to settle down into an easily characterizable niche, and in a related way, their refusal to supply a crowd-pleasing literary or thematic "hook." The Modernism lingers on the edges of what was in demand at the time. There are no obviously Serial strands of bloop and bleep in this music, but then there is enough of an abstract expressive autonomy to perhaps put off those committed to a past-leaning neo-Classicism or neo-Romanticism. This is chamber music that is ultra-serious about a commitment to hermetic purism. Like late Beethoven Quartets it does not try to speak plainly as much as it drives deeply into a sort of advanced expression that primarily is intended for the "real" cognoscenti.

So every work is a kind of highly worked gem that does not easily yield its riches but demands special attention. Slowly, as you listen repeatedly, the music emerges, even reluctantly. Yet if you spend the time with this music, you begin to reap the benefits. This is not stylistically astounding Modernism nor is it rear-garde hearkening back. It is everywhere. It is nowhere. It nearly demands the sort of intimacy that someone who learns to perform this music would have. Not quite all, but a reflective practical immersion. You need that. In today's world, does any of us have that much to give a composer who is already past and not yet certified as a member of the Holy Pantheon? That is your call. I decided to keep listening and by now I understand that this has substance and uncompromising originality.

So once again, here is something that does not play itself. YOU must be an active participant to the music in order for it to do its work. If you do that you will enter a world that you might not have available to you with any other composer. That is saying something, isn't it?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Lorenzo Palomo, Sinfonia Cordoba, Fulgores, Castile and Leon Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez Cobos

The Contemporary living Spanish Composer Lorenzo Palomo (b. 1938) is previously unfamiliar to me. All that has changed since I have been listening to his CD recording of Sinfonia Cordoba and Fulgores (Naxos 8.573326). 

These two symphonic examples from 2015 and 2011, respectively, give us a splendid view onto Palomo's mature style. The liners make mention of Palomo as the stylistic successor to Joaquin Turina--especially in terms of the "rhapsodic freedom" that they share. In a broader sense Palomo represents all Spanish folk-tinged classical forebears since DeFalla and adds something of his own original musical personality to it.

"Sinfonia Cordoba" is a sort of musical travelogue, a portrait of an old city in three movements. "Stroll to the mosque-cathedral" begins with mystery and segues to a beautiful moment for tenor Pablo Garcia Lopez and orchestra. "Nocturne on the river bank" and "Courtyards in the month of May" continue the rhapsodic Spanish-tonality-drenched whirly-gig of impressions. And somehow one can feel that late springtime diffuses something in this music.

"Fulgores" is a dancing sort of folkish atmosphere that features to good advantage Rafael Aguirre on guitar and Ana Maria Valderrama on violin.

It all is a good example of well-wrought, well-orchestrated Spanishiana if you will pardon the awkward coinage. Those who do not embrace the rich legacy of Spanish sounds may not find this especially interesting. Yet if that is the case I suppose such a person would have no interest in following the Spanish classical heritage at all, so that would be rather obvious.

I find this music did not reach out to me on the first number of listens. Then, pretty late in the game I started to respond to its rather profound indifference to generating applause, its definite "this is the music as it needs to be" approach. In the end I like it and I hear a sort of poetic, Spanish Impressionist strain that is about the echo of substance and light more than an immediate presence. So in the end I recommend it. But you will need to spend some time with this music before it speaks to you, if you are anything like me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Copland, Getty, Heggie, Tilson Thomas, Songs on Poems of Emily Dickinson, A Certain Slant of Light, Lisa Delan, Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Lawrence Foster

To gather together multiple Contemporary Modern song cycles for soprano and orchestra based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson seemed like a good idea when I heard of it, and so I requested a copy. I have now spent some time absorbing it and shall report on this morning to you. A certain slant of light: Songs on Poems by Emily Dickinson (Pentatone PTC 5186 654) is the full title. Soprano Lisa Delan holds forth dramatically with the Orchestra Philharmonique de Marseille under Lawrence Foster sounding nicely detailed and poised in a program of cycles by Aaron Copland, Jake Heggie, Gordon Getty, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

The stage is set historically and stylistically by Copland's celebrated cycle "Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson" (1948/1950). It is music familiar to many, myself included, and it functions in some ways as a template for an evocatively descriptive and Expressionistic-Modern-quasi-Impressionistic pallet of colors to heighten the soprano's textual through-composed presence throughout.

The sort of descriptive-Modern-Leider approach is continued and extended in the song cycles that follow. Jake Heggie's "Newer Every Day" (2014), Gordon Getty's "Four Dickinson Songs" (2008) and Michael Tilson Thomas's "Poems of Emily Dickinson, selections" (2001) all offer some genuinely moving music and a sort of continuous Dickinsonion dramatic theatre of text and tone. Of all these Modern extensions on Dickinsonia the Tillson Thomas stands out as being especially interesting and original, yet in the end all of this music is worthwhile.

Delan and the Orchestre Philharmonic de Marseille are in top form. They exemplify how to approach this music, not so much as an extension of operatic gestures as a thoroughly liederian approach, dramatic yet introspectively expressive.

And so I do not hesitate to recommend this to you, for the performances, for the Copland and the Tilson Thomas especially but for the Heggie and Getty as well.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Amit Peled, To Brahms, With Love, From the Cello of Pablo Casals, Brahms Cello Sonatas 1 & 2, Noreen Polera


In the classical world album ideas can either make sense or become a sort of marketing gimmick. Cellist Amit Peled's new album belongs happily to the first category. Its subtitle tells half the story, From the Cello of Pablo Casals, since for this recording Amit is playing the great Casals' 1733 Goffriller cello. The principal title of the album tells us the rest: To Brahms with Love (CAP Records 018-1). In fact this is a fine recording of Brahms Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 by cellist Peled and pianist Noreen Polera.

As far as the cello goes, it sounds as wondrously full and deep as it did with Casals. Amit Peled soars high and far throughout, yet his emotional connection with the Brahms is a little bit more balanced and so sounds like a contemporary of ours rather than a product of an earlier generation. His playing is nuanced and exemplary. Noreen Polera on piano is a perfect partner in this endeavor, with classical balance and a lively repartee with Amit.

There have of course been some beautiful recordings of the Brahms sonatas. This one may not quite equal some of the more famous ones for extroverted virtuoso extravagance, yet because of that it gives us Brahms's compositional intentions all the more clearly, with attention and care for the totality.

The Second Sonata has long captivated me with its Apollonion exuberance and lengthy melodic intertwining of inspired thematics. The appearance of both sonatas in the last half of the 19th Century furthered the scope of Beethoven's work on the instrumentation, reaching further heights of long-form expression with Brahms' definitive entry into the fray. The two composer's Cello Sonatas set the bar high for dramatic and structural possibilities and influenced all that came in their wake. In both cases music was always the master. Difficulty and virtuosity were ever tied to the needs of a musical sounding of intelligence and a wrought complexity that ever seemed lucid and compellingly discursive. If there is never a doubt that the cello has the primary voice, the piano is never relegated to a mere accompaniment but instead flourishes on completely musical terms, as an independent weaver of corresponding lines and a principal realizer of the harmonic implications of the overall whole.

What strikes me especially at this point in my experience of the music is the remarkable organic pull to a seamless developmental whole, especially in the Second Sonata. Rarely do you encounter the sort of sequential busy work that marks less inspired developmental sections. It all seems a continuous saying, rather than a butchering of things into rigid sections. One follows the other in remarkable fluency and continuously significant phrasings, so that theme and development overlap into one long endless melody line. This is Brahms at his best.

And so we have two major chamber classics newly performed with a modern sensibility. There is a marked audio clarity to these recorded performances and an impressively rich cello sound. Peled and Polera give us performances that stand to become future benchmarks on what constitutes the present-day standard for Romantic Chamber Classics. Bravo!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Leopold Kozeluch, Complete Keyboard Sonatas 12, Kemp English


As the liner notes to the current volume state, Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818) was a contemporary of Mozart and during his days in Vienna was thought by many to be a better composer! And yet only now with a valiant undertaking of the World Premier Recordings of his Complete Keyboard Sonatas (This being the 12th and final volume) (Grand Piano GP736), Kemp English introduces these some 50 works to our world.

Why has it taken so long? Kozeluch was born outside of Prague in 1747 and moved to Vienna by 1780. By then the pianoforte had all but replaced the harpsichord as the fulcrum point of a musical home and Kozeluch's sonatas gave the amateur a lot of possible choices. The music in this volume includes an early example, perhaps a little CPE Bach-like, and a later, more-or-less pre-Beethovenian proto-Romantic sonata. I am happy to say that Sonatas 47-50 are fascinating glimpses into a vital creative mind.

Kemp English performs all on beautiful period instruments. He sounds inspired and I cannot fault his performances in the least. The complete set was made possible in many ways by Christopher Hogwood's welcome editing of a complete Barenreiter Edition that has been published recently.

The liners give us valuable historical background, including an assertion that his centrality for keyboard sonatas and his personal vision in fact enabled him to effect a major revolution in the music circles of the time.  Consider this quote from a 1796 Schonfeld  publication:  "The vogue of the pianoforte is due to [Kozeluch]. The monotony and muddled sound of the harpsichord could not accommodate the clarity, the delicacy, the light and shade he demanded in music; he therefore took no students who did not want to understand the fortepiano as well, and it seems that he has no small share in the reformation of taste in keyboard music."

That is a rather bold assertion to us perhaps, since we have basically known next to nothing of the piano music in our lifetime. However a close listen to this 12th volume bears out the assertion, or at least does nothing to contradict it. Kozeluch surely has a real talent and a feeling for the piano that rivals the best of his contemporaries.

If we do not hear the emotional strength and depth of Beethoven or the sublimity of Mozart or the melodically soaring qualities of Schubert, there is something else to be appreciated that makes a journey into this volume worthwhile. There is a kind of crisp logic, an inevitability to the unfolding sequences.

Anyone who loves the Classical-Early Romantic period of the Viennese flourishing will retrieve an important lost piece of the scene then with this Kozeluch set. Volume 12 satisfies on its own, but if you are a completest you may want to explore the rest as well. Brilliant addition! Definitely recommended.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Paul Reale, Chopin's Ghosts, Kim Cook, Christopher Guzman

Contemporary American composer Paul Reale has not gotten a lot of attention on this blog. The lack is remedied today with a volume of chamber music for cello and piano, Chopin's Ghosts (Naxos 8.559820). Performances are in the very capable hands of Kim Cook, cello, and Christopher Guzman, piano. They are melifluent and balanced in expression, neither facile nor counter-phlegmatic, rather occupying a kind of ideal middle ground that allows this music's Modernist core to mingle freely and adeptly with the music's Neo-Classical balance and Neo-Romantic expression.

The music on this program is quite recent (or recently revised), all but one (Wexford Carol, 2004) hailing from our current decade. The solo cello "Seance" (1973-74, rev. 2017) spells the program nicely as a short and worthy break from the cello-piano configuration, the latter of which is otherwise predominant.

And for that there is much to appreciate. There is substantial invention and complexity so that lovers of the cello-piano magic of the past can live the experience again with enough change that there is no question of repetition. It takes some close listens, many more than one, and then the music truly beings to speak.

"Durch die Jahreszeiten II" (2013) sets the stage for what is to come with finely wrought folk in radical transformation. The centerpiece works "Chopin's Ghost (Cello Sonata No. 2)" (2017) and "Cello Sonata No. 1" (1983, rev. 2017) make use of "found material" to give us a Modern drama of old in flux and transport. So the first makes use of the old "What Can You Do with a Drunken Sailor" while No. 2 alludes in transformed obliqueness to the music of Chopin. It is the complex node of reworking that affords us substantial fare, a kind of set of memory objects that show by the passage of time how there can never be a continuous sameness if there is to be an ongoing contemporary music world.

Those who rise to new cello-piano repertoire played well I warrant will find this absorbing and rewarding. And those who appreciate well-thought-out, Modern "Neo-" will much appreciate it as well, I would think.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

LeStrange Viols, Aeternum, Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde from Add Ms 31390


A somewhat exotic Early Music item is up for review today. The group is the viol consort LeStrange Viols and the album is entitled Aeternum: Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde from Add. MS 32390 (LeStrange Viols PCR912 DDD).

It is a CD program of some 26 viol compositions played with all the period sonance such music demands. The music comes from a tablebook preserved in the British Museum as "Additional Manuscript 31390. Add. MS 31390." That designation is the library's shelf mark. The collection was apparently compiled in the main in 1578 and contains a mix of the latest new music by Byrd and others plus old favorites from earlier in the century. The case for dubbing this collection as representative of the Elizabethan avant garde of the time is not unwarranted. This was the cutting edge of viol consort music then. Of course we listen to this music today as venerable relics of an age long past. Yet in the end to have lived through this period as music enthusiast was as in any period to confront the new and embrace or reject it, to take a stance on its place in the continuum.

More so than that though, the liners alert us to the idea that some of this music was boldly experimental. It takes a close listen and a kind of clearing of the feeling of eerie distance that the performances and their period constancy reinforces, before you can grasp how that is. The liners put it succinctly. You can find in listening "a love of cross-relations (a striking type of permitted dissonance) and an abundance of rythmical and metrical complexity." So that is one of the fundamental aspects of the style of the period. Yet too there are marked experiments, such as a cantus firmus constructed from five-beat groupings, or fully serialized rhythm (marvelously rendered with pizzicato in Picforth's work), a three-part Byrd canon built on what were then shocking dissonances.

All this serves to remind us that even Early Music could be situated in a seething, teaming mass of flux and change.

Mind you, one at first does not drop one's coffee cup in alarm on hearing this. You must live with the music to feel gradually what it might have felt like to be knowledgeable and hear this music in the air at the time.

And in the end you revel in the marvelous sonarities of the viol consort and in this way feel after a time that this sound is quite exotic to us, "new" in ways that anything unaccustomed is for us a growing movement forward in time.

All the content aspects can be engaged in for a very lively listen. Or you can just listen and get quite a bit of satisfaction from the sheer sensual pleasure of the music. In any case this is excellent fun and a boon to any Early Music fan. It invites you to enter in the musical world as it was just then. That is a very good thing, indeed. We can get insights into our New Music world by comparing notes, so to speak! Most definitely recommended.