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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Kalevi Aho, Timpani Concerto, Piano Concerto 1, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra

In the course of doing this Modern Music blog site since 2011 I have been fortunate to come upon the music of Kalevi Aho (b. 1949), the Finnish composer whose music we again encounter happily today (type his name in the index search box above for earlier reviews of his music). The CD at hand covers two notable concerted works, the recent "Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra" (2015) and the 1988-89 "Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra" (BIS-2306). Both are performed with precision and enthusiasm by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra under Erkki Lasonpalo (Timpani Concerto) or Eva Ollikainen (Piano Concerto). The solo parts are most capably handled by Ari-Pekka Maenpaa (Timpani) and Sonia Fraki (Piano).

What a repeated series of listens have revealed to me are two concertos (he has written 28 in all thus far) of real weight and striking expression. Whether or not anyone would agree with me I hear Aho as a kind of original Modern successor to the later works of Carl Nielsen. Both have a certain "characteristic" manner of proceeding chromatically in ways that bring out a thorough orchestrational command and a clearly forwarded thematic presence. Aho understandably is the more Modern in his harmonic edginess and lesser tendency to resolve the whole in some absolute sense.

There are few works in the repertoire for solo timpani either accompanied or unaccompanied. Elliot Carter's  "Eight Pieces for Four Timpani" is an exception. I rack my brain without coming up with another., which doesn't mean there are no others, just that my minds blanks at the prospect. Aho's concerto gives us a very stimulating and rather demanding solo part with intricate melodic contours and idiomatic articulation. The timpani carries the concerto without being a continually dominant voice. The orchestra has a great deal to say and says it well. There are times when the snare drum intertwines with the timpani part and it all sounds right. If you expect later on to whistle the timpani melody while you go through your daily rounds, think again. This is quite complex Modern music after all. If any new timpani piece might be expected to enter the repertoire this could well be it. Aho carries the day handily and in a most lively way.

"The Piano Concerto No. 1" stands out as a boldly brash piece with a lithe mercurial piano part and memorable piano-orchestral exchanges of great excitement and contentful thematics. If the handling of themes seems slightly more hard-edged than is the case in the Timpani Concerto, one must assume that the inspiration of having every bit of the piano before the composer as the prime solo mover would have given him less fetters and allowed his imagination to soar more freely. It ends the two-part program in a most rousing way and if the motillic ghost of Prokofiev sometimes looms in the background it is stylistically natural and not in the least bit derivative.

So there we are with this one. The SACD/CD compatible recording sounds bright and well staged and the music is of the highest caliber. This will appeal to all Aho aficionados and would be fair and attractive game for any follower of the Modern with a capital /m/.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vyacheslav Artyomov, The Way to Olympus

The album up for discussion today as far as I know is the third such album devoted to the music of Vyacheslav Artyomov on Divine Art Records. I've covered the other two on these pages so type "Artyomov" in the search box above to see those. Taken as a whole we find a composer of decided importance. He is Modern in Russian ways that perhaps come out of a lineage which includes Scriabin in his most mystical phase, but then no it is really an experience far more than of some lineage when you take it all in itself and for itself.

This new release is called The Way to Olympus (Divine Art 25171). The centerpiece of the program is the 33 minute "Symphony: The Way to Olympus." It is a beautifully paced, sprawling and highly evocative sound poem for orchestra, here recorded some time ago but sounding gloriously well. The USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra perform the work nicely under the baton of Timur Mynbayev. The name of the orchestra indicates an earlier recording date, of course. The work is very dramatic, moving, original.

Artyomov's story has been a sad one of a life of unrecognition, state hostility to his art, a difficult and lonely time and a heroic determination that perhaps can be sensed in the deepest recesses of his orchestral expressions. I hear a penetrating inwardness and a contrastingly outward skyrocketing elation to the music.

"Gurian Hymn" has a lovely unfurling with three solo violins nicely weaving delicate filigrees of sadness and mystery over a rather strikingly evocative orchestral palette.

The piano "Preludes to Sonnets" follow and they have a searching post-Scriabinesque poetic clout that sets us up well for the rarified brightness of the following "Concert of the 13" for piano and chamber ensemble. The piano part is bracing! It is another significant segment to a very significant program.

I find the performances and recording quality highly appropriate and appealing.

Artyomov deserves our undivided attention. I would go so far to say without hesitation that Artyomov on the basis of this volume and the others comes before us as a tragically underappreciated Modern master, a Russian Ives in terms of creating  beautifully advanced music in spite of social neglect and isolation. His time has come. By all means listen to this album. Then if you are as impressed as I am get the others too!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Paul Moravec, The Blizzard Voices, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

In ideal circumstances what the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose is doing will redefine the US Modernist world by highlighting deserving works and composers from this century and last. I say ideally because I no longer know with the world in a certain chaos whether cultural institutions may always have the impact they would in earlier times. That includes the impact of music writers like me and then of course the general concert scene and the world of audio releases of works. I have been covering many of the BMOP CD releases and today I speak of another. It has been out for a little while and I have been meaning to cover it for a while. So today I do.

The release at hand is a recording of  The Blizzard Voices (BMOP Sound 1054), a rather monumental choral-orchestral oratorio from 2008 based on the poetry of Ted Kooser. The work was written by living composer Paul Moravec (b. 1957) The poems were adapted into a libretto by Mark Campbell. The theme is that of the Western Plains of the US and a blizzard that a group of would-be settlers experienced and in the end did or did not finally endure. The blizzard took place in historical terms in Nebraska in January, 1888.

The work is scored for in addition to orchestra six vocal soloists and an SATB chorus, the latter in the form of the New England Conservatory Concert Choir and Chamber Singers directed by Erica J. Washburn.

The soloists and body of performer do full justice to this rather involved work. As to the music itself? It has a monumental, heroic passion, and a roughly-hewn-of-granite strikingly bold quality. There is a subtle sort of Americana at play that alludes to the humble musical life of the Plains, of hymn tunes and songs sung in everyday settings that do not point to Grand Art so much as music on the ground floor of existence, the sort of music most people experience in a pre-industrial setting, not product, not "pop" in that there are no surveys taken, just music that exists among people because music is like that. The strain of folkishness is not obvious like perhaps some of Copland might be. It emerges subtly from time-to-time but the panorama of bleak and in the end lethal winter predominates with a harsh sobriety and heroic despair born of the place and time of the story. It is an aesthetically derived hardness that does not point back to the composer any more than Mark Twain "was" Huckleberry Finn.

In other words this is genuinely gifted aural story-telling. I sometimes remember Vaughan Williams in his best narrative mood mode, or yes, Copland in that vein, and some of the other later Operatic-Oratorio master that it would be pointless and even misleading to name because it would imply there is some imitation happening here which there is decidedly not.

It is masterful composing from someone I surely want to hear more of. The music seems destined for larger audiences. It is accessible and more comprehensible for its tethering to dramatic content than some purely abstract Modern tone poem. It is Modern in its thickly edgy harmonic fullness and post-Romantic unsentimental expressive feeling-fullness. The vocal parts stand out for the natural rightness. The orchestral parts work fully well as a fleshing out of the drama and an aesthetic canvas apart from the plot and its content.

If I wind-up my description of the music to that for the present, it is not that there is nothing more to be said. I leave that to others. Many listens after the first one of The Blizzard Voices and I come away convinced that this is a work of importance, wonderfully rendered. Varese remarked long ago that "the present-day composer refuses to die!" It remains true. We owe something to that present-day by supporting our creators. So buy this.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Elizabeth A. Baker, Quadrivium

Quadrivium (Aerocade Music AM008 2-CDs) is a nicely sprawling, major dramatically vibrant work of the Modern Music world, brought to us by composer-performer Elizabeth A. Baker. She wrote all the music with the help of Nathan Anthony Corder (Sashay) and she has also written the poetry and lyrics that occur in the course of the work. In the process of the work's sounding Elizabeth performs on piano, electronics, voice, guitar, percussion and toy piano. So those are the particulars.

As to the work itself, after five listens I must say I am mightily impressed with it all. Elizabeth makes a point, rightfully so, of providing us with an elegantly worded plea for inclusion in our musical worlds--of all categories of humanity, women, LGBTQs, minorities, in short everyone inclusive. And Quadrivium assumes this viewpoint and at the same time portrays a world in the clutches (if I might interpret her aims) of a sometimes mechanized behemoth that neither accepts differences nor does it always have need for the creative artists who occupy our world and give it value where it otherwise might not or can not have it. If there is a kind of insistence on the creative underground that we advance as a whole both aesthetically and ethically, Ms. Baker surely is one of the champions of such things.

And all that would be admirable even if it were left there. But on top of it all Ms. Baker has a deeply conceptual imagination that allows her to fashion a rather monumental, musically and content-fully profound opus. Here is where we stand today, Elizabeth is saying. And that where includes recitations as well as solo piano and electronic, ensemble and small ensemble sections each of which is a sort of microcosm of where New Music is today. So tonality is there, but not for a look backwards, rather as a mainstay of human music making. There is abstraction, there is a repetition that layers subtly ever, a droning that we have in our heads now as much as a result of mechanical and electronic sounds of the environment along with a sort of cosmic centering.

This is beautiful music, exacted and not redacted if you will, not afraid to say what needs saying, to play what needs playing, to give us a very pleasureful and sometimes conflicted music representation of the earthtime now, for us, for us who listen.

In my case I do not just listen. The music has grabbed me so it says something much more than an organized series of tomes and tones. The work begins with the beautiful and discerning piano solo music that rotates in a very rangy way before sounding some tender diatonics. From there we segue quietly to ambient electronics with inside-the-piano whispers that are almost like a light-bulb afterburn in your mind's eye. The keyed piano returns with a cycle-not-cycle that expands and variationalizes what came before, yet there is new development and new thematic content too.

I will not describe the passage of section to section because there is too much and it might be slightly pedantic to rattle off a laundry list of what happens. That sequence in the end will be yours to apprehend anyway. It proceeds to a kind of continual opening up of expression, with electronics and recitation becoming ever more re-grounded and yet musically it feels as an unfolding, a very long and full unfolding rather than a kind of a-b-c-d-e-f-g thingness.

The music gives us a highly original take and the text-poetry dwells in the very-much-present.

I must say I do very much love this very living work. It is as contemporary as anything you will hear, and it is not afraid to combine deftly timbral and sound-color beauty in striking ways. The music is visceral. The words are frank yet poetic.

I take it that this is Elizabeth A. Baker's first album of compositions. It is auspicious for that. A brilliant and evocative piece that presages great things to come I would warrant. It is already here. She is here!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Antti Samuli Hernesniemi, Bridge (Silta), Compositions 3, Music for Clavinova and Piano

No one who knows the New Music world we live in today would tell you that you might expect just one possibility when you are exposed to a new composer these days. There are I suppose limits to what one might hear but I can say honestly that I do not detect what the boundaries might be. So every new exposure gives one a new possibility. I bring this up because the music of living Finnish composer Antti Samuli Hernesniemi as I am hearing it on his recent CD Bridge/Silta (MSR Classics 1615) opens up interesting ground on the piano/clavinova (MIDI driven piano) front. This is the third volume of his compositions released on MSR and the first I have heard.

It is an example of how open the New Music world really is. Hernesniemi writes/performs piano music that may be entirely independently generated but as I listen I am reminded of the whirring movement and fanfarish attack of the late very brilliant piano artist Cecil Taylor. Now he came out of "Jazz" of course, which is only to say that he was initially rooted in Jazz style and that his ensemble work included a rhythm section and other soloists. He studied in his formative years at New England Conservatory where he had Classical training--and so did Miles or Sam Rivers have this training among many others. That is not to say that we can in anyway explain Cecil Taylor by his exposure to both Jazz and Classical music and ideas. He is the sort of brilliance who would have emerged as an important artist no matter what his formal training might bhave been. And by the same token the piano music of Hernesniemi could have been derived out of that Jazz and Modern Classical exposure too. Or maybe he heard this regardless. In the end it does not matter except to remark that if you love the explosive motility of Cecil Taylor's playing then this music will attract you for its splattering sprawling energy.

And there are some more inwardly tuneful works here that are a thing apart from that, yet in the main, there is an open formed "total tremolo" approach here that most characterizes the music.

All that is simple in basis yet the working out is original and exciting to hear. So if you want new that stimulates you invariably, there is Bridge. If you are an open soul I believe this will be much to your liking.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Gabriel Faure, Integrale des Melodies pour Voix et Piano

Music enthusiasts who favor certain artists and/or composers tend to respond well to a "complete" anything by those people. If you know you like the music of that person, it stands to reason that you would wish to hear everything that person might have created or performed in a particular category or genre. So I felt this way when I found I had the chance to hear and review the new Integrale des Melodies pour Voix et Piano by Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) (Atma Classique ACD2 2741 4-CDs). The first thing that hit me on opening up the set was the extremely attractive graphics and very practical setup with all four CDs and the booklet bound in gatefold style--in other words as a single, integral "hard covered" CD  book.

The artists and their readings are of course central to the success of such a project. A core aspect of that is the continual presence of Olivier Godin playing a gloriously sweet 1859 Erard instrument.
The vocalists, separately and on rare occasions in various combinations, are graced with beautiful voices that are not too operatic and seemingly perfectly suited to the song form as Faure practiced it. They are Helene Guilmette, Julie Boulianne, Antonio Figueroa, Marc Boucher. Each is a true artist and a wonderful Faure interpreter.

A confession before I get deeper into my experience of this music. When I started seriously listening to Classical and Modern Classical music I tended in part to get ever deeply into composers I was exposed to partly out of chance and partly from reading up on the history and development of the music. So for various reasons in the realm of French music I gravitated toward Franck, Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Milhaud, Honegger, Poulenc and Messiaen, etc. I at first missed Faure partly because it was easy without coaching not to understand completely  the continuity and change of the progressive unfolding of important French composers in the Late Romantic period, and partly because I came slightly later to vocal music--especially in the case of Faure, the songs and choral music that made him so important. So in time I came to listen to these things and came to love it, along with the solo piano music as well.

So in terms of my listening to the Faure song output, I listened closely to a select group of the songs sung by singers I respected very much, but in my hearing of the wealth of them I was missing a good many of them. So in the Godin and company complete song set I have happily the chance to hear the all of them. After repeated listens I am very glad to find that there is a consistent brilliance of compositional presence, a lyrical yet very focused intensity to them all Faure was a voice that sat between the heavily impassioned Late Romantic Berlioz and the dazzlingly dappled transparency of Debussy and Ravel. Faure in hi songs have a good deal of feeling yet always a kind of light touch, more translucent and so very much more French than some of the other great song masters of his times.

The 108 songs-melodies are a formidable gathering by any standard. The jacket notes inform us that this set is the first to respect Faure's specifications completely as to voice type for each song and the original key indications. The Erard is tuned to 435 Hz, which was decreed by the French Ministry as the standard in 1859. So in so many ways these are the works faithfully rendered as Faure intended them to be be heard. We begin with Op. 1, No. 1 and go from there to those last songs on the Op. 100s. Is there increased clarity, increased introspection as we go from early to late? I hear it something like that, though I have neither sat down and done some statistical aural correlations.Even then some of my perceptions are perforce subjective. I embrace that the music as all music sounds a certain way to me and for me as you must also have your own take. Intersubjectivity may confirm my impressions or it may not. No matter. I am neither qualified to write a PhD dissertation on such a thing nor at this point would I want to!

The point in all this is simple. The music is essential, all of it if you have the time to devote to it and want to expand your appreciation and understanding of the French Art Song in a period central to the development of Modernism. The performances are moving and poetic. The music impeccable, expressive, even ravishing in its beauty and expressive determination.

So if you have the inclination to get this, I believe you will be happy to delve into the wealth of fine music! Get this, then!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Almeida Prado, Complete Cartas Celestes 4, Aleyson Scopel

Once again I am happy to check in with you on another composer of true merit.  Before this CD series came my way recently I knew virtually nothing about the Brazilian Almeida Prado, or to give his complete name Jose Antonio Rezende de Almeida Prado (1943-2010). His sprawling series of works for the piano, the Cartas Celestes were some  18 in all, 15 for solo piano. They address the stars in the heavens, literally, and who would find that uninteresting in itself?

Aleyson Scopel has embarked on a complete recording of the piano works. I covered the first volume a while ago and I loved it. See my write up by typing Prado in the index search box at the top left of the page. And we look at today what seems to be the final volume, No. 4 (Grand Piano 747), which covers Nos. 13 and 16-18. Prado studied with Nadia Boulanger and Messiaen and their formative influences are in his music. The heavenly ambiance of Messiaen's beautiful piano style  has some bearing on what we hear in these works, along with something familial in George Crumb's "Microcosmos" piano works as well. Yet for all that the cosmic spaciousness and mystery of these final works in the series have a definitive originality about them.

No. 13 was completed in 2001; 16-18 in 2010 just before his death. All four have a place for the space about the stars and a place for the stars themselves-- a silence and reverberation for the mystery of the in betweens. Vacuum is never truly empty and the reverberation-silences are as much part of the music as the notes.

Aleyson Scopel reads these works with care and poeticism. The deepness of Prado in a Modern lyrical way can be well-gauged in this volume. Boulez might not have approved of his unification of tonality and edge tonalility but Boulez disliked Messiaen for that also. We do not have to espouse some all-or-nothing view. It is not a thing of our times after all to be multifold! And Prado is brilliant at it.  He does not fail to engage and delight, to cause you to ponder and drift into the universe around us. Bravo! Prado is a discovery if you do not know him. Very recommended.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Charles Wuorinen, Vol. 3, The Group for Contemporary Music

Ever since high school when I stumbled upon some excellent Charles Wuorinen records that had just come out, Maestro Wuorinen has been one of the most important of the American Moderns to me. I made sure to get a review copy of his music on Charles Wuorinen, Vol. 3 (Bridge 9490). And then, I did not notice that a number of review CDs had fallen off my pile into a no-man's land that I only now rediscovered. So if I am late reviewing this gem it is no reflection on the quality of the music.

Charles is a central figure in the High Modernist camp. A major force on the New York Music scene when I was younger, he remains one of the very best things to come out of Columbia's famed music department in the '60s. The recent music of Vol. 3 (2007, 2010, 2013) gives any dedicated New Music follower a wonderful set of compositions for study and enjoyment, excellently performed by the Group for Contemporary Music under the composer.

The first thing that hit me hearing this program is how well wrought is Wuorinen's music and the newer compositions are not at all lacking in this architectonic sublimity. Listen to the "Fourth Piano Sonata," a fiendishly difficult yet elation-bringing 20 minutes of otherworldly density and drive! There is so much going on in this work that you must hear it a number of times before the wind fully catches your sail. Anne-Marie McDermott acts in a Promethean-heroic way to realize the complex music with ultimate comprehensibility and rangy excitement. Who says High Modernism is abstruse? Not me. In truth I think I might well put this on for any musical person and they I think would take notice. It is not just for the rare few.

"It Happens Like This" has an extraordinary presence in its 40 minutes for a group of four vocalists and chamber orchestra. It perhaps is as Post-Serial as it is Late Serial in the exploding forward of expression. But then Wuorinen has never been a formalist or a formulaic voice. Some of his writing here for all four voices and chamber instrumentalists passes the usual expressionist heights to something unexpected and quite stirring! There is operatic dialog and a very rewarding interplay of voices and instrumentalists. It is a major theatrical-vocal work of our time I would assert.

And the opener is not as all-encompassing for length yet very much Wuorinen at his best. Vocalist and chamber players achieve a simultaneous horizontal flow that truly soars.

So are we hearing or will you hear just another High Modernist blip-bloop set of abstractions? Well I resent the question! Seriously the answer is. no it isn't and also, in contradiction, yes the very best of bleep-bloops! It is about time in my opinion that anti-Modernists out there (perhaps most now dead) get with the program and embrace what enquiring musical minds have been enjoying now for almost 100 years. Modernism has not failed, the Anti-Modernist voices are instead rendered obsolete. Perhaps the paradox of the Avant Garde in general as we look back is that the music was not ahead of its time so much as the audiences, most listeners at some point, were impossibly behind the times. We who have spent our lives in a mostly urban modern chaos respond to such masters as Wuorinen with some relief. What I mean to say is that for us such composers create sense and a higher order...sense and order and truly transcendent expression out of the muck of what seems at times a senseless chaos of life.

So all you who have need to understand where we are and how it relates to where we have been, Charles Wuorinen is a composer I might suggest you listen closely to on this album. Listen a few times, maybe more than a few times. Charles Wuorinen has been with us forever, it feels like. Yet no, he is in historical time, the same as what we live in now. And he still is here, happily for us. So listen to what he has given us recently! You will be glad of it, I do think.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Victor Herbiet, The Road to the Ethereal Gate

If one is an avid New Music explorer one does best I think when one approaches a new artist or composer with no preconceived ideas or expectations. By virtue of the newness of music we are given the chance to hear what "serious" music there is in our world and how it all is ever new. Not knowing Victor Herbiet and his music then, I put today's offering on the first time a few weeks ago and I was treated to a series of unexpected stylistic turns, all in the end leading one to a happy place of listening. I refer to the album on tap, The Road to the Ethereal Gate (Centredisques 25118).

This album showcases Herbiet as composer of music that features to my ears mostly alto and soprano saxophones. If he also plays tenor I somehow heard it as an alto. That says something about the brightness of his tone. Victor is a fine player and appears throughout as the solo saxist or the sax in the well-mapped chamber blends. His playing and writing for sax acknowledge the Jazz heritage but also the Classical sax inheritance. Think "Pictures at an Exhibition" and the like for the Classical sax style.

The music ranges widely yet with a personal stylistic fingerprint. "Tango a Trois" for example looks at the Argentinian tango and takes a trio of alto, violin and piano to a place that echoes the grand past of the dance music while saying something personal. "Twelve Tone Rag" does something similar with Ragtime.

From there we brush against further sax intersections with chamber configurations and solo flights. The second half of the program features a good deal of music for solo sax, technically demanding, lyrical, jazz inflected but in a Modern Classical framework for the most part. "The Four Elements," "Through the Ethereal Gate" and "On the Shores of Eternity," the later two with a set up where a theremin responds in an programmed way to the sax phrasings. . .  these three works define nicely for us a singular vision of the virtuoso possibilities of sax that have lyrical and expressive clout.

After a good number of listens I am happy with this music, quite so. It does not seek a cutting edge view of what one can explore, yet in no way does it advocate for some status quo mainstream. One might say the music on the whole is quirky? There is a nicely stubborn individualism at work in that you feel that Herbiet does the music he does out of an inner conviction that each foray is right and for itself. So then in no way is this the music of a follower; more so a leader and sax advocate. I certainly appreciate the music. If you are open to a new-with-roots, yet a refusal to follow the beaten path, and especially if you love the saxophone, this one may well be for you. Bravo!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Rawsthorne and Other Rarities, The Music of Alan Rawsthorne and Others

Since it is the July 4th holiday here in the States, I come on to the blog somewhat briefly before I attempt to burn meat on a gas-fired device. I would be remiss though if I did not spend some time this morning writing about an unusual and gratifying release. I speak of the recent CD Rawthorne and Other Rarities (Divine Art 25169).

It is a most illuminating look at the music of the rather obscure 20th century English composer Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971), plus eight more rare and rather whimsical compositions that fit in with the Rawsthorne, and all but one short work is here enjoyed in World Premier Recordings.

For the Alan part of the disk we hear his "Chamber Cantata," "Practical Cats" (as arranged and edited by Peter DIckinson), and finally his "String Quartet in B minor." These are idiosyncratic works with some nod to things like Schoenberg's "Pierrot" and Walton's "Facade," but not slavishly or even exactly obviously. More like something that was "in the air" in those days. Rawsthorne is quirkily Modern and very English, so quite charming and for the enjoyment of any and all Anglophiles in the musical world today.

Then the fascinating yet very obscure works we hear in addition have delight going on for us if we open up. That is in the main. Not all are quite masterpieces, but what do you expect? Odd and rarely heard works by Vaughan Williams, David Ellis, Malcolm Lipkin, Arthur Bliss, Donald Waxman, Karel Janovicky, Basil Deane, Raymond Warren and Halsey Stevens, names which may be somewhat or very familiar, others rather unfamiliar.

The whole hangs together in a quixotically stubborn way and one if like me smiles and nods. Here is something so well off the beaten path one might find oneself hacking through to make a clearing, but happily so! I recommend this if you want something Early-Modern-worthy and completely quirky. Performances I should mention are very first-rate!

Monday, July 2, 2018

George Antheil, Specter, Duo Odeon

Any serious student of Modernism has no doubt been exposed to George Antheil's "Ballet Mechanique" and one may get a great deal out of such music, which is only fitting. That there is a lot more music of his to check out I sometimes forget, partly because much of it is not always very available in recorded form lately. He may at one time have been an enfant terrible of American Modernism (in the earlier part of the 20th Century). It so happens though that his music has lasting power. It is more than a music of ideas, though it can be that. It is also a music of music!

George Antheil (1900-1959) in this light can most favorably be heard on the recent premiere recording of Duo Odeon and Specter (Sono Luminus 92222). It is an entire disk devoted to George's mid-40s compositions for violin and piano and it is in that wise a major undertaking. We get a chance to hear three substantial compositions played with true verve and understanding.

As it turns out, the three works have an important link in common as they also have a heightened importance for Duo Odeon. To start though, an inventory. The three works in question are Antheil's "Sonata for Violin and Piano" (1945), his "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" (1946) here in the reduction for violin and piano, and the recently discovered "Valses from Specter of the Rose," (based on Antheil's 1947 film score of the same name) which was specially arranged by violinist Werner Gebauer. The latter was unearthed in 2016 by Marcus Gebauer (Werner's son) and enjoys a premier recording here, happily.

And in fact the presence of Gebauer is key to all three works. George and Werner were by then close collaborators and intimate friends. The two published works were specifically written for the violinist who gave them their first performances.

At the same time as this music is a celebration of the closeness of Gebauer and Antheil, it also has great significance in the origins of Duo Odean, a most auspicious blend of the talents of violinist Hannah Leland and pianist Aimee Fincher. Both were in the midst of doctoral studies in music at Arizona State University when they met as fellow members of the contemporary music ensemble there. Research into George Antheil and the two main works featured in this recording brought the two together and understandably became an intense focus that has its floration in the performances we hear on the disc.

The Sonatina is a major offering performed with an excellent insight into the music, which is illuminating certainly of Antheil's brilliant inventive talents.

The Concerto is most lively, and if I sometimes notice some passages very indebted to Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto, it is with a certain joy since Antheil integrates and revivifies the motifs to make something altogether his.

The Valses are a welcome addition. Three movements at a little over six minutes do not sound at all incidental but substantial in their brevity.

And in the end I come away from this CD with a real appreciation for Duo Odeon and their beautifully communicative Modernist musicianship and virtuosity, none of which they wear on their sleeve so much as integrate into an Antheil-centric presentation. And after all that is what it should be all about, bringing works alive as fully an expressively as possible. The Modernist Antheil has a beautifully thematic side and we hear it to great advantage on this premier Duo Odeon offering. Bravo!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Electronic Chamber Music From Finland

To show you how much New Music has evolved or simply changed, please suppose you bought an album entitled simply "Electronic Chamber Music" in 1963. What might you imagine you would get? I am thinking something along the lines of MEV or AMM, improvised, abstract, somewhat hermetic. On the other hand the 2018 Electronic Chamber Music  (SIBA Records Sibelius Academy), might be that but might be something else, or both. Perhaps the tip-off is that no composers are a part of the cover listings. That is deliberate. This is music no doubt pre-planned in many ways, yet at base improvisational. In that we have a situation in common with our hypothetical 1963 album by MEV or AMM.

What is meant by "Live Electronics" is one thing that may well differ today. In earlier days such as 1963 synthesizers were bulky and cumbersome, not really the sort of thing you'd expect in a live ensemble. Until the later sixties as the evolution of relatively compact synthesizers came about an ensemble like Mother Mallard (who amassed a number of synthesizers in live performance) would have been inconceivable. Now of course that is not so. But then individual pitch producing and pitch altering devices were likely to be there in the earlier days, individual components that later were part of the synthesizer anatomy. I mean tone generators, wave generators, frequency and amplitude, timbre and taxonomic sound alteration filter devices and such were a likely part of a live ensemble. You were perhaps less likely back then to encounter a gathering of unabashedly acoustic instruments like the acoustic guitar or the unprepared contrabass etc. Nowadays it is different.

And the music back then might have been improvised but it tended to sound something like the punktive Serial New Music one might hear coming off the composer's pencil directly then. The music might also bear some relation to the sound laboratory studio electronic musics then being made, especially in terms of a living impossibility sort of thing, music that was for whatever reason far more nearly impossible to produce on conventional instruments alone. This because of complexity, speed, timbre, etc. Virtually or literally unplayable music was often the case--doing something with electronics even if improsed and live that was unimaginable before electronic  generation and alteration.

In the case of the 2018 release Electronic Chamber Music we can get some enlightenment on at least one way such music can vary from what was common 50 or so years ago. The group in question is a quartet and Finland is their home base. This is a music of collective composition, improvisation surely. And group structuring. The participants are Otso Lahdeoja on guitar and electronics, Alejandro Montes de Oca is responsible for modular synthesizer sounds, Aino Eerola plays 4- and 5-string violins and electronics, and Nathan Riki Thomson plays prepared double bass and electronics. Musicianship is not lacking and all four make a significant impact as a quartet.

The music is tonal centered and often as not pulsating. It is mostly tonal music and  both extended techniques and electronic enhancement take the acoustic instruments and make of them something familiar yet novel. There is a soundscaperd ambience to this music that in 1963 would have sounded quite different of course. Gone are bleep-bloop hochet and to stay are extended outburst of cosmic differences as joined by somewhat unprecedented soundings of long notes and then loping sing-sing continuity.

It is music that few would find in any way jarring, a kind of peon to open space more than a sawing through to essential primality that perhaps might have prevailed in such things in 1963! And indeed one can scarce imagine this music without the psychedelic and ambient worlds that 1963 knew little to nothing of. Yet the intervening avant jazz and improv styles show little impact. That is not to say that anything should or should not prevail today; I only wish to identify more precisely what one would hear on listening.

I find it all fascinating and nicely open. This is not necessarily music to change the face of our art for many years to come. Face it, everything need not be that. It is music of depth and substance, good to commune with at length. I do recommend this one.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Trio Clavio Plays Modern Music

There ever comes a new generation of music makers. And inevitably they may see things slightly differently than others that came before. That is the nature of history, music history and it is the nature of creative freedom. So today we consider a trio of young Czech women who set out in 2013 to perform music in ways that reflected their own distinctive musical outlooks, yet in the process to create a real blend, to make a threesome that thrived as a unity in distinct parts as a whole.

Trio Clavio was born. And now with a self-titled 2-CD set (ArcoDiva UP 0204) we get to experience what they can do with a program of varied Modern Music.

Trio Clavio are Lucie Soutorova Valcova on piano,  Lucia Fulka Kopsova on violin, and Jana Cernohouzova on clarinet. Together they excel and come to us in a dazzling light of sound.

The program is an engaging mix of the familiar and the less familiar.

Trio Clavio put their beautifully idiomatic character masks on from the start with the trio suite from Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat." The suite boils it all down to the music's very essence and Trio Clavio give us a sparkling, very characteristic reading that is in its own way perfect. The execution is not just a matter of the right notes, weighted rightly. It breathes in the whimsical essence and makes it all into a palpable magic. This performance is worth the price of admission alone! Here is a younger generation of musicians who feels so comfortable with this music, a sort of, pardon the phrase, Ethnic Modernism because they are beautifully talented and have breathed in the two strands to make the music seem as it should, ORGANIC and now very much a part of us. Hear this and you may well smile broadly. I did.

Yet there is much more. Bartok's "Contrasts" gets a sterling performance devoid of some of the mannerisms and pretensions one can hear from earlier recordings.

"Trio for Clarinet, Violin & Piano" by Paul Schoenfeld (b. 1947) ends the first CD with a Jewish tinged music that again seems completely idiosyncratic in the hands of the trio. Jana Cernohouzova on clarinet is something to behold. Her Klezmer inflected reading is a joy to hear! This is moving and substantial music in every way.

CD2 showcases four more living composers with engaging and vibrant fare. There is Lukas Hurnik (b. 1967) and his "Alphabet," Martin Brunner (b. 1983) and "Little Children," Juraj Filas (1955) and "'Chiaroscuro' Trio," and finally Sylvie Bodorova (1954) and "Dancing Mountain."

Current time restrictions this morning prevent me from engaging in a detailed breakdown of the second half of the program. Suffice to say that the momentum that builds on CD1 does not flag in the least. Instead there is a wealth of nicely turned, even brilliant compositional fare played with a musicality that never fails to delight.

Melodic Modernism is in great hands with Trio Clavio.

So bravo! Trio Clavio is a wonder! The music and its presentation on this set is as good as anything you might hear in such a trio. A beautiful milestone in chamber music this is to me. Do not fail to hear it. I look forward to whatever they might do in future. This is a must for Modern Music fans!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Johann Nepomuk David, Symphonies 2 & 4, ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Johannes Wildner

Bruckner is not dead. He lives on. And if you wonder what kind of symphonies he might have written had he lived in the '30s and '40s of last century, you might listen to the music of Johann Nepomuk David (1899-1975), specifically in this case today, David's Symphonies 2 & 4 (RSO 777-577-2). Now it is probably unfair of me to state  glibly that David is Bruckner. He isn't. He is David. In the two symphonies so nicely performed by the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien under Johannes Wildner, there is very much something "beyond" Bruckner there. The chromaticism is pretty well at the edge of the tonally centered and there is a dynamic tumult to the music that is more extreme than Bruckner might have felt comfortable with. David is no clone. Far from it. He is a Modernist as much as there is something Late Romantic or Neo-Romantic about the music.

So David was born in Austria. He was blessed with a fine singing voice and at ten was sent for musical training to become a choir member. He studied with choirmaster Muller, who venerated Bruckner. Fast forward to 1923, when David premiered his first symphony. By then Vienna had cast its spell upon the young composer. Schoenberg and other luminaries were duly influential. By 1922 he himself noted the strong influence in his style of Reger in the contrapuntal sphere, then also Scriabin and Debussy. The monothematic symphony idea began to consume him but also so did Schoenberg's 12-tone techniques. By the time of 1938 his second symphony took stock of his evolution. It was a large-scale, 40-minute orchestral work for a sizeable gathering of instrumentalists. There are three themes and the development is contrapuntal.

Listening is a matter of immersion,. There is a striking density and drama to the symphony and the more you hear the better it becomes.

Symphony No. 4 is a product of struggle in a world torn and  ripped in twain by the Second World War. The original manuscript of the work was destroyed in an air raid and David had to reconstruct it all from memory. One might readily say that the final version shows the scars of its traumatic birth in that it has upheaval yet a determined grandeur and even a contrapuntal strain of thickly grim austerity at times yet a depth of feeling too that catapults it into our times as a reminder of how unsettled and ugly the world can be. There is a transfixing quality to the whole that gradually enters your listening mind and holds pride of place, at least for me.

I am heartened by the depth of this music. David seems very much a discovery for us that is as worthy as any revival discovery from this era. The music is rather profound. If the kind of angst of later Allan Pettersson appeals to you, then David may well strike a sympathetic reverberation. I myself am glad to have and hear this disk and will no doubt try and hear more of his music going forward. David is a real find.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

David Diamond, Symphony No. 6, Indiana University Chamber and Philharmonic Orchestras, Arthur Fagen

There is a tendency to pay less attention recently to some of the US composers once quite popular in the '30s to '50s. Like Thomas Hart Benton in the painting world, their style was thought the epitome of Contemporary when they flourished, and then their reputations underwent a bit of an eclipse. Like Benton many are due for reappreciation.

Take David Diamond (1915-2005). He was overshadowed for a time as later styles came to the forefront on the American scene. Yet there is a master craftsman at work on the wealth of his compositions, an inspired originality that now sounds again fresh. So Naxos in its ongoing "American Classics" series gives us a volume that reminds us how much we miss if we ignore the Diamond orchestral legacy. Here we have the Indiana University Chamber and Philharmonic Orchestras under Arthur Fagen with enthusiastic and vibrant readings of three middle period gems, namely his Symphony No. 6, Rounds for String Orchestra, and Romeo and Juliet (Naxos 8.5598942).

One notes from the first the quality of the performances and the concentric intensity of the music. Arthur Fagen and the Indiana bring the scores to life with fine nuance and bold strokes. And each work is in its own way exemplary and a world unto itself.

The opening "Rounds for String Orchestra" (1944) has vivid plein air energy in the outer movements and an "Appalachian Springish" tenderness in the center. It seems vaguely Americana-like yet there are no obvious thematic homespun allusions exactly. It is a delight, really.

"Music from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet" (1947) alternates drama and reverie and a lyrical then more robust sinew, a rustic charm not exactly typical of what the timeless story might evoke. The "Death of Romeo and Juliet" finale morns, regrets and shows a tender sadness.

And then we turn to the concluding "Symphony No. 6" (1951-54). This beginning of a '50s view of what is to be done has a bolder thrust than the previous works, really more thoroughly modernistic and expressive of an inner strength that takes us unawares then affirms Diamond's brilliance. Hard to believe but this is the World Premiere Recording. And a fine thing it is.

There you have it. The weather can be fine if you want to stretch your imagination with these three nicely done offering. Put them on and forget the thunderclouds.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Georgy Sviridov, Canticles and Prayers

Since to my knowledge none of us have sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus as apparently had Athena according to legend, we must in the beginning have more or less absolute ignorance when it comes to anything, and that includes music. Sure we may have an aptitude for it and even as a tabula rasa being take readily to its intricacies, and so too at some point we may like some things and perhaps others not as much. But all that entails a long gestation period of gradual and cumulative understanding, of slowly developing a musical understanding of the universe of various styles. That is, of course if one is so fortunate to have music available to experience in  life.

As as for the Modern, the New Music as it has unfolded from the beginnings in say 1900 and forward 118 years to today, the more of it one can hear the better one might understand the whole of it. For example there is the music of Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998), as one might hear in  the recent and fascinating Canticles and Prayers (Ondine 1322-2).

Now I'll admit I am, or rather was in total ignorance some years ago about Sviridov and his music. I have had the chance happily to hear some of it and if you want to know about that type his name into the search box at the upper left. The present volume up today gives me and (perhaps you) a good idea of and a rewarding leg up on his sacrally oriented choral music.

Sviridov grew up in the Orthodox fold in Russia and was profoundly influenced by the music of the Orthodox Church. The cycle "Canticles and Prayers" for unaccompanied choir is it seems Sviridov's definitive and final work  in the choral mode. It also was his last completed composition, as it involved a long development from 1980 to 1997, the year before his death.

The plan was to cull all the sacred choral sketches he had begun but not completed by 1990 or so, to amass and develop them into one rather huge oratorio. By 1997 Sviridov had completed five parts, but did not live to finish the whole of what he had envisioned. The current performance takes on four of the five sections, omitting the second part and several movements from part five. The program concludes with a related  "Red Easter," which was completed in 1978.

In all this Sviridov utilizes Russian Orthodox liturgical texts but does not set them in an order that could constitute a set of chants the could be utilized as a whole in an Orthodox service.. He builds up the haunting whole as a sort of lament for the impending demise of the Russia of the Soviet Union, which was indeed undergoing a terminal dissolution in the last decade of Sviridov's time on earth.

This is introspective, mostly very somber music. It is music somewhat difficult for a typical choir to perform, as it makes demands, calls for in the words of the liner notes a group of "exceptional mastery and vocal abilities." I must say that the Latvia Radio Choir as heard on this disk is in every way up for the challenge of the music. The results are most ravishing, sublimely beautiful.

This is music that expressively expands outward from Russian Orthodox Chant. It is Chant as much as Afterchant, if you will pardon the phrase. It has a modern foundation with harmonies a bit more tangy at times than what would be typical in the church music. It is meditative and feelingful.

It is robust and yet there is a fragility as well, a kind of presence of the feeling of loss, as might naturally be expected given the composer's intention.

For all that it constitutes a kind of Modern milestone in the Russian choral world. Not at all avant garde in obvious ways, it is nonetheless substantial and original in outlook. It is so profoundly of its time that we can already look back upon it and feel the distance the world has gone since the end of last century. Of course we understand that not all change is wholly good, and what that entails we can only review the events that have transpired in the period once thought of as an age "beyond history," those years from the advent of the Millennium to the right now is a period of true upheaval in the world, an upheaval that compounds other upheavals and sediments a depth of change, a stratigraphy it may take future historians to make sense of, since the world does not especially make sense in all ways at present. Sviridov captures a kind of awareness of inevitable change and a less than happy feeling of what it might portend. That is complex and I try to experience it all as expression at this point. Well that perhaps defines this postmodern age? It is music of Postmodernity-Modernity surely. And sublimely so. Like Arvo Part, Sviridov has his own take on the old-in-the-new. The music haunts.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Friedrich Gulda, Piano Works, Martin David Jones

For those who have over the years been interested in the nexus between Modern Jazz and Modern Classical, the mere existence of a Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) volume of Piano Works (Grand Piano GP759) is reason enough to sit up and take notice. That is if you know of the place Gulda has occupied throughout his life as a classical pianist of international stature as well as a jazz artist of definite talent and great merit. Most importantly I at least have been aware of his might we still say "Third Stream" compositional ventures and have followed as best I could what I managed to find in the ever-ongoing search for syntheses and pathways forward.

It may or may not be a coincidence that the compositional period represented by these works spans a time between 1965 and 1974, which was a very creative whileCfor a certain ongoing adventurism on the musical scene. Cool Jazz was pretty much a dead issue by then, whereas there were significant forays into Third Stream ventures prior to this by Jimmy Giufre, John Lewis, William O. Smith and others more or less one way or another lumped into the cool bin at some point. From 1965 to 1974 these was room for others to step in and indeed Heinrich Stadler and Friedrich Gulda and a few other Europeans along with some notable American voices did interesting compositional work. And I must stop a moment and say something about the AACM during this period. They may well be the more important of all the "serious" jazz composer-performers with some claims to "Classical" "crossover" status during that period. This is not the place to discuss that however.

It is not my intention to give some comprehensive overview of the rise and fall of the Third Stream  by say 1975, for that another time. A light sketch here is all I might want to do to set up this recording. So the CD is upon us.

I will say right off the bat that none of this music on this album has been or will be destined to move mountains in a stylistic or cutting-edge sense. The works have much room for improvisation and reflected the sort of Post-Bop musical world in which Gulda dwelled with his Jazz persona. The music has something of an eclectic quality to it. We have takes on a Boogie-Woogie/Classical nexis, then variations on the Doors' iconic "Light My Fire" (that very much strikes me as worthwhile), the multiple Jazz stylings of the ten-part "Play Piano Play," And more besides.

Anyone familiar with the Gulda presence in earlier days will find this volume captivating and reaffirming. Those coming to his music for the first time will be no doubt pleased with what they hear so long as they do not expect from it some world changing paradigmaticism!

Martin David Jones handles performance duties with sympathy, charm and a musicality that is heartening. If perhaps he is not especially by way of the evidence here a world-class improvisor it nonetheless shows you perhaps the sort of pianist who might well be attracted to the music. The improvisations set off the music well and perhaps not as much the other way around. Yet after a thorough immersing in this program I must say my appreciation of Gulda the rather brave straddler of Jazz and Classical camps comes to life once again to my pleasure. I am glad to have it!

If Gulda never wound up being a Duke or a Monk, how many do? For that we have Duke and Monk. That takes nothing away from the enjoyment of hearing this music.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

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.