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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Michael Finnissy, Vocal Works 1974-2015, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble

The music of Michael Finnissy forms an essential part of the High Modernist scene in our lifetime. For whatever reason I did not have the pleasure to encounter his music in a serious way until the past decade. It was the accident of chance rather than volition for me. Now I have been happy to hear his work and do not pass up the chance to do so. So accordingly I have grabbed a very nice example recently of his music on his Vocal Works 1974-2015 (Music Edition Winter & Winter 910 246-2).

This is a fine collection of some four substantial works scored for a capella vocal chamber ensemble comprising of between six and fourteen vocalists. The EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble handles the performances with impeccable precision and expressive clout. James Weeks directs the ensemble and the results are all we might hope for. Such music requires extraordinary ear-control and intonative precision. The ensemble is remarkably capable. To hear them sing these works is to hear something very difficult to get right and they do so with strength and agility.

There is a very noticeable timelessness to this music. It is invariably geared toward an almost spicy kind of dissonance. And perhaps that kind of harmonic diffuseness feels so much more projective when sounded by a vocal ensemble. So the music has a hard edge to it. The dissonances are most out front in the vocal articulation and so one notes the music to occupy an entirely controlled and measured but ultimately an extreme sounding kind of expression.

And of its timelessness it is most telling perhaps that the beginning work is entitled "Gesualdo: Libro Sesto." After all Gesualdo was a extraordinary pioneer in introducing dissonance as an expressive means of sounding in an era where such a thing did not exist in most any way. So Finnissy's title for the work is telling and most fitting. Fascinatuigly the work gives you the part writing flow of Gesualdo's time yet ventures into harmonically bold territory that even Gesualdo might have been astonished by. The effect is to throw the listener into an earlier time but yet within an almost Boschian world of measured infernality. That is not to say that it dives straight into some maelstrom, for there is a great deal of horizontal development, a syntax of furtherance more in accord with the time parceling of the polyphony of early music than a kind of sound event unfolding that one might get with, say, Xenakis or the early incarnation of a Penderecki. Generally like polyphony of the past the event flow is continuous if segmented and generally one thing flows inexorably out of itself into the next.

And so that first work on the program sets the pace for what follows. Not all of it sounds in the manner of early music but generally it does have forward momentum and temporal sequencing more in common with musical roots than perhaps is the case in an event unveiling scenario. There are times when there is a kind of event flow but there still is a feeling of time moving from left to right, so to speak.

And so we proceed though the Gesualdo piece and travel through four musically poignant works each topping in above ten minutes and sometimes a good deal more. "Cipriano," "Tom Fool's Wooing," and "Kelir" are what follows the "Gesualdo." As one repeatedly traverses the musical terrain set out for us by Finnissy we find ourselves in a considerably singular and rarified place where the music retains a rather total purity of expression. It is ultra-Modern, it is alternately tender and more extrovert in turn, but always with a careful consideration for the quality of expression that maximizes the musical voice in its emanation of musical tone.

It is exemplary music and certainly some of the most vibrant and single-mindedly advanced forays into a futuristic past that you might embrace. The Modernist Project comes full-flower in the music and if we open up to it and forget about the neighbors we become captive and captivated all at once.

Strongly recommended for all Modernists!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Kenneth Fuchs, Piano Concerto "Spiritualist" and Other Works, JoAnn Falletta, London Symphony Orchestra

With the latest release of recent orchestral works Kenneth Fuchs reaffirms his stature as one of the US's very most distinguished living  composers. We hear four works on Piano Concerto "Spiritualist" (and other works) (Naxos 8.559824) and immerse ourselves in masterful and vivid scoring-orchestrations and inventions. All of the music literally lifts itself out of your speakers and enters your musical self in ways increasingly riveting the more you listen.

Perhaps like Aaron Copeland before him, there is a pronounced feeling of US locality in this music, though none of it is programmatic in that way. The music resounds with a clarity of purpose and in the end a kind of spirit of the New World. It isn't though that you should listen for quotations from old folk songs or the like, because they are not put into the music. So in that sense this is not really Nationalist fare. But in various ways the contemporary vernacular music playing in our heads  is always somehow near, perhaps just around the corner.

The soloists and the London Symphony Orchestra under conductor JoAnn Falletta make of these World Premier Recordings something definitive and exemplary, though as ever in these instances other recordings will no doubt in time highlight an aspect or two we might not now be looking for. That does not matter for us at the moment. For this program brings us the music in a shining light.

The album features three new concertos and a song cycle. All stand out as very worthy new examples of the orchestral art.

The program begins with the "Piano Concerto 'Spiritualist' (After Three Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler)" (2016). The late painter's Color-Field brilliance is aptly and effectively put into musical terms in a buoyant and bouncingly boisterous romp. The solo piano part has a pronounced momentum that translates the visual into the aural with ultra-pianistic means. The orchestral parts follow the mood with a real presence.

"Poems of Life (Twelve Poems by Judith G. Wolf for Countertenor and Orchestra)" (2017) changes the mood to one of contemplative retrospection, with a feeling of loss and then a spiritual regeneration. The countertenor role, sung brilliantly by Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, takes center stage and retains it throughout, with orchestral mists, hues and refracted colors enhancing the poetic mode. It is a music of wonder and experience I suppose you might say. Beautiful.

The Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra, entitled "Glacier" (2015), makes beautiful use of the electric instrument in idiomatic ways, with even a nod to Metal stylistics. The overall feeling for the music is a kind of majestic pointedness. The orchestral part is resonant with color and melodic punch.

The final work, "Rush (Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra)" (2012) concludes the program on a rousing note.

For the moment we have the latest work of Kenneth Fuchs in a major new release. It is in every way a great thing, in performance quality, sound quality and quality and variety of compositions. If you do not know Fuch's music this is the perfect chance to become familiar. If you already do it is a valuable addition to your New Music library. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Twiolins, Secret Places

Whether we perform music, write it or just listen, serious music lovers identify with a certain music or set of musics. It is in part what makes us who we believe we are. And for those who embrace a wider spectrum of musical possibilities than might be typical of pre-communications era local life, identity is a complex thing, malleable.

The music I bring to you today surely complicates the identity of those who might embrace it. I speak of an album by the Twiolins called Secret Places (Profil PH 17002). It is music one might call eclectic, yet so specifically so that it comes to embrace a style-set that identifies it as something in itself. If we were to give it a name (following my friend who kindly sent it to me for review consideration) one could call it Neo-Classical. Why that term is perhaps only because neither "Modern," "Neo-Romantic," "Post-Minimalist" "Radical Tonality" nor "Postmodern" quite captures its stance, though in reality there is something of all of these involved, maybe even at moments "Post-Impressionist." It is far enough along into a distinct musical identity that it looks perhaps more of its time and future than of the recent or far past.

First a moment to dwell on the performers. The Twiolins are Marie Luise and Christoph Dingler, two rather young exponents who provide a marvelously evocative handle on the music and its soaring melodicism atop a well-healed series of sometimes fiddle-like double stops. They are near ideal exponents of this music, with a clean crispness of brio and folk-endowed fullness that is rather remarkable to hear. They seem  to understand why it will sound idiomatically right to not press the sentiment contained to a sort of Gypsy froth extreme, though at times there is some of the chutzpah of such roots,  to stay within a sort of Classical containment that emphasizes note-by-note synchronicity rather than a sort of vertical emotive scaling that would take away from the love of sequence and continual movement the music suggests so well. And in that the way of playing recalls Shem Guibbory and others associated with Reich performance practice.

And at times you hear the influence of jazz and rock on the music as is right for a music of our time, surely. But you might also hear echoes of a Viennese waltz and other European aspects.

This is music that dances across the aural panorama more than it tries to create a sort of profound meditation in form. Not that the music is not ultra-musical. It is. It does not try as perhaps Haydn or Mozart at times did to create a long expository idiom of musical syntax logic. And so the "neo" might as well be thought of as "near" as much as "new."

We are treated to some 13 more-or-less miniature compositions running from between 2:13 and 8:42 each. The composer's names may be new and/or unfamiliar to you as they were to me. So we have works by Rebecca Czech, Andras Derecskei, Benjamin Heim, Edmund Jolliffe, Jens Hubert, Johannes Meyerhofer, Nils Frahm, Alexsander Gonobolin, Dawid Lubowicz, Vladimir Torchinsky, Benedikt Brydern, Andreas Hakestad and Levent Altuntas.

This Neo-Classic fare embraces the space especially of Europe perhaps, and the time of the very present day. We listen and feel we participate in the musical discourse of the time, but in any event that is always the case by the sheer fact of being present in the hearing of it all.

What we have to listen to is quite enjoyable, a treasure of violin performance and composition that emphasizes the two-violin nexus and elaborate part-writing that in turn create a real confluence of sonority. There is beauty and liveliness here in abundance. If there is not quite as much depth in this music as we sometimes expect from chamber music, it is like a refreshing drive though the woods where you will not experience regret or dissatisfaction for embarking on the  journey. Like a series of folk dances, the music does not come across as deep but rather of the earth. If it is not a diving expanse of loam, it is rich loam nonetheless. It is a delight. And so I do recommend it.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tippet Rise OPUS 2017, Daydreams

The stunning backdrop of the Tippet Rise Art Center in the Beartooth Mountains near Yellowstone Park in Montana was the spot for the chamber music celebration OPUS 2017. The previous edition, known as OPUS 2016, became in its excerpts a worthy CD offering. Type the name in the search box above, top left-hand corner for the review of that one. And now we have access to the highlights of last year's edition, entitled Daydreams (Pentatone 5186 736).

The unusual mix of the familiar in a vital context, the unfamiliar and the new is a winning one, as are the inspired and somewhat inimitable performances.

Pianist Jeffrey Kahane's startlingly bold and harmonically brilliant re-composition of "America the Beautiful" manages to seem so apt a comment on our times that one literally starts up. It is exquisite, really. It has some brilliance, surely, and stands as a tribute to Kahane's fertile musical imagination. And as we hear the minor modal transformations we feel some of what we may be feeling right now regardless, as there is uncertainty within the beauty and perhaps some true ugliness as well in the present moment.

From there we encounter something almost Romantically expressive, Modern and at times quite jazzy, namely Aaron Jay Kernis's "First Club Date" featuring the always commanding Matt Haimovitz on cello and Andrea Lam with all the right creative energies on piano. This was a Tippet commission and it is the world premier recording. It is a cornerstone of this program surely and we are treated to some wide-ranging spans of sound that keep our ears attuned.

The following "Prelude from English Suite No. 2" finds pianist Anne-Marie McDermott in a "take no prisoners" fettle. Eugene Bozzo's "Image for Solo Flute" centers on Jessica Sindell's very liquid sweetness. If the music sounds a little redolent of some incidental music Vaughn Williams wrote, it is worth revisiting in any event and it forwards a sort of dialog between different stations in the recent past.

Enescu's violin-piano "Impressions from Childhood" has genuine weight as vintage Enescu. I do not believe I have had the pleasure to hear this work before. Caroline Goulding and David Fung give us a violin-piano tandem that convinces us to pay attention. It is something I am in any event glad to hear and to return to going forward. And yes, it has some of the folksy qualities that are so endearing when Enescu chooses to bring them forward. Ms. Goulding is explosively dynamic and Fung responds with his own poetic vision of the music.

Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin's "A la minute (Variations of the Minute Waltz)" has virtuoso clout and a hearty imaginative thrust. It makes the very familiar ever new and so we smile with some conviction when we hear it and re-hear it.

The finale is every bit as climactic as one might wish. John Luther Adams comes forward with an ambient and poetic work for piano (Vicky Chow) and percussion (Doug Perkins). It cannot be accidental that the motif put forward in Bozza's solo flute work is paralleled and somehow echoed in the Adams work. And it is the motif that Vaughan-Williams uses in his own way as I suggest above. There is subtle use of electronic enhancements in this piece, though the instruments are completely centered in what you hear. Electronics basically put forward a piano-chord drone that enters the mix from time-to-time and feels wholly a part of it all. There is a foundational drone then.  And yet it does not remain purposively minimal but instead gives out with a relative plenty. It is a fine conclusion to a rather extraordinary program.

One savors the results of this meeting of artists-curators and an inspiring setting. I find every listen drives me a bit deeper into the substance of the music. There is a great deal to sink oneself into on the program. It is no mere sampler. It is a kind of musical weather vane for where in part we may be right now. It is surely not thoroughgoingly Modern, and in so being it maps out an eclectic tonal stance that is part of where were are now. Recommended.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Gordon Getty, Beauty Come Dancing, Netherlands Radio Choir and Radio Philharmonic Orch., James Gaffigan

The choral music of Gordon Getty, American composer, is a thing of  nearly implacable singularity. You hear this plainly and happily in a recent release of selected choral works, Beauty Come Dancing (Pentatone 5186 621). James Gaffigan conducts the Netherlands Radio Choir and Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in crisply emotive readings of eleven compositions. As the program unfurls in time I find that the intersection of performers and composer turns out to be quite a worthy thing.

The first thing you note is that Getty has a knack, an excellent sense of matching affinities of text to choral setting. The works are all  recent, having been written between 2009 and 2015. Some are completely new settings, other have been adapted from their original setting for voice solo. Some of the poetic texts are by the composer, others are by a diverse and rich stock of poets, Keats, Byron, Sara Teasdale, John Masefield, etc.

As for the music, it is tonal and firmly in the choral tradition of earlier times as the composer seeks to match the spirit of the words to a corresponding sympathetic musical vision that includes a period element. Like the English Vaughan Williams, an American parallel if you will, there is an eloquence and elegance that can be sometimes folksy but then always appears to us in down-to-earth garb.

One listens and recognizes Getty's true talent. The choral music comes very much alive and it all seems tailor made for the Netherlands Radio Choir. The orchestral parts blossom forth and add significant color and depth to the choral center and here too the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic are in their element.

This music might well have been written in, say, 1910 or so. I mean to say that it is not at all Modern with a capital /M/! Yet it is nearly timeless and carves out a space where the words of the poetry amplify the music and vice-versa. This may not be for someone who wants to dwell only at the cutting edge of Modernity, yet it has such musical torque that we forget about where we are and simply thrive happily inside it all. I do recommend this for choral lovers. It is just what you need today, maybe.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Stockhausen, Klavierstucke I-XI, Sabine Liebner

As the years seem to keep rolling by the status of Karlheinz Stockhausen as a major voice of Modern Music is never really in doubt. At least not among those who know his music well enough to experience it properly. Perhaps now we can look back and further a wider appreciation for his music going forward? By that I mean promoting a serious listen to the body of works without letting controversy mar our evaluation. Take his Klavierstuck (Piano Pieces) I-XI, written between 1952-1961. It was at the height of the Serialist period, yet we can listen now and we can hear for ourselves how expressive and alive the music is. This is not the music of a dogma! It breathes like the best of piano works that have come down to us. And I must say it deserves to be numbered among the very best of the last century.

I think such things as I listen again to the new recording of the first eleven (in 1979 he wrote eight more) by Sabine Liebner (Wergo 7341-2). The liners remind us that these works as his works in general were meant to sensitize us to the kind of inner growth music is so able to provide. There is a special work the listener must do in hearing the work. Working for the works involves opening up to what happens in each, to perceive "vibrations and vibrational relationships, organisms, and processes in order to become more alert, intelligent, thoughtful, polyphonic, aware and sensitive."  One might first think then that listening for Stockhausen is a sort of utopian project? But then anyone who took classes in "ear training," anyone who attended music school will recall that without stating it, the task of training the ear was indeed to accomplish such things. Yet of course most of the time the overall benefits of a keen ear were never overtly stated. Then again, music belongs to a utopia more than not! So. It should be a part of that, surely.

There is so much incredible music to hear in the Klavierstuck that I hardly know  what to say. This is music so well into its own discourse that words are at best a sort of sloppy seconds. And in the end the very involved things one might say about Stockhausen's very pliable sense of form in these pieces might take up reams of paper were the words turned into print. Indeed Wolfgang Rathert's admirable liner notes to this release supply some insights into all that. I will only note here that there is an involved Serial methodology the composer enacts most of the time. It entails permutations and specially defined parameters. Yet also there is a wealth of choice given the pianist at times, so that the role of performer is enhanced in parallel to what Cage sometimes built into his works. For telling evidence of such things Ms. Liebner gives us two versions of Kavierstuck XI (each running around 15 minutes) and to compare the two is to understand how in the act of performance the work gives maximum torque to the act of playing.

For this and other reasons there up to some point would be very good reasons why one might want to hear and perhaps even study all recorded renditions of the works. But I do not know in the end how one might align them all in some discussion. The version I first had many years ago I unfortunately had to jettison before I went on to graduate work, so I cannot even put into words my impression of this version by Liebner vis-a-vis the earlier recording. And notable too the experience of hearing such eloquently expanded music changes with time and one's own auditory and psychological states. One continually experiences new discoveries on repeated hearings and I can happily presume there can be no end to it.

What I can say however is that there is no mistaking the poetic beauty of Sabine Liebner's interpretations of these pieces. Others may be different and we would expect that. But I do not believe there can be better! It is a remarkable journey one undertakes when setting about on a listen through of these recordings. And then to return and hear again is to step into a different stream each time, really. In no case however would I question the striking musicality of Ms. Liebner's readings.

It is highly remarkable music and Sabine Liebner is a highly sympathetic artist, an ideal exponent. I cannot recommend this one more highly. But you must listen closely or there is no point to it all. This should never be relegated to the background. It will open up your ears if you let it. There is transformation built into the music, and Stockhausen expected it would change you in the hearing. We can be thankful for the chance to hear it. But that is up to you. It comprises some of the most important acts of Modernity in the last century. That is why I cherish having the set to hear many times.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Leslie Ross. Drop By Drop, Suddenly, Extended Music for Bassoon

The Avant Garde realms of Modern Music remain plastic and ever-adventurous. The scientistic (meaning in the manner of science) phase of experimental music has never really quite left us, yet it has decisively been suborned nowadays to the ultimate need to express. That is a healthy thing, surely.

Enter Leslie Ross, bassoonist, instrument maker, composer, magic master of sound. Her album Drop By Drop, Suddenly (XI 141, 2CDs for the price of one) has found its way into my review playing cycle and I emerge refreshed and ready to talk.

The music is all about the long tone and its kaleidoscopic permutations Ms. Ross explores in thoroughly poetic ways.The program is a well-paced series of works for solo bassoon, more-or-less gradually lengthening in time and scope. The premise to begin is the long tone articulated on bassoon with various fingerings that allow for a myriad of tonal colors and overtone presence. The results are uniformly uncanny, all created by the bassoon and an elaborate 15 microphone array. Then there are computer alterations that take advantage of the MAX/MSP program to further enhance the signal, so that in the end we enter a world nearly orchestral in scope yet all derived from the simple sounding of one bassoon.

If you do not mind being patient with the unfolding sounds you are bit-by-bit and yes, then suddenly aware that you are in the center of some sea change. It is some of the best in gradualist unfolding sound poetry. If you are an adventuring musical soul I suspect this will be much to your taste. For those who self-select for the avant garde, I recommend this surely.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rameau, Le Temple de la Gloire, Original 1745 Version, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale, Nicholas McGegan

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), it need not be said to most readers, was the leading light of the French Baroque and a singular force in the music of his day. His musical eloquence and sweet lyricism make him a singular exponent of his time and allow us continually to regenerate his music with modern-day ears as he remains a timeless titan of the muses.

Today I have the pleasure to report in on a release that we Rameau lovers  might well consider a major event--that is a first recording of the original 1745 version of his opera Le Temple de la Gloire (PBP-10, 2-CDs), as performed ably and brilliantly by soloists and the Baroque Orchestra & Chorale under Nicholas McGegan. As a live recording it has energy and frisson-inducing panache with nothing in the way of serious imperfections, far from it.

Why is the original version of great interest to us? The liner notes duly explain. Some of the historical reception problems that made the opera rather scarce arose at the very beginning. The controversy started via the libretto, written by Voltaire. It was an  allegory for the edification of the then reigning King Louis XV, who attended the premier. The opera's plot deals with three kings who attempt to enter the Temple of Glory, which according to legend and the opera plot was presided over by Apollo himself, and attended by the Muses. The "object lesson" involved the fate of three kings, only one of whom was welcomed into the Temple. The occasion was supposed to celebrate Louis XV's victory in battle, but the moral of the plot did not please him. He was offended. The Opera went on to have several more performances in its first version, then was withdrawn to be replaced by another drastically revised, which did not meet with commercial success either. Up until recently the revised 1746 version was the one that remained in circulation for later day performances, and of that rendering only a relatively small portion of the original version survived within. The rest was utterly different. Aside from kingly disapproval the opera was apparently further problematic to contemporary audiences as a whole.  As an opera-ballet of the times it was not a problem for its length--since the amount of music and dance required to fulfill both dream and visual dancer spectacle usual meant for a long program. Nevertheless such a work was supposed to remain light on serious subject matter. The object lesson Voltaire built into the libretto was that the worthy King must put the interests of the people foremost. He was never to be a conqueror or tyrant. It was too much apparently for the pleasure-seeking public of those days! Their brains hurt!

Fast forward to today. The original manuscript of the 1745 version remained obscure until the University of California at Berkeley found out about its existence and acquired it a number of years ago. The upshot of it all was a new working edition of the opera based on this original and ultimately a triumphant staging of it at Berkley with the artists before named as the performers. The present recording is taken from those World Premier performances. And a very good thing it is, surely.

I have not had the pleasure to hear the 1446 version of Le Temple de la Gloire so I cannot comment on the differences. But in any event there is so much in the 1745 version that is not in the later version that this perforce becomes a major event in Rameau reception.

What I can say is that the music is most delightful. As an opera-ballet it has a good deal of instrumental-only sections and the 146-minute playing time means we get a great expanse of unfamiliar Rameau to like.

The performance is very nicely idiomatic of the French Baroque period. The vocal soloists, the choir and the period orchestra sound as pleasing as one might desire. No matter what measure you use, this is a landmark occasion, for the newness of what we hear, for the quality of the music, for the quality of the performance. Anyone who loves Baroque opera and/or Rameau will be pleased to hear and have this music, I would warrant.

Highly recommended.




Monday, September 10, 2018

Malats, Pedrell, Granados, Spanish Piano Trios, Trio Arbos


The world of Spanish Classical music is something special to me. There are so many aspects of it, just like Spanish music as a whole is a wide and fertile legacy to explore. Today three composers, one more known that the two others, give us Spanish Piano Trios (IBS Classical 122018) brought to us by the talented and brightly lively Trio Arbos. The works are a product of the Modernist impetus, of a turn of the 19th-20th century aim to rejuvenate the chamber music world with works that were for the time expressions of the Spanish contemporary current, well constructed, lyrical and expressive

We are here treated to some music that is pretty much out of the way and tucked into the corner of history. All of the works have an expressiveness on the level of Late Romantic works, but then there are pronounced quasi-Impressionist Modernisms and a pronounced Spanish influence that set them apart as something definitely more than ordinary fare.

The Enrique Granados "Trio in C Major, op. 50" is the very high point of the program. Granados has a presence that is undeniable in the four-movement work. The opening slow movement continues the introspective somewhat sad mood of what precedes it (see below). The Scherzo contrasts with a bounding exuberance that is thematically distinguished and worthy of the Granados autograph.  The Duetto features the trio-as-trio yet breaks the piano and strings into two groups. It has an appealingly  tender, lyrical quality. The Finale movement, marked Molto Allegro, does not fail to charge the musical psyche with very brisk and dynamic threesome pyro-dramatics.

Joaquin Malats was by the time of this work an old friend of Granados. They got to know each other as fellow-students and both looked to write a music imbued with local character.  The Malats "Trio in B-Flat Major" is distinguished right away in the opening allegro with a kind of folk-derived dance-like movement of pronounced Spanish feeling, expressive and soaring forth in ways that set the work apart in the repertoire as singular. The following Andante movement is movingly lyrical and perhaps a bit melancholy. The music has a kind of passion in reserve that breaks loose at times to soar movingly. The final Vivace movement bristles and tumbles along while continuing a Spanish-rooted sensibility. The music singles out Malats as a real voice of his time, helped not a little by the Trio Arbos devotion to bringing out the nuances and dynamic thrust of the music.

Felipe Pedrell, a Krausist in sympathy, teacher of Granados, gives us a supremely lyrical brood in his "Nocturne-Trio op. 55."  It is in no hurry to move ahead, but rather takes a long and lingering look inward to a quietly burning sort of longing with a kind of minor modalityvery much tapping into the local fount of inspiration. The slowly moving regret of the following "Elegia a Fortuny" extends and expands the melancholy mood with some very beautiful passages. Trio Arbos let the music get inside them and the overall effect for us is one of unrelenting, exquisite immersion. It washes over us and we are transformed by it. That is if we allow it to enter our musical-experiential beings.

In sum this is music anyone following the rise of the Spanish Modern period will welcome; but then so would anyone who appreciates a lyrical trio program and all who love Spanish classical music as a whole. It is played in lovely fashion by Arbos Trio, who seem born to these sounds. Bravo.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Machaut, Messe de Nostre Dame, Diabolus in Musica, Antoine Guerber

When I studied very briefly with Morris Lange (Tympanist and Percussionist with the NY Philharmonic) I popped into his brownstone in NYC a little early and managed to catch the end of his lesson with a graduate student. (I was 18 at the time and star struck!) They were working on the percussion part for Histoire du Soldat. As they finished up he turned to his student and said, "Yes, so-and-so is discovering Beethoven's Later String Quartets for the first time. I envy him!" The thought made me smile and of course I got it. When you discover amazing music and listen through the first hearings you get a thrill that those who have gone on to listen countless times remember and, yes, get a twinge of regret that they cannot go back to the thrill of discovery of those first days, though one remembers how it felt. Life can be like that. And so also music. Morris had hit upon something I thought profound. And I start off my review today with this story because anyone who reveres music will no doubt recall such first brushes with immortality.

And it relates to the CD at hand. For Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) was a master of Medieval polyphony, one of the most marvelous things to hear well performed in 2018 or any other year. And I dare to say that his Messe de Nostre Dame (Alpha Classics 351) is in its own way a Holy Grail of its kind, like Beethoven's Late Quartets a seminal music in the history and appreciation of seminal musics.

And I am in raptures today, more or less, because there is a new version of the work by Diabolus in Musica under Antoine Guerber. (And so the Alpha Classics CD number above.)  There is over an hour of glorious music to be heard. I go back far enough to remember fully the LP days, to a time constraint in the vinyl situation where if you wanted to give people a full Machaut Notre Dame you knew you had to step on it, so to speak. Diabolus is in no hurry here, as is correct and right. The other thing to note, and I joke a little, is that my first version was a used LP by Alfred Deller and it skipped at times. And so I got used to those skips! Well happily this CD does not skip! But then I listen for them now, so used to it I had become! Yet of course I've gotten used to the sequence as it should be, without skips, without undue haste, and vocally with a rich living resonance that brings home just how astounding this music is. It is like the Late Quartets a kind of paradigm in itself.

The archaic use of parallel fourths following each other in an elaborate counterpoint must have startled listeners then if they were used to the monody of Gregorian Chant. At any rate it startles US in the present-day, since composers and contrapuntalists went to great length to forbid would-be composers explicitly ever to do something like this again. Yet the austere and mystical beauty of the sound of this music makes it beautiful like nothing other, though Organum is also incredibly beautiful to me and so also very primal and ritual and in many ways alien to music that followed in the West. The archaicisms as you experience them are defining. This is not the musical world we are used to!

And for all that I can hardly imagine a better performance than this one. Gerber and Diabolus in Musica give every breath the utmost of focus. It is a true masterwork of Western Music, and it is sung with poetic artfulness. So I will envy you if this will be your first brush with Machaut and the Messe. If not it is a beautiful version so you may well want it anyway. My strongest recommendation! This is foundational.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Messiaen, Livre d'orgue, Tom Winpenny

In  the course of a lifetime of listening and appreciation, one sometimes realizes that what one returns to, remembers vividly can be subject to the accidents of chance as much as the inherent worthiness of a work vis-a-vis others that might compete for time and attention. So for example Messiaen's Livre d'orgue (1951) is a work I may well have had a version of buried in the recesses of my collection as it stands right now. Yet I do not remember hearing it. Still, when searching the net for the cover art of today's release I came across a good number of previous recordings. This is ever an indication of the currency of a composition, surely. I have not been paying enough attention? Always there are limits to how much one can absorb. But the present can ever be time to make up for a lack. All this surrounding the fact that Tom Winpenny in his admirable devotion to the Messiaen organ music in the series of releases he has performed on for Naxos (which are supplemented by performances of other organists) has now given us his own Livre d'orgue (Naxos 8.573845).

For whatever reason, partly no doubt that this is well performed, the Winpenny version is the first I can recall hearing. Yet as I have been living with the music in my pre-review preparations I hear how the work is quite remarkable and seminal in an already seminal series of organ works. It is perhaps more abstract than some of the other staples of his output. There are less obviously melodic-thematic elements that make an imprint on one's memory, so that you must listen all the more and all the more carefully to come away from the music with a distinct impression.

That means perhaps that the music is slightly more "difficult" than some of the others. Yet there are so many incredibly advanced and complex aspects to this music and its seven movements. What makes it difficult is what makes it so special maybe. The music was begun with the idea of writing a book of rhythmic studies for the organist. And indeed the Livre gives us some brilliant rhythmic subtleties that come out of "Hindu" music practice and also in the course of adapting birdsong to his musical vision. Sound color, a pointed timbral expansiveness, markedly expressive modalities and edgy harmonic idioms are the rule, with a range of dynamics and moods that show by then how much his earlier studies with Marcel Dupre had flowered into a fully orchestral conception of the organ within his own then ultra-advanced Modernity. All his organ works are exemplary of how his music was developing and here we are in a way half the journey onto the path Olivier so brilliantly followed and its blossoming forth in birdsong inflected and wholly "other" musical becoming. When listening as a mere listener with a "naked" ear some of this may pass you by, like when admiring a building marked by a unique and innovative beam-structure. You appreciate the beauty of the finished structure and may unless looking inside carefully remain oblivious to how it was built. So in a way some of this is not all that critical when you first experience the music. Later details start to emerge in bolder relief. Nothing of that should matter to us if we hear the music first and foremost as music. Then again music can be experienced in ever-deepening levels and one should in time immerse oneself the more in how it does stand as one knows it more fully.

The single movement "Verset pour la fete de la Dedicace" (1960) that opens the program gives us a bit more meditatively oriented  treatment of the rhythmic and birdsong singularity he was decidedly occupying in musical semantic space then. It is another work to be treasured as well, different enough that is not quite in  a serial relation to the Livre as it is a new stepping forward.


The program is rounded out by the brief "Monody" of 1963 and the world premier recording of his short "Tristan and Isolde: Love Theme" from 1945.

The entire volume serves to remind us why Messiaen is the Poet Laureate master of the organ work in the Modern period. Performances and sonics are world-class. At the Naxos price there is surely no reason to hesitate. Essential fare for an understanding of the Modern Project as it applies to the organ. Winpenny emerges triumphant. Messiaen continues to beguile. He was matchless. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Louis Spohr, Violin Duets 1, Jameson Cooper and James Dickenson

The recording I speak of today might never have been made if it wasn't for the Naxos dedication to worthwhile but neglected corners of the Classical repertoire that in part distinguishes the label's way of proceeding. Their series of recordings of the music of Spohr is but one of the nice examples in the Naxos release schedule, albums that make available the more unusual possibilities at a nice price. So we have today Spohr's Violin Duets 1 (Naxos 8.573763).  The performances are poetically and quite respectably in the hands of violinists Jameson Cooper and James Dickenson.

Spohr (1784-1859) was one of the leading composers of his day. If he was overshadowed in part by Beethoven, so was everybody else. Yet too he had absorbed what was happening in the early Romantic period and accordingly fit his attention to Classical form within a more feelingful ethos. Most importantly he wrote extremely well-crafted, original music across the spectrum of forms available to him, from the symphonic to the chamber realms. Writing for the violin was a major concern and his Violin Concertos give us some beautiful examples of how he thought of the instrument and its expressive possibilities. These duets are a greatly more intimate setting for his violinistic concerns.

Perhaps the most remarkable item on the program is Spohr's "Three Duets for Two Violins" which he composed when only 12-years old!  We see he was already solidly into his calling and the music is in no way a bad thing! Of course the 1824 "Three Duets for Two Violins, Op. 67" is the more substantial offering, but all of it shows well wrought interlocking parts and a definite melodic freshness. If it is more Mozartian than Beethovenesque one might say that Spohr does manage distinctively to occupy a niche where that may be the case, but in the chamber realm it is pretty clear that we are not so much in a moody so much as a tonefully outpouring realm. It is more akin to "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" than "Don Giovanni," more "Diabelli Variations" than late String Quartets, and of course it is Spohr and so has something very Spohrian about it, in the way its melodies unwind.

For those not familiar with Spohr this might not be a good place to start, unless the purely violinesque turf it stands on is what you prefer. His Violin Concertos might nonetheless give you a deeper glance into his more profound side. This is not light music especially but it is considerably light-hearted.

I find it most congenial listening. It is not essential. It is a happy thing to hear, though.


Monday, September 3, 2018

Leonardo Balada, Caprichos Nos. 6, 7, and 10, Ensemble Col legno, Robert Ferrer

Barcelona native Leonardo Balada (b. 1933) lives and viva his music! We have now a third volume of his Caprichos (I reviewed volume one earlier, among other CDs, type his name into the blog search box in the upper left for those.), namely Caprichos Nos. 6. 7 and 10 (Naxos 8.579036). Ensemble col Legno under Robert Ferrer prevail for most of the numbers and they get the whimsical nature of these works just right. Luis Fernandez-Castello is the soloist on clarinet for the bulk of this music and he is nicely puckish. Other soloists are top-notch as well.

We are treated to Caprichos No. 6 (for clarinet and piano, 2009), No. 7 ("Fantasies of 'La Tarara'" for clarinet and instrumental ensemble, 2009), Caprichos No. 10 ("Fantasy of 'La Pastoreta'" for violincello and piano, 2013). Plus we get also "Ballet City" for chamber ensemble, 1959/2013, and "Spiritual" for cello and piano, 2002.

All-in-all there is nothing quite so crisply Modern in the harmonic-melodic zone while being so playful and good humored. It is the playful side of the composer on view and it is a delight to hear. Recommended.

Leopold Anton Kozeluch, Three Scottish Piano Trios, Trio 1790

One thing seems certain on this Monday morning that marks the Labor Day holiday here is the States--is that the Kozeluch (1747-1818) revival appears to be no fluke, but rather a steady progression if measured in terms of the number of emerging recordings devoted to his music. I have reviewed a number of them (type "Kozeluch" in the blog index box on the upper left-hand side of this page to call them up), and now there is yet another. We consider today the new and welcome recording of Leopold Anton Kozeluch's Three Scottish Piano Trios (CPO 555 935-2).

Trio 1790 handles the performance duties and they are a first-rate outfit, very much so. The added acoustic charm of original instruments enhances the experience nicely while also giving us a kind of catbird's seat onto the sound of the music as originally intended by the composer. And that is key too since Kozeluch was one of the major champions of the pianoforte in his day and how he innovated in his writing for the instrument of course relates closely to the special qualities of the piano as it actually sounded then, not necessarily how it sounds today.   

I gather from the photo in the liner booklet this is a second volume of Piano Trios. The ones we are treated to here are mature, Late-Classical Early-Romantic fare, showing the influence of Mozart, Haydn and early-middle period Beethoven without sounding derivative, in short the sort of thing we have come to depend upon when hearing the Kozeluch symphonies and piano works as I discussed in earlier reviews on here.

There is a definite character to this music. It is in no way inferior to the best chamber music of the era. It affirms once again that Kozeluch is worthy of our attention and quite rewarding to hear. With the excellently lively readings and original instrumentation, the program is rather outstanding. Highly recommended.