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Friday, October 12, 2018

Steve Reich, Drumming, Kuniko

After Terry Riley's pioneering "In C," the stage was set for a long ensemble work that mapped out in greater depth a way to further extend such promising Minimalist trance ideas. Steve Reich had been a key early player in the development of the music with the phasing process idea as found in the electro-acoustic "Come Out," "Aint Gonna Rain" and then "Violin Phase."  In the early days of the 1970's he gave we who were following such developments a decided and beautiful way to proceed with the glorious work Drumming. 

When the original commercial recording came out in 1974 I was fully ready for it and so it turns out were many of my peers. It happened to fall on the heels of a major uptick in my experience of World Music via a happy rising of several labels dedicated to such things. Of course there was a remarkable catalog available on Asch's Folkways, but then Ocora, Nonesuch Explorer and a couple of other labels began releasing well-recorded LPs of traditional African and Asian musics. I was at a first peak of immersion in all of that so Drumming hit something of a nerve with me, especially in how it managed to give original treatment to the idea of a pulsating percussion ensemble with multiple interlocking parts. Perhaps rightly so much has been made of how Reich took his phase and process idea and created a wonderfully alive music out of his kernel of structural insight. And indeed it is so. But inevitably perhaps the method of proceeding had become a kind of Wittgenstein's Ladder, or in other words it brought Reich to the new horizon of the interlocking repetition possibilities and gave him ways to ensure development. But then like the ladder that gets you to a point, there was perhaps no need to let a procedure dictate fully where one went from that place on. Or in other words the ladder was not necessarily needed any more? And it is true that subsequent works became less and less phase oriented. No matter. For in the end Drumming stood or fell on the quality of its invention, which one can hear always if one listens faithfully.

Some 48  years later, give-or-take, I certainly can say that my regard for this work has if anything increased in time. And it has done so because of a key factor perhaps--the sheer brilliance of the way Reich fashioned a diatonic pulsation of interlocking ensemble parts and in the way of so doing created, brilliantly invented music that sounds so well together that you can immerse listening self into it virtually forever! In the right hands there is an ecstasy of melodic-rhythmic suchness that you may not find quite to this extent elsewhere.

Enter master percussionist Kuniko and her new recording of Drumming (Linn CKD-582). I have heard virtually all of the versions that have come out since the first recording and they are all good. But this one is by far the best, the most inspired, the most moving I have heard. Why is that? Part of it has to do with how a master percussionist is a master. It is not of course just a matter of faithfully executing the notes. It is that something extra, that getting inside the notes and sending them volleying outward into our aural perceptual worlds that is most telling.

All of this music exists within a continually pulsating time frame.  From the most simple to the very most complicated interlocking parts, a key to a successful performance is the way the ensemble can and does sound the measured, leveraged and even periodicity. Ms. Kuniko does all of that (and plays all the percussion parts via overdubbing I believe) in ways that lift the pulse into a centered measured place that, in the vocabulary of jazz, makes the time "swing" mightily.  It is the transcendence of isolated repetitions in favor of a forward moving, irresistible whole that constitutes the beautiful excellence of this version over others. By getting each part measured right but then elastically so, it puts the foundations in place for a very beautiful version. For with those foundations in place it makes possible an extraordinary vital sounding of the melodic brilliance and timbral vivacity of the work. So even the first simple tuned bongo sections take on an intensity of intent. And then the crosstalk polyvalence polyrhythms (in rabbit-duck gestalt oscillations) are extraordinarily there in balanced and palpable ways that open up the entire listening universe of part-versus-part.  It allows for the rabbit-duck fluidity of what you can hear and so then you can have variable focus at any point in your listening. Each part defines the whole and each sounds wonderfully well if you only listen to that. But of course your musical imagination bounces around continuously in the hearing and re-hearing of an ideal performance of the work such as we get here. The bongos, the marimbas, the glockenspiels, the female voices, the whistling and the piccolo parts sound together with a maximum groove and depth of field that has to do with the swing execution and so the work seems continually to rock back and forth between two end-phrase points (in two units of six) in a remarkably fluid and ecstatic way.

I will not try and describe the entire outlay of the work as it is performed so wonderfully well here. That is something you need to get by sitting there and letting the music play YOU. And so I recommend you get this recording and surrender to it! It is as fabulous a musical experience as you might care to have if you are willing to let the music spin you like a ballerina armature! Kuniko brings home forceably the extraordinary brilliance of this music and helps ensure its place as one of the masterpieces of New Music in our lifetimes. Kuniko is a revelation! Very highly recommended. A midwestern US resident in the mid-1800s when introduced to Beethoven's symphonic music for the first time was said to have exclaimed, "well ain't that something!" I would suggest that this, too, is something!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Walter Braunfels, Quintet for String Orchestra, Sinfonia Concertante

And why is it we do not much know of the music of Walter Braunfels (1992-1954)? The short answer may be that his music was not exactly radically Modern? But it was not archaic either, judging from the new release of his Quintet for String Orchestra and the Sinfonia Concertante (CPO  777 579-2).. We listen a few times, or I did, and find that there is a wealth of good invention and plenty of inspired content. The performances are in the very capable hands of the Muncher Rundfunkorchester under Ulf Schirmer. It is a superior performance and sounds quite well indeed.

The liners tell of a definitive Braunfels biography published in 1980 which has done much in helping assess his legacy. He played piano, composed, taught. The liners tell of a man who kept somewhat to himself. Breakthrough instrumental works were forthcoming in the '20s along with the successful premier of his opera Die Vogel . He was the son of a Jewish jurist. The National Socialist coming to power put his career in jeopardy and he was designed as one of the so-called degenerate composers. All of this had some hand in the fact of Braunfel's relative obscurity in the Modern era despite the outward success of his last years. By the post-war period there were new voices that shadowed over someone like him and so too others who did not espouse a Serialist view.

So what of the works? Both come from his later period and both are substantial. The two contrast pretty nicely, giving you two distinct impressions. The first piece is actually a Frithjol Haas arrangement of Braufnels "String Quintet op. 63a in F sharp minor" which seems like a very good idea. Maybe in part because of the chamber-blown-up-large aspect of the source parts there feels like a distinct relationship between this work and Schoenberg's celebrated "Verklarte Nacht," which is known especially in its string orchestra arrangement of what was originally intended for string sextet.  The music has a  highly chromatic, edge of Late Romanticism kind of expressivity that Schoenberg's Nacht also has. The lyrically melancholy, searching quality of much of this has definite torque. It is some 40 minutes of deeply felt and carefully thought-out music that belies Braunfels' bask in obscurity. The concluding rondo nearly startles with its folk robustness

With the 20-minute "Sinfonia Concertante op. 68," scored for string orchestra and solo parts for violin, viola, and two horns, we get a more detailed sound spectrum befitting its intention for large ensemble. There are magnificent folk-lyric passages, chromatic whirlwinds of expression, a musical personality that seems fully fleshed out, and a kind of edginess at times especially with a sort of characteristic curmudgeon grotesquery contrasted with at times a pastoral-peasant hearty quality and then high expressivity as well.

The performances give us a true view of the definite talents and originality of someone we mostly now know very little of in terms of repertoire presence. A concentrated series of repeated listens brings to us a rather brilliant musical mind so that the more one listens, the more one discerns a real presence in the music of talent and steadfast inventiveness.

I must say this disk constitutes a find! It will bring pleasure to anyone who seeks another voice from the early days of the last century. It is like the ghosts of Mahler and young Schoenberg inhabited a third personality of originality and made a very fruitful re-working of what was on the ground at the time. Very much recommended!

Handel, Messiah, Edward Polochik, Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphonic Chorale, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

A new recording of the Messiah seems like a potential occasion to me. Not that I am in the habit of covering all of them. It is not my central concern. Yet when one comes along that seems interesting and it can be done I generally open up to the chance. So today we have a version with Edward Polochick conducting from the harpsichord, with soloists, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphony Chorale (Naxos 8.57379899).

The Messiah has been central Christmas listening fare for me since the year I was in 7th or 8th grade I think and my high school choir directed by Mr. Azzolina ambitiously performed sections of the Messiah  for their Christmas Concert. By then I had been listening heavily to Bach's St. Matthew Passion so I got how it fit in with that. I ended up loving the music, then found my dad's Readers Digest LP of excerpts we had all ignored.

Eventually my mom got strongly into it too and after that every year for a bunch of years we went with my dad in tow to hear the Masterworks Chorus do the complete version in Carnegie Hall around the holiday season. I found a more or less complete version on LPs, by Frederick Jackson conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. That found itself on my record player every Christmas Eve for many later years. With a drink or two it was the benchmark for me, albeit a Romantic treatment with a pretty large orchestra and chorus (some Amazon reviewer says too many sopranos, but that too many was what I was used to hearing so what me worry?). I reveled in it. That balance and the passion of the performance was what the Messiah was to me, though the Masterworks Chorus versions reminded me too that a smaller orchestra and chorus was really the proper way to do it.

Time moves on always and I still have those LPs and still very much enjoy hearing that version. Then as a reviewer I have gotten the chance to hear other versions, though my mom's LP version was in my head too. And I've heard numerous and various other conflagrations do versions live and gotten a better overall picture of the latitude and such. But every new version I hear perforce gets gauged against Jackson's. In life listenings that is how it must be. You know what you know. How could you not?

So naturally this new Polochick version gets measured against all the other versions I have heard, including Jackson's. At first some of it seemed slightly shocking. The soloists are first-rate, yet in the interest of period concerns they are afforded a latitude in terms of embellishments, adornments, and sometimes plain old different notes than those that are written, not in some radical fashion, but as occasional landings and way-stations back to what is written. And it threw me initially. But then with subsequent listens I got used to it and find it interesting now, for of course I keep the original score template in my head.

To backtrack for a minute, suffice to say that the Messiah fully deserves its place as the most well-known and greatly appreciated Oratorio of its day. It is a miracle in musical terms, incredibly alive and lyric and belies the fact that Handel managed to put it all together in a few week's time. It is a kind of inside musical fleshing out of the affect felt in the day and beyond about the birth, life and death of the Messiah. It was designed of course for believers. Yet it transcends that so that anyone might love this music, regardless of upbringing.  And the music cuts to the quick in incredibly beautiful counterpoint, song-like lyricality and brilliantly inventive through-composing, with unforgettable writing to move all who seriously come to know it in their lives. There is the pathos of "He was Despised," the joy of "Unto Us a Child is Born," the eerie trumpetissimo mystery of "The Trumpet Shall Sound," and the fury of "Thou Shalt Break Them." Nothing is quite like it for the scope of its beauty and moodiness.  So over the years I never tire of it, nor should anyone who gets captivated initially. It is so much a part of the foundations of my musical experience now that I feel my life passing through me as I hear it again after nearly a lifetime of listens.

And so a new version if well done gives you insights into the form. The main thing that stands out in this version is the ability to sometime tread a little lightly (in masses of sound and sometimes in dynamics) to emphasize sometimes the bouncing of the parts sounding together, to re-articulate the phrasings to bring out the form-flow all the better. So "Unto Us A Child is Born" seems at first less impactful because not as hard hitting? But then you hear again and you see and feel the emphasis. So "We Like Sheep" rocks us with super-articulation. I feel like a sheep in ways I never have before! And so for example the "angry" part of the work, from "He Trusted in God" through "Thou Shalt Break Them" (in other words  just before the first peak of  "Hallelujah") at times proceeds with a joyous tempestuous that I do not think I have heard like this before. The tempos can be rapid, but then the whole ensemble notably articulates each phrase with a clarity and emphasis that is beautiful to hear. And very rocking!

And perhaps we get what we get so nicely here because the forces in the end are period-small and so more responsive perhaps than might be the case with a Romantic-sized gathering? I believe so. What counts though is the sensibility we hear in this performance. It is singular.

It is a version not entirely perfect in some huge overarching way (imperfect, that is, in terms of how I am used to hearing parts, so  the pastoral interlude is not quite as moving as other versions I am used to). Yet then one turns to this recording with a feeling of refreshed re-hearing, with a new life to the music that one might need by now. And if this was one's first Messiah to listen to without a lot of reference to others it would be alright, too. Because it has all the music there, surely, and this version would be one to compare others with later? And in the course of it  the "Hallelujah" and "Amen" parts hit very much home, so. We get the end in a big way.

My mother, who so dearly loved this music, would be smiling now. Maybe she is? I cannot know. She would had loved it though. So musical she was.

In the end then I do think this one has a great deal to offer it and I do recommend you hear it. If you are a seasoned seasonality with this work, all the better. But even if not it will rock you! Hear this.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Karol Jozef Lipinski, String Trios, Op. 8 and Op. 12

Sometimes it can be daunting to try and keep track of the unfamiliar composers now emerging on recordings these days.  It is a challenge to try and absorb everything. Yet too as a reviewer I am happily situated to be able to be exposed to a lot of music I could never have afforded to or even have been alerted to hear in the past. And then the things that are interesting and good I pass along to you readers and thereby I hope give you a chance to consider a lot more than you might otherwise have on your own.

So on this Monday morning I present for your consideration (as Rod Serling used to put it on the Twilight Zone) one Karol Jozef Lipinski (1790-1861), composer of among other things String Trios, Op. 8 and Op. 12 (Naxos 8.573776), which can now be heard to good advantage in the recent release by that same name.

One might ever return to a key question when first listening to an unfamiliar historical composer. That is, why is it we have heard nothing of this music until now? The most obvious answer could be, alas, because he was not good enough! Happily that is certainly not the case with Lipinski as I listen to this. So what then? Partly perhaps he was a violin prodigy that came out of Poland at a time when Paganini overshadowed all for virtuoso fame and the popularity of his compositions. It is true too that Polish composers were not as readily exported until Chopin took on the world with his huge talent.

That of course is a very simplistic and shorthand answer. Listening to the two String Trios presented so well here I can say that there is no reason we should not appreciate Lipinski now, at least via these very attractive works. As the liners tell us the trios were intended as noted by one Powrozniak as "lyrical Slavic folk tunes with elements of the ballad." And so you listen and very much hear a brilliance of folkish invention but then a very skillful and imaginative mapping out of the thematic material in a more-or-less Classical manner, but perhaps not so strictly in line with conventional sonata form as others might have espoused it then and later.

The music has a virtuostic strain to it as well and that sets it off in some ways from what might have been typical of intimate string chamber music then. So you might hear some echoes of Tartini and Viotti (and of the then-contemporary inspiration of Paganini), especially in runs and double stops in the lead violin, but with a bit more decidedly Haydnesque symmetry of developed form than you might expect from those models perhaps. So the trio reflects the virtuosity of the composer with a solo violin part (here played nicely by Voytek Proniewicz), plus a second violin (Adam Roszkowski ) and cello (Jan Roszkowski).

After a few listens the initial impression of agreeable music gives way to a more detailed appreciation (for me anyway) with the freshness of the folk themes and the impressive way Lipinski introduces and develops them. These seem to be folkish in flavor more so than directly quoted by the way. They sound as if they might well have been invented or heavily edited by the composer to me. That is not a deficit. It may actually be a strength because it all hangs together in an original way.

So why then would you be interested in this release? Anyone who seeks "ethnic-folk" rooted Classical-Early Romantic chamber music will find this a boon. But even if that is not what you think you look for, this is music that stands on its own, not so much as competing voices against Haydn or Mozart, but another strain altogether in some ways. And if you favor Polish and/or Eastern European sounds and composers, here is a great find. And lastly it is very worthy music, played very well indeed. If that seems interesting to you, by all means get this. The Naxos price is right! Lipinski is no slouch. Far from it.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Beethoven Symphonies 2/7, Philippe Jordan, Wiener Symphoniker

If I mentioned Beethoven yesterday for his central role in creating the idea of a poetic and brilliant treatment of orchestral forces and so as the true father of orchestration as we know it in the time of New Music, all the better today that we have some new release showing that very thing. Philippe Jordan and the Wiener Symphoniker are a fair ways along in their release of a Beethoven Symphony Cycle. That such a thing is a cause of joy would seem to be the case based on the latest volume I have been listening to very happily, namely the Beethoven Symphonies 2/7 (SONY Music 610 SM).

When you think of a Viennese Beethoven Cycle you might naturally think of an extraordinarily disciplined performance and that beautiful presence of winds and horns like you are unlikely to hear from other orchestras. Not quite like that anyway when you are out of town. Vienna has never been a city who thinks that when it comes to Beethoven, just get the feeling right and do not sweat the details.  These symphonic pairings up today beautifully reflect the Viennese urgency of the details-as-huge-part-of-a careful-whole performance ethos.  Jordan and the Vienna masters give us all we might expect. And then they go a step further and give us the best we might ask for, a kind of making it all seem new again. That is ideal.

And maybe that is especially a surprise with the Second Symphony. As you listen to this version you imagine what it might have sounded like to you before there were Symphonies 3 to 9, instead of how we usually hear it, as a way station on route to the revelations of Symphonies 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9. And when listening in sequence as I have often done in my hearing world it passes like the tick of a clock on its way to the midnight of the 9th, or even as a necessary but intermediate step before that burst of feeling and revolution that was and is the Eroica.

I have especially long appreciated an old recording of Toscanini doing the Second, and he does wonderful things with it. Yet nothing might quite prepare you for the Jordan-Wiener take. Suddenly, it seems like its own Eroica, so to speak, that is, a very bold orchestral work for its place in the time of its time. Jordan brings to us the logic of Beethoven's orchestration/scoring, lets us feel how each part vividly takes place within the whole of each phrase, how every part of the orchestra has a hand, an important hand in the making of the sound of the finished whole.  Before this in a way you might just hear the strings run through a Haydn or a Mozart opus and in the end and often enough you would not miss all that much. Not with the Beethoven of the Second! No way. And so with this new reading you sense all the interpenetrations of parts with parts and how as a meta-organism the music thrives with incredibly appropriate touches that Jordan and the Weiner people handle as no one has quite done it before. It is joy.

As for the Seventh we may feel on hearing this fresh re-working that perhaps before we have been guilty of viewing it as more of an afterthought in the high pantheon of the great symphonies than it should be. It stands tall, second to none in the Jordan performances. Well no, second thought nothing can ever quite reach the heights of the 3rd and the 9th, but nonetheless, this reading of the 7th worries over every essential detail and then not only sounds each particle within the whole but also more-or-less makes every particle have a strong musical personality latent within the notes themselves but also pulled out of the air by grasping Beethoven as a very particulate whole!

It is for all these reasons that I do recommend these readings to you most heartily. There is a making new indeed, for virtually every bar rings out with a special clarity that rivals all the very best readings I have heard. The strings phrase as one in individual ways that take away the breath. Horns and winds are ultra-articulate and give us so much, a balanced and creative reading of what Beethoven very much intended we hear.  The recording quality is superior and with these performances you will get a great deal out of this whether you have heard hundreds of performances or none at all before. If you are feeling the need for this then do not hesitate. Or even if you do not think you need it for that matter. You probably do.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Michael Gordon, The Unchanging Sea, with Film by Bill Morrison, Seattle Symphony, Pablo Rus Broseta, Tomoko Mukaiyama

What does it take to be a great composer? Is it ever the same? Well, what Clementi needed to create the Piano Sonatas in yesterday's program is surely something different than what Michael Gordon brings to us in The Unchanging Sea (Seattle Symphony CA21141 CD and DVD), a remarkable new orchestral work that is the soundtrack to Bill Morrison's film of the same name. Whereas the Clementi sonatas relied upon an acutely inventive linear feel for unspooning melodics and significant form as underlying structural architecture, the Gordon work (as a sort of exemplary world of New Ambiance) takes a kind of all-at-once great idea in sound, which then of course succeeds or not by its sequential unraveling of the very large sonic moment. That does not mean of course that a Clementi kind of musical mind is not welcome in the New Music realms today, but that there are other more canvas-like parameters that also captivate us when works are in this new world of possibilities. So for the sake of my recent posts you might well say that Finnissy is closer to a Clementi in his linear view, and perhaps Gordon ultimately is a working though of the first real insights of the Mannheim School of orchestral music, culminating in a first climax in Beethoven's Symphonies. Two strains, both as New Music is now.

And if that is a sort of bold assertion for the first thing in the morning, it is deserved in this instance. For this is a work of true evocative power, nothing quite like anything else, though it stands in relation to another orchestral work of similar power, John Luther Adam's Become Ocean (see review from October 23, 2014).

The intense aural imagination that goes into this work is extraordinary. It is an orchestrational coup d'etat, nothing less. For it creates the aural image of a seascape that has a timelessness and mystery redolent with vast expanses of shifting, splurging, rocking, sprawlingly awesome and endless strength. The piano part is in the beginning hammering and relentless like the continual energy of sea on life. It later in essence becomes a concerted vehicle of expression, then joins the orchestra as a key rhythm instrument, and all quite musically and happily. The strings and winds give us an uncanny blurring of the endless pliable force of the sea. There is incredible depth of field to the changing panorama of sounds. You hear the vast unfolding of many mini-tidal events as they meld together into a widely diffuse unraveling. And the music changes, never remains fixed at any point.

This is Post-Minimal of course, yet that does really have some meaning, in that there are envelopes of endless recurrences and the hugely beautiful swells of oceanic sound. It is what Minimalism sought to do, only it does it without reliance on set changing patterns. There is underlying pulse much of the time but it is there in some ways like it has always been in "pre-Minimalism," as a kind of given that ticks a timeless time underneath  the musical events.

The CD includes a half-hour Sea as we can hear it in the movie. That is followed by the 15-minute Beijing Harmony that is not a part of the film. I have been listening to the music without reference to the liners so all this time my mind has conjoined the two works as a sequence, and perhaps that is all for the better, since to my mind the second work amplifies the swelling drift of sounds in different ways from the title work. They manage to be of a piece in the experience. One follows the other like "Refrain" follows "Kontakte" on the original 1959 instrumental-electronics recordings of Stockhausen's masterworks. Perhaps even more so, in that Gordon's two works are even more of a piece together.

Well and so to turn now to the Bill Morrison film would imply that the DVD that features that is almost an afterthought? It most certainly is not. The film is as hauntingly singular as the music in its own way. Morrison makes a narrative out of diverse pieces of silent-era film directed to the sea in the life of the time. So the narrative goes from man-woman-sea as a triadic thing to the dreaming woman on the rock and what follows is the sea as destroyers of men--footage of shipwreck and rescue dominate the film's central section, played out always as the deliberate and thematic inclusion of time itself as undermining force in our oblivion--the beautiful-horrific sight of film badly deteriorating and at times totally obliterating the image to put on a fascinatingly sculpted play of water damage, celluloid deterioration or light damage competing with standard image, like a vast inferno of meaningless negation threatening to engulf us all.

I can only say that the film-music DVD is unforgettable. Yet in the end the music is something monumental on its own. This disk qualifies to me as a front runner for New Music disk of the year. It escapes from the Faberge Egg endlessness of Minimal repetition to find another linear path outward, to liquidity, water and an endless mass of water! My highest recommendation for this one. Time in the end prevails over endlessness? It is a lesson for us?


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Clementi, Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 33, Nos, 2 and 3, etc., Stefan Chaplikov

Just a couple of days ago we mentioned Clementi's iconic Sonatina in the course of mentioning Satie's delightful pastiche of it in Joana Gama's worthy Satie.150 (see last month's listings). Today we happily encounter him again.  This time with a volume of his Keyboard Sonatas, including Op. 33, Nos. 2 and 3; Op. 46; Op. 25, Nos. 1 and 3 (Naxos 8.573712). It features pianist Stefan Chaplikov, who sparkles and bubbles his way through the five works, giving us a plein air refreshment that may be just what we need after a heavy dose of gloomy Romanticism or giddy sojourns through the outer space of High Modernism.

I was one of those students assigned the iconic Sonatina so many years ago, and I must say I came away with an appreciation of Clementi's sense of form and melodics. I've since never passed on an opportunity to hear more of his music. In the late '70s-early '80s I discovered his symphonies, and I knew then that he was more or less as accomplished as any of his era. (Who topped Mozart and Haydn though? Well they were supermen I suppose!) So fast forward some many years and I now hold in my hand this nice little volume of good cheer as it plays underneath my writing this morning.

If you listen closely to these works you might find as I did that we should probably included these examples among the very cream of Classical Era sonatas, along with those of Haydn, Mozart, CPE Bach, early Beethoven and Schubert and perhaps now we may also add Kozeluch and, perhaps Czerny but I must hear more of his.

The main idea is that these sonatas are uniformly well wrought, melodically inventive in the most freshening and refreshing of ways, and accordingly a beautiful listen when you need a change of pace. And who doesn't?

I cannot say to you that all must drop everything and get this volume. It is not that kind of release. However if you enjoy a very pianistic romp through some nicely turned works, you are sure to find this a pleasurable go. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Michael Finnissy, Choralvorspiele, Andersen-Liederkreis, Juliet Fraser & Mark Knoop

With my reading glasses perched atop my face once again I jump into the fray this morning, sure in my ability to read small type and large!

On the docket for today is a program of works by the ever Modern music titan Michael Finnissy. On the CD are paired together his Choralvorspiele with Andersen-Liederkries (Hat [NOW] ART 212). The two works are well situated together, both involving works within a larger whole, Choralvorspiele a set of chorales for piano based on Norwegian and American melodies, and Andersen-Liederkreis as the title suggests a group of lieder based on texts by Hans Christian Andersen.

The artists involved in the program, pianist Mark Knoop and soprano Juliet Fraser, seem especially right for this music, which has a lyric-Modern beauty in its fragility and whimsicality. One might note at this point that Finnissy's setting of  "The Emperor's New Clothes" is quite timely since it may be the fable most relevant to the age we live in now. It is well done.  I have nothing but the highest praise for Knoop's poetic, definitive readings, and to my mind Juliet Fraser shows herself the ideal Modern lieder exponent. For the Finnissy she is rather perfect. I would look forward to hearing her do any number of works in the Modern pantheon. She as I think is right does not accentuate that kind of operatic power of volume, overly pronounced vibrato, and sentimental overkill that mars the worst of those who take on the Modern song. Every work may call for something different but to my mind too much operatic hoist is never wholly appropriate to the Art Song today. Moreover  Fraser is  reassuringly, textually oriented, pitch perfect in her execution of the many twists and turns, and fully able to control artfully the presence or absence and the delivery of vibrato as a color. Her reading of the lieder here sounds so musical and style appropriate that I would recommend it be heard by anyone needing an object lesson in how things can go when they go well!

Juliet Fraser does not just sing remarkably well. She also gives us an insightful view of Finnissy's musical ways in the liners. She notes "the flawless technique, the innate vocality, the lyricism (albeit extreme), the loving attention paid to text, the serious engagement with music of the past that somehow always bears forth a new music that is recognizably idiosyncratic, the 'fleshiness,' the visceral punch it packs." All this we can hear readily on the program.  What also immediately hit me when I first listened to this program is a telling attention to sounding smaller simultaneities like seconds and thirds on the piano, almost like an avant Floyd Cramer on a  Last Date into another world? Well that is surprising and also quite enjoyable to me. Mind you it is more present in the chorale work. Still it paves the way for the many charms of this program and grabs your ears immediately.

Both works pack a good deal into themselves and end up supplying a fresh landscape that is neither self-consciously advanced nor deliberately archaic, but enchanted, magical in its refusal to land on the more well-traveled parts of the troposphere of New Music concerns. It goes its own way in the most lovely terms one could hope for.

It is a volume I do not hesitate to recommended to you. A good place to embark on a Finnissy discovery trip. Or to continue on it. Very heartening.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Roger Reynolds, Aspiration, Irvine Arditti


When life goes on every day, it sometimes manages to gather forces of entropy to hinder you in the simplest of tasks. This morning the combination of lost reading glasses ("They are somewhere.") and  a broken reading lamp means I absolutely cannot make head nor tail of the CD textual matter. For so many years designers have done their best to disguise all text and render it all unreadable, put that together with the current state of affairs and I am crippled.

The current album, from what I can make out and what I hear is a series of works for violin with or without accompaniment. The album highlights the Inauthentica chamber outfit, conducted by Mark Menzies, Paul Hembree on computer realizations. and most importantly Irvine Arditti on violin. It is a two-CD set of Roger Reynold's violin works written for Arditti, all fashioned between 1992-2015. The set is entitled Aspirations (Kairos 0015051KAI 2-CDs).

"Shifting/Drifting"  for violin and real-time algorithmic transformation (2015) kicks off the program. "imagE/violin  imAge/violin" for solo violin (2015) occurs next. The title work "Aspiration" follows for solo violin and chamber orchestra (2004-5). "Kokoro" for solo violin (1991-92) concludes the program.

All that must suffice as the nuts and bolts of this release. On the listening level it is above all a truly unpretentious monument to latter-day Modernist music for solo violin. The half of the program involving some form of accompaniment shows a totally sympathetic additional musical voice or voices. Nevertheless  it all is very squarely centered on the very idiomatically original modern expressiveness of the violin part.  It is exploratory and virtuoso in its subtle dash, and it seems tailored to what corresponds nicely to the musical personality of Arditti himself, not showy for its own sake, very much imbued with the urge toward expressive elegance and brilliance of means, and in a harmonically expanded High Modernist idiom for which of course Reynolds is a natural master. This is not music as contrived in some arch manner by the composer. It is as natural as speaking and as eloquent as brilliant word flow.

After a few listen one falls into the spell of it all, the beautiful rightness of Arditti's playing, the perfect thus-ness of accompaniment and the spare profundity of the solo space.

This program is in every way a winner--with excellence of sound and sound staging, performance brilliance and compositional inspiration, together sequencing and smarts.

Aspiration demands your attention and rewards with high complexity-in-continuity. It is a Modern gem for all who want to know where we are today. I suggest this is a do-not-miss! I am happy to have it.