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Friday, March 23, 2018

Ligeti, Complete Etudes, Kei Takumi

One of the giants of Modernism, Gyorgy Ligeti is the kind of titan whose every work probably should be heard. Yet I have to admit there are many I have not as of yet. His Etudes Pour Piano (Sheva Collection 183) seems as good an example as any of a part of Ligeti that one should know. In this complete recording pianist Kei Takumi tackles these technically daunting works head-on. And with Ligeti, ever, no notes are there for no reason. The difficulties are put in front of the performer ever for a musical result. It is a great credit to Kei Takumi that he sees in the masses of black notes a way they must be sounded for energetic, expressionistic significance. And he handles the quiet, contrasting sections with sensitivity and proper intent.

The Etudes consist of three groupings: A Premier livre (1984-85), a Deuxieme livre (1988-94) and a Troisieme livre (1995-2001). Together they function as a wide interconnected expanse, densely racing ahead, then thoughtfully pausing, then bursting forward again, creating a matrix of dynamic excitement one simply has to experience because words cannot supplant or ever quite approximate how it feels to hear the music. It is a kind of Promethean struggle of solitary  human with an otherwise inert mass of wood, metal, ivory and whatever else, the piano being something of vast potential that Ligeti provides a key to, the mastery of which is formidable and not for the untalented and technically unprepared. This is music that will not be sight read with any hope of the revelatory. It is music to sink into over a long period of time. That is as true for the performer as it is to the listener. You do not just throw this music on and go about your business. That surely won't do.

Instead, pay attention. Let the sounds wash over you and after a few listens you will know that you are in the presence of something profound. I recommend you do that.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Martinu, Saltimbanques, Songs 5, Jana Hrochova, Giorgio Koukl

One surprising thing about the songs of Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959). They show a very different side of the composer as compared with, say, his orchestral works. I have reviewed volumes in the song series on Naxos (type his name in the search box above) and now there is a fifth, Saltimbanques, Songs 5 (Naxos 8.573823). Mezzo-Soprano Jana Hrochova and pianist Giorgio Koukl do the honors on this volume, and they sound just right for it all.

What this volume has in abundance, as much or even more so than the Volume 4 I reviewed here, is an intimate Martinu that is modern yet almost completely outside of the Martinu style of his larger ensemble pieces. The music is more direct and at times very Eastern European-Czech folk oriented.

Some of the music here is quite rare, unrecorded, some believed lost until recently. None of it is ephemeral or ancillary. And it brings to us a Martinu we may not know well, but in its unpretentious way is essential, as essential as the more famous and spectacular works.

Get this if you value Martinu.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Piano a Deux, France Revisited, Music by Onslow, Debussy, Poulenc

What makes French music "French"? Is there something in common between the music of Rameau, say, and that of Messiaen? It is almost a ridiculous question since there is so much music that has been created by French composers over the years that it is too much to expect it all to conform to some hypothetical model. Yet one thing one might make note of is the the lyricism of much of the music--a lyricism that is never quite Romantic in some Germanic way, even with someone like Berlioz? Yes, I generally think that.

This morning for my blog discussion I have a program of French works by the Piano a Deux group, namely Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley, entitled France Revisited (Divine Art 25132). The works featured are not especially standard fare, all being music for four hands at one piano with the exception of one piece, which is for two-handed piano solo.

The inclusion of two works by George Onslow (1784-1853) is as unexpected as it is rewarding. He wrote an extraordinary amount of chamber music including 36 String Quartets and 34 String Quintets! The "Sonata for Piano Four-hands, No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 7" is masterful and strong, and the "Six Pieces Pour Piano (solo)" is a charming set of miniatures that compels and beguiles.  These are revelatory, showing us a mature Onslow that has a sprawling lyricism, almost Schubertian in scope.

Claude Debussy's "Petite Suite" and Francois Poulenc's "Chansons de l'Amour et de la Guerre," the latter as arranged for piano four-hands by Linda Ang Stoodle, are beautiful works very well played here.

Piano a Deux have a remarkable fluidity and togetherness which make them a delight to hear. The Onslow works are a real find; the Poulenc and Debussy as well played as any versions I have heard. All told France Revisited  gives us a unexpected joy as we hear! Recommended.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Society for New Music, Music Here & Now

Of New Music there is no end. This is how of course it should be in a healthy music world. Today we have the chance to consider a volume of  seven new works by seven composers that many of us know little about.  It is brought to us by the Society for New Music. The two-CD set is aptly titled Music Here & Now (Innova 970). By anthologizing this series of World Premier Recordings the Society gives us a feeling for some of what is new in New Music spheres. As we sometimes see now, there are many composers out there working within tonalities. It is a given in Pomo avenues. How that works out can be tremendously varied, as the music on this anthology attests.

There is to be heard in this set jazz influences, a shade of beyond-Minimalism, Neo-Classicism, and Modern laced adventures that bring some of last century's experimentations into newly codified terrains. Rhythm in a forward moving way is another element you can hear nicely as a salient aspect of some of these works.

Performances are of a uniformly high caliber. Sufficient rehearsal time has been put into every work. The final recordings are vigorous and tender or contemplative as called for. Nothing is lacking in the performers. Smaller to larger chamber orchestra configurations are the rule.

There are internationalist elements to be heard too, without that being a central focus.

So we hear in succession Rob Deemer's "Cantos," Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon's "Jacaras," Gregory Wanamaker's "Music from a Story Within a Story," Zhou Tien's "Morning After the Deluge," Jorge Villavicencio Grossman's "Whistling Vessels," 'Doctuh' Mike Woods's "Libations," and Mark Olivieri's "Concertino: Stress Test."

Multiple hearings confirm the music as consistently well wrought and interestingly moving. Take the plunge with this one and you will doubtless  gain another perspective on what is new out there. New and excitingly so.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Susan Kander, Hermestanze

We carry on in life day in and day out. New people come into our center focus. Others leave. Unfamiliar composers can surprise us. Susan Kander is the latest of the latter. She is from the USA. Seemingly thriving. MSR sent me a CD of three World Premier Recordings of her music. Hermestanze (MSR 1578) is the title, named after the longest and perhaps most involved work of the three. A common thread throughout is the violin (and viola) work of Jacob Ashworth who sounds beautiful here. Joining him are pianist Lee Dionne and Jessica Petrus, soprano. All are dedicated to drawing out the rich subtleties of Kander's music, which is extremely well put-together and inspired, in a sort of Modern Neo-Classical vein.

There is depth and poise to the music. The half-hour opus "Hermestanze" (2013) for violin and piano forms the most remarkable of the three works, filled with intricate beauty. There is no direct similarity but one nonetheless recalls Stravinsky and Hindemith. There is a definite twist in form however that sets this work apart. In the tradition of earlier composers such as Schumann, the music is conceived of as a song cycle, in this case for violin and piano. 13 discrete yet interrelated song-like movements grace our ears, with a reprise of "Hermes, Messenger of the Gods" at the conclusion. This is no Neo-Romanticism in spite of the roots of the form. It is decidedly Modern and Classically balanced in the best ways. Jacob Ashworth commissioned the work and gives it definitive form. Lee Dionne makes an ideal partner for the performance. It is superb music, superbly played.

The "Solo Sonata" (2002) (with Ashworth on violin in the outer movements, viola in the middle) has the seriousness of purpose of similar works by Bartok, Reger and Hindemith. The imaginative and idiomatic use of violinistic articulations (such as double stops and harmonics) and a combination of momentum and moodiness mark Kander out as a worthy successor to the 20th century masters of such configurations.

"A Garden's Time Piece" (2011) is based on the poetry of Leslie Lasky. It has an introspective, contemplative air about it and a touchingly sparse demeanor thanks to Kanders well conceived parts. Ashworth's violin is the sole accompaniment to Jessica Petrus and her movingly sweet soprano voice. The nicely articulated performance and the considerable charm of the music win the day if you take the time to listen closely.

Susan Kander has genuine torque as a fully accomplished voice on the Modern scene. Get this one if a new wrinkle on Neo-Classicist New Music appeals. If you do not know whether that is so for you or not listen carefully and you may well be convinced that Kander is worth hearing and a welcome original exponent today.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Matteo Liberatore, Solos

For where the electric and acoustic guitar is today in New Music-Improv worlds, you can give yourself a real leg up on things by listening to the music of Matteo Liberatore, in a recent album simply entitled Solos (Innova 985). Elliot Sharp, the preset-day artist and curatorial champion of advanced guitar realms, did the remixing and mastering, and his involvement is telling, since his selfless and insightful sponsorship has been central of late in a series of guitar showcases for the very new realms on Clean Feed, I've Never Meta Guitar. (See my Gapplegate Guitar Blog for review articles. The link to that site is located in the column to the right.)

Liberatore makes very varied and imaginative use of tunings, preparations, and both conventional and unusual sounding techniques for the twelve solo interludes on this CD. Hammering on the strings with objects, bowing, cycles of picking arpeggiation, scraping, rubbing,  striking and plucking at once, glissandi, open strings along with stops, harmonics, etc.

Each composition is rather improvisatory in that it realizes a particular way to sound the guitar in a way that has immediacy. Some seem overtly, compositionally structural; others are free-flowing sound color realizations. All have in their own way a striking sonance, a special sound universe, all seem like soundtracks to some heightened state of being. Not all interludes are completely tabula rasa in terms of extended techniques. It all however holds together as a suite of musically vibrant works.

Beyond and aside from the rather ingenious ways the guitar is rethought with the various extended techniques of which Matteo makes very creative use, the music fascinates on its own. Bravo!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Miya Masaoka, Triangle of Resistance

There is a great deal more New Music coming out of different shades of stylistic distinctness now than there might have been in, say, 1972. For composer Miya Masaoka, there is a High Modern stance that nestles welcomingly in a post serialist, post-pointillist, post-bleep-bloop manner of proceeding; that is on the two works contained on the recent album Triangle of Resistance (Innova 945).

The title work is the more ambitious and memorable of the two. It is scored for a chamber ensemble of seven instrumentalists including koto (played by the composer), plus string quartet, percussion and synthesizer. It was written in remembrance and protest against the internment of Japanese-Americans in the US during WWII. "The Long Road," "The Clattering of Life," and "Survival" are the respectve titles of the three movements. The music portrays the  uprootedness, suffering and upheaval of sudden and tragic displacement as it must have felt to the victims. The music has a muted anguish and an outspoken expressiveness to it consistent with the subject matter.

The second work, "Four Moons of Pluto" is written for solo contrabass. The music involves the shifting vortex of a number of heightened resonance positions via harmonic partials and enhancements gained by detuning strings. The work seeks an analogy between the movement of planetary bodies and the movement of small number ratioed intervals.

All in all we have two provocative and relatively stunning aural explorations that most New Music appreciators will likely find interesting and worthwhile. Listen.