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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Robert Carl, Splectra, Alison Bjorkedal, Music for Solo Harp

Another good one of those specially priced EPs from Cold Blue is Robert Carl's Splectra (Cold Blue Music CB0056), a solo harp work in two parts played with dexterous lyrical crispness by harpist Alison Bjorkedal.

An elemental motif is the kernal to the exegesis, as the music unfolds and expands with great interest, not without advanced tonality.

Anyone who loves the harp will find this very much in their wheelhouse, I suspect. Strongly recommended.

Matt Sargent, Separation Songs, Eclipse Quartet

You may think you've heard everything there is to hear but there cannot be an end truly. For in real time there are of course uncounted hours of what you have not caught up with via pre-recorded things, and then there is live music on top of that. Well, if that isn't humbling what is? Add to that what music you yourself may make and indeed, what you might hum or whistle while out for a walk and, well there you go with a good deal of things, don't you?

Luckily out of the absolute everything of possibility there are good things still to be heard, very good things. Such a good thing is Matt Sargent's 70-minute chamber opus Separation Songs (Cold Blue Music CB0055) as played with proper and considerable spirit by the Eclipse Quartet. It is scored for two string quartets and consists of 54 variations on four hymns (1770) by William Billings. There is "separation" in the way tones from one hymn migrate into another one at every turn in the cycle.

Given the Cold Blue label designation you'd be right in assuming a Radical Tonality category for it. It belongs there...yet one notes also that it evokes in fact what it is -- on one level a string arrangement of old satb hymns such as (in more conventional form) might have been played on deck in the last hours of the Titanic's ill-fated voyage. The gradually timeless suspension the separations give rise to makes it as all in a dream, something ultimately without temporal provenance in the way it seems--and so it derives its radical quality in that way.

It is the oscillation of is and is not to the above that the music takes its power and charges it. It is the secret push to it all. Secret before it hits you that is. Then it is the IS that gets you in repeated hearings, how the music is radicalized in its sequencing as in some dreamtime realm we only know when we recognize its kithing kin-twin-ness so to say. It is as like-with-like without patently perceived repetition so much as continuity that this music derives its pull and charm from.

It grows on you after a matter-of-fact first hearing, like someone's words that seem simple but then in recall they take on deeper impact, so also this music in second, third, and etc., hearings.

That is the crux of this one. Hear it, contemplate it, then get it into your ear zone for good? Do. Process is product, and a very good thing it is!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trio Lirico, Weinberg, Penderecki, Schnittke, String Trios

The String Trio occupies a special niche in world chamber music, whether Modern or Classical-Romantic. It is a challenge to write a great one, given the violin-viola-cello nexus of course, and a mind expanding experience to hear one such. Three by noted Eastern European Moderns are a revelation, especially as played by the formidable Trio Lirico on a recent offering (Audite 97.753).

It is no small matter of representative works, one a-piece by Polish-Russian Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), the Polish Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) and Russian Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). They are played with care and zeal by Trio Lirico. Each work is a gem. They are from the nest of the Abstract Modern chamber string forays we have come to anticipate from the Eastern European zone since the marvelous quartets of Bartok and Shostakovich.

The liners note that all three lived behind the "Iron Curtain" until its fall in 1989. That may in fact explain some of the moods we encounter, as too a sort of temperament that does not shy away from deep pathos, angst and honest chagrin. True, there were distinct antipathies to new music in certain zones of the Soviet Block in certain periods but I am not going to be the one to explain it ALL away thus.

So too I do not feel it necessary to comment further since Eastern European Moderns are not primarily of the cheerful and happy bunch and it distinguishes them most certainly. There the waters run deep and not necessarily without opaque moments. And if cultural life forced composers to endure pressure at times to conform (i.e., to Social Realism dictates), we in the end profit from the depth of chagrin that might have gone into some of this music, or at least influenced the overall arc of it all. Still we must appreciate the real sacrifice such non-conforming involved at the time. For let us face it, this is music that could be seen by pedants as "formalist." It took courage to write such music.

Suffice to say these were/are composers who try in these works to put on their human face, so to say, to express a fragility fused with a toughness. There is no need to pontificate--this is deep, very deep music. And it all is played wonderfully well by Trio Lirico! Recommended for all serious students of the Modern who are open to exploring string chamber music gems that have suffered some neglect until now. Here are a threesome of ravishing presence. Get this.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Shostakovitch, Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad," Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons

In so far as "War Symphonies" go, Prokofiev's Fifth and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 (BR Klassik 900184) are my very favorites, and likely the very best, especially in the Modern zone. And, face it "Wellington's Victory" or the "1812 Overture" are not quite symphonies and not meant to be masterpieces. Britten's "War Requiem" is great in its own way but it is not a symphony either, not exactly.

There is a magic to Shostakovich's 7th, a noble emotional strength and emotive reaching out that is hard for me not to appreciate. Why not anyway? So there is a new recording out by the Symphonieorchester Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons and I have been listening.

The long opening allegro movement to my mind is one of the most remarkable things that Shostakovitch wrote. It depicts the Nazi invasion-march into Russia as a gradually building, almost Revel-Bolero-like relentless crescendo that is ravishing, extraordinary, highly singular.

I am used to hearing Leonard Bernstein's New York Philharmonic recording (I had it on vinyl) and that version stays in my mind as a benchmark. The BR version here is a little bit light on the acoustics/miking of the opening snare drum (sounds a little more like a typewriter in the next room than a snare) and the pizzicato strings (perhaps not very woody or prominent enough) compared with that version and I must give that earlier recording the edge still, at least for the first movement. But this version is no sluggard, surely. Far from it.

It is recorded live, which helps explain certain things like ultimately the balance of the first movement. By the time it is building up a bit everything seems at proper levels. The arco strings sound especially majestic throughout the entirety of the recording.

And on the whole this version is rousing and very movingly done. For the March in the end the Bernstein is hard to beat. This version does a bang-up job nonetheless. The final movement performance here is something of a revelation to me, with a lot of panache.

I am very glad to have it, and to hear it in detail. You should have this symphony if you are serious about last century and etc. This goes in my head with Shostakovitch's Quartets as some of his very finest music. The BR version has its strengths and I am glad to have it as a supplement and another view of it all. Bravo!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Morton Feldman, Patterns in a Chromatic Field

To understand Morton Feldman's special relation to musical form in Patterns in a Magnetic Field (Wergo 7382 2), we need first to look at the language of the title. Each main word is somewhat key. So "Patterns" gives us the idea that there are interrelated interworkings, and there is more than one of them of course. The implication is that each pattern may be different enough that they do not necessarily or primarily form subsets of one another, at least not in the listener's memory. So they are in a way like patterns for clothes like my mother used to buy. Each maybe is for a dress, but not the same dress. Compare that to African music and Steve Reich's music following his African tutelage. Those latter patterns relate much more strongly one to the other.

Second there is "in." So the patterns are contained within something. But what? Well something "Chromatic" so we are not so much subjected to a diatonic singsong such as might be heard in typical "Minimalism" in the classic sense. In fact Feldman sounds somewhat more High Modern in his relation of tone-to-tone. The key center may be there but sometimes tenuously. Cello and piano sound repeating patterns differentially and together they complete a particular double phrase a few times mostly slowly and then move on. Yet too there is a wide range of successions Feldman can come up with--these are not subset-like much of the time--except the slowness is always there, unless there is an agitated motif, which occurs periodically but not necessarily relatedly.

Last we have "Field," with its connotation of a somewhat vast expanse of ground on which are "planted things, " so to say. Not necessarily all the same but all THERE. Put all the words in the title together and it does indeed describe what we will hear. Patterns in a Chromatic Field.

To understand fully this music one of course must hear in concentrated and repeated form, which a recording such as the one at hand makes possible in beautiful ways. This is not the only recording available but it is an excellent performance, with Mathis Mayr on cello and Antonis Anissegos on piano. They are lyrically sympathetic, which is pretty near ideal to my mind.

The music is an exceptional example of later Feldman, which is exceptional music even by the standards of typical originality. He breaks off from the paradigmatic then-present and becomes almost wholly other. The more I hear of this phase the more impressed I am. But then Feldman ALWAYS is Feldman from first-to-last, virtually.

And no less is this true than of Patterns in a Chromatic Field. There is dream. There is movement from station-to-station and there is a meaning gleaned from the sum of all stations but not until you disconnect and reconnect hundreds of times in the process of hearing the totality.

Bravo that. Bravo this. Here is a hear from the ages. All should listen closely and get a grok-ful of Feldman at a peak, a real peak! Nice performance. Feldman is one-of-a-kind. Grab this.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Carl Czerny, Second Grand Concerto, Concertino, Rondino, Rosemary Tuck, English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge

Despite the reality that many of us know Carl Czerny (1791-1857) mostly via his piano exercises, he was a master composer, really. Listen to the new installment of his piano concertos on Naxos 8.573998, which includes the wonderful "Second Grand Concerto" in E-flat Major (1812-14), the Concertina in C major Op. 210/213 (1829) and the "Rondino" on a Theme from Auber's Opera Le Macon (1826).

Rosemary Tuck at the piano along with the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge turn in stellar performances and quell any unease one might feel about so much Czerny coming out of late--because this is in fact worthy music, very well played.

The "Second Grand Sonata" puts you in mind of Beethoven, at first his "Pastoral" and then perhaps aspects of the "Eroica." Either way this music extends outward from such considerations and gives Czerny his own take on the then "New Music" of his day.

All three works overtly sparkle though the "Second Grand Concerto" is the most lengthy and ambitious.  Pianist Tuck in the liners speaks of the double role that Czerny played in the Vienna of his day--as a purveyor-Czar of fashionable works that concert going audiences could appreciate but then also a pianist uniquely situated to have a strong hand in the continuing developments in pianoforte technique. You can hear both surely in these recordings which rather amazingly mark the World Premiere of the works in recorded form.

Yet for all the above the music does not sound patronizing or pandering to popularity. Instead we get a steady torrent of delightful sounds as so nicely realized here.

If there is virtually nothing the least melancholic, there is much that is an overflowing, of a positive jolt of celebratory Vienna at the time musically and we can of course turn to later Beethoven quartets, etc. for when we seek more brooding depth. All works cannot be all things. So if we accept what Czerny was not, we can enjoy it all to the max when in the mood for it. And it is true that the minor key section intro to the Auber theme in the "Rondino" points to the possibility of depth charges though one instead dreamily gets pummeled nicely once again by happy melodic fare.

And so I do recommend this one to you. It gives you a genuine dose of Czerny in an abundance of performative joy. If it drives you back to Beethoven's concertos, all the better. There's room for both in the end and then perhaps Brahms relieves you of both with yet another take on things of course. So be it! So things go.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Enjott Schneider, Mozart & Beethoven Meeting Yin & Yang, Koch, Wei, Jena Philharmonic Orchestra, Simon Gaudenz

Lukas Foss did us all a favor when he created his "Baroque Variations," when he orchestrated and re-orchestrated as well as re-situated some well known Baroque themes and made of them something super-High-Modern. In that "tradition" we now have Enjott Schneider and his Mozart & Beethoven Meeting Yin & Yang (Wergo 5125 2). Two of the four works here use source materials from either Mozart or Beethoven and fashion out of them something altogether Contemporary, Modern, other--and nicely so.

Schneider goes his own way. "Raptus. Die Freiheit des Beethoven" sews together lots of familiar passages (like the lower string intro to the final movement of Beethoven's 9th, etc.). What he does with them all shows his high level of invention and in the process frankly rather thoroughly tickles me. It is great fun. If you like this then do not forget also Kagel's "Ludwig Van," Cage's "HPSCHD" and no doubt others. Anyone?

"Mozart Ascending" takes what we have of Wolfgang's unfinished Oboe Concerto KV293 and makes of it varying degrees of otherness, from mostly as written to thematically cognizant but totally rethought.

All this music is rather inimitably brilliant and then to cap it off we have two more works that take a different turn but no less effectively.

"Yin & Yang" features the astounding artistry of Wu Wei on the sheng in a concerted work for the instrument and orchestra. Understandably Chinese and Asian sorts of motives weave in and out of the music and yet too we have intersections with Modernism so it fits in with what we heard previously and also captivates in itself.

The final "Inner Worlds" for orchestra brings us thorough-goingly original music not tied to anything per se but the composer's muse, though it does fit in with the composer's idea of this program as a portrait of the Jena Philharmonic.

And if in the end we gain another view thereby, so all the better. It is a work of poetic mystery and lets us know that the orchestral tradition lives on today. It shows off Jena's various sections nicely in the process (as does the entire album). And too we are situated musically in a somewhat advanced harmonic realm at times so we feel through Schneider's music ultimately that he belongs to our time surely and is no museum piece, though there is rhapsodic lyricism and grandeur to it that points to the recent past without imitating it. This one ends up rather exciting at that, with tom toms and orchestral flourishes pouring forth in memorable ways, and then a rather noble horn choir passage. Bravo.

Well there we have it. I am enjoying this music and no doubt will continue to do so for quite some time. I recommend it for those with a sense of Modern adventure--it is fun and rewarding!.