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Monday, March 8, 2021

Sam Hayden, Becomings, Works for Solo Piano, Ian Pace

Music is like life. You may think you know a lot about it, but then the future has things in store and you cannot quite know what. With music (and with life) that can be a good thing of course. So I try and maintain an open stance, to be ready for whatever comes.

Today's offering is one of those happy surprises one can experience. It is a two-CD set covering the piano music of Sam Hayden, as played extraordinarily well by Ian Pace. Becomings (Metier 2-CD msv 28611) covers the title work as disk one and three shorter works on disk two. It all has the adventuresome sort of High Modernism dash that situates pianist and instrument on a heroic and dynamic series of journeys that keep the listener challenged and well rewarded with exciting fare. It comprises to date Hayden's complete works for solo piano and as such the first recordings of same.

The stylistic territory occupied by this music has a deliberate, free spontaneity feeling, Expressionist but also open-cosmic, in a varied a-rhythmic attack that perhaps owes something or overlaps at any rate to the later improvisations of the great Cecil Taylor--it is deliberately irregular and not overtly periodistic for the most part and does not deliberately stress a key center most of the time. It sometimes also recalls some of John Cage's star chart works--for its complexity, its vastly expansive, counter-intuitive set of possibilities that then become logically conversational as a musical language, happily.

The final work in the set, "Piano Moves," for amplified piano,  has a jagged, ragged, primally dissonant, mesmerizing  insistency that marks it off as singular. To get maximum effect one should let the music take over your situation for its 24 minutes. 

"Becomings (Das Werden)" bring us seven sections and a very motionful a-rhythmic atonality that has a virtuoso level of unexpected yet especially continual  morphing that Ian Pace handles with high artistry and sensitivity.

The remaining two works on disk two, a short "Fragment (After Losses)" and the longer "...still time..." have more of the open unpredictability in motion as we hear on the title work. "Still time" has a hushed quietude that unwinds in a nicely post-Feldman poetic way. Then it breaks out with more energetic and expressive loudness before leaving more quiet rumination to contemplate.

This set will appeal to all pianistically oriented Modernists out there. Hayden is the genuine article and I hope we can hear more of his music in future releases. Good show!


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Astor Piazzolla, La Pasion, Tango-Etudes for Violin Solo, Kinga Augustyn


Some music combined with some performances seem perfectly right. And when you come across such things it is a confirmation that the world may be upside down in many respects yet music somehow makes it right even if only for a brief time, i.e., not an entire evening or such, just as long as the music is meant to last.

That is the case with a short album I've been enjoying recently. It is performed wonderfully well by violinist Kinga Augustyn. Type her name in the search box above for some other reviews I've done of her albums, some just a few days ago.

In is something very nice by Astor Piazzolla, namely La Pasion, Tango-Etudes for Violin Solo (Centaur). What's rather remarkable about these six etudes is how they manage to partake of a Tango atmosphere-adventure yet they often spin away from any very overt expression of the continual rhythmic insistence a regular Tango would need to have to be danceable. Instead they sometimes weave themselves in and out of such considerations via rubato and fractional structural-segmental pauses that put the music in a different place. And in so doing Piazzolla and Kinga suspend dance time as we might conceive of it and instead fall nicely into violin solo unaccompanied virtuoso expressions in which one recognizes readily a Piazzolla elan, something that sets him apart from virtually any other composer.

Much of this "halfway-here, halfway-there" quality works especially well in the way that Ms. Augustyn straddles the "Tango/not Tango" qualities of the writing. It is a pairings of composer and performer that stands out, that seems ever-fresh no matter how many times one listens. 

So I do recommend this one heartily. Kinga comes through again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Julien Palomo, S'Eteindre (Penderecki, Pendant La Fin Du Monde)


I have come to appreciate the music of Julien Palomo over the years as a New Music Electrician of true stature. During this Pandemic he has finished off a very ambitious, 11 part Electronic Music work S'Eteindre (Penderecki, Pendant La Fin Du Mond)  (Mutant Sounds, Bandcamp DL). It lasts many hours and so does not especially lend itself to a single-sitting hearing in general but that is the case with very long works. I found it quite worthwhile to listen to it all a few parts at a time.

The end of the great composer Penderecki and the continuing end of the world come together in this rather apocalyptic reverse paean to some extraordinarily difficult times. 

Each part has its own identity and substantiality; lasting from around 20 minutes to under an hour. Julien puts it all together with a dense orchestrational electronic wash of multiple synths, often with long, but not obviously droning sustains that ebb and flow in complexity and contrast as underpinning to foreground musical-noise events that have a discursive variability that is faster moving, that are evolving events often contrasting with the bedrock of the slower moving constants.

The more I listen to all this the more I feel like I belong in this musical maze. It is important work, advanced, endlessly stimulating, a great sound companion for your moment of repose. Listen!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Lavena, In Your Hands, New Cello Music By Peacocke, Montgomery, Shaw, Hearne, Dessner and Adashi


One way the new can surprise is when it does something so well one rehears what is possible. That's very true of cellist Lavena's debut solo album In Your Hands (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0145). It is a most remarkable program of New Music for unaccompanied cello and then two additional works for cello and another instrument.

What first struck this listener about it all is not so much that the music is tonal, though that is true. It struck me how much the music takes care to bring out elemental cello resonances and sound colors by taking advantage idiomatically of standard cello tuning, the possibility of open strings and very resonant multiple stops, figurations that very much bring out the special qualities of effective cello string soundings and of course cello bowing, to unveil richly expressive archaic and vibrant cello acoustics.

It is especially true of the unaccompanied works.  The opening, a debut recording of "Amygdala" by Gemma Peacocke pits solo cello against an electronic backdrop for a beautifully emergent cello sonance that has a primality that does not quite drone but pairs multiple stops in long beautifully sustained melodics.

The premiere of the three movement Jessie Montgomery work "Duo for Violin and Cello" combines an intricate intertwining of William Herzog's violin with Lavena's cello for soaring arpeggios on combined string sequences and pizzicato adventures followed by a striking chorale-like interlocking with blocks of shifting sustains leading to an intense rhapsodic cello soaring atop the violin's continuous multiple-stop sustains. The lyric blocks further develop. Then the final movement gives us an exciting series of presto arpeggiations, ingenious shifts and shades very well played. Exhilarating music this is.

Caroline Shaw's solo cello "in manus tuas" follows with striking double stopped. two voiced exceptionalities. Lavena is called upon to blend her voice with the cello part and it sounds very good indeed. The work is beautifully based on a motet by Thomas Tallis.

Ted Hearne's "Furtive Movements" pairs cello with percussion (Jeff Stern) for a remarkable series of rhythmically vibrant and sonically complex expressions in four short movements. The interplay defies description in the best manner and the sound colors juxtapose in uncanny ways. That brings lots of smiles of appreciation, or at least that is the case for me! A virtuosi tour de force for sure.

Bryce Desner's "Tuusula" in its premier recording begins with some attractively dynamic fanfare sorts of figures and continues with some beautiful sequences played brilliantly well by Lavena.

The finale "my heart comes undone" was written for Lavena by her husband Judah Adashi, based on the Bjork song "Unravel" and more generally also on stylistic elements of Arvo Part. It gives us a fitting end to a marvelously fresh album.

I am favorably reminded at times of the string styles of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. But then also too of the string work of John Cale on Nico's Marble Index album from the 1960s and also Berio's string accompaniment to "Black is the Color" on his wonderful Folk Songs suite. It is Archaic Modern in that way and I love the sound.

And then it is more besides, a new take on the Contemporary Modern as a whole and undoubtedly of interest to anyone who wants to keep current and looks for something very musical as well as very new. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Kinga Augustyn, Turning in Time, Modern Music for Violin Unaccompanied


The unaccompanied string solo work is, along with the string quartet, a locus where composer and performer can convene on the deepest levels, where seriousness of purpose does not generally run up against strong pressure to please large numbers of audiences. We generally look backwards to Johann Sebastian Bach as the lineal forefather of the bare-wires solo works for violin and cello (though he was not chronologically the first so much as the contentual "spiritual founder" so to speak). 

In the later eighteenth and early 20th centuries Paganini and Max Reger in different ways made their marks on the post-Bachian dialog of solo violin music. The Modern era found in the unaccompanied violin increasingly an aesthetic platform for deeply intimate expression and an art-for-art's sake ambition to forge a modern musical language both abstract and affective to varying degrees, concentrically and infectiously, if you will.

In this light masterful violinist Kinga Augustyn gives us a deeply focused program of Modern unaccompanied violin works on her new album Turning in Time (Centaur CRC 3836). It is a gathering of some six works covering the period from 1958 to 2018. It is a far ranging set of works that call upon the soloist to focus unceasingly, to embrace the ultimate balance point between lateral flow and vertical articulation.

So for example with Luciano Berio's exacting and dramatic "Sequenza VIII" (1976) Ms. Augustyn triumphs in the way she keeps the momentum, the unfolding of the intense line making as she also breezes through and eloquently configures the passages that with hairpin exactitude lay out sequences of multiple stops. We are drawn to key passages that track the music forward, then experience a relative repose before charging forward again.

The Polish compositional phenom Grazyna Bacewicz has been gathering a momentum of recognition in the past few decades and we see why on her 1958 "Sonata No. 2." There is a wonderful Eastern European Modernist logic to the advanced expanded tonality with both consonance and dissonance in the double stops and a remarkably fluid Politsh grace to the line weaving Ms. Augustyn realizes it all with poetic elan and, ultimately, heroic finesse with the rapid multi-stopped virtuoso passagework that jumps out at us towards the end.

A new voice on our horizon is felt and heard with Debra Kaye and her beautiful 2018 "Turning in Time." We feel as we listen at the other side of the Modern Classic juggernaut, having gleaned from dissonance and atonality how a return to key centers is tempered today with a full knowledge of what all possible chromatic combinations and intervals brings to us in potentia, the richness of freedom of possibility. And very appropriately Ms. Kaye gives us a pithy quotation from a Bach Chaconne that reminds us of how far we have come. What Ms. Kaye gives to us is rich yet spare. a giant redwood of potential before there is a leafing, so to say.

Isan Yun further reminds us of the roots when he opens with  a theme from Bach's "Art of the Fugue" and proceeds to extend it to a place beyond itself, nicely and with a gravitas that Kinga brings to us wonderfully well.

From there we bounce to a great Elliot Carter work in four parts and some choice Penderecki. All that mounts up no matter where you are in the program's solo legacy.--following the sequence laid out for us or hopping around as I was when I wrote this. 

The point is that the whole gives us more than the sum, but then it is a whole that feels just right in terms of our Modernity right now. Then again  it gives us a gorgeous snapshot of the warmth, brilliance and intelligence of Kinga Augustyn, a violinist very much at the forefront of today. Bravo!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Gina Biver, Fuse Ensemble, Nimbus, Colette Inez


You can never be sure where you will be until you get there. That's true of life of course but also of New Music. Take today's musical program featuring the music of Gina Biver, Fuse Ensemble plays Nimbus (Neuma 131). It surprises and pleases. It features vividly musical settings for the recitations of the poetry of Colette Inez, simultaneously narrative, insightful, paradoxically playful yet tragic, poetic. 

The CD jacket explains that this is "for electroacoustic chamber ensemble, voice and spoken word."  This electroacoustic ensemble is mostly various shifting instrumentation (some seven instrumentalists used in varying combinations) and some soundscaped effects. such as church bells and chant-hymn making, and importantly a recitation voice, sometimes filtered or briefly repeated, otherwise true-to-text and linear.

The music is tonal, Post-Minimal I guess you could say when it pulsates, otherwise nicely Contemporary in an expressive narrative way, playful and evocative to reflect and deflect the recitation.

To be more specific it all is a collaboration between Inez and Biver, with the poet reciting some, the composer others and some sung (beautifully) by soprano Tula Pisano. There are previously alluded to ambient recordings of sounds from Nerac, France (the locus of much of the drama). It centers around the poet's thoughts on the coming-to-be and early childhood memories of her very self. It  considers the circumstances of her coming to exist, born of an affair of her father a Roman Catholic Priest and her mother, "a young French scholar assigned to assist him."

It all flows together remarkably well, disarmingly unpretentiously, matter-of-factually, yet touchingly dramatic in its unique obversion of language and music that points nearly obliquely but most memorably and expressively. It its own fashion it has a stunning way about it. It makes me want to hear other works from Ms. Biver. And the poetry gains all the more by its recitation-music-presentation. Take a listen by all means. And grab a copy. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

John Robertson, Symphonies No. 4 & 5, Meditation In Flanders Fields, Brataslava Symphony, Anthony Armore

Of the new in music there can be no end. And so we happily gain exposure to new work and try and open up to it all as we hold on to what we already know and revere at the same time, in other words, as we continue to revel in the past masters. 

I've been listening in this vein to an orchestral program from a composer I do not believe I have heard from until now, one John Robertson. His Symphonies No. 4 & 5 and Meditation in Flanders Field (Navona NV 6325) can be heard in the present recording, quite respectably played by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra under Anthony Armore.

Robertson was born and raised in New Zealand and came to Canada in 1967. He then subsequently studied at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Like Ives before him he has made a career in insurance while composing as time has allowed. His output includes an opera and five symphonies, all of which, the liners inform us, have been recorded by Navona.

The present disk shows us a vibrant and lyrical Romanticism without the heavy baggage of derivation and perhaps in that way akin to Samuel Barber, in other words using the Romantic idiom to forward a personal vision.

Symphony No. 4 (2017) has a very winning way. We immediately take note thematically in the first movement to his effective use of winds, solo clarinet and horns. He straight off shows us a nice sense of orchestration and an ongoing linearity in the theme that keeps us listening. The second movement is Andante with a 6/8 waltz theme for oboe and strings that has mystery and moves on through to further developments that suggest a somewhat bucolic pastoralism and a good bit of magic. The final movement brings to us a bubbly and bright momentum and fittingly ends the work with a sort of folk dance meets orchestrally striking mood, putting the capping touch onto a decidedly good one to hear and have.

"Meditation in Flanders Fields" (2016) features a recitation of John McCrae's poetic thoughts and prayers, if you will, for the fallen soldiers of WWI resting for eternity in their Flanders burial ground. The orchestra heightens the thoughtful and evocative contrasts between nature and history, the human tragedy and the natural of the verse with orchestral depth in quietly, wistfullly singing strings and trumpet-horn call echoes of the martial world now forever gone.

The Symphony No. 5 (2018) continues the proceedings with a furtherance of thematic complexities and gradual unfolding. The endless melodic quality of the opening Allegro reminds us how the composer's inventive resourcefulness sets his music apart and gives us much to hear and rehear with satisfaction and interest. The work continues and brings a unveiling of orchestrational beauty that bears our attention well.

If you do not insist that all new music be devoted to the cutting edge of stylistic futures and welcome a further adventure into and rethinking of Tonal Romanticism this one will give you much to consider and delight in, I suspect. Recommended.