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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Gerald Cohen, Voyagers, New Music for String Quartet, Clarinet and Trombone


Ah, great, somebody I've never heard of has works I've never heard," some reader I've never heard of either might be saying as she confronts this article. OK, so I ain't gonna get rich covering the super new and in fact in the internet focus on immediate and continuous readership, I might be consigning myself to a kind of internet Siberia? Nonetheless I cover things I listen to closely, critically and actually like so you have nothing to lose in the reading of this, I believe. Today I cover another you might not know about, though I might also cover something famous now and again. 

With the exception of a nicely wrought chamber offering of music for clarinet and chamber ensemble, entitled Sea of Reeds, that I covered on these pages on December 17, 2014,  I've not delved into much of the music of Gerald Cohen in my listening over time. But this recording of  Voyagers (Innova 090) confirms my initial impression with a revelation, for his is a distinct and authentic voice in the New Music today. 

The album brings to our ears three substantial works for string quartet, as is as performed by the Cassatt String Quartet on the "Playing for Our Lives" work, with the addition of the clarinet and bass clarinet of Narek Arutyunian on "Voyagers," and with the addition of the trombone of Colin Williams on "Preludes and Debka."

None of these three works are especially Avant Garde in approach. Rather they dwell in a Modernity where there is a wide harmonic spectrum of possibility and a rugged tone color palette and also a healthy dose of the eclecticity of folk and ethnic elements, sometimes what sound like Semitic elements that injects a timeless quality to it all.

What matters in the end is the authentic and dedicated performativity of it all, the highly crafted and careful building of a particular work from the ground up with great care, skill, and eloquently inventive qualities.

Anyone who wants a good example of what is happening in the chamber realms of New Music would do well to check this one out. Take a listen and decide for yourself, but keep in mind that several listens will be necessary to hear these works as they actually reveal themselves. Check this link:


Thursday, November 16, 2023

Stanley Grill, The Bridge


US composer Stanley Grill takes inspiration from Hart Crane's epic poem on his recent World Premiere recorded orchestral work The Bridge (self released digital) featuring Brett Deubner on viola and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice conducted by Marek Stilec.

This is a long flowing. multi-movement work which has musical roots in the tone-poem world of classic Americana of the most descriptively evocative orchestral works by the likes of Ives, Copland and a select few others, yet it has such roots without exposing them in obvious ways. Rather there is sincere lyrical attachment to the subject matter from the Hart Crane epic, which as the composer suggests uses the bridge idea as a unifier of disparate US cultural-geographical diversity. Slow moving and feelingfully encompassing from the matter-of-fact yet evocative dawn on the harbor to the murky quagmires of mythic Atlantis, but then tempo pacing and presumably flow of water steps up on The River and expands and flows again more slowly with advancing worlds of sorts, resuming and re-attaining stately passage through a landscape musi-scape of Indiana, the steady wind for Cutty Sark, and then Cape Hatteras and its special presence brings back the expectant mysticism and the tolling of a fateful bell.

National Wintergarden has an altered jazzy feel and gives you a good example how originally inventive Grill can be. It goes from there. Suffice to say each movement has a distinct character rolling through an overall feeling of immediacy as experienced in rhapsodic lyricism and descriptive poignancy. Grill is a gifted symphonic narrator here and the more you listen the more you grasp of it all. Enthusiastically recommended

Stream the work in full at the following link:

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Marc Ponthus Plays Beethoven Hammerklavier sonata opus 106 and Stockhausen Klavierstuck X


It is not precisely usual to experience an album sequence that pairs Beethoven with Stockhausen, excepting perhaps an old album of Stockhausen's that dealt with Beethoven themes on a 1970  Stockhausen recording marking the 200th birthday of the 19th century composer. But here we have the two together in a pairing by lucid and articulate pianist Marc Ponthus (Bridge 9584).

We get to hear Ponthus's take on Beethoven's long-formed Hammerklavier Sonata opus 106 and Stockhausen's monumentally expressive but somewhat more terse Klavierstuck X. In pure statistical terms, there are far fewer recordings out there of Kavierstuck X than there are of Hammerklavier op 106, so that doubtless we should be especially grateful for the Stockhausen if it be good. In truth, these are worthy versions of both. Happily the Beethoven is undeniably symphonic in its consistently surcharged and continuously dramatic thrust as interpreted by Ponthus.

The Stockhausen likewise hangs together in a continuous unity that gives it a readily communicative power and visceral  accessibility it may not have quite as readily in some earlier versions.

Stream the album at the following links. for the Stockhausen, then the Beethoven and follow the movement sequence from there in the You Tube listings.

An important pianistic event, a nice stocking stuffer.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Sonic Alchemy, YuEun Kim, Mina Gajic, Coleman Itzkof Play Arvo Part, Peteris Vasks, Mozart


Sonic Alchemy (Sono Luminus DSL92261) gathers together the considerable interpretive and sonically advanced gifts of violinist YuEun Kim, pianist Mina Gajic, and cellist Coleman Itzkoff for a rather magical program of chamber gems by Arvo Part, Peteris Vasks and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When you have a trio of the musical sensitivity you hear readily on this album, of primary importance perhaps are the commonalities one might sense between the composers and works covered in the seven dramatic and lyrically probing works heard here.

In many ways the central section of this program gives you a kind of remarkable kismet between the Mozart's Fantasias, in C minor and D minor, and the Part "Mozart Adagio." All have the motion of Mozart Classicism and the exploratory lyricism we especially appreciate in Part, but perhaps do not always underscore in a Mozart movement but of nevertheless can be touchingly present.

As bookended there is much to appreciate even in that movement from the outer, melodically immediate yet exotic quality of the Vasks and the Part of whirring summer "Fratres" and then in the end the Vasks lyric pulsation of "Castle Interior" and Part's classic "Spiegel im Spiegel." In the end you might as I do revel in the superior expressive excellence of the ideal in many ways for these works, as heard here. Bravo.

Listen to a free stream of the entire album at this link:

Friday, October 27, 2023

Leonard Bernstein, Music for String Quartet, Aaron Copland, Elegies for Violin and Viola


In music you might spend a lifetime with some composers and still not know some of the works. That is the case for me to date with Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland and their respective Music for String Quartet (1936) and Elegies for Violin and Viola (1932). The former by Bernstein is in its world premiere recording here, and the Copland in any event is not especially well known. I do not believe I've heard either previously. So here we have both (Navona NV6557), as played very capably by Lucia Lin, Natalie Rose Kress, Danny Kim, and Ronald Feldman. For the duo it is Kress and Kim.

What is amazing in part is how good the Bernstein is, considering we had to wait 77 years to hear it in recorded version. The Copland is also heartening in its probing Modernistic stance.

The Bernstein is very motile, dense, rhythmic and at times thick harmonically. The Copland makes a case for something somewhat more sparse but is equally serious in its contemporary ultra-musical stance.
All-in-all this is superior, no-nonsense art-for-art's sake and shows you the early brilliance present in both, wow!

Stream a telling excerpt of the Bernstein:

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Justin Dello Joio, Oceans Apart, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Garrick Ohlsson, Alan Gilbert


You live your life day-to-day and for me anyway the new music I hear marks time as a constant and an inspiration to me. There is no different a situation today except perhaps the offering stands out aore captivating than the average. Namely Justin Dello Joio, son of Norman Dello Joio, and his title-bearing Concerto Oceans Apart (Bridge 9583) along with two chamber works that provide contrast--namely "Due Per Due" for cello and piano and "Blue and Gold Music" for brass quintet and organ. 

The "Oceans Apart" Concerto runs for around 20 minutes of the 40 minute CD, but in terms of the emphasis it is much more the dominant work.It is a piece that commanded my immediate attention and kept on. It has the full force of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Alan Gilbert, with Garrick Ohlsson on piano, even with numerous replays. It is a stunningly dynamic and enthralling work, like an after-Scriabin modernity in the sensibility of the new Millennium.

"Due for Due" gives us piano and cello in an Expressionist firebrand of a score that keeps the momentum of the concerto. 

"Blue and Gold Music in turn nicely parses out the brass and organ parts with some haunting music for the finale, At timesit all recalls earlier periods where the music was more widespread in the churches and cathedrals of Europe yet show a modern sensibility which connects it with today.

All in all we have a vibrant program that speaks to us with musical details worth you time. This one is a goodie. Stream the concerto in full

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Vivian Fung, Insects & Machines, Quartets, Jasper String Quartet

Vivian Fung steps forward  thanks to a rewarding new album covering her four string quartets on the recent CD Insects & Machines (Sono Luminus DSL-92270), played with a beautiful sense of color and SUBSTANCE by the Jasper String Quartet. These four quartets were written between 2001 and 2019, and show each a special sonarity and musical ethos.

The Quartet says "Vivian's String Quartets Nos. 1-4 reflect a remarkable journey of absorbing, integrating and synthesizing a unique spectrum of influences into her compositional voice. Unwavering in all of the works is a fierce heart, instrumental fearlessness, and an amazing instinct for texture."

And the synergy between composer and quartet is palpable and deep to my mind. Each of the four quartets has its say in Modernist, Expressionist terms that convince, especially after a number of listens. There is a belonging to a rewarding set of aesthetic principals and an original, authentic sounding that one does not come across every day. Very recommended.

The composer's Asian heritage is never far from the consideration in her music. Quartet No.3 for example is in part based on Chinese folk themes. As you would expect of any good composer the influences are not the primary reason to hear the music.There is much more, in terms of what is actually done to those influences.

The fourth quartet has the title used on the overall album and is based on Ms. Fung's time spent in  Cambodia and the singular insect buzz she found so fascinating there.