Search This Blog

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Gity Razaz, The Strange Highway


For today's music post we have a very moving and dynamic Gity Razaz (b 1986) and her album of compositions entitled The Strange Highway (BIS 2634 CD). She was born in Tehran and came west to pursue her classical compositional aspirations.

The results are this very personal, Expressionist-Modern compendium of some five varied but consistently compelling works. It is a sort of program that rewards when you open up to it. And by its very special waywardness its ability not to conform but to reaffirm the newness of the new, we all might gain something worthwhile by letting it play!

"The Strange Highway" (2011) begins the program by giving us a deeply dramatic minor-chromatic journey for cello octet that is of a kind of soundscaped expansiveness that marks it of today yet also calls the ancient muses in its dramatic sweep. The musico-logical and chronological bookend to the opener is the closer, the dramatically extended reverie "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" (2011) for chamber orchestra and fixed electronics. It has a truly expressive chromatic depth that beautifully closes the entire sequence.

In between the bookends is a series of some three works featuring a Modern rhapsodic take on string instruments--the 2007 "Duo" for cello and piano, the 2015 "Legend of Sigh" for cello, pre-recorded cello and electronics, and then the 2020 soliloquy "Spellbound" for solo viola.

There is a good deal of dramatic flourish and thoughtful line weaving throughout. There is a special originality from start to finish, a markedly idiomatic set of parts, and thanks to the well hewn performances we get to hear this music with admirable fidelity it would seem to the composer's vision. In the end I for one look forward to hearing more of Razaz's music. This one has a real presence that reminds us how far we have come but then how much more music is possible going forward. Good things here and I heartily recommend it all to you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Jennifer Bellor, Oneira, Clocks in Motion


The chamber group Clocks in Motion presents Oneira (Aerocade Music AM012), which gives us an entire album of the music of Jennifer Bellor. None of this was familiar to me until I kindly received this album in the mail for consideration. Several days of listens later, I can say confidently that I now KNOW, and I am happy I do.

Clocks in Motion is a threesome of mallets and percussion with the addition of a guest percussionist to make up a quartet. So we hear John Corkill, Christopher G. Jones and Sean Kleve with guest Megan Arns or Kyle Flans. Everybody sounds excellent as they wind their way through the three specially composed works by Jennifer Bellor.

The composer is the first in what the group hopes will be a long line of artists in residence for their "Clock Shop," a long term, in this case four-year collaboration where she worked with them to workshop, create and develop multiple percussion compositions ultimately to perform and record. The happy first fruits can be appreciated on the CD at hand.

It turns out that Ms. Bellor came through with music that is not rote-ly repetitively Minimalist or New in an expected sense. Rather you might experience this music as I did, as a kind of New Classical Ethnic-Folk hybrid of pentatonic and diatonic musics of infectious rhythm and brightly chiming and syncopating excitement, like perhaps in essence Balinese Gamelan, only wholly original and local to the US like the legacy of percussion group music classics from here, only evolved and inventive in its own ways.

Each work unfolds in nicely built structures of expression, in ways that those who love melodic percussion groups will doubtless find as charming and continually invigorating as I did. Happily recommended!

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Poul Ruders, Harpsichord Concerto, Mahan Esfahani, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segerstam


The fecundity and presence of NeoClassicism in music--the interjection of some past elements into a present-day Modernism--has had its ups and downs. Stravinsky most certainly benefited greatly by such possibilities. He had a clear idea of what to do and he did it to our great aural satisfaction. Certainly someone like a Penderecki and what he did with the Passion took advantage of early music expression and forms at times, and there can be little doubt about the beauty and expressiveness of Part and his clear adaptation of earlier music ideas or sonics. Not everything has been wonderful that has come out more or less under this rubric, but that is true of pretty much everything.

Last century there were some successful Neo aspects in a number of Concertos for Harpsichord and Orchestra. I will not rehearse that list right now, except to mention such concertos by Poulenc, de Falla, Martinu, Frank Martin. Well now we gain another very viable approach to it all with Poul Ruders' 2020 work, out in a World Premier recording on Ours 9.70892, a digital release featuring Mahan Esfahani on harpsichord and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra under Leif Segerstam.

This Ruders work gets a detailed reading with a careful Modern expressionist kind of flavor that one continuously feels seems at least very near-definitive, if not simply definitive.

There is so much dissonant complexity here and that juxtaposes nicely with a near Baroque momentum. The three movements have that Classical spelling by an andante in Movement Two and otherwise there is dramatic pacing throughout that wears well and continues to fascinate with repeated listenings. The harpsichord part is dense and virtuoso-like. The orchestra plays off the dissonant, dark animation with deliberate counterfoils nicely projecting and setting a wide aural-spatial set of parameters that seem just right for the present-day rough worldscape, the complexity of everyday pandemic, climatic and political strife that characterizes our current world.

It is a stubbornly, organically full work that like a particularly appealing Rorschach blot one might well find one reacts to perhaps according to your own personal musical psychology? If so all seems to invite listening-participation and appreciation over a lengthy listening lifetime potential. This is no quick aural snack. It is something to settle down with now and again as you need something of our time, perhaps something inspiring that you did not at first expect?

The composer informs us how by slightly amplifying the harpsichord vis-a-vis the orchestra he was able to match and contrast respective sonances and you can hear that as you mark out the sequences for yourself a number of times.

The music fits our era but not in just any old way--rather in an intensely personal view we recognize as poignant and transformative alike.

The work fits in with our recent Modern Neo-Classic possibilities but then follows Poul Ruders' very personal way to express it all, and as the author notes, without "slipping into a hackneyed Neoclassicism." Happily recommended for both compositional and performative excitement.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Grazyna Bacewicz, A Portrait, Kinga Augustyn, Music for Solo Violin and Violin with Piano


When I used to get tickets to the NY Philharmonic concerts because I was covering the NY beat for the relevant edition of the monthly Delta Airlines Destination Guide, Kurt Mazur happily programmed a piece by Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) into one of the programs. It was the '90s and for whatever reason I was unfamiliar with her music then. It was the beginning for me of a long appreciation of her works that continues today. Gradually I am coming to know her full output, and now I am especially pleased to hear violinist Kinga Augustyn and her new recording of music for solo violin and violin with piano, Portrait (Centaur CRC 3971).

It is a deeply rewarding collection of wonderfully expressive-Modern vehicles taken with great introspective yet jubilant depth by Kinga Augustyn, seconded admirably by Alla Milchtein on piano for the four short pieces and the 1945 Concertino for Violin and Piano. The remainder of the works cover her well wrought solo violin pieces spanning a rather wide swatch of time from 1935 through 1968.

All of the music fascinates and rewards with the kind of fluid ease and memorability that marks Bacewicz at her best and for that matter gives Polish Modernism a special edge in the most general terms, though Grazyna is her own master and sustains originality. So one might feel at times the affinity with Panufnik, Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Paderewski, of course in varied ways yet happily so, especially if you take a wide view.

The concentrated focus and virtuostic dedication of Ms. Augustyn rings true and makes of it all a wonder, a vivid and contrasting program I find as moving and worthwhile as anything I have heard thus far this year. Bravo! For those reading in August 2022 the CD comes out in September but you can pre-order online.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Fernande Decruck, Concertante Works, World Premiere Recordings

If you asked me before I went to the mailbox the other day who was Fernande Decruck, I would have said I had no idea. But here we are a few days later and I have been listening to the album of her Concertante Works  (Claves SO-3056) some in premier recordings, some in premiere performances. She is a she, first off, which explains in part why maybe you've never heard of her? Women and Jews, according to some in the earlier days, supposedly did not make good composers. Well that turned out to be utter nonsense, of course. So to further debunk that myth here is the music of Ms. Decruck, who was French, born auspiciously enough on a December 25th, 1896 and leaving this earth on August 6, 1954. 

The album is one that takes a bit of patience to start with. After a while it begins to get through to your ears, to have a cogency, a definite French evocative sense of melodic form. She is not quite Ravel or Debussey-esque. But then she has her own lyrical sense. It is a happy discovery if you give it a chance-- well played by soloists and the Jackson Symphony Orchestra conducted by Matthew Rubin. 

The album has three concerted-like works for solo instruments and orchestra. She apparently wrote quite a few works for saxophone, including the opening "Sonate et un diese pour saxophone (ou alto) et orchestre."  Also well worth your ear time is the "Poem Heroique" for trumpet and orchestra and finally the (to me) especially charming "Concerto pour harpe et orchestre."

Strongly recommended. Give it a listen by all means!   

String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Enfolding, The Music of Scott Wollschleger and Anne Leilehua Lanzillotti

Every day is a new day. And every day out there there is new music to be heard, things you may not know from people you may not know. I feel I should cover as much as I can, so I do. Of course that is a problem because when nobody knows an artist they may not respond to the article and I perhaps am doing myself in? Well I cannot help that.

So today I've got another for you, something worth checking out, something local for me, not far from where I am so I feel the need to cover it even if you do not know it. It is by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, who sound very good here.  The album is entitled Enfolding (New Focus Recordings FCR 331).

It is a gathering of new and worthy works that you might know nothing about until now. That was the case for me. It features Scott Wollschleger and his 15 minute "Outside Only Sound," and then Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti's Pulitzer Prize nominated work "With eyes the color of time."
Now both works are in a kind of PostModern, not quite Minimalist mode. Both works have something distinct and original to impart and the String Orchestra of Brooklyn give us a sincere, committed and very together reading of both works.  "Outside Only Sound" has a fascinatingly hypnotic wall-of-sound quality about it. "with open eyes the color of time"  gives us a wonderful title and the nine part work itself takes us for a ride with slowly unfolding drone-sustain-melodies in stop time and then, well, listen!

Now if you are not really in the mood to explore the very new, you might not want to venture here. But if you are ready for a real musical adventure, this is one to add to your listening pile! Very happily recommended!

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Elaine Greenfield, Ravel Compared, Solo Piano Works on Two Period Instruments


As I write these lines it is peak summer outside, a sunny morning surely made for Ravel's piano music. So I feel all is well as I listen to the two-CD set at hand, Ravel Compared (Navona NV6401) as played with real artistic vibrancy by Elaine Greenfield. I might argue that Ravel was at the very top of 20th century composers for the piano. It is not like I would be saying something not already generally felt out there. And as times goes on I still feel that way, not surprisingly.

What is especially nice about this compilation is that each of the two CDs features the same repertoire, only Ms. Greenfield plays each set on a different period instrument. CD 1 features an 1893 Erard from Paris; CD 2 features an 1917 Ivers & Pond from Boston. MS. Greenfield responds to each piano as she feels it. The Erard has a great kind of mirrored liquidity, the Ivers & Pond has a sunshiny woodiness equally charming. As you listen to each you feel you are closer to the music the way Ravel himself may well have heard it. But at the same time you hear Elaine's unwavering sympathy to the works and her open nd poetic readings, more about the warmth and lucidity of the music than some technical self-aggrandizement.

So the works chosen sound great in slightly varying ways each outing."Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte" reminds us how wonderful his melodic-harmonic gifts were. Then we get to appreciate Ms, Greenfield's well varying readings of the "Sonatine," a couple of movements from "Miroirs," his "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales," "Gaspard de la Nuit," and :"Le Tombeau de Couperin."

Anyone who has communed in the Ravel pianistic approach will have plenty to appreciate in Elaine Greenfield's supreme artistry. A newcomer to the music would benefit from hearing both piano-based versions and their heightened lyrical dynamics. Strongly recommended!