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Friday, June 14, 2019

Bohuslav Martinu, Cello Sonatas, Petr Nouzovsky, Gerard Wyss

Martinu (1890-1959) continues to surprise me with the breadth and depth of his output. There are many facets, many sides and no monolithic singularity so much as a multi-stranded set of possibilities according to period and configuration. These considerations seem once again critical as I consider the recent album of his Cello Sonatas (ArcoDiva UP3212-2131). Cellist Petr Nouzovsky and pianist Gerard Wyss make a formidable duo as they dramatically evoke the gravitas, complexities and brilliances of all three Sonatas for Cello and Piano as completed in 1939, 1941 and 1952, respectively.

As one gets to know the three sonatas one is once again reminded that though Martinu has been taken for granted in some circles, in reality he has the importance of a Bartok, a Janacek, a titan of Eastern European Modernism with some chamber bloomings here that rival the very best of their sort.

Clearly the Nouzovsky-Wyss Cello Sonata collaboration has been a labor of love. The two delve deeply within the music and remain there throughout. The significance of each periodic phrase floats aurally until it is given the weight and absorbed articulation it deserves. Considerable technique and balanced expression join together to make of the hour-long enactment something profound indeed.

With every successive listen I become more convinced that these sonatas are not only some of Martinu's very best chamber works, but also that they rival the very best of the 20th century repertoire for cello and piano. Perhaps one might go so far as to assert that Bartok is to the string quartet as Martinu is to the cello-piano sonata? Certainly one might argue it. In any event this is a very fine reading of some major works. One benefits greatly from the hearing of this program, or I have at least. The thematic outpourings never cease, the invention level is remarkably high, consistently so and the idiomatic possibilities of the endless significant scoring gets benchmark realization here.

This is nothing short of a monumental outing. Any serious listener to the wealth of Eastern European 20th Century gems will want to hear these performances. Bravo!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Henning Sommerro, Ujamaa and The Iceberg, Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir

In the gloomy and dark room where my CDs wait for review the album at hand unwittingly blended in with the walls. This morning I am happy to report in on it, for it is not just some item among the many, but rather a special album deserving attention. Composer Henning Sommerro gives us his two symphonic panoramas on the CD Ujamaa (2L 146). The CD (and Blu-Ray multichannelled companion) contains both "Ujamaa" and "The Iceberg," two vibrantly atmospheric and descriptive Tonal Modern works in a tradition of the generally distinctive nature of offerings from up North. The disk was recorded in Trontheim, Norway.

Ingar Heine Bergby conducts the Trontheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir on "The Iceberg" and just the orchestra for "Ujamaa." Lena Willemark, vocalist and folk fiddler is joined on "Ujamaa" by saxophonist Jon Pal Inderberg along with bass clarinetist Rik De Geyter and percussionist Espen Aalberg. Lena is rather remarkable in her vocal stylings. For "The Iceberg" we hear from soprano vocalist Eir Inderhaug and baritone Florin Demit with excellent results.

And what of the music? It is unabashedly folksy contemporary pastel tonal I suppose you could say. "Ujamaa" is more overtly rhythmic and folk-like with some extraordinary, wildly and exuberantly skipping-ranging vocals from Lena Willemark. "The Iceberg" unfolds in more descriptive ways as chorus, soprano and baritone blend with the orchestra in an almost cantata-like massing and delineation. 

A mysterious cover notwithstanding, in that it renders the prospective listener nearly clueless, this is a most interesting program performed with true distinction. Sommerro comes through in a Northern Impressionist colorfulness in the best of Scandinavian traditions yet manages to say in two works things that speak in utterly original ways.

If I devote less space to actual music description this morning it is not because the music lacks character. On the contrary there is so much character (in the Nielsenian sense) that the music speaks wholly and most eloquently for itself. It is perhaps enough to say that every bar seems deliberate and masterfully built for an expressivity all its own.

If you crave the new, here it very much is. I recommend this wholeheartedly for all without preconceptions of what the "Modern" is supposed to sound like. This is a universally local music wholly within itself in the best original ways. Strong!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Jessica Gould, Diego Cantalupi, I Viaggi de Caravaggio

We might count ourselves lucky to be alive at a time when Early Music is getting more detailed attention, more historically accurate performances, while an ever wider range of repertoire is covered, if you take stock of recordings released between, say, 1965 and today and compare that with the time before.

A happy thing that is to me, for I am always glad to enlarge my knowledge of the older forms of music. Today I get to tell you about a recent album covering music I am not all that familiar with, namely I Viaggi di Caravaggio (MVC 17043), an enlightening program of early Seicento motets and arias performed with flair by soprano Jessica Gould and Diego Cantalupi on lute and chitarrone.

The music hails from 1603 through 1643 and features beautiful examples by Benedetto Ferrari, Laurencini, Giovanni Felice Sances, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, among others, and three by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, the latter of which in the liner notes Diego Cantalupi hails as a key figure bridging between early and later style incarnations.

This is not especially contrapuntal music but there is a sort of earthy kind of dialog between voice and instrument that is rousing, and at the same time sophisticated. The liners suggest that no matter the subject of the song that it was a time when artists and musicians lived full lives of passion and color, and that life of course necessarily spilled over into their creations one way or another. The lyrics--made available in the original Italian and in English translation, tell us something of such concerns and suggests to us us the full humanity of those involved.

We have encountered happily Jessica Gould earlier this year (type her name in the search box above for that review). Today's outing shows again her wide-ranging dexterity and power, the beautifully idiomatic, very light vibrato and punchy directness.  Diego Cantalupi's lute and chitarrone playing is simply marvelous. Together they give us beautiful readings of music I for one am very glad to know.

This album will make Early Music enthusiasts smile. And other adventurous souls will no doubt get pleasure from this as well if they make the effort. I for one am glad to have it to hear again.

Giacomo Baldelli, Electric Creatures

Electric Guitarist Giacomo Baldelli shows us how and why Contemporary Classical can be today more or less whatever the composers and performers wish it to be, given an audience open to the new as New. His album Electric Creatures (SD015) provides us with a way the fully electric guitar can be a fulcrum point for vibrant New Music.

Five works give us pause and furnish us headroom for explorations. From the opening with Eve Beglarian's repetition, mesmerization and melding together on "Until it Blazes," to Andrea Agostini and "Three Electric Creatures" with a Metal blazing forth into compositional swirls, we recognize and appreciate the musically astute intersections from Rock into the Avant Classical realm, which of course we have had intimations and realizations of long before from Hendrix to Pink Floyd to Fripp and Eno on one hand, and composers like Francis Thorne on the New Music side a long while ago on the other.

The intersection continues with Ryan Pratt's "Two," Jacob TV's "Grab It!"and Nick Norton's "Slow Earth." One in the end enjoys the fully cranked potential of the electric guitar realized with a musicality that intrigues and reminds us how far we have traveled from the days when it was startling to read on the cover of The Ventures in Space how all those funny sounds were created with electric guitars, or on the other hand to appreciate the sound of BB King, strings singing and blazing forth in ways that were more like a violin than an acoustic guitar, or then Jeff Beck with the Yardbirds and that silky sort of distortion he got. If we hear Hip Hop interjected it is still Blues, Psychedelia, Metal and electric Ambiance that constitutes the prime mover here and good for all that.

That tomorrow was there already in 1965 was of course true as the rise of the Modern in every cultural sense was both latent and very present in that period so that we can now look back upon it all and perhaps understand more fully.

Giacomo Baldelli executes the five pieces with fire and polish in equal amounts. In so doing he opens the door yet further for the full integration of electrics into the avant of New Music.

Hoorah for that! If you do not find that interesting, then perhaps this one is not for you. Otherwise, by all means.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Isaac Schankler, Because Patterns

No person is an island and perhaps every piece of music connects in some way to every other piece of music whether local or world-widely, contemporary to ancient. That may be more to chew off on this rainy morning than I can safely address on the blog, but it explains my feeling listening to Because Patterns (Aerocade Music 011). I get a distinct window on experiencing a piece of today that is electroacoustically enmeshed with what has happened in Electronica and the Post-Progressive in Rock, on one hand, soundscaping ambiance, and the whole spectrum of the Modern Contemporary Classical on the other.

This is something one can get in vinyl, and that makes sense because it is long enough but not too long for that platform--so that hipsters in vinyl-land may find it quite properly LP-ish in pacing and content. My copy is a CD and that need not deter us of course, because I heard the same sounds obviously. Still, this is part of present-day audience credence I guess.

The album consists of three works, the first long-ish at 24 minutes, the second two in smaller chunks that no doubt fit onto side two of the record in vinyl.

The opening work is perhaps the more ambitious of the three, "Because Patterns/Deep State." It features as source and as principal sound generator Aron Kallay and Vicki Ray on prepared piano. There are parts of the finished work that rely on more-or-less unprocessed acoustic instrument but then a great deal surrounds those moments that is electroacoustically transformed. A soundscaped section consists of continuous sustains of air-ear-ay and atmospheric blankets, but then there returns the punctuated periodicity of the two-piano interactions that sound less like Cage-meets-Bali and closer to something you mind find in Radical Tonality works these days. The piece juxtaposes the two possibilities in ways that enchant. It is something to hear and luxuriate within, for sure.

The following two works make some use of recording studio processing but less so. They are primarily the conventional instrument with accompanying ambiances, and sometimes also a bit of what sounds like overdubbing.

That is true of "Mobile I" with Sakura Tsai on violin. It is a subtle combination of conventionally recorded solo violin doubled-up at times and then backdropped with electronically altered long-sustain electro-subtleties. In some ways here for me are the finest ten minutes of the program, for the violin parts are engagingly done and the electronics interweave in the happiest manner. Some extended techniques interject into the music towards the end and are complemented by rapidly moving electronic bass percussives.

The final work "Future Feelings" is a good deal of Nadia Shpachenko on piano per se. There is a slightly rhapsodic Romantic remnant-ory overbite in terms of a rhapso-element to this music and glistening arpeggios as well. It is more situated in both a sort of capturing of "beauty" as well as the motility of some Improv Jazz, yet all is decisively resituated in a personal aural cocoon so to speak.

The distinctively shifting moods and presences of the three works lend themselves well to vinyl and its expectations of physically turning the disk over halfway and the psychology of that.

The music grew on me util I looked forward to another spin. It is music that provokes and takes you on a traveling movement, a sojourn. I recommend it for a palate cleanser that gives of itself to change the scene for you aurally.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Siggi String Quartet, South of the Circle

The Siggi String Quartet play repertoire from as far back as the Renaissance but they love the early-to-later Moderns as much as anything and thrive in collaborations with living composers. In their South of the Circle (Sono Luminous 92232) they present some of the very newest of New Music from composers of northern climes.

One might call much of this music Post-Atonal, because most all of it has a pretty clearly defined tonality yet it does not at all sound as if it is looking back as much as it is finding a way of expressing our moment alive today. All of it requires a true sensitivity to sound color which the Siggi Quartet provides in full, poetically so.

The five composers are duly weighed in on the liner notes. Daniel Bjarnason is said to be on the very edge of the new. He won the 2017 Icelandic Music Award composition of the year for Brothers (which was a Sono Luminus release). His "Stillshot" (2015) begins the program. Una Sveinbjarnardottir is a founding member of the quartet and concertmaster of the Roykjavik Chamber Orchestra. She has worked with Boulez, Penderecki and Rostropovich among others. Her "Opacity" (2014)  graces the CD as the second composition heard.

Valgeir Sigurdsson loves to blur distinctions between the acoustic and the electronic and won Iceland's album of the year award in 2018 for his 4th album Dissonance. "Nebraska" (2011) gives us a worthy quartet example on the program here. Mamiko Dis Ragnarsdottir is a Classical pianist and comes to the music with some rootedness in Jazz and Pop. She shows us an original sort of Minimalism with an introspective side on the included work "Fair Flowers" (2018). Finally there is Haukur Tomasson, who won the prestigious Nordic Concert Music Prize in 2004 for his opera Gudrun's 4th Song. His "Serimonia" (2014) ends the program on an adventurous and harmonically edgy note.

The Siggi String Quartet excel on this album in the meticulous way they realize each work with close attention to sonority and space. Their excellence of detail within broadly sweeping readings make for us music that nearly startles after one takes the time to immerse oneself in the music. Extended techniques and subtle sound blends make a world you find the earful self entering more and more thoroughly with each listen. Like the best of New Music performances it enters a sort of ineffable place where the sounds speak in ways words cannot.

I defer to this music with deep respect and appreciation. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Tangos for Yvar, Hanna Shybayeva, 18 Tangos 1927-2004

Some albums excel for embracing and executing a great idea well. Today's example gives us this with Tangos for Yvar (Grand Piano 794), pianist Hanna Shybayeva's idiomatic and inspired reading of some 18 Tangos for solo piano, all composed in Modern times, most on commission by pianist Yvar Mikhashoff between 1983-1993.

The thread very much is of course the Tango, as a rhythmic tendency corresponding to the dance form, as a melodic-harmonic sensing of pacing and recurrence, as a periodic set of flowing form, all the things one can identify as defining a piece of music as a "Tango."

In the 18 examples that appear on the program in each case there is a particular intersection between the Modern or Post-Modern new music language and that of the Tango. Sometimes the New Music of edgy non-periodic melody and harmony prevails, or a hypnotic Minimal repetition, sometimes the Tango is in every way a Tango proper yet it goes about it in ways that are contemporary. Across this spectrum of possibilities we experience a wealth of inventive realizations that continually fascinate and surprise.

Some are chosen outside of the Yvar series to stretch the temporary and stylistic realms. So we have a nice one by Stefan Wolpe from 1927 on one end, and something by Piazzolla from 1973 since completeness demands he be included. Most the rest are from the remarkable commission series. In all we get short and characteristic works from the likes of Biscardi, Pender, Nichifor, Rzewski, Fennelly, Aharonian, Schimmel, Nyman, Hill, Mumford, Johnson, Finch, Babbitt, Berkman, Vigeland and Nobre.

It might not be something you'd imagine if you did not already know but it is fully as good or a good deal  better than you'd have any right to expect. Charming. Wonderful. Imaginative. The ideal meeting of the Modern and the rooted. I strongly recommend this one if you seek adventure and, why not, a little fun?