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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Inviting Worlds, Volume Two, New Works for Large Ensemble, Various Composers


Navona Records flourishes as a lively conduit for New Music and has for some time. Its anthologies of particular categories of newness always promise much and then one listens to each of course singularly to gauge what personal appeal each might offer. 

Right now a new title is getting a long listen on my player, namely the Second Volume of Inviting Worlds (Navona NV644). The Janacek Philharmonic Ostrava do the honors with several conductors sharing the podium. It all sounds right.

The label website talks about the rhythmic dexterity and textural nuance of the modern orchestral  possibilities here. Indeed the six examples by six emerging and emergent composers brings six varied and eclectically worthy approaches to Modern Mainstream decidedly worth hearing.

It might be better to name the pieces and composers and set you loose on the hearing, since there to me is no particular meaningful patterning that is obvious on the verbal level, except all are tonal, all seem to provide an expression of music in our times. Well the website copy notes that our times are indeed "dark," and that each piece seeks to grapple with the present and its complexities. There is a slight influence of Sacre at times rhythmically and perhaps some of Varesian periodicity of form and then the lyric melodicisms of Copland, Barber, etc. and other things besides but you should listen for yourself and get the thrust of it all in your own listening experience.

Take a listen to "Hope and a Future" by Lawrence Mumford, "Chasse Noir" by Dinah Bianchi, "When Quiet Comes" by Bruce Reiprich, "Gold Lights in Blue" by William Copper, "Rising Up" by Debra Kaye, and the eight part "Paisano Suite" by Richard E. Brown.

By all means give this a listen. I am going to listen to Volume One now so I will be back I suspect happily with that. Volume Two is easily recommended. You help the new voices by hearing this. They need your attention and patronage.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Anil Camci's Dekagon, New Electronic Music Gems


The state-of-the-art for CD design and graphics never ceases to stimulate me, and not always for the worse. Look here at the cover of Anil Camci's Dekagon (Innova-080) and you will see something doubtlessly avant but then readable and nicely dynamic. So who is Anil Camci? If you Google him you find his University of Michigan page (where he teaches). You see by his site that he is up to interesting things--digital instrument design, electro-audio web applications. It is all worth reading and gives the back story for what makes his Electronic Music so alarmingly good. He is first of all a SOUND artist extraordinaire, a real orchestrational innovator.

To turn to this fine disk, we have ten short works, all of which explore very fetching and beautiful sonic territory. Listen to his brief "Christmas 2013" from the album and feel the poetic rightness of this nuusic.   I find it all rather brilliant! Copy and paste this link: If that hits you, then by all means take a listen to it all, spring for the CD, enjoy this one at length. Bravo!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A Baroque Christmas at Sono Luminus, Felipe Dominguez, Organ


What is a holiday except what you make it?  I can recall more than one Christmas Season that virtually or nearly stood or fell on the basis of the music I heard that time of year. I am off to a good beginning this season with something I just got in the mail: A Baroque Christmas at Sono Luminus (Sono Luminus DSL-92260), with Felipe Dominguez at the organ. What distinguishes this one (other than the fine playing and sound) is the inviting combination of a few absolute Christmas classics with a treasure trove of lesser-known but vibrantly lively period works.

So the well-known works seed the totality richly with the Pastoral movement from the Messiah as nicely arranged for organ and so also an arrangement of "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" in the Praetorious harmonization. The four work totality  gives us a cozy familiarity that prepares us for lesser-known but nicely turned Chorale Preludes by Bach and by Johann Gottfried Walther. From there we experience nicely wrought Baroque Christmas expressions by Jean-Francois Dandrieu,  Domenico Zipoli, Johann Kaspar Ferdinand Fischer, Dieterich Buxtehude, Louis-Claude Daquin, Georg Bohm, John Stanley, Johann Pachelbel, and Bernardo Pasquin.

In the end we get a good listen to the newly installed Sono Luminus organ, which sounds just right. And then the program scores big to my ears with a wide-ranging, musically ravishing collection of Baroque gems for the season. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Moritz Moszkowski, Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume Two


September 11, 2014 was when I last covered something of note by German-Jewish Polish descended composer Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) on these pages. Today I have the pleasure of writing about a new release, the Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume Two (Toccata Classics TOCC 0660). Doing the honors on piano is Ian Hobson, and he seems fully in the elements of the music for flow and melodic thrust.

This volume concentrates on some three multi-movement works from 1877 and 1878, namely the "Sechs Stucke" of 1877, the "Drei Clavierstucke in Tantzform" of 1878, and the "Funf Clavierstucke" of 1878.

What sets this music up for us and in the end gives us a kind of endless banquet of musical treats is the continual motion of the music in dance form and further extensions beyond it, so that the perpetual motion suggests a connection to Chopin yet continually takes it further into a personally expressive mode with exceptional inventive brilliance.

As the liners tell us, Moszkowski in his day was almost entirely known for his "Spanish Dances" for piano duet, then his solo piano "Serenata" which opens this volume as the first part of the "Sechs Stucke," op 15. That is a nice way to begin, relatively simple and lyrical. The program then goes on from strength-to-strength, with interpretations that heighten the beauty of the various pieces, plus give us pause to appreciate the charm and winning warmth of it all. 

There is no substitute for the direct appreciation of these works by repeated listens. It rewards you with a singing sort of contentment that affirms his continual freshness if we listen without an idea of what we will hear. I do recommend this one heartily. Get it and enjoy the ride!

Miriam K. Smith, Momentum, Cello and Piano by Prokofiev, Stravinsky. Nadia Boulanger, with Sandra Wright Shen, Mini-Review


Just another Monday as we live it? Well not entirely. We have a new CD by a cellist and a pianist with whom I do not have any previous eartime. It is cellist Miriam K. Smith and pianist Sandra Wright Shen and their very absorbing and expressive album Momentum (Azica ACD-71364). It gives us very much to like with two wonderful yet somewhat unappreciated  gems by Prokofiev and Stravinsky: the Opus 119 Cello Sonata in G Major of Prokofiev's and the "Suite Italienne" by Stravinsky. Then we are treated to a even more rare work by the great Nadia Boulanger, her "Trois Pieces pour violincello et piano."

This is good for your soul, I would say. Nicely performed and nice, very nice to have to hear repeatedly. Very recommended.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Dana Kaufman, Emily & Sue... An A Cappella Pop Opera Based on the Lives of Emily Dickinson and Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson


Sometimes you wake up and find yourself in a world that is changing and like my grandfather  holding his ears long ago at my brother's wedding as the reception record player blared "It's My Party," you sometimes feel Pop culture is rolling along without you. All I have to do for that feeling is to watch Jeopardy with some amazement as the contestants all seem to KNOW Pop culture things I have no idea about. Doubtless it is a factor to blame of isolation and a little a lack of money to invest in the flavors of the moment. And it is true that all that has little bearing on the "high" culture echelons and historical panoramas I tend to dwell in. But every so often like with the story of Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera maybe 30 years ago, or Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta, there are things contemplated by those in high culture that find their way to a general cache so that you need to be aware of what it says to our gender and relationship understanding, for example.

So such a thing is for sure in the works regarding the story of poet brilliance Emily Dickinson and her would-be-partner-friend Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, star-crossed lovers now portrayed in movies, etc. And so we have now the appearance of an a cappella Pop Opera that portrays the story with music by Dana Kaufman, libretto by Aiden K. Feltkamp, and some poignant texts including Dickinson's poems and other communications as well as those of Ms. Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. All this we have on the 40 minute CD of the opera, Emily & Sue (Adhyaropa CD).

Well so what to make of it all? The music is interesting, just harmonized vocals and sometimes beatbox vocals, and yes it is a kind of Pop thing. My first listen I came away from feeling that I should ideally know the story to begin with, that the music and libretto assume this and climb atop an emotional-tragic demeanor one understands but if you are not that well versed in Dickinson bio or her poetry--I confess I have not read her as much as I should have--you feel you perhaps are eavesdropping in on a touching exchange of words and perhaps need an expanded, more contextual knowledge to emote in parallel along with the music. Otherwise it has a little too much affect to ponder without already feeling it, or that was my first blush with it anyway. Pop of course can ordinarily emote in a very highly wrought manner and the usual Pop song framework makes such of it all pretty obvious as to the given scenario at hand. Here we probably should consult a libretto as one goes on; that is a sort minimal grounding to understand it,  but sadly it is not a part of the CD packaging. Yet that probably is secondary to gauging the impact of the music per se, so we are glad in the end to have it all well performed to hear with this release in any event.

And for that it is some very well turned melodics, some nicely conceived part writings, and then the sort of dramatics in a portrayal of the text. So "open the door" and "I am right on the other side" stand in for sad misconnections, and which is text and which libretto? I am not clear about that but it has a leveling in the presentation and so it is good to experience it all and get something from it all despite not being sure about the exact provenance of every passage. The Pop sort of vocal delivery with little vibrato and a kind of plain presence gives the whole a matter-of-fact air that helps you grasp the immediacy of its here-now for us today. And the phrasings and melodizing seem never banal but opening out to our ears as we listen without distraction.

Nonetheless the singing is very well done and the music bears repeated hearings. My sympathy goes out to these two in their unhappy quandary and I feel very much by listening the implicit yet no less horrible sorts of repressions back then. They should be understood today and we should take them to heart and never go back. That is my thought. 

So you might love this music. I appreciate it and am glad to spend the time to know it here. You should give it a chance with more than one listen. Do not miss it!

If you are in and around New York City right now you might want to check out a upcoming screening of the film version of the opera on November 19th and 20th at the Tank in the city. It was created by Four/Ten Media and directed by Ron Bashford. It was filmed in Emily Dickinson's actual bedroom in what is now the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Robert Schumann, Symphonies 1 and 2 (Reorchestrated by Mahler), ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop


If you've been exposed at all to Robert Schumann's orchestral output and its brilliance, and too its reception history you have heard about and perhaps felt the sting of recognition with the idea that Schumann was a genius but in terms of orchestration he was perhaps a little too heavy-handed, with his excessive reliance upon the strings to carry much of the weight. Perhaps not as generally known is that Mahler reorchestrated all four symphonies toward the end of his career. Given the excellence of Mahler as orchestrator one comes to a recording of  Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 in the Mahler reworkings (Naxos 8.574429) with a sense of great expectations. It turns out that the expectations are well met in the performances of Martin Alsop and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. So too the recording is first-rate as we might expect from Naxos. What then of the orchestrations themselves?

By definition we expect a good deal more of the winds and horns than Schumann originally called for. That certainly is the case. Mahler delivers. The full-blown tuttis come off strengthened but understandably it is not as drastic a re-sounding we hear there so much as in the more intimately lyrical and/or developmental passages. There in the latter the new attention to winds and brass has the new prominence you might expect from Mahler, yet too there is a more a Beethovenian presence there than before, which seems only fitting given the time frame of the compositions, the Romantic flourishing that started with Ludwig and then in time fell symphonically to Schumann.

Mahler's reorchestration of Beethoven's Ninth (which was recorded by Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on a Command LP years ago) has relevance to our listening of the Schumann reorchestrations. Mahler on the Beethoven sounds like Mahler sounding like Beethoven, perhaps even more so than Beethoven sounds like Beethoven, in those uncanny woodwindy moments, in the nobility of the brass, etc. Mahler in the Schumann sounds like Mahler making Schumann sound somewhat Beethovenian, and nicely so. It is informative to hear Mahler's Beethoven's Ninth if you can find it online. It all kind of epitomizes how we think nowadays of the Romantic full orchestra, both that Beethoven and these Schumanns.

My own ears after a number of attentive listens especially has been perking up to the contrast of the Schumann version of No. 1 "Spring" versus the Mahler. I feel decidedly happy about the Mahler version of the 1st, in terms of the real gain in color, the beauty of sculpted wood and brass additions. Not that the Second Symphony under Mahler is any way lesser or not appropriate. Not at all. Yet I'll admit that since I learned the Second through a wonderful recording as conducted by the young firebrand, the young Bernstein in an early triumph for the Music Appreciation label in the '50s, since then it has remained a benchmark for my appreciation of the work, and in those terms I appreciate the Mahler reworking but cannot say it has replaced the Bernstein Schumann in my heart.

But of course as can be the case one needs to appreciate having both orchestrations in a manner that we gain from it all most surely. Bravo, then, for this recording. 

If you love the Schumann symphonies this will make you happy. And if you do not love them maybe this will change your mind. Thoroughly recommended.