Search This Blog

Friday, September 30, 2011

Villa-Lobos' "Forest of the Amazon": Complete Version by the Moscow Radio Symphony

Nearing the end of his life Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote the symphonic soundtrack for a movie version of Green Mansions. When that movie failed, so the story goes, Villa-Lobos expanded the music into a full symphonic work, Forest of the Amazon. It is in its own way one of the composer's masterworks, though for a time it was not often performed, if at all. The definitive recording is still probably the one conducted by the composer and released on LP around 1959.

However the first recording left off a good deal of the music due to the time limitations of the 12-inch LP format. The full score was never collated by the composer, as the parts originally recorded became the main concern. Conductor Alfred Heller, a Villa-Lobos protege during Heitor's final years, has reconstructed a critical edition of the score and produced an important new recording of the work, containing 50 minutes more music than the LP was able to present. Renee Fleming rivals original soprano Bidu Sayao in recreating the solo vocal part and the Moscow Radio Symphony does a good job with the now 74-minute version. The recording was around for a number of years but went out of print. It is now available as a Delos CD.

I've long listened to the original LP and it is still an exhilarating experience for this writer. However the full-length version is a revelation. Themes return, are more fully developed, and the enchanted mood of the score is that much more intensified. My only quibble is that the Moscow Radio Symphony does not always capture the fully Brazilian quality of some of the passages, especially those which bring in the chorus.

Nonetheless Alfred Heller has given us a dynamic and exciting version of the full score that rewards the listener with all the color of Villa-Lobos at his orchestral-orchestrational best.

Ideally one should have the original recording along with this one. If you can't manage to find both, then this one makes a fine substitute and gives you everything originally intended to be a part of the work. It should be heard by anyone with an interest in the composer and/or the modern orchestral palette.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monteverdi's Vespro Della Beata Vergine, 1610, in a Bright New Recording

Claudio Monteverdi's 1610 Vespro Della Beata Vergine (da concerto, composto sopra canti fermi sex vocibus et sex instrumentalis) has, after 400 years, become one of the staples of the Western Cannon, a masterpiece of extended sacred music. The Choir of New College Oxford under Edward Higginbottom has given us a freshly minted recording (Novum 1382, 2CDs), honoring the 400th anniversary of the work's first publication. 400 years! May something of what we do now musically be so remembered in 2410!

The work itself is a beautiful example of Monteverdi's writing for massed choir and small chamber ensemble. Choral counterpoint and homophony join with expressive solo vocals and instrumental interludes. Listening today one is struck by the asymmetrical phrasing that corresponds to the choral text, and the richly varied setting.

The Choir of New College Oxford distinguishes the recording by utilizing a boy's choir for the upper vocal lines, which gives the sound a special resonance.

It is a masterful performance, one of the very best. If you have no Monteverdi in your collection or, like me, you have a good deal, no matter. This one is a great addition to your library either way.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Joana Sa's Striking New Music from Portugal: "Through This Looking Glass" CD/DVD

Before I received the CD/DVD Through This Looking Glass (blinker, Marke fur Rezentes) I did not know of the music of Joana Sa. Now that I have listened repeatedly and watched the accompanying DVD, I feel that I surely do. She hails from Portugal, performs the entire piece live for this production, and leaves no small impression. The piece was conceived and written for prepared piano, toy piano, electronics (mostly live), props (mechanical toys for the most part) and a mobile.

The tripartite influences of John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and George Crumb make themselves felt as precursors throughout. You have ambiance, sound-painting and an exotic component in the work as a whole that all the above have something to do with, though she remains totally herself to my mind.

The release includes a CD version of the audio and a DVD film (directed by Daniel Neves) of Ms. Sa's performance. This is late high modernism at its best. The film heightens the performative aspects of the piece with a black and white clarity that gives you insight into the work and Ms. Sa's refreshingly poetic approach. You watch as she manipulates the piano with dexterity and confidence. There are the prepared piano passages, the playing inside the piano with bow hair, mallets, sticks, hands, inserted objects. There is Joana sounding the grand piano from underneath. There are the mechanical toys, the mobile. There is the sheer viceral aspect of performance.

It is a work of great charm. It is sound poetry. It is one of the most successful and attractive high modern keyboard works that I've heard in years. Joana Sa must be appreciated if you want to know where modernism has gone. It's here. Find out more by clicking on the Joanna Sa link on the right. Click on the Trem Azul link on that site to order a copy. Highly recommended.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Avant-Minimal Accordion Music from Finland: Antii Paalanen's "Beatbox"

I don't suppose anyone would accuse this blog of getting stuck in a rut. And since it's people who make blogs, and they don't make themselves, it is this writer you can either thank or blame for it.

As if to make a point we travel to Finland today for a most interesting CD of accordion music by composer Antii Paalanen: Beatbox (Sibelius Academy 1005). It's Paalanen and his three row accordion, sometimes apparently multi-tracked, in a program of nine semi-miniatures.

What is compelling is how Antii combines minimalism, folk-like strains and quasi-rock rhythmic insistence into a heady mix that is all his own. There is a full use of all the parameters of sound that his instrument can produce and there is a definite virtuostic bent to the intricacy of the music.

It's melodic in the recognizable almost whistle-along sense. But it also has a power to it that makes it far from lightweight fare. This is serious music. It is seriously interesting. Seriously worth hearing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Grazyna Bacewicz's Violin Concertos Nos. 2, 4, 5: Premier Recordings of Substantial Works, Well Played

If you aren't all that familiar with the music of Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) you are not alone. I have only come to her music recently. She left behind a body of works that may be more well-known in her native Poland than they are in the States, but that may be ending as her work becomes heard increasingly.

For instance we have the second volume of her violin concertos (Chandos), played with brilliance and sensitivity by Joanna Kurkowicz, with the Polish Radio Symphony under Lukasz Borowicz.

Bacewicz wrote extensively for the violin, and the concertos certainly show that she was well in command of expressive idiomatic writing for the instrument. The works cover a nine year span from the end of World War II through to 1954. The three works at hand (Concertos 2, 4, & 5) show originality within an overall Eastern European stylistic continuity. They have a moderately modernistic tone with a good deal of deftly handled, continually shifting chromaticisms and some melodic passages that echo Polish folks strains without exactly engaging them. The violin parts are virtuostic and expressive and her handling of the orchestra is sure.

The Chandos recording has good presence; the orchestra is in excellent form. It is a very good introduction to a composer that deserves more recognition in North America.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cello Lounge by Borislove and Noizepunk: Gene Pritsker Conflates Category to Produce His Own Blend

Romantic classical, hip-hop, and electronica combine is unusual ways on the new Composers Coincordance Records (004) release Cello Lounge. Here we have cellist Borislav Strulev and composer-instrumentalist Gene Pritsker under the nom de plume Borislove Noizepunk. It is an album of collage, of beats, electronic manipulation, sampling, keyboard, guitar and the art of the cello.

Gene presents extended and looped romantic-era melodics from well-known works (primarily with Boris's cello taking on those lines) along with what sounds like newly composed lines, all within the context of the sound of altered samples, electronic drum back-beats, and a kind of electronic orchestra. Boris adds written and/or improvised lines over the top as well.

This sounds like a kind of hip-hop concerto for cello at times; other times it exudes the dynamic rock guitar of Gene's in tandem with the cello and electronica.

It is music of a piece, a music unified in an unexpected and unprecidented way. It will not be for everyone. But those who are willing to leave preconceptions behind will find a very stimulating program of music. Go on a different sort of trip with this one. You will find the ride both fun and musically rich.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Heinz Holliger's New Recording of Bach's Concertos and Sinfoniettas for Oboe Satisfies

The prospect of Heinz Holliger playing Bach's Concertos and Sinfoniettas for Oboe (ECM New Series) sounded quite promising to me when I heard of its release. After listening a number of times I must say it fully lives up to my expectations. You get ECM's fully resonant acoustics and you get a fully consistent approach to the music, thanks to Holliger's ravishing tone and execution and the sweetly sonorous Camerata Bern, conducted with feeling and exacting attention to detail by Erich Hobarth, who also plays the violin solo part in the Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe.

In addition to the work just mentioned the ensemble takes on a number of the sinfonia introductions that feature the oboe in various cantatas, the sinfonia from the Easter Oratorio and three Bach concertos reconstructed to feature the oboe as the principal soloist. Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor, a work Bach apparently admired, rounds out the program.

These are performances that linger over the musical elements with loving care. Holliger's sweetly lyrical approach is complemented by an almost langorous pouring outward in the strings and continuo. This is Bach with less brio and more of a loving familiarity, as one would read a favorite old story out loud to an intimate circle of friends.

It is most certainly not surpassed by any similar recording I've heard over the years. Holliger's long tenure in the limelight has given him a mature profundity that echoes sympathetically in his accompaniment. In every way this is a most satisfying performance, an instrumental centerpiece to anyone's Bach collection.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Robert Moran's Moving Trinity Requiem, for the Victims of 9-11

With the 10th anniversary just days away we all no doubt will have moments where we pause and reflect, mourn, voluntarily or involuntarily relive the anguish and sorrow we felt in those terrible times. There are many scores of commemorative rituals that will be enacted. But to me it is music that can best express the inexpressible complexities. There are no doubt many musical meditations in the works. On Saturday the Union United Methodist Church in Boston will present a program by the excellent avant jazz outfit Trio X. And tomorrow, on the 7th, THE 9-11 church, the Trinity Wall Street church will be host to the world premier performance of Robert Moran's Trinity Requiem, a work which they commissioned. Those who cannot be there will be happy that a recording of Robert Moran's work has just been released (Innova 244), with Robert Ridgell conducting the Trinity Youth Chorus and members of the Trinity Choir, accompanied by harp, organ, strings and hand bells.

It is a moving, touchingly profound work that more or less starts with the sort of lyric luminosity and melodic strength of Faure's Requiem and builds on that legacy. Robert Moran has done some composing in the minimalist camp and he puts the ambient enveloped-sound you sometimes get in that style towards a more linear approach. The haunting timbral passion of the Trinity Youth Chorus carries us away from our worldly concerns and into a space where we can experience something akin to healing. The instrumental accompaniment supports the choral vocal lines with a fitting memento mori reflectiveness. It is music that stands on its own as no doubt one of the great requiems of or era. Perhaps a little silence (a moment) might be the right thing to conclude.