Modern classical and avant garde concert music of the 20th and 21st centuries forms the primary focus of this blog. It is hoped that through the discussions a picture will emerge of modern music, its heritage, and what it means for us.
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Friday, December 30, 2011
Howard Hanson, Symphony No. 4, Symphony No. 5, Schwarz, Seattle Symphony
Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony continue their Hanson (1896-1981) Symphony Cycle with the release of Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5 (Naxos 8.559703). There was a time when Hanson's stature as an American composer was perhaps a little more assured than it may be today. His affiliation with Eastman School of Music and his many recordings for Mercury in the '50s had something to do with it. The "Requiem" Symphony No. 4 and the "Sinfonia Sacra" No. 5 were written in 1943 and 1954, respectively, more or less as he approached the height of his reknown. They are essentially Romantic in nature. He and Samuel Barber are the principal such composers of the American 20th century as far as I am concerned, and both sooner or later came into a version of it that was pretty wholly theirs.
The middle period Hanson sometimes strikes me as being a sort of rich Nordic dessert. It is lush, sated, majestic, filled with glorious peaks and pithy quietude in alternation. The Requiem is understandably somber and elegaic; the "Sinfonia Sacre" has a slightly broader range of expression. Both occupy a kind of middle ground between some of the eclecticism of the earlier works and the breakthough of new elements and the evolving sonic palette of the last symphonies.
Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony give us detailed and broadly passionate readings that sound well in the contemporary digital recording mode. The inclusion of two more middle-length works, "Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzsky" (1956) and "Dies Natalis" (1967), is a nice bonus.
At the Naxos price and with the detailed, enthusiastic readings of Maestro Schwarz, one could hardly go wrong with this disk. These recordings were originally released on Delos International in the '90s if I am not mistaken. I look forward to his versions of No. 6 and No. 7.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Lawrence Moss, "New Paths," Recent Chamber Music from the Octogenarian Composer
The 83-year-old US composer Lawrence Moss shows no signs of slowing down, based on the 2-CD compilation of his recent chamber works, New Paths (Innova 777). In fact quite the contrary. Nor is he converting to a more conservative style of writing, as tends to be current these days. In the composer's words "New paths in old forests. These are not the paths to Neo-Romanticism or any other 'old growth' but rather walks along the trails that lead from Stravinsky and Schoenberg to Varese and Ligeti."
The music certainly reflects those sentiments. One CD is devoted to instrumental chamber music; the second features the solo voice in a variety of contexts. I was most impressed with the music on the first volume; the second took me a bit more to get used to.
Disk One brings to our ears a number of gems. "The Woods" features the Capitol Woodwind Quintet in four lively movements that make use of bird song and a little humor in Moss's brief bowdlerization of the nursery song "Four and Twenty Blackbirds." There is an understandable influence of Messiaen, and yet the music does not sound imitative, instead rather Mossian. The program goes on to present Moss's somewhat quirky modernism in relatively short pieces for solo piano, oboe-viola-piano, trumpet duo, solo flute with electronics and his "String Quartet No. 4," a work that has sonorous brilliance.
The second disk has several more short, interesting instrumental works, two for string duets and one for violin and piano. The bulk of the disc is devoted to songs and song cycles for soprano and percussion, one for two sopranos and piano, and the five-movement "Another Dawn" for soprano and chamber ensemble.
It always has seemed to me that the solo vocal performance of highly involved modernist works constitutes one of the musically most challenging tasks in the Western world. The sopranos in the works represented here certainly are up to the challenge. There were occasions, however, where I thought the voice qualities occasionally seemed over- or under-matched to the music at hand, though perhaps those vocal qualities were what Maestro Moss had in mind. In any case I would like to hear some of these pieces in the hands of other vocalists for comparison. Nevertheless the works themselves hold interest throughout. The three movement "Emily's World" has very interesting two-soprano writing, where close harmonies sounding within the advanced, expanded musical universe as set up by the piano part give the music an almost otherworldly quality.
The set concludes with the sonoric and phraseological gem "Another Dawn," which takes on the serialist counterpoint of classic mid-twentieth century ultra-modernism and converts it to a Mossian poetry of means. The (chamber) orchestration has brilliance and the contrast of the resonantly chambered soprano voice and the texturally diverse chamber group is convincing and dramatically engaging.
So here we are. Lawrence Moss at 83. The music comprises to me a rather essential set for those looking for high modernism and what it has become in our era. Definitely recommended.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Ernesto Cordero, Caribbean Concertos for Guitar and Violin. Romero, Figueroa, I Solisti di Zagreb
I imagine that guitarist Pepe Romero and violinist Guillermo Figueroa were pleased to receive the respective dedications from Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero (b. 1946) for the latter's two Caribbean Concertos. They went on to record the works with I Solisti di Zagreb, which is now available in a new release entitled Caribbean Concertos for Guitar and for Violin (Naxos 8.572707).
The two works, "Concierto Festivo" (2003) for guitar, and "Concertino Tropical" (1998) for violin, sandwich a third concerto, here given its world premier, "Insula: Suite Concertante" (1998), again for violin.
In all cases there is a very fluid interaction between the string orchestra and soloist. This is music that tries (successfully) to capture something of the landscape of island Puerto Rico and its natural and cultural comings and goings. It has some of the strong tonal flavors of Spanish speaking-Latin America and a very sunny disposition that relates to the impressionist composers from across the pond. The lightly textured quality of the string orchestra writing helps the music breathe; both Romero's guitar parts and those for Figueroa's violin heighten the impression of dazzling sunlight and movement over the land.
This is some extraordinarily refreshing music, played with care and joy by the soloists and I Solisti. Ernesto Cordero has created three delightful works that explore and transform his musical heritage into rather brilliant musical energy.
Recommended. A Winter Vacation in a jewel box!
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 4:53 AM No comments:
Labels: ernesto cordero's "caribbean concertos for guitar and for violin" with romero and figueroa gapplegate classical-modern review, guitar, modern classical concertos, violin
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Joly Braga Santos, "Alfama" (and Other Symphonic Works), Alvaro Cassuto Conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Portuguese composer Joly Bragos Santos (1924-1988), judging by the newly released Alfama (Naxos 8.573813), excels in the narrative color-drenched tone-poem of the last century as exemplified in Euro-Mediterranean composers such as Respighi, de Falla, Debussey and Ravel. This is only natural in a ballet score, that is meant to portray musically a particular story-line in ways that are vivid and danceable, and we see this perfectly in the world premiere recording of this Suite from the Ballet Alfama (1956), but it is even so of his later, more modernistic Variations for Orchestra (1976), which is also given its world premiere recording here. There are several disks out in the Naxos series on his symphonies and I have not as yet heard them, so there may be another side to his music as well.
Topping off the program are three equally interesting works, the Elegy in Memory of Vianna da Motta (1948), his Symphonic Overture No. 3 (1954) and his Three Symphonic Sketches (1962). The Royal Scottish National Orchestra performs capably under the baton of Alvaro Cassuto, and the sound staging is good.
Braga Santos most definitely deserves a hearing. This seems like a good place to start, as it has been for me.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Arne Nordheim, Epitaffio, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Norway, modernism and Arne Nordheim (1931-2010) go together. The composer Nordheim created a body of work that helped put the Scandinavian music scene on our maps from the 1960s through to his passing last year. A retrospective of some of his orchestral gems, aptly titled after his composition Epitaffio has come out (Simax Classics 1318) and is now readily available in the States. This is a happy occasion, tempered of course by our loss of him from this earth. The Oslo Philharmonic under Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Rolf Gupta definitively perform five of his works, from the "Canzona" of 1960 through to the 2003 "Fonos, Three Memorables for Trombone and Orchestra."
This is high modernist brilliance from beginning to end. To hear these pieces well-played on a state-of-the-art sonic stage is to come away quite impressed, indeed.
The Nordeim orchestral universe skillfully employs a wide spectrum of orchestral sonance and color to create sound poetry of great depth, palpable texture and dramatic expressivity.
His music has some of the discursive logic of Edgar Varese, in that the organized unfolding of the orchestral phrases and sectional entrances entails nothing short of a profoundly meaningful and ingeniously constructed series of human utterances, in this case of course musical. Instrumental colors enter and interact with one another in endlessly recombinatory ways. Nordheim is a master of the full orchestra-as-paint to his imaginary canvas.
Every piece stands out as singular and significant. I especially find the 2003 "Fonos" for trombone and orchestra a knockout as performed here by the philharmonic and trombonist Marius Hesby. As the last piece chronologically it is programmed second-to-last, which allows the ear to experience it as a kind of stirring life-finale, with the brief and poignant "Adieu" giving us a touchingly regretful coda to our evening's program.
Those who may have missed Nordheim's music are excellently served with this anthology. Those who have not will find the performances and sequences revelatory and enthralling.
Very much recommended!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
William Grant Still, Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, Wood Notes, John Jeter, Fort Smith Symphony
In this third volume of the orchestral music of William Grant Still (1895-1978) by John Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony (Naxos 8.559676) I found many reasons why Still's music still speaks to us today. As the most prominent Afro-American classical composer of his generation, he does not simply fit into a ready-made category. Listen to the three works on this set and you get Still the melodist, the impressive orchestrator, the impressionist-romantic-Americana voice of originality.
The marvelously evocative "Wood Notes" (1947) (here in its world premiere recording) puts four pastoral vignettes together that draw on the tonality of traditional black America as well as the rural invocation of nature. It is a delight.
The two symphonies represented here (No. 2 from 1937; No. 3 from 1958) similarly evoke folk-ethnic-natural imagery through tone painting of a high order.
This is music that will breathe fresh air into the cobwebs of your typical listening patterns. It is performed with balance and care by Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony. Recommended.
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 5:22 AM No comments:
Labels: 20th century american symphonic music, afro-american composers, jeter and fort smith symphony perform still's symphonies 2 and 4 and wood notes gapplegate modern classical review
Monday, December 19, 2011
Lee Actor, Saxophone Concerto
Anyone familiar at all with jazz knows that the saxophone has in the last 120 years come of age. Yet in the classical field the saxophone figures less often in the scheme of works than might be supposed. This is not the place to examine why that is, but to appreciate its appearance and make note of it as appropriate.
So for example there is a recording out this year of Lee Actor's Saxophone Concerto (Navona 5848). Debra Richtmeyer is the alto saxophone soloist; Kirk Trevor conducts the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. It's essentially a neo-romantic/proto-impressionist work of some lyrical and lively qualities. The solo part is alternatingly sinewy and plaintive, with a slight vibrato which recalls the sound of the saxophone on "Pictures at an Exhibition" and "Le Creation du Monde", or of course Debussy's "Rhapsody for Alto Sax and Orchestra." In other words the sound is a bit enmeshed in jazz sax style of the '20s and '30s. Once one accepts that, there is an engaging charm and memorable melodic thrust to the piece.
The CD contains a number of additional works by Lee Actor. The most attractive are the "Dance Rhapsody" and the "Concerto for Horn and Orchestra," with the latter featuring the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and horn soloist Karol Nitran.
It's cleanly orchestrated, decently played music that hearkens back to the early 20th century with enough economy of means that it does not take on the monumental bloatedness of some typical late romantic works (the latter of which I do appreciate when done well), yet it's not quite neo-classical and it does not fall into a typically modernist camp either. There are some nascent impressionistic elements, and what one could call modernist-tonal-conservative elements.
The music is solid fare, decently performed. If one gets the feeling one has heard similar music before, of course that is a truth. This music has some originality in the details and some heavy ties to early modern tradition in its overall thrust.
It will no doubt please those who like a sort of souffle of earlier pre-modern/modern styles, well crafted. The Saxophone Concerto stands erect in a field where there are not many challengers. The other pieces are solid and welcome additions. This is not paradigm-changing music. It is quite enjoyable in its own way.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Leonardo Balada, Piano Music, Pablo Amoros
Leonardo Balada (b. 1933) has written some extraordinary orchestral music. His solo piano music up until now has been unfamiliar to me. Pablo Amoros performs a cross-section of it spanning Balada's entire career on Piano Music (Naxos 8.572594). In the liner notes Balada makes reference to how he believes the piano as a solo vehicle is somewhat timbrally outmoded in the contemporary compositional scheme of things. Nevertheless in the six works represented on the album (covering the period from 1959 through 2010) he makes a go at carving out musical structures that suit his needs expressively.
The works are neither bravura showpieces nor are they parlor ditties for the well-motivated amateur. Instead they are a glimpse into the melodic-harmonic mind-as-workshop of Maestro Balada. Forms take shape, ideas come to the fore, concepts are worked out and in the process he leaves us with music that is as expressive as it is at times quirkily cerebral. In a way his solo music reminds me of parallel works by Carl Neilsen, or some of those by Heitor Villa-Lobos. They at first seem diffuse, disjointed (at least they did to me), the form and logic taking shape in the mind only after fairly considerable listening time.
It is music that can have a surreal, abstract air, for example in his reconstructive collaging on "Transparency of Chopin's First Ballade" (1979). Snatches of Chopin's theme come in and out of play in a matrix of transformed transformations. At other times a present-day equivalent of baroque line weaving and quasi-counterpoint come to the forefront, only modernized. Some of the music has a stream-of-consciousness "fantasy" quality, with mood and disjointed narrative dictating what elements appear in succession.
In the end you get a wealth of music and a side of Balada that extends and complements the orchestral side. Some of the music is difficult (to play and to grasp), some of it quite disarmingly straightforward. All of it is interesting and, I might add, well played by Pablo Amoros.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Mimi Stillman, Charles Abramovic, "Odyssey: American Premieres for Flute and Piano"
The flute and piano duo offers the modern composer a sound-color spectrum of somewhat unparalleled variety when played by accomplished artists. Such is the case with flautist Mimi Stillman and pianist Charles Abramovic, and their Odyssey: American Premieres for Flute and Piano (Innova 2-CD 814). Eleven composers and the same number of corresponding, fairly brief works fill the program. A few are for solo flute, the rest for duo. Together they provide some noteful vehicles for the artistry of Ms. Stillman and the flawless accompanying work of Mr. Abramovic. Andrew Rudin, Richard Danielpour and a host of lesser-known composers provide contrasting tonal universes ranging from folk allusion to modernist agility. Each piece has interest.
In the hands of Mimi Stillman these works ring out. She has a very ravishing tone, masterful control over the full range and articulatory possibilities of her instrument. She and Charles Abramovic realize an overarching concept of the compositional whole of each work. There are some brilliant musical contrasts in play throughout, and in all cases the Stillman-Abramovic duo triumphs.
The sensual, tactile riches contained in performances like these, the architectural approach to each work. and the expressive virtuosity that never overshines outside the parameters of the compositions make for a program that will afford listeners virtually endless pleasure. That is most certainly how the music affected me. Not a moment is wasted! Highly recommended.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Boris Yoffe, "The Song of Songs," with the Rosamunde Quartett and The Hilliard Ensemble
There is a group of contemporary composers, headed by Arvo Part, who have some rootedness in early music. The music tends to be thoroughly (post)modern, yet there is something of the ambiance, timbre set and periodicity of Medieval-Renaissance and sometimes early Baroque music.
One of these, judging by the new release The Song of Songs (ECM New Series 2174 4764426), is Boris Yoffe. The composer grew up in Russia, emigrated to Israel and then Germany, where he studied with Wolfgang Rihm.
His ECM debut presents a modified sort of song cycle "The Song of Songs." It deftly alternates and conjoins the Rosamunde String Quartett with the quartet of vocalists well-known as the Hilliard Ensemble. At times the strings sound like a consort of viols from the Renaissance. The vocal configuration of countertenor, tenor, tenor and baritone have a sound that of course recalls early music as well. Yoffe puts these possibilities into play in a way that has one foot in the distant past and one foot in, if you will, the future.
The music has modern harmonic-melodic elements but at the same time hearkens back. The use of space and a reverberant, cathedral-like sonic stage reinforces that impression. This is a composer who thrives in the ECM production situation. There's something of Hindemith in there, but transposed both forwards and backwards, slowed down at times to a maximum of contemplative near-quiescence, a Morton-Feldman-like feeling of timelessness from another age. Ours.
Beautiful music, original music, this is.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Zimmermann, "Die Soldaten": A Modern Opera Masterwork Done to A Turn by Bernhard Kontarsky and Staatsorchester Stuttgart
Bernard Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) was a composer of some renown in Europe during his lifetime but got less attention here in the States at the time, compared with Boulez or Stockhausen. Yet several import recordings made their way over here and were appreciated by the devoted modernist cotery of the era. His untimely death in 1970 more or less put a period to his influence here. But not permanently.
His most impressive full-scale work surely is the opera Die Soldaten (2-CD Warner Classic/Teldec 2564 66708-0). The newly issued domestic release we'll look at today, a version by Bernard Kontarsky, Chor des Staatstheaters Stuttgart, Staatsorchester Stuttgart and soloists should go some way in cementing his reputation here.
The recording was originally released in the '90s, but should be much easier to find in the States now. It is an excitingly expressive, spirited and well executed performance by all concerned. Credit should go to Maestro Kontarsky, who is one of the very best of the new music conductors active today. The performance here, the second recording of the work extant, has a remarkable flow to it. The wide intervalic skips and rhythmically irregular serialist-edge-of-tonality vocal lines combine with the vividly imagistic orchestral and choral parts in ways that make sense of Zimmerman's music. Everything must be phrased as natural sounding and grouped according to the logic of the harmonic-melodic arch of the score for the music to work. Kontarsky has gotten a magical result that brings the music to life like one composite being, an eloquently speaking, naturally breathing, remarkable music-making creature of art. Deserving credit should also be given to the soloists, choir and orchestra. They are magnificent. But it's plain to hear that Kontarsky has spent painstaking time in rehearsal, working on the fine points and nuances of the score. He brings out the best in the performers.
As you listen a number of times to the result of such careful and expressive execution, you begin to appreciate what a musical masterpiece Die Soldaten is.
This is a marvelously ultra-modern work. The Kontarsky version will be hard to beat. Get this one by all means if you have a liking for the utopian new music in its classic phase.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Thierry Lancino, "Requiem," Inbal, Orchestre Philharmonic de Radio France
Not having been acquainted previously with the compositions of Thierry Lancino, I was pleasantly rewarded lately by listening a number of times to his dramatic Requiem (Naxos) as performed by the massed forces of Choer de Radio France, Orchestre Philharmonic de Radio France, soloists and conductor Eliahu Inbal.
It's a 70-plus minute journey into an expressively modern treatment of the requiem form. The soloists express themselves with musicality and passion, the choir and orchestra are artfully served with a score that bubbles over like a cauldron of molten fire at times, and other times indulges in pianissimo murmurs that fit the sorrowful expression of the text by the solo vocalists. The orchestra reinforces and underscores the choir and soloists, as is fitting in such a work. A kind of murky gloominess in the score at times is virtually unremitting and perhaps that is exactly as Lancino intended, as temperamentally fitting for a requiem. The singers and choir emerge out of an often muddy orchestral oppressiveness that creates a powerfully unified mood, characterizes the work and sets it apart. And I don't mean that as necessarily a negative. It makes for a different work than otherwise might be the case these days. It gives it a unique quality.
The piece as a whole has a late romantic largeness combined with high modernity-Bergian dynamic sonority and occasionally an Orffian chanting insistence.
The performance is spirited and excellent. Lancino's music has undoubtedly some considerable merit. I would most definitely like to hear more of it. If I did not respond to this work with keen absorption, it may have something to do with my current mood. I appreciate it on a cerebral level, but it is not grabbing my emotions yet. Some works take many listens before that comes about, so I reserve some of my feelings for now. It is undoubtedly a work and a performance that merit the attention of modern music lovers. At the Naxos budget price you get further incentive to envelop yourself in its dramatic sounds.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Rautavaara, "Marjatta the Lowly Maiden," Works for Children's Choir
The Tapiola Choir under Pasi Hyokki presents a program of Rautavaara's works for children's choir on Marjatta the Lowly Maiden (Ondine 1169-2). The Marjatta mystery play and the Children's Mass (Lapsimessu) form substantial bookends for the program, between which are a number of shorter incidental works. Sonorically delightful acapella sounds occupy a good portion of the program, with effective selected instrumental parts dotting "Marjatta" and a moving string orchestra part (by the Tapiola Youth Symphony Orchestra) sharing space with the choir on the "Children's Mass."
The choir sounds lovely, the bookend works give us rich examples of Rautavaara's 1970's style, and the incidental works shed additional light and give pleasure. It's an unusual but very enjoyable program, and should appeal to a wide spectrum of music lovers.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Bruno Maderna, Piano Concertos/Quadrivium, Carlo Miotto, Aldo Orvieto
Since his sudden death in 1973 we may have been guilty of forgetting about composer Bruno Maderna's music just a bit. Yet his signal achievements in the thick of high modernism, and his position of pre-eminence among a small group of the most highly regarded Italian composers of his generation should have ensured him an enduring reputation.
All is not lost. There was a period of reaction for a time, where high modernism declined in fashion and his reputation suffered along with many others of his era. Yet his music never had a dogmatic quality. It drew on early music as well as it looked forward to a futurist avant-topia. At any rate he is a master figure in the music of his day. And things may be changing in how we perceive him and the modernist period in general.
As if to remind us of what an appealing composer he is, a new recording of his Piano Concertos and the Quadrivium piece (Naxos 8.572642) has emerged of late. On it pianists Aldo Orvieto and Fausto Bongelli (the latter for the two-piano pieces), the percussion ensemble Gruppo 40.6, and Orchestra della Fondazione 'Arena di Verona' under conductor Carlo Miotto put together a program of Maderna convering both early (1942-48) and later (1969) phases of his ouevre.
The early Piano Concerto (1942) in both a one and two piano version are given here, the second a world premier recording, and it shows those of us who may have forgotten, how his early work has an appealing modern-lyrical poignancy. The second version increases the sonority of the piano part and so is a most welcome addition to this disc. The Concerto for Two Pianos and Instruments (1948) sees Maderna moving forward to a more 12-tone oriented style with the percussion ensemble understandably supplying sound coloration aspects that set this work apart from the earlier concerto. Quadrivium (1969) is Maderna in full flower, a writer of a poetic quality, with mystery and an impressively evocative sonority. This is the Maderna of genius, beyond serialist dogma, a supreme painter of sounds.
The performances are excellent. The program fleshes out a picture of Maderna as a vital force within the music of his time. This recording is a very good one for those who don't know his music. It is equally stimulating for those that do.
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 4:53 AM No comments:
Labels: 20th century modern classical music, 20th century orchestral, 20th century piano concertos, orvieto bongelli miotto perform maderna's piano concertos-quadrivium gapplegate classical-modern review
Friday, December 2, 2011
Matthias Kronsteiner, "Modified," Music for Bassoon
The bassoon has its many charms. It has a range of sounds all its own which, in the right hands, forms a singular timbral pallete of wide dimensions. For a time it was called upon to play the clown, especially in some late 19th century-early 20th century orchestral works. Those days are gone.
Matthis Kronsteiner is a bassoonist of stature, great facility and marvelous tone. He presents a recital of contemporary and near-contemporary compositions for bassoon alone, with small chamber configurations and with electronics on Modified, a part of the performer series on the new Composers Concordance label (005). Pieces by Villa-Lobos, David Lang, Gene Pritsker and others form a sequence that sets off Kronsteiner's virtuosity with a brilliance that keeps the ear continually attuned. In contemporary fashion the classical genre rubs shoulders with jazz, improvisation and rock, which is only fitting.
The contemporary bassoon is no jester. As incarnated in the presence of Matthias Kronsteiner, the bassoon is an eminently effective instrumental conduit of the best of today's concert music. That's clear from Modified.
Paul Hillier, Theatre of Voices, Ars Nova Copenhagen, The Christmas Story
There have been a number of recordings over the years of the chronology of the Christmas Pageant as portrayed in song. Of course this is an old practice originating in England and elsewhere in the Nativity Play musical-dramatical festivities from at least medieval times onwards. Since we covered a Paul Hillier/Ars Nova Copenhagen recording two days ago, it is fitting that we turn to another more specific to the season. Maestro Hillier, ANC and the Theatre of Voices have gotten together to create A Christmas Story (Harmonia Mundi). As one might expect this is a definitive choral depiction of the story as portrayed in early music masterpieces and some from a little later as well. So you get plainchant, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen," through the birth songs, the "We Three Kings" song and so on. It is wonderful music, mostly familiar to anyone who knows the tradition, with a few that may be unfamiliar, at least to listeners in the States, and anon.
There is light instrumental support as called for, but the ravishing vocals of the twin ensembles are the central focus. And the songs. This is first-rate fare. I am happy personally to have it. It will give you something of substance to lighten the dark nights.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
David Lang, "This Was Written By Hand" for Solo Piano
David Lang has increasingly struck me as one Bang On A Can composer who is especially bent upon forging a minimalist/post-minimalizt language all his own. The solo piano opus This Was Written By Hand (Canteloupe 21073) puts that forward somewhat emphatically. The album consists of the 13-minute title cut and eight shorter "Memory Pieces."
The title cut (2003) has a very pianistic left hand-right hand split, the right hand repeating and developing a central melody line, the left hand repeating and varying a figuration accompaniment for the most part. It is lyrical, reflective and appealing in its spare but musically impactful utterance.
The "Memory Pieces" (1992-1997) have a bit more in the way of motoristic movement, sometimes marimba-istic figuration that is more typically classic minimalist. Yet it is not linear, post-African trance groove that is coming out of the figurations for the most part. For the first piece it's a matter of rolling wide-interval trills (to stretch a term) that together form an overarching melodic movement that has a slower, more majestic trajectory. The second piece calls for rapidly articulated arpeggiations that again don't have groove as the intent, but rather verticalized harmonic sequences. Piece three is a kind of largo. Piece four slows the trill idea down and makes each pulse a more fortissimo chordal block. Number five is mercurial, a kind of drumming on the piano with Lang's own sort of rudiment-like execution. Six slows things down again for some delicate interlocking sequences of expressive meditation. Seven is a whirlwind of rapid cycles of piano drumming. The final piece returns in some ways to the feeling of the first, a kind of slower series of related melodic cycles, this time in the middle range of the piano, with punctuations in the upper and lower registers.
Pianist Andrew Zolinsky realizes the parts with a restrained poeticism that seems right for these two works.
This is music that keeps my interest while playing upon the more positive emotional affects that the solo piano has often evoked from the days of Mozart onwards. It should find a good number of adherents, I would think. And it is some of David Lang's most intimate and appealing music to date.
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