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Friday, April 29, 2016

Pedro Iturralde, Complete Music for Saxophone and Piano

The music of Spanish composer Pedro Iturralde (b. 1929), as heard in his Complete Music for Saxophone and Piano (Naxos 8.573429), is both eclectic and original. Eleven pieces are performed with a lively and spirited demeanor by Juan M. Jimenez on alto and soprano saxes,  and Esteban Ocana on piano, expanded on one number by the addition of Claude Delangle on alto. All pieces are in new versions for world premiere recordings.

We get throughout in varying degrees the Spanish folk tinge, along with an Eastern European folk influence--on the "Suite Helenica" and the "Aires Rumanos." There is also a pronounced jazz influence that forms an important part of his style, as in "Tribute to Trane," "Jazz Waltz" and others. The jazz aspect may sound vaguely Brubeckian, foundationally McCoy Tyneresque at times, something perhaps of the Bill Evans harmonic wealth, but also with traces of earlier jazz styles, so perhaps a bit of Gershwin, boogie-woogie and such.

There are in addition two pieces for piano solo the composer felt it important to include.

The saxophone parts are singing, sometimes rather virtuoso oriented, but always a prime carrier of melodic line, with the piano part forming an indispensable accompanying role.  The liner notes mention the scarcity of available recordings of his work so this volume becomes even more worthy. All three performers studied Iturralde's style sets in depth before attempting these performances and it most certainly shows in the results. Both Jimenez and Delangle have beautifully projecting tones and Esteban Ocana gives us a bubbling exuberance in the piano parts, the combination bringing the music fully alive.

Iturralde comes across as a composer very much of his time and place, but not so much a modernist per se. This is music that takes on traditional Spanish, eastern and mainstream jazz tonalities and runs with them in a specially personal way. There is a kind of joyous demeanor to most of this music that one does not often counter today. If you set aside expectations and let the music have its way you are in for a very accessible musical ride that takes no shortcuts on musical substance and yet speaks with a straightforwardly infectious enthusiasm and tonal elegance. This is not meant to be cutting edge new music, but it succeeds via a kind of natural contemporary way, with a knack for vivid melodic songlike strains and lively rhythms.

Nicely done! It may well be essential listening for those who seek full coverage of contemporary Spanish new music or the saxophone repertoire, somewhat less so but very pleasantly so for others.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Schoeck, Complete Violin Sonatas, Maristella Patuzzi, Mario Patuzzi

If the music of Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) is perhaps not as well known as it deserves to be, it no doubt has something to do with the tumult of the era in which his musical career began. He was of the generation that came to age when a stylistic crisis was in the air. The very nature of the musical language was at stake. He shared with such generational luminaries as Webern, Berg, Stravinsky, Bartok, Kodaly, Casella, Pizzetti and Szymanowski the need to devise personal solutions to the malaise of the times. (All this can be gleaned via the excellent liner notes to the album at hand.)

Schoeck was well prepared via studies in the Musikschule in Zurich and then several years under the tutelage of Max Reger in Leipzig. The composer ultimately found a neo-classical modernist approach with a rhapsodic, yet expressionist flair.

His Complete Violin Sonatas (Brilliant 95292), as played with great charm and grace by Maristella Patuzzi on violin and Mario Patuzzi on piano, cover early and somewhat later periods of his work: the "Sonata in D Op. 16" from 1909, "Sonata in E Op. 46" from 1931, and the "Sonata in D Wo022," written in 1905 and revised in 1953. We hear in the "Sonata in E" a more modern approach. The other two sonatas are delightfully lyrical and romantically effusive though never gushingly so.

The works show both the youthful and the more mature Schoeck, a talent with substantial inventive abilities. It is music that is decidedly worthwhile and beautifully played. He was of his time yet not comfortably classed as a radically advanced stylist. Yet there is great beauty and substance to these works. The Patuzzi's give the music near-definitive performances. It is most certainly a good introduction to the composer if you do not know of him. And the music wears well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Diego Castro Magas, Shrouded Mirrors, New Music for Guitar

Today, an album of startling virtuosity and modern new music of great interest and complexity. Diego Castro Magas is a classical guitarist who internalizes the formidable demands of these compositions and produces performances that shine with the luster of brilliant architectonics and make very much alive some ravishing music.

The album is Shrouded Mirrors (Huddersfield Contemporary Records HCR10). On it six contemporary composers give us six fascinating high modern and/or postmodern works that reward with labyrinthian expressionism and fully idiomatic guitar passagework. These are the sort of things one would not trust to just any old classical guitarist. They require someone with great technical facility and a full understanding of the new music idiom.

Every work has something going for it, be it microtonalism/unusual tuning in Brian Ferneyhough's "Kurze Schatten II" (1983-89) or Wieland Hoban's "Knokler I" (2009), mesmeric repeating complexes with a kind of aural kaleidoscope feel as in Bryn Harrison's "M.C.E." (2010) , or complexes of jagged abstractions that extended what a guitar is usually called upon to do, as with Matthew Sergeant's "bet maryam" (2011), Michael Finnissy's "Nasiye" (1982, rev. 2002), and James Dillon's "Shrouded Mirrors" (1987).

It is music where both the performer and composer stand out as bringing the contemporary modern classical guitar to new levels of avant brilliance. A most impressive program. Anyone who revels in new music that expands the boundaries and enters fearlessly the frontiers will find this one exceptional. And even the novice will be mightily impressed, I would think, with the level of achievement. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tom Cipullo, After Life, Lori Laitman, In Sleep the World is Yours, Music of Remembrance

Today, a world premiere volume of recent American works, the short opera After Life (2015) by Tom Cipullo and the song cycle In Sleep The World is Yours (2013) by Lori Laitman (Naxos 8.669036). The chamber group Music of Remembrance under Mina Miller gives us a well paced and nicely realized chamber orchestra backdrop. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, baritone Robert Orth and soprano Ava Pine perform the principal roles well for the opera. Megan Chenovick does a fine job in the soprano role for the song cycle.

Cipullo's After Life imagines an afterlife meeting of the ghosts of Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein who struck up a warm and mutually productive friendship in pre-WWI Paris, then gradually drifted apart, culminating in a turn to the right for Stein and to the left for Picasso--and subsequent opposing stances regarding occupied WWII Paris. The opera is a ghostly dialog about those decisions, the role of art in desperate political and social circumstances, what they might reflect on looking back today and the personal vulnerabilities of each.

The music is modern neo, basically tonal, well wrought, a meditation on the horrors of the epoch and its available responses.

The 20-minute Laitman song cycle gives us the poetry of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, a Jew who died in a Nazi Ukranian labor camp in 1942. It is stylistically akin to the Cipullo work, a bit more lyrical, and ultimately neo-romantic with a bit of a lineal relationship to Samuel Barber, perhaps. It is moving music.

The coupling of the two works makes perfect sense thematically and stylistically. Both are well worth hearing and well performed, very good examples of some of the significant tonal modern work being made right now in the US.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard, Sound X Sound, Music for 9 Pianos

Composer Niels Lyhne Lokkegaard has been doing a series of short compositions, each released on a 7-inch vinyl pressing. The "Sound X Sound" series is devoted to the gathering of a particular class of sound generators to form an ensemble that then plays minimal mini-sequences that concentrate on a particular class of sounds repeating in a kind of musical cloud of ebbs and flows, something like the sound of an orchestra of crickets on a spring or summer night. I've covered the first two here, one for recorders, another for an orchestra of digital tuners.

Today we have the third volume, Music for 9 Pianos (Hiatus 014). It continues where the others leave off. The amassed sound of the pianos is slightly less startling than the recorders or digital tuners, because we've been exposed to multiple piano sounds before, though not quite like this.

"Descending Piece," occupying side one, is devoted to rapid downward moving glissandi, first in the upper range, then the lower. "Partial Piece" (side two) gives us a series of sustained, gradually decaying note clusters, then a swarm of repeated notes.

Lokkegaard succeeds in giving us a sort of unidimensional sound world once again, two short pieces that have a unified series of objectives that in their brevity and singleness of purpose carry the day.

You may want to begin with the recorder or tuner volume first, but together all three capture our aural imagination quickly and then as quickly they are gone.

Recommended for those who would appreciate an uncompromising sound stage of unified aural clouds. More volumes are apparently in the offing. Give a listen!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Messiaen, L'Ascension, Tom Winpenny

Olivier Messiaen, as the liners to today's CD helpfully remind us, enrolled in Marcel Dupre's organ class at the Paris Conservatoire in 1927, though before this he had never even touched a cathedral organ. By the late '20s-early '30s he was composing music for the organ with an astounding depth, maturity and a deeply mystical quality. In the end his organ music has become one of the highlights of 20th century music, a triumphant culmination of the symphonic and freely fantasiatic beauty of the French Organ School. The liners note his affinity with the Charles Tournemire of L'Orgue Mystique, and I heartily affirm that, having the good luck to grab a fine LP set of the work in the days of the now long defunct Music Heritage Society. There is affinity but then a further evolution of the style as Messiaen became a composer of great gifts.

So all of that can be readily heard and experienced in a new volume of early Messiaen organ works, L'Ascension (Naxos 8.573471). Tom Winpenny gives us a beautifully dramatic reading of the works in all their glory.

"L'Ascension" in the 1933-34 organ realization is the most famous of the works in the anthology, and justly so. We get two early works only discovered in the '90s, "Diptyque" (1928-1930?)  and "Prelude" (1928-30?). They are solid additions showing more plainly perhaps his roots in the French School. But then we are also treated to "Le Banquet celeste" (1928) and "Apparition de l'Eglise eternelle" (1932), which like "L'Ascension" show deep originality.

There is everything going for this latest Winpenny Messiaen release. Anyone who wants to better understand Messiaen's place as one of the greatest modernists of all will find this volume illuminating, giving you the beginnings of his special journey into his own mystically Catholic world and the exceptional ways he expressed that way of being. And as an example of the French School at large, the connexions are clear. But most of all this is very moving music, very well played.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ana Sokolovic, Folklore Imaginaire, Ensemble Transmission

Canadian composer Ana Sokolovic gives us a measured chamber music with a logical narrative quality that is most definitely contemporary yet has ties to classic modernism of last century in its harmonic edginess. We find her in great form with six recent works on the anthology Folklore Imaginaire (Naxos 8.573304).

Ensemble Transmission handles adroitly and expressively the performance duties on this album, with six artists participating variously in the works as called for. The instrumentation varies from solo works--"Vez" (2005) for solo cello, "Mesh" (2004) for E-flat clarinet, "Trois Etudes" (1997/2013) for piano, "Un bouquet de brume" (1998/2013) for bass flute and piano, "Portrait parle" (2006) for violin, cello and piano and finally "Ciaccona" (2002/2011) for the sum total of instruments plus percussion.

Each work speaks with a musical language of its own, rhythmically alive, periodically grouped into phrase "sentences," so to speak,  and eloquently expressive, sometimes humorously so. There are extra-musical subtexts often enough. "Mesh" includes directions to the clarinetist the composer originally found with a hot-air hand dryer. "Portrait parle" gets its inspiration from a 1900 French police chart meant to aid in the identification of human subjects, the "Twelve synoptic tables of physiognomic traits."

Whatever Ms. Sokolovic addresses in these works, many in first recordings, the music comes to us in memorably declamatory prosaic form, a highly aesthetic and elaborate kind of musical Morse code that signifies a self-referential content with a refreshing directness and originality.

The music wears well and leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction that one has encountered significant modern contemporary music.

I recommend this one and I myself look forward to more music from Ana Sokolovic.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spellweaving, Ancient Music from the Highlands of Scotland, Barnaby Brown, Clare Salaman, Bill Taylor

Colin Campbell's Instrumental Book 1797 contains an incredible wealth of traditional music from the Highlands of Scotland. It includes some 167 pieces, only four found in other sources. It was compiled and submitted when officials, fearing the loss of the traditions because socio-political upheaval in the Highlands put the transmission and performance of the music in jeopardy, offered prize money for submissions, transcriptions of the music. So Colin Campbell set to work transcribing the vast corpus of music he knew. But since the notation he used was in the local vocables of Hebridian "mouth music" the judges could not decipher it all and set it aside. There it languished, until now and Barnaby Brown's realization of the musical content.

The results are eight of the tunes played with authentic verve by Brown (pipes and vocals), Clare Salaman (fiddles and hurdy-gurdy) and Bill Taylor (lyres and harp). All this on the new release Spellweaving (Delphian / University of Huddersfield DCD34171).

This indeed is an important release on a number of levels, filling gaps in our Early Music knowledge with examples that may reach back hundreds of years before their transcription. The second important aspect is that the music is wonderfully interesting, and not as one might expect given the piper music that is still active in the repertoire there. These do not sound typically "Scottish" the way we have come to hear it.

And finally Brown, Salaman and Taylor have seen fit to realize the music on the pipes, yes, but also as sung in the traditional mnemonic syllabification as practiced then, and/or played on an ancient vulture bone flute, the 26-string Highland clarsach harp, wire-strung and gut-strung lyres, the Hardanger fiddle, medieval fiddle, and the hurdy-gurdy.

So we hear the music as it might have been heard in earlier times in various settings. The performances are excellent, the sound very good and the program something extraordinarily revelatory.

Anyone who cherishes early music will encounter a rare and exciting look at the heretofore mostly lost oral tradition in the Highlands region. It brings us something of what we are missing from the strictly notated musical heritage, a "folk" tradition frozen in time, an unearthing of an archaeological find, musically speaking, that speaks volumes. I hope they give us another round of this music, at least, since they but scratch the surface of the full holdings of Chris Campbell's Instrumental Book 1797. 

This is an outstanding CD, as entertaining as it is revelatory. I highly recommend it to you.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Steve Peters, The Webster Cycles

The trombone choir of Steve Peter's The Webster Cycles (Cold Blue 0026) sounds both primal and unearthly. Potentially the work (1980-81) can be played by any combination of wind instruments or voices. It is slowly developing music from the radical tonality camp. The quasi-modal minor diatonic trombone lines unfold slowly, organically, with imitative contrapuntal fundamentals and a sound-within-ambient panorama that reminds a little of early music, a choir of sackbuts, yet it is all as if in a dream and in the end very contemporary.

J. A. Deane plays all the trombone parts with nicely turned phrasing and beautiful tone. This recorded version is dedicated to trombone icon Stuart Dempster.

This is another good one in the Cold Blue EP series, released some time ago but timeless in its unstinting focus on elemental yet futuristic ambiance. The 30 minutes of the performance, when one listens closely, go by in some extra-temporal sense. It feels like neither a minute nor a day. It is beyond the ordinary lifeworld and instead belongs to the realm of spirit, if you will.

Another compelling Cold Blue release. Heartily recommended.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Boris Tchaikovsky, Piano and Chamber Works

Tchaikovsky. Boris Tchaikovsky, that is (1925-1996). He is unrelated to the one who wrote "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies." He nevertheless is a composer of note, one of the modern Russians we did not know much of over here until recently. Turns out he is a voice in his own right. We get a sampling of his piano and chamber works spanning 45 years of his output, from youth to maturity, in Piano and Chamber Works (Grand Piano 716).

There is no mistaking his work with that other Tchaikovsky. There is enough of the modern spice there to mark him of the last century. On the other hand he is not especially radically modern. There is a pretty pronounced tonal bent but it is tempered enough with some ventures into expanded tonality. He studied with Shostakovich and Miakovsky. The liner notes mention a large number of works we do not get a chance to hear over on this side of the world: four symphonies, four concertos, a number of other large orchestral works, six string quartets, 50 movie soundtracks, and some chamber works.

The present volume gives us his "Sonata for Violin and Piano" from 1959 plus a good number of solo piano works, some in first recordings, covering the period from 1935 to 1980. Olga Solovieva and/or Dmity Korostelyov do the honors for the piano parts; Marina Dichenko takes on the violin part for the sonata. They sound well.

I will not run down the list with a description of every piece. There are too many and they encompass too much for easy encapsulation. Suffice to say that Boris shows a lyrical and at times bitter-sweet character that fits him in with much of the modern Russian school, though there is nothing that shouts imitation at you.

There is plenty of good music to be heard here, enough to please anyone with a penchant for Shostakovich and Prokofiev et al who would be open to a worthy example of some other composers who did good work last century.

Definitely recommended.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Granados, Suite sobre cantos gallegos, Cor Madrigal, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Pablo Gonzalez

Ever since I came across an LP of Granados' piano music early in my music explorations, I have appreciated his Spanish-tinged melodicism, his impressionistic colorfulness. Today's CD looks at some of his lesser-known orchestral works (Naxos 8.573263), namely his "Suite sobre cantos gallegos (Suite on Galician Songs)" (1899), his "Marcha de los vencidos (March of the Defeated)" (1899) and his "Torejos (Incidental Music)" (1894). The latter includes a choral part nicely realized by Cor Madrigal; the rest are for orchestra alone and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Pablo Gonzalez do a fine job with it all.

All three works are not often performed these days, though in the hearing of them we do not find anything lacking. Two were written when at 33 years old Granados was establishing himself as one of the foremost composers in Spain in his day. "Torejos" was composed a few years earlier. All are witness to his very effective incorporation of nationalism with neo-romantic and impressionistic influences. The recording commemorates the 100th anniversary of his death and apparently will be followed by others later in the year.

The Suite is the more lengthy and ambitious work, making great use of folk song elements, but then the "Marcha" and "Torrijos" are effective and very tuneful as well.

Perhaps none of this falls into the category of irrefutable masterpieces of the Spanish modern period (his "Goyescas" are undoubtedly that) but they are extremely attractive works that bear close scrutiny. Anyone who already knows and loves Granados and the flowering of the early modern period in Spain will take readily to this music. It is charming!


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Trio Celeste, Beethoven, Piano Trio Op. 1, No. 2, Constellations: Variations on a Theme By Beethoven, Dvorak, Piano Trio No. 4

The Trio Celeste in their new recording (Navona 6030) proceed to give us some familiar and some unfamiliar music, all played with a special rhapsodic directness and lively brio. Beethoven's "Piano Trio in G Major, Op. 1, No. 2" starts off the program, and in itself it is brilliant, brimming over with thematic fullness, lyric joy, and development of a high sort. Trio Celeste gives us a resoundingly appropriate reading and by so doing sets the stage for what follows.

Namely, the collective modern work "Constellations: Variations on a Theme By Beethoven," each based on the main theme of the "Largo con espressione" movement from the very same Beethoven trio. The "constellation" idea, as the liner notes point out, implies a gathering of patterned items, each sharing "both explicit and implicit commonalities."

So we get ten such constellated variations, some resituating the thematic elements into high modernist territory, some reflecting cadenza like approaches, others postmodern contemporary, all of great interest, extending the essence of Beethoven thematics into new territories. The composers are Eugene Drucker, Mike Block, Eric Guinivan, Peter Erskine, Paul Dooley, Fred Hersch, Samuel Adler, Jim Scully, Christina Spinei, and Pierre Jalbert. All breathe their own creative spirit into the theme and there are stunning results, fascinating and beautiful to hear in the hands of Trio Celeste.

The program ends with more good music, a change of pace, in Dvorak's "Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90, 'Dumky.'" It has a lyricism in common with Beethoven, but more of the Eastern European sort, understandably, and of course reflects later developments in the music that Beethoven had much to do with spawning. The reading is a gorgeous one.

So in the end we get a wonderful earful of the exceptional talents of this young trio and a program that brings some of the past into the music world of today. This is a striking release, worth it alone for "Constellations" but giving us the impetus for those variations in the Beethoven trio in a wonderful performance, and then extending our appreciation of the Celeste Trio with very spirited Dvorak.

A recording of great merit! Trio Celeste prevail victoriously over some very beautiful music. The past meets the present and we go away smiling.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Electric Guitar Quartet, Instruments of Happiness, Music by Tim Brady, Rainer Wiens, Antoine Berthiaume

Today we return to the theme of the electric guitar in new music composition. The Electric Guitar Quartet is well equipped and game to take on some challenging and fascinating music on Instruments of Happiness (Starkland 224). This is music that has an aural affinity with progressive fusion, Fripp's the League of Crafty Guitarists, minimalism and some of the tonal colors of psychedelic-hard rock-metal guitar.

But all of that provide some ingredients that go into a very original mix.

Tim Brady gives us the lengthiest work with his "The Same River Twice, Symphony 5.0" and "Symphony 5.solo." It is bracing, nicely involved contrapuntal music based on riff extensions for the full quartet and then for solo electric. It is a difficult work (for the players) in its intricacies and an exuberant work-out and delight for our ears. The solo version makes excellent use of delay and other effects so that it achieves an almost orchestral breadth. At times beautiful sound colors float atop a chordal progression. This music will get you dreaming, then wake you up with some incredible sounds, or vice versa.

Antoine Berthiaume's "Fungi" begins with a slow harmonic rising effect in 6/4. It ultimately creates an earthy progression oriented linear movement that is informed by prog rock and Ennio Morricone on his more adventuresome side. The quartet uses a Fender Bass VI to add some bottom to it all. It is ravishing.

Rainer Wiens gives us his work "What is Time?"--here in a Tim Brady remix. Prepared guitar sounds prevail with the human breath as a rhythmic determinant. All that translates into a thicket of altered guitar textures both fascinating and invigorating to hear.

So that's the size of it. Electric guitarists Tim Brady, Gary Schwartz, Michel Heroux and Antoine Berthiaume give us tour de force performances, filled with precision, a flair for color, a total world of electric sounds that realize possibilities one might have dreamed about but rarely if ever experienced. It reminds us that the new music still can widen the envelope of possibilities, still has the ability to point us to the future, to the ever unknown, but always around the corner from where we are now. Excellent!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Burkard Schliessmann, Chronological Chopin, Solo Piano

From the LP era on, my Chopin collection tends to break it all down by genre: an album or so of "Nocturnes," "Scherzos," etc. That's fine but then you tend to think of the music in genre blocks. Pianist Burkard Schliessmann had the good idea to select some of the very finest gems and to play them in chronological order, so we can get a first-hand glimpse of the developments that took place in his style over time.

The result is Chronological Chopin (Divine Art 25752 3-CDs). This is a three-SACD set, which means you can play it in surround sound on a player that is capable, but also still enjoy it on two-channel systems with a conventional player. The sound is brilliant either way.

Burkard Schliessmann gives us impassioned readings, beautifully, poetically realized performances with maximum affective impact yet full command of the notes. He is not by any means a sloppy sort of romantic pianistic vessel, but his phrasings follow the swells of feeling rather than a sort of pinpoint mapping, if that makes any sense. Rubatos and dynamics take us far into the music without sounding the least bit contrived or manipulated. In short he gives us near ideal readings, on the warm side of the possibilities, the interpretive side rather than the supercharged virtuoso-centered side.

Hearing these works in chronological order gives you a feeling of life passing. It may be the earlier Chopin of the op. 28 "Preludes" is already pregnant with the depth of feeling and expressive arcs of his later years. On the other hand the world of the "Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61" gives us more intensified depth, a more profound sense of how things are (for Chopin) and how a piano work can express that fully, beyond words, ineffable.

It takes some time hearing these works unfold in temporal sequence, and it all will need to be transposed to your own senses in order to grasp what it all means for yourself. So I will leave it to your own impressions over time as you listen to the new sequencing and Burkard Schliessmann's special way with it all.

It has given me pause, all of this, and given me a new appreciation for Chopin the composer in a lifetime. It is a beautiful set, really rather remarkable. Schliessmann brings to the music a special understanding. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Giacomo Fiore, IV: American Electric Guitars

The electric guitar for various reasons does not always get the full attention it deserves in new music composition, as compared with the piano or the violin, etc.

Giacomo Fiore's IV: American Electric Guitars (GFLP 001) on a nicely done LP release gives us four excellent reasons why that should change. Four compositions are presented--and they run a nicely inclusive gamut of instrument colors and ingenious structures.

Four contemporary modern works are realized with style and great musicianship, showing us, as the liners state, "The wide range of timbral, contrapuntal and expressive possibilities that the instrument has to offer." That is for sure.

Eve Beglarian's "Until it Blazes" (2001) was designed for "any plucked or keyboard instrument and dual delay." It has a natural, round-like polyphony through the delay, with nicely pulsating diatonic figures that have an appealingly advanced minimal quality.

Christian Wolff's "Another Possibility" (2004), specifically for electric guitar, is a kind of sequel to Morton Feldman's "The Possibility of a New Work for Electric Guitar" (1966). The latter had been performed several times by Wolff when somebody stole his guitar with the only extant copy of the work inside the case. So the work was forever lost, seemingly and tragically. (However a tape of a Wolff performance has been resurrected from the KFPA archives, so a critical edition is now in the works.) The Wolff piece has a resplendent high-modernist melodic-harmonic flourish and a consistent linear nicety to it. If it sometimes reminds me of some of Captain Beefheart's jagged-edged contrapuntal works for guitar, it is doubtless a case of synergy.

Anthony Porter's "Hair of the Dog that Bit You" (2011) was originally for amplified acoustic guitar and looper. Fiore seems to be using an electric for this performance. Four movements alternate between a sort of freedom and loop-based circulatory modes.  The freely articulated parts segue well with the Wolff work via their high-modernist expanded tonality but also have a jazzy quality with some advanced chording. The looped sections resonate somewhat with the Beglarian work, though this is a bit more involved in the way overlapped second lines remain more independent than directly interlocking, though there is plenty of forward moving rhythmic elements.

Larry Polansky's "Freehorn" (2004) uses an amplified resonator guitar whose frets have been redone to match Lou Harrison's just intonation specifications. A second part overdubbed for the slide electric guitar gives Fiore the ability to gradually detune-retune G-B-D-G harmonies, gradually working away from standard tuning and converging to various degrees with the just-intonated resonator. It is involved and fascinating to hear.

Fiore's performances are meticulous and poetic, outward reaching and foundational at the same time. The four works give us  a nicely contrasting and nicely executed gamut of new possibilities that are a pleasure to experience. Beautifully done!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Michael Eckert, Brazilian Dreams

You could say that Michael Eckert (b 1950) is to Brazilian choros as Scott Joplin is to ragtime, though of course we should not forget about Villa-Lobos and some significant others that have come before. Nevertheless Eckert creates choros that have a kind a classic form, clearly articulated melodically and harmonically. Or that is my vivid feeling at least coming away from a number of listens to Brazilian Dreams, Music of Michael Eckert (MSR Classics 1549).

The program is played with convincing energy and sensitive articulation by pianist Polina Khatsko or the Unison Piano Duo for the four-hand and two piano works, plus Amanda McCandless on clarinet.

We are taken on a journey through a number of sets of music, the "Choros for Clarinet and Piano," "Three Pieces for Two Hands," "Three Tangos for Piano Four Hands," "Three Pieces in Brazilian Style for Clarinet and Piano," "Three for the Road for Clarinet and Piano, " and "Three Scenes for Clarinet and Piano." All are in their premiere recordings, all were written between 2002 and 2012, and all have a kind of neo-classical clarity, whether choros proper or tango-shaded.

Michael Eckert was born in the US and has made his home here. He is not from Brazil. He started his compositional journey when younger with music in the modern classical idiom and only later fell in love with Brazilian choro.

The choro arose in Rio at the end of the 19th century, combining European sensibilities with Afro-Brazilian rhythmic  drive. Samba and bossa nova displaced the music in Brazil from the '50s on, yet it has undergone something of a revival in recent times.

Michael Eckert takes to the musical form with enthusiasm and a natural grace. The concert form of choros is the idea, music performed by western concert instruments for a concert audience. He makes no attempt to supercede those who have gone before him, instead letting his natural affinity for the form sing out nicely, with plenty of melodic invention and great presence.

The performances here are brightly and spritely moving, everything one would hope for, dynamic and rhythmically alive.  And the music keeps our attention in a lovely and refreshing way.

So by all means get this one for a nice change of pace! It is great fun and seriously good, too.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Telemark Chamber Orchestra, Tapestry, Lars Erik ter Jung, New Music from Norway

Today we have a very handsome hard-bound book volume of the CD Tapestry (FBRCD-14), a collection of Norwegian high modernist new music performed with great verve by the Telemark Chamber Orchestra strings under Lars-Erik ter Jung. The works are by composers likely to be unfamiliar to those not immersed in the local new music scene in Norway, but they are a talented bunch that give us a very worthy sampling of highly interesting works.

Who are they? Agnes Ida Pettersen, Hugo Harmens, Oyvind Maeland, Kristin Bolstad, Tyler Futrell, Stine Sorlie and Eric Skytterholm Egan. The composers are young, born between 1978 and 1985, and show a high-watermark concern for a great variety of sound color and aural vividness via a full gamut of traditional and extended string techniques and a thorough sensitivity to orchestrational poetics. They are all recent, fairly short works ranging from around four to twelve minutes apiece, allowing for a full spectrum of new music composers and a breadth of significant work of striking beauty.

There is high-modern tonal and extra-tonal edginess to be heard, a sort of impressionistic luminousness and Nordic naturalness to the music. It is music of wonder, played wonderfully well and recorded with bright and lucid sound staging.

The first edition is available in a run of 300 numbered copies. This is one of the more enchanting high-modernist orchestral offerings I've heard in a long while. Anyone with an appreciation for new music adventure and atmospherics should not hesitate to get this one. The Telemark Chamber Orchestra give us superlative performances and the music has a grippingly beautiful quality. Get this if you can!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Composers Concordance Presents The Mozart Influence

The Composers Concordance folks are unpredictable and at times refreshingly irreverent in a reverent sort of way. All that applies to a series of recomposition-compositions brought together under the rubric The Mozart Influence (Composers Concordance 0030). This is ingenious fun, music based on Mozart and his thematic and personal universe.

You who like me have spent plenty of time with the musical wunderkind and his rapid flowering will recognize some of Mozart's thematics and even whole compositions, all resituated into the kaleidoscopic world of today, into the creative world of Composers Concordance. It is all put together by a chamber ensemble most certainly not limited to the instruments of Mozart's day but including electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and electronic treatments.

We pleasure our way through a lucky 13 works-reworks by Gene Pritsker, Patrick Grant,  David Taylor, Jon Clark, Milica Paranosic, and Dan Cooper. You will hear some over-the-top arrangements for Taylor's bass trombone and Jon Clark's French horn, a Mid-East meets Latin America chamber transformation, some rock restating with anything from scat-yodeling (Chanda Rule!) to unusual modernist rething-king, operatic recititaves on the state of Mozart's finances, jazz encapsulations, and more besides.

It is adventure and beauty, avant and proto-contemporary, popped and played with, dissected and made into various friendly Frankenstein monsters, things that carry the essence of Mozart and pay tribute to the serious and playful side of the brilliance music force. There are musical jokes he would have appreciated and there are seriously moving reworkings, all put together quite nicely and at times quite brilliantly.

Anyone who wonders what is new, what is postmodern about our modern music, anyone who loves Mozart and is not afraid to hear his influence transmuted in a kind of creative alchemy, this one you should hear, you should buy.

It is a hoot from many an inspired owl. Do not miss it if you want to go further along the road to tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

San Jose Chamber Orchestra, 25 Anniversary, Barbara Day Turner

The San Jose Chamber Orchestra celebrates a quarter of a century this year with the release of 25 Anniversary (Navona 6031). On it Barbara Day Turner leads the orchestra through three present-day tonal compositions both varied and interesting.

Michael Ching gives us a single movement "Piano Concerto" (1996) notable for its thematic strength and worthy variational development. Craig Bohmler sounds just right as the piano soloist.

Craig Bohmler in turn gives us a song cycle composition Saints (2002) based on the poetic lyrics of Marion Adler. It is about faith in its variant presence or absence in the human heart. The work features the extraordinarily powerful mezzo-soprano voice of Layna Chianakas, who is best in the more tender moments. Her forte can match the most powerful and dense musical outbursts, and perhaps there are times when you might find that a little more operatic than the work demands. But no matter. The cycle reminds me slightly of Barber's "Knoxville" with a kind of neo-Americana expressivity. The instrumental parts are nicely neo-pastoral in their lyric sensitivity.

Finally we get Michael Touchi's "Tango Barroco" (2001) with solo moments for William Trimble and Patricia Emerson Mitchell, on soprano sax and English horn, respectively. After a quiet introduction the music has some alternately stirring and cantabile contrasts that feature some beautifully interesting parts (beautifully played) for the wind soloists and, indeed, a kind of tango-meets-baroque quality that is delightful.

The orchestra sounds nicely committed and inspired under Barbara Day Turner's leadership. It is music of definite interest, some modern tonal gems you are not likely to hear elsewhere at this point and they give us something celebratory and fascinating in their own right. Hooray for the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and hooray for these well realized compositions!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Claude Bolling, Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio, Symphonic Arrangement by Steve Barta, Hubert Laws, Jeffrey Biegel

Claude Bolling and his 1975 Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio was one of those works that caught the general public imagination and has enjoyed huge success in its original recorded version featuring Jean-Pierre Rampal.  Steve Barta has given us a new Symphonic Arrangement (Steve Barta Music CD-01) with Hubert Laws on flute, Jeffrey Biegel on piano, the jazz quartet plus a string quartet and symphony orchestra.

All the reasons the work has been so popular remain--a very lyrical, tuneful outlook that manages to combine a sort of melodic jazz Dave Brubeck and Vince Guaraldi did at times plus a neo-baroque modern classical element that works remarkably well with the jazz element. Hubert Laws sounds glorious in the flute role, as does Jeffrey Biegel for the piano part. The jazz quartet swings with enough heft to convince you that indeed the jazz element is of great importance, and then Steve Barta's arrangements for string quartet and full symphony orchestra reinforce and enrich the whole in ways that keep that special interplay between flute and piano intact yet fill out the sound with richly unobtrusive, complementary accompaniment.

It is a delight for those who like me already know the work in its original version and will no doubt appeal to those unfamiliar who would nevertheless like something both jazzy and classical, lighthearted yet substantial.

This is not and never has been cutting-edge music per se. That is not the point of it. It is thematically lively and nicely inclusive of the jazz and classical domains yet straddles both in a fine balance. This new version manages to give us an even better take on it all, played with great spirit and dash, fully fleshed out with a new set of symphonic garments that adorn and enhance the beauty of the work admirably well.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Philip Wood, Sonnets, Airs and Dances, Songs and Chamber Music

Philip Wood is a present-day representative of the "English School" of composers who looks backward in order to look ahead. The album at hand, Sonnets, Airs and Dances (Divine Art 25131), gives us a good deal of music that lies firmly and delightfully in the neo-classical camp, with a pronounced sort of late renaissance/baroque-meets-modern feel. You can hear the legacy of Britten, Vaughan-Williams, Walton and others of the past century, only Wood applies his own fertile inventive abilities to give us his own take on "the old in the new."

If I were doing Shakespeare and wanted someone to set the lyrics to the plays with fresh songs, Wood might just be my choice. He manages to capture the pastoral, the natural, the spring effusions favored by poets and songwriters in the earlier times, and you can hear Ophelia in there somehow, too.

The song cycles presented here by soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers, a capella and with recorder virtuoso John Turner, harpsichordist Harvey Davies and for part of them, cellist Heather Bills, have a re-inventive rustic charm and a haunting quality. "Sonnets, Airs and Dances," "Five Spring Songs," "Two Motets" all have a special betwixt-and-between feel with present-day elements mingling freely and inventively with early music sonic roots. If Henry Purcell came back from the dead somehow (an unlikely event) and entered my living room (even less likely), wanting to hear what modern music was up to, I might start with this as something he would feel affinity with, before shocking him with some more divergent sounds! I think he would be pleased with this album. Though he would no doubt find it went ways unfamiliar to him.

"Partita for Recorder and Cello" brings John Turner to the fore within a backdrop of  nicely figured cello from Jonathan Price. On from there counter-tenor James Bowman stirringly brings us more of the vocal end of Wood's music with a three-movement "Aria, Recititive and Rondo" for voice and Jonathan Price again on the cello.

The end of the program caps everything off with Turner and his recorder capturing the final moments with the solo "A Lonsdale Dance" and then for a finale the Manchester Camerata chamber ensemble providing the neo-classical backdrop for the delightful "Concertino for Recorder and String Quartet," which takes us rather closer to the modern sensibilities while still retaining a nod to the past.

This music is balm for musical Anglophiles. Wood is a new voice who carries on with music that captures the English countryside as the English composers are fond of capturing it--regenerative, idyllic, like Hardy's Wessex, only without his ultimately tragic outlook. I am glad to have this one. It gives us a very nicely expressive series of moments. Wood belongs in your "modern English neo" stacks for sure as a vibrant new member with real talent and the strong ability to avoid cliche and remain fresh. Performances are first-rate and the music transcends some of our weary, dreary present!