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, July 29, 2016
Tartini's Violin, Sonatas for Violin and B.C., Crtomir Siskovic
Siskovic plays the four sonatas (in G minor op.1 No. 10, in G minor "Il Trillo di Diavolo," in A major "Pastorale", in B flat major "Staggion bella") with gusto, lyricism and a nicely baroque mix of trills and impeccable execution. Luca Ferrini does a fine job on harpsichord and, interestingly, on organ for one sonata.
Before the baroque revival came upon us last century, Tartini's sonatas were consigned to oblivion, all except the "Devil's Trill" ("Il Trillo di Diavolo"), which we hear nicely done on this program. It was taken up by most virtuosos in the 19th and 20th centuries, with greatly variable degrees of authenticity in the arrangements, until the mid-century or so when period performance practices increasingly came to the fore. With the baroque revival came a new attention and appreciation of Tartini's entire opus. We can hear in the four sonatas performed here just how fresh and relevant the music sounds to us today.
This is as authentic and spirited an approach to Tartini as you could wish. It glows with charm and expressive punch. Highly recommended!
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Sibelius, Symphony No. 2, Mariss Jansons, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
But one should be able to appreciate new versions of old favorites if they give you some new and worthy wrinkle on the music. That's happened just now with Mariss Jansons and the Symphonieorchester Bayerischen Rundfunks version of Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 (BR Klassik 900144).
The second to me is Sibelius' first really original, his first great symphony. The first is a little too close to Tchaikovsky for comfort, though it is memorable and good to hear. The second gives us the blossoming of that incredibly lyrical melodicism and beautifully orchestrated way, plus that rather difficult-to-put-in-words "x" factor that marks him as special. "Finnish" is sometimes used to denote this, but it is more complex than simply a place-centered approach. He is simply one of a kind, neither modern in a typical sense nor derivative. There is a sort of neo-romantic, neo-impressionist wealth of theme and development in his best work that is ultra-singular.
So the second was the first symphony to show us his genius, undoubtedly. I've lived with a Colin Davis version on an old LP for years. Mariss Janssons gives us perhaps a more Beethovenesque, more robust version on the BR Klassik issue. And I'll admit I had to listen several times before I got used to it. But the wonderful audio quality and the sparkling performance of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in the end won the day for me.
Added to the program are the tone poems "Finlandia" and the "Karelia-Suite" that make this volume a very good introduction to Sibelius if you do not know him well. It also gives us a vivid performance of the second in a sort of thicker matrix than I am used to hearing. It is a rewarding disk for that and the fine sonics. Those who might be looking for a modern recording of the second will do well to try this one. I am in the end quite happy with it. Recommended!
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 5:13 AM No comments:
Labels: classic sibelius, finnish 20th century modern neo-romantic neo-impressionist symphonies, sibelius symphony no 2 mariss jansons rundfunks gapplegate classical-modern review
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Maya Beiser TranceClassical
The studio is her canvas on this album. Overdubbing and effects give her cello a larger-than-life aura and the arrangements carry the day. On the "covers" she makes of the songs-compositions something new and often enough, unearthly. Bach's "Air" orchestrates all parts on cello; Imogen Heap's beautiful "Hide and Seek" features Maya's very nice voice harmolodized as on the original, and adds a cello sonance that sets it apart. Lou Reed's "Heroin" gets a radically different treatment as arranged by David Lange, and Hildegard von Bingen surprisingly enters the ambient arena, thanks to Maya's iconoclastic arrangement of "O Virtus Sapientiae"!
Then there are some postmodern gems by Michael Gordon, Glenn Kotche, Julia Wolfe, Mohammed Fairouz, and David T. Little.
Maya's music is about not giving a good d about what is expected of her, of what contemporary music cello albums are supposed to cover. It's about creating an atmosphere of instant karma, of enchanting spellweaving, of what a modern studio and a lively imagination can produce.
Is this the future of modern classical? No. The future is not going to be about any one thing. There will be music that forms its own niche, coexisting with other niches alongside one another. If the music business has shrunk over the last decade or so, it may be a sign of pop death by asphyxiation. The die seems cast. It is the "serious" music category that will still be heard, collected and appreciated by a dedicated minority of aficionados, perhaps long after the billion dollar pop industry becomes truly marginal?
So in that way Maya Beiser is part of the future. The music glows and portends much. Check this album out, by all means.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Franz Liszt, Transcriptions of Symphonic Poems, Sergio Monteiro
So it is only natural that there were also solo piano Transcriptions of Symphonic Poems (Naxos 8.573485) he himself wrote in his career. Naxos and pianist Sergio Monteiro give us six well and lesser known such transcriptions as Volume 43 of the ongoing Complete Piano Music Series.
"Les Preludes" and "Orpheus" are the most familiar of the poems and sound completely natural as solo piano arrangements. The initial transcriptions were done for these two by Karl Klauser and Friedrich Spiro, respectively, but then revised by Liszt himself, a process that leaves us with some convincing and exciting piano music. Sergio Monteiro gives us heroic performances for these and the other poems on the program. The music requires a great deal of virtuosity and of course a vivid sense of the music. Monteiro has it all. He understands the music and brings out the salient aspects very nicely.
There is much else of interest to explore. "Kunstlerfestzing" (second version, 1883) has much substance and charm. But really all of it makes for a Promethean program, including "Van der Wiege bis zum Grabe" (1882), "Der nachtlische Zug" (1872) and "Vierter Mephisto-Watzer" (1885).
Even the most devoted of Liszt admirers may not be familiar with all these transcriptions. Under the very capable hands of Monteiro it all comes alive for some lyrical and explosive piano fireworks that remind you just how paradigmatic Liszt was and is as the complete pianist.
It is hard to imagine Scriabin, Debussy, Alkan, Ravel, Sorabji, or even the Ives of the Concord Sonata without Liszt's example. But for all that this volume is also a joy to experience.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Harrison Birtwistle, Angel Fighter, In Broken Images, Virelai
All three works appear to be of recent origin, and all show a very personal mastery of the modern chamber orchestra and choral group. The music is singular, dynamic, dramatic, and very full of tone color, especially "In Broken Images."
"Angel Fighter" re-enacts the biblical story of Jacob and his battle with an angel. It has a sort of "post-Wozzeck" expressionism that builds upon declamatory gestures and fully modern soloist, choral, orchestral interactions.
"Virelai" is equally worthwhile, short and neo-classically poignant.
I am mightily impressed with the music and performances. It shows us a Birtwistle in the full modernist vigor of creativity, a composer of great originality and inventive brilliance.
Very highly recommended.
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 5:32 AM No comments:
Labels: harrison birtwistle angel fighter in broken images virelai david atherton london sinfonietta gapplegate classical-modern review, later modernist works by harrison birtwistle
Friday, July 22, 2016
Meridian Arts Ensemble, Seven Kings
The compositions hold and keep interest levels high. Ensemble member Daniel Grabois opens the program with a jazzy "Migration." This is sophisticated, involved modern music that sounds just right for the ensemble and the same can be said of the other works on the program: David Sanford's title piece, Dave Ballou's own "For Brass Quintet and Percussion," Edward Jacobs' "Passed Time," Robert Maggio's five movement "Revolver." Neo-classical elements rub shoulders with avant, harmonically advanced sounds and contemporary jazz influenced flourishes.
It is all first-rate music played by a crack brass ensemble. If that sounds good to you, I think you will love the program as I do. Listen and get entranced!
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Jeffrey Stadelman, Three String Quartets, New England String Quartet
Jeffrey Stadelman, chairman of the department of music at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, a pupil of Stephen Dembski and Donald Martino, holder of a Ph.D. from Harvard, has been perfecting and evolving his music for more than 25 years now.
We've come across his music happily on these pages, notably on the album Messenger and Other Works (see June 27, 2013 posting). Today we further our exposure with a recording of his Three String Quartets (Navona 6048).
Stadelman's "Seraphita (Canons)," "Eastland," and the "String Quartet No. 2" get precision and passion from the New England String Quartet, who perform all the quartets in the volume.
All three works have a rigorous, terse quality, perhaps especially the nine "Seraphita (Canons)" that open the program. But even the longer, single movement "Eastland" says a very great deal in a relatively short period of time.
The music is deeply modernist in tenor, rather profoundly uncompromising, quartets with the concentrated punch that places them near Carter or Shostakovich at their best.
The three-movement "String Quartet No. 2" is somewhat less rhythmically abstract that the other two. An almost Viennese rhythmic feel hearkens back to, say, early Schoenberg quartets in essence, though Stadelman keeps to his own thematic use and development of expanded post-tonality.
These are marvelous examples of the high modernist art today, string quartets that deserve a wide hearing, presented in near definitive performances. It gives us some brilliant Stadelman and some of the finest quartets written in our times. Anyone with a love of the new music will profit greatly from this disk. Strongly recommended.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Philip Thompson, Ion Sound Project, Separate Self
This is music often of an introspective, almost neo-impressionist cast, most notably in his "Nocturnes" (2014) for violin, viola and cello, in four groupings of three miniature movements. It is music of a fragile, transparent sort of magic, occasionally reminding one of Steve Reich's later phase, only with repetition more dimensional, an ostinato for a separate melody line and/or sometimes thematic in its own right, or both alternatingly. The music celebrates Galileo's 450th birthday via a reaction to Michael Morrill's paintings that in turn react to Galileo's moon drawings.
"Kecow Hit Tamen" (2011) pays homage to the composer's Lumbee Indian roots with a quintet of flute, violin, cello, clarinet and piano and spoken word that plays upon an Algonquin phrase that means "What is your name?" or "What is this?" The musical canvas of ruminative tonal abstraction and recitation is meant to capture the feeling of learning a new language. A video animation by Ryan Day was created to accompany the musical performance.
The "Score to the Film Virgil Cantini: The Artist in Public" (2009) is scored for flute, cello and piano--and has a related reflective mood.
"Trouble" (2007), for flute, violin, clarinet, cello and piano is based on a Gradual for the Second Sunday of Lent. It is lyrical and delicate, unfolding leisurely while it virtually reflects back on itself. There is a good deal of beauty here. The chorale like concluding passage gives the work a satisfying sort of "Amen,"
Finally, "Separate Self" (2013) furnishes for us a more outgoingly vibrant music with Ryan Socrates playing nicely a part for drum set in the first movement that drives forward the music for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. This is an interlocking, rhythmically vivid phraseology that has a nicely inventive melodic contour and pushes us forward with recognizably familiar pomo language which manages to be yet also strikingly original. The middle movement slows things down and looks inward. The final movement brings back musical motion but with a different kind of linearity. "Separate Self" stays in the mind. It is quintessential Thompson.
All that is what the album is about. Philip Thompson manages to sound quite fresh and lyrical while making important contributions to the new tonal postmodern repertoire. Chamber music with a difference, accessible, well configured, Separate Self is a tonic for troubled times. Yet it does not pander to an "easy" ears sort of innocuousness. Recommended!
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 6:34 AM No comments:
Labels: new tonal post-minimalism, philip thompson ionsound project separate self gapplegate classical-modern review, postmodern modern tonal chamber music from pittsburgh
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Kamran Ince, Passion and Dreams, Present Music, Stalheim
The postmodern cyclical merges with horizontal minor and extra-tonal phrases for a unique amalgam of ever varying matrices of synthesis.
"Dreamlines" (2008) features 10 instrumentalists, six who also join in the singing of an overarching melody. It is a haunting piece.
"Zamboturfidir" (2013) involves nine short movements for large chamber ensemble that meld avant-modern pointillism, driving repetition and extra-tonal or tonal melody lines in a fascinating, ever shifting series of interconnected miniatures.
"Asumani" (2012), a duo for ney and cello, has unmistakable Turkish roots in its prominent ney flute breathiness and minor mode. The cello part gives contemplative responses, ruminative soliloquies and drone textures. There is magic to be heard.
"Fortuna Sepio Nos" (2013), here in its clarinet, cello and piano version, has some post-Glassian elements of flourish-repetition without cloning in. Then it goes on to some walking atonality and then back to the repetition flourish for a minute before establishing a minute or so of ceremonial atonality and then a modern meets Ottoman moment. This is a rather wild ride through contrasting style amalgamates, the modern and the ancient, the minimal and the Turkish. It's a hat-hanging-onto rush of good ideas all sequentially stitched together in unexpected ways.
"Partita in E" (2007) for violin and percussion is notable for its Turkish duo underpinnings and its striking violin motifs. A Turkish Arvo Part? Not really but there are resonances. It's striking at any rate.
The concluding "Two Step Passion" (2011) for large chamber ensemble is "minimal Turkish" in its general combinatorial logic.
The Present Music organization under the artistic directorship of Kevin Stalheim do the compositions perfect justice.
Despite some eclectic moments the general thrust of Kamran Ince's music on this collection is singular. It angles and moves from style-station-to-style-station with an adroitness and creative thrust that makes this music stand out as a memorable synthetic adventure. Well worth hearing.
Monday, July 18, 2016
Christopher Rouse, Odna Zhizn, Symphony Nos. 3 & 4, Prospero's Rooms
Rouse was the Philharmonic's Marie-Josee Kravis Composer-in-Residence for 2012-15. "Symphony No. 4" (2013) and "Prospero's Rooms" (2012) come out of that residency. "Symphony No. 3" (2011) was first performed by the orchestra in 2013 and "Odna Zhizn" (2008) was commissioned and premiered by the orchestra, so all four have a direct and intimate connection with Gilbert and the NYP.
It is no surprise then that all of the works get definitive and exciting performances on this release.
"Symphony No. 3" is modelled after Prokofiev's rather underrated "Symphony No. 2," a brashly motored and bittersweet work of his early period. If you were not tipped off about this in advance, you would not detect the close connection, because Rouse parallels the Prokofiev and makes his own personal musical analogue with little use of quotes as the basis for the new work.
"Odna zhizn" means "a life" in Russian. It was composed by Rouse "in homage to a person of Russian ancestry who is very dear to me," in his words. Since the life of the person in question has been subject to some turbulence, so too the music is at times unsettled and dynamically stirring. Virtually all of the music takes important names and phrases associated with the Russian woman and directly codes them in terms of notes and sometimes duration. But one does not need a decoder to appreciate the extraordinary flow and excitement of the music. It is surely an orchestral tour de force, one of the most exciting and memorable short contemporary orchestral works I have heard recently, a classic of this very moment.
"Symphony No. 4" is programmatic in its basis, though Rouse prefers not to reveal the actual nature of the program. It is of no matter to us however, as the music speaks with a loquaciousness, a deep expressivity that in the end need not be pinned down to words or story lines.
"Prospero's Rooms" closes out the program. It is loosely based on Poe's story about a Prince (Prospero) who invites a gathering to a ball in his special palace. Each room is of a different color with a stained-glass window correspondingly tinted. The final room, as the Poe story goes, is black with a crimson red window and an infernal clock whose chiming freezes the guests with terror. In the room ultimately appears the Red Death, who kills all in attendance. It is understandably a correspondingly dark and brooding musical work, more concerned with capturing the mood of the tale than furnishing an event-by-event analogy. It forms a fittingly dramatic conclusion to a terrific program.
In the end the four works gives us a considerably revealing look at Rouse today, a true master of orchestration, a poetic magician of modernity, a most expressive and communicative crafter of sound brilliance. Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic capture all the brilliance with an ideal, soundfully exact and exciting set of performances.
This one is essential for those interested in the most modern music. Rouse confirms he is a leading light today in ways that will move you. Molto bravo!
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 6:22 AM No comments:
Labels: christopher rouse odna zhizn symphonies 3 and 4 and prospero's rooms ny philharmonic gilbert gapplegate classical-modern review, leading modern american composers, us modern orchestral masterworks today
Friday, July 15, 2016
Martinu, The White Dove, Songs 4, Jana Hrochova
Mezzo-soprano Jana Hrochova shows exemplary expressive power without a hint of cloying sentimentality; Giorgio Koukl provides poetically pianistic accompaniment of the highest order.
The 30 songs that comprise "New Slovak Songs" more or less invariably have a minor mode folk flavor, tempered by Martinu's early modern-impressionist-post-romantic sensibilities. Some have a pronounced dance feel; others are more reflective. All give us a side of Martinu that is more firmly "nationalist" than much of his work, rich in the song traditions of the Slovakian countryside, yet tempered with compositional twists and turns. One on occasion may be favorably reminded of Bartok in his more overtly folk-oriented phase, yet there is a Martinu-esque stamp to it all.
"The Three Virgins" (1910) enjoys its premiere recording. It is a short, single song that refreshes with its major-minor-chromatic modernist synthesis.
"Nursery Rhymes" (1940), also in its first recording, belies the grave state of the world about Martinu at the time with playful, delightful bits of lighthearted but musically substantive fun.
So there you have it. This is somewhat atypical Martinu so not an ideal disk with which to begin an exploration into his music. But those already familiar will find this a most rewarding and pleasurably substantive example of another side of his musical personality. The performances are excellent. Recommended.
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 5:28 AM No comments:
Labels: czech and slovak folk-art songs from martinu, early modern folk influenced song from eastern europe, martinu the white dove songs 4 gapplegate classical-modern review
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Pat Muchmore, BABEL Fragments
This is a music of dramatic gesture, a world where tonal signposts are normally few or non-existent, where texture, color and abstract syntax hold forth in ways that put the Muchmore stamp of identity at the forefront.
There are no simple ways into or out of this music. SHESHACH utilizes free jazz improv language at times but otherwise this music exemplifies a modern day Babel of intersecting musical voices, a poetic energy and uncompromising demeanor.
There is much to immerse oneself in, as Muchmore throws down the modernistic gauntlet. It is up to the listener to parse out significance as he or she sees fit. That means that listening involves a bit of work. Understanding and appreciation grow out of deep concentrated listening, the continual interface between musical intent and listener openness.
It is not often as jarring as many high modern programs can be to the initiate, but it is far from light music nonetheless. The works and their dedicated performative excellence are indeed something very worth spending repeated time absorbing, for Muchmore is a figure of talent and originality. Enthusiastic modernists out there will find a great deal to like; those unfamiliar or reluctant to dive into the ultra-contemporary have to be willing to make a real effort. But in the end the Muchmore style will give you a great deal to contemplate and dwell within. An important recording for what is new in the new music world.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Chorus vel Organa, Music from the Lost Palace of Westminster, Chorus of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge
What became the Houses of Parliament in
was originally the home of the collegiate chapel of St. Stephen. It was founded
by Edward I and gained college status under Edward III in 1348. Its musical
life flourished for 200 years until being abolished by Henry VIII. Chorus vel Organa, Music from the Great Britain Lost Palace
(Delphian Records DCD 34158) looks at the music made in the last years of its
existence during the reign of Henry VIII. The Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge
under Geoffrey Webber, Magnus Williamson on organ, gives us a fascinating
selection of sacred vocal music from that era, in marvelously luminous
From Anonymous to Nicholas Ludford to William Cornysh, some fine composers give us Masses and short movements for parts of the Mass, other choral and solo organ music. In the process the program paints a vivid picture of performance practice and the musical life there in the final period of official English Catholicism.
The performances lack nothing for period authenticity. The choirs shine beautifully and the organ is as was current in the period, with a wholly archaic and exceptional sound. The sound of chanting in chords is uncanny and eerie, but all of the music as performed thrives as enchanting relics of Renaissance England.
Early music enthusiasts no doubt will find this a rather glorious volume as I did. Those who have an interest in Anglo roots will respond readily too, of course. The performances seem definitive and the repertoire special and satisfying. Very beautiful!
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 1:30 PM No comments:
Labels: chorus vel organa music from the lost palace of westminster choir of gonville and caius college gapplegate classical-modern review, pre-reformation english music in period performance
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Alan Beeler, Vocal Music
Sadly Beeler passed away on April 28th of this year so the album in effect has become a memorial tribute.
We have the pleasure of hearing four distinctive works, each with special and memorable qualities. "The Sutton Songs" captures the vivid recollective poetry of Dorothy Sutton with a song cycle featuring the nicely wrought vocals of soprano Aliana de la Guardia and the sensitive accompanying pianism of Karolina Rojahn. It is a very inventive cycle, worthy to take its place alongside the very best of post-romantic American examples.
"Symphony No. 3: 'Shaker Hymns'" is a choral-orchestral gem that immediately recalls Copland and "Appalachian Spring," which famously makes use of the Shaker "Simple Gifts." Nonetheless Beeler carves out his own reworking, development and extension of other Shaker staples with well orchestrated and well conceived choral-orchestral declamatory interchanges. The Targu Mures State Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under Marinescu sound right and committed. It is a beautiful work, showing Beeler's fluidly confluent way with the Shaker melodies.
Next we have a baritone and orchestral setting of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" with Brian Church taking on the vocal role well and the Moravian Philharmonic supplying the dynamic backdrop. The idiom is more firmly placed within modern melodic-harmonic territory yet Beeler remains himself, ever lucid in his construction of projective, attractive vocal settings that showcase the verbal content with a special coherency and the feeling of musical inevitability that on reflection is a product of Beeler's fluid ease and eloquence.
"Inhuman Henry" sets the A. E. Houseman poem in modernistic terms, playful, advanced in extra-tonal ways and flowing well with the text and its own development. Eric Christopher Parry in the solo tenor role and the Moravian Philharmonic do a bangup job with this concluding work.
So the album gives us some four very accomplished and moving works, well performed, forming an excellent introduction to Alan Beeler for the newcomer to his ways, and standing on its own at the same time with strength, lyrical charm and, yes, character.
A real prize is this. Strongly recommended.
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