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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tigran Mansurian, Requiem

Armenian lyrical composer Tigran Mansurian chimes in with a remarkable Requiem (ECM New Series 2508) dedicated to the victims of the Turkish genocide against Armenians (1915-17). There is a haunting aura about it all, born of  heartfelt sorrow and the melding of traditional Armenian modal byways and Western modern and early music elements.

On the surface of it such combinations are not surprising, but then this music is inspired. The RIAS Kammerchoir and the Munchener Kammerorchester under Alexander Lienreich take advantage of the spacious ECM production values to create a remarkable sonic aura that gives maximum expressive reflectiveness.

The various movements of the Requiem Mass have each their own beauty, regret and sorrow being of course a common denominator but expressive power and tenderness holding sway in contrasting ways.

After all has ended one feels like one has been subject to a ghostly visitation, an otherworldly presence of the long deceased victims, while alternately agitation and an unearthly peace reigns, There are few contemporary choral works more moving and singular than this. Performances are as close to perfection as one might dare to expect for such a new work.

Schoenberg, Chamber Symphonies, Five Pieces Op. 16, Berg, Webern, Two Pianos & Piano Four Hands Versions, Matteo Fossi, Marco Gaggini

The contingent of Arnold Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern did as much or more than anybody to shape the modern classical world in the early-to-middle twentieth century and beyond. Schoenberg was the lynchpin of the three, of course, though Berg and Webern each made of it all something extraordinary in their own right. Schoenberg's Chamber Symphonies & Five Pieces Op. 16 (Brilliant  94957) were landmark achievements in the movement away from conventional tonality but also compellingly significant as absorbing listens in themselves today.

"Chamber Symphony No. 1" was completed in 1906, "Five Pieces Op. 16" in 1909, "Chamber Symphony No. 2" in 1916. Early performances caused much controversy. They were followed by piano arrangements: a four-hands version of the first Chamber Symphony by Alban Berg, a two-piano version of the "Five Pieces for Orchestra" by Anton Webern, and Schoenberg's own two-piano version of the second Chamber Symphony.

Matteo Fossi and Marco Gaggini bring us spirited and idiomatic readings of the piano versions. What is remarkable especially is how, stripped of the orchestral tone colors and boiled down to their essences, each work exhibits its harmonic and melodic brilliance like a old master painting cleaned and scraped bare of yellowed varnish and grime, exposed to our view once again the way the artist originally conceived it. That of course is not to criticize the orchestrations so much as to underscore how hearing these versions renew for us the hearing of the vitally new, the revolutionary core of the works as they sounded to listeners then.

The experience of listening to this disk has been revelatory to me. There in short is a wealth of naked musical truth that showcases Schoenberg's remarkably forged vocabulary as if for the first time. Nothing can quite compare. Fossi and Gaggini bring a new brightness to these works and in their hands the transcriptions themselves are almost startling to hear now.

Strongly recommended.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Caetani, The Two String Quartets, Alauda Quartet

Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961) ? Another 20th century Italian instrumental composer most of us do not know.  Like some others covered lately on these pages, he is not exactly a full-blown modernist. Far from it. But there is some very good music to be heard on the recent release The Two String Quartets (Brilliant Classics 95198). The youthful but considerable Alauda Quartet tackle Caetani's "Quartetto Op. 12 in F minor" and the "Quartetto Op.1 No. 1 in D."

The minor mode of the Op.12 brings out a gentle impressionist-romantic melancholy that the Alauda Quartet handles without sentimentality, with the matter-of-fact presence that we in our contemporary world need to hear in this music--as closer to our time than the 19th century. This is a work I would not like to hear the Budapest Quartet play, because they might give it a heart-on-sleeve nerve-driven reading that would miss the subtlety and transcendence that the Alauda give to the work.

The early Op. 1 No. 1 in a single movement has a somewhat similar hushed expectancy, and a moodiness that like the Op. 12 speaks with a kind of intimacy that is not unwelcome. It has moments that are perhaps a little less transparent and more romantic than not, but there is nothing perfunctory about it, either. Caetani speaks with his own sincerity, lives and expresses convincingly within the style sets he inhabits.

If you have some time to devote to unfamiliar music and feel a little moody yourself this is attractive music. Recommended for you who feel the lack or recall a life abundance now dissipated! Or for that matter it  is for you who just like the idea of a kind of mysteriously gentle impressionist-late romanticism.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

William Hellermann, Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December, Robert Dick

The minimal can turn out to be far from that; it can be an external cloak for the micro-maximal. That is very true of William Hellermann's soliloquy Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December (New World 80789-2). It has a never-ending, infinitely expansive way about it. A single work lasting some 50 minutes it proceeds with the premise that a small number of fundamental tones on Robert Dick's flute can be subjected to sound color variations via circular breathing, breath control, articulation, etc.

What unfolds is an opening into the fabric of aural space. Fundamental root tones, harmonic overtones and differing shades of tonal color inherent within the audio production of sounding--all get ample time for us to contemplate. The simple has within it the infinitely complex. That comes forward into our consciousness as Dick articulates Hellermann.

The liners describe the revolutionary act of the premiere performance, by Robert Dick at the American Center in Paris, 1979. The recent recording tells the rest. It is a music you feel, beyond its verbal description, which can only tell you what is, maybe, more so than what it feels like to hear it.

I would try and tell you more, of that inner world of feeling the hearing, But it is better that you simply hear it for yourself, repeatedly, without expectations. That will  be decisive for you.

I recommend you engage with this one. It might change you!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lei Liang, Luminous

Some high modernist chamber excellence can be had on Chinese-American composer Lei Liang's Luminous (New World 80784-2). Five compositions for varied instrumentation fill the program. The liner notes no doubt say it all definitively so that I probably come to this with less insight.

The string quartet "Vergo Quartet" (2013) is an example of what Liang is about. There are Mongolian aspects but they are so well integrated into the whole that you may not notice. Instead this is very lively music that manages to be both tonal and modernistically three-dimensional.

"Trans" (2013) for solo percussionist (Steven Schick) has a spacious, sprawling quality. A dramatic series of waxing and waning burst of notes contrasts with suspended cymbal rolls. A sprightly, more densely rhythmic kind of dance follows.

The solo piano work "The moon is following us" (2015) has a Cagean Eastern quality and goes him one further.

"Inkscape" (2014) for Third Coast Percussion and pianist Michael Lewenthal is spacious like "Trans" but ever more structurally profound.

Then finally we have bass wonder Mark Dresser team up with the chamber ensemble Palimpsest for a lengthy modern narrative on "Luminous" (2014). Mark is called upon to show the wide range of sounds a master like himself can produce. The chamber ensemble parallels his beautiful playing with excellent contrapuntal dialectics.

I feel I have not done justice to the rewarding complexities of Lei Liang's music. The album has many riches that careful listening will uncover. I recommend you listen!

John Gibson, Traces

When the world seems the opposite of what you thought it was, there still is music and the love of the new. John Gibson comes to us with his album Traces (Innova 896), a fine collection of seven electroacoustic works, covering a fascinating spectrum of sounds that make a coherency--a very intelligent and moving program.

Some are pure electroacoustics, some add or are built around live instruments. In the latter category are "Out of Hand" which is built around Michael Tunnell's trumpet and Brett Schuster's trombone. Then there is "Red Plumes" with Craig Hultgrin on cello. Finally "Blue Traces" centers on the piano of Kati Gleiser.

The musicality and fresh musical thinking of Gibson predominates in any case, no matter what the work's premises and sound design.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Alban Berg, Wozzeck, Houston Symphony, Hans Graf

There is little doubt. Many would agree with me that Alban Berg's Wozzeck (Naxos 8.660390-91 2-CDs) is the greatest opera of the 20th century. In spite of its pioneering modernity--or more rightly because of its supremely appropriate adoption to a harrowing dramatic theme, it has been staged over the world continuously since its premiere in 1925. The uncanny, seamless fit between the expressionist music and tragic portrayal of a social misfit makes for riveting, bone-chilling fare.

There have been a number of performances on record since the advent of the LP. The Boulez with the Paris Opera and the Karl Bohm with the Orchester des Deutschen Opernhauses Berlin and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau  stand out in my mind as the definitive, pace setting winners. But now we have a new one on the budget Naxos label with soloists and the Houston Symphony under Hans Graf.

Roman Trekel in the role of Wozzeck, Anne Schwanewilms as Marie and Marc Molomot as Captain Hauptmann are convincing both dramatically and musically. The orchestra brings us a full, well-rounded interpretation, not perhaps as edgy as Boulez but fully in tune with the score and its remarkable fitness to the drama.

There are several moments in the opera that I have found remarkable in themselves. The whistling, the out-of-tune piano in the bar-room scene and the final scene with children playing and singing in chilling contrast to the brutal murder that marks the climax of the opera. Graaf  and company underscore the whistling very well. The bar piano seems a little under recorded, as does the children's choir and dialog at the end. No matter.

This version introduces anyone unfamiliar with the essential work nicely, and its middle-level expressivity marks a decided contrast to the Bohm and the Boulez, so much so that it is worth having as another take on the music. Either way Graaf's version is a winner.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ockeghem, Masses, Beauty Farm

We can be thankful that Flemish Renaissance master contrapuntalist Johannes Ockeghem lived and thrived (1410?-1497) and that much of his ravishing music has come down to us intact. Just how ravishing we can readily hear on the two-work album Masses (FB Limited Edition 1701743), as sung by the exceptional period vocal group Beauty Farm.

Included is the "Missa L'Homme Arme" in four parts, possibly the first such setting based on the popular song as cantus firmus, and "Missa Quinti Toni" in three parts. The six vocalists bring out the unparalleled beauty of the parts, made so attractively otherworldly via their vibratoless delivery and heightened by the excellence of the countertenor Bart Uvyn and the other vocalists in the ensemble..

This is truly remarkable music, made all the more so by the quality of the performances. Ockeghem's contrapuntal writing has a sublimity of which only a master of the highest caliber is capable.

It is hard to imagine an intersection of composer and choral group more felicitous. The hard-edged articulation of each line (made especially alive by the small group) allows us to experience the living presence of the contrapuntal totality, the virtual absence (aside from the mandatory cadences) of a single banal intervallic movement, the singularity of every part and their near miraculous juxtaposition into an enchanting whole.

Anyone who is an early music enthusiast or for that matter anyone who needs further exposure to Renaissance masterworks will be well served by this album.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bruce Crossman, Living Colours: Pacific Sounds & Spirit

New music lives! As Edgard Varese put it, "the present day composer refuses to die!" That remains as true as ever. We find plenty of life out there, perhaps nowhere more than on Bruce Crossman's bouquet of compositions, Living Colours: Pacific Sounds & Spirit (Navona 6095).

As the title suggests Crossman allows the music of the Pacific, specifically of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Filipino traditions, to influence his more or less high modern attention to sound color and sound space. Harrison and Partch are possible forebears without becoming templates.

Four adventuresome chamber works comprise the program, each a significant waystep in understanding Crossman's musical ways. The longest work, "Gentleness-Suddenness" for mezzo-soprano, violin, percussion and piano, has the spacious stop and go perhaps of Korean Pansori music, only rethought and reactivated as an inspiration for the new music realm.

"Where Are the Sounds of Joy?" makes thoughtful use of an even smaller ensemble--trumpet, percussion and piano--for something spaciously Asian but with an effectively communicative vocabulary of Western new music. I cannot help recall Stockhausen's "Refrain," but only again as precursor. There is a modern improv music element as well. It makes a beautiful end to a significant program.

Backtracking though, the album begins with two small ensemble works of note, "Double Resonances" for percussion and piano, and "Not Broken Bruised-Reed" for violin, percussion and piano. Both are exemplary of the Crossman approach and give us much to appreciate.

You out there who look for the new in new music, seek no further. Crossman is a real force for the present-future. The album is outstanding!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Leopold Kozeluch, Symphonies 1, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice, Marek Stilec

From the Czech Masters in Vienna series we have a first volume of symphonies by the nearly forgotten Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818), Symphonies 1 (Naxos 8.573627). He was during his lifetime one of the more prominent Bohemian composers working in Vienna, with a considerable instrumental output.The back liner blurb alerts us to listen for a lyrical strain that prefigures young Schubert. And sure enough, one can hear that element if one listens for it, along with a Haydn-Mozart-Viennese classical panache and structure.

For this inaugural volume we hear the Sinfonias PosK 3, 5, 6, and 7. They are jaunty and pleasurable, thanks in part to the spirited performances of the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Marek Stilec.

Kozeluch from this evidence was an inspired craftsman. These are not some kind of game-changing examples from the era, but neither are they inconsequential fluff. Anyone with a penchant for the pre-romantic classical-period symphony will find this an enchanting listen.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hindemith Complete String Quartets, Amar Quartet

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) wrote some of the seminal chamber works of the first half of the 20th century. The Complete String Quartets (Naxos 8.503290) were as representative a slice of that as anything he did. The first five cover the major part of his European tenure, written between 1914 and 1923. Nos 6 and 7 were from his US period (1943, 1945).

All mark significant moments in his growth toward stylistic sublimity, toward an ideal of striking motival exceptionality and development, tightly conceived art expressions of his personal brand of avant neo-classical modernism.

The Amar Quartet gives us thoughtful and energetically dynamic readings of the seven quartets in a Naxos box set. There may be more brilliant interpretations of some of these works but taken as a whole the Amar versions are very faithful to the composer's vision and a real pleasure to experience.

There is a treasure trove of vintage Hindemith to be heard in this complete opus. Hindemith himself was a very accomplished violist. His presence in the acclaimed original Amar Quartet during his German period uniquely situated him to think in quartet terms. The quartet cycle that came out of this intimate working familiarity was surely one of the finest of the last century. Some 55 years after his death the quartets sound as fresh and vital as ever. The Amar version at the Naxos price makes it very attractive indeed, an essential element in your 20th century chamber collection.

Kudos and bravos!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Jeff Herriott, Stone Tapestry, Due East, Third Coast Percussion

Stone Tapestry (New Focus Recordings FCR 175), takes us on an extraordinary voyage through nine interrelated ambient sonic passages. This, the music of Jeff Herriott, comes forth in its own way, not quite like any other. Part of that has to do with the instrumentation. The duo Due East takes a leading role with Erin Lesser on flutes and Gregory Beyer on percussion. The formidable ensemble Third Coast Percussion adds considerable sound mass to the totality with David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors manning a barrage of instruments..

The totalized instrumentation these seven instrumentalists play has been chosen carefully by Herriott for a special sound world highly evocative, timbrally complex and beautifully orchestrated. It comprises alto flute, bass flute, bowls of water, contrabass flute, crotales, crystal glasses, flute, glass bowls, gongs, pipes, stones, vibraphones and wood planks.

The result is an ever-shifting ambiance with highly luminescent clusters of wood, metal, stone and glass.

Jeff Herriott knows what he is after and the ensemble sounds the corpus of instruments with standard and extended techniques. Each movement fills the aural space with its own special constellation.

It is a remarkable sonority, a fabulous program.

Highly recommended.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Intersections, Cross-Cultural Collaborations in Sound

The resumption of relations between the US and Cuba has begun to give rise to fruitful collaborative musical results. One of them, a very good one, is on the docket today: Intersections: Cross-Cultural Collaborations in Sound (Ansonica AR0002). The premise is simple. Bring a number of US New Music compositions into Cuba and engage some of the best local performance groups and individuals in realizing the works.

Both the music and its interpretation give us an exciting program, very well performed.

The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba under conductor Enrique Perez Mesa brings to us a measured, beautiful reading of "Awakening for Piano and Orchestra" with composer Jeffrey Jacob at the piano. It is an atmospherically charged modern lyricism at work--mildly melancholy and ambiently stunning.

From there, a cornucopia of chamber works. Heidi Jacob signs in with "Untouched By Morning and Untouched By Noon." Brian Church as baritone leads the way with a mix of Cuban and US musicians on bass clarinet, trumpet, and piano. It is some decidedly memorable expressive modernity at play. Performances are just right.

The realm of avant jazz-new music intersections comes forward on Steven Block's "Putting it Together." The all-Cuban chamber combo distinguishes itself wonderfully well. It reminds us that there is a vibrant music scene in Cuba today, with more depth than we might have anticipated. Kudos to Abiel Guerra on drums, Prieto on alto sax, Carlos Guerra on tenor and soprano sax, plus Lopez and Benitez on double basses, Mesa conducting.

Mesa also conducts Cervetti's "And the Huddled Masses," for clarinet and string quartet. It is evocative and filled with typical Cervetti vibrancy.

Finally, Ensemble Vocal Luna steps forward under the direction of Sandra Santos Gonzalez for the twin works of Christina Rusnak, "Dearly Beloved" and "Dearly Departed." It is haunting music. Vocal Luna is exceptional. And so ends a most worthy program.

The complex logistics of the US-Cuba nexus and this sort of project have been adroitly handled, and music-makers have triumphed, The works are vital, performances excellent. I look forward to more! Do not miss this one, you who follow the new music.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Carl Czerny, Organ Music, Iain Quinn

One of the most prolific composers of his era, Carl Czerny (1791-1857) is best remembered today as the author of seminal piano technique exercises. Anyone trained in classical piano has encountered them. Yet there is remains a great deal of music of his that has hung in a cloud of obscurity since his death. It certainly bears our consideration.

The man who was a student of Beethoven and a teacher of Liszt composed a bit of Organ Music (Naxos 8.573425) and we get to hear some of it, well performed by Iain Quinn, on a new Naxos release. Not surprisingly his 1838 "Prelude and Fugue in A minor, Op. 607" has a definite Bach inspiration. It is well constructed and worthwhile.

The remaining pieces were composed in 1841 for the English marketplace, at least partially. We get 32 varied miniatures in all, some contrapuntally oriented, others through composed. They comprise the bulk of this CD. "Twenty Short Voluntaries for Organ with Obbligado Pedal, Op. 698" and "Twelve Introductory or Intermediate Voluntaries, Op. 627" clock in at well more than an hour of listening time. Some have triumphant grandeur, others are more in the meditative realm. All show the craftsmanship, some the touch of inspiration, of a sure hand.

Listen to how he interweaves the theme from "God Bless the Queen" into his music for example. It is but an instance of his accomplished, inventive ways. A close listen reveals a good deal more to appreciate.

For the organ aficionado and/or those seeking to know more of the compositional side of Czerny this is an offering that will keep your ears busy and provide much of substance.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Stephen Hartke, The Ascent of the Equestrian in a Balloon

There are musical composition personalities out there today who boldly go their own way, showing us a modern return to tonality with a very personal passage through the musical thickets of contemporary possibilities. Such a one is Stephen Hartke (b. 1952), who brings his originality very much to bear on the recent album The Ascent of the Equestrian in a Balloon (BMOP Sound 1052). It is another cornerstone in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project led by Gil Rose.

From the start of the album and the title work we hear an American orchestral master in his own right. "The Ascent of the Equestrian in a Balloon" (1995) is a descriptive excuse for a vibrant character piece. Like Honegger's "Pacific 231" it delves fully into a journey (here in a hot air balloon) while using some striking orchestral sonarities that in the end are unforgettable. The opening chords utilize brass and strings and paint a setting with brilliance. It goes on from there in very memorable fashion.

"Alvorada: Three Madrigals for String Orchestra" (1983) has a very different aural fingerprint, an old-in-the-new modern panorama of searching string parts that manage to evoke old music yet have a beautifully affective newness about them.

The four movement "Brandenburg Autumn" (2006) brings yet another character study vividly to life with deceptive ease. The eloquent musical discourse seems effortless but must have entailed a good deal of craftwork. Hartke's mastery of orchestration allows him to unravel complex strands of tone and timbre, with each movement capturing a distinct mood and imagery, once again calling upon early music allusions, here Renaissance to Baroque, to paint lost time and seasons with poetic grace and originality.

"Muse of the Missouri" (2012) changes the pace for an evocative orchestral essay with a strong flavor of Americana but squarely unfolding with Hartke's pointed quasi-impressionistic, then rhythmically strong focus on melodic clarity and musico-logic poeticism. Ives' "Central Park in the Dark" may be a significant precursor in the mysterioso opening and closing passages, yet Hartke carves out his very own vistas. It is an ear opener!

Hartke in the liners underscores the importance of melody to his style. You can hear that in all four works as a return to motival essences. Nonetheless the sum total of 20th century developments somehow figure in the way he rethinks what it means to be modern today. That he goes beyond to find his own expression is clear and enormously attractive.

These four works stand out as very Hartkean ways to create distinction out of the potential maelstrom and chaos of contemporary possibilities. Ascent of the Equestrian unapologetically carves out a very immediate style that is easy to appreciate yet bears close scrutiny.

A real stand-out! Hartke must be heard.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fernando Benadon, Delight/Delirium

Fernando Benadon on Delight/Delirium (New Focus Recordings 179) constructs robust chamber works that are firmly in the new music camp but also have jazz/improvisational elements. Each piece is intricately and satisfyingly built out of finely conceived elements.

The largest ensemble at play occurs on "Cosmicomics" (2013) a brightly shimmering work performed by the Illinois Modern Ensemble as conducted by Stephen Andrew Taylor. As of many works here it is of literary inspiration, depicting two scenes from Calvino's tale of the same name. It has like the other works in this anthology an original feel derived from careful, effective scoring, here for the amassed winds and strings. There are modern, tonally advanced intersections, clusters and expressively wrought foreground elements that altogether create a multidimensional matrix.

The works for smaller groups have a special presence as well whether it is a matter of the early-jazz/new music inflected "Bugi Wugi" (2007) for solo piano or the other small-scale works I am about to describe. "Corxes" (2013) represents a whirl in a car through Barcelona on an early spring afternoon. A feeling of time and space in motion is heightened by rhythmically charged passages for sax, vibes, harp and piano.

"Delight/Delirium" (2016) again makes use of a literary theme, this time from Neil Gaimon's Sandman series, to create a lively matrix of movement for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, harp and piano.

"Rhythmensional" (2015) builds around a jazz-rock drum solo recorded as an improvisation by Dafnis Preito. Benadon takes that initial track and scores very dynamic parts for bass clarinet, viola, vibes and piano. A music of very great rhythmic vitality results, a one-of-a-kind intersection led by the complex drumming and turned into a marvelously intentional new music with perhaps only Frank Zappa as forbearer of this stylistic complex.

It is a fitting conclusion for what is an extraordinarily captivating program. Benadon knows what he is after and realizes it in five movingly fresh works. It is one of the best sort of collisions of jazz-rock influence and new chamber music I have heard in the past decade.

And so I do not hesitate to recommend this to you without reservation.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Louis Spohr, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Alfred Walter

For the last time we encounter the symphonies of Louis Spohr (1784-1859) with the final volume of the complete cycle as nicely performed by Alfred Walter and the Slovak State Philharmonic. Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 (Naxos 8.555527) close the book, complete the circle, and simultaneously reaffirm to overall quality of the music for our ears.

The Symphony No. 7 is subtitled "The Earthly and Divine in Human Life." It is daring work for its time, like the Fourth before an innovation in form shaped by programmatic content. Here the "divine" is represented by a small orchestra, the "earthly" by a large one.. The two groups interact in three-movements--"The World of Childhood," "The Age of Passion" and the "Final Triumph of the Heavenly." The music abandons the expectations of the typical symphonic sequence and form for a more freely expressive approach depicting the dynamic of the two forces in our lives. It unveils long thematic unfoldings somewhat akin to Schubert in the last symphonies, but it follows Spohr's post-Beethoven trajectory as we have come to hear it in the other symphonies.

No. 8 has more of the traditional four movement symphony going for it. But for that matter there is nothing lightweight about it. It has the dramatic dynamic of the Spohr symphonic way and it absorbs and envelopes the listener in all the ways Spohr can do.

So this is a very positive last volume in an unexpected treasure trove of symphonic music. This one is a good place to start. And if you like this one, you'll no doubt respond to the others like I did. Spohr's time may be now. The collection is marvelous!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Passage, Contemporary Works for Orchestra, Cervetti, Morris, Wishart, Crozier

We are in the midst of a music resurgence, though the economy of music making may have dropped to its lowest ebb in centuries. Navona and the Parma Group in general have acted heroically in the years past to make available many works in new music, often enough by composers who might otherwise be less familiar to us. Another worthwhile offering can be had on the anthology Passage, Contemporary Works for Orchestra (Navona NV6094).

There are four composers and four corresponding works represented on the album. Each as the title suggests brings you to a different place, makes a transition from one state to another, and explores a worthwhile terrain along the way.

Sergio Cervetti and his "Concerto for Trumpet, Strings, and Timpani" starts off the program with stirring trumpet lines that burst forth and when conjoined with the orchestral-timpani lines convey a clarion, soul stirring call to action.

Craig Madden Morris follows with "A Child's Day," evoking in three movements a great contrast from the opening work. "Morning Smiles," "Playtime," and "Sweet Dreams" each bring us vivid orchestral tapestries that show a child's tender ability to experience all as if anew in every day. This is charming music, immediately communicative but not in any simplistic manner. It nearly enters sentimental turf but stops just short, happily.

Next up is Betty R. Wishart and her "Concertante No. 1: Journey Into the Unknown" It is music of ponderous mystery, bounding across our listening space with great grace yet equal significance.

Daniel Crozier's "Ballade: A Tale After the Brothers Grimm" has a narrative quality no doubt meant to be descriptive, stating in abstract musical terms what at some point was a cluster of word meanings. Crozier's eloquent musical discourse unveils a complex mood of shifting orchestral colors and multi-line unfoldings.

So that is my run-down of the music. It takes you as promised on a journey that is both weighty and pleasurable, giving you four works well played and equally well composed.

An excellent listen!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cedric Tiberghien, Mikrokosmos 5, etc.

Bela Bartok's solo piano works at their best open up his folk and modern sensibilities in no uncertain terms. Pianist Cedric Tiberghien has embarked on a series of recordings that look at such highlights along with some piano centered chamber gems. The recent volume, which like the others is simply entitled Bartok (Hyperion CDA68133), tackles some of the most memorable and masterful solo works with a zeal and heightened performativity virtually unmatched in the recorded versions I have heard.

Tiberghien choses well for his selections on the program."Romanian Folk Dances," "Fourteen Bagatelles," "Allegro barbaro," "Eight Improvisations on Hungarian peasant songs," and "Mikrokosmos" Book Five are prime Bartokian masterworks that bring out his pioneering folk music research and its adaptation to a modernist perspective along with some of his his more abstracted works.

Tiberghien approaches them all with a highly charged pianistic elan. There is a maximum of the interpretive ethos at play, extreme rubato, a highly creative articulative imagination, all giving us the very familiar, often enough in radically reconceived ways. Those who know most or all of these works likely will feel as if they are hearing the music anew.

We get a very invigorated feeling as we listen. Tiberghien is a genuine phenomena among piano interpreters of the modern repertoire. The recording may startle you if you know the works well. It provides anyone with good ears a pianistic triumph.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Balz Trumpy, Oracula Sibyllae, El Cimarron Ensemble

Judging from the liner notes to Balz Trumpy's Oracula Sibyllae (Wergo 7335-2), Trumpy is a complex product of two main factors: the geographic panorama of the Swiss Canton Glarus, a flat space surrounded on three sides by mountains, and the attraction for him of Ancient Greek gods and myths.

Music being the abstract art that it is, you might listen to Oracula Sibyllae a number of times without the slightest inclination to hear that in the music, especially if you did not read the liners right away. It matters little. The music speaks to us nonetheless with an eloquence far beyond the verbal.

We are firmly in chamber territory on the five compositions featured here. "Ballade" for solo acoustic guitar, "Cinque Pezzi" for marimba, "Aeolian Song" for flute, "Vier Duette" for marimba and guitar, and "Oraculae Sybillae" for soprano, baritone, flute and percussion--all establish Trumpy as a composer who carefully works within a modern vocabulary to establish intricate realities that bring forward the idiomatic characteristics of each instrument and voice.

Trumpy generally spins out a horizontally oriented, originally distinctive series of lines, mainly fearless in their bold modernist harmonic implications.

Trumpy has a voice. Of that there is no doubt. The program on this disk demands concentrated listening. It rewards the effort with some deep explorations brimming over with an intense brightness. Hear this now if you seek something different in the new music realm.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jennifer Higdon, All Things Majestic, Nashville Symphony, Giancarlo Guerrero

There are more and more women composers out there in present times, which of course is a healthy trend. One of the best and most well known is Jennifer Higdon. We have a recent disk of some orchestral works on All Things Majestic (Naxos 8.559823) which features Vladimir Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony with convincing performances.

There are three works in all, the title work "All Things Majestic" (2011), plus world premier recordings of the "Viola Concerto" (2014) and the "Oboe Concerto" (2005). I have listened to the disk my requisite five times and while the music is well put-together, I honestly have not been left with a firm impression. You probably can blame that on a very bad week and so a distracted listener, this reviewer.

As I write this the fifth playing is going on simultaneously, which is standard operating procedure for me. The "Viola Concerto" is very well written in a contemporary modern way. The "Oboe Concerto" is especially attractive for the way the oboe interacts with the orchestral matrix, differing in time as the work progresses.

The title work is perhaps the centerpiece for all of this. It is a most noble work, the horns projecting a regal beauty and hushed strings showing a quieter, more peaceful view, for example. It is a masterful orchestral essay  Higdon sounds modern yet she is not afraid to be unabashedly lyrical in diatonic expansiveness.

In the end my last listen did help put the music together. That I am left slightly adrift can no doubt be ascribed to the lack of peace in my home the past few weeks. I can find no fault with the music or the performances. So I cannot say this is not a worthy release. Higdon needs to be heard and here is a good opportunity for that.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Jory Vinikour, J.S. Bach, Partitas BWV 825-830

The Partitas of J.S. Bach constitute a set of consummate masterpieces, one of the highpoints of Bach's keyboard output, sounding wonderful on the harpsichord but also equally well on the modern pianoforte, with some excellent performances on the latter that came out long ago and are now perhaps not so available, notably by Glenn Gould and Joerg Demus.

It is music that everyone should have, in my opinion one of those desert island essentials. If I were dying and still aware of my surroundings, I might ask someone to put it on. Since at the moment I am very much NOT in that category this morning, I can sit down and write about a recent three-CD set of the works, played quite ably and spiritedly by Jory Vinikour on the harpsichord (Sono Luminus 92209).

This is a true-to-period baroque rendition, as one might expect, with ornamentation where you might expect it and the full flourish of the harpsichord on display.

It is a set to relish, the uncanny Bach music realized in full modern sound. More you cannot ask, although a good pianoforte version gives you another kind of hearing. In the meanwhile, purchase this with confidence.