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Friday, December 14, 2018

Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Aequa, International Contemporary Ensemble

Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir joins us this morning in a program of some seven of her compositions. The CD and the program of works is called Aequa (Sono Luminus CD and BluRay 02227). The International Contemporary Ensemble prevails in a lively musical imaginativeness and well attuned sensitivity to give us subtly alive performances. And that means a lot because there is a beautiful ambiance to this program. It is dramatic and soundscaped, as crisp as a dazzlingly bright winter's morning with the ice blue of the snow reflected out towards you as you are up to greet the sun. Or for that matter whatever other daydream that might come to mind as you listen. It is woolgathering fare, sure, and very good for that!

The music is tonal and sound-colorful in dramatic ways. That means if you think of the George Crumb way of heightening the sonic experience by a poetic demeanor, it is not something that does not apply to Ms. Thorvaldsdottir. She is not a member of a Crumb School, surely, but she has in her own way a very poetic vision in the soundscapes she constructs. So you may get an almost droned block of chordality with ornamentation that then changes to form a very slow-motion chordal sequence. And to me it feels like living in the realm of gradual shifts in sunlight on a silent and deserted landscape on a sunny, partly cloudy afternoon. If I hearken back to natural landscape in my description it is because there is a natural feel to this music and that is something one hears happily.

Anna clearly seems to know what she is after in the way she orchestrates each moment of the works we experience here. There is something in the Radical Tonality mode about this music if you want to slap a label on it. Karmanic? Oh that probably is a bit much as a descriptive label. But there is something rather cosmic about this music if you will pardon my saying. It feels quite Modern in the end, Post-Modern I suppose too with the droning and spacey toning of all of it. It all manages to mean to project a vision in sound to us as we listen.

I should mention that the album comes with two disks as is often the case with Sono Luminus releases. One is the standard CD, the other a BluRay with multiple channel 5:1 configurations.

It is music that probably would appeal to a lot of people if they allowed themselves to open up to it. From solo piano to large chamber ensemble, the music is sculpted with some brilliance. The music spans the compositional period of 2011 to 2017, right now in other words.

It is a program that allows your musically apprehending mind to luxuriate in thick growths of shifting sounds and to travel a path to many imaginary spaces no doubt. I do when I play it at least. It is an experience you will find yourself returning to and ultimately will I hope live inside of happily when you can. Thorvaldsdottir seems a central aspect of what is happening today. If Iceland has a sound, it is Anna's sound? Probably, yes! An exemplar yet also a joy. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Imogen Heap, The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two in Four Contemporary Suites

I am happy when someone I have been following musically makes a huge breakthrough. From a purely ego sense it means I was right all along, but that is stupid thinking. It just means it is a wonderful musical moment for me. I've been a champion of women in music I guess since when I enrolled at Berklee College of Music and there were maybe only three women in the entire student body. And every guy enrolled there (? I do not know) was after them, wanted to "date" them! What it pointed toward was that Gustav and Alma Mahler thing, or that Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann thing. It was a reality that musical people tended to find one another congenial, and in this case as potential mates. This is not important though for the wider picture here so much as instead the fact that half of our population are women and if we are not encouraging those musically inclined then it is OUR loss. We miss all that music. Common sense.

So since then I have tried to give equal attention to the music women make (of course) so wonderfully well when they are allowed to do so! In the midst of my listening and appreciating years ago an old friend who at the time did marketing for A&M Records was kind enough to send me some music that they were putting out just then. One was the first album by Imogen Heap. Wikipedia says that first album iMegaphone  came out in 1998, but that seems very much later than I recall. No matter. I was still living in Butler, I think! At any rate I heard something different and very interesting to me. It was singer-songwriter alternative I guess. But distinct in a very interesting way, I thought.  After that was Frou Frou which was more like 1998 as far as my memory goes, considerably later? I am not here to question anyone. Heap was not a huge success initially. Frou Frou got her considerably more attention. Anyway I followed her musical trajectory with great interest. Right now there is her latest which to me is a kind of a fulfilling of a promise, of an affirmation of her presence and musical brilliance.

I speak now of this new one, the full title of which is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two in Four Contemporary Suites (SONY Music Masterworks). The album info states that this is an "album performed, engineered, recorded, mixed and produced by Imogen Heap." That tells you that this is "Electroacoustic-Electronic" at base as indeed the keys and vocals of Ms. Heap are very much to be heard as the basic ingredient that is then extended into a full "orchestral" ambiance.

And truly, her music has evolved to this point where we hear a full CD of "serious" music intended for the play of the same name. But aside from that obvious origin (the play, which will not concern me here) this is in fact a real opportunity for Imogen to show what she can do when let loose. It us stunning fare. She has fully mastered the studio to the point that her total sound is in its own way like the Brian Wilson of Smile, with a compositional-orchestrational sense all her own and incredibly imaginative. It is as if the "Prog" of people like the Beatles and George Martin, ELP, King Crimson and Pink Floyd has not been forgotten but instead relives in new form for something that realizes, that achieves the status of New Music, yet the roots of such an evolution are not disguised.

Of course this is not something that sounds like Cage or Stockhausen. It is tonal. But it does not suffer from a sort of patronized dumming down as can be the case out there today at times. It is fully musical, fully developed and brilliant, just brilliant.  So it is with joy that I listen to this again and so again. The studio is the concert venue, as it has been since Sgt. Pepper's when things are right (or for that matter since the early Electronic Music days on). And there is a spurt forward with this music in the logic of that development.

I will not try to describe the totality of what you will hear with this work. It is masterful, cosmically ambient within a kind of maelstrom of expressive thrust. It is in a way a culmination, first off of the sounds Imogen Heap has been working towards, but also of the "serious" side of Art Rock I suppose you could say. It is very beautiful music, very good to hear repeatedly but from the first it grabs hold of you. It is something that was there from the very first Imogen Heap album, an original sense, and she has arrived completely with this majestic work!

Put this into your ear space, but do not expect it to be x or y. Then you will be drawn in, I hope, on its own terms. Do hear this if you can. Get a copy. Listen!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Peled Amit, Bach Suites (Volume One), Casals Cello

Since I started writing this blog in 2011 I have had the chance to review a number of versions of the Bach Cello Suites (do a search in the box in the upper left-hand part of this page to see them all). Is there more coming out these days or am I just looking at Classical music releases with a more detailed eye? And have we more genuinely worthy versions being made now than ever before? I cannot say for sure. Certainly the first movement Prelude of the first Suite (echoed also in the first movement of the "Well Tempered Clavier" and the Solo Violin Suites as well) has in the last couple of decades become a favorite for throwing into an ad or using in a drama and good for all that in the end, if it leads more people to be exposed. Truth is I never tire of the music no matter how often I hear it especially when played by a talented interpreter. And so I return today with yet another version, that of the remarkable Peled Amit on the very cello that Casals played in his prime (a 1733 Goffriller with an extraordinary sound) (CFM Classics).

The liners to this first volume of the Suites tells us that the last time we heard the 1733 instrument for this music on record was when Casals himself recorded the Suites in 1936. Casals made the move to be the first cellist to feature the Suites in concert. Before then the music was considered strictly for pedagogical use. So in some important ways this recording is a full coming around.

 Of course all that is very well, you might think, but it means nothing if Peled does not give us a world-class performance. He certainly does. Most notably Peled uses a very expressive rubato for that famous first Prelude. Beyond that he devotes a good deal of animate sound centering and forward motion to his readings. There is little ornamentation but then the very full richness of his tone and inspired execution is a wonder in itself regardless.

There is a kind of penetration to the psychic epicenter of the notes, surely a bit of the warmth of the Casal emphasis yet a bit more of a Modern forwardness. And a very jaunty sort of snap when that is warranted, we get that very nicely as well. It is a wonderful performance, surely one of the finest of our recent times and so I warmly recommend it. I stands its ground as a very beautiful reading that any lover of this music will be glad to have and rehear often. I know I will!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Serenades & Sonatas for Flute and Harp, Suzanne Shulman. Erica Goodman

If this music and its performances here are virtually "no brainers" there is precedent. In my experience anyway. Very many years ago when I was a student in Chicago I was a member of the Musical Heritage Society, who released mostly mail order albums of recordings that they licensed for US distribution. Their selection of the month for January was a two-lp set of music for string orchestra which arrived in my mailbox the first mail day of the new year. I was feeling vulnerable as one does in those first days of, what was it, 1983? The set started out nicely with Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Greensleeves," which was a definite way to begin the year. After all a version of "Greensleeves" with different lyrics was the Christmas song "What Child is This?" and so it seemed seasonal.

Now we have another very different album, which is out right now, this time music for a different instrumentation. Serenades & Sonatas for Flute and Harp (Naxos 8.573947) it is called. And it starts out with a flute and harp arrangement of Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Greensleeves."  So it is good to hear this just now, though it would be good anytime. 

It goes without saying that such an instrumentation lends itself to the idea of the "Ambient" though the music was written long before that catch phrase became topical. Suzanne Shulman on flute and Erica Goodman on harp ensure that the music comes through with bell-like clarity and ravishing sonarity. If you love this instrumentation in your head the program will not disappoint.

It is a wide ranging and pretty adventurous gathering  of singular music. The early 20th century English proto-Modernists/pre-Modernists are well represented by Vaughan Williams, William Alwyn (Notably his "Naiades - Fantasy Sonata for Flute and Harp"), and Edward Elgar, among some others not as well known. Then we get some welcome additions in a couple of Francois Couperin miniatures, a little Chausson, Nino Rota and so forth.

This is not a sound by which to set the world on fire. But then for the purposes of this music we do not always want to set the place blazing so much as we might feel a bit damaged by life and seek to recover from the "holidays." That would include a New Years Day hangover of course, though that is not my thing anymore. It is substantial music that manages to bring you some psychic relief without resorting to New Age pablum, so listen without guilt!

I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants something soothing or just loves the idea of the harp and the flute together. It is a very nice way to while away some time, to prepare for or live through winter dreams or the promise of springtime, or any number of other ways to get into a poetic haze. Very nice, this! And it is substantial musically.



Monday, December 10, 2018

Nicholas Dieugenio, Mimi Solomon, Unraveling Beethoven, Modern Composers Today

For each one of us as many starts and re-starts as we go though every year at the end of it we try and sum it up. Similarly the blur of Modernity is an ever-evolving series of beginnings and re-beginnings. And at the end of each year some picture emerges. I feel a definite reset this morning as I listen for the fifth time to a new series of violin-piano Tonal Post-Post-Neo-Classical works played so vibrantly by Nicholas Dieugenio on violin and Mimi Solomon on piano.

And so we have this morning Unraveling Beethoven (New Focus Recordings FCR 217). The idea for this album was to commission five composers to write a work for violin and piano that took into account the ten Violin Sonatas Beethoven produced. Each work is a kind of unraveling and a reweaving into a new fabric. I react to each without thinking at all of that except in passing--for if listening without aid of a compass we follow the music willy-nilly--and so at times that seems best! I do so here. I hope it will help you see what is in this music via a kind of personal listening map in my own time and space.

"The Sky was Good for Flying" by David Kirkland Garner conveys lyrically stunning results in what one might call the "furling" motif for violin and piano. It is highly lyrical and very memorable.

Allen Anderson's "Linen" feels even more like a furling and a re-togethering of fine cloth. It has a bit more of the Modernist Edgy-Tonal spice distributed over its five Expressionist movements. You feel that Modern legacy strongly in ways that point it forward. There is the ghost of Berg's "Violin Concerto" to be heard here and it is a happy recalling of the power of that work. No doubt too there is the Sonata Beethoven as well, but it does not reach out and grab me directly as much as it lurks pervasively in the bedrock of this work. No matter for it is fine music.

"Olmsted" by Robert Honstein has the motility of minimalism yet it moves forward in ways that are directional more than circular, which of course befits a nod in Beethoven's direction. There is real engagement in the effervescence of it all. It makes very new use of the classical motion ideal of bow movements across all strings and a pronounced momentum in piano passagework--both rethought here in glowingly fresh ways. Then there are spaces for lyrical contemplation, which then blossom forth in intimate warmth and tender beauty. The scherzo-ish bursts of rapid figurations and silence set up a mercurial section that vibrates with expressive intensity. The work ends with a gentle dalliance in a motif that feels like a slow-motion trill and then a descending harmonic-"continuo" underpinning to set that all off very nicely. It is music that stands forth in lyrical singularity, post-Beethovenian and a feeling quite Neo-Classical in its working through of the bright glow of a tonal immersion.

Tonia Ko's "Tribute (Axis II)" makes a headlong re-plunge into the more Edgy-Modernist world. The spectre of Crumb can be heard in the ghostingly ghosty open piano sounds and the mysterious high harmonic violin passages. Yet it is forward moving, not just some easy-peasy imitation. Well done. A probing aural journey is this.

Jesse Jones' "Scherzo (After Beethoven)" is the most Ludwig-ian of all these. It addresses the composer's love for the rapid-paced aspects of Beethoven. We feel the love in there and the good willing towards the Beethoven magesticality! A great big grin is this rapid and short conclusion!

So there we have it. It was a great idea and it inspires music considerably more subtle and wayfaring than a typical gesture of "tribute" might imply. In the end that is the ideal result since it brings the music forward rather than staying at rest in a backward modality. The duo of Dieugenio and Solomon are world-class and extraordinarily nuanced in how they bring out all the implications of these works. Bravo. Neo-Classicists take note. But all should no doubt hear this.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Bohuslav Martinu, Small Storms, A Collection of Small Pieces, MINI Review

This another in my new MINI Review Series, a short mention about worthy music where there is not enough time to cover all thoroughly. There is a mature period Bohuslav Martinu Modern style that contains a kind of harmonic movement one who knows his work would recognize. On today's program of works Martinu does not give us the trademark way, but rather playfully enters a kind of Modern realm you do not expect him to be in, along with some more pronounced Neo-Romantic elements.The album is called Small Storms, A Collection of Short Pieces (Navona 6092).

There are six works included here, all for cello and piano. Five are multi-movement journeys, one is a simple short offering.Meredith Blecha-Wells appears on cello, Sun Min Kim is on piano. They do a fine job with the music, showing well developed stylistic sympathies with Martinu and able tone and technique.

Any Martinu fan will find this a good listen and a revelation about another side of his style not often seen. Recommended.

Alan Beeler, Forever Beeler, Sonatas & Soli, MINI Review

This is the latest in the MINI Review Series--for music I find I like yet do not have enough time to cover fully. Alan Beeler (1939-2016) was an American composer who based on the evidence of recent releases deserves wider recognition. There is great character and personal originality in the latest volume Forever Beeler, Sonatas & Soli (Navona 6085). We get a chance to luxuriate within 14 pieces on this valuable survey of small chamber groupings and soli. There is a Sonata for Piano plus five more works or multi-movement works for the instrument. Then there are works with or without piano accompaniment for vibraphone, clarinet, flute, English horn, oboe, bassoon, bass trombone and tuba.

In the manner of Hindemith these works cover a wide variety of instruments and give them idiomatic music that has distinction and articulate power in an advanced tonal Modern realm. They parallel Hindemith without imitating him, for Beeler has his own strong sense of form and vivid melodic movement. Bravo!`

Carl Vollrath, Warrior Monks, MINI Review

This another in the MINI Review series. Music that is worthwhile and needs a mention. We have here the chamber wind orchestral music of Carl Vollrath, in the volume Warrior Monks (Navona 6102). It features the Morovian Philharmonic Wind and Percussion Ensemble under either Petr Vronsky or Stanislav Vavrinek. They sound able, fit and sympathetic. Three works are at hand, all Modern in a descriptive tonal way, dramatic and evocative. It is something well wrought and worthy of your time if you look for something unknown to you.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Morton Feldman, Atlantis, Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt, Lucas Vis

If there were no Morton Feldman work about the lost continent Atlantis (hat[now]ART 206) one would have nonetheless to imagine it. Once you hear of the fact that there is such a thing if you know Feldman you feel like this is a very good idea. After all Feldman (1926-1987) is practically a lost continent unto himself, a visitor from a world we only know by his presence. Though he was a part of the Cage school of course, he also was very much a school of one. I am thinking if there ever was somebody who survived the Atlantis deluge and remained on earth it was him! He was a visitor and we were blessed to have him among us.

There is a Zen concentration to his music that was virtually there from his very first published works. Atlantis  combines in a vibrant program three works from two vital periods in Feldman's development. All three exhibit that concentration. All are fashioned for and can be very fruitfully played by chamber orchestra. The key perhaps is in the variable fashioning. The title work Atlantis (1959) is graphically notated and so it stands out as created out of the murky waters of created destruction, so to say. It scurries and flurries with an insect-like hyper movement and so then stands alongside the more Apollonian later works "String Quartet & Orchestra" (1973) and "Oboe and Orchestra" (1976), which have the more "staid" open-ended mysteriousness, more typically Feldmanesque in the long-run empty horizon quality. And so in a way they seem more typical of a vision of Atlantis? Yet taken all together they flesh out worlds of mystery that never are far from the Feldman vision.

In the liners Art Lange speaks lucidly of how total process of creation with the AB Ex painters determined the identity of work and being--that Cage and Feldman rejected predetermined form as constitutive yet too found critical the overall processual elements in crating up, creating up an oeuvre.

Well in order to come to grips with all of the above you simply have to hear this music for itself. Lucas Vis and the Radio-Sinfonie Orchester Frankfurt give us convincing readings that stand up to repeated hearings and consistently reveal the more of themselves the more we put into the listening.

It is like much of Feldman an extraordinary listening experience--and the two seventies works play against and offset Atlantis to complement it and give us a very absorbing whole. Heartily recommended to anybody with ears!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Leon Kirchner, Music for Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

When a new release arrives from the auspices of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, I generally perk up. It is because I know that whatever they are up to is a good thing, really. So a few weeks ago the anthology of Leon Kirchner (1919-2009) Music for Orchestra (BMOP 1060) was in my mailbox and I was intrigued. I had found years ago the LP of his Pulitzer Prize winning string quartet and have listened with pleasure since, then I have appreciated some music for vocals and large chamber group I found subsequently in the classical bins of the past. But after that I for whatever reason lost track of what he was doing and now to my chagrin I see he passed away in 2009 and I did not even hear about it.

The good news is that this anthology conducted with the usual sympathetic care and enthusiasm by Gil Rose catches us up with some important works he composed between 1951 and 2008. It forms a sort of mini-retrospective. It serves to inform me (and I hope you too) that he was a remarkable force in orchestral music--with vision and orchestral-orchestrational expressivity of a high order.

The jacket blurb sums up what we should consider admirably. He studied with Schoenberg, Sessions and Bloch, which is rather amazing, really. He started with a Hindemith-Bartok-Stravinsky nexus, followed the Viennese school into 12-tome and in the process became someone original. Modern in the high sense, and very substantially musical-inventive.

You listen to these excellent performances and a larger picture of Kirchner gradually emerges. The grand maturation comes with his title work "Music for Orchestra" (1969) and follows with the later sequel "Orchestra Piece (Music for Orchestra II)" (1990). Both works carve out a very original orchestral demeanor that is both Modern and noteworthy at every step. He sounds like the century in which he flourished, surely. And yet he sounds like an exemplar of Kirchner and nobody else.

And the bookended works are nothing to sneeze at either, from the early strivings of "Sinfonia in Two Parts" (1951) which sounds very much as an avant voice of the time, a musical voice of promise. The growth continues in the "Toccata for Strings, Solo Winds, and Percussion" (1956).

In the farewell work on the program, "The Forbidden" (20008) we hear a Kirchner undiminished, fully flowered and poignantly moving forward even at the edge of his life experience.

There is a vital expressivity to this music, a vibrancy, a sureness and an eloquence very much with a kind of honest directness. He follows his muse throughout and does so wisely. For he was someone with a vision of what the present-day could and did bring to the imaginative inventor of tones and textures.

If you take this music as seriously as you should, and spend time in the labyrinths of form and forward movement, you might well conclude with me that this is a sleeper, something that comes in like a lamb, so to speak, but then goes out like a giant! Fee-fie-fo-fum!

Highly recommended. A US composer we should not forget in a finely performed program of gems.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Terry Riley, In C, Brooklyn Raga Massive

LaMonte Young kicked off the Minimalist revolution but Terry Riley made it live and breathe with his seminal composition In C.  I was happy that my friend Fuzzbee played the record for me in Boston, 1971, and my life was suitably hastened by it all. For those not familiar in depth with how the music works it is a series of phrases mostly within the key of C which fit together remarkably well. An unspecified group of instrumentalists (and vocalists) gather together and with the aid of a constant pulse (ordinarily the piano) they play each phrase as they see fit, together and apart, moving each artist as they see fit to the next phrase until all the phrases are covered. There is overlap continually between where each player starts the phrase and the natural layering that occurs as each group of players overlap in terms of who is playing which phrases at any given point, so long as all follow the sequence of phrases. So the template allows for much spontaneous and even planned variation.

It is a work that gives rise to a wonderful sound provided all the players listen to one another and keep in the flow of it all. There have been rock versions, a Chinese instrument version, and now the Brooklyn Raga Massive give us a (mostly North) Indian Classical version with suitable instruments and vocalists (Northern Spy NS094). In this case, rather brilliantly, the pulse is sounded as a tabla accompaniment.

Terry Riley both as the composer of In C and as improviser, as composer of other later works, in all of this he shows a kind of loose affinity with Indian Classical orientations--drone, modal figurations, etc. And happily the Brooklyn Raga Massive is attuned very much to the attuned nature of In C. They give us a flowing reading that takes the liberty of arranging parts and providing solo space to make it all that much more Indian and bring an entirely new life to the work. They make it all sound at times like some of Ravi Shankar's wonderful film music, for example. And to me that is a very good thing.

And they do so in ways you might have imagined and hoped for when you heard about the project. Or at least that is very much the case for me. It is a triumph of sensitive musical listening and conceptual rigor, so to speak.

It works and it works wonderfully well. So anyone who might think the idea interesting, just go right ahead and listen, buy, make these folks and the dedicated label who boldly goes here, make them be happy to wake up and keep on going forward! Buy it, then. That is what I recommend! Very much recommend.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Mahler, Symphony No. 6, Music Aeterna, Teodor Currentzis



As I have been listening to this new version of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic" (Sony Classical 19075822952), which is exceptionally well done by Teodor Currentzis conducting MusicAeterna, it suddenly becomes clear to me. I hear Mahler spending his summer like always with Alma in a mountain chalet, his music waxing folksy as they soak in the feeling of the Austrian countryside, while Alma perhaps pops in to check on how he is doing. They live, I can feel that whole summer for them. And it contrasts with the seasonal struggles in Vienna with its factions and intrigue. You can hear the contrast. What a pictorialist he was. Incredibly powerful musical imagery he created. Glad for all this.

And in large part we can thank Teodor Currentzis and what he gets so wonderfully out of MusicAeterna for the extraordinarily clear sonic staging that allows us the climb right inside the music as if for the first time. Each nuanced sectional bit on the way to the whole is handled with precisely etched detail, real care. Now are we to read this entire symphony as a lesson in Tragedy, an anticipation of the horrible catastrophes of the Modernity of the 20th Century? Sure if you like. But you do not have to look any farther than Mahler's own life in Vienna and the brutal politics of Vienna's music world. The point is not as much the pointing towards in this incredibly detailed reading of the 6th as it is the overall series of pictorial moods and the brilliance of their detailed sonic wonderment.

The '50s-'70s in the music worlds I have grown up in (that is in the USA) were most definitely a time when the literal-pictorial were very much at the forefront. "Mood Music" albums in a way came out of Strauss' literal programmatic view of music, the popularity of which perhaps peaked when "Thus Sprake Zarathustra" figured prominently in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite had a motif for every literal thing, even the lightening in the thundersqual and my dad loved to play it when I was around three. I listened very closely. So did '50s USA in general.

The mood music craze took off then, with a ton of music that reflected a wide swatch of moods, perhaps peaking with the Mystic Moods Orchestra who furnished psychedelic muzak to a first generation of would-be zoners. And really the artistic peak of this pictoral way you can hear in Mahler's brilliant tone painting, not to mention Debussy and Ravel. Oh and Ives.

And as you listen closely to Currentzis's reading of the 6th you experience the orchestrational richness of this music with a level of detail we rarely have experienced, if ever. It is as if you are given entrance to Mahler's aural imagination as he reflected on how the orchestra was to sound. You are inside his musical mind.

I surely have not heard a more stirring and beautiful version of this symphony. It is as if we hear the work for the very first time. And that is saying a great deal. People who expected to find sonata form in all the music at that point missed out on what Mahler was after. He was a truly brilliant sound colorist. It was still all about the notes, sure. But it was all about how he shaded every possible sound to create an aural set of canvasses unparalleled in what came before, even from a Wagner. Things that followed from this period kept working toward a saturation of colors in sound. Listen to Webern and you hear a sort of anti-Mahler's Mahler, still extraordinarily attuned to the sound color possibilities. So also Messiaen, Boulez, Stockhausen, and a litany of such Modernisms.


And the recording at hand reminds us how much we can truly hear with a conductor like Currentzis and, for that matter, a brilliant sound engineering job on the part of the Sony folks. This is a genuine phenomenon, a Mahler performance that should not be missed by anyone who cares about such things. The middle movements are tender to the point of tears and the outer movements have menace and a musical equivalent of volition that is stirring beyond the norm to say the least! Bravo! This is a 6th that changes the way you hear the 6th!


Friday, November 30, 2018

Nordic Affect, He(a)r

Nordic Affect is an Icelandic Modern Chamber quartet. They have a new one. I covered an earlier one happily on March 6, 2017. One year and a half later I am still here. Still writing these reviews. And I am again happy to write on this group of very adept and forward leaning women, about their new album He(a)r (Sono Luminus 92224 CD & 5:1 Blue Ray Disk).

Graphic design should have no other function than to introduce prospective listeners/customers to climb into the music, and initially to buy it. That said, knock-out type from a grey background would have gotten designers fired from every job I'd ever had in the pre-internet pre-DIY publishing and music days. If artists and persons involved ask me about a certain artist and release and I have no idea because I cannot even read the cover, there is something not right. And forgive me but I have real trouble reading the information on this release because the design is not geared for the reader but instead for some image thing. If you do not know what it is or what is on it, what are you getting from such graphics? I am grouchy today so I am saying it for this release but really it is true of maybe 70% of the music I receive.

That being said let me try and decipher what it is I have been listening to happily. Halla Steinunn Stefansdottir is on violin and voice, Guorun Hrund Hardardottir is on viola and voice, Hanna Loftsdottir plays cello and uses her voice and Gudron Oskarsdottir plays harpsichord and too uses her voice. Now if I have spelled anyone's name wrong (and I am sorry about the accents, my system is not clearly adapted to such things) blame this design!

Well there are seven compositions to be enjoyed on this program. There is ambiance, there are spoken word poeticisms and narratives, there is New Music interplay of a high order, post-counterpoint you might say. And the music is a very fine thing to me. Halla gives us the title composition and it goes by in a flash even though it is ten minutes long--that because it is a wondrous sculpting, a vibratoless post-modern chorale that fascinates and encourages to listen. He(a)r is a play on the English "hear" and the Icelandic "her" (with an accent), which means in the language "hear." Of course then I guess there is the play on "her" as a denotation of a woman. It is far from irrelevant since the feminine excellence of this music is an important trait, that it is a woman's musical force we hear and I say amen.

I am not going to try and figure out the names and titles of the works here. They appear all to be Icelandic women and I congratulate them because the music is exceedingly beautiful and engaging. Not everything is new-lyric and that is good, just like a meal is best if it is not about one taste in unrelenting sameness. The space for the extended technique sort of Modernity is used creatively and wisely and it frames and brackets the tonal washes properly and bracingly.

I could say a great deal more because this is not a music that easily fits into the usual labels. Yes everything about the Modern New Music scene has some relation to this set of musics. We hear on he(a)r a uniquely original stance that the compositions and performances embody. That is encouraging and also very rewarding to hear. So listen, do that and you will h(e)(a)r-(h)ea(r) and perhaps exclaim "here-here!" I did that to myself in response. Bravo!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Matthew Shlomowitz, Avant Muzak, Asamisimasa, Hakon Stene

The key to the music of Matthew Shlomowitz as contained in the recent CD is latent in the two pronged idea of the title, Avant Muzak (ATD2). There is that double-take duplicity in the music made by the group asamisimasa, Hakon Stene on percussion and the composer manipulating and sequencing the sounds in various ways. The composer seeks to take musical and audio material that is often initially on the banal side and repurpose it to an Avant-Modern series of works. Here style permutes and mutates in fluid and unbounded ways. That can be liberating.

So among the various musical strains are concrete sounds of appliances and tools, scratchy record surfaces, a baby crying, conversation snippets, sirens and alarms, electronic bleeps and bloops here and there, and what have you, including a small bit of music sampling outside of what the instrumentalists are doing here. There is what sounds like an Electronica rendition of Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun" and it is both funny and oddly moving. This music does have a sense of humor and all the better for that.

Otherwise the asamisimasa group and Stene are central to what goes on. They most times form a sort of combo with Ellen Ugelvik on all manner of keyboards, Kristine Ugelvik on clarinet, Tanja Orning on cello, Anders Forisdal on sometimes quite electric guitar, and the aforementioned Hakon Stene on percussion, drums and electric drums I presume.

There is a tension between real-time performance and the sampling style of Cubistic rapid cuts and juxtipositions. This is key to the sound overall. There are three suite-like works, each with multiple movements, "Popular Contexts 7: Public Domain Music," "Popular Contexts 8: Five soundscapes for a contemporary percussionist" and the title work "Avant Muzak."

Most parts have vernacular elements, a Reggae motif, moments that sound like Progressive Avant Rock, etc. The best things have a deliberately scumbled chiaroscuro collaging going on. Real-time is on notice and the banality loses to the avant most of the time!

You would do well to listen closely to the music as it tells you what you need to know far better than my words are doing here. With the Pop world taking a key from classic Electronic Music for so many decades now, we get a kind of reverse feedback with Shlomowitz's adventurous musical program. And it is a fitting payback.

This you should hear. We spend most of us nowadays a good bit of our daily lives in virtual time. Shlomowitz gives us a vision of the absurdity and drama of that world, a sonic representation of the constant recombinatory nature of it all. It is a Post-Modern statement for sure and it epitomizes a kind of cultural mish-mosh in ways that are serious and funny at the same time. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

La Patrie, Our Canada, Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943

This is an album that if it were never made, one might have to imagine it. Why? Because, for those that need to know, and sometimes that includes me, Canada is a real place with real people, a real country where everyone lives and dies like we all do and in between they make real art and real music, and we should not forget that and try to listen to it--the music I mean. Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, Oscar Peterson, OK, this should give you an indication that Canada is NOT some backwater. So what about Classical music?

There are all kinds of things to hear and I try to cover as much as I can. One that came out recently promises much even just in its title, La Patrie, Our Canada, Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943 (Centredisks 25618). Well as soon as I heard about it I made sure I got a copy. And I played it a bunch of times and loved the music, but there was something about the sound that puzzled me. In the acoustics of my current living space it was not clear. But then I listen with earphones today and I recognize what was strange. The instrumental performers are all very good, but then sometimes the masses of orchestral strings are sampled and that was what seemed so strange sounding. Shelley Katz is the person behind all of this. He calls himself the "symphonist," Truth to tell he creates an orchestral backdrop with only 12 musicians but it gives you an excellent of idea what a full blown orchestral reading would sound like. So that I must say right off the bat. He performs a miracle in a way.

No problem so long as you realize this. No problem because this is music that needs to be heard. We get eight works by eight composers spanning the time indicated in the title. Some of the names I know and have heard the music by, but all too few and as I listen I know it has been my loss, because this is very worthwhile music in styles one might expect of each period, but not written by slouches or hacks, certainly. Far from that.

So you get a work each by the likes of Calixa Lavallee (1842-1891), Clarence Lucas (1866-1947), Rudolphe Mathieu (1890-1962), Ernest MacMillan (1893-1973), Georges Emile Tanguay (1893-1964), Murray Adaskin (1906-2002), Violet Archer (1913-2000), and John Weinzweig (1913-2006). Most of these people were alive when we were (except maybe for some millennials) and so they are/were our contemporaries.

And I must say it is good to hear this music. Is all of it breakthrough masterpieces that should have stopped the movement of time? Probably not. Still we need to hear this music and more of it I think. So bravo for it. After reading this if you feel you are interested, well do not hesitate. It gives you some of the Canadian music you might have missed. And good for that. Not missing it I mean.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Eriks Esenvalds, The Doors of Heaven, Portland State Chamber Choir, Ethan Sperry

The Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds (b. 1977) writes choral music that has a pronounced ambiance, replete with drones and spicy harmonics that flourish with such things as a major second simultaneity cluster or other exotic Modernism added to a sort of ritualistic old world palette. One might note the composer's general affinity with Arvo Part, except then you realize too that he goes his own way, with something one might call ceremonial choral diatonics with Post-Modern harmonic seasoning?

At least that is what I hear on the nicely ruminating series of choral works that form the program on The Doors of Heaven (Naxos 8.579008),  a CD that I have inadvertently overlooked for a little while but now unearth happily and I find myself gravitating towards. Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, places with old choral traditions that we hear in a batch of New Music composers, at least two anyway. Or maybe a few more too but there is the Orthodox Byzantine and beyond to a Russian Orthodox music spanning many centuries so there is a kind of glorious mystery music that we can see as precursors today among a few, even I would mention the late John Tavener. Yet all that is not at all obvious with Eriks Esenvalds. Just a kind of something in the "world air" so to say?

The Portland Chamber Choir under Ethan Sperry give us ravishing readings of four Esenvalds works written over the recent present of 2006 to 2015. They flow together into a movingly ambient whole, each slightly different but all in the way of a piece.

So it is a delight to hear "The First Tears" (2015), "Rivers of Light" (2014), "A Drop in the Ocean" (2006) and "Passion and Resurrection" (2006). Esenvalds clearly has an excellent grasp of what might sound well with the SATB configuration and gives us ethereal sounds that transport us to an almost mythical, enchanted canopy of human voices. Why is it that such harmonic spiciness should sound so well with the right gathering of voices?  One answer is that Esenvalds knows what will work and does it. Perhaps also because there is on a daily basis little enough Modernity for chorus that generally enters the ears in what one finds out there, or at least I am not overwhelmed with a vast amount of excellent Modern choral music. So this is all the more valuable for all that.

This is music that transfixes, perfect perhaps for those eerie silent early winter evenings? Or fall sunny days where memories crowd the experiencing self and need to be coral-ed and sent packing after a while. This music supplies you with a magical present to counter all that with an effervescently obsidian sharpness and shine of memory flow!

So heartily do I recommend this.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Alfred Bruneau, L'Attaque du moulin - Suite, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Darrell Ang

Are we being exposed to too many obscure Late Romantics lately? It is possible that I am. But then I want to know all things musical, so I do ask for it.  And how about some more Ernest Krenek somebody? All this is not so relevant today with Alfred Bruneau (1857-1934) because though he is pretty obscure and sometimes indeed rather Late Romantic he is in a French way also Pre-Impressionist with orchestral luster and twinkle and not all emotive gigantism. Not so much, just a bit. Or so that is at least the case on the new CD L'Attaque du moulin - Suite (Naxos 8.573888).

Darrell Ang and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra give is a boldly engaged reading of
L'Attaque (1893) plus the Prelude from ACT IV of "Messidor" (1897), the Prelude from ACT I of "Nais Micoulin" (1907) and Tableau I "La Legende du Or" from ACT III of "Messidore" (1897). There is a mood-setting, pictorially evocative strain to all this music, which is fitting as the works we hear function in several of his operas to set scenes. or in the case of the Suite there are three movements joined together as a "drame lyrique" that conjures a rustic world quite livingly pictorial.

The liners call his efforts a kind of "natural theatre," a realism he shared with his friend Zola. Of course such things are more clearly contained in the overall sweep, in the libretto and dramatic arch of the full operas. And that for the sake of this program is not entirely here nor there. It does serve to frame the music that we do hear and is not at all irrelevant since the pictorialism is (one can suggest) an aspect of naturalism I suppose. So it is important to it keep in mind regardless.

The influence of Wagner is to be felt throughout, but then there is something else that the liner/blurb calls appropriately "Gallic." Yes! He was a pupil of Massenet and one can find a bit of that if one looks for it.

In all however there is something quite engaging in this orchestral music that gives us an original streak. He is to turn-of-the-century France as much perhaps as Ries was to early 1800s Austria (see my 11-23 review article of several days ago for that). That is, both were a solid and singular voice of their era who we have in large part forgotten today.

Ang and the Barcelona Symphony handle these brilliant orchestrations with the attention to detail and faithfulness of execution appropriate to Bruneau's way.

I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone interested in the French scene as it was at the first sunrays of the dawn of the Modern Era. I am glad myself to have it and to hear it.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

David Rosenmann-Taub, Primavera Sin Fin

This is the 3rd in my new Mini-Review Series, short reviews of things that are worth exploring but I have right now no time to cover in depth.

Pianist David Rosenmann-Taub is an avant garde player with a very dynamic and energetic style that falls in its own space somewhere between Cecil Taylor's Improv-Jazz and New Music keyboard explorations. There is sometimes multi-tracking, a very little bongo and a few add synthesizer, which is not quite as engaging to me as his piano. All are presented on the 2-CD Primavera Sin Fin  (Endless Spring) (MSR Classics MS1353 2-CDs). He is someone to contemplate, and when he is totally on top of things, he shines with some brilliance. So I do recommend you listen!

Schubert, The Complete Original Piano Duets, Goldstone & Clemmow

A second in the Mini-Review Series; things I simply must say nice things about but have run low on time.

OK, anyone with even a passing fancy for the music of Schubert, you are on notice. With the beautiful 3-LPs that came out in the Stone Age, by Badura-Skoda and Demus, as perhaps at least some of it is on CD now, where do I get off talking about Goldstone & Clemmow's 7-CD The Complete Original Piano Duets (Divine Art dda 21701)? Note that it is the COMPETE duets. Plus it ends each disk with a Schumann "Polonaise."  The Duo does a nice job with the music, and the music itself is really worth having if you are Schubert-centric like I am. Perfect for the holiday stocking, but for yourself!

Duo Beija-Flor, Costas, Works for Guitar and Flute



NOTE: Given the huge amount of worthwhile music I receive, I sometimes find there are not enough hours in the day to cover all of what I would like. So today I introduce the MINI-Review Series, a review of something I feel is very worthwhile yet I cannot cover in-depth due to time running out! In this kind of review I provide a sentence or two about the music and why I feel it is worth hearing and having.

First up is Costas, Works for Guitar and Flute by the Duo Beija-Flor (Big Round 8953). The idea here is that this Duo gives us a very nice series of compositions, sometimes in new arrangements, from composers of the Atlantic coasts, music from Europe, specifically Spain and Portugal, and the Spanish-Portuguese Diaspora in Latin and South America. Charles Hobson on guitar and Marie-Noelle Choquette on flute are both excellent artists and it is a pleasure to hear them bring to life some well-known and lesser-known works by DeFalla, Assad, Piazzolla, Saul, Ellias, Machado and Robinovitch. Very nice! A feast for the ears.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Yaniv d'Or & Ensemble NAYA, Exaltation, From Sephardic to Sufi in Medieval Music


Lest we forget the impact of the Judaic and Islamic diaspora on Medieval Europe and beyond, there is the recent Exaltation (Naxos 8.573980). Countertenor Yaniv d'Or and the stylistically diffuse and musically astute Ensemble NAYA give us a follow-up to their earlier Latino Landino (Naxos), which traced the musical heritage of Sephardic culture following their tragic expulsion from Spain along with the Muslim population after 1492. This new sequel casts a wide net from Medieval and Baroque Europe, Turkey and the Mideast to recreate a music of self-determination and movement, joy and the proud certainty of a pluralist identity in a volatile world. I have yet to hear the first volume but I can most certainly vouch for this one.

The music reminds us that reconstructing the Early Music world can sometimes be like creating an entire dinosaur from the material presence of just a finite number of bones. We know of course a fair amount about performance practices in the earlier forms of music over and above what was physically written as melodic line and lyrics. This of course is a vital concern outside of the music of the church in early Europe and beyond, since the musical lifeworld then did not think it necessary (or perhaps even possible) to preserve the spontaneous folk moment of a particular performance. Moreover the background knowledge of such practice of course is not infinitely available to us nor is it generally prescriptive for any given song.  It is a fact that increasingly imaginative arrangements are now the rule in Early Music performance practices to make up for that lack, so that musical traditions are recreated as much in the present as they are reconstructed out of the past. We imagine the world then as, shall we say, as "ethnic" as it ever has been in our own world. So we can imagine, for example that a drummer in such an ensemble might play a complex role in the music, may have at hand a set of techniques and may create a variety of variable sounds such as we find still the case in living World Music traditions today. Similarly in the early ensembles the overall instrumentation itself and what they were made to sound come alive in recent times via an imaginative reconstruction of what we know of the period and the survival of traditions in the original homes of the diaspora movements.

So all that holds true quite nicely in Exaltation, with a fascinating blend of some 16 diverse pieces, centering on Yaniv d'Or's accomplished and beautiful countertenor vocals and an ever shifting set of ensemble instruments and parts that imagine a world as exotic and as excitingly, timbrally rich as it no doubt was in real-world, local performance situations. So the flamenco guitar style rubs shoulders with the hammer-sounded equivalent to the santur, the dumbak and ney flute take their place with other more typically Medieval European instruments. All this makes the program both highly attractive and imagines nicely for us the exotic, less easily transcribed timbres of the music as it no doubt sounded at the time, though of course some positivist surety may never quite exist save the discovery of the time machines that would allow our senses to recreate the period exactly as we might experience it!

The music has great beauty and memorability and there is a fitting relevance today to programmatic themes of exaltation, the joy in life and the fervent wish for peaceful co-existence. We might still find such aims a worthy goal in the world today, surely.

This is music one may take some acclimatizing to appreciate fully. But then too it gives you yet another avenue into the self and other as connected to our own and other's musical heritage and traditions, the delight of discovery in the possibilities musically the past gives to us, and the ever cross-fertilization of musical and living cultures in motion. There is a joy in musical joy and there is the joy of discovery the music offers us readily. This album has both joys available to us in a happily generous quantity and that is surely a good thing.

Beautiful! Very recommended for all adventuresome souls. And a must if you keep up with Early Music realms.

Ferdinand Ries Sonatas for Violin and Piano 3

Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) was close friends with Beethoven. They both studied with Ferdinand's father.  They both absorbed the Viennese milieu. You do not hear Beethoven in Ries's music so much as you hear Austria in both their musics. And in the recent volume Sonatas for Violin and Piano 3 (Naxos 8.573862) you hear Ries, a talented composer with a good deal of inventive elegance and lyrical charm, a composer who quite clearly learned from Mozart and Haydn and made of it all something of his own.

Eric Grossman on violin and Susan Kagan on piano show us that they have fully absorbed the Ries style and give us a very fine set of performances for the three sonatas represented here.

And the music itself is inventive, valued, bright and shimmering in a Late Classical mode. There are thematic elements that you appreciate as you become more familiar with the music and indeed, the music wears well with many listens, more so than with less! It is music to live with, as all worthwhile music should be.

Very recommended.

Marco Stroppa, Space, Ensemble KNM Berlin

The name Marco Stroppa (b. 1959) may ring a bell with you or it may not. Based on the recent album of his chamber music Space (Wergo 7372 2) I would say he deserves our attention as a living High Modernist of distinction. The album presents three works of note that explore aural space and extended techniques, played with dedication and imaginative precision. The works are "Hommage a Gy. K." for clarinet/bass clarinet, viola and piano, "Un Sagno Nello Psazio" for String Quartet, and "Osja, Seven Strophes for a Literary Drone" for violin, violincello and piano.

"Hommage" is a study in repetition cycles that lies somewhere between the carpet patterning of Feldman's "For John Cage" (discussed the other day on these pages) and the trance minimalism of a Reich or early Riley.

"Un Segno Nello Spazio" is a vibrant study in the abstract contrasts of extended string techniques in tandem and in spatial suspension, so to speak.

"Oska, Seven Strophes for a Literary Drone" makes ready and creative use of the idea of the piano trio in the Modern period. The piano part alone intrigues but then too of course there is much to appreciate in the three-way confluence and extended string  techniques that allow us to enter, relax and dwell for a time within a deep repository of poetic aural worlds.

The liners to the album mention Stroppa's prominent standing at IRCAM in the '80s, his highly developed innovations in the area of computer aided acoustics and the idea of this album's program as a kind of set of musical reflections on aural space. Space is a part of the musical experience as a Kantian universal yet too as a pliable medium capable of manipulation as Einstein's relativity suggests. Stroppa, the liners go on to explain, makes use of both the vertical dimensions of counterpointed interplay but also the idea of a 3-D attention to foreground and background.

I will leave it to those who get into the music to delve into these ideas more concretely as it is up to the listener to come to terms with Stroppa's thinking in the direct listening experience. And a good thing that is in my opinion.

One lives within this music for a time and one enters into a world of measured creativity and original poetics. Stroppa is a master and anyone into the advanced Modernist realms will find this album something both fascinating and bracing. A chamber music cornucopia of  well considered musical ideas. Bravo!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Wilhelm Kempff, Chamber Music. Quartetto Raro

Many of you who are classical enthusiasts might well recognize the name of Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991). You may remember his presence as a master pianist. You may have some of his recordings as I do. Chances are you did not know of his composing, nor for that matter did I.  All that can be remedied with a new program of some of his Chamber Music (Brilliant 95629), played with a bit of panache by the Quartetto Raro.

Right off the bat I was impressed by the lyricism and poise of these two works. They are in a sort of Late Romantic vein, yet much does not at all strike one as potboiler or boilerplate but rather distinctly musical in its own light, its own right. If you listen a few times the music jumps out of the CD and invites you to contemplate it. There is a kind of statue-esque way the flute, strings and piano interact together, or for that matter the strings and piano. The music involved is his "Quartet in G Major" for flute, violin, cello and piano and his "Trio in G minor" for violin, cello and piano. Neither work is lightweight in any sense. Nor is it chamber music that should have stopped the hands of time itself. It is nonetheless very enjoyable music to hear, and shows that Kempff's own music well deserves our ears.

Brilliant is one of those labels who for a very modest cost provides us with exotic and nearly always interesting repertoire options. The Wilhelm Kempff disk is a sterling example of how good but unfamiliar music can be had out there for a very small investment. This is not at all a typical Late Romantic offering by an also-ran. It is original and does not Schumann or Chopin you to submission! It is something new-old and worthwhile. Recommended.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Morton Feldman, For John Cage. Aisha Orazbayeva, Mark Knoop


Much as it is "getting late early" in the world, to paraphrase Yogi Berra's characterization of the sundown-shadow experience in Yankee Stadium when playing outfield instead of catcher, there is a maturity-to-Modernity shift palpable now that may catch you by surprise if you aren't thinking about it. For example Morton Feldman's landmark For John Cage we may be surprised to hear has now been with us some 36 years (since it was written in 1982). I can remember the recording of it, the first recording I still have somewhere around here, and the surprise and elation it invoked in me when I first heard it. Yet as things stood in those days, time did not come to a stop (as if it ever does) so life went on, until I found that both Cage and Feldman passed (Feldman in 1987, Cage in 1992) and we have all had to wake up every morning and believe our lives really mattered, for they have! Mattered, that is.

Still it is a great shock sometimes to feel the passing of the past. Meanwhile For John Cage has gone on to become one of Feldman's most frequently performed and recorded works. And now there is another, a new one (ATD1), as performed by Aisha Orazbayeva on violin and Mark Knoop on piano.

Where and how do we find For John Cage so compelling? And do we? Well I surely do. It is Modern-Tonal in the pieces that go into the construction of the music. They are all the opposite of cliche, and they all have a quietness that is part of the Feldman way as you know. But then the familiar analogy of the music as a Persian carpet must be mentioned, because it really does do the music justice. Minimalism in the classic form repeats to mesmerize, to foreground itself  like we might if we say a word repeatedly until it becomes "other." The originality and brilliance of this Feldman work is that yes, there are repetitions but they function rather archi-tectonically. They form patterns like on an oriental carpet--the patterns recur only then to be replaced by other decorative patterns that if you envision the carpet unfolding before your eyes from top-to-bottom, you see work together for a whole that is a great deal more than just a sum of the individual parts. It is a matter of part-with-part holism.

So this music deftly unfolds and each motif is somehow related to what went before, yet not organizationally in connection like with Trance Minimalism, but instead decoratively-abstractly like the Persian rug. It is music that is exceedingly beautiful yet exceedingly odd compared to most music we hear. It is a masterwork, for sure.

And this Orazbayeva-Knoop version reminds you how hard it is to completely focus in on playing each pattern and moving ahead endlessly for 74 minutes. The duo execute it all flawlessly. And what I really like about the performance is that they do not try to connect each piece one with the others but rather let them spin out each in their own right. Now you might argue that it cannot be played any other way but I would still assert that each pattern piece feels independent here and that is a subtle but a very important thing. And no mean feat! The resulting "carpet" is stunning.

The other versions I've heard are by no means terribly inferior, not at all. This version though has the slight edge to me, and so it is the new favorite. It is one of the key works of the later Modern Era, I should think at this point. And if as Yogi said it "gets late early," in part it is because of  works like For John Cage that leap forward a considerable spatio-temporal distance now that we can measure the time between the writing of it and the experiencing of it today.

Very recommended.

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Vaughan Williams Christmas, Old Carols with Vaughan Williams Arrangements, William Vann, Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea

There is a truism that what might be too much of something for one person might be just enough for another. Nothing could be truer for music. I can remember the look of astonishment, even anger on a cashier's face when I would total up maybe $100 worth of LPs at a local record chain. Once the music esoteria specialist (hard to imagine there would have been  one now) actually explained to a new cashier as I was checking out that "people who are into Classical and Jazz tend to buy more records than other people!" Well if that wasn't the case? It still is I suspect.

So it also generally holds true for the serious music enthusiast who plays some Christmas Holiday music around this time of year. (I post this a little early so I do not forget.) The more you know the more there potentially is. Today I have a no-brainer, especially for those who love to explore the really old traditional carols, and for that matter those who love the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Given Vaughan Williams' deep appreciation of folk music and the local rooted music one could find around him there should be some connection between the two, so those that love the one might well love the other. Or then again there are those up for something substantially musical, who may not especially think about the composer or the tradition of English caroling, and again, this fits the bill. It is music you can love at first sight (hearing)  or come to love in time, I feel.

I speak of a recent album this season called A Vaughan Williams Christmas (Albion Records 035). Albion Records is the CD producing arm of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, and I have covered a number of their records on these pages, for they have been coming out with good things of interest to any Vaughan Williams enthusiast.

It consists of four groups of carols for choir (and often organ accompaniment) with the deft hand of Vaughan Williams taking a prominent role, either as arranger or in a few instances composer. So we have "Eight Traditional English Carols" (1919), "Two carols" (1945) (in a World Premier recording), "Carols from the Oxford Book of Carols" (1928) and "Nine Carols for male voices" (1941) in the first complete recording.

So we also have (happily) for the entirety of this recording the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital of Chelsea under William Vann. Hugh Rowlands is on organ for around half the carols. They all sound quite good, as good as one might wish for! All involved are clearly up for this music and the voices are angelic indeed.

For the Vaughan Williams arrangements Ralph is not overly interventional. He may at times bring out the beauty of the melody by scoring the choir to sing in octave unison while the organ fills in harmony, and there are some nice counter lines we can appreciate here and there. Mostly though it is Vaughan Williams's sure hand for choral scoring we feel and appreciate and his good taste in choosing some quite obscure carols peppered with some favorites such as "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen" and the "Coventry Carol." It is not a grouping of the tired and endless carols we sometimes find again and again. No "Silent Night!"  And to me that is a very good thing. They are some really fetching carols that are presented in near ideal performance and arrangement situations. One can most certainly not complain to hear his versions of "A Virgin Most Pure," "Wassail Song" (the other one!), and "On Christmas Night."

One must note that Vaughan Williams himself had much to do with the revival of old folk songs in general and carols in particular. He helped greatly in the collecting and preservation of them and had a hand as a co-editor of the comprehensive and influential 1928 Oxford Book of Carols (which we hear a nice selection from here.) The book in fact was a real factor in the resurgence of old carols, and so well we might appreciate all of this now, when we do still need to embrace old music traditions and keep them alive. All you who are musical anyway!

The original Vaughan Williams carols here are well worth having as well.

I view this collection as a real boon. The carols are very beautiful, the arrangements sterling, the performances stellar. I certainly plan to pop this one on every year from now on. I heartily recommend it for all who want to expand the holiday possibilities and get something memorable and haunting in the process. Happy this music! Splendid!





Thursday, November 15, 2018

Wet Ink 20, Modern Chamber Ensemble Music of the Present Day, the Wet Ink Large Ensemble

There is a facet of today's New Modern Music that sometimes gets scant attention. That is the fertile relationship that flourishes at times between very modern improvisation or so-called "Jazz" and New Music. Ever since the onset of Jazz in the US Modern Classical composers have had responses to it. One might only think of Gershwin, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Milhaud for starters, then Zimmerman, Penderecki, and others in the later High Modernist camp. At the same time with the advent of "New Thing" out of the music of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and others there was a kind of open freely improvisational stance that eventually led to some very productive confluences of Jazz Improv and New Music from the other side of the spectrum.

Both aspects of the confluence can be heard in the recent recording of very New Music by the Wet Ink Large Ensemble. The album is simply entitled Wet Ink 20  (Carrier 041). It gives us six compositions in a very adventuresome zone that often enough shows influences of Avant Jazz as well as New Music. So we get a long and exciting opening work "Auditory Scene Analysis" by Eric Woebbels. It has the very avid sort of pointillist counterpoint one can hear in large ensemble jazz music as well as the sort of post-Webernian, post-Ivesian ideas of simultaneity and difference that have been developing on the opposite side of the aesthetic coin.

In order to play this music with the kind of heightened spirit that such a style needs, an ensemble should have some grounding in both camps. The Wet Ink group grew productively out of a core septet of composer-improviser-performers. In fact of these core members Alex Mincek, Eric Woebbels, Kate Soper and Sam Pluta each contribute a composition to this program, so four of six are home-grown works.  All of the septet looms large in the readings of the music. They take the lead in giving the music a spontaneous dynamic that furnishes everything with a convincing ring. Of the other composers Anthony Braxton is by now of course well known as a pioneer in forwarding the avant-new nexus, ever since by around 1969 when he first began receiving international attention and acclaim. As for the other non-ensemble composer Katherine Young I will admit I have not been familiar until now, but she gives us something excellent in her "Like A Halo."

A run-down of each work would not be practical for this article, and in the end all participate in the improv-composed nexus so fully and so well that the entire program can be and ultimately is (in my case) experienced as a kind of gestalt whole. The entire sequence is an outstanding example of how two stylistic worlds can and do merge with complete synergy and performatively stellar results.

If you give this one your complete attention and allow it to reverberate in your listening mind with repeated listens you will find it a landmark example of where Modernity has gone, one of the very productive places that neither looks back very far nor does it compromise in its zeal for an energetic expressionism. Not everything need sound like this, and good for all that, but this is a very valid way to make the "music of the future" as New Music has ever envisioned. It is a treat for the ears. By all means get it if you can. And listen! The Wet Ink Ensemble is doing important work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jo Kondo, Syzygia, Snow's Falling, Craig Pepples, Pine Cones Fall, Paul Zukofsky

In the world of present-day High Modernism, it is true that there is a great deal of leeway around how a composer might proceed. There is a wider spectrum of possibilities one might address without generating some official or unofficial disapproval. The Dodecaphonic dogma days have been gone for a rather long while and though much excellent music was produced out of that working vision, there are other ways one can go of course, then and now. And happily there is no shortage of really interesting music to be heard today, as I mentioned in yesterday's posting.

An especially attractive offering just come to my attention is a three-work CD (CP2 CP 125) directed and conducted by New Music adept Paul Zukofsky, recorded in 2016, in the year before he left our world. It is music with a pronounced ambiance, a soundful stillness born out of the processes of nature, the reflections on life in-between the living of it, a perspective on the Zen of "suchness" perhaps. Harmonically the music is well within the Modern zone, without an insistent tonality, yet not especially dissonant. If you thought about it, if you listened hard enough you might establish a key center in your head, yet this is not music that is particularly tonal in some typical sense.

If you thought of Morton Feldman's classical music phases you might have some idea of this music, yet it is not directly derivable from this way of going forth. So that is only a rough idea of what you might imagine this music as.

So to the music itself, then. Jo Kondo gives us two of his compositions and they are both really worthwhile. "Syzygia" is performed nicely by a small chamber orchestra configuration handled well by Ensemble Nomad. It is a near atonal chorale sort of sound, ever wafting new combinations of tones and pronounced wind timbral transformations that are almost lyrical in their confluence. That is, if you are listening with an expanded New Music set of ears.

Jo Kondo's "Snow's Falling" gives us a long meditative sprawl of natural expanded gentle endlessness, thanks to The Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus and pianist Satoko Inoue.

Craig Pepples brings up the middle of the program with Ensemble Nomad sounding his "Pine Cones Fall," like the other works a highly evocative ambient sculpture in slow motion, but in this case adding a near-pointillism of give-and-take between each instrument. Everything winds out as a natural growth, paceless dream, every instrument sounding its part in groups ever shifting. It is beautifully mesmerizing.

Paul Zukofsky with his dedicated focus on these three works reminds us how central a figure he was. I cannot imagine a more moving performance of these pieces. The renderings are seemingly as poetically executed as they were meant to sound. It is a masterful outing, in every way palpable in its peaceful yet insistent singularity. It reminds us that New Music can still be was "new" as it should be, that there can be a joy in the sheer viscous pleasure of the present-in-future, in the visceral presence of the hearing of it.

For you unabashed Modernists out there, and even those who are not quite sure but ready for something different, I give you my highest recommendation for this one. It is some awesome music.