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Monday, October 22, 2018

The Lully Effect, Music of Lully, Telemann, Rameau, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Barthold Kuijken

Here on a Monday morning I contemplate The Lully Effect (Naxos 8.573867). What is it? Simply put, it is sounding like Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), a French composer of originality and depth.  Once you hear a few of his compositions, provided they are well-chosen and properly played, as is the case very much here, you understand that of all the Baroque masters of his time, he did perhaps more to establish a special musical identity beyond the intrinsically contrapuntal than anyone elsewise, and for better or worse ushered in a different sensibility that in various ways were extended and realized in the ensuing Rococo phase that followed years later. That may be a bit of a gross simplification, but for a Monday morning that is what I generally come up with when left with my current resources!

Seriously though, The Lully Effect is all about Lully's mature sound, the way he presented a music for chamber orchestra that came in part out of the less contrapuntal dance suites and ceremonial court fanfares of his era and created a lyrical yet massively large sound with a strength of line and a sweetness of timbre we do well to hear in a period version as we do here. The Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra under Barthold Kuijken gives us the sound as it was meant to be then, in works by Lully and his sometimes followers Georg Phillip Telemann and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Neither composers cleaved to the Lullian "galante" style consistently but instead made music in their own image as well much  of the time. No matter however, for they show in these examples how attractive and stirring Lully's influence could be in the hands of talented later practitioners.

The orchestral forces heard here have a pristine beauty that of course resides first off in the scoring of the respective composers. And that has much to do of course with the blocks of instruments and the way that they outlined the primary melody away from prevailing polyphony to more of a homophonic and heterophonic direction, with a kind of uncanny blurring of principal melodic orchestra parts in ways that thicken the texture, a special advance coming in part out of the dance music of the time in the everyday life of France of the period. Key to the performances we hear in this recording is Kuijken's research and application of appropriate bowing techniques as mapped out in various sources plus a wealth of ornamentation practices. We hear in the results a more heightened sonority that we are used to with this music. It goes far in underscoring the beauty of the sound as intended by the composers in their day. That and the unusual (for us) instrumentation-sound of blocks of winds, harpsichord and then in the strings--violins, violas, cellos but also a number of violons. The first violin parts are generally doubled by a number of players and at times repeated in the woodwinds; the bass parts are strong and pronounced; the middle part is by style a relatively lighter voice in the whole, giving a sort of shimmer but decidedly not meant to equal the principal line.

All this is the case and happily so in the three main works we hear in this program.The Lully is the overture and an instrumental interlude from his opera "Armide." Rameau gives to us a long instrumental suite culled from his opera "Dardanus." Finally Telemann gives us a five movement orchestral "Ouverture (Suite)."

The performances are delightful and go a long ways to make us appreciate the irresistible charm of the music. Is there a "Lully Effect?" Sure! And you can hear it to happy advantage on this fine recording! Very recommended.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Earth & Sky, Choral Premieres

Really. when you think about it there are at least three Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) personas we might readily experience in his music as a whole.  The one most critical for we who love music must be Vaughan Williams the highly original and brilliant composer of such things as "The Lark Ascending," "A Sea Symphony," "Sinfonia Antarctica" "Hugh the Drover" and "Riders to the Sea" to name some of my favorites.

Then perhaps we might single out Vaughan Williams the local folk music enthusiast. During his life he most certainly promoted and immersed himself in the folk ethos. One can hear it at times strongly  present in his own compositions. He also did a fine job in his folk song arrangements. The folk Vaughan Williams is a key part of who he remains for us to appreciate.

Finally there is Vaughn Williams the Englishman, the civic force, the modern and traditional resident and citizen, And in this guise we feel the influence of his times and milieu in some of the music he composed for the various functions of cultural practice and commemoration.

All three of these Vaughan Williams personas come into play on the program up for discussion this morning. As part of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society series on Albion Records, we have a beautifully performed program of 22 choral works never before heard in commercial recorded form, entitled Earth & Sky (Albion ALBCD034).

The idea that all three Ralphs have some important input in this unexpected series of musical finds seems apt and helps us understand and appreciate what we hear. These short works are not all masterpieces, of course. But neither are any of them mediocre or without some general merit. And certainly so too all provide happy listening when performed so nicely as they are here. Credit must be given to the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital of Chelsea under the directorship of William Vann. We also must make note of Vann's effective piano accompaniment on a number of works as well as the wholly appropriate organ accompaniment of Hugh Rowlands in those pieces that call for it. The choir sings spiritedly and angelically,  perhaps as only a first-rate English outfit sounds? And in the process they manage to conjure up a time and place when Vaughan Williams livcd, loved, thrived and made good. Made very good indeed!

Eight of these works are Vaughan Williams's well wrought arrangements of traditional songs, folk songs really. It may come as something of a shock to hear Vaughan Williams's heartfelt treatment of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home." You listen, you hear the beauty of the melody again, and your extreme ambivalence about those plantations and the slavery they practiced is put in brackets for a minute. One feels no such ambiguity listening to the "Three Gaelic Songs," or "The Jolly Plowboy." Vaughan Williams took the heritage of songs and more songs as seriously as anybody did, and this at a time when the urgency of preserving a rapidly vanishing corpus of songs in everyday practice had grown acute. So all the better Vaughan William's interest in such things.

The remaining 14 pieces are original Vaughan Williams items. They have each a particular place in the music making needs of his world. Some are patriotic and geared toward encouraging and praising the war efforts he was a part of and to which he later gave moral support. We must not forget that WWI and II, and especially the Second WW threatened Great Britain's welfare directly and so the music sounds imploringly stirring as it was meant to. Other songs have a religious role to play and of course the choral group was a central aspect of religious music of the era. Other numbers have a less direct role to play one assumes as they are not as tightly tied to a function.

And in all these works we hear intimations of brilliance at times and always a well-inspired sense of melody and form.

The question in the end perhaps is who needs to hear this, have this? If you wonder about Vaughan Williams and do not yet have some of most of the works I mention at the start of this article, it may be more sensible and necessary to get a performance disks or downloads of those works before this program has any urgency of possession. Those who love choral music of the more or less Modern period yet in a mostly traditional mode will find this a very pleasing program, though in no sense will you find an abundance of innovative brilliance to these works. There are sparks. There are moving pieces to be heard. It all is worthy of hearing. All of it is nicely present and edifying.

If you are a Vaughan Williams  completest you should not hesitate on this one. For it does give a fully fleshed out portrait of Vaughan Williams the man of his times, the participant in the flow of cultural and social history of an England undergoing some curtailment of tradition and the need to assert and reassert a particular musical heritage and in so doing extend that tradition and give us an original version of it all.

So if you already love Vaughan Williams you will learn  some additional aspects of his music and his world! It is in any event a happy listen. I do recommend this one to you if you already think you are interested.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Vyacheslav Artyomov, A Symphony of Elegies and Other Works

The series of issues and re-issues of the music of Vyacheslav Artyomov on Divine Art is to me one of the primary revival events of the past decade. (Type his name in the search box above for my reviews of other volumes.)  Happily there is more, two more anyway.Today the very welcome A Symphony of Elegies (Divine Art dda 25172).

The album covers three major works. There is the phenomenal orchestral  "A Symphony of Elegies," the violin duo "Awakening," amd "Incantations" for soprano and percussion ensemble.

"A Symphoiny of Elegies" constitutes one of Artyomov's masterworks. It is in fact  his very first symphony, which he composed in the mountains of Armenia in 1977. It is a sonically stunning, major and essential foray into meditative moodiness that somehow manages to straddle later Messiaen and Morton Feldman in his quietly mysterious phase, yet in the end it is pure Artyomov. There is a breathtaking beauty to the way Artyomov hangs in the sunlight delicately ethereal clouds of mysterious sustains with beautifully grey and luminescent pastels of colored light-sound. This music for all its 44 minutes heightens the floating sensation of inner-outer chambered yet vast expanses of space. There is notable space for two upper-register solo violins who according to the composer represents observing from above. They are violin  bridging figures. intimacies that continually tie before with after--almost like the string part of a Gagaku piece, then gradually become more overarchingly continuous. A D.T. Suzuki quotation serves to help set the mood for the the work: "All these are but moments in our innermost life, which revives and touches Eternity." This is ravishing music.

"Awakening" continues and extends the mysterious and reflective mood, this time with two violins alone. They epitomize an entire universe of sound with compact means and so manage to evoke a great deal in the most eloquent and elegant of ways. Ravishing.

"Incantations" sprawls into space with four fairly compact musical movements. It has a very lively vocal part and hews nicely to the sort of percussion group middle ground, neither always pulsating nor strictly event-in-space minded, yet then in the end it bursts forward with ritual pulsations that evoke some mythical ritual world in very unique terms, evoking perhaps Ima Sumac and Messiaen's middle period vocal works via a certain atmospherically "ethnic" panorama, but in no case derivative but rather completely Artyomov-idiomatic.  It is a fittingly upbeat and,  as the work proceeds, a  rather haunting ending to a very nicely moody and reflective program.

And so we have it, an intriguing and rewarding new volume in what I hope will be a very widespread and lasting Artyomov revival. He is a Russian master that has suffered neglect for far too long. It is time we celebrate his music. I do very much recommend this one to you. It is High Modern in a very evocative way. It is not easily forgotten once you give it your full attention! Bravo!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tesla Quartet, Haydn, Ravel, Stravinsky

If you want to feel time passing, to feel change in musical performance practice, listen to typical chamber music artists circa 1950 versus today. There can be much less schmaltz to be heard now, less of the mawkish fervor of Hothouse Romanticism and more musically precise note weaving, excitement and passion without resort to the verklempt. Well compare the wonderful but at times decidedly dated Budapest Quartet from those days doing the Ravel Quartet versus the new, present-day Tesla Quartet, who includes the work on their inaugural release Haydn, Ravel, Stravinsky (Orchid Classics 100085). You find a less over-the-top passion with Tesla's reading. The vibrato is still there but not sounding the least bit feverish, there is clarity and matter-of-factness the great depth of this work demands. I could go on but I think that gives you the idea of what I hear and like as a starting thought.

And really it all is part of a trend in sound and emotions in music. Listen to some of the "Sweet Bands" in US pop from 1920-1950 and you might hear some incredibly dated timbral heart-stringing. We do not hear things that way anymore, so that even Rachmaninoff we sound with a bit more reserve than maybe was expected a while ago? (On the other hand listen to Ben Webster's tenor sax in his later years on a ballad if you want to hear the art that could spawn from the sentiment so present in music worlds then).

Tesla is a group of younger folks (younger than I am anyway!). They have spent ten years together, ten years of concertizing, communing but perhaps wisely not-yet recording. After ten years they are well seasoned and for this inaugural recording they turn to works they have worked into a fine fettle. The choice of pieces in the audio program work together very well in establishing the brilliance of the group, their care and attention to timbral beauty and blended focus. The results are pretty stunning.

The Ravel "String Quartet in F Major" has such an abundance of a Modern, tempered beauty we surely must rank it at the very top of quartets written last century. Tesla give us a version I cannot imagined being topped and perhaps it has taken us this long to get it perfectly right because that is the way musical time goes? There is deep subtlety in the reading here. Tenderness and hush, boisterous exuberance, richly evocative sound color like lightning bugs at dusk in midsummer, a woody warmth unfeigned and sincere. It balances feeling and cerebral impact as nicely as I have heard out there. Tesla seems born to this music.

A change of pace hits us happily with Haydn's C Major Quartet, Op. 54, No. 2. As Tesla  mentions in the liners, Haydn has played an important role in the first decade of the ensemble's life, with every season involving a performance of at least one of the 41 quartets he left for us. You can hear the sympathy and care that goes into this recording. The reading is lush, lyrical and extraordinarily memorable. They read Haydn with an interpretive brilliance you no doubt do not hear quite like this elsewhere. It is as if they are recalling the beauty of the work as they are performing it, and so we get a reflection of the music in its shining forth, a rare thing and a true musical blessing in many ways. I would love it if Tesla were to record the entire Haydn cycle, but perhaps later on for that?

Tesla features three Ravel minuets that have been nicely arranged for quartet by Tesla violinist Ross Snyder from the original piano parts. The "Menuet antique" rings out especially well but all three are a happy addition to the program. My mom especially loved the "antique" Ravel piece and played a recording of it very often around the house. She would have been very happy to hear this version, no doubt.

The final touch to the musical sequence is a meticulous and very sympathetic reading of Stravinsky's all-to-brief "Concertino for String Quartet." It forms the capstone to a really delightful monument to the state-of-the-art in Modern quartet performance practices.

The Tesla Quartet on the basis of this worthy CD seems to me to be at the very top of the hill in terms of new chamber performance today. Any with the inclination to check this album out should not hesitate. In it a big WOW to me and I cannot doubt that most will feel like I do after a few hearings. The Ravel is primo and the rest of the program is a further confirmation that we are in a special place with these fine players. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tanya Ekanayaka, Twelve Piano Prisms

What is written in our philosophies, to paraphrase Hamlet, does not always cover everything. When I audition the late Modern strains of New Music for piano, for example, these days one cannot expect every composer to adapt the same set of parameters. It might have always been like that, but nowadays it seems truly anything is possible. So I was not sure what I was going to be hearing when I received Tanya Ekanayaka's Twelve Piano Prisms (Grand Piano GP785). Ms Ekanayaka plays the compositions for us and she is a fine pianist.

This is very lyrical piano music in a kind of Neo-Romantic, sometimes a bit Neo-Impressionist mode. I hear Tchaikovsky, Liapinov, Schumann, Rachmaninov, and a wisp of Chopin maybe as the forebears of Ms. Ekanayaka clearly outlined and feelingful pianism. The back cover tells me that many of the themes are Sri Lankan, and at times I can hear that now that I know to listen for it. And the blurb says there are traces of other world musics; the classical tradition and popular music have some sway here as well, so they say. The rhapsodic treatment is crisp and not extraordinarily ornate, which gives a refreshment to it all. Each of the 12 Prisms is in a different key.

Oh, the liners say she is British-Sri Lankan. So that makes sense.She was precociously talented and began studying the piano with her mother, then others. By the time she was twelve she had made her recital debut, her first concerto in public was at age sixteen. She has her doctorate in Linguistic-Musicology from the University of Edinburgh, where she has been a part-time faculty member since 2007.

I very much am taken with what she does with the "Auld Lang Syne" theme on the fourth Prism, which is  entitled "D Flat--Intuition, Auld Lang Syne & an Asian Secret" (2017). Each of the Twelve Piano Prisms  has a distinctive character and mood. And after a few listens you begin to hear the Sri Lankan heritage as a sometimes scalular idiom that is extended and lyricized by Ms. Ekanayaka's special musical gifts. And listening in time her inspired originality comes more to the forefront as her treatment of themes becomes more clearly etched into the listening mind.

I come away from the initial listens to Twelve Piano Prisms quite impressed and moved by the music. I am sure I will happily return to this music often. And I will look forward to hearing more of her music. If you want something tonally wistful and lyrically inspired in new piano music, you will most certainly find it here. If Ms. Ekanayaka does not easily fit in to what other music is being done today, so much the better for us. For we hear an original musical mind at work. Definitely recommended.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Steve Reich, Drumming, Kuniko

After Terry Riley's pioneering "In C," the stage was set for a long ensemble work that mapped out in greater depth a way to further extend such promising Minimalist trance ideas. Steve Reich had been a key early player in the development of the music with the phasing process idea as found in the electro-acoustic "Come Out," "Aint Gonna Rain" and then "Violin Phase."  In the early days of the 1970's he gave we who were following such developments a decided and beautiful way to proceed with the glorious work Drumming. 

When the original commercial recording came out in 1974 I was fully ready for it and so it turns out were many of my peers. It happened to fall on the heels of a major uptick in my experience of World Music via a happy rising of several labels dedicated to such things. Of course there was a remarkable catalog available on Asch's Folkways, but then Ocora, Nonesuch Explorer and a couple of other labels began releasing well-recorded LPs of traditional African and Asian musics. I was at a first peak of immersion in all of that so Drumming hit something of a nerve with me, especially in how it managed to give original treatment to the idea of a pulsating percussion ensemble with multiple interlocking parts. Perhaps rightly so much has been made of how Reich took his phase and process idea and created a wonderfully alive music out of his kernel of structural insight. And indeed it is so. But inevitably perhaps the method of proceeding had become a kind of Wittgenstein's Ladder, or in other words it brought Reich to the new horizon of the interlocking repetition possibilities and gave him ways to ensure development. But then like the ladder that gets you to a point, there was perhaps no need to let a procedure dictate fully where one went from that place on. Or in other words the ladder was not necessarily needed any more? And it is true that subsequent works became less and less phase oriented. No matter. For in the end Drumming stood or fell on the quality of its invention, which one can hear always if one listens faithfully.

Some 48  years later, give-or-take, I certainly can say that my regard for this work has if anything increased in time. And it has done so because of a key factor perhaps--the sheer brilliance of the way Reich fashioned a diatonic pulsation of interlocking ensemble parts and in the way of so doing created, brilliantly invented music that sounds so well together that you can immerse listening self into it virtually forever! In the right hands there is an ecstasy of melodic-rhythmic suchness that you may not find quite to this extent elsewhere.

Enter master percussionist Kuniko and her new recording of Drumming (Linn CKD-582). I have heard virtually all of the versions that have come out since the first recording and they are all good. But this one is by far the best, the most inspired, the most moving I have heard. Why is that? Part of it has to do with how a master percussionist is a master. It is not of course just a matter of faithfully executing the notes. It is that something extra, that getting inside the notes and sending them volleying outward into our aural perceptual worlds that is most telling.

All of this music exists within a continually pulsating time frame.  From the most simple to the very most complicated interlocking parts, a key to a successful performance is the way the ensemble can and does sound the measured, leveraged and even periodicity. Ms. Kuniko does all of that (and plays all the percussion parts via overdubbing I believe) in ways that lift the pulse into a centered measured place that, in the vocabulary of jazz, makes the time "swing" mightily.  It is the transcendence of isolated repetitions in favor of a forward moving, irresistible whole that constitutes the beautiful excellence of this version over others. By getting each part measured right but then elastically so, it puts the foundations in place for a very beautiful version. For with those foundations in place it makes possible an extraordinary vital sounding of the melodic brilliance and timbral vivacity of the work. So even the first simple tuned bongo sections take on an intensity of intent. And then the crosstalk polyvalence polyrhythms (in rabbit-duck gestalt oscillations) are extraordinarily there in balanced and palpable ways that open up the entire listening universe of part-versus-part.  It allows for the rabbit-duck fluidity of what you can hear and so then you can have variable focus at any point in your listening. Each part defines the whole and each sounds wonderfully well if you only listen to that. But of course your musical imagination bounces around continuously in the hearing and re-hearing of an ideal performance of the work such as we get here. The bongos, the marimbas, the glockenspiels, the female voices, the whistling and the piccolo parts sound together with a maximum groove and depth of field that has to do with the swing execution and so the work seems continually to rock back and forth between two end-phrase points (in two units of six) in a remarkably fluid and ecstatic way.

I will not try and describe the entire outlay of the work as it is performed so wonderfully well here. That is something you need to get by sitting there and letting the music play YOU. And so I recommend you get this recording and surrender to it! It is as fabulous a musical experience as you might care to have if you are willing to let the music spin you like a ballerina armature! Kuniko brings home forceably the extraordinary brilliance of this music and helps ensure its place as one of the masterpieces of New Music in our lifetimes. Kuniko is a revelation! Very highly recommended. A midwestern US resident in the mid-1800s when introduced to Beethoven's symphonic music for the first time was said to have exclaimed, "well ain't that something!" I would suggest that this, too, is something!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Walter Braunfels, Quintet for String Orchestra, Sinfonia Concertante

And why is it we do not much know of the music of Walter Braunfels (1992-1954)? The short answer may be that his music was not exactly radically Modern? But it was not archaic either, judging from the new release of his Quintet for String Orchestra and the Sinfonia Concertante (CPO  777 579-2).. We listen a few times, or I did, and find that there is a wealth of good invention and plenty of inspired content. The performances are in the very capable hands of the Muncher Rundfunkorchester under Ulf Schirmer. It is a superior performance and sounds quite well indeed.

The liners tell of a definitive Braunfels biography published in 1980 which has done much in helping assess his legacy. He played piano, composed, taught. The liners tell of a man who kept somewhat to himself. Breakthrough instrumental works were forthcoming in the '20s along with the successful premier of his opera Die Vogel . He was the son of a Jewish jurist. The National Socialist coming to power put his career in jeopardy and he was designed as one of the so-called degenerate composers. All of this had some hand in the fact of Braunfel's relative obscurity in the Modern era despite the outward success of his last years. By the post-war period there were new voices that shadowed over someone like him and so too others who did not espouse a Serialist view.

So what of the works? Both come from his later period and both are substantial. The two contrast pretty nicely, giving you two distinct impressions. The first piece is actually a Frithjol Haas arrangement of Braufnels "String Quintet op. 63a in F sharp minor" which seems like a very good idea. Maybe in part because of the chamber-blown-up-large aspect of the source parts there feels like a distinct relationship between this work and Schoenberg's celebrated "Verklarte Nacht," which is known especially in its string orchestra arrangement of what was originally intended for string sextet.  The music has a  highly chromatic, edge of Late Romanticism kind of expressivity that Schoenberg's Nacht also has. The lyrically melancholy, searching quality of much of this has definite torque. It is some 40 minutes of deeply felt and carefully thought-out music that belies Braunfels' bask in obscurity. The concluding rondo nearly startles with its folk robustness

With the 20-minute "Sinfonia Concertante op. 68," scored for string orchestra and solo parts for violin, viola, and two horns, we get a more detailed sound spectrum befitting its intention for large ensemble. There are magnificent folk-lyric passages, chromatic whirlwinds of expression, a musical personality that seems fully fleshed out, and a kind of edginess at times especially with a sort of characteristic curmudgeon grotesquery contrasted with at times a pastoral-peasant hearty quality and then high expressivity as well.

The performances give us a true view of the definite talents and originality of someone we mostly now know very little of in terms of repertoire presence. A concentrated series of repeated listens brings to us a rather brilliant musical mind so that the more one listens, the more one discerns a real presence in the music of talent and steadfast inventiveness.

I must say this disk constitutes a find! It will bring pleasure to anyone who seeks another voice from the early days of the last century. It is like the ghosts of Mahler and young Schoenberg inhabited a third personality of originality and made a very fruitful re-working of what was on the ground at the time. Very much recommended!

Handel, Messiah, Edward Polochik, Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphonic Chorale, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

A new recording of the Messiah seems like a potential occasion to me. Not that I am in the habit of covering all of them. It is not my central concern. Yet when one comes along that seems interesting and it can be done I generally open up to the chance. So today we have a version with Edward Polochick conducting from the harpsichord, with soloists, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphony Chorale (Naxos 8.57379899).

The Messiah has been central Christmas listening fare for me since the year I was in 7th or 8th grade I think and my high school choir directed by Mr. Azzolina ambitiously performed sections of the Messiah  for their Christmas Concert. By then I had been listening heavily to Bach's St. Matthew Passion so I got how it fit in with that. I ended up loving the music, then found my dad's Readers Digest LP of excerpts we had all ignored.

Eventually my mom got strongly into it too and after that every year for a bunch of years we went with my dad in tow to hear the Masterworks Chorus do the complete version in Carnegie Hall around the holiday season. I found a more or less complete version on LPs, by Frederick Jackson conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. That found itself on my record player every Christmas Eve for many later years. With a drink or two it was the benchmark for me, albeit a Romantic treatment with a pretty large orchestra and chorus (some Amazon reviewer says too many sopranos, but that too many was what I was used to hearing so what me worry?). I reveled in it. That balance and the passion of the performance was what the Messiah was to me, though the Masterworks Chorus versions reminded me too that a smaller orchestra and chorus was really the proper way to do it.

Time moves on always and I still have those LPs and still very much enjoy hearing that version. Then as a reviewer I have gotten the chance to hear other versions, though my mom's LP version was in my head too. And I've heard numerous and various other conflagrations do versions live and gotten a better overall picture of the latitude and such. But every new version I hear perforce gets gauged against Jackson's. In life listenings that is how it must be. You know what you know. How could you not?

So naturally this new Polochick version gets measured against all the other versions I have heard, including Jackson's. At first some of it seemed slightly shocking. The soloists are first-rate, yet in the interest of period concerns they are afforded a latitude in terms of embellishments, adornments, and sometimes plain old different notes than those that are written, not in some radical fashion, but as occasional landings and way-stations back to what is written. And it threw me initially. But then with subsequent listens I got used to it and find it interesting now, for of course I keep the original score template in my head.

To backtrack for a minute, suffice to say that the Messiah fully deserves its place as the most well-known and greatly appreciated Oratorio of its day. It is a miracle in musical terms, incredibly alive and lyric and belies the fact that Handel managed to put it all together in a few week's time. It is a kind of inside musical fleshing out of the affect felt in the day and beyond about the birth, life and death of the Messiah. It was designed of course for believers. Yet it transcends that so that anyone might love this music, regardless of upbringing.  And the music cuts to the quick in incredibly beautiful counterpoint, song-like lyricality and brilliantly inventive through-composing, with unforgettable writing to move all who seriously come to know it in their lives. There is the pathos of "He was Despised," the joy of "Unto Us a Child is Born," the eerie trumpetissimo mystery of "The Trumpet Shall Sound," and the fury of "Thou Shalt Break Them." Nothing is quite like it for the scope of its beauty and moodiness.  So over the years I never tire of it, nor should anyone who gets captivated initially. It is so much a part of the foundations of my musical experience now that I feel my life passing through me as I hear it again after nearly a lifetime of listens.

And so a new version if well done gives you insights into the form. The main thing that stands out in this version is the ability to sometime tread a little lightly (in masses of sound and sometimes in dynamics) to emphasize sometimes the bouncing of the parts sounding together, to re-articulate the phrasings to bring out the form-flow all the better. So "Unto Us A Child is Born" seems at first less impactful because not as hard hitting? But then you hear again and you see and feel the emphasis. So "We Like Sheep" rocks us with super-articulation. I feel like a sheep in ways I never have before! And so for example the "angry" part of the work, from "He Trusted in God" through "Thou Shalt Break Them" (in other words  just before the first peak of  "Hallelujah") at times proceeds with a joyous tempestuous that I do not think I have heard like this before. The tempos can be rapid, but then the whole ensemble notably articulates each phrase with a clarity and emphasis that is beautiful to hear. And very rocking!

And perhaps we get what we get so nicely here because the forces in the end are period-small and so more responsive perhaps than might be the case with a Romantic-sized gathering? I believe so. What counts though is the sensibility we hear in this performance. It is singular.

It is a version not entirely perfect in some huge overarching way (imperfect, that is, in terms of how I am used to hearing parts, so  the pastoral interlude is not quite as moving as other versions I am used to). Yet then one turns to this recording with a feeling of refreshed re-hearing, with a new life to the music that one might need by now. And if this was one's first Messiah to listen to without a lot of reference to others it would be alright, too. Because it has all the music there, surely, and this version would be one to compare others with later? And in the course of it  the "Hallelujah" and "Amen" parts hit very much home, so. We get the end in a big way.

My mother, who so dearly loved this music, would be smiling now. Maybe she is? I cannot know. She would had loved it though. So musical she was.

In the end then I do think this one has a great deal to offer it and I do recommend you hear it. If you are a seasoned seasonality with this work, all the better. But even if not it will rock you! Hear this.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Karol Jozef Lipinski, String Trios, Op. 8 and Op. 12

Sometimes it can be daunting to try and keep track of the unfamiliar composers now emerging on recordings these days.  It is a challenge to try and absorb everything. Yet too as a reviewer I am happily situated to be able to be exposed to a lot of music I could never have afforded to or even have been alerted to hear in the past. And then the things that are interesting and good I pass along to you readers and thereby I hope give you a chance to consider a lot more than you might otherwise have on your own.

So on this Monday morning I present for your consideration (as Rod Serling used to put it on the Twilight Zone) one Karol Jozef Lipinski (1790-1861), composer of among other things String Trios, Op. 8 and Op. 12 (Naxos 8.573776), which can now be heard to good advantage in the recent release by that same name.

One might ever return to a key question when first listening to an unfamiliar historical composer. That is, why is it we have heard nothing of this music until now? The most obvious answer could be, alas, because he was not good enough! Happily that is certainly not the case with Lipinski as I listen to this. So what then? Partly perhaps he was a violin prodigy that came out of Poland at a time when Paganini overshadowed all for virtuoso fame and the popularity of his compositions. It is true too that Polish composers were not as readily exported until Chopin took on the world with his huge talent.

That of course is a very simplistic and shorthand answer. Listening to the two String Trios presented so well here I can say that there is no reason we should not appreciate Lipinski now, at least via these very attractive works. As the liners tell us the trios were intended as noted by one Powrozniak as "lyrical Slavic folk tunes with elements of the ballad." And so you listen and very much hear a brilliance of folkish invention but then a very skillful and imaginative mapping out of the thematic material in a more-or-less Classical manner, but perhaps not so strictly in line with conventional sonata form as others might have espoused it then and later.

The music has a virtuostic strain to it as well and that sets it off in some ways from what might have been typical of intimate string chamber music then. So you might hear some echoes of Tartini and Viotti (and of the then-contemporary inspiration of Paganini), especially in runs and double stops in the lead violin, but with a bit more decidedly Haydnesque symmetry of developed form than you might expect from those models perhaps. So the trio reflects the virtuosity of the composer with a solo violin part (here played nicely by Voytek Proniewicz), plus a second violin (Adam Roszkowski ) and cello (Jan Roszkowski).

After a few listens the initial impression of agreeable music gives way to a more detailed appreciation (for me anyway) with the freshness of the folk themes and the impressive way Lipinski introduces and develops them. These seem to be folkish in flavor more so than directly quoted by the way. They sound as if they might well have been invented or heavily edited by the composer to me. That is not a deficit. It may actually be a strength because it all hangs together in an original way.

So why then would you be interested in this release? Anyone who seeks "ethnic-folk" rooted Classical-Early Romantic chamber music will find this a boon. But even if that is not what you think you look for, this is music that stands on its own, not so much as competing voices against Haydn or Mozart, but another strain altogether in some ways. And if you favor Polish and/or Eastern European sounds and composers, here is a great find. And lastly it is very worthy music, played very well indeed. If that seems interesting to you, by all means get this. The Naxos price is right! Lipinski is no slouch. Far from it.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Beethoven Symphonies 2/7, Philippe Jordan, Wiener Symphoniker

If I mentioned Beethoven yesterday for his central role in creating the idea of a poetic and brilliant treatment of orchestral forces and so as the true father of orchestration as we know it in the time of New Music, all the better today that we have some new release showing that very thing. Philippe Jordan and the Wiener Symphoniker are a fair ways along in their release of a Beethoven Symphony Cycle. That such a thing is a cause of joy would seem to be the case based on the latest volume I have been listening to very happily, namely the Beethoven Symphonies 2/7 (SONY Music 610 SM).

When you think of a Viennese Beethoven Cycle you might naturally think of an extraordinarily disciplined performance and that beautiful presence of winds and horns like you are unlikely to hear from other orchestras. Not quite like that anyway when you are out of town. Vienna has never been a city who thinks that when it comes to Beethoven, just get the feeling right and do not sweat the details.  These symphonic pairings up today beautifully reflect the Viennese urgency of the details-as-huge-part-of-a careful-whole performance ethos.  Jordan and the Vienna masters give us all we might expect. And then they go a step further and give us the best we might ask for, a kind of making it all seem new again. That is ideal.

And maybe that is especially a surprise with the Second Symphony. As you listen to this version you imagine what it might have sounded like to you before there were Symphonies 3 to 9, instead of how we usually hear it, as a way station on route to the revelations of Symphonies 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9. And when listening in sequence as I have often done in my hearing world it passes like the tick of a clock on its way to the midnight of the 9th, or even as a necessary but intermediate step before that burst of feeling and revolution that was and is the Eroica.

I have especially long appreciated an old recording of Toscanini doing the Second, and he does wonderful things with it. Yet nothing might quite prepare you for the Jordan-Wiener take. Suddenly, it seems like its own Eroica, so to speak, that is, a very bold orchestral work for its place in the time of its time. Jordan brings to us the logic of Beethoven's orchestration/scoring, lets us feel how each part vividly takes place within the whole of each phrase, how every part of the orchestra has a hand, an important hand in the making of the sound of the finished whole.  Before this in a way you might just hear the strings run through a Haydn or a Mozart opus and in the end and often enough you would not miss all that much. Not with the Beethoven of the Second! No way. And so with this new reading you sense all the interpenetrations of parts with parts and how as a meta-organism the music thrives with incredibly appropriate touches that Jordan and the Weiner people handle as no one has quite done it before. It is joy.

As for the Seventh we may feel on hearing this fresh re-working that perhaps before we have been guilty of viewing it as more of an afterthought in the high pantheon of the great symphonies than it should be. It stands tall, second to none in the Jordan performances. Well no, second thought nothing can ever quite reach the heights of the 3rd and the 9th, but nonetheless, this reading of the 7th worries over every essential detail and then not only sounds each particle within the whole but also more-or-less makes every particle have a strong musical personality latent within the notes themselves but also pulled out of the air by grasping Beethoven as a very particulate whole!

It is for all these reasons that I do recommend these readings to you most heartily. There is a making new indeed, for virtually every bar rings out with a special clarity that rivals all the very best readings I have heard. The strings phrase as one in individual ways that take away the breath. Horns and winds are ultra-articulate and give us so much, a balanced and creative reading of what Beethoven very much intended we hear.  The recording quality is superior and with these performances you will get a great deal out of this whether you have heard hundreds of performances or none at all before. If you are feeling the need for this then do not hesitate. Or even if you do not think you need it for that matter. You probably do.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Michael Gordon, The Unchanging Sea, with Film by Bill Morrison, Seattle Symphony, Pablo Rus Broseta, Tomoko Mukaiyama

What does it take to be a great composer? Is it ever the same? Well, what Clementi needed to create the Piano Sonatas in yesterday's program is surely something different than what Michael Gordon brings to us in The Unchanging Sea (Seattle Symphony CA21141 CD and DVD), a remarkable new orchestral work that is the soundtrack to Bill Morrison's film of the same name. Whereas the Clementi sonatas relied upon an acutely inventive linear feel for unspooning melodics and significant form as underlying structural architecture, the Gordon work (as a sort of exemplary world of New Ambiance) takes a kind of all-at-once great idea in sound, which then of course succeeds or not by its sequential unraveling of the very large sonic moment. That does not mean of course that a Clementi kind of musical mind is not welcome in the New Music realms today, but that there are other more canvas-like parameters that also captivate us when works are in this new world of possibilities. So for the sake of my recent posts you might well say that Finnissy is closer to a Clementi in his linear view, and perhaps Gordon ultimately is a working though of the first real insights of the Mannheim School of orchestral music, culminating in a first climax in Beethoven's Symphonies. Two strains, both as New Music is now.

And if that is a sort of bold assertion for the first thing in the morning, it is deserved in this instance. For this is a work of true evocative power, nothing quite like anything else, though it stands in relation to another orchestral work of similar power, John Luther Adam's Become Ocean (see review from October 23, 2014).

The intense aural imagination that goes into this work is extraordinary. It is an orchestrational coup d'etat, nothing less. For it creates the aural image of a seascape that has a timelessness and mystery redolent with vast expanses of shifting, splurging, rocking, sprawlingly awesome and endless strength. The piano part is in the beginning hammering and relentless like the continual energy of sea on life. It later in essence becomes a concerted vehicle of expression, then joins the orchestra as a key rhythm instrument, and all quite musically and happily. The strings and winds give us an uncanny blurring of the endless pliable force of the sea. There is incredible depth of field to the changing panorama of sounds. You hear the vast unfolding of many mini-tidal events as they meld together into a widely diffuse unraveling. And the music changes, never remains fixed at any point.

This is Post-Minimal of course, yet that does really have some meaning, in that there are envelopes of endless recurrences and the hugely beautiful swells of oceanic sound. It is what Minimalism sought to do, only it does it without reliance on set changing patterns. There is underlying pulse much of the time but it is there in some ways like it has always been in "pre-Minimalism," as a kind of given that ticks a timeless time underneath  the musical events.

The CD includes a half-hour Sea as we can hear it in the movie. That is followed by the 15-minute Beijing Harmony that is not a part of the film. I have been listening to the music without reference to the liners so all this time my mind has conjoined the two works as a sequence, and perhaps that is all for the better, since to my mind the second work amplifies the swelling drift of sounds in different ways from the title work. They manage to be of a piece in the experience. One follows the other like "Refrain" follows "Kontakte" on the original 1959 instrumental-electronics recordings of Stockhausen's masterworks. Perhaps even more so, in that Gordon's two works are even more of a piece together.

Well and so to turn now to the Bill Morrison film would imply that the DVD that features that is almost an afterthought? It most certainly is not. The film is as hauntingly singular as the music in its own way. Morrison makes a narrative out of diverse pieces of silent-era film directed to the sea in the life of the time. So the narrative goes from man-woman-sea as a triadic thing to the dreaming woman on the rock and what follows is the sea as destroyers of men--footage of shipwreck and rescue dominate the film's central section, played out always as the deliberate and thematic inclusion of time itself as undermining force in our oblivion--the beautiful-horrific sight of film badly deteriorating and at times totally obliterating the image to put on a fascinatingly sculpted play of water damage, celluloid deterioration or light damage competing with standard image, like a vast inferno of meaningless negation threatening to engulf us all.

I can only say that the film-music DVD is unforgettable. Yet in the end the music is something monumental on its own. This disk qualifies to me as a front runner for New Music disk of the year. It escapes from the Faberge Egg endlessness of Minimal repetition to find another linear path outward, to liquidity, water and an endless mass of water! My highest recommendation for this one. Time in the end prevails over endlessness? It is a lesson for us?


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Clementi, Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 33, Nos, 2 and 3, etc., Stefan Chaplikov

Just a couple of days ago we mentioned Clementi's iconic Sonatina in the course of mentioning Satie's delightful pastiche of it in Joana Gama's worthy Satie.150 (see last month's listings). Today we happily encounter him again.  This time with a volume of his Keyboard Sonatas, including Op. 33, Nos. 2 and 3; Op. 46; Op. 25, Nos. 1 and 3 (Naxos 8.573712). It features pianist Stefan Chaplikov, who sparkles and bubbles his way through the five works, giving us a plein air refreshment that may be just what we need after a heavy dose of gloomy Romanticism or giddy sojourns through the outer space of High Modernism.

I was one of those students assigned the iconic Sonatina so many years ago, and I must say I came away with an appreciation of Clementi's sense of form and melodics. I've since never passed on an opportunity to hear more of his music. In the late '70s-early '80s I discovered his symphonies, and I knew then that he was more or less as accomplished as any of his era. (Who topped Mozart and Haydn though? Well they were supermen I suppose!) So fast forward some many years and I now hold in my hand this nice little volume of good cheer as it plays underneath my writing this morning.

If you listen closely to these works you might find as I did that we should probably included these examples among the very cream of Classical Era sonatas, along with those of Haydn, Mozart, CPE Bach, early Beethoven and Schubert and perhaps now we may also add Kozeluch and, perhaps Czerny but I must hear more of his.

The main idea is that these sonatas are uniformly well wrought, melodically inventive in the most freshening and refreshing of ways, and accordingly a beautiful listen when you need a change of pace. And who doesn't?

I cannot say to you that all must drop everything and get this volume. It is not that kind of release. However if you enjoy a very pianistic romp through some nicely turned works, you are sure to find this a pleasurable go. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Michael Finnissy, Choralvorspiele, Andersen-Liederkreis, Juliet Fraser & Mark Knoop

With my reading glasses perched atop my face once again I jump into the fray this morning, sure in my ability to read small type and large!

On the docket for today is a program of works by the ever Modern music titan Michael Finnissy. On the CD are paired together his Choralvorspiele with Andersen-Liederkries (Hat [NOW] ART 212). The two works are well situated together, both involving works within a larger whole, Choralvorspiele a set of chorales for piano based on Norwegian and American melodies, and Andersen-Liederkreis as the title suggests a group of lieder based on texts by Hans Christian Andersen.

The artists involved in the program, pianist Mark Knoop and soprano Juliet Fraser, seem especially right for this music, which has a lyric-Modern beauty in its fragility and whimsicality. One might note at this point that Finnissy's setting of  "The Emperor's New Clothes" is quite timely since it may be the fable most relevant to the age we live in now. It is well done.  I have nothing but the highest praise for Knoop's poetic, definitive readings, and to my mind Juliet Fraser shows herself the ideal Modern lieder exponent. For the Finnissy she is rather perfect. I would look forward to hearing her do any number of works in the Modern pantheon. She as I think is right does not accentuate that kind of operatic power of volume, overly pronounced vibrato, and sentimental overkill that mars the worst of those who take on the Modern song. Every work may call for something different but to my mind too much operatic hoist is never wholly appropriate to the Art Song today. Moreover  Fraser is  reassuringly, textually oriented, pitch perfect in her execution of the many twists and turns, and fully able to control artfully the presence or absence and the delivery of vibrato as a color. Her reading of the lieder here sounds so musical and style appropriate that I would recommend it be heard by anyone needing an object lesson in how things can go when they go well!

Juliet Fraser does not just sing remarkably well. She also gives us an insightful view of Finnissy's musical ways in the liners. She notes "the flawless technique, the innate vocality, the lyricism (albeit extreme), the loving attention paid to text, the serious engagement with music of the past that somehow always bears forth a new music that is recognizably idiosyncratic, the 'fleshiness,' the visceral punch it packs." All this we can hear readily on the program.  What also immediately hit me when I first listened to this program is a telling attention to sounding smaller simultaneities like seconds and thirds on the piano, almost like an avant Floyd Cramer on a  Last Date into another world? Well that is surprising and also quite enjoyable to me. Mind you it is more present in the chorale work. Still it paves the way for the many charms of this program and grabs your ears immediately.

Both works pack a good deal into themselves and end up supplying a fresh landscape that is neither self-consciously advanced nor deliberately archaic, but enchanted, magical in its refusal to land on the more well-traveled parts of the troposphere of New Music concerns. It goes its own way in the most lovely terms one could hope for.

It is a volume I do not hesitate to recommended to you. A good place to embark on a Finnissy discovery trip. Or to continue on it. Very heartening.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Roger Reynolds, Aspiration, Irvine Arditti


When life goes on every day, it sometimes manages to gather forces of entropy to hinder you in the simplest of tasks. This morning the combination of lost reading glasses ("They are somewhere.") and  a broken reading lamp means I absolutely cannot make head nor tail of the CD textual matter. For so many years designers have done their best to disguise all text and render it all unreadable, put that together with the current state of affairs and I am crippled.

The current album, from what I can make out and what I hear is a series of works for violin with or without accompaniment. The album highlights the Inauthentica chamber outfit, conducted by Mark Menzies, Paul Hembree on computer realizations. and most importantly Irvine Arditti on violin. It is a two-CD set of Roger Reynold's violin works written for Arditti, all fashioned between 1992-2015. The set is entitled Aspirations (Kairos 0015051KAI 2-CDs).

"Shifting/Drifting"  for violin and real-time algorithmic transformation (2015) kicks off the program. "imagE/violin  imAge/violin" for solo violin (2015) occurs next. The title work "Aspiration" follows for solo violin and chamber orchestra (2004-5). "Kokoro" for solo violin (1991-92) concludes the program.

All that must suffice as the nuts and bolts of this release. On the listening level it is above all a truly unpretentious monument to latter-day Modernist music for solo violin. The half of the program involving some form of accompaniment shows a totally sympathetic additional musical voice or voices. Nevertheless  it all is very squarely centered on the very idiomatically original modern expressiveness of the violin part.  It is exploratory and virtuoso in its subtle dash, and it seems tailored to what corresponds nicely to the musical personality of Arditti himself, not showy for its own sake, very much imbued with the urge toward expressive elegance and brilliance of means, and in a harmonically expanded High Modernist idiom for which of course Reynolds is a natural master. This is not music as contrived in some arch manner by the composer. It is as natural as speaking and as eloquent as brilliant word flow.

After a few listen one falls into the spell of it all, the beautiful rightness of Arditti's playing, the perfect thus-ness of accompaniment and the spare profundity of the solo space.

This program is in every way a winner--with excellence of sound and sound staging, performance brilliance and compositional inspiration, together sequencing and smarts.

Aspiration demands your attention and rewards with high complexity-in-continuity. It is a Modern gem for all who want to know where we are today. I suggest this is a do-not-miss! I am happy to have it.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Alexander Kastalsky, Memory Eternal (1917), The Clarion Choir, Steven Fox

You live your life and things happen, mostly in the middle of everything else. Just a week ago I fell rather ill at the same time as the CD at hand today was on the regular rotation of listens I give the music I plan to review. It turned out to be music that spoke to me vividly in the unwell state. Well I might say along with Woody Allen that the Russian creative mind has perhaps a unique window onto death. That I have felt ever since I read "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch" just after high school. All this however is ultimately the context within which this music came to me. It found me in  a mood that certainly was sympathetic to what the program of music is about.

And what is that? An album of music centered on an early 20th-century Modern approach toward a present day rethinking of the music of the Russian Orthodox church. This in the hands of the leading exponent of such things then, before the Russian Revolution cut it all short.  I speak of composer Alexander Kastalsky (1856-1926) and his reworking of the Orthodox Memory service to note the victims of WWI. Memory Eternal (1917) (Naxos 8.573889)  was the liturgical reworking of a Requiem the composer wrote at the time. The very gravitas Memory Eternal comes to us in its World Premiere Recording as do several shorter Premiere Recording works from  1897-1905.

The Clarion Choir under Steven Fox sounds angelic, deeply sonorous, everything you might hope in a performance, And the Memory Eternal work, running some 40 minutes, gives the listener a broad spectrum of styles amalgamated without unsightly stitch. From monodic chant passages and drones of great gravitas, we hear too middle ground choral material that has a more elaborate harmonization and or complex part writing and then too a fully Romantic-Modern contemporary (for the mainstream of 1917) florid complexity. And it all fits together. I love how the composer at times integrates the ancient Dies Irae hymn into the music.

I am very pleased with this. It is not at the edge of what one might have written in 1917, but it is very fine writing, beautifully performed. So I definitely do recommend this to you.




Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lansing McLoskey, Zealot Canticles, An Oratorio for Tolerance, the Crossing, Donald Nally

Now and again some contemporary vocal works come along that create story and meaning well, yet by so doing they synthesize a contemporary state-of-the-art view of where the Progressive Modern world has come so far. And it is not quite there until the work bulks and builds it together as a "this is now" gesture. I suppose looking back in my lifetime it was Bernstein's Mass that did that more dramatically than maybe any other work. Today we have something that less overtly but in its own way thoroughly defines and synthesizes the moment  for us.

I speak of Lansing McLoskey's Zealot Canticles (Innova 984). It is performed without flaw by the choral group The Crossing, with soloists and a quintet of instrumentalists who feel almost orchestral in their breadth and contrast to the choral group, which in turn shines with brilliance throughout.

This music is edgy yet markedly tonal, Modern in a synthetic way, with a kind of sum-uppance, creating powerful musical mood with a sure hand. The proceedings are based upon the writings of Nigerian poet-novelist Wole Solinka. It centers around the radically destructive potential of zealotry, its playing out in events and ultimately a plea for a widely ranging inclusiveness of tolerance. Of course in our day the mainstreaming of zealotry is very much with us, sadly and alarmingly in the very highest places of power and influence.

Well the dramatic plot here in the Canticles plays out the working through of such an action upon our general world. What matters most is the very palpable outpouring of excess and destructive emotionality in the spinning out of the work. The musical expression of extraordinary misgiving is most moving, bleak in a very beautifully expressive way.

In the repeating hearing of Zealot Canticles, An Oratorio for Tolerance  we can recognize how fully McLoskey has unveiled for us the remarkable expressivity that the later Modern stance has put together, and which comes to fruition so tellingly here. We experience how powerful and moving it can be.

The performers under Nally bring to us exactly the push and pull of excess versus abhorrence that makes of this work so compelling. Things can go to the very edge of despair, yet the opposite pull towards transformation and regeneration is never far away.

Like Picasso's Guernica, something can come along to comment on decisive tendencies that re-express deep feelings about contemporary historical developments. And so for example there was Hindemith's When Lilacs Last in Dooryards Bloomed, dealing with the death of FDRBernstein's Mass which tries to capture the giddy excitement, despair and uncertainty felt during tumultuous times, and now Zealot Canticles, about which we almost dare not name what it refers to in contemporary events. Yet you listen and think and you recognize.

It is a work of extraordinary beauty, filled with knowing worldliness and inner certainty. Outstanding.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Louis Glass, 6 Symphonies, Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra, Nayden Todorov

People like me who perk up when they find they rather suddenly can know some piece of the musical past before forever lost to  us will find the current new release of note. I refer to a boxed 4-CD set of the complete 6 Symphonies of Late Romantic Louis Glass (1864-1936). He was Danish, more or less the same age as Neilsen yet occupied a very different musical vantage point than his fellow countryman. While Neilsen followed a very personal muse, Glass worked within the giganticism and swelling volumes of sound associated with his rough contemporaries Richard Strauss and Bruckner.

For this complete edition we of course get all 6 symphonies and the added bonus of "Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra, op. 47."

Nayden Todorov conducts the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra in this set of recordings, all made around the time of the Millennium. The recording quality can be good, or sometimes remarkably boxy with each part reproduced faithfully but not always completely pleasantly. The performances are quite enthusiastic, but at times slightly raggedly and ricketty. The point is of course that we now have the complete set of works, so one agrees to set that aside and try and concentrate on the music at hand.

At his best, Glass can charm and beguile with thickets of grand sound and musically notable passages that seem inspired. Other times Glass's reliance upon sequences may get the better of things, most often in the boldly large outbursts. The "Fantasia" is quite worth hearing and I generally like his"Wood-Symphony" No 4 and the Second with its part for choir.

In total this is a fair amount of music to get through and I unfortunately got to certain point where I questioned the need that all of us should hear all of it. In a beautifully balanced beautifully spinning set of performances likely yes, but these are not ideal though on the whole clearly giving us what the content is about.

So I must say at the end that this album is probably critical for a Late Romantic scholar or completest; otherwise it is a most curious gathering of works. He was well performed in his day. Why he may no longer be is perhaps not entirely surprising, though there are genuine sparks to be heard and some very lively music. Recommended for the specialist. Others may want to sample from the single works recordings of some of this available by other orchestras. I can now say that I think I know this composer well. And that is something in itself. I imagine he will never see a full-scale revival. So this may be a fleeting chance? It is your nickel.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Joana Gama, Satie.150

One might say there is more than one Erik Satie. One would be right. For there are several distinct style sets within his overall opus. And yet of course they are all simply Satie. Just as the Picasso of the different periods are all Picasso. In the end they are all a part of his iconoclastic, whimsical, even wayward refusal to fit in with orthodoxy.

Today we hear a nicely turned program of Erik Satie solo piano essentials surrounded by additional works which bear comparison with the music we hear. While we immerse in the program we partake in a kind of dialog with the composer whether wittingly or unwittingly. The original recital by the very excellent pianist Joana Gama was staged to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Satie's birth in 2016. The recital celebration graced stages in cities in Portugal and throughout the world during the anniversary year.

And now we get to savor the essentials of the program with Satie.150 (Pianola Editores). It is fascinating and worthwhile to hear the works that parallel or take in Cage's influence. John Adam's "China Gates" certainly has a consistent ambiance in common with Satie, and not surprisingly some of the repetitions that Cage was bold to assert so far before others. Carlos Marecos' "Tres Preludios sabre a mar" gives us a introspective set of pianisms that nicely draw a line to Satie yet stand on their own in great ways. And then Arvo Part's beautiful "Fur Alina" reminds us just how much a connection there is.

We have all come to understand how profound an influence Satie was on John Cage. The latter's early ambient "Dream" spells it out in a most haunting way, and reminds us that the piece is as much a classic as the Satie potboilers. And then finally Scriabin's "Vers la flamme" points to  unexpected parallele in the open sound and compactness.

Satie's most famous Gymnopedie (No. 1) is given the right amount of tenderness and robustness. Joana Gama brings out the playful and humorous twists and turns of "Embryons desseches" in the manner of a precocious child practicing works on the piano, becoming bored with the music and creating  outrageous and brilliant asides and departures. Joana does a great job capturing the fleeing mischievousness and mood swings throughout.

"Sonata Bureaucratic" brilliantly lambastes Clementi's "Sonatina Op. 36 No. 1" (1737)" and anybody who like me dutifully practiced that sonatina looking for closure and/or release will appreciate how Satie essentially forces the music to fly a different direction that is both childish and inimitable, filled with intelligence and humor. It is prime Satie and Ms. Gama puts into it exactly what you'd hope for.

Well I could keep up the play-by-play analysis except you do not need to know about every emanation on here. Suffice to say that Joana Gama flows alternately robust and tender, not so much "dreamy" (van Veen) or bubbling (Ciccolini) but very much with her own honest and heartfelt appraisal.

It is a ravishing disk, perfect as an intro to Satie piano and its milieu but different enough to warrant consideration by the Satie connoisseur. The inclusion of related pieces by others is a happy and thought-provoking one! Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Michael Finnissy, Vocal Works 1974-2015, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble

The music of Michael Finnissy forms an essential part of the High Modernist scene in our lifetime. For whatever reason I did not have the pleasure to encounter his music in a serious way until the past decade. It was the accident of chance rather than volition for me. Now I have been happy to hear his work and do not pass up the chance to do so. So accordingly I have grabbed a very nice example recently of his music on his Vocal Works 1974-2015 (Music Edition Winter & Winter 910 246-2).

This is a fine collection of some four substantial works scored for a capella vocal chamber ensemble comprising of between six and fourteen vocalists. The EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble handles the performances with impeccable precision and expressive clout. James Weeks directs the ensemble and the results are all we might hope for. Such music requires extraordinary ear-control and intonative precision. The ensemble is remarkably capable. To hear them sing these works is to hear something very difficult to get right and they do so with strength and agility.

There is a very noticeable timelessness to this music. It is invariably geared toward an almost spicy kind of dissonance. And perhaps that kind of harmonic diffuseness feels so much more projective when sounded by a vocal ensemble. So the music has a hard edge to it. The dissonances are most out front in the vocal articulation and so one notes the music to occupy an entirely controlled and measured but ultimately an extreme sounding kind of expression.

And of its timelessness it is most telling perhaps that the beginning work is entitled "Gesualdo: Libro Sesto." After all Gesualdo was a extraordinary pioneer in introducing dissonance as an expressive means of sounding in an era where such a thing did not exist in most any way. So Finnissy's title for the work is telling and most fitting. Fascinatuigly the work gives you the part writing flow of Gesualdo's time yet ventures into harmonically bold territory that even Gesualdo might have been astonished by. The effect is to throw the listener into an earlier time but yet within an almost Boschian world of measured infernality. That is not to say that it dives straight into some maelstrom, for there is a great deal of horizontal development, a syntax of furtherance more in accord with the time parceling of the polyphony of early music than a kind of sound event unfolding that one might get with, say, Xenakis or the early incarnation of a Penderecki. Generally like polyphony of the past the event flow is continuous if segmented and generally one thing flows inexorably out of itself into the next.

And so that first work on the program sets the pace for what follows. Not all of it sounds in the manner of early music but generally it does have forward momentum and temporal sequencing more in common with musical roots than perhaps is the case in an event unveiling scenario. There are times when there is a kind of event flow but there still is a feeling of time moving from left to right, so to speak.

And so we proceed though the Gesualdo piece and travel through four musically poignant works each topping in above ten minutes and sometimes a good deal more. "Cipriano," "Tom Fool's Wooing," and "Kelir" are what follows the "Gesualdo." As one repeatedly traverses the musical terrain set out for us by Finnissy we find ourselves in a considerably singular and rarified place where the music retains a rather total purity of expression. It is ultra-Modern, it is alternately tender and more extrovert in turn, but always with a careful consideration for the quality of expression that maximizes the musical voice in its emanation of musical tone.

It is exemplary music and certainly some of the most vibrant and single-mindedly advanced forays into a futuristic past that you might embrace. The Modernist Project comes full-flower in the music and if we open up to it and forget about the neighbors we become captive and captivated all at once.

Strongly recommended for all Modernists!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Kenneth Fuchs, Piano Concerto "Spiritualist" and Other Works, JoAnn Falletta, London Symphony Orchestra

With the latest release of recent orchestral works Kenneth Fuchs reaffirms his stature as one of the US's very most distinguished living  composers. We hear four works on Piano Concerto "Spiritualist" (and other works) (Naxos 8.559824) and immerse ourselves in masterful and vivid scoring-orchestrations and inventions. All of the music literally lifts itself out of your speakers and enters your musical self in ways increasingly riveting the more you listen.

Perhaps like Aaron Copland before him, there is a pronounced feeling of US locality in this music, though none of it is programmatic in that way. The music resounds with a clarity of purpose and in the end a kind of spirit of the New World. It isn't though that you should listen for quotations from old folk songs or the like, because they are not put into the music. So in that sense this is not really Nationalist fare. But in various ways the contemporary vernacular music playing in our heads  is always somehow near, perhaps just around the corner.

The soloists and the London Symphony Orchestra under conductor JoAnn Falletta make of these World Premiere Recordings something definitive and exemplary, though as ever in these instances other recordings will no doubt in time highlight an aspect or two we might not now be looking for. That does not matter for us at the moment. For this program brings us the music in a shining light.

The album features three new concertos and a song cycle. All stand out as very worthy new examples of the orchestral art.

The program begins with the "Piano Concerto 'Spiritualist' (After Three Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler)" (2016). The late painter's Color-Field brilliance is aptly and effectively put into musical terms in a buoyant and bouncingly boisterous romp. The solo piano part has a pronounced momentum that translates the visual into the aural with ultra-pianistic means. The orchestral parts follow the mood with a real presence.

"Poems of Life (Twelve Poems by Judith G. Wolf for Countertenor and Orchestra)" (2017) changes the mood to one of contemplative retrospection, with a feeling of loss and then a spiritual regeneration. The countertenor role, sung brilliantly by Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, takes center stage and retains it throughout, with orchestral mists, hues and refracted colors enhancing the poetic mode. It is a music of wonder and experience I suppose you might say. Beautiful.

The Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra, entitled "Glacier" (2015), makes beautiful use of the electric instrument in idiomatic ways, with even a nod to Metal stylistics. The overall feeling for the music is a kind of majestic pointedness. The orchestral part is resonant with color and melodic punch.

The final work, "Rush (Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra)" (2012) concludes the program on a rousing note.

For the moment we have the latest work of Kenneth Fuchs in a major new release. It is in every way a great thing, in performance quality, sound quality and quality and variety of compositions. If you do not know Fuch's music this is the perfect chance to become familiar. If you already do it is a valuable addition to your New Music library. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Twiolins, Secret Places

Whether we perform music, write it or just listen, serious music lovers identify with a certain music or set of musics. It is in part what makes us who we believe we are. And for those who embrace a wider spectrum of musical possibilities than might be typical of pre-communications era local life, identity is a complex thing, malleable.

The music I bring to you today surely complicates the identity of those who might embrace it. I speak of an album by the Twiolins called Secret Places (Profil PH 17002). It is music one might call eclectic, yet so specifically so that it comes to embrace a style-set that identifies it as something in itself. If we were to give it a name (following my friend who kindly sent it to me for review consideration) one could call it Neo-Classical. Why that term is perhaps only because neither "Modern," "Neo-Romantic," "Post-Minimalist" "Radical Tonality" nor "Postmodern" quite captures its stance, though in reality there is something of all of these involved, maybe even at moments "Post-Impressionist." It is far enough along into a distinct musical identity that it looks perhaps more of its time and future than of the recent or far past.

First a moment to dwell on the performers. The Twiolins are Marie Luise and Christoph Dingler, two rather young exponents who provide a marvelously evocative handle on the music and its soaring melodicism atop a well-healed series of sometimes fiddle-like double stops. They are near ideal exponents of this music, with a clean crispness of brio and folk-endowed fullness that is rather remarkable to hear. They seem  to understand why it will sound idiomatically right to not press the sentiment contained to a sort of Gypsy froth extreme, though at times there is some of the chutzpah of such roots,  to stay within a sort of Classical containment that emphasizes note-by-note synchronicity rather than a sort of vertical emotive scaling that would take away from the love of sequence and continual movement the music suggests so well. And in that the way of playing recalls Shem Guibbory and others associated with Reich performance practice.

And at times you hear the influence of jazz and rock on the music as is right for a music of our time, surely. But you might also hear echoes of a Viennese waltz and other European aspects.

This is music that dances across the aural panorama more than it tries to create a sort of profound meditation in form. Not that the music is not ultra-musical. It is. It does not try as perhaps Haydn or Mozart at times did to create a long expository idiom of musical syntax logic. And so the "neo" might as well be thought of as "near" as much as "new."

We are treated to some 13 more-or-less miniature compositions running from between 2:13 and 8:42 each. The composer's names may be new and/or unfamiliar to you as they were to me. So we have works by Rebecca Czech, Andras Derecskei, Benjamin Heim, Edmund Jolliffe, Jens Hubert, Johannes Meyerhofer, Nils Frahm, Alexsander Gonobolin, Dawid Lubowicz, Vladimir Torchinsky, Benedikt Brydern, Andreas Hakestad and Levent Altuntas.

This Neo-Classic fare embraces the space especially of Europe perhaps, and the time of the very present day. We listen and feel we participate in the musical discourse of the time, but in any event that is always the case by the sheer fact of being present in the hearing of it all.

What we have to listen to is quite enjoyable, a treasure of violin performance and composition that emphasizes the two-violin nexus and elaborate part-writing that in turn create a real confluence of sonority. There is beauty and liveliness here in abundance. If there is not quite as much depth in this music as we sometimes expect from chamber music, it is like a refreshing drive though the woods where you will not experience regret or dissatisfaction for embarking on the  journey. Like a series of folk dances, the music does not come across as deep but rather of the earth. If it is not a diving expanse of loam, it is rich loam nonetheless. It is a delight. And so I do recommend it.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tippet Rise OPUS 2017, Daydreams

The stunning backdrop of the Tippet Rise Art Center in the Beartooth Mountains near Yellowstone Park in Montana was the spot for the chamber music celebration OPUS 2017. The previous edition, known as OPUS 2016, became in its excerpts a worthy CD offering. Type the name in the search box above, top left-hand corner for the review of that one. And now we have access to the highlights of last year's edition, entitled Daydreams (Pentatone 5186 736).

The unusual mix of the familiar in a vital context, the unfamiliar and the new is a winning one, as are the inspired and somewhat inimitable performances.

Pianist Jeffrey Kahane's startlingly bold and harmonically brilliant re-composition of "America the Beautiful" manages to seem so apt a comment on our times that one literally starts up. It is exquisite, really. It has some brilliance, surely, and stands as a tribute to Kahane's fertile musical imagination. And as we hear the minor modal transformations we feel some of what we may be feeling right now regardless, as there is uncertainty within the beauty and perhaps some true ugliness as well in the present moment.

From there we encounter something almost Romantically expressive, Modern and at times quite jazzy, namely Aaron Jay Kernis's "First Club Date" featuring the always commanding Matt Haimovitz on cello and Andrea Lam with all the right creative energies on piano. This was a Tippet commission and it is the world premier recording. It is a cornerstone of this program surely and we are treated to some wide-ranging spans of sound that keep our ears attuned.

The following "Prelude from English Suite No. 2" finds pianist Anne-Marie McDermott in a "take no prisoners" fettle. Eugene Bozzo's "Image for Solo Flute" centers on Jessica Sindell's very liquid sweetness. If the music sounds a little redolent of some incidental music Vaughn Williams wrote, it is worth revisiting in any event and it forwards a sort of dialog between different stations in the recent past.

Enescu's violin-piano "Impressions from Childhood" has genuine weight as vintage Enescu. I do not believe I have had the pleasure to hear this work before. Caroline Goulding and David Fung give us a violin-piano tandem that convinces us to pay attention. It is something I am in any event glad to hear and to return to going forward. And yes, it has some of the folksy qualities that are so endearing when Enescu chooses to bring them forward. Ms. Goulding is explosively dynamic and Fung responds with his own poetic vision of the music.

Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin's "A la minute (Variations of the Minute Waltz)" has virtuoso clout and a hearty imaginative thrust. It makes the very familiar ever new and so we smile with some conviction when we hear it and re-hear it.

The finale is every bit as climactic as one might wish. John Luther Adams comes forward with an ambient and poetic work for piano (Vicky Chow) and percussion (Doug Perkins). It cannot be accidental that the motif put forward in Bozza's solo flute work is paralleled and somehow echoed in the Adams work. And it is the motif that Vaughan-Williams uses in his own way as I suggest above. There is subtle use of electronic enhancements in this piece, though the instruments are completely centered in what you hear. Electronics basically put forward a piano-chord drone that enters the mix from time-to-time and feels wholly a part of it all. There is a foundational drone then.  And yet it does not remain purposively minimal but instead gives out with a relative plenty. It is a fine conclusion to a rather extraordinary program.

One savors the results of this meeting of artists-curators and an inspiring setting. I find every listen drives me a bit deeper into the substance of the music. There is a great deal to sink oneself into on the program. It is no mere sampler. It is a kind of musical weather vane for where in part we may be right now. It is surely not thoroughgoingly Modern, and in so being it maps out an eclectic tonal stance that is part of where were are now. Recommended.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Gordon Getty, Beauty Come Dancing, Netherlands Radio Choir and Radio Philharmonic Orch., James Gaffigan

The choral music of Gordon Getty, American composer, is a thing of  nearly implacable singularity. You hear this plainly and happily in a recent release of selected choral works, Beauty Come Dancing (Pentatone 5186 621). James Gaffigan conducts the Netherlands Radio Choir and Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in crisply emotive readings of eleven compositions. As the program unfurls in time I find that the intersection of performers and composer turns out to be quite a worthy thing.

The first thing you note is that Getty has a knack, an excellent sense of matching affinities of text to choral setting. The works are all  recent, having been written between 2009 and 2015. Some are completely new settings, other have been adapted from their original setting for voice solo. Some of the poetic texts are by the composer, others are by a diverse and rich stock of poets, Keats, Byron, Sara Teasdale, John Masefield, etc.

As for the music, it is tonal and firmly in the choral tradition of earlier times as the composer seeks to match the spirit of the words to a corresponding sympathetic musical vision that includes a period element. Like the English Vaughan Williams, an American parallel if you will, there is an eloquence and elegance that can be sometimes folksy but then always appears to us in down-to-earth garb.

One listens and recognizes Getty's true talent. The choral music comes very much alive and it all seems tailor made for the Netherlands Radio Choir. The orchestral parts blossom forth and add significant color and depth to the choral center and here too the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic are in their element.

This music might well have been written in, say, 1910 or so. I mean to say that it is not at all Modern with a capital /M/! Yet it is nearly timeless and carves out a space where the words of the poetry amplify the music and vice-versa. This may not be for someone who wants to dwell only at the cutting edge of Modernity, yet it has such musical torque that we forget about where we are and simply thrive happily inside it all. I do recommend this for choral lovers. It is just what you need today, maybe.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Stockhausen, Klavierstucke I-XI, Sabine Liebner

As the years seem to keep rolling by the status of Karlheinz Stockhausen as a major voice of Modern Music is never really in doubt. At least not among those who know his music well enough to experience it properly. Perhaps now we can look back and further a wider appreciation for his music going forward? By that I mean promoting a serious listen to the body of works without letting controversy mar our evaluation. Take his Klavierstuck (Piano Pieces) I-XI, written between 1952-1961. It was at the height of the Serialist period, yet we can listen now and we can hear for ourselves how expressive and alive the music is. This is not the music of a dogma! It breathes like the best of piano works that have come down to us. And I must say it deserves to be numbered among the very best of the last century.

I think such things as I listen again to the new recording of the first eleven (in 1979 he wrote eight more) by Sabine Liebner (Wergo 7341-2). The liners remind us that these works as his works in general were meant to sensitize us to the kind of inner growth music is so able to provide. There is a special work the listener must do in hearing the work. Working for the works involves opening up to what happens in each, to perceive "vibrations and vibrational relationships, organisms, and processes in order to become more alert, intelligent, thoughtful, polyphonic, aware and sensitive."  One might first think then that listening for Stockhausen is a sort of utopian project? But then anyone who took classes in "ear training," anyone who attended music school will recall that without stating it, the task of training the ear was indeed to accomplish such things. Yet of course most of the time the overall benefits of a keen ear were never overtly stated. Then again, music belongs to a utopia more than not! So. It should be a part of that, surely.

There is so much incredible music to hear in the Klavierstuck that I hardly know  what to say. This is music so well into its own discourse that words are at best a sort of sloppy seconds. And in the end the very involved things one might say about Stockhausen's very pliable sense of form in these pieces might take up reams of paper were the words turned into print. Indeed Wolfgang Rathert's admirable liner notes to this release supply some insights into all that. I will only note here that there is an involved Serial methodology the composer enacts most of the time. It entails permutations and specially defined parameters. Yet also there is a wealth of choice given the pianist at times, so that the role of performer is enhanced in parallel to what Cage sometimes built into his works. For telling evidence of such things Ms. Liebner gives us two versions of Kavierstuck XI (each running around 15 minutes) and to compare the two is to understand how in the act of performance the work gives maximum torque to the act of playing.

For this and other reasons there up to some point would be very good reasons why one might want to hear and perhaps even study all recorded renditions of the works. But I do not know in the end how one might align them all in some discussion. The version I first had many years ago I unfortunately had to jettison before I went on to graduate work, so I cannot even put into words my impression of this version by Liebner vis-a-vis the earlier recording. And notable too the experience of hearing such eloquently expanded music changes with time and one's own auditory and psychological states. One continually experiences new discoveries on repeated hearings and I can happily presume there can be no end to it.

What I can say however is that there is no mistaking the poetic beauty of Sabine Liebner's interpretations of these pieces. Others may be different and we would expect that. But I do not believe there can be better! It is a remarkable journey one undertakes when setting about on a listen through of these recordings. And then to return and hear again is to step into a different stream each time, really. In no case however would I question the striking musicality of Ms. Liebner's readings.

It is highly remarkable music and Sabine Liebner is a highly sympathetic artist, an ideal exponent. I cannot recommend this one more highly. But you must listen closely or there is no point to it all. This should never be relegated to the background. It will open up your ears if you let it. There is transformation built into the music, and Stockhausen expected it would change you in the hearing. We can be thankful for the chance to hear it. But that is up to you. It comprises some of the most important acts of Modernity in the last century. That is why I cherish having the set to hear many times.