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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Claude Debussy, Reflets, Piano Music, Eliane Rodrigues

After spending some time with the recording at hand, I realized it very much needed a review. And so, readers, I dutifully make my morning appearance fully prepared to embrace the music as I embrace the spring now long established outside my door (and inside, as moths etc., have made themselves at home in my inner sanctum, as is their wont). I see it will not actually be available until June 6th, but that is a mere week away as I write this.

And so I tell you of pianist Eliane Rodrigues's recording of some select Debussy solo piano music, Reflets (Navona NV 6164). I have lived with this music in multiple recordings over the years, some made famous in time, so why bother with a new one? I might have asked that question myself a few weeks ago, yet now that I have listened closely to Eliane Rodrigues have her way with this music, I realize that I might have missed a whole dimension of the music had I not heard these versions. Part of that is how a particular performance can after many listens become a base node of comparison but also in some ways stultify your conception of the music in its pliability. If nowhere else solo piano works can have enormous latitude. Especially in this aspect of Debussy, where rubato can give you so much possibility or, in some unfortunate examples, perhaps run off the rails in a sort of self-indulgence? Speed and variability of temporal momentum are key factors, as of course is the infinitude of touch possibilities and dynamics, of phrase shading. As to the negative side of such possibilities I do not have a particular performance in mind, I think only of a general situation where artistic freedom is at a maximum. To have freedom does not guarantee that an artist takes good advantage of such a thing.

So the good news is that Rodrigues takes great advantage of the freedom to give us fresh, sparkling, even brilliantly pianistic readings of some very wonderful Debussy. Like her recording of Chopin's Nocturnes (Review on these pages. Type Debussy or Rodrigues in the search index box above to find that one.), we hear the executive and imaginative abilities of Eliane put to excellent use.

She has her way with some lyrical gems--the "Suite Bergamasque," the "Ballade," "Pour le Piano," "Arabesque No. 1" and "Images, Book 1 and Book 2." After a few listens you come to appreciate the bright state-of-the-art recording and Eliane Rodrigues' special freshness. It gives the music new life, or it does for me anyway. I do not doubt it would do the same for you. It is the musical equivalent of comfort food to me, a meatloaf and mac and cheese inside a grand piano! Get it and feel good for a change!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Kenneth Newby, Elegeia, Music for Mixed Ensembles, Gamelan Semara Dana, Flicker Ensemble

Happy discoveries are part of why I do the blogs. Today one of the most happy lately, that of the music of Kenneth Newby. He contacted me on-line and kindly sent me a number of CDs. They are all quite interesting so I will be covering them in their totality. Today his album Elegeia (FAC 201702), which forms Volume Two of his Emergence Trilogy.

The first thing that strikes me and it does so with a palpable strength is that this is music of recurrent cycles that vary but also make room for figures not part of the cycle per se. The second is that the music that puts circles into tiny orbits is not so much pointillistic as it is Chuck Close-ian in the way there are many mini-geometrics which when heard as a whole form the image of the music in processual terms. This--like a Close portrait--involves the many figurations as joined into a matrix of a singular image if you apprehend the whole as you hear.

There is gamelan/no-gamelan presence in that some of the cells inserted into the larger matrix may have a broadly related gamelan tonality. And then of course the movement for Gamelan Semara Dana interacts directly with gamelan lines transformed and transfixed by Kenneth Newby's present-day musical mind. There is a kind of gamelanic implication to much of the music.

Yet there is a great deal more than that. The presentation of the music often enough is very much Modernistic in presence-absence rhythmic palpability. Given the sound colors evoked and the totality of the hockette-like instrumental interplays in the end is a aural canopy of sound-stars within space-silences, soundscape painting that goes further onward than typical Minimalism by in part realizing a sort of post-Serialist maze building labor that allows the listening mind to breathe-free and so to avoid the trance-through-monotony frame of mind of classical Minimalism. So if I were to label quibble I suppose I might place it both in a New High Modernist and an Ambient Hockette place, supposing that such a wack-a-mole grid actually is present to our synthetic imagination..

The point when all is said and done is that the crafting of the sequences and their fleshing out as specific tones on specific instruments gives us an endlessly fascinating set of sound mobiles both original and model-exemplary. The performances by the Flicker Ensemble and Gamelan Semara Dana are very well situated to the interplay of the music, confidently and appropriately articulated so we get the music in ideal terms.

All of the music on this program interconnects, some more directly than others. There is not-quite-Warholian seriality in "Swarm I" for string octet and "Swarm II" for string octet and brass. "Snark" for muted trumpet and orchestra has a six-movement sequential resonance born of shifting patterns in space.

"Khora for Pauline Oliveros" is mixed ensemble poignancy with well-echo atmospherics and a spatially evocative quality that pivots around a gamelan movement for a sort of near and far familiarity-strangeness that is quite appealing. "Crepuscule for Barbara" for prepared piano and orchestra  resonates with the Thelonious Monk "Crepuscule" without directly referencing it, yet more importantly builds upon Cagean spatial Zen in very interesting ways.

The full impact of this album is felt in later listens yet the music is immediate in its direct communication to the listener. By evidence of this CD I would certainly say that Newby is a definite original that works in musical terrains that have some deep roots in Modernism and the beyond of it in the past 30 or so years.

I strongly recommend this album to anyone wanting to keep conversant with important music happening today. I predict that Newby's stature in New Music will grow steadily in time. He deserves a close hearing.

Monday, May 28, 2018

"We, Like Salangan Swallows...", A Choral Gallery of Morton Feldman and Contemporaries, The Astra Choir, John McCaughey

For as long as I have been a serious listener to New Music, I have appreciated the music of Morton Feldman. He is to me like listening to the ocean, only maybe better. Like the ocean surf, you expect within a certain set of guidelines the hissy, watery pulsations of foam and brine. So with Feldman the music is nearly always very quiet. Sometimes the music as Feldman himself remarked can unfold in endless patterns and variations like a Persian carpet. Other times he is less patterned and more atmospheric. Always he is mysteriously quiet. Long tone are the rule and happily so.

We get an opportunity to commune meaningfully through some more Feldman music right now with a new release entitled  We, Like Salangan Swallows..." A Choral Gallery of Morton Feldman and Contemporaries (New World Records 80794). The Astra Choir under John McCaughey form the very solid and cultivated structural foundation for this program. Instruments are added as needed now and again.

Essentially the album gives us thirteen worthy and spacey miniatures and/or mid-ly miniatures (say 15 minutes) for choral with or without chamber orchestral accompaniment.

Choices of repertoire on his program are so interesting that you find yourself experiencing vibrant Feldman composing in varyingly subtle sub-styles  (mid period and later) as compared with related contemporary composers and their ways. In the process of experiencing each well-performed work we get a sort of spectrum of New Music choral possibilities that are not entirely removed from Morton's own sensual treatment of the voice.

So for example the Pauline Oliveros "Sound Patterns" (1961) gives us a lively change of pace with its playfully noisy vocalisms when contrasted with a Morton Feldman of "Chorus and Instruments" (1963), "Voices and Instruments" (1972), "Voices and Instruments 1" (1972), and "The Swallows of Salangan" (1960). There is an almost monk-like austerity yet a sensual beauty to Feldman's vocal works, a haunting wordless ghostly peace and wonder world.

So we pit the Feldman works and the Oliveros with Feldman's colleague Early Brown and his "Small Pieces for Large Chorus" (1969). The connection is more plainly there than it perhaps it seemed to some listeners around 50 years ago.

And then there is truly added value to experience some of the less familiar choral new music on the program, such as Will Ogdon's "Three Statements" (1956) Warren Burt's "Elegy" (2013), and Robert Carl's "The City" (circa 1983-93).

I find choral Modernism a wonderful thing when it is done well. In this batch and its fine performances we feel that the voices are lovingly considered with every bar, that this is not music that an instrumental ensemble could perform with no noticeable drop off. No, rather we get music truly imagined with the dreamy possibilities of a gathering of fine vocalists sympathetic to the new. The close and edgy harmonies sound so human yet angelically  etherial, the long sung lines seem heaven inspired, the sounds of the voices are utilized creatively to get textures no instruments or electronics could truly simulate.

So we have New Music which by virtue of being primarily choral can be new upon new, so to speak. It is music with depth, music to drift into remote climes. All is well, all is very well performed, and I must not hesitate for a moment and instead urge you to go get it! You will be glad I think.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Olivia De Prato, Streya

Every day for me there is both new music and "New Music." Happily there never seems to be the least lack when I sift through for the worthy ones. Today there is something that has really caught my ear. It is an album of some six New Music compositions featuring Olivia De Prato on violin, featuring at times electronically enhanced violin and/or an independant electronics score. The album's name is Streya (New Focus Recordings FCR 193).

The first and most important thing about this album is the phenomenal way Ms. De Prato utilizes extended and more conventional techniques to create very convincing musical expressions on her violin. Whether it be a matter of transformative soundings from scrapes to double stopped glisses or with contrensic virtuosity and a kind of post-Bachian solo sublimity, Olivia De Prato gives us near breathtaking performances.

The six compositions all presume a single solo violin as the central fulcrum, then build on that premise by constructing wonderfully alive possibilities that Ms. De Prato takes well in hand and makes her own. The music when adopting the electronically enhanced violin choice makes the violin a thing out of concrete space and time to allow recurrences and synchronicities of violin self to violin self. Then of course for the works that configure the violin solo part alongside an electronics backdrop we can experience anything from chamber intimacy to near orchestral densities. Soundscapes are nearly always the result in the lush horizontal unfolding of tone and sound over time.

And in the course of the program we are treated to a single 5-10 minute work each from Samson Young, Victor Lowrie, Ned Rothenberg, Taylor Brook, Reiko Futing and Missy Mazzoli. Victor Lowrie's "Streya" deserves the slot of title cut. It is quite haunting.

What you get in the end is a very creative, intelligent, brilliant album of violin music at its most modern and advanced. Olivia De Prato is a wonder of the world, for those who appreciate the new in New Music and also for any lover of the violin well-played.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Marianna Bottini, Alessandro Rolla. Concertos for Solo and Orchestra, Gianpaola Mazzoli, Orchestra dell Istituto Musicale "Luigi Boccherini" di Lucca

When you get complacent about music you need to shake things up a bit. In the brick-and-mortar record store days I used to go into one with the express purpose of taking a chance on something I had no idea about. Everything in the stacks in the LP days was laid out in alphabetical order and you chose of course to look in a bin that demarcated what you were limiting the search to, whether Classical, Jazz, World-Folk, or Rock, or whatever else. And the presence of liner notes and cover art could give you some idea of what you were getting. I think back and realize that much of my music appreciation education consisted of following a lead but basically flying blind. So Bach, Coltrane, Blind Willie Johnson, Mbuti song, the Mothers of Invention. . . all originally involved taking a chance on the unknown!

Nowadays that urge to explore new musical avenues can be satisfied in my regular reviewing rounds. If I come across something unknown I can request a copy for review. Other times people send things unbidden, unknown. So I keep stepping into new streams and finding out about music I would not otherwise know. The advantage to you, dear readers, is that when I discover music of interest I pass it along via these reviews.

Today that continues with a recording of Concertos for Solo and Orchestra (TACTUS TC00008) by unknown Italian Classical Era composers Marianna Bottini (1802-1858) and Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841).  The cover reproduces a painting of Ms. Bottini at the keyboard, very much in her prime, an arresting image of a musical person looking straight out of the picture frame unabashedly. Is her music as bold as she appears to us today? I would not say it is in any way reserved. So then I guess it is, yes. Certainly the music of both composers has a great deal of gregarious charm.

So to give credit to the music makers here first off, the Orchestra dell Istituto Musicale "Luigi Boccherini" di Lucca under conductor Gianpolo Mazzoli give the music a sweeping period brio and sweetness that goes far in putting the music forward in ways we can certainly relish. The soloists for the concertos are also first rate, namely Gianni Bicchierini on piano, Remo Pieri on clarinet and Tomasso Valenti on viola. There is a warmth to these performances that is also forwarded by the excellent quality of the sound recordings.

We learn from the liners that Marianna Motroni Andreozzi Bottini was a very prolific composer during her lifetime, that by marrying the Marquis Lorenzo Bottini she entered a very musical family. Yet most of her composing took place before her marriage, from the ages of 13 through 21!

Alessandro Rotta lived to the age of 84 in an age marked by a heightened nationalism in Italy. The "Concerto per Viola e Orchestra" has come down to us only in the survival of the solo viola part. Claudio Valenti has reconstructed or rather invented an idiomatic orchestral part that rings soundly true to the viola solo part.

Ms. Bottini gives us two charming, inventive and sometimes even glorious works that show her definite command and talent for orchestral writing. The short two-movement "Concertone per Pianoforte a piena orchestra" is an exuberant and rousing work with a pronounced sweetness.

The "Concerto di Clarino in Beffa" gives us another fine example of her work, with some ravishing clarinet parts and a pronounced orchestral flair.

Even if you had no inkling that you would want to hear two unknown but accomplished voices in the Italian Classical Era, you night find this music much to your liking, Plus, face it, how many  considerable women composers do we know of from this period? Here is one! I do not hesitate to recommend this to you. It is music of a substantial sort from a neglected avenue of the past.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"...through which the past shines...", Works by Nils Vigeland and Reiko Futing, Daniel Lippel, John Popham, Nils Vigeland

A sleeper is always a welcome thing. For it is something you put on knowing nothing of what to expect and in time it hits you as something quite important. That right now for me is the album entitled "...through which the past shines..." Works by Nils Vigeland and Reiko Futing (New Focus Recordings FCR204P). It is a series of chamber works for solo guitar plus guitar and cello, and one longer work for guitar, cello and piano.

The first thing that hit me and what is important to note straight off is the remarkable classical guitar performances by Daniel Lippel. He has a very beautiful tone, righteous phrasings and a kind of transcendent way of sounding his parts. I sometimes while listening forget it is even a guitar, it is so musically right, the technique so solidly put in the service of the music itself.

So Daniel is on guitar, solo for six of the works, joined by John Popham on cello for two of the eight works. Popham convinces in his interactions both for his adhesion to an ensemble sound and the poignant beauty of his playing. Then composer Nils Vigeland joins the two for a ravishing trio on the title cut. He is eloquent in his role as pianist.

And as for the compositions, five by Nils Vogeland, two by Reiko Futing plus an arrangement of an old song by Reiko, they have a very modern, tonal and expanded tonal naturalness to them. There is a fundamental foundational quality to it all. It is as if we finally as listeners and music makers have become so conversant with the combination of avant and post-avant idioms that a fluent and knowing musical conversation is now further opened up and very possible for those who can speak it and those who can listen. That is very so with this program.

The music could be improvisational in its spontaneity, yet it all shows a tightening in execution and a rarified sort of discursiveness that most group improvisations cannot quite get to, as beautiful as they might be. It is the projective staging of the music that stands forward in the mind's eye. The music is at once Modern but also timeless. It is not noisily extroverted in its insistence (and nothing wrong with that to my mind), but it nevertheless insists, make no mistake.

In the end the more you put this one on, the greater the riches it yields. It is a fortuitous and by that a critical meeting of compositions and players covering works from 1990 through to 2017, performing what surely is a music of right now.

It may not have occurred to you that you need to hear this. After all there are so many other things by established big names and the music of the enshrined dead. With any luck this album might be looked back upon as a highlight of what is going on today. So be on the ground floor of that and get inside this music. I think you will glad you did.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Michael Hersch, Images from A Closed Ward, FLUX Quartet

Living composer Michael Hersch (b. 1971) is a leader among High Modernists composing right now. I say that based on recordings of his music, namely Last Autumn  (see review from April 8, 2015), A Breath Upwards (see April 4, 2018) the Blair Quartet recording of Images from A Closed Ward (see March 5, 2014) and The Sudden Pianist (see June 4, 2013).

Hersch does not create music that sounds like it comes out of a laboratory or a math department at a prominent university (though I should be quick to point out that I like either sorts of things regardless). Instead there is a high level of drama and expressivity to the works I have heard, palettes of consonant and dissonant tonality working in tandem depending on the needs of the work, and at times an underlying extra-musical thematics that turns the music into a kind of narrative or meta-narrative that is more than just notes situated in space.

This latter is very relevant to the CD on the docket for this Monday. It is a new recording of Hersch's moving string quartet, Images from A Closed Ward (New Focus Recordings FCR 199). The first recording as I mention above featured the Blair Quartet. Ths time out we have the FLUX Quartet doing the honors.

As Aaron Grad puts it in the liner notes, Hersch often enough addresses the difficult theme of "loss and psychological instability." From A Closed Ward treats this condition as a central concern, at the same time as it provides a musical analogy to the visual content. It all began when Hersch encountered American visual artist Michael Mazur when they both happened to be in Rome--that is to say that Hersch was in Rome on a Rome Prize Fellowship. At the same time Mazur had a number of etchings on display at the American Academy. This was all about illustrations provided by Mazur for a new translation of Dante's Inferno.

Hersch saw the show and was impressed by it. He recognized in Mazur the visual equivalent to where Hersch was going musically.  At some point they met and hit it off. Mazur's initial signature pieces came out in the '60s, two sets of etchings and lithographs entitled Closed Ward and Locked Ward. The images were harrowingly dark renditions of a near hopeless sadness, an ugliness that served to isolate each from others. These works became central to the string quartet Hersch began in 2009.

And of course that quartet is what we hear so dramatically rendered in the present recording. What perhaps is most striking musically is a deliberate blocking out of one after another of short string groupings of sound, mostly simultaneously sounded yet with an unpredictability in both the voicings and the uttered periodicity. The voicings themselves are sometimes spread out in pitch so that the instability of the voicings correspond in many ways to the etching contents. There can be sharp dissonances and less dissonant voicings in contrast, the latter of which seem to want to more forward into more dissonance, or my ear hears it that way--as opposed to the old classical way of letting a dissonance sound as a movement towards a consonance.

So in the sympathy Hersch feels towards the Mazur patients, who seem to suffer mostly from their very isolation, we get a musical analogy or analogue of a series of soundings all interrelated but in a psychoacoustic sense never exactly interconnected, or in other words deliberately made  to conjoin yet existing in a ghastly solitude. I accidentally when looking for Hersh's birthdate online brushed up against a Times review that remarked on Hersch's dark pallet but also the moments of ecstasy. Honestly I did not hear that so much as unrelieved and rather hopeless sadness, sometimes quiet, sometimes like a cry of anguish. There seems to me no real relief in sight in the actual tone-movement forward. Still, the aesthetic brilliance of the way the tone blocks bump up against one another yet remain alone, that makes the listener zero down on the sheer sensual tone utterance quality. It is the manner of expression that fascinates and heartens the listener, that transcends the awe-ful presence of the subject matter, the patients and their struggles. From pain comes a pleasure in the referents, taken aside from the signifieds!

I hear this new version by FLUX. I love it. I find it different enough that I am glad to have it along with the Blair version. This may be the definitive performance though. If you for the moment only have resources to explore one, I recommend this one. The work is a milestone in quartet literature! Bravo!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bruno Bettinelli, Chamber Music, Trio, Improvvisazione, Due movimenti

Every month as a reviewer brings me a spate of composers I have yet to discover. Some from right this moment, others recently gone, others of course from some earlier period. Today we have yet another, one Bruno Bettinelli (1913-2004).

Bettinelli was a successor to the Italian 20th century lineage of composers that include Respighi and Casella, somewhat less so the Serialist-and-beyond camp of Dallapiccola, Maderna, Berio and Nono. Yet there is a structural concern to be heard in his works and an abstractive flair that makes him a full Modernist at heart. At least that is what I hear and appreciate on a new recording simply entitled Chamber Music, with mention in the subtitle of three of the important works to be heard in the program, Trio, Improvvisazione, Due movimenti (Naxos 8.573836).

Performances are first-rate. The music? Compositions cover a pretty vast period of time from 1968 to 1991. None of the works are trifles, all are uncompromising small chamber configurations ranging from two solo guitars ("Divertimento" 1982), flute and guitar ("Musica a due" 1983), voice and guitar ("Due liriche" 1977), violin and piano ("Improvvisazione" 1968, "Due movimente" 1977), to violin, cello and piano ("Trio" 1991).

What is perhaps most remarkable about these pieces is their refusal to settle down into an easily characterizable niche, and in a related way, their refusal to supply a crowd-pleasing literary or thematic "hook." The Modernism lingers on the edges of what was in demand at the time. There are no obviously Serial strands of bloop and bleep in this music, but then there is enough of an abstract expressive autonomy to perhaps put off those committed to a past-leaning neo-Classicism or neo-Romanticism. This is chamber music that is ultra-serious about a commitment to hermetic purism. Like late Beethoven Quartets it does not try to speak plainly as much as it drives deeply into a sort of advanced expression that primarily is intended for the "real" cognoscenti.

So every work is a kind of highly worked gem that does not easily yield its riches but demands special attention. Slowly, as you listen repeatedly, the music emerges, even reluctantly. Yet if you spend the time with this music, you begin to reap the benefits. This is not stylistically astounding Modernism nor is it rear-garde hearkening back. It is everywhere. It is nowhere. It nearly demands the sort of intimacy that someone who learns to perform this music would have. Not quite all, but a reflective practical immersion. You need that. In today's world, does any of us have that much to give a composer who is already past and not yet certified as a member of the Holy Pantheon? That is your call. I decided to keep listening and by now I understand that this has substance and uncompromising originality.

So once again, here is something that does not play itself. YOU must be an active participant to the music in order for it to do its work. If you do that you will enter a world that you might not have available to you with any other composer. That is saying something, isn't it?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Lorenzo Palomo, Sinfonia Cordoba, Fulgores, Castile and Leon Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez Cobos

The Contemporary living Spanish Composer Lorenzo Palomo (b. 1938) is previously unfamiliar to me. All that has changed since I have been listening to his CD recording of Sinfonia Cordoba and Fulgores (Naxos 8.573326). 

These two symphonic examples from 2015 and 2011, respectively, give us a splendid view onto Palomo's mature style. The liners make mention of Palomo as the stylistic successor to Joaquin Turina--especially in terms of the "rhapsodic freedom" that they share. In a broader sense Palomo represents all Spanish folk-tinged classical forebears since DeFalla and adds something of his own original musical personality to it.

"Sinfonia Cordoba" is a sort of musical travelogue, a portrait of an old city in three movements. "Stroll to the mosque-cathedral" begins with mystery and segues to a beautiful moment for tenor Pablo Garcia Lopez and orchestra. "Nocturne on the river bank" and "Courtyards in the month of May" continue the rhapsodic Spanish-tonality-drenched whirly-gig of impressions. And somehow one can feel that late springtime diffuses something in this music.

"Fulgores" is a dancing sort of folkish atmosphere that features to good advantage Rafael Aguirre on guitar and Ana Maria Valderrama on violin.

It all is a good example of well-wrought, well-orchestrated Spanishiana if you will pardon the awkward coinage. Those who do not embrace the rich legacy of Spanish sounds may not find this especially interesting. Yet if that is the case I suppose such a person would have no interest in following the Spanish classical heritage at all, so that would be rather obvious.

I find this music did not reach out to me on the first number of listens. Then, pretty late in the game I started to respond to its rather profound indifference to generating applause, its definite "this is the music as it needs to be" approach. In the end I like it and I hear a sort of poetic, Spanish Impressionist strain that is about the echo of substance and light more than an immediate presence. So in the end I recommend it. But you will need to spend some time with this music before it speaks to you, if you are anything like me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Copland, Getty, Heggie, Tilson Thomas, Songs on Poems of Emily Dickinson, A Certain Slant of Light, Lisa Delan, Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Lawrence Foster

To gather together multiple Contemporary Modern song cycles for soprano and orchestra based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson seemed like a good idea when I heard of it, and so I requested a copy. I have now spent some time absorbing it and shall report on this morning to you. A certain slant of light: Songs on Poems by Emily Dickinson (Pentatone PTC 5186 654) is the full title. Soprano Lisa Delan holds forth dramatically with the Orchestra Philharmonique de Marseille under Lawrence Foster sounding nicely detailed and poised in a program of cycles by Aaron Copland, Jake Heggie, Gordon Getty, and Michael Tilson Thomas.

The stage is set historically and stylistically by Copland's celebrated cycle "Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson" (1948/1950). It is music familiar to many, myself included, and it functions in some ways as a template for an evocatively descriptive and Expressionistic-Modern-quasi-Impressionistic pallet of colors to heighten the soprano's textual through-composed presence throughout.

The sort of descriptive-Modern-Leider approach is continued and extended in the song cycles that follow. Jake Heggie's "Newer Every Day" (2014), Gordon Getty's "Four Dickinson Songs" (2008) and Michael Tilson Thomas's "Poems of Emily Dickinson, selections" (2001) all offer some genuinely moving music and a sort of continuous Dickinsonion dramatic theatre of text and tone. Of all these Modern extensions on Dickinsonia the Tillson Thomas stands out as being especially interesting and original, yet in the end all of this music is worthwhile.

Delan and the Orchestre Philharmonic de Marseille are in top form. They exemplify how to approach this music, not so much as an extension of operatic gestures as a thoroughly liederian approach, dramatic yet introspectively expressive.

And so I do not hesitate to recommend this to you, for the performances, for the Copland and the Tilson Thomas especially but for the Heggie and Getty as well.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Amit Peled, To Brahms, With Love, From the Cello of Pablo Casals, Brahms Cello Sonatas 1 & 2, Noreen Polera

In the classical world album ideas can either make sense or become a sort of marketing gimmick. Cellist Amit Peled's new album belongs happily to the first category. Its subtitle tells half the story, From the Cello of Pablo Casals, since for this recording Amit is playing the great Casals' 1733 Goffriller cello. The principal title of the album tells us the rest: To Brahms with Love (CAP Records 018-1). In fact this is a fine recording of Brahms Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 by cellist Peled and pianist Noreen Polera.

As far as the cello goes, it sounds as wondrously full and deep as it did with Casals. Amit Peled soars high and far throughout, yet his emotional connection with the Brahms is a little bit more balanced and so sounds like a contemporary of ours rather than a product of an earlier generation. His playing is nuanced and exemplary. Noreen Polera on piano is a perfect partner in this endeavor, with classical balance and a lively repartee with Amit.

There have of course been some beautiful recordings of the Brahms sonatas. This one may not quite equal some of the more famous ones for extroverted virtuoso extravagance, yet because of that it gives us Brahms's compositional intentions all the more clearly, with attention and care for the totality.

The Second Sonata has long captivated me with its Apollonion exuberance and lengthy melodic intertwining of inspired thematics. The appearance of both sonatas in the last half of the 19th Century furthered the scope of Beethoven's work on the instrumentation, reaching further heights of long-form expression with Brahms' definitive entry into the fray. The two composer's Cello Sonatas set the bar high for dramatic and structural possibilities and influenced all that came in their wake. In both cases music was always the master. Difficulty and virtuosity were ever tied to the needs of a musical sounding of intelligence and a wrought complexity that ever seemed lucid and compellingly discursive. If there is never a doubt that the cello has the primary voice, the piano is never relegated to a mere accompaniment but instead flourishes on completely musical terms, as an independent weaver of corresponding lines and a principal realizer of the harmonic implications of the overall whole.

What strikes me especially at this point in my experience of the music is the remarkable organic pull to a seamless developmental whole, especially in the Second Sonata. Rarely do you encounter the sort of sequential busy work that marks less inspired developmental sections. It all seems a continuous saying, rather than a butchering of things into rigid sections. One follows the other in remarkable fluency and continuously significant phrasings, so that theme and development overlap into one long endless melody line. This is Brahms at his best.

And so we have two major chamber classics newly performed with a modern sensibility. There is a marked audio clarity to these recorded performances and an impressively rich cello sound. Peled and Polera give us performances that stand to become future benchmarks on what constitutes the present-day standard for Romantic Chamber Classics. Bravo!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Leopold Kozeluch, Complete Keyboard Sonatas 12, Kemp English

As the liner notes to the current volume state, Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818) was a contemporary of Mozart and during his days in Vienna was thought by many to be a better composer! And yet only now with a valiant undertaking of the World Premier Recordings of his Complete Keyboard Sonatas (This being the 12th and final volume) (Grand Piano GP736), Kemp English introduces these some 50 works to our world.

Why has it taken so long? Kozeluch was born outside of Prague in 1747 and moved to Vienna by 1780. By then the pianoforte had all but replaced the harpsichord as the fulcrum point of a musical home and Kozeluch's sonatas gave the amateur a lot of possible choices. The music in this volume includes an early example, perhaps a little CPE Bach-like, and a later, more-or-less pre-Beethovenian proto-Romantic sonata. I am happy to say that Sonatas 47-50 are fascinating glimpses into a vital creative mind.

Kemp English performs all on beautiful period instruments. He sounds inspired and I cannot fault his performances in the least. The complete set was made possible in many ways by Christopher Hogwood's welcome editing of a complete Barenreiter Edition that has been published recently.

The liners give us valuable historical background, including an assertion that his centrality for keyboard sonatas and his personal vision in fact enabled him to effect a major revolution in the music circles of the time.  Consider this quote from a 1796 Schonfeld  publication:  "The vogue of the pianoforte is due to [Kozeluch]. The monotony and muddled sound of the harpsichord could not accommodate the clarity, the delicacy, the light and shade he demanded in music; he therefore took no students who did not want to understand the fortepiano as well, and it seems that he has no small share in the reformation of taste in keyboard music."

That is a rather bold assertion to us perhaps, since we have basically known next to nothing of the piano music in our lifetime. However a close listen to this 12th volume bears out the assertion, or at least does nothing to contradict it. Kozeluch surely has a real talent and a feeling for the piano that rivals the best of his contemporaries.

If we do not hear the emotional strength and depth of Beethoven or the sublimity of Mozart or the melodically soaring qualities of Schubert, there is something else to be appreciated that makes a journey into this volume worthwhile. There is a kind of crisp logic, an inevitability to the unfolding sequences.

Anyone who loves the Classical-Early Romantic period of the Viennese flourishing will retrieve an important lost piece of the scene then with this Kozeluch set. Volume 12 satisfies on its own, but if you are a completest you may want to explore the rest as well. Brilliant addition! Definitely recommended.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Paul Reale, Chopin's Ghosts, Kim Cook, Christopher Guzman

Contemporary American composer Paul Reale has not gotten a lot of attention on this blog. The lack is remedied today with a volume of chamber music for cello and piano, Chopin's Ghosts (Naxos 8.559820). Performances are in the very capable hands of Kim Cook, cello, and Christopher Guzman, piano. They are melifluent and balanced in expression, neither facile nor counter-phlegmatic, rather occupying a kind of ideal middle ground that allows this music's Modernist core to mingle freely and adeptly with the music's Neo-Classical balance and Neo-Romantic expression.

The music on this program is quite recent (or recently revised), all but one (Wexford Carol, 2004) hailing from our current decade. The solo cello "Seance" (1973-74, rev. 2017) spells the program nicely as a short and worthy break from the cello-piano configuration, the latter of which is otherwise predominant.

And for that there is much to appreciate. There is substantial invention and complexity so that lovers of the cello-piano magic of the past can live the experience again with enough change that there is no question of repetition. It takes some close listens, many more than one, and then the music truly beings to speak.

"Durch die Jahreszeiten II" (2013) sets the stage for what is to come with finely wrought folk in radical transformation. The centerpiece works "Chopin's Ghost (Cello Sonata No. 2)" (2017) and "Cello Sonata No. 1" (1983, rev. 2017) make use of "found material" to give us a Modern drama of old in flux and transport. So the first makes use of the old "What Can You Do with a Drunken Sailor" while No. 2 alludes in transformed obliqueness to the music of Chopin. It is the complex node of reworking that affords us substantial fare, a kind of set of memory objects that show by the passage of time how there can never be a continuous sameness if there is to be an ongoing contemporary music world.

Those who rise to new cello-piano repertoire played well I warrant will find this absorbing and rewarding. And those who appreciate well-thought-out, Modern "Neo-" will much appreciate it as well, I would think.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

LeStrange Viols, Aeternum, Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde from Add Ms 31390

A somewhat exotic Early Music item is up for review today. The group is the viol consort LeStrange Viols and the album is entitled Aeternum: Music of the Elizabethan Avant Garde from Add. MS 32390 (LeStrange Viols PCR912 DDD).

It is a CD program of some 26 viol compositions played with all the period sonance such music demands. The music comes from a tablebook preserved in the British Museum as "Additional Manuscript 31390. Add. MS 31390." That designation is the library's shelf mark. The collection was apparently compiled in the main in 1578 and contains a mix of the latest new music by Byrd and others plus old favorites from earlier in the century. The case for dubbing this collection as representative of the Elizabethan avant garde of the time is not unwarranted. This was the cutting edge of viol consort music then. Of course we listen to this music today as venerable relics of an age long past. Yet in the end to have lived through this period as music enthusiast was as in any period to confront the new and embrace or reject it, to take a stance on its place in the continuum.

More so than that though, the liners alert us to the idea that some of this music was boldly experimental. It takes a close listen and a kind of clearing of the feeling of eerie distance that the performances and their period constancy reinforces, before you can grasp how that is. The liners put it succinctly. You can find in listening "a love of cross-relations (a striking type of permitted dissonance) and an abundance of rythmical and metrical complexity." So that is one of the fundamental aspects of the style of the period. Yet too there are marked experiments, such as a cantus firmus constructed from five-beat groupings, or fully serialized rhythm (marvelously rendered with pizzicato in Picforth's work), a three-part Byrd canon built on what were then shocking dissonances.

All this serves to remind us that even Early Music could be situated in a seething, teaming mass of flux and change.

Mind you, one at first does not drop one's coffee cup in alarm on hearing this. You must live with the music to feel gradually what it might have felt like to be knowledgeable and hear this music in the air at the time.

And in the end you revel in the marvelous sonarities of the viol consort and in this way feel after a time that this sound is quite exotic to us, "new" in ways that anything unaccustomed is for us a growing movement forward in time.

All the content aspects can be engaged in for a very lively listen. Or you can just listen and get quite a bit of satisfaction from the sheer sensual pleasure of the music. In any case this is excellent fun and a boon to any Early Music fan. It invites you to enter in the musical world as it was just then. That is a very good thing, indeed. We can get insights into our New Music world by comparing notes, so to speak! Most definitely recommended.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

William Walton, Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, etc., James Ehnes, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner

William Walton (1902-1983) is one of those twentieth century composers whose reputation has fluctuated somewhat, at least here in the States in my lifetime. I am thinking in terms of a comparison. There was perhaps a time where William Walton and Ralph Vaughan Williams were spoken of nearly in the same breath as principal architects of the arrival of the English Classical Renaissance in Modern times. Then as I experienced it in the later '60s, Vaughan Williams seemed to steadily rise in importance as the compositions of the last years were gradually assimilated and appreciated. And then what of Walton? He remains a highly appreciated figure, but perhaps not a true member of the invisible pantheon of immortals? In the end the horserace for immortality seems unimportant.

All this is a prelude to a new release of merit surrounding some of Walton's more interesting works, namely Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, Sonata for String Orchestra, and Partita for Orchestra, as presented to us anew by violist James Ehnes and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Edward Gardner (Chandos CHSA5210).

What strikes me about the program is the juxtaposition of three of Walton's more ambitious orchestral scores that in some ways are due for more attention that they have received in my own experience at least.  The readings are sympathetic and enthusiastically etched out with a wealth of sonic detail. These show a very earthy Walton, honest and painstaking, not bent on barnstorming innovations or even a thoroughgoing Modernism. He was in some ways unassuming, a composer who delighted in sounding out of a tradition that was adjusted and updated to the world he lived in and so in no way an anachronism. Yet as ever there is an unpretentious directness that seems now refreshing.

The combination of sterling sound, dedicated stylistic trueness and a mix of three very worthy compositions leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction. Any follower of Modern English developments in the 20th Century would find these readings illuminating and very pleasurable. If I still cannot seem to get a real bead on the whole of Walton and a single vision of how to encompass this, it is not the fault of this program. Recommended.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Reynaldo Hahn, Chamber Music & Song, Vol. One

I've liked what little I have heard of the music of Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) so when a new volume offered itself to my perusal I happily responded. There aren't so many of his works available in recorded form these days, partially no doubt because he followed no particular Modern tendencies in his lifetime but instead stuck to his ultra-melodic pursuit of a kind of beauty that was put forward with utter conviction.

So we have before us the First Volume of what is entitled Chamber Music & Song (Champs Hill CHRCD139). This initial volume is all-instrumental, yet its relation to song is a factor in Hahn's  focus on wonderfully unwinding song-like melody, and in addition there are a number of song transcriptions that give us direct access into song form.

Performing throughout is pianist James Baillieu along with associates Benjamin Baker on violin, Tim Lowe, cello, Adam Newman, viola, plus Bartosz Woroch on violin. Four of five appear in Hahn's "Piano Quartet No. 3 in G Major" and all five join together on the "Piano Quintet in F-Sharp Minor." All four string players appear as soloists with Baillieu in succession on the remaining four duo works. Everyone sounds very well, near perfect for the music at hand, lyrical without straining with emotion, as these works no doubt should be performed.

The music program initially came out of a concert in the Brighton Festival devoted to the French muses, namely chamber works by Poulenc and Hahn. After a warm reception Baillieu and company decided to commit the Hahn works to recorded form. The happy results now spin in my player as I write.

Hahn does not fit some stereotype so well. Born in Caracas to a German-Jewish father, he moved to Paris with the family while young, was musically precocious, studied with Massenet, Gonoud and Saint-Saens and most notably was a composer of songs. He was a famed conductor of Mozart at Salzburg in his day. He was a good friend of Proust from 1894 on. This may be the stuff of legend but when you hear his music in depth it all comes together as not unrelated to his musical self. I won't pretend to explain that. Read all of Proust's masterwork, listen to all of his teachers, think a bit and maybe you'll hear as I hear. Yet even then those are not sufficient conditions for his art. There is his own originality that shines through. The music may be hard to imagine without the profound influence of his forebears and his milieu, but one feels at last that even without such things Hahn would have shined. What is most French no doubt is the heightened lyrical quality, in that in his own way very much a contemporary of Debussy's.

The Piano Quartet and Quintet are marvelously fertile inventions, perhaps as Classically Romantic as much as anything might be, but measured, original, melodically striking in their very own ways, with some of Mendelssohn's quirkiness yet something more than that. You must hear to understand. The miniatures that fall in between the larger works are lovely.

This music may be somewhat anathema for a stern Modernist. Yet it does not negate other music, so what could be the danger of hearing it, and perhaps even liking it, loving it, even? There is none in 2018, now that all the Modernist wars have been fought. We as music lovers are the victors, because now we might choose to listen to whatever we choose, and today the variety of styles and substyles are astonishingly rich.

So you well may want to make some space for these Reynaldo Hahn chamber works. If you should take to them like I did, you are a winner. If not, you lose nothing in the effort. If you embrace the whole of musico-historical possibilities, I cannot imagine you would not fall under the spell of the "Piano Quartet No. 3," then wonder at the 1946 completion date. Hahn may have been a man out of his time by then, but by no means out of ideas. I recommend you get this volume and apply your ears to its beauties. It will take you out of this time, no doubt, to some Hahn Wonderland where nothing matters save the musical beauty he conjures for us so well. Listen soon and feel a happy elation of surprise.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Weinberg, Piano Quintet, Cello Sonata No. 2, Piano Sonatine

When it comes to discovering composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), it seems that each new release reveals more and more of his musical personality. That is certainly so with a new program of his chamber works, Piano Quintet, Cello Sonata No. 2, Piano Sonatine (Steinway & Sons 30072).

The three works cover something of the early years of his Russian exile from his native Poland and drop into his musical mind in several succeeding years, 1944, 1951, 1958.

The "Piano Quintet, Op. 18" (1944) has a molto expressivo demeanor that contrasts vividly in each movement, from the strangely hushed opening movement with its mysterious theme stated in the piano in octaves, we find ourselves in a sort of sarcastic waltz environment and then on in the final movement to an almost brutal thematic tattoo that quickly gives way to a complicated ethnically bursting forward dance motif and even an illusion to my ears to a boogie woogie pattern. It is characteristic of the very unexpected charms of the music's unfolding.

These were turbulent times for Weinberg and the music reflects anxiety, restlessness and onward momentum in ways very Modern and idiomatically Weinbergian. It is characteristic of Weinberg's Modernism that he not allow his opening theme to show much in repetition but instead to flow through without an obvious resting point. That never-resting quality in a way models the manic ever-active state of the modern megalopolis, or we certainly can experience it that way now even if he might have intended something else when he wrote it.

On the other hand the Piano Sonatine (1951) has a deceptive lightness that in paradoxical Weinbergian fashion turns out to be not "easy" but somewhat recalcitrant? It contrasts well with the Quintet and reminds us that Weinberg was not monolithic in any sense.

Finally the 1958 Cello Sonata No. 2 seems very much in line with the Russian Modernism in the air via Weinberg's friend and mentor Shostakovich yet also shows a subtle Jewish element and an additional Weinbergian element that sets it apart. The symbiotic relationship of Weinberg and Shostakovich was not necessarily all in the direction of the latter to the former, as we can read of in some of Shostakovich's later statements on the relationship.

As far as the performing artists involved, pianist Jeanne Golan sounds poised and committed as does the Attacca Quartet and cellist Andrew Vee. The scores call for a thorough grasp of Weinberg's highly individual window on music. Happily all five do very much get it and get into it.

For all these reasons this is a most attractive volume that will by its content get open up new territory for anyone interested in Weinberg's overall opus. It also could serve as a perfectly revealing introduction to the composer. So I do not hesitate to recommend.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Leo Brouwer, The Book of Signs, Paulo Bellinati, Concerto Caboclo, Brasil Guitar Duo, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, David Amado

Here we have today a set of World Premiere Recordings by the Brasil Guitar Duo and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra under David Amado. It is one of those programs that hits one immediately and then continues to grow in stature for its most memorable lyric content and brilliant two-guitar passagework. Someone who has listened to as much music as I have over a lifetime might rightfully be expected to have become somewhat blase over the years about the possibility of engaging lyricism. In fact I have never lost the capacity for more and yet more of it.

And so the music today meets a very willing and enthusiastic recipient. What is it? It is two concerti for two guitars and orchestra, both written in the present century. The most remarkable is Leo Brouwer's "The Book of Signs for two guitars and string orchestra" (2003). It runs some 45 minutes and begins most notably and notefully with a long movement entitled "The Signs of Memory," a theme and variations that haunts and delights. The theme sounds a little like the famous  Francois Couperin theme in "Les Folies Francoises" which also made an appearance with Frescobaldi and others. The Brouwer is a kind of harmonically parallel ghosting and the variations are  extraordinarily inventive. Oh, but I find on reading the liners that the theme is in fact from Beethoven's "32 Variations in G minor," which in part explains why it seems so familiar to me, and yet too Beethoven then hearkens back too to the "Les Folies" theme, interestingly enough. From there comes the second movement "Variaciones sobre un tema sentimental" a ravishing theme that nearly compares with Rodrigo's "Aranjuez" for sheer tunefulness and grace. It has that suspended mystery like the Rodrigo movement and gets flawless execution and poignant variations by the two guitars and strings. The third movement does not let down and has some of the most fetching two guitar passages I can remember hearing. Well it is not surprising since Brouwer is probably the most important composer for the guitar in our lifetime. And this is one of his most remarkable and accessible works. So happy us, then? Me, anyway.

So how can one top that? One cannot really but then Paulo Bellinati does not try so much as he encapsulates and reworks the music of his Sao Paulo homeland with an intriguing "Concerto Caboclo for two guitars and orchestra" (2011). It is contentful and a treasure of beautiful guitar sounds with and without orchestra. It has some of that Brazilian saudade. And really it has its own lyrical strengths too, so it is very well suited as the companion piece to the Brouwer. It is quite worthwhile in its own right. If you love Villa-Lobos' take on the folk-Brazilian mode, and/or Milhaud's work in this vein, here is something more and not at all inferior, either.

In the end I find myself very happy indeed with this program and its execution. It is hard to imagine a more dedicated and capable two-guitar team for this coupling. The Brasil Guitar Duo have all the technique and all the sweeping lyrical sense to make their parts soar. And the Delaware Symphony under Amado do what they should and do it with spirit and beauty.

So I think anyone who wants to be conversant with Modern concerted guitar works would do very well with this brilliant offering. Even if you don't. This is a real beauty! Ravishing music that could become a soundtrack for your life right now. So I do tell you as a friend. Just get it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Scott L. Miller, RABA, Daniel Lippel, Laura Cocks, Ensemble U:

I have increasingly found Scott L. Miller to be his own musical voice in the realm of Electronic and New Music. Going through various blog indexes I find this to be in fact the third CD of his that I have reviewed on these pages and the pages of Gapplegate Music Review. He shows no sign of flagging on RABA (New Focus Recording FCR 198). In fact this well may be his most important offering to date.

What started out for Miller as a kind of mini-retrospective of his 20-year cycle of creation rather quickly became a kind of reworking of past efforts into new effusions and novel collaborations. It is a collection of some seven works created over a significant time span (one from 1998, the others completed in their present form in 2016-7). Each occupies a particular niche in the ambient zone. There are some three for "fixed media electronic sound" alone: "Autumn Etude" (1998), "Hilltop at Montalvo" (2017), and "Solstice Orrery" (2016); one for Ensemble U: (alto flute, clarinet, violin, cellos, tam tam, piano) and electronic sound, "Raba" (2015/2017); two for Daniel Lippel on electric guitar and electronic sound or interactive electronic sound, "Admiration" (2008/2017), "Meditation" (2016); and one for electronic sound, Daniel on guitar plus Laura Cocks on flute and electronic sound, "The Frost Performs Its Secret Ministry" (2016).

The most striking thing perhaps in these compositions as a whole and in general is the acute sense of a vibrant sonority-timbre design that puts each work in a special place and creates memorable ambiances that feel rather organic, naturally growing and permuting. The works that interface conventional instruments and electronics have close overlaps in timbre between the two classes of sounds so that a sort of orchestral luminosity in furthered. And what completes it all is the sort of musico-logic of the sequence of each work. There is not quite a feeling of inevitability so much as there is a kind of "rightness" to the unfolding in time. The liner notes mention his tendency towards something called "granular synthesis," or in other words the breaking up of a sonic signal into grains of sound that each contain some of the audio modeling of the original. One might profitably trace some of the feeling of audio-logic to this process.

One might quibble as to whether Scott L. Miller's music belongs in the New Music category. To me such quibbles are plainly wrong-headed. An electric guitar, for example, is a contemporary instrument like, say, the pianoforte was during its first advent. It is transcendent by now of stylistic pigeonholes. And if ambiance can be found across a spectrum of various stylistic avenues, it is not to say that it does not belong as one of the characteristic modes  available to New Music artists today.

What especially matters is that Scott L. Miller excels as an artist in this mode. He is one of the very best active today and one of the most original and consistently satisfying. The program is in many ways a bellwether of New Music-Electronic Music right now. I enthusiastically recommend it to you.