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Friday, June 29, 2018

Electronic Chamber Music From Finland

To show you how much New Music has evolved or simply changed, please suppose you bought an album entitled simply "Electronic Chamber Music" in 1963. What might you imagine you would get? I am thinking something along the lines of MEV or AMM, improvised, abstract, somewhat hermetic. On the other hand the 2018 Electronic Chamber Music  (SIBA Records Sibelius Academy), might be that but might be something else, or both. Perhaps the tip-off is that no composers are a part of the cover listings. That is deliberate. This is music no doubt pre-planned in many ways, yet at base improvisational. In that we have a situation in common with our hypothetical 1963 album by MEV or AMM.

What is meant by "Live Electronics" is one thing that may well differ today. In earlier days such as 1963 synthesizers were bulky and cumbersome, not really the sort of thing you'd expect in a live ensemble. Until the later sixties as the evolution of relatively compact synthesizers came about an ensemble like Mother Mallard (who amassed a number of synthesizers in live performance) would have been inconceivable. Now of course that is not so. But then individual pitch producing and pitch altering devices were likely to be there in the earlier days, individual components that later were part of the synthesizer anatomy. I mean tone generators, wave generators, frequency and amplitude, timbre and taxonomic sound alteration filter devices and such were a likely part of a live ensemble. You were perhaps less likely back then to encounter a gathering of unabashedly acoustic instruments like the acoustic guitar or the unprepared contrabass etc. Nowadays it is different.

And the music back then might have been improvised but it tended to sound something like the punktive Serial New Music one might hear coming off the composer's pencil directly then. The music might also bear some relation to the sound laboratory studio electronic musics then being made, especially in terms of a living impossibility sort of thing, music that was for whatever reason far more nearly impossible to produce on conventional instruments alone. This because of complexity, speed, timbre, etc. Virtually or literally unplayable music was often the case--doing something with electronics even if improsed and live that was unimaginable before electronic  generation and alteration.

In the case of the 2018 release Electronic Chamber Music we can get some enlightenment on at least one way such music can vary from what was common 50 or so years ago. The group in question is a quartet and Finland is their home base. This is a music of collective composition, improvisation surely. And group structuring. The participants are Otso Lahdeoja on guitar and electronics, Alejandro Montes de Oca is responsible for modular synthesizer sounds, Aino Eerola plays 4- and 5-string violins and electronics, and Nathan Riki Thomson plays prepared double bass and electronics. Musicianship is not lacking and all four make a significant impact as a quartet.

The music is tonal centered and often as not pulsating. It is mostly tonal music and  both extended techniques and electronic enhancement take the acoustic instruments and make of them something familiar yet novel. There is a soundscaperd ambience to this music that in 1963 would have sounded quite different of course. Gone are bleep-bloop hochet and to stay are extended outburst of cosmic differences as joined by somewhat unprecedented soundings of long notes and then loping sing-sing continuity.

It is music that few would find in any way jarring, a kind of peon to open space more than a sawing through to essential primality that perhaps might have prevailed in such things in 1963! And indeed one can scarce imagine this music without the psychedelic and ambient worlds that 1963 knew little to nothing of. Yet the intervening avant jazz and improv styles show little impact. That is not to say that anything should or should not prevail today; I only wish to identify more precisely what one would hear on listening.

I find it all fascinating and nicely open. This is not necessarily music to change the face of our art for many years to come. Face it, everything need not be that. It is music of depth and substance, good to commune with at length. I do recommend this one.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Trio Clavio Plays Modern Music

There ever comes a new generation of music makers. And inevitably they may see things slightly differently than others that came before. That is the nature of history, music history and it is the nature of creative freedom. So today we consider a trio of young Czech women who set out in 2013 to perform music in ways that reflected their own distinctive musical outlooks, yet in the process to create a real blend, to make a threesome that thrived as a unity in distinct parts as a whole.

Trio Clavio was born. And now with a self-titled 2-CD set (ArcoDiva UP 0204) we get to experience what they can do with a program of varied Modern Music.

Trio Clavio are Lucie Soutorova Valcova on piano,  Lucia Fulka Kopsova on violin, and Jana Cernohouzova on clarinet. Together they excel and come to us in a dazzling light of sound.

The program is an engaging mix of the familiar and the less familiar.

Trio Clavio put their beautifully idiomatic character masks on from the start with the trio suite from Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat." The suite boils it all down to the music's very essence and Trio Clavio give us a sparkling, very characteristic reading that is in its own way perfect. The execution is not just a matter of the right notes, weighted rightly. It breathes in the whimsical essence and makes it all into a palpable magic. This performance is worth the price of admission alone! Here is a younger generation of musicians who feels so comfortable with this music, a sort of, pardon the phrase, Ethnic Modernism because they are beautifully talented and have breathed in the two strands to make the music seem as it should, ORGANIC and now very much a part of us. Hear this and you may well smile broadly. I did.

Yet there is much more. Bartok's "Contrasts" gets a sterling performance devoid of some of the mannerisms and pretensions one can hear from earlier recordings.

"Trio for Clarinet, Violin & Piano" by Paul Schoenfeld (b. 1947) ends the first CD with a Jewish tinged music that again seems completely idiosyncratic in the hands of the trio. Jana Cernohouzova on clarinet is something to behold. Her Klezmer inflected reading is a joy to hear! This is moving and substantial music in every way.

CD2 showcases four more living composers with engaging and vibrant fare. There is Lukas Hurnik (b. 1967) and his "Alphabet," Martin Brunner (b. 1983) and "Little Children," Juraj Filas (1955) and "'Chiaroscuro' Trio," and finally Sylvie Bodorova (1954) and "Dancing Mountain."

Current time restrictions this morning prevent me from engaging in a detailed breakdown of the second half of the program. Suffice to say that the momentum that builds on CD1 does not flag in the least. Instead there is a wealth of nicely turned, even brilliant compositional fare played with a musicality that never fails to delight.

Melodic Modernism is in great hands with Trio Clavio.

So bravo! Trio Clavio is a wonder! The music and its presentation on this set is as good as anything you might hear in such a trio. A beautiful milestone in chamber music this is to me. Do not fail to hear it. I look forward to whatever they might do in future. This is a must for Modern Music fans!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Johann Nepomuk David, Symphonies 2 & 4, ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Johannes Wildner

Bruckner is not dead. He lives on. And if you wonder what kind of symphonies he might have written had he lived in the '30s and '40s of last century, you might listen to the music of Johann Nepomuk David (1899-1975), specifically in this case today, David's Symphonies 2 & 4 (RSO 777-577-2). Now it is probably unfair of me to state  glibly that David is Bruckner. He isn't. He is David. In the two symphonies so nicely performed by the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien under Johannes Wildner, there is very much something "beyond" Bruckner there. The chromaticism is pretty well at the edge of the tonally centered and there is a dynamic tumult to the music that is more extreme than Bruckner might have felt comfortable with. David is no clone. Far from it. He is a Modernist as much as there is something Late Romantic or Neo-Romantic about the music.

So David was born in Austria. He was blessed with a fine singing voice and at ten was sent for musical training to become a choir member. He studied with choirmaster Muller, who venerated Bruckner. Fast forward to 1923, when David premiered his first symphony. By then Vienna had cast its spell upon the young composer. Schoenberg and other luminaries were duly influential. By 1922 he himself noted the strong influence in his style of Reger in the contrapuntal sphere, then also Scriabin and Debussy. The monothematic symphony idea began to consume him but also so did Schoenberg's 12-tone techniques. By the time of 1938 his second symphony took stock of his evolution. It was a large-scale, 40-minute orchestral work for a sizeable gathering of instrumentalists. There are three themes and the development is contrapuntal.

Listening is a matter of immersion,. There is a striking density and drama to the symphony and the more you hear the better it becomes.

Symphony No. 4 is a product of struggle in a world torn and  ripped in twain by the Second World War. The original manuscript of the work was destroyed in an air raid and David had to reconstruct it all from memory. One might readily say that the final version shows the scars of its traumatic birth in that it has upheaval yet a determined grandeur and even a contrapuntal strain of thickly grim austerity at times yet a depth of feeling too that catapults it into our times as a reminder of how unsettled and ugly the world can be. There is a transfixing quality to the whole that gradually enters your listening mind and holds pride of place, at least for me.

I am heartened by the depth of this music. David seems very much a discovery for us that is as worthy as any revival discovery from this era. The music is rather profound. If the kind of angst of later Allan Pettersson appeals to you, then David may well strike a sympathetic reverberation. I myself am glad to have and hear this disk and will no doubt try and hear more of his music going forward. David is a real find.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

David Diamond, Symphony No. 6, Indiana University Chamber and Philharmonic Orchestras, Arthur Fagen

There is a tendency to pay less attention recently to some of the US composers once quite popular in the '30s to '50s. Like Thomas Hart Benton in the painting world, their style was thought the epitome of Contemporary when they flourished, and then their reputations underwent a bit of an eclipse. Like Benton many are due for reappreciation.

Take David Diamond (1915-2005). He was overshadowed for a time as later styles came to the forefront on the American scene. Yet there is a master craftsman at work on the wealth of his compositions, an inspired originality that now sounds again fresh. So Naxos in its ongoing "American Classics" series gives us a volume that reminds us how much we miss if we ignore the Diamond orchestral legacy. Here we have the Indiana University Chamber and Philharmonic Orchestras under Arthur Fagen with enthusiastic and vibrant readings of three middle period gems, namely his Symphony No. 6, Rounds for String Orchestra, and Romeo and Juliet (Naxos 8.5598942).

One notes from the first the quality of the performances and the concentric intensity of the music. Arthur Fagen and the Indiana bring the scores to life with fine nuance and bold strokes. And each work is in its own way exemplary and a world unto itself.

The opening "Rounds for String Orchestra" (1944) has vivid plein air energy in the outer movements and an "Appalachian Springish" tenderness in the center. It seems vaguely Americana-like yet there are no obvious thematic homespun allusions exactly. It is a delight, really.

"Music from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet" (1947) alternates drama and reverie and a lyrical then more robust sinew, a rustic charm not exactly typical of what the timeless story might evoke. The "Death of Romeo and Juliet" finale morns, regrets and shows a tender sadness.

And then we turn to the concluding "Symphony No. 6" (1951-54). This beginning of a '50s view of what is to be done has a bolder thrust than the previous works, really more thoroughly modernistic and expressive of an inner strength that takes us unawares then affirms Diamond's brilliance. Hard to believe but this is the World Premiere Recording. And a fine thing it is.

There you have it. The weather can be fine if you want to stretch your imagination with these three nicely done offering. Put them on and forget the thunderclouds.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Georgy Sviridov, Canticles and Prayers

Since to my knowledge none of us have sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus as apparently had Athena according to legend, we must in the beginning have more or less absolute ignorance when it comes to anything, and that includes music. Sure we may have an aptitude for it and even as a tabula rasa being take readily to its intricacies, and so too at some point we may like some things and perhaps others not as much. But all that entails a long gestation period of gradual and cumulative understanding, of slowly developing a musical understanding of the universe of various styles. That is, of course if one is so fortunate to have music available to experience in  life.

As as for the Modern, the New Music as it has unfolded from the beginnings in say 1900 and forward 118 years to today, the more of it one can hear the better one might understand the whole of it. For example there is the music of Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998), as one might hear in  the recent and fascinating Canticles and Prayers (Ondine 1322-2).

Now I'll admit I am, or rather was in total ignorance some years ago about Sviridov and his music. I have had the chance happily to hear some of it and if you want to know about that type his name into the search box at the upper left. The present volume up today gives me and (perhaps you) a good idea of and a rewarding leg up on his sacrally oriented choral music.

Sviridov grew up in the Orthodox fold in Russia and was profoundly influenced by the music of the Orthodox Church. The cycle "Canticles and Prayers" for unaccompanied choir is it seems Sviridov's definitive and final work  in the choral mode. It also was his last completed composition, as it involved a long development from 1980 to 1997, the year before his death.

The plan was to cull all the sacred choral sketches he had begun but not completed by 1990 or so, to amass and develop them into one rather huge oratorio. By 1997 Sviridov had completed five parts, but did not live to finish the whole of what he had envisioned. The current performance takes on four of the five sections, omitting the second part and several movements from part five. The program concludes with a related  "Red Easter," which was completed in 1978.

In all this Sviridov utilizes Russian Orthodox liturgical texts but does not set them in an order that could constitute a set of chants the could be utilized as a whole in an Orthodox service.. He builds up the haunting whole as a sort of lament for the impending demise of the Russia of the Soviet Union, which was indeed undergoing a terminal dissolution in the last decade of Sviridov's time on earth.

This is introspective, mostly very somber music. It is music somewhat difficult for a typical choir to perform, as it makes demands, calls for in the words of the liner notes a group of "exceptional mastery and vocal abilities." I must say that the Latvia Radio Choir as heard on this disk is in every way up for the challenge of the music. The results are most ravishing, sublimely beautiful.

This is music that expressively expands outward from Russian Orthodox Chant. It is Chant as much as Afterchant, if you will pardon the phrase. It has a modern foundation with harmonies a bit more tangy at times than what would be typical in the church music. It is meditative and feelingful.

It is robust and yet there is a fragility as well, a kind of presence of the feeling of loss, as might naturally be expected given the composer's intention.

For all that it constitutes a kind of Modern milestone in the Russian choral world. Not at all avant garde in obvious ways, it is nonetheless substantial and original in outlook. It is so profoundly of its time that we can already look back upon it and feel the distance the world has gone since the end of last century. Of course we understand that not all change is wholly good, and what that entails we can only review the events that have transpired in the period once thought of as an age "beyond history," those years from the advent of the Millennium to the right now is a period of true upheaval in the world, an upheaval that compounds other upheavals and sediments a depth of change, a stratigraphy it may take future historians to make sense of, since the world does not especially make sense in all ways at present. Sviridov captures a kind of awareness of inevitable change and a less than happy feeling of what it might portend. That is complex and I try to experience it all as expression at this point. Well that perhaps defines this postmodern age? It is music of Postmodernity-Modernity surely. And sublimely so. Like Arvo Part, Sviridov has his own take on the old-in-the-new. The music haunts.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Friedrich Gulda, Piano Works, Martin David Jones

For those who have over the years been interested in the nexus between Modern Jazz and Modern Classical, the mere existence of a Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) volume of Piano Works (Grand Piano GP759) is reason enough to sit up and take notice. That is if you know of the place Gulda has occupied throughout his life as a classical pianist of international stature as well as a jazz artist of definite talent and great merit. Most importantly I at least have been aware of his might we still say "Third Stream" compositional ventures and have followed as best I could what I managed to find in the ever-ongoing search for syntheses and pathways forward.

It may or may not be a coincidence that the compositional period represented by these works spans a time between 1965 and 1974, which was a very creative whileCfor a certain ongoing adventurism on the musical scene. Cool Jazz was pretty much a dead issue by then, whereas there were significant forays into Third Stream ventures prior to this by Jimmy Giufre, John Lewis, William O. Smith and others more or less one way or another lumped into the cool bin at some point. From 1965 to 1974 these was room for others to step in and indeed Heinrich Stadler and Friedrich Gulda and a few other Europeans along with some notable American voices did interesting compositional work. And I must stop a moment and say something about the AACM during this period. They may well be the more important of all the "serious" jazz composer-performers with some claims to "Classical" "crossover" status during that period. This is not the place to discuss that however.

It is not my intention to give some comprehensive overview of the rise and fall of the Third Stream  by say 1975, for that another time. A light sketch here is all I might want to do to set up this recording. So the CD is upon us.

I will say right off the bat that none of this music on this album has been or will be destined to move mountains in a stylistic or cutting-edge sense. The works have much room for improvisation and reflected the sort of Post-Bop musical world in which Gulda dwelled with his Jazz persona. The music has something of an eclectic quality to it. We have takes on a Boogie-Woogie/Classical nexis, then variations on the Doors' iconic "Light My Fire" (that very much strikes me as worthwhile), the multiple Jazz stylings of the ten-part "Play Piano Play," And more besides.

Anyone familiar with the Gulda presence in earlier days will find this volume captivating and reaffirming. Those coming to his music for the first time will be no doubt pleased with what they hear so long as they do not expect from it some world changing paradigmaticism!

Martin David Jones handles performance duties with sympathy, charm and a musicality that is heartening. If perhaps he is not especially by way of the evidence here a world-class improvisor it nonetheless shows you perhaps the sort of pianist who might well be attracted to the music. The improvisations set off the music well and perhaps not as much the other way around. Yet after a thorough immersing in this program I must say my appreciation of Gulda the rather brave straddler of Jazz and Classical camps comes to life once again to my pleasure. I am glad to have it!

If Gulda never wound up being a Duke or a Monk, how many do? For that we have Duke and Monk. That takes nothing away from the enjoyment of hearing this music.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Roberto Sierra, Kandinsky, Continuum, Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs

There are albums that to me are exactly as one might hope, though maybe exactly not what you already know of course. And so with the offering today. Roberto Sierra has ever been to me a composer that being very much himself epitomizes something very good about the music of today. So we get that on the recent CD Kandinsky (Naxos 8.559849). The contemporary chamber gathering Continuum is in charge of the performances, with Directors Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sach sharing the piano duties, ever amazingly and fittingly I might add. Everyone involved has concentrated and applied their considerable interpretive skills to make these performances a remarkable thing, to set off Sierra's music in as nearly ideal a manner as we might ever hear.

And as to the works themselves, all come from the first decade of this century. Two of three are in World Premier Recordings and all are vital and moving High Modernist beauties that in many ways are less a total abstraction so much as abstracted-yet-concrete embodiments of Sierra's fertile imagination.

Sierra, many will know, hails from Puerto Rico. There are Carribean strains in his work and you will hear them on this program. It is an important aspect much of the time but I will at times leave it to you to pick up on them. He integrates those elements fully and nicely, as well as anybody ever has and that is saying a great deal.

The title work, "Kandinsky" for violin, viola, cello and piano (2003) pays homage to the breakthrough abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky and his work. The music as one might expect has a High Modernist abstracted quality. It is music of a demanding sort for the players, who must shift into various expressionist modes continually yet always in a sort of multi-linear, unified presentive way.

The Latin strain is excitingly present in the "Sonata for Clarinet and Piano" (2005--06) via a gloriously dance like Salsa opening movement that is followed by a sort of explosive expansion of the rhythmic cells and melodic-harmonic implications of the beginning. This is spectacular music for sure.

Then we hear Seltzer and Sachs explode forward on their own in their performance of the piano four-hands "Thirty-Three Ways to Look at the Same Object" (2005-08). It is a glorious tilt at the windmills of our minds and the windmills lose!

There you have it. I cannot recommend this more strongly to those who cherish a Modernist flourish that is on the edge of tomorrow yet lets us know where some of the roots lie! Finely crafted brilliance played remarkably well. So get it. It is Naxos inexpensive and worth every single penny by far.  Sierra is a treasure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Witold Lutowslawski Opera Omni 07, Children's Songs, NFM Boy's Choir, Andrzej Kosendiak

When I first heard about the Witold Lutoslawski Opera Omnia (Complete Works) Project, I wondered whether it was necessary to hear absolutely everything. Now that I have had a chance happily to hear Opera Omnia 07, Children's Songs (ACD 242-2 NFM 46) I suspect I would want to hear all of it. For I am heartened by this excellent volume of songs sung beautifully by the NFM Boys' Choir and accompanied elegantly by the Lutoslawski Quartet, the LutosAir Quartet and instrumentalists from the NFM Filharmonli Wroclawskiej.

The pristine freshness of the Boys' Choir and the crisply modern accompaniment of the instrumentalists make for a kind of timeless naivety, an unassuming, unpretentious directness that grabs the listener, if the listener is me anyway, right from the start.

I cannot help recall nicely Carl Orff's music for children as I listen. Not because Lutoslawski  takes something from Orff so much as both capture a sort of insouciance, a boyish-girlish unconcern that masks a kind of naive passion for being alive if I might try to pin down how it feels to listen, the bright sound of the music as you hone in on it despite whether you closely examine lyrics or otherwise.

As I review and listen to Lutoslawski's Children's Songs this morning I relate it all to the story-novel I am writing right now. And it connects. Not for some plug about it but because it relates to my state of mind recently. And that helps me explain the charm of this music. Insouciance, a deliberate unconcern, a freedom given by the sheer facticity of not knowing, well it is worth contemplating. So what's wrong with the idea that children do not have to be aware of everything? They will have plenty of time for the dreary world later on. And in that even if such a state of being may no longer be so easy to realize in a kid's head now that she-he can literally stumble on everything and by an early age, even then, it can be a deliberate bracketing for a time as an adult in order to feel the visceral immediacy of NOW. I think that's not so bad a thing so long as we know we must as adults grasp what is happening in our world. And so we should not shrink away from truth! But there are times too when we can bask in the sun and just let the thingness of the world take over our beings for a time.

So I bracket that thought myself with a little highlighting to admit it is a more general expression than what I might ordinarily communicate in a review. Yet it explains pretty directly what is most lovely about this music. Central to this music is the idea that childhood is childish, and that is a good thing. The songs assume and encourage children to be the special beings they are. And it assumes that civilization encourages and protects children always! And the music. It is not unabashedly Modernist. And perhaps it is best that it is not.  For it has a innocence to it that comes with a diatonic singfulness. And so all the good of it is wonderfully fresh.  That these were written in 1947-1954 should I suppose give us some insight as to how it all sounds the way it does. In listening and appreciating the music though all that does not matter, at least at first. No more than knowing the history of, say, Dostoyevsky's thoughts and style would explain The Brothers Karamazov. It is in the end secondary to reading and experiencing the novel as it unfolds before you. So too these songs. They are sheer delight. Just listen. For now that is enough!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Bill Whelan, Riverdance: A Symphonic Suite, James Galway, Helena Wood, Zoe Conway, RTE National Symphony Orchestra, David Brophy

When I realized I had a chance to review today's CD I did so willingly without especially anticipating everything that it would contain. After all I knew something of the Riverdance music via extensive clips of the performance version on Public Television, but I did not think very much about it other than I was glad to listen.

So I popped the CD on my player first time last week. As it played I recognized parts and others not, but it all was nicely imbued with echoes of traditional Irish dance music and I came to understand something of Bill Whelan's flair and brilliance for concocting such things. And in the end I came to appreciate fully the grouping of three works that comprises the album--which might be called "Orchestral Music" but instead is named after the most familiar work, Riverdance: A Symphonic Suite (RTE Lyric CD 155).

The performances have much to recommend them. Soloists Sir James Galway on flute, Helena Wood on violin and Zoe Conway on fiddle realize their parts with artistry and a true feeling for the Celtic lining they are called upon to give to our musical air. The RTE National Symphony under David Brophy bring to the music all the enthusiasm and grace one could hope for, and the sonics are pretty near spectacular.

So to the music directly. The three works, that is. We are treated to "Linen and Lace" for starters, a danceful reel-ful Irish folk adaptation with the limber beauty of Maestro Galway on flute. There is pastoral repose in parts of all three works and it is a thing to drift within.

"Inishlacken" continues the lovely windings through hill and dale, this time with the evocative and beauteous pairing of fiddle and violin, the folkish and the classical edges of the music. And too the rhythmic energy of Whelan's music becomes ever more palpable.

Of course because of the step-dancing showcase that Riverdance so wonderfully is in its stage version, the rhythmic agility we hear so nicely rendered in "Inishlaken" comes even more dramatically to the forefront in "Riverdance: A Symphonic Suite." The spinning of exciting, shifting meter Irish Gaelic melody so wonderfully present helps the vibrant music stand quite well on its own as a thing-in-itself.

And as I come out of the listening experience with some repeated close listens I now can say that the entire program has a very effective climactic build-up that culminates in the Riverdance music. Could Emerson, Lake and Palmer have done a version of this Orchestra Suite? Sure and no doubt it would have been stirring. Yet the Orchestral Suite version would be ultimately the one that brings out the earnest pulsating lyricism of the music best, and is indeed the one to go for nearly 40 minutes to a kind of rapture. Copland's "Rodeo" comes to mind as a parallel, and both are in that sense worthy of one another for how they make of folk dance and orchestral-modern-classical a new thing, a new trunk grown out of the roots.

And now I must put some sort of sum to the thoughts I have typed out here. This music is not cutting-edge Modern so much as it is a folkish miracle of lyricism, if you will pardon the turn of phrase. When I think of the meteoric rise of Riverdance in decades prior I think of the joy that it gave to my workmate, now alas gone, a step dancer herself in her youth, and how that infectious joy readily contaged me. I listen to the whole sum of that music in the suite and know that there is nothing accidental about its success. Whelan is as sure-handed a Modern nationalist as anybody has been. And yes, there is joy and beauty to this music. It deserves the renown it has gotten for a critical ear does not find it at all musically facile. It is concentric, contentful, and stirring fare for anyone with a folk urge, a Celtic tinge, a Gaelic feeling that needs to be satisfied symphonically. If you are someone towards music as Anthony Bourdain (RIP) was to food, this will open you up! Bravo!

Friday, June 15, 2018

J. S. Bach, Partitas, Menno van Delft

There is much I could say about Johann Sebastian Bach's Partitas in general and this new recording for harpsichord as recorded by Menno van Delft (resonus 10212, 2-CD set). I will say I hope enough to give you the idea of what you would get with this one.

It is music as worthy of our attention as anything that exists. It is superlative music in every way, and occupies a kind of special place even among Bach keyboard works for the wealth of invention and melodic thrust, and a somewhat less contrapuntal approach at times. It is series of works that sound equally well on piano as harpsichord. Over the years I have been taken by a couple of piano performances of the Partitas, namely a very obscure mono Remington recording by Jorge Demus and a much more well-known Columbia 2-LP offering by Glenn Gould. Each give us a great deal to appreciate in how a pianist might approach the music, but then there have been harpsichord versions of course and I have revelled in many of them as well.

The new Menno van Delft harpsichord performances rank up there among my absolute favorites. There are a number of reasons. The CDs were recorded among the Cobbe Collection of early keyboards in Hatchlands Park, England, and there is a spacious, resonous headroom in the stereo audio-imaging that allows the harpsichord sound to breathe quite nicely. Second, the instrument is a 1784 Christian-Gotthelf Hoffman model, of which only two survive. It sounds truly grand, quil-like in the best sense with a lower registered that stands out remarkably for its tone color.

Add to this the considerable prowess and intimate understanding Menno van Delft gives to this music. His performances are spirited, inspired and very bravura. The Partitas have some much varied charm and brilliance and Van Delft rises to the occasion with a well-ornamented reading as exciting as it is period-worthy.There is a bit of rubato as appropriate but not a great deal.

In short this is a rather triumphal recording of music ever triumphal. It is a cornerstone of Bach's astonishing inventiveness that all should hear in depth. And although there are other recordings to rival this one, I can think of no better way to hear the music than on this Van Delft offering.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Peter Child, Shanti, Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Gil Rose

The remarkably essential Boston Modern Orchestra Project continues with a latest volume in their recordings of American orchestral music that deserves wider exposure. Today an album of the post-millennial orchestral music of Peter Child, entitled Shanti (BMOP Sound 1057). The BMOP orchestra under Gil Rose gives us excellent performances of three of Child's works, "Jubal" (2001), "Adirondack Voices" (2006), and the title work, "Shanti" (2011).

It is somewhat difficult to pigeonhole Child's music. Then again pigeonholing is never a great idea anyway. Suffice to say that Child's music is tonal yet not eclectic so much as carrying on the Modern Extended Tonal Orchestral tradition. There are moments in "Shanti" where you hear a pronounced debt to the Messiaen of the "Turangalila" years, and those passages are rather uncanny in that way. Yet this is a but a moment in the whole confluence of sound events. The overall impression is of an original, imaginative inventiveness.

"Jubal" starts off the program, a paean to music. It condenses an entire four-movement symphonic overview into a very eventful 15 minutes of music. There is energy and expressive elements, a very sure authorial voice and orchestrational brilliance. It never fatigues nor does it conform to everyday expectations as to what might come next.

"Adirondack Voices"  brings folk elements into a kind of lyrical-atmospherical, somewhat Americana tinged mix of alternately delicate and robust invocatory descriptive strengths.

"Shanti" changes the mood to mystery, detailed orchestral questions without set answers, probings of spirit and substance, ineffability. The concluding portions of the work are beautifully hushed and knowingly unknown.

I am taken with this music and its refusal to "come clean" and render the obvious. It is a complex and ever challenging journey into the inner within an outer. He has the freshness of plein air painting yet the hermeticism of  Dutch Renaissance and Vermeerian allegory, all in a highly developed orchestral modernism that is a joy to hear. This may be something of a sleeper but all the more reason to hear it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Erik Satie, Complete Piano Works 3, New Salabert Edition

There are a number of reasons why the lover of the Satie solo piano opus finds the experience of repeated listenings a virtually unparalleled joy. The most obvious one has to do with the sensuous untrammeled lyrical beauty of something like the Gymnopedies. Even the casual TV watcher might be exposed to that in, say, a coffee commercial that features the most well-known one. And so perhaps many people know of this, though they may not all attach the melodics to the Satie name.

And then there is the whimsical side, the structurally wayward side, and other sides that this review article need not address, particularly as I have not thought it through to a point where I might cover every wrinkle.

Yet there is one side not yet mentioned that is especially important to the review today, namely his processional  pensativities. They are quirkily modern, far from facilely intuitional in terms of a listener's ready grasp. One nice aspect of the Satie Complete Piano Works 3, New Salabert Edition (Grand Piano 763) is that a solid block of "processional" Satie is taken together as a whole by pianist Nicolas Horvath.The block begins with "Preludes du Nazareen" and ends with "Prelude de 'La Porte Heroique du Ceil'" It occupies some 64 of the generous 84 minute playing time. Then flows a somewhat more rapid tempo series of musings beginning with the "Gnossienne No. 6" and ending with "Danse de Travers II." It is a satisfying sequence, a sort of unified summing up of two very Satian approaches to harmonic-melodic sequencing, the unexpected twists and turns in a music far from following the expectations of periodic symmetry that might have been assumed in the piano music of his time, or much of it at least. Interestingly the potentially marathon "Vexations" is placed within this block of music, clocking in at a mere seven minutes, and so it appears to us not as the day-long bizarre mesmerisation it can have when following faithfully Satie's suggestion to play it again and again. For that one can turn to other performances. Here it takes its place with other slow moving, winding processionals.

The entire projected complete Horvath reading of Satie solo piano music began when he approached Satie musicologist Robert Orledge and asked him whether he might serve as Horvath's artistic adviser on a proposed complete reading. As it happened Orledge was at nearly the same time asked to edit the complete opus for a proposed Salabert Edition of the music. A number of errors had  crept into the published versions of the works, some in part due to a slightly lax proofreading job on the part of the composer. Orledge was to correct these misprints by referring to the original manuscript versions. He also perforce was charged to cull through early versions of some works, alternate readings, fragmented,  partial works, student works and such things as piano accompaniments to songs both his and of others. From all that Orledge was to cull a kind of definitive performing edition of as complete an opus as seemed desirable given these variabilities.

In the course of this third volume we are treated to one World Premier recording of the previously unheard 30 second fragment "Airs a Faire Fuir No 2 (version plus chromatiques)." A sizeable number of revised-corrected pieces also occur here for the first time.  Namely of the "Prelude du Nazareen," "uspud," "Dances Gothiques,""Prelude de 'La Porte Heroique du Ciel,'" "Sans Titre, ?Gnossienne," "Pieces Froides, Airs A Faire Fuir" and the Froides "Danses de Travers," and finally the "Danses de Travers II."

I have not done A-B comparisons on the revised works, but certainly nothing seems amiss. Neither though did I find myself in a drop-drawers state of astonishment. We do not always need that to be pleased in any event.

As for the Horvath readings, there is a great deal of limpidity and lyrical, non-virtuoso poeticism called for in much of the music. Horvath perhaps is not entirely perfect at times, yet his performances have a touching freshness and lack of pretense that seem to me nicely hewing to the spirit of these works. In that way perhaps you hear the Satie a little bit more than you hear the pianist, which is in no way a bad thing. Horvath is pretty selfless throughout.

The Satie pieces on this volume alternately haunt and beguile, and sometimes both. If you do not know the solo Satie, and if so where have you been? Seriously though if you have not delved deeply into the brilliant complete opus, this volume will give you a big leg up if you remind yourself to pay attention and not let yourself wander away into the thickets. The New Edition samplers might want to start with this volume as well. And for the Horvath performances, he is authoritative in choice of tempos and amount of rubato, though others have done perhaps more at times by taking liberties. Still, this is a welcome addition to the librares of all Satie acolytes and champions.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Mussorgsky-Gorchakov, Pictures at an Exhibition, Prokofiev, Cinderella, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya

I was carrying on last week about the descriptive Modernist works that caught my ear in the first important leg of my listening life. To that list I most certainly could add the two works contained on a new live performance release as played by Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Namely Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (here in the somewhat rarely performed 1955 orchestration by Sergei Gorchakov) and Prokofiev's Cinderella (FWSO ((Live))), the latter for this recording-performance in a selection of 13 movements from the original ballet score.

To call Mussorgsky a Modernist is of course not strictly factual. After all he wrote "Pictures" in 1874 and was not at all a typical practitioner of such things as modernity. By other measures he was enormously influential as a lineal forebear to later Russian modernist masters like Stravinsky and Prokofiev. So the juxtaposition of Mussorgsky's "Pictures" and Prokofiev's "Cinderella" seems very appropriate and stylistically nearly synonymous.

So then to the Mussorgsky. The Ravel orchestration of "Pictures" that has come down to us is brilliant and seemingly has defined for good and all our idea of what the orchestral version should sound like. It of course bears the stamp of Ravel's impressionist palette, which gives certain movements great color. The Sergei Gorchakov has the disadvantage as coming along at a time (1955) when most no longer thought of other orchestrational possibilities. Nonetheless this alternate orchestration gives us a fresh look at what can be done. There is generally something rather more Russian to be heard here, less colorful but more dramatic. Perhaps it is more rough-hewn, heavier, closer to the Mussorgsky solo piano version. "The Great Gate of Kiev" and the "Introduction-Promenade" thematics seem more elemental and rousing. Some of the character study movements seem harder edged, thicker, more pressing in their immediacy. The performance has much to recommend it. Harth-Bedoya and the Ft. Worth musicians put their heart and soul into it. There is the kind of extra oomph one can get in a live performance and it is a very good thing.

Turning to the Prokofiev and its post WWII 1945 mood alternating elation, fatefulness and really some remaining clouds of gloom, the music is as memorable as anything Prokofiev wrote. The clock-midnight theme is as evocative and Modernist as anything Prokofiev ever did. There is beauty in the bluster of some of it, a sad hopelessness in some of the romantic themes, or that is how I feel the music in this time of my life. Harth-Bedoya has wisely avoided the several suites Prokofiev put together from the original score, and instead chosen thirteen numbers from the full score.

In my own personal view it is hard to top the complete ballet as done by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, USSR Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra, but then that runs several hours. For a 40-minute encapsulation this version is hard to beat. There is plenty of scampering energy to the gallops; there is passion and a feeling of potential doom to the midnight music, and there is passion to be heard in the romantic movements.

I cannot imagine readers here who do not know either of these works. If there are any this is a good place to hear the works, with the proviso that "Pictures" is not in the version the world is used to hearing. Yet that should not stop you. Those who know both works intimately would benefit from this program because the Ft. Worth outfit seem filled with joy, enthusiasm and energy in their performances and the sum is different enough that you will no doubt gain something nice in the hearing. This one is a nice surprise! I recommend it.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Poulenc, Les Biches, Les Animaux modeles, Sinfonietta, RTF National Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Luc Tingaud

Lest we forget the orchestral works of Stravinsky in his French period along with works by Milhaud and Poulenc have a certain unmistakably communicative Modernism and a joie de vivre that in the right performances seem as fresh and current as baked bread just out of the oven.

The RTE National Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud  give to us a very animated and enthusiastic reading of three such gems by Francis Poulenc, namely Les Biches--Suite, Les Animaux modeles--Suite and Sinfonietta (Naxos 8.573739).

You know you are in for some detailed and dramatic readings from the first strains of the "Rondean" movement of the Suite from "Les Biches." And you recognize immediately from the presence of the performances how much the works demand a sympathetic vision to bring them fully to life. And this program has all of that in abundance.

If I might interject an experiential note at this point which might help explain my attitude toward the performances of these compositions, I will now do that. In my own life I had a phase in my listening and appreciation that led me one-by-one to listen heavily to Modernists that had as one of the bases to paint sequentially scenarios through orchestration and tonality. It is clear that the 20th century ballet as a form had much to do with the music as it was structured in a story line. So Stravinsky's Petrushka, Firebird, Rites so much told Modern-leaning tonal stories that were such an influential basis for the pre-radical-avant scene. So then we had also some of Debussy's works, Milhaud's Le Creation du Monde, Honegger's Pacifica, Copland's Appalachian Spring, Kodaly's Hary Janos and on and on. Then of course we contemplate here Poulenc's Les Biches and Les Animaux modeles.

My point is to say that there was a time when I immersed myself deeply in these works. That exposure in turn influenced me about thinking about orchestral Modernism, and one should not forget another extreme side of the programmatic descriptive,  Richard Strauss Hero's Life, etc. At some point I discovered the more absolute music sides of Modernism and dwelled there for a rather long time. So Webern, Berg (though the Violin Concerto and Wozzeck are surely descriptive as well as abstract), Schoenberg (he belongs in both camps), Varese, Stockhausen, Boulez and a certain side of Messiaen, Penderecki, Xenakis, Carter, etc., preoccupied much of my attention, at that time more so than the descriptive Modernists who I had for a time grown tired of.

And now each of the classic descriptivist compositions more or less I have been reawakened to again by vibrant new readings of the scores. And at the same time the Modernist absolutists I more firmly connect in my mind with Bach and no longer see as periodically modern tabula rasa.  I bring this up because maybe such cycles of appreciation are not entirely alien to others, that my experience is shared by others on the quest to understand all in our time as well as the past? ? And in this view the very vibrant readings of the Poulenc Ballet Suites are most timely for me and inevitable maybe, inevitable for the need to regenerate some past loves as described above? In this view and bounding back and forth between absolute or semi-abstraction and literary descriptive styles may characterize a wholistic pattern of listening to modern  music but also to music within history in general and to compositional trends as well, as they play out recurrently as perhaps bouncing between opposite poles, today of course as well as in past sequences?

And all of that situates this particular recording in my own listening cycles. The end point is that this fine program is a good one to remind you of how essential the most essential Poulenc can be, as heard by these lovingly attentive renditions.  OK, you might say, but two of the works come to us in the Suite form, and "Les Animaux modeles" is missing some of the suite movements at that. So what? This disk goes over some high ground without trying to be complete, and the ground it does cover it does very profoundly, I guess you could say.

So the release seems both timely and necessary to me. But as for what it could be for you, I think it exemplary as a either an introduction or reaffirmation to Poulenc the orchestralist. So this one comes to you very highly recommended.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Kyle Gann, Hyperchromatica, For Three Retuned, Computer-Driven Pianos

There was an old Odyssey LP out when I was a teen that dealt with quarter-tone music. Charles Ives' momentus music for quarter-tone pianos was on that disk, as well as several other modern compositions in the idiom. It was very much a revelation to me and as much as I expected some music revolution to come from the world's exposure to that music it never quite took place. Sure, there have been other, good-to-excellent additions to the possible universe of detunings and retunings but there was no mass exodus from the tempered scale into microtonality.

I realized at some point too that the avant garde in music might never quite replace what has been assumed outside of the vanguard. In the end we coexist in a multi-stylistic world where no one has been granted a hegemony and many of us recognize that stylistic plurality at the end of the day is a boon for those listeners and music lovers who would rather not be forced to choose a single way of moving forward in the way that Beethoven so wondrously changed virtually all classical music that followed. That post-Beethovian world is often enough implied even today as a framework for those more traditional modernists. And even some at the very edge in some ways.

Well at the same time the working within re-tuned and detuned modalities continues somewhere in the new world always. Lou Harrison and Harry Partch have been celebrated as the brilliant composers they were and with their music comes a new situation for tuning, often enough.

As far as Ives' initial foray into quarter-tone music, the situation was about the poly-tune-al rather than polytonal. Kyle Gann has created a startling set of some 17 pieces "for three retuned, computer driven pianos" recorded in lively sonic details onto two-CDs and taking some 155:42 to play back in its entirety. In many ways this music is in the direct lineage from the Ives quarter-tone piano works. Rather than keeping on while not saying, let me get the title and label out of the way now. The works as a whole go under the name Hyperchromatica (Other Minds Records 1025-2 2-CDs). There are to be heard poly-tune-al, polytonal and sometimes polyrhythmic dimensions. All with a compelling and ever-differing compositional clout. . .

First, about the tuning itself. Gann divides the octave into 33 just-intonated tones, each a harmonic of E Flat.

And so like Ives at least most of the time these are tonal and through-like compositions that if they were not hypertonal and hyperchromatic in their radical division of the spectrum of tonal divisiveness would have a kind of homespun melodic-harmonic communicativeness that sounds compositionally direct. For that you have to imagine how these pieces might lay out in a tempered-scale rendition. And in some many ways Gann like Ives recognizes that a kind of literal laying out maximizes the sort of recognition that a diatonic-chromatic unfolding of an alien sort of tuning system makes possible.  The listening mind thereby becomes hyperresponsive to the eerie consistency of the alternate tuning universe in imaginary parallel to conventional tempered laying out. So the listener can identify and mentally measure aural space as she hears. Or he hears.

Later on there are more spatially processual pieces that play with simultaneous gestalt rabbit-duck velocity oscillations that contrast against the tuning expansions to work on multiple levels.

It all rivets to attuned receptive listeners and creates the effect you have or might have had when viewing for a protracted period the upside-down image in an old camera obscura. At first there may be a kind of queasiness when acclimating to this dramatic tuning. Then like the camera obscura experience the perceptive mind may compensate (it eventually did for me) and you suddenly turn in your mind the sound image rightside-up, so to speak. Or in simple terms you learn to hear the new proportions and a retuned world in its own right as natural and consistent.

All this experience can be had repeatedly by getting the music and playing it over again. There is no other real way to understand the music except via the senses, over time and much more than a few times. The effort is well worth it. Bravo! It is a major landmark in microtonal music.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernandez, Tempus Viellatorum, Fiddle in the Music of the XIII Century

When the ears might grow weary of a continual onslaught of a same style, period, or genre, there are surely other things to turn to. For me Early Music provides such relief. Given the creative and more exacting reconstructions characteristic of  Early Music performance practices that began more or less in the '70s of last century it can be exciting to hear what is being done today.

A nice example of that is to be found in the recent title Tempus Viellatorum: Fiddle in the Music of the XIII Century (Enchiriadis EN2047). It features oval medieval fiddles as played by Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernandez. He plays fiddles with or without a lateral drone, with several different bows as reconstructed from the period. Joining him are several Early Music dedicated instrumentalists playing the citole, a Medieval lute, the muse, a bagpipe, a frame drum without jingles played in the manner of Persian traditional music, a tambourine and wooden clappers.

The music affirms the drone-fiddle roots we think of when we think "fiddle." Melodies wind around themselves in a sort of Early Music ethnicity. Troubador/Trouvere melodies arranged for fiddle bump up against Conductus refrains, things that suggest the dance, things that contemplate--and some 800 years after we have a chance to hear them again nicely played. It gives me goose bumps to be on an intersection to this time, to these sounds. It is a most rare opportunity when you think about it. Of all the things missing now these works have survived.

They affirm in the best of new period performance practices that it in the end it should feel less like a reconstruction and the more like a living breathing music to us, for us, in us like all ancient things somehow must if we give them a chance. And for that it matters slightly less when listening if everything we hear is exactly how, to the last quaver, someone at some time might have played it. We do not know everything there is to know with total exactitude. Good performances like these convince that there was such a thing as a relaxed, somewhat loose and less a hugely prescriptive way to play the music and like all older music it survives as how people of our time imagine it, right? These are many reasons to appreciate the new performance practices as authentic in spirit. And so we smile as we hear this. So I do.

Yes, as one of my very influential teachers once asked, "but ALL music is ethnic music, isn't it?" Sure. It is. And no one of us is not without some "eth"! That is not to say that we should weaponize it, for we all ultimately came from the same cradle. We are in the end one humanity. We can partake of ethnicity of any branch and know that in the end it is one tree. Or so I would suggest.

Nonetheless when you hear this music performed in this way you cannot help but affirm that Medieval Europeans like all of us anywhere or at any time have distinctive cultural predilections and face it, if there is a debate about rising to some music, we should rise to all worthy music not just the parochial and the local. Or we alternately can take the knee and no disrespect is intended. We benefit when we have freedom and choice, to play a music or not, to rise to it or not to rise, to bring something to the rest of us about what we feel is wrong, or what we feel is right to do. And what music IS, it is not for any one person to prescribe. Freedom is freedom to choose what we furnish our lives with. And how it means something special to us.

I do not mean to get topical, but it does occur to me that WE have the choice as freely human to define what music should do for us, not some "authority." And if you should get a hold of this music and listen intently, no one should tell you how you must respond to it. The response should be honest and measured by what feelings the music invokes in us, in the time in which we live.

Along those lines this album if you listen repeatedly gets increasingly singular. Thematic treatment is more folkish than scholarly, less mannered than plainly ornate, so to say. Anyone who seeks out New Music comes full circle by respecting equally Old Music, for in its own way as performed as we tend to today it is as new as it is perennial and eternal. Alejandro Tonatiuh Hernandez gives us focused and brilliantly concentric readings of this music. You should hear it. So too, your children should hear it. Your love ones should hear it. Your friends should hear it. There is nobody that should not hear it. We may travel through time in a straight line, or at least many of us think we do. Yet spirals and recurrences have an important place in gauging who we have become. So listen, then. I recommend you do.

Monday, June 4, 2018

David Kechley, The Walbrzych Project, Philharmonia Sudeka

Not everything you put on a CD player for the first time is obvious or self explanatory. So when the two-CD set The Walbrzych Project (Innova 932) came out of the mailer and I put it on, I honestly did not know what to expect. It is the music of David Kechley, as performed ably by the Philharmonia Sudeka.

The first rather unexpected thing is that the first CD only runs around 10 minutes. It is the orchestral introduction "Karasuma: A Fast Funk for Orchestra." The second CD only runs around 40 minutes. It is the full symphony "Wakeful Visions/Moonless Dreams." So why does the composer split up the music in this way?

The answer does not matter because the music is very worthwhile. David Kechley has an unmistakable sort of Modernist Americana way about him. Not that he tries to idealize the American music he grew up with so much as he writes in brilliant unforced ways a music that assumes the music in the air around him, somehow. What that means is that you can hear roots in this music, and they are put to excellent use in creating music that is very well wrought, brilliantly orchestrated, and in the end very much Contemporary Modern and engaging.

"Karasuma" has a very rhythmic demeanor. It glows with tonal radiance and works through a kind of Americana Funk transcendence that really stays in the mind. As an introduction to the symphonic work that follows it is slightly Coplandesque minus the Appalachian marriage but with that dappled lyricism that marks Appalachian Spring--all that without resorting to imitation. There is a jazz aura as well. It plays itself out nicely in a Modern Classical manner a la Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein, again as belonging to a lineage not as a copycatting.

The "Wakeful Visions/Moonless Dreams" sequence that follows does not disappoint. There are dense and exciting rhythmic movements that remind nicely of the sort of rhythmic thrust of Stravinsky's Rite. And then too, the quieter more lyrical side of Kechley is on display in this work and it is equally engaged and magnetizing. And is that a quotation from Prokofiev I hear? Yes, surely. Is that from Cinderella? Or maybe The Flaming Angel? (Prokofiev's tragically underappreciated opera, I mean.) And Kechley transforms it and makes of it a talking point, so to speak.

There is something very characteristic in this music, a virtuoso sound-depiction ability one comes to expect from only the most lucid and eloquent of compositional voices. All the names I've mentioned above and then perhaps add Messiaen? So for all that there is something more than Americana at work here, it is true. It is a music of sunlight.

I come away from this music impressed and satisfied that there is most definitely something to it all. You acolytes and devotees of the Contemporary Modern, hearken! This album has much to recommend it. Give it a few listens by all means. See what you think. I am happy to have this one.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Crossing, If There Were Water, Music of Stratis Minakakis and Gregory W. Brown, Donald Nally

The Crossing is to my mind up there among the very best of choral ensembles for Contemporary music (and you will pardon me if I capitalize music style terms. I spent too many years in the college textbook publishing world I guess. It is pedagogical more than punctuative-ly sound). If there is a brand new acapella work to be had, one feels confident that The Crossing will do it justice.

And with the CD at hand today they most certainly do so. I speak of the recent If There Were Water (Innova 998). It is a recording of two new works, Stratis Minakakis's "Crossing Cycle" (2015/2017) and then Gregory W. Brown's "un/bodying/s" (2017).

I must say that both works seem ideally suited to these sweet voices, as much as anything could be suited to anybody. Minakakis' five-part work trades in ancient Greek mythological terms with a musical score that is freshly and vividly situated in a sort of ancient ritualistic-in-Contemporary-Modern harmonically spicy-tangy palette extraordinaire. The close intervallic soundings are so nicely visceral that they neary take on some ambrosian chant from heavenly outer space aura. And the more wide-voiced soundings contrast and give outside musical air to it all. It is music so well conceived and brilliantly performed that it almost transcends on close listen what one might expect to experience.

Gregory W. Brown's "un/bodying/s" addresses water as a transformative thing for human culture and life itself, drawing on the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in Western Massachusetts, 1936-46, and the after-consideration of water as an even wider metaphor. He draws on old and even archaic styles in his re-formation of collective voices as collective human being. The shape-note, archaic carol  singing reference is an attention getting moment, yet the whole work it its five parts gives out with ancient echoes within an ultra-beautiful Modernist expression.

The stunning quality of the choral renditions is such that one feels transported to a super-human realm where the voices sing to us of the metamorphic beauty of being human. Or that is how I hear it all as I listen with increasing appreciation each time out.

I can say that this album stands out for the exceptional artistry of the Crossing and the subtly full and original compositional stances of Maestros Minakakis and Brown.

Anyone who loves the collective choral potential of human voices and wants to know what new music has been made available for them would do very well to get this album, the sooner the better. It is a blockbuster, there is no doubt in my mind.