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Friday, March 22, 2019

Lei Liang, A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

Chinese-born composer Lei Liang brings to us a completely lucid sensibility and a most articulate and evocative syntax. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project album of three recent works shows us glowingly the vitality of his invention. A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams (BMOP Sound 1061) gives us the title work recently (2017) commissioned by BMOP, plus his "Xiaoxiang, Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra" (2009, rev. 2014), and "Five Seasons" (2010, rev. 2014).

Liang came to the US in 1990 as a young man, in time moving from a concentration on piano to composition, and finding his voice through studies at New England Conservatory and eventually a PhD from Harvard University.

While involving himself in his compositional studies he found himself reconnecting with Chinese culture, lifeways and traditions which then in turn informed his music. Columbia's Chou Wen Chung he acknowledges as an inspiration.

The music to be heard in this program before us shows us a vivid Modernism, a lively pictorial imagination and a landscape artist's sense of panorama and open skies. And the influence of traditional Chinese music too can be heard, in the most tangible ways on "Five Seasons" which features a concerted solo part for the pipa, played dramatically and effectively by Gao Hong. Then too Chien-Kwan Lin's alto sax on "Xiaoxiang" has a spatial-temporal feel that feels at times rather Chinese.

It is on the title work "A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams" that we hear the current culmination of Liang's musical vision. It is sound-color-centric (and so too is traditional Chinese music you might say), carving a vibrant language from the various ways of sounding the instruments of the orchestra and soloists, as applicable. A concern with the natural landscape reminds us of the legacy of Chinese poetry and painting. The music recalls in its very own Chinese-informed way the innovations in sound clustering that later High Modernism perfected, which for those attending to it still stays with us as a part of conceptional and orchestrational color practice today.  Lei Liang has the acute ability to build sound structures and expressions that revisit the orchestra in those terms and then give it all a personal and culturally rooted stamp of identity.

One can learn a great deal from reading the liners to this album. I leave that to you.

The music itself gives us a true contribution to the "new" in New Music. Lei Liang speaks with his own voice, his own orchestral poetics, very much Modern, very much Chinese in its essence, and masterful in utterance. Highly recommended. BMOP comes through with another gem.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ziboukle Martinaityte, In Search of Lost Beauty...

Is programmatic music back? Yes and no. It may not be so literal anymore. Not like Richard Strauss where the violin might mean so-and-so and the horns such-and-such. But there is a literary patina that envelops some of New Music today. And it serves to poeticize our listening mind when it works well. I have zero complaints on that front with Ziboukle Martinaityte's In Search of Beauty... (Starkland ST-231).

Martinaityte's programmatic intent is loosely poetic. One rainy day she went past the Notre Dame Cathedral and had a kind of epiphany when the puddles reflected aspects of the cathedral in multiple bits, showing a different reality, a different beauty not otherwise available to her. This is interesting especially to me because I noted something similar here the other day in the rain puddles reflecting the vertically upstanding trunks of trees as I went on a walk in the morning. It is a coincidence but then a mindfulness I was also experiencing.

What counts ultimately is the ravishingly evocative nature of the music. It has ten parts and lasts 70 minutes. There is a singularly refracted soundscape to be heard that does not remain the same ever. It sustains with near-drone continuity yet has punctuations that break through the blanketing sounds. An arpeggiated violin line starts midstream and develops intermittently over time. And the sustains evolve into a rolling dialog between the three instrumentalists responsible. There is a poignant sonic artistry to be enjoyed in FortVio via piano, violin and cello. There are electronics too at times and they serve to sustain us further. They give us more sustenance, if you will.

The liners map out the composer's world better than I can so I quote from them here. "An hour-long sequence of audiovisual novellas on the elusive subject of beauty - an attempt to recreate the experience in which time is slowed down in order to transport us into an alternate dimension where the commonly apprehended reality is inverted into the otherworldly mystique of reflection and shadows."

So the whole concept behind it all has a richness of meaning. And the music fully lives up to the promise of the poetry behind it. That is saying something. It is one of the best ambient forays I have heard lately. It passes by Minimalism to become "free" from the need to stick to sameness. Instead sameness and difference intermingle without a sense of rulebreaking or transgression. There is Radical Tonality that comes closer to Non-Western World Drone than typical of New Music today, yet does not adhere rigidly to itself either. It is a betwixt-and-between thing that as it remains hovering above possibility refuses to become everyday-ordinary, which is the composer's point, her vision.

So there is a modeling of the idea of the extra-normal reality represented by the puddle images as felt in the unraveling of the music itself. Not a sense of coming apart, though. Rather there is a sense of refraction, of reflective sound shapes unveiling. It is a music of Color Fields, not quite Frankenthaler-esque but really there is a sort of affinity there if you look for it.

It is some remarkable music that stands out as difference, as difference in sameness.

I do recommend this quite definitely. It is neither here nor there and that makes it a special sort of "where." Listen!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Schoenberg, Piano Music and his 17 Fragments, Yoko Hiroto

The piano music of Arnold Schoenberg is foundational in conveying his ideas about pitch relations and clustering. It too is meant to be expressive and filled with timbral, sonaric explorations that allow a poetic selection, a making the piano sound in various ways. The liner notes to pianist Yoko Hiroto's Schoenberg Piano Music and His 17 Fragments (Navona NV6214) remind us, and most importantly so too do Ms. Hiroto's performances on the recording. If we should think in these terms now it is in part because Schoenberg's twelve-tone approach was after all not the change in music for all-time that some thought it was to become. And Schoenberg's music like all after him that explored dodecaphonic possibilities needs to be heard as music instead of science or advancement, like Ars Nova is no longer so much "nova" to us any longer, though it is certainly "ars."

So we have on this disk three series of Klavierstucke, the three of Op. 11, the five of Op. 23, and the two of Op. 33. Then the 17 Fragments, which show once again a miniaturist framework but also reveal Schoenberg working on ideas without necessarily thinking of their dissemination at that moment?

The fragments include some fascinating Brahmsian attempts and a chromatic insurgence as we might expect, with some contrapuntal writing, a full range and dynamics. There is the movement from one style-state to another as we know, but these details are new to me anyway and musically quite interesting. There is a surprising influence of Prokofiev in one fragment. All the fragments give us Schoenberg "thinking out loud" musically, pursuing possibilities that he does or does not make much use of in completed works. They add another dimension and supplement the three published collections of pieces we hear in this program. And we get a fuller picture of his surety along with his hesitation.

Yoko Hirota makes all of this music come alive with a sensitive sympathy and understanding. One must listen intently and more than once if this music is to get inside your understanding. And once you do that you appreciate the music itself and Ms. Hirota's way with all of it. The Fragments are a revelation and make the program especially attractive.

Happily recommended.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Muzio Clementi, Keyboard Sonatas, Sandro De Palma

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) may not be remembered with the full spotlight like Mozart or Beethoven, yet he certainly deserves the attention he is getting more of these days. We have another volume of his Keyboard Sonatas (Naxos 8.573880), this time under the very capable piano auspices of Sandro De Palma. This volume is as entrancing as any of them with a nicely chosen divide between the elemental twinkle-twinkle sing-songy earlier works--Op. 1, No. 3 (1771) and Op. 8, No. 2 (1784)--and the near-Romantic poetically gravitas later period--Op. 50, No. 3 "Didone abbandonata" (1821) and Op. 50 No. 2 (1821).

The sweep of inventive pianism is increasingly engaging as one listens over time. There is music box simplicity contrasted by deeper darker mystery in the later works. The symphonies turned out to be some substantial fare on the MHS double record that came out years ago. Perhaps we can hear new versions of them. And Naxos (see previous posting) is doing a bit of the chamber music too. Perhaps the piano music is the most charming and flowing of all his music and this volume gives us a sample that need not fill 50 CDs to make its statement, though if Naxos gets all of the sonatas done it will fill more than a few at any rate.

Sandro De Palma plays the sonatas with a bravura and an alternating tenderness that helps us along considerably in assessing and smiling over what there is to hear on these four gemful essays and our subsequent assays. It is a happy meeting of composer and performer and we the listeners most surely are the benefactors. Clementi is never out of ideas and the musical ideation is on a high level no matter how basic or involved the inventions.

I must recommend this strongly. It is something to bring you a little joy I would hope. I am smiling myself as I listen again.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Gerhard & Mompou, Complete Music for Solo Guitar, Marco Ramelli

There are programs that are so delightful that you take to them straight away and it is happy-time from then on. It may be spring but that is not sufficient to explain why I have in this way taken to Marco Ramelli's Gerhard & Mompou: Complete Music for Solo Guitar (Brilliant 95679). It's the quality of the music and the performances.

It turns out that ALL the guitar music by the Catalonian composers Federico Mompou (1893-1987) and Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) fit comfortably on a single CD with room for a couple of short items by Emilio Pujol (1886-1980). And it is remarkable how idiomatic, how harmo-melodically folksy yet Modern the music is. Both composers sound very comfortable with and inspired by the classical guitar's capabilities.

Marco Ramelli gives us expressive beauty of tone and concentrated subtlety that seem perfectly right for this music. He does not attempt to steal the show so much as he realizes the composers' aims beautifully. And that makes sense for these works are meant not to awe with technique but to harness it to the ends of striking and chiming the immediacy of the "musical hours." We feel the time passing as if we sat alongside an old grandfather clock. Yet that feeling is not in the least tedious. It is made the more deep by the richness of melodic invention to be heard.

Nocturnal atmospherics, infectious dance-like ditties and deep meditations bounce along together nicely. The nine-part Gerhard "For Whom the Bell Tolls" ruminates on the Donne-Hemingway words and has a darkly thoughtful pull to it. Ramelli lends his revision hand to the suite and it all sounds quite well. Perhaps it is the most "Modern" of all the works here. But in any event it is all a really "authentic" thing, this music. So you just let it go by and appreciate the passing.

Ramelli for the program utilizes throughout a 1931 guitar fashioned by Barcelona's exemplary luthier, Francisco Simplicio. The instrument sounds just right for the music and it is recorded well to boot.

This album glows, it is music at least some of us (me for example) have missed, yet it is so well-played that it is worth catching whether you know this music or not. Highly recommended. A guitar must-hear for sure.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Michael Jon Fink, Celesta

In one of the latest Cold Blue releases we get some remarkably resonant music for celesta. It is a program of dream-like sequences, 12 pieces in all by Michael Jon Fink. The album is simply entitled Celesta (Cold Blue Music CB0053). The music is all of a piece, wistfully in a Radical Tonality zone, yet too one feels the ghosts of Erik Satie and the John Cage of "Cheap Imitation" and perhaps of Morton Feldman too, but never directly, instead rather as the kind of nocturnal ambiance that, hmm, I suppose might ultimately go back to Chopin at times.

What makes it "radical" is the nearly intentless melodic form.Yet there is periodicity and elemental song form at times too, like a music box lullaby, like the stuffed animal my friend had when we were both probably three-years old? Music boxes and celestas have common tone colors of course and perhaps the wind-up boxes of childhood one recalls involuntarily when one hears the instrument.

Yet it seems that Michael Jon Fink is aware of all that on some level and captures what the celesta was meant to sound like with music that is not unlike music-box Satie, perhaps. It is captivating, almost childlike, moving and a catalyst to a Brown Study steady state. Recommended for sure.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cimarosa, L'Impresario in Angustie, Farsa per musica, Soloists, Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, Aldo Salvagno

Sometimes we do not know what we want until we get it? So when the name comes up of Dominic Cimarosa (1749-1801), I know I should listen more to...something more of his, but what? Brilliant Records gave me a good answer in a new recording of his opera buffa L'Impresario in Angustie (Brilliant 95746). It is the original one-act work nicely disposed, clearly sounded, performed with some zest and fit onto a single CD.

The liners summarize the reception-performance history nicely. Fourteen years of opera writing preceded L'Impresario, by my count no less than 11 works. So then sometime around 1786 L'Impresario saw its premiere with some of the most prominent opera buffa stars of the day in principal roles. The plot centers around a sort of play-within-a-play (cf., Hamlet, 200 Motels) about an opera impresario and his attempts to stage an opera with comic antics a result. It was a great success, resoundingly received and performed all over Europe. No less a personage than Goethe was an admirer.

In 1791 a revised version translated into German by Goethe himself was staged. A two-act version came into being in 1793 but the new music was not by Cimarosa. But in the meantime Cimarosa wrote in 1792 Gli orazi e i curiazi, which the liners inform us is considered his masterpiece (and of course that reminds me how much there is yet to learn).

After a century of neglect L'Impresario was revived in the 1930s with stagings in Turin and at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. And now we have this fine performance on CD with convincing soloists and the Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, all under conductor Aldo Salvagno.

After a few listens the music has come alive for me and I am happy to say that everything brings me a good amount of pleasure on this disk. The Brilliant price makes this an attractive offering too. Happily recommended. It is a good thing, for both widened appreciation of the period and the joy of engaging music well performed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Art Electronix, Monumental Dump Remixes

The latest album from the prolific duo Art Electronix, that is The Monumental Dump Remixes (No Stress Netlabel NN_LP078_12_18), affirms Varese's axiom that "the present-day composer refuses to die!"  The Ukranian Experimental Electronics tandem of Eugene and Catherine has a very tangible immediacy. There is an Industrial tang to this 30-something-minute program of some five riveting sound panoramas.

The music has a slightly psychedelic edge to it I guess you could say. And I mention that only because it may help to give you some clue as to what you are going to hear. No, that does not mean you might expect to hear Pink Floyd-like essays from the halcyon days of yesteryear. Rather there is a floating poetic haze of sounds that gels each in meaningful ways in terms of unabashed electronicity. More like Mimaroglu and early Olivieros than some sort of Rock-anthemic presence.

There are loops that hold interest because they have sounded interesting to the duo and chosen to go with other sounds that seem interesting. Like a poet who chooses words because they sound well together,  so Art Electronix lays out sounds with similar intent. The effect is more poetic than structurally ambitious. The "wow" feeling you might have (I do) is not a sort of "isn't this clever?" reaction, or even "isn't this profound?" It may in fact be profound in sound, but profoundly poetic more so than profoundly form-innovative. It has abstract meaning, yet it most evocatively "means."

It sounds like a sound factory of your dreams, perhaps, a kind of post-industrial take on the Industrial landscapes we see slowly fading away from our planet, or parts of our planet that I know more fully than others.

So I come to this a bunch of times so far and it increasingly lets my ear-imagination go to meaningful places. So consequently I come now to you with my recommendation that you wipe clean your mind of expectations and give this album a listen. It is fearlessly avant and widely unpretentious in its impact--with the same kind of joy-in-sound that early Electronic Music once nearly always had. The sheer joy of hearing can be heard happily on the Monumental Dump Remixes. I strongly recommend you give this one your ears! Kudos to Art Electronix for their creative art.

The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus, Ensemble for These Times

There is a world of Hungarian composers many of us outside the zone of hearing may well know not much or nothing about. That is quite clear listening to The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus (Centaur CRC 3660). The Ensemble for These Times and soloists bring us a nicely turned sample of music by the likes of Lajos Delej (1923-45), Gyorgy Justus (1898-1945), Miklos Rozsa (1907-95), and Sandor Vandor (1901-45).  You may know Rozsa at least by name, the rest probably not. And this music will doubtless be new to you. Their music is first and foremost Hungarian. It has a Hungarian expressivity and a kind of latent folk strain to it. That before it is Modern, exactly. It is neither quite Modern in some bloop-blip sense, nor then is it gushingly Romantic either.

The performances are quite good.

From Rozsa we have his "Duo for Cello and Piano." From Vandor there is the vocal and piano "Air" (and the vocalist's vibrato is a bit wider than I am used to I must say but otherwise you get the full musical impact), "A fan a levelek," "Kovacs," "borzalom," "Onarckep," all songs. Then we hear a delightful "3 Piano Miniatures" by Delej, followed by his jaunty "Scherzo" for cello and piano. The album closes on Justus's waltz "Ugy neha este" a somewhat sentimental piece that I'll admit seems less compelling to me, with the return of the piano-vocal duo above. I am less moved but try and listen to the notes rather than the performance, which will move you if the music already does somehow I suppose.

I come away from this happy to hear this music. I'll admit I am temperamentally disposed to a Hungarian-inflected classical music and so by nature of the well wrought examples I would not otherwise hear, I am very glad to have this to play again. It is fascinating music and if you are interested in such things it will be a solid and illuminating addition to what you can know and like from that neighboring world.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Florence Beatrice Price, Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor, Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter

The music of Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) comes to us now in this timely release of her Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor (Naxos 8.559827). She was, as we read on the jacket blurb, the very first Afro-American woman to have a work performed by a major American orchestra, with the premiere of her first symphony in Chicago in 1933. Perhaps most importantly her music sounds every bit as relevant today as it must have sounded then.

So we have in this program that very symphony that filled the air of the concert venue in Chicago, the 1932 Symphony No. 1 and to confirm her inventive talent and add to our appreciation we have the World Premiere recording of the Symphony No. 4 from 1945.

The jacket to this CD notes her affinity with Dvorak, and one might note in the First Symphony certainly the influence of his Symphony "From the New World," and understandably the treatment he gave to the spiritual "Going Home." You hear that a bit in the course of the First, but then you hear also Afro-American "folk" strains appearing in various very appealing ways, and at times scales in minor modes that are not divorced from traditional Afro-American lifeways.

The Fourth is the slightly more remarkable work and it shows further development and a sureness of compositional objectives that the First has too but we hear even more of it by 1945. It is remarkable that this is a First Recording at this late date, but then we know how much there is yet to discover out there and should be happy that this is now available to us. As you listen you will recognize the "Wade in the Water" theme, which is nicely interwoven into a symphonic matrix that sings out lyrically and glowingly.. The Third Movement "Juba Dance" again returns to a traditional form that the first addresses as well, but this time with perhaps even more aplomb.

After quite a few listens I can most certainly vouch for these performances by the Fort Smith Symphony under John Jeter. And I come away from it all with a firm and heartening conviction that Florence Beatrice Price is a composer of world-class stature whose music in this program sounds timeless and as classic now as it must have sounded when she first wrote it. Heartily recommended.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cecilia Lopez, Red - Machinic Fantasies

From Cecilia Lopez this morning we have a 2-CD set of what one might call Industrial-Sustain-Process-Noise Electronics Soundscaping. It is called Red - Machinic Fantasies (XI Records XI 140 2-CDs).

The first disk is the "Red" part. It was created-recorded in October 2017 at Harvestworks (NYC) as part of her Harvestworks EAR Residency. Five parts make up the whole. Imagine a whistling tea kettle as a basis for a sound universe, only there is no tea kettle, no sound like that but then a sound not entirely un-like that, either. That is a good start to understanding "Red" at least from the outside.

Kurt Gottschalk in the liners raises a question. Is this music recordable? Of course the fact that it has been released as a two-CD set makes the question philosophical and possibly rhetorical. Kurt notes that Frederic Rzewski first made this comment in his hearing on stage in regards to the music of Morton Feldman. Maybe, Kurt thinks some more, no music is recordable. Well sure, we always make some compromise in the totality of an "is" when we agree to reduce a three-dimensional world of the "actually making" into sound only. or even with a video, sacrifice some of the sensual itness of the music for a flat-screen and loudspeaker equivalent. And the immediacy and inter-interminateness of the "live" situation freezes when embedded in recorded media. Yet it was originally there and so is captured for us nonetheless.

The point Kurt is making too of course is that there is something conceptual about the performing of Ms. Lopez's music, an action element that can only be missing in the frozen dialectic of "then" in a recording. But so too we have today a fetish for process at times in the Modern music world and cool for that but like O. Henry's shut-in in the story of the "Last Leaf" the point for the beholder who cannot be there in person is this the Piagetian "there-gone" dichotomy maybe? It is a child-like state we enter and it has an amnesiatic component. We only know the "here" if the recorded hear and we forget the rest of life's here-ness endlessness.

So back to "Red."  It is a layered tapestry of sustains and partial presence-sounds and it is not uninteresting with successive hearings. It is quite interesting in fact, or it is to me.

"See Your Food" was the name of the cafeteria in my neighborhood in Chicago years ago and perhaps Mr. Gottschalk is right. The seeing and knowing how something exists may be a good deal more than the sheer facticity of its existence.  So seeing your beans and franks before and as you eat them. Is it live or is it Memorex? Well of course in the CD world everything is Memorex. Just like movies are created out of hundreds of sound and image bits, so music necessarily. Only then too with commercial recordings like film releases "live" is a thing we are denied. So that we reconstruct the thereness of it, even if in studio music it is a make-believe all-over all-at-once thereness. Like a painting is a composite of moments of painting. And so alas to that but so also all the better in that we can reproduce it for ourselves at will by simply putting it on.

So yes, "Red" is available to us in this recorded version whenever we want. As the composer responded to Kurt Gottschalk's quandary, "it doesn't do justice" to the work itself, no doubt. But then a work is only in potentia always so long as it is not sounding, and so a not-sounding-at-all to the listener is the larger injustice to the work I guess. isn't it? So we might be happy for this release. I am.

The second work, "Machinic Fantasies," filling the second disk is the more conceptually interesting of the two. That is not to say automatically that it is the most sonically interesting. It was commissioned by and recorded live at Roulette in New York in 2018. The main part, the centerpiece of the work is a kind of turret-tial civil-war derived gatling gun sounding while rotating at the turn of a crank. It is the composer's ingenious adaptation of the old gun mechanism with a loudspeaker affixed inside it, so that sounds partially revolve, devolve and counter-volve I suppose you could say. Cecilia creates the matrix of actions that are the composition and she also creates the electronics. There are two "performers, spinners" and then also a trombone and a trumpet player. As it turns out the processually interesting operations create a sound universe that too is most certainly stunning. So there we have it.

And in the end I come out of the listening with the feeling that I have engaged with two works that are very definitely of interest sonically. It is a "home made" sonic design series that excels in that the innovative processual element intervenes into the performance space to make present a world we can re-create in the recorded space of "play back."

And so we have something that fascinates and jogs the aural imagination. If you are willing to suspend judgement and just listen patiently, you in time enter two meaningfully open sound spaces. Very recommended if you are willing to travel some distance to let this sound sculpture perform inside of you.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Goldstone and Clemmow, Gershwin and Ravel: Music for Piano Duo

Here we are the day after Ravel's birthday and so an opportune time to speak of the CD at hand. It has been wafting through my ears just now and I am most certainly the better off for it. I speak of the piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow and their recent Gershwin and Ravel: Music for Piano Duo (Divine Art 25055).

There are many things going for this album. Goldstone and Clemmow seem ideally suited for the repertoire. They can work together as one instrument, no matter if they are very rubato or in tempo, they phrase with impeccable musicality, they are technically formidable and they utilize those abilities to realize this music with taste, plus they run the gamut of piano-touch strengths to bring out the music in all its poetic truth.

Both Gershwin and Ravel embraced to greater and lesser degrees Jazz as it was emerging and flourishing in the beginning decades of the 20th century. Both died in 1937 and so they cut a similar temporal swath in the century's musical developments in ways that oscillated between the Jazz-ish camps and the Modern Classical realms as well. Gershwin was perhaps the more Jazz-influenced of the two--and that had something to do with his songwriting Tin Pan Alley involvement of course.

The repertoire covered so nicely here shows Gershwin at his most Jazzy and as definitely Modern-oriented because not at all appreciably Romantic. What is most interesting is that Gershwin in these piano versions shows more plainly the spiciness of his harmonies at times and sounds less dated, which in some ways had to do with some of the Pop-Jazz (eventual) cliches. And of course Gershwin's songs and the chord changes to them had perhaps the most critical influence on later Jazz. We hear all of that in the original two piano version of his "'I Got Rhythm' Variations." But then we hear percolations too in his original piano duet version of the "Cuban Overture" and of course the original two piano version of his "Rhapsody in Blue." All of this Gershwin sounds very much the more vital and originally Modern in these original instrumentations. And thanks to Goldstone and Clemmow we get a very exciting reading of every bar of these works.

The Ravel half of this program gives us insightful readings too, but for slightly differing reasons. The "Mother Goose" music for piano duet is the first of the three works that reminds us that no matter how wonderfully masterful his orchestrations are, and he is a true master, to hear the sounds and sequences on the piano is to revel in just how startlingly inventive his music was even without the orchestral spellbinding. So that we hear with the "Goose," and too with the short and somewhat rare "Sites auriculaires."

But then the composer's piano duet version of the "Bolero" is about as startling a thing as anything on this fine set. The riveting rhythmic and melodic-harmonic insistence of the long buildup is a rejuvenation, a revelation, and so well played as to be a must-hear!

Highly recommended. Goldstone and Clemmow shine brightly and the music is sterling.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Orazio Colombano, Psalms for Six Voices, Cappella Musicale Della Cattedrale Di Vercelli, Denis Silano

The musical ages can pass between your ears as long as you live, providing you cast a wide net and listen to music that produces the sounds of earlier times along with more recent fare. After yesterday's new music in response to Schutz, today's fine disk of Psalms for Six Voices (Brilliant 95839) seems fitting and welcome. Denis Silano and Cappella Musicale Della Cattedrale di Vercelli guide us through the 16 Latin psalm settings in ideal ways. The voices are strong and nuanced; the music reminds us perhaps of Gesualdo without the dissonances.

Orazio Colombano lived around 1554 through sometime after 1595. After studying the musical arts with one Costanzo Porta, he came to the Vercelli Cathedral to direct the church music of the somewhat modest group of vocalists and instrumentalists in 1579. The Psalms was his first work, a setting of the Psalms of the Vespers liturgy which at the time was to be sung for all obligatory feast days, preceding the Magnificat. The work is elaborately antiphonal, contrapuntally complex and masterfully wrought. The music was printed in Venice in the year it was written and so it has come down to us.

The performances are richly flowing and expressive with a cathedral-space headroom that sounds quite good on playback through my rudimentary system. The music may not be well known but has a youthful vitality yet a depth that bears up well in successive hearings. Happily recommended.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ernst Krenek, Chamber Music and Songs, Volume One

Ernst Krenek (1900-91) lived a long life, so long that he was not so well remembered in his last years as he should have been, at least in the States. Yet in his day he was one of the great Modernists of Vienna before WWII summarily sent him packing to seek refuge in the USA. All the history and biography he embodied in his 91 years we more or less set aside for now as we concentrate on the recent Chamber Music and Songs, Volume One (Toccata Classics 0295). It reminds us in the best ways how vital his music was and remains today.

The Ernst Krenek Institute co-produced the album with BR Klassik and the result is an extremely happy one to my mind. Soprano Laura Aiken, mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, baritone Florian Boesch and the Ernst Krenek Ensemble give us optimum readings both sympathetic and fully precise, expressive and definitive. The works cover a considerable span of time from 1917 to 1949/61. There are gems in abundance and several first recordings.

The liners tell of a kind of epiphany Krenek experienced when a student as he read a study of Bach's fugal writing by one Ernst Kurth, which as Krenek recalled in later years asserted that music was not "a vague symbolization of [emotion] instinctively conjured up into a pleasant sounding manner, but a precisely planned reflection of an autonomous system of streams of energy materialized in carefully controlled tonal patterns." So we hear the 1917 and 1918 "Double Fugue" first recordings for four hands and two pianos, respectively, which came directly after Krenek read that book and in many ways set the tone for Krenek's brand of Modernism, which coincided in a basic sense with the Viennese School as a whole, of the outlooks of Reger and Hindemith and of the later developments in Darmstadt. Yet he was his own voice even with those affinities, as the volume shows nicely.

The seven additional works in this volume wear remarkably well, from the expressively classic vocalisms of "Drei Leider," "Wahrend der Trennung," and the "Holy Ghost's Ark" to the instrumental sublimity of the 1949/61 "String Trio," the 1929 "Trio Phantasie" for violin, cello and piano, and the 1946/55 "Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano." It all is in every detail masterfully worked out, in varying ways a Modernist, tonally expansive and edge-vibrant analog of Bach's fugalities.

After listening a good number of times to the 75 minutes of this first volume I have been increasingly impressed and taken by the whole of it.  There are multiple strands of Krenek to be heard here, with a more ravishingly Expressionist Modernism holding sway on the "Trio Phantasie" as compared with the Bachian structural splendors of the String Trio and the Double Fugues.

I must say that this volume impressed me greatly with its wealth of wonderful music. There no doubt remains a great deal more that has we need again to hear in his extremely prolific output. I look forward to further volumes!

Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Reiko Futing, Distant Song

Music for percussion, for small vocal ensemble, for the two together, for chamber groups with voice, ever shifting,  Distant Song (New Focus Recordings 216) gives us Reiko Futing at length and in focus. The composer in the liner states that this series of works express his "continuing compositional interest in time and space." How that works out is complicated. Aural memory is piqued or activated by musical quotations in various ways, bringing in, breaking apart, isolating. We are called upon to experience borders and slow change. It is the sort of thing where we do not say to ourselves, "hey, that's the first bar of Beethoven's Fifth!" It is a great deal more subtle than that. In fact I listened a number of times without reading the liners and failed to notice the constructive process, except that Early Music permeates things at times as an underlying force. So it in a way is an "inside baseball" kind of thing. You enjoy the game if you know something others might not, but you enjoy the game too if you do not catch every nuance.

So the opening work "'als ein licht'/extensio" relies as text on a poem by Kathleen Furthmann and a Heinrich Schutz motet as the "basis" for the work. The vocal ensemble has the lion's share of recognizable work to do in making us feel the "early" basis of the music. The viola da gamba quintet, percussion quartet and positive organ stretch our sensibilities. Notably at times the percussion quartet sounds with dramatic outbursts not unlike a taiko drumming ensemble minus the periodicity. The album is dedicated to musicologist Wolfram Steude (1931-2006), who suggested to Futing when he was his student years ago that he write a work in response to Schutz. What matters to our ears is that the Modernist outlook prevails at the same time as the Schutzian zeitgeist is, once you know, very much present.

The program moves through another five works, "in allem frieden" with another poem by Furthmann and the same vocal and instrumental forces, again with a Schutz work as the underpinning for the musical proceedings. "Wie der Tag - wie das Licht" acts as an epilogue with parts for soprano and bass gamba.

The works that follow on the heels of the compositions described above each feature a different configuration--soprano and trumpet; baritone, trumpet. trombone and bass clarinet; chamber ensemble; and chamber ensemble and vocal quartet, respectively.

All have specific aims or structural parameters, quotational/appropriative dimensions that set them into a special place. If you grab this music you can follow along in the liners of course. It is not necessary to map it all out here. There are cyclic-repetitive moments in the works that spell us from the linear Modernisms and linear earlier music quotations we experience throughout. The past mediates the present at times, the present mediates the past. And that perhaps is the point of memory, time and space as motoring factors in the musical universe(s) we occupy daily? Futing wakes us up in good ways to the experiential possibilities while providing us with a musical art program we can appreciate and love

Suffice to say that the music is distinctive, individual, inventive and very imaginative. That in the end is the best reason to hear the album. That Reiko Futing creates his works in original ways is a fact. To understand his music it is very much a key to hear how the results are constructed, of course. That the results are striking aurally is confirmation that he is on the right path. Very recommended.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Veronique Mathieu, Stephanie Chua, True North, Contemporary Music for Violin and Piano

We get a full disk today of Canadian violinist Veronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua in a program of works written between 1996 and 2016 with a single work coming from 1916. The album is entitled True North (Centredisques 24417).

Ms. Mathieu and Ms. Chua trip the light fantastic with a dramatic sense of expression and a remarkable sense of balance and poise. The works vary from the Neo-Impressionistic Healey Willon "Sonata No. 1" written in 1916 and revised in 1955, to a solid block of Contemporary Modern fare, five works by five living composers we may not know very well but each with a true sense of what violin and piano together can accomplish, written between 1996 and 2016.

The six works in all pose different solutions each to the challenge of giving violin and piano something more, something new, something not yet heard. So they do it, every one of them. The emphasis is not on cutting edge daring but rather highly worked-over and highly focused, well wrought and thoughtful Classicism. Not necessarily Neo-Classicism, but ever contentful music.

So we are treated in addition to the rather magical Willon work,  the expressive, virtuoso Modernism of "Gradual Erasures" by Adam Scime, describing a passage from life to extinction, the field recording clapping and such from a lake outside of Toronto juxtaposed with exploratory music in "Cherry Beach" by Brian Harmon, a Stravinsky-Prokofiev inspired "Danza" by Maria Molinari, with a bittersweet waltz that sweeps us into a reverie and reminds us of Prokofiev's "Cinderella," "Adagio," aka "The Mermaid's Lament" by Heather Schmidt, and Alice Ping Yee Ho's violin showcase piece "Extasis."

This is serious music that calls for serious listening, and the big upside is that you gain by what ear-time you give this program. It is all about what we are all about now! And the artistry is superb. It is quite worthwhile and recommended.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Jane Antonia Cornish, Into Silence, MINI-Review

From Jane Antonia Cornish there is a very lovely EP entitled Into Silence (Innova 976). It is a six-work program that lays out some choice miniatures, five for strings (a violin and four cellos on two of them; then piano, violin and four cellos; solo cello, and four cellos, respectively) and one for solo piano.

What is striking about the music is that it cradle-rocks gently in repetitive ways that I suppose puts it in Minimalist territory, but then all of it is lyrical, pretty, even beautiful in ways that set it apart from most other works out there. One finds oneself in a reverie much of the time. The sonances are pronounced and original, sweet and clarion yet soft-edged.

I have heard nothing quite like it. Ms. Cornish knows what she is all about and gives us an original world in which we can dwell happily as listeners. Recommended.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Leopold Kozeluch, Symphonies 2, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice, Marek Stilec

The lid is off! People are discovering composer Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818) and his music is back by popular demand. Kozeluch-mania is infecting us all! Ed Sullivan is frantically trying to program his music for a spring episode! Well of course that's not really the way things like this go. Classical composers may justly and happily be revived in the public esteem, but it is not like the art world where suddenly someone's works now go for a cool million. Not that much changes. Except there are CDs that come out that sell a bit and one might find a work or two on concert programs. But for those involved it is a happy thing.

For someone like me discovering Kozeluch, thanks in part to Naxos putting out his music among other labels, it does have an impact in my life, though you might not know it by observing my behavior. So now we have Symphonies 2 (Naxos 8.573872), a second volume of what I assume will be a comprehensive set of his works in this genre. The volumes are a part of "Czechoslovakia in Vienna," which of course reminds you of his origins and then his place of musical maturity.

I reviewed Volume One here (see index) and what holds true of that volume is present in the second as well. This further installment allows us to hear four more of his 17 symphonies. To give you a feel for the in-between-ness of this music, many of the symphonies call for a harpsichord continuo, which is fulfilled admirably by Jirina Dvorakova. There is that palpable level of pre-Romantic actuality to be heard.

And yet we hear a composer that has something more than a very well-crafted post-Rococo vivacity and drive such as Papa Haydn and a very young Mozart had as well. There is a foreshadowing of Schubert lyricism and Beethovenian ardor, and enough of it in its own way that you hear Kozeluch as a genuine voice of his times, sadly neglected by us over the several hundred years (as of this writing 201 years) since his passing.

The performances and sound are all you might ask for. All the symphonies appear to have been written between 1779 and 1787, so are a product of his tenure in Vienna, and too are fairly early on as far as his longevity goes. They are in every way worth hearing and studying at length, as are his piano sonatas and chamber works to the extent I have been exposed to them, and so too to you in words as I have reviewed these things in this space (see index). The symphonies as the liner notes tell us and we recognize, show that he is beautifully inventive and imaginative. If the liners point out in addition the influence of Cimarosa here and there, I demure and leave you to explore that along with me.

At any rate if you have the urge to explore the Classical Era, that is a worthy neglected figure from that period, here is a nice way to pay homage to the composers from then and hear one you probably have missed! I recommend it if you have the desire for such things.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Alan Griffiths, Evgeny Ukhanov Performs Griffiths, Volume 1, Introspection

In the world of music, specifically Classical Music today, there are no iron-clad rules as to what style is in favor, what is au courant. It is OK to be Atonal or Tonal, Neo-Anything, High Modernist or rethinking Early Music forms, anything goes. So Alan Griffiths gives us Neo-Romantic piano in the manner of Chopin, Liszt or Rachmaninoff, only in his own original light, on Evgeny Ukhanov Performs Griffiths, Volume 1, Introspection (GriffithsComposer).

There is an hour or so of piano music here, from the very lyrical "Reverie II" to the cascading tides of "Rhapsody & Fantasia," the melodic and feelingful "3 Meditations" and on from there.

There is substantial music to be heard. "A Touch of Tango" has just that but thematically and notefully it is much more than one might expect and there lies what is special about this music and its fine performance by Evgeny Ukhanov.  It is backward looking, even past dwelling, but it does that in ways that transcend mere rear-view mirror gazing, for it has authentic originality.

Very beautiful piano music, beautifully performed. If lyrical Neo-  makes sense to you, I do recommend you dive into this one.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Joseph Marx, Orchestral Works 1, Bochum Symphony Orchestra, Steven Sloane

If you have slogged with delight through a great deal of Wagner, been piqued and satiated with Mahler's Symphonies and Song Cycles, sat by the speakers and/or sat in concert halls for long whiles while Richard Strauss wove for you his tone poem narratives, and bathed thoroughly in the musical-natural seas of Debussy, perhaps then you might explore the orchestral music of Austrian composer Joseph Marx (1882-1964). Most specifically is today's reference point and the only one I have experience thus far. We have his inaugural volume on the ever-exploratory Naxos label, Orchestral Works 1 (Naxos 8.573831).

I came to this program with no previous exposure to his music. According to the liners he was "one of the leading figures of Austrian musical culture during his lifetime." And, as we readily hear and the liners attest, his music was rather old fashioned, not at all a part of the Modernist world, the revolution in style that both Austria and the Classical Planet experienced increasingly beginning in his younger years and rather completely by his death. The liners also tell us that at that point his presence on concert programs and recordings all but vanished. Until now.

We get a chance to evaluate his music today, thanks to this series. I see the second volume has come out as I write these lines. All I can talk about though of course is what I am hearing on Volume 1. We are given the chance to examine and consider a three-work Natur-Trilogie he wrote in 1922 and 1925. The dates place it all squarely in a time when of course Strauss and Debussy were alive, productive and considered quite important to the times, though of course Schoenberg, Hindemith and a number of others were actively moving beyond such things.

And the above in the end is of no matter other than as a situating factor, an historical context. Each work in the Trilogy is lengthy in itself, lasting from 15 to 25 minutes. The three tone-poems interlock thematically as addressing the world of nature, which the overall title makes clear. The first work is a "Symphonic Night Music," the second, a "Concertino on the Pastoral Fourth," and the third is titled "Spring Music."

All three have a rhapsodic gush that makes them less Impressionistic and more Romantic than is typical of Debussy, say. The music seems to straddle both worlds, the strings often swelling Romantically while the winds and horns are more the pictorially Impressionistic as a rule.

As a product of Marx in his 40s we can assume they are the mature works of a composer already well on the way to realizing a lifework. I cannot say after many listens that Marx clearly delineates himself with some extraordinary originality. Yet he is quite a craftsman, that I do hear.

I am not sufficiently stirred by this music to seek out further volumes, though I am happy to hear this one. If you specialize in the Austrian scene and want to flesh it out he is an important listen. I am not entirely sure that this is essential to the rest of us. It is well performed and well written. But it is not going to change your musical world, I suspect. If you like the idea of an Impressionistic Strauss, then you might find this worthwhile. Otherwise you may not find it awe inspiring. But if you can preview it, go ahead. You might love it. I do not. I like it though.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Michael Byron, Fabric for String Noise

Cold Blue Records is a central place to explore the world beyond Minimalism. Radical Tonality is the niche where much of the music on this adventuresome label resides. Yet even then if you do not know Michael Byron's music you may not be prepared for what you will hear on his new release for the label, Fabric for String Noise (Cold Blue CB 0054)Two Byron works comprise the EP at hand, "Music for String Noise" in two parts and "Dragon Rite." Both make use of the studio to layer the sound.

What might surprise you if you do not know his compositional way is heard very readily in the title piece "Fabric for String Noise." The entity String Noise is the twin violins of Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim-Harris. Byron calls for them to build up a musical menagerie of twittering conferences of aviatory violins via pentatonic-diatonic double stops and rapid figurations around several shifting tone motifs. The result is a soulful trip into a heaven-sent cacaphony of multiple voices that have the immediacy of some of the Free Improv flights that achieved levitation, such as Coltrane's classic "Ascension" or some of Alan Silva's wonderful large group works. It is a journey into the Radical Tonality world in the way it stays with a serial set of motives as the springboard for the sound sculpting. It is a most delightful trip!

"Dragon Rite" takes an opposite tact in that it is build out of the low register bowed sustains of James Bergman's double bass. Where "Fabric" is high registered, Dionysian, mercurial and ever moving, "Dragon" is a block of  low pitched, Apollonian stasis, slowly deep.

It is music that takes you into a special world and has its vision, then is gone. Michael Byron has a special way about him musically. Try this one and see where it takes you. It is a happy listen if you open to it like I did.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dussek, Complete Piano Sonatas Volume 4, Tuija Hakkita

If you might not think you are the person who would wake up in the morning and exclaim, "It is time to listen to Bohemia-born Johann Ladislaus Dussek (1760-1812)!" perhaps you underestimate yourself? "He's no Beethoven!" one old lady said to the other as we were exiting the concert hall after hearing Colin Davis beautifully perform some Elgar. No Beethoven also is Dussek. Though as a pianist and composer he was at the top of fame during his lifetime. Of course he was more in Papa Haydn's realm age- and period-wise, a Classicist with at the end a nascent Romanticism. And if he did not climb Mt. Olympus easily to occupy a central spot in the Immortal Pantheon, neither is he without merit as a craftsman of the highest rank.

As I contemplate the noteful and peppy Classicism of Dussek's Complete Piano Sonatas Volume Four (Brilliant 85604), as played ably by Tuija Hakkila on a period pianoforte that sounds a bit  more forte than some of the vintage instruments but then charmingly untempered the slightest bit, too.

It cannot say that these particular Dussek sonatas played so well by this particular pianist on this particular instrument is the absolute ideal to me at the moment. To be honest there are times when these old pianos sound a little like sewing machines even though Hakkila gives it all a heroic effort. Perhaps it is the heroism of the music-performance tandem that makes the piano seems less up to the task than a modern instrument? I know this might be heresy but not every combination with a period piano is ideal. The pensiveness of Chopin is a great thing for the old sawbones. Not as much bravura dash such as Dussek gives us in the earlier works here.

Yet I must say that the music itself and the performances do have much to recommend them. We hear quite clearly how well wrought the music is, more perhaps (as I remarked the other day with a Boismortier disk) in terms of an everyday brilliance and not the "heavens-are-opening" paradise of a Moonlight Sonata or Art of the Fugue.

As so like one should not always drink 20-year-old-Scotch, it is probably healthy to spice up our listening with really great yet "average" "folk" music of any period. This way we can plum the most scenic vistas of "sea level" possibilities in between the soaring to the most distant stars of the most sublime music ever? So I feel quite refreshed by this Dussek, even by the almost flawed yet very characteristic period sound of the piano.

It feels like it is 1800 and we are in some drawing room being treated to some lovely sounds as we hear the Sonatas Op. 5 No. 3, the Op. 24, Op. 43 and Op. 61.

The Brilliant price is an incentive to spring for this volume. Whether you'd want the complete Dussek is a matter you'd decide after living with this one for a time. Surely it is no mistake to let yourself be beguiled by these works so dynamically performed. You will understand what Dussek can do, certainly. And he could and can do a lot for us. Even today.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Boismortier, Music for Flute, Viola da Gamba and B.C., Umbra Lucis Ensemble

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day and the topic of Boismortier came up (which tells you of course that this friend is very much into music). If the level of invention is often somewhat stronger in a Couperin and a Bach, why pay Boismortier any mind? My friend made me think about this and a little while later I have this answer to start today's blog. Because Boismortier is so handily a composer of his time that you feel a part of everyday life in the Baroque when you hear a fine performance of his music. The invention is very characteristic and rather than being transported out of the time to some timeless realm of the Musical Gods, you are in effect eavesdropping on a musical event from the vantage of hundreds of years in the future. So Boismortier puts you into a time machine, while Bach opens the gates of paradise? Something like that.

And so all this is possible for me today listening to a nicely turned program of his Music for Flute, Viola da Gamba and B.C. (Brilliant 95754). On it we are treated to the Umbra Lucis Ensemble performing  some eight works for varying ensembles. There are three groups of "Pieces de clavecin," a "Trio Sonata" for recorder, viola da gamba and basso continuo, works for one or more recorders and b.c. or just harpsichord, and a Suite for viola da gamba and b.c.

The continually shifting ensembles that varyingly feature in authoritative fashion the principals of Stefano Bagliano on recorder, Fabrizio Lepri on viola da gamba and Stefano Lorenzetti on harpsichord continually freshen the ear with the novelty of ensemble grouping. The principals are further supplemented in the course of the program with two additional recorders when called for and a second viola da gamba player to form a part of the basso continuo as needed on the da gamba and b.c. suite.

The players seem in every way true-to-form with their approach to the original instruments and instrumentation. The resonance of the viola da gamba both within the basso continuo and as a solo voice is a remarkable thing when done properly as it surely is done here. The entire program is ravishingly characteristic. But then recorder(s) and harpsichord made an unmistakable period impression on your listening mind as well. If you might not wake in the middle of the night humming Boismortier, you also will not feel like he was just virtually, musically twiddling his thumbs to create piles and quantities of music for the sake of it. He was careful and eloquent in these works, so there you go!

For the Brilliant price it is something of a Godsend for all who love the French Baroque like me, or the viola da gamba, harpsichord, and/or recorder or who are not sure and would like to hear more of it all.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Heinrich & Carl Baermann, Music for Clarinet and Piano, Dario Zingales, Florian Podgoreanu

If you are feeling cocky and you think you know all the composers, guess again. There is a never ending stream of composers old and new being performed and often enough released in recorded form these days. And good for that, certainly. What about Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847) and Carl Baermann (1810-1885)? Their music I have been experiencing on a new Brilliant Records release, covering their Music for Clarinet and Piano (Brilliant 95785).

So what of them? The liner notes spell it out. The father and son should be considered "among the the greatest clarinet players of all time." Their compositions reflect an attention to the burgeoning voice of the instrument in late Classical-early Romantic times. They were widely admired in their day, and in many ways gave Europe (and eventually the world) the foundational inspiration for the clarinet virtuosity that we now take for granted.

The selection of compositions by Heinrich and Carl contained in this program are mostly first recordings. Dario Zingales realizes the clarinet parts with a beautiful ringing tone and agility. Florion Podoreanu aquits himself quite nicely as an able and effective partner on the piano.

The first thing on the first listen that one will recognize is Carl's clarinet-piano transcriptions of 6 Lieder of Schubert's. You will recognize many or most of them and it is quite nice to hear them as realized for the clarinet.

The music as a whole has the kind of lyrical clarity and soaring qualities of clarinet parts you may have heard in works by Schubert and Weber, Mozart and in time Brahms. It is not an accident since the influence was undoubtedly a two-way affair as the time and place allowed.

There are moments as well of pronounced clarinet virtuosity, understandably. The six additional, original works are a boon to anyone who loves the clarinet and seeks to trace the origins of the modern style. The music is in no way tangential or ephemeral. And it all gives pleasure in the well executed performances we are given by Zingales and Podgoreanu.

This is a bargain as a Brilliant release and if you are a clarinet enthusiast, you are sure to respond to it all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

William Schuman, The Witch of Endor, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

The recent Boston Modern Orchestra Project release The Witch of Endor (BMOP Sound 1062) exemplifies how and why the Project is such an important thing for Modernism in the USA past and present. It is a three-work mini-retrospective of the orchestra music of William Schuman (1910-1992), who might be somewhat in eclipse since his passing now some time ago, yet as we hear quite readily on this album, deserves to be appreciated and does not show the mark of time in his music so much as he seems more current than ever, to my ears at least.

I won't rehearse his biography in depth, but as a president of Julliard from 1945 to 1961, then of Lincoln Center from then to 1969, that he was New York born and bred, that he went to NYU like I did, in all that it was pretty inevitable that I came upon his music early enough and that he seemed naturally affinitive to me over the years. My first brush with his music must have been around 1970? So that was almost a half-century ago. If you were in and around NYC then and you kept your ears open, his music was there to be discovered.

And in that there is nothing remarkable in and of itself at this point in our musico-historical consciousness. He was something of an institution when alive. When no longer here his music must speak to us in itself or none of it matters.  And what is so reaffirming in the release at hand is that the three works chosen by BMOP for this release remind us of Schuman's brilliance as a composer, as an orchestrator, as a very inventive and original voice for the Modern scene in the USA of his time.

And, as I have come to expect from BMOP, the performances are in every way state-of-the-art, detailed and filled with an understanding sympathy.

It is interesting to hear these three works in this sequence because it affirms that Schuman was doing music in the vanguard of the times as early as 1947, in "Night Journey" and 1949, with "Judith, Choreographic Poem." Both works are at the edge of tonality. They occupy a niche not of course so much Pointillistic and Serialist, that was emerging in Europe then, but deliberately flowing, somewhat darkly pastel, alternately at rest and moving forward. It may have more in common with the "serious" side of Copland, with the American Symphonists of early-to-mid 20th century and perhaps Hindemith, all that more than with Webern and Boulez or for that matter Varese. It was a different lineage but nonetheless an important one still.

The involvement of this music and dance is dealt with admirably in the liners and you should read them if you are interested.

"The Witch of Endor" (1965) puts the capstone on the music with a very powerful and evocative orchestral meditation both brooding and Promethean in turn. It is masterful tone painting of a high order and reminds us palpably what poetic brilliance he evinced, what a vivid musical imagination he possessed.

It is a testament to the landmark service BMOP is rendering, to flesh out keenly and artistically the legacy US orchestral composers have given and are giving to the Modernist project. This volume along with an earlier volume of the music of Foss (index him for that review) are particularly outstanding. This one is a beautifully realized program of some very key Schuman. Molto bravo! Do not miss it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Mauro Giuliani, Opere solistiche per voce e chitarra, Rossana Bertini, Davide Ficco

In a way both Baroque and Classical era music are like the Blues. Virtually everything written in the Classical style zone takes a certain general form, yet the difference between composers, once you hear it, are central to an appreciation of the period. So of course there is Bach, Handel and all the rest! Or Haydn, Mozart and all those rest! Or there is Bessie Smith, B.B King and all the rest! And then there is Mauro Giulliani (1781-1829), nothing to do with the Blues of course, ornately expressed yet too late in style and period to be exactly Baroque, but so the crisp intensive form of things can be experienced in the hearing of his music today. And the intensiveness of his guitar writing is a grounding in the fundamentals of the Classical Guitar style, yet captivating and special in its own way..

Let's bracket the relation of this music and the Blues for now, for what matters is a nice album I have been enjoying, the music of Giuliani entitled Opere solistiche per voce e chitarra (Works for voice and guitar) (Tactus TC 780703), featuring the excellently ravishing voice of Rossana Bertini and the remarkable guitar of Davide Ficco.

The music itself is most tuneful and vibrant in the Italianate matter. There is a bit of coloratura brava and a ringing singability that Rossana Bertini handles with the soul of a poet and artist that she is. And the guitar parts are quite idiomatic in the best ways; they give Davide Ficco plenty of opportunity to show his considerably accomplished and expressive way with the guitar.

It is an album that keeps making me smile on winter days like this, or for that matter virtually any days! It is a delightful and unexpected treasure that those who appreciate a well-turned and well played-sung phrase among voices and guitars will find fits the bill quite happily. Recommended!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Images of Brazil, Francesca Anderegg & Erika Ribeiro Play Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri, Freire, etc.

The music of Brazil is a vast possibility of riches that we outside of its borders have often not nearly enough familiarity with. The Naxos label has given us a good selection of Villa-Lobos works nicely sequenced and performed, and will be embarking on a 100-work exploration of other Brazilian composers, the first volume of which I expect in the mail shortly.

In the meanwhile we have this fascinating anthology of Brazilian music for violin and piano, played with flair and charm by violinist Francesca Anderegg and pianist Erika Ribeiro. It is as you can tell by the above an album called Images of Brazil (Naxos 8.573923). On it we are treated to seven works by seven composer, some perhaps not very familiar to most of us, the music all between 4 and 17 minutes in length.

When generalization cannot quite get specific enough on a Monday morning we still need to encapsulate, so let me say that all these works share in the melodic-harmonic light of the Brazilian legacy, which is to say that there is Modern tang and Neo-Romantic expression, what one might call "Brazilian Impressionism" and a lyricism that has something of the saudade of Brazilian musical sense to much of it if you know how that feels. And that as a whole is what makes Brazilian and Portuguese music Romantic in different ways than European Romanticism, at least part of the time. In all of this there is something of that in there to be found, surely.

So a not-so-familiar Villa-Lobos ("The Martyrdom of Insects") has a good feel to it, and some of us will recognize Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-1993), at least by name. His "Violin Sonata No.4" is seriously played with a passion that it justly evokes and lots of content thematically.

From there we experience a huge helping of the unfamiliar but in the end the absorbing and timely. We have Cesar Guerra-Peixe, Les Freire, Ernani Aguliar, Edmundo Villant-Cortes and Radames Guattali. Of all of these three are among the living (Aguiar, Freire and Villant-Cortes). The rest have in common that they left this earth somewhere between 1988 and 1993--except Villa-Lobos, who died in 1959. So these are contemporaneous composers more or less of the recent past or the present.

None of this music is in a High Modern zone so much as it is Melodic Modern Mainstream I suppose you could say. Yet too there is music of depth and concentration to be heard throughout. Nothing is meant to ingratiate so much as to experience in full. And if we open ourselves we get music excellently performed and lacking nothing. It is a tribute to the fullness of this musical experience to note that on the sixth listen I am hearing more, and still more, so that has to be a good thing.

Those not content to settle in with the same names and the same categories will find this a bracing run through lesser-known music. It is not inferior, no,  just not what we generally know. So now we can. Know. That's good! Recommended. Congrats to Anderegg and Ribeiro for a beautiful performance! And thanks to the composers, too, of course.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Tanya Gabrielian, Remix// Bach Transcriptions for Piano, MINI-Review

Pianist Tanya Gabrielian shows herself a poetess of the ivories as we get a chance to hear her in REMIX// Bach Transcriptions (MSR Classics MS1594). Any Bach enthusiast who might also enjoy an exuberantly pianistic reading of some fairly exotic transcriptions of Bach classics will gravitate towards this very enjoyable program.

We get transcriptions by various people of things one might not at first blush think of in piano-centric terms, like the "Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for Violin," the "Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor BWV 1005," and the "Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor."

It is like getting an unexpected gift out of season, for the transcriptions reveal aspects of each work we might not have heard quite like this before. It is a joy!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Aram & Karen Khachaturian, Music for Violin and Piano, Ruben Kosemyan, Natalya Mnatsakanyan

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1987) was in his music a poignant blend of the Armenian roots of his heritage and the Modern Russian milieu  he encompassed in his own way. His nephew Karen (1920-2011) may be less familiar to some of us (me, for example) but is recognized as a worthy composer in his own right. Both get representation in the recent release of their Music for Violin and Piano (Brilliant 95357).

We get to hear Karen's 15-minute "Violin Sonata in G minor Op. 1" (1947). It has an Armenian melodic quality; it has a rhapsodic air about it with memorable themes and a kind of earthy yet expressive way that make it quite worthwhile to hear.

The rest of the album is Aram in situations both quite familiar and then less so, but ever characteristic in his gift for crafting music one does not forget easily. His most well-known work, the "Sabre Dance" from his ballet "Gayne" appears here in its Heifetz transcription for violin and piano. It loses none of the excitement of the original and has a different sort of intimacy in the duo version that Kosemyan and Mnatsakanyan capture readily and fully. The same can be said for the beautiful "Andante Sostenuto" transcribed from the "Violin Concerto," haunting music that benefits from an alternate hearing in chamber terms.

It is nice to check out the less familiar pieces on here as well, a "Dance," the "Lullaby" and "Ayesha's Dance," the latter two from the ballet "Gayne." Good to hear also are the "Song-Poem" in Honor of Ashugs and the "Adagio" from the ballet "Spartacus," both in duo arrangements here that seem perfectly suited to the character of the music.

A key to the success of the program is the sensitive and artistic sensibilities of violinist Ruben Kosemyan and pianist Natalya Mnatsakanyan. They are in their element with this music and obviously relish the playing of it. Add to that the very low price of this Brilliant release and you have a very worthy disk that could serve as an excellent introduction to both composers or a welcome supplement if you already know their music. Recommended.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Jean-Francois Charles, ElectroClarinet

From Iowa City we have Jean-Francois Charles and his adventurous album ElectroClarinet (self released). On it we have some seven studies for Bb clarinet, A clarinet, bass clarinet, Eb clarinet or contrabass clarinet and live electronics. The music has a spontaneity yet a logical sequencing that puts it all certainly in New Music territory yet also has some of the immediacy of Free Improvisation.

A fully extended vibrancy of articulation and full-throated clarinet technique nicely play off against the furthering and effectively nuanced electronics Maestro Charles employs. Digital delay and layering, timbral extensions of harmonics, sound colors, etc are made full use of--quite happily. At times the clarinet becomes an orchestra of its own and at no time does the interface of acoustics and electronics seem in the least bit gratuitous or mechanical-perfunctory. True woodwind facility conjoins with a very lively musical imagination for a program that fascinates and makes for a most absorbing listen throughout.

This album may at first blush seem unassuming. But after a few listens it increasingly stands out as an excellent example of its kind. Very heartily recommended!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

I Diletti di Mazzarino, Jessica Gould & Ensemble L'Aura Soave, Rossi Mazzocchi, Carissimi, Cavalli, Lulli

There is much to be said for mixing it up, for a change in pace, for something from another time and place. I tried to watch the Grammys the other night and could not last very long. No offense to the artists honored but the current state of Pop may have a return of good vocalists yet sometimes I have a tough time with the instrumental parts. Alicia Keys' Hazel Scott tribute was nice enough, though. Still, changes of pace are not coming from Pop right now, not for me. Among the many other musics I appreciate and explore regularly, on the classical front a change in period can refresh me greatly.

Like for example there is this Modern-day performance example of original instrument chamber music with vocalist, works from the Italian Baroque, on the recent I Diletti di Mazzarino (At the Pleasure of Mazzarin) (Cremona 018/44). It is a nice gathering of a few choice instrumental miniatures along with vocal numbers featuring the very robust soprano Jessica Gould and a beautifully period Ensemble L'Aura Soave. They tackle works by the likes of Luigi Rossi, Virgilio Mazzocchi, Giacomo Carissimi, Francesco Cavalli, and Giovanni Battista Lulli (the French spelled his name Lully).

Not every composer will be familiar to those who are not specialists in the period and place, but the music is quite fetching. Jessica Gould has a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and verve. You might even say that she "belts" this music out. The ensemble is a sweet one. They and Ms. Gould take us swiftly and readily to another time and place. A few listens and I was very well disposed to this program. I like the rough and tumble local edge to it all and the timbre of the music reminds us that there was a special sound to it that has much to offer us.

Perhaps this might not be your first choice if you know nothing of the period. But for those who already have their ears attuned, this is a nice addition.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Alexander Moyzes, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ladislav Slovak

With 250-300 of these reviews a year in the classical fold my head sometimes feels like it is spinning with all the unfamiliar voices and works I happily explore. I must refocus and concentrate and so here I go again with that.Today it is the Slovak composer Alexander Moyzes (1906-1984). He is new to me. I have playing in my space the album at hand, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 (Naxos 8.573653).

According to the jacket blurb Moyzes brings to us the most well known, most acclaimed it would imply Slovak symphony cycle in Modern times. And clearly from the standpoint of my ears the 7th and 8th Symphonies are quite in the thick of it. Both are reactions to Moyzes experience of tragic happenings, the 7th in memory of his young daughter, taken from him far too soon, and the 8th a response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Some 14 years separate the two symphonies--the 7th coming in 1954-55, the 8th in 1968-69.

The liners talk of a similarity to Shostakovitch in the 8th. In its brash cry of anguish, perhaps yes. And in the rhythmic passages of motor insistence, absolutely. All in all however what impresses me is Moyzes' own original tone-painting brightness. The liner blurb also mentions his two-fold expression of both Slovak strains and Modern orchestral trends in his compositional outlook. Again, I cannot say I disagree with that from my ear-take on the two works offered on this program. And yet again, he has certainly gone his own way on these symphonies at least. There are vividly descriptive passages, narratives in motif building and development. and in the 8th and parts of the 7th a long unwinding at times of musical pathways that sound like event-amental incidents getting retold in musical terms without being literally programmatic.

Then too the liners inform us that Moyzes studied at the Prague Conservatory and then in a master class program with Viteslav Novak (someone whose music I have just discovered as well), who gave him a mandate to pay attention to the Slovak heritage and in that way set him forward toward folkish expressions which we hear so poignantly expressed in the 7th.

Moyzes' 7th lays out a Slovak landscape of the countryside, the evocation of nature and peasant gatherings, dances and the like. It is not as a stark sadness that we hear Moyzes in this outing. The opening pastorale movement is a sort of Slovak response to Beethoven's 6th, really, but beautifully and originally so. The scherzo continues the rustic mood in most charming ways. Then the largo brings in a gentle sadness, a loss that seems as wistful as it is regretful, and then bursts out in time into a woeful mourning. It is extraordinary music. There is a bittersweet quality a times that reminds me of Prokofiev without directly evoking him, and perhaps even a bit of the epic Mahler depictions? The finale is energetic and dance-like, and not without a parallel of loss and nonetheless a pastoral mood alongside the whole of it. All that by way of a hint of what is being "said" in the music. It is the work of someone who knows what he wants to say and says it beautifully, personally well, very well. It is a rather extraordinarily likable symphony, to my mind.

The 8th, as alluded to above, has a more heightened Modern angst about it in keeping with the upheavals and heartbreaks of the Prague Spring. It is a stunning work as well yet a rather different kettle of fish than the 7th. I will leave it to you to listen and appreciate, which I certainly recommend you do.

This is music that is symphonic in the best of dramatically depictive ways. Like Smetana's Moldau each movement is a chapter in a story that has dramatic unification. Moyzes is less literal than Smetana perhaps and more "Modern" at times, surely. There would be no mistaking on close examination these symphonies for something from the 19th century. Yet the Slovak elements are more timeless than contemporary too.

So there you have it. I come away from listening to this volume with the wish to hear the earlier three volumes of the cycle and I look forward to to the next volume due out shortly. Moyzes has something of his own to offer us. Anyone who looks to Eastern European 20th Century developments might well want to explore this recording--the price is right and the performances are first-rate. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Elliott Carter, Late Works, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Oliver Knussen

During his long life span (1908-2012)  US composer Elliot Carter established himself as a major voice in New Music, one of the brightest lights of the later 20th century. Once he found his own very original niche he refined and honed his music to thrilling levels of complexity and High Modern expression. The String Quartets are as fine as anyone's from the Modern period but then there is an additional wealth of music in chamber and orchestral realms that we need to absorb and appreciate.

Today it is time to consider a program of some of his final works, written between 2003 and the year of his death, 2012. There are a good number of recorded premiers to be had on this CD and in any event all the works are well performed by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the BBC Symphony under Oliver Knussen, plus Pierre-Laurent Almard on piano, Colin Currie on percussion, Isabelle Faust on violin and Jean-Guihen Queyras on cello.

The album is aptly titled Late Works (Ondine 1296-2). On a Monday morning this seems a fitting description and alerts us as to what we will hear. The final decade shows Carter much in the same vein he had been in for some time, a kind of post-Darmstadt expanded atonality, a remarkably worked over musical geometry of great detail and exploratory zeal, a music very aware of each instrument's idiomatic qualities and a vision of how they can be amassed and apportioned. The complex rhythms had been developed to an advanced point where the absolute precision required of each player results in a timeless quality that bubbles and boils forward to an ultra-architectonic uber-chaos of exactitude? Something like that. It is sublime music indeed. Like fractals the great complexity of the whole may at first blush seem chaotic, yet underneath there is form subtly co-existing with an exploded. expanded music world. Perhaps it is interesting to contrast this kind of complexity with the Cagean one--there the composer allows chaos to enter his front door, so to speak, yet in the end we hear order and structure after all if we listen closely, repeatedly, intelligently.

We hear in all some seven works. In order of year of completion there is in sum the 2003 "Dialogues" for piano and chamber orchestra, the 2005 "Soundings" for orchestra, the 2007 "Interventions" for piano and orchestra, the 2010 "Dialogues II" for piano and chamber orchestra, the 2011 "Two Controversies and a Conversation" for piano, percussion and chamber orchestra, the 2012 "Instances" for chamber orchestra, and the 2012 "Epigrams" for piano trio.

It is a great deal of unfamiliar music and it does require close listens and perhaps several hearings for a full appreciation. That said however, there is no mistaking this music for something merely, generically "avant" so to speak. It is the profound set of final musical utterances by a master after more than 85 years of composing!

Anyone wishing to be exposed to High Modern masterpieces from the very decade we are currently within (give or take) should not hesitate about this one. Carter was undoubtedly among the greatest of the last really brilliant Serial/Post-Serial composers of our time. I suspect his music will be heard and loved by music appreciators for many centuries hence.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Chopin, 17 Waltzes, Peter Schaaf

Chopin wrote 17 Waltzes (Schaaf Records 103). Peter Schaaf performs them with an honest candor and a partisan's zeal on a recent album of the same name. It continues the waltz mood he established so convincingly on his previous 44 Waltzes (type that in the search box, above left, to read my review).

Chopin wrote and published eight of the waltzes during his lifetime; nine more were unpublished at his death out of which five were assigned opus numbers; four more were never "opused." I do not need to tell you of the virtues of Chopin's piano works. The Waltzes are vibrantly melodic and sensitively evocative. Chopin opened up a realm of piano expression that was as extraordinary as it was innovative, and too so naturally singing forth.

This is marvelous music and Peter Schaaf disarms us with an extraordinarily unpretentious reading of it all. You feel care and spontaneity in equal measure . Some of this music is of course as familiar as any piano music can be for those who have lived in the present-day musical culture for any length of time (e.g. with the "Minute Waltz"). So to make it all seem fresh is a challenge for any artist today who would wish to play them. Peter succeeds because he enters into the mood of each as if it were HIS mood, and so in fact it becomes so in his hands.

So if you do not know this music or if you do and would like to put a fresh reading in front of your ears, this one is a good thing, a very good thing! Recommended. To find out more about Peter Schaaf and his music and to order go to