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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Michael Hersch, Carrion-Miles to Purgatory, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Miranda Cuckson, Jay Campbell

Of the future we of course cannot know but with the vibrant presence of present-day Modernist Michael Hersch there seems bound to be a continuingly advanced presence to come. His latest album Carrion-Miles to Purgatory (New Focus Recordings 229) reminds us how his dedicated energies do not flag.

It is a gathering of some three chamber works-- "...Des Ruckgrat berstend" with Patricia Kopatchinakaja on violin/voice and Jay Campbell on cello, "Music for Violin and Piano" with Miranda Cuckson on violin and Michael Hersch himself on piano, and the 15 movements of the title work "Carrion-Miles to Purgatory" with Cuckson and Campbell.

This is in Michael Hersch's wheelhouse--Expressionist, beyond tonal, post-Serialist, ever inventive and flowing with poignancy.

So "...Das Ruckgrat Berstend" was commissioned by Kopatchinakaja, who wanted something she could simultaneously sing-recite and play on violin. Hersch chose the poetry of Christopher Middleton (1926-2015), a favorite of the composers and previously quoted s reference in earlier scores without setting text to music. The words were translated from English to German at Kopinakaja's request and the vocal part has detailed directions for manner of performance in the score (e.g., a gritty whisper etc.).

From there we move to "Music for Violin and Piano," another shorter piece clocking in like the above at about 11 minutes. It is an excerpt from the live recording of the music the two made in concert in later 2018. It marks a new phase in Cukson's collaboration with the composer, where there is interactive performances. Before that Cuckson has played Hersch's compositions in important instances, e.g. his Violin Concerto, solo works and other things from 2007 to today. The concert in whole consisted of a selection from Hersch's numerous short works under the rubric "Music for Violin and Piano," plus some solo violin music etc.

The fifty minute Carrion-Miles to Purgatory brings the program to its primary focus. The violin-cello duo is of course a somewhat exotic one as far as instrumentation in the repertoire goes. And too Hersch goes about the music in ways that set him apart further. The 15 movements each have loose parallels in poetic texts by Robert Lowell, namely from his Lord Weary's Castle. Here music is not meant as a direct articulation of the poetry meanings, but instead a sort of subliminal reaction to them. The poems kept the composer "company" as he wrote the music, which in the end is a reaction to the loss of a close friend.

I do not have words to put in place of the experience of this music. It is rather ineffable, emotive, and very in line with how Hersch's music has been unfolding. I recommend to you this music as an example of Modernity today. A very rewarding program.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Allan Pettersson. Violin Concerto No. 2, Symphony No. 17 (Fragment), Elf Wallin, Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra, Christian Lindberg

The music of Allan Pettersson (1911-80) is something, the composer himself once remarked, like the films of Igmar Bergman. Both capture a very certain mood, not happy exactly, but undeniably aesthetic, transcendant perhaps, reflective in a rather timeless way.

He was trained as a professional violist but gradually was attracted to composition, studied with Karl Berger-Bloomdahl, and then in Paris during 1950-51 with Honegger, Messiaen, Milhaud and Rene Liebowitz, the latter being especially decisive to his development. From that point forward he was a full-time composer.

The CD at hand today covers some of the last works, namely his Violin Concerto No. 2 (1979, revised version) and the existing fragment of his final Symphony No. 17 (BIS 2290 SACD).

The Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra under Christian Lindberg do the performance honors as they have for some excellent recordings of his works (see my reviews of their versions of his Symphonies Nos. 9, 13, 14 on these pages--check search box above). The new one follows in the mode with fine readings. The Violin Concerto has the very nicely turned violin work of Elf Wallin and takes up 53 minutes. The Symphony fragment is quite short at seven or so minutes, yet it is a valuable addition.

The little of the last, the aforementioned 17th Symphony that comes to us here is an Expressionist cry of sharp gloom yet too a monument to Pettersson's undiminished powers as a tone painter.

The Violin Concerto No. 2 is an important work, surely. It comes some many years after his 1949 Concerto for Violin and String Quartet. The first version of No. 2 was finished in 1977, a year after his Symphony No. 13. The composer referred to it as more of a symphony for violin and orchestra more so than a concerto per se. And yes, it soars along very symphonically with an endless melodic thrust led by the very feelingful violin part. Like all mature Pettersson the music is quite chromatic but then not quite atonal. We hear the revised version here, which was the final 1979 take on the music by the composer. The work has a remarkable flow, perhaps a bit more resolved and perhaps even a bit more hopeful at times than one expects from his later output

In the end this is some of the finest examples of the last music of Pettersson, not standing at the edge of a precipice as much as some of the later symphonies (though the Fragment here is quite edgy), and so then the Concerto is a fine contrast to those works.

So I would recommend this one strongly for those just coming to know the composer or too for the confirmed Pettersson listener. Nice.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Jonathan Leshnoff, Symphony No. 4 "Heichalos," Guitar Concerto, Starburst, Jason Vieaux, Nashville Symphony, Roberto Guerrero

As someone sampling a prince's ransom of New Music every month, I must admit there are times when the constant newness can be challenging, in the sense that it can be taxing to keep the ears completely open all the time. But no matter because new voices need to be heard. Today it is Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973), a composer who, in the view of  the New York Times is a "leader of contemporary American lyricism."

A full CD of his orchestral compositions (Naxos 8.559809) comes our way thanks to the resources and considerable interpretive talents of conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony. They tackle two somewhat lengthy and ambitious works and an addendum, namely his "Heichalos" Symphony No. 4 (2017), his Guitar Concerto (2013) and the eight-minute Starburst (2010).

This is tonal music that does not shy away from richly harmonic flights, not especially dissonant most times, but then not entirely expected in their sequential unfolding, either. There is something rather Neo-Romantic going on at times, a kind of passion that has a bit more chutspah than Samuel Barber. It does at times soar to the heights of sorrow that you can hear so movingly in Berg's Violin Concerto. 

Listen to the Second Movement ("Slow") of the Fourth for an excellent showing of this passion and the lyricism alluded to above. It features "The Violins of Hope," instruments once played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust.

The 4th Symphony appeals moreover  in its minor-moded overall thrust. And in the end we reflect on hope in the face of the most horrifying developments in modern times. As the composer tells us in the liners the symphony is the "representation of the spiritual/ethical embodiment of this Jewish survival." So in the end it is a tribute to music in the face of evil and a stubborn hope (& belief) that good will prevail.

The Guitar Concerto has a minor tonality as well, but is considerably less tragic in its countenance. Guitarist Jason Vieaux handles nicely the solo part and the ravishing adagio of the second movement stands out magically as another excellent lyrical meditation for us to sink into. The outer movements are bracing and a properly contrasting set of creative inventions one most certainly can appreciate as one listens repeatedly. The final movement bristles with thematic energy, with an almost folksy series of motives that sound rather Semitic in a happily memorable way.

The sendoff, Starburst (2010) is a whirl of motion and activity, an orchestrational brightness and a great way to conclude.

I must say there is much to like about this music, but it is not perhaps as much a look ahead as a glance, effectively, at the past, a summing up and reaction to where we have been in music that nonetheless finds original ways to revisit forms by now long established. This however is by no means institutional music but rather a living breathing thing. Each work stands alone as an offering for our appreciation and pleasure. Nicely done!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Liszt, Transcriptions from Operas by Auber and Verdi, Wai Yin Wong, Complete Piano Music Volume 52

You might think that by the time Naxos' Franz Liszt's Complete Piano Music Volume 52 rolls around that the whole thing would be running out of gas? This volume comprises Transcriptions from Operas by Auber and Verdi (Naxos 8.573714). To be frank I must say that after listening to this one a good number of times I find it not uninteresting.

Liszt's fairly extensive collection of piano transcriptions from popular operatic moments corresponded to a public need--a pastime of how the piano figured in the everyday life of musically involved folks, in some ways a sort of quite fancy juke box potentially for hearing the "hits" of the day. So if you went to an opera and you liked the music the transcriptions were a way of being able to commune with the music at home at one's leisure, at least in principal.

Sometimes the level of pianistic difficulty for the works on this volume was not so daunting as to count out a well versed amateur. On the other hand some are up there with Liszt's more virtuoso endeavors and so called out for the master or a talented student or rival to do the music justice. Liszt might have worked some of the more flashy ones into part of a recital or a soiree, or again he also may have had a particular pupil in mind so that she or he,  a more ambitious pianist, might take on one of them to keep growing in technique and to dazzle audiences for themselves.

Yet there are definite attractions here regardless of such considerations and functions. The opening, two rather involved bravura arrangements of a tarantella from Auber's La Muette de Portici, is good fun and a definite dazzle in the form of a theme and progressively elaborate variations.

What this Volume 52 gives us should we be so interested is a kind of primer to Liszt's approach to "de-orchestration" and variational ornamentation, rolling octave "trills" for example, arpeggios, a cascading tremolo and such. It also gives us a handle on what sort of extensions constitute for Liszt a variation or a "fantaisie" on a theme.

These transcriptions are not of operas we generally pay a whole lot of attention to these days, and that explains perhaps in part why this is Volume 52 and not, say Volume 40. So we get transcriptions from Auber's aforementioned La Muette and then Verdi's I Lombardi and Ernani, and finally three transciptions/arrangements from Auber's Le Fiancee.

Young pianist Wai Yin Wong does an elegant job realizing these pieces and the recording sounds quite good from a technical point of view.. This may not be essential listening, surely, but then it does have its attractions, especially of course for those very into the Liszt piano legacy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Beethoven, String Quartets, Op. 18 nos. 4-6, Eybler Quartet

A little bit of controversy can be a good thing, if the subject matter has "been-there-and-done-that" in some people's minds. So when I heard that the Eybler Quartet kicked up a bit of a fuss about early Beethoven Quartets, of all things, I wanted to see (or rather hear) for myself. The Op. 18 nos. 1-3 Quartets were given the Eybler treatment some time ago.What I said about that volume here on April 8 of last year was seconded by others.  Gramophone called it "defiantly un-glossy but consistently stylish." So I subsequently have had a chance to review the second volume, covering Op. 18 nos. 4-6 (CORO connections 16174). I grabbed at the chance and now I report in with pleasure.

I must say I am pleased with these performances. Very pleased. Often enough earlier incarnations of iconic Beethoven forms (the piano sonatas, string quartets, symphonies) get a kind of teleologic treatment, as if (for example) all the symphonies are prefigurations of the 9th, etc. In other words there can be a tendency to give to the earlier Beethoven the thickly "Romantic Titan Giant" kind of reading. Yet surely there are other ways of hearing, of playing those earlier essays, that it is possible to view the works as special creations, that we can try and see earlier Beethoven as equally attractive but in different ways?

So the Eybler Quartet gives us the 4th through 6th Quartets of the Op. 18 as something much less Teutonic, less blown by cosmic weight, by musically heavy dark matter so to speak. and instead we get something lighter, spritely, more Mercurial. Is it possible that Modern performance practice can breath new life into this period of the Master and his legacy?

This Eybler Quartet installment surely does something of that. Tempos can be quite crisp and invigorating. The tone of the quartet is rather the opposite of the old school Budapest Quartet that I we weaned on years ago. Gone is the buzzingly rich and weighty bee hive of string intensity one heard from the icons of an earlier era. Instead there is a lighter tone that then makes room for a heightened agility that is a definite hallmark of the Eybler Quartet performance here.

There is plenty of feeling, surely, in this reading. But it is not as ponderous. It is ever in motion with an emphasis to a "getting" rather than a sort of staunchly present "already thereness" if you will pardon the loose jargon.

That on-the-way quality of the performances is rather not as I have alluded to a mere pointing towards the mature Beethoven. There is a great deal of brio, for example, but not the burr-rich sonics of Late Romantic style. It is a brio built for speed, not as much for deepness of aural footprint. That is not to say that the quartet sounds at all thin. It is a relative thing.

The liners to this second volume of the Op. 18 works nicely foregrounds a controversy surrounding Beethoven's early music. He was presented with one of the first commercially available metronomes and eagerly began to give metronomic recommendations for movements in the printed music itself. Some musicologists later on justified certain tendencies in performances practices by suggesting that perhaps Beethoven's metronome was not working properly, since they asserted that some of the tempos seemed too fast by a fairly significant rate. But suppose Beethoven meant exactly what he indicated? We hear some of that in this program and it is exhilarating.

The liners speak of another performance habit prevalent since the days of Berlioz and Wagner--the tendency to vary the tempos within movements according to considerations of affect and such. On the opposite end of such things was the earlier viewpoint of Hummel and Spohr, who advocated at least of these earlier works that one more-or-less should stay within a particular tempo upon stating a tactus (rhythmic figure that establishes a tempo) unless specifically directed otherwise by the composer. So in that way the music tends to "rock" and so also sometimes at a stirringly more rapid rate than what we are used to in hearing this music.

All of these factors come into play and provide for us a fresh look at some very familiar music. I must say that the Eybler approach in this volume gives to me a liberating joy. This is masterful music in its own right and the group brings this all out in ways that surely provide for us a new and vital reading of the quartets.

A big bravo to this program! I come away from it feeling like I have seen another part of Beethoven that I have not quite experienced in this way before. It most certainly appeals as a landmark in a post-late-Romantic point of view. Listen to this by all means. The Eybler Quartet is on to something!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Michala Petri, American Recorder Concertos, Music of Roberto Sierra, Steven Stucky, Anthony Newman, Sean Hickey

The recorder saw a peak popularity in the Classical music world with the advent of the Baroque period. The Modern era by contrast has not found the instrument entering the repertoire much at all. But if Michala Petri and the composers represented on American Recorder Concertos (OUR Recordings 8.226912) have their way that could be changing.

Our current phase of Modernity does not have the same attitude about tonality and the lack that the Dodecaphonic composers may have had, not to mention the latter's stylistic need to unveil chromatic non-continuity that in some ways is not inherently idiomatic to a recorder. What that means is that the recorder's ordinarily contiguous diatonicism is no longer necessarily a drawback to the contemporary idiom, provided that composer and player situate the possibilities of the instrument in an adventurous and imaginative use of sequencing and create anew a virtuosity fitting to our times. That means something,

Happily one hears such things on the music of this program. As one gets to know these pieces one does not feel that there has been undue compromise either on the composer's freedom or the player's musicality. The four works we hear in fact sound very much of our time yet too sound very idiomatic to the beauty of the instrument in timbre, intervallic grace, and lyrical earthiness.

Recorder virtuoso Michala Petri has everything to do with the existence of these four works for she specially commissioned them, happily, to redress the general scarcity of recorders on the Modern American compositional scene, especially as full-blown concerted statements.

And so between 2000 and 2016 the four works featured on the program came to being. And now with this release we get to hear all of them in near-ideal conditions with well prepared ensembles and Michala Petri's considerable artistry.

What strikes me about it at first consideration is just how contemporary it all sounds, yet too how each composer has gone forward with each a distinctively original step ahead.

For example harpsichord virtuoso Anthony Newman's "Concerto for recorder, harpsichord and strings" for Michala, Newman on harpsichord and the Nordic String Quartet has a more Neo-Baroque element in play but in no case would you confuse this music with that of the earlier period. It is a delightful romp with some rather incredible recorder pyrotechnics and a Baroque brightness coupled with a Modern freshness.

Roberto Sierra's "Prelude, Habanera and Perpetual Motion" gives Michala and the Tivoli Copenhagen Phil under Alexander Shelley a widely expansive Latin feel as it is a refiguring of a work Sierra originally scored for recorder and guitar. We feel the presence of the initial instrumentation yet also a pronounced color palette coming out of the new timbral possibilities.

Steven Stucky's "Etudes," a concerto for recorder and orchestra, started this series of works in 2000 and grounds our sensibilities in a series of interplays between Michala and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (under Lan Shui) that show a masterful compositional hand and help spell out for us a new sensibility for the recorder in our contemporary world.

Finally we have at nearly 30 minutes the longest and perhaps most ambitious of the four works in Sean Hickey's "A Pacifying Weapon" for recorder, winds, brass, percussion and harp, this time Michala Petri joining forces with the eminently capable Royal Danish Academy of Music Concert Band under Jean Thorel. It is a tour de force with twistingly, fiendishly difficult recorder heroics
against a firebranded windband backdrop contrasted by meditatively ponderous reflective moments.

The promise of the recorder concerto for today has in this way presented itself to us and we find in all ways a virtuoso heroism coupled by a discerning contemporary stance on what constitutes a concerto. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is the unforced outflowing of this music as a natural give-and-take between the instrument, its widened capabilities in the hands of a master performer and the considerable forward leaning imaginations of the four composers and their memorable art on display for us in this program.

I am happy to recommend this album for anyone interested in the instrument and so also in the contemporary concerto as it is evolving in our times. Kudos to all involved.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Edition Musikfabrik 15, STURM, Steffen Schleiermacher, Kaija Saariano, Michael Wertmuller

The Wergo label continues to bring us releases of some most interesting new music with High Modernist boldness and broad relief. The latest stands out. It reminds us that forward thinking is by no means solely a product of some past that is behind us. Today we have Edition Musikfabrik 15, which is called STURM (Wergo 6868 2). And true-to-form it gusts directly through our musical consciousnesses and sweeps away any old accretions decisively.

Three contrasting works are given to us on the program. Stefen Schleiermacher's Das Tosen des Staunenden Echos begins things with a flourish. Then comes Kaija Saariano's absorbing The Tempest Songbook and the freely jazzed chamber work Antagonisme Controle by Michael Wertmuller.

The performances leave nothing to be desired. Ensemble Musikfabrik under conductors Jean Deroyer,  Emilio Pomarico and Christian Eggen, respectively, form a very good tandem for the program.

Schleiermacher's Das Tosen des Staunenden Echos combines caustically exciting piano insistencies with some breathtaking ensemble forays for a fantastic whirlwind of sound.

The Tempest Songbook features vocalists Olivia Vermeulen and Peter Schone with the Ensemble for a typically stunning Saariaho essay in color and substance.

Free Jazz dynamo tenor sax-soprano-clarinetist Peter Brotzmann unleashes a torrent of energy with his co-soloists Dick Rorhbrust and Marino Plinkas. All team up beautifully with the Ensemble for one of the most exhilaratingly effective Free Improv-New Music meldings of the last decade.

The program in the end comes through with a nicely freshening breeze of the Contemporary chamber orchestra world at its very best. Ensemble Musikfabrik show themselves to be one of the most engaging and accomplished chamber ensembles active today.

My highest recommendations for this one if you seek the very new, the state-of-the-art on the scene right now. Bravo!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Manuel de Falla, El amor brujo (1915 Original Version), El retable de Maese Pedro, Fernandez, Garcia, Zetland, Garza, Perspectives Ensemble, Angel Gil-Ordonez

Anyone who finds the "Spanish tinge" to their liking and appreciates how that can combine in a kind of very lyrical Modernism would take readily to a new performance of El Amor Brujo (1915 Original Version) and El retablo de Maese Pedro (Naxos 8.573890) by some excellent vocalists and the Perspectives Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordonez.

These are two by the wonderful composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), two of his very best. You might well know some sections of El amor brujo that are often enough performed, especially the "Ritual Fire Dance," in its orchestral excerpt. But the full version of El amor brujo, that is so much more, and it is especially nice to hear it in this original version from 1915. The slightly later El retablo de Maese Pedro (1923) is not heard nearly as often as it deserves as well. Put the two together with these performances and we have something.

If there ever was a Spanish Stravinsky, without being some obvious borrow, it is in de Falla, in these works as much as anywhere? I do not suppose it is necessary to pick up on that to love the music, and it is more in a Petrushka-meets-L'Histoire than the Rites-meets-Renard? It is all music of the highest Neo-Classical and Modern folkishness at any rate.

What makes this particular coupling, these particular performances compelling is the presence of the 1915 version of Brujo and the painstakingly vibrant folk quality of the reading of both scores. The Perspectives Ensemble sounds just right under conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez and Music Director-Flautist Sato Moughalian. Cantaora Esperanza Fernandez is fabulously earthy and folksy in Brujo, as good as one might possibly imagine. But then soprano Jennifer Zetlan, baritone Alfredo Garcia, and tenor Jorge Garza are excellent as well in Pedro.

Combine all this with the nice Naxos price and that spells G-O-O-D  D-E-A-L! I would not hesitate. It is a great listen.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Maurice Ravel, Complete Works for Solo Piano, Hakon Austbo

If you are reading this I suspect you already know that Ravel's Complete Works for Solo Piano is one of the extraordinary treasures of the Twentieth Century. In the hands of pianist Hakon Austbo (SIMAX Classics PSC 1366 2-CDs) vibrant new life gets a fresh breath into things, which matters a great deal for those who have heard a good many versions of this music. But then too anyone who is a novice would gain an excellent introduction with this as well.

It has struck me for a long while how the music itself is as a whole nearly infinitely malleable and so subject to a pretty broad spectrum of readings. My first set of Ravel piano was on three LPs. It was remarkably straightforward though I had no idea if it was or not. My mother was so enthralled by it all that she played the records a nearly infinite number of times. So it is in her honor today that I return to this wonderful music. It is a supreme test of the music's excellence that she could have played the music so many times in my presence and yet I still retain a great love for it all.

This Hakon Austbo reading has superlative interpretive acumen oozing from its musical pores, if you will pardon my wordy exuberance. It may always feel like spring with this music, but in the hands of Hakon's it is a most lovely spring morning and all is right with the world.

Hakon with the opening "Gaspard de la Nuit" shows us part of what he is about. By sometimes resorting to a contemplative rubato he brings ever more to us the Modernist abstract element at play. Then too always Ravel is the supreme colorist in his piano music and Austbo lets us feel it with a splash and dash of the utmost poetic taste I suppose you might say?

The technique is wholly there. Yet it never calls attention to itself so much as it is harnessed, it is used to coax the maximum of poetry from the keys. The "Miroirs" gets a kind of crystalline prismatic chiming such as we who already know the beauty of the work especially appreciate. And for something that demands a sort of regularly paced reading, the "Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte" shimmers and shines within its rhythmic "case" in ravishing ways.

I must say there is a consistent sensitivity of touch and a flourish of artful phrasing throughout the whole of this program, from the "Sonatine" and its expressive thrust to the deeply flowing "Le Tombeau de Couperin." This is one of the finest Ravel sets I have yet to hear and I do very much recommend it as a supplement, a ready addition of excellence in readings for those who have heard a great deal of the Ravel interpretive wash over the years. Or for that matter it is a fine start for those that know next to nothing about these things. Either way you are getting some wonderful piano mastery in a very well produced audio presentation.

I suggest you check this one out if you find yourself attracted to the idea of it all! I doubt you'll be disappointed. I am myself very glad to have this on hand to return to.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Morton Feldman, For Bunita Marcus, Aki Takahashi, Piano

Morton Feldman (1926-1987) was a composer like no other before or since. He quietly made his way through the musical stratosphere in the USA beginning in the '50s and went through several productive phases. The very last one is especially dramatic, featuring sprawling works that repeat and vary in the most contemplative ways, with no formulaic or mechanical unfoldings, rather with inspired intuitions, ever.

The 1985 work for piano, For Bunita Marcus (Mode 314) brings to us 75 minutes of concentrated meditations, as played here by pianist Aki Takahashi. One would expect a masterful performance because of Aki's involvement historically with the Feldman oeuvre. And she in fact was the very pianist who introduced the work to the world in the premier. Importantly after she premiered Triadic Memories Feldman was so moved by the performance that thereafter every piano work he composed was with her in mind. This corresponded with the final Feldman compositional burst where each work was tailored to a particular performer or set of performers, and so the music was conceived as following a kind of logic coming out of the composer's envisioning the performance as the performer would see fit to accomplish it.

The 96/24-bit "hi-resolution" recording made in 2007 sounds every bit as good as you would hope and the performance has the ever-consistent concentration and even-handedness that allows the music to roll off of the recording like an endless carpet, with the patterning there to experience and a kind of smoothness of delivery so that you sense no abrupt changes as you listen. All melds together as one single processual whole as the later Feldman approach demands.

As James Pritchard so aptly states in this album's liner notes, "like all late Feldman works [for Bunita Marcus] is an adventure that takes a relatively long time to play out, but is remarkably lacking in heaviness." We may expect an epic, he goes on, "but what we get is the present moment, in all its beauty, over and over again."  It is all about the facinating chance for the listener to follow the next and then the next next. That in Pritchard's view constitutes the beautiful unrolling of the work. Indeed to me that unpredictability and always "to handedness" or ever-potentially ever makes later Feldman a kind of endless roadshow of Zen "suchness."

It is music to enter into with a promise of self-transformation. If you take to the music you hear all music a little differently afterwards. Or at least that is a real possibility. Aki gives us the optimum performance. Huge kudos to her and Mode records for bringing this to us. Very recommended.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Johann Sebastian Bach, Magna Sequentia I, Sonia Rubinsky

The Bach album up for review has the significant subtitle A Grand Suite of Dances Compiled and Performed by Sonia Rubinsky, Piano. That tells us much about the main title, Magna Sequentia I (Naxos 8.574026). The title refers to this special arrangement of 19 mostly dance segments in a sequence selected by pianist Rubinsky in an interconnected way, with a sequential logic that makes of them a rather vast suite. They are selected especially from his French Suites and Partitas.

And a fine thing that is. Piano renditions of Bach keyboard (harpsichord) music have a certain Modern tang to them by virtue of the nature of the pianoforte sounding naturally more contemporary than a harpsichord,  of course. Ever since Glenn Gould's wondrous piano Bach we are prepared to bring to the hearing of such excursions a sense of adventure. Sonia Rubinsky does not disappoint. She can take things at a somewhat rapid clip like Gould sometimes did, and then we are wow-ed by some dexterous feats of velocity but like Gould always with musicality, never in some kind of obvious horse-race of fingers.

The back cover blurb to the album suggests more, indeed a good deal more than a simple flurry of the digits. It tells us to bear in mind "her historically informed performance," indeed to consider how "Magna Sequentia I offers fresh insights into Bach performance on a modern grand piano."  We should consider that each dance in a suite, according to the music theorist of the time Mattheson (so the liners tell us), was meant to have a particular affect, so a Gavotte evoked "joy," a Sarabande was "serious" and sometimes even "sad," etc.

Sonia picks each movement in sequence for such considerations, but also for the tonal logic that arises out of the opening strains of the Bach Partita No. 4. She also takes the trouble to ensure that there are a few of each dance movement possibility, for affect and also to give the overall program the maximum of diverse variety as Bach conceived of it. She alternates the ornate French style with the straightforward and at times virtuoso Italian style and then again intersperses a few centerpieces of German fugal approaches for dramatic weight. So she seeks to evoke a sort of cornucopia of shades of musical meaning as Bach himself intended in his suites the way he himself ordered them.

All this matters because in the end the pleasure of hearing the sequence unfold as it does relates to what Ms. Rubinsky has considered in working out the selection and order. So all that makes perfect and happy sense. The fine pianism itself in the end brings the rest of the experience together for us and puts us in a mood of satisfaction, fulfillment, Bach bliss if you are anything like me. Of the extant 19 Bach suites for keyboard, Sonia has chosen well in this first volume of her Magna Sequentia.

Very gladly recommended. This is the Bach Suite connection you might crave. If you do, here it is in a fine performance at a good price! Bravo! The reordering for old-salt listeners freshens things considerably too. Either way this is a genuine pleasure and an adventure for anyone who is ready and willing.

Penderecki Szymanowski Panufnik String Quartets, Atma Quartet

Combine an excellent string quartet with three neglected gems in the Modern Polish repertoire and you really have something. That is what is going on with the auspicious debut of the Atma Quartet and their Penderecki Szymanowski Panufnik String Quartets (Accord ACD 252-2). We hear three very individual works brought to our senses with care, skill and devotion for a very happy result.

We may not think especially of these three composers in terms of the string quartet configuration, and that perhaps accounts for the surprise I at least felt once I recognized in hearing the high musical offerings this program represents. With Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) we hear his 1927 String Quartet No. 2 Op. 56, for Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) we get his String Quartet No. 3 "Paper Cuts." Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) chimes in appropriately with the worthwhile 2008 String Quartet No. 3 "Leaves of an Unwritten Diary."

There is no mistaking the dramatic Modern character and Polish atmospherics of each of these works. The Atma Quartet themselves put it nicely in the liners-- "It is the courage with which bold, compositional concepts are implemented on the one hand, and the enthralling vitality of Polish folklore that lies at the core of our cultural heritage on the other." So indeed do we experience a happy conjoining of the local with the temporally advanced, the new times and their expression combined with deep folkways.

There are strikingly intimate, introspective elements at play throughout as well as a highly engaging extroverted dash to be heard in ways any student of our times might appreciate. Poetic expression and a wealth of string-sounding techniques are key factors at play throughout. The Atma Quartet bring out the beautifully conceived articulation of each movement with a sureness and a telling sympathy that affords us pause, then delight and satisfaction.

Clearly the Atma Quartet give notice on their debut album. The works are essential listening and the quartet members all excel as state-of-the-art practitioners, masters of color and expression. Molto bravo!

Friday, June 28, 2019

John Luther Adams, Become Desert, Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot

Become Ocean (2013) by John Luther Adams struck me as one of the most significant orchestral works of our decade. It won a Grammy. I gave it a rave here (type in search box above). Now Adams returns with a kind of parallel landscape-soundscape, Become Desert (Cantaloupe Music 21148) in a very fine performance by the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot.

The album comes as a set, a regular CD for standard two-channel stereo and a DVD with appropriate scenic desert photo stills and regular two-channel or surround options. In either case the sound is magnificently done.

Like Become Ocean and its earlier prequel Become River the music has an analogous relation to the tactile and visual properties of the physical imagination of a natural phenomenon, in this case a desert-scape over time.

The music begins out of absolute silence, slowly and ravishingly developing like a dawn sequence or a kind of imagined genesis, and after all everything at some point  becomes in all the ways it can, so from a total nothing we get increasing presence, like a day can become ever-more intense in nature, then it gradually de-intensifies in various ways towards a sunset and a quiet night? So too the music over its 40-minute span gradually enters with the most fragile kind of quietude, gradually grows and builds to a triumphant "thereness" and just as surely begins to ebb away until at the end there is near nothing and then poof, gone!

This is music that depends upon near drone-like sustains of layers of color-chords, beautifully orchestrated gossimers-become-glorious-formations at the peak of sun-sandiness. It is sheer sensuality on one level, brilliantly transfixing sonic structures that radically build out of a tonal assumption like nature presences itself in life itself for us if we are lucky enough to witness it.

Again like Become Ocean this is a sort of ultimate Modern Impressionism, where structure becomes entirely beholden to presenting a kind of natural essence. Time evolves slowly but ever seems suspended within itself. And sound color dominates in the most evocative and brilliant ways.

And somehow John Luther Adam's world of sound and sequence becomes an object lesson in how to keep away from the rapidly moving and the humanly tune-weaving kind of musical selfhood most have adopted through the history of organized sound. Instead Adams elects to dwell inside the timeless time we might hear in a very well realized alap segment of an Indian Raga as played by the very most accomplished improviser-artist. That is the nearest equivalent I can think of for where Adams takes us in this work. There is stillness that is in no way stationary. It moves as it stays put. It sounds out of silence and maintains the silence in soundfulness.

It is exceedingly beautiful, exceedingly well thought-out and effectively enacted. I must say I believe it is once again a seminal moment in the Modernity of the present, like Become Ocean. Become Desert slows the world down and then allows it to unfold without human intervention or disruption, so to speak, at least in its modelling of the reality it seeks to capture.

Stunning. My highest regards and recommendations I give to this musical wonder. Listen!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Brooks, The Passion, Bang On A Can All Stars & Contemporaneous, David Bloom

From composer Jeffrey Brooks and the Bang On A Can folks comes a major Minimalist music event called The Passion (Cantaloupe 21146). It is a full length work in three movements for several mid-sized acoustic and electric chamber outfits (amplified chamber orchestras, to use the liner terminology) with some vocalists reciting a bit in the middle and singing rather sweetly at the end. It has the thrust of Rock (with guitar, bass and drums helping that along greatly) and a kind of insistent layering like Balinese Gamelan except further into the Minimal fray of the Tonal Modernist present. And it sounds perfectly well, even better as you listen again.

The work took definitive shape after Brooks thought about the effect Michael Gordon's "The Treewatcher" had on him when he first heard it in concert as a student in New Haven. And then after some preliminary work on the piece Brooks subsequently heard of the untimely death of his friend and associate,  fellow-composer Steve Martland. At that point the music became suddenly and necessarily about the tragedy of loss of this wonderful spirit. So Brooks began moving ahead with his now revised thinking about the piece he wanted to write by considering Bach's moving "Capriccio on the Departure of A Beloved Brother."

From there and the quotation of same from an old vinyl record of the Bach all comes together and moves forward memorably. The three sections, "After the Treewatcher," "Capriccio On the Departure of A Beloved Brother," and the concluding "Passion" with its hypnotic vocal melody, the entire sequence seems aesthetically inevitable and right as we hear it in final form.

Like Rock or Blues or various World Musics, the Modernist use of repetition is only as worthy as the musical motifs involved and the relative weights put on them, and then of course the performativity of it all.  Brooks gives us musical motifs that stand out and works them together in ways that have some true weight, an outstandingly well wrought singularity that puts the music in a place one wants to return to again, and then again  That at least has been my experience, a happy one.

I do not hesitate to recommend this one for anyone who knows or who wants to know what Bang On A Can is about. This is an excellent example, the Brooks piece is among the best of such things in this decade. Hear it! If you cannot get to the upcoming MassMOCA Bang On A Can extravaganza this will help tide you over nicely.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Winged Creatures and Other Works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra, Demarre & Anthony McGill, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Allen Tinkham

Today there is an interesting program of two World Premier Recordings of concerted works for flute, clarinet and orchestra plus two earlier gems for same. Winged Creatures (Cedille 90000 187) features the excellent flute and clarinet duo of Demarre and Anthony McGill with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Allen Tinkham.

The music is well played in all instances and gives us much to absorb. The ultra-Contemporary end pieces, both premieres, work very nicely against the contrasting inner works on the program, namely the Franz Danzi Classicism of the "Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 41" and the Romanticism combined with the attractive folk energy of Saint-Saens brief "Tarantelle, Op. 6." Both retain plenty of interest and bring a refreshing change of pace that thrive in their enthusiastic performances.

Michael Abels' "Winged Creatures" has a nicely panoramic depictive-tonal Modern thrust that sets off the wind duo within a well imagined orchestral carpet.

And too Joel Puckett's "Concerto Duo" rings forth with an initially somewhat Jazz-tinged aura and then gives us a good, similarly depictive-tonal Modernity for listeners to immerse themselves in.

The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra are impressive for their age. The McGill brothers charge forward with a dynamic and indefatigable zest that is captivating and even exciting to hear. It is one of those couplings where everything works together, that matches up well with performers and compositions that fit together in absorbing ways. The new works are mainstream Modern and well crafted, nicely wrought.

Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Rand Steiger, Coalescence Cycle, Volume 1: Music for Soloists and Electronics, International Contemporary Ensemble

One can never be sure from one month to the next exactly what music one will hear. So an open-work world-mind is a healthy one to maintain no doubt. Here is one I did not expect to get yet now that I've heard it a number of times I am glad of it. That's Coalescence Cycle, Volume 1: Music for Soloists and Electronics (Tundra/New Focus Recordings TUN 013) by composer Rand Steiger with soloists of the International Contemporary Ensemble.

This is on the surface of things a pretty straightforward proposition. Selected soloists perform expressive fare that lands on this side of Jazz-based Improv in its vibrant performativity, yet is firmly in the New Music camp.

The soloists conjoin with electronics that build out of the instrumentalist's part closely and/or co-exist in direct parallel to it. The idea of harmony melding into timbral complexity is what lies behind these works conceptually. Instrumental part and electronics conjoin closely via expressly sequenced live signal processing by means of special software applications by Miller Puckette. In live versions the sound of the instrumentalist(s) is processed and disseminated out of six loudspeakers distributed throughout the auditorium. It is reduced to stereo in the present recording. The note choices center around natural intervals that occur in the harmonic series. Understandably this lends itself to the timbral-chord ambiguity that Rand Steiger seeks to explore.

In this way single-note, chord and timbral elements oscillate in mutual coexistence, come forward in performance and permute in a kind of natural process situation. Five interrelated works seek our listening involvement, each with a different instrument or instruments as soloist(s) and each rolling forward in its own way. The works were composed between 2012 and 2015. They are in sequence as follows: "Cyclone" for clarinet and electronics, "Beacon" for flute, piccolo and electronics, "Morning Fog" for cello and electronics, "Light On Water" for flute, piano and electronics, and "Concatenation" for bassoon and electronics.

There are interesting, captivating musical events happening continuously throughout, but I must say I have been especially taken by the opening "Cyclone" for clarinet, "Light On Water" for flute-piano and the closing bassoon-timbral excitement of "Concatenation." That is not to cast aspersion on the others, just to note that the opening and closing gambits are the most dramatic and appealing each in their own way.

All the soloists come through with dynamic and exciting performances that one hears with pleasure. So kudos to Joshua Rubin on clarinet, Claire Chase on the flute and piccolo, Kivie Cahn-Lipman on cello, Jacob Greenberg on piano and Rebekah Heller on bassoon.

I find the album a stimulating listen. It illustrates the current live organicism that much of the Electro-Acoustics we hear today espouse. It all works together for an emphasis on performance yet gives us plenty to focus upon in the deliberate systems-compositional forms. Recommended for those open to intriguing new examples of live electronics as it evolves into the Modern future.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Alan Griffiths, Rare View, Volume Two, Cello, Piano and Violin

I covered the music of Alan Griffiths a while back on these pages (see the entry from February 28 of this year for that review article.) He in the meantime was kind enough to send me another volume of his compositions, which I now talk about a little bit. The album came out a fairly short while ago. It is a recording of some twelve brief chamber works of his for piano, cello and violin, in various combinations.  It is entitled Rare View, Volume Two (SONY Australia). The album grew out of a series of happenstances--a new microphone developed by SONY, a new Yamaha grand piano, a librettist Alan came to know, a new concert venue, and a wish to record the entire project solely with solar power, to make a recording with no carbon footprint.. The music is dedicated to Alan's late friend, activist Paul Martin.

So we have a second volume of the music (I have not heard the first.) The solo piano works continue to peek my interests, as they did on the last album I reviewed. Nicholas Young plays them very well. It is not exactly all "Modern" in the typical sense, though some feel that way. They are Tonal, Neo- and so also are the works that include violin (Dominik Przywara) and/or cello (George Yang). All three players come through with excellence, and they give us the compositional whole in near-ideal ways.

I do most appreciate the solo piano music here.

If Rare View plays with the idea of "Rear View" as in the rear-view mirror on the cover image, it is deliberate of course. This is decidedly not music that looks forward exactly, though one cannot not do something of that when writing new works. And face it, if we are to have an "avant garde" it is necessary that there be a "rear-view garde" so to speak, and Alan Griffiths re-traverses later Romantic expressiveness in ways that actually and perhaps paradoxically do not look backward in some imitative sense but instead take the working premises or the essence of Romantic "fullness" and remakes it all in his own image. In the end the piano music at any rate is tumultuous and so in part has a kind of "Early Modern" fire to it that you might hear in Scriabin or Prokofiev piano solo music at times early and mid-period. Yet it does not sound especially Russian because it is not. And though there is occasionally some tension via a bit of dissonance it is not the primary form of presentation.

That is not at all to say that the music that includes cello and/or violin is not interesting. It all is that. But to appreciate this music for itself one should forget about "progress," "teleology" or some kind of long-scale of development such as music history models have engaged in for so long. Not that there is anything wrong with seeing the artistic world in those terms. It just is not especially relevant to appreciate this particular music.

Yet there is plenty to savor nonetheless. If you do NOT care about labels, here is music to get yourself into, by a composer of talent. Give it a close listen if you can.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Himmelborgen, Uranienborg Vokalensemble, Kare Nordstoga, Elisabeth Holt

The Uranienborg Vokalensemble, out of Oslo, is an exceedingly beautiful sounding chamber choir under the direction of Elisabeth Holt.  Himmelborgen (2L 149) is an album of sacred music, mostly from Early Music spheres. Though I read elsewhere that some have been composed now, and honestly with the graphically exquisite presentation typical of 2L (happily combined with wonderful audio production values as always) I am having real trouble deciphering what it is I am hearing. Kare Norstoga is on organ, I get that. The graphics are reader unfriendly. What is this lovely music?

Even the back cover blurb is hard to read. And this is the sort of music that is not so obvious as far as being able to guess what each of the 15 selections are--though I recognize some hymns and other Early Music melodic things. Listen to their "Dies Irae" (in arrangement/recomposition, see below) and if you are like me you will think of Arvo Part, then just think of time passing, or the dusty music manuscripts coming to life for us only now. At any rate you will I hope like me be transfixed.

Honestly, with the kind of beauty represented here, maybe it does not matter if I cannot quite decipher the text on the CD? I go to the web where there is an explanation I can read! Oh, it is the reworking of sacred hymns and related Early Music by Marcus Paus, Marianne Reidarsdatter Eriksen and Morten Christophersen. As the program proceeds it becomes more clear that these are reworkings, yet the choir is so incredible that it all has a tabula rasa feel to it, regardless of the what.

The music is as ravishing as such things get, the audio sparkling and glowing with "Immersive Audio" technology and 2L's two-disk SACD-Blue Ray audiophile assortment as ever.

Molto bravo! Wow! Outstanding music.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Michael Colgrass, Side By Side, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

Charles Ives you can look to as the father of disparate conjoinings and aural collages when Modern North American composition styles developed and flourished in the last century through to today. Others have followed of course, people like Henry Brandt and, lest we forget, Michael Colgrass. The estimable Boston Modern Orchestra Project gives us the music of the latter with the three-work offering Side By Side (BMOP/Sound 1064). On these works one can note the back and forth one gets from the concerto in Western Classical. Colgrass gives us that kind of dialog along with more involved post-Ivesian contrasts.

I found a copy of a recording of his As Quiet As years ago and liked it much, but then for whatever reason did not hear a lot more of him. The current release is an ear-opener, all making excellent use of a large orchestra to paint complex juxtapositions, transpositions and freely imaginative interactions of old and new, past and future, gone and remaining.

All three compositions give us startlingly depictive passages that suggest meaningful sound sequence by going far beyond and far more deeply into an initial textual idea that is the premise of each work, developing the musical equivalent far more deeply than one might expect. The opening example "Letter From Mozart" puts forward in music the idea of Mozart writing a letter to the composer asking him to write a work based on one of Mozart's themes. So we get Mozart and Colgrass shifting back and forth and combining in very interesting ways their stylistic outlooks. It takes an enormous grasp of both present and past worlds to do this effectively, and Colgrass does it in amazing and rather jolly ways.

"Side By Side" builds outward from a kind of dual concerto of a refined harpsichord and a more earthy prepared piano, both played nicely by Joanne Kong who figured also prominently in the work's premier by BMOP, who commissioned the piece. Everything swings brilliantly around the two instru-musical personalities that the orchestra aids, abets and comments upon in sometimes incredibly agile passagework. This is a remarkable piece!

Lastly "Schubert's Birds" goes even more directly into concerted territory, this time a concerto for orchestra based on Schubert's "Kupelwieser Waltz." The idea is that Schubert was an extraordinary songbird whose lovely sound-casting attracted other "birds" who joined in the concertizing and made for a most fruitful aural gathering for the time Schubert was allotted to this earthlife. It is very birdlike music we hear in the atmospheric opening. The subsequent virtuoso orchestral warblings must be heard to appreciated.

Colgrass, one recognizes happily on hearing this music, sounds better than ever on these works from 1976 through 2007. He is nothing short of brilliant in his handling of the orchestra. BMOP does him the ultimate service of giving us beautifully detailed readings of the scores, entering into the spirit of the various dialogs, projecting the content of the works most vibrantly with perfect idiomatic inflections as needed and a real sense of joy in the music making. 

Highly recommended. This Colgrass music is essential. And lots of fun.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Playlist for Rembrandt, Bob van Asperen

In school, when I was still (virtually) wearing a beanie-copter, I became more and more interested in synesthesia, or the convergence of senses, like that of sound and sight, or music and the visual arts. Are there periods where you can find things in common between the two? Sure, but in some interesting ways? The world intervened and I had to live my life outside of such thoughts, mostly.

But then here is an album that practically demands such a speculation, that is on A Playlist for Rembrandt, Music from the Netherlands from Rembrandt's Time (Aeolus 10164). Harpsichordist Bob van Asperen runs through some 20 works that are to the most of us quite obscure.  And he plays them beautifully on the resonant 1669 instrument, the Petrus Joannes Couchet harpsichord which is happily in Amsterdam's justly celebrated Rijksmuseum.

The sound of the instrument is perhaps very much of its time? It is deeply metallic in ways not all instruments are. An old professor dear to me once quipped that Wanda Landowska wanted her harpsichord to sound like a sewing machine. It is one of those thoughts that needs not be true to be interesting. Fact is, harpsichords of older times, some of them anyway, have a sound so far from a piano or organ as to be another thing altogether, like Gin is to Red Wine, altogether other. A glass of straight Gin, a cup of strong coffee, a bristlingly windy, rainy day, all and the sound of the Couchet harpsichord are very distinctive experiences that need to be appreciated for what they are, and in the end they are very good indeed once you get the hang of that. Not that I drink so much these days. Or indulge in exotic coffee blends. But I do listen to this CD and the harpsichord that graces all the music. The rest I can remember.

So we get on this fine recording to sample some bracing harpsichord which, as the liners state, involves, "music that could or most likely was heard by Rembrandt."  So we hear something by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, a composer familiar to many of us, but then Gisbert Steenwick? Johann Casper Kerll?  Less familiar, surely, even downright obscure to me. But perhaps less so for the master painter. Like all proper reconstructions, it all sounds nicely memorable, characteristic. It captures a kind of period mood that I cannot put easily into words. Is it like Rembrandt's wonderful canvasses? Is there some kind of synesthesia at work and can a novice like me detect it? Brown. The music sounds brown. Of course I may feel that way only because I already know the where and what of the music, of Rembrandt's art and the local Zeitgeist. One might say it sounds green. Except it doesn't. Not at all red or orange or yellow or green. Less of that. More in the brown and darker spectrum?

It does not matter in the least because this is music in performances that jump out at you on repeat listens. It is a wondrous journey though to another time and some exceptional music, played exceptionally well, I am sure of that.

I heartily recommend this one for anyone who wants to contemplate earlier music and the life that surrounded it all. And just for the sheer enjoyment of it. Cheers to that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Aspects of America, Modern Orchestral Music, Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar

When we wish upon a star, Walt Disney told us, our dreams come true. The cover of today's musical selection has lots of night but no stars. It is a kind of dream come true in its own way, that is for anyone looking for refreshing fare in the New Music orchestral zone. The design makes it very difficult to read in low light situations however. As a result this album has been resting in a pile in a rather dim corner of my living space and I am sorry I have not noticed it quite properly until now. Happily the music makes up for the imagery. A murky mystery reveals much goodness! That is on the CD Aspects of America (Pentatone 5186 727) as performed quite nicely by the Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar.

Let's start at the end. The concluding work by Samuel Barber I have not gotten to know before this, but it is delightful in Barber's unclassifiable way.  "Souvenirs" gives us a colorful and decidedly descriptive sonance in Barber's kind of lucid, unmodern way, with each of the six sections dealing with a dance form. It gives us another sort of Barber than some of the more well-known works.

The rest of the program is somewhat more on the edgy side beginning with Sean Shepherd's "Magiya," a masterful burst of light and ascending orchestral vibrancy.

Sebastian Currier's "Microsymph" takes the music another step into sheer orchestral color expression, with lovely clashing timbres and genuine chutzpah. An entire symphony is compressed into just ten minutes and needless to say it is a whirlwind of thematic movement.  The music then segues into mountainous mixes of ecstatics and gravitas, and stands out in the process. This is a work one learns to love, or I have at least. And it is most convincingly performed.

Christopher Rouse's "Supplica" begins somberly, quietly and builds out of that to a very sturdy trunk of expression. It is not typical of Rouse, if there is such a thing, yet it is most eloquent in its moodiness.

And we then have a widely shifting cornucopia in Keinji Bunch's "Aspects of an Elephant," a tonal exegesis of each part of the animal that in the old folk-tale different slightless characters describe as just that one thing, a long tube trunk, a curly tail, etc. Here we get "The Elephant as a snake," "as a whip," etc. The music contrasts each thing with vividly scored depictions.  The lyrical ending sounds rather Copland-esque in good ways, an Appalachian Spring for elephants and their admirers?

All told this is music that fills a space of descriptive contemporaneity, a narrative orchestral world that weaves stories not precisely literal but figuratively spellbinding in their own way. It may well be a real sleeper that I did not notice much until now but then I am very glad to have made its acquaintance. It will not perhaps completely "wow" you nor is it at the edge of the advanced. It is good orchestral music of our contemporary 75-year present and the right now too.

It is nice. It is worth hearing if you wish to know more fully US orchestral music of the present. Bravo!

Monday, June 17, 2019

John Eaton, The Sor Juana Project, Aquava New Music Studio, Carmen-Helena Tellez

John Eaton (1935-2015) was an exceptional American composer of the High Modern stripe, known for vocal, electronic and microtonal music especially. Eaton set a number of poems by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz for chamber group and one or more vocal soloists. The whole of it fills two CDs in the recent Sor Juana Project (Aquava New Music Studio CD-1-20193-T), performed with precision and a flair by the Aquava New Music Studio under Carmen-Helena Tellez. Vocalists Tony Boutte, Hyona Kim, Bridget Parker and Kate Maroney have presence and poise throughout and the ever-varying instrumental accompaniment is extremely well done and exciting to hear I must say.

The music is exceptional in a rangy High Dodecaphonic sounding way. There are four clusters of works to be heard and each has something special happening in it. "El Divino Narciso," the very brief "Tocotin," and on CD2, "Sor Juana's Dream" and "Sor Juana Songs."

One ideally listens to this music repeatedly, for the full impact of it is only apparent four or five listens into it all. That is so with much New Music of course, if nothing else it is one of my mantras, and it is so here. The harmonically advanced non-tonal sound, the rhythmic irregularity we come to associate with the High Modern of the last century, and the timbral mapping and delicately complex interplay of instruments and vocalists require exposure over a bit of time to grasp fully.

And supposing you put in the time to hear this music enough times to comprehend it, you will get a sort of precis of the Eaton legacy--a very cogently expressive and inventive Modernist who spoke atonal, timbral and microtonal musical poetry with a concentric intensity and imagination that marked him in the top tier of New Musicologs of his day. Long live the music! Listen to this.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Bohuslav Martinu, Cello Sonatas, Petr Nouzovsky, Gerard Wyss

Martinu (1890-1959) continues to surprise me with the breadth and depth of his output. There are many facets, many sides and no monolithic singularity so much as a multi-stranded set of possibilities according to period and configuration. These considerations seem once again critical as I consider the recent album of his Cello Sonatas (ArcoDiva UP3212-2131). Cellist Petr Nouzovsky and pianist Gerard Wyss make a formidable duo as they dramatically evoke the gravitas, complexities and brilliances of all three Sonatas for Cello and Piano as completed in 1939, 1941 and 1952, respectively.

As one gets to know the three sonatas one is once again reminded that though Martinu has been taken for granted in some circles, in reality he has the importance of a Bartok, a Janacek, a titan of Eastern European Modernism with some chamber bloomings here that rival the very best of their sort.

Clearly the Nouzovsky-Wyss Cello Sonata collaboration has been a labor of love. The two delve deeply within the music and remain there throughout. The significance of each periodic phrase floats aurally until it is given the weight and absorbed articulation it deserves. Considerable technique and balanced expression join together to make of the hour-long enactment something profound indeed.

With every successive listen I become more convinced that these sonatas are not only some of Martinu's very best chamber works, but also that they rival the very best of the 20th century repertoire for cello and piano. Perhaps one might go so far as to assert that Bartok is to the string quartet as Martinu is to the cello-piano sonata? Certainly one might argue it. In any event this is a very fine reading of some major works. One benefits greatly from the hearing of this program, or I have at least. The thematic outpourings never cease, the invention level is remarkably high, consistently so and the idiomatic possibilities of the endless significant scoring gets benchmark realization here.

This is nothing short of a monumental outing. Any serious listener to the wealth of Eastern European 20th Century gems will want to hear these performances. Bravo!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Henning Sommerro, Ujamaa and The Iceberg, Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir

In the gloomy and dark room where my CDs wait for review the album at hand unwittingly blended in with the walls. This morning I am happy to report in on it, for it is not just some item among the many, but rather a special album deserving attention. Composer Henning Sommerro gives us his two symphonic panoramas on the CD Ujamaa (2L 146). The CD (and Blu-Ray multichannelled companion) contains both "Ujamaa" and "The Iceberg," two vibrantly atmospheric and descriptive Tonal Modern works in a tradition of the generally distinctive nature of offerings from up North. The disk was recorded in Trontheim, Norway.

Ingar Heine Bergby conducts the Trontheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir on "The Iceberg" and just the orchestra for "Ujamaa." Lena Willemark, vocalist and folk fiddler is joined on "Ujamaa" by saxophonist Jon Pal Inderberg along with bass clarinetist Rik De Geyter and percussionist Espen Aalberg. Lena is rather remarkable in her vocal stylings. For "The Iceberg" we hear from soprano vocalist Eir Inderhaug and baritone Florin Demit with excellent results.

And what of the music? It is unabashedly folksy contemporary pastel tonal I suppose you could say. "Ujamaa" is more overtly rhythmic and folk-like with some extraordinary, wildly and exuberantly skipping-ranging vocals from Lena Willemark. "The Iceberg" unfolds in more descriptive ways as chorus, soprano and baritone blend with the orchestra in an almost cantata-like massing and delineation. 

A mysterious cover notwithstanding, in that it renders the prospective listener nearly clueless, this is a most interesting program performed with true distinction. Sommerro comes through in a Northern Impressionist colorfulness in the best of Scandinavian traditions yet manages to say in two works things that speak in utterly original ways.

If I devote less space to actual music description this morning it is not because the music lacks character. On the contrary there is so much character (in the Nielsenian sense) that the music speaks wholly and most eloquently for itself. It is perhaps enough to say that every bar seems deliberate and masterfully built for an expressivity all its own.

If you crave the new, here it very much is. I recommend this wholeheartedly for all without preconceptions of what the "Modern" is supposed to sound like. This is a universally local music wholly within itself in the best original ways. Strong!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Jessica Gould, Diego Cantalupi, I Viaggi de Caravaggio

We might count ourselves lucky to be alive at a time when Early Music is getting more detailed attention, more historically accurate performances, while an ever wider range of repertoire is covered, if you take stock of recordings released between, say, 1965 and today and compare that with the time before.

A happy thing that is to me, for I am always glad to enlarge my knowledge of the older forms of music. Today I get to tell you about a recent album covering music I am not all that familiar with, namely I Viaggi di Caravaggio (MVC 17043), an enlightening program of early Seicento motets and arias performed with flair by soprano Jessica Gould and Diego Cantalupi on lute and chitarrone.

The music hails from 1603 through 1643 and features beautiful examples by Benedetto Ferrari, Laurencini, Giovanni Felice Sances, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, among others, and three by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, the latter of which in the liner notes Diego Cantalupi hails as a key figure bridging between early and later style incarnations.

This is not especially contrapuntal music but there is a sort of earthy kind of dialog between voice and instrument that is rousing, and at the same time sophisticated. The liners suggest that no matter the subject of the song that it was a time when artists and musicians lived full lives of passion and color, and that life of course necessarily spilled over into their creations one way or another. The lyrics--made available in the original Italian and in English translation, tell us something of such concerns and suggests to us us the full humanity of those involved.

We have encountered happily Jessica Gould earlier this year (type her name in the search box above for that review). Today's outing shows again her wide-ranging dexterity and power, the beautifully idiomatic, very light vibrato and punchy directness.  Diego Cantalupi's lute and chitarrone playing is simply marvelous. Together they give us beautiful readings of music I for one am very glad to know.

This album will make Early Music enthusiasts smile. And other adventurous souls will no doubt get pleasure from this as well if they make the effort. I for one am glad to have it to hear again.

Giacomo Baldelli, Electric Creatures

Electric Guitarist Giacomo Baldelli shows us how and why Contemporary Classical can be today more or less whatever the composers and performers wish it to be, given an audience open to the new as New. His album Electric Creatures (SD015) provides us with a way the fully electric guitar can be a fulcrum point for vibrant New Music.

Five works give us pause and furnish us headroom for explorations. From the opening with Eve Beglarian's repetition, mesmerization and melding together on "Until it Blazes," to Andrea Agostini and "Three Electric Creatures" with a Metal blazing forth into compositional swirls, we recognize and appreciate the musically astute intersections from Rock into the Avant Classical realm, which of course we have had intimations and realizations of long before from Hendrix to Pink Floyd to Fripp and Eno on one hand, and composers like Francis Thorne on the New Music side a long while ago on the other.

The intersection continues with Ryan Pratt's "Two," Jacob TV's "Grab It!"and Nick Norton's "Slow Earth." One in the end enjoys the fully cranked potential of the electric guitar realized with a musicality that intrigues and reminds us how far we have traveled from the days when it was startling to read on the cover of The Ventures in Space how all those funny sounds were created with electric guitars, or on the other hand to appreciate the sound of BB King, strings singing and blazing forth in ways that were more like a violin than an acoustic guitar, or then Jeff Beck with the Yardbirds and that silky sort of distortion he got. If we hear Hip Hop interjected it is still Blues, Psychedelia, Metal and electric Ambiance that constitutes the prime mover here and good for all that.

That tomorrow was there already in 1965 was of course true as the rise of the Modern in every cultural sense was both latent and very present in that period so that we can now look back upon it all and perhaps understand more fully.

Giacomo Baldelli executes the five pieces with fire and polish in equal amounts. In so doing he opens the door yet further for the full integration of electrics into the avant of New Music.

Hoorah for that! If you do not find that interesting, then perhaps this one is not for you. Otherwise, by all means.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Isaac Schankler, Because Patterns

No person is an island and perhaps every piece of music connects in some way to every other piece of music whether local or world-widely, contemporary to ancient. That may be more to chew off on this rainy morning than I can safely address on the blog, but it explains my feeling listening to Because Patterns (Aerocade Music 011). I get a distinct window on experiencing a piece of today that is electroacoustically enmeshed with what has happened in Electronica and the Post-Progressive in Rock, on one hand, soundscaping ambiance, and the whole spectrum of the Modern Contemporary Classical on the other.

This is something one can get in vinyl, and that makes sense because it is long enough but not too long for that platform--so that hipsters in vinyl-land may find it quite properly LP-ish in pacing and content. My copy is a CD and that need not deter us of course, because I heard the same sounds obviously. Still, this is part of present-day audience credence I guess.

The album consists of three works, the first long-ish at 24 minutes, the second two in smaller chunks that no doubt fit onto side two of the record in vinyl.

The opening work is perhaps the more ambitious of the three, "Because Patterns/Deep State." It features as source and as principal sound generator Aron Kallay and Vicki Ray on prepared piano. There are parts of the finished work that rely on more-or-less unprocessed acoustic instrument but then a great deal surrounds those moments that is electroacoustically transformed. A soundscaped section consists of continuous sustains of air-ear-ay and atmospheric blankets, but then there returns the punctuated periodicity of the two-piano interactions that sound less like Cage-meets-Bali and closer to something you mind find in Radical Tonality works these days. The piece juxtaposes the two possibilities in ways that enchant. It is something to hear and luxuriate within, for sure.

The following two works make some use of recording studio processing but less so. They are primarily the conventional instrument with accompanying ambiances, and sometimes also a bit of what sounds like overdubbing.

That is true of "Mobile I" with Sakura Tsai on violin. It is a subtle combination of conventionally recorded solo violin doubled-up at times and then backdropped with electronically altered long-sustain electro-subtleties. In some ways here for me are the finest ten minutes of the program, for the violin parts are engagingly done and the electronics interweave in the happiest manner. Some extended techniques interject into the music towards the end and are complemented by rapidly moving electronic bass percussives.

The final work "Future Feelings" is a good deal of Nadia Shpachenko on piano per se. There is a slightly rhapsodic Romantic remnant-ory overbite in terms of a rhapso-element to this music and glistening arpeggios as well. It is more situated in both a sort of capturing of "beauty" as well as the motility of some Improv Jazz, yet all is decisively resituated in a personal aural cocoon so to speak.

The distinctively shifting moods and presences of the three works lend themselves well to vinyl and its expectations of physically turning the disk over halfway and the psychology of that.

The music grew on me util I looked forward to another spin. It is music that provokes and takes you on a traveling movement, a sojourn. I recommend it for a palate cleanser that gives of itself to change the scene for you aurally.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Siggi String Quartet, South of the Circle

The Siggi String Quartet play repertoire from as far back as the Renaissance but they love the early-to-later Moderns as much as anything and thrive in collaborations with living composers. In their South of the Circle (Sono Luminous 92232) they present some of the very newest of New Music from composers of northern climes.

One might call much of this music Post-Atonal, because most all of it has a pretty clearly defined tonality yet it does not at all sound as if it is looking back as much as it is finding a way of expressing our moment alive today. All of it requires a true sensitivity to sound color which the Siggi Quartet provides in full, poetically so.

The five composers are duly weighed in on the liner notes. Daniel Bjarnason is said to be on the very edge of the new. He won the 2017 Icelandic Music Award composition of the year for Brothers (which was a Sono Luminus release). His "Stillshot" (2015) begins the program. Una Sveinbjarnardottir is a founding member of the quartet and concertmaster of the Roykjavik Chamber Orchestra. She has worked with Boulez, Penderecki and Rostropovich among others. Her "Opacity" (2014)  graces the CD as the second composition heard.

Valgeir Sigurdsson loves to blur distinctions between the acoustic and the electronic and won Iceland's album of the year award in 2018 for his 4th album Dissonance. "Nebraska" (2011) gives us a worthy quartet example on the program here. Mamiko Dis Ragnarsdottir is a Classical pianist and comes to the music with some rootedness in Jazz and Pop. She shows us an original sort of Minimalism with an introspective side on the included work "Fair Flowers" (2018). Finally there is Haukur Tomasson, who won the prestigious Nordic Concert Music Prize in 2004 for his opera Gudrun's 4th Song. His "Serimonia" (2014) ends the program on an adventurous and harmonically edgy note.

The Siggi String Quartet excel on this album in the meticulous way they realize each work with close attention to sonority and space. Their excellence of detail within broadly sweeping readings make for us music that nearly startles after one takes the time to immerse oneself in the music. Extended techniques and subtle sound blends make a world you find the earful self entering more and more thoroughly with each listen. Like the best of New Music performances it enters a sort of ineffable place where the sounds speak in ways words cannot.

I defer to this music with deep respect and appreciation. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Tangos for Yvar, Hanna Shybayeva, 18 Tangos 1927-2004

Some albums excel for embracing and executing a great idea well. Today's example gives us this with Tangos for Yvar (Grand Piano 794), pianist Hanna Shybayeva's idiomatic and inspired reading of some 18 Tangos for solo piano, all composed in Modern times, most on commission by pianist Yvar Mikhashoff between 1983-1993.

The thread very much is of course the Tango, as a rhythmic tendency corresponding to the dance form, as a melodic-harmonic sensing of pacing and recurrence, as a periodic set of flowing form, all the things one can identify as defining a piece of music as a "Tango."

In the 18 examples that appear on the program in each case there is a particular intersection between the Modern or Post-Modern new music language and that of the Tango. Sometimes the New Music of edgy non-periodic melody and harmony prevails, or a hypnotic Minimal repetition, sometimes the Tango is in every way a Tango proper yet it goes about it in ways that are contemporary. Across this spectrum of possibilities we experience a wealth of inventive realizations that continually fascinate and surprise.

Some are chosen outside of the Yvar series to stretch the temporary and stylistic realms. So we have a nice one by Stefan Wolpe from 1927 on one end, and something by Piazzolla from 1973 since completeness demands he be included. Most the rest are from the remarkable commission series. In all we get short and characteristic works from the likes of Biscardi, Pender, Nichifor, Rzewski, Fennelly, Aharonian, Schimmel, Nyman, Hill, Mumford, Johnson, Finch, Babbitt, Berkman, Vigeland and Nobre.

It might not be something you'd imagine if you did not already know but it is fully as good or a good deal  better than you'd have any right to expect. Charming. Wonderful. Imaginative. The ideal meeting of the Modern and the rooted. I strongly recommend this one if you seek adventure and, why not, a little fun?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Chia-Ying Chan, Piano, Beethoven, Schubert, Fine

A piano recital album is generally always a welcome thing in my neck of the woods--that is of course when coming from a worthy pianist. I certainly found that to be so with Dr. Chia-Ying Chan and her recent release Beethoven Schubert Fine (Centaur CRC 3627). As we gather from the cover, Ms. Chan gives us works by three composers, classic standards and a well deserving lesser-known work in the Modern sphere.

Ms. Chan hails originally from Taiwan, is the recipient of a number of winning prizes in piano competitions, such as the 2016 American Fine Arts International Concerto Competition (First Place) and has gained acclaim from worldwide concertizing since the launch of her career several years ago. She received her Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017 and wrote her dissertation on the Piano Sonatas of Harold Shapero.

Chia-Ying has remarkable balance and poise in her playing, a beautiful touch and a very singing sense of the total structure of any given work. She takes on the very beautifully lyric and heroic Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 31, Op. 131 with a pronounced yet gentle gravitas and a tenderness that seems entirely right, refreshing in its own way. It is less a matter of "dash" as we might have heard from a Backhaus or a Schnabel and rather more introspective to my ears. It is a reading inspired in its own way and a delight to hear.

And too her way with the Schubert Piano Sonata No. 20 , D. 959 is subtle--clarion chiming, somewhat ringing and yet ever singing. Such a glorious work and so happily performed is this one, and yet too Chia-Ying manages to find a way through touch and phrasing to put us in mind of the inner anatomy of the total voicings as well as the main melodic thrust. This makes it all rather wonderful to hear.

Finally we have the sleeper, the surprise of the program in American composer Irving Fine (1914-1962) and his "Music for Piano" in four movements. It is rather firmly diatonic and yet through some brilliant displacements it takes on a Neoclassically glowing sort of resituation, so that key and tonal center are well established yet not at all in the more obvious diatonic ways. It is wonderful music and Chan gives it great attention to detail, a sprightly, almost jaunty exuberance and somewhat playful manner that brings out the music as it was no doubt intended by the composer. Hearing it brings me some joy for sure.

So that is my take on this recital. The Irving Fine alone is worth the price of admission but then with the Beethoven and Schubert we have two more reasons to appreciate the refreshing artistry of Chia-Ying Chan. Well played and poetic performances of brilliant music. Bravo!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mikael Ayrapetyan, A Whole in 12, Miniatures for Piano

Some music revisits ideas that might need revisiting. Others perhaps get to places that may appeal or may not, depending on your musical temperament, but nonethless do revisit with a seriousness of intent. Pianist-composer Mikael Ayrapetyan (b. 1984) strays into melodic territory with his own sensibilities and it all may give you pleasure I trust, depending on what your ear wants to hear. I speak of his A Whole in 12, Miniatures for Piano (Grand Piano 809), which presents to us 12 lyrical solo piano works that have a rhapsodistic lyricism and a soaring sort of introspection that in lesser hands could well degenerate into New Age lullabies.

It is all very tonal, and fine for that. It is thick with chordal accompaniment throughout, the left hand offering up broken arpeggiated, sometimes near-Alberti chordal patterns quite pianistic, a constant factor. I find myself listen to the left hand and finding it interesting in itself as I hear this album repeatedly. That is me though.

He is an Armenian known for a more identifiably Armenian style via his "Secrets of Armenia" project. This music is not typical for what Armenian music normally might be--not in the melodically minor mode of the Armenian strain, and that should I suppose neither deter us nor encourage us, for no artist should be expected only to follow a local muse. Still the singsong diatonic, often major-moded channels of this music was not what I might have expected and in some ways it is not how I would want to express myself personally. Of course that is never something that should stop us in our tracks, but then the question is whether the music appeals nonetheless? A Satie for example could excel with such reduced means, but this is not Satie-like. It goes elsewhere.

I cannot say I love all twelve of these miniatures. There are a few that haunt, a few others that seem a little too endlessly sweet, like baklava. Your personal capacity for such things will select you from among the crowd. If you crave the lyrically melodic, the nearly simple plainness of lyric sweet-amidst-sweet, you will no doubt be well served by this one. I find a number of them very lovely.

So it is your move. Ayrapetyan is dead serious about his lyric spell. Try a little and see what you think.