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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Luka Sulic, The Four Seasons, Antonio Vivaldi, Archi dell'academia di Santa Cecilia

Cello virtuosi Luka Sulic comes front and center for his first solo recording in this "new in the old" venture, a rearrangement of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Sony Classical I0075986552) as a showcase for solo cello and the Archi dell'accademia di Santi Cecilia.

Luka is best know as a member of 2Cellos. Here he tops himself with a highly dynamic Seasons that sports at times some breathtaking sections taken at a maddening clip, exhilaratingly so. Baroque-fast is nothing new. Think of Glenn Gould's speedy Bach for piano. The group Baroque horserace is not entirely common though. Some Messiah's (notably one recently covered in last few years on these pages. Look it up.) can rock us, and what is wrong with that? I cannot say I do not like this exciting take on an old duffer of a popular favorite. Anything to breathe some life into it all.

And new life it surely takes on. Sulic did the re-arranging and it works in all ways, not least of which happens in the Cello Department. If you resist such rethinkings on purist lines, all well and good for you. I found myself responding without hesitation once I set aside my initial resistance to disturbing the pantheon. The cello playing is impressive as are the strings of St. Cecilia. It is all rather a joy to hear.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Duo Kalysta, Origins, Plays Debussy, Schafer, Morlock, Jolivet

Canadian Duo Kalysta comprises the flute of Lara Deutsch and the harp of Emily Belvedere. They show beauty and stature on their inaugural album Origins (Leaf Music LM226), where four works come together well and we are transported accordingly.

The harp and flute fall naturally into Impressionist expressions so it is no accident that the program begins with Debussy's "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune," which thrives in a duet arrangement by Judy Loman, edits by Nora Schulman. It is incumbent on the harp to articulate the entire orchestral texture but then with the sensuous quality of Ms. Belvedere's performance we hardly miss a note. Ms. Deutsch's warming flute articulations are a revelation. Marvelous.

In my tenure as an undergrad back so long ago now I was happily assigned The Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer--I most enthusiastically recommend you read it for a view of the sound universe around us. So it was only natural that I followed into his compositional output later on and I have been again happy in that. His String Quartets are a wonder (reviewed some time ago here. Look it up.) and now we have the three movement "Trio" (adding the viola of Marina Thibeault) "for Flute, Viola and Harp." It is a bit more Impressionistic than we might ordinarily hear from Schafer but then it is ravishing and deep so who would object? The music falls in with Schafer's idea of soundscaping, but even if you did not know that the music speaks with a flair and a somewhat ecstatic depth.

Jocelym Morlock (b. 1969) represents a somewhat younger Canadian compositional branch. "Vespertine" is in scalular relief and evokes continually. The meditative harp sets up a sonic field that the flute comments reflectively upon in the movement "Twilight." "Verdegris" counters with more consistent movement in the harp and limber flute counterparts. Lovely this is.

Andre Jolivet (1905-1974)  and his "Chant de Linos" for quintet brings back Thibeault's viola plus violin (Alexander Read) and cello (Carmen Bruno) for chamber music of some breadth and girth. The flute part is rather acrobatic at times and very well played.  It is a fitting and decisive end to an enlivening and absorbing program.

This is is music to savor, particularly if you are attracted to the flute-harp nexus like me. Bravo. Duo Kalysta and friends breathe life into these works with a joy and care that ring true.

Friday, November 8, 2019

London Myriad, Four, Music of Bozza, Bridge, Francaix, Bennett, Ibert, Arrieu

Woodwind Quartet music is the order of the day today, with the sparklingly refreshing ensemble London Myriad and their CD Four (Metier msv 28587). They beguile our ears with six 20th century works, all good to hear and well played.

The instrumentation is flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon. The works, all six of them, are as follows: Eugene Bozza (1905-1991) "Trois pieces pour une musique de nuit," Frank Bridge (1879-1941) "Divertimenti," Jean Francaix (1912-1997) "Quatuor," Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012) "Travel Notes 2," Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) "Deux Movements - MCMXXII," Claude Arrieu (1903-1990) "Suite en Quatre," the latter a world premier recording.

The music runs together substantially so that a puckish demeanor with a modern tang alternates with expressively lyrical passages. London Myriad put the scores through their paces nearly ideally and each composer makes excellent use of the instruments in the quartet so in the end we "walk away" smiling.

A second volume will be forthcoming featuring brand new works not yet seen in the light of day. I look forward. Meanwhile this is happily recommended. Some beautiful sounds on this one. The Frank Bridge is worth the admission alone to my mind.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Song of Love

The art songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams? Albion and the Vaughan Williams Society continue their important work with a volume of Vaughan Williams largely early period songs (1897-1934) on the album The Song of Love (Albion ALBCD037). There we have quite respectable and even inspired performances from mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, baritone Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann.

World Premier recordings on this album include the first female recording of the cycle "The House of Life" and then 16 premiere song waxings. At the risk of tedium, the program in its entirety consists of six songs from Rossetti's "The House of Life" (1903-04), "Three Old German Songs" (1902), "To Daffodils" (Gunby Hall Setting c. 1903), "French Songs" (4) (1903-04), "Bonaparty" (1908), "The Willow Song" (1897), "Three Songs from Shakespeare" (1925), "The Spanish Ladies" (1912), "The Turtle Dove" (1919-1934), "Two Poems by Seamus O'Sullivan" (1925), and "Duets" (2) (1903).

The songs epitomize Vaughan Williams' balance between form and expression, his love of folk themes, and his inventive. ever-fresh outlook on perhaps the most fickle of the muses. We who know his choral and vocal music at large should not be surprised to find his abilities on equally happy display for the songs presented here.

Any lovers of Vaughan Williams will be well served by this program, as will those Anglophiles and connoisseurs of the Modern Art Song. Kudos to all involved.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Third Coast Percussion, Devonte Hynes, Fields

Third Coast Percussion grabs onto the Ambient Minimalism of the music of composer Devonte Hynes on the recent album Fields (Cedille CDR 90000 192), which creates universes of sound primarily out of mallet interlockings and ambient electronics. If New Music could remind you of some album track in Prog Rock, this could qualify for its cosmicality and spacey directedness.

Devonte Hynes gives to us on this program the 11 movement "For all Its Fury," plus "Perfectly Voiceless" and "There was Nothing."

Devonte is best known for acclaimed singing-songwriting and pop production forays (primarily as Blood Orange) but he started out in Classical Music realms. The music at hand gives us work highly engaged with classicism as we understand it today.

The music we hear on the program came about when Third Coast was seeking to create an evening of New Music for the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago troupe. Devonte ultimately came on board and through a series of interactions--Hynes putting together composed audio on a Digital Workstation accompanied by scores, Third Coast transforming that music into their orbit via arranging and reorchestrating it all for the quartet's instruments, their proclivities and the dance troupe's considerations, and on from there. Some of Dev's synth-pad electronics work and audio transformational feel was I believe retained or adapted so that the result is fully collaborative in the best ways--and for that constitutes a sort of convergence of stylistic aspects we do not ordinarily see together in a single musical context.

The title Fields alludes to Dev's view of the music as a series of open fields where the Hubbard Street dancers, Third Coast Percussion and Dev could freely interact. The music surely reflects such open horizons in the most appealing ways. This is New Music for people who may not much like New Music, or for those unfamiliar with such things. It is primarily good music beyond category.

I fully recommend this one for all progressive folks, for those who do not mind or even welcome a bit of  groove and New Music fans who are open to the new in whatever form our artists see fit, regardless of preconceptions. Minimalists will also take heart I suspect. For this is very good indeed.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Weinberg, Flute Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, etc., Claudia Stein, Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra, David Robert Coleman

As we become more and more familiar with the considerable collated opus of Weinberg's music his stature grows. Is he up there with Prokofiev and Shostakovich? Well, he is his own muse and impressive, very impressive. The new release of his Flute Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Naxos 8.573931) (1963, 1987) is a case in point. The title works, the "12 Pieces for Flute and Orchestra" (1947, arr. 1983), and the "5 Pieces for Flute and Piano" (1947) all seem and feel substantial.

Flautist Claudia Stein gives us ravishing tone and eloquent delivery for all of this. Conductor David Robert Coleman sends the Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra through the maze of execution with a sure-handedness to which they respond in kind, and pianist Elisavata Blumina does her part with thoughtful grace.

The music is in earnest both as flute showcase and as MUSIC and in the process there is triumph to be heard. Far from there being a dropping off, this album contains further gems polished and sparkling. In the process we get the "Complete Works for Flute" as I gather from the liners. Good-o.

All the music was initially conceived by Weinberg for  flute virtuoso Alexander Korneyev and the combination of singing flute part and symphonic splendor (as applicable) puts the entire opus collection as of a piece in many ways.

In the end the music and the performances are superior fare and should be of interest to Weinberg fans, modernists, and those attracted to flute showcases of the 20th century. Strongly recommended!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Alexander Moyzes, Dances from Slovakia, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ondrej Lenard

Following on the heels of Naxos' release of the ten symphonies of Alexander Moyzes (1906-1984) is this album of Dances from Slovakia (Naxos 8.5554777) and other works addressing in part the composer's (successful) search for a national folk identity. The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) under Ondrej Lenard do a convincing job realizing the scores with local flair and charm--and the audio is first rate.

This is neither rabidly Modern fare nor is it overly Romantic, but instead exemplifies Symphonic Nationalism as one might imagine it in a Slovakian vein. Moyzes we found in the previous symphony series was thoroughly grounded in orchestral writing and the three compositions presented in this follow-up give us another angle on his ways.

"Down the River Vah, Op. 26" (1935/45) is the more depictive and descriptive of the three as the title suggests. It is evocative and exuberant music perhaps better heard than described.

"Dances from Gemer, Op. 51" (1955) and "Pohronic Dances, Op. 43" (1950) burst over with folkloric melody and dance rhythms but too get a full symphonic-orchestral treatment that shows us Moyzes' keen musicality once again.

Both dance suites come in part out of Moyzes' involvement with the Slavic Folk Artistic Ensemble (SL'UK) and their music. The material he wrote for the ensemble finds its way to orchestral-symphonic realms in "Dances from Gemer," which extends, is inspired by and composes anew themes related to traditional folk music from the Gemer Region of Southern Slovakia. A cimbalom is a welcome part of the orchestra for this suite. Timpani and percussion are used effectively in bringing out the lively rhythms. I am glad for that (since I was trained as a classical percussionist among other things). Excitement has a part to play. I like this one quite well!

Similarly "Pohronie Dances" comes out of music originally composed for SL'UK, based on Central Slovakian styles along the Hron River, adapting the "highwayman's dance," "maiden's dance" "woodsmen's dance" and the dance of "merry village people."

We are treated to some fine music here, well played. Anyone with an interest in musical Nationalism in the region will be pleased to have and hear this, but then it should appeal to anyone who would like some lively fare. Recommended.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Daniel Lentz, Ending(s), Twilight String Orchestra, Nicholas Deyoe, Fahad Siadat

If you have been listening to New Music with a capital /N/ for a number of decades chances are you know and appreciate Daniel Lentz. His minimalist works have made an impression and today he keeps on, only the newer music has a "beyond" quality. And so today we consider a new release example, a two-orchestral work program dubbed after one of the works,  Ending(s) (New World 80815-2).

The Twliight String Orchestra under conductor Nicholas Deyoe take care of performances with contemporary expressive clarity and a flourish. The two works are "Continental Divide" (2003) and "Ending(s)" (2018). the latter spotlighting nicely tenor Fahad Siadat.

This is not music in some Minimalist pocket any longer, and in truth Lentz has always been a distinct voice whether in or out of any particular genre, in my experience. By now the music is firmly tonal, less repetitive than perhaps Radically Tonal or rhapsodically Ambient Tonal in a kind of lyric nutshell. Both works hang together so that listening to them in sequence is akin to a single integrated experience.

Midway into the "Ending(s)" work tenor Siadat enters and we commence a nice sort of concluding climactic overdrive, a pastoral-lyrical intensity that affirms a Modern Romantic sensibility. Yet there are complexities that the music itself heard without knowing the background only hints at. To quote the liners, "Who else but Lentz would think to combine two Japanese haiku with a section of the Requiem Mass and a description of how an atom bomb explodes?" Indeed.

The liner notes to the album also detail a stylistic plethora and complexity of biographical experience that interested parties should definitely read. Suffice to say he is not easily pegged.

This later phase of his music makes an effective escape from the rigorous strictures of orthodox Minimalism yet keeps the supercharged nature of expression that marked (and marks)  that form of music at its best.

It is music that stands up well with a lot of listens and it is not unpleasing in the process. New Music with another wrinkle? Here you go. Recommended.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Pauline Kim Harris, Heroine, Reimagining Bach and Ockeghem

Today we savor more of the "old in the new," the Modern in the early, the re-imagining and aural re-staging of the past into New Music.  We consider today Heroine (Sono Luminous 92235), an Ambient New Music foray into Bach's Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D minor ("Ambient Chaconne") and Ockeghem's "Deo Gratias" ("Deo") for violin and electronics, all composed by Harris and Spencer Topel.

Where these two works go are into a spacey ambient place. Part of the roots are in the old Fripp and Eno classics, part are firmly in the Early Music past, parts just speak directly to me (us) as contemporary cosmicalities.

The violin part is central--sometimes incorporated simultaneously into the electronics haze, sometimes standing apart in a solo-versus-collective "orchestral" backdrop sense. Delay-echo can play a contrapuntal role esp in "Deo" and/or it can embellish the main line.

In the music of "Ambient Chaconne" live and pre-recorded violin join together with electronics. The work begins as earlier recompositions of the original Bach work with foundational transcriptions of passages from the original and weaves all of them together in a carpet of ambiance, as "structural underpinnings," "small dissociated fragments" and as extremes of "extended passages of sounded or silent materials." It sounds as simultaneously and linearly a microscopic reconstruction of the inside of the music, ethereal and movingly memorable.

"Deo" takes Johannes Ockeghem's remarkable 36-part cannon from "Deo Gratias" and extends the contrapuntal nexus to nearly infinite levels so that in the end it becomes a simultaneous burst of musical light most beautiful to hear and behold.

The music comes out of Kim's profound experience appreciating the tending to afflicted loved ones and experiencing loss in the widest senses from illness, whether physical or via mental illness, depression or addiction, or from growing distrust and general malaise in a growingly destabilized world. The music sounds to me as an antidote to all the suffering implied in our times and no doubt Harris and Topel mean it as such. It is a kind of tribute to the ministering angels of healing we experience for self or others when the world or our bodies seem at odds with life as we mean it to live, or anyway that is my interpretation of the notes she has penned for us in the liners.

In the all and all of it this is music you can grow into and occupy like living room furniture, or so it seems to me. It is not easy-chair ears (as Ives called it) that are developed so much as an organic living reconstruction, an internal dwelling inside fragments and wholes of earlier music as a way of being and hearing. It is delightful, majestic, and cosmic fare. I do recommend it for its spacious girth. Hear-hear!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

John McCabe Plays Dominico Scarlatti, Muzio Clementi Keyboard Sonatas

There are times when life does not appear ideal but then there is a release that takes you to the happier land of music. Today there is some joy for me in such a one, John McCabe (1939-2015) playing the Keyboard Sonatas (Divine Art 21231 2-CDs) of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) and Muzio Clementi (1752-1832).

The pairing of composers and performer is not entirely predictable yet when you listen you feel that this coupling was meant to be. Two composers who added between the two of them much to our keyboard sonata riches and a pianist (composer, conductor) who graced our current world so abundantly and artistically, the experience has magic and there is wonderful piano music to hear indeed.

I cut my eye-teeth on Scarlatti via Fernando Valenti's copious set as played on harpsichord (Westminster), so that hearing these twelve Sonatas by a pianist who brings a firmly idiomatic and poetic, singing approach to them is a pleasant shock of recognition, as old friends become somehow very new. As played on piano by McCabe they sound so...almost Modern and...ethnic if you will pardon the phrase, since everything is ethnic in a way?! The playfully dancing Spanish-Italian flavor of the music comes across so vibrantly here that one can only give thanks to hear them!

And as to the Muzio Clementi the three sonatas op. 50 no. 3, op. 33 no 2, op. 40 no 3 plus the "Monferrine" come at us with very pleasing delivery, on time, a beautiful time indeed. The performances are focused and passionate in a rare blend of performative combustion.

The music was recorded in 1981 around the time of the author's 42nd birthday and were meant for release on the then brand new classical label Hyperion. They come out here on Divine Art in full fidelity and with a marvelously spontaneous flourish on the part of McCabe.

The whole set is a stunner and well worth having. McCabe with his fingers sings, we mentally and musically dance along and we are all the better for it. Strongly recommended for the repertoire and performances! Bra-vo!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Messiaen, L'Ascension, Orchestral Works of the '30s and '80s, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich, Paavo Jarvi

On today's CD (Alpha 548) we have three orchestral works by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) from the 1930s and one from the 1980s. Paavo Jarvi most ably and dynamically directs the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich for the duration of the program.

Early Messiaen is a world apart from anything that preceded him, even at times that which followed, namely his later works. I was happily introduced to his music years ago by way of a recording of his "Turangalila-Symphonie" of 1948, a remarkable work in so many aspects but also in part very much a model recapping of his first period (that aside from his fascinating incorporation of "popular" melodics that almost sound like music hall pieces from another planet!) .

Much of the charm and original daring of that work is contained in microcosm in the three early works we hear on this program, "Le Tombeau Resplendissant"  (1931) for a rhythmic-melodic asymmetry and vibrancy, "Les Offrandes Oubliees"  (1930) for its supernatural, otherworldly chorale sort of sound with a remarkable Modern harmonic movement that was all his own.  Interestingly that motion is echoed in the 1989 "Un Sourire" (spelled by a well-developed, contrasting birdcall-like set of interjections).

Finally "L'Ascension" (1932-33) begins with another such chorale, beautifully orchestrated for brass and other instruments in a block of pristine sound initially unprecedented in modernity outside of Messiaen himself. This the first of four movements sets us up for what follows. Restlessly then sublimely unfolding whole-tone melodic chains of linking sound follow and we proceed happily further from there for surely one of his greatest early endeavors.

The appearance of tonal light so pronounced in Debussy and Ravel takes on further luminosity in "L'Ascension." Messiaen matched himself for the refracted light sound he was so endowed to produce but in my opinion never quite surpassed himself either. It is a true revelation to hear this early masterwork in the hands of Paavo Jarvi and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich. And so I unhesitatingly call this one to your attention.

Jarvi and the Zurich orchestra give us carefully executed and often rousing renditions of the works, which afford us a catbird's seat view of the early (and later) brilliance of this supreme master of Modern music.The volume is a great place for the Messiaen acolyte to start and a worthy addition to the Messiaen lover's collection. Essential.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Mahler, Orchestral Songs, The Organ Transcriptions, David John Pike, David Briggs

Some ideas are good ones and one such is Mahler's Orchestral Songs: The Organ Transcriptions (Analekta 2 9180). In the series of baritone-organ versions of the songs as performed admirably by David John Pike (baritone) and David Briggs (organ) we get another way to experience the music.

And what a block of music it is: the "Songs of a Wayfarer," "Songs on the Death of Children," the "Rickert-Lieder" and one from "The Boy's Magic Horn." These are some cornerstones of Mahler's art and in the orchestral versions they sing out in unforgettable fashion, so much so that it takes some getting re-acclimation to hear these organ versions.

At first I very much missed the orchestrations, and too the somewhat cavernous ambiance of the cathedral in this recording was a definite contrast to the relative crispness of what one hears in Mahler's originals. But then too David John Pike is remarkable as baritone in the vocal role and Maestro Briggs turns in a flawless performance with lots of spirit. And in time I focused on that and all was well.

Some of these songs are key to grasping the folk element in Mahler and by hearing the vocal line in a kind of new bold relief we can take all that in from another angle. And of course we must accustom ourselves to the correspondence of organ stops to orchestration. All that takes a few listens, or it did for me at any rate.

All told if you love this music in its orchestra incarnation we have yet another way to appreciate it all. Organ aficionados will be fascinated and Pike's vocal performances are nothing less than heroic. But then Briggs rises to the occasion as well.

Happily recommended for those who already know the music and love it. And for those who revel in the organ-baritone sonance potential. Here's a new and happy way to hear Mahler at his best.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Keeril Makan, Dream Lightly, Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Gil Rose

Keeril Makam writes orchestral music which is sufficiently sonically attuned that you are drawn into his world immediately and you remain there for the duration. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project gives us an anthology of four relevant works on the recent Dream Lightly (BMOP Sound 1066). They cover our new century (2006-2014) and they do it with highly dynamic and memorable essays in sound color and post-Minimal-oriented originality. In the composer's words, the music seeks to "contextualize silence." One could say in that endeavor there lies the music's stand-apart quality.

Repetition where encountered is on a macro- more than a micro-level. Things do come around generally speaking but there are much longer sequences, more of a stillness and less predictability in the overall scheme of things than one is inclined to hear in classic Minimalism. The works have ritual cohesion more than interlocking profusion. And they sprawl into a linear cosmos that does not obviously repeat as much as it hovers in a special zone. The ambiance of it is as pronounced as it is rather profound.

Maestro Makan is a professor of composition at MIT as well as recipient of the Rome Prize and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

The title work "Dream Lightly" (2008) sets the tone with impressive, slow moving sonic structures punctuated by electric guitar harmonic outbursts and savory chordal arpeggiated strums nicely played by Seth Josel.

"If We Knew the Sky" (2014) rolls by at the longest duration (25 minutes) of the four. A vibes motif opens the window on color and presence, long mysterious returns and ambient sonances that will be out front throughout. The penultimate section takes the motor rhythmic implications of the opening vibraphone line and rockets forward with a lively riffing. Stillness returns in the end.

"Tender Illusions" (2010) like the title work stretches out of the Minimalist mold to favor a magnetic sort of hovering that one feels the depth of on hearing.

"Still" (2006) favors a long open kind of hovering as well, with ambient sound structures that move slowly through the hearing self like high clouds on an otherwise sunny day with a slight wind to drive things onward without hurry. Violinist Charles Dimmick and violist Peter Sulski handle the solo slots quite well and in the end Makan convinces us that his musical worlds are populated with inventive brilliances. Bravo.

This is music very much of today--Modern in the widest sense of sharing the zeitgeist of "newness" and a progressive sort of timefulness we come to expect from our contemporary masters. This is prime New Music well performed. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Beethoven, Egmont (Incidental Music), etc., Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam

Most Beethoven fans will know the Overture from Egmont and probably the Funeral March from Lenore. Today's CD goes a good deal further with those, plus the complete Egmont (Incidental Music) (Naxos 8.573956), along with some other select theater incidentals and Six Minuets. Leif Segerstam conducts the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra for balanced, tempered, yet very alive readings more Apollonion perhaps than frenetically Dionysian, but that is quite a good thing if your mood is the same.

The complete incidental music from Egmont turns out to be quite compelling. It comprises nearly 50 minutes all told (including a minute or so of narrative in German). The numbers that include soprano Kaisa Ranta are fine to hear, as are the purely instrumental passages, so very Beethovenian one is never much in doubt as to the personal stamp of brilliance in full flower. He penned this after having written his Pastoral Sixth Symphony, in the following years, 1809-10, so he was completely himself of course by then, as his absolutely deftly heroic handling of the orchestra reminds us along with the depth of the noting itself.

It is some marvelous music. By the same token the Introduction to Act II and the Funeral March from Lenore, the Triumphal March from Tarpeja and the Six Minuets (1796) (the latter of which refresh via a touch of Beethoven the Classicist) fill out the program with very worthwhile fare, done to a turn I suppose you could say.

Those Beethoven lovers in the mood for things less familiar will appreciate this one as I have, and then of course there is the Naxos price to encourage you. Nice performances so there is a good deal all around. Kudos!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Mishka Rushdie Momen, Variations, Solo Piano by Clara and Robert Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Nico Muhly and Vijay Iyer

The theme and variations form in Classical music has given us a way of thinking about the essential and its various inventive modifications, and then of course there came Jazz with a marvelous richness of invention, and yet then again the Modern today where all in music is a variation on itself at times.

Pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen gives us in this wise a smartly thought-out program and a nicely turned solo piano performance of select Variations (SOMM Recordings 8603). She begins with the Romanticism of Clara and Robert Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and then very related variations by Contemporary Modern Nico Muhly and Modern Jazz master Vijay Iyer.

Clara Schumann's lovely 'Variations, Op. 20 on a Theme by Robert Schumann" sets the tone for the cycle of works presented on this program. These are probing, sensitive takes on a theme from Schumann's  Bunte Blatter. In turn we hear in response Brahms' treatment of the very same theme as a reaction and tribute to both, and then contemporary Nico Muhly's take on both the Schumann theme and the Brahms response. Then too there is Vijay Iyer's freely interpolated response to the responses, in a way a very right now point of view.that takes us full circle around to the top without an undue amount of willy nilly, just enough of a freedom in other words, so that we can consider the openness of the variations project once again as it was at the start of things, before the first note sounded.

To add another dimension Robert Schumann's and Mendelssohn's variations are moving responses to the Eroica Variations by Beethoven, in many ways of course the "founder of the feast" (to wax Dickensonian here).

All this music demands a poetess or poet of the ivories. We get that quite consistently and fully with Mishka Rushdie Momen, who is yet young and very connected to this music as a sensitive soul herself. It is the right sort of performance for today, neither overly showy nor reluctant to sing out. It is a happy middle ground she finds that makes it all come together and flow into its channels.

All I can do in these now very many reviews is to put out a suggestion of the what, the how and why of a recording and then of course it either seems to you something to hear or not. I so do recommend this one for its connectivity and its poetics and its tie of the Romantic and the Modern Contemporary in variations form. A hearty bravo.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Robert Carl, Splectra, Alison Bjorkedal, Music for Solo Harp

Another good one of those specially priced EPs from Cold Blue is Robert Carl's Splectra (Cold Blue Music CB0056), a solo harp work in two parts played with dexterous lyrical crispness by harpist Alison Bjorkedal.

An elemental motif is the kernal to the exegesis, as the music unfolds and expands with great interest, not without advanced tonality.

Anyone who loves the harp will find this very much in their wheelhouse, I suspect. Strongly recommended.

Matt Sargent, Separation Songs, Eclipse Quartet

You may think you've heard everything there is to hear but there cannot be an end truly. For in real time there are of course uncounted hours of what you have not caught up with via pre-recorded things, and then there is live music on top of that. Well, if that isn't humbling what is? Add to that what music you yourself may make and indeed, what you might hum or whistle while out for a walk and, well there you go with a good deal of things, don't you?

Luckily out of the absolute everything of possibility there are good things still to be heard, very good things. Such a good thing is Matt Sargent's 70-minute chamber opus Separation Songs (Cold Blue Music CB0055) as played with proper and considerable spirit by the Eclipse Quartet. It is scored for two string quartets and consists of 54 variations on four hymns (1770) by William Billings. There is "separation" in the way tones from one hymn migrate into another one at every turn in the cycle.

Given the Cold Blue label designation you'd be right in assuming a Radical Tonality category for it. It belongs there...yet one notes also that it evokes in fact what it is -- on one level a string arrangement of old satb hymns such as (in more conventional form) might have been played on deck in the last hours of the Titanic's ill-fated voyage. The gradually timeless suspension the separations give rise to makes it as all in a dream, something ultimately without temporal provenance in the way it seems--and so it derives its radical quality in that way.

It is the oscillation of is and is not to the above that the music takes its power and charges it. It is the secret push to it all. Secret before it hits you that is. Then it is the IS that gets you in repeated hearings, how the music is radicalized in its sequencing as in some dreamtime realm we only know when we recognize its kithing kin-twin-ness so to say. It is as like-with-like without patently perceived repetition so much as continuity that this music derives its pull and charm from.

It grows on you after a matter-of-fact first hearing, like someone's words that seem simple but then in recall they take on deeper impact, so also this music in second, third, and etc., hearings.

That is the crux of this one. Hear it, contemplate it, then get it into your ear zone for good? Do. Process is product, and a very good thing it is!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trio Lirico, Weinberg, Penderecki, Schnittke, String Trios

The String Trio occupies a special niche in world chamber music, whether Modern or Classical-Romantic. It is a challenge to write a great one, given the violin-viola-cello nexus of course, and a mind expanding experience to hear one such. Three by noted Eastern European Moderns are a revelation, especially as played by the formidable Trio Lirico on a recent offering (Audite 97.753).

It is no small matter of representative works, one a-piece by Polish-Russian Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), the Polish Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) and Russian Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). They are played with care and zeal by Trio Lirico. Each work is a gem. They are from the nest of the Abstract Modern chamber string forays we have come to anticipate from the Eastern European zone since the marvelous quartets of Bartok and Shostakovich.

The liners note that all three lived behind the "Iron Curtain" until its fall in 1989. That may in fact explain some of the moods we encounter, as too a sort of temperament that does not shy away from deep pathos, angst and honest chagrin. True, there were distinct antipathies to new music in certain zones of the Soviet Block in certain periods but I am not going to be the one to explain it ALL away thus.

So too I do not feel it necessary to comment further since Eastern European Moderns are not primarily of the cheerful and happy bunch and it distinguishes them most certainly. There the waters run deep and not necessarily without opaque moments. And if cultural life forced composers to endure pressure at times to conform (i.e., to Social Realism dictates), we in the end profit from the depth of chagrin that might have gone into some of this music, or at least influenced the overall arc of it all. Still we must appreciate the real sacrifice such non-conforming involved at the time. For let us face it, this is music that could be seen by pedants as "formalist." It took courage to write such music.

Suffice to say these were/are composers who try in these works to put on their human face, so to say, to express a fragility fused with a toughness. There is no need to pontificate--this is deep, very deep music. And it all is played wonderfully well by Trio Lirico! Recommended for all serious students of the Modern who are open to exploring string chamber music gems that have suffered some neglect until now. Here are a threesome of ravishing presence. Get this.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Shostakovitch, Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad," Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons

In so far as "War Symphonies" go, Prokofiev's Fifth and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 (BR Klassik 900184) are my very favorites, and likely the very best, especially in the Modern zone. And, face it "Wellington's Victory" or the "1812 Overture" are not quite symphonies and not meant to be masterpieces. Britten's "War Requiem" is great in its own way but it is not a symphony either, not exactly.

There is a magic to Shostakovich's 7th, a noble emotional strength and emotive reaching out that is hard for me not to appreciate. Why not anyway? So there is a new recording out by the Symphonieorchester Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons and I have been listening.

The long opening allegro movement to my mind is one of the most remarkable things that Shostakovitch wrote. It depicts the Nazi invasion-march into Russia as a gradually building, almost Revel-Bolero-like relentless crescendo that is ravishing, extraordinary, highly singular.

I am used to hearing Leonard Bernstein's New York Philharmonic recording (I had it on vinyl) and that version stays in my mind as a benchmark. The BR version here is a little bit light on the acoustics/miking of the opening snare drum (sounds a little more like a typewriter in the next room than a snare) and the pizzicato strings (perhaps not very woody or prominent enough) compared with that version and I must give that earlier recording the edge still, at least for the first movement. But this version is no sluggard, surely. Far from it.

It is recorded live, which helps explain certain things like ultimately the balance of the first movement. By the time it is building up a bit everything seems at proper levels. The arco strings sound especially majestic throughout the entirety of the recording.

And on the whole this version is rousing and very movingly done. For the March in the end the Bernstein is hard to beat. This version does a bang-up job nonetheless. The final movement performance here is something of a revelation to me, with a lot of panache.

I am very glad to have it, and to hear it in detail. You should have this symphony if you are serious about last century and etc. This goes in my head with Shostakovitch's Quartets as some of his very finest music. The BR version has its strengths and I am glad to have it as a supplement and another view of it all. Bravo!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Morton Feldman, Patterns in a Chromatic Field

To understand Morton Feldman's special relation to musical form in Patterns in a Magnetic Field (Wergo 7382 2), we need first to look at the language of the title. Each main word is somewhat key. So "Patterns" gives us the idea that there are interrelated interworkings, and there is more than one of them of course. The implication is that each pattern may be different enough that they do not necessarily or primarily form subsets of one another, at least not in the listener's memory. So they are in a way like patterns for clothes like my mother used to buy. Each maybe is for a dress, but not the same dress. Compare that to African music and Steve Reich's music following his African tutelage. Those latter patterns relate much more strongly one to the other.

Second there is "in." So the patterns are contained within something. But what? Well something "Chromatic" so we are not so much subjected to a diatonic singsong such as might be heard in typical "Minimalism" in the classic sense. In fact Feldman sounds somewhat more High Modern in his relation of tone-to-tone. The key center may be there but sometimes tenuously. Cello and piano sound repeating patterns differentially and together they complete a particular double phrase a few times mostly slowly and then move on. Yet too there is a wide range of successions Feldman can come up with--these are not subset-like much of the time--except the slowness is always there, unless there is an agitated motif, which occurs periodically but not necessarily relatedly.

Last we have "Field," with its connotation of a somewhat vast expanse of ground on which are "planted things, " so to say. Not necessarily all the same but all THERE. Put all the words in the title together and it does indeed describe what we will hear. Patterns in a Chromatic Field.

To understand fully this music one of course must hear in concentrated and repeated form, which a recording such as the one at hand makes possible in beautiful ways. This is not the only recording available but it is an excellent performance, with Mathis Mayr on cello and Antonis Anissegos on piano. They are lyrically sympathetic, which is pretty near ideal to my mind.

The music is an exceptional example of later Feldman, which is exceptional music even by the standards of typical originality. He breaks off from the paradigmatic then-present and becomes almost wholly other. The more I hear of this phase the more impressed I am. But then Feldman ALWAYS is Feldman from first-to-last, virtually.

And no less is this true than of Patterns in a Chromatic Field. There is dream. There is movement from station-to-station and there is a meaning gleaned from the sum of all stations but not until you disconnect and reconnect hundreds of times in the process of hearing the totality.

Bravo that. Bravo this. Here is a hear from the ages. All should listen closely and get a grok-ful of Feldman at a peak, a real peak! Nice performance. Feldman is one-of-a-kind. Grab this.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Carl Czerny, Second Grand Concerto, Concertino, Rondino, Rosemary Tuck, English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge

Despite the reality that many of us know Carl Czerny (1791-1857) mostly via his piano exercises, he was a master composer, really. Listen to the new installment of his piano concertos on Naxos 8.573998, which includes the wonderful "Second Grand Concerto" in E-flat Major (1812-14), the Concertina in C major Op. 210/213 (1829) and the "Rondino" on a Theme from Auber's Opera Le Macon (1826).

Rosemary Tuck at the piano along with the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge turn in stellar performances and quell any unease one might feel about so much Czerny coming out of late--because this is in fact worthy music, very well played.

The "Second Grand Sonata" puts you in mind of Beethoven, at first his "Pastoral" and then perhaps aspects of the "Eroica." Either way this music extends outward from such considerations and gives Czerny his own take on the then "New Music" of his day.

All three works overtly sparkle though the "Second Grand Concerto" is the most lengthy and ambitious.  Pianist Tuck in the liners speaks of the double role that Czerny played in the Vienna of his day--as a purveyor-Czar of fashionable works that concert going audiences could appreciate but then also a pianist uniquely situated to have a strong hand in the continuing developments in pianoforte technique. You can hear both surely in these recordings which rather amazingly mark the World Premiere of the works in recorded form.

Yet for all the above the music does not sound patronizing or pandering to popularity. Instead we get a steady torrent of delightful sounds as so nicely realized here.

If there is virtually nothing the least melancholic, there is much that is an overflowing, of a positive jolt of celebratory Vienna at the time musically and we can of course turn to later Beethoven quartets, etc. for when we seek more brooding depth. All works cannot be all things. So if we accept what Czerny was not, we can enjoy it all to the max when in the mood for it. And it is true that the minor key section intro to the Auber theme in the "Rondino" points to the possibility of depth charges though one instead dreamily gets pummeled nicely once again by happy melodic fare.

And so I do recommend this one to you. It gives you a genuine dose of Czerny in an abundance of performative joy. If it drives you back to Beethoven's concertos, all the better. There's room for both in the end and then perhaps Brahms relieves you of both with yet another take on things of course. So be it! So things go.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Enjott Schneider, Mozart & Beethoven Meeting Yin & Yang, Koch, Wei, Jena Philharmonic Orchestra, Simon Gaudenz

Lukas Foss did us all a favor when he created his "Baroque Variations," when he orchestrated and re-orchestrated as well as re-situated some well known Baroque themes and made of them something super-High-Modern. In that "tradition" we now have Enjott Schneider and his Mozart & Beethoven Meeting Yin & Yang (Wergo 5125 2). Two of the four works here use source materials from either Mozart or Beethoven and fashion out of them something altogether Contemporary, Modern, other--and nicely so.

Schneider goes his own way. "Raptus. Die Freiheit des Beethoven" sews together lots of familiar passages (like the lower string intro to the final movement of Beethoven's 9th, etc.). What he does with them all shows his high level of invention and in the process frankly rather thoroughly tickles me. It is great fun. If you like this then do not forget also Kagel's "Ludwig Van," Cage's "HPSCHD" and no doubt others. Anyone?

"Mozart Ascending" takes what we have of Wolfgang's unfinished Oboe Concerto KV293 and makes of it varying degrees of otherness, from mostly as written to thematically cognizant but totally rethought.

All this music is rather inimitably brilliant and then to cap it off we have two more works that take a different turn but no less effectively.

"Yin & Yang" features the astounding artistry of Wu Wei on the sheng in a concerted work for the instrument and orchestra. Understandably Chinese and Asian sorts of motives weave in and out of the music and yet too we have intersections with Modernism so it fits in with what we heard previously and also captivates in itself.

The final "Inner Worlds" for orchestra brings us thorough-goingly original music not tied to anything per se but the composer's muse, though it does fit in with the composer's idea of this program as a portrait of the Jena Philharmonic.

And if in the end we gain another view thereby, so all the better. It is a work of poetic mystery and lets us know that the orchestral tradition lives on today. It shows off Jena's various sections nicely in the process (as does the entire album). And too we are situated musically in a somewhat advanced harmonic realm at times so we feel through Schneider's music ultimately that he belongs to our time surely and is no museum piece, though there is rhapsodic lyricism and grandeur to it that points to the recent past without imitating it. This one ends up rather exciting at that, with tom toms and orchestral flourishes pouring forth in memorable ways, and then a rather noble horn choir passage. Bravo.

Well there we have it. I am enjoying this music and no doubt will continue to do so for quite some time. I recommend it for those with a sense of Modern adventure--it is fun and rewarding!.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Sonatas 3 /8 /9, Freddie Kempf

I've been living with the Piano Sonatas of Sergei Prokofiev since around 1972 when I got the more-or-less complete Prokofiev piano music on the two Vox Boxes (Gyorgy Sandor) that were quite respectable and inexpensive--and that filled me in nicely on what all there was to appreciate. I've been an acolyte ever since. And a fan, certainly.

Freddie Kempf is in the midst of a new Prokofiev Sonata cycle, coming out now with the Piano Sonatas 3 / 8 / 9 (BIS 2390 SACD) which sound quite well acoustically and give us a considered fire, careful yet with a modern tempered passion appropriate to the music.

The Third is less than 10 minutes long while the 8th and 9th run over 20 so there is a time element to consider--as Prokofiev clearly has more to say in the later sonatas.

Nonetheless all three sonatas are lucid, thematically tender-hard and bittersweet as the best Prokofiev can be. No. 3 dates from 1917 while 8 and 9 come from WWII (1944) and after (1947), respectively, the latter period in some ways hard times for composers enmeshed in the Stalin Social Realism orbit.  It took courage to do advanced music that could not be justified with some socially amenable scenario.

Happily Prokofiev did not reign in bu instead bursts forward with lyricism and a modern tempestuousness you find in dynamic ways. The tender-tough polarity is present in this music and in many ways it can relate to how "Modern Life" feels at times so that he speaks to me often as a listening being.

The integrates of melodic and harmonic spheres in the winding out of themes and overall developmental arcs are marvels in these sonatas to my mind. Listen closely and revel in it all if you can! I do.

Freddie Kempf understands that dichotomy and plays upon it with all the right nuances. Others may perform these works with a bit more frenzy but Kempf balances the two poles in near ideal ways to my mind, at least with these three sonatas.

I recommend this disk for all who love Prokofiev or want to know him better. These versions can stand alongside others in your collection nicely or they can be the sole occupants of this repertoire for you. Either way you should find it quite enlivening.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Michael Byron, Bridges of Pearl and Dust, Specially Priced EP

The Radical Tonality of music on the Cold Blue label to me is important, as it steps beyond Minimalism and blurs its on occasion rather sharp matter-of-factness. A new and good example (and a few more new ones I'll be covering later) is in Michael Byron's Bridges of Pearl and Dust (Cold Blue 0057) a specially priced 15 minute EP that features Ben Phelps on multi-tracked vibraphones.

Often enough you hear a shading of New Music with a hint of the trajectory of Avant Jazz in Byron's works and that is so here. It is a series of multi-articulated rigorously notated arpeggiated interlocking rootsy tonal-diatonic lines that have a modal-pentatonic base implication but not strictly in some formulaic way. The music switches pitch centers now and again to keep ultra-fresh and in the end it all makes wonderfully perfect sense.

The 15 minute span is just about right--so you go away very revived and immersed.

Good music! Listen.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

New Jewish Music, Vol. 2, Murphy-Dorman-Glick

Having listened a goodly number of times to the Volume 2 of New Jewish Music (Analeka 2 9262) I can say that the works are generally most stimulating and even exciting. The title is self-explanatory; it is a set of compositions that illustrate in rewarding ways what a "New Jewish Music" in the New Music realm can sound like these days.

We hear Kelly-Marie Murphy's "En ei escuro es todouno (In the Darkness All is One)" for solo harp, solo violin and orchestra, Avner Dorman's "Nigunim (Violin Concerto No. 2)" and Saul Irving Glick's "Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs" (arr. for soprano, piano and string orchestra by Francois Vallieres).

The first two works have a strongly rhythmic-melodic-harmonic traditional Jewish element intertwined into a Tonal-Modern orchestral texture and fiber. The Solomon work relies on Jewish Solomonic text to establish a Jewishness and is ever so slightly less specifically-musically "Eastern or Diasporan" in orientation. No matter in any case because the music convinces and even beguiles as you become familiar with it all, perhaps as is often the case some parts more than others but all giving you pause.

The performances are uniformly good with the excellent presence of the Orchestre Classique de Montreal, Colour (harp and cello), Lara St. John on violin and soprano Sharon Azrieli.

Those who find a New Music Jewish countenance in a tonal realm of definite interest should not be the least disappointed in this one. It is a fine program and I am glad to have it. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Istvan Anhalt, The Timber of Those Times, Ajtony Csaba, SALT Festival Orchestra, Hungarian Radio Symphony

Four and five movements each comprise the two orchestral works featured on The Timber of Those Times (Centrediscs 26419). We hear the music of Istvan Anhalt--a masterful composer who left us in 2012 at age 92 after gracing Canada's music world and creating New Music like the two here, the title piece plus "Four Portraits from Memory," both completed in 2006.

These are symphonic odes of great Modern gravitas, even a kind of dark quality, soundtracks abstract and moody, capturing some of the tenor indeed of the post-9-11 world.

Anhalt was born into an assimilated Hungarian Jewish family in 1919 and made his way to Canada by 1949 where he was a staple of the avant music world for decades.

Ajtony Csaba directs most capably the SALT Festival Orchestra (for the "Four Portraits")  and the Hungarian Radio Symphony (for the "Timber" work) and we get an excellent bird's eye view of the two, Anhalt's last orchestral works. One might imagine further development in performance practice but this captures the essence of it all and we can be thankful for that.

It is widely tonal, sometimes on the edge of a key center, sometimes quite strident, and most somber--and of course music should express as much of a broad spectrum of feelings and views as any of our other arts so if this is not expressly "happy" there is nothing wrong with that, of course. It is relentlessly dramatic and we find ourselves enthralled in the experience of it, or I do anyway.

Anhalt shows himself a one-of-a-kind stylist, like Bergman or Berg an artist of complex moods. You should give this a listen, surely. It stands out from the pack. Modern adherents take note! Take ALL of the notes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Munir N. Beken, A Turk in America, ISSA Sonus Ensemble

Today, an adventure with A Turk in America (N/S R 1067). It is all about the composer Munir N. Belkin, his music, and indirectly or otherwise his venture forth in the "New World." The ISSA Sonus Ensemble do the chamber performance honors (with the composer on ud) and it is an excellent thing. Six compositions form the program.

The music has traces of traditional Turkish music at times, other times it is New Music Modernism front and center in intriguing ways, tonal yet sharply hewn, nothing sentimental per se,  and it sometimes has a ragged beauty like craggy outcroppings in the Rockies, though there is surely nothing haphazard about these works.

"Holes in the Japanese Lamp" is the craggier perhaps, some wonderful music for String Trio. The "Sonata for Piano" is a craggy winner, with a good deal of Neo-Classical-Modern playfulness that stands out as exceptional.

"Pottery Shards" sports piano, flute, and recalls a walk with the composer's brother where they came upon an oddly colored field which turned out to contain numerous painted pottery shards. The music has a kind of reflective aspect, recalling the scene evocatively.

"Memories of a Shoehorn" includes the stringed ud (very well played) and shines forth in two movements. It is one of the more Turkish influenced works here, not to mention highly contrapuntal at times, and finely hewn it is. Marvelous.

The title work concludes the program.  It is a full glimpse of the thematically quirky attractiveness of the composer, with a vibrant clarinet part that sounds Turkish in a setting that is lively and forward in the best ways. Moods shift--this is no one dimensional experience after all. Bravo. And then a vocal line breaks in that is VERY Turkish and on from there--so we go in a happy place. Brilliant!

And so it goes--a fun and smart set of works like no others and the ensemble sounds great. For all who seek synergy... Here is some lovely synergy indeed! Contemporary chamber music at its most adventuresome, this is! Very recommended.

Monday, October 7, 2019

John A. Carollo, Symphony No. 3, London Symphony Orchestra, Miran Vaupotic

John A. Carollo. His time has come it seems to me. Nowhere more do you get that feeling than when listening to the fine recording of his Symphony No. 3  (Navona 6250). The London Symphony Orchestra under Miram Vaupotic do an excellent job bringing to us the specifics, the poetics of this work. It is a 30-minute opus in four movements, completed in 2017.

And it shows Carollo once again in a fine light--places him as undoubtedly one of the US composers who is making the present a time to remember musically. The final movement "Let the Evening Stillness Arouse" reminds us that all along there has been present in the music John's gift of creating a beautifully evocative world, not as Copland but as Corollo, very local in the best ways, yet Modern in the tradition without necessarily self-consciously seeking beyond what falls naturally out of his pen, if I intuit the inventions properly. The first movement "To Morning" begins with an equally natural dedicative lyricism, giving the work proverbial bookends, while the middle movements are posied and poised, slightly playful yet serious at the same time. A great thing that is, surely.

This is tonal yet tough and edgy enough to identify it all as post-what is gone and pre-what is to come. And original it is. Very.

The four movements speak in contrasting and heartfelt ways. It is an important work, I think. I have been listening and covering happily his music on these pages nearly from the very beginning of the blog. And if there is one work that tells us what we need to hear if one could only put our ears initially to one, this one is it.

Recommended strongly for those wishing to understand the US present day Modernism, for those wishing to know Carollo the composer, for anyone looking for new music of noteful valor and lyricism!


Friday, October 4, 2019

George Perle, Serenades, Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Gil Rose

The more time and releases go by the more impressive to me becomes the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), an American composer-New Music oriented series of great excellence and good sense of need to fill out the recent history of the genre and give us much worthy to appreciate.

Director-conductor Gil Rose and the orchestra keep coming up with very timely and impeccably created releases, no less so today with composer George Perle (1915-2009) and his Serenades (BMOP 1067).

My first exposure to the music of Perle came back in a New Music concert in Manhattan in 1972. I have been glad to hear his music ever since. The three Serenades presented on this CD were written between 1962 and 1968 and form a prime Perle for sure.

The first is for viola and chamber orchestra with Wenting Kang doing wonderful things with the solo part. No 3 is for piano and chamber orchestra and Donald Berman gives us power and poetics at the piano helm. No 2 is for eleven players equally.

All have a beautiful unraveling about them, thoroughly High Modern in their attention to advanced  harmonic-melodic tonality at the edge and the inventive levels are as high as the wonder of the orchestration sureness. This was a Master.

In the liners there is a poignant passage where Perle expresses his need for authenticity, as part of a tradition, and that is of the legacy of Modernism and all that has led to it I suppose. You listen to this music and the fine performances and there is no doubt that he is of his world, but originally so as well as anyone. Listen to the long and winding piano run in the penultimate movement of the Third Serenade and you will have no doubt of Perle's centrality to things now. He embodies tradition but he is also a tradition now, someone to respect, emulate, listen to closely.

I do recommend this highly to all Moderns and those who wonder about Modern folks as well. Perle is essential on this one and BMOP give us exemplary performances. Bravo!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Bach In Transcription, Jean Alexis Smith

The phenomena of the Bach transcription for piano rose up brightly and prominently in the 1800s with Liszt and has been a factor, a happy thing ever since. Now pianist Jean Alexis Smith brings to us some of the most worthy of such endeavors on Bach in Transcription (MSR Classics 1720). That Bach himself was an avid transcriber reminds us that the practice goes far back, but the Bach craze in many ways started in the late classical-early romantic era and hence we gauge from there.

There are all kinds of goodies on this collection, and it is a definite plus to have all ten works as played quite respectfully well by Ms. Smith. We get Busoni's celebrated transcription of "Toccata in C Major," Ignaz Friedman's "My Heart Ever Faithful," Harold Bauer's "The Soul Rests in Jesus' Hands," Busoni's "Adagio in A minor," Liszt's "Prelude and Fugue in A minor," Alexander Siloti's "Prelude in B minor,"   Leopold Godowsky's "Adagio in C Major,"  Busoni's "I Call Unto Thee Oh Lord,"  and finally Grainger's "Blithe Bells (Sheep May Safely Graze)."

The effect of so much "additional" piano Bach is like a surprise present on a day when you did not expect anything. There is much that will be familiar no doubt, some less so, but all extraordinary to hear on piano played with care and concern. The heroic piano idea of the 19th century and beyond lives in these transcriptions, not all of which are verbatim and all take the wonders of the grand piano in hand to bring out a later-day addition to the Master's already brilliant doings. All the better in that we do not lose the original in the process, surely.

I recommend this for all piano fans and all who want more Bach, nicely redone at the dawn of Modernity. Kudos! Happy me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps

English folk and song-like strains mingle with Classical-Romantic-Impressionist piano concerto forms in the interesting new CD Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps (SOMM Recordings  CD273).

In the process of listening to this volume we gain an understanding of the charms and expressive clout of Bright (1862-1951) and Gipps (1921-99).

The performances of pianists Samantha Ward (for Bright) and Murray McLachlan (for Gipps) plus the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Peebles leave nothing to be desired. They are fine in detail and in the performative whole. There is both tenderness and spirit as needed.

Bright's peak formative period (according to the liners) was in the 1880s, Gipps' in the 1940s, so of course they belong to different eras, and so too the post-Brahmsian Englishness of Bright and the expressive clarity of Gipps tie in important ways to the periods in which they lived.

Bight's inventive line-weaving ability is apparent in the "Piano Concerto No. 1" and the "Variations for Piano and Orchestra," which make their recording debut on this CD. They have a flair and stay in the mind as worthwhile. The Variations have depth, the Concerto has heart.

Gipps' "Piano Concerto in G minor" has gravitas and an almost English-Rachmaninovian the first movement, then a puckish sprightliness and a touching lyricism that charms most certainly. The piano parts can be ravishing at times, happily. Her short orchestral "Ambarvalia" is a fittingly songful end to a fascinating program.

A nice surprise, this. Modern it is not, any of it, not exactly, not typically though Gipps sometimes sounds a bit adventuresome, stepping away from a strict Romanticism into an Impressionism of an individual sort, and there is a nice local quality to the outlook in both cases. Hear it and experience some new voices among women historically. Both were talented.

Hans Werner Henze, Das Floss der Medusa, Peter Eotvos, WDR Symphonie Orchester, WDR Rundfunkchor, etc.

This newly released  recording of Hanz Werner Henze's oratorio Das Floss der Medusa (SWR Classic 19082CD) is only the second to become available as I understand it, the first being of a rehearsal. This one is a live concert performance. It features the SWR Symphonyorchester and SWR Vokalensemble, the SWR Rundfunkchor, the Freiburger Dominsingknaben along with soloists Camilla Nylund, Peter Schone and narration by Peter Stein. Peter Eotvos directs and conducts. The results are excellent.

And in listening I could not help but draw comparisons with Berg's Wozzeck--in the sense that the work feels like a kind of descendant in mode, sound and mood of pathos, a familiar in its own right, with likenesses and differences that perhaps a grandson might exhibit.

It is the choral-soloist-orchestral opus that Henze did so well. If you do not understand German the somewhat lengthy parts narrated/recited in that language may be less interesting than more, but then there is a great deal of wonderful moments in the music, ultra-High Modern in ways unique to Henze, a titan in the world he walked tall within. We hear why in this recording.

There are other works something like this to audition but I must say I am quite happy with the performance/work at hand as a whole after listening heavily to it. Anyone who wants to know Henze or know him better would be well-served and enlivened by this one. And it would be a valuable addition to the confirmed Henze fan's library. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Dimensions, Works for Orchestra, Vol.2, Stem, Whitley, Field, Francis, Jarvlepp

New Music continues to flourish. Today, a new volume of an anthology of up-to-the-minute Modern orchestra music entitled Dimensions, Works for Orchestra, Vol. 2 (Navona 6251). The music all has some definite excitement rhythmically and a kind of rootedness in one way or another that gives us Modernity but also a kind of music of place, a locality if you will.

The performances are very good and recording quality fine. So  we can hear and appreciate some interesting music that excites by an anything-goes eclecticism as much as originality combined with stylistic largesse, all in a memorably tonal realm.

So we hear the fine drumming inherent in Eric Stem's "Portland," the almost Indonesian stepped meters and layering of Whitley's "Bonzai Down," a sort of pastoral Barber Knoxvilleness set against martial rhythms of Field's Whitman lyric-ed "A Letter from Camp," the rich lyricism and polyrhythmic aspects of Francis' "Concerto #2 for Guitar and Orchestra 'In Somnis Veritas'" and a Latin rhythmic cha-cha feel with Jarvlepp's "Street Music."

It is music that stays with you, that impresses with its together quality and melodic-orchestrational-rhythmic heft. Strongly recommended for all modernists.looking for rhythmic spice.

Gillian Smith, Into the Stone, Music for Solo Violin by Canadian Women, Ho, Sokolovic, Krausas, Agocs, Laplante

Every day more New Music. Truly there can be no end and there is no sign at least on the surface that humanity is losing its musical sense, its endless striving toward the NEW. So today is no exception with violinist Gillian Smith and her anthology of solo violin works by Canadian women entitled Into the Stone (Leaf Music LM228).

Ms. Smith's fine playing allows us to hear in full virtuoso dimension Alice Ping Le Ho's "Caprice," Ana Sokolovic's "Cinque Danze per violino solo," Veronika Krausas' "Inside the Stone," Kati Agocs' "Versprechen (Promise)," and Chantale Laplante's "Le ciel doit entre proche."

The music has high intensity and Expressionist energy more than Romantic passion, and so fits well into the Modernity we occupy today. Gillian Smith puts a concentrated focus on it all and makes us arise to the music actively with dynamic appreciation. The music references subtly the fiddle-folksy elemental at times (in a way as a novelist might use local forms in a dialog?) and at the same time follows its way into the adventuristically edgy melodic-harmonic, generally with a key center but abstracted as open and forward leaning. All is in the service of a timbrally vibrant violin expression that rings true at all points. And yet somehow the spirit of solo Bach is never entirely distant, happily. It is within a tradition; it is learned in violinistic means yet completely of our time.

Every work shows a true connoisseurship of the violin and its capabilities and in many ways composer and instrumental artist conjoin in perfect mutuality, in continuous performativity. That sets this CD apart as something special.

Fine playing, captivating compositions. Dial MV for Modern Violin, by all means. Do listen if you have time. It is in important ways a solo concert triumph, well worth your time.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Markus Reuter, String Quartet No. 1 "Heartland," Matangi Quartet

The career trajectory of composer and stick guitarist Markus Reuter follows not the typical one for a classical composer nowadays, that is unless you put him with such rock-cum-classical icons as Frank Zappa. Markus started as an important member of later editions of King Crimson and then went on his own. Currently he enjoys a fertile group interaction with the all-star Prog lineup called Stickmen.

I have valued for a long while his Prog music but it was only several years ago that I and others came to appreciate his classical composing via a video and then an official, definitive recording of his orchestra blockbuster Todmorten 513. I liked that one so well I named it one of my top picks of the year when it came out. I still love to hear it.
Look it up if you want to know more about how it moved me.

Amd now we have a follow-up in a fine recording of his String Quartet No. 1, "Heartland" (Solaire 8), as performed with precision and verve by the Matangi Quartet. The sound of the recording itself is pristine and detailed, as is the performance.

There is a very attractive kind of homespun quality at times to the music, which is  affirmed by the Heartland designation. Perhaps the sounds depict a wide-open land where the staples of life come to us, the basics, the essentials. So the music is essential, combining a kind of earthiness with a lyrical Modernity and an element that is pure Reuter in whatever sense I get from listening so much to his music. Call it Reutarian? Sure, maybe. It is his alone anyway.

There are eight dramatically varied movements that show a depictive arc and an arco poetics. He shows himself at this point very knowing of the string sounds he is after. The varied attacks and timbral subtleties are like the detailed outdoor life of ripening grain perhaps, complex yet direct. There is everyday life-tumble represented and also the quietness of yearning. The moods change nicely and we follow happily.

The Matangi Quartet sound fully immersed and subtly inspired for a heartful and smart reading of this wonderful music.

We have a winner! The music is strongly processual as well as lyric. The more you listen, the better it seems to me. That is a good sign, always.

Strongly recommended as an up-to-the-minute view of what Modern Art Music can sound like. Reuter is brilliant and innovative. Do not miss this!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Tibet: Ritual Traditions of the Bompos

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist chant is a many colored wonder and can be heard in a fair number of recordings, some out of print. There were several on Nonesuch Explorer that were pretty amazing. Now we get another perspective with a new CD entitled Tibet: Ritual Traditions of the Bompos (OCORA).

It is a regional variant that is perhaps more chamber-music-like comparatively speaking, fewer chanters, one cymbal and a drum and a single horn and so somewhat more elemental but no less supercharged and intensely focused than the variants we have heard on records or CDs.

And that makes it all a valuable addition. OCORA remains one of the first Ethno-World Music labels out there, hands down.

I recommend this heartily for anyone who a) is an acolyte of Tibetan music and/or b) wants to hear a precursor to New Music in its spaciousness and atmospherics. Grab this one!

Eliane Radigue, Occam Ocean 2

There are bagpipe or Indian Music drones, there is the droning of early choral music and then there are hyper-Modern drone-oriented pieces, whether acoustic, electric or both. Eliane Radigue is a master of the latter genre (in either "instrumentation") and has been for many years. A latest release finds her in great form, namely Occam Ocean 2 for orchestra (2015), a full-length work that slowly evolves in the most complexly interesting timbral, rather legato and somewhat seamless ways.

She was asked to write the work for the ONCEIM Orchestra, by Frederic Blondy, the Director-Conductor. (They perform it in this recording.) She eventually agreed when she thought of the work as a kind of solo for the conductor avec musicians. Listening to the work it sounds like a continuously floating and changing mass of sustain, like an ocean, with Occam's Razor there perhaps to trim down any excess though it is deeply resonant as a sound world, fascinating and exhilarating to hear.

Radigue comments in the notes that in some ways all her earlier electronic works were compromises compared to the rich expressive possibilities of the acoustic orchestra. And in this way Occam Ocean 2 finally gives us her potent and uncloaked advanced drone world in its full acousticity? Yes, it does, sure.

The emphasis is on the massive sustain on top of a key centered pedal that continually shifts timbre, range and instrumentation, not so much drone as elemental continuousness. That distinction matters as you listen because it is not at all fatiguing as a simple drone might be all by itself, at least to me. She piles great complexes of poetic sound and lets then shift and shimmer with time like the sun on blue-green tidal flows.

She also asked that she meet each one of the orchestra members in her own apartment space, to get to know them in order to write the more effectively each part.

The final work as performed here is a glorious thing of many shifting parts, an ocean of sound with  tides flowing and ever entailing and prevailing.

I find this music to be enriching and satisfying. It is New Music High Avant and the "orchestration" is incredibly full and unprecedented in some ways--they all blend so thoroughly it sounds like Electronic Music only more timbrally alive. Wow! Strongly recommended as what is happening right now. Now is now!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

James Brawn, A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 6, Sonatas 4, 11, 12

You can live with the Beethoven Piano Sonatas a lifetime and still hear new things in it all, from recordings, live performances, self-playing, wherever the tradition is kept alive, even if but in your earphones or in the living room. And we have today another volume in the complete sonata opus by James Brawn, A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 6 (MSR Classics MS 1470). Nothing stands still and Maestro Brawn gives us his own movement to the musical life-stream. This is a carefully expressive series of versions, in this case of Sonatas 4, 11 and 12.

There is plenty of technique but it does not dominate so much as allow Brawn to bring out the full Beethoven depth-of-field, to focus on the whole. Listen to his rendition of the beautifully lyrical  Largo from the 4th or the opening Andante from the 12th, or the gorgeously moving Minuetto from no. 11, and you get a sampling of these poetic but tempered set of readings, lovely and at the same time natural, unforced, heartful without being mawkish, not at all grandstanding. The music does not call attention to itself as a virtuoso vehicle so much as pure energy and melodic-harmonic brilliance. You listen, you are reminded just how central this music is now and was then, how breathtakingly innovative and expressive the Beethoven opus was and still remains.

We are invited to swim in the refreshing currents of an interpreter that digs deeply into the Beethovenian substratum, rings out and sings out the glorious sense of movement this music instills in you at its best. You literally hear Beethoven forge his signature revolution bit-by-bit if you listen to them all in sequence. But in this case we have a ways to go. No matter, for at least my self I am very glad to hear the Brawn exegesis.

Recommended for those who want a straightforward composer-oriented reading of the sonatas. Volume 6 does not disappoint and will make you want to hear the others. It is a worthwhile use of your time and listening energies. Brawn is a poet laureate of the ivories, indeed. Bravo.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dai Fujikura, Zawazawa

The state of the Modern Avant Garde in New Music today? It is thriving, though of course these days not the only game in town, so to speak. There are competing styles that complement the scene if you think of the Avant as the High Modern stance. No matter. All the better for listeners to have more choices. Today we have one from the current high Modern World and a fine thing that. I speak of composer Dai Fujikura and his album Zawazawa (Minabel Records MIN108).

On it we get to hear ten varied and variable works by Maestro Fujikura. On one side there are the choral works. There are three here along with a mini-piece for solo soprano--"Ki i ite" for soprano, and for choir there is "Zawazawa," "Sawasawa" (A pt. 2 of "Zawazawa") for choir and marimba, and "The New House" for choir alone.

The instrumental works show innovative outlooks and a careful attention to sonarity--for the tuba (Tuba Concerto for tuba and wind orchestra), clarinet ("Go, Movement Five" for the solo clarinet), double bass ("BIS" and "ES" for solo double bass), horn ("Harahara," "Yurayura," for solo horn, and for horn and string quartet, respectively).

Both the choral and instrumental works show a great sensitivity to the potentials and capabilities of the players and singers. Whether a matter of the mellow richness of timbre and/or expanded sounding qualities of the tuba and horn, the incisively limber sharpness of the clarinet, or the widely varied punct-al qualities of the pizzicato double bass as influenced by Jazz, it is all a place to contemplate sound per se and its meanings, after all, for we musical animals.

There is a sensory motor aspect to Fujikura's sound, a kind of tautological circularity more internal than minimal, but it is not more than a part of his extensive High Modern syntax, beyond serial and more ritualized if that is possible? It is a very personal way the composer has that is best heard right now than described fleetingly. There is almost a Martial Arts sound to the singing and playing--though I hope I am not projecting here? There is a "snapping to," a musical locking in that seems more Asian than Western, perhaps. And all that is only to say that the music stands by itself, the playing or singing is a kind of discipline, nothing casual, and after all that it still belongs squarely to the Avant realm, to New Music language as spoken today.

I do recommend you at least hear it--then if you like it, support the artist and the label, by all means. New Music needs your support and Fujikura is a worthy example. Kudos!

Platti, Cello Sonatas, Francesco Giulligioni, Members of L'Arte dell'Arco

If Giovanni Benedetti Platti (1697-1763) does not have his name inscribed in the immortal pantheon of luminary composers, in truth I find him nevertheless in his own way a Late Baroque Master quite worthy of our ear time, even if he is no Bach, exactly. Who is save Bach himself? That is another discussion.

My feelings are confirmed with a recent two-CD set of his Cello Sonatas (Brilliant 95763), as performed with zest by cellist Francesco Giulligioni and members of L'Arte dell'Arco. There is a fine sound to savor with a very gritty solo cello, bowing with fire on what sounds to be an instrument and bow from the era, plus a continuo that sometimes includes both harpsichord and organ, and all that sounds fine indeed. The second CD includes sonatas for cello and violone and harpsichord, sometimes the strings alone, sometimes the trio, but all intriguing as much for the sound timbres as for the notes themselves. Giulligioni bows like the devil, not as often like an angel and that is refreshing and vital to my ears. His sound is pretty, but pretty with an tempestuous exuberance that sounds anything but saccharine, or for that matter Romantic. It is not that at all and all the better for it.

There are 12 Sonatas in all, played quite well.

With the bargain Brilliant price this set is an essential for those who seek to understand Modern performance practices with original instrumental techniques as well as for any acolyte of the Italian legacy. Platti is very good and once you hear this program a few times it all comes together, at least that is my experience. Go for it! There is nothing to lose but your ignorance about the composer.