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Friday, September 13, 2019

David Haney, Birth of a City, For String Quartet and Improvising Quartet

David Haney is a well respected avant improv pianist and composer and succeeded Bob Rusch as the owner-editor of Cadence Magazine. I have appreciated his free-wheeling improvisational forays for a long while by now, but I have not had the pleasure to hear his ambitious compositional outlooks until this new release. But I am quite glad I have! Birth of A City for String Quartet and Improvising Quartet (Big Round) gets my attention and keeps it..

This is music that defies expectations--in the sense that its pronounced "Third Stream" essence comes out in decidedly more contemplative than explosive ways. I would not have precisely expected such a thing as a cosmic explosion, certainly, but the music comes through less as a combustion and more as a concentratedly individual, as implied form in freedom,  like spontaneous sparkling glass beads on endless strings. Two sets I suppose you could say? That is two for the two works here--"Birth of A City" in eight parts, "Variations on a Theme" in five parts, the latter with some of the more overtly Jazz-oriented thematics at times.

The artists are exceptional players all and expectations have some role for what I know of them--that they can be quite extroverted but that isn't what they are called upon to do here. Instead they fall aptly into a special kind of way to sound that Haney sets out in the scores.

The String Quartet consists of players well known for improvising as well as interpreting written form--among other things. So there is Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Melanie Dyer on viola, Adam Lane on bass and Thomas Ulrich on cello.

The "Improvising Quartet" is an interesting and unusual mix of jazz trombone titans Julian Priester and Steve Swell as pitted against the percussion of Dave Storrs and the traps of drum legend Bernard Purdie.

The beads of light on two strings I think of when listening to this program come to us with exacting written parts juxtaposed with a good deal of improvisational freedom. It all comes across as a kind of virtual set of inaudible pedal points that frame the ever interweaving key centered horizontal poignancy and vertically subtle heft.

It is music that quietly but concentrically unwinds spell-full particularities that at first blush seem unassuming but then increasingly stand out in well wrought and eventually enthralling ways.

Kudos to Maestro Haney and company on this one. Do not expect so much "x" or "y," for this is "z" and all the better for us! Heartily recommended for all who seek to explore the new music improv nexus today.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Unheard-of//Dialogues, Unheard-of//Ensemble

New chamber music within the Avant-and-Beyond Modern realm is what today's CD is all about. The Unheard-of//Ensemble, a quartet, gives us eight works on their album Unheard-of//Dialogues (self-released). We hear Ford Fourqurean on clarinet, Matheus Sardinha Garcia Souza on violin, So Sugiyama on cello and Daniel Anastasio on piano. They blend together wonderfully and have each an individual flexibility and virtuosity.

The eight works keep the "anything goes" motto alive and meaningful. There is a fair deal of variety in the sub-style sets to be heard. "Maple" by Christopher Stark sets the pace with long-tone blends, shruti-like bends, and a general contemplative mood. Then Minimal-like noteful buoyancy contrasts further distinguish this work as rather vibrantly lively.

"Family Picnic 2008" (Erin Rogers) uses spoken motifs mixed seamlessly with New Music instrumental contrapuntal klangfarben--and some interestingly variegated spoken-sung-played events, each having a sectional impact I guess you could say. It is about large banks!

"Coalescence Cascade" (Michael Lanci) has a rather beautiful, radical tonality kind of primality that appeals, and it too contrasts with thematically more complex elements.

"Procession-process: peace" by Reiko Futing combines Radical and Expressive Tonality with New Music and Post-Mod entrances and exits for a fascinating hybrid. There is something also in the use of aural space here,  a kind of Eastern quality?

"Hum Phenomena" by Tonia Ko is nicely open with a classic New Music kind of eloquence.

Ben Loory's "The Well" is a magical-reality sort of short story recitation that is interesting enough but perhaps gives us a disruption from the musical sublimities of before and after when one has already heard it numerous times. Nonetheless it is easy enough to skip if one no longer needs to experience it again.

Nathan Hudson's "music for falling/flying" is Tonal-lyrical-primal-old/new-synthetic and partakes of a rhapsodical quality in new ways that keep one's attention centered on it all.

Nikitias Demos' "Eronflash" ends the program on a very alive Neo-Classical sort of mode. The music has that labyrinthine stop-go punctuality that marks Stravinsky at his best in this mode, only this is also unmistakably original and not really derivative. So it's a good ending for a good program.

And after digesting this a number of times I must say I am impressed with Unheard-of's highly enthusiastic and infectious readings of these works, some definite indications of part of where we are today--both Avant and Tonal. Molto bravo!









Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Great Classic Film Music, Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra, Iain Sutherland

Like most everyone I grew up watching a lot of movies and absorbing the movie soundtracks. Because I was part of the first TV generation I was exposed to a lot more old movies (on TV) than might have been the case for the radio-phonograph folks coming up somewhat earlier. Classical music has always had a huge influence on the music of the most classic scores of course and there is a rather handy summing up of such things on a CD that has come out recently, namely Great Classic Film Music (SOMNI Recordings Ariadne 5006), as performed (mostly live) by the Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra (England) conducted by Iain Sutherland--from recordings made between 1983 and 1986.

The selection covers the icons of the last century, soundtrack-wise, and a few that one might not be as familiar with, at ;least here in the States. So there are some of John Williams' Star Wars I musical themes and his Main Title music from E.T. (I.e.,  Williams takes on Holst), Max Steiner's schlocky classic "Tara's Theme" from Gone with the Wind (as a kid I knew it as the theme for the "Million Dollar Movie" TV feature every night on indie NYC TV), and a bunch of others, most of which I'll mention as we go along.

From the beginning of the "talkie" era (and at times for the more elaborate silent film presentations) the symphony orchestra was more or less a must for any soundtrack that wanted to aspire to blockbuster status. The orchestra represented "class," "ideal expression of narrative elements" and perhaps above all was considered universally the fullest means to express emotional content that we then knew musically. We may still feel the same way--but not all ages or current genres however.

To fit the soundtracks with the musical scene we need to remember that mainstream "everyman" classical popularity was by then firmly in the hands of the most popular Romantics--so Tchaikovsky for example was a kind of bellwether, but others too of course. And the soundtrack composers coming out of Europe into Hollywood or at any rate with Euro-centric training if not residence, they were fully steeped as orchestral composers in the Beethoven-and-after extravaganza style possibilities. And so then the stock in trade necessarily was Romantic--for better or worse. Korngold was one of the more brilliant refugees from Europe in WWII and his music was always much more than stock Romantic tropes--so you can hear that in the March from the Adventures of Robin Hood and the Prelude from Escape Me Never.

The romance of the Romantic comes to the fore especially in "Tara's Theme" and the Love Theme from Love Story. These are themes virtually everyone has known and are admittedly some of the very more memorable items from a huge production of soundtrack footage over the years.

One must note that something like Jerome Moross's Prelude from The Big Country gives us something else--a post-Copland Americana that is attractive and evocative and very well suited to the subject matter of the film. So too William Walton's various spots sound like him and not otherwise, as one might say too about Khachaturian. An innovatively rousing Prokofiev on his "Battle on the Ice" from Alexander Nevsky breaks all molds, though this performance is a little hectic compared to some classic ones I am used to hearing.

Beyond that among other things there is decent arrangement by the conductor Sutherland of Williams' Close Encounters that well represents the ground of blockbuster Scifi soundtrack trends from the close of the period the recording was made.

Movie buffs will find this nice to have and hear. Can we still respond to "Tara's Theme" the way my parents might have? Probably not but no anthology of popular film scoring would be complete without it. It all raises the issue too of how a period expects or likes to hear some things that in other ages are not assumed or perhaps even completely understood.

If music from more atmospheric soundtracks like Jaws and Psycho are missing, the emphasis on the lyric Romantic would make them seem a little jarring I suppose, given the implied premise that the program satisfies audiences looking for the tuneful, for melodic sublimity?

The performances are quite serviceable and the selections are well paced. It might not be something I would be looking out for right now if I was not reviewing it  but then it is a reliably good collection if you have or think you have the need for it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Frank Merrick, Piano (1886-1981) with Henry Holst, Violin (1899-1991), Selected Best from '60s LPs

As I have said before one thing good about doing these reviews is that I end up hearing and appreciating music I otherwise would not have known about or had the chance to experience. One such offering is a four-CD set giving us "A selection of the best performances transferred from the 'Frank Herrick Society' and the 'Rare Recorded Edition' LPs" of the 1960s by pianist Franck Herrick (1886-1981) with Henry Holst on violin (1899-1991) (Nimbus/Grand Piano 4-CDs NI 8826).

Herrick may well be of legendary status in these days we live, at least over  in England. Regardless I have not before heard him, or even of him, but I am very glad to hear these excellent performances now. Wiki talks of his life and career and you might want to go there to find out more. They note that he won the Columbia Gramophone contest to write the final two movements of the Schubert "Unfinished Symphony," that in 1926. The recording of it is quite rare.

Beyond that as performer and teacher he was a pivotal figure in England. What counts for us right this moment are these vintage recordings and they are very fine. He and violinist Henry Holst mesh wonderfully well and give us sparkling and interestingly Apollonian readings of works in the lyrically Tonal and Neo-Classical Modernist realm, a rather striking, refreshing selection to me.

The opening disk and a third centers on Arnold Bax (1883-1953) and alerts us to how fascinating and moving Bax's violin-piano works are--and no less how good they sound in the Merrick-Holst readings at hand. Virtually any Anglophile would find all of it a treasure. But then any student of the 20th Century should find it absorbing too. (And that holds true of all of this music.) Bax may have fallen into eclipse even as these long unavailable '60s records were being made, and that makes them all the more remarkable I suppose because the artists clearly love the bittersweet music and make it their own, make it seem timeless. As you listen to the intricately lyrical music you feel that these fit well into the "Second English Renaissance" of the early 20th century, with Bax as a composer fully deserving to stand alongside Vaughan-Williams, Holst, Walton, etc., as a home-grown original. So the performances of his "Legend," "Ballad," and Violin Sonatas 1-3, covering the fruitful period of 1915-1927.

From there we have somewhat familiar music along with exotically lesser-known works. Nothing is uninteresting and all are played with poise and great sympathy. These are singular performance events, every one. So we get nicely burnished readings of Delius' Violin Sonata No. 2, the Sibelius Sonata in E major, op. 80, then some contrapuntal and/or expressive niceties from  Max Reger (Sonata No. 5 from 1905 and "Suite in Olden Style" from 1906). Finally among the known commodities we get the somewhat under-appreciated "Cinq Melodies" of 1920 from a fairly young Prokofiev. All of these flourish in some fine expressions.

And then there are some very interesting and obscure (to me) works by Edward Isaacs (1881-1953), Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986), Bernard Stevens (1916-1983) and two sonatas by Gunnar de Frumerie (1908-1987). Each piece is a worthy addition to the literature and surely worth hearing.

The sound is quite decent for old LPs, the performances excellent, the program an adventure. And the price is reasonable. So take a listen by all means.





Friday, September 6, 2019

Dvorak, Elgar, Schumann, Cello Concertos, Strauss, Don Quixote, Kim Cook, St. Petersburg State Symphony, Brohuslav Martinu Philharmonic

Some CD programs thrive in part because they include a good choice of repertoire that plays off of one another well to illuminate a period and do it insightfully. That is the case with cellist Kim Cook's two-CD set of middle-to-late Romantic period concerted works for cello and orchestra. On it we get a nice balance between the Cello Concertos of Dvorak, Elgar and Schumann and then Don Quixote by Richard Strauss (MSR Classics 1637), as played nicely by the St. Petersburg State Symphony or the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic under conductors Arkady Shreinlucht or Gerardo Edelstein.

Kim Cook come across as both Apollonian and Dionysian in equal measure. She is Romantically emotive without undue over-statement and she articulates the parts with a kind of stately steadfastness that seems quite convincing to me. And to complete the aural picture the orchestra readings seem equally balanced and clearly articulated.

The Elgar work (1919) shines forth to me as perhaps the most outstanding of the four readings. Elgar was in the later stages of his artistry when he wrote it  and this work has a touching sort of bittersweet elegance that Cook and the St. Petersburg Orchestra under Shreinlucht play out for us with thoughtfully painted pastels and shades of grey. There are moments that seem almost lighthearted, notably the Allegro Molto of the Second Movement but there is too the moving Adagio of the following movement which has a wistful remembrance, a Proustian-Madeleine sort of looking backward in the present that in the performers' hands is quite touching. The march elements of the final movement give us a feeling of time past and passing and all seems quite well in the end, as it no doubt is, comparatively speaking.

The Strauss Don Quixote was apparently (as the liners note) meant to offer a kind of comic comeback to the more dramatic-serious autobigraphical Straussian Ein Heldenleben--and some of the playfulness is nicely on display in this version. Frankly this Strauss work has for whatever reason failed to hit a nerve with me over the years but I must say this version does seem more convincing to me than perhaps some others that I regularly listen to in my collection. If one is to make a case for the brilliance of Strauss's pictoral musical prose in this work it is clear one can hear it quite well in this version.

The xecond disk has the rather classical coupling of the Dvorak and Schumann concertos, which is how I first heard them (together) when I found a Rostropovich LP in my youth and reveled in it. The Schumann sounds appropriately heroic in Ms. Cook's hands, the Dvorak expressively regal. There are other versions of course and that is not to say that these are not worth hearing and appreciating. They are. Yet so the full program is as well and gives us a nice snapshot of the cello sonata repertoire of the pre-Modern period.

Kim Cook's cello rings out without a lot of undue clamor. It is sweet without being saccharine, and there is a musically projective force that seems right for the many various emotive and tonal moods contain in the program. And in the end it all makes these four works seem more of our time perhaps than some of the older recordings I have been used to hearing. Ms. Cook goes her own way in musically pleasing ways.

I recommend this one happily, especially for those who have gaps in the cello repertoire that this set of readings fills quite nicely. And this version of Elgar should be heard by anyone with an interest in such things because it is quite fine indeed. Bravo, then!




Thursday, September 5, 2019

Anton Dvorak, Locale, "American" Quartet, Piano Quintet in A Major, The Alexander String Quartet, Joyce Yang, Piano

Classical music lovers in the USA have long cherished Anton Dvorak's New World Symphony as the lucid and lyrical tribute to that seemingly new morning in a new place. Native Americans might have gotten a different symphony perhaps but they were not at that point likely to listen to much symphonic fare of course.

All of us in general who explore the Classical repertoire have heard and enjoyed more of Dvorak. Two works`in the chamber realm are especially worth your time certainly, that is the "American" Quartet and the Piano Quintet in A Major, which happily it so happens there is a new recording out by the Alexander String Quartet and Joyce Yang at the piano for the latter work (Foghorn Classics FCL 2020).

The "American" Quartet as it rather rapidly came to be known was written in the summer of 1893 while the composer was staying in Spillville, Iowa, in the midst of his three-year stay as the director of the National Conservatory in New York. The music does not make direct use of American national themes but instead writes music that is his own classicization of the spirit of such music. It quickly caught on in the States on its Boston premier in January of 1894 and has been continually and deservedly appreciated since that time.

The Piano Quintet in A Major, Opus 81 was written somewhat earlier in the summer and fall of 1887, initially in the Czech countryside at Dvorak's summer home. As the fine liners to the release note, the work makes an excellent synthesis between Czech folk-like elements and latter classical Post-Brahmsian forms. It is a sheer delight to hear as is the Quartet.

The Alexander String Quartet and Joyce Yang give us spirited and compassionate readings of these works that are close to ideal. If there are no shocking reinterpretations there are also no disappointments whatsoever. It is a golden program played with the finest care for a broad sweep and finely turned detail. Bravo!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Peter Racine Fricker, Organ Works, Tom Winpenny

When it is a matter of organ music and Modernism of course Messiaen has been by far the most influential and inspiring figure. He continues to captivate as virtually no one else in our times.

There is the matter however of English composer Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990), whose Organ Music (Toccata Classics 0518), as played by formidable organ Modernist Tom Winpenny, gives us an alternative, convincing look at Classical-Modernist possibilities, a rigorously and thoroughgoing imaginative view of what can be said in tone.

He was in the '50s and early '60s a celebrated Modernist in English circles but then went somewhat out-of-fashion with the rise of more avant styles, which was compounded by Frick leaving Europe to accept a teaching position at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The move was to define in many ways the course of his later life. It allowed him to keep on but effectively kept him out of the European limelight.

This first-ever recorded compilation of his organ works is revelatory in its portrayal of the brilliant contrapuntalist, dissonant Modernist and dramatic-melodic organ dynamist. Some eight works and one five-piece grouping grace the program. All save the short "Pastorale" are in First Recordings, which is saying a great deal, as we are talking about some 75 minutes of music.

Significantly all but one of these works were written between 1965 and 1985, when he was a resident in the USA. If nothing else it marks the bulk of his organ music as later output, comparatively speaking, if this selection is any indication.

One thing to be said for the whole of this, Fricker tellingly conveys an intensive brilliance of musicality that is always filled with significant form, from the contemplative to the bitingly severe.

This program is magnificently performed by Winpenny and should be of great interest to any follower of English 20th-century composers, or indeed of the Modern organ. The musical content should intrigue anyone who has serious concern for developments in our contemporary musical worlds. A landmark recording, this is.

Bravo!


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Midwest Chamber Ensemble, Vieux Amis-Nouveaux Costumes (Old Friends in New Costumes), Settings of Debussy and Faure Songs and Other Works by Philip Lasser, Steve Lewis, Director

The Midwest Chamber Ensemble presents Vieux Amis-Nouveaux Costumes (Old Friends in New Costumes) (BRC Audio Productions). As the subtitle states these are "A Setting of Debussy and Faure Songs for Voice and Chamber Ensemble by Philip Lasser" and then several Lasser (b.1953)  works of his own.

The star of most of the proceedings is soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, who has a most engaging and delightful voice that suites this music quite well indeed. The Midwestern Chamber Ensemble, conducted in the fully instrumented works by Director Steve Lewis, rather clearly are in their element with this repertoire. The end result is a kind of conjoining magic of composition and performance, a real match of affinity.

The arrangements of the Debussy and Faure songs ("Apparition" and "Mandoline," respectively) are nothing less than exquisite, with lyrical chamber group parts that greatly enhance the songs and give us something considerable to hear and appreciate.The six Lasser songs in addition to the one apiece from the Debussy and Faure realms--taken all together there is strong lyrical Impressionistic-Modern fare to be heard and it all works marvelously well.

The second half of the program presents us with several Lasser instrumental works that provide a lyrical haunting of their own in a decidedly French lyrical manner, whether it is a matter of "The Jewely Box" for violin (Ho Man Lee) and piano (Jessica Koebbe), the Sonata for Cello (Ernan Chalshotori) and piano (Charles Dickinson) and the final, beautifully lyric "Ballade" for flute (Virginia Q. Backman) and strings.

It is all a rather ravishing program certainly and the performances are excellent. If you respond well to modern French lyricism this is no doubt going to make you happy, I very much think. Listen and enjoy.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Partch, Sonata Dementia, Music of Harry Partch, Vol. 3

The figure of Harry Partch (1901-1974) on the American New Music landscape is a singular and totally original one. A dedicated iconoclast of absolute brilliance, where he and his music are concerned  it seems the more I hear of it, the more I feel I am in a presence like no other. We all get a chance to hear new versions and First Recordings of some chamber gems that point us ever forward. This on The Music of Harry Partch, Vol. 3, otherwise listed as its primary title Sonata Dementia (Bridge 9525). And though we will always live in a kind of astonishment about his musical instrument inventing and his expansion of tone as we know it this volume reminds us that there is much more involved as well, a kind of world outlook that marks him in the most unique way. And that can become clear when we open up to some of the smaller ensemble works and their fine performance on this release.

With the exception of the two bonus tracks (to be discussed shortly) the entire endeavor is a love labor of the "Grammy Winning ensemble" PARTCH, who most certainly seem born to the music, and as we know with Partch in the past, nothing less will do, since the performers really must "live" the Partch spirit and make it ring out with the quirky kind of authenticity of the American "folk persona" that was so much a part of Partch's world and work.

First up is "Ulysseys at  the Edge of the World" (1962), which combines trumpet, baritone sax and more "conventionally" Partchian instruments and was written for jazz trumpet master Chet Baker. It has consequently a slightly more jazzy sonance than usual. It sounds wonderful in the new recording.

The "Twelve Intrusions" (1950) too gives us a lot to contemplate, miniature gems that embody the mystery and folk rootsy-ness of Partch at his finest. The vocal parts have been realized with just the sort of mischievous prankster yet deadly dramatic-serious demeanor that Partch himself gave to the parts and as he himself performed them often enough.

"Windsong" (1958) thrives here as the first recording of the original version.

The penultimate bonus track is a short Edison Cylinder of a Native American song that Partch was called upon to transcribe for the Southwest Museum. He paraphrases it in the "Cloud Chamber Music" section of "Intrusion."

Finally in the Partch Ensemble section of the program "Sonata Dementia" (1950) in a First Recording gives us music that I for one am extremely grateful to have now. It is contained in three dramatic movements that any Partch lover will no doubt be glad to savor.

The acetates of the Partch's Eastman lecture-performance of the original adapted guitar and vocal version of "Barstow: Eight Hitchhikers' Inscriptions" (1941) is a delight and a revelation. His adapted guitar performance is an ear-opener and a fine thing on its own!

Nothing perhaps is quite as incredible as the Columbia recording of his epic Delusion of the Fury, which everyone surely should hear if not own. On the other hand this new volume gives you an excellent introduction to the more intimate chamber Partch. For the newcomer or the old friend, this album will jump out at you in ways nothing else quite can.

Highly recommended. A milestone recording.


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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Erika Fox, Paths, Goldfield Ensemble

Composer Erika Fox (b. 1936) has all the newness, has the sort of "sound of surprise" that we expect and hope for in New Music Modernism. She was an important part of the London and European New Music scene in the '70s through the '90s and has amassed a catalog of some 52 works. That here in the later '10s of the Millennium she has been neglected and virtually forgotten in many ways is partially rectified by a new and rather exciting release of her music entitled Paths (NMC D254), as heroically and movingly performed by the Goldfield Ensemble.

The five substantial and even brilliant compositions performed for us on the CD take a bit of concentration to assimilate fully and that is only natural with such nicely detailed music. There is a sort of lyrical High Modernism consistently at work on each of the pieces, but other things as well. In the liners Katre Romano, Artistic Director of Goldfield Productions, calls the music "bold, feisty, uncompromising and uncommonly fresh." She notes the influences of the composer's upbringing that we can hear in the works at hand--Eastern European classical music plus "Hasidic Music, liturgical chant" and "modal ancient melodic lines reminiscent of Eastern European folk music."

We listen to the program in sequence and Erika Fox's own special world opens up to us with impact and expressive mystery. Richard Baker conducts the larger version of the Goldfield Ensemble and soloists on the dramatic end-pieces "Paths Where the Mourners Tread" and "Cafe Warsaw 1944."

In between are smaller chamber gems, "Quasi una Cadenza," "On Visiting Stravinsky's Grave at San Michele," and "Malinconia Militaire."

Everything has mass and weight; there are no superficial or facile byways. As Romano poignantly states in the liners, there is not so much a matter of development in the New Music language she so adroitly takes on as her own. It is more a matter of endless invention, or variations that have an organic connection with what came before but most assuredly do not directly comment on any of it. It means that the listener is given a continual tabula rasa yet everything is profoundly joined as in eloquent speech.

It is a most enjoyable and enlightening program. Erika Fox is a real treasure and I recommend you hear this by all means!


Havergal Brian, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 16, New Russia State Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Walker

The oscillating paradox of English composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972) gives the music listener-historian one of the more unusual examples of 20th century compositional life and style possibilities. Most importantly he has a great deal to offer the modern listener. He lived a long and prolific lifespan as a composer, producing an astounding 25 symphonies, the first batch gargantuan and rather sprawling, the later somewhat more compact but all in an English Late Romantic realm that sounded nothing like Wagner or Richard Strauss yet shared in their penchant for the big sound, the big canvas of orchestral colors.

That he continued to produced original and inventive symphonic work through most of the 20th century and preserved and developed a working anachronistic style that continued to evolve in his individualistic hands is something uniquely fascinating and impressive in its very own way. And we hear his music as both of and alien to the general time in which we live. We experience a kind of oscillation of time and place as we listen.

The Brian symphonic program at hand gives us a varied and intriguing sample of his output, played convincingly and bracingly by the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Walker.

There is (quite naturally) as one listens to these offerings (Naxos 8.573959) no doubt that we are dealing with more of an English than a German or French sensibility.  The rustic English countryside and the warm and congenially apportioned pub seem more present than some Teutonic or Gallic place-music version of things. At the same time it is music that points to itself so we should not focus exclusively on the local tendencies that are happily there. It is pure music in the end after all.

The "Symphony No. 7 in C Major" (1948) as the liners tell us, is the last of the long and ample early symphonies, with a large orchestra, filling up nearly 40 minutes with its four movements. It is based on Goethe's autobiographical writing on his student days. Yet on first listen it is not entirely necessary to come to grips with the programmatic content here because it is expressive Brian first and foremost, secondarily programmatic.

"The Tinker's Wedding Overture" (1948) gives us in some ways the opposite sort of work--a short and light-hearted piece based on the J.M. Synge comedic play of the same name.

Then we are in some ways set squarely in-between these two polar opposites with his "Symphony No. 16" (1960), thematically centered upon Ancient Greece and the Persian Wars.

This hour program reminds those already familiar how there is unfailing art and craftsmanship in virtually everything Brian wrote and that, surely with these three at any rate, and most likely with the entire corpus of later works but I cannot yet vouch for them all, there is no sign of flagging in his mid-later period. If you do not mind that Brian bypasses prevailing styles of the  period concerned, if you do not expect any traces of the New Music or even progressive music scene that existed in the world in which Brian lived, you will be I think happily situated as you hear and rehear this music. It is not of its time. Yet it is timeful, it is current within itself surely.

The volume also serves as an admirable introduction to Brian for those not familiar.

Excellent example of Brian, well done! Very recommended.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Bacewicz, Piano Music, Morta Grigaliunaite

Those of us especially outside of the local clime (Poland) of composer Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) may have missed her music when she lived (I was at any rate too young) but since her passing we gradually have come to know it and appreciate it, thanks to the international interest her music has produced in the later years of the 20th Century and the first decades of the new Millennium.

I for one have missed her output for the pianoforte until now. This welcome Piano Music (Piano Classics 10183) volume as played with conviction and drama by Morta Grigaliunaite fills the gap with something seemingly definitive.

Like the many varied Bacewicz compositions we can hear nowadays for the full gamut of configurations she wrote for, we find in the program at hand always a concentric universe of applied musical invention of a high caliber.

The seven single or multiple movement works on this program remind us how sincere, how authentic her music sounds to us today, or at least that is what hits me listening now. The concluding work on the program, her "Piano Sonata No. 2"  in lots of ways sums up her musical and especially her pianistic identity. The musicality of it all puts us in mind of the lineage of Modernism to which she belongs, so we do hear the genetic relation of Bacewicz with Stravinsky the Neo-Classical and Expression-Modernist, and then too the related ways of Prokofiev, Bartok, Kodaly Janacek... in many ways the local, folk focal is never entirely removed from the expressions at hand, but so is the Modern piano tradition as it grew out of later Romantic poets of the ivories, Schubert to Chopin. There is a backbone of pianistic tradition that holds it all grandly upright (so to speak), and then of course it thrives still in this music because of the original ways of Ms. Bacewicz.

The interplay of piano tradition and Modern expression is truly in the end quite present and poignant in this music. This is first-rate Bacewicz and that in turn makes for some of the most important music by women, or I dare say for that matters any composers of the last century.

Dig in and listen to "Little Triptych," "Concert Krakowiak," the "Children's Suite," "Two Etudes for Double Notes," "Ten Concert Etudes," "Trois pieces caracteristiques" and the "Piano Sonata No. 2." Every work is worth hearing and original in subtle ways. You get fiery and sensitive performances of music we all should take to heart.

Bravo!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

J. William Greene, Buxtehude at Lynchburg, Free Compositions and Choral Preludes

My gradually unfolding, happy interaction with classical organ music has been rather informal, with a follow-the-nose intuitiveness that started with an early and happy experience hearing a well attuned and well played cathedral organ in my childhood as a regular member of the St. Anthony Parish in Butler, NJ. And it in the most general terms was an organ world when I was a kid--for example down at the seashore there were mighty organs playing in the beachfront hotels and I listened eagerly. Bach works were my first serious interest as far as organ recordings went. And from there I followed threads that made sense backwards to Buxtehude and farther afield and then also forward to the French School from Franck to Messiaen (see last Monday's post here for a little more on that).

I had piano lessons as a kid and later as well, and we had a piano at home that I played upon as a student of the instrument and someone musically inclined alike. I would also goof around on the Farfisas and Hammond B-3s that were in some of the rock and jazz-rock bands I was in from 7th grade on, but I never had the pleasure to have organ instruction or take a course on organ literature and histor,y etc. It just did not come up in my education--and not through a lack on interest.

So when I read in the liners to J. William Greene's Buxtehude at Lynchburg (Pro Organo CD 7170) that Greene in the title is paying homage to an old 1967 E. Power Biggs Columbia LP Buxtehude at Luneburg, I simultaneously regret missing out on this icon of recorded vinyl and appreciate being tipped into the organ lore of which I no doubt have many serious ellipses and gaps--and if I am ever to be thumbing through a stack of used LPs in a thrift store again I will look out for the album, surely.

All that may seem a lot to preface this review article with, but anyone who reads these columns regularly knows that of course part of my engagement with the music is as a person and so I feel it sometimes somewhat illuminating that I recount my involvement in the history of the appreciation of music I have lived through for as near a lifetime as anyone--though I hope with much more to go!

Back to the subject at hand however. The subtitle of this fine CD is Free Compositions and Chorale Preludes of Dieterich Buxtehude. That says it all if you already know it all, but for those of us who do not, the liners give helpful fleshings out. So the Choral Preludes were meant to introduce artfully the specific German chorale that the congregation was then to sing in the service at that point. As the notes suggest, the preludes are remarkably ornate at times, contrapuntally elegant and brilliant, Buxtehude at his finest.

There is poignant content and exceptional linear variety in the Praeludium, Toccatas, Passacaglias, Fugues, and Canzonas we hear in the course of the program. J. William Greene is meticulous to a fault yet as spirited as we might hope for. The recording is crisp and clear in aural staging, and the Taylor and Boody organ of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynchburg (of the title), Virginia is ruggedly traditional-sounding and just right to bring out nicely the voicings Buxtehude specifies.

All-in-all this is the Buxtehude we revel in if we give the music a chance. It is exemplary in its unpretentious down-to-the-bone performance wonders and it sounds great. So I recommend it very highly. I will treasure this one. I hope you will too.



Derek Bermel, Migrations, Luciana Souza, Ted Nash, Derek Bermel, Julliard Jazz Orchestra, Albany Symphony, David Alan Miller

While the name of US composer Derek Bermel (b. 1967) may be new to me, the music on his album Migrations (Naxos 8.559871) has a New Music-Modern Jazz tang that rings true in a local sort of way, that he takes on certain style clusters known in USA musical channels and makes them his own in ways that please and intrigue. There is familiarity, then, but newness in equal turns.

The title work "Migrations" is quite au courant as it deals with the movement of populations, as would-be refugees, as emigrants, a situation we have experienced only too directly in the refugee crisis in Syria in the past decade and then especially in the Trump Presidency in the US the situation of refugees seeking political asylum, most notably emigrants from Central America. The "Migrations" work themes itself around such large-scale people movements.

Notably on the cover of the CD (pictured above) is a painting by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) entitled The Migration Series, Panel No. 3: from every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north (1940-41). This in part forms the pictoral foundation for the music, the later of which was commissioned by Wynton Marsalis for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Concert Series. The cycle of some 60 paintings by Lawrence comes to grips with the movement of Afro-Americans from the Rural South to the Industrial North and so too does Bermel's five movement work. And so thematic parallels have local historical bases that we can think of with the overlapping of repetitions and non-repetitions in various ways. Now is of course not then, but there are ominous intertwinings we can sense when we follow present events.

The work itself features the well situated Julliard Jazz Orchestra (along with the Albany Symphony, all conducted by David Allen Miller) with soloists Ted Nash on soprano and alto sax, and Bermel himself on clarinet. The music is a kind of ambitious Modern Big Band Jazz that hearkens to the innovative stances of George Russell, Gil Evans and perhaps Claire Fischer, and takes the art further into personal territory. It is a work that increasingly strikes you as having some profundity the more one listens. Masterful and invigorating! Cutting edge!

From there we go to two works that involve more New Music an orientation, with the Albany Symphony and soprano Luciana Souza in the songful Portugal-oriented "Mar de Setembro" based on a poem by Eugenio de Andrade. It is exceedingly beautiful music, harmonic-melodic in ways that seem as Brazilian as Modern, more lyrical than strident.

"A Shout, A Whisper and a Trace" brings us to a fully Modern orchestral zone of vibrant sound color, with an infectiously and rhythmically dancing, folksy, almost Coplandesque-meets-Stravinsky opening that quickly turns bi-total. It is all most delightful in its very own way.

Because my personal life has at times lately become trying I have within the ongoing chaos ended up listening to this album much more than I might have ordinarily as a first go of things. After maybe ten listens I must say I thoroughly appreciate this one in ways that a long exposure helps create. It is important, beautiful, expressive music, all of it. And it is very well performed. Grab it!





Tuesday, August 20, 2019

SWR VokalEnsemble, Japan, Works for Choir, Toshio Hosokawa, Toru Takemitsu, Michio Mamiya, Jo Kondo; Marcus Creed, Conductor

Modern choral music of Japan is not something I have been much exposed to, so this SWR Vokal Ensemble album simply entitled Japan, Works for Choir (SWR Classic 19079CD), is enlightening me and giving me much to consider.

A wealth of possibilities for vocal ensemble are explored, all in some kind of Modern realm, though not programmatically or formulaically so. It shows us that Japanese composers, like their contemporary equivalents across the globe, can express the local as well as the universal, in song and in ensemble atmospherics, with complex tonalities and vibrant artistic outbursts, and with folk-like song expressions that hearken back while nevertheless by framing remain squarely in the present.

You who know something of the national music of Japan will recognize at least one celebrated traditional melody in arrangement for chorus. Besides that there are chant-like gatherings, floating harmonic extravagances, instrumental-like vocaleses and a kind of potpourri of possibilities that continually intrigue as one gets familiar with it all with repeated listens.

A run down of every work would perhaps overwhelm and it is better with so much and so varied a palette to let oneself be surprised and pleased within an unfolding real-time frame.

Nonetheless for your information we get to hear Toshio Hosokawa's "The Lotusflower Doth Languish," Toru Takemitsu's "Wind Horse," "Cherry Blossoms," "Wings." and "Small Sky," Michio Mamiya "Composition for Chorus No. 1," and Jo Kondo's "Motet Under the Rose."

This is music that has categorical importance, is performed with care and subtle ease, and affords a tantalizing glimpse into a local genre we at least in the "West" have gotten far less exposure to than we should.

Gladly and sincerely recommended.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Messiaen Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite, Tom Winpenny

Organist Tom Winpenny has been doing a fine job performing some of the principal Messiaen organ works for Naxos (type his name in the search box above to find relevant reviews). Now he takes on rather heroically the Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite (Naxos 8.573979). It is a later work that began in 1967 with a series of improvisations Messiaen devised and reworked in celebration of the rebuilt organ at La Trinite Cathedral, taking final form in 1969. He had been organist at this Paris cathedral, to give it its full name the Eglise de la Sainte Trinity, since 1931 so this was indeed a momentous occasion no doubt to him.

It is a masterpiece of mystery in ways so imaginative that it virtually gives us a guide to the innovative Messiaen spiritual organ oeuvre--a summing up and a leaping forward all at once.

The nine sections all work together to create a magic that is Messiaen's alone. No other master before or for that matter since has captured so incredibly inventive a series of rovings and spiritual penetrations.

Tom Winpenny gives us the kind of dynamic thrust and absolute sonic command that makes of this work a structurally yet highly aesthetically hammer-beamed object where the supports are not just structurally needed (to extend a metaphor); they are an integral part of the luster of the finished work of art, essential to its nature and beauty at once.

What is memorable about this music is quite clearly within the performance-command of Tom Winpenny. I've heard performances that may equal this one, but none that in my opinion surpass this one. An iconic work, performed with true conviction and careful elation. A winner in every way. Highly recommended.

And with this music is a melodic-harmonic brilliance like you will look for in vain in other organ music. It is one of the works that makes it plain that Messiaen has a special brand of Modernism, of brilliance and clarity like no other before or after, yet too he is spiritual in ways nobody else approaches as well.

This is essential!




Friday, August 16, 2019

Franz Liszt, Harmonies poetiques et religieuses, Wojciech Waleczek, Complete Piano Music Volume 53

Volume 53 of Franz Liszt's Complete Piano Music is no afterthought, but rather presents his Harmonies poetiques et religieuses, an ambitious work of his early maturity, written in 1847 when he was (according to my math) 36 years old. He had settled in Paris, then was concertizing, was attempting to do for the piano what Paganini was doing for the violin, or in other words establishing a kind of diabolically religious virtuosity that would make of him a cult figure of sorts and permanently establish the piano as an almost supernatural force in music.

This set of some 12 individual pieces is not quite of the bold otherworldly dash of the Transcendental Etudes, but then of course very few works are, be they by Liszt or anyone else.

Nonetheless this set of pieces has a bit more of an Apollonianly sturdy heroic gravitas to it that sets it apart. Pianist Wojciech Waleczek gives us a reading that is not overly flamboyant and instead underscores the Apollo piano aura the work gives to us in global terms.

It is a set that helps define what later virtuoso Promethean pianism was to be--thanks in no small part to Liszt, To say that is to say that the music is well worth your earful. It is Naxos priced so what's to lose? Check it out.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dan Locklair, Symphony No. 2 "America," Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, Michael Rohae

Dan Locklair (b. 1949) has a pleasing way about him. There is something of a present-day Copland feel to him in his fondness for paraphrasing Americana sorts of themes at least most certainly in his Symphony No. 2 "America" (Naxos 8.559860). The program at hand is well performed and contains the symphony, two shorter works plus the "Concerto for Organ and Orchestra."

It is homespun mainstream--the sort anyone might like and there is little exactly that would define it as Modern except that it is not "Classical" or "Romantic"." It is tonal-pleasing, reminding you perhaps of the things you might hear on a good contemporary movie soundtrack or as done by a wind band of a superior sort Vittorio Giannini comes to mind but not in any way I can pinpoint here. Nobody would take offense at this music and it is is enjoyable, very much so.

The "Symphony No. 2 'America'" is in the form of a Holidays Symphony--with a movement each for Independence Day, one for Memorial Day and one for Thanksgiving. "America the Beautiful" is paraphrased a good deal at first. We hear "Taps" and then not surprisingly the hymn "We Gather Together (To Ask the Lord's Blessing)" for the Thanksgiving movement.
The other works are less obvious I suppose but pleasing. He is inventive in ways the most rudimentally musical layman could no doubt understand. So good for that as far as extending the music in concerned!


I enjoy this program without necessarily putting some seal of "masterpiece" on it all. It pleases me.And the first time through you get the whole thing, pretty much. It is not like you are going to open up  a great deal of vistas on listen number 10. It is what it is and that "is" happens to be fine and dandy, well done. Lovers of Americana will be right there I imagine. I might rather hear Charles Ives personally, but I do not want to turn this into a horse race. Nicely done. Nice music. And that includes the "Concerto for Organ!"

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Elliott Sharp, Plastovy Hrad

Over the years Elliot Sharp has become a primary cultural treasure for High Modernist New Music and Imrpovisational Avant Garde music making. Happily for us he keeps going and growing. There is a new album out by the name of Plastovy Hrad (Infrequent Seams 20) and it is a very good one.

Three works break things up and give us much to hear. The title work "Plastovy Hrad" is the more ambitious of the three with a nicely executed live performance by the Brno Contemporary Orchestra conducted by Pavel Snajdr. The bass clarinet solo part is performed ably by Lukasz Danhel.

The second work is entitled "Turing Test" with six vocalists comprising the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and Gareth Davis on bass clarinet.

Finally there is "Oumuamua" for bass clarinet and electronics as performed by the composer.

With the bass clarinet the common factor throughout everything has a sort of continuity and yet each is distinguished in advanced Modern ways that followers of E# will not exactly be surprised to hear. Yet too there is is nothing rote-ish or perfunctory about the music either. It is vital, very much alive and filled with an energy that Maestro Sharp has always had in various ways. There is nothing formulaic about this music either.

As up and down the vagaries of life may go for us these days, there are some musical luminaries that do not flag but consistently uplift us into the best sense of "new" territory. Elliott Sharp is most certainly one of these artists. His Plastovy Hrad brings to us another program that encourages us to have some kind of hope, for music anyway if not for life, but sure, good music makes us feel better about life, so that too.

Highly recommended for serious followers of the New Music.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Real Vocal String Quartet, Culture Kin

If the fourth album, Culture Kin (Hower Note Records), is any indication, the first three must be a good thing, for the fourth surely is. The music business would refer to this as a "crossover," and indeed I suppose it is, or in other words it is subject to "mixed category" consideration. It is well played string quartet music at the same time as it has modality and folk strains and it includes nicely burnished vocals as well as the string playing. The players sing, the singers play.

It is music with its very own unique sort of twists--like the Turtle Island String Quartet does things with jazz, so the Real Vocal String Quartet does things for folk and vernacular. Cajun, Irish, singer-songwriter songs, and almost anything else might pop up here in ways that are moving and "catchy" without pandering or trying to score big at the ATM. This feels quite natural, like these folks do this because that is what they feel comfortable and best with. Damned if they do not succeed very well indeed at it, too.

Some of it is quite lighthearted, some of it hold a bit more weight. It all has charm.

It is one of those albums that feels right because it is a very good idea musically and the quartet knows just how to pull it off! It is too contentful to be New Age but it also is melodically strong in ways that make for smiling and musing--and that is what New Age tries to do but sometimes fails? So get this if it strikes you that you'd want to hear it. The Real Vocal String Quartet have what it takes.

Fabiola Kim, 1939, Violin Concertos by Walton, Hartmann, Bartok, Munchner Symphoniker, Kevin John Edusei

The year 1939 in Europe was as decisive as it was grim. Look it up. The Nazi forces were invading Europe. Yet composers tried nonetheless to keep on with their art. Violinist Fabiola Kim had the brilliant idea of choosing three Violin Concertos written in that fateful year and doing definitive recordings of them as a kind of compositional diary of an era.

If we expect to find bold agitation we honestly are more likely to find it in the classic Russian WWII symphonies--Prokofiev's Fifth and Shostakovich's Seventh. Yet the full gamut of emotions are nevertheless present in the three works at hand and they are hardly "lighthearted" or "happy" as you would have every reason to expect. These are not about a series of carnivals, surely.

The result, entitled  1939 (Solo Musica 308 2-CDs), brings to us carefully, expressively heartfelt readings of the three concertos we should well remember as being masterpieces both of and transcendent of their time. They are subtle, deep, filled with musical-psychological complexities. And we get impassioned readings from Fabiola Kim and the Munchner Symphoniker under Kevin John Edusei. And so we hear state-of-the-art readings of William Walton's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B minor," Karl Amadeus Hartmann's "Concerto Funebre for Violin and String Orchestra" and Bela Bartok's "Violin Concerto No. 2 Sz. 112 in B major."

Many if not most will know the Bartok but to have an excellent performance of that alongside the Walton and Hartmann is to feel the weight of the time at hand then, to hear three master composers try and express the horror and upheaval and too the premonitions of what more was to come.

There is no real sentiment of a Romantic sort in these works and that is understandable. It is Modernism in its root foundation and one might argue that the World Wars period did as much or more to kill Romanticism as anything.

A coupling of this sort makes us take stock of the period in ways nothing else really could. The excellence of the performances make us take notice but then too the choice of these sometimes less-attended-to works (certainly the Walton and Hartmann anyway but the Bartok needs to be heard with these two to place it all in focus) enlightens us and reminds us what kind of courage people needed then, whether composers or anyone else.

Bravo. Just listen,

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Melody Moore, An American Song Album, with Bradley Moore, Songs by Barber, Copland, Heggie, Floyd, Getty

Every day is like another in that if one is lucky there is good music to be heard. Today may be special to me for other reasons but not in some sense that music is more available to me than on any other day. It is here to hear, like always and thankfully so. I listen.

Today I am going though the fifth listen of strong soprano Melody Moore and her recent An American Song Album (Pentatone 5186 770). The last few songs stay in the head long afterwards--namely a couple of Gordon Getty arrangements of "Danny Boy," "Deep River" and "All Through the Night," of which in regards to the latter many will recognize it as a theme from Brahms Symphony No. 1, or if you happened to have grown up at a certain time you might know the Christmas vocal version that was on the Kingston Trio's Christmas album? Or perhaps you know yet another version with more secular lyrics, on here as part of Gordon Getty's "Three Welsh Songs." At any rate those last three songs ("Danny," "River," and "Night") leave me (at least) with a permanent impression so to speak. And it is a good one.

Melody is joined by her partner Bradley Moore on piano and the chemistry is excellent.

Melody has a very strong operatic soprano that in some ways envelopes and virtually takes personal charge of anything she sings. That may take some getting used to for the lighter lieder sorts of things but then one embraces her artistry in the end and is all the better for it. Or at any rate I am.

One gets more and more out of the hearing of this music. beginning with Samuel Barber and his "Hermit Songs" that I am lucky to get to hear in this very lovely version, and Aaron Copland and his "Four Early Songs," which I may no doubt have had on LP at one point but hear on this disk as for the first time.

The rest of this music may be (other than what I mentioned at the start of the article) rather obscure if you do not follow Amercian Art Song, yet the more I listen, the more it all seems important and stirring each in its own way. So we get a chance to appreciate Jake Heggie's cycles "These Strangers" and "How Well I Know the Light." And not something I would know much of otherwise is Carlisle Floyd's cycle "The Mystery: Five Songs of Motherhood,"

Gordon Getty's "Kathy's Aria from Goodbye Mr. Chips" is a welcome addition as well.

The Art Song is to my neighbors where I currently live at least one of the reasons I am forbidden to play music without earphones in my living space. For the rest, for some Jazz and Classical Modernity are offensive. It tells you how deeply unpopular such things are in the everyday world, among just plain folks as it were. The days of my youth when Ed Sullivan would have a renowned operatic voice on his show as a matter of course are so long gone that the knowledge of it (as perhaps are a good deal of Ed Sullivan's more "highbrow" of standard populist inclusions anyway) may well die with those my age.

Such a horrible world we live in today is something else regardless. To my mind it does need art, it does need song, it does need your support of the artists who try and keep evil at bay. So do your bit and get this. Listen and learn to like it, maybe. And the world will be better off? Possibly. I hope so. I am the better off anyway.

The selection of songs on this album are a most notable part of it all, for the familiar and unfamiliar mix well for a learning and growing listening experience. Do listen to this if you can. It might change the way you hear things.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Brian Ferneyhough, Stephan Winkler, Oscar Bettison, Fall, Edition Musikfabrik 16


The sun shining outside my window this morning reminds me it is another day. I do not suppose the jog to memory is necessary since I've managed to fix a cup of black coffee. I already know. But then today's New Music selection reminds me that time marches on regardless of sun or coffee, or for that matter the lack. The music seems to bring time forward. It is Volume 16 in the Edition Musikfrabrik Series, otherwise known as Fall (Wergo 6869 2).

The series involves New Music played very capably by the Ensemble Musikfabrik, a chamber conflagration-orchestra who takes such things very seriously and performs works with a combination of zeal and full, successfully artistic attention to the wishes of the composer(s).The 16th Volume follows in the path with new World Premiere recordings and another previously released in another recording that nonetheless gets pristine treatment here.

The Brian Ferneyhough work "La Chute d'Icare" is the non-premier of the three and the shortest in duration at under ten minutes. It is a tumblingly dynamic work that features a devilishly tricky clarinet explosiveness seconded and brought to a irrepressible aural boiling point by the ensemble's ever goading yet "happy" assault. It is happy in that it does not seem in the least menacing to my ears, so you know what I am trying to convey in these words.

Stephan Winkler's following "Von Der Gewissensnot der Insekten" continues the tumult with some beautifully semi-sternklang-type tumbling totalities made up of ingeniously interlocking instrumental parts. It is a pinwheeling, rocketing aural expressiveness of the Highest Modernity whatever that means except you will know when you hear it!

The longest work of the three clocks in at more than 30 minutes and gives us pause for its uniquely intense grappling with sound and space. It is Oscar Bettison's "Livre des Sauvages," a sort of minutiae of "Simon Says-like" sound gestures initiated by the conductor--of course I should say via the score. It is exciting fare, volatile and bursting with kinetic energy.

It is all good and nicely turned. Anyone who still believes that the avant garde means business will find confirmation and even some joy in this wonderful music and its sterling performance. This puts the capital /N/ back in New! So grab it, then, if that sounds like something you would like.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Crossing, Evolutionary Spirits, Donald Nally

"You've got it made, buddy!" So my dad's boss told me on the phone back in 1979, when he heard about my studies. If I had it, it was not made. Or so it turned out. Simple reality and I am not complaining. Nonetheless these many years later I do understand how things went over the last 40 years. And listening this morning to the excellent choral group The Crossing and their just out album Evolutionary Spirits (Navona 6218) I realize that the contemporary world for most is in no way about "having it made," whether it be the music our composers write, the performers and artists who realize it or the everyday slugs like you and me who live life each day and know that we must make a difference as we simultaneously hope it will make some difference, any difference. And sure, some people in the past and perhaps even now are in a difficult position to make their life. I respect all of that.

As I listen now many times to this Crossing album, I come to appreciate increasingly what a finely tuned and finely attuned ensemble is The Crossing. They are, if anybody is... they are MAKING it. That is they are making great music. They are sheer sensual vocal beauty but they are also directed nearly selflessly to the goal of every work they perform, in this case some ten generally very short pieces. There are works not of an unabashedly Modern sort. Instead they are works that relish in the SATB palette. They are written with a great sensitivity for a sensual aural result and The Crossing give each one exactly the flourish that is needed.

In all cases there is a virtually perfect synchronicity between work and performance. And that is an excellent thing.

You may not know the composer names, Edie Hill or Gregory W. Brown, James Shrader or Bruce Babcock, Jonathan Sheffer, or Christofer J. Hoh. Does that matter? If anything it serves to make the program that much more exotic and rarefied. The Crossing tackles every one of them with a kind of devotion to the Modernity in the voices and harmonic zestiness. And all that is absolutely as it should be.

So whether or not you "have it made" in life, you need music. You need music like this. Trust me. I am like you, maybe. And this music helps me feel better. So I very much do recommend you hear it.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Yury Kunets, Reflection, Symphonic Music, Munchner Symphoniker, Lee Holdridge


What music that gets rendered into sound in our world today is not exactly what was likely to come out in, say, 1970. The Contemporary Classical World is multi-fold to an extent perhaps never so various as today. So the very tonal and almost New Age mellowness of the compositions of Yury Kunets, in a new album entitled Reflection (Solo Musica 292) might not have seen the light of day then, provided that the music existed, and that is not the issue, just that there is a Rear Mainstream now that we might come across more readily now than then.

There are eight compositions on this program, many include a semi-concerted piano part played by the composer.

This is music most certainly fashioned to please and comfort. The music in the composer's words portrays "reflection" "of the spiritual being and a true picture of what is in it." The liners go on to say that the music deals with images that "draw on a series of inspirations, from the beauty and magic of moonlight and the winder scenes of Yury's homeland to nostalgia, spirituality and true introspection." That could be words one might have found in the liners of a Mood Music album from the '50s. And in many ways this might be thought of as a descendant of those hifi days where one sought a consistent backdrop for a way of psychologically becoming. The emphasis is on effect or affect more than invention, and that fits with the objectives I would say.

And in that way too the music has some elements that are stirring in a sort of ever simplissimo, ever easy whistling,  tunefully Neo-Romantic way that goes deeply into effect more than means, though the music is well scored and hangs together with no defects. The themes are not as distinguished as they are relentlessly authentic to the reflective realm they wish to inspire and produce.

So in this instance one is dipped into a rich batter of mood that remains as dazzlingly mellow the first time as the 100th. The immediacy of simplicity and uncomplication is at the forefront. It does not get better, nor does it get worse with repeated listens. It is pleasure and that no doubt will appeal to a potentially large swath of listeners who want to remain calm through music.

I do not discourage those who seek such a thing. This music is as good an example of it as I have heard in the last few years. It is perhaps something to fill the spaces in between your occurring life. It can be safely ignored or you can listen. I love the effect. I love much less the means to the end. So what? That is not your problem. You want something to don when you feel the need, get this. You might feel you are part of a movie and this is its unobtrusive soundtrack. So be it. He's no Beethoven, as someone once remarked at the end of a concert. So it ain't what it isn't!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Du Yun, Dinosaur Scar, International Contemporary Ensemble

Du Yun was born in Shanghai, grew up in China and currently makes her home in New York. She is a composer of some renown these days. The Pulitzer Prize was hers in 2017 for her opera  Angel's Bone. An album of select chamber works, Dinosaur Scar (Tundra New Focus  TUN011), came out last year and I am giving it my ears this summer. It is good.

The fabulous International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) performs the music throughout. MS. Yun and ICE have a symbiotic creative collaborative relationship, with mutually productive interchanges and friendships intersecting her and many of the individual members' lives going back now some 20 years. The closeness shows in the effective and knowing dedication ICE devote to the some ten works on the program at hand.

The music is varied, challenging and instrumentally diverse with a kind of unmistakable blend of ultra-contemporary High Modernist dynamics and space-pacing, Chinese roots deep down in its placing and dramatic impact, and a kind of brilliant torque in its presence and scoring. As you listen you hear Avant Jazz and Rock elements, a Chinese folk motif now and again and at times New Music-meets-Avant- Improv spontaneity. It is probably the case that everything ICE does is worth hearing but it is also true that Du Yun is one of our most satisfyingly adventurous voices composing today, an ultra-musicianly voice for our existence in time right now.

Happily recommended.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Leslie Tung, Theme and Variations, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn

I discuss a CD this morning on a central institution of form in the classical world, the Theme and Variations (MSR MS16833). This is a compendium of three sets of such things for solo piano by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. Leslie Tung realizes all three on piano with energy, drama. charm and contrasting grace. The instrument utilized is a 1983 copy of a circa 1795 instrument made in Munich by J. Dulcken. The primary sounds are a rather dry upper range and a somewhat wiry and fuzzy lower range. It is slightly brighter than the typical period pianoforte of the day, yet nontheless can be recognized as a copy of an early instrument by those telltale high and low registers. Absent is the kind of intonationally quasi-untempered quality one sometimes gets with the older models.

The Mozart Variations on "Unser Dummer Pobel Meint" in G Major, K. 455 and the Haydn Andante with Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII:B show us in every way the inventive brilliance of these Classical Era masters. The concluding Beethoven "Eroica" Variations and Fugue in E-Flat Major, Op. 35 goes them one step further with one of Beethoven's most well loved themes and then gives us inventions characteristically model building the way Beethoven can be nearly extra-terrestrial.

The theme and variations of course historically was as much or even more a live and spontaneous showcase for the inventive brilliance of a living composer-instrumentalist. Bach was famous for his. But then so were the composers represented here, supreme masters all.  An on-the-spot set of T & V's were unexpected, surprising and as in-the-moment as a Jazz master improviser can be today. The written out versions we hear are the next best thing and we are lucky to have them and hear them still.

Tung plays reflectively, like he was made for the music, which clearly he is. The approach centers around density, velocity, variety and of course contrast. It is actually fun to listen to this music, as it should be.

Leslie Tung gives us the period-dynamo sound we need for these. Beautiful.

Monday, July 29, 2019

SPARK, Common Sense Composers' Collective, Friction Quartet

The institution of the String Quartet has been at least since Beethoven one of the primary loci for the most deeply ambitious and ambitiously deep music of so-called Western Civilization. The idea of deeply serious music is at the heart, rather naturally, of the Art Music project in general over the last hundreds of years and the artful chamber work that is for profundity more than standing ovations is at the heart of it. It is a part of that heart. So a program of New Music String Quartets promises to be something to concentrate upon, surely. We are not disappointed in this wise with a recent such volume entitled Spark (Innova 024) containing works by members of the Common Sense Composer's Collective as ably performed by the Friction Quartet.

The "Common Sense" in the collective name Common Sense Composers' Collective, according to erudite liner-note writer Richard Taruskin, is meant in the sense of Thomas Paine's rebellious group that asserted root values in a spirit of a regenerative movement forward. And Richard mentions most importantly Kant's related idea of a "shared faculty of judgement that allow[s] for intersubjective consensus." So the collective implicity or explicitly agrees on a way New Music should be.

Listening to the eight quartet works that comprise the program on this CD, one senses a kind of non-Systems oriented approach to the New Music work that one feels and hears on the pieces we hear. So these are in some sense more akin to the lineage of Bartok than Schoenberg, to simplify things for now. It is Modernity at the service of an aesthetic statement rather than, to simplify again, the opposite!

These works were originally intended for a series of premiers (during 2010) featuring two other quartets. SPARK has taken them over as "adoptive parents" as it were. They have made them definitive in the image they see fit to bring to them as they have learned them and imbibed in their spirit.

That is not to say that these works are somehow monolithic in style and intent. That they are not. There are repetitions at times without those phrases being doctrinaire Minimalistic. There are some "Jazz-Rock" elements at times as well.  There are edgy corners of some of the works that touch upon High Modernism, and there are elements that might very loosely be dubbed in some combination of High Modernism and Neo-Classical in some very vague way, not obviously.

None of the works are ephemeral or superfluous to my ears. Every one is a statement that bears repeated hearings. That applies to Marc Mellits and his  "V: Five" from his 3rd Quartet, Dan Becker and "Lockdown," John Halle and "Sphere(s)," Belinda Reynolds and "Open," Melissa Hui and  "Map of Reality," Ed Harsh and "Trill," Carolyn Yarnell and "Monographs" and finally Randall Woolf and "No Luck, No Happiness."

The performances are top notch, the compositions are weighty and well worth pondering, enjoying, experiencing. Very recommended.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Thomas Kozumplik, Child of the Earth, A Symphony for Percussion, Jonathan Haas, New York University Percussion Ensemble

Music Starts From Silence (CD MSFS-07) presents Thomas Kuzumplik's symphony for percussion entitled Child of the Earth (33 minutes). The New York University Percussion Ensemble under Jonathan Haas handles the performance challenges with with precision, enthusiasm and a little bit of soul. It comes to us in four movements that compare and contrast interestingly and imaginatively.

It is a work formed understandably of some nicely complex rhythmic-melodic elements as much through-composed as sometimes slightly hypnotic (without being specifically Minimalist). There is development, movement, growth throughout, along with a deft scoring knack. Mallets and pitched percussion instruments take on a critical role yet naturally unpitched "drums" per se are out front in the proceedings as well.

The final movement, "Beauty and its Passing," has much rhythmic drive and a near-Rock riff insistence that wins the day and brings considerable memorability to the experience of listening. The three movements before it are more overtly Modernist at times in their open through-composed qualities, yet they too often enough can be based around rhythmic or harmonic cycles and/or pedal point-drones that recur and vary.

When considering the intrinsic merits of both the work and its thoroughgoing idiomatic performance by Haas and the New York University Percussion Ensemble there is no doubt that we have a landmark percussion ensemble development, as much a pleasure to hear as it no doubt it is to perform. Very recommended for percussion and Modern New Music Postmodern enthusiasts.




James Romig, Still, Ashlee Mack, Piano

The liners to Still (New World 80802-2) (2016), for piano, with soloist Ashlee Mack, remind us of the mid-century Schoenberg-Stravinsky divide, when Serialism dominated one camp, Modern advanced "Tonalism" the other. A subset pitted Serialism against Cage and follower's Aleatoric music. When Reich came along and firmly established himself Serialism had by some reports won the day, and then at that point Minimalism asserted itself as a quasi-polar opposite. Today we are evolved into a number of camps and that is not necessarily a bad thing. And in the end American composers like Wuorenin reconciled the advanced rhythmic qualities of Stravinsky with the Serialist successions of Schoenberg, as the liner notes to this album so astutely point out.

James Romig (b. 1971) gives us what at first sounds like a kind of later-Morton-Feldman influenced Minimalism on the continuous 54-minute Still. There are a series of notes that get utilized, in a dreamy ritual haze of endlessly unfolding pedaled notes that sustain and thereby run together yet are never sounded simultaneously. The unfolding of notes do not appear rigorously derived as in the Serial, yet Romig's sort of linear, horizontal spinning out is not alien to Serialism nor to the left-to-right idea of the tone row coming to being and then getting reworked in variable ways. Still does in no way that I can hear do that in any covert way. Yet further to the ears the way the register and order of notes varies is potentially aleatoric or random seeming, though to the naked ear it is not clear if that is intentional or not and it does not matter. That in itself seems interesting to me but it would take us off track if I speculated any further on this sort of phenomenological aspect of listening to the Modern.

It is all a play on listener memory as it is necessary for she or he to put together the all-in-all of this music out of what seems like at first a "simple" series of unfolding plunks, and so too from what one senses at first there is more of a "ritual semi-diatonic" realm than a chromatic one, but never invariably  so. We do that piecing together  as we listen and feel more actively involved in the making sense of it than with some music, which in the latter case is more-or-less to spoon-feed you "meaning." There seems eventually more and more an intrusion of a stepped chromaticism into the quasi-diatonic towards the end, and that gives you pause, nicely so.

The execution of the notes never sounds as if it is instantiating a formula, but comes at you as a rubato with bunches of notes sounding regularly but not rigorously or in other words not rhythmically. The order and number and choice of notes varies over time but remains ever in legato-sustain soundings one after another in non-pulsating successions.

The specific intentions of Romig in this work would become more clear to you if you read the liner notes that accompany the CD. I merely follow the hint in this review but react as a naive listener. What matters is that the music evokes if you let it. It gives you a way to enter decidedly into a very dreamy sort of contemplation.

Ashlee Mack gives us a very convincing performance of a music that bears up very well under repeated listens. Viva James Romig for this one. Very recommended.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Bruce Levingston, Piano, Citizen

Pianist Bruce Levingston makes full and effective use of the idea of a thematic program on his solo piano disk Citizen (Sono Luminus 92228). The idea for it all came out of an invitation to perform at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. The pianist was inspired to meditate as a result on the myriad complexities of the state, as an incubator of culturally and categorically diverse figures from B.B King to Leontyne Price and William Faulkner, and as importantly, as a historical locus for the intense struggle against poverty, race and inequality.

In the end Levingston began to place the reflections on his home state into the larger global picture of a mutual recognition of the other--her or his own and the other's comparative history and differences in identity, the struggle with issues of patriotism and citizenship, full participation in the nation state as citizen and ultimately as citizen of the world.

And so the CD program Citizen, a grouping of diverse solo piano works focusing on the above and the idea that as citizens of the earth we all must insist on the preservation of each individual's human right to exist "with dignity and freedom," in the pianist's words. The works represented here are by composers "who have contemplated these issues...[working for the cause] of civility, humanity and love."

In the process there is a rather wide variety of pieces, mostly from our Modern Era. From a somewhat earlier time we have, and happily so, Frederic Chopin and three of his Mazurkas, nicely played. These dance works reflected Chopin's profound love of his homeland while he lived in Paris.

Bringing up the well-known composers front in no less a fashion is Black composer William Grant Sill (1895-1978) and his piece "Summertime." It shows Still's lifetime involvement in, among other things, translating the jazz-Afro-American nexus into New Music terms.

Lesser known but thematically appropriate works and composers form the core of the program's theme and make it a distinct entity. The title work "American Citizen" by Nolan Gasser (b. 1964) has its basis on Mississippi painter Marie Atkinson Hull (1890-1980) and her painting of the same name, depicting in 1936 one Mississippian--and so the painting's title  John Wesley Washington, An American Citizen, even though he was born into slavery and then existed outside of it after the Civil War. In the Jim Crow world he was forced to occupy he was most certainly not given the status of full citizenship--could not vote for example--and via the painting Hull wanted to make the statement that he should be treated with the equality his humanity should guarantee. The Gasser work puts all of this in musical terms.

From there we have David T. Little (b. 1978) and the world premier recording of his six movement "Accumulation of Purpose," honoring the Freedom Riders, Civil Rights Activists who rode through the US South in 1961 to protest segregation by race.

"Locations in Time (Three Pieces)" brings us to Augusta Gross (b. 1944) and this three part work that thematically relates to her acuity as a practicing psychologist. Each movement concerns a psychological state, an emotional feeling, a kind of being. The movement titles reflect this in "Other," "Elegy," and "Toward Night." The liners explain and I would recommend you read them as--and if--you want to hear and understand the music.

The world premier recordings of C. Price Walden's "Sacred Spaces" and his arrangement of "Amazing Grace" follow. The former is Walden's response to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Walden's identity as a Gay Christian. The spaces are churches, which Walden views correctly as in the best instances a sanctuary from bigotry and hatred, and for all that a cornerstone of important historical Civil Rights resistances. The concluding, iconic "Amazing Grace" rings forth in the Walden arrangement with full glory and refreshing pianism.

With that our listening is complete. The performances by Levingston are thoroughly artistic in the interpretive manner of the best of the great pianists. The cultural-ethical thematic focus of the program is uplifting and positive, and it in turn re-familiarizes us with and/or introduces us to works well worth our attention, giving us a programmatic kind of lyrical Modernism not in some monolithic way but with a varied set of works that stand for the right things, that come at us on the good side of history and remind us all what it should be to be righteously human, to embrace all of humanity, to redress inequality, all of those things that the Civil Rights Movement rightly insisted upon.

This is a good listen and deserves your support. Need I say more?












Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Max Giteck Duykers, Folding Music, Ensemble IPSE

Ensemble IPSE plays the music of Max Giteck Duykers (b. 1972) in six compositions on the album Folding Music (New World Music 80811-2). The music takes its additive and subtractive basis from what the liners refer to as the Pierrot Lunaire Sextet, or in other words the instrumentation paradigmatically used in the Schoenberg song cycle Pierrot Lunaire, to accompany the sprechstimme speaking-singing soprano on the 1912 composition. That instrumentation consists of flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin/viola, cello and piano. Many chamber works that followed in Pierrot's wake had this basic instrumentation, sometimes with the addition of a percussionist or two.

The title composition Folding Music (2017) has the basic instrumentation plus a percussionist. Ensemble IPSE are further utilized for another five compositions making use of various possibilities contained within the sextet, so "Scatterloop" (2016) is for violin and piano, "The Way In" (2015) for soprano, cello and piano, "Twilight for Adored and Breathless Moments" (2007) for the Pierrot Sextet plus a single percussionist, "Arborescence" (2010, 2018) for piano solo, and finally "Dark Body" (2015) for a quartet of flute, violin, cello and piano.

All the music is finely wrought in a sort of melodically alive New Music-cum-High-Modern-Postmodernism distinguished by Duykers' highly inventive musical imagination. The variety of instrumental chamber configurations helps allow Duykers' to reinvent himself nicely with each chamber gem.

I will not run down the program with a blow-by-blow description of each work. I do recommend you listen to the album and appreciate the fine musicianship of the Ensemble IPSE members and the highly interesting music of Duykers. Bravo!