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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Leo Weiner, Toldi - Symphonic Poem, Complete Works for Orchestra 2, Valeria Csanyi, Budapest Symphony Orchestra MAV

At this point in my experience of the music of Hungarian composer Leo Weiner (1885-1960) I am in no position to say anything synthetic or cumulative. I reviewed a nicely performed earlier installment of the Naxos series at hand some three years ago (see March 18, 2016 posting). Now I am back with another, also well played, and it verifies that Weiner had a definite knack for lively descriptive orchestral adventures with a sure hand at scoring in colorful ways.

You can hear that on the CD today, Toldi - Symphonic Poem (Naxos 8.573847), being Volume Two of the Complete Works for Orchestra. Toldi bears the significant descriptive subtitle Twelve Orchestral Pictures after the Epic Poem by Janos Arany, Op. 43 (1952). And so in the hour-long traversal of the music on the program the attentive listener has a wealth of  some twelve wide-ranging movements to experience and assimilate.

This is music with a kind of Late Romantic aura which stands out for not being so much beholden to Wagner, Strauss or Mahler. And in my first listens I knew as I heard that this came out of a stylistic complex I had been immersed in for years, yet it did not hit me at the very first what I was recognizing in the music. But then it did. This music loosely follows in the path forged by Franz Liszt in his numerous (12) Tone Poems for Orchestra.. It is latching onto the pre-Wagnerian world that Liszt occupied so singularly. As we listen to Weiner's 12 "pictures" in sequence we have a particular approach to how music can by itself cogently narrate a set of meanings and visions.

The liner notes remind us that Weiner studied with Hans von Koessler (as did Donanyi, Bartok and Kodaly) and absorbed the Brahmsian view of the Romantic possibility. He went on to in turn be a prominent teacher in his own right and a widely performed composer, yet by the time Modernism was becoming firmly established as the dominant way of the early 20th century he found that his own personal view of music was at odds with how things were going. He underwent an aesthetic crisis. stopped actively teaching composition at the Franz Liszt Academy and eventually found a way through the quandaries with a pronounced emphasis on Hungarian folk themes.

However Toldi was significant for his output then because it did NOT have the folk-themed approach. And as we become familiar with the work it is perhaps all the more uncanny in its thoroughly non-Modern view of music. In a world where increasingly the music scene was measured by its involvement or non-involvement in Modernist trends inevitably Weiner was viewed more as anachronism than bridge-builder.

As the dust settles on the first half of the 20th century we can begin to set aside at least temporarily the Modernist teleology and listen to Weiner on his own terms. If we listen to Weiner as Weiner we hear a true artist,  a Hungarian composer who does not deserve to be forgotten, and in the current volume an ambitious orchestral work that holds its own despite being something less than indispensable to the progressive teleology of a music history narrative. It is music so historical now as to be outside the dominant historical narrative altogether. And on those terms it is quite well put together and imaginative.

So give this one a chance if my description appeals to you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, 24 Preludes, Gidon Kremer

If we are properly connected to the flowing stream of new releases and if we are paying attention then every day holds a good possibility that there will be evidence in hand of the measured meeting of music and artist, a time vector of coming together that holds significance if we are alert to it and spend the time understanding what it has become for us.

This most definitely is the case today with the synergistic intersection of Mieczyslaw Weinberg and his 24 Preludes (Accenus 50478) as played by Gidon Kremer on the violin. A few critical preliminaries before getting into the feelings and thoughts this recording engenders in me. First, Weinberg wrote the Preludes for the cello master Rostropovich, and so they were intended for the cello initially, published as Op. 100. For some unknown reason Slava Rostropovich never performed them. Kremer came under the spell of the music and several years ago began transcribing the works into the range and assuming the logistics of the contemporary violin. It is these transferals that we hear in the present recording.

Those are the facts. Hearing Kremer play his violin transposition is hearing yet another Weinberg masterwork, a remarkable set of miniatures that brings to us the rooted intelligence and brilliance of Bach with Weinberg's pronounced, poetically "stern" ecstatics stating another musical universe parallel to Bach's. Each Prelude has very much character and each stands as itself both by itself and together with its others. There is no better a place to linger in the singular melodic-structural world of Weinberg. The Preludes become very much violin music in Kremer's hands and so all the better for the results give us a ravishing whirl through milestone music and performance.

Do not let the opportunity pass you by to hear and get this album. It is bracing, beautiful, in its way perfect Weinberg!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Ramon Lazkano, Piano Works, Alfonso Gomez, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Ernest Martinez Izquierdo, Marta Zabaleta

Based on the CD at hand today Ramon Lazkano writes High-Modernist Piano Works (Kairos 0015041KAI) of an aborbing depth and dimension. Six works grace the program. Alfonso Gomez is the principal pianist throughout and shows a concentrated focus and sure-handedness that is essential to this music. The composer and Marta Zabaleta join in on the piano works that require additional hands. The Bilbao Symphony under Ernest Martinez Izquierdo effectively and dynamically expand the sonic scope of Lazkano for the piano & orchestra work "Hitzaurre Bi" while laying down a convincing impression in their own right.

There is a quasi-Messiaen feeling of mystery in this sixteen-minute opening "Hitzaurre Bi." The density, the intensity is poetic and rewarding to hear. The second movement assumes an insistent pulsation that lucidly sets up open unfoldings in piano and orchestra. It is exciting music, exciting to hear.

What follows in the rest of the program is equally captivating at the same time as it stakes out a poetic atonality that at times follows the rhythmic drip-drop clustering of Modern Seriality,  at other times assumes a more post-Minimalist sense of repetition and at still other times a slightly folksy yet abstracted rhythmic unfolding or a heightened sense of additive density that Messiaen made use of in his middle period and Lazkano breathes new life into today. Two brief pieces for four and six hands spell an otherwise solo piano universe in the second half of the program. He explores with musical brilliance what more can be done with the performative solo presence today. Each work is a world in its own terms. Each adds something to how Lazkano views the piano and its possibilities for us.

I come away from this music with a very refreshed sense of where we are going now. Lazkano is a voice to hear, a new contemporary vision of pianism and meaningful musical utterance. You should spend some time with this music if you can. It rewards patient listening with enlightened tone-spinning. Very recommended.


Friday, May 17, 2019

David Sanford, Black Noise, Matt Haimovitz, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

Afro-American composer David Sanford shows a musical Modernism with a healthy admixture of "Jazz" influences on his recent recording of orchestra works Black Noise (BMOP Sound 1063). The three works so nicely captured by Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, along with the cello solo vibrancy of Matt Haimovitz for the "Scherzo Grosso" work.

It's a kind of "asphalt jungle" contemporary urban backdrop this music in part projects, along with an Afro-American Enlightenment perspective. So "Prayer: In Memorium Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." (1992) has a boldly defined hard-edge to it heightened by swarming tutti's of brass and winds punctuated by flute and trumpet solo parts of note.

The hopeful King Prayer serves to leave us in a thoughtful action that in the end moves us from two very Noir-Jazz Modernisms, the opening 2017 "Black Noise" and the closing 2006 "Scherzo Grosso" and its magnificent expressionist concerted cello part surrounding the very forward orchestral parts.

There are many out there who have tried to insert "jazzy" writing into a modern orchestral atmosphere. Many come off alas as not having the right comfort level and experiential savvy of a David Sanford. You know the authentic thing if you do, and this is very much that. And so the three works reaffirm that a proper meld of the two contemporaneities is exactly right when it is! This is. Rose, BMOP and Haimovitz do the music proud.

Don't miss this!




Thursday, May 16, 2019

Christina Petrowska Quilico, Global Sirens, Piano Music from Women Composers

Fifteen women composers from early modern to contemporary provide pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico with 19 miniatures that have an eloquent say and then make way for the next piece, all on the album Global Sirens (Fleur de Son Classics).

Canada's distinguished pianist chimes in with a very well-played program and the music invariably leaves an impression without sounding out some sort of avant manifesto. As "Sirens," these are musical voices we need to hearken to and appreciate. Lili Boulanger and Meredith Monk of course are musical titans whose music we should all be familiar with by now. You may know less of the likes of some of the others, but there is definite music of character and charm in the short pieces by Ilse Fromm-Michaels, Else Schmitz-Gohr, Ada Gentile, Lotte Backes, Priaulx Rainer, Barbara Heller, Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatte, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Susanne Erding, Cecile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre, Larysa Kuzmenko, and Adaline Shepherd.

Ms. Quilico gives to every miniature her total attention, a detailed focus. We in the end find it a very worthwhile addition to the contemporary piano repertoire, a real pleasure to hear and appreciate.

Definite recommendations of a high caliber I give to this one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Salonen, Cello Concerto, Yo-Yo Ma, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Essa-Pekka Salonen

An orchestral composer of any merit can considerably refine her or his craft while practicing as a conductor. In the course of a season naturally the conductor studies deeply a number of scores, so that the art of writing and scoring effectively for the orchestra is always being considered. We all know Essa-Pekka Salonen as a conductor and a well-known, highly revered one at that. That he is also a very excellent composer becomes clear to us with the recent World Premiere Recording of his Cello Concerto (Sony Classics 19075928482) featuring the always very rhapsodic cello of Yo-Yo Ma, with the composer conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

It is a kind of dream-laden soundscape we enter, mysterious, somewhat reminiscent of Scriabin in his later period, harmonically forward and well orchestrated, atmospheric, a kind of hot-house terrarium of night-blooming fullness, of exotica in all its spicy speciality.

The composer states in the liners, "I imagined the solo cello line as a trajectory of a moving object in space being followed by other lines/instruments/moving objects." The cello is trailed mysteriously by a cloud of instrumental imitation. "Sometimes the imitating cloud flies above the cello, sometimes in the very same register. It thins out to two lines and finally to one." The orchestral part and solo part, then, are organically linked in a process that is interwoven beautifully together. One listens to what seems like an extravagantly fanciful organicity, at once Mythically Modern and complexly expressive.

Yo-Yo Ma plays his part with heroic lyricism and the orchestra under Salonen takes on a life remarkable and memorable.

This is expertly conceived and realized music of high invention. If this is a first salvo then we can hope Salonen might well become a very important compositional voice of our time. Very recommended.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Janet Sung, Sung Sessions, Edge of Youth, Sung Plays Enescu, Mazzoli, Britten, Visconti, Gabriel Prokofiev

When it comes to the striking tonal dramatics of the five works on Janet Sung's Sung Sessions, Edge of Youth (Sono Luminus 92230), they must be played extraordinarily well or be left absolutely alone! It is not exactly music that sounds pretty just hanging there because it thrives only
by being spitooned into the stratisphere with heart and fire. It is a series of virtuosi works for solo violin or violin with piano. And it is ideal for the musical temperament of Janet Sung, who means all she plays on this very diverting program.

Her violin soars and climbs to the heavens in music that has gestural heft well beyond the Romantics, that instead enters realms that are in their way inimitable. Take the refreshing countenances of the two works representing non-conforming last century voices that fit with special care into their own musical worlds.  Britten's 1935 five part "Suite for Violin and Piano" and Enescu's 1940 "Impressions d'enfance" make their own special place.  Both are folksy in a not entirely obvious way and wonderfully spun by Ms.  Sung.

So also the three works of this century are meant to be showcases for a violinist of the right temperament, not so much a "show off" as one totally dedicated to expression, to how "we" all might at times feel just now. And then too, how the violin can sound right now. And that goes for either way--the intricate interactions between Sung and Wolfram are something special, but then so is Sung unaccompanied.

And so "Dissolve, Oh My Heart" by Missy Mazzoli (2011) for solo violin, "Rave-Up" by Dan Visconti (2012) for Duo and "Sleeveless Scherzo" by Gabriel Prokofiev (2007) for solo all have a special life that makes the musical form taken transcend typical Classicism, Romanticism or Modernism. It is all in  a "folkish" now, on some level. 

Janet Sung has a true musical personality on violin and she and Wolfram form a wonderful rapport in this very appealing set of works both earthy and sophisticated. Latch on!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Jean Barraque, Oeuvres Pour Piano, Jean-Pierre Collot, Espaces Imaginaires

The compositions of Jean  Barraque (1928-1973) as heard  in Espaces Imaginaires: Oeuvres pour Piano by Jean-Pierre Collot (Steinway and Sons, Winter & Winter Editions  910 257-2).cover an intrinsically vital series of atonal cyclical, atonal serial, tonally depictive and tonally abstracted music.

The opening, nearly 40 minute "Sonate pour piano"  (1950-52) is the most remarkable of the eight pieces included in the program. It deals with a non-tonal sequential palette.where the first movement creates an uncanny sort of complex unfolding fascinating to hear. Movement two is a more conventional 12-tone uncovering that nonetheless keeps one interested.

The works that follow are all early works from 1947-49: There is a bit for piano from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, specifically the waiting music from act three transcribed for solo piano. It  sounds as modern and expressive as it is. Six 12-tone or tonal pieces follow, none not of interest. Each shows an expressive aspect of the composer, whether it be "Intermezzo,"   "Deux morceaux," "Theme et variations," "Piece pour piano," "Retour," or  "Mouvement Lent."

All are well played by Collot. Taken together they give us a picture of the unfolding musical development of Barraque the music conceptualist and his embracing of Modernism. It is a nice program and of interesting to anyone following the long developmental chain of new music in the 20th century. Recommended.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Volti, The Color of There Seen From Here, Robert Geary

Choral New Music is alive and well in the instance of the vocal ensemble Volti under the direction of Robert Geary. They come to us with five acapella works on The Color of There Seen From Here (Innova 023). Each sprawls somewhat expansively within a harmonically rich Modern tonality.

Five living composers grace the program in thoughtful works that have a color to them as the title of the program suggests. With superior pitch control, voices project forth in carefully fashioned performative glows. Each work is a world unto itself, complex vocal clusters abound in various ways good to hear.

Each brings out aspects of Volti's precision of expression. Taken all together they map our Contemporary secular choral terrain with a slow uncovering of the potentials of vocal works today.

Music of our present decade form the building blocks of the program, beginning with Forrest Pierce and his 2013 "Gratitude Sutra," followed by Tonia Ko and the 2016 "From Ivory Depths," Robin Estrada and "Caeli enarrant," Mark Winges "All Night" (2013), and finally Zibuokle Martinaityte and his "The Blue of Distance" (2010).

We come away with a definite feel for the present day choral situation. Good music, well performed!


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Danny Elfman, Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven," Piano Quartet, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, John Mauceri, Sandy Cameron, Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin

Virtually every day brings us the new. Nothing stands still, much as we will it or do not will it nothing is in frozen time. It all will not stand motionless and why resist the human creative outpouring, even if life can otherwise become less thrilling than advertised? No doubt. So today I am happy to be back with something new and notable. It is the music of Danny Elfman, mostly known out there as a composer for film. He is fond, so I read, of the number eleven. And now there is a nicely done recording out of his Violin Concerto "Eleven Eleven," (Sony Classics 19075869752) which also includes his Piano Quartet. 

Credit must be given to the performers on this CD for they are very good, very appropriate to the music at hand. Sandy Cameron is the solo violinist and she is lucid and clear, a real voice in all she must execute--it is not an easy part and it too has much rhapsodic detail that requires true spirit and virtuosity. She is remarkable. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra under John Mauceri has the dramatic torque so necessary to this work and they captivate. The Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin give us the corresponding "Piano Quartet" with fine musicianship and flair.

So we are in very good hands for this music. If the Concerto reminds me a little bit of Prokofiev only in its own original way, so much the better--I can't think of modern violin concertos I like more than the two by Prokofiev, though there are others I like as well. Elfman keeps the motoric and expressive feeling one gets from the Prokofiev works and makes that his own. All that means that this music is tonal and on that edge between the ultra-Modern and the Late Romantic if you look for a characterizing set of labels.

What matters is not the category set as does the very moving musicality of it all. Faced with the invitation to write a Violin Concerto for Sandy Cameron, Elfman immersed himself in a heavy pile of concerto listening items and ended up with the wish to take the sort of post-Romantic elements he so loved in the music of the later Russians, that is Prokofiev and Shostakovitch, and go somewhere with that idea. So there was going to be a lyric melodic element, a modernist harmonic and rhythmic advancement and... to satisfy the needs and proclivities of Sandy Cameron, the work was going to be demanding to her both technically and emotionally. Elfman had always been intrigued with the number eleven and when Sandy suggested they count the number of measures in the finished work, it came to 1111, or Eleven Eleven! And so it was a good thought for the title.

The music Elfman hoped also satisfied his wish to bring together his already considerable audience for his film scores with the modern classical listening audience. And so he does to my mind.

The "Piano Quartet" that fills out the program has a depth and memorability that makes it a wonderful way to end the program. Between it and the Concerto we have a nice presentation of original lyricism that is not meant to be cutting edge so much as memorable and uplifting. The orchestration is good and the solo part thrilling enough to get your attention and keep it!

Danny Elfman has talent, plenty of it. You should hear this!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Josh Modney, Engage, New Chamber Music for Violin

With the world of New Music on the Modern scene today there is of course music of a more virtuoso nature than some of what we have been talking about lately. We would be remiss to leave it out of our discussions. Cue Josh Modney, an extraordinarily adept violinist who recently gave us a wide-ranging, adventurous three-CD set entitled Engage (New Focus FCR211). Modney has been a key member of the Wet Ink Ensemble, ICE, and a former member of the Mivos Quartet. I've discussed some Wet Ink Ensemble gems lately, and now I am glad to talk about this ambitious set.

Trumpet master Nate Wooley in the liners wonders whether we have gone beyond Modernism. Is it a tautology? Is it simply a term that describes whatever it is that is happening now? It does in many ways, sure. Yet like "Ars Nova" it tends to stick to a certain grouping that started with the dubbing of music with the term "Modernism" early last century or so. Nate asserts that the music in the current set by Modney is new, put to us in the moment as a product of the Wet Ink collaborative efforts. And good for that. It is new New, surely, with plenty of forward motion in extended techniques, expressive mountain peaking, a bold step into the now, for certain.

It is complex, neither overly concerned with tonality nor determined to eschew it altogether. It neither insists on repetition nor rejects it. It looks to all accepted and some new ways to sound instruments and to put forth a musical voice consistent with a future pointing.

The music on the three disks covers much ground and happily so. Eric Wubbles's 2012 "the children of fire come looking for fire" with the composer on piano and Josh on violin is probably a good place to start, as it neither rejects previous Modernisms nor does it enshrine them. The prepared piano and wide-travelling extended violin techniques band and blend together in very attention-grabbing phraseologies that make us feel we have entered new musical practice and perhaps also Musical Praxis, or a doing as a becoming.

From there you might explore Modney's just intonation version of Bach's unaccompanied "Ciaccona," which considerably radicalizes our perception of tonality and shakes our foundations a bit, always a healthy thing.

Yet we should not neglect the first disk and its wealth of provocative music, played with real fire and zeal. Solo violin and ring modulation take the sounds into a wonder-world with Sam Pluta's opening "Jem Altieri with a Ring Modulator Circuit." Taylor Brooks' 2007 "Vocalise" blends drone and violin for a contemporary hurdy gurdying. Kate Soper's fabulously inimitable vocal-instrumental synergies come nicely together on her "Cipher." Then Anthony Braxton reminds us why he is at the forefront of New Music practices with his "Composition 222." A bracing disk, certainly.

And we conclude with the third disk, which in some ways decisively takes the avant cork forever out of the genie's bottle--if that makes any sense. It is an entire disk of Josh Modney's "Violin Solos" (2017), five sequences that define "new" as a lively plummeting forth into the extended technique center and then still further into the outer realms of possibility. The violin becomes a sound-force considerably more varied than what we typically have thought about it in the past. And so it is indeed an exciting improv-like jettisoning of a staid before in favor of a full-throttle thrust into a cosmic future. Pitch, timbre and intensity move together variably to map out a possible violin world we have not heard quite like this before.

This is a seminal offering that shows Modney at the edge of forward movement for the violin today and so too the music he chooses to play is similarly situated. Put the two together and you have a guide to some of the tomorrow Nate Wooley speaks of in the notes to this fine set. Highly recommended for any serious futurist out there.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Nirmali Fenn, The Clash of Icicles, Chamber Music, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble

Nirmali Fenn? Born 1979, right while I was at New York University. So an auspicious date, as NYU was good to me and I look back to it as an age of personal miracles, though like any age it had down sides too. But really, Nirmali in addition to and irrespective of her earth-entry year comes to us with a volume of chamber music and a good thing it is. The Clash of Icicles (Kairos 0015055KAI) is the very intriguing title. I have been listening. The music is spacious, Modern and rather dramatically Eastern, and what does that mean? Well she resides in Singapore right now so maybe I am reading into things? Yes, no, maybe.  So there is gestural space and silence that strikes me as being at least partly "Non-Western." That is on the works represented on this program.

We hear six in all. The two with accordion ("The Clash of Icicles Against the Stars" for accordion, flute and Chinese sheng, and "Through a Glass Darkly" for clarinet, accordion and trumpet) sound at points somewhat ethnic. Now I mean that as in "folk-like." Perhaps it is true in part even of the others here, "A Highwire Act" for violin, cello and piano, "Scratches of the Wind" for solo alto flute, "The Ground of Being" for flute and alto flute, and "A Reaction in Force" for solo oboe. On the other hand there is a definite New Music Modernism to be heard, more narrative Crumb-like than wholly abstracted Webernism. There is music that seems to want to mean as much as sound, not just fill the air but leave behind a musically enshrined tale, a little bit of a story that we can think about, not in some obvious way but there somehow, beyond words.

And true also that it sounds like feelings and moods are part of the musical world. Not in obvious ways, yet one feels like things have a telling to them, not just a sounding. So with ancient Chinese music that may be a sound description of, say, an "ambush" for example. Only this is not so obviously literal.

The composer tells us specifically what the "meaning" musical expressions are about in the liners. These 2008-2014 works are addressed to the physical spaces she occupied and their human and natural foundations. So living high up in a high rise in Hong Kong overlooking the sea form parameters for the Clash of Icicles against the Stars. Dramatic thunderstorms in Singapore also figure in some of the music. You should read the liners to this album of course as part of understand the music. I will not try and reproduce it all here.

This music can be quite tonal and sometimes less so. If it is more about the sounding and spacing than the notes in themselves that is perhaps something we have today, a trait for a new Modernism that is timbral and spatio-temporal, or a sort of spacetime thematic resonance? Nirmali Fenn gives us a musical poetics of such things and it sounds convincing and honestly expressive in ever successful ways. The performances are detailed and committed.

I would love to hear her larger ensemble music now at some point. And I feel like the chamber end is the good place to begin, assuming there are bodies of orchestral things as well. I feel a real humanity breathing through this music and it is by no means unwelcome. Very recommended is this, if you want a different angle on New Music possibilities today.

Monday, May 6, 2019

James Tenney, Changes, 64 Studies for 6 Harps

James Tenney (1934-2006) is an American, specifically a North American composer whose time is perhaps here? If so the current release helps mark that arrival? Why all that on a Monday morning, no less? Because this music is due. Initial avant fame can be gained as apart of a "school." so Darmstadt, Cage and his main followers, the second Viennese school, first-wave "Minimalists," etc. Some do not exactly belong as a lumping together, and James Tenney does not exactly lump well? That explains some of the late recognition, maybe.

The work before us, to give it the full title, Changes: 64 Studies for 6 Harps (1985) for Udo Kasemets (New World 80810-2), comes to us in long form, the 1985 equivalent of script. It fills two CDs properly and nicely and it goes on for some time. It has the torque of a-thematic expansive complexity, of non-folksiness and that enables it to extend its presence for a longer time without becoming at all wearisome (or alternately if you do not have new music ears it ALL is wearisome. but then that means no doubt that the person you are has a problem with "New Music"? No shame. That is how it can be.)

There is a certain very subtle inevitability to this music, brought on in part by what Tenney zeroes in upon, three factors. They are 1.) Deep explorations of harmonic space and not in an elementary harmonic way, 2.) Stochastic process on more than one hierarchy level, and 3.) Parametric profiles in combinatory ways. So as we listen we get a sensibility not obvious to the naked ear but nevertheless leaving in the listener the feeling of landing on the "order" side rather than the "random" one? Perhaps that only after a bit. One's ears nee to adjust first.

So for the parameters of the first study there is for example a medium-to-high dynamic level, a temporary density low-to-medium, and a medium-to-high pitch range. The I Ching helps create heightened variability and so also gives a nod in Cage's direction. A "dissonant counterpoint algorithm" moves the timbral combining along to a qualitative Modernity so to say. We get a heightened sense of pitch throughout and a sheer sensual pleasure from the intertwining of six harps endlessly permutating.

The sense of control as one might gain from the Serialists collides with the open set Cagean possibilities of chance, and so Tenney pledges absolute alliance to no camp save a Modern exploratory one. The performances and recording ambiance are what one would expect, would demand. And the music is fascinating and fertile.

All you confirmed High Modernists take note of this one. And anyone who loves the harp will no doubt be happy to hear all this concentration of stringed particularity! Very strongly recommended.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Joseph Haydn, String Quartets Vol. 10, op. 64 no. 1-2, 6, Leipziger Streichquartett

It is fair to say that Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) did more to give the String Quartet the sublime form we know it in than any other early practitioner. The classically proportioned Leipziger Streichquartett has embarked on a very ambitious endeavor of recording the many such works he penned during his lifetime. I report in on the recent String Quartets Vol. 10 (MDG Gold 307 2093-2 ), which covers Haydn's op. 64 nos. 1, 2, and 6.

The recording gives us spacious, unhurried and focused performances of the three quartets. Haydn after the death of Prince Esterhazy in 1790 was freed of his considerable duties as the court conductor, given a lifetime pension that provided security and freedom, and moved into Vienna's artistic-musical life with a vengeance and intensity denied him during the many years of court service. The op. 64 quartets were a product of this liberation and they bustle with the energy and elation he must have been feeling. They followed in the footsteps of his breakthrough op. 33 quartets, which Haydn rightly considered as milestone forays into a style of quartet writing he had much to do with forging.

The performances on the program have an unpretentious frankness about them. They are four-square and with all the straightforward eloquence one might expect from a Quartet outfit who are clearly and tellingly committed to the Haydn style and outlook. Every movement bristles with an abundance of content and we get a long and significant look of the three works the way Haydn himself would have no doubt been pleased to hear them played.

This is demanding music that pays you back with some brilliantly crafted continuances that are as detailed as a teaming pastoral landscape. It is worth every penny it costs to purchase (not that much) and gives you as much or even more thematic profundity and transformative form as you could ever want in 70 minutes. Haydn was a supernatural musical voice in how much he wrote and how brilliant his music was. Mozart had his living match then. We should never take this music for granted. Get this!


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Daniel Szabo, Visionary, New Music for Jazz Trio & Chamber Ensemble

I try and keep my ear to the ground and listen for the noteworthy New Music that comes our way. I must say that Daniel Szabo's album is one of those I am glad I received and listened to, for it is a beautiful surprise. I speak of his album Visionary, which has the telling subtitle New Music for Jazz Trio & Chamber Ensemble (Fuzzy Music PEPCD026). It is a valuable foray into what was at one time called (by Gunther Schuller) "Third Stream Music," or in other words a kind of hybrid form that incorporates Modern Jazz and Modern Classical. Since as we know since the Pre-Socratic philosophers that you "can't step in the same stream twice," it is not the same music that the MJQ, Giuffre, Claire Fisher or Anthony Braxton fashioned for us (and Braxton continues to do, happily).

It is music special to Daniel Szabo. It is well worked out, well arranged (listen to his version of Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes") and well composed. The premise is to begin with a core Piano Jazz Trio of Daniel Szabo on the keys,  Edwin Livingstone on bass (with Mike Valerio substituting on "Infant Eyes") and then Peter Erskine on drums.

This is a lively and well heeled trio. Now add to that a chamber ensemble, a sizable small outfit that features string quartet and seven wind players (including tenor sax/flautist Bob Sheppard).

The music shows Szabo to arise deeply out of a Modern changes-oriented Piano Jazz, post-Bill-Evansian, post-Herbie-Hancockian and highly evolved. There are brilliant trio passages that show him to be a first-rate improviser and a brilliant trio leader. But then the chamber parts show a detailed "visionary" feel for how the New Music and the New Jazz can mesh together with perfect equanimity, with a common syntax built up out of an inner need more than some practical project orientation. The music is organic in critical ways so that the synergy of the "fusion" breathes freely and in ways that seem natural to the nexus Szabo forges.

It is impressive music, involving, evolved and ready-to-hand for a challenging and most happy series of listens. Szabo gives us stimulating and exciting fare! Listen.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Cameron Carpenter, Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody, Poulenc, Organ Concerto, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Christoph Eschenbach

I suppose Modern organ music is not necessarily for all who breathe. There was an old Gerd Zacher organ LP that might have sounded positively infernal to the uninitiated. It was meant to. Blame old movies, from The Phantom of the Opera through House on Haunted Hill.

Regardless, organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter gives you plenty to like on his new recording of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Poulenc's Organ Concerto and as a bonus the final movement from Vierne's Organ Symphony No. 1 in D minor (SONY Classical 8985390822). The Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Christoph Eschenbach joins with Carpenter on the two main parts of the program to make a joyful noise indeed.

The first thing you notice is the superb recording quality of the CD. It jumps out of the digital world into your space with strength and animation. If anyone cared nowadays to show off their system this would make one heck of a showcase I suspect. All that would be meaningless if the performances were not equal to the reproduction. They are. They are filled with magnetic energy and explosive sonics. Carpenter's International Touring Organ sounds wonderfully well in his hands and the orchestra stays with him as they pivot and twist through the soundscaped stratisphere.

Those who think they know Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" will be surprised with the new life Carpenter gives it here in the World Premiere Recording of his version for organ and orchestra. It is ultra dynamic as one might expect, with a generous helping of all the aural cranked power that one might hope for and a very nicely orchestrated whole. It is as impressive as it is endlessly fascinating to hear.

Francis Poulenc's "Concerto for Organ. Strings and Timpani in D minor FP 93" is pretty much my favorite such work and undoubtedly the most captivating of all such configurations in the 20th century to my mind. There is extraordinary thematic profundity to be heard throughout and a near perfect meld between organ and orchestra that this recording brings out like no other version I have heard. It is marvelous and exciting! If you already love the Poulenc you will respond readily I would suspect. And if you do not know it yet this is the perfect way to hear it. It reminds us that Poulenc was never content to be anybody's trend follower. If he longed at times to create deep pools of tonal presence, he was going to do it and to hell with how "Modern" it was, though it was and is in its own way. This is a hell of a noisy row at times. And it is true that it is lovely to FEEL such aural power. This is music that was meant to produce, as Harry Partch said about his Marimba Eroica, "a ripple in the backside!" If your woofer(s) is/are ready for it, let the ripples begin!

The end is glorious with Vierne's short but majestic allegro from his First Organ Symphony.

Carpenter is a real player in the most dramatic and presentational sense. This CD is a wonder of its kind.  Organ music ideally should sound thrilling, and so on CD today one hopes it will. It does here. So get it. If you can. And let it rip.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Khatia Buniatishvili, Schubert, Selected Piano Music

There is of course more than one way to play a composer, a piece of music. And of course there can be in different epochs different trends in performance practice. So when it comes to Franz Schubert and his wonderful piano music there may be a movement away from a sort of Rachmaninoff-ian bluster, the emotive slam-bang of perhaps an exageratedly passionate gushing forte to a more reflective, poetic emphasis on the spellbinding pianissimos and then so a more heightened contrast between loud and soft. I was attracted to the late Jorge Demus' Schubert performances early-on for this quality. And now I think I may have found the ultimate Schubertian to my way of thinking. That is in the person of Khatia Buniatishvili, a most lovely voice on the piano, as I hear gladly on her new album simply entitled Schubert (Sony Classics B07NKZ33JB).

I took a cursory glance on the internet to find that Khatia is already well along in her rise to acclamation. And if there is any doubt as to her poetic soul and rare insight into Schubert listen to these lines from her comments in the liners. "There is a certain femininity and sensitivity in Schubert's works, as well as an ability to wait and endure. This femininity and heightened sensitivity are destined to die. Yet this suicide is to be found at such a profound depth, stifled, with no outward expression of the tragedy of loss..." It would seem she has lived inside this music to a point of great understanding?

All you have to do is listen to this album. Then you will very much hear it. You will know. She chose wisely, things that she seems to love greatly. We are treated to her performances of the "Piano Sonata in B-flat major D 960," the "4 Impromptus D 899" and the Liszt piano transcription of "Standchen 'Leise flehen meine Lieder.'"

The cascades of notes in the Impromptus, the soulful mystery of the quiet passages in the Sonata and the contrasting majesty of the forte passages, and the sheer beauty of the Leider, all alert us to a greatly superior artist, a true master of the Schubertian gesture, of the short but intense life in music, the voice that speaks so eloquently through Khatia Buniatishvili, a Maria Callas of the piano, someone who feels it all and can portray it for us so singularly as to be unforgettable in her impact, or at least so to me. There is a liquidity to her phrasing, a very subtle gradation of levels of touch that is marvelous to hear. Slow-fast soft-loud here-silent contrasts play ever so readily in the act of performance that we nearly hear him anew,  nearly.

This is an album I hope many will treasure in years to come. On the basis of it I am a convert to her magical spell, her sound and sensibility, her rare feel, at once sensual and deeply channeled through human volition. The syntax of her phrasing flows so fluidly, so naturally that she is the epitome of the "native Schubertian," a native of the music world that includes Schubert of course, I mean. A native of humanity, as must we be, all of us who are musically human, as much human as musical. There are passages that seem uncannily as if she is recollecting the music from deep inside memory. Other passages seem like a direct experience, a presence that is palpable and propelling us in real-time, if that makes any sense. It is hard to put into words but there are time frames of expression one might discern here happily, or at least that is a way to say it. It all comes out in terms of touch and a very subtle rubato that flows as we flow through life, perhaps.

This is an album for anyone who loves Schubert, who loves the piano played exceptionally well. It is one for the ages, as it would appear is Ms. Buniatishvili. I am glad for it. Hear this one. You might just be glad to be here to hear it. I am.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hindemith, Complete Works for Violin & Piano, Kleine Sonata for Viola d'Amore & Piano, Roman Mints, Alexander Kobrin

If you did not live with the music for a while, you might think superficially that certain genres by certain composers were all the same. I mean for example Baroque chamber music of a certain configuration, by, say Bach, or for that matter Hindemith's Complete Works for Violin and Piano (Quartz 2132), which is in a very striking new performance set by Roman Mints on violin and Alexander Kobrin on piano, and includes also the Kleine Sonata for Viola d'Amore & Piano.

And it is perhaps telling that this aspect of Hindemith is in some ways comparable to Bach in certain chamber modes. Both set out not for novelty, for they know that they would work in a particular niche, something they long established in years before, or in other words it was not about upending the form they took as part of the expression they looked for. In this way the Modern element in Hindemith chamber modes was built up out of previous decisions`he had made about where he wanted to be. And so we hear chronologically the music he produced for the piano and violin or viola d'amore from 1918 through 1939, including sonatas in E Flat, D, E, and C, then also the "Kleine Sonate," the "Trauermusik," and the "Meditation from the Ballet 'Nobilissima Visone.'"

It is all intricately worked-out line and harmony, with quasi-contrapuntal ornate filigree lace fragility or burlap robust "there-ness" that Mints and Kobrin take to readily and spectacularly. The violinist talks in the liners about a special affinity he developed for Hindemith's Sonata in D, the sheet music which his mother found apparently in a used bookstore for Roman to play in the Soviet days, when Mints was first starting out. He took to it and it made an impression on him which was to remain some thirty years later when this complete oeuvre was recorded.

The affinity is apparent in the sincerity and concentrated drive Mints shows throughout and indeed, Kobrin too plays it all with a tempered passion that seems just right for the music, the all of it.

Is this music still too "advanced," too complex for audiences even today? Mints wonders this in the liners. That is true if it is true of virtually all works that are self-consciously "Modern" you might say. None of this music is a happy and glib romp into a humoresquely inane field of verdure, certainly. But then if you look for that you probably do not read this blogsite, right? In any event I would most certainly recommend this volume as an introduction and an affirmation to the importance of Paul Hindemith in chamber territory. There too is the works for viola as I covered some weeks ago, (type his name into the search box above for that) and then of course there are the whole series of other chamber works Hindemith wrote for diverse instruments, from tuba to heckelphone and beyond. Hear them too if you can.

This edition of the complete violin-piano works is masterfully done. The music is worth many hours of your time, if you want to explore some somewhat neglected fare from the Early Modern period. Listen.



Friday, April 26, 2019

Falla, La Vida Breve, BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena

If you ask me Manuel De Falla (1876-1946) was one of the very greatest of 20th Century Spanish composers. Nobody could quite harness the Spanish tradition into Modern, buoyantly impressionistic terms like he could. After a near lifetime of listening to his music, including arrangements of excerpts from La Vida Breve (1904-05, REVISED 1907-13) I finally get a chance to sit down and listen in depth to the full opera in a very nice aural staging with Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic (CHANDOS 20032).

I must say after some concentrated listening that the full work in this version does not disappoint in the least. Mezzo-sopranos Nancy Fabiola Herrera and Cristina Faus, tenor Aquiles Machado, the chorus and the rest of the cast join with the orchestra for a very memorial performance, especially the second half where the music gets quite folklorically reminiscent in the Spanish tinge zone.

The entire opera sings. You get the full libretto in this edition and a performance that is as painstaking as it is jubilant. His orchestration is worthy of a listen in itself alone.  But truly nothing is lacking in either the parts or the performances of the cast either.

The liners tell of De Falla's move from Cadiz to Madrid at the turn of the century, his budding interest in the vocal arts, three unsuccessful attempts to work in Zarzuela, his discovery of Spanish Nationalist composer Felipe Pedrell and study with him in 1902-04, all leading to La Vida Breve, which took on its final form in 1913.

It is a highlight of DeFalla's compositional career and deserves to be more widely heard. This performance brings out all the magic. I do very much recommend it.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Rupert Boyd, The Guitar

What the guitar means to us in my own lifetime has blossomed forward into a kind of renaissance with Blues from B.B., ringing Beatles and the boldness of a Leo Brouwer, distinctive sounds from Wes Montgomery and so much else. Rupert Boyd knows all of that no doubt. He is a guitarist for today, a true voice and a phenomena one should not ignore. I've posted on his music here previously (see the index box above for that review) and I am happy that he returns front and center for an ambitious outing he entitles simply The Guitar (Sono Luminus 92211). And by that matter-of-fact designation he means to portend much, for the album in some ways gives us as expansive a view of the classical guitar for us today as we might get in one program. And where others might not succeed in encompassing such a breadth Maestro Boyd emerges triumphant, thanks to his flexible concentration and innate musicality.

The program in its own way encompasses a long span of time and a fair number of overarching style sets. It begins with two extraordinary Brazilian perennials by Antonio Carlos Jobim in some lovely arrangements for solo nylon string guitar in the presence of "Felicidade" and "Estrada Branca." Rupert swings the elaborate arrangement of "Felicidade" in the way it absolutely must be swung. The stirring performance of "Estrada Blanca" follows. Rupert allows the melody line to sweetly stand forth in ways that show a pronounced rhapsodic touch.

From there we go back to a seminal compositional voice for the guitar, Fernando Sor (1778-1839) and a stirring performance of his "Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart." Rupert brings melody and accompaniment into a lively interplay that takes on a distinctness that is a treat to experience.

The Bach "Suite in E Major, BWV1006a" in guitar arrangement follows, with an intensity and flowing articulation rather exciting to hear.

Well I could go on with the blow-by-blow description of everything, but your own ears can find out the details for themselves. I should just add that Leo Brouwer's first ten "Estudios Sencillos" are played as well or better than I've ever heard and that is saying a lot. The concluding Beatles "Julia" gains a poignancy in Rupert's own nylon guitar arrangement that brings us full circle to the "popular" and in the process runs a fine gamut and shows Rupert Boyd's versatile savvy. Nothing here is superfluous or gratuitous.

Anyone who responds to the classical guitar legacy in its many variants will no doubt be quite happy to experience The Guitar in its diverse ebbs and flows. Bravo Boyd! If he is the future of classical guitar we are in good hands.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ana Sokolovic, Sirenes

I never shy away from women composers, especially when they are from the Modern times we live in. So today there is Ana Sokolovic and her album Sirenes (ATMA Classique ACD2 2762). It consists of four works for the Ensemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+) directed by Veronique Lacroix,  the Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre under Dairine Ni Mheadhra, and soloists.

Ms. Sokolovic was born in 1968. which makes her younger than I am. I only mention it because it helps situate her in time. This is her second album of works according to the liners. Jeu des Portraits came in 2006 though I have not had the pleasure of hearing it. This new album addresses her chamber ensemble moods, including three devoted to the vocal arts and her recent Violin Concerto "Evta."

Andrea Tyrilec takes on the solo violin part on the concerto and does it full justice. It is a long and involved work of concentrated Contemporary heft, a kind of breakthrough tour de force, searing and abstractly tender in turn, filled with a wealth of detail and articulation in the harmonically advanced and colorful HighMod zone. There is a nice use of chromatic and timbral repetitions and sequencing  to express something about life and it works in its evolved context quite well. I am at times reminded of Mayazumi in this wise yet this is Sokolovic and the two are not synonymous, which is heartening.

The program begins with the title work "Sirenes" for the six woman vocalists from the Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre. It is atmospheric, sound colorful Modern fare with a real feel for making full use of the vocal potential of this fine ensemble, whispering, full voice, etc.

Sokolov's "Tanzer Lieder" for soprano and small chamber group shows us Ms. Sokolov's gift for lieder writing. It is Modern in syntax and based nicely on Austrian poet Francisco Tanzer's Blatter collection. The music is expressive and well paced.

From there we move on to "Pesma" for mezzo-soprano and small chamber group. As with the Tanzer work there is carefully and very brightly situated elements working together in subtle ways to give us a refined zen of Modernism in the very sensitive laying out of it all. It is music I found myself appreciating the more effort I took to listen carefully. Perhaps that is the one lesson I never fail to note on these pages? One is not born to this music, so to speak. One must grow into it and much of the worthy music of our contemporary world.

After all is said and done we are left with the sheer musicality of Ana Sokolovic. It is lovely fare, convincingly performed. There is brilliance. We have contact, liftoff! Very happily recommended.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Grace Williams, Chamber Music, Madeleine Mitchell, London Chamber Ensemble

Not a month goes by lately when I do not benefit in my reviewing capacity by making a discovery. Today is such an instance as I report in on some very interesting Chamber Music (Naxos  8.571380) by Grace Williams (1906-1977) whose music I find most intriguing.

The album features a number of premiere recordings of chamber works, some six in all, played well by the London Chamber Ensemble under violinist/director Madeleine Mitchell. The jacket copy lauds Ms. Williams as Wales' most accomplished composer. She studied with Vaughan Williams and Egon Wellesz, attended the Royal College of Music, and left behind a distinguished body of works if this volume is any indication.

These compositions cover a wide span of time from 1930 through 1970. Yet they all occupy a certain well carved out niche that is tonal yet nicely wayward in a kind of Neo-Classical mode, an original one. The concluding three miniatures ("Romanza for Oboe and Clarinet," "Sarabande for Piano Left Hand" and "Rondo for Dancing for Two Violins and Optional Cello") fascinate. Yet the more substantial opening works are where one is most directly brought to a very satisfying realm--both ambitious and thoroughgoingly personal, inventive, original.

The "Violin Sonata" (1930, rev. 1938) has a kind of thorny, knotty complexity with a thickly double-stopped violin part that almost sounds fiddle-like in its direct intensity, though less so in its actual note choices. Ms. Mitchell carries the day on this fine work and I must say my appreciation for it all increases the more I hear it. This is Contemporary Modern music with a decidedly quirky edge and its own way of backward glancing, a near folkishness like Vaughan Williams could allude to, yet all in her own right.

The "Sextet for Oboe, Trumpet, Violin, Viola, Violincello and Pianoforte" (1931) and the "Suite for Nine Instruments" (1934) have nearly as weighty an impact in their lucid beyond-the-pale qualities. None of this music has the "orchestral but for the quantity of players" feel some composers of the era could be guilty of. No, this is music scaled and theme-built on the smaller chamber scale and so seems to feel quite comfortable in its own instrumentational skin, so to say.

It is a CD I am sure I will return to again and again. And it alerts me to want to hear what else Grace Williams produced in her lifetime, for she clearly had something to say musically. I recommend this one heartily.








Monday, April 22, 2019

Symphonic Dances, Copland, Appalachian Spring, Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2, Stravinsky, Firebird Suite (1919), David Bernard, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony

A creative and intelligent coupling of several works on a program can make sense to a theme or a season or both. Such creative juxtapositions can transform a particular offering into more than just a sum of repertoire choices. I feel that way about the latest CD from David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. It is appropriately called Symphonic Dances (Recursive Classics 2061415).  What stands out to me is how it nicely programs three major works, each of which are Early Modern-Impressionist classics, breakthrough orchestral works, all having some general mythological or otherwise storied relation to the budding natural world and so quite appropriate to mark spring (and summer).

It covers Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring Suite," Maurice Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2" and Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite (1919)."  Each are from ballets, and each have orchestral depth and orchestrational brilliance.

Barnard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony give us very dynamic versions of each suite, with some of the loudest forte passages I can recall hearing on performances of these. The orchestral staging is very detailed as is essential to the music. These may not be the very best performances I have ever heard--of any of the three--but the competition understandably is quite stiff as each of them has been recorded in numerous versions. The Park Avenue outfit acquit themselves quite respectably nonetheless.

The "Firebird Suite" was on the first classical LP I owned and so it has a kind of foundational sound to me. Both "Appalachian" and "Daphnis" were part of my earliest listening as well, so they belong together in my mind. And as spring flourishes outside I naturally gravitate towards the music.

And as I said above, the choice of these three works in one program is rather brilliant. Each has an essential relation to the others, each has alternatingly wonderfully lyrical and in turn acutely rousing moments. If you for any reason are unfamiliar with the music you are missing out. They each are classics as a rhapsodic sort of  New Music, each revolutionarily lyrical in its day. And so it is hard to pass up this program.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sergio Cervetti, Parallel Realms, XXI Century Works for Orchestra, Moravian Philharmonic, Petr Vronsky. MINI-Review

Sergio Cervetti writes orchestral music in the "Grand Tradition" of Modernist Drama, an heir to the great High Modernists that insisted that the old make way for the sometimes radically new, he builds his very own edgy sonic castles in the air. On Parallel Realms, XXI Century Works for Orchestra (Navona 6217). Petr Vronsky and the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra give us exciting performances of three of his most recent works, namely "Et in Arcadia Ego" (2017), "Consolamentum" (2016) and "Plexus" (1970 Revised 2017).

The kind of sound-architectural fanfare we have heard from Stravinsky's "Rite" or Varese's "Ameriques" is not out of place in thinking of what this music sounds like, yet Cervetti goes very much his own way with the edificial idea and creates his own worlds.

The music is vibrant and essential. It goes some ways in showing us how the legacy of the Early Modernists can still have a foundational importance to composers who have something new to say. Bravo to this one!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Shudong Braamse, Suenos de Espana, Spanish Art Songs, MINI-Review

I recommend coloratura soprano Shudong Braamse's Suenos de Espana (Spanish Art Songs) (Navona NV 1211) for those whose pulse quickens at the prospect of such things. It is a well sung collection of songs, some you no doubt already know, but then you may not know a lot of these unless you have spent time as a specialist in this realm. The collective clout of the music will send those who respond to such things up the channel to the rung bell so to speak. I am glad to have it for the gap it fills nicely in my collection. The music fulfills an acute need for Spanish tinged sounds with 19 gems well done.

Teresa Ancaya on piano and Robert Phillips on guitar take care of accompanying duties as needed and they are admirable. Shudong Braamse has real charm and a sweet tone, with a rather hefty vibrato that is nevertheless burnished nicely.

If this is your bailiwick (like it is mine) there is a lot to love. Check it out.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Aaron Copland, Billy the Kid, Grohg, Complete Ballets, Detroit Symphony, Leonard Slatkin

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was more than simply a US Nationalist composer (of course nationalist here not anything to do with the Aryan White Supremacy kind, thankfully), yet of course his most famous works draw upon American themes and folklore. Today's program features one of the famous Nationalist ballet scores, and an earlier ballet from the '20s that comes out of his cosmopolitan Parisian days. Billy the Kid (Complete Ballet) and Grohg (One Act Ballet) (Naxos 8.559862) give us a nicely contrasting look at Copland the American Folkloric and Copland the Modernist. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin sound well situated and fully committed to making these scores breathe life.

Copland perhaps like Bernstein managed to have lots of success yet too like Bernstein put a wealth of musical ideas into most anything he did. So the Billy the Kid score gave us a first look at his Americanist folksy side. It is accessible to those who fare well with a programmatic underpinning, yet Copland's lyric gift shows itself along with some touches that tell us he was not looking backwards but sought rather to present the present musically. Honestly Billy the Kid has never been among my very favorite Copland, and it is still the case that I might rather hear the "Piano Variations" or "Appalachian Spring." On the other hand this Slatkin version is nicely dynamic and reminds me that there is plenty to like nonetheless. Some of the thematic aspects sound very good to me now that there is no pressure to approve or not, and Slatkin gives them the airing they deserve.

Most interesting to me is the presence of the 1925 Grohg, which informs us that he at age 25 had already developed a remarkable maturity and poise. The music has currency and lyrical futurism in plenty for us to discover, plus a jazzy element, a ragged syncopation that marks him of his time yet allows him to express originality.

The score is complicated, well orchestrated and in the end worthy, memorable, a real find.

It is an offering anyone interested in Copland and the US compositional 20th century will find stimulating and worthwhile. Sincerely recommended.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Leo Brouwer, Hika and the Young Composer, Frederic Zigante

Cuban composer Leo Brouwer (b. 1939) no doubt could be considered by many as Modern music's most important living composer for the classical guitar. His long life has been studded with compositional stars that will ensure him a place in the classical guitar pantheon.

And with that in mind I introduce today's album for you, happy to have it playing as I write this. It is an album of Brouwer compositions for solo guitar.  It is called  Hika and the Young Composer (Brilliant 95838), a program that features the fine performances of guitarist Frederic Zigante.

We get to hear a well selected program of solo guitar miniatures by Brouwer that cover his early period as a composer and then too some works that share in the outlook of the first important works yet came from the pencil of the composer at a somewhat later date.

So we get some wonderful items to savor. There is the title piece "Hiko" (1996) noting the passing of Toru Takemitsu, along with 20 exemplary "Estudios Sencillos" spanning the time period of 1961 to 1984. Some extraordinary miniature staples of his early period round out the program, including the 1959 "Tres Apuntes," "Fuga No. 1" from 1957, two "Elogio de la Danza" from 1964, and lastly the 1956 "Danza caracteristica."

What is so remarkable listening to this program is the richness of vocabulary, the very prime Cuban rooted idiomatic way the guitar is sounded and yet too the unmistakable Modernity of it all. It is hard to imagine a better mix of substance and excitement, to the triumph of heart, mind and fingers over the frustratingly inert "thereness" of the guitar sitting on its stand, waiting for the player to express a dominion, brilliance and imagination. These pieces and their performances mark a triumph of humanity over wood, string and perhaps a bit of ivory or other fast-staying substance. Humanity wins and yet too we cannot help being glad for the guitar, of course! For the guitar wins, too.

It is an excellent album and for the Brilliant price I surely recommend this one to everybody and anybody who wishes to explore Brouwer's  extraordinary rootedness and why the guitar is a wonderful thing in the hands of Frederic Zigante. Hurrah!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Philippe Quint, Chaplin's Smile, Song Arrangements for Violin & Piano

Here in real time yesterday marked the birthday of Charlie Chaplin. Most everyone knows and probably loves Charlie Chaplin's movies. Perhaps less of us know that he was a prolific songwriter, with scores of them. Most (at least those as old as I am) recognize the song "Smile," but how many know that it was one of Charlie's songs? It was. Violinist Philippe Quint gives us a happy and revealing program of Chaplin's love songs on an album entitled Chaplin's Smile (Warner Classics 2-585381). He and pianist Marta Aznavoorian, with the help of Charles Coleman, put these violin-piano arrangements in order and the two artists work in delightful tandem together throughout in realizing them for us.

Thirteen Chaplin songs grace this collection, some perhaps you might recognize, others not, yet all brightly whimsical and in their own way melodically vibrant, all as on-the-surface casually brilliant as was Chaplin the comedic figure. Phillippe's violin work is beautifully agile and shows the dancingly Pop-accessible side of the era from which the music came. Marta is completely at ease and lucid in the context of this music and the two come across as artfully "artless" if that makes sense, just like Chaplin was in his many roles and films.

Joshua Bell joins the pair with a bit of seconding for several of the songs and all that goes well, very well indeed. And on his own or net, Quint shows us a charmingly Gypsy-vernacular sort of expressive demeanor for the outing in ways that stand out. Any who love the art of the violin will find this one rather hard to resist, I would warrant.

This in fact is at times rather Kreiserlesque as it strikes me--strongly accessible yet filled with the sort of brilliance it takes true talent and application to achieve. It is undoubtedly the case that much of the genius of Chaplin somehow translates into the musical idiom on these songs. The works have that humanity in them that Chaplin was so full of, always. And if these are straightforward tunes, that is consistent with his way, after all.

It is music of cosmopolitan polish yet disarming in its thoroughgoing naivete. The man who brought us "Modern Times" perhaps endears in part in his refusal to be Modern in the capital /M/ sense. Admittedly there is a jazzy ragtime-y feel underlying much of this. Yet his art is a plea for a timelessness that in the end is also very much something to date him as of his time. Complex simplicity, this.

And so this is the sort of music that might appeal to anybody and everybody. I cannot say it does not appeal to me! Recommended. Quint is a marvel.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ian Krouse. Armenian Requiem, soloists, VEM String Quartet, Tziatzan Children's Choir, Lark Master Singers, UCLA Philhamonia, Neal Stulberg

As a composer in the Naxos American Classics Series, Jan Klouse (b. 1956) comes center stage with his epic and dramatic Armenian Requiem (Naxos 8.559846-47 2-CDs). It is a work to meditate with solemn resolve on the centenary of the genocide of Armenians in 1915. It is music that comes out of the Requiem-specific Armenian liturgical chants, and does so with a spectacular assemblage of fine vocal soloists along with Ruben Harutyunyan on duduk,  Jean Libdemann and Bobby Rodriguez on trumpets, Christoph Bull on organ, the VEM String Quartet, Tziatzan Children's Choir, the Lark Master Singers and the UCLA Philharmonia, all under the capable direction of Neal Stulberg.

Such an ambitious gathering fills an hour-and-a-half of our time with a sprawling expression that goes back to classic sacred music oratorios surely, but too has a mindfulness of parallel Modernity in the landmark Passions of Penderecki and Part, and other advanced New Music expression, here tempered by an Armenian modality lurking in the shadows of the expressed, there without calling undue attention to itself.

And then too there is Britten's War Requiem, which the Naxos cover info avows as an influence, an important one. To quote, Krouse was inspired by that work to fashion "a poignant meditation on loss couched in a marriage of Western and Armenian forms" to offer "both conciliation and hope." I concur that this is the case as I listen to the music with concentrated and increasingly sympathetic attention.

The music is not precisely cutting edge not is it a backwards movement, yet if you set that concern aside you hear a veritable spring garden of musical delights, seriously miened, soberly comported yet hopeful, not without beauty and drama.

It is a monumental endeavor that pays dividends by close listening. You might want to make this a part of your contemporary collection, especially you who want to enrich your experience of Sacred Music.

I do recommend this.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Samuel Andreyev, Music with No Edges

By now we have to a greater or lesser extent had access to High Modernist music for around 100 years, if you start with Ives (say 1910) or Schoenberg (say 1920). It may not for the moment dominate the way it might have in the classic Darmstadt world of post WWII, but this no longer seems to matter for no one thing dominates any more. I like that.

Nonetheless the High style continues to flourish and grow. Composer Samuel Andreyev gives us his take on it all with a nicely turned series of six chamber compositions on his recent Music with No Edges (Kairos 0015025KAJ). All enter into a rarified and abstracted world of rhythmically and harmonic-melodic further-leaning advancement. Nothing sounds folksy or strophic, then, and if there is a key center it is not an obvious one. And very happily, Maestro Andreyev excels wonderfully well in creating an ecstatic pointillistic counterpoint and extending it, the sort of thing you can hear iconically on "Le Marteau Sans Maitre" by Boulez, only brought forward into a different furtherance today.

The liners to the album inform us that Andreyev is a poet as well as a composer and a You Tube channel host with more that 17,000 subscribers, and all the better for I do believe that one can only gain from stretching oneself in unlimited creative zones wherever possible so long as the focus remains in place.

The works are of our time, literally, since they were written between 2004 and 2015. All have very contentful concentric girth. That is they show a thoughtful demeanor always. Nothing is casual so much as striving to encapsule the everyday if only to pierce through it to a deeper beyond?

The works that feature four, five and six instrumentalists are to me the most fascinating and enthralling (comprising three of the six works here), partly because they are the most capable of the octopus-ian multi-strandedness that is what I most love about this music. And so if one wanted to get an immediate impression about what one will hear, one might start with the "Verifications" for piccolo, musette, A-flat piccolo clarinet, Casio SK-1, percussion and cello; the "Music with No Edges" for clarinet, percussion, viola, cello and double bass; and the "Strasbourg Quartet" for flute, clarinet, percussion and cello.

Yet there is nothing lacking in the more intimate chamber works either.  Samuel Andreyev shows his highly creative and inventive self throughout. This is New Music of true worth, in performances one can hail as paradigmatic.

It is music that brings us into the future-present tense in happy ways. I strongly recommend this one.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Lisa Bielawa, Vireo, The Spiritual Biography of A Witch's Accuser, Premiere CD/DVD Set

Of Lisa Bielawa's Opera Vireo (Orange Mountain Music 7017 2-CD&DVD) there is much to say. The way it is presented is innovative and very pleasing, and it frames in ideal terms the music, and the libretto by Erik Ehn. Note the subtitle The Spiritual Biography of A Witch's Accuser. The opera centers around the teen-aged young woman Vireo (played and sung beautifully by Rowen Sabala), who is subject to visions that the original French 16th-century socio-cultural setting defines and instantiates as witchcraft possession., and in her world she becomes a witch accuser.

The world of Vireo is in constant flux. There are 12 chapters-scenes in all, and the time fluctuates from 16th Century France to the 19th Century, to the present day and temporal pockets in between. Vireo and in time her fellow accusatory companion Caroline (well sung and played by Emma MacKenzie) are responsible for numerous witch burnings, yet each chapter-scene is a shift in time and place into the present and the mythical past, so a boarding school, a convent, a farm and a dramatically central scene, when both are jailed in Alcatraz.

The details of the scenes and plot are best digested via the DVD Video. The thread of all is Modern-Poetic-Hypersurreality. What is iconic and beautifully unforgettable comes about in part through the centrality of the film of the opera, shot on various sites as a film-music-drama more than a film of the staging. Music, cast, libretto by Ehn, screenplay, design and production by Charles Otte come together with an ever-shifting group of distinguished instrumentalists that includes the Kronos Quartet, the Prism Quartet,  the San Francisco Girl's Chorus, Alarm Will Sound, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and etc. Singing casts and instrumentalists are integrated in each scene into a real-space site so we feel we are (and we are) watching a movie rather than a staging. This too allows for complete visualization of the dramatic time-shifts and dream-like world of the poetic irrational.

The effect of the entire presentation, originally shown on PBS station KCET, is most remarkable, moving, the truly unified "total socio-artistic phenomenon" that melds all elements in a moving, ultra-memorable and unforgettable way.

And happily it serves to underscore the musical excellence of it all as a performance and as a composition. The singing is exceptional, the performances plentifully right, just so, and we have in Vireo a triumph of the new Modernism with the best elements of the old Modernism transformed and reworked anew. Orchestration is seminal, the musical content ever-inventive, and in toto this is one of those breakthroughs that I do believe will be looked back at years ahead as a major new wonder, and that for its content and its presentation. It extends our idea of an opera without skimping on the musical and dramatic elements.

You who seek to be in touch with the new will benefit greatly through experiencing, studying, entering the word of this wonderful work. It is hard to imagine a more riveting leading role than the one done so well by Rowen Sabala. Yet everything is exceptional and that is most rare! And in the end you wonder what it all means, how society creates  frameworks, rather horrible ones most of the time, to accommodate a non-standard perception of the world. It is in the end disturbing, thought provoking. The witch accusers are the real witches, even more the institutions that recognize the defining realty of such things, and yet of course there is no such thing except in the collective consciousness, in our mythical illusions. All are victimized in the end? Yes, and we still suffer. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Marina Thibeault, Marie-Eve Scarfone, Elles, Schumann, Boulanger, Hensel. Clarke, Fuchs, Pidgorna

What is worthwhile comes to us by directed chance. We cannot sample everything yet we choose much of what we find at critical junctures. So I did not simply find today's music, Elles (Atma Classique ACD2 2772)  in my mailbox. I asked for it explicitly. And I am glad I did.

It features women composers, Romantic through Modern, with apt and fine-honed performances by Marina Thibeault on alto/viola and Marie-Eve Scarfone on the piano. What strikes me after quite a few listens is the poise of the artists. They give us a striking musical demeanor. The viola, much as I might love Leonid Kogan's ecstatic high notes on violin, has an alternate universe of burnished sounds in the somewhat lower register and I have a special love for that. Ms. Thibeault knows what she is about and takes perfect advantage of the inherent sound of the instrument to accentuate the musical possibilities suggested and prescribed by the composers on the program. And Ms. Scarfone responds with an equally burnished pianism that goes a long way to ensure an entranced listen.

So the selection of works seems rather inspired. It begins with Clara Schumann's "Trois Romances, op. 22," a work of unabashed depth and piercing presence. Then the mood becomes ever more focused as we revel with Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) and a starcasted viola version of her "Trois pieces pour violincello et piano." It is one of her most memorable chamber works and the version here is haunting. I find such programs well enhanced with the presence (as here) of something by Fanny Hensel (Mendelssohn), a touching nocturne based on Goethe's vision of nightfall. Goethe admired her music and she quite clearly appreciated his poetry.

The last duet work is by a composer I have only come to appreciate in the last decade, Rebecca Clark (1886-1979). Her "Sonate pour alto et piano" is one of her classic pieces and the version here is as inspired as it deserves to be.

Perhaps the highest point of the program occurs at the end, a leap into the modernity of the later then-as-now with two extended solo viola works played with a convincing fervor by Ms. Thibeault. The 1956 "Sonata Pastoral" composed by violist Lillian Fuchs (1901-1995) makes a lovely and gritty impression, which is then seconded by the living and thriving Anna Pidgorna and her "The Child, Bringer of Life."

In the end I am left with a feeling that an important recital has been savored, that my appreciation for the viola and its deeply inimitable possibilities have been well realized with works by women I hear and learn from, revel in, that I bask within the hearing of same.

Viva Marina Thibeault, viva Marie-Eve Scarfone, and viva Elles.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

David Gompper, Double Concerto "Dialogue," etc., David, Gill, Norsworthy, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Emmanuel Siffert


Up for consideration is lyric Modernism by US Boomer (b. 1954) composer David Gompper. It is a disk that covers the Double Concerto "Dialogue" for violin, cello and orchestra (2012-16), Clarinet Concerto (2013-14) and Sunburst (2015) (Naxos 8.559835). The performances are stirring, featuring Wolfgang David on violin and Timothy Gill on cello for the Double Concerto, Michael Norsworthy on clarinet for the Clarinet Concerto, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Emmanuel Siffert for the whole of it.

This is music that bustles and rustles more than bloops and bleeps, so in the rhythmic stylistic continuity sense has more in common with other American non-Serial Modernists like the "serious" Copland, Harris, (William) Schuman and the like more than Messiaen, Varese, Webern and such. That is not to say that Gompper's rhythmic aims are always straightforward, but nonetheless one takes in the give and take sequentially and intuitively with a forward arching. There are consecutive "ones," often enough regardless of what they add up to! There is pulse, regularity. And that what is not frequently mathematically obvious on the surface, so that gives it an American Modernity, surely.

Melodically-harmonically the music is chromatic and tonal but at times quite expanded into near non-tonal paths. What strikes me listening to it all is orchestrational poignancy, syntactical fluidity and a clear and crisp vision of the soloists's interaction with orchestra that naturally follows the outcropping of Gompper's musical speech-logic. There is more performativity to the whole than virtuosity showcasing going on per se, though the expressive demands made upon the players, rather most strikingly the clarinet,  cannot be ignored nor should they.

The Double Concerto has a very atmospherical, almost mystical cast to it and needs your concentrated attention perhaps more so that the Clarinet Concerto, which rivets your attention more directly with its exciting fireworks. Mr. Norsworthy's clarinet work is remarkable here and the entire work bristles with dazzle, then reflects with a sort of impassioned contemplation.

Both this concerto and the following work Sunburst are based on sketches the composer set out that involved fractions that move in descending order. The latter work especially embodies "the proportional Farey series as plotted on a lattice," which is literally "sunburst" as a replicatable phenomenon? I have no exact idea but it does not matter for the moment.  And it is in the hearing of results that all this takes of structure and converts it to expression as it must be in the performance arts. The work shimmers with magnificence, at times seems to extend from a Petrouchka/Rites nexus orchestralistically, yet so far beyond as to be of this moment and an originality that sets it very much apart.

In the end the music is quite masterful. A world beyond unto itself, glistening and self-creating out of all we up to now have shared as part of the new. It is a High Modernism that does not look backwards as much as forwards, does not seek to create a stridency yet does not rest with the musical-chemical reactions of the simply earlier, for it is part of our "now-later" and in the best ways.

Sunburst caps our program with something impossible to ignore, beautiful to hear, and cumulative in its complex being so that we gain all the more as we repeat the experience.

It is music that asserts itself unflaggingly and originally. Reception is our part of the bargain, and the task must be taken seriously. This Gompper program is worth the effort, surely, but it does take effort to get inside this music. Once you do, you no doubt will feel rewarded as I do. It is music to dwell inside gladly. I recommend this one to your consideration with sincerity and with some conviction.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Gabriel Dupont, Complete Piano Music, Bo Ties

I cannot say that the Complete Piano Music (MSR 1699) of Gabriel Dupont (1878-1914) would have been on my wish list unless I was regularly reviewing the music of our time, albeit stretched backward to earlier days that might not properly be "ours" per se. Perhaps one first notices the shortness of the life span. Died at age 36! That in part explains why he has not become a household word? We spoke of Mendelssohn yesterday though. He made it to 38 and garned plenty of fame so there is no saying. Yet this two-CD set of Dupont, nicely played by pianist Bo Ties, maps out a world of great interest to the devotee of early Modernism. Early death or late, what matters is the music of course.

It is a good deal of music to hear and it is good music. The liners to this disk ask, "Why is it we do not know this composer?" And indeed, why? I have no idea about the rest of his oeuvre, and so I cannot say, but once you listen to this music a few times you do find a great deal to like. Much of the music here is in the form of character pieces, gathered into thematic suites. The whole of disk one is the fourteen-part "Les Heures Dolentes," a rather remarkable thing in itself. CD2 has a ten-part "Le Maison Dans Les Dunes" along with two shorter, less overtly thematic groupings.

What stands out in this music is the lyric charm, the very French proto-Modern atmospherics, at times very much in a pioneeringly Impressionist mode, other times as tumultuously cascading Romanticism slightly closer to the edge than perhaps a Rachmaninoff, which nonetheless at times is less startling, less original to our ears, though of course at the early turn of last century this was daring fare in any event. But it is the atmospheric quasi-Impressionistic pieces that wake us up to the fact that had he lived, he might have been considered up there with Debussy and Ravel and possibly beyond them, who can say? That is moot now for he left us pretty quickly.

What matters is what he composed. It is very pianistic in the very French sense of those times.

The performances are quite nice, the sound is very good. Above all, though, this is music one can and no doubt should come to know via this rewarding two-CD set. I could wax on but instead I will suggest you listen--and discover for yourself what is going on here. Bravo.