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Thursday, January 31, 2019

John A. Carollo, Music from the Ethereal Side of Paradise

In John A Carollo we have the very living composer, resident of Hawaii, the fashioner of New Music that I consistently find worthwhile and disarmingly interesting. There have been a fair number of releases on Navona and other labels in the last few years and I have covered most of them (type his name in the search box above for the relevant reviews). Now there is a new one and it is one of his best. It is appropriately titled Music from the Ethereal Side of Paradise (Navona 6148).

The program is an interesting mix of ensemble configurations--string orchestra, guitar and violin, solo violin, guitar, choir, solo flute. Each work has its own personality, partly urged on by the varying potentials of the instrumental configurations, partly because the composer is firmly in a Modernist yet variably oriented camp. In the end there is always something personal and original that emerges from his work. But that can span a wide range of possibilities, sub-stylistically speaking.

Hearing his music involving guitar is a treat because he has an idiomatic vision of what the instrument can do and so too the guitar stands out as well as blends nicely with other instruments as called for, specifically the violin in this case. Christian Saggese performs the works on here that call for solo guitar. The "Romantic Passione Suite" is handled by the familiar, dedicated and talented Duo 46 (Matt Gould on guitar, Beth Schneider on violin). Christian sounds like he is made for the parts he plays. The corresponding "Guitar Prelude No. 3 - The Tai Chi Set" plus the "Guitar Etudes Nos. 7 & 9" are high points of the program with an inventive flow that stand out as quite noteworthy.

But there is lots of very good music to hear on this program, well performed and very Carollo-ian! I very much find the "Music for Choir" to my liking and so too the string orchestra works "Awakenings" and "Bright Stillness." Yet the small chamber works serve to separate out and contrast the larger ensemble works from and with the other. And so we also hear the musical sense and feeling highs of "Metamorphosis No. 3 for Solo Violin," and the "Metamorphosis No. 13 for Solo Flute."

It is all good, all worth hearing, all primo examples of what one might dub "Middle Modernism," or in other words New Music that treads a middle ground between eclectic Tonality and Avant dashings into outer space.

Carollo occupies his own turf consistently and originally. This is an excellent example of his way for those unfamiliar and an excellent addition to the collections of those familiar! Kudos!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Harold Meltzer, Songs and Structures

Today I am happy to report in on a new collection of compositions by Harold Meltzer (b. 1966) on an album entitled Songs and Structures (Bridge 9513). The title makes perfect sense with the music at hand, as there are two song cycles and then two instrumental chamber works one might note are marked by a nicely turned structural sense.

The song cycles are very well performed by tenor Paul Appleby, known as a luminary from Metropolitan Opera, and pianist Natalia Katyukova. Both cycles are quite nicely idiomatic, fluid, evocative and well realized. There is a dramatic arc in both instances. "Bride of the Island" comes out of poems by Ted Hughes, "Beautiful Ohio" a cycle with poems by James Wright. There is a pronounced, rather naturally engaged kind of Modernism at play in this music, tonal at base but very freely and expressionistically so. No one hearing this would imagine this as either a looking back to the past or a product of some other era. Yet there also is a kind of timelessness to it all, a kind of Ur laced declamatory flow that is appropriately inside the song cycle tradition, that shows a natural opening onto the way song cycles resonate and narrate when they are effectively wrought.

The two instrumental works present in this program have a good amount of structural complexity that the song cycles are not designed to have and so the contrast makes for a lively listen. The string quartet movement "Aqua" is a bit of a tour de force, with well conceived attention to the sound color and expressive possibilities of the four strings. There is a one-on-one overlap of noteful content and colorful execution that gets a glowingly sunny reading by the Avalon String Quartet. Mellifluous exertion and reposeful flow of calm reflection alternate and run one into the other in ways that mark the work as very original and moving.

The final piece is a nod to the violin brilliance of Fritz Kreisler in the violin-piano "Kreisleriana." It has an elemental primal quality in spite of its sophistication. We do not get some kind of pastiche of Kreisler evocations so much as a very forward moving original take on it all, and so we are very much on new ground. Yet the violin virtuosity and lightness of being that characterizes Kreisler at his finest is to be heard and appreciated in a new sounding.

And when all is said and done this program gives us the kind of pleasure that comes from immersion in a very musically situated depth and meticulous brilliance. I recommend this highly for you who want to keep current with what is new and very worthy. Bravo!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Alvin Curran, Endangered Species

Best to start out this article with my view, that Alvin Curran has been consistently one of the most innovative and provocative composer-performers I have known in my lifetime. From his pioneering work with MEV to his compositions in the New Music mode, his sound installations and his work in Electro-Acoustics (notably the breakthrough Songs and Views from the Magnetic Garden) there have been a series of bright moments that gave us a happily unexpected and a very original forward momentum, a key part of the age we are in I think.

So a new one to me is auspicious. That we have in Endangered Species (New World 80804-2 2-CDs).  I must say that on first listen I was not quite sure what to make of the music. That of course is as it should be sometimes. Central to it all is Alvin Curran at the Yamaha Disklavier, which is a conventional grand piano equipped with a MIDI "brain" that, if I am not mistaken,  affords the operator-artist the ability to  record what is being played and also to alter the sounds electronically or put it in synch with electronically derived audio output. So it is a sort of "player piano" but in ways consistent with the advances in MIDI actualities and sound synthesis. Or that is how I understand it anyway.

With this as his canvas, paint and brushes, Curran creates the long expository Endangered Species. It is not what we might come to expect, as I have said above. It centers around a well put set of performances of "Great American Songbook" standards and some older Jazz classic pieces. So we get "Ain't Misbehaving" as well as "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "St. James Infirmary Blues" as well as "Tea for Two." He can take them out a bit and sometimes he does. He can worry around a chord or even just a note of the song at hand. Or as most of the time he gives it all a pretty straightforward reading, with a definite, distinctvely Jazz tinge but as a whole much the way a pianist might have gone about this music in a now remote, timeless past. He mentions in the liners the endless gigs where he was called upon to do such things and so clearly these are a part of his own roots. 

My mother used to play these songs, somewhat in the way he does here. It was for her an un-mannered sort of thing where the song was the center of it all, and for that matter for her the songs were just a part of the music of her time, not some effort to make a Neo-Trad statement out of them. She is long gone and in some ways Alvin Curran is enacting an elegy to someone like her, the living homo pianicus as it existed in my youth and my mother's day especially. He is much more of an artist as pianist but he nonetheless evokes the centrality of song and piano as they were situated years ago.

So certainly in some ways the Endangered Species is the human world where such songs were the way much music happened, what was "in the air" at the time. The performance of the songs on the piano was a way to commune with it all. But of course there is more to it than that. I say "of course" because Curran's music is never quite single in referentiality and certainly not here.

For the piano is thrown into a world shot through-and-through with electroacoustics, sometimes straight recorded signals, other times concrete-enhanced and sometimes seemingly electronically derived sounds that conjoin closely with the piano utterances and contextualize it. Curran has always been a story-teller when it comes to electroacoustics. The  Magnetic Garden work is a classic example. We live in a world, especially from the days of radio-show sound effects onward, where there are the sounds of our world, not unmediated, but sounded in a kind of performance to create a special meaning. So the blare of traffic on a radio play was meant to convey the backdrop of the story as it was being told; it is not just there for its in-itselfness, so to speak.

With the rise of electro-acoustic possibilities especially in the school of Musique Concrete the everyday potentials of natural or human-made sounds (as mediated already in "sound effects") was reworked to be further poeticized into new contexts, altered states and transformations into directly musical intents. Alvin Curran has been an especially lucid and original story teller in this possible mode.

Now in Endangered Species he unleashes a Pandora's Box of sounds that blend in various almost orchestral ways as commentary and contrast over and against the piano standards. So we get squealing tires and car crash as conjoined with pianistic phrases, or for that manner any number of sounds, a plethora of them, the steam escaping from a tea kettle, an exotic jungle bird's cry, conversations, just about anything but made to tell some complex story. Central perhaps in lineage was Cage's Variations IV, where Cage and David Tudor created complex collages of sound via playing a number of recordings spontaneously and transcendentally while the sound of the participant-observers in the art gallery where it was performed were mixed into it all. The complex meanings were ever expanding and nearly infinite. And such doings freed up musical and extra-musical meanings in ways that liberated our hearing and made possible an understanding of Alvin Curran today.

Now Alvin has taken it all yet further by juxtaposing abstracted sounds that contextualize in fascinating ways with the piano performances. There is much meaning to be deciphered and of course no literal one perhaps, although the Endangered Species idea comes readily to mind, the solitary music maker in a sea of digital, social and ecological chaos we encounter daily? There is no one view of it all, but what keeps you coming back to the music is that it is fascinatingly ineffable and perhaps passionately human.

It is a work to experience in multiple ways and ideally multiple times. Nobody can quite create a narrative like this today save Alvin Curran. And so he remains central. Here this, I recommend! It is no doubt an essential of the now of New Music.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Mozart, The String Quintets, Klenke Quartett, Harald Schoneweg

If you are reading this on the day I wrote it, yesterday was Mozart's birthday. Friday I covered a nice set of his Piano Trios. Today I have before me a new set covering his String Quintets (Accentus Music ACC 80467). It is chance that bundled these two sets before and after the anniversary of his birth. But of course it feels right. Mozart was one of the handful of spooky, almost unearthly musical geniuses that grace music history. And happy for that.

The six String Quintets are nicely recorded and played with distinct elan by the Klenke Quartett augmented to a quintet by Harald Schoneweg on additional viola. The performances are both peppy and sweet as called for without being sticky-sentimental or frenetic. And that is key since the music is marked by some ravishing slow movements and some dashing allegros. And as I listen to the almost incredible level of invention it strikes me how such a gifted musical mind is nearly unimaginable to me. I have a hard time imagining waking up in the morning and, I am Wolfgang Amadeus! Of course I am not but even the thought of writing music like this and so much of it in a short lifespan, it seems so far beyond my experience as to be the stuff of legend, of fable. Yet it was so. Listening to all six Quintets very well played as they are in this fine set, one finds oneself transported if one concentrates, or I do anyway.

A chamber configuration such as the quintet as Mozart wrote for it is not especially common in the annals of configuring over the Classical-to-Modern period. So it is possible to overlook this music just because you might not think to look for it. Perform it well and gather it all into one ready-to-hand set though and you are doing something very worthwhile! We should be grateful that this exists.

I can scarce imagine a better situated ensemble for this music. The Klenke Quartett, four women with considerable talent, sympathy and togetherness, plus Harald Schowenweg (who fits in like he was born to it) make it all seem so necessary, so right. The Klenke outfit comes to these Quintets after recording the complete Mozart Quartets, as the inclination, disposition and experience of and for living inside Mozart string music pays wonderful dividends.

I can not think of a better way to celebrate Mozart's birthday, or your own, or that of anybody you know for that matter. It is extremely beautiful music and the performances are among the very best. Heartily recommended.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Mozart, The Complete Piano Trios, Marta Gulyas, Vilmos Szabadi, Csaba Onczay, Mate Szucs

At a fairly young age I discovered Beethoven's Piano Trios and found that the piano-centered fullness and the violin-cello-piano interplay as Beethoven conceived it was very much to my liking. It seemed a highly flexible vehicle well suited to both the brio and the lyrical side of Beethoven's genius. I later acquired recordings of Haydn's Piano Trios and found them quite interesting, though of course often less concerned with an equal three-way voicing but rather more at times as solo and accompaniment. For no good reason I have not prior to now been exposed to the Mozart corpus of works in this mode, Happily I have been sent the very recent release Complete Piano Trios (Hungaroton 32825-27) and have been quite absorbed in the three CDs that form the whole of this set.

The trios are played with a great deal of poise, balance, precision and well tempered passion by Marta Gulyas on piano, Vilmos Szabadi on violin, Csaba Onczay on cello--and Mate Szucs on viola for the violin-viola version of the "Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, K. 498."

The eight Piano Trios that comprise the complete opus are included. That includes the D minor which was left incomplete and nicely topped off by Maximilian Stadler. All the reasons we love Mozart are present in these trios, the structural brilliance, the inventive infinity, the poignant lyricism and the soul-stirring vigor, it is all meted out in a myriad of ways within a sort of  Jello mold of Classical containment.

I will admit I have not heard any other versions of the complete trios but I am very happy with the sound quality of the recording and the artistic integrity of the players on this particular incarnation. One thing I especially like is that none of the music becomes a leapfrogging for an ambitiously showy presentation. Instead, the music exists as the music Mozart wanted us to hear, with all due attention to the pacing and note gathering he intended.

Perhaps I am a little off the norm, but honestly being in possession of such a well performed set is to me a kind of guarantee of happy listening ahead, more of it when there should never be too little! The wealth of wonderful music played with insight and zeal, what could be better than this?

Needless to say I very much recommend this for anyone who thinks they would like to have it! It does not disappoint. Mozart will warm you in winter and cool you in summer. So do not hesitate.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

George Crumb Makrokosmos, Volumes 1 & 2, Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III), Yoshiko Shimizu, Rupert Struber

I would not think I am going out on a limb if I said straight off that George Crumb's Makrokosmos for Amplified Piano (and Percussion) is a landmark in the New Music of the later stages of the last century, a singular breakthrough in a post-Cagean ambiant sound-color field, a fresh start, a wildly imaginative extending of the kinds of things Henry Cowell and John Cage did to the piano sound--playing inside the piano, altering the strings by "preparing" them, placing objects upon and between the strings to alter the timbre and tone, and etc.

There is a new recording of the whole of it by pianist Yoshiko Shimizu and as needed Rupert Struber on percussion (Kairos 0015029KAi 2-CDs). Having all of it in one place is absolutely a happy thing! I in the first years of this music's life found right away the first recordings of each of the three parts and was taken with it all as much as with any discovery of importance in my life. The versions, those first versions were very fine. I still have the LPs I believe but in any event they are indelibly etched into my being. Those first recordings are hard to top. What does it take to do a successful performance of these pieces?

A first and somewhat obvious need is for a technically and stylistically seasoned player who knows New Music ways and can execute difficult passages in the thick of something at times ritually primal. Also a pianist must be comfortable or learn to be comfortable with the idea of extended techniques, primarily strumming, plucking, striking, sliding over the strings in very specific ways and using just the right amount of sostenuto to make of the piano a universe unto itself, not to mention a harp, a percussion instrument, a non-Western stringed instrument, a guitar, all manner of things.

Then one must place objects upon the strings at times to alter the sound, and there are quite specific ways the composer specifies. Further one is called on to whisper sotto voce specific phrases, some from the Latin Mass, and yet others with moodful impact, all in dramatic ways at strategic points. The pianist is also called upon to chant or sing along with or against a piano part at times, to exclaim, etc. There are quotations from Chopin, from the Medieval  Dies irae hymn for the dead, and so forth, all of which make of the music a consummate whole like no other before. The percussion parts in the third part primarily must enter into the music with the same commitment to the ambiance of the work. Above all the pianist and the percussionist must frame each part in relation to the very dramatic and rather cosmic whole. Space is key, color is key, and so also an almost ritual dedication to giving meaning to the on-the-surface abstract demands of the whole.

Ms. Shimizu is fully up to the challenge and Rupert Struber seconds her wonderfully well. The performances are in every way extraordinary and very much in keeping with Crumb's dramatic vision and philosophy of sound-generation theater.

To give the proper credit I should note that Akiko Shibata takes on the whistling role in "Makrokosmos I & II" and Natsumi Shimizu (Yoshiko's daughter) realizes the parts for slide whistle, alto recorder and whistle in "Music for a Summer Evening." And all is as it should be. Every detail of these works is decisive to the whole, and here they each get careful attention, happily.

It is some of the most beautiful and evocative Modern Music you can hear, and I believe I am not alone when I unabashedy confess that I love this music dearly. On the first few listens to this new version I had the original recordings firmly in my head and at times I thought, "well, possibly I like the original version of this passage a little better," but then by listen three or four I was sure there were things I liked better about this version, the overall pacing, the unified first-to-last feeling of the whole-as-whole. And so I am glad to have the originals but very glad too to have this new version. I think it essential. There is in this performance an overarching understanding that comes across the whole of the music, a confidence, a sureness and deliberateness that one can perhaps only get after a work has been out there in the air this long (47 years now for the first part!) and the artist has internalized fully the unique syntax that the work represents

So I not only do not hesitate to recommend the music and the performances here. I would say that this is vital, even mandatory listening for anyone serious about the Modern, and even those who are not sure of what that is. Crumb extended some vital tendencies of the "Local Schools" of New Music and helped bring on an ever-increasing emphasis upon what one might call "Ambiant Theater" in the post-Modern Modernity we live in today.

Close listening is what is needed, for words can only take you so far. So by all means hear this! Molto bravo!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bronislav Martinu, What Men Live By, Symphony No. 1, Czech Philharmonic, Jiri Belohlavek

Is Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) less widely played now than he was at his death? I am not sure, but it is possible that his music is in a steady-state suspension since then, neither gaining more of a following nor less. His was a rather enormous output. The liners to the present release tell us he wrote no less than 10 operas before WWII, and another six after that. Add to that a large body of orchestral works and so on. There is a great deal. Perhaps not everything he did is in the classification of landmark classics for all time? I cannot say for sure on that front. What counts is the works we can appreciate now and how we should evaluate them.

Today's new release gives us two very worthy works in live performances, namely the World Premiere Recording of the "opera-pastoral" What Men Live By based on the writings of Tolstoy, and Martinu's very appealing Symphony No. 1 (Supraphon 4233-2). The late Jiri Belohlavec does a fine job directing the vocal soloists and the Czech Philharmonic in this 2014 recording. He was one of the foremost Martinu exponents and one gets a happy glimpse of such matters on this program.

What Men Live By is in English. It was written in 1952 while the composer resided in the US, hence the English libretto which the composer himself wrote based on the Tolstoy short story Where God Is, Love Is. The music itself has a level of Neo-Classical invention that we come to expect from the composer. It is a welcome addition to what we can now appreciate in recorded form and all Martinu lovers will certainly welcome it. Its extreme brevity (here 37 minutes) makes it an opera not likely for widespread performance even today, but the quality of its musical settings is quite high and one revels in it in the recorded format here. That is, if one is more or less pre-disposed toward the composer as I am. His brilliant use of the orchestra, choral forces and soloists make it a central offering among undiscovered 20th century works. The rustic tale of a village cobbler and his epiphany was obviously congenial to the composer, for the music sparkles throughout in folkish ways that the performance captures fully.

The coupling of the opera with Martinu's First Symphony of 1942 is a great idea as it marks two moments in the composer's US residence, the end of the first period and then also the beginning. The symphony also fits in with a somewhat folksy Neo-Classicism. It is a work of great charm and weighty ideas and Belohlavek gives us an evergreen of a reading, detailed and bursting forward with animation. There are other versions by the conductor, most notably in his complete symphonies release, but this version and the way it plays off against What Men Live By makes for a singular and more inclusive vision of the master composer in a very fertile period.

For those predisposed, this is a real addition to the Martinu collection, but too even one not familiar with the composer would gain a nice introduction to his music.

I recommend it strongly and happily.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Lutoslawski, Dutilleux, Cello Concertos, Johannes Moser, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Thomas Sondergard

One can go through most of one's life of course without hearing certain works, in today's case the Cello Concertos (Pentatone PTC 5186 689) by Witold Lutolawski and Henri Dutilleux. One might have been the better no doubt if one heard them first in a more youthful period of life but missing something is inevitable I suppose because in the end as much as we try to swim with the very moment we live in at the flowering of Modernity we must be somewhat de-synchronized, at least one step removed from sequential actuality at times, if not more. It turns out that Lutoslawski's "Cello Concerto" and Henri Dutilleux's "'Tout un monde lointain'' (Cello Concerto)' were both completed in 1970. Both are fully characteristic in general of each composer in that time, and happily it is some of their finest work of this or any point in their careers. If you may have missed them like I have, now is the time.

And what of us, if we were alive then? In my case I was in no position to be exposed to either unless by chance a well-distributed budget label came out with a recording. That was more or less the only chance I might have had of hearing the music then. That says a great deal of the importance of those budget lines to the musical upbringing of a young lad such as I. At any rate I do not recall either composer being accessible to me in any way in those days.

All the better to have something new and worthwhile to hear later in life. We are fortunate with the present-day release of the works that they are played with Promethean drama by cellist Johannes Moser and equally, spectacularly seconded by Thomas Sondergard conducting the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin.

The Lutoslawski is an expressive landmark of the period, vividly filled with alternating High Modern brimstone and reflective meditation in ways we find Lutowslawski especially superior in setting about. The cello part is in every way heroic and transcendent while the orchestra parts comment upon the solo passages and create new expressive situational possibilities in ever masterful and convincing ways.

The Dutilleux is no less monumental in its ambitions, and no less successful in its results. Nevertheless he looks inside his musical creative self for another kind of inventive moment, more memory intensive perhaps, in a Modern-Impressionist reverie. The music moves forward in ever vibrant, rhythmically linear terms. Perhaps the music is somewhat less momentously High Modernist, but then there is a color-lyric element that replaces the Lutoslawski dynamic and we feel on different grounds, no less vivid but stylistically other. That is good.

It would be hard to top the performances. Moser is fully prepared and also fully in tune with his part and the orchestra has passion and intelligence under Thomas Sondergard. The works are central highlights of the last part of last century. Indispensible I would say.

Monday, January 21, 2019

ONIX Ensemble, Hard Core, Dodecaphonic Gems by Boulez, Ishi and Carter, Alejandro Escuer, Jose Arean

The Dodecaphonic or 12-Tone vision of Modernity of course made its start with Schoenberg, reached critical mass with Webern, and then had its peak flowering with the Serial '50s-'70s. Pierre Boulez in France and later, Elliot Carter in the USA brought great depth and beauty to the form. And perhaps he is not as well known in Euro-American circles, but Maki Ishi created some stunning High Modern gems as well.

The wonderfully enthusiastic and precise ONIX Ensemble, comprised of talented young artists from Mexico, present three masterworks by the aforementioned composers, performed live with extraordinary grit and imagination. This on the recent album Hard Core (Cultura JBCC281).

It is music of breathtaking complexity. It is extraordinarily hard to play well. ONIX takes it all in stride and manages to sound uniquely individual in the process. I will not say that they make it sound easy. But they make it sound like it really is supposed to sound like they make it sound, and really that is far more important, isn't it?

"Le Marteau sans maitre" by Boulez is undoubtedly one of the chamber masterpieces of the 20th century and a Boulez breakout work. ONIX gives the ravishing pointillist-counterpoint an impetus of their own. This is High Modernism at peak impactfulness. It is also one of the very best of versions, without a doubt. The voice-flute-guitar-viola-percussion instrumentation and approach is a sublime Webernian phenom but with a treatment even more brilliantly Boulezian.

"Aphorismen" by Maki Ishi takes an acoustically lively gathering of violin, viola, cello, percussion and piano and gives it a very original twist, with contrapuntal flair that understandably feels a bit more Eastern.

Elliot Carter's concluding "Triple Duo" is a 1983 gem, a deeply concentrated later-period astral meditation for flute, clarinet, violin, cell, piano and percussion.

The music represents some peak heights of Utopia-Futurism and it is done with brilliance. You really should hear this one, and no doubt you should have this one too, if you want the best of New Music in your collection. Highest of recommendations.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

John McCabe, Mountains, MINI-Review

Up until now I mainly only focused upon John McCabe (1929-2014) as a talented and interesting composer. Now with this release I hear him as a very able and keenly interpretive pianist. Mountains (Divine Art 28585) gives us a full program of his performances on piano of other Modern music, from other composers. It is in a way a composer's pianist we hear, for he approaches the music, every phrase, as if it were his own. These mountains are carved out in a rough, skewn, rough-hewn way with boldness and deep understanding. And the works are each gems.

There are seven works by seven composers, Peter Sculthorpe, Wendy Hiscocks, David Maslanka. Don Banks, Graeme Koehne, George Rochberg and Barney Childs. Each comes vividly alive in McCabe's hands and then moves on for the next. In the end you are left with a strong impression, a feeling that there has been a superior engagement with some very attractive Modern piano music.

Hear this by all means!

Baldassare Galuppi, Complete Piano Sonatas, Volume 4, Peter Seivewright, MINI-Review

Four volumes to date on the Complete Piano Sonatas of Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785). This Volume 4 (Divine Arts 25103) is a good place to start because it includes his "Second Piano Concerto," a wisp of the breeze through our ears that comes and goes as quickly as a sunset in winter where I am now.

Galuppi's sonatas are a model of simplicity, lyricality and buoyancy. Peter Seivewright plays it all with the charm and enthusiasm it demands. It is disarming music that makes a point not to be profound and that is refreshing.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Simon McCorry, Song Lines

There is music that defies easy classification. What peg hole to stuff it in? In the old bricks-and-mortar days that was an immediate problem as well as a thoroughgoing one. What section should the album be in? So Frank Zappa was nearly always in the Rock bins and at least at the start that was quite sensible. I can remember though when Verve started venturing forth into Rock the Schwann catalog assumed (amusingly to me at the time) that all of it had to be Jazz. That's what Verve did! So the Mothers of Invention's Freak Out and the first album by the Velvet Underground were listed under New Releases, Jazz! But then it might have been prophetic, since just after Jimi Hendrix died readers of Downbeat voted him into their Hall of Fame. Some people were upset about that. In the end though what did it mean?

And so today I duly report in on an album that has gotten my attention and indeed my approbation. It is called Song Lines (Naviar Records) and the music is by Simon McCorry. Is it "Classical?" It is drone, it is soundscape, it is Radical Tonality, it is post-Modern. It fits into the New Music fold perfectly well and perhaps we should leave it there and just listen?

The music is in five segments or movements. Each is magical in its own way. Some of the sounds seem sampled from conventional instruments, some Electroacoustic in a wider sense, in others I hear strings, cellos, quite obviously at some point a tabla. In all cases there is a snug fit between means and ends.

The main idea is that this music has a folksy magic to it that is quite beautiful. Every part fits together with every other part and the music seems at all times purposeful and directional. There is the Indian echoes of the drone to be felt much of the time, and a modal-elementality well thought-out. The music has the density of a small chamber orchestra most of the time. The weight and the movement of the music seems at all times right for itself though.

I suggest that this will appeal strongly to you if you are in any way drone-scaped in your soul. Highly recommended for those who self-select according to that critereon. Nicely done!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Isang Yun, Sunrise Falling, Dennis Russell Davies, Matt Haimovitz, Yumi Hwang-Williams, Maki Namekawa, Bruckner Orchestra Linz

Isang Yun (1917-1995)! His High Modernist music was increasingly ubiquitous in the sixties on the New Music scene and then somehow the music seemed to vanish in the States. What happened? He was Korean born and spent his formative and then artistically acclaimed years in Germany. His life fell under shadow when he was kidnapped by the South Korean Secret Service and jailed in South Korea, where he was forced to sign a confession that he was an agent of North Korea. From that point on his life was marginalized and in the end un-secure. Though he was released by South Korea in 1969 and after his death the government admitted that his persecution was based on baseless charges, his life was under something of a pall thereafter.

Some 24 years after his death there are signs that his music is again receiving the attention it deserves. The two-CD set at hand is a most auspicious and welcome event. Sunrise Falling (Pentatone Oxingale Series 5186 693) involves some key orchestral works, some important concerted works for cello (Matt Haimovitz) and violin (Yumi Hwang-Williams) interspersed with chamber works, primarily music that further explores cello and violin potentialities. The vast majority were written in his later career in the '70s and '80s and gives us a vivid window onto his fully mature Modern voice.

There is a logic to the sequencing that makes total sense. Disk One is oriented toward the cello and so we find the 1976 "Concerto for Violincello and Orchestra," a middle-grounding "Interludium A for solo piano" (1982), then to "Glisses for Solo Cello" (1970) and a rather breathtaking orchestral "Fanfare & Memorial" (1979).

Disk Two gives us a violin-centric perspective with "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1" (1981), a later work notable for its partial, rooted return to tonality while keeping to the original sound-color palette he utilized so well, "Kontraste. Two Pieces for Solo Violin" (1987) and "Gasa for Violin and Piano" (1963).

Conductor Dennis Russell Davies, Haimovitz, Hwang-Williams and the Bruckner Orchester Linz devote a great amount of care and sympathy towards this music so we can get a true idea of the exceptional qualities of the last decades of output from the master composer. There is a use of space and breadth in this music that one might think of as Asian or especially Korean, but that is in conjunction with a focused expressivity (not necessarily un-Korean) and High Modern torque that ever exists together in a kind of pure realm of total aural conviction that becomes clear when you give the music a close reading over multiple listens.

The determined creation of an alternate High Modernism becomes ever more understandable when one gives the music an extended chance to live inside the apperceptive musical self. Every note has a place in the totality yet there is also a feeling of real-time expression and a living musical humanity that comes through in striking ways.

It is an important program played beautifully. It will go far if you take it seriously in presenting to your deep listening self Isang Yun the fully flowered brilliance. It is an important moment of retrospection all Modernists should find heartening. Revival is in the air. Bravo!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Monteverdi, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner

I can pinpoint in my head the time when I first got a hold of Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, via the first release as the VoxBox LPs by Rudolf Ewerhart Santini and the Kammerorchester (Munster), etc. It was the inaugural recorded version, though missing parts in order to fit it all onto three LPs. I took to it right away and for whatever reason used to revel in the recitative sections among other things because of the prominent harp part that other versions I have heard are lacking. No matter. I can pinpoint the time because I was living in Brookline then with Berklee roomates. We were on the top floor and parallel to us was an apartment occupied then by a Professor of Indo-Pak music who at the time taught at Boston University. Our balconies adjoined and as I was listening to the Monteverdi and lounging on the balcony one summer night the Professor struck up a conversation that was quite interesting. He first wanted to know why I listened to such things. My answer was involved in the idea that there were world legacies and one chose from them but that the Western Classical tradition was something I was interested in assimilating from a compositional perspective, etc. Turns out he liked of all Western musics Bluegrass best, and thinking about it even now I understand. The timbre of the vocals, the banjo as a sort of sarod, etc. I suddenly heard classical Bluegrass as might a Classical Indo-Pak musician. So that was the summer of 1973. And so my first important exposure to Early Music Opera.

Wikipedia reminds me that the only manuscript version we have today is a three-act manuscript dating from 19th century Vienna. The work was premiered in 1640 and really it was from the 1970s on that the music underwent significant revival in our world.

I later supplemented the Santini version with the early '70s first complete recording by Concentus Musicus Wien under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. That to me was superior in the way it pursued updated original instrument performance practices, but there were things I liked about each  and I kept the both versions actively until some upheavals threw my vinyl connection to the winds in part. The path from version-to-version reminds me how I assimilated the music, first primarily in melodic-harmonic terms, later also the timbral uniqueness of the era, and finally as a whole in relation to other wholes of the period and beyond. As a very first Opera in the history of such things it was of course important to hear but then the brilliance of Monteverdi becomes primary early on because the music stands out and bears up wonderfully well.

And now I have the pleasure to be introduced to a brand new version of the complete opera as performed by distinguished soloists, the Monteverdi Choir, and English Baroque Soloists (instrumental), all under John Eliot Gardiner (SDG 730 3-CDs). It comes in a very attractive hard cover book-like package with full libretto and notes.

The performances in the Gardiner version are excellent. This may be the finest singing of any version I have yet to hear. The soloists have a wonderful grasp of the embellishments available and sometimes delve into the music with an emotive gusto one is used to hearing in later Italian Comedic style. And it works nicely. The instrumental parts are played with great vivacity, care and attention to period detail.

After 46 years living with this music my enthusiasm is undiminished. Monteverdi is inventive to a point rarely reached by any composer regardless of the period and there is an almost folk-like directness to much of the music here that Gardiner brings out especially well. In fact of the three versions I have lived with this one stands out as the most detailed and sonically engaging. Perhaps Monteverdi's first opera Orfeo is the more exciting work to many listeners, yet there is something to Ulysses that sets it apart as completely unique. Anyone serious about the musical heritage we inherit should probably have a recording of this opera, and this recording seems to be the new benchmark.

That is not to say that my neighbor was wrong about Bluegrass. You should listen to that too! But that is another matter among other matters. 

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Sixteen, Star of Heaven, The Eton Choirbook Legacy, Harry Christophers

The Sixteen under Harry Christophers is undoubtedly one of the very best Early Music Choral Groups operating today. But as we see here and elsewhere they do not shy away from the Modern Choral world when they feel an engagement. I've been following them quite happily in the last decade, and now there is a new recording. Presenting Star of Heaven, The Eton Choirbook Legacy (CORO 16166). The Eton Choirbook is the English collection of sacred music that preserved some monumental examples of a special stage of pre-Purcellian choral composition of great importance to our understanding and appreciation of local and pan-European Early Sacred Music for voices.

This album is most unusual in that it intersperses some choice Eton compositions among a special World Premier set of recordings of five Modern Contemporary Choral works that ultimately hammer out an ultra-Contemporary perspective on the Eton Legacy. Stephen Hough's "Hallowed" appears before us with a special polyphonic-ambient luster along with four works specially commissioned by the Genesis Foundation to exemplify and enact the current-day Pope's reforms in Catholic Church policy towards church music. They are "Neciens mater" by Joseph Phibbs, "Ave Maria, mater Dei" by Phillip Cooke, "O Virgo prudentissima" by Sir James MacMillan and "Stella caeli" by Marco Galvani.

For the works by Phibbs, Cooke and Galvani, the Modern work is situated alongside an Eton work utilizing the same sacred text, so "Nesciens mater" in the Plainsong version and by Walter Lambe, "Ave Maria, mater Dei" by William Cornysh, and "Stella caeli" by Walter Lambe. Finally the 15-minute "Salve Regina" by Robert Wylkynson from the Choirbook sets off nicely the Hough work that follows it.

The Sixteen are jewels in today's Early Music Performance crown, surely, and if anyone can bring out the subtle interplay of old in new and old in our new it is them. They do not disappoint. One has much to apprehend in the best ways with this program and its realization. The Modern works have implied or actual polyphonic thrust in equal measure to their contemporary outlook. Hearing them alongside Eton Choirbook counterparts is a brilliant idea and the Sixteen succeed wonderfully well.

This may be heady fare for some yet it is an important milestone to my mind in showing us some of the rootfulness of the new Modernity. It is also sheer beauty to hear! Highly recommended for both Early and Modern adepts and acolytes.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Friederich Kuhlau, Sonata in E Flat Major, Sonata in A Minor, Sonatina in C Major

The Classical-to-Early Romantic Era Piano Sonata is a wonderful thing. There are the joys of Papa Haydn, Mozart, early period Beethoven (early for that special point in transition), Schubert, CPE Bach, Kozeluch, Clementi, but one is never truly filled with comprehensive understamding without sampling some of the remarkable piano sonatas of Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832). Why are they and he not better known today? The vagaries of Classical-to-Romantic Era Reception History are not something I studied in school directly and I must admit I come to the music with open ears, some understanding of sonata form, Romantic style practicalities and theories and all the pantheon exposure and a reading of some of the key musicological texts without a huge knowledge of the epoch as an all-embracing whole. Kuhlau was German born but ultimately Danish, so location may play a fate? I'll give you a synopsis of the back cover blurb to the fine release up for discussion, but first what is it? It is Jens Luhr doing an excellent job with the Piano Sonata in E Flat Major, Sonata in A Minor and the Sonatina in C Major (Grand Piano GP797).

Anyway the blurb tells us that "his popular works for flute" helped earn him the sobriquet of "The Danish Beethoven."  All that is fascinating, but in any event and most importantly those not familiar with the Sonatas are in for a very happy surprise with this album. From the very beginning, the E Flat Major Sonata and its unexpected clock chime theme and the unrelentingly masterful treatment of the thematic material in Kuhlau's hands is a bit of a revelation.

All of this music rings true. There is a superior presence behind every movement. Jens Luhr plays it all with poetic grace.

Any lover of solo piano music will find this one hard to resist. It is a great argument for a Kuhlau revival. I certainly would love to hear yet more. In the meantime go confidently into this recording zone. It is all quite top-notch!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Wagner, Gotterdammerung, Soloists, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden

I would type here that Wagner's Ring is in many ways the Holy Grail of Late Romanticism in the Modern Era but then one might justifiably respond, "No, that is Parsifal!" And if that seems funny to me maybe I am a hopeless nerd? I do not care. Humor must be sought out on dreary days no matter the source.

Nevertheless of course the Ring is one of those masterpieces that is almost superhuman. It defies what one composer could do, was allowed in the last half of the 19th Century to do. Bach may get the awe response after we count up his Cantatas, but Wagner is a Modern-Era champ. So what in the end is the Ring. Four very long operas on a central, cumulative mythical theme plot, with the entire libretto and all the music written by one man, who manages to make it all a huge success....Sure, but it all could have ended-up being a boondoggle dog, right? But no, Wagner was as brilliant or perhaps even more brilliant than the hype on the day suggested,

I do not suppose anyone reading this does not know something, no doubt a great deal of something about Wagner and the Ring. And probably you reading this already have a version of the four-opera sequence to plunk on your system when you feel the urge? Well if you don't I must tell you that what I have heard of the full Ring just now complete--by soloists, choral forces and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra under Jaap van Zweden--is quite good. I reviewed their Siegfried  on these pages some time ago (see index) and now I am happy to report in on their cycle-concluding Gotterdammerung (Naxos 8.660428-31 4-CDs).

What is good about the two performances of the last two, concluding Ring-cycle works (and I will assume that same of the Hong Kong versions of the opening operas in the series though I have not yet had a chance to hear them)? All of this is an object lesson about the continuing, ever-dependable virtues of Naxos as far and away the premiere Classical Standard Repertoire Budget Label. Why does it matter? In a world where most of us are not endlessly wealthy Naxos when functioning properly (it is) can provide you with very competitive performances of works generally well represented on recordings. There may not be at all times the star-power list of famous performers for all the works, but of course the idea is that the music-first approach can oftimes allow you to get very reasonable prices on such things. For the Ring and its 16-or-so CDs that can be crucial.

So why is this a nice choice? For one thing as a digital recording of the present-day it is sonically glowing. Dynamics and balance are all excellent and the orchestra is very well-staged in terms of the audio set up in standard stereo. Like most of us I have heard many Ring recordings over the years and there are undoubtedly some that have made an everlasting impression on me the Hong Kong sounds as good or better audio-wise as any.

Secondly the Hong Kong Philharmonic under van Zweden has all the fullness and balance of the large orchestral Wagner sound as we demand today and he set out for us then. The strings, winds, brass etc. bring out the nuances as Wagner intended them. It is a delight to hear it all! Then the choral ensembles and soloists are big-sounding and dramatic as very much needed. Gun-Brit Barkmin and Daniel Brenna as Brunhilde and Siegfried may not quite rise to the heights of the historic very best in hallowed recordings but they stay the course with heroic stamina and that's very fine. The same can be said for all the vocalists appearing in the cast.

The leitmotivs fly by like moths into light throughout and overall there is the bracing exhilaration that we seek in the Wagner experience. I cannot say after a few listens I am anything but satisfied with it all. And when I must I can dig up some of the Kirsten Flagstad excerpts from long ago to remember how high she could fly! That in the end is separate from hearing the whole of the Wagner saga.

Take a listen to some excerpts online to get the feeling for this cycle. The van Zweden Segfried  and Gotterdammerung come though remarkably well for budget recordings! I imagine that same would go for the beginning operas. An excellent bet. Recommended!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Witold Lutoslawski, Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4, Jeux venitiens, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu

For some reason the music of Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) continues to surprise me with every new recording. Why? It is in part because he is a Modernist that fits into his own sound and personality and so is not easily categorized. He is an orginal. He is always inventive, has a brilliant orchestral sense and is not-at-all predictable.

Today I mention a disk devoted to three important orchestral works, his Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 (1947, 1992) and the ten-minute Jeux Venitiens (1961) (Ondine ODE 1320-5). The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu are the providers of this music and though I have another recording of the first I like quite well (reviewed here, type composer name in index box above right), this disk is extraordinarily dedicated to opening up the very personal worlds of these works in ways that could well be definitive.

The First Symphony is the more rabidly Modern, the more wild I suppose you could say. The Fourth is very expressive and somber, the more at times like the eerie "hop-hop...dein mutter ist tot" ending of Wozzeck as a kind of springboard. And that is not necessarily something the composer was thinking of but to me it shares that mysterious, tragic awe. Yet then it soars off of that launchpad to create megaliths of exploratorial ominosity. It is incredible music and in the end there is nothing quite like it.

Jeux Venitiens is mid-career (1961), stylistically in movement from the first to the forth. It serves very nicely to bridge the gap between the two aural worlds.

I must say that this is music any serious Modernist should prize. It is another look at what the Modern symphony can be and is! Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Concerto No. 3 for Violin and Piano, String Trio, Sonata for Violin and Cello

Perhaps at this point the remarkable thing about Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was not so much that he existed (1895-1968) and managed not to go under, despite Mussolini and CT's forced migration to the USA in those terrible days. That was remarkable enough. The thing for us sitting in the world as it is today, with Naxos producing a seemingly endless wealth of Castelnuevo-Tedesco works we might otherwise not have a chance to hear, is perhaps just how GOOD it all is, what I've heard anyway.

That most certainly includes the music on this latest, which is the Violin Concerto No. 3, String Trio, and Sonata for Violin and Cello (Naxos 8.574003). They constitute World Premiere Recordings all as I understand it. The performances are very much on par, unpretentious but ravishing, with violinist Davide Alogna playing his way idiomatically and beautifully throughout the program, joined as needed by Fiorenzo Pascalucci on piano, Roberto Trainini on cello, and Federico Stassi on viola.

The infectious grace of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco melodic gifts are all the way to the forefront thoughout. His Italian-tinged Impressionism-Post-Romanticism is remarkable here, even in the 30 minute Sonata for Violin and Cello, which is a chamber co-mingling rather unusual but here very idiomatic and beautiful. There is not even a single note of insignificance to be heard in the all of it, not when taken altogether.

Any lovers of the violin and the various chamber blends possible with it will be taken by this. But then it is just plain old good music, regardless of whatever else one might say of it! Molto bravo!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Dietrich Buxtehude, Early Organ Works, Codex E.B. 1688, Harald Vogel

Some bodies of work may not be at the edge of consciousness for the music appreciation cognoscenti these days. In fact how much could we say that was the case right now in the present moment? Perhaps the Mahler symphonic cycle more now than was the case when I was growing up? And Wozzeck I've noticed on social media seems to bring out a seemingly dedicated group of initiates compared with Die Fraue ohne Shatten but that has been the case I supposes since I knew that both operas existed, at least over here.

All well and good. I might not have even thought to think it several weeks ago, but since I received the new Harald Vogel recording of Buxtehude's Codex E. B. 1688, which comprises all but four of the works on the album Early Organ Works (MDG Gold 314 2092-2), ever since then I have increasingly thought of that Codex as a body of work that does deserve a protracted appreciation and meditation upon. And so I offer a few thoughts to this end today.

In it you hear the very contrapuntal-fugal sublimities Bach himself no doubt was so specifically captivated by in his lifetime. And so too one of the contrapuntal subjects we find Handel had adapted himself for the "And With His Stripes" section of his Messiah.

So too the Codex contains more than solo organ. There is the "Sonata ex d - Viola da Gamba/organ" that so absorbingly holds our attention for the second five minutes of the album. Beholding the whole of this program you feel the brilliance of Buxtehude's extraordinary counterweaving. The organ is a greately appropriate one, the sound pristine. And Harald Vogel sounds like he was literally born into playing this music. Clear and authoritative versions are these, milestones, a joy to hear! Highly recommended.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Axel Borup-Jorgensen, Floating Islands, Guitar Music, Frederik Monk Larson

Danish composer Axel-Borup-Jorgensen (1924-2012)  is one of those 20th century musical figures it takes some time to appreciate. I have covered a number of albums of his music on these pages and perhaps only now with this new album of music for guitar named Floating Islands (OUR Recordings 8 220672) do I feel like I have learned thoroughly his musical language. Nearly an hour of Borop-Jorgensen solo guitar works are the order of the day, played articulately and elegantly by Frederik Munk Larsen.

Four pieces from the"Floating Island" series are included, as well as five more works in single or multiple parts. It is generally High Modernist in its structural harmonic edginess with a syntax all his own. "Islands" is an apt description, as often the works phrase in single or short multiple units, each in itself a floating body to to speak. So they may be harmonics, staccato chords, softly-voiced simultaneities, singular notes or short phrases, you name it. Each section hangs together and poeticises a guitar sound in depth.

It is refreshingly pristine music that holds its own and continues to fascinate each time you hear it. I strongly recommend this for all who appreciate New Music for guitar. Bravo!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Versailles Revolution, Lully, Muffat, Marais, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Barthold Kuijken

As we happily hear in the first volume of this program of the music of Lully and his followers (The Lully Effect, see listing from several months ago), the theatre-ballet that grew up around the French court of Versailles in the later 17th century was uniquely orchestral, expressive and dramatically lush in ways no music before had been. The main impetus for the bold new sound came from the orchestral concepts of Italian violinist Jean-Baptist Lully (1632-1687), a major figure in the court music of the period.

This second volume looks closely at the stately ceremonial minor mode instrumental music for court theatricals. As with the previous volume the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra under Barthold Kuijken follows the practices of the period faithfully as to instrument makeup (original instruments) bowing and sonorities to recreate the rather stunning intended effect.

And like the previous volume Kuijken  has chosen a representative Lully composition, "Suite from Roland" (1685), plus two additional works by other renowned members of the court, namely George Muffat and his "Fasciculus I, 'Nobilis Juventus' from Florilegium Secundum" (1698) plus Marin Marais and his "Suite from Ariane et Bacchus" (1695).

This is very engagingly sonorous music with a doubling of the principal melody line via massive strings and winds not completely in unison. By definition the sound is like nothing other. There are beautifully contrapuntal passages that contrast to the melodic dramatics in ways that simply ravish.

It takes the care and detail of Kuijkin and the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra to make this music stand out as the exceptional thing it is. This and the previous volume are indeed milestones of their kind. It brings the orchestral French Baroque to us as it truly was meant to be heard.

And for that both are highly recommended!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Dag Wiren, String Quartets Nos. 2-5, Wiren Quartet

Who was Dag Wiren (1905-1986)?

A composer is the obvious answer. He wrote String Quartets Nos 2-5  (Naxos 8.573588). We know that because it is the name of the CD I have in front of me right now. It's played by the Wiren Quartet, and they do a fine job of it. The four quartets are relatively short, so that you can fit them on one CD. They were written between 1935 (No. 2) and 1970 (No. 5) so they span a pretty long period of time.

The quartets are thematically diverse, Modernist, handled sophisticatedly in a manner halfway between maybe Hindemith and Bartok, so you feel a structural logic in the playing out of motives and their development and succession. There is apparent growth from quartet to quartet yet each has its own architectonic heft.

The jacket blurb informs us that Quartet no. 1 was withdrawn, so that these are in fact the complete output. The notes tell us that the last is more pessimistic to the relative cheer of the earlier works. That may be but in my listening they all flow together into a kind of mega-monster entity.

These are very good to hear, quite well played. They make me want to know Dag Wiren the composer better! Highly recommended.