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Friday, March 29, 2019

Leonie Klein, Gathering Thunders, Percussion Music by Stockhausen, Xenakis, Lachenmann, Huber, etc.

The High Modern period of Classical Music has seen the rise of percussion instruments as a widespread aspect of orchestral, chamber and eventually solo instrumental music. Varese's "Ionisation" for large percussion group made concert audiences take notice. John Cage and Lou Harrison wrote some widely discussed and performed works. Flash forward to today and we see the near ubiquitous development of virtuoso solo percussion works where the individual is called upon to play many instruments at the same time, becoming a sort of one-man band or an orchestra of one, taking advantage of the heightened sound color contrasts a battery of percussion instruments offers.

An excellent program of such virtuoso solo works can be had, played with world-class musicality and technical wizardry on a new album by Leonie Klein called Gathering Thunders (Wergo 7375 2). The repertoire addressed on the program covers some recent works in New Music echelons and classics going back to the years when solo percussion compositions were considered rather daring. In most cases here an array of pitched, semi-pitched and unpitched instruments form the nucleus around the complex klangfarben, sound-color melodic structures each piece demands in its own way.

It takes a real master not only to get all the notes right, with intricate instrument-to-instrument jumps a constant virtually always. To play this music properly the percussionist must think in terms of the overall phrasings, must in a way conduct herself or himself and seek a total balance of near-orchestral syntax.

Perhaps nowhere is that more the case in telling ways than on Stockhausen's classic 1959 "Zyklus." In choosing to perform the work as a solo piece the performer then has the freedom to choose the order of the 17 sections and the direction she or he chooses to move in completing a single cycle of moving across the complete array of spatially situated instruments. Ms. Klein shows us a singularly melodic interpretation of the work, one of the best I've heard. That advanced musicality shows itself too on the works that follow in the program, each individual and special, sonically and syntactically.

From there we hear the distinctive all-in-one color peaks of "Psappha" by Xenakis, of "Interieur I" by Helmut Lachenmann, of "Pothos" by Nicolaus A. Huber, and then Peter Eotvos's "Thunder" for a single bass timpani and Johannes Julius Fischer's "Gathering" for "prepared and extended xylophone."

It altogether gives us a bird's eye view of the state-of-the-art in current performance practice and in compositional best practices today and yesterday. It is a veritable whirlygig of percussion sublimity and so will heighten  the pulse rate of anyone who loves the Modern and the percussive arts. Leonie Klein is a wonder! Grab this one if you suspect you'd like such things.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Post-Haste Reed Duo, Donut Robot!

There are album concepts and cover illustrations that grab my attention and I will admit that the art on Donut Robot! (Aerocade Music 010) by the Post-Haste Reed Duo is a favorite.What's wrong with a bit of outlandish humor? Nothing at all as far as I am concerned. All the better of course if the music turns out to be very much worth our ear-time. That is the case here as limber-timbred saxophonist Sean Fredenburg and bassoon stalwart Javier Rodriguez take us on an imaginative journey through six compositions and compositional suites.

The music if we must label it might be Post-Modern Modern Neo-Classical? It has form and force, from the beautifully apt opening title work by Ruby Fulton to the closing four-episode adventure-sequence "Snapshots" by Takuma Itoh. One should not be blase about it all without paying close attention, for a saxophone-bassoon duo can be as full and lively as anything you can imagine, provided the works are as interesting as they are here and the execution is natural and artful, as the Post-Haste Duo show us consistently and happily.

If the composers are not so well-known, the works show us we have missed them at our own, well not "peril" so much as lack. So we are invited to sit and hear the nicely turned gems from Ruby Fulton and on to miniatures by Drew Baker, Michael Johanson, Edward J. Hines, Andrea Reinkemeyer and Takuma Itoh.

No notes are wasted and the base-grounding of the two reeds never seems lacking in fullness of content. The robot looms yet we the listeners triumph in the hearing. Post-Haste Reed Duo emerges from the underbrush to conquer the sweet would-be treat and its relentless advance! Go on Duo, keep going and we cheer you forward!

Happily recommended.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ferruccio Busoni, The Late Works, Svetlana Belsky

It is difficult to pay attention to everything. All good music? There is too much, not too little! So I try and help by picking out the good things, the best things I am sent. One of those is an extraordinarily nice program of The Late Works (Ravello 8007) of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), as played with dramatic vigor by pianist Svetlana Belsky, who holds forth over at my alma mater, the University of Chicago.

This disk gives you three compositional groupings, all exceptional in their own way. The "Sonatina Seconda" (1912) begins the program. How modern, how dissonant, how amazing for its time, rousing, and how well played. This is worth the price of admission alone. I never paid enough attention to later Busoni, so this woke me up and made me very aware and very pleased. Ms. Belsky plays it all like she owns it, and indeed she does. There is a sure-footed expressive chromaticism that leaves Romanticism in the dust and sounds a clarion call to the future Modernism that was coming every day.

Then we segue into the playfully inventive brilliance of "Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude," that one that Donna Summer made a disco tune out of if you are old enough to remember. Busoni takes it along with him on various rather exciting junkets, from the steeples to the mountains (as Ives declaimed), pouring down like happy spring rain.

Then we top it off with the 1908 "Elegies," all six of them, each of which says something expressively Busoni-ful.

I cannot but recommend this recording, for performances and for a window on Busoni in his final pianistic wonderment.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Karl Weigl, Violin Sonata No. 2, Two Pieces for Violin, Two Pieces for Cello, Piano Trio, Fruhwirth, Kloeckner & Krumpock

When I came back to the East Coast from Chicago in 1985 I duly paid a visit to the Classical Record section of Tower Records in Downtown Manhattan. There I happened to unearth a CRI recording of the music of Karl Weigl (1889-1949) and I took it home. I was impressed with it. Now some 44 years later I had the chance to hear and review some additional music of his, namely his Violin Sonata No. 2, Two Pieces for Violin, Two Pieces for Cello, Piano Trio (Capriccio C5318). I welcomed it. These chamber works are played with sparkle and dash by violinist David Fruhworth, cellist Benedict Kloeckner and pianist Florian Krumpock.

In the case of this CD and the record from years ago there is a feeling of being in the presence of a composer who is original and even brilliant, yet not overtly innovative like Schoenberg or Ives, not a leader in the teleology of where music goes so much as an entity who straddled the end of Romanticism and the beginning of what followed. And it is not so much a matter of where he could be positioned in the spectrum of styles, rather how he does what he does.

Weigl was in that same Vienna as Schoenberg and his followers. That he stayed with tonality and went his own way hardly matters now. For there were plenty of works that went into the more advanced territory and we can listen and perform them at will. The history of music sometimes reads as a description of Boy Scout hikes. We identify the Pack Leaders and pay homage to them but in some other "real" world there was no hike, just a lot of artists creating. We get to choose what we hear. Each work is a frozen moment in time and there is no Boy Scout Troop to be seen anywhere.

And that is a good argument to recommend that we stop ignoring someone like Karl Weigl, whose music most certainly was not a leading voice of its time yet there is some truly inspired music to be heard from his likes. The current volume shows us in marvelous performances why we should not ignore Weigl, even if he does not fit into the March of the Immortals! It is excellent music. That is reason enough. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Ovalle Project, Andree-Ann DeSchenes, The Piano Music of Jayme Ovalle (1894-1955)

Self-Taught Brazilian composer Jayme Ovalle (1894-1955) is best known in his home country for composing the song "Azulao." Outside of Brazil he is little known. However the new two-CD set The Ovalle Project (Self-Released 193428153240) gives us pianist Andree-Ann DeSchenes's fine readings of the complete 24 work opus of solo piano music.

Ovalle has some of the "outside art" daring of a self-taught composer with something to say and no set formula about how to say it.  There are at times a sort of Romantic declamatory pianism a la Rachmaninoff or Liszt, yet the way of going about it is Expressionist, like a German woodcut, in other words more robustly "primitivist" at times. At other times you might find an almost trance-inducing repetition of a chord alongside a melody line, nearly art-less yet artful for it paradoxically..

The Brazilian strain can be heard in this music--mostly through the melodiousness of the songfulness. And there is a folkishness to it, too,  that gives it all an individual flair. Not so much choro-like, not especially simple to pigeonhole or to even put into words. Brazilian fantasias? At certain moments. The way it comes together is so rather unexpected that it genuinely takes a few times through before it starts making its own sort of sense. Sometimes the chordal voicing has a definite modern tang to it and an almost jazzy contemporary quality, really.

If Charles Ives were Brazilian, would his piano music have sounded like this? Not exactly, but not exactly not at times, either. They both have a stubbornly independent manner and as you listen again and again it starts to make perfect sense. And as you get to the later opus numbers there is sometimes emergent a Brazilian rhythmic element as a block-chorded melodic thing with a left-hand figured accompaniment that is intriguing. But then there is a return to Expressionist rubato, again too.

It is music that refuses to stand pat, to stay put, to slot into the derivative, and all the better for it. Ovalle brings us a way of sounding that is his own and Ms. DeSchenes draws that out in an effective and sympathetic set of performances. This is something different, a Brazilian musical Grandma Moses so to say. An unconforming original, a strikingly wayward crafter of piano delicacies that are good to eat and good to think! Get this and go someplace different.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Lei Liang, A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

Chinese-born composer Lei Liang brings to us a completely lucid sensibility and a most articulate and evocative syntax. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project album of three recent works shows us glowingly the vitality of his invention. A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams (BMOP Sound 1061) gives us the title work recently (2017) commissioned by BMOP, plus his "Xiaoxiang, Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra" (2009, rev. 2014), and "Five Seasons" (2010, rev. 2014).

Liang came to the US in 1990 as a young man, in time moving from a concentration on piano to composition, and finding his voice through studies at New England Conservatory and eventually a PhD from Harvard University.

While involving himself in his compositional studies he found himself reconnecting with Chinese culture, lifeways and traditions which then in turn informed his music. Columbia's Chou Wen Chung he acknowledges as an inspiration.

The music to be heard in this program before us shows us a vivid Modernism, a lively pictorial imagination and a landscape artist's sense of panorama and open skies. And the influence of traditional Chinese music too can be heard, in the most tangible ways on "Five Seasons" which features a concerted solo part for the pipa, played dramatically and effectively by Gao Hong. Then too Chien-Kwan Lin's alto sax on "Xiaoxiang" has a spatial-temporal feel that feels at times rather Chinese.

It is on the title work "A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams" that we hear the current culmination of Liang's musical vision. It is sound-color-centric (and so too is traditional Chinese music you might say), carving a vibrant language from the various ways of sounding the instruments of the orchestra and soloists, as applicable. A concern with the natural landscape reminds us of the legacy of Chinese poetry and painting. The music recalls in its very own Chinese-informed way the innovations in sound clustering that later High Modernism perfected, which for those attending to it still stays with us as a part of conceptional and orchestrational color practice today.  Lei Liang has the acute ability to build sound structures and expressions that revisit the orchestra in those terms and then give it all a personal and culturally rooted stamp of identity.

One can learn a great deal from reading the liners to this album. I leave that to you.

The music itself gives us a true contribution to the "new" in New Music. Lei Liang speaks with his own voice, his own orchestral poetics, very much Modern, very much Chinese in its essence, and masterful in utterance. Highly recommended. BMOP comes through with another gem.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ziboukle Martinaityte, In Search of Lost Beauty...

Is programmatic music back? Yes and no. It may not be so literal anymore. Not like Richard Strauss where the violin might mean so-and-so and the horns such-and-such. But there is a literary patina that envelops some of New Music today. And it serves to poeticize our listening mind when it works well. I have zero complaints on that front with Ziboukle Martinaityte's In Search of Beauty... (Starkland ST-231).

Martinaityte's programmatic intent is loosely poetic. One rainy day she went past the Notre Dame Cathedral and had a kind of epiphany when the puddles reflected aspects of the cathedral in multiple bits, showing a different reality, a different beauty not otherwise available to her. This is interesting especially to me because I noted something similar here the other day in the rain puddles reflecting the vertically upstanding trunks of trees as I went on a walk in the morning. It is a coincidence but then a mindfulness I was also experiencing.

What counts ultimately is the ravishingly evocative nature of the music. It has ten parts and lasts 70 minutes. There is a singularly refracted soundscape to be heard that does not remain the same ever. It sustains with near-drone continuity yet has punctuations that break through the blanketing sounds. An arpeggiated violin line starts midstream and develops intermittently over time. And the sustains evolve into a rolling dialog between the three instrumentalists responsible. There is a poignant sonic artistry to be enjoyed in FortVio via piano, violin and cello. There are electronics too at times and they serve to sustain us further. They give us more sustenance, if you will.

The liners map out the composer's world better than I can so I quote from them here. "An hour-long sequence of audiovisual novellas on the elusive subject of beauty - an attempt to recreate the experience in which time is slowed down in order to transport us into an alternate dimension where the commonly apprehended reality is inverted into the otherworldly mystique of reflection and shadows."

So the whole concept behind it all has a richness of meaning. And the music fully lives up to the promise of the poetry behind it. That is saying something. It is one of the best ambient forays I have heard lately. It passes by Minimalism to become "free" from the need to stick to sameness. Instead sameness and difference intermingle without a sense of rulebreaking or transgression. There is Radical Tonality that comes closer to Non-Western World Drone than typical of New Music today, yet does not adhere rigidly to itself either. It is a betwixt-and-between thing that as it remains hovering above possibility refuses to become everyday-ordinary, which is the composer's point, her vision.

So there is a modeling of the idea of the extra-normal reality represented by the puddle images as felt in the unraveling of the music itself. Not a sense of coming apart, though. Rather there is a sense of refraction, of reflective sound shapes unveiling. It is a music of Color Fields, not quite Frankenthaler-esque but really there is a sort of affinity there if you look for it.

It is some remarkable music that stands out as difference, as difference in sameness.

I do recommend this quite definitely. It is neither here nor there and that makes it a special sort of "where." Listen!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Schoenberg, Piano Music and his 17 Fragments, Yoko Hiroto

The piano music of Arnold Schoenberg is foundational in conveying his ideas about pitch relations and clustering. It too is meant to be expressive and filled with timbral, sonaric explorations that allow a poetic selection, a making the piano sound in various ways. The liner notes to pianist Yoko Hiroto's Schoenberg Piano Music and His 17 Fragments (Navona NV6214) remind us, and most importantly so too do Ms. Hiroto's performances on the recording. If we should think in these terms now it is in part because Schoenberg's twelve-tone approach was after all not the change in music for all-time that some thought it was to become. And Schoenberg's music like all after him that explored dodecaphonic possibilities needs to be heard as music instead of science or advancement, like Ars Nova is no longer so much "nova" to us any longer, though it is certainly "ars."

So we have on this disk three series of Klavierstucke, the three of Op. 11, the five of Op. 23, and the two of Op. 33. Then the 17 Fragments, which show once again a miniaturist framework but also reveal Schoenberg working on ideas without necessarily thinking of their dissemination at that moment?

The fragments include some fascinating Brahmsian attempts and a chromatic insurgence as we might expect, with some contrapuntal writing, a full range and dynamics. There is the movement from one style-state to another as we know, but these details are new to me anyway and musically quite interesting. There is a surprising influence of Prokofiev in one fragment. All the fragments give us Schoenberg "thinking out loud" musically, pursuing possibilities that he does or does not make much use of in completed works. They add another dimension and supplement the three published collections of pieces we hear in this program. And we get a fuller picture of his surety along with his hesitation.

Yoko Hirota makes all of this music come alive with a sensitive sympathy and understanding. One must listen intently and more than once if this music is to get inside your understanding. And once you do that you appreciate the music itself and Ms. Hirota's way with all of it. The Fragments are a revelation and make the program especially attractive.

Happily recommended.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Muzio Clementi, Keyboard Sonatas, Sandro De Palma

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) may not be remembered with the full spotlight like Mozart or Beethoven, yet he certainly deserves the attention he is getting more of these days. We have another volume of his Keyboard Sonatas (Naxos 8.573880), this time under the very capable piano auspices of Sandro De Palma. This volume is as entrancing as any of them with a nicely chosen divide between the elemental twinkle-twinkle sing-songy earlier works--Op. 1, No. 3 (1771) and Op. 8, No. 2 (1784)--and the near-Romantic poetically gravitas later period--Op. 50, No. 3 "Didone abbandonata" (1821) and Op. 50 No. 2 (1821).

The sweep of inventive pianism is increasingly engaging as one listens over time. There is music box simplicity contrasted by deeper darker mystery in the later works. The symphonies turned out to be some substantial fare on the MHS double record that came out years ago. Perhaps we can hear new versions of them. And Naxos (see previous posting) is doing a bit of the chamber music too. Perhaps the piano music is the most charming and flowing of all his music and this volume gives us a sample that need not fill 50 CDs to make its statement, though if Naxos gets all of the sonatas done it will fill more than a few at any rate.

Sandro De Palma plays the sonatas with a bravura and an alternating tenderness that helps us along considerably in assessing and smiling over what there is to hear on these four gemful essays and our subsequent assays. It is a happy meeting of composer and performer and we the listeners most surely are the benefactors. Clementi is never out of ideas and the musical ideation is on a high level no matter how basic or involved the inventions.

I must recommend this strongly. It is something to bring you a little joy I would hope. I am smiling myself as I listen again.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Gerhard & Mompou, Complete Music for Solo Guitar, Marco Ramelli

There are programs that are so delightful that you take to them straight away and it is happy-time from then on. It may be spring but that is not sufficient to explain why I have in this way taken to Marco Ramelli's Gerhard & Mompou: Complete Music for Solo Guitar (Brilliant 95679). It's the quality of the music and the performances.

It turns out that ALL the guitar music by the Catalonian composers Federico Mompou (1893-1987) and Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) fit comfortably on a single CD with room for a couple of short items by Emilio Pujol (1886-1980). And it is remarkable how idiomatic, how harmo-melodically folksy yet Modern the music is. Both composers sound very comfortable with and inspired by the classical guitar's capabilities.

Marco Ramelli gives us expressive beauty of tone and concentrated subtlety that seem perfectly right for this music. He does not attempt to steal the show so much as he realizes the composers' aims beautifully. And that makes sense for these works are meant not to awe with technique but to harness it to the ends of striking and chiming the immediacy of the "musical hours." We feel the time passing as if we sat alongside an old grandfather clock. Yet that feeling is not in the least tedious. It is made the more deep by the richness of melodic invention to be heard.

Nocturnal atmospherics, infectious dance-like ditties and deep meditations bounce along together nicely. The nine-part Gerhard "For Whom the Bell Tolls" ruminates on the Donne-Hemingway words and has a darkly thoughtful pull to it. Ramelli lends his revision hand to the suite and it all sounds quite well. Perhaps it is the most "Modern" of all the works here. But in any event it is all a really "authentic" thing, this music. So you just let it go by and appreciate the passing.

Ramelli for the program utilizes throughout a 1931 guitar fashioned by Barcelona's exemplary luthier, Francisco Simplicio. The instrument sounds just right for the music and it is recorded well to boot.

This album glows, it is music at least some of us (me for example) have missed, yet it is so well-played that it is worth catching whether you know this music or not. Highly recommended. A guitar must-hear for sure.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Michael Jon Fink, Celesta

In one of the latest Cold Blue releases we get some remarkably resonant music for celesta. It is a program of dream-like sequences, 12 pieces in all by Michael Jon Fink. The album is simply entitled Celesta (Cold Blue Music CB0053). The music is all of a piece, wistfully in a Radical Tonality zone, yet too one feels the ghosts of Erik Satie and the John Cage of "Cheap Imitation" and perhaps of Morton Feldman too, but never directly, instead rather as the kind of nocturnal ambiance that, hmm, I suppose might ultimately go back to Chopin at times.

What makes it "radical" is the nearly intentless melodic form.Yet there is periodicity and elemental song form at times too, like a music box lullaby, like the stuffed animal my friend had when we were both probably three-years old? Music boxes and celestas have common tone colors of course and perhaps the wind-up boxes of childhood one recalls involuntarily when one hears the instrument.

Yet it seems that Michael Jon Fink is aware of all that on some level and captures what the celesta was meant to sound like with music that is not unlike music-box Satie, perhaps. It is captivating, almost childlike, moving and a catalyst to a Brown Study steady state. Recommended for sure.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cimarosa, L'Impresario in Angustie, Farsa per musica, Soloists, Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, Aldo Salvagno

Sometimes we do not know what we want until we get it? So when the name comes up of Dominic Cimarosa (1749-1801), I know I should listen more to...something more of his, but what? Brilliant Records gave me a good answer in a new recording of his opera buffa L'Impresario in Angustie (Brilliant 95746). It is the original one-act work nicely disposed, clearly sounded, performed with some zest and fit onto a single CD.

The liners summarize the reception-performance history nicely. Fourteen years of opera writing preceded L'Impresario, by my count no less than 11 works. So then sometime around 1786 L'Impresario saw its premiere with some of the most prominent opera buffa stars of the day in principal roles. The plot centers around a sort of play-within-a-play (cf., Hamlet, 200 Motels) about an opera impresario and his attempts to stage an opera with comic antics a result. It was a great success, resoundingly received and performed all over Europe. No less a personage than Goethe was an admirer.

In 1791 a revised version translated into German by Goethe himself was staged. A two-act version came into being in 1793 but the new music was not by Cimarosa. But in the meantime Cimarosa wrote in 1792 Gli orazi e i curiazi, which the liners inform us is considered his masterpiece (and of course that reminds me how much there is yet to learn).

After a century of neglect L'Impresario was revived in the 1930s with stagings in Turin and at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. And now we have this fine performance on CD with convincing soloists and the Orchestra Bruno Maderna di Forli, all under conductor Aldo Salvagno.

After a few listens the music has come alive for me and I am happy to say that everything brings me a good amount of pleasure on this disk. The Brilliant price makes this an attractive offering too. Happily recommended. It is a good thing, for both widened appreciation of the period and the joy of engaging music well performed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Art Electronix, Monumental Dump Remixes

The latest album from the prolific duo Art Electronix, that is The Monumental Dump Remixes (No Stress Netlabel NN_LP078_12_18), affirms Varese's axiom that "the present-day composer refuses to die!"  The Ukranian Experimental Electronics tandem of Eugene and Catherine has a very tangible immediacy. There is an Industrial tang to this 30-something-minute program of some five riveting sound panoramas.

The music has a slightly psychedelic edge to it I guess you could say. And I mention that only because it may help to give you some clue as to what you are going to hear. No, that does not mean you might expect to hear Pink Floyd-like essays from the halcyon days of yesteryear. Rather there is a floating poetic haze of sounds that gels each in meaningful ways in terms of unabashed electronicity. More like Mimaroglu and early Olivieros than some sort of Rock-anthemic presence.

There are loops that hold interest because they have sounded interesting to the duo and chosen to go with other sounds that seem interesting. Like a poet who chooses words because they sound well together,  so Art Electronix lays out sounds with similar intent. The effect is more poetic than structurally ambitious. The "wow" feeling you might have (I do) is not a sort of "isn't this clever?" reaction, or even "isn't this profound?" It may in fact be profound in sound, but profoundly poetic more so than profoundly form-innovative. It has abstract meaning, yet it most evocatively "means."

It sounds like a sound factory of your dreams, perhaps, a kind of post-industrial take on the Industrial landscapes we see slowly fading away from our planet, or parts of our planet that I know more fully than others.

So I come to this a bunch of times so far and it increasingly lets my ear-imagination go to meaningful places. So consequently I come now to you with my recommendation that you wipe clean your mind of expectations and give this album a listen. It is fearlessly avant and widely unpretentious in its impact--with the same kind of joy-in-sound that early Electronic Music once nearly always had. The sheer joy of hearing can be heard happily on the Monumental Dump Remixes. I strongly recommend you give this one your ears! Kudos to Art Electronix for their creative art.

The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus, Ensemble for These Times

There is a world of Hungarian composers many of us outside the zone of hearing may well know not much or nothing about. That is quite clear listening to The Hungarians: From Rozsa to Justus (Centaur CRC 3660). The Ensemble for These Times and soloists bring us a nicely turned sample of music by the likes of Lajos Delej (1923-45), Gyorgy Justus (1898-1945), Miklos Rozsa (1907-95), and Sandor Vandor (1901-45).  You may know Rozsa at least by name, the rest probably not. And this music will doubtless be new to you. Their music is first and foremost Hungarian. It has a Hungarian expressivity and a kind of latent folk strain to it. That before it is Modern, exactly. It is neither quite Modern in some bloop-blip sense, nor then is it gushingly Romantic either.

The performances are quite good.

From Rozsa we have his "Duo for Cello and Piano." From Vandor there is the vocal and piano "Air" (and the vocalist's vibrato is a bit wider than I am used to I must say but otherwise you get the full musical impact), "A fan a levelek," "Kovacs," "borzalom," "Onarckep," all songs. Then we hear a delightful "3 Piano Miniatures" by Delej, followed by his jaunty "Scherzo" for cello and piano. The album closes on Justus's waltz "Ugy neha este" a somewhat sentimental piece that I'll admit seems less compelling to me, with the return of the piano-vocal duo above. I am less moved but try and listen to the notes rather than the performance, which will move you if the music already does somehow I suppose.

I come away from this happy to hear this music. I'll admit I am temperamentally disposed to a Hungarian-inflected classical music and so by nature of the well wrought examples I would not otherwise hear, I am very glad to have this to play again. It is fascinating music and if you are interested in such things it will be a solid and illuminating addition to what you can know and like from that neighboring world.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Florence Beatrice Price, Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor, Fort Smith Symphony, John Jeter

The music of Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) comes to us now in this timely release of her Symphonies No. 1 in E minor, No. 4 in D minor (Naxos 8.559827). She was, as we read on the jacket blurb, the very first Afro-American woman to have a work performed by a major American orchestra, with the premiere of her first symphony in Chicago in 1933. Perhaps most importantly her music sounds every bit as relevant today as it must have sounded then.

So we have in this program that very symphony that filled the air of the concert venue in Chicago, the 1932 Symphony No. 1 and to confirm her inventive talent and add to our appreciation we have the World Premiere recording of the Symphony No. 4 from 1945.

The jacket to this CD notes her affinity with Dvorak, and one might note in the First Symphony certainly the influence of his Symphony "From the New World," and understandably the treatment he gave to the spiritual "Going Home." You hear that a bit in the course of the First, but then you hear also Afro-American "folk" strains appearing in various very appealing ways, and at times scales in minor modes that are not divorced from traditional Afro-American lifeways.

The Fourth is the slightly more remarkable work and it shows further development and a sureness of compositional objectives that the First has too but we hear even more of it by 1945. It is remarkable that this is a First Recording at this late date, but then we know how much there is yet to discover out there and should be happy that this is now available to us. As you listen you will recognize the "Wade in the Water" theme, which is nicely interwoven into a symphonic matrix that sings out lyrically and glowingly.. The Third Movement "Juba Dance" again returns to a traditional form that the first addresses as well, but this time with perhaps even more aplomb.

After quite a few listens I can most certainly vouch for these performances by the Fort Smith Symphony under John Jeter. And I come away from it all with a firm and heartening conviction that Florence Beatrice Price is a composer of world-class stature whose music in this program sounds timeless and as classic now as it must have sounded when she first wrote it. Heartily recommended.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Cecilia Lopez, Red - Machinic Fantasies

From Cecilia Lopez this morning we have a 2-CD set of what one might call Industrial-Sustain-Process-Noise Electronics Soundscaping. It is called Red - Machinic Fantasies (XI Records XI 140 2-CDs).

The first disk is the "Red" part. It was created-recorded in October 2017 at Harvestworks (NYC) as part of her Harvestworks EAR Residency. Five parts make up the whole. Imagine a whistling tea kettle as a basis for a sound universe, only there is no tea kettle, no sound like that but then a sound not entirely un-like that, either. That is a good start to understanding "Red" at least from the outside.

Kurt Gottschalk in the liners raises a question. Is this music recordable? Of course the fact that it has been released as a two-CD set makes the question philosophical and possibly rhetorical. Kurt notes that Frederic Rzewski first made this comment in his hearing on stage in regards to the music of Morton Feldman. Maybe, Kurt thinks some more, no music is recordable. Well sure, we always make some compromise in the totality of an "is" when we agree to reduce a three-dimensional world of the "actually making" into sound only. or even with a video, sacrifice some of the sensual itness of the music for a flat-screen and loudspeaker equivalent. And the immediacy and inter-interminateness of the "live" situation freezes when embedded in recorded media. Yet it was originally there and so is captured for us nonetheless.

The point Kurt is making too of course is that there is something conceptual about the performing of Ms. Lopez's music, an action element that can only be missing in the frozen dialectic of "then" in a recording. But so too we have today a fetish for process at times in the Modern music world and cool for that but like O. Henry's shut-in in the story of the "Last Leaf" the point for the beholder who cannot be there in person is this the Piagetian "there-gone" dichotomy maybe? It is a child-like state we enter and it has an amnesiatic component. We only know the "here" if the recorded hear and we forget the rest of life's here-ness endlessness.

So back to "Red."  It is a layered tapestry of sustains and partial presence-sounds and it is not uninteresting with successive hearings. It is quite interesting in fact, or it is to me.

"See Your Food" was the name of the cafeteria in my neighborhood in Chicago years ago and perhaps Mr. Gottschalk is right. The seeing and knowing how something exists may be a good deal more than the sheer facticity of its existence.  So seeing your beans and franks before and as you eat them. Is it live or is it Memorex? Well of course in the CD world everything is Memorex. Just like movies are created out of hundreds of sound and image bits, so music necessarily. Only then too with commercial recordings like film releases "live" is a thing we are denied. So that we reconstruct the thereness of it, even if in studio music it is a make-believe all-over all-at-once thereness. Like a painting is a composite of moments of painting. And so alas to that but so also all the better in that we can reproduce it for ourselves at will by simply putting it on.

So yes, "Red" is available to us in this recorded version whenever we want. As the composer responded to Kurt Gottschalk's quandary, "it doesn't do justice" to the work itself, no doubt. But then a work is only in potentia always so long as it is not sounding, and so a not-sounding-at-all to the listener is the larger injustice to the work I guess. isn't it? So we might be happy for this release. I am.

The second work, "Machinic Fantasies," filling the second disk is the more conceptually interesting of the two. That is not to say automatically that it is the most sonically interesting. It was commissioned by and recorded live at Roulette in New York in 2018. The main part, the centerpiece of the work is a kind of turret-tial civil-war derived gatling gun sounding while rotating at the turn of a crank. It is the composer's ingenious adaptation of the old gun mechanism with a loudspeaker affixed inside it, so that sounds partially revolve, devolve and counter-volve I suppose you could say. Cecilia creates the matrix of actions that are the composition and she also creates the electronics. There are two "performers, spinners" and then also a trombone and a trumpet player. As it turns out the processually interesting operations create a sound universe that too is most certainly stunning. So there we have it.

And in the end I come out of the listening with the feeling that I have engaged with two works that are very definitely of interest sonically. It is a "home made" sonic design series that excels in that the innovative processual element intervenes into the performance space to make present a world we can re-create in the recorded space of "play back."

And so we have something that fascinates and jogs the aural imagination. If you are willing to suspend judgement and just listen patiently, you in time enter two meaningfully open sound spaces. Very recommended if you are willing to travel some distance to let this sound sculpture perform inside of you.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Goldstone and Clemmow, Gershwin and Ravel: Music for Piano Duo

Here we are the day after Ravel's birthday and so an opportune time to speak of the CD at hand. It has been wafting through my ears just now and I am most certainly the better off for it. I speak of the piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow and their recent Gershwin and Ravel: Music for Piano Duo (Divine Art 25055).

There are many things going for this album. Goldstone and Clemmow seem ideally suited for the repertoire. They can work together as one instrument, no matter if they are very rubato or in tempo, they phrase with impeccable musicality, they are technically formidable and they utilize those abilities to realize this music with taste, plus they run the gamut of piano-touch strengths to bring out the music in all its poetic truth.

Both Gershwin and Ravel embraced to greater and lesser degrees Jazz as it was emerging and flourishing in the beginning decades of the 20th century. Both died in 1937 and so they cut a similar temporal swath in the century's musical developments in ways that oscillated between the Jazz-ish camps and the Modern Classical realms as well. Gershwin was perhaps the more Jazz-influenced of the two--and that had something to do with his songwriting Tin Pan Alley involvement of course.

The repertoire covered so nicely here shows Gershwin at his most Jazzy and as definitely Modern-oriented because not at all appreciably Romantic. What is most interesting is that Gershwin in these piano versions shows more plainly the spiciness of his harmonies at times and sounds less dated, which in some ways had to do with some of the Pop-Jazz (eventual) cliches. And of course Gershwin's songs and the chord changes to them had perhaps the most critical influence on later Jazz. We hear all of that in the original two piano version of his "'I Got Rhythm' Variations." But then we hear percolations too in his original piano duet version of the "Cuban Overture" and of course the original two piano version of his "Rhapsody in Blue." All of this Gershwin sounds very much the more vital and originally Modern in these original instrumentations. And thanks to Goldstone and Clemmow we get a very exciting reading of every bar of these works.

The Ravel half of this program gives us insightful readings too, but for slightly differing reasons. The "Mother Goose" music for piano duet is the first of the three works that reminds us that no matter how wonderfully masterful his orchestrations are, and he is a true master, to hear the sounds and sequences on the piano is to revel in just how startlingly inventive his music was even without the orchestral spellbinding. So that we hear with the "Goose," and too with the short and somewhat rare "Sites auriculaires."

But then the composer's piano duet version of the "Bolero" is about as startling a thing as anything on this fine set. The riveting rhythmic and melodic-harmonic insistence of the long buildup is a rejuvenation, a revelation, and so well played as to be a must-hear!

Highly recommended. Goldstone and Clemmow shine brightly and the music is sterling.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Orazio Colombano, Psalms for Six Voices, Cappella Musicale Della Cattedrale Di Vercelli, Denis Silano

The musical ages can pass between your ears as long as you live, providing you cast a wide net and listen to music that produces the sounds of earlier times along with more recent fare. After yesterday's new music in response to Schutz, today's fine disk of Psalms for Six Voices (Brilliant 95839) seems fitting and welcome. Denis Silano and Cappella Musicale Della Cattedrale di Vercelli guide us through the 16 Latin psalm settings in ideal ways. The voices are strong and nuanced; the music reminds us perhaps of Gesualdo without the dissonances.

Orazio Colombano lived around 1554 through sometime after 1595. After studying the musical arts with one Costanzo Porta, he came to the Vercelli Cathedral to direct the church music of the somewhat modest group of vocalists and instrumentalists in 1579. The Psalms was his first work, a setting of the Psalms of the Vespers liturgy which at the time was to be sung for all obligatory feast days, preceding the Magnificat. The work is elaborately antiphonal, contrapuntally complex and masterfully wrought. The music was printed in Venice in the year it was written and so it has come down to us.

The performances are richly flowing and expressive with a cathedral-space headroom that sounds quite good on playback through my rudimentary system. The music may not be well known but has a youthful vitality yet a depth that bears up well in successive hearings. Happily recommended.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ernst Krenek, Chamber Music and Songs, Volume One

Ernst Krenek (1900-91) lived a long life, so long that he was not so well remembered in his last years as he should have been, at least in the States. Yet in his day he was one of the great Modernists of Vienna before WWII summarily sent him packing to seek refuge in the USA. All the history and biography he embodied in his 91 years we more or less set aside for now as we concentrate on the recent Chamber Music and Songs, Volume One (Toccata Classics 0295). It reminds us in the best ways how vital his music was and remains today.

The Ernst Krenek Institute co-produced the album with BR Klassik and the result is an extremely happy one to my mind. Soprano Laura Aiken, mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, baritone Florian Boesch and the Ernst Krenek Ensemble give us optimum readings both sympathetic and fully precise, expressive and definitive. The works cover a considerable span of time from 1917 to 1949/61. There are gems in abundance and several first recordings.

The liners tell of a kind of epiphany Krenek experienced when a student as he read a study of Bach's fugal writing by one Ernst Kurth, which as Krenek recalled in later years asserted that music was not "a vague symbolization of [emotion] instinctively conjured up into a pleasant sounding manner, but a precisely planned reflection of an autonomous system of streams of energy materialized in carefully controlled tonal patterns." So we hear the 1917 and 1918 "Double Fugue" first recordings for four hands and two pianos, respectively, which came directly after Krenek read that book and in many ways set the tone for Krenek's brand of Modernism, which coincided in a basic sense with the Viennese School as a whole, of the outlooks of Reger and Hindemith and of the later developments in Darmstadt. Yet he was his own voice even with those affinities, as the volume shows nicely.

The seven additional works in this volume wear remarkably well, from the expressively classic vocalisms of "Drei Leider," "Wahrend der Trennung," and the "Holy Ghost's Ark" to the instrumental sublimity of the 1949/61 "String Trio," the 1929 "Trio Phantasie" for violin, cello and piano, and the 1946/55 "Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano." It all is in every detail masterfully worked out, in varying ways a Modernist, tonally expansive and edge-vibrant analog of Bach's fugalities.

After listening a good number of times to the 75 minutes of this first volume I have been increasingly impressed and taken by the whole of it.  There are multiple strands of Krenek to be heard here, with a more ravishingly Expressionist Modernism holding sway on the "Trio Phantasie" as compared with the Bachian structural splendors of the String Trio and the Double Fugues.

I must say that this volume impressed me greatly with its wealth of wonderful music. There no doubt remains a great deal more that has we need again to hear in his extremely prolific output. I look forward to further volumes!

Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Reiko Futing, Distant Song

Music for percussion, for small vocal ensemble, for the two together, for chamber groups with voice, ever shifting,  Distant Song (New Focus Recordings 216) gives us Reiko Futing at length and in focus. The composer in the liner states that this series of works express his "continuing compositional interest in time and space." How that works out is complicated. Aural memory is piqued or activated by musical quotations in various ways, bringing in, breaking apart, isolating. We are called upon to experience borders and slow change. It is the sort of thing where we do not say to ourselves, "hey, that's the first bar of Beethoven's Fifth!" It is a great deal more subtle than that. In fact I listened a number of times without reading the liners and failed to notice the constructive process, except that Early Music permeates things at times as an underlying force. So it in a way is an "inside baseball" kind of thing. You enjoy the game if you know something others might not, but you enjoy the game too if you do not catch every nuance.

So the opening work "'als ein licht'/extensio" relies as text on a poem by Kathleen Furthmann and a Heinrich Schutz motet as the "basis" for the work. The vocal ensemble has the lion's share of recognizable work to do in making us feel the "early" basis of the music. The viola da gamba quintet, percussion quartet and positive organ stretch our sensibilities. Notably at times the percussion quartet sounds with dramatic outbursts not unlike a taiko drumming ensemble minus the periodicity. The album is dedicated to musicologist Wolfram Steude (1931-2006), who suggested to Futing when he was his student years ago that he write a work in response to Schutz. What matters to our ears is that the Modernist outlook prevails at the same time as the Schutzian zeitgeist is, once you know, very much present.

The program moves through another five works, "in allem frieden" with another poem by Furthmann and the same vocal and instrumental forces, again with a Schutz work as the underpinning for the musical proceedings. "Wie der Tag - wie das Licht" acts as an epilogue with parts for soprano and bass gamba.

The works that follow on the heels of the compositions described above each feature a different configuration--soprano and trumpet; baritone, trumpet. trombone and bass clarinet; chamber ensemble; and chamber ensemble and vocal quartet, respectively.

All have specific aims or structural parameters, quotational/appropriative dimensions that set them into a special place. If you grab this music you can follow along in the liners of course. It is not necessary to map it all out here. There are cyclic-repetitive moments in the works that spell us from the linear Modernisms and linear earlier music quotations we experience throughout. The past mediates the present at times, the present mediates the past. And that perhaps is the point of memory, time and space as motoring factors in the musical universe(s) we occupy daily? Futing wakes us up in good ways to the experiential possibilities while providing us with a musical art program we can appreciate and love

Suffice to say that the music is distinctive, individual, inventive and very imaginative. That in the end is the best reason to hear the album. That Reiko Futing creates his works in original ways is a fact. To understand his music it is very much a key to hear how the results are constructed, of course. That the results are striking aurally is confirmation that he is on the right path. Very recommended.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Veronique Mathieu, Stephanie Chua, True North, Contemporary Music for Violin and Piano

We get a full disk today of Canadian violinist Veronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua in a program of works written between 1996 and 2016 with a single work coming from 1916. The album is entitled True North (Centredisques 24417).

Ms. Mathieu and Ms. Chua trip the light fantastic with a dramatic sense of expression and a remarkable sense of balance and poise. The works vary from the Neo-Impressionistic Healey Willon "Sonata No. 1" written in 1916 and revised in 1955, to a solid block of Contemporary Modern fare, five works by five living composers we may not know very well but each with a true sense of what violin and piano together can accomplish, written between 1996 and 2016.

The six works in all pose different solutions each to the challenge of giving violin and piano something more, something new, something not yet heard. So they do it, every one of them. The emphasis is not on cutting edge daring but rather highly worked-over and highly focused, well wrought and thoughtful Classicism. Not necessarily Neo-Classicism, but ever contentful music.

So we are treated in addition to the rather magical Willon work,  the expressive, virtuoso Modernism of "Gradual Erasures" by Adam Scime, describing a passage from life to extinction, the field recording clapping and such from a lake outside of Toronto juxtaposed with exploratory music in "Cherry Beach" by Brian Harmon, a Stravinsky-Prokofiev inspired "Danza" by Maria Molinari, with a bittersweet waltz that sweeps us into a reverie and reminds us of Prokofiev's "Cinderella," "Adagio," aka "The Mermaid's Lament" by Heather Schmidt, and Alice Ping Yee Ho's violin showcase piece "Extasis."

This is serious music that calls for serious listening, and the big upside is that you gain by what ear-time you give this program. It is all about what we are all about now! And the artistry is superb. It is quite worthwhile and recommended.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Jane Antonia Cornish, Into Silence, MINI-Review

From Jane Antonia Cornish there is a very lovely EP entitled Into Silence (Innova 976). It is a six-work program that lays out some choice miniatures, five for strings (a violin and four cellos on two of them; then piano, violin and four cellos; solo cello, and four cellos, respectively) and one for solo piano.

What is striking about the music is that it cradle-rocks gently in repetitive ways that I suppose puts it in Minimalist territory, but then all of it is lyrical, pretty, even beautiful in ways that set it apart from most other works out there. One finds oneself in a reverie much of the time. The sonances are pronounced and original, sweet and clarion yet soft-edged.

I have heard nothing quite like it. Ms. Cornish knows what she is all about and gives us an original world in which we can dwell happily as listeners. Recommended.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Leopold Kozeluch, Symphonies 2, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice, Marek Stilec

The lid is off! People are discovering composer Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818) and his music is back by popular demand. Kozeluch-mania is infecting us all! Ed Sullivan is frantically trying to program his music for a spring episode! Well of course that's not really the way things like this go. Classical composers may justly and happily be revived in the public esteem, but it is not like the art world where suddenly someone's works now go for a cool million. Not that much changes. Except there are CDs that come out that sell a bit and one might find a work or two on concert programs. But for those involved it is a happy thing.

For someone like me discovering Kozeluch, thanks in part to Naxos putting out his music among other labels, it does have an impact in my life, though you might not know it by observing my behavior. So now we have Symphonies 2 (Naxos 8.573872), a second volume of what I assume will be a comprehensive set of his works in this genre. The volumes are a part of "Czechoslovakia in Vienna," which of course reminds you of his origins and then his place of musical maturity.

I reviewed Volume One here (see index) and what holds true of that volume is present in the second as well. This further installment allows us to hear four more of his 17 symphonies. To give you a feel for the in-between-ness of this music, many of the symphonies call for a harpsichord continuo, which is fulfilled admirably by Jirina Dvorakova. There is that palpable level of pre-Romantic actuality to be heard.

And yet we hear a composer that has something more than a very well-crafted post-Rococo vivacity and drive such as Papa Haydn and a very young Mozart had as well. There is a foreshadowing of Schubert lyricism and Beethovenian ardor, and enough of it in its own way that you hear Kozeluch as a genuine voice of his times, sadly neglected by us over the several hundred years (as of this writing 201 years) since his passing.

The performances and sound are all you might ask for. All the symphonies appear to have been written between 1779 and 1787, so are a product of his tenure in Vienna, and too are fairly early on as far as his longevity goes. They are in every way worth hearing and studying at length, as are his piano sonatas and chamber works to the extent I have been exposed to them, and so too to you in words as I have reviewed these things in this space (see index). The symphonies as the liner notes tell us and we recognize, show that he is beautifully inventive and imaginative. If the liners point out in addition the influence of Cimarosa here and there, I demure and leave you to explore that along with me.

At any rate if you have the urge to explore the Classical Era, that is a worthy neglected figure from that period, here is a nice way to pay homage to the composers from then and hear one you probably have missed! I recommend it if you have the desire for such things.