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Friday, May 31, 2019

Nikoghayos Tigranian, Armenian Dances, Mugam Arrangements, Mikael Ayrapetyan

I was lucky when I was a freshman in high school many years ago to happen upon a Hovhaness LP that intrigued me. One of the works was very much in an Armenian mode and I loved it. It led me to explore Armenian folk music records, more music by Hovhaness and eventually other Armenian composers from the homeland. So it was a most fortunate intersection for me. And now there is a new album of piano solo works by Nikoghayos Tigranian (1856-1951) that includes Armenian Folk Dances and Mugam Arrangements (Grand Piano 798), all in a World Premiere recording. Pianist Mikael Ayrapetyan gives us rhapsodic and dynamic readings of the some 16 works on the album spanning Tigranian's output from 1894 through 1935.

This is a wonderful set of works that dwells decidedly in Armenian folk mode territory yet also comes across with the expressivity of 20th century art music. The liners inform us that Tigranian was among the important first generation of Armenian composers and folk song collectors that included Komitas Vardapet, who for me is the more familiar name among them. They set about preserving folk songs and dances in a systematic way and through their own compositional talents set the stage for an classical Armenian local style that of course stays with us today.

Anyone who knows and loves the very special Armenian take on Middle Eastern harmonic and otherwise minor-moded presence will find this music rather irresistible, I would think. There is a good hour of music that maintains a high level of contentful intensity throughout, beginning with the 11 Armenian Folk Dances from 1935 and on through some very worthy opuses that are in fact the Mugum Arrangements alluded to in the title--the "Bayati Kurd, Op. 2" of 1894,  "Bayati-Shiraz, Op. 3" of 1896, and the piano versions of the 1897 "Heydari, Op. 5," and the 1899 "Shakhnaz, Op. 6," and then finally the 1907 "Nouruz Arabi, Op. 10."

The music is first-rate and well performed. Anyone who loves the Armenian tinge will welcome this. Those not familiar with what that means will find this a very good introduction to it as well. Recommended with a big smile.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Jasper String Quartet, The Kernis Project: Debussy, String Quartets by Aaron Jay Kernis and Claude Debussy

In the world we believe we are a part of there is never a last word, ideally, on the music we hold dear to ourselves, nor is there ever an end to the ongoing addition of works that come to be part of our personal recognitions, our "things we ever like" shopping list on any given day. Auspiciously both are present on a very rewarding listen by the Jasper String Quartet, via an album entitled The Kernis Project: Debussy (Sono Luminus DSL-92233). On it we hear a new take on an older classic and a new music to be taken hold of, a new-old and a new-new.

To untangle the poetic web of word images it needs to be said that this album gives us the Jasper Quartet's very fine readings of "String Quartet No. 3, 'River,'" by Aaron Jay Kernis and Claude Debussy's "String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10." No doubt most will know the Debussy. On the other hand the Kernis Quartet will doubtless be something new, as it enjoys a pre-eminent Jasper focus after they had commissioned it and it has had a chance to mature in their hands since its completion in 2015.

The Jasper Quartet's enthusiasm for Kernis is long standing. They have covered the earlier quartets in several volumes, to critical and popular acclaim. I must make a note of hearing those but at any rate this Kernis Third has a great deal of substance and depth. It is filled with melodic-harmonic complexities, rich shades in the manner of the deepest-of-the deep quartets from Beethoven on. It is a Quartet's Quartet and clearly the Jasper Quartet has meshed with its maze of details in an intensity of commitment and scope that brings to us directly the brilliance of the work. On a continuum is is tonal but complexly so, like parts of the Bartok opus perhaps, but a bit less obviously Modern and then again not altogether removed from the performance partner quartet on this program.

So it is fitting that the Kernis is presented along with the Debussy, for they are in no way unrelated to one another in their lyric color and expressive dash. The Jasper approach to the pizzicato parts in the Debussy is as wonderful as I have heard, and there is a real sweetness and passion to this reading that puts it something closer to the Budapest Quartet's classic LP performance than a more Minimal-Modern brusqueness that one can also hear these days, sometimes quite nicely so. The Jasper Quartet uncovers a high level of lyric feeling without going Romantic in the end and so all the better. It sounds as a reading of our time and fits a nice space in the spectrum of possible contemporary performances.

In sum there is a great deal to digest, to explore, to learn from and to enjoy on this program. The Jasper Quartet is among the very best such groups working today and they bring us a sterling Kernis and a heartening Debussy. You cannot lose here in that there is so much good happening you are bound to be pleased I think. Give it an earful.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mark Andre, HIJ, WDR Sinfonieorchester, Mariano Chiacchiarini, SWR Vokalensemble, Markus Creed, SWR Experimentalstudio

Mark Andre did not show up so much on my radar previously yet after living with the music on HIJ (Wergo 7379-2) for a week I must say he lives very much in my head now. The entire album is filled by "hij 1" and "hij 2," the first for symphony orchestra and the second for a vocal ensemble and electronics.

The two works together make a dramatic statement in the best of High Modernist tradition. The works sprawl through space in soundscaped ways with blocks of cluster-chords rubbing up against more percussive noise as a sparing counter-stimulant. There are longish passages of whispering quietude that pave the way for or put punctuation on the bands of floating and evolving prisms of sound.

The composition diptych title is meant to be an acronym for the Scandinavian greeting "hej," a phrase deliberately everyday, even banal. Yet too the title stands for the interjection "Help, Jesus" or more specifically "Hilfe Jesu." So the whole is meant to be a cry to God for help which naturally contradicts the idea of the everyday.

All that comes together for an extended two-pronged spinning of an aural world not quite like any other, though there is Feldman and perhaps Stockhausen as precursors in the floating islands of sound idea.

Everything takes place as if we are in some alternate universe and yet of course this is music of OUR time and space. This is one of those New Music recordings that should stand out as important to our present-day world I believe. I would put it among the "you should hear this first" albums of late if you want to commune with the Modernist present. It's a goodie.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, Vernacular

Icelandic cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir takes us on a New Music journey, an adventure into the solo cello as, yes, an extended technique vehicle, as that along with more conventional articulations, all put together in a series of four compositions by composers not familiar to me, in a program that provokes deep listening and some reflective thought, all this on the album entitled Vernacular (Sono Luminus 92229).

The liners begin with Saeunn giving us a sort of encapsulization about what she is hearing in her overall lifeway. A teacher fairly early on noted how sensitive she was to "textures and harmonic overtones,"  and Saeunn goes on to muse that perhaps this has to do with the Icelandic language's wealth of unvoiced consonants. Very interesting, this! The language is old, it naturally adapts to a changing world and so she reflects New Music does the same. The composers of these solo pieces similar to Ms. Thorsteinsdottir grew up speaking Icelandic and like her have spent some considerable time abroad.

That is all so clearly put that it forms a crucial backdrop for what we hear on this intriguing album. Give Saeunn full credit for making each of these compositions quite articulate and syntactically fluid, even subject to an inner feeling of combined logic and expressivity. Every one of the works challenges the cellist to make a discourse out of what might in lesser hands sound like sound-after-sound.

We may have in the last 100 years come all manner of ways to get to this exact punctum in time where we hear the four compositions that make up Vernacular. What matters is not at this point to me the specifics of that "everywhere-at-once" journey though the thickets and open fields of Modernity. It is that this punctum is a coming together with a coherency formed of Ms. Thorsteinsdottir's engagement with her own evolving and shifting world, a place that makes room for the new yet articulates the new out of an overarching way to look at things that is at once unique and comprehensibly available to us all if we can but listen closely.

So we hear in succession "Afterquake" by Pall Ragnar Palsson, "48 Images of the Moon" by Puridur Jonsdottir, "O" by Halldor Smarason, and "Solitaire" by Haflidi Hallgrimsson. I will not attempt to separate out each in some analytical descriptors because frankly I experience this album as a whole and it connotes to me as it does as one long art-gesture. That of course does not mean that all is simply one-thinged. You hear it all and you feel each part is a significant step to the whole expression.

And so it goes in a happy way. Ms. Thorsteinsdottir impresses greatly and the composers feed her with a fully art-drenched musical expression that allows her to shine forth exceptionally well.

Very exciting and a rare thing is this. Be prepared for immersion to appreciate fully Vernacular. There is no point in engaging with this music unless you allow complete surrender to it. Then all becomes very well indeed. So go ahead!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Simone Kermes, Mio Caro Handel, Amici Veneziani

It is decisively certain I feel as I begin my morning write-up today. That is because I feel happily confident that soprano Simone Kermes and the chamber ensemble Amici Veneziani give us state-of-the-art readings of arias by George Frideric Handel on Mio Caro Handel (SONY Classical 19073861772). As a Handel follower myself this is a wonderful thing to me. Yet even if there is a chance you might not be that thoroughly into Handel this recording I believe would bring you to a place where you got it completely. That is if you opened yourself to this album as it plays out.

A listen to the first track will give you something of what makes the recording wonderful in microcosm. From Rinaldo we hear the literally tempestuous "Furie terribili." The tempo is maddenly, delightfully quick, the brio is almost incredibly rousing and Ms. Kermes charges forth with only a bit of vibrato and lots of genuine fire. Wow!

The rest of the album lives up to the promise of the opener. There is no vestige of affective overkill yet it is not in the least bit perfunctory. It is in fact exemplary Modern Early Music performance practice--where the continuo is crisp and timbrally rich, and the soprano-instrumental blend is without a trace of scooping sentimentality or overstuffing, nor is it in the least bit cold. Simone hits every note with chiming clearness, a sweetness and an elegant grace, with total control and a subtle employment of vibrato in terminal points or for lyric emphasis without the least bit of a wobble. Her long and fluid melismas are a thing to behold, too. If you have an ear and it is ever present in every listen you make, which it is the nature to be the case if it is there at all, then you will appreciate the true musicality of Simone Kermes' every move here. So I hope.

As the title suggests there is love for Handel in this music. One feels that strongly. And if one also loves Handel's ways (as I do), all the happier a confluence is this collection. From the beautifully tender to the boisterously awesome, the arias are wide-ranging, not always obvious and touch upon the fine subtleties and the bold contrasts that comprise Simone Kermes and Amici Veneziani's fine art.

Some 15 arias form the program, expressing a Handelian universe of humors and articulations. So we get select gems from Guilio Cesare in Egitto, La Resurrezioni, Serse, Teseo, Rodelinda, Athalia, Saul, and on from there.

The liners give us a heartfelt, loving appreciation of George Frideric's centrality to Simone Kermes' musical and situational well-being. We read and it jibes completely with the aural evidence--the loving care Simone and Amici Veneziani bring to every note on this album. A shout-out of appreciation to concertmaster Boris Bagelman by the way. He and the ensemble shine throughout.

It is about as beautifully right a Handelian recital can be without pulling the earth out of orbit. Kermes loves Handel and that love is true! Truly. We all benefit from this feeling with marvelous music. Do not miss it.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Calder Quartet, Beethoven Hillborg, Two Classic Quartets, One Contemporary

When the very classic joins the modern on a single program, one compares two worlds and gauges the "now" with the "then." Or at least one is invited to do so. This morning I am contemplating a recent CD by the Calder String Quartet, a most lively and accomplished group who present an unusual program in their recent album entitled Beethoven Hillborg (Pentatone 5186718). On it we get an early Beethoven Quartet, the String Quartet in D Major, op. 18 no. 3 (1798-1800), a late one, the Quartet in C-Sharp minor, op. 131 (1826), and then a rather recent work (2006) by Anders Hillborg  (B. 1954), the "Kongsgaard Variations."

What I can say straight off the bat is that the music hangs together as one concert, so to speak, and with repeated listens I have been smiling a good deal as I hear. The Quartet tell us how the music specifically relates together in the liners.

The Beethoven op. 131 of course is one of the most celebrated in the repertoire for good reason. The Calder Quartet has found in performing the complete Beethoven Quartets that the op. 131 overwhelmes them with admiration for how deeply it cuts, how much in the space of just 30 minutes it traverses a very long expanse, as they note "fugal writing, harmonic explorations, passages filled with operatic drama, and a grand set of variations into seven movements."

The earlier Beethoven Op. 18, No. 3 they note is nicely contrasting in its Classical form and stands out for its evocation of sunrise and a journey.

The Hillborg bisects and intersects both Beethovens, because it is a set of variations for one thing, and too because it reflects a tonality, depth and lyricism not at all alien to the Beethoven Quartets here. Perhaps most important is the principal theme of the work, which is stated only at the end. It is the Airetta theme from Beethoven's final piano sonata op. 111, which Hillborg found was actually notated on the label of a California wine he came across. That inspired him. So all the more apt! Everything both fits in with and paves the way for the masterful complexities of Beethoven's Op. 131.

As to the performances, they are warm, very personal and intimate in keeping with the tenor of the music. If you know the old Budapest Quartet recordings of these Beethoven Quartets, it is the Calder Quartet's way too to fall on the warmer side of the performance possibilities. They are enough of the "Old School" to have it that way, yet quite brio too when n called upon and a little less "intemperate" in the way they express the emotional content of the music--so more modern, more in keeping with a crisper structural exegesis of the music that is more what we tend to be about today.

After quite a few listens I must say this is a program that brings a lot of pleasure to me and also nicely reveals something of the chamber music side of Anders Hillborg. The Calder Quartet are impeccable in all the performance details as well as joyfully broad stroked in the happy feeling of making this music together. Everything conspires to bring you a happy, very happy musical time.

Very recommended.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Viktor Kalabis, The Complete Piano Works, Ivo Kahanek

When exploring a new and unexpected release, one question to ask yourself is, "what would change if this was never made?" The answer today is that "in that case I would never know about some very important music in great performance!" That of course tells you that Viktor Kalabis' The Complete Piano Works (Supraphon 4259-2 2-CDs) as performed by Ivo Kahanek has something going for it!

This is a lot of excellent music to live inside and Ivo Kahanek plays it all with the fire it needs. Viktor Kalabis was born in 1923, passed away in 2006, so he was center into the 20th century and his music reflects a personal response to how things were. He was one as the liners tell us who was forced to delay his advanced schooling while the Nazi occupation took place in Czechoslovakia.With the communist takeover of the country in 1948 there were other concerns to be aware of, naturally. The liners make note of the twin poles of Social Realism and Structural Exaggeration from the Second Viennese School, neither of which dominated Kalabis' compositional outlook. Petr Veber rightly sees Kalabis as an original amalgam of the classics plus Janacek. Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev. Hindemith and Martinu. At times the Neo-Classicism and Rites of Stravinsky is a prominent influence and Hindemith can loom large too.

The first disk gives us plenty to absorb in the Piano Sonatas of 1947, 1948 and 1982. Each seems fully formed and very Modern-Expressionist in the best senses. If you knew nothing of Kalabis, this would get your attention no doubt as it did mine. There is much of a pianistic sort, nicely wrought and dynamically exciting. Just these alone give you a Modernist of the first rank, some music that should be more widely performed. In the meantime Kahanek gives us a high benchmark of how one might approach it all.

Disk Two gives us six additional works from the later period, 1967-1999. They reveal different aspects of the composer's interaction with the piano, with the very last works sounding very Stravinskian but not in any actively obvious way. And they are nicely challenging for the performer and thus maintain interest in that way as well.

There is so much to like in this set that I do not hesitate to recommend it to you without reservation. If the piano and the Modern resonate with you, this will no doubt help float your boat this season.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, 24 Preludes, Gidon Kremer

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Don't miss this!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Josh Modney, Engage, New Chamber Music for Violin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 6, 2019

James Tenney, Changes, 64 Studies for 6 Harps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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