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Friday, June 28, 2019

John Luther Adams, Become Desert, Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot

Become Ocean (2013) by John Luther Adams struck me as one of the most significant orchestral works of our decade. It won a Grammy. I gave it a rave here (type in search box above). Now Adams returns with a kind of parallel landscape-soundscape, Become Desert (Cantaloupe Music 21148) in a very fine performance by the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot.

The album comes as a set, a regular CD for standard two-channel stereo and a DVD with appropriate scenic desert photo stills and regular two-channel or surround options. In either case the sound is magnificently done.

Like Become Ocean and its earlier prequel Become River the music has an analogous relation to the tactile and visual properties of the physical imagination of a natural phenomenon, in this case a desert-scape over time.

The music begins out of absolute silence, slowly and ravishingly developing like a dawn sequence or a kind of imagined genesis, and after all everything at some point  becomes in all the ways it can, so from a total nothing we get increasing presence, like a day can become ever-more intense in nature, then it gradually de-intensifies in various ways towards a sunset and a quiet night? So too the music over its 40-minute span gradually enters with the most fragile kind of quietude, gradually grows and builds to a triumphant "thereness" and just as surely begins to ebb away until at the end there is near nothing and then poof, gone!

This is music that depends upon near drone-like sustains of layers of color-chords, beautifully orchestrated gossimers-become-glorious-formations at the peak of sun-sandiness. It is sheer sensuality on one level, brilliantly transfixing sonic structures that radically build out of a tonal assumption like nature presences itself in life itself for us if we are lucky enough to witness it.

Again like Become Ocean this is a sort of ultimate Modern Impressionism, where structure becomes entirely beholden to presenting a kind of natural essence. Time evolves slowly but ever seems suspended within itself. And sound color dominates in the most evocative and brilliant ways.

And somehow John Luther Adam's world of sound and sequence becomes an object lesson in how to keep away from the rapidly moving and the humanly tune-weaving kind of musical selfhood most have adopted through the history of organized sound. Instead Adams elects to dwell inside the timeless time we might hear in a very well realized alap segment of an Indian Raga as played by the very most accomplished improviser-artist. That is the nearest equivalent I can think of for where Adams takes us in this work. There is stillness that is in no way stationary. It moves as it stays put. It sounds out of silence and maintains the silence in soundfulness.

It is exceedingly beautiful, exceedingly well thought-out and effectively enacted. I must say I believe it is once again a seminal moment in the Modernity of the present, like Become Ocean. Become Desert slows the world down and then allows it to unfold without human intervention or disruption, so to speak, at least in its modelling of the reality it seeks to capture.

Stunning. My highest regards and recommendations I give to this musical wonder. Listen!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Brooks, The Passion, Bang On A Can All Stars & Contemporaneous, David Bloom

From composer Jeffrey Brooks and the Bang On A Can folks comes a major Minimalist music event called The Passion (Cantaloupe 21146). It is a full length work in three movements for several mid-sized acoustic and electric chamber outfits (amplified chamber orchestras, to use the liner terminology) with some vocalists reciting a bit in the middle and singing rather sweetly at the end. It has the thrust of Rock (with guitar, bass and drums helping that along greatly) and a kind of insistent layering like Balinese Gamelan except further into the Minimal fray of the Tonal Modernist present. And it sounds perfectly well, even better as you listen again.

The work took definitive shape after Brooks thought about the effect Michael Gordon's "The Treewatcher" had on him when he first heard it in concert as a student in New Haven. And then after some preliminary work on the piece Brooks subsequently heard of the untimely death of his friend and associate,  fellow-composer Steve Martland. At that point the music became suddenly and necessarily about the tragedy of loss of this wonderful spirit. So Brooks began moving ahead with his now revised thinking about the piece he wanted to write by considering Bach's moving "Capriccio on the Departure of A Beloved Brother."

From there and the quotation of same from an old vinyl record of the Bach all comes together and moves forward memorably. The three sections, "After the Treewatcher," "Capriccio On the Departure of A Beloved Brother," and the concluding "Passion" with its hypnotic vocal melody, the entire sequence seems aesthetically inevitable and right as we hear it in final form.

Like Rock or Blues or various World Musics, the Modernist use of repetition is only as worthy as the musical motifs involved and the relative weights put on them, and then of course the performativity of it all.  Brooks gives us musical motifs that stand out and works them together in ways that have some true weight, an outstandingly well wrought singularity that puts the music in a place one wants to return to again, and then again  That at least has been my experience, a happy one.

I do not hesitate to recommend this one for anyone who knows or who wants to know what Bang On A Can is about. This is an excellent example, the Brooks piece is among the best of such things in this decade. Hear it! If you cannot get to the upcoming MassMOCA Bang On A Can extravaganza this will help tide you over nicely.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Winged Creatures and Other Works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra, Demarre & Anthony McGill, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Allen Tinkham

Today there is an interesting program of two World Premier Recordings of concerted works for flute, clarinet and orchestra plus two earlier gems for same. Winged Creatures (Cedille 90000 187) features the excellent flute and clarinet duo of Demarre and Anthony McGill with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Allen Tinkham.

The music is well played in all instances and gives us much to absorb. The ultra-Contemporary end pieces, both premieres, work very nicely against the contrasting inner works on the program, namely the Franz Danzi Classicism of the "Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 41" and the Romanticism combined with the attractive folk energy of Saint-Saens brief "Tarantelle, Op. 6." Both retain plenty of interest and bring a refreshing change of pace that thrive in their enthusiastic performances.

Michael Abels' "Winged Creatures" has a nicely panoramic depictive-tonal Modern thrust that sets off the wind duo within a well imagined orchestral carpet.

And too Joel Puckett's "Concerto Duo" rings forth with an initially somewhat Jazz-tinged aura and then gives us a good, similarly depictive-tonal Modernity for listeners to immerse themselves in.

The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra are impressive for their age. The McGill brothers charge forward with a dynamic and indefatigable zest that is captivating and even exciting to hear. It is one of those couplings where everything works together, that matches up well with performers and compositions that fit together in absorbing ways. The new works are mainstream Modern and well crafted, nicely wrought.

Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Rand Steiger, Coalescence Cycle, Volume 1: Music for Soloists and Electronics, International Contemporary Ensemble

One can never be sure from one month to the next exactly what music one will hear. So an open-work world-mind is a healthy one to maintain no doubt. Here is one I did not expect to get yet now that I've heard it a number of times I am glad of it. That's Coalescence Cycle, Volume 1: Music for Soloists and Electronics (Tundra/New Focus Recordings TUN 013) by composer Rand Steiger with soloists of the International Contemporary Ensemble.

This is on the surface of things a pretty straightforward proposition. Selected soloists perform expressive fare that lands on this side of Jazz-based Improv in its vibrant performativity, yet is firmly in the New Music camp.

The soloists conjoin with electronics that build out of the instrumentalist's part closely and/or co-exist in direct parallel to it. The idea of harmony melding into timbral complexity is what lies behind these works conceptually. Instrumental part and electronics conjoin closely via expressly sequenced live signal processing by means of special software applications by Miller Puckette. In live versions the sound of the instrumentalist(s) is processed and disseminated out of six loudspeakers distributed throughout the auditorium. It is reduced to stereo in the present recording. The note choices center around natural intervals that occur in the harmonic series. Understandably this lends itself to the timbral-chord ambiguity that Rand Steiger seeks to explore.

In this way single-note, chord and timbral elements oscillate in mutual coexistence, come forward in performance and permute in a kind of natural process situation. Five interrelated works seek our listening involvement, each with a different instrument or instruments as soloist(s) and each rolling forward in its own way. The works were composed between 2012 and 2015. They are in sequence as follows: "Cyclone" for clarinet and electronics, "Beacon" for flute, piccolo and electronics, "Morning Fog" for cello and electronics, "Light On Water" for flute, piano and electronics, and "Concatenation" for bassoon and electronics.

There are interesting, captivating musical events happening continuously throughout, but I must say I have been especially taken by the opening "Cyclone" for clarinet, "Light On Water" for flute-piano and the closing bassoon-timbral excitement of "Concatenation." That is not to cast aspersion on the others, just to note that the opening and closing gambits are the most dramatic and appealing each in their own way.

All the soloists come through with dynamic and exciting performances that one hears with pleasure. So kudos to Joshua Rubin on clarinet, Claire Chase on the flute and piccolo, Kivie Cahn-Lipman on cello, Jacob Greenberg on piano and Rebekah Heller on bassoon.

I find the album a stimulating listen. It illustrates the current live organicism that much of the Electro-Acoustics we hear today espouse. It all works together for an emphasis on performance yet gives us plenty to focus upon in the deliberate systems-compositional forms. Recommended for those open to intriguing new examples of live electronics as it evolves into the Modern future.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Alan Griffiths, Rare View, Volume Two, Cello, Piano and Violin

I covered the music of Alan Griffiths a while back on these pages (see the entry from February 28 of this year for that review article.) He in the meantime was kind enough to send me another volume of his compositions, which I now talk about a little bit. The album came out a fairly short while ago. It is a recording of some twelve brief chamber works of his for piano, cello and violin, in various combinations.  It is entitled Rare View, Volume Two (SONY Australia). The album grew out of a series of happenstances--a new microphone developed by SONY, a new Yamaha grand piano, a librettist Alan came to know, a new concert venue, and a wish to record the entire project solely with solar power, to make a recording with no carbon footprint.. The music is dedicated to Alan's late friend, activist Paul Martin.

So we have a second volume of the music (I have not heard the first.) The solo piano works continue to peek my interests, as they did on the last album I reviewed. Nicholas Young plays them very well. It is not exactly all "Modern" in the typical sense, though some feel that way. They are Tonal, Neo- and so also are the works that include violin (Dominik Przywara) and/or cello (George Yang). All three players come through with excellence, and they give us the compositional whole in near-ideal ways.

I do most appreciate the solo piano music here.

If Rare View plays with the idea of "Rear View" as in the rear-view mirror on the cover image, it is deliberate of course. This is decidedly not music that looks forward exactly, though one cannot not do something of that when writing new works. And face it, if we are to have an "avant garde" it is necessary that there be a "rear-view garde" so to speak, and Alan Griffiths re-traverses later Romantic expressiveness in ways that actually and perhaps paradoxically do not look backward in some imitative sense but instead take the working premises or the essence of Romantic "fullness" and remakes it all in his own image. In the end the piano music at any rate is tumultuous and so in part has a kind of "Early Modern" fire to it that you might hear in Scriabin or Prokofiev piano solo music at times early and mid-period. Yet it does not sound especially Russian because it is not. And though there is occasionally some tension via a bit of dissonance it is not the primary form of presentation.

That is not at all to say that the music that includes cello and/or violin is not interesting. It all is that. But to appreciate this music for itself one should forget about "progress," "teleology" or some kind of long-scale of development such as music history models have engaged in for so long. Not that there is anything wrong with seeing the artistic world in those terms. It just is not especially relevant to appreciate this particular music.

Yet there is plenty to savor nonetheless. If you do NOT care about labels, here is music to get yourself into, by a composer of talent. Give it a close listen if you can.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Himmelborgen, Uranienborg Vokalensemble, Kare Nordstoga, Elisabeth Holt

The Uranienborg Vokalensemble, out of Oslo, is an exceedingly beautiful sounding chamber choir under the direction of Elisabeth Holt.  Himmelborgen (2L 149) is an album of sacred music, mostly from Early Music spheres. Though I read elsewhere that some have been composed now, and honestly with the graphically exquisite presentation typical of 2L (happily combined with wonderful audio production values as always) I am having real trouble deciphering what it is I am hearing. Kare Norstoga is on organ, I get that. The graphics are reader unfriendly. What is this lovely music?

Even the back cover blurb is hard to read. And this is the sort of music that is not so obvious as far as being able to guess what each of the 15 selections are--though I recognize some hymns and other Early Music melodic things. Listen to their "Dies Irae" (in arrangement/recomposition, see below) and if you are like me you will think of Arvo Part, then just think of time passing, or the dusty music manuscripts coming to life for us only now. At any rate you will I hope like me be transfixed.

Honestly, with the kind of beauty represented here, maybe it does not matter if I cannot quite decipher the text on the CD? I go to the web where there is an explanation I can read! Oh, it is the reworking of sacred hymns and related Early Music by Marcus Paus, Marianne Reidarsdatter Eriksen and Morten Christophersen. As the program proceeds it becomes more clear that these are reworkings, yet the choir is so incredible that it all has a tabula rasa feel to it, regardless of the what.

The music is as ravishing as such things get, the audio sparkling and glowing with "Immersive Audio" technology and 2L's two-disk SACD-Blue Ray audiophile assortment as ever.

Molto bravo! Wow! Outstanding music.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Michael Colgrass, Side By Side, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

Charles Ives you can look to as the father of disparate conjoinings and aural collages when Modern North American composition styles developed and flourished in the last century through to today. Others have followed of course, people like Henry Brandt and, lest we forget, Michael Colgrass. The estimable Boston Modern Orchestra Project gives us the music of the latter with the three-work offering Side By Side (BMOP/Sound 1064). On these works one can note the back and forth one gets from the concerto in Western Classical. Colgrass gives us that kind of dialog along with more involved post-Ivesian contrasts.

I found a copy of a recording of his As Quiet As years ago and liked it much, but then for whatever reason did not hear a lot more of him. The current release is an ear-opener, all making excellent use of a large orchestra to paint complex juxtapositions, transpositions and freely imaginative interactions of old and new, past and future, gone and remaining.

All three compositions give us startlingly depictive passages that suggest meaningful sound sequence by going far beyond and far more deeply into an initial textual idea that is the premise of each work, developing the musical equivalent far more deeply than one might expect. The opening example "Letter From Mozart" puts forward in music the idea of Mozart writing a letter to the composer asking him to write a work based on one of Mozart's themes. So we get Mozart and Colgrass shifting back and forth and combining in very interesting ways their stylistic outlooks. It takes an enormous grasp of both present and past worlds to do this effectively, and Colgrass does it in amazing and rather jolly ways.

"Side By Side" builds outward from a kind of dual concerto of a refined harpsichord and a more earthy prepared piano, both played nicely by Joanne Kong who figured also prominently in the work's premier by BMOP, who commissioned the piece. Everything swings brilliantly around the two instru-musical personalities that the orchestra aids, abets and comments upon in sometimes incredibly agile passagework. This is a remarkable piece!

Lastly "Schubert's Birds" goes even more directly into concerted territory, this time a concerto for orchestra based on Schubert's "Kupelwieser Waltz." The idea is that Schubert was an extraordinary songbird whose lovely sound-casting attracted other "birds" who joined in the concertizing and made for a most fruitful aural gathering for the time Schubert was allotted to this earthlife. It is very birdlike music we hear in the atmospheric opening. The subsequent virtuoso orchestral warblings must be heard to appreciated.

Colgrass, one recognizes happily on hearing this music, sounds better than ever on these works from 1976 through 2007. He is nothing short of brilliant in his handling of the orchestra. BMOP does him the ultimate service of giving us beautifully detailed readings of the scores, entering into the spirit of the various dialogs, projecting the content of the works most vibrantly with perfect idiomatic inflections as needed and a real sense of joy in the music making. 

Highly recommended. This Colgrass music is essential. And lots of fun.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Playlist for Rembrandt, Bob van Asperen

In school, when I was still (virtually) wearing a beanie-copter, I became more and more interested in synesthesia, or the convergence of senses, like that of sound and sight, or music and the visual arts. Are there periods where you can find things in common between the two? Sure, but in some interesting ways? The world intervened and I had to live my life outside of such thoughts, mostly.

But then here is an album that practically demands such a speculation, that is on A Playlist for Rembrandt, Music from the Netherlands from Rembrandt's Time (Aeolus 10164). Harpsichordist Bob van Asperen runs through some 20 works that are to the most of us quite obscure.  And he plays them beautifully on the resonant 1669 instrument, the Petrus Joannes Couchet harpsichord which is happily in Amsterdam's justly celebrated Rijksmuseum.

The sound of the instrument is perhaps very much of its time? It is deeply metallic in ways not all instruments are. An old professor dear to me once quipped that Wanda Landowska wanted her harpsichord to sound like a sewing machine. It is one of those thoughts that needs not be true to be interesting. Fact is, harpsichords of older times, some of them anyway, have a sound so far from a piano or organ as to be another thing altogether, like Gin is to Red Wine, altogether other. A glass of straight Gin, a cup of strong coffee, a bristlingly windy, rainy day, all and the sound of the Couchet harpsichord are very distinctive experiences that need to be appreciated for what they are, and in the end they are very good indeed once you get the hang of that. Not that I drink so much these days. Or indulge in exotic coffee blends. But I do listen to this CD and the harpsichord that graces all the music. The rest I can remember.

So we get on this fine recording to sample some bracing harpsichord which, as the liners state, involves, "music that could or most likely was heard by Rembrandt."  So we hear something by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, a composer familiar to many of us, but then Gisbert Steenwick? Johann Casper Kerll?  Less familiar, surely, even downright obscure to me. But perhaps less so for the master painter. Like all proper reconstructions, it all sounds nicely memorable, characteristic. It captures a kind of period mood that I cannot put easily into words. Is it like Rembrandt's wonderful canvasses? Is there some kind of synesthesia at work and can a novice like me detect it? Brown. The music sounds brown. Of course I may feel that way only because I already know the where and what of the music, of Rembrandt's art and the local Zeitgeist. One might say it sounds green. Except it doesn't. Not at all red or orange or yellow or green. Less of that. More in the brown and darker spectrum?

It does not matter in the least because this is music in performances that jump out at you on repeat listens. It is a wondrous journey though to another time and some exceptional music, played exceptionally well, I am sure of that.

I heartily recommend this one for anyone who wants to contemplate earlier music and the life that surrounded it all. And just for the sheer enjoyment of it. Cheers to that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Aspects of America, Modern Orchestral Music, Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar

When we wish upon a star, Walt Disney told us, our dreams come true. The cover of today's musical selection has lots of night but no stars. It is a kind of dream come true in its own way, that is for anyone looking for refreshing fare in the New Music orchestral zone. The design makes it very difficult to read in low light situations however. As a result this album has been resting in a pile in a rather dim corner of my living space and I am sorry I have not noticed it quite properly until now. Happily the music makes up for the imagery. A murky mystery reveals much goodness! That is on the CD Aspects of America (Pentatone 5186 727) as performed quite nicely by the Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar.

Let's start at the end. The concluding work by Samuel Barber I have not gotten to know before this, but it is delightful in Barber's unclassifiable way.  "Souvenirs" gives us a colorful and decidedly descriptive sonance in Barber's kind of lucid, unmodern way, with each of the six sections dealing with a dance form. It gives us another sort of Barber than some of the more well-known works.

The rest of the program is somewhat more on the edgy side beginning with Sean Shepherd's "Magiya," a masterful burst of light and ascending orchestral vibrancy.

Sebastian Currier's "Microsymph" takes the music another step into sheer orchestral color expression, with lovely clashing timbres and genuine chutzpah. An entire symphony is compressed into just ten minutes and needless to say it is a whirlwind of thematic movement.  The music then segues into mountainous mixes of ecstatics and gravitas, and stands out in the process. This is a work one learns to love, or I have at least. And it is most convincingly performed.

Christopher Rouse's "Supplica" begins somberly, quietly and builds out of that to a very sturdy trunk of expression. It is not typical of Rouse, if there is such a thing, yet it is most eloquent in its moodiness.

And we then have a widely shifting cornucopia in Keinji Bunch's "Aspects of an Elephant," a tonal exegesis of each part of the animal that in the old folk-tale different slightless characters describe as just that one thing, a long tube trunk, a curly tail, etc. Here we get "The Elephant as a snake," "as a whip," etc. The music contrasts each thing with vividly scored depictions.  The lyrical ending sounds rather Copland-esque in good ways, an Appalachian Spring for elephants and their admirers?

All told this is music that fills a space of descriptive contemporaneity, a narrative orchestral world that weaves stories not precisely literal but figuratively spellbinding in their own way. It may well be a real sleeper that I did not notice much until now but then I am very glad to have made its acquaintance. It will not perhaps completely "wow" you nor is it at the edge of the advanced. It is good orchestral music of our contemporary 75-year present and the right now too.

It is nice. It is worth hearing if you wish to know more fully US orchestral music of the present. Bravo!

Monday, June 17, 2019

John Eaton, The Sor Juana Project, Aquava New Music Studio, Carmen-Helena Tellez

John Eaton (1935-2015) was an exceptional American composer of the High Modern stripe, known for vocal, electronic and microtonal music especially. Eaton set a number of poems by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz for chamber group and one or more vocal soloists. The whole of it fills two CDs in the recent Sor Juana Project (Aquava New Music Studio CD-1-20193-T), performed with precision and a flair by the Aquava New Music Studio under Carmen-Helena Tellez. Vocalists Tony Boutte, Hyona Kim, Bridget Parker and Kate Maroney have presence and poise throughout and the ever-varying instrumental accompaniment is extremely well done and exciting to hear I must say.

The music is exceptional in a rangy High Dodecaphonic sounding way. There are four clusters of works to be heard and each has something special happening in it. "El Divino Narciso," the very brief "Tocotin," and on CD2, "Sor Juana's Dream" and "Sor Juana Songs."

One ideally listens to this music repeatedly, for the full impact of it is only apparent four or five listens into it all. That is so with much New Music of course, if nothing else it is one of my mantras, and it is so here. The harmonically advanced non-tonal sound, the rhythmic irregularity we come to associate with the High Modern of the last century, and the timbral mapping and delicately complex interplay of instruments and vocalists require exposure over a bit of time to grasp fully.

And supposing you put in the time to hear this music enough times to comprehend it, you will get a sort of precis of the Eaton legacy--a very cogently expressive and inventive Modernist who spoke atonal, timbral and microtonal musical poetry with a concentric intensity and imagination that marked him in the top tier of New Musicologs of his day. Long live the music! Listen to this.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Bohuslav Martinu, Cello Sonatas, Petr Nouzovsky, Gerard Wyss

Martinu (1890-1959) continues to surprise me with the breadth and depth of his output. There are many facets, many sides and no monolithic singularity so much as a multi-stranded set of possibilities according to period and configuration. These considerations seem once again critical as I consider the recent album of his Cello Sonatas (ArcoDiva UP3212-2131). Cellist Petr Nouzovsky and pianist Gerard Wyss make a formidable duo as they dramatically evoke the gravitas, complexities and brilliances of all three Sonatas for Cello and Piano as completed in 1939, 1941 and 1952, respectively.

As one gets to know the three sonatas one is once again reminded that though Martinu has been taken for granted in some circles, in reality he has the importance of a Bartok, a Janacek, a titan of Eastern European Modernism with some chamber bloomings here that rival the very best of their sort.

Clearly the Nouzovsky-Wyss Cello Sonata collaboration has been a labor of love. The two delve deeply within the music and remain there throughout. The significance of each periodic phrase floats aurally until it is given the weight and absorbed articulation it deserves. Considerable technique and balanced expression join together to make of the hour-long enactment something profound indeed.

With every successive listen I become more convinced that these sonatas are not only some of Martinu's very best chamber works, but also that they rival the very best of the 20th century repertoire for cello and piano. Perhaps one might go so far as to assert that Bartok is to the string quartet as Martinu is to the cello-piano sonata? Certainly one might argue it. In any event this is a very fine reading of some major works. One benefits greatly from the hearing of this program, or I have at least. The thematic outpourings never cease, the invention level is remarkably high, consistently so and the idiomatic possibilities of the endless significant scoring gets benchmark realization here.

This is nothing short of a monumental outing. Any serious listener to the wealth of Eastern European 20th Century gems will want to hear these performances. Bravo!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Henning Sommerro, Ujamaa and The Iceberg, Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir

In the gloomy and dark room where my CDs wait for review the album at hand unwittingly blended in with the walls. This morning I am happy to report in on it, for it is not just some item among the many, but rather a special album deserving attention. Composer Henning Sommerro gives us his two symphonic panoramas on the CD Ujamaa (2L 146). The CD (and Blu-Ray multichannelled companion) contains both "Ujamaa" and "The Iceberg," two vibrantly atmospheric and descriptive Tonal Modern works in a tradition of the generally distinctive nature of offerings from up North. The disk was recorded in Trontheim, Norway.

Ingar Heine Bergby conducts the Trontheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir on "The Iceberg" and just the orchestra for "Ujamaa." Lena Willemark, vocalist and folk fiddler is joined on "Ujamaa" by saxophonist Jon Pal Inderberg along with bass clarinetist Rik De Geyter and percussionist Espen Aalberg. Lena is rather remarkable in her vocal stylings. For "The Iceberg" we hear from soprano vocalist Eir Inderhaug and baritone Florin Demit with excellent results.

And what of the music? It is unabashedly folksy contemporary pastel tonal I suppose you could say. "Ujamaa" is more overtly rhythmic and folk-like with some extraordinary, wildly and exuberantly skipping-ranging vocals from Lena Willemark. "The Iceberg" unfolds in more descriptive ways as chorus, soprano and baritone blend with the orchestra in an almost cantata-like massing and delineation. 

A mysterious cover notwithstanding, in that it renders the prospective listener nearly clueless, this is a most interesting program performed with true distinction. Sommerro comes through in a Northern Impressionist colorfulness in the best of Scandinavian traditions yet manages to say in two works things that speak in utterly original ways.

If I devote less space to actual music description this morning it is not because the music lacks character. On the contrary there is so much character (in the Nielsenian sense) that the music speaks wholly and most eloquently for itself. It is perhaps enough to say that every bar seems deliberate and masterfully built for an expressivity all its own.

If you crave the new, here it very much is. I recommend this wholeheartedly for all without preconceptions of what the "Modern" is supposed to sound like. This is a universally local music wholly within itself in the best original ways. Strong!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Jessica Gould, Diego Cantalupi, I Viaggi de Caravaggio

We might count ourselves lucky to be alive at a time when Early Music is getting more detailed attention, more historically accurate performances, while an ever wider range of repertoire is covered, if you take stock of recordings released between, say, 1965 and today and compare that with the time before.

A happy thing that is to me, for I am always glad to enlarge my knowledge of the older forms of music. Today I get to tell you about a recent album covering music I am not all that familiar with, namely I Viaggi di Caravaggio (MVC 17043), an enlightening program of early Seicento motets and arias performed with flair by soprano Jessica Gould and Diego Cantalupi on lute and chitarrone.

The music hails from 1603 through 1643 and features beautiful examples by Benedetto Ferrari, Laurencini, Giovanni Felice Sances, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, among others, and three by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, the latter of which in the liner notes Diego Cantalupi hails as a key figure bridging between early and later style incarnations.

This is not especially contrapuntal music but there is a sort of earthy kind of dialog between voice and instrument that is rousing, and at the same time sophisticated. The liners suggest that no matter the subject of the song that it was a time when artists and musicians lived full lives of passion and color, and that life of course necessarily spilled over into their creations one way or another. The lyrics--made available in the original Italian and in English translation, tell us something of such concerns and suggests to us us the full humanity of those involved.

We have encountered happily Jessica Gould earlier this year (type her name in the search box above for that review). Today's outing shows again her wide-ranging dexterity and power, the beautifully idiomatic, very light vibrato and punchy directness.  Diego Cantalupi's lute and chitarrone playing is simply marvelous. Together they give us beautiful readings of music I for one am very glad to know.

This album will make Early Music enthusiasts smile. And other adventurous souls will no doubt get pleasure from this as well if they make the effort. I for one am glad to have it to hear again.

Giacomo Baldelli, Electric Creatures

Electric Guitarist Giacomo Baldelli shows us how and why Contemporary Classical can be today more or less whatever the composers and performers wish it to be, given an audience open to the new as New. His album Electric Creatures (SD015) provides us with a way the fully electric guitar can be a fulcrum point for vibrant New Music.

Five works give us pause and furnish us headroom for explorations. From the opening with Eve Beglarian's repetition, mesmerization and melding together on "Until it Blazes," to Andrea Agostini and "Three Electric Creatures" with a Metal blazing forth into compositional swirls, we recognize and appreciate the musically astute intersections from Rock into the Avant Classical realm, which of course we have had intimations and realizations of long before from Hendrix to Pink Floyd to Fripp and Eno on one hand, and composers like Francis Thorne on the New Music side a long while ago on the other.

The intersection continues with Ryan Pratt's "Two," Jacob TV's "Grab It!"and Nick Norton's "Slow Earth." One in the end enjoys the fully cranked potential of the electric guitar realized with a musicality that intrigues and reminds us how far we have traveled from the days when it was startling to read on the cover of The Ventures in Space how all those funny sounds were created with electric guitars, or on the other hand to appreciate the sound of BB King, strings singing and blazing forth in ways that were more like a violin than an acoustic guitar, or then Jeff Beck with the Yardbirds and that silky sort of distortion he got. If we hear Hip Hop interjected it is still Blues, Psychedelia, Metal and electric Ambiance that constitutes the prime mover here and good for all that.

That tomorrow was there already in 1965 was of course true as the rise of the Modern in every cultural sense was both latent and very present in that period so that we can now look back upon it all and perhaps understand more fully.

Giacomo Baldelli executes the five pieces with fire and polish in equal amounts. In so doing he opens the door yet further for the full integration of electrics into the avant of New Music.

Hoorah for that! If you do not find that interesting, then perhaps this one is not for you. Otherwise, by all means.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Isaac Schankler, Because Patterns

No person is an island and perhaps every piece of music connects in some way to every other piece of music whether local or world-widely, contemporary to ancient. That may be more to chew off on this rainy morning than I can safely address on the blog, but it explains my feeling listening to Because Patterns (Aerocade Music 011). I get a distinct window on experiencing a piece of today that is electroacoustically enmeshed with what has happened in Electronica and the Post-Progressive in Rock, on one hand, soundscaping ambiance, and the whole spectrum of the Modern Contemporary Classical on the other.

This is something one can get in vinyl, and that makes sense because it is long enough but not too long for that platform--so that hipsters in vinyl-land may find it quite properly LP-ish in pacing and content. My copy is a CD and that need not deter us of course, because I heard the same sounds obviously. Still, this is part of present-day audience credence I guess.

The album consists of three works, the first long-ish at 24 minutes, the second two in smaller chunks that no doubt fit onto side two of the record in vinyl.

The opening work is perhaps the more ambitious of the three, "Because Patterns/Deep State." It features as source and as principal sound generator Aron Kallay and Vicki Ray on prepared piano. There are parts of the finished work that rely on more-or-less unprocessed acoustic instrument but then a great deal surrounds those moments that is electroacoustically transformed. A soundscaped section consists of continuous sustains of air-ear-ay and atmospheric blankets, but then there returns the punctuated periodicity of the two-piano interactions that sound less like Cage-meets-Bali and closer to something you mind find in Radical Tonality works these days. The piece juxtaposes the two possibilities in ways that enchant. It is something to hear and luxuriate within, for sure.

The following two works make some use of recording studio processing but less so. They are primarily the conventional instrument with accompanying ambiances, and sometimes also a bit of what sounds like overdubbing.

That is true of "Mobile I" with Sakura Tsai on violin. It is a subtle combination of conventionally recorded solo violin doubled-up at times and then backdropped with electronically altered long-sustain electro-subtleties. In some ways here for me are the finest ten minutes of the program, for the violin parts are engagingly done and the electronics interweave in the happiest manner. Some extended techniques interject into the music towards the end and are complemented by rapidly moving electronic bass percussives.

The final work "Future Feelings" is a good deal of Nadia Shpachenko on piano per se. There is a slightly rhapsodic Romantic remnant-ory overbite in terms of a rhapso-element to this music and glistening arpeggios as well. It is more situated in both a sort of capturing of "beauty" as well as the motility of some Improv Jazz, yet all is decisively resituated in a personal aural cocoon so to speak.

The distinctively shifting moods and presences of the three works lend themselves well to vinyl and its expectations of physically turning the disk over halfway and the psychology of that.

The music grew on me util I looked forward to another spin. It is music that provokes and takes you on a traveling movement, a sojourn. I recommend it for a palate cleanser that gives of itself to change the scene for you aurally.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Siggi String Quartet, South of the Circle

The Siggi String Quartet play repertoire from as far back as the Renaissance but they love the early-to-later Moderns as much as anything and thrive in collaborations with living composers. In their South of the Circle (Sono Luminous 92232) they present some of the very newest of New Music from composers of northern climes.

One might call much of this music Post-Atonal, because most all of it has a pretty clearly defined tonality yet it does not at all sound as if it is looking back as much as it is finding a way of expressing our moment alive today. All of it requires a true sensitivity to sound color which the Siggi Quartet provides in full, poetically so.

The five composers are duly weighed in on the liner notes. Daniel Bjarnason is said to be on the very edge of the new. He won the 2017 Icelandic Music Award composition of the year for Brothers (which was a Sono Luminus release). His "Stillshot" (2015) begins the program. Una Sveinbjarnardottir is a founding member of the quartet and concertmaster of the Roykjavik Chamber Orchestra. She has worked with Boulez, Penderecki and Rostropovich among others. Her "Opacity" (2014)  graces the CD as the second composition heard.

Valgeir Sigurdsson loves to blur distinctions between the acoustic and the electronic and won Iceland's album of the year award in 2018 for his 4th album Dissonance. "Nebraska" (2011) gives us a worthy quartet example on the program here. Mamiko Dis Ragnarsdottir is a Classical pianist and comes to the music with some rootedness in Jazz and Pop. She shows us an original sort of Minimalism with an introspective side on the included work "Fair Flowers" (2018). Finally there is Haukur Tomasson, who won the prestigious Nordic Concert Music Prize in 2004 for his opera Gudrun's 4th Song. His "Serimonia" (2014) ends the program on an adventurous and harmonically edgy note.

The Siggi String Quartet excel on this album in the meticulous way they realize each work with close attention to sonority and space. Their excellence of detail within broadly sweeping readings make for us music that nearly startles after one takes the time to immerse oneself in the music. Extended techniques and subtle sound blends make a world you find the earful self entering more and more thoroughly with each listen. Like the best of New Music performances it enters a sort of ineffable place where the sounds speak in ways words cannot.

I defer to this music with deep respect and appreciation. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Tangos for Yvar, Hanna Shybayeva, 18 Tangos 1927-2004

Some albums excel for embracing and executing a great idea well. Today's example gives us this with Tangos for Yvar (Grand Piano 794), pianist Hanna Shybayeva's idiomatic and inspired reading of some 18 Tangos for solo piano, all composed in Modern times, most on commission by pianist Yvar Mikhashoff between 1983-1993.

The thread very much is of course the Tango, as a rhythmic tendency corresponding to the dance form, as a melodic-harmonic sensing of pacing and recurrence, as a periodic set of flowing form, all the things one can identify as defining a piece of music as a "Tango."

In the 18 examples that appear on the program in each case there is a particular intersection between the Modern or Post-Modern new music language and that of the Tango. Sometimes the New Music of edgy non-periodic melody and harmony prevails, or a hypnotic Minimal repetition, sometimes the Tango is in every way a Tango proper yet it goes about it in ways that are contemporary. Across this spectrum of possibilities we experience a wealth of inventive realizations that continually fascinate and surprise.

Some are chosen outside of the Yvar series to stretch the temporary and stylistic realms. So we have a nice one by Stefan Wolpe from 1927 on one end, and something by Piazzolla from 1973 since completeness demands he be included. Most the rest are from the remarkable commission series. In all we get short and characteristic works from the likes of Biscardi, Pender, Nichifor, Rzewski, Fennelly, Aharonian, Schimmel, Nyman, Hill, Mumford, Johnson, Finch, Babbitt, Berkman, Vigeland and Nobre.

It might not be something you'd imagine if you did not already know but it is fully as good or a good deal  better than you'd have any right to expect. Charming. Wonderful. Imaginative. The ideal meeting of the Modern and the rooted. I strongly recommend this one if you seek adventure and, why not, a little fun?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Chia-Ying Chan, Piano, Beethoven, Schubert, Fine

A piano recital album is generally always a welcome thing in my neck of the woods--that is of course when coming from a worthy pianist. I certainly found that to be so with Dr. Chia-Ying Chan and her recent release Beethoven Schubert Fine (Centaur CRC 3627). As we gather from the cover, Ms. Chan gives us works by three composers, classic standards and a well deserving lesser-known work in the Modern sphere.

Ms. Chan hails originally from Taiwan, is the recipient of a number of winning prizes in piano competitions, such as the 2016 American Fine Arts International Concerto Competition (First Place) and has gained acclaim from worldwide concertizing since the launch of her career several years ago. She received her Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017 and wrote her dissertation on the Piano Sonatas of Harold Shapero.

Chia-Ying has remarkable balance and poise in her playing, a beautiful touch and a very singing sense of the total structure of any given work. She takes on the very beautifully lyric and heroic Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 31, Op. 131 with a pronounced yet gentle gravitas and a tenderness that seems entirely right, refreshing in its own way. It is less a matter of "dash" as we might have heard from a Backhaus or a Schnabel and rather more introspective to my ears. It is a reading inspired in its own way and a delight to hear.

And too her way with the Schubert Piano Sonata No. 20 , D. 959 is subtle--clarion chiming, somewhat ringing and yet ever singing. Such a glorious work and so happily performed is this one, and yet too Chia-Ying manages to find a way through touch and phrasing to put us in mind of the inner anatomy of the total voicings as well as the main melodic thrust. This makes it all rather wonderful to hear.

Finally we have the sleeper, the surprise of the program in American composer Irving Fine (1914-1962) and his "Music for Piano" in four movements. It is rather firmly diatonic and yet through some brilliant displacements it takes on a Neoclassically glowing sort of resituation, so that key and tonal center are well established yet not at all in the more obvious diatonic ways. It is wonderful music and Chan gives it great attention to detail, a sprightly, almost jaunty exuberance and somewhat playful manner that brings out the music as it was no doubt intended by the composer. Hearing it brings me some joy for sure.

So that is my take on this recital. The Irving Fine alone is worth the price of admission but then with the Beethoven and Schubert we have two more reasons to appreciate the refreshing artistry of Chia-Ying Chan. Well played and poetic performances of brilliant music. Bravo!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mikael Ayrapetyan, A Whole in 12, Miniatures for Piano

Some music revisits ideas that might need revisiting. Others perhaps get to places that may appeal or may not, depending on your musical temperament, but nonethless do revisit with a seriousness of intent. Pianist-composer Mikael Ayrapetyan (b. 1984) strays into melodic territory with his own sensibilities and it all may give you pleasure I trust, depending on what your ear wants to hear. I speak of his A Whole in 12, Miniatures for Piano (Grand Piano 809), which presents to us 12 lyrical solo piano works that have a rhapsodistic lyricism and a soaring sort of introspection that in lesser hands could well degenerate into New Age lullabies.

It is all very tonal, and fine for that. It is thick with chordal accompaniment throughout, the left hand offering up broken arpeggiated, sometimes near-Alberti chordal patterns quite pianistic, a constant factor. I find myself listen to the left hand and finding it interesting in itself as I hear this album repeatedly. That is me though.

He is an Armenian known for a more identifiably Armenian style via his "Secrets of Armenia" project. This music is not typical for what Armenian music normally might be--not in the melodically minor mode of the Armenian strain, and that should I suppose neither deter us nor encourage us, for no artist should be expected only to follow a local muse. Still the singsong diatonic, often major-moded channels of this music was not what I might have expected and in some ways it is not how I would want to express myself personally. Of course that is never something that should stop us in our tracks, but then the question is whether the music appeals nonetheless? A Satie for example could excel with such reduced means, but this is not Satie-like. It goes elsewhere.

I cannot say I love all twelve of these miniatures. There are a few that haunt, a few others that seem a little too endlessly sweet, like baklava. Your personal capacity for such things will select you from among the crowd. If you crave the lyrically melodic, the nearly simple plainness of lyric sweet-amidst-sweet, you will no doubt be well served by this one. I find a number of them very lovely.

So it is your move. Ayrapetyan is dead serious about his lyric spell. Try a little and see what you think.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Victoria Bond, Instruments of Revelation, Chicago Pro Musica, Soloists

A program of chamber music in first recordings is what we contemplate this morning, in other words New Tonal Music 2005-2011 by Victoria Bond (b. 1945), under the umbrella title Instruments of Revelation (Naxos 8.559864). The Chicago Pro Musica does the performance honors and they are quite convincing and well worth hearing in that role.

The music has a whimsical quality throughout, whether by means of  mildly sarcastic quasi-march-gallops or a shade here and there of the burlesque. I was alerted to the attractions of this album as a huge James Joyce fan by the 20-minute "Leopold Bloom's Homecoming" (2011) based on a relevant Ulysses-oriented Joycian text sung by tenor Rufus Muller with piano accompaniment by Jenny Lin. It is broadly lyrical in a matter-of-fact way and convinces as viable vocal art without sounding as "radical" as the Joycean original, but that is OK. What I mean to say is that the music gives the words less of a stream-of-consciousness and more of a deliberation a la Britten with Henry James? No matter because it is nicely done and memorable.

The short piano solo work "Binary" (2005) is the more exploratory of the works here, with a convincing rhythmic punch that has a slightly "Jazzy" pedigree and clustering quasi-pentatonic-chromatic thrust that comes through nicely as played by Olga Vinokur. The music I read in the liners is based on a Brazilian Samba, which makes sense of it all once you know. The "Binary" of the title alludes to the composer's treatment of the digits zero and one, which the unaided ear may not at first catch but no matter as the music is compelling.

Backing up to the first works on the program we have the title piece. "Instruments of Revelation" (2010) which is for a large-ish chamber ensemble. The music has some somewhat Stravinskian whimsy a la L'Histoire du Soldat in an extension and a furtherance that goes beyond the original feeling and then segues into other realms. There is a pronounced descriptive exuberance at times that is captivating.

"Frescoes and Ash" (2009) has a rippling rhapsodic feel to it, a Carnival of the Animals sans animals flavor at times, descriptive and absorbing. The chamber ensemble sounds quite full thanks to Ms. Bond's artful scoring. There are times when I am slightly and favorably reminded of the hushed stillness of Vaughan Williams' "A Lark Descending,"  but then Ms. Bond moves forward into her own zone and the feeling goes to be replaced by another vista not without its own artful quality. Regardless there is poise and good humor throughout.

And as all is said and done with this program one feels refreshed and in the presence of a lively musical mind. This may not quite be a music of sturm und drang, but if you listen on its own terms there is music to like just fine, to draw a smile, to give is a puckish Midsummer Night's Dream without Puck himself or the Fairies. It is enchanted music nonetheless. Listen.