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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Erika Fox, Paths, Goldfield Ensemble

Composer Erika Fox (b. 1936) has all the newness, has the sort of "sound of surprise" that we expect and hope for in New Music Modernism. She was an important part of the London and European New Music scene in the '70s through the '90s and has amassed a catalog of some 52 works. That here in the later '10s of the Millennium she has been neglected and virtually forgotten in many ways is partially rectified by a new and rather exciting release of her music entitled Paths (NMC D254), as heroically and movingly performed by the Goldfield Ensemble.

The five substantial and even brilliant compositions performed for us on the CD take a bit of concentration to assimilate fully and that is only natural with such nicely detailed music. There is a sort of lyrical High Modernism consistently at work on each of the pieces, but other things as well. In the liners Katre Romano, Artistic Director of Goldfield Productions, calls the music "bold, feisty, uncompromising and uncommonly fresh." She notes the influences of the composer's upbringing that we can hear in the works at hand--Eastern European classical music plus "Hasidic Music, liturgical chant" and "modal ancient melodic lines reminiscent of Eastern European folk music."

We listen to the program in sequence and Erika Fox's own special world opens up to us with impact and expressive mystery. Richard Baker conducts the larger version of the Goldfield Ensemble and soloists on the dramatic end-pieces "Paths Where the Mourners Tread" and "Cafe Warsaw 1944."

In between are smaller chamber gems, "Quasi una Cadenza," "On Visiting Stravinsky's Grave at San Michele," and "Malinconia Militaire."

Everything has mass and weight; there are no superficial or facile byways. As Romano poignantly states in the liners, there is not so much a matter of development in the New Music language she so adroitly takes on as her own. It is more a matter of endless invention, or variations that have an organic connection with what came before but most assuredly do not directly comment on any of it. It means that the listener is given a continual tabula rasa yet everything is profoundly joined as in eloquent speech.

It is a most enjoyable and enlightening program. Erika Fox is a real treasure and I recommend you hear this by all means!

Havergal Brian, Symphonies Nos. 7 and 16, New Russia State Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Walker

The oscillating paradox of English composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972) gives the music listener-historian one of the more unusual examples of 20th century compositional life and style possibilities. Most importantly he has a great deal to offer the modern listener. He lived a long and prolific lifespan as a composer, producing an astounding 25 symphonies, the first batch gargantuan and rather sprawling, the later somewhat more compact but all in an English Late Romantic realm that sounded nothing like Wagner or Richard Strauss yet shared in their penchant for the big sound, the big canvas of orchestral colors.

That he continued to produced original and inventive symphonic work through most of the 20th century and preserved and developed a working anachronistic style that continued to evolve in his individualistic hands is something uniquely fascinating and impressive in its very own way. And we hear his music as both of and alien to the general time in which we live. We experience a kind of oscillation of time and place as we listen.

The Brian symphonic program at hand gives us a varied and intriguing sample of his output, played convincingly and bracingly by the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Walker.

There is (quite naturally) as one listens to these offerings (Naxos 8.573959) no doubt that we are dealing with more of an English than a German or French sensibility.  The rustic English countryside and the warm and congenially apportioned pub seem more present than some Teutonic or Gallic place-music version of things. At the same time it is music that points to itself so we should not focus exclusively on the local tendencies that are happily there. It is pure music in the end after all.

The "Symphony No. 7 in C Major" (1948) as the liners tell us, is the last of the long and ample early symphonies, with a large orchestra, filling up nearly 40 minutes with its four movements. It is based on Goethe's autobiographical writing on his student days. Yet on first listen it is not entirely necessary to come to grips with the programmatic content here because it is expressive Brian first and foremost, secondarily programmatic.

"The Tinker's Wedding Overture" (1948) gives us in some ways the opposite sort of work--a short and light-hearted piece based on the J.M. Synge comedic play of the same name.

Then we are in some ways set squarely in-between these two polar opposites with his "Symphony No. 16" (1960), thematically centered upon Ancient Greece and the Persian Wars.

This hour program reminds those already familiar how there is unfailing art and craftsmanship in virtually everything Brian wrote and that, surely with these three at any rate, and most likely with the entire corpus of later works but I cannot yet vouch for them all, there is no sign of flagging in his mid-later period. If you do not mind that Brian bypasses prevailing styles of the  period concerned, if you do not expect any traces of the New Music or even progressive music scene that existed in the world in which Brian lived, you will be I think happily situated as you hear and rehear this music. It is not of its time. Yet it is timeful, it is current within itself surely.

The volume also serves as an admirable introduction to Brian for those not familiar.

Excellent example of Brian, well done! Very recommended.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Bacewicz, Piano Music, Morta Grigaliunaite

Those of us especially outside of the local clime (Poland) of composer Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) may have missed her music when she lived (I was at any rate too young) but since her passing we gradually have come to know it and appreciate it, thanks to the international interest her music has produced in the later years of the 20th Century and the first decades of the new Millennium.

I for one have missed her output for the pianoforte until now. This welcome Piano Music (Piano Classics 10183) volume as played with conviction and drama by Morta Grigaliunaite fills the gap with something seemingly definitive.

Like the many varied Bacewicz compositions we can hear nowadays for the full gamut of configurations she wrote for, we find in the program at hand always a concentric universe of applied musical invention of a high caliber.

The seven single or multiple movement works on this program remind us how sincere, how authentic her music sounds to us today, or at least that is what hits me listening now. The concluding work on the program, her "Piano Sonata No. 2"  in lots of ways sums up her musical and especially her pianistic identity. The musicality of it all puts us in mind of the lineage of Modernism to which she belongs, so we do hear the genetic relation of Bacewicz with Stravinsky the Neo-Classical and Expression-Modernist, and then too the related ways of Prokofiev, Bartok, Kodaly Janacek... in many ways the local, folk focal is never entirely removed from the expressions at hand, but so is the Modern piano tradition as it grew out of later Romantic poets of the ivories, Schubert to Chopin. There is a backbone of pianistic tradition that holds it all grandly upright (so to speak), and then of course it thrives still in this music because of the original ways of Ms. Bacewicz.

The interplay of piano tradition and Modern expression is truly in the end quite present and poignant in this music. This is first-rate Bacewicz and that in turn makes for some of the most important music by women, or I dare say for that matters any composers of the last century.

Dig in and listen to "Little Triptych," "Concert Krakowiak," the "Children's Suite," "Two Etudes for Double Notes," "Ten Concert Etudes," "Trois pieces caracteristiques" and the "Piano Sonata No. 2." Every work is worth hearing and original in subtle ways. You get fiery and sensitive performances of music we all should take to heart.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

J. William Greene, Buxtehude at Lynchburg, Free Compositions and Choral Preludes

My gradually unfolding, happy interaction with classical organ music has been rather informal, with a follow-the-nose intuitiveness that started with an early and happy experience hearing a well attuned and well played cathedral organ in my childhood as a regular member of the St. Anthony Parish in Butler, NJ. And it in the most general terms was an organ world when I was a kid--for example down at the seashore there were mighty organs playing in the beachfront hotels and I listened eagerly. Bach works were my first serious interest as far as organ recordings went. And from there I followed threads that made sense backwards to Buxtehude and farther afield and then also forward to the French School from Franck to Messiaen (see last Monday's post here for a little more on that).

I had piano lessons as a kid and later as well, and we had a piano at home that I played upon as a student of the instrument and someone musically inclined alike. I would also goof around on the Farfisas and Hammond B-3s that were in some of the rock and jazz-rock bands I was in from 7th grade on, but I never had the pleasure to have organ instruction or take a course on organ literature and histor,y etc. It just did not come up in my education--and not through a lack on interest.

So when I read in the liners to J. William Greene's Buxtehude at Lynchburg (Pro Organo CD 7170) that Greene in the title is paying homage to an old 1967 E. Power Biggs Columbia LP Buxtehude at Luneburg, I simultaneously regret missing out on this icon of recorded vinyl and appreciate being tipped into the organ lore of which I no doubt have many serious ellipses and gaps--and if I am ever to be thumbing through a stack of used LPs in a thrift store again I will look out for the album, surely.

All that may seem a lot to preface this review article with, but anyone who reads these columns regularly knows that of course part of my engagement with the music is as a person and so I feel it sometimes somewhat illuminating that I recount my involvement in the history of the appreciation of music I have lived through for as near a lifetime as anyone--though I hope with much more to go!

Back to the subject at hand however. The subtitle of this fine CD is Free Compositions and Chorale Preludes of Dieterich Buxtehude. That says it all if you already know it all, but for those of us who do not, the liners give helpful fleshings out. So the Choral Preludes were meant to introduce artfully the specific German chorale that the congregation was then to sing in the service at that point. As the notes suggest, the preludes are remarkably ornate at times, contrapuntally elegant and brilliant, Buxtehude at his finest.

There is poignant content and exceptional linear variety in the Praeludium, Toccatas, Passacaglias, Fugues, and Canzonas we hear in the course of the program. J. William Greene is meticulous to a fault yet as spirited as we might hope for. The recording is crisp and clear in aural staging, and the Taylor and Boody organ of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynchburg (of the title), Virginia is ruggedly traditional-sounding and just right to bring out nicely the voicings Buxtehude specifies.

All-in-all this is the Buxtehude we revel in if we give the music a chance. It is exemplary in its unpretentious down-to-the-bone performance wonders and it sounds great. So I recommend it very highly. I will treasure this one. I hope you will too.

Derek Bermel, Migrations, Luciana Souza, Ted Nash, Derek Bermel, Julliard Jazz Orchestra, Albany Symphony, David Alan Miller

While the name of US composer Derek Bermel (b. 1967) may be new to me, the music on his album Migrations (Naxos 8.559871) has a New Music-Modern Jazz tang that rings true in a local sort of way, that he takes on certain style clusters known in USA musical channels and makes them his own in ways that please and intrigue. There is familiarity, then, but newness in equal turns.

The title work "Migrations" is quite au courant as it deals with the movement of populations, as would-be refugees, as emigrants, a situation we have experienced only too directly in the refugee crisis in Syria in the past decade and then especially in the Trump Presidency in the US the situation of refugees seeking political asylum, most notably emigrants from Central America. The "Migrations" work themes itself around such large-scale people movements.

Notably on the cover of the CD (pictured above) is a painting by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) entitled The Migration Series, Panel No. 3: from every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north (1940-41). This in part forms the pictoral foundation for the music, the later of which was commissioned by Wynton Marsalis for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Concert Series. The cycle of some 60 paintings by Lawrence comes to grips with the movement of Afro-Americans from the Rural South to the Industrial North and so too does Bermel's five movement work. And so thematic parallels have local historical bases that we can think of with the overlapping of repetitions and non-repetitions in various ways. Now is of course not then, but there are ominous intertwinings we can sense when we follow present events.

The work itself features the well situated Julliard Jazz Orchestra (along with the Albany Symphony, all conducted by David Allen Miller) with soloists Ted Nash on soprano and alto sax, and Bermel himself on clarinet. The music is a kind of ambitious Modern Big Band Jazz that hearkens to the innovative stances of George Russell, Gil Evans and perhaps Claire Fischer, and takes the art further into personal territory. It is a work that increasingly strikes you as having some profundity the more one listens. Masterful and invigorating! Cutting edge!

From there we go to two works that involve more New Music an orientation, with the Albany Symphony and soprano Luciana Souza in the songful Portugal-oriented "Mar de Setembro" based on a poem by Eugenio de Andrade. It is exceedingly beautiful music, harmonic-melodic in ways that seem as Brazilian as Modern, more lyrical than strident.

"A Shout, A Whisper and a Trace" brings us to a fully Modern orchestral zone of vibrant sound color, with an infectiously and rhythmically dancing, folksy, almost Coplandesque-meets-Stravinsky opening that quickly turns bi-total. It is all most delightful in its very own way.

Because my personal life has at times lately become trying I have within the ongoing chaos ended up listening to this album much more than I might have ordinarily as a first go of things. After maybe ten listens I must say I thoroughly appreciate this one in ways that a long exposure helps create. It is important, beautiful, expressive music, all of it. And it is very well performed. Grab it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

SWR VokalEnsemble, Japan, Works for Choir, Toshio Hosokawa, Toru Takemitsu, Michio Mamiya, Jo Kondo; Marcus Creed, Conductor

Modern choral music of Japan is not something I have been much exposed to, so this SWR Vokal Ensemble album simply entitled Japan, Works for Choir (SWR Classic 19079CD), is enlightening me and giving me much to consider.

A wealth of possibilities for vocal ensemble are explored, all in some kind of Modern realm, though not programmatically or formulaically so. It shows us that Japanese composers, like their contemporary equivalents across the globe, can express the local as well as the universal, in song and in ensemble atmospherics, with complex tonalities and vibrant artistic outbursts, and with folk-like song expressions that hearken back while nevertheless by framing remain squarely in the present.

You who know something of the national music of Japan will recognize at least one celebrated traditional melody in arrangement for chorus. Besides that there are chant-like gatherings, floating harmonic extravagances, instrumental-like vocaleses and a kind of potpourri of possibilities that continually intrigue as one gets familiar with it all with repeated listens.

A run down of every work would perhaps overwhelm and it is better with so much and so varied a palette to let oneself be surprised and pleased within an unfolding real-time frame.

Nonetheless for your information we get to hear Toshio Hosokawa's "The Lotusflower Doth Languish," Toru Takemitsu's "Wind Horse," "Cherry Blossoms," "Wings." and "Small Sky," Michio Mamiya "Composition for Chorus No. 1," and Jo Kondo's "Motet Under the Rose."

This is music that has categorical importance, is performed with care and subtle ease, and affords a tantalizing glimpse into a local genre we at least in the "West" have gotten far less exposure to than we should.

Gladly and sincerely recommended.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Messiaen Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite, Tom Winpenny

Organist Tom Winpenny has been doing a fine job performing some of the principal Messiaen organ works for Naxos (type his name in the search box above to find relevant reviews). Now he takes on rather heroically the Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite (Naxos 8.573979). It is a later work that began in 1967 with a series of improvisations Messiaen devised and reworked in celebration of the rebuilt organ at La Trinite Cathedral, taking final form in 1969. He had been organist at this Paris cathedral, to give it its full name the Eglise de la Sainte Trinity, since 1931 so this was indeed a momentous occasion no doubt to him.

It is a masterpiece of mystery in ways so imaginative that it virtually gives us a guide to the innovative Messiaen spiritual organ oeuvre--a summing up and a leaping forward all at once.

The nine sections all work together to create a magic that is Messiaen's alone. No other master before or for that matter since has captured so incredibly inventive a series of rovings and spiritual penetrations.

Tom Winpenny gives us the kind of dynamic thrust and absolute sonic command that makes of this work a structurally yet highly aesthetically hammer-beamed object where the supports are not just structurally needed (to extend a metaphor); they are an integral part of the luster of the finished work of art, essential to its nature and beauty at once.

What is memorable about this music is quite clearly within the performance-command of Tom Winpenny. I've heard performances that may equal this one, but none that in my opinion surpass this one. An iconic work, performed with true conviction and careful elation. A winner in every way. Highly recommended.

And with this music is a melodic-harmonic brilliance like you will look for in vain in other organ music. It is one of the works that makes it plain that Messiaen has a special brand of Modernism, of brilliance and clarity like no other before or after, yet too he is spiritual in ways nobody else approaches as well.

This is essential!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Franz Liszt, Harmonies poetiques et religieuses, Wojciech Waleczek, Complete Piano Music Volume 53

Volume 53 of Franz Liszt's Complete Piano Music is no afterthought, but rather presents his Harmonies poetiques et religieuses, an ambitious work of his early maturity, written in 1847 when he was (according to my math) 36 years old. He had settled in Paris, then was concertizing, was attempting to do for the piano what Paganini was doing for the violin, or in other words establishing a kind of diabolically religious virtuosity that would make of him a cult figure of sorts and permanently establish the piano as an almost supernatural force in music.

This set of some 12 individual pieces is not quite of the bold otherworldly dash of the Transcendental Etudes, but then of course very few works are, be they by Liszt or anyone else.

Nonetheless this set of pieces has a bit more of an Apollonianly sturdy heroic gravitas to it that sets it apart. Pianist Wojciech Waleczek gives us a reading that is not overly flamboyant and instead underscores the Apollo piano aura the work gives to us in global terms.

It is a set that helps define what later virtuoso Promethean pianism was to be--thanks in no small part to Liszt, To say that is to say that the music is well worth your earful. It is Naxos priced so what's to lose? Check it out.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Dan Locklair, Symphony No. 2 "America," Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, Michael Rohae

Dan Locklair (b. 1949) has a pleasing way about him. There is something of a present-day Copland feel to him in his fondness for paraphrasing Americana sorts of themes at least most certainly in his Symphony No. 2 "America" (Naxos 8.559860). The program at hand is well performed and contains the symphony, two shorter works plus the "Concerto for Organ and Orchestra."

It is homespun mainstream--the sort anyone might like and there is little exactly that would define it as Modern except that it is not "Classical" or "Romantic"." It is tonal-pleasing, reminding you perhaps of the things you might hear on a good contemporary movie soundtrack or as done by a wind band of a superior sort Vittorio Giannini comes to mind but not in any way I can pinpoint here. Nobody would take offense at this music and it is is enjoyable, very much so.

The "Symphony No. 2 'America'" is in the form of a Holidays Symphony--with a movement each for Independence Day, one for Memorial Day and one for Thanksgiving. "America the Beautiful" is paraphrased a good deal at first. We hear "Taps" and then not surprisingly the hymn "We Gather Together (To Ask the Lord's Blessing)" for the Thanksgiving movement.
The other works are less obvious I suppose but pleasing. He is inventive in ways the most rudimentally musical layman could no doubt understand. So good for that as far as extending the music in concerned!

I enjoy this program without necessarily putting some seal of "masterpiece" on it all. It pleases me.And the first time through you get the whole thing, pretty much. It is not like you are going to open up  a great deal of vistas on listen number 10. It is what it is and that "is" happens to be fine and dandy, well done. Lovers of Americana will be right there I imagine. I might rather hear Charles Ives personally, but I do not want to turn this into a horse race. Nicely done. Nice music. And that includes the "Concerto for Organ!"

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Elliott Sharp, Plastovy Hrad

Over the years Elliot Sharp has become a primary cultural treasure for High Modernist New Music and Imrpovisational Avant Garde music making. Happily for us he keeps going and growing. There is a new album out by the name of Plastovy Hrad (Infrequent Seams 20) and it is a very good one.

Three works break things up and give us much to hear. The title work "Plastovy Hrad" is the more ambitious of the three with a nicely executed live performance by the Brno Contemporary Orchestra conducted by Pavel Snajdr. The bass clarinet solo part is performed ably by Lukasz Danhel.

The second work is entitled "Turing Test" with six vocalists comprising the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and Gareth Davis on bass clarinet.

Finally there is "Oumuamua" for bass clarinet and electronics as performed by the composer.

With the bass clarinet the common factor throughout everything has a sort of continuity and yet each is distinguished in advanced Modern ways that followers of E# will not exactly be surprised to hear. Yet too there is is nothing rote-ish or perfunctory about the music either. It is vital, very much alive and filled with an energy that Maestro Sharp has always had in various ways. There is nothing formulaic about this music either.

As up and down the vagaries of life may go for us these days, there are some musical luminaries that do not flag but consistently uplift us into the best sense of "new" territory. Elliott Sharp is most certainly one of these artists. His Plastovy Hrad brings to us another program that encourages us to have some kind of hope, for music anyway if not for life, but sure, good music makes us feel better about life, so that too.

Highly recommended for serious followers of the New Music.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Real Vocal String Quartet, Culture Kin

If the fourth album, Culture Kin (Hower Note Records), is any indication, the first three must be a good thing, for the fourth surely is. The music business would refer to this as a "crossover," and indeed I suppose it is, or in other words it is subject to "mixed category" consideration. It is well played string quartet music at the same time as it has modality and folk strains and it includes nicely burnished vocals as well as the string playing. The players sing, the singers play.

It is music with its very own unique sort of twists--like the Turtle Island String Quartet does things with jazz, so the Real Vocal String Quartet does things for folk and vernacular. Cajun, Irish, singer-songwriter songs, and almost anything else might pop up here in ways that are moving and "catchy" without pandering or trying to score big at the ATM. This feels quite natural, like these folks do this because that is what they feel comfortable and best with. Damned if they do not succeed very well indeed at it, too.

Some of it is quite lighthearted, some of it hold a bit more weight. It all has charm.

It is one of those albums that feels right because it is a very good idea musically and the quartet knows just how to pull it off! It is too contentful to be New Age but it also is melodically strong in ways that make for smiling and musing--and that is what New Age tries to do but sometimes fails? So get this if it strikes you that you'd want to hear it. The Real Vocal String Quartet have what it takes.

Fabiola Kim, 1939, Violin Concertos by Walton, Hartmann, Bartok, Munchner Symphoniker, Kevin John Edusei

The year 1939 in Europe was as decisive as it was grim. Look it up. The Nazi forces were invading Europe. Yet composers tried nonetheless to keep on with their art. Violinist Fabiola Kim had the brilliant idea of choosing three Violin Concertos written in that fateful year and doing definitive recordings of them as a kind of compositional diary of an era.

If we expect to find bold agitation we honestly are more likely to find it in the classic Russian WWII symphonies--Prokofiev's Fifth and Shostakovich's Seventh. Yet the full gamut of emotions are nevertheless present in the three works at hand and they are hardly "lighthearted" or "happy" as you would have every reason to expect. These are not about a series of carnivals, surely.

The result, entitled  1939 (Solo Musica 308 2-CDs), brings to us carefully, expressively heartfelt readings of the three concertos we should well remember as being masterpieces both of and transcendent of their time. They are subtle, deep, filled with musical-psychological complexities. And we get impassioned readings from Fabiola Kim and the Munchner Symphoniker under Kevin John Edusei. And so we hear state-of-the-art readings of William Walton's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B minor," Karl Amadeus Hartmann's "Concerto Funebre for Violin and String Orchestra" and Bela Bartok's "Violin Concerto No. 2 Sz. 112 in B major."

Many if not most will know the Bartok but to have an excellent performance of that alongside the Walton and Hartmann is to feel the weight of the time at hand then, to hear three master composers try and express the horror and upheaval and too the premonitions of what more was to come.

There is no real sentiment of a Romantic sort in these works and that is understandable. It is Modernism in its root foundation and one might argue that the World Wars period did as much or more to kill Romanticism as anything.

A coupling of this sort makes us take stock of the period in ways nothing else really could. The excellence of the performances make us take notice but then too the choice of these sometimes less-attended-to works (certainly the Walton and Hartmann anyway but the Bartok needs to be heard with these two to place it all in focus) enlightens us and reminds us what kind of courage people needed then, whether composers or anyone else.

Bravo. Just listen,

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Melody Moore, An American Song Album, with Bradley Moore, Songs by Barber, Copland, Heggie, Floyd, Getty

Every day is like another in that if one is lucky there is good music to be heard. Today may be special to me for other reasons but not in some sense that music is more available to me than on any other day. It is here to hear, like always and thankfully so. I listen.

Today I am going though the fifth listen of strong soprano Melody Moore and her recent An American Song Album (Pentatone 5186 770). The last few songs stay in the head long afterwards--namely a couple of Gordon Getty arrangements of "Danny Boy," "Deep River" and "All Through the Night," of which in regards to the latter many will recognize it as a theme from Brahms Symphony No. 1, or if you happened to have grown up at a certain time you might know the Christmas vocal version that was on the Kingston Trio's Christmas album? Or perhaps you know yet another version with more secular lyrics, on here as part of Gordon Getty's "Three Welsh Songs." At any rate those last three songs ("Danny," "River," and "Night") leave me (at least) with a permanent impression so to speak. And it is a good one.

Melody is joined by her partner Bradley Moore on piano and the chemistry is excellent.

Melody has a very strong operatic soprano that in some ways envelopes and virtually takes personal charge of anything she sings. That may take some getting used to for the lighter lieder sorts of things but then one embraces her artistry in the end and is all the better for it. Or at any rate I am.

One gets more and more out of the hearing of this music. beginning with Samuel Barber and his "Hermit Songs" that I am lucky to get to hear in this very lovely version, and Aaron Copland and his "Four Early Songs," which I may no doubt have had on LP at one point but hear on this disk as for the first time.

The rest of this music may be (other than what I mentioned at the start of the article) rather obscure if you do not follow Amercian Art Song, yet the more I listen, the more it all seems important and stirring each in its own way. So we get a chance to appreciate Jake Heggie's cycles "These Strangers" and "How Well I Know the Light." And not something I would know much of otherwise is Carlisle Floyd's cycle "The Mystery: Five Songs of Motherhood,"

Gordon Getty's "Kathy's Aria from Goodbye Mr. Chips" is a welcome addition as well.

The Art Song is to my neighbors where I currently live at least one of the reasons I am forbidden to play music without earphones in my living space. For the rest, for some Jazz and Classical Modernity are offensive. It tells you how deeply unpopular such things are in the everyday world, among just plain folks as it were. The days of my youth when Ed Sullivan would have a renowned operatic voice on his show as a matter of course are so long gone that the knowledge of it (as perhaps are a good deal of Ed Sullivan's more "highbrow" of standard populist inclusions anyway) may well die with those my age.

Such a horrible world we live in today is something else regardless. To my mind it does need art, it does need song, it does need your support of the artists who try and keep evil at bay. So do your bit and get this. Listen and learn to like it, maybe. And the world will be better off? Possibly. I hope so. I am the better off anyway.

The selection of songs on this album are a most notable part of it all, for the familiar and unfamiliar mix well for a learning and growing listening experience. Do listen to this if you can. It might change the way you hear things.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Brian Ferneyhough, Stephan Winkler, Oscar Bettison, Fall, Edition Musikfabrik 16

The sun shining outside my window this morning reminds me it is another day. I do not suppose the jog to memory is necessary since I've managed to fix a cup of black coffee. I already know. But then today's New Music selection reminds me that time marches on regardless of sun or coffee, or for that matter the lack. The music seems to bring time forward. It is Volume 16 in the Edition Musikfrabrik Series, otherwise known as Fall (Wergo 6869 2).

The series involves New Music played very capably by the Ensemble Musikfabrik, a chamber conflagration-orchestra who takes such things very seriously and performs works with a combination of zeal and full, successfully artistic attention to the wishes of the composer(s).The 16th Volume follows in the path with new World Premiere recordings and another previously released in another recording that nonetheless gets pristine treatment here.

The Brian Ferneyhough work "La Chute d'Icare" is the non-premier of the three and the shortest in duration at under ten minutes. It is a tumblingly dynamic work that features a devilishly tricky clarinet explosiveness seconded and brought to a irrepressible aural boiling point by the ensemble's ever goading yet "happy" assault. It is happy in that it does not seem in the least menacing to my ears, so you know what I am trying to convey in these words.

Stephan Winkler's following "Von Der Gewissensnot der Insekten" continues the tumult with some beautifully semi-sternklang-type tumbling totalities made up of ingeniously interlocking instrumental parts. It is a pinwheeling, rocketing aural expressiveness of the Highest Modernity whatever that means except you will know when you hear it!

The longest work of the three clocks in at more than 30 minutes and gives us pause for its uniquely intense grappling with sound and space. It is Oscar Bettison's "Livre des Sauvages," a sort of minutiae of "Simon Says-like" sound gestures initiated by the conductor--of course I should say via the score. It is exciting fare, volatile and bursting with kinetic energy.

It is all good and nicely turned. Anyone who still believes that the avant garde means business will find confirmation and even some joy in this wonderful music and its sterling performance. This puts the capital /N/ back in New! So grab it, then, if that sounds like something you would like.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Crossing, Evolutionary Spirits, Donald Nally

"You've got it made, buddy!" So my dad's boss told me on the phone back in 1979, when he heard about my studies. If I had it, it was not made. Or so it turned out. Simple reality and I am not complaining. Nonetheless these many years later I do understand how things went over the last 40 years. And listening this morning to the excellent choral group The Crossing and their just out album Evolutionary Spirits (Navona 6218) I realize that the contemporary world for most is in no way about "having it made," whether it be the music our composers write, the performers and artists who realize it or the everyday slugs like you and me who live life each day and know that we must make a difference as we simultaneously hope it will make some difference, any difference. And sure, some people in the past and perhaps even now are in a difficult position to make their life. I respect all of that.

As I listen now many times to this Crossing album, I come to appreciate increasingly what a finely tuned and finely attuned ensemble is The Crossing. They are, if anybody is... they are MAKING it. That is they are making great music. They are sheer sensual vocal beauty but they are also directed nearly selflessly to the goal of every work they perform, in this case some ten generally very short pieces. There are works not of an unabashedly Modern sort. Instead they are works that relish in the SATB palette. They are written with a great sensitivity for a sensual aural result and The Crossing give each one exactly the flourish that is needed.

In all cases there is a virtually perfect synchronicity between work and performance. And that is an excellent thing.

You may not know the composer names, Edie Hill or Gregory W. Brown, James Shrader or Bruce Babcock, Jonathan Sheffer, or Christofer J. Hoh. Does that matter? If anything it serves to make the program that much more exotic and rarefied. The Crossing tackles every one of them with a kind of devotion to the Modernity in the voices and harmonic zestiness. And all that is absolutely as it should be.

So whether or not you "have it made" in life, you need music. You need music like this. Trust me. I am like you, maybe. And this music helps me feel better. So I very much do recommend you hear it.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Yury Kunets, Reflection, Symphonic Music, Munchner Symphoniker, Lee Holdridge

What music that gets rendered into sound in our world today is not exactly what was likely to come out in, say, 1970. The Contemporary Classical World is multi-fold to an extent perhaps never so various as today. So the very tonal and almost New Age mellowness of the compositions of Yury Kunets, in a new album entitled Reflection (Solo Musica 292) might not have seen the light of day then, provided that the music existed, and that is not the issue, just that there is a Rear Mainstream now that we might come across more readily now than then.

There are eight compositions on this program, many include a semi-concerted piano part played by the composer.

This is music most certainly fashioned to please and comfort. The music in the composer's words portrays "reflection" "of the spiritual being and a true picture of what is in it." The liners go on to say that the music deals with images that "draw on a series of inspirations, from the beauty and magic of moonlight and the winder scenes of Yury's homeland to nostalgia, spirituality and true introspection." That could be words one might have found in the liners of a Mood Music album from the '50s. And in many ways this might be thought of as a descendant of those hifi days where one sought a consistent backdrop for a way of psychologically becoming. The emphasis is on effect or affect more than invention, and that fits with the objectives I would say.

And in that way too the music has some elements that are stirring in a sort of ever simplissimo, ever easy whistling,  tunefully Neo-Romantic way that goes deeply into effect more than means, though the music is well scored and hangs together with no defects. The themes are not as distinguished as they are relentlessly authentic to the reflective realm they wish to inspire and produce.

So in this instance one is dipped into a rich batter of mood that remains as dazzlingly mellow the first time as the 100th. The immediacy of simplicity and uncomplication is at the forefront. It does not get better, nor does it get worse with repeated listens. It is pleasure and that no doubt will appeal to a potentially large swath of listeners who want to remain calm through music.

I do not discourage those who seek such a thing. This music is as good an example of it as I have heard in the last few years. It is perhaps something to fill the spaces in between your occurring life. It can be safely ignored or you can listen. I love the effect. I love much less the means to the end. So what? That is not your problem. You want something to don when you feel the need, get this. You might feel you are part of a movie and this is its unobtrusive soundtrack. So be it. He's no Beethoven, as someone once remarked at the end of a concert. So it ain't what it isn't!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Du Yun, Dinosaur Scar, International Contemporary Ensemble

Du Yun was born in Shanghai, grew up in China and currently makes her home in New York. She is a composer of some renown these days. The Pulitzer Prize was hers in 2017 for her opera  Angel's Bone. An album of select chamber works, Dinosaur Scar (Tundra New Focus  TUN011), came out last year and I am giving it my ears this summer. It is good.

The fabulous International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) performs the music throughout. MS. Yun and ICE have a symbiotic creative collaborative relationship, with mutually productive interchanges and friendships intersecting her and many of the individual members' lives going back now some 20 years. The closeness shows in the effective and knowing dedication ICE devote to the some ten works on the program at hand.

The music is varied, challenging and instrumentally diverse with a kind of unmistakable blend of ultra-contemporary High Modernist dynamics and space-pacing, Chinese roots deep down in its placing and dramatic impact, and a kind of brilliant torque in its presence and scoring. As you listen you hear Avant Jazz and Rock elements, a Chinese folk motif now and again and at times New Music-meets-Avant- Improv spontaneity. It is probably the case that everything ICE does is worth hearing but it is also true that Du Yun is one of our most satisfyingly adventurous voices composing today, an ultra-musicianly voice for our existence in time right now.

Happily recommended.