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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.