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Monday, September 30, 2019

Markus Reuter, String Quartet No. 1 "Heartland," Matangi Quartet

The career trajectory of composer and stick guitarist Markus Reuter follows not the typical one for a classical composer nowadays, that is unless you put him with such rock-cum-classical icons as Frank Zappa. Markus started as an important member of later editions of King Crimson and then went on his own. Currently he enjoys a fertile group interaction with the all-star Prog lineup called Stickmen.

I have valued for a long while his Prog music but it was only several years ago that I and others came to appreciate his classical composing via a video and then an official, definitive recording of his orchestra blockbuster Todmorten 513. I liked that one so well I named it one of my top picks of the year when it came out. I still love to hear it.
Look it up if you want to know more about how it moved me.

Amd now we have a follow-up in a fine recording of his String Quartet No. 1, "Heartland" (Solaire 8), as performed with precision and verve by the Matangi Quartet. The sound of the recording itself is pristine and detailed, as is the performance.

There is a very attractive kind of homespun quality at times to the music, which is  affirmed by the Heartland designation. Perhaps the sounds depict a wide-open land where the staples of life come to us, the basics, the essentials. So the music is essential, combining a kind of earthiness with a lyrical Modernity and an element that is pure Reuter in whatever sense I get from listening so much to his music. Call it Reutarian? Sure, maybe. It is his alone anyway.

There are eight dramatically varied movements that show a depictive arc and an arco poetics. He shows himself at this point very knowing of the string sounds he is after. The varied attacks and timbral subtleties are like the detailed outdoor life of ripening grain perhaps, complex yet direct. There is everyday life-tumble represented and also the quietness of yearning. The moods change nicely and we follow happily.

The Matangi Quartet sound fully immersed and subtly inspired for a heartful and smart reading of this wonderful music.

We have a winner! The music is strongly processual as well as lyric. The more you listen, the better it seems to me. That is a good sign, always.

Strongly recommended as an up-to-the-minute view of what Modern Art Music can sound like. Reuter is brilliant and innovative. Do not miss this!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Tibet: Ritual Traditions of the Bompos

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist chant is a many colored wonder and can be heard in a fair number of recordings, some out of print. There were several on Nonesuch Explorer that were pretty amazing. Now we get another perspective with a new CD entitled Tibet: Ritual Traditions of the Bompos (OCORA).

It is a regional variant that is perhaps more chamber-music-like comparatively speaking, fewer chanters, one cymbal and a drum and a single horn and so somewhat more elemental but no less supercharged and intensely focused than the variants we have heard on records or CDs.

And that makes it all a valuable addition. OCORA remains one of the first Ethno-World Music labels out there, hands down.

I recommend this heartily for anyone who a) is an acolyte of Tibetan music and/or b) wants to hear a precursor to New Music in its spaciousness and atmospherics. Grab this one!

Eliane Radigue, Occam Ocean 2

There are bagpipe or Indian Music drones, there is the droning of early choral music and then there are hyper-Modern drone-oriented pieces, whether acoustic, electric or both. Eliane Radigue is a master of the latter genre (in either "instrumentation") and has been for many years. A latest release finds her in great form, namely Occam Ocean 2 for orchestra (2015), a full-length work that slowly evolves in the most complexly interesting timbral, rather legato and somewhat seamless ways.

She was asked to write the work for the ONCEIM Orchestra, by Frederic Blondy, the Director-Conductor. (They perform it in this recording.) She eventually agreed when she thought of the work as a kind of solo for the conductor avec musicians. Listening to the work it sounds like a continuously floating and changing mass of sustain, like an ocean, with Occam's Razor there perhaps to trim down any excess though it is deeply resonant as a sound world, fascinating and exhilarating to hear.

Radigue comments in the notes that in some ways all her earlier electronic works were compromises compared to the rich expressive possibilities of the acoustic orchestra. And in this way Occam Ocean 2 finally gives us her potent and uncloaked advanced drone world in its full acousticity? Yes, it does, sure.

The emphasis is on the massive sustain on top of a key centered pedal that continually shifts timbre, range and instrumentation, not so much drone as elemental continuousness. That distinction matters as you listen because it is not at all fatiguing as a simple drone might be all by itself, at least to me. She piles great complexes of poetic sound and lets then shift and shimmer with time like the sun on blue-green tidal flows.

She also asked that she meet each one of the orchestra members in her own apartment space, to get to know them in order to write the more effectively each part.

The final work as performed here is a glorious thing of many shifting parts, an ocean of sound with  tides flowing and ever entailing and prevailing.

I find this music to be enriching and satisfying. It is New Music High Avant and the "orchestration" is incredibly full and unprecedented in some ways--they all blend so thoroughly it sounds like Electronic Music only more timbrally alive. Wow! Strongly recommended as what is happening right now. Now is now!


Thursday, September 26, 2019

James Brawn, A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 6, Sonatas 4, 11, 12

You can live with the Beethoven Piano Sonatas a lifetime and still hear new things in it all, from recordings, live performances, self-playing, wherever the tradition is kept alive, even if but in your earphones or in the living room. And we have today another volume in the complete sonata opus by James Brawn, A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 6 (MSR Classics MS 1470). Nothing stands still and Maestro Brawn gives us his own movement to the musical life-stream. This is a carefully expressive series of versions, in this case of Sonatas 4, 11 and 12.

There is plenty of technique but it does not dominate so much as allow Brawn to bring out the full Beethoven depth-of-field, to focus on the whole. Listen to his rendition of the beautifully lyrical  Largo from the 4th or the opening Andante from the 12th, or the gorgeously moving Minuetto from no. 11, and you get a sampling of these poetic but tempered set of readings, lovely and at the same time natural, unforced, heartful without being mawkish, not at all grandstanding. The music does not call attention to itself as a virtuoso vehicle so much as pure energy and melodic-harmonic brilliance. You listen, you are reminded just how central this music is now and was then, how breathtakingly innovative and expressive the Beethoven opus was and still remains.

We are invited to swim in the refreshing currents of an interpreter that digs deeply into the Beethovenian substratum, rings out and sings out the glorious sense of movement this music instills in you at its best. You literally hear Beethoven forge his signature revolution bit-by-bit if you listen to them all in sequence. But in this case we have a ways to go. No matter, for at least my self I am very glad to hear the Brawn exegesis.

Recommended for those who want a straightforward composer-oriented reading of the sonatas. Volume 6 does not disappoint and will make you want to hear the others. It is a worthwhile use of your time and listening energies. Brawn is a poet laureate of the ivories, indeed. Bravo.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dai Fujikura, Zawazawa

The state of the Modern Avant Garde in New Music today? It is thriving, though of course these days not the only game in town, so to speak. There are competing styles that complement the scene if you think of the Avant as the High Modern stance. No matter. All the better for listeners to have more choices. Today we have one from the current high Modern World and a fine thing that. I speak of composer Dai Fujikura and his album Zawazawa (Minabel Records MIN108).

On it we get to hear ten varied and variable works by Maestro Fujikura. On one side there are the choral works. There are three here along with a mini-piece for solo soprano--"Ki i ite" for soprano, and for choir there is "Zawazawa," "Sawasawa" (A pt. 2 of "Zawazawa") for choir and marimba, and "The New House" for choir alone.

The instrumental works show innovative outlooks and a careful attention to sonarity--for the tuba (Tuba Concerto for tuba and wind orchestra), clarinet ("Go, Movement Five" for the solo clarinet), double bass ("BIS" and "ES" for solo double bass), horn ("Harahara," "Yurayura," for solo horn, and for horn and string quartet, respectively).

Both the choral and instrumental works show a great sensitivity to the potentials and capabilities of the players and singers. Whether a matter of the mellow richness of timbre and/or expanded sounding qualities of the tuba and horn, the incisively limber sharpness of the clarinet, or the widely varied punct-al qualities of the pizzicato double bass as influenced by Jazz, it is all a place to contemplate sound per se and its meanings, after all, for we musical animals.

There is a sensory motor aspect to Fujikura's sound, a kind of tautological circularity more internal than minimal, but it is not more than a part of his extensive High Modern syntax, beyond serial and more ritualized if that is possible? It is a very personal way the composer has that is best heard right now than described fleetingly. There is almost a Martial Arts sound to the singing and playing--though I hope I am not projecting here? There is a "snapping to," a musical locking in that seems more Asian than Western, perhaps. And all that is only to say that the music stands by itself, the playing or singing is a kind of discipline, nothing casual, and after all that it still belongs squarely to the Avant realm, to New Music language as spoken today.

I do recommend you at least hear it--then if you like it, support the artist and the label, by all means. New Music needs your support and Fujikura is a worthy example. Kudos!

Platti, Cello Sonatas, Francesco Giulligioni, Members of L'Arte dell'Arco

If Giovanni Benedetti Platti (1697-1763) does not have his name inscribed in the immortal pantheon of luminary composers, in truth I find him nevertheless in his own way a Late Baroque Master quite worthy of our ear time, even if he is no Bach, exactly. Who is save Bach himself? That is another discussion.

My feelings are confirmed with a recent two-CD set of his Cello Sonatas (Brilliant 95763), as performed with zest by cellist Francesco Giulligioni and members of L'Arte dell'Arco. There is a fine sound to savor with a very gritty solo cello, bowing with fire on what sounds to be an instrument and bow from the era, plus a continuo that sometimes includes both harpsichord and organ, and all that sounds fine indeed. The second CD includes sonatas for cello and violone and harpsichord, sometimes the strings alone, sometimes the trio, but all intriguing as much for the sound timbres as for the notes themselves. Giulligioni bows like the devil, not as often like an angel and that is refreshing and vital to my ears. His sound is pretty, but pretty with an tempestuous exuberance that sounds anything but saccharine, or for that matter Romantic. It is not that at all and all the better for it.

There are 12 Sonatas in all, played quite well.

With the bargain Brilliant price this set is an essential for those who seek to understand Modern performance practices with original instrumental techniques as well as for any acolyte of the Italian legacy. Platti is very good and once you hear this program a few times it all comes together, at least that is my experience. Go for it! There is nothing to lose but your ignorance about the composer.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Hanns Eisler, Leipzig Symphony, Funeral Pieces of Motion Picture Scores, Night and Fog, Jurgen Bruns, MDR-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, Kammersymphony Berlin

If you are from the States and know something of 20th century cultural history, you might know why composer Hanns Eisler has been in many ways surrounded by a shroud here. He was one of the notable composer refugees to America in the Nazi period (a formidable bunch of brilliance), was blacklisted and forced to return to Europe after embarking on a promising film scoring period in Hollywood, a victim of the Fulbright Hearings. It explains the obscurity now but the music has begun to become a most welcome thing over the world in the past quarter century anyway. And I personally find the music quite intriguing. He was a master scorer and inventive soul despite finding himself exposed on the left in a world that had turned to the right.

And now we have another release of note, with Jurgen Bruns conducting alternately the MDR-SInfonieorchester and the Kammersymphonie Berlin in a very intriguing program of a once-lost but happily significant symphony (The Leipzig Symphony) and some intensely interesting music from film scores (Funeral Pieces of Motion Picture Scores and music from Night and Fog) (Capriccio 5368).

The music is rich, deep, quirky-original much of the time and there is a good deal of it. The film scores are very symphonic and so it all is a rather vast treasure of a Modern mindset that nevertheless takes as homage moments that you know are almost a paraphrase of Mahler and Bruckner, and then lyrical sadnesses, grim sarcastic marches that reflect his involvement with Brecht and other contentual anti-Nazi moments as of course you might expect to encounter by Eisler in certain moods and with given semantic aims and etc.

It shows us an Eisler who was fully conversant with the musical era he followed upon as well as funereal sorrows and other film-score oriented moods. The latter and their original function in the various films can remain separate for our listening aims without the least difficulty. This is symphonic music first and foremost now.

He was a composer who gave us perhaps as much or more of the anguish of his era than many others then (Shostakovich and Prokofiev come to mind also) and that dark mood does dominate at times but memorably so.

The performances are first-rate and the music stands out as good and even masterful. Listen and you will find a composer of his time we a universality that can still move us today. Perhaps Eisler is going to take a chair in the 20th century modernist pantheon after all, or at least some of these works will. This program shows a composer worthy of our ears, surely. This one is for all Modernists. Bravo.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Crossing, Voyages, Music of Robert Convery, 1994 and Benjamin C.S. Boyle, 2018

In life even if you do not travel a mile you still take repeated voyages through the seasons, that is if you live in a temperate clime. As I write this a season begins here where I sit at dawn. And so the musical theme seems especially appropriate. It is appropriate that the CD I review is entitled Voyages (Innova 028). And it is a special advantage that the music is performed by the absolute ace vocal ensemble The Crossing. I have come to appreciate their now more and more bulky catalog of releases and today's is especially beautiful and well sung.

It involves two Modern works of our time, fine music that has a tuneful, haunting vernacular and post-Modern sort of quality--all about the joy of music to be sung, in a way.

The works speak, they sing, they sound ravishing in The Crossing's hands. They show us that lyrical expression is very much alive. The program beings with "Voyages" (1994) by Robert Convery and concludes with "Voyages, Cantata No. 2, Op. 41" (2018) by Benjamin C.S. Boyle.

Tonality is firmly in the driver's seat, a sophisticated Modern sort yet very song-like too. You hear in both works traces of Jazz, of a Post-minimal linearity, of contemporary song, of choral roots. These two pieces are so well wrought for the likes of the Crossing that one immediately takes note. This is one of The Crossings strengths, that is, that lovingly sung group sound, of beauty unabashed, without undue self-consciousness or irony.

The Robert Convery work has in its six movements a tensile strength in a ravishing ever presence. It sounds like a joy to sing and director Donald Nally once again gets all completely right, and perhaps that goes without saying. Yet this work feels very right, regardless of whatever else one might say. It is a vocal collective sound that is perhaps homespun, local in its universality, phrased judiciously like gems in the a cappella choral tradition, going back to a De Prez or Bach and outwards through Mozart and Ives and beyond!

The Benjamin C. S. Boyle adds a chamber string orchestra and jumps in from the start with ecstatic singing that sounds aurally to me as a celebratory sort of joy. There are six movements, six moments, six memorable lyrical paeans to being. Like Hindemith and Vaughan Williams, this composer seems very capable of doing something with Walt Whitman, but then this work has everything happy going for it regardless. And in any case the lyrics are based on Hart Crane, nicely so. Like Convery he shows a rare sort of songfulness and further listens confirm just how nicely put together is this music.

It would be hard to imagine better performances of these two fine works. The Crossing make some essential music and surely this is a disk example of one I gladly deem essential among this year's releases. It is heartening and not quite Modern anymore in that older sense but the point is the joy of the tones, the singing of the world spinning in endless Voyages through space! Through spacetime! Bravo!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Maurice Durufle, The Organ Music, Louis Vierne, Trois Improvisations, David M. Patrick

Both Maurice Durufle (1902--1986) and Louis Vierne (1870-1937) represent a further flowering of the French Organ School in the 20th century. They did not take things quite as far as Messiaen did in terms of the Modernist impetus, yet they shared with him a symphonic expansiveness, a dramatic demeanor and a melodic-harmonic sophistication that put them at the inventive forefront of organ progressivity in their day.

To place us into the direct musical stream of both composers we have a recent disk that I have been increasingly delighted to check out, involving organist David M. Patrick giving us Durufle's Organ Music and Louis Vierne's Trois Improvisations (Guild GMCD7804).

The disk provides Durufle's complete output for organ, which is a handy and enlightening thing.

Durufle's "Prelude" from his "Suite, Op. 5" (1930) sounds related to the old "Dies Irae" Requiem hymn theme, and goes far in harmonically expanding the altered motive to make it gritty with dissonance, then florid with ornament and contrapuntal implications. The "Prelude" of the "Prelude et Fugue" is a maelstrom in a labyrinth and needs to be heard! The "Toccata," again from his "Suite, Op. 5" (1930) is as bracing a whirlwind organ climax as you are likely to hear. Excitement reigns supreme and we thrill along, or at least I do after a few listens. But it's all good.

The Vierne "Trois Improvisations" as reconstructed by Durufle are inspired and supercharged. Durufle was Vierne's (and Tournemire's) pupil and you can hear the connection of course and so too these improvisations serve as a two-prong offering--for the importance of Vierne and his inventive brilliance, and then of course for how he connects stylistically with his pupil.

This is beautifully advanced organ music, beautifully performed and recorded. Kudos! Bravo! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Alberic Magnard, Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg, Fabrice Bolton

If Alberic Magnard (1965-1919) is something of an acquired taste, it is mostly because until recently his music was not so easily come across outside of the local context. In the USA years ago when I first started exploring Classical music he was not a name one heard much, let alone was there easy access to the music. That is now changed, at least as far as his Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 (Naxos 8.574082). There are versions available now (many for some time) and I am happy to be listening to one--the new Naxos release with Fabrice Bolton conducting the Philharmonische Orchester Freiburg.

The works are sterling examples of Magnard as a fully mature symphonist (No. 3 was completed in 1896, No. 4 in the year before his death, in 1913). Bolton and the Freiburg orchestra give us measured impassioned readings, not too overwrought, which is a key to this music sounding as Late Romantic in a somewhat Wagnerian manner yet Gallic, daydreamingly thoughtful as a pre-Impressionist brown study. There are occasions where the themes seem almost folkish a la Vaughan Williams, only French and earlier-Modern-period-on? That comes to me as I write and listen.

The music has a special sort of glowing continuity--like a waterfall it rolls on and on with sustaining sound that is symphonic with a centrality to the bowed string as a way of thinking musically. He may have composed these at the piano but it all flows in ways that pianos do less of--and so the magically long-toned breath of woodwinds mixes together potently with the endless arm-bow continuity of the strings.

That does not mean that there is a schemata or formulaic quality to this. By being so waterfall-like it is only in its density, not in a note mesmerizing way--because of course in his day there was an expectation that there be motival variational post-repetitive sequencing and development which we get quite nicely. And the thematic content is not quite Modern so then it does not fit with other symphonists of the early Modern period exactly. At times there is a bit of Wagner, yes, but not for long stretches. Like Berlioz there is a personal singing quality here that looks back less than stays inside a selfhood.

This personal originality becomes more apparent as one listens with some repetition. At first it is never-ending and continuous and what that consists of is not as easily grasped because the melodics are not simple nor obvious at times but nicely evocative of themselves and Magnard's musical self.

Both the 3rd and the 4th are fully fleshed out and complete unto themselves. The LP era, since both come in around 40 minutes time, was well suited for just one symphony on a single 12" disk, but of course we get the bonus of both together with the CD era. It may be too much at first to hear both in succession but once you subject yourself to so much music in time it begins to differentiate and happily so.

After protracted involvement with these symphonies I must say they are of their kind unexpected treasures in the early-Modern symphonic oeuvre. All that is to recommend this one to you. The performances are excellent and the music is surprising if you seriously take a chance on it. Do give it your attention if it sounds interesting.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Biber, Sonates du Rosaire, Patrick Bismuth, Ensemble la Tempesta

When I was a budding music enthusiast, still in high school, I came across a Vox Box three-record set of the Biber (1644-1704) Sonatas Rosenkranz or i.e., Sonates du Rosaire, or i.e. The Mystery Sonatas, featuring violinist Susanne Lautenbacher. I found it at the rccord chain Harmony Hut in Wlliowbrook, NJ and as all the Vox Boxes then the asking price was $3.99, a remarkable bargain. I had no idea what it was but at that price I could afford to explore. And as it turned out I fell under the spell of the music completely and never have turned back. And here we are some 48 years later!

The scordatura (non-standard tunings) of the intricate solo violin part and the well conceived dialogical continuo of organ or harpsichord and strings remain to me a riveting distinguishing aspect of this music. The Lautenbacher version still sounds great, especially at times mysterious, almost South Asian Baroque (well, not really but there are occasional drone-implications, as latent on the organ continuo parts especially--and always there is something exotic about it). All the elements come together and Susanne is triumphant.

Over the years there have been other versions but I've still come back to that first LP one. Now, just now there is another new version and I must admit it gives me a rather lovely alternative. The violinist is Patrick Bismuth and he is accompanied quite ably by Ensemble La Tempesta (Alpha Classics 2-CD 491).

What this new version has to differentiate it from the Lautenbacher is a great period resiliency--especially via a continuo that swells and expresses more plasticity of interaction. Bismuth plays with less fire than Lautenbacher but then there is a more Baroque expressivity too. Each sonata is further differentiated stylistically in this version--each stands more on its own as an entity style-musically--but then that mystery is less apparent, too. So it does not take over the field so much as offers another path toward the performed sound, so to speak.

And of course all the better for that, since one version necessarily does not negate the other as is ever the case. I like both, and am glad to have this new version to hear repeatedly. There is nothing quite like these Biber sonatas and the version sparkles nicely. Highly recommended.

PS Try listening to this totality of sonatas per the composer's intentions as given in the section headers--the first part dubbed as "joyous mysteries," the second as "sorrowful" ones, the third the "glorious mysteries" and then the final piece for the "Guardian Angel." It is a cohesive Biberian iconography, in many ways, of his music-meaning mind and this version gives us further insights into that. Such things fascinate me and I hope you as well.

Albeniz, Complete Works for Voice and Piano, Magdalena Llamas

Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909) of course represents one of the primary pioneering compositional voices in what blossomed forth into the Modern Spanish School by the later early decades of the 20th Century. His Iberia remains his most celebrated and singular single endeavor, yet there is much more to hear and appreciate in his entire output.

Many of us outside of Spain itself are less familiar with his songs than we should be. That is remedied handily by the Complete Works for Voice and Piano (Naxos 8.574072) as sung by mezzo-soprano Magdalena Llamas with Guillermo Gonzalez at the piano

There is a substantial 70-plus minutes worth of music on this collection, some 31 songs grouped in various sets dating from 1887 through to his final period in 1909.

There is a wealth of finely turned music to absorb, showing a kind of oblique deflecting of Spanish folk music elements into a very personal impressionist introspection that in the end is original and at times complexly expressive.

Magdalena Llamas gives a very projective reading of these songs. She is rather in her own way as individual as the composer, and we do find the music filtered by her artistry to a significant extent. Nevertheless you hear everything with the emphasis that the composer no doubt intended. The vocal arts are necessarily intensely personal. I recommend you listen to the music a bit yourself and let yourself respond to the vocals in whatever way you see fit. One no doubt will find much to like in Maestro Gonzalez's piano accompaniment. It and the piano writing itself are high points to my mind of this set.

Recommended for anyone interested in the Modern period of Spanish musical art. and too for those who would like a bit of musical adventure!

Friday, September 13, 2019

David Haney, Birth of a City, For String Quartet and Improvising Quartet

David Haney is a well respected avant improv pianist and composer and succeeded Bob Rusch as the owner-editor of Cadence Magazine. I have appreciated his free-wheeling improvisational forays for a long while by now, but I have not had the pleasure to hear his ambitious compositional outlooks until this new release. But I am quite glad I have! Birth of A City for String Quartet and Improvising Quartet (Big Round) gets my attention and keeps it..

This is music that defies expectations--in the sense that its pronounced "Third Stream" essence comes out in decidedly more contemplative than explosive ways. I would not have precisely expected such a thing as a cosmic explosion, certainly, but the music comes through less as a combustion and more as a concentratedly individual, as implied form in freedom,  like spontaneous sparkling glass beads on endless strings. Two sets I suppose you could say? That is two for the two works here--"Birth of A City" in eight parts, "Variations on a Theme" in five parts, the latter with some of the more overtly Jazz-oriented thematics at times.

The artists are exceptional players all and expectations have some role for what I know of them--that they can be quite extroverted but that isn't what they are called upon to do here. Instead they fall aptly into a special kind of way to sound that Haney sets out in the scores.

The String Quartet consists of players well known for improvising as well as interpreting written form--among other things. So there is Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Melanie Dyer on viola, Adam Lane on bass and Thomas Ulrich on cello.

The "Improvising Quartet" is an interesting and unusual mix of jazz trombone titans Julian Priester and Steve Swell as pitted against the percussion of Dave Storrs and the traps of drum legend Bernard Purdie.

The beads of light on two strings I think of when listening to this program come to us with exacting written parts juxtaposed with a good deal of improvisational freedom. It all comes across as a kind of virtual set of inaudible pedal points that frame the ever interweaving key centered horizontal poignancy and vertically subtle heft.

It is music that quietly but concentrically unwinds spell-full particularities that at first blush seem unassuming but then increasingly stand out in well wrought and eventually enthralling ways.

Kudos to Maestro Haney and company on this one. Do not expect so much "x" or "y," for this is "z" and all the better for us! Heartily recommended for all who seek to explore the new music improv nexus today.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Unheard-of//Dialogues, Unheard-of//Ensemble

New chamber music within the Avant-and-Beyond Modern realm is what today's CD is all about. The Unheard-of//Ensemble, a quartet, gives us eight works on their album Unheard-of//Dialogues (self-released). We hear Ford Fourqurean on clarinet, Matheus Sardinha Garcia Souza on violin, So Sugiyama on cello and Daniel Anastasio on piano. They blend together wonderfully and have each an individual flexibility and virtuosity.

The eight works keep the "anything goes" motto alive and meaningful. There is a fair deal of variety in the sub-style sets to be heard. "Maple" by Christopher Stark sets the pace with long-tone blends, shruti-like bends, and a general contemplative mood. Then Minimal-like noteful buoyancy contrasts further distinguish this work as rather vibrantly lively.

"Family Picnic 2008" (Erin Rogers) uses spoken motifs mixed seamlessly with New Music instrumental contrapuntal klangfarben--and some interestingly variegated spoken-sung-played events, each having a sectional impact I guess you could say. It is about large banks!

"Coalescence Cascade" (Michael Lanci) has a rather beautiful, radical tonality kind of primality that appeals, and it too contrasts with thematically more complex elements.

"Procession-process: peace" by Reiko Futing combines Radical and Expressive Tonality with New Music and Post-Mod entrances and exits for a fascinating hybrid. There is something also in the use of aural space here,  a kind of Eastern quality?

"Hum Phenomena" by Tonia Ko is nicely open with a classic New Music kind of eloquence.

Ben Loory's "The Well" is a magical-reality sort of short story recitation that is interesting enough but perhaps gives us a disruption from the musical sublimities of before and after when one has already heard it numerous times. Nonetheless it is easy enough to skip if one no longer needs to experience it again.

Nathan Hudson's "music for falling/flying" is Tonal-lyrical-primal-old/new-synthetic and partakes of a rhapsodical quality in new ways that keep one's attention centered on it all.

Nikitias Demos' "Eronflash" ends the program on a very alive Neo-Classical sort of mode. The music has that labyrinthine stop-go punctuality that marks Stravinsky at his best in this mode, only this is also unmistakably original and not really derivative. So it's a good ending for a good program.

And after digesting this a number of times I must say I am impressed with Unheard-of's highly enthusiastic and infectious readings of these works, some definite indications of part of where we are today--both Avant and Tonal. Molto bravo!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Great Classic Film Music, Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra, Iain Sutherland

Like most everyone I grew up watching a lot of movies and absorbing the movie soundtracks. Because I was part of the first TV generation I was exposed to a lot more old movies (on TV) than might have been the case for the radio-phonograph folks coming up somewhat earlier. Classical music has always had a huge influence on the music of the most classic scores of course and there is a rather handy summing up of such things on a CD that has come out recently, namely Great Classic Film Music (SOMNI Recordings Ariadne 5006), as performed (mostly live) by the Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra (England) conducted by Iain Sutherland--from recordings made between 1983 and 1986.

The selection covers the icons of the last century, soundtrack-wise, and a few that one might not be as familiar with, at ;least here in the States. So there are some of John Williams' Star Wars I musical themes and his Main Title music from E.T. (I.e.,  Williams takes on Holst), Max Steiner's schlocky classic "Tara's Theme" from Gone with the Wind (as a kid I knew it as the theme for the "Million Dollar Movie" TV feature every night on indie NYC TV), and a bunch of others, most of which I'll mention as we go along.

From the beginning of the "talkie" era (and at times for the more elaborate silent film presentations) the symphony orchestra was more or less a must for any soundtrack that wanted to aspire to blockbuster status. The orchestra represented "class," "ideal expression of narrative elements" and perhaps above all was considered universally the fullest means to express emotional content that we then knew musically. We may still feel the same way--but not all ages or current genres however.

To fit the soundtracks with the musical scene we need to remember that mainstream "everyman" classical popularity was by then firmly in the hands of the most popular Romantics--so Tchaikovsky for example was a kind of bellwether, but others too of course. And the soundtrack composers coming out of Europe into Hollywood or at any rate with Euro-centric training if not residence, they were fully steeped as orchestral composers in the Beethoven-and-after extravaganza style possibilities. And so then the stock in trade necessarily was Romantic--for better or worse. Korngold was one of the more brilliant refugees from Europe in WWII and his music was always much more than stock Romantic tropes--so you can hear that in the March from the Adventures of Robin Hood and the Prelude from Escape Me Never.

The romance of the Romantic comes to the fore especially in "Tara's Theme" and the Love Theme from Love Story. These are themes virtually everyone has known and are admittedly some of the very more memorable items from a huge production of soundtrack footage over the years.

One must note that something like Jerome Moross's Prelude from The Big Country gives us something else--a post-Copland Americana that is attractive and evocative and very well suited to the subject matter of the film. So too William Walton's various spots sound like him and not otherwise, as one might say too about Khachaturian. An innovatively rousing Prokofiev on his "Battle on the Ice" from Alexander Nevsky breaks all molds, though this performance is a little hectic compared to some classic ones I am used to hearing.

Beyond that among other things there is decent arrangement by the conductor Sutherland of Williams' Close Encounters that well represents the ground of blockbuster Scifi soundtrack trends from the close of the period the recording was made.

Movie buffs will find this nice to have and hear. Can we still respond to "Tara's Theme" the way my parents might have? Probably not but no anthology of popular film scoring would be complete without it. It all raises the issue too of how a period expects or likes to hear some things that in other ages are not assumed or perhaps even completely understood.

If music from more atmospheric soundtracks like Jaws and Psycho are missing, the emphasis on the lyric Romantic would make them seem a little jarring I suppose, given the implied premise that the program satisfies audiences looking for the tuneful, for melodic sublimity?

The performances are quite serviceable and the selections are well paced. It might not be something I would be looking out for right now if I was not reviewing it  but then it is a reliably good collection if you have or think you have the need for it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Frank Merrick, Piano (1886-1981) with Henry Holst, Violin (1899-1991), Selected Best from '60s LPs

As I have said before one thing good about doing these reviews is that I end up hearing and appreciating music I otherwise would not have known about or had the chance to experience. One such offering is a four-CD set giving us "A selection of the best performances transferred from the 'Frank Herrick Society' and the 'Rare Recorded Edition' LPs" of the 1960s by pianist Franck Herrick (1886-1981) with Henry Holst on violin (1899-1991) (Nimbus/Grand Piano 4-CDs NI 8826).

Herrick may well be of legendary status in these days we live, at least over  in England. Regardless I have not before heard him, or even of him, but I am very glad to hear these excellent performances now. Wiki talks of his life and career and you might want to go there to find out more. They note that he won the Columbia Gramophone contest to write the final two movements of the Schubert "Unfinished Symphony," that in 1926. The recording of it is quite rare.

Beyond that as performer and teacher he was a pivotal figure in England. What counts for us right this moment are these vintage recordings and they are very fine. He and violinist Henry Holst mesh wonderfully well and give us sparkling and interestingly Apollonian readings of works in the lyrically Tonal and Neo-Classical Modernist realm, a rather striking, refreshing selection to me.

The opening disk and a third centers on Arnold Bax (1883-1953) and alerts us to how fascinating and moving Bax's violin-piano works are--and no less how good they sound in the Merrick-Holst readings at hand. Virtually any Anglophile would find all of it a treasure. But then any student of the 20th Century should find it absorbing too. (And that holds true of all of this music.) Bax may have fallen into eclipse even as these long unavailable '60s records were being made, and that makes them all the more remarkable I suppose because the artists clearly love the bittersweet music and make it their own, make it seem timeless. As you listen to the intricately lyrical music you feel that these fit well into the "Second English Renaissance" of the early 20th century, with Bax as a composer fully deserving to stand alongside Vaughan-Williams, Holst, Walton, etc., as a home-grown original. So the performances of his "Legend," "Ballad," and Violin Sonatas 1-3, covering the fruitful period of 1915-1927.

From there we have somewhat familiar music along with exotically lesser-known works. Nothing is uninteresting and all are played with poise and great sympathy. These are singular performance events, every one. So we get nicely burnished readings of Delius' Violin Sonata No. 2, the Sibelius Sonata in E major, op. 80, then some contrapuntal and/or expressive niceties from  Max Reger (Sonata No. 5 from 1905 and "Suite in Olden Style" from 1906). Finally among the known commodities we get the somewhat under-appreciated "Cinq Melodies" of 1920 from a fairly young Prokofiev. All of these flourish in some fine expressions.

And then there are some very interesting and obscure (to me) works by Edward Isaacs (1881-1953), Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986), Bernard Stevens (1916-1983) and two sonatas by Gunnar de Frumerie (1908-1987). Each piece is a worthy addition to the literature and surely worth hearing.

The sound is quite decent for old LPs, the performances excellent, the program an adventure. And the price is reasonable. So take a listen by all means.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Dvorak, Elgar, Schumann, Cello Concertos, Strauss, Don Quixote, Kim Cook, St. Petersburg State Symphony, Brohuslav Martinu Philharmonic

Some CD programs thrive in part because they include a good choice of repertoire that plays off of one another well to illuminate a period and do it insightfully. That is the case with cellist Kim Cook's two-CD set of middle-to-late Romantic period concerted works for cello and orchestra. On it we get a nice balance between the Cello Concertos of Dvorak, Elgar and Schumann and then Don Quixote by Richard Strauss (MSR Classics 1637), as played nicely by the St. Petersburg State Symphony or the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic under conductors Arkady Shreinlucht or Gerardo Edelstein.

Kim Cook come across as both Apollonian and Dionysian in equal measure. She is Romantically emotive without undue over-statement and she articulates the parts with a kind of stately steadfastness that seems quite convincing to me. And to complete the aural picture the orchestra readings seem equally balanced and clearly articulated.

The Elgar work (1919) shines forth to me as perhaps the most outstanding of the four readings. Elgar was in the later stages of his artistry when he wrote it  and this work has a touching sort of bittersweet elegance that Cook and the St. Petersburg Orchestra under Shreinlucht play out for us with thoughtfully painted pastels and shades of grey. There are moments that seem almost lighthearted, notably the Allegro Molto of the Second Movement but there is too the moving Adagio of the following movement which has a wistful remembrance, a Proustian-Madeleine sort of looking backward in the present that in the performers' hands is quite touching. The march elements of the final movement give us a feeling of time past and passing and all seems quite well in the end, as it no doubt is, comparatively speaking.

The Strauss Don Quixote was apparently (as the liners note) meant to offer a kind of comic comeback to the more dramatic-serious autobigraphical Straussian Ein Heldenleben--and some of the playfulness is nicely on display in this version. Frankly this Strauss work has for whatever reason failed to hit a nerve with me over the years but I must say this version does seem more convincing to me than perhaps some others that I regularly listen to in my collection. If one is to make a case for the brilliance of Strauss's pictoral musical prose in this work it is clear one can hear it quite well in this version.

The xecond disk has the rather classical coupling of the Dvorak and Schumann concertos, which is how I first heard them (together) when I found a Rostropovich LP in my youth and reveled in it. The Schumann sounds appropriately heroic in Ms. Cook's hands, the Dvorak expressively regal. There are other versions of course and that is not to say that these are not worth hearing and appreciating. They are. Yet so the full program is as well and gives us a nice snapshot of the cello sonata repertoire of the pre-Modern period.

Kim Cook's cello rings out without a lot of undue clamor. It is sweet without being saccharine, and there is a musically projective force that seems right for the many various emotive and tonal moods contain in the program. And in the end it all makes these four works seem more of our time perhaps than some of the older recordings I have been used to hearing. Ms. Cook goes her own way in musically pleasing ways.

I recommend this one happily, especially for those who have gaps in the cello repertoire that this set of readings fills quite nicely. And this version of Elgar should be heard by anyone with an interest in such things because it is quite fine indeed. Bravo, then!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Anton Dvorak, Locale, "American" Quartet, Piano Quintet in A Major, The Alexander String Quartet, Joyce Yang, Piano

Classical music lovers in the USA have long cherished Anton Dvorak's New World Symphony as the lucid and lyrical tribute to that seemingly new morning in a new place. Native Americans might have gotten a different symphony perhaps but they were not at that point likely to listen to much symphonic fare of course.

All of us in general who explore the Classical repertoire have heard and enjoyed more of Dvorak. Two works`in the chamber realm are especially worth your time certainly, that is the "American" Quartet and the Piano Quintet in A Major, which happily it so happens there is a new recording out by the Alexander String Quartet and Joyce Yang at the piano for the latter work (Foghorn Classics FCL 2020).

The "American" Quartet as it rather rapidly came to be known was written in the summer of 1893 while the composer was staying in Spillville, Iowa, in the midst of his three-year stay as the director of the National Conservatory in New York. The music does not make direct use of American national themes but instead writes music that is his own classicization of the spirit of such music. It quickly caught on in the States on its Boston premier in January of 1894 and has been continually and deservedly appreciated since that time.

The Piano Quintet in A Major, Opus 81 was written somewhat earlier in the summer and fall of 1887, initially in the Czech countryside at Dvorak's summer home. As the fine liners to the release note, the work makes an excellent synthesis between Czech folk-like elements and latter classical Post-Brahmsian forms. It is a sheer delight to hear as is the Quartet.

The Alexander String Quartet and Joyce Yang give us spirited and compassionate readings of these works that are close to ideal. If there are no shocking reinterpretations there are also no disappointments whatsoever. It is a golden program played with the finest care for a broad sweep and finely turned detail. Bravo!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Peter Racine Fricker, Organ Works, Tom Winpenny

When it is a matter of organ music and Modernism of course Messiaen has been by far the most influential and inspiring figure. He continues to captivate as virtually no one else in our times.

There is the matter however of English composer Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990), whose Organ Music (Toccata Classics 0518), as played by formidable organ Modernist Tom Winpenny, gives us an alternative, convincing look at Classical-Modernist possibilities, a rigorously and thoroughgoing imaginative view of what can be said in tone.

He was in the '50s and early '60s a celebrated Modernist in English circles but then went somewhat out-of-fashion with the rise of more avant styles, which was compounded by Frick leaving Europe to accept a teaching position at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The move was to define in many ways the course of his later life. It allowed him to keep on but effectively kept him out of the European limelight.

This first-ever recorded compilation of his organ works is revelatory in its portrayal of the brilliant contrapuntalist, dissonant Modernist and dramatic-melodic organ dynamist. Some eight works and one five-piece grouping grace the program. All save the short "Pastorale" are in First Recordings, which is saying a great deal, as we are talking about some 75 minutes of music.

Significantly all but one of these works were written between 1965 and 1985, when he was a resident in the USA. If nothing else it marks the bulk of his organ music as later output, comparatively speaking, if this selection is any indication.

One thing to be said for the whole of this, Fricker tellingly conveys an intensive brilliance of musicality that is always filled with significant form, from the contemplative to the bitingly severe.

This program is magnificently performed by Winpenny and should be of great interest to any follower of English 20th-century composers, or indeed of the Modern organ. The musical content should intrigue anyone who has serious concern for developments in our contemporary musical worlds. A landmark recording, this is.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Midwest Chamber Ensemble, Vieux Amis-Nouveaux Costumes (Old Friends in New Costumes), Settings of Debussy and Faure Songs and Other Works by Philip Lasser, Steve Lewis, Director

The Midwest Chamber Ensemble presents Vieux Amis-Nouveaux Costumes (Old Friends in New Costumes) (BRC Audio Productions). As the subtitle states these are "A Setting of Debussy and Faure Songs for Voice and Chamber Ensemble by Philip Lasser" and then several Lasser (b.1953)  works of his own.

The star of most of the proceedings is soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, who has a most engaging and delightful voice that suites this music quite well indeed. The Midwestern Chamber Ensemble, conducted in the fully instrumented works by Director Steve Lewis, rather clearly are in their element with this repertoire. The end result is a kind of conjoining magic of composition and performance, a real match of affinity.

The arrangements of the Debussy and Faure songs ("Apparition" and "Mandoline," respectively) are nothing less than exquisite, with lyrical chamber group parts that greatly enhance the songs and give us something considerable to hear and appreciate.The six Lasser songs in addition to the one apiece from the Debussy and Faure realms--taken all together there is strong lyrical Impressionistic-Modern fare to be heard and it all works marvelously well.

The second half of the program presents us with several Lasser instrumental works that provide a lyrical haunting of their own in a decidedly French lyrical manner, whether it is a matter of "The Jewely Box" for violin (Ho Man Lee) and piano (Jessica Koebbe), the Sonata for Cello (Ernan Chalshotori) and piano (Charles Dickinson) and the final, beautifully lyric "Ballade" for flute (Virginia Q. Backman) and strings.

It is all a rather ravishing program certainly and the performances are excellent. If you respond well to modern French lyricism this is no doubt going to make you happy, I very much think. Listen and enjoy.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Partch, Sonata Dementia, Music of Harry Partch, Vol. 3

The figure of Harry Partch (1901-1974) on the American New Music landscape is a singular and totally original one. A dedicated iconoclast of absolute brilliance, where he and his music are concerned  it seems the more I hear of it, the more I feel I am in a presence like no other. We all get a chance to hear new versions and First Recordings of some chamber gems that point us ever forward. This on The Music of Harry Partch, Vol. 3, otherwise listed as its primary title Sonata Dementia (Bridge 9525). And though we will always live in a kind of astonishment about his musical instrument inventing and his expansion of tone as we know it this volume reminds us that there is much more involved as well, a kind of world outlook that marks him in the most unique way. And that can become clear when we open up to some of the smaller ensemble works and their fine performance on this release.

With the exception of the two bonus tracks (to be discussed shortly) the entire endeavor is a love labor of the "Grammy Winning ensemble" PARTCH, who most certainly seem born to the music, and as we know with Partch in the past, nothing less will do, since the performers really must "live" the Partch spirit and make it ring out with the quirky kind of authenticity of the American "folk persona" that was so much a part of Partch's world and work.

First up is "Ulysseys at  the Edge of the World" (1962), which combines trumpet, baritone sax and more "conventionally" Partchian instruments and was written for jazz trumpet master Chet Baker. It has consequently a slightly more jazzy sonance than usual. It sounds wonderful in the new recording.

The "Twelve Intrusions" (1950) too gives us a lot to contemplate, miniature gems that embody the mystery and folk rootsy-ness of Partch at his finest. The vocal parts have been realized with just the sort of mischievous prankster yet deadly dramatic-serious demeanor that Partch himself gave to the parts and as he himself performed them often enough.

"Windsong" (1958) thrives here as the first recording of the original version.

The penultimate bonus track is a short Edison Cylinder of a Native American song that Partch was called upon to transcribe for the Southwest Museum. He paraphrases it in the "Cloud Chamber Music" section of "Intrusion."

Finally in the Partch Ensemble section of the program "Sonata Dementia" (1950) in a First Recording gives us music that I for one am extremely grateful to have now. It is contained in three dramatic movements that any Partch lover will no doubt be glad to savor.

The acetates of the Partch's Eastman lecture-performance of the original adapted guitar and vocal version of "Barstow: Eight Hitchhikers' Inscriptions" (1941) is a delight and a revelation. His adapted guitar performance is an ear-opener and a fine thing on its own!

Nothing perhaps is quite as incredible as the Columbia recording of his epic Delusion of the Fury, which everyone surely should hear if not own. On the other hand this new volume gives you an excellent introduction to the more intimate chamber Partch. For the newcomer or the old friend, this album will jump out at you in ways nothing else quite can.

Highly recommended. A milestone recording.