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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Pauline Kim Harris, Heroine, Reimagining Bach and Ockeghem

Today we savor more of the "old in the new," the Modern in the early, the re-imagining and aural re-staging of the past into New Music.  We consider today Heroine (Sono Luminous 92235), an Ambient New Music foray into Bach's Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D minor ("Ambient Chaconne") and Ockeghem's "Deo Gratias" ("Deo") for violin and electronics, all composed by Harris and Spencer Topel.

Where these two works go are into a spacey ambient place. Part of the roots are in the old Fripp and Eno classics, part are firmly in the Early Music past, parts just speak directly to me (us) as contemporary cosmicalities.

The violin part is central--sometimes incorporated simultaneously into the electronics haze, sometimes standing apart in a solo-versus-collective "orchestral" backdrop sense. Delay-echo can play a contrapuntal role esp in "Deo" and/or it can embellish the main line.

In the music of "Ambient Chaconne" live and pre-recorded violin join together with electronics. The work begins as earlier recompositions of the original Bach work with foundational transcriptions of passages from the original and weaves all of them together in a carpet of ambiance, as "structural underpinnings," "small dissociated fragments" and as extremes of "extended passages of sounded or silent materials." It sounds as simultaneously and linearly a microscopic reconstruction of the inside of the music, ethereal and movingly memorable.

"Deo" takes Johannes Ockeghem's remarkable 36-part cannon from "Deo Gratias" and extends the contrapuntal nexus to nearly infinite levels so that in the end it becomes a simultaneous burst of musical light most beautiful to hear and behold.

The music comes out of Kim's profound experience appreciating the tending to afflicted loved ones and experiencing loss in the widest senses from illness, whether physical or via mental illness, depression or addiction, or from growing distrust and general malaise in a growingly destabilized world. The music sounds to me as an antidote to all the suffering implied in our times and no doubt Harris and Topel mean it as such. It is a kind of tribute to the ministering angels of healing we experience for self or others when the world or our bodies seem at odds with life as we mean it to live, or anyway that is my interpretation of the notes she has penned for us in the liners.

In the all and all of it this is music you can grow into and occupy like living room furniture, or so it seems to me. It is not easy-chair ears (as Ives called it) that are developed so much as an organic living reconstruction, an internal dwelling inside fragments and wholes of earlier music as a way of being and hearing. It is delightful, majestic, and cosmic fare. I do recommend it for its spacious girth. Hear-hear!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

John McCabe Plays Dominico Scarlatti, Muzio Clementi Keyboard Sonatas

There are times when life does not appear ideal but then there is a release that takes you to the happier land of music. Today there is some joy for me in such a one, John McCabe (1939-2015) playing the Keyboard Sonatas (Divine Art 21231 2-CDs) of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) and Muzio Clementi (1752-1832).

The pairing of composers and performer is not entirely predictable yet when you listen you feel that this coupling was meant to be. Two composers who added between the two of them much to our keyboard sonata riches and a pianist (composer, conductor) who graced our current world so abundantly and artistically, the experience has magic and there is wonderful piano music to hear indeed.

I cut my eye-teeth on Scarlatti via Fernando Valenti's copious set as played on harpsichord (Westminster), so that hearing these twelve Sonatas by a pianist who brings a firmly idiomatic and poetic, singing approach to them is a pleasant shock of recognition, as old friends become somehow very new. As played on piano by McCabe they sound so...almost Modern and...ethnic if you will pardon the phrase, since everything is ethnic in a way?! The playfully dancing Spanish-Italian flavor of the music comes across so vibrantly here that one can only give thanks to hear them!

And as to the Muzio Clementi the three sonatas op. 50 no. 3, op. 33 no 2, op. 40 no 3 plus the "Monferrine" come at us with very pleasing delivery, on time, a beautiful time indeed. The performances are focused and passionate in a rare blend of performative combustion.

The music was recorded in 1981 around the time of the author's 42nd birthday and were meant for release on the then brand new classical label Hyperion. They come out here on Divine Art in full fidelity and with a marvelously spontaneous flourish on the part of McCabe.

The whole set is a stunner and well worth having. McCabe with his fingers sings, we mentally and musically dance along and we are all the better for it. Strongly recommended for the repertoire and performances! Bra-vo!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Messiaen, L'Ascension, Orchestral Works of the '30s and '80s, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich, Paavo Jarvi

On today's CD (Alpha 548) we have three orchestral works by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) from the 1930s and one from the 1980s. Paavo Jarvi most ably and dynamically directs the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich for the duration of the program.

Early Messiaen is a world apart from anything that preceded him, even at times that which followed, namely his later works. I was happily introduced to his music years ago by way of a recording of his "Turangalila-Symphonie" of 1948, a remarkable work in so many aspects but also in part very much a model recapping of his first period (that aside from his fascinating incorporation of "popular" melodics that almost sound like music hall pieces from another planet!) .

Much of the charm and original daring of that work is contained in microcosm in the three early works we hear on this program, "Le Tombeau Resplendissant"  (1931) for a rhythmic-melodic asymmetry and vibrancy, "Les Offrandes Oubliees"  (1930) for its supernatural, otherworldly chorale sort of sound with a remarkable Modern harmonic movement that was all his own.  Interestingly that motion is echoed in the 1989 "Un Sourire" (spelled by a well-developed, contrasting birdcall-like set of interjections).

Finally "L'Ascension" (1932-33) begins with another such chorale, beautifully orchestrated for brass and other instruments in a block of pristine sound initially unprecedented in modernity outside of Messiaen himself. This the first of four movements sets us up for what follows. Restlessly then sublimely unfolding whole-tone melodic chains of linking sound follow and we proceed happily further from there for surely one of his greatest early endeavors.

The appearance of tonal light so pronounced in Debussy and Ravel takes on further luminosity in "L'Ascension." Messiaen matched himself for the refracted light sound he was so endowed to produce but in my opinion never quite surpassed himself either. It is a true revelation to hear this early masterwork in the hands of Paavo Jarvi and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich. And so I unhesitatingly call this one to your attention.

Jarvi and the Zurich orchestra give us carefully executed and often rousing renditions of the works, which afford us a catbird's seat view of the early (and later) brilliance of this supreme master of Modern music.The volume is a great place for the Messiaen acolyte to start and a worthy addition to the Messiaen lover's collection. Essential.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Mahler, Orchestral Songs, The Organ Transcriptions, David John Pike, David Briggs

Some ideas are good ones and one such is Mahler's Orchestral Songs: The Organ Transcriptions (Analekta 2 9180). In the series of baritone-organ versions of the songs as performed admirably by David John Pike (baritone) and David Briggs (organ) we get another way to experience the music.

And what a block of music it is: the "Songs of a Wayfarer," "Songs on the Death of Children," the "Rickert-Lieder" and one from "The Boy's Magic Horn." These are some cornerstones of Mahler's art and in the orchestral versions they sing out in unforgettable fashion, so much so that it takes some getting re-acclimation to hear these organ versions.

At first I very much missed the orchestrations, and too the somewhat cavernous ambiance of the cathedral in this recording was a definite contrast to the relative crispness of what one hears in Mahler's originals. But then too David John Pike is remarkable as baritone in the vocal role and Maestro Briggs turns in a flawless performance with lots of spirit. And in time I focused on that and all was well.

Some of these songs are key to grasping the folk element in Mahler and by hearing the vocal line in a kind of new bold relief we can take all that in from another angle. And of course we must accustom ourselves to the correspondence of organ stops to orchestration. All that takes a few listens, or it did for me at any rate.

All told if you love this music in its orchestra incarnation we have yet another way to appreciate it all. Organ aficionados will be fascinated and Pike's vocal performances are nothing less than heroic. But then Briggs rises to the occasion as well.

Happily recommended for those who already know the music and love it. And for those who revel in the organ-baritone sonance potential. Here's a new and happy way to hear Mahler at his best.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Keeril Makan, Dream Lightly, Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Gil Rose

Keeril Makam writes orchestral music which is sufficiently sonically attuned that you are drawn into his world immediately and you remain there for the duration. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project gives us an anthology of four relevant works on the recent Dream Lightly (BMOP Sound 1066). They cover our new century (2006-2014) and they do it with highly dynamic and memorable essays in sound color and post-Minimal-oriented originality. In the composer's words, the music seeks to "contextualize silence." One could say in that endeavor there lies the music's stand-apart quality.

Repetition where encountered is on a macro- more than a micro-level. Things do come around generally speaking but there are much longer sequences, more of a stillness and less predictability in the overall scheme of things than one is inclined to hear in classic Minimalism. The works have ritual cohesion more than interlocking profusion. And they sprawl into a linear cosmos that does not obviously repeat as much as it hovers in a special zone. The ambiance of it is as pronounced as it is rather profound.

Maestro Makan is a professor of composition at MIT as well as recipient of the Rome Prize and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

The title work "Dream Lightly" (2008) sets the tone with impressive, slow moving sonic structures punctuated by electric guitar harmonic outbursts and savory chordal arpeggiated strums nicely played by Seth Josel.

"If We Knew the Sky" (2014) rolls by at the longest duration (25 minutes) of the four. A vibes motif opens the window on color and presence, long mysterious returns and ambient sonances that will be out front throughout. The penultimate section takes the motor rhythmic implications of the opening vibraphone line and rockets forward with a lively riffing. Stillness returns in the end.

"Tender Illusions" (2010) like the title work stretches out of the Minimalist mold to favor a magnetic sort of hovering that one feels the depth of on hearing.

"Still" (2006) favors a long open kind of hovering as well, with ambient sound structures that move slowly through the hearing self like high clouds on an otherwise sunny day with a slight wind to drive things onward without hurry. Violinist Charles Dimmick and violist Peter Sulski handle the solo slots quite well and in the end Makan convinces us that his musical worlds are populated with inventive brilliances. Bravo.

This is music very much of today--Modern in the widest sense of sharing the zeitgeist of "newness" and a progressive sort of timefulness we come to expect from our contemporary masters. This is prime New Music well performed. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Beethoven, Egmont (Incidental Music), etc., Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam

Most Beethoven fans will know the Overture from Egmont and probably the Funeral March from Lenore. Today's CD goes a good deal further with those, plus the complete Egmont (Incidental Music) (Naxos 8.573956), along with some other select theater incidentals and Six Minuets. Leif Segerstam conducts the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra for balanced, tempered, yet very alive readings more Apollonion perhaps than frenetically Dionysian, but that is quite a good thing if your mood is the same.

The complete incidental music from Egmont turns out to be quite compelling. It comprises nearly 50 minutes all told (including a minute or so of narrative in German). The numbers that include soprano Kaisa Ranta are fine to hear, as are the purely instrumental passages, so very Beethovenian one is never much in doubt as to the personal stamp of brilliance in full flower. He penned this after having written his Pastoral Sixth Symphony, in the following years, 1809-10, so he was completely himself of course by then, as his absolutely deftly heroic handling of the orchestra reminds us along with the depth of the noting itself.

It is some marvelous music. By the same token the Introduction to Act II and the Funeral March from Lenore, the Triumphal March from Tarpeja and the Six Minuets (1796) (the latter of which refresh via a touch of Beethoven the Classicist) fill out the program with very worthwhile fare, done to a turn I suppose you could say.

Those Beethoven lovers in the mood for things less familiar will appreciate this one as I have, and then of course there is the Naxos price to encourage you. Nice performances so there is a good deal all around. Kudos!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Mishka Rushdie Momen, Variations, Solo Piano by Clara and Robert Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Nico Muhly and Vijay Iyer

The theme and variations form in Classical music has given us a way of thinking about the essential and its various inventive modifications, and then of course there came Jazz with a marvelous richness of invention, and yet then again the Modern today where all in music is a variation on itself at times.

Pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen gives us in this wise a smartly thought-out program and a nicely turned solo piano performance of select Variations (SOMM Recordings 8603). She begins with the Romanticism of Clara and Robert Schumann, Brahms, Mendelssohn, and then very related variations by Contemporary Modern Nico Muhly and Modern Jazz master Vijay Iyer.

Clara Schumann's lovely 'Variations, Op. 20 on a Theme by Robert Schumann" sets the tone for the cycle of works presented on this program. These are probing, sensitive takes on a theme from Schumann's  Bunte Blatter. In turn we hear in response Brahms' treatment of the very same theme as a reaction and tribute to both, and then contemporary Nico Muhly's take on both the Schumann theme and the Brahms response. Then too there is Vijay Iyer's freely interpolated response to the responses, in a way a very right now point of view.that takes us full circle around to the top without an undue amount of willy nilly, just enough of a freedom in other words, so that we can consider the openness of the variations project once again as it was at the start of things, before the first note sounded.

To add another dimension Robert Schumann's and Mendelssohn's variations are moving responses to the Eroica Variations by Beethoven, in many ways of course the "founder of the feast" (to wax Dickensonian here).

All this music demands a poetess or poet of the ivories. We get that quite consistently and fully with Mishka Rushdie Momen, who is yet young and very connected to this music as a sensitive soul herself. It is the right sort of performance for today, neither overly showy nor reluctant to sing out. It is a happy middle ground she finds that makes it all come together and flow into its channels.

All I can do in these now very many reviews is to put out a suggestion of the what, the how and why of a recording and then of course it either seems to you something to hear or not. I so do recommend this one for its connectivity and its poetics and its tie of the Romantic and the Modern Contemporary in variations form. A hearty bravo.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Robert Carl, Splectra, Alison Bjorkedal, Music for Solo Harp

Another good one of those specially priced EPs from Cold Blue is Robert Carl's Splectra (Cold Blue Music CB0056), a solo harp work in two parts played with dexterous lyrical crispness by harpist Alison Bjorkedal.

An elemental motif is the kernal to the exegesis, as the music unfolds and expands with great interest, not without advanced tonality.

Anyone who loves the harp will find this very much in their wheelhouse, I suspect. Strongly recommended.

Matt Sargent, Separation Songs, Eclipse Quartet

You may think you've heard everything there is to hear but there cannot be an end truly. For in real time there are of course uncounted hours of what you have not caught up with via pre-recorded things, and then there is live music on top of that. Well, if that isn't humbling what is? Add to that what music you yourself may make and indeed, what you might hum or whistle while out for a walk and, well there you go with a good deal of things, don't you?

Luckily out of the absolute everything of possibility there are good things still to be heard, very good things. Such a good thing is Matt Sargent's 70-minute chamber opus Separation Songs (Cold Blue Music CB0055) as played with proper and considerable spirit by the Eclipse Quartet. It is scored for two string quartets and consists of 54 variations on four hymns (1770) by William Billings. There is "separation" in the way tones from one hymn migrate into another one at every turn in the cycle.

Given the Cold Blue label designation you'd be right in assuming a Radical Tonality category for it. It belongs there...yet one notes also that it evokes in fact what it is -- on one level a string arrangement of old satb hymns such as (in more conventional form) might have been played on deck in the last hours of the Titanic's ill-fated voyage. The gradually timeless suspension the separations give rise to makes it as all in a dream, something ultimately without temporal provenance in the way it seems--and so it derives its radical quality in that way.

It is the oscillation of is and is not to the above that the music takes its power and charges it. It is the secret push to it all. Secret before it hits you that is. Then it is the IS that gets you in repeated hearings, how the music is radicalized in its sequencing as in some dreamtime realm we only know when we recognize its kithing kin-twin-ness so to say. It is as like-with-like without patently perceived repetition so much as continuity that this music derives its pull and charm from.

It grows on you after a matter-of-fact first hearing, like someone's words that seem simple but then in recall they take on deeper impact, so also this music in second, third, and etc., hearings.

That is the crux of this one. Hear it, contemplate it, then get it into your ear zone for good? Do. Process is product, and a very good thing it is!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trio Lirico, Weinberg, Penderecki, Schnittke, String Trios

The String Trio occupies a special niche in world chamber music, whether Modern or Classical-Romantic. It is a challenge to write a great one, given the violin-viola-cello nexus of course, and a mind expanding experience to hear one such. Three by noted Eastern European Moderns are a revelation, especially as played by the formidable Trio Lirico on a recent offering (Audite 97.753).

It is no small matter of representative works, one a-piece by Polish-Russian Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), the Polish Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) and Russian Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). They are played with care and zeal by Trio Lirico. Each work is a gem. They are from the nest of the Abstract Modern chamber string forays we have come to anticipate from the Eastern European zone since the marvelous quartets of Bartok and Shostakovich.

The liners note that all three lived behind the "Iron Curtain" until its fall in 1989. That may in fact explain some of the moods we encounter, as too a sort of temperament that does not shy away from deep pathos, angst and honest chagrin. True, there were distinct antipathies to new music in certain zones of the Soviet Block in certain periods but I am not going to be the one to explain it ALL away thus.

So too I do not feel it necessary to comment further since Eastern European Moderns are not primarily of the cheerful and happy bunch and it distinguishes them most certainly. There the waters run deep and not necessarily without opaque moments. And if cultural life forced composers to endure pressure at times to conform (i.e., to Social Realism dictates), we in the end profit from the depth of chagrin that might have gone into some of this music, or at least influenced the overall arc of it all. Still we must appreciate the real sacrifice such non-conforming involved at the time. For let us face it, this is music that could be seen by pedants as "formalist." It took courage to write such music.

Suffice to say these were/are composers who try in these works to put on their human face, so to say, to express a fragility fused with a toughness. There is no need to pontificate--this is deep, very deep music. And it all is played wonderfully well by Trio Lirico! Recommended for all serious students of the Modern who are open to exploring string chamber music gems that have suffered some neglect until now. Here are a threesome of ravishing presence. Get this.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Shostakovitch, Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad," Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons

In so far as "War Symphonies" go, Prokofiev's Fifth and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 (BR Klassik 900184) are my very favorites, and likely the very best, especially in the Modern zone. And, face it "Wellington's Victory" or the "1812 Overture" are not quite symphonies and not meant to be masterpieces. Britten's "War Requiem" is great in its own way but it is not a symphony either, not exactly.

There is a magic to Shostakovich's 7th, a noble emotional strength and emotive reaching out that is hard for me not to appreciate. Why not anyway? So there is a new recording out by the Symphonieorchester Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons and I have been listening.

The long opening allegro movement to my mind is one of the most remarkable things that Shostakovitch wrote. It depicts the Nazi invasion-march into Russia as a gradually building, almost Revel-Bolero-like relentless crescendo that is ravishing, extraordinary, highly singular.

I am used to hearing Leonard Bernstein's New York Philharmonic recording (I had it on vinyl) and that version stays in my mind as a benchmark. The BR version here is a little bit light on the acoustics/miking of the opening snare drum (sounds a little more like a typewriter in the next room than a snare) and the pizzicato strings (perhaps not very woody or prominent enough) compared with that version and I must give that earlier recording the edge still, at least for the first movement. But this version is no sluggard, surely. Far from it.

It is recorded live, which helps explain certain things like ultimately the balance of the first movement. By the time it is building up a bit everything seems at proper levels. The arco strings sound especially majestic throughout the entirety of the recording.

And on the whole this version is rousing and very movingly done. For the March in the end the Bernstein is hard to beat. This version does a bang-up job nonetheless. The final movement performance here is something of a revelation to me, with a lot of panache.

I am very glad to have it, and to hear it in detail. You should have this symphony if you are serious about last century and etc. This goes in my head with Shostakovitch's Quartets as some of his very finest music. The BR version has its strengths and I am glad to have it as a supplement and another view of it all. Bravo!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Morton Feldman, Patterns in a Chromatic Field

To understand Morton Feldman's special relation to musical form in Patterns in a Magnetic Field (Wergo 7382 2), we need first to look at the language of the title. Each main word is somewhat key. So "Patterns" gives us the idea that there are interrelated interworkings, and there is more than one of them of course. The implication is that each pattern may be different enough that they do not necessarily or primarily form subsets of one another, at least not in the listener's memory. So they are in a way like patterns for clothes like my mother used to buy. Each maybe is for a dress, but not the same dress. Compare that to African music and Steve Reich's music following his African tutelage. Those latter patterns relate much more strongly one to the other.

Second there is "in." So the patterns are contained within something. But what? Well something "Chromatic" so we are not so much subjected to a diatonic singsong such as might be heard in typical "Minimalism" in the classic sense. In fact Feldman sounds somewhat more High Modern in his relation of tone-to-tone. The key center may be there but sometimes tenuously. Cello and piano sound repeating patterns differentially and together they complete a particular double phrase a few times mostly slowly and then move on. Yet too there is a wide range of successions Feldman can come up with--these are not subset-like much of the time--except the slowness is always there, unless there is an agitated motif, which occurs periodically but not necessarily relatedly.

Last we have "Field," with its connotation of a somewhat vast expanse of ground on which are "planted things, " so to say. Not necessarily all the same but all THERE. Put all the words in the title together and it does indeed describe what we will hear. Patterns in a Chromatic Field.

To understand fully this music one of course must hear in concentrated and repeated form, which a recording such as the one at hand makes possible in beautiful ways. This is not the only recording available but it is an excellent performance, with Mathis Mayr on cello and Antonis Anissegos on piano. They are lyrically sympathetic, which is pretty near ideal to my mind.

The music is an exceptional example of later Feldman, which is exceptional music even by the standards of typical originality. He breaks off from the paradigmatic then-present and becomes almost wholly other. The more I hear of this phase the more impressed I am. But then Feldman ALWAYS is Feldman from first-to-last, virtually.

And no less is this true than of Patterns in a Chromatic Field. There is dream. There is movement from station-to-station and there is a meaning gleaned from the sum of all stations but not until you disconnect and reconnect hundreds of times in the process of hearing the totality.

Bravo that. Bravo this. Here is a hear from the ages. All should listen closely and get a grok-ful of Feldman at a peak, a real peak! Nice performance. Feldman is one-of-a-kind. Grab this.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Carl Czerny, Second Grand Concerto, Concertino, Rondino, Rosemary Tuck, English Chamber Orchestra, Richard Bonynge

Despite the reality that many of us know Carl Czerny (1791-1857) mostly via his piano exercises, he was a master composer, really. Listen to the new installment of his piano concertos on Naxos 8.573998, which includes the wonderful "Second Grand Concerto" in E-flat Major (1812-14), the Concertina in C major Op. 210/213 (1829) and the "Rondino" on a Theme from Auber's Opera Le Macon (1826).

Rosemary Tuck at the piano along with the English Chamber Orchestra under Richard Bonynge turn in stellar performances and quell any unease one might feel about so much Czerny coming out of late--because this is in fact worthy music, very well played.

The "Second Grand Sonata" puts you in mind of Beethoven, at first his "Pastoral" and then perhaps aspects of the "Eroica." Either way this music extends outward from such considerations and gives Czerny his own take on the then "New Music" of his day.

All three works overtly sparkle though the "Second Grand Concerto" is the most lengthy and ambitious.  Pianist Tuck in the liners speaks of the double role that Czerny played in the Vienna of his day--as a purveyor-Czar of fashionable works that concert going audiences could appreciate but then also a pianist uniquely situated to have a strong hand in the continuing developments in pianoforte technique. You can hear both surely in these recordings which rather amazingly mark the World Premiere of the works in recorded form.

Yet for all the above the music does not sound patronizing or pandering to popularity. Instead we get a steady torrent of delightful sounds as so nicely realized here.

If there is virtually nothing the least melancholic, there is much that is an overflowing, of a positive jolt of celebratory Vienna at the time musically and we can of course turn to later Beethoven quartets, etc. for when we seek more brooding depth. All works cannot be all things. So if we accept what Czerny was not, we can enjoy it all to the max when in the mood for it. And it is true that the minor key section intro to the Auber theme in the "Rondino" points to the possibility of depth charges though one instead dreamily gets pummeled nicely once again by happy melodic fare.

And so I do recommend this one to you. It gives you a genuine dose of Czerny in an abundance of performative joy. If it drives you back to Beethoven's concertos, all the better. There's room for both in the end and then perhaps Brahms relieves you of both with yet another take on things of course. So be it! So things go.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Enjott Schneider, Mozart & Beethoven Meeting Yin & Yang, Koch, Wei, Jena Philharmonic Orchestra, Simon Gaudenz

Lukas Foss did us all a favor when he created his "Baroque Variations," when he orchestrated and re-orchestrated as well as re-situated some well known Baroque themes and made of them something super-High-Modern. In that "tradition" we now have Enjott Schneider and his Mozart & Beethoven Meeting Yin & Yang (Wergo 5125 2). Two of the four works here use source materials from either Mozart or Beethoven and fashion out of them something altogether Contemporary, Modern, other--and nicely so.

Schneider goes his own way. "Raptus. Die Freiheit des Beethoven" sews together lots of familiar passages (like the lower string intro to the final movement of Beethoven's 9th, etc.). What he does with them all shows his high level of invention and in the process frankly rather thoroughly tickles me. It is great fun. If you like this then do not forget also Kagel's "Ludwig Van," Cage's "HPSCHD" and no doubt others. Anyone?

"Mozart Ascending" takes what we have of Wolfgang's unfinished Oboe Concerto KV293 and makes of it varying degrees of otherness, from mostly as written to thematically cognizant but totally rethought.

All this music is rather inimitably brilliant and then to cap it off we have two more works that take a different turn but no less effectively.

"Yin & Yang" features the astounding artistry of Wu Wei on the sheng in a concerted work for the instrument and orchestra. Understandably Chinese and Asian sorts of motives weave in and out of the music and yet too we have intersections with Modernism so it fits in with what we heard previously and also captivates in itself.

The final "Inner Worlds" for orchestra brings us thorough-goingly original music not tied to anything per se but the composer's muse, though it does fit in with the composer's idea of this program as a portrait of the Jena Philharmonic.

And if in the end we gain another view thereby, so all the better. It is a work of poetic mystery and lets us know that the orchestral tradition lives on today. It shows off Jena's various sections nicely in the process (as does the entire album). And too we are situated musically in a somewhat advanced harmonic realm at times so we feel through Schneider's music ultimately that he belongs to our time surely and is no museum piece, though there is rhapsodic lyricism and grandeur to it that points to the recent past without imitating it. This one ends up rather exciting at that, with tom toms and orchestral flourishes pouring forth in memorable ways, and then a rather noble horn choir passage. Bravo.

Well there we have it. I am enjoying this music and no doubt will continue to do so for quite some time. I recommend it for those with a sense of Modern adventure--it is fun and rewarding!.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Sonatas 3 /8 /9, Freddie Kempf

I've been living with the Piano Sonatas of Sergei Prokofiev since around 1972 when I got the more-or-less complete Prokofiev piano music on the two Vox Boxes (Gyorgy Sandor) that were quite respectable and inexpensive--and that filled me in nicely on what all there was to appreciate. I've been an acolyte ever since. And a fan, certainly.

Freddie Kempf is in the midst of a new Prokofiev Sonata cycle, coming out now with the Piano Sonatas 3 / 8 / 9 (BIS 2390 SACD) which sound quite well acoustically and give us a considered fire, careful yet with a modern tempered passion appropriate to the music.

The Third is less than 10 minutes long while the 8th and 9th run over 20 so there is a time element to consider--as Prokofiev clearly has more to say in the later sonatas.

Nonetheless all three sonatas are lucid, thematically tender-hard and bittersweet as the best Prokofiev can be. No. 3 dates from 1917 while 8 and 9 come from WWII (1944) and after (1947), respectively, the latter period in some ways hard times for composers enmeshed in the Stalin Social Realism orbit.  It took courage to do advanced music that could not be justified with some socially amenable scenario.

Happily Prokofiev did not reign in bu instead bursts forward with lyricism and a modern tempestuousness you find in dynamic ways. The tender-tough polarity is present in this music and in many ways it can relate to how "Modern Life" feels at times so that he speaks to me often as a listening being.

The integrates of melodic and harmonic spheres in the winding out of themes and overall developmental arcs are marvels in these sonatas to my mind. Listen closely and revel in it all if you can! I do.

Freddie Kempf understands that dichotomy and plays upon it with all the right nuances. Others may perform these works with a bit more frenzy but Kempf balances the two poles in near ideal ways to my mind, at least with these three sonatas.

I recommend this disk for all who love Prokofiev or want to know him better. These versions can stand alongside others in your collection nicely or they can be the sole occupants of this repertoire for you. Either way you should find it quite enlivening.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Michael Byron, Bridges of Pearl and Dust, Specially Priced EP

The Radical Tonality of music on the Cold Blue label to me is important, as it steps beyond Minimalism and blurs its on occasion rather sharp matter-of-factness. A new and good example (and a few more new ones I'll be covering later) is in Michael Byron's Bridges of Pearl and Dust (Cold Blue 0057) a specially priced 15 minute EP that features Ben Phelps on multi-tracked vibraphones.

Often enough you hear a shading of New Music with a hint of the trajectory of Avant Jazz in Byron's works and that is so here. It is a series of multi-articulated rigorously notated arpeggiated interlocking rootsy tonal-diatonic lines that have a modal-pentatonic base implication but not strictly in some formulaic way. The music switches pitch centers now and again to keep ultra-fresh and in the end it all makes wonderfully perfect sense.

The 15 minute span is just about right--so you go away very revived and immersed.

Good music! Listen.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

New Jewish Music, Vol. 2, Murphy-Dorman-Glick

Having listened a goodly number of times to the Volume 2 of New Jewish Music (Analeka 2 9262) I can say that the works are generally most stimulating and even exciting. The title is self-explanatory; it is a set of compositions that illustrate in rewarding ways what a "New Jewish Music" in the New Music realm can sound like these days.

We hear Kelly-Marie Murphy's "En ei escuro es todouno (In the Darkness All is One)" for solo harp, solo violin and orchestra, Avner Dorman's "Nigunim (Violin Concerto No. 2)" and Saul Irving Glick's "Seven Tableaux from the Song of Songs" (arr. for soprano, piano and string orchestra by Francois Vallieres).

The first two works have a strongly rhythmic-melodic-harmonic traditional Jewish element intertwined into a Tonal-Modern orchestral texture and fiber. The Solomon work relies on Jewish Solomonic text to establish a Jewishness and is ever so slightly less specifically-musically "Eastern or Diasporan" in orientation. No matter in any case because the music convinces and even beguiles as you become familiar with it all, perhaps as is often the case some parts more than others but all giving you pause.

The performances are uniformly good with the excellent presence of the Orchestre Classique de Montreal, Colour (harp and cello), Lara St. John on violin and soprano Sharon Azrieli.

Those who find a New Music Jewish countenance in a tonal realm of definite interest should not be the least disappointed in this one. It is a fine program and I am glad to have it. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Istvan Anhalt, The Timber of Those Times, Ajtony Csaba, SALT Festival Orchestra, Hungarian Radio Symphony

Four and five movements each comprise the two orchestral works featured on The Timber of Those Times (Centrediscs 26419). We hear the music of Istvan Anhalt--a masterful composer who left us in 2012 at age 92 after gracing Canada's music world and creating New Music like the two here, the title piece plus "Four Portraits from Memory," both completed in 2006.

These are symphonic odes of great Modern gravitas, even a kind of dark quality, soundtracks abstract and moody, capturing some of the tenor indeed of the post-9-11 world.

Anhalt was born into an assimilated Hungarian Jewish family in 1919 and made his way to Canada by 1949 where he was a staple of the avant music world for decades.

Ajtony Csaba directs most capably the SALT Festival Orchestra (for the "Four Portraits")  and the Hungarian Radio Symphony (for the "Timber" work) and we get an excellent bird's eye view of the two, Anhalt's last orchestral works. One might imagine further development in performance practice but this captures the essence of it all and we can be thankful for that.

It is widely tonal, sometimes on the edge of a key center, sometimes quite strident, and most somber--and of course music should express as much of a broad spectrum of feelings and views as any of our other arts so if this is not expressly "happy" there is nothing wrong with that, of course. It is relentlessly dramatic and we find ourselves enthralled in the experience of it, or I do anyway.

Anhalt shows himself a one-of-a-kind stylist, like Bergman or Berg an artist of complex moods. You should give this a listen, surely. It stands out from the pack. Modern adherents take note! Take ALL of the notes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Munir N. Beken, A Turk in America, ISSA Sonus Ensemble

Today, an adventure with A Turk in America (N/S R 1067). It is all about the composer Munir N. Belkin, his music, and indirectly or otherwise his venture forth in the "New World." The ISSA Sonus Ensemble do the chamber performance honors (with the composer on ud) and it is an excellent thing. Six compositions form the program.

The music has traces of traditional Turkish music at times, other times it is New Music Modernism front and center in intriguing ways, tonal yet sharply hewn, nothing sentimental per se,  and it sometimes has a ragged beauty like craggy outcroppings in the Rockies, though there is surely nothing haphazard about these works.

"Holes in the Japanese Lamp" is the craggier perhaps, some wonderful music for String Trio. The "Sonata for Piano" is a craggy winner, with a good deal of Neo-Classical-Modern playfulness that stands out as exceptional.

"Pottery Shards" sports piano, flute, and recalls a walk with the composer's brother where they came upon an oddly colored field which turned out to contain numerous painted pottery shards. The music has a kind of reflective aspect, recalling the scene evocatively.

"Memories of a Shoehorn" includes the stringed ud (very well played) and shines forth in two movements. It is one of the more Turkish influenced works here, not to mention highly contrapuntal at times, and finely hewn it is. Marvelous.

The title work concludes the program.  It is a full glimpse of the thematically quirky attractiveness of the composer, with a vibrant clarinet part that sounds Turkish in a setting that is lively and forward in the best ways. Moods shift--this is no one dimensional experience after all. Bravo. And then a vocal line breaks in that is VERY Turkish and on from there--so we go in a happy place. Brilliant!

And so it goes--a fun and smart set of works like no others and the ensemble sounds great. For all who seek synergy... Here is some lovely synergy indeed! Contemporary chamber music at its most adventuresome, this is! Very recommended.

Monday, October 7, 2019

John A. Carollo, Symphony No. 3, London Symphony Orchestra, Miran Vaupotic

John A. Carollo. His time has come it seems to me. Nowhere more do you get that feeling than when listening to the fine recording of his Symphony No. 3  (Navona 6250). The London Symphony Orchestra under Miram Vaupotic do an excellent job bringing to us the specifics, the poetics of this work. It is a 30-minute opus in four movements, completed in 2017.

And it shows Carollo once again in a fine light--places him as undoubtedly one of the US composers who is making the present a time to remember musically. The final movement "Let the Evening Stillness Arouse" reminds us that all along there has been present in the music John's gift of creating a beautifully evocative world, not as Copland but as Corollo, very local in the best ways, yet Modern in the tradition without necessarily self-consciously seeking beyond what falls naturally out of his pen, if I intuit the inventions properly. The first movement "To Morning" begins with an equally natural dedicative lyricism, giving the work proverbial bookends, while the middle movements are posied and poised, slightly playful yet serious at the same time. A great thing that is, surely.

This is tonal yet tough and edgy enough to identify it all as post-what is gone and pre-what is to come. And original it is. Very.

The four movements speak in contrasting and heartfelt ways. It is an important work, I think. I have been listening and covering happily his music on these pages nearly from the very beginning of the blog. And if there is one work that tells us what we need to hear if one could only put our ears initially to one, this one is it.

Recommended strongly for those wishing to understand the US present day Modernism, for those wishing to know Carollo the composer, for anyone looking for new music of noteful valor and lyricism!


Friday, October 4, 2019

George Perle, Serenades, Boston Modern Orchestral Project, Gil Rose

The more time and releases go by the more impressive to me becomes the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), an American composer-New Music oriented series of great excellence and good sense of need to fill out the recent history of the genre and give us much worthy to appreciate.

Director-conductor Gil Rose and the orchestra keep coming up with very timely and impeccably created releases, no less so today with composer George Perle (1915-2009) and his Serenades (BMOP 1067).

My first exposure to the music of Perle came back in a New Music concert in Manhattan in 1972. I have been glad to hear his music ever since. The three Serenades presented on this CD were written between 1962 and 1968 and form a prime Perle for sure.

The first is for viola and chamber orchestra with Wenting Kang doing wonderful things with the solo part. No 3 is for piano and chamber orchestra and Donald Berman gives us power and poetics at the piano helm. No 2 is for eleven players equally.

All have a beautiful unraveling about them, thoroughly High Modern in their attention to advanced  harmonic-melodic tonality at the edge and the inventive levels are as high as the wonder of the orchestration sureness. This was a Master.

In the liners there is a poignant passage where Perle expresses his need for authenticity, as part of a tradition, and that is of the legacy of Modernism and all that has led to it I suppose. You listen to this music and the fine performances and there is no doubt that he is of his world, but originally so as well as anyone. Listen to the long and winding piano run in the penultimate movement of the Third Serenade and you will have no doubt of Perle's centrality to things now. He embodies tradition but he is also a tradition now, someone to respect, emulate, listen to closely.

I do recommend this highly to all Moderns and those who wonder about Modern folks as well. Perle is essential on this one and BMOP give us exemplary performances. Bravo!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Bach In Transcription, Jean Alexis Smith

The phenomena of the Bach transcription for piano rose up brightly and prominently in the 1800s with Liszt and has been a factor, a happy thing ever since. Now pianist Jean Alexis Smith brings to us some of the most worthy of such endeavors on Bach in Transcription (MSR Classics 1720). That Bach himself was an avid transcriber reminds us that the practice goes far back, but the Bach craze in many ways started in the late classical-early romantic era and hence we gauge from there.

There are all kinds of goodies on this collection, and it is a definite plus to have all ten works as played quite respectfully well by Ms. Smith. We get Busoni's celebrated transcription of "Toccata in C Major," Ignaz Friedman's "My Heart Ever Faithful," Harold Bauer's "The Soul Rests in Jesus' Hands," Busoni's "Adagio in A minor," Liszt's "Prelude and Fugue in A minor," Alexander Siloti's "Prelude in B minor,"   Leopold Godowsky's "Adagio in C Major,"  Busoni's "I Call Unto Thee Oh Lord,"  and finally Grainger's "Blithe Bells (Sheep May Safely Graze)."

The effect of so much "additional" piano Bach is like a surprise present on a day when you did not expect anything. There is much that will be familiar no doubt, some less so, but all extraordinary to hear on piano played with care and concern. The heroic piano idea of the 19th century and beyond lives in these transcriptions, not all of which are verbatim and all take the wonders of the grand piano in hand to bring out a later-day addition to the Master's already brilliant doings. All the better in that we do not lose the original in the process, surely.

I recommend this for all piano fans and all who want more Bach, nicely redone at the dawn of Modernity. Kudos! Happy me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps

English folk and song-like strains mingle with Classical-Romantic-Impressionist piano concerto forms in the interesting new CD Piano Concertos by Dora Bright and Ruth Gipps (SOMM Recordings  CD273).

In the process of listening to this volume we gain an understanding of the charms and expressive clout of Bright (1862-1951) and Gipps (1921-99).

The performances of pianists Samantha Ward (for Bright) and Murray McLachlan (for Gipps) plus the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Peebles leave nothing to be desired. They are fine in detail and in the performative whole. There is both tenderness and spirit as needed.

Bright's peak formative period (according to the liners) was in the 1880s, Gipps' in the 1940s, so of course they belong to different eras, and so too the post-Brahmsian Englishness of Bright and the expressive clarity of Gipps tie in important ways to the periods in which they lived.

Bight's inventive line-weaving ability is apparent in the "Piano Concerto No. 1" and the "Variations for Piano and Orchestra," which make their recording debut on this CD. They have a flair and stay in the mind as worthwhile. The Variations have depth, the Concerto has heart.

Gipps' "Piano Concerto in G minor" has gravitas and an almost English-Rachmaninovian the first movement, then a puckish sprightliness and a touching lyricism that charms most certainly. The piano parts can be ravishing at times, happily. Her short orchestral "Ambarvalia" is a fittingly songful end to a fascinating program.

A nice surprise, this. Modern it is not, any of it, not exactly, not typically though Gipps sometimes sounds a bit adventuresome, stepping away from a strict Romanticism into an Impressionism of an individual sort, and there is a nice local quality to the outlook in both cases. Hear it and experience some new voices among women historically. Both were talented.

Hans Werner Henze, Das Floss der Medusa, Peter Eotvos, WDR Symphonie Orchester, WDR Rundfunkchor, etc.

This newly released  recording of Hanz Werner Henze's oratorio Das Floss der Medusa (SWR Classic 19082CD) is only the second to become available as I understand it, the first being of a rehearsal. This one is a live concert performance. It features the SWR Symphonyorchester and SWR Vokalensemble, the SWR Rundfunkchor, the Freiburger Dominsingknaben along with soloists Camilla Nylund, Peter Schone and narration by Peter Stein. Peter Eotvos directs and conducts. The results are excellent.

And in listening I could not help but draw comparisons with Berg's Wozzeck--in the sense that the work feels like a kind of descendant in mode, sound and mood of pathos, a familiar in its own right, with likenesses and differences that perhaps a grandson might exhibit.

It is the choral-soloist-orchestral opus that Henze did so well. If you do not understand German the somewhat lengthy parts narrated/recited in that language may be less interesting than more, but then there is a great deal of wonderful moments in the music, ultra-High Modern in ways unique to Henze, a titan in the world he walked tall within. We hear why in this recording.

There are other works something like this to audition but I must say I am quite happy with the performance/work at hand as a whole after listening heavily to it. Anyone who wants to know Henze or know him better would be well-served and enlivened by this one. And it would be a valuable addition to the confirmed Henze fan's library. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Dimensions, Works for Orchestra, Vol.2, Stem, Whitley, Field, Francis, Jarvlepp

New Music continues to flourish. Today, a new volume of an anthology of up-to-the-minute Modern orchestra music entitled Dimensions, Works for Orchestra, Vol. 2 (Navona 6251). The music all has some definite excitement rhythmically and a kind of rootedness in one way or another that gives us Modernity but also a kind of music of place, a locality if you will.

The performances are very good and recording quality fine. So  we can hear and appreciate some interesting music that excites by an anything-goes eclecticism as much as originality combined with stylistic largesse, all in a memorably tonal realm.

So we hear the fine drumming inherent in Eric Stem's "Portland," the almost Indonesian stepped meters and layering of Whitley's "Bonzai Down," a sort of pastoral Barber Knoxvilleness set against martial rhythms of Field's Whitman lyric-ed "A Letter from Camp," the rich lyricism and polyrhythmic aspects of Francis' "Concerto #2 for Guitar and Orchestra 'In Somnis Veritas'" and a Latin rhythmic cha-cha feel with Jarvlepp's "Street Music."

It is music that stays with you, that impresses with its together quality and melodic-orchestrational-rhythmic heft. Strongly recommended for all modernists.looking for rhythmic spice.

Gillian Smith, Into the Stone, Music for Solo Violin by Canadian Women, Ho, Sokolovic, Krausas, Agocs, Laplante

Every day more New Music. Truly there can be no end and there is no sign at least on the surface that humanity is losing its musical sense, its endless striving toward the NEW. So today is no exception with violinist Gillian Smith and her anthology of solo violin works by Canadian women entitled Into the Stone (Leaf Music LM228).

Ms. Smith's fine playing allows us to hear in full virtuoso dimension Alice Ping Le Ho's "Caprice," Ana Sokolovic's "Cinque Danze per violino solo," Veronika Krausas' "Inside the Stone," Kati Agocs' "Versprechen (Promise)," and Chantale Laplante's "Le ciel doit entre proche."

The music has high intensity and Expressionist energy more than Romantic passion, and so fits well into the Modernity we occupy today. Gillian Smith puts a concentrated focus on it all and makes us arise to the music actively with dynamic appreciation. The music references subtly the fiddle-folksy elemental at times (in a way as a novelist might use local forms in a dialog?) and at the same time follows its way into the adventuristically edgy melodic-harmonic, generally with a key center but abstracted as open and forward leaning. All is in the service of a timbrally vibrant violin expression that rings true at all points. And yet somehow the spirit of solo Bach is never entirely distant, happily. It is within a tradition; it is learned in violinistic means yet completely of our time.

Every work shows a true connoisseurship of the violin and its capabilities and in many ways composer and instrumental artist conjoin in perfect mutuality, in continuous performativity. That sets this CD apart as something special.

Fine playing, captivating compositions. Dial MV for Modern Violin, by all means. Do listen if you have time. It is in important ways a solo concert triumph, well worth your time.