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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Bach, 6 Flute Sonatas, Michala Petri, Hille Perl, Mahan Esfahani

One would be hard pressed to find a more talented and idiomatic trio to perform the Bach 6 Flute Sonatas BWV 1030-1035 (Our Recordings 6.220673) than you have today with the triumvirate of Michala Petri on recorder, Hille Peri on viola da gamba and Mahan Esfanhani on harpsichord.

Ms. Petri gives the transposed flute part a beautifully plaintive tone on the recorder and has breathtaking velocity for the nearly concerted allegro movements. Hille Perl and Mahan Esfahani sound regal and lucid in the realization of their parts throughout. One can gain much both listening to the whole and then to each part, which of course is a testament to the thoroughgoing genius of Bach and the beautiful playing of the trio.

The production values as ever are first rate, typical happily of Our Recordings--and that goes for the audio and CD production as well as the tasteful, state-of-the-art printing and graphic design work.

Bach's inventive magic prevails and never flags. As Mahan Esfahani points out in the illuminating liners, Bach playfully leaves open in the music itself the implications of other instrumentation possibilities (including recorder substituting for flute) which of course this trio takes full advantage of with a special brilliance.

I recommend this recording to you without hesitation. It is a benchmark surely for these works, filled with beauty and wonder.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Leopold Kozeluch, Joseph der Menschheit Segen (Masonic Cantata)

The music of Bohemian Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818) has undergone something of a revival in recent years. I've covered some of the new issues here (type his name in the index box above for the reviews). His music returns today with a disk devoted in the main to his Masonic Cantata Joseph der Menschheit Segen (Naxos 8.573929). Also included is the very brief "Missa in C," along with several arias and "Klage auf den Todt Marien Theresien." All are World Premiere Recordings and they show off the vocal side of the composer well.

Performances are handled by soprano Simonia Eisinger, speaker Siegfried Gohritz (for the Cantata), harpsichordist Filip Dvorak, the Czech Boy's Choir Boni Pueri under Pavel Horak and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Marek Stilec.

The compositions are well worth hearing and for the most part the performances come off quite nicely. Unfortunately some of the singers in the Boys Choir have difficulties holding their pitches on the Missa. A pity since otherwise both the program and the performances are illuminating.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Francesco Guerri, Su Mimmi Non Si Spara! Solo Cello

For this morning's offering we have cellist Francesco Guerri and his solo outing Su Mimmi Non Si Spara! (RareNoise RNR0110CD, RNR110LP). The promo blurb up on the net captures my reactions perfectly when it says that he "obliterates the line between contemporary classical composition and free improvisation." On this his third album he does just that with ten specially structured yet loose solo segments each bringing a special something to the forefront, and then a fitting finale for electronically altered cello entitled "My [ha]nd."

That latter fits into a sort of Avant Rock mode one ordinarily hears on the RareNoise label, yet at the same time carries forward the special sensibility Guerri brings to us on the previous ten solo segments.

Extended techniques, special tuning and bowing prowess forward seamlessly the high expression and musico-logic Guerri brings to us in such varied fashion, whether it be the kind of unabashed forwardness of High Rock and Free Improv or a passage of lyrical poetics. There is surety and individual uniqueness overflowing at every turn.

An unexpected find is this, perhaps, and a happy one at that. Very recommended for cello lovers and thinking listeners. The artist believes that this is music even a child would understand. I agree. Yet it is by no means "typical" in some routine sense. Bravo.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Hope Lee, Across the Veiled Distances, Yumiko Megun, Stefan Hussong

A select collection of piano music spanning nearly four decades (1979-2017), Across the Veiled Distances (Centredisques 27219) gives to us some five thoughtful and very pianistic works by Hope Lee, who deserves our attention as an accomplished voice on the New Music scene. A sensitivity to touch and timbre marks the music out, and as the one-sheet that came with the CD notes--it.conjoins an ancient Chinese musical aesthetic with Modern piano sense and sensibility. That is if you listen for it. It is all about a special attention to aural space.

The clearly sensuous facticity of part articulation is given palpable creative thrust in the readings here by excellent exponent Yumiko Meguri, a pianist of decidedly high caliber with great sympathy to Hope Lee's poetics of piano gesture.

She is joined by no lesser an artist in accordionist Stefan Hussong for the duet "Imaginary Garden V renewed at every glance" (2017). It has drama and bite, torque and some mystery. As the interactions proceed the level of invention remains high throughout.

Another very bright moment occurs with the close-knit "entends entends le passe qui marche..." (1992) which conjoins a live piano part with more-or-less musique concrete sound files.

The solo piano works are all concentrically riveting in their own ways, each of a piece yet showing Hope Lee's wonderfully varied intimacy with, and profound affinity for the pianoforte at its expressive best.

The final work, "...reflection on recollection" (2015) has lots of fire to it and epitomizes the program as a whole. But of course the point of the trip is in its traversing so we can gain just as much as we listen closely to the other solo piano works "across the veiled distances" (1996) and "Dindle" (1979) as well.

This is an ear-opening and well-performed New Music piano session, a highlight of the year! If you resonate with the piano and the Modern this one is essential and lively. Listen by all means.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Bruno Strobl, Elektronische Musik 1987-2018

Austrian elecroacoustic musical master-poet Bruno Strobl brings his own sound to our ears on the retrospective album Elektronische Musik 1987-2018 (Gr Mophone A00011). Some six works span the 32 years with a personal resonance in the best tradition of Musique Concrete, yet with an intrinsically sound-ground breaking demeanor.

All works are notable for how they create a palpable flow within their musico-sonic syntax. Each is a world unto its own with its own sound fingerprint. So we have transformations of splitting wood with an axe on Hiatus (1987),  of the sound of the contrabass on weiter, weiter, weiter - Transformationen (2018), glasses ringing on GlasSkizze (2000), double bass and synthetic sounds on Gesselkopf (2017), water sounds & etc. on Archeton I (1992) and more doublebass on Visby 01 (2012).

There may be an occasional overlap in sound class with earlier electroacoustic composers, but by and large it all is stunningly experimental in the sense of NEW. So the same reconnected-to-soundlife feeling one might have had listening to Henry, Schaeffer, Ferrari, Stockhausen. Mimaroglu and the like can be had here again as a sort of "new deja vu" where the newness is the repetition element.

Anyone who appreciates the electroacoustic arts or those seeking to experience it would be well served by this album. Bruno Strobl may not be a name and an artist widely familiar farther away from Austria but he deserves hearing and recognition. Give this a listen!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Daniel Lippel, Mirrored Spaces, New Music for Guitar

Some albums have such a voluminous and well-defined yet complex conceptual framework that doing justice to it all within the limited time and space of a blog article seems daunting. Such a release I feel is most definitely at hand with virtuoso New Music guitarist Daniel Lippel and his two-CD album Mirrored Spaces (New Focus Recordings FCR239).

The idea of Mirrored Spaces took shape initially in a Lippel guitar concert of 2008 that forwarded three "Experiments in Co-Composition."  which to varying degrees involved a compositional collaboration between performer (Lippel) and composer (others, Lippel). The present album expands the idea to a richly varied tapestry of works, including the original "Mirrored Spaces," "Descent," and "Scaffold" by, respectively, Orianna Webb and Lippel, Ryan Streber, and again, Daniel Lippel.

From there we hear another nine single- or multi-movement works here, all stemming from the collaborative idea and benefiting greatly from it.

The entire program, as Daniel states in the liners, makes metaphorical use of the idea of mirroring in our "appearance driven culture," with collaborations that give an alternate mirroring centered on the sound qualities and potential of the guitar, "its electronic doppelgangers," plus structure, progammaticity, history and usage of materials. Underlying this are factors regarding special tunings (scordatura), microtones, electro-acoustic aesthetics and the extended voice of the electric guitar.

Such concerns, taken all together, animate and inform the music yet too the results are quite a bit more than the sum of these conceptual parts in that the excelling comes out of the compositional-performative doing. That of course is how it always must be, nonetheless what is remarkable about this program is the how as much as the what.

From the first listen I was taken with it all. The works for electric guitar especially caught my attention because I have long thought there was great potential in an electric-New Music nexus. So the retuned electric springs forward dramatically in works by Sidney Corbett ("Detroit Rain Song Graffiti") and Ryan Streber ("Descent"). A live recording of Lippel's "Scaffold" is another great example of the electric and special tunings along with sustain worthy of the classic psychedelic guitar tradition. Note should also be made of Ethan Wickman's "Joie Division" and how it relates nicely to the electric idea with a combined acoustic part and simultaneous electronic counterplay. It is fascinating and dexterous, truly. There are many other gems too numerous to mention.

All of the program is fascinating and musically rich, showing great inventive and performative imagination, locking in a way of thinking about New Music and the guitar in a single breath, with a wide breadth for today (pardon the phrase). The collaborative idea indeed pays off with guitar-centric advancement that is informed by Lippel's intimate involvement with the instrument and the creative impetus of the composers to spur forward what the contemporary situation can give us.

It is a tour de force for an appealing and intensive synergy between the guitar and the latest compositional Modernisms. Hurrah!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Peter Greve, The Palace of the Dreamking and Other Works

Netherlandish composer Peter Greve (b. 1931) does not belong to the famed inner circle of New Music luminaries. In part that is because until his retirement in 2003 he pursued a career outside of music after studying music intensely yet also obtaining advanced degrees in Chemistry.

The release of an anthology of his music, The Palace of the Dreamking and Other Works (Navona NV6257) should help introduce him to those that follow the contemporary scene.

It gathers together performances of six works, some recorded especially for this release, others recorded earlier, all sounding first-rate.

The style of the Peter Greve music we experience here might be termed eclectic Modern, advanced tonal, covering a fairly well populated turf some distance away from the most edgy music but convincingly sincere and Greve-like, no mistaking that. He has had enough, quite enough musical training that one would never view his composition as in an "outside art" zone, yet there is a kind of disarmingly personal aura to the music that while not being wayward is nonetheless determined to be going in a certain individual way.

There is a good mix of ensembles to be heard on the program.

The title work, a symphonic poem for large orchestra, has a programmatic scenario the music seeks to portray for us, about an old Dreamking and his musical and personal antics. It has resonance and memorability. It is not my favorite work here but it does give us a dramatic introduction to Greve, certainly. He shows a sure orchestrational sense and a widely dynamic point of view here.

The following "Partita for 11 Brass Instruments" changes the scene to move towards more abstract territory. There is invention and dynamics in full supply, happily three movements of it. The middle section hearkens to an earlier time when brass choirs and Gabrieli ruled, then the music returns full force to the present-day. Lovely.

"Give Us Peace," an "Invocation for Organ and Mixed Choir" proceeds through eight movements with the organ in a mystic yet triumphant mood and the choir further coloring our ears with searching harmonies and evocative poetics. A French organ school sense of symphonic drama and some very advanced expressive harmonies rule the day nicely. This is a high point certainly.

The "Trio for Clarinet, Violincello and Piano" gives us the chamber side with a well wrought reflectivity contrasting with kinetic movement through the three segments. The level of invention is high and the musical territory covered feels dynamically right on repeated listens. The work was commissioned by Greeve friend Maartin Van Veen in remembrance of his wife Mary, who suddenly died after their 50 year marriage together.

Next up is "Magic Winter," an "Arctic Saga" here in its string orchestra version. It settles into various ramifications out of a mythical tale of trolls trying to brave out a tough Scandinavian winter. It moves through story-painting moods in an almost Grieg-like manner, depicting a brave endurance against a harsh season..

An "Aria for Trumpet and Organ" finishes off the program with lyrical mystery and songful expression.

And that is the program in a nutshell. Greve has a winning way that he makes his own and if it is doubtless not the sort of thing that would lead us into some drastically new stylistic age it is nonetheless fine music. Greve gives us his best and that is very good indeed. Recommended for those seeking new music beyond the typical labels and into the sounds and sensibilities themselves. This may not be the music of the future but it is some of the better music of the present. And it's worth your time should you seek the new and have the room and time for a rather unknown, unsung voice today. He deserves a hearing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Daniel Herskedal, Behind the Wall, Meland, Robak, Hjertvik

European composer-instrumentalist Daniel Herskedal comes to our ears with his eight-movement chamber work Behind the Wall (Naxos 8.574189). It is a kind of impression of Mid-Eastern life and culture, most specifically as viewed through vignetted musical movements centered around the Palestinian town of Ramallah. It draws upon Daniel's travels through Syria, Palestine and Lebanon and in its own way musically synthesizes the heritage of that region with Herskedal's own musical heritage and contemporary outlook.

The musical idiom is tonal, at times Neo-Minimalist and lyrically POMO Modern with perhaps a dash of what one might term the "ECM sound" in Jazz, though this is not about improvisation. There are some nice ostinatos and some stirringly, rhythmically heightened sonances that with originality bridge into the region while still keeping a hold on Contemporary Euro-American parlance. Or so it seems to me.

An astutely performative trio appears before us to give life to this music. It is Elin Torp Meland on oboe and English horn, Kjell Magne Robak on cello and Gro Merete Hjertvik on piano. They are nothing less than superb in their reading of this score, interweaving Mideastern and Western influences adroitly, for example adopting (in the oboe) at times Mideastern tuning colors. They consistently realize other scored brightnesses with a sureness and interpretive acumen that deserve a hearty bravo.

And as for the music? It is multifaceted yet seamless in its lyricism. A Mideastern and ethnic-Minimalist drive alternate with a reflective wistfulness, in sum giving to it all real character and identity decidedly contemporary yet in many ways almost timeless.

There is a contentful thematic abundance which ever steers it clear of a merely pretty New Age-ist sort of pandering. Yet at times it IS very pretty, beautiful in its way and filled with decidedly well-wrought trio interplay.

The experience of this music naturally goes beyond what words might capture. Like the Tony Banks album yesterday, it too forges a classicism with elements not all strictly within the Western Classical Canon, and succeeds quite well striking a silver spade into earth not precisely new, nor precisely old. Earth is like that.

It's a rather ravishing bunch of music that will beguile anyone musical given half a chance. It may be beyond category per se, but nowadays things of this sort form a category that would have been unknown in, say, a 1955 Western discussion for the most part. So listen to this and you may well be entranced at the outcome.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Tony Banks, Five, Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, Nick Ingman

Founding Genesis member and keyboardist Tony Banks helped create the influential Prog Rock group's special sound. When the band called it quits he had already begun to immerse himself in work on film scores, solo Prog projects, and in 2004 released Seven, his first album of classical orchestral compositions.

Now we have his third classical orchestral collection, Five (Naxos 8.574141), which consists of five Banks orchestral works orchestrated and arranged by Nick Ingman,  who here conducts the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and, for three of the five works, also the Czech National Symphony Choir.

According to Wikipedia, Bank admires Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Vaughan Williams, Sibelius and film composer John Barry.  The music of Five reflects something of these influences, albeit obliquely.

Each of the compositions are single-movement oriented and moderately short, clocking in at between nine and 15 minutes-long each.

Banks plays piano and celesta throughout, as a member of the orchestra more than as a concerted soloist.

The music is affirming and epic, anthemic and thematically, lyrically ultra-melodic as befitting the kind of Prog that Bank and company put forth on the iconic Genesis recordings. Any one of these five works would serve as a fitting part of a film score, without a doubt. None of it is fluff but it does not cry out either as New Music with a capital /N/. It is pretty and at times stirring but it does assuredly not have a Modern slant to it so much as it is kind of in the side pocket of Prog Rock.

For this outing Banks came up with a composition-realization scheme rather unusual and new for his classical-output production. Essentially he initially worked out all relevant parts on piano in the form of recordings which Nick Ingman then transcribed, orchestrated and arranged in consultation with Banks. Each section of the orchestra and the soloists recorded their parts separately and the orchestration-arrangement was subject to further amendment and modification "on the fly" as it were, as they immediately heard the results for each tracking session. In this way the finished recording is virtually as thoroughly a Banksian realization in the orchestral realm as possible, one might say.

Having not heard either of the previous classical Banks albums I cannot comment on how Five differs from them. I base my reactions solely on this album, and it is generally positive as to what this is all about.

There is much music to sink into, enjoy and appreciate if you set about listening with no ordinary preconceived expectations as to what this "New Music" should be. Specifically when you hear it for its roots in the Prog realm Banks comes out of and helped after all to create, you go a long ways toward understanding and hearing it through the the ears of the composer. As Prog Orchestral, that is, if I can be permitted to coin it such.

Recommended especially for those into the Banks-Genesis legacy and/or otherwise generally a Prog fan.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Ravel, La Valse, Rapsodie Espagnole, Attahir, Adh-Dhohr, Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch

A very French program bursts forward with the very exacting but poetic conductor Alexandre Bloch and the dynamic, disciplined forces of the Orchestra National de Lille. They embark on an ambitious program here that includes Ravel mainstays La Valse and Rapsodie Espagnole, plus Benjamin Attahir's Adh-Dhohr, Concerto for Serpent and Orchestra (Alpha Classics 562).

In a short but revealing interview in the liner notes to this album conductor Bloch notes the very French goals of both composers in these works as "clarity of sound timbres, exacting rhythms, and a balance between the different instruments." while Maestro Bloch relatedly stresses that he and the orchestra seek to attain "clarity of sound, rhythmic precision, and care for detail." All that rings true in these works and their performances on the program.

In fact the two Ravel pieces come across as nothing less than magical. The "Rhapsodie Espagnole" never sounded more Spanish, colorful and atmospheric. "La Valse" sounds characteristically elegant yet brooding, insightfully moody and in the end manically possessed. Hue and definition are at the forefront indeed as is the most exacting of poetic detail. These are performance that rival the very best.

Composer Richard Attahir (b. 1987) complements Ravel with a work of definite Modernist newness yet within that special French orchestral tradition. The serpent itself is a kind of woody burnishment,  a naturally intonated, mellow sound like a French horn only not brassy. The integrated solo and orchestral interplay on "Adh-Dhohr" amounts to something fine-hewn yet boldly robust. There is decided drama in the score and performance, a very modern tang with orchestrational brilliance and a tightly scripted dialogic resonance.

It is a singular work that carries with it a lucidly French musical syntax, ranging into a territory marked off as Attahir's. The performance is both spectacular yet subtle in its great concentration of musical depth. The music warrants the attention and rewards with a fascinating hard-edge juxtaposed with journeying passages that give evocative direction and a palpably cohesive-creative tension to the whole.

This is a fine program, with wonderful performances of the familiar, the unknown and ever the very French. The Orchestre National de Lille under Alexandre Blioch is a phenomenal thing that one should not miss! Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Jennifer Koh, Limitless, New Music Collaborations with Naqvi, Bielawa, Yun, Sorey, Young, Lu, Iyer, Mazzoli

Violinist Jennifer Koh performs duos with eight lively composers on the two-CD set Limitless (Cedille CDR 90000 191). In the process Ms. Koh's indefatigable enthusiasm for, and extraordinary interpretive prowess in cutting-edge Modern New Music comes to us with dazzling light throughout.

The intersection between performativity and templated structure is key and so too then the nexus between the idea of a Modern Classical and a Modern Jazz. The presence of new Jazz luminaries Tyshawn Sorey and Vijay Iyer gives us a wider-than-usual indication of the importance of the performance stream and the music bears it out, for the music is in-the-moment as well as structurally advanced.

Each segment brings forward a two-way intimacy between Ms. Koh and her composer-contributors for seven world premier recordings of works plus two newly recorded versions of things by Mizzy Mazzoli.

Qasim Naqvi heads off the program on modular synthesizer for "The Banquet," a moody atmospheric work.

Then comes soprano Lisa Bielawa and her quixotic "Sanctuary Songs," three examples with the third bringing in a choir in very memorable ways.

Du Yun combines some pyrotechnically vibrant and individualistic vocal immediacies with Jennifer's violin on the expressionistic "Give Me Back My Fingerprints."

Jazz master percussionist Tyshawn Sorely adds glockenspiel to his "In Memorium Muhal Richard Abrams." The piece flows with long-toned periodicity in ways that engage and fascinate.

For the ending of CD1 Nina Young appears on synthesizer for her "Sun Propeller."  There is a multi-layered soulfulness to this one and Ms. Koh's violin wins the day with decided conviction and multiplied heft. The title refers to fanned sunbeams.

The second CD gives us two multi-movement works and two shorter ones.

Wang Lu and her electronics grace "Her Latitude." What sounds like Tibetan Buddhist chant sets up the opening backdrop along with air-raid sirens and it goes from there as a kind of musical equivalent to a Koh biography. Ms. Lu responds at times improvisationally to Jennifer's violin. The entire piece has an aural, concrete and holistic logic that is beyond words, always vivid, while the elctronics combine "spiritual calm and catastrophic unrest," according to the liners. You can hear that, quite effectively so..

Jazz piano giant Vijay Iyer appears on the 88s with Jennifer on his four movement "The Diamond."  There is a wealth of brilliance in a sort of "grand tradition" expansion of violin-piano synergies and energized rhythmic vitality. The fourth movement features an especially Jazz-ish feel and it's all good. Very beautiful music!

And finally we have two Missy Mazzoli cameos with her on piano and electronics for "A Thousand Tongues" and "Vespers for Violin." The first is ravishing; the second as well--and both are haunting in their cohesive spectricity.

I merely brush the surface in my words about this set--for the listening itself brings you up against a massive burst of violin-plus exploratory excellence, brings you in contact with a closely kinetic set of duo pairings where mutually illuminating doubled performances and compositional innovations join hands to say something very worth saying, on the edge of an ever-new Modernity. Bravo to Ms. Koh, her superb artistry and aesthetic courage, and bravo to her fine collaborators. This is a sleeper in a way but most definitely a milestone in its daring. Listen!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

My Time is Now: Inspirations from the Gershwins, Haerim Elizabeth Lee, Alex Brown

Violinist Haerim Elizabeth Lee joins with pianist Alex Brown for a program of  George Gershwin in piano-violin arrangements plus a couple of related works by contemporary American composers, all on the CD My Time is Now: Inspirations from the Gershwins (Innova 014).

Featured throughout is George Gershwin's 1933 Model A Steinway Piano which sounds quite lovely.

The tributary works are World Premier recordings of brief pieces by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Michael Daugherty and Patrick Harlan. Then there is a most fetchingly stride-y, rag-y "Graceful Ghost" by William Bolcom.

The rest of the program consists of Gershwin gems arranged by Heifetz (10), Dushkin (1), and then three more specially arranged here by pianist Brown.

There are the very familiar ones, such as songs from Porgy and Bess like "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Summertime" plus standards like "Embraceable You," and then the somewhat lesser known but worthy "Three Preludes" or "Short Story"and finally a ravishing Heifetz arrangement of six minutes from "An American in Paris."

All told this is artful and heartfelt, with Haerim Elizabeth Lee sounding soulful and glorious throughout, with Alex Brown chiming in with the right touch on George's piano.

It reminds us too how Gershwin's considerable art was deeply infused of course with the popular and jazz musical lifestreams so present in the world he inhabited and which at least in the pop realm he formed a fundamental part of. That he in turn had a great impact through his own music is an old story but the music here gives you the happy evidence of his brilliance, filtered through the grand artistry of Ms. Lee and Mr. Brown. The recent works presented here too remind us how his influence extends of course to the American Modern Classical world and its participation in the general music world beyond the American land masses. So too there was the Modern French contributions of Ravel, Debussy and Milhaud for example, in relation to what Gershwin was doing.

It is a very rewarding listen, this. Recommended. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

John Burge, Twenty-Four Preludes For Solo Piano, Philip Chiu

Canadian composer John Burge gives to us a finely woven tonal carpet with his Twenty-Four Preludes for Solo Piano (Centrediscs 27319). The cycle of major and minor key centers and their ordering follows that of Chopin's op. 28 Preludes, with one for each of the possibilities in identical sequence.

The more primally tonal preludes to be heard in the set are at times subjected to extended techniques, including inside-the-piano plucking and strumming, overtone reverberation, etc. There are sophisticated Modernisms to be heard that follow and add to the legacy of earlier tonal Modernists, but also set forth cascading post-Romantic blissful barrages and minimalist romps. Nothing is predictable and the surprises sound better every time out.

Burge in this overarching set gives truth to the adage that you can be tonal, Modern and aurally advanced at the same time, provided you can connect your internal dots in highly inventive ways.

Many of the preludes include a descriptive title, either for the sort of musical passage that it promises, or other times as a programmatic allusion. A sampling gives you an idea of what the composer is after so I list a few: "Bells in Winter," "Playground Games," "Linear Reverberations," "The Singing Clock," "One-Note Ostinato" and "Spring Thaw."

Pianist Philip Chiu has the technique as well as the poetic drive to turn the score into living magic and of course that is what all the best sets of preludes require. Each individual prelude in this set is a mini-gem and Chiu coaxes out the implications for some piano music that is as exciting as it is learned, as vibrant as it is well-wrought.

John Burge shows himself to be a genuine force in New Music with this set. I highly recommend it if you look for something new yet tradition-spanning. There is no mistaking this; it is Modern, yet it also assimilates and synthesizes the pianism of the prelude form over time while remaining original. Beautiful job from all concerned.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Shostakovich, The Bedbug, Love and Hate, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Mark Fitz-Gerald

The present release contains some obscure but winning Shostakovich in World Premier Recordings. The first work comes from the early period (1929) and consists of incidental music for Mayakovsky's comedic play The Bedbug (Naxos 8.574100). The second is a reconstruction of the full soundtrack to Love and Hate, a 1935 film directed by Albert Gendelshtein. Mark Fitz-Gerald utilizes the original piano reduction and the film soundtrack itself to create the whole once again in a new master score.

Fitz-Gerald conducts the proceedings with the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz and as needed the Mannheim Opera Choir under choirmaster and assistant conductor Dani Juris. The results are very good indeed.

The Bedbug comes alive as an avant farce where party functionaries and the bourgeoisie alike are targets of Miakovsky's sarcasm. The music reflects the play undoubtedly and has musical interest on its own here as well.

Love and Hate is set in a village during the Civil War in Russia, 1919. It did not get much in the way of popular or critical acclaim yet the soundtrack is a notable advance for Shostakovich into the middle period of his Symphonies 5 to 12, as the liner notes to the recording attest.

Both scores are in some ways the Russian equivalent to Weill, ironic, boisterous and popular-music influenced at times, always in a rather rough-and-ready, rough-and-tumble mode. So we hear humorous gallops, bittersweet waltzes, folk-pop ditties and more besides, all of which sound quite Shostakovichian once you get used to it all.

This music should be of great interest to those already familiar with the composer. These are by no means flat-out masterpieces, nor are they the least bit tedious. Nonetheless those unfamiliar with his music might sample some of the symphonies first, for example the 7th, which I reviewed a recording of here recently (see index box above for that).

Give this a listen if it sounds interesting to you..

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Richard Harvey, Evensong, New Choral Music, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Heli Jurgenson

Richard Harvey writes very tonal choral music with a lyrical bent, an ambiance and either a strongly song-like expressive demeanor or alternately old-in-new reworkings of the atmospherics of earlier sacred music tropes, not to mention a place decidedly in-between.

It is fitting that his album of new choral music, Evensong (Altus Records ALU0018), is well performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Heli Jurgenson because there is an Arvo-Part-like affinity to this music in its outlook if not necessarily its ultimate sound, and of course Part hails from Estonia.

My favorite piece on this ten-work anthology is "Et in Arcadia" which sets out a soundscape replete with a Tuva-like throat overtone whistle and mysteriously compelling choral dynamics. There is a more straightforwardly ringing-singing "A Prayer" of true beauty, a nice version of the old Christmas carol "Lullay," the Early Music influenced, old-in-the-new "Credo," and the soaringly reflective title cut "Evensong," with its Kyrie Eleisons. There is much variation within Harvey's ethereally centered approach and we hear it nicely in this program.

The performances are absolutely spot on and convey the music with every nuance. Another take on the Post-Modernism of the present day comes through with this, Richard Harvey's moving program. We have a new voice, new to me, a fine voice indeed. Listen to this one!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Bach, Christmas Oratorio, Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester, Gotthold Schwarz

A new DVD set of Bach's Christmas Oratorio recorded live at the iconic St. Thomas Church in Leipzig? A promising possibility I could not resist. With Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz heading up the combined group of soloists, the youthful Tomanerchor and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig (Accentus Music ACC20479 2-DVDs) it is all I had hoped for, one of the very best I have heard in fact.

Why? First off the soloists are excellent in Dorothee Mields, soprano, Elvira Bill, alto, Patrick Grahl as Evangelist tenor, Markus Schafer as tenor in the arias and bassist Klaus Hager. I was especially taken by Ms. Bill and her lyrical grace. They all excel in their parts though.

Second, the boy's Thomanerchor Leipzig is an outstanding group of its kind and rise to the occasion here. Third the Gewanshausorchester Leipzig is in top form and the soloists shine especially brightly throughout.

Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz carries the mantel of tradition without the slightest fatigue, taking on the six successive cantatas with a joy, a floating legato-slight rubato in the more tender moments and great heroic grandeur at other times as appropriate. The phrasing is impeccable.

With camera work and sound quality near perfect the whole gives a perspective on the work we would not get on a sound-only CD. It puts us always in mind of how Bach varied the combinations of soloists and massed forces, and paced the proceedings for aural beauty and drama.

Tempos can bubble along snappily or take on a reflective mode to provide an underpinning of excitement that Schwarz and performers mold into something formidably and heartfully alive..

For the festivity and meaningful continuity of a performance in St. Thomas Church, for the brilliance of the reading, this is something a Bach fan will happily experience, I have no doubt. Highly recommended! Bravissimo!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Peter Eotvos, Halleluja, Alle Vittime Senza Nome

Peter Eotvos is a living composer of high ambition, as shown in the latest recording of his Halleluja - Oratorium balbulum along with his Alle vittime senza nome (To the Nameless Victims) (Wergo WER 7386-2).

In the most general terms his ambitions are centered here on two works that provide a kind of meta-commentary on the work as a saying, a creation of meaning in text (extant or implied) as well as sound, this especially in the main work on the program,  Halleluja. 

The latter begins with the idea of the Hallelujah or Jubilus portion of the Latin Mass as originally one long melisma on a single syllable and the subsequent contribution of poet-composer Notker the Stammerer (Notker Balubus) (ca. 840-912) of a wordful text to this segment. Eotvos' oratorio is a stammering one, as a kind of nod in the direction of verbal loquaciousness which is simultaneously, in contradiction tongue-tied, and of the present-day difficulty of rejoicing in a world full of trouble and deconstruction.

Literally in Hebrew the hallelujah refers to a song of praise. Eotvos conceives of such here as a babble, where deep meaning may forthcome only to disappear in a sea of incoherence, where the hope rests ultimately in the music more than the meaning of the words.

Thomas Meyer's liner notes dive into the myriad complexities the work entails and I do not wish to reproduce them here so much as point to their main thrust. Eotvos questions the very premise of the work, an oratorio that tells the story of the hallelujah-saying and the very difficulty of rejoicing today.

In the process, the narrator, soloists, choir and orchestra transcend the impossibility of what they do by doing it wonderfully well musically, covering a Modern perspective while making allusive quotations from a long history of music-rejoicing-praise, or passages that otherwise form a historical-musical commentary in the midst of a Modernist matrix.

The instrumental-orchestral Alle vittime senza nome that follows is equally important, a kind of non-requiem, or an indirectly allusive requiem to the countless African and Arab refugees who have perished while making a desperate attempt in overcrowded boats to reach refuge at safe harbors in Italy. It was a commission from Orchestra dell'accademia nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome, who perform it with conviction under conductor Antonio Pappano.

This is a somber and haunting work, as indeed is the Halleluja. Kudos in the latter to the soloists, and to the WDR Rundfunkchor and Sinfonieorchester under the composer's direction, who make moving and coherent the very idea of a loss of cohesiveness. It is perhaps ironic but nonetheless true that this work forms lesser an experience to the German language challenged than it would if one knew German well. Nonetheless for those who are not so prolific we get the idea by careful listening and the detailed liners. The music is a triumph, regardless.

I recommend you explore this fine, eclectic yet original grouping to get another bead on Modernism today. Hurrah. Music triumphs in the face of its impossibility.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Schumann, Myrthen, Camilla Tilling, Christian Gerhaher

Where art song and lieder are concerned Robert Schumann is second only to Schubert as a principal exponent yet he wrote next to nothing in the medium until his marriage to Clara Wieck. The floodgate was opened then as he composed over 140 songs in that year alone, many of his best and most popular, including the cycle Myrthen (Sony Classical 19075945369) which he presented to Clara in 1840 on the eve of their wedding and later published in four volumes.

I am happy to have the chance to hear and write about a new recording of the complete opus as sung beautifully by soprano Camilla Tilling and baritone Christian Gerhaher, with Gerold Huber accompanying on piano.

Gerhaher in the liners to this album summarizes the flow of poetic thoughts and feelings that make up the four books of the cycle, the first encapsulating the "personal and gender specific attributes" of the couple individually, the second telling of the couple and their lives together, the third dealing developmentally with the personal goals of Clara and Robert and the fourth bringing together "the many interests, obligations and difficulties with the reciprocal affection" which was the basis for their bond.

All that would mean little of course if the musical expression in each song was not at the high level that persists throughout the 26 songs that make up the cycle. That is very much so and happily Tilling and Gerhaher give us tender and ennobled performances that affirm the vocalists' stature as among the very greatest of living lieder interpreters. Kudos must go out also to pianist Huber as an ideal accompanist.

I come away from deep immersion in the full cycle with a firm conviction that we tread on rare artistic ground throughout. Myrthen in its entirety as sung by Tilling and Gerhaher forms a must-hear cornerstone, a state-of-the-art foundation offering to the vocal arts today. Strongly recommended.