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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.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Villa-Lobos, Guitar Concerto, Harmonica Concerto, Chamber Works

Naxos continues its (so far) vital "Music of Brazil" series with a very attractive volume of relatively under-recorded Villa-Lobos works, including the "Guitar Concerto," the "Harmonica Concerto" and several chamber pieces (Naxos 8.574018).  Proceedings are nicely forwarded by Manuel Barrueco on guitar, Jose Staneck on harmonica, the OSESP Ensemble and the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra under Giancarlo Guerrero.

Why I have not known much until now the "Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra" (1951) is beyond me. It is his last guitar work, written for Segovia and it has a diatonic power and thrust along with a special lyricism that makes it a must-hear, especially if you already love Villa-Lobos as I do.

The "Concerto for Harmonica" (1955) is somewhat more rarified, and perhaps more understandably less performed because of the chromatic harmonica part that demands a virtuosity which is not so often available out there? It too is filled with extremely beautiful music, typically ravishing late Villa-Lobos.

The two chamber works are gems, dashingly charming works. The brief "Sexteto Mystical" (1917) benefits from Villa-Lobos' deft handling of a somewhat exotic instrumentation of flute, oboe, alto saxophone, guitar, celesta and harp. "Quinteto Instrumental" (1957) is a bit more conventionally instrumented  with flute, harp, violin, viola and cello, yet the brilliant sonics and lyrical outpourings mark this as one of his most charming Brazilianesque diatonic effusions. It certainly deserves a wider hearing and the OSESP Ensemble give us a version that sparkles. Soaring!

In short this is most lovely Villa-Lobos magnificently performed. Everyone should hear this if they can. Kudos!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Robert Groslot, Concertos for Piano, Cello and Harp, Brussels Philharmonic, Robert Groslot

The concerted work is alive and well on the contemporary music scene. Perhaps that is in part due to how the kernel of the form is simple--a showcase for a particular instrument, instruments and/or orchestra, and perhaps at least a little etude-like demand on the soloist(s), though that does not always hold true.

We get a good gauge of the health of the form with a recent release of Concertos for Piano, Cello and Harp (Naxos 8.579057) by Robert Groslot (b. 1951).. The three concertos were written between 2010-2011; the Cello and Harp Concertos enjoy World Premiere Recordings here. Each work has a commanding solo part of some difficulty yet the orchestra assumes a critical role in the thematic-structural unfolding as would be expected.

Performances are first-rate, with fine results from pianist Jan Michiels, cellist Ilia Yourivitch Laporev and harpist Eline Groslot along with the Brussels Philharmonic under the composer.

The music is in a Middle Modernism mode, which is to say that there is no mistaking melodies or harmonies as coming out of Romanticism, and there is attention to form and overall unfolding somewhere in a lineage from Bartok and the less rigorously serial Dodecaphonists--abstract but not radically so, in other words.

Groslot has written a score of concertos to date, for some 18 or so instruments plus orchestra. This album is a second in a series of such for Naxos. I have not had the pleasure with the first, but this volume I do find quite absorbing and substantial.

The liners talk of his intuitive yet logical approach, based on the overtone series, his influences from the 12-tone school, without necessarily utilizing tone rows, although that can also be the case.

Each of the three works are distinguished and well worth hearing and even savoring. Groslot's inventive powers are high so that one does not have a deja vu feeling listening. Beyond that you should turn to the music itself and I definitely recommend you do.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Concurrence, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Bjarnason, Music of Thorvaldsdottir, Tomasson, Sigfusdottir, Palsson

Daniel Bjarnason and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra embark on a second journey, a second volume of Contemporary Modern orchestral music with Concurrence (Sono Luminus DSL-92237 CD & multichannel Blue-ray). (See January 2, 2018 review here for the first volume, Recurrence.)

The four works on the program have a kind of consistent style set in common, what one might call High Modern Ambient. It consists of "Metacosmos" by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Haukur Tomasson, "Oceans" by Maria Huld Markan Sigfusdottir, and "Quake" by Pall Ragnar Palsson.

Orchestral sound color is the order of the day with sprawling sound landscapes that in the listening experience meld together as a continuous exploration. Yet each holds together as a unique entity on closer listening. Steve Smith in the liners points to the subgrouping of "Oceans" and "Metacosmos" as more than Soundscapes depicting in oblique ways the natural world of Iceland, but too a human concern with the binding of fellow humans of society, most specifically in "Metacosmos," and perhaps the human heartbeat?

The "Piano Concerto" and "Quake" group roughly together as both concerted works, the piano as "first among equals" in the former, the cello as a bit more independent in the latter.

The excellent performances and sound engineering on this program heighten the feeling of being in a new zone of Modernism today, a kind of tonality that generally has a great deal of sustain and torque and somewhat less obvious periodicity than the Minimalism we have heard in the last few decades, generally speaking. The "Piano Concerto" is the major exception to that in the way it chirrups and pulsates in its own way.

It seems like breakthrough music to me. But you listen and decide for yourself. It is a valuable addition to New Music today, I warrant that. Very recommended.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Euclid Quartet, American Quartets, Antonin Dvorak, Wynton Marsalis

The Euclid Quartet come through with a nicely played concept album, American Quartets (Afinat AR1701) which features Dvorak's Quartet No. 12 "American" and Wynton Marsalis' Quartet No. 1 "At the Octoroon Balls." It is a smart pairing and one to set off both works in  a new context.

The Dvorak Quartet is of course increasingly acclaimed along with the "New World Symphony" as a brilliant Bohemian's take on US vernacular music (including Afro-American of course) as part of his US visit in the later 1800s (1893). The Euclid Quartet play it with great panache and chutspah in one of the most dramatically superior readings I've heard. Yes!

Wynton Marsalis' 1995 quartet "At the Octoroon Balls" centers around the 19th century New Orleans institution that brought lighter-hued Afro-American women together with prospective, generally well-off white suitors for what were common-law marriages. All that helped create and maintain a Creole strain in NOLA life which was to have great impact on the culture and social makeup of the city.

It is a work that in a way follows Duke Ellington in his manner of amalgamating a Jazz-Classical nexus on the works meant to be a little more on the Classical side than was usual for him. That is, there is a way of inserting pronounced Jazz-Folk roots so to say with Classical syntax and ensembles and less or none of course of the improvisational mode.

Yet for all that Wynton's sophisticated originality holds forth with seven rootsy movements that play in part on the heightened Black-White cultural tensions and pronounced societal ambiguities of these Creole institutions. So musical  intertwinings of the two worlds occur in interestingly complex ways.

The Euclid Quartet gives it a great flourish and a most sensitive reading here. Bravo! This is a rather major piece of music that may be overlooked in the overall Marsalis canonization efforts that once were central to Jazz discourse but perhaps now are more healthily intertwined in the overall discussion of the later period of Jazz? No matter, the point is the music is quite rewarding and that's the main reason to want to listen and appreciate a work, though other dimensions can be important too of course.

So all told this is a most attractive offering that should stimulate you regardless of your particular musical background. Well done!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Coriun Aharonian, Una Carta, Ensemble Adventure, SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, Zoltan Pesko

Composer Corun Aharonian (1940-2017) was of Armenian descent and lived and worked in Urugway to create a music born of a political dimension--his life was dedicated in resistance to fascist dictatorship. The result is a music more mestizo-conjoined than single-stranded identity-wise, a ritual unfolding of blocks of sometimes austere motifs that ritually repeat without conjuring danceful sequences. We hear a cross section of some nine of his works on Una Carta (Wergo 7374-2).

The first eight are chamber works performed by Ensemble Adventure; the final work "Mestizo" is for orchestra and features SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden. Zoltan Pesko conducts. Each work assembles a universe of sounds that play themselves out in High Modernist cragginess yet often too includes one or more memorable melodic motives, at times in a vernacular of his life-locale, only abstracted, that contrasts with one or more different utterances of sound in dynamic interaction. The effect is original, modular, sculpturesque.

The orchestral "Mestizo" forms the climax of the program--both extraordinarily economic in the playing out of means of expression yet contentful in its linearity. It sums up what the first eight are about with a more spectacular palette of sound colors.

Repeated hearings reconstruct the sounds into striking semblances, as an unusual spoken phrase might gain meaning through rehearing.

Performances and sound are first-rate. Definitely recommended as another way to make New Music, an original, generally unheralded voice.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Sara Stowe, Ogloudoglou, Vocal Masterpieces of the Experimental Generation 1960-1990

The art of High Modern vocals is special and very demanding. Soprano Sara Stowe shows us how to meet the challenge and excel on her anthology album Ogloudoglou: Vocal Masterpieces of the Experimental Generation 1960-1990 (Metier msv 28593).

Sara performs for us some 11 Avant Garde vocal works, four by Giancinto Scelsi plus a representative work each by John Cage, Sylvano Bussotti, Luciano Berio, Mauricio Kagel, Luigi Nono, Niccolo Castiglioni and Morton Feldman. In other words she covers a good cross-section of important voices of the later High Modernist generation and. most importantly, she follows all performance instructions and aesthetic demands for a result which wears well and does not seem at all contrived, which some vocal music can from this period if not done with heartfelt sincerity.

There is a fundamental musicality to all Ms. Stowe undertakes so that her readings do not evoke that "fight or flight" "fire"-yelling-in-a-crowded theatre equivalent. I've suffered through some such readings in the past but very happily Ms. Stowe is a true artist and so each realization convinces and captivates.

A high point of the program occurs about 3/4 of the way through when we encounter Kagel's "Recitativo for singing harpsichordist" followed by Nono's 15 minute "La Fabbrico Illuminata for voice and tape" both continuing a breaking up of a string of solo vocal pieces that are ingenious for sheer possibility and put Ms. Stowe through some challenging performance demands. Scelsi's title work makes the initial break from solo vocal works and calls for percussion and voice, and the program ending "CKCK" by same for mandolin and voice. The Cage and Berio works are essential fare as well.

But truly it is the total sequence after a number of listens that impresses. What a wonderfully creative period was the late High Modern age and what a fine job Sara does in presenting it to us. There can be traces of vernacular folk, a relation to a classical vocal past, chant, textual orientations, sound poetry, a bracketing of everyday vocal outpourings,  and exercises in sculpting through the voice. The only rule is to be daring when possible and overturn shibboleths when plausible? Yes, I think so. Every experiment implicitly tries to circumvent the expected surely. That was a mark of the times.

This may not be for everybody since you must have an open mind to appreciate it. Those who listen with a marked receptivity are in for a real treat! Bravo! Stowe is masterful! An age is captured nicely.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Berlioz, Messe Solennelle, Le Concert Spirituel, Herve Niquet

My LP set of Berlioz's Messe Solennelle was from the first days of 33 rpm albums, on Cetra Records. I forgot who was on it, but it had a cavernous sound that gave you a very "big picture" yet then obscured some of the sound staging details. It gave me a good look at a masterful work that reminded me just how original Berlioz always managed to be regardless of the project at hand. It was not perfect. It is long gone so I have done without the music for a time.

These many years later I no longer have most of my vinyl (or slate) anymore and so when a new version with Herve Niquet conducting Le Concert Spirituel presented itself (Alpha Classics 564) I gladly availed myself of the chance. Not surprisingly it of course has the detailed soundstaging you expect today, with a natural ambiance and closer miking combined to get a good-location-in-the-house, catbird's seat take on the music and its highly dramatic ark of presentation. No other Mass sounds quite like this one and the detailed sonics and high-level performances we hear on this version reminds us how good all that can be with the right circumstances. This is such a one.

Praise is due for the fine performances of soprano Adriana Gonzalez, tenor Julien Behr and bass Andreas Wolf, all with a heroic demeanor that seems just right for this masterwork. The choir and orchestra sound perfectly matched and attuned to the special requirements of this music. It is neither too much nor too little, which means it neither throttles the music nor does it shake down the house, so to say. And that to my mind is an excellent reading for our "Modern" world..

It reminds us that the best Berlioz is so very French and so originally outside of the Beethoven Romantic Germanic orbit to stand on its own. Niquet works hard to ensure that the Berlioz vision rings out and rings true. There are no doubt others out there that may equal this recording for consistency and inspiration, but I must say that after quite a few listens I am satisfied that Niquet gets it all quite right and keeps it all very much alive.

Is Berlioz to Beethoven as Konitz was to Bird? Something to ponder.

Highly and gladly recommended as an essential.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Outstretched Hand, New Choral Music by Lisa Bielawa, Colin Jacobsen, Aaron Jay Kernis. San Francisco Girls Chorus, The Knights

New US-American Music in World Premiere Recordings is the order of the day, starring the San Francisco Girls Chorus with the Trinity Youth Chorus and the chamber orchestra known as The Knights, all on the recent album My Outstretched Hand (Supertrain Records STR014). The works concerned are "My Outstretched Hand" by Lisa Bielawa, "Remembering the Sea--Souvenir de la Mer" by Aaron Jay Kernis, and "If I Were Not Me" by Colin Jacobsen.

Performances are enthusiastic and heartful, with youthfulness winning the day. All is conducted with sureness and sensitivity by Eric Jacobsen. The project was spearheaded by SFGC Artistic Director Valerie Sainte-Agathe. Lisa Bielawa (former SFGC Artistic Director) produced the album. Mention should also be made of Colin and Eric Jacobsen as the Artistic Directors of the Knights and Melissa Attebury as Associate Director of Music for Trinity Wall Street, the home of the Trinity Youth Chorus among other things of course.

All that having been said, what of the music? It is pronouncedly expression-oriented, tonal, lyrical and imaginative, with decidedly more of an emphasis on the "Post-" world than on vestiges of Romanticism. It's all about unabashed singing out, tone-weaving, feeling-life-exploring, the promise of youth captured in voice and instrumental musical combinations of real charm. The artists and their directors, the composers are to be congratulated in creating some of the most evocative music of the new releases this fall season. The glow of youth permeates all of this. Nicely done. It is a freshening. Perhaps it is a musical equivalent to "plain air" visual art? In its own way.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Beethoven, Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4, Transcriptions for Piano and String Quartet, Hanna Shybayeva, Utrecht String Quartet, Luis Cabrera

Beethoven's Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4 have long been some of my favorites in the literature. There is so much going on thematically. So I was glad to discover that there were 19th century transcriptions of the works by one Vinzenz Lachner for piano, string quartet and double bass (Naxos 8.551400). The new Naxos recording of these pairings-down features to good results pianist Hanna Shybayeva, the Utrecht String Quartet and double bassist Luis Cabrera.

There quite naturally is a shift in sensibility from the dramatic splendor of piano and orchestra to the intimacy of piano and string quartet-quintet, that perhaps the more expressively lyrical moments come out more personalized as it were and the sublime forte tuttis have a bit less thickness and color and a bit more sonic simplicity and directness.

That of course does not mean these versions are to replace the orchestral ones for good and all. But they do give you a chance to hear the music in a different light, to pick up on things that you might not have before, or at least not in this way. So you can later go back to the orchestral versions and hear then with fresh ears perhaps. A good transcription can re-situate things in that way I think.

The performances are very good with Ms. Shybayeva sounding grand and impassioned on the piano, the Utrecht String Quartet and Maestro Cabrera sounding full and regal, detailed yet paired down as you would expect. It takes a bit of getting used to this instrumentation but after a few listens it starts to fit right in with the Piano Trios and etc. as true chamber music, at least as long as we listen to this version. With the reduction of strings too comes the sort of brio that only a smaller ensemble tends to realize, that in the relevant tutti passages. So that is another aspect that makes this an attractive offering.

It is a rewarding and even fun recording. It is of course not made to replace your favorite orchestral version(s) but as a welcome palate cleanser. For that I recommend this one.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Deeper the Blue... Music by Vaughan Williams, Hesketh, Dutilleux, Ravel, Britten Sinfonia, Janet Sung, Simon Callaghan. Jac van Steen

Violinist Janet Sung, pianist Simon Callaghan, and the Britten Sinfonia under Jac van Steen give us fine readings of five distinctive works that hang together well and have definite memorability. This all on the recent album The Deeper the Blue... (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 275).

Kenneth Hasketh (1968-) has the more High Modernist work of the five in "Inscription Transformation," which sounds well in this First Recording and gives some contrast to the four other works, all of which have a kind of vernacular quality to them and great individual charm, which "Inscription" has as well (charm) but in a bit more rugged a sense.

Vaughan Williams' "Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra" has a pronounced, patented VW folk tang and clearly rings out in this version so well that it reminds me all over again of how attractive a short work this one is!

Henri Dutileux's "Au gre des ondes" fares quite well in this arrangement for chamber orchestra by Hasketh. The melodic memorability grows on one and its enthusiastic performance by the Britten Sinfonia brings a smile to me as I hear it repeatedly. It is a first recording and well it is so.

Ravel's "Tzigane" is filled with exotic tonality and a beautiful interplay between violin and orchestra which Sung excels at and the orchestra does much to forward.

Finally Ravel's "Sonata for Violin and Piano" as played here by Sung and Callaghan reminds us how appealing and adventuresome this work in fact is. A high point is the middle "Blues" movement, which I must say nearly outdoes Gershwin for its proto-Third-Stream quality.

In the end one comes away refreshed, invigorated and fully enveloped in music we should know better. That Sung, Callaghan and the Britten Sinfonia under van Steen underscore the excitement and captivating qualities of these works makes this a very excellent foray into some lesser known but worthy 20th century gems and a High Modernist composer worthy of discovery. Huzzah! Viva Janet Sung!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Donnacha Dennehy, The Hunger, Alarm will Sound, Alan Pierson, Katherine Manley, Iarla O Lionaird

Composer Donnacha Dennehy gives us an undoubted masterwork in The Hunger (Nonesuch 075597925159), five harrowing vignettes on the Irish Potato Famine of the 19th Century (1845-52), which claimed a million from starvation and related disease, and another million through exodus and diaspora.

Alan Pierson deftly directs Alarm will Sound. Katherine Manley and Iarla O Lionaird are quite incredible as vocalists, incorporating a folk element (especially Lionaird's "old-style" vocal part) into the Gaelic-Realist lyricism and heartrendingly stark poetics.

The music has a sort of Post-Minimal flavor which involves both a contemplative element and churning figurations almost fiddle-like yet original in themselves. The main "narrative thread" (quoting liners) comes from Asenath Nicholson's Annals of the Famine in Ireland, published in New York in 1851, quoting victims of the debacle, most notably Maire Ni Dhroma. In the present day situation we also have singer Citi Ni Ghallachoir contributing moving words on the death of a child. The five movements/interconnected vignettes starkly draw out a story line with dimensions of the disaster both harrowingly experiential and tragic.

This is the concert version of the work. There is also one for the stage. It is masterful, moving, phenomenal and landmark. It is tonal and very vernacular so to speak, yet it is not about quoting folk material and in the end establishes musical parameters that speak in very original ways, at times chant-like and ever earthy..

Words seem inadequate to convey the power of this work, its originality, its impact. One must experience it firsthand by listening.

I strongly recommend this one for a handle on our most Modern New Music output today, for a work that seems to me destined to influence us all and most certainly move us in the process.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Les Percussions de Strasbourg, Rains

Les Percussions de Strasbourg is one of the longest lived (founded 1962) and greatest percussion ensembles on the planet. They are alive and very much well, as their latest release Rains (Percussions de Strasbourg PDS119) attests.

We are treated to four compositions. Three do not stint on unpitched percussion (read "Drums") and all carry forward the High Modern "tradition" with plenty of psychic whollop. The Takemitsu is more pitched-instrument oriented (see description below). All are very worth hearing and done to a turn.

On  the program are "Regentanz" by Toshio Hosokawa (1955-), "Sange" by Malika Kishino (1971-), "Hierophonie V" by Yoshihisa Taira (1937-2005) and "Rain Tree" by Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996). So one of the first things one notices is that all four are by Japanese composers. Happily they sound intricately which perhaps Japanese percussion works tend to do? They are detailed and involved, all four of them one could say. Nothing is Minimalist per se; all are microscopically active down to fine details, or at least that is how they sound to me. That suits my ears, certainly. There is an art of gesture also--like martial arts perhaps the style of doing is important, not just the "done." Listen to "Hierophonie V" especially for that but it never disappears so much as it is subtle at times.

Listen too to Takemitsu's "Rain Tree" for the uncanny, mostly quiet detail of multiple pitched percussions gathered together to say something weathered and profound. There is a good deal more than eaves drip here but perhaps you might hear a bit of that too. As Minh-Tam Nyugen says of the title Rains, we are "dancing with the rains in order to conjure, just for a moment, what we thought invisible."

Poetic percussion? Very much a yes. Outstanding music and performances. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fernando Sor, The 19th Century Guitar, Gianluigi Giglio

Farnando Sor (1778-1839)  as one of the fathers of modern classical guitar deserves a spot on our shelf if we prize such things. Here is your chance with a nice volume devoted solely to his solo music, The Nineteenth Century Guitar (SOMM CD 0604) featuring Gianluigi Giglio on a vintage 1834 Rene Lacote, Paris.

I find the performances to be beautifully engaging with a kind of piquancy and near-lutenesque tone that comes out of the smaller bodied, silk and cat-gut stringed guitar made in the era. The strings sing out without a pronounced vibrato (of course) and a sweetness that an excellent guitarist can and does produce from the sort of earthy eloquence that a Sor writes for the instrument. You might say that the early guitar is to the lute as the early pianoforte is to the harpsichord? Yes, though a discussion of this would take us further afield than is desirable this morning. If you listen you will see what I mean, I think. There are sonic similarities, subtle but there?

I must say I do love it to have a single composer featured on a program like this, so that his (or her) particularities come through without distraction.

And so we get Sor and only Sor. And that is all we could ask for. There is his own version of variations on "Les folies d'Espagne" plus other variations with "Introduction and Variations on 'Malbrough s'en va-ten guerre,'" (which many of us English speakers will recognize as nearly identical to "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" or "The Bear Went Over the Mountain,"), and finally one on a theme of Mozart's (op.9).

Then there is the "Easy Fantasy in A minor," the two movement "Elegiac Fantasy in E minor,' all-in all the whole or a piece or two from eight opus numbers covering 1822-1836, plenty to savor and sounding quite well thanks to Maestro Giglio, the beautiful old guitar and the recording folks who captured it all.

It is pure fresh air and a much welcome break from the more intensive ambitions of New Music that I so love but on occasion must give pause to, pace myself ! Highly recommended this for reasons that need no further explanation. It is very good.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Luka Sulic, The Four Seasons, Antonio Vivaldi, Archi dell'academia di Santa Cecilia

Cello virtuosi Luka Sulic comes front and center for his first solo recording in this "new in the old" venture, a rearrangement of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Sony Classical I0075986552) as a showcase for solo cello and the Archi dell'accademia di Santi Cecilia.

Luka is best know as a member of 2Cellos. Here he tops himself with a highly dynamic Seasons that sports at times some breathtaking sections taken at a maddening clip, exhilaratingly so. Baroque-fast is nothing new. Think of Glenn Gould's speedy Bach for piano. The group Baroque horserace is not entirely common though. Some Messiah's (notably one recently covered in last few years on these pages. Look it up.) can rock us, and what is wrong with that? I cannot say I do not like this exciting take on an old duffer of a popular favorite. Anything to breathe some life into it all.

And new life it surely takes on. Sulic did the re-arranging and it works in all ways, not least of which happens in the Cello Department. If you resist such rethinkings on purist lines, all well and good for you. I found myself responding without hesitation once I set aside my initial resistance to disturbing the pantheon. The cello playing is impressive as are the strings of St. Cecilia. It is all rather a joy to hear.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Duo Kalysta, Origins, Plays Debussy, Schafer, Morlock, Jolivet

Canadian Duo Kalysta comprises the flute of Lara Deutsch and the harp of Emily Belvedere. They show beauty and stature on their inaugural album Origins (Leaf Music LM226), where four works come together well and we are transported accordingly.

The harp and flute fall naturally into Impressionist expressions so it is no accident that the program begins with Debussy's "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune," which thrives in a duet arrangement by Judy Loman, edits by Nora Schulman. It is incumbent on the harp to articulate the entire orchestral texture but then with the sensuous quality of Ms. Belvedere's performance we hardly miss a note. Ms. Deutsch's warming flute articulations are a revelation. Marvelous.

In my tenure as an undergrad back so long ago now I was happily assigned The Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer--I most enthusiastically recommend you read it for a view of the sound universe around us. So it was only natural that I followed into his compositional output later on and I have been again happy in that. His String Quartets are a wonder (reviewed some time ago here. Look it up.) and now we have the three movement "Trio" (adding the viola of Marina Thibeault) "for Flute, Viola and Harp." It is a bit more Impressionistic than we might ordinarily hear from Schafer but then it is ravishing and deep so who would object? The music falls in with Schafer's idea of soundscaping, but even if you did not know that the music speaks with a flair and a somewhat ecstatic depth.

Jocelym Morlock (b. 1969) represents a somewhat younger Canadian compositional branch. "Vespertine" is in scalular relief and evokes continually. The meditative harp sets up a sonic field that the flute comments reflectively upon in the movement "Twilight." "Verdegris" counters with more consistent movement in the harp and limber flute counterparts. Lovely this is.

Andre Jolivet (1905-1974)  and his "Chant de Linos" for quintet brings back Thibeault's viola plus violin (Alexander Read) and cello (Carmen Bruno) for chamber music of some breadth and girth. The flute part is rather acrobatic at times and very well played.  It is a fitting and decisive end to an enlivening and absorbing program.

This is is music to savor, particularly if you are attracted to the flute-harp nexus like me. Bravo. Duo Kalysta and friends breathe life into these works with a joy and care that ring true.

Friday, November 8, 2019

London Myriad, Four, Music of Bozza, Bridge, Francaix, Bennett, Ibert, Arrieu

Woodwind Quartet music is the order of the day today, with the sparklingly refreshing ensemble London Myriad and their CD Four (Metier msv 28587). They beguile our ears with six 20th century works, all good to hear and well played.

The instrumentation is flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon. The works, all six of them, are as follows: Eugene Bozza (1905-1991) "Trois pieces pour une musique de nuit," Frank Bridge (1879-1941) "Divertimenti," Jean Francaix (1912-1997) "Quatuor," Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012) "Travel Notes 2," Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) "Deux Movements - MCMXXII," Claude Arrieu (1903-1990) "Suite en Quatre," the latter a world premier recording.

The music runs together substantially so that a puckish demeanor with a modern tang alternates with expressively lyrical passages. London Myriad put the scores through their paces nearly ideally and each composer makes excellent use of the instruments in the quartet so in the end we "walk away" smiling.

A second volume will be forthcoming featuring brand new works not yet seen in the light of day. I look forward. Meanwhile this is happily recommended. Some beautiful sounds on this one. The Frank Bridge is worth the admission alone to my mind.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Song of Love

The art songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams? Albion and the Vaughan Williams Society continue their important work with a volume of Vaughan Williams largely early period songs (1897-1934) on the album The Song of Love (Albion ALBCD037). There we have quite respectable and even inspired performances from mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, baritone Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann.

World Premier recordings on this album include the first female recording of the cycle "The House of Life" and then 16 premiere song waxings. At the risk of tedium, the program in its entirety consists of six songs from Rossetti's "The House of Life" (1903-04), "Three Old German Songs" (1902), "To Daffodils" (Gunby Hall Setting c. 1903), "French Songs" (4) (1903-04), "Bonaparty" (1908), "The Willow Song" (1897), "Three Songs from Shakespeare" (1925), "The Spanish Ladies" (1912), "The Turtle Dove" (1919-1934), "Two Poems by Seamus O'Sullivan" (1925), and "Duets" (2) (1903).

The songs epitomize Vaughan Williams' balance between form and expression, his love of folk themes, and his inventive. ever-fresh outlook on perhaps the most fickle of the muses. We who know his choral and vocal music at large should not be surprised to find his abilities on equally happy display for the songs presented here.

Any lovers of Vaughan Williams will be well served by this program, as will those Anglophiles and connoisseurs of the Modern Art Song. Kudos to all involved.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Third Coast Percussion, Devonte Hynes, Fields

Third Coast Percussion grabs onto the Ambient Minimalism of the music of composer Devonte Hynes on the recent album Fields (Cedille CDR 90000 192), which creates universes of sound primarily out of mallet interlockings and ambient electronics. If New Music could remind you of some album track in Prog Rock, this could qualify for its cosmicality and spacey directedness.

Devonte Hynes gives to us on this program the 11 movement "For all Its Fury," plus "Perfectly Voiceless" and "There was Nothing."

Devonte is best known for acclaimed singing-songwriting and pop production forays (primarily as Blood Orange) but he started out in Classical Music realms. The music at hand gives us work highly engaged with classicism as we understand it today.

The music we hear on the program came about when Third Coast was seeking to create an evening of New Music for the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago troupe. Devonte ultimately came on board and through a series of interactions--Hynes putting together composed audio on a Digital Workstation accompanied by scores, Third Coast transforming that music into their orbit via arranging and reorchestrating it all for the quartet's instruments, their proclivities and the dance troupe's considerations, and on from there. Some of Dev's synth-pad electronics work and audio transformational feel was I believe retained or adapted so that the result is fully collaborative in the best ways--and for that constitutes a sort of convergence of stylistic aspects we do not ordinarily see together in a single musical context.

The title Fields alludes to Dev's view of the music as a series of open fields where the Hubbard Street dancers, Third Coast Percussion and Dev could freely interact. The music surely reflects such open horizons in the most appealing ways. This is New Music for people who may not much like New Music, or for those unfamiliar with such things. It is primarily good music beyond category.

I fully recommend this one for all progressive folks, for those who do not mind or even welcome a bit of  groove and New Music fans who are open to the new in whatever form our artists see fit, regardless of preconceptions. Minimalists will also take heart I suspect. For this is very good indeed.