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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Krzysztof Meyer, Chansons d'un reveur solitaire, Symphony No. 8 "Sinfonia da requiem", Claudia Barainsky, Lukasz Borowicz, Choir of Szymanowski Philharmonic, Polish National Rado Symphony Orchestra Katowice

Polish Modernist composer Krysztof Meyer (b 1943) has bit-by-bit commanded my attention on these pages as I gradually have surveyed some notable examples of his music (type his name in the search box above for reviews). What I have covered centers around his chamber output, mostly as a product of what came available for review in years past. Today I am happy to report in on an album of two later compositions for larger ensembles, namely the Chansons d'un reveur solitaire, Op. 116 for soprano (Claudia Barainsky) and symphony orchestra (The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice under Lukasz Borowicz) and the Symphony No. 8 "Sinfonia da requiem," Op. 111 for orchestra and choir (the Mixed Choir of the Karol Szymanowski Philharmonic in Krakow, Teresa Majka-Pacanek, choirmistress) (DUX 1569).

Meyer studied composition with Penderecki, Nadia Boulanger and Lutoslawski. He had a full career teaching theory and composition in Poland before retiring in 2008.

The two compositions we hear on the current release are revelations, keys to understanding something of later-period Meyer, deeply expressive and heartfelt. They show us a fully original voice, a master craftsman and musical inventor of the first caliber.

The Chansons d'un reveur solitaire, Op. 116 is built upon poetic texts that portray as the title suggests personal metaphorical-experiential journeys taken through memory and feeling, in the end each leaving the subject in an enriched psychic-emotional state. Meyer began work on this cycle with a definite idea of each of the five songs in terms of sound color and dramatic content. Only then did he search for the proper poetic expressions, texts that fit what he was after.

And indeed because of this "pre-selection" the intensely revealing music and its very memorable dialog between soprano and orchestra comes through vividly whether the poetic content is directly grasped or not. There is a musical logic to the unfolding both original and unmistakably singular. Soprano Barainsky and the Polish National Radio Symphony under Borowicz distinguish themselves as they flesh out the exploratory, moody music pleasingly well, as they bring out the special character of each of the five movements.

The "Sinfonia da requiem" makes use of a mixed choir in place of the soprano and maps out somber yet sometimes mysteriously present-ful musical terrain. It addresses expressively and in Modern musical terms the tragedy of the Holocaust, more specifically in recent years the return of antisemitism and a growing indifference to the plain fact of the horror of it all. The holocaust poetry of Adam Zagajewski serves as the textual fulcrum point. Like the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy the function of the choir in this work is as commentator, not as personal witness and confessor as was the case in the Chansons. Instead we engage in the realization of conscience with the emotions brought up and expressed in the orchestra. It is poignant, touching music.

This is a release anyone interested in the Modern Polish and Eastern European scene should hear. It serves notice that Krzysztof Meyer remains an essential voice of today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Art of Carol Lieberman, Volume 2, Modern Violin, von Dohnanyi, Carter, Hovhaness, Piston, Messiaen

We celebrate nearly 50 years of recordings by the great violinist Carol Lieberman in a retrospective of her work, now with an Art of Carol Lieberman, Volume 2, Modern Violin (Centaur CRC 3702). Over the years she has excelled as an original instrument Baroque violinist and for the Modern repertoire as well. Volume 2 nicely addresses the latter with a wide ranging anthology that spans a broad swatch of musical avenues from von Donanyi to Elliott Carter by way of Hovhaness, Piston and Messiaen. The common thread is Ms. Lieberman's extraordinarily clarity and full-feeling readings, flowering rather gloriously without undue sentiment, an expression of human-kindness in music you might say.

The album opens with splendidly angular and somewhat exotic readings of von Dohnanyi's op.21 "Sonata for Violin and Piano" and the "Serenade for String Trio" op. 10. From there we jump to the extraordinarily declamatory "Riconoscenza (Per Goffredo Petrassi) for Solo Violin" from Elliot Carter. Never has Carter sounded more human, heroic yet somehow vulnerable like all of us can be. It is part of Lieberman's brilliance that she can give us the Modern World in all its multifarious givenness--the advanced yet intensely personal, the committed yet still searching, not entirely comfortable with or complacent about the new horizon ahead. Or at least that is what comes to me as I listen gladly.

From there we go to two works featuring violin and harpsichord (with Mark Kroll)--Hovhaness's brief three movement folkish, advanced Modern and songful presence on the "Duet for Harpsichord" and the workaday Modern terse eloquence of Walter Piston's "Sonatina for Violin and Harpsichord."

The high-water mark of it all is the concluding three movement excerpt of Messiaen's haunting "Quartet for the End of Time" featuring Carol at her best with Geoffrey Burleson on piano, Bruce Creditor on clarinet and David Finch on cello. I've heard a fair number of performances of this beautiful work but none quite as heartful and touching--and Carol's emotive stance on it is largely responsible for that, though everyone locks into the music with a great deal of both sadness and dash, and that somehow fits the magic of Messiaen's intentions quite well

It is a conclusion one does not listen to without a rare feeling of fitness. of an apt summing up of Carol Lieberman's nearly ethical consistency of aesthetic. A remarkable disc all around.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Nino Rota, Complete Solo Piano Works I, Eleanor Hodgkinson

Nino Rota (1911-1979) will ever be remembered by the general public as the composer of the soundtracks for the first two Godfather films. What makes that music so memorable and accessible is its immediacy, emotive strength and melodic-harmonic power to communicate. It is a testament to such communicative directness that he wrote the music for more than 150 films during his 46-year career.

Beyond that vast output we have Nino Rota the composer of Modern concert music. All the elements that made him so effective in soundtrack writing also factor into his non-soundtrack creations. Again the quantity is substantial, with ten operas, music for theater and a full spectrum of orchestral and chamber works.

All this is clear when listening to Rota's inaugural volume of Complete Solo Piano Works 1 (Grand Piano GP827). On it we have pianist Eleanor Hodgkinson effectively holding forth with a good deal of charm for a series of three works--"15 Preludes" (1964), "Fantasia in G" (1944-45), and his "7 Difficult Pieces for Children" (1971).

The music stands out for its masterful workmanship, its creatively playful, cosmopolitan demeanor, its inventive melodic-harmonic stance. Carl Alexander Vincent in the liners for this album rightly underscores the influence of his teachers Pizzetti and Casella in developing Rota's sophisticated experiential approach. Indeed there is a genetic affinity to be heard though Rota comes through in the end as his own voice.

The "Fantasia" has Neo-Romantic elements surely. They are effectively bookended by the Neo-Classicism in the post-Prokofiev "Preludes" and the disarmingly direct "Children's Pieces."

The music grows on one the more one listens so that at the end a cogently satisfying feeling is to be had after assimilating the music with repeated hearings. Part of that has to do with Hodgkinson's no-nonsense grasp of the musical essence of these pieces. Then of course she provides for us direct access to the substantial merit of the music.

Strongly recommended for all who seek to assimilate fully the Modern Italian legacy. I look forward to future volumes!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Allan Gravgaard Madsen, Nachtmusik, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, For Violin and Orchestra

Today we have World Premier recordings of two Danish concertante works from our present century. The first is Nachtmusik by the still young (b. 1984) Allan Gravgaard Madsen. The second is For Violin and Orchestra by the late (1932-2016) New Music master Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (Da Capo 8.226138). Both are well handled by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ryan Bancroft (for the Madsen) or Nicholas Collon (for the Gudmundsen-Holmgreen). Danish National Symphony concertmaster Christina Astrand gives life to the solo violin part in both works. For Nachtmusik she is joined by pianist Per Solo for the dual role. Both acquit themselves well.

The two works contrast nicely and set one another off.

Madsen's Nachtmusik pivots around a single note taken up in various ways by solo piano, solo violin and orchestra. Gradually as the color of the noting continually shifts other tones are introduced and multiple tempos criss-cross and intersect for a kind of musical mobile. By the second movement a dominant tempo prevails as colors enter and exit dynamically. The brief final movement changes the central pitch and plays delightfully with a diatonic series taken up in turns by all concerned.

Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's For Violin and Orchestra begins with a full chromatic universe of notes taken up by solo violin and orchestra in a tumbling hocket-klangfarben sort of way and then gradually a central sequential motif emerges around which all enter upon and retreat from in time, only to enter upon a more open anarchy of diatonic and sometimes blue note and chromatic extra-tone before returning to the motif again. The solo violin affords a kind of answering to the motif in a dialogic drama. It is tour de force tone painting and affords a lively rejoiner to the particular insistence of Nachtmusik.

In all we get two bird's-eye views of the Pomo Modern Danish concertante possibilities in the present day. Both composers find their own manner of creating a post-Minimalist dialectic between "same" and "different" that does not resort to classical form but instead forges forward each in its own way. Happily recommended for new adventure music seekers.

Josef Haydn, Tullochgorum, Scottish Songs, The Poker Club Band, Masako Art

Josef Haydn harmonized, arranged and otherwise re-situated over 400 traditional Scottish song-melodies in his lifetime. Though he never visited Scotland clearly he had a great sympathy for the music as can be attested on the recent volume Tullochgorum, Scottish Songs (BIS 2471). What sets this volume apart is that harpist Masako Art has taken Haydn's song arrangements (plus several by contemporaries John Elouis, Francois de Fossa, Niel Gow) and either created or adapted an existing harp part for the Poker Club Band ensemble of harp, guitar, violin and cello, with James Graham on vocals plus some related instrumental works.

The presence of the harp parts throughout and the consistent interplay of the ensemble, all gives the music a more Scottish folk flavor than otherwise yet follows the Classical harmonizations faithfully.

It is in the end a great musical idea, and a tribute to Haydn's brilliance as well as the sparkling beauty of traditional Scottish folk melody. It is a most worthy listen from start to finish. An outstanding experience. Bravo Masako Art and the Poker Club Band! Bravo Haydn!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Eugene Goossens, Symphony No. 2, Phantasy Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Tasmin Little, Sir Andrew Davis, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) is perhaps generally better known today for his legacy as a conductor than as a composer. Yet a full-blown composer he surely was, as we can profitably hear on today's CD that features his Symphony No. 2 and the Phantasy Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Chandos GHSA 5193).

Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra faithfully through the intricacies and bold sweep of the scores. Tasmin Little does a fine job realizing the solo violin part for the Concerto.

The liners to the album give us the details as to his early and full involvement with composition, with  works for orchestra, solo piano, chamber ensembles and eventually several operas. By the time the two works on the album were completed (1942-45 for the Symphony, 1946-48 with a 1958 revision for the Concerto) he was a well-burnished, mature voice, fully formed, a singular compositional force. One occasionally hears an influence now and again--sometimes for example the flute-piccolo writing in the Symphony sometimes reminds slightly of Shostakovich's 7th. But on the whole we get pure Goossens--expanded tonal, Modern, inventive, well orchestrated, an original.

The symphony was largely written while Goossens held down a conducting position in the USA during the WWII years, It is not meant to be programmatic yet it reflects the mood of its time dramatically. It has gravitas.

The Concerto was written in 1945-6 for Jascha Heifetz--who apparently did not favor it so it did not receive proper performances until 1959-60. By then some critics felt that Goossens' music was not advanced enough for the times, sadly, so it did not make a great splash. The recording at hand is apparently the first performance since then. It is a beautiful work that surely deserves more attention and we are fortunate to have this first-rate reading to return to.

Both works have much to recommend them. Neither directly avant garde nor reservedly conservative, these works give us prime Goossens in excellent performances. It turns out that is a very nice thing indeed. Strongly recommended.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Elisabeth Klein, New Nordic Piano Music, From the LP Years

Danacord Records has embarked on a series of re-released albums originally on vinyl in its "From the LP Years" series. One in the initial batch is this fine recording by Elisabeth Klein entitled Nordic Piano Music (Danacord DACOCD 854).

If we think of the piano music of Erik Satie, Bela Bartok, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Olivier Messiaen, George Crumb, and Karlheinz Stockhausen (and for that matter Cecil Taylor) as an important subset of examples of 20th century musico-pianistic ways, the phrase "character pieces" comes to mind (to me). Yet I mean that here in the sense that the composers-piano people are in a way important "character actors" in the modern drama of musical unfolding. Perhaps they are more correctly categorized as intensely personal, original piano stylistic vehicles, innovators for what the music has in its note-ful content but also in their own ways developmental brilliances, masters of setting into play unusual juxtapositions of conventional and/or extended techniques.

The eight composers and nine composition sets on the original LP at hand (plus for the CD two bonus works) have something in common with these "personality"-"character" innovators. For nearly all the works have a special personal sound and make use at times of contrasts in conventional and extended techniques plus contrasts in register, etc.

What brings it all together is the wonderfully animated way that Elisabeth Klein realizes each work. It is telling, as the jacket notes inform us, that each of the composers "had a close and intense working relationship" with the pianist. It helps explain how each of the eleven composers appear before us in a fully Expressionistic way, filled with staccato exclamations, dreamy asides, open sonics, spatial significance.

And the way Elisabeth Klein makes the most of the expressive possibilities of each work goes along of course with that close working-out-together mode. It is perhaps a confirmation to read that Ms. Klein was known for her interpretations of both Stockhausen and Crumb. And in her student days she studied with Bela Bartok.

Her career was a full and productive one and we lost a great deal when she left our lives in 2004. As the liners tell us she was a "constant inspiration to composers, urging them to find new ways to use the piano." In addition to lecturing and concertizing in Oslo she triumphantly concertized all over Europe, the US, Israel and Mexico.

This album came about when in 1986 Elisabeth Klein with the help of Danish composer Nils Holger Petersen made a recording at the Hovikodden Art Center in Oslo. Danacord eagerly jumped at the chance to put it out and so the record appeared. Now we have it available again in a fine analog-to- digital transfer. There is much excellence to consider on this album.

But there is simply too much music to allow a work-by-work breakdown. Suffice to say we get to hear some gems by the aforementioned Petersen (1985, 1986), then works by Per Christian Jacobsen (1975), Maj Sonstevold (1963), Mikael Edlund (1984), Carin Malmloff-Forssling (1979), Gudrun Lund (1985), Kauko Kuosma (1983, 1984), Folke Stromholm (1977), and then on the bonus performances from 1975 we have works by Poul Ruders (1967) and Karl Aage Rasmussen (1965).

The works are quite interesting and the performances stellar. This one is a real sleeper, well worth investigating.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Charles-Marie Widor, Organ Symphonies 1, Symphonies 1 and 2, Op. 13, Wolfgang Rubsam

Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) did as much to advance the French Organ School as anyone. I am hard-pressed to think of any series of works quite as ambitious (and successfully so) as his Ten Organ Symphonies. His music continues to inspire. Organist Wolfgang Rubsam embarks on a new cycle for us with the inaugural Organ Symphonies 1 (Naxos 8.5741`61) which consists of his Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 13.  

Christian von Blohn in his thoughtful liners to this first volume reminds us that the Op. 13 works begin the long series of developments in the ten symphonies with regally extended Neo-classical suite-like elements and some vibrant expressions of orchestrational organ sound colors, registrational innovations that of course were to mark off the symphonic series as a whole.

The First Symphony pays homage to Bach from the start. The opening prelude is a most riveting contrapuntal movement that sets the stage for the many swings in color, mood and texture that sets the seven movement work off as already innovative and in the end satisfying. The long and stately "Marche pontificale" stands out as a fine instance of the sort of processional music Widor was undoubtedly called upon to play in the course of services at the Saint-Sulpice in Paris, which he did for some 64 years. The finale forms a fugal high point of the work and sends us off in style.

The Second Symphony has breadth and depth as well even if it is another early example.The long andante rings out on repeated listens and the finale gives us the first of the molto perpetual closings and sounds as exciting as it must have when first performed.

The rebuilt organ at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago sounds grand, as grand as it did when I attended there and experienced its mighty sweep on more than one occasion. Wolfgang Rubsam gives us a very well-balanced reading of the works, measured and well-considered yet as dynamically robust as needed when called upon to burst forth.

It is a promising beginning to the new cycle and a bargain at the Naxos price. Surely recommended. All organ enthusiasts should have the cycle and so too those just exploring the French School for the first time. These opening symphonies stand out after repeated exposure despite how they were the first. Bravo!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Akemi Mercer-Niewoehner, Rachel Mercer, Our Strength, Our Song, Music By Canadian Women Composers

As the world continues to evolve we see much more attention paid to women composers than earlier generations did. Half the world is made up of women after all and equal opportunity-recognition has been long overdue. Today's musical selection, Our Strength, Our Song (Centrediscs 27719) looks at the music of some six Canadian women, three among the living, and two among those who have left us in 2000, one in 2019.

The program is unusual in that all the works were written for the intimate chamber setting of violin and cello duo. They are played beautifully by the sister team of Akemi Mercer-Niewoehner and Rachel Mercer, on violin and cello respectively.

The music stands out for its intensive abundance of musical ideas and a kind of unpretentious purity. All the works have an uncompromising attention to contemporary expression. None would qualify as an encore sort of charmer, though the music certainly has plenty of charm each in its own way. It is music on the composer's terms and all the better for it. It is music that very much suits this duo in its desire to play music of importance and significance. They do.

Of the six compositions featured here there are five world premier recordings and three commissioned works. They span some 40 years of music at the same time as Akemi and Rachel celebrate some 40ish years of life on earth. The two have played together in various guises since childhood so that by this point they are acutely attuned to one another. They give a seamless and intrinsic closeness to the two-part interplay that reflects both the scarceness of such a sisterly length and intensity of musical togetherness but too is a testament to their mutual performative excellence.

Above all we get a chance to experience fine realizations of works by composers some of us might not otherwise know. Violet Archer (1913-2000), Jean Coulthard (1908-2000) and Rebekah Cummings (1980-2019)  head up the earlier contingent with their contrasting Modern Neo-Romantic "Four Duets" (1979) and "Duo Sonata" (1989), respectively (Archer and Coulthard), and the involved anthemics of "Our Strength, Our Song" (2018) by Cummings.

Living women composers of stature chime in with Jocelyn Morlock and her "Serpentine Paths" (2019), Barbara Monk Feldman and her "Pour un Nuage Violet" (1998) and finally Alice Ping Yee Ho and the "Kagura Fantasy" (2018).

Each work explores quite nicely the extensive color and tonal possibilities of a labor-intensive but always supremely musical virtuoso interplay between violin and cello.

The music and performances stand out. They reward a close listening with the sort of deep chamber complexities that mark the best of such things. And it at the same time makes us all the more eager to hear more of Akemi Mercer-Niewoehner and Rachel Mercer.

Happily recommended. Viva Canadian women in music today!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Afterimage, String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Eli Spindel

A recurring element in the most Modern of New Music channels I have been calling "the Old in the New," referring to composers of today re-appropriating or being inspired by earlier music in a process that one way or another transforms older stylistic elements into a newly minted kind of Modernity. With the New Year we have another interesting example in Afterimage (Furious Artisans FACD 6823). On it the Brooklyn String Orchestra under Eli Spindel presents the music of Christopher Cerrone and Jacob Cooper--based in whole or in part on music by, respectively, Niccolo Paganini and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.

The key is what "based on" is all about, naturally. Each work seeks a somewhat different way of transforming the past. As Eli Spindel aptly puts it in the liner notes to the album, both "take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and--through processes of repetition, distortion, and, in the case of [Pergolesi's] Sabat Mater, extreme slow motion--create a completely new soundscape, like opening up a small door into an unfamiliar world."

To open the program Christopher Cerrone begins his "High Windows" by making use of a sampled fragment of Paganini's Caprice No. 6 "The Trill"  for Solo Violin. It forms the initial moment of the extended work for the Argus Quartet and the String Orchestra of Brooklyn. But then the middle section quotes from an earlier Cerrone work ("Hoyt--Schermerhorn" for piano and electronics) and ultimately thrives as an independent composition based on traditional Sonata Form--but also draws connotations from a poem by Philip Larkin about tumultuous youth.

The multi-strandedness of meaning is further underscored as the whole expresses the composer's inspiration from the stained-glass windows of  St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, the initial venue for which the piece was written and performed. Three separate sections unfold and ultimately have their say.

Ultimately it is all about the musical and personal friendships and artistic commingling that occurred as composer, orchestra, conductor and the original small group (the Toomai String Quintet) involved themselves in the work. Virtually all were initially engaged as both colleagues and friends, then grew into the work in workshops where sections of the score were hammered out.  There followed a further articulation of the actuality of the music through the four public performances that have taken place since the work was completed after that gestation period of 2013. And now of course there is this recording as a further development.

The second and more lengthy of the two works here, Jacob Cooper's Pergolesi-based "Sabat Mater Dolorosa" (2009) is a vast time stretching and alteration/transformation of the original Baroque score to become like a moment stopped in time, like a virtually endless experience of the moment of life departure, like the maternal grief of Mary on the death of Jesus, only de-sacralized to a secular inner being of sorts. The vocal parts for soprano and mezzo-soprano, nicely handled by Melissa Hughes and Kate Maroney, segue with the endlessly pivoting orchestra around sustained progression points nearly stopped in time and space. It is exceedingly beautiful.

Finishing off the program and letting us take stock of what came before are the real-time performances of the fragments involved in the works--the Paganini Trill Caprice (with the solo violin part well played by Rachel Lee Priday) and the single movement from Pergolesi's Sabat (performed by Hughes, Maroney and the SOB). And so we come full circle back to a real-time past after a lengthy excursion through suspended presents, through multiple moments of now.

It is a rather extraordinary program in a rather extraordinary performance. Kudos!

Steven Mackey, Time Release, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

The latest volume of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project finds Gil Rose directing the orchestra for a selection of interesting and contrasting works by Steven Mackey (b 1956). It is entitled Time Release (BMOP 1068) after the 2005 work that is a centerpiece of the program.

Four pieces comprise the whole and flesh out a vision of Mackey's vivid orchestral palette, and in the process give us an architectonic sense of layering and rhythmic shape. The works span a near decade--from the aforementioned 2005 title piece to the program opening "Urban Ocean" of 2013.

The dimensionality of the music is apparent from the first strains of "Urban Ocean." Mackey rightly calls attention in the liners to the "painterly" use of tone and color in the work, with correspondingly less motivic, rhythmic, or harmonic syntax per se. The composer envisions "powerful yet invisible waves" churning underneath the surface and then breaking on the beach. In that way the music suggests a natural, cyclical process more than linear travel from point a to point b.

"Time Release" is the longest of the four works at more than 30 minutes broken into four movements. The solo percussion part is given palpable animate life by Colin Currie. It showcases especially the solo marimba as a mature and vibrantly polyphonic vehicle in poignant interaction with the orchestra for a music at once, in the words of the composer, "distinctive and soulful."

"Tonic" (2011) comes together out of a harmony built from "leading" and "complimentary" notes more than a note-for-note counterpoint, out of a foreground harmony of some simplicity with a background shadow harmony of greater complexity. The effect is mesmerizing in ways that strike an original pose. This is not Minimalism but you could say that it motors along a parallel highway. It whirs at times cylindrically but not at all formulaically. There is at root something between a series of riffs and a series of sequences, yet they hang together in their own way and do not exactly repeat so much as at some point complete. 

The concluding "Turn the Key" (2006) gives us a rhythmic dance-like figure redolent of Latin American music that the composer recalled hearing in Miami and so found appropriate for this commissioned work to mark the opening of a new performance center in the city. There is a movement forward continually like a sequence of unique spokes on a wheel. It is a fitting end-piece to a provocatively personal program of orchestral gems.

Steven Mackey has harnessed his own idiomatic way with Time Release. You must of course listen for yourself but I suspect and trust that you will find it all well worth your listening effort as I have. I find that the more I listen the more this music stands out as another way to go, a personal orchestrality that is Modern but not predictably that. All the better for it. I very much recommend you listen closely at least several times and map out your own conclusions from the experience. Bravissimo!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Modulation Necklace, New Music from Armenia

Those who know what typical Armenian Folk and Classical Music sounds like, a distinctive minor-modal signature that marks it all its own--will no doubt almost involuntarily listen for it in a new anthology of New Music from Armenia, entitled Modulation Necklace (New Focus Recordings FCR244).  On that basis the listener may find on first blush that the New Music component of the subtitle tends to move forward into your listening self first. Only then perhaps does the "from Armenia" part of the title thrust itself into your listening span.

Part of that is that the opening work "Quasi Harena Maris" by Artur Avanesov is tonal but not exactly obviously Armenian in sections of the first listen. With "Novelette" by Ashot Zohrabyan we recognize more of the sort of Armenian syntax we might expect, tempered surely with New Music elements.

And so it goes throughout this interesting collection, onwards to Michel Petrossian's "A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire" for piano trio with its sprawling in-and-out of time, stop-and-go, post Serialist diffusiveness conjoined with momentary traces of folkish elements.

A highlight is Artashes Kartalyan's "Tekeyan Triptych" for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. It is haunting, lyrical, rich in invention, at points notably minor-inflected.

Ashot Kartalyan's "Suite for Saxophone and Percussion" takes an idiomatic turn into the special qualities available in a duet of this sort. The soprano sax-percussion interaction is decidedly "jazzy" and nicely so. It is perhaps a bit dance-like as well.

And at the end Avanesov returns with himself at the solo piano for the seven part "Selected works from cycle 'Feux Follets.'" It has an Armenian rootedness at times in its declamatory style.

Taken altogether Modulation Necklace retains relevance and interest throughout. I recommend it for anyone interested in Armenian sounds and New Music from Middle Eastern-Eastern European avenues. It is a most stimulating set.