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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Louis Valentine Johnson, Peace, with the Dos Almas String Quartet

Classical guitarist Louis Valentine Johnson teams up with the Dos Almas String Quartet for Peace (Dos Almas DA 2019), a collection of some timeless music mostly contemporary yet in the tradition of the Spanish guitar legacy. Three works get idiomatic, warm treatment--"The Peace Concerto" by Johnson himself, "Toccata, Evocation, & Fandango" by Mark A. Radice (arranged by Philip Rothman) and "Allegretto in B Minor, Opus 35, Number 22" by Fernando Sor (arranged by Johnson).

The highly sonorous possibilities of classical guitar and string quartet see three happy realizations that spring forward with lyrical consonances in the wider Spanish tradition.

Johnson's own "Peace Concerto" has a post-Aranquez beauty in its middle "Song of Peace" and elaborate interactions on the closing movement "The Question." The opening "Portraits" has a rugged thematic character. It is all quite pleasing and well worth the ear time.

The program  opener "Toccata, Evocation & Fandango" by Mark A Radice has a complementary Spanish-Neo-Classical  meditative air to it that the Fandango conclusion stirs up with a spirit that paints the guitar in the center of an expressive flourish that the quartet seconds nicely.

Sor's "Allegretto in B Minor" holds forth in short and sweet fashion to bring a palate cleanser of sorts before the centerpiece Concerto of Johnson's.

This is not music meant to stand on a contemporary cutting edge but it is memorable and that is what matters. Anyone who revels in the classical guitar will find in this program much to like, I think. The "Peace Concerto" will likely stay in your mind as the central linchpin, but regardless the music and performances hang together as one continually unified stylistic gesture. Johnson and company wax eloquently. In tough times like these the music helps brighten the mood and we do need that now very much. Kudos.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Meredith Monk, Memory Game, Vocal Ensemble and Bang On A Can All Stars

My first brush with Meredith Monk, as I may have mentioned before, was some time in the mid-70s when JCOA distributed her first album and I sent away for it for no other reason than I was exploring women avant artists and was open to something new. It was just her on vocals and ringing bowls, I guess they were. Her singsongy vocals and general unique way got my attention and I've been following her musical path ever since.

And now we have her latest, a nicely hewn chamber set in multiple parts entitled Memory Game (Canteloupe Music CA21153). It is a most interesting collaboration of Monk, her Vocal Ensemble and the Bang On A Can All Stars, the latter in this case an electric-acoustic chamber setting of some six instrumentalists, two doubling with their voices.

It is a gathering of some nine, mostly relatively short pieces from the past, ranging in time from 1983 (six), 1986 (one), 1996 (one) to 2006 (one). It hits me as I listen repeatedly that this in a way is Pop Art Music (in the Lichtensteinian sense). It owes something to the deliberately bright and sometimes irritating world of classical advertising jingles--especially from the '60s, a Brave New Age of products and processes, perhaps most vividly brought out in the piece "Tokyo Cha Cha." As the lyrics have it, "Let's cha cha me happy." It says it all by deliberately saying not much.

Like the classic Pop Art paintings, there is more than just some co-optation or appropriation. Like the best Pop Art was painterly, so Meredith's music is very "musical," filled with a personal style that too is at times NOT exactly pop-ish, and the catchy insistence of the music also places it of course into Bang On A Can territory--not unfamiliar as Minimal-oriented, setting aside all the problems with that term.

The lyrics are quirky, with snippets of what sounds Polynesian, what could be Yiddish, and other languages (Japanese?) interspersed with a deliberate, sometimes SpaceAge banality. The instrumental parts give the All Stars plenty to sink their fingers into (so to say) and the interplay of vocals and instrumentals is rather pristine in its deft combination of somewhat retro allusions and polyphonic complexities. The pieces are variously and nicely arranged for this ensemble by Monk herself, Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, Ken Thomson, Allison Sniffin, and David Lang.

There was a point somewhere in my second listen that the music fell together in my head and it has stayed there. Perhaps like Warhol's art there is a deliberate surface to things and that gives you the principal interactive means to your listening ends. Once you situate yourself where the music is, just like on her very first album only of course further on, there you are in a unique place. The ensemble and arrangements make this particularly special. As we live in some very tough times this music can be a foil to a place beyond, before, and outside all of the moment.

You most certainly should give this music your attention if you want to know a newness. I cannot guarantee of course that you will love this program, but it is no different than ever in that way. We cannot know until we try something. This is surely among her very best.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Michael Gordon, Anonymous Man, The Crossing, Donald Nally

As I write this the COVID-19 lockdown is in effect for the state of New Jersey, USA. All non-essential business folks are working from home if they can, or otherwise shuttered up until further notice. The highway outside the modest apartment I live in is eerily silent. I cannot help but wonder, "How can music matter at a time like this?" One answer is that it matters no less if you are musical, and those less musical still have the need for it as human beings. We hope, anyway. And in fact other than live music gatherings it is one thing you can keep going with in spite of social distancing. (Not to take that lightly, since many make their livelihood by doing such.)  And so today I listen to a new recording by the superb vocal ensemble the Crossing with Donald Nally conducting.

It is a major work from a major composer in the so-called Minimalist camp, Michael Gordon. It is his a capella choral work Anonymous Man (Canteloupe Music CA21154). Michael wrote both the words and the music.. It is a personal reflection on home and homelessness, life and death, and being with and without. It has to do with living in his NYC neighborhood from the time it was a largely abandoned industrial zone through to its gentrification. It is about several homeless men who lived across from him there.

It has pulsating sections and others that gently overlap themselves within themselves. The mood is thoughtful. Time passes and backtracks. There is the inexorable, somehow.

The Crossing are the ideal group to make of this music something special. And they do. It is not music that is self-evident or predictable, even if you know Michael Gordon's music well. It is the opposite of banal, yet it expresses an experience of things filled with a sameness. It is filled with a ruminative facticity that perhaps fits perfectly the mood of current locked-down stasis within a jarring turn of things to pass.

The music haunts. It is not the expected. Bravo.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Cenk Ergun, Sonare & Celare, JACK Quartet

What is new in New Music? Judging by the albums I've covered in the last few weeks, it is still the case that anything goes and if it does so in good ways, we are all the better for it of course. This morning some advanced string quartet music in the High Modern mode--the ever-accomplished JACK Quartet give us an EP of the music of Cenk Ergun, Sonare & Celare (New Focus Recordings FCR238).

So what is this one all about? Turkish-born Cenk Ergun emerges from a protracted interaction with the JACK Quartet with a set of paired works that stand in important ways at polar opposites, Sonare loud, busy and dense followed by the more sparsely soft and celestial Celare.

Ergun's past involvement in electronic music production has had a large impact on how he composed Sonare and its ultimate performance by the JACK Quartet.  Some preliminary sketches of a few motives and repetitions were notated for the Jack Quartet. Their recorded performance of them formed the basis of a further set of notations, accomplished in part by splicing the results into new fragments, their subsequent further recorded performances  each created a new entity which was subjected to further dissecting and so forth, with successive generations of interactions leading ultimately to the results we hear.

That work is insistent, like some infernal machine, perhaps, going through its cycles. It is as much invigorating as it is unnerving, with the JACK Quartet in part because of the built-up interactions becoming something wholly other than a mere four-fold reader-interpreter of notations. They are something transcendent. The music most definitively jumps out at us in full dimensional ways.

Celare on the other hand is made up of air and light to Sonare's earth and density. As the promotional sheet that came with the CD points out, the work is built around "just intonation, Turkish modes, and early monophonic music." A most palatable sauce of sustained chords and microtonal movements forms the bulk of the work. It explores an effectively contrasting timbral-sonic universe of possibilities..

In the end the organic and the superorganic dramatically interact with automata and infernal machines? That may be fanciful but the JACK Quartet bring these two works into wonderfully lively existence as contrasting forces that Ergun has created and made dramatically memorable.

It is one of those advanced work complexes, one of the exceptional later avant creations that, as one listens frequently, becomes a completely unique and singular universe of sound. It stands on its own. Here is this!. Hear this.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Ensemble Made in Canada, Mosaique

As I write this the Pandemic has wrought huge changes around me and around the world. Many steps have been taken to try and slow down the outbreak. I keep up with the social distancing in my apartment and happily there still is plenty of New Music to write about, so I remain productive.

Today we consider Mosaique (Factor Canada 0 51497 14047 2) by Ensemble Made in Canada. It is a 14-work celebration of the vast diversity and beauty of the country-wide span of territory, with a piece for nearly every geographic-cultural niche. It was specially commissioned, premiered during the summer of 2018 and now takes the form of this recording so that we all might hear, rehear and generally appreciate the whole of it.

Ensemble Made in Canada is a most cohesive gathering of talent--a quartet featuring Angela Park on piano, Elissa Lee on violin, Sharon Wei on viola and Rachel Mercer on cello.

Andrew Downing's opening "Red River Fantasy" (for Manitoba) and Julie Doiron's "Blessed" (for New Brunswick) (arr. by Andrew Creegan) are the most striking thematically of  these many works, but then there is much else that is quite heartening. This is partly lyrical POMO fare, with some sounding more overtly Modern than others but all played very well and very worth hearing.

Rather than try and run down the salient points of all fourteen works instead I list the composers and regions that I have not mentioned yet: Richard Mascall (Ontario), Nicolas Gilbert (Quebec), William Rowson (Nova Scotia), Vivian Fung (Alberta), Barbara Croall (St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes), Samy Moussa (Nunavut), Kevin Lau (Yukon), Ana Sokolovic (British Columbia), David Braid (Northwest Territories), Nicole Lizee (Saskatchewan), Darren Sigesmund (Prince Edward Island) and Sarah Slean (Newfoundland). Needless to say, you might not be familiar with many of these composers and that is the point in some ways. Here indeed is very New Music specially produced in the last several years to give you a broad survey of the Canadian scene and so all the better for it.

Ensemble Made in Canada are a finely attuned, very talented chamber group who via this project have created a vivid moment on the Canadian New Music scene that gives us an important cross-section of new Canadian composers and the sheer wonder of Canadian locales as a complex matrix, a vast resource. Bravo. You should hear this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Minimal Works, Alessandro Viale, Piano

From Italy we have pianist Alessandro Viale and his well-considered program of Minimal Works (KHA 018). As I have been listening it strikes me that Viale in his choice of some 16 short pieces does a fine job in summing up a disparate set of a.) some "doctrinaire" Minimal classics (by Glass, etc.) in the lyrical-melodic rather than mesmerizing mode, but also b.) brings in interesting related pieces by composers we might not ordinarily put into the Minimalist camp.

And at this perhaps somewhat late date for the timeline of such things, Viale's summing gives us the insight that thoughtful retrospectives allow. And like the best of this kind of hindsight review, there are expected classics and unexpected surprises.

In addition to the nine solo piano works, there are four pieces for violin and piano that bring in violinist Rebecca Raimondi, and then three piano duets adding Assunta Cavallari. The performances are uniformly warm without being sentimental, uniformly expressive and painstaking. With the variety of groupings and memorable works time passes quickly and nicely for the listener.

Not surprisingly John Cage's 3rd of his "Six Memories" for violin and piano reminds us that there exists a post-Satie, pared-down strain of his music that has a straightforward elemental Minimalist quality to it. Perhaps less expected is a minute-long Peter Maxwell Davies "Snow Cloud, Over Lochan" that has a similarly elemental haiku brevity and succinctness. Ligeti's "Musica ricercata: No. 7"  has a bracing, driving left-hand motif and a beautiful half-time right-hand melody that puts him too in his own, special Minimal place.

Nils Frahm's "Familiar" has an almost early Keith Jarrett-like whimsical lyricism. Lera Auerbach's "Prelude No. 15" for violin and piano has a mysterious liquidity rewarding to experience. The Matteo Sommacal duet "Forgotten Strains" is rather nocturnal, haunting. David Lang's violin-piano "Light Moving" has all his charm in microcosm. And the concluding, well known Arvo Part "Spiegel im Spiegel" has an appealing earthy treatment that ends up putting a smile to your face (if you are like me, anyway). There is more I could say about the other works included in this program but this should give you some idea what you'll find.

The fine performances and wide-ranging choices make this set far from ordinary or predictable. One is in the last instance filled with lyrical poetics and reminded that Minimalism looking back has covered a good deal of ground and given us a refreshing sea change that as we know has given the very later Modern voices something to react to, both against and toward. This collection I highly recommend. Viale gets it all very right.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sandbox Percussion, And That One Too

A quartet known as Sandbox Percussion makes its debut this season with their album And That One Too (Coviello Contemporary COV91918). It consists of Jonny Allen, Victor Caccese, Ian David Rosenbaum and Terry Sweeney. Since their formation in 2011 their goal has been to establish long-term collaborative relationships with composers in order to further the possibilities of what can be done with percussion from both a technical and an expressive perspective.

The four works represented on the album sum up, according to Rosenbaum, this past nine years and the best and most transformative collaborations. Each work occupies its own world, its own space.

So there are highly melodic interlockings via pitched metallic objects on Andy Akiho's "Haiku 2." The music recalls the complex layering of Gamelan music and a bit of Steve Reich's contrapuntal additive matrices taken a step further.

David Crowell continues the momentum with his "Music for Percussion Quartet" (which adds Crowell on guitar). In the opening music for mallet instruments and drum set there is a very beautiful sequencing of irregular phrase lengths, then bowed vibraphones form enveloping, slowly unfolding passages, followed by a layered series of cascading mallet motives that take over for interesting movements in aural space. More bowed mallets give us a reflective conclusion. This work has definite atmospherics that stay in the listening mind nicely.

Amy Beth Kirsten follows with multi-part, uniquely captivating, ritualistically unfolding vocals and the quartet giving it all a beat and a percussive color veneer for her "she is a myth." The concluding part waxes lyrical and then ends while one might want some more! Well done.

The finale work is the longest of the segments with a three movement, nearly 30-minute Thomas Kotcheff work entitled "not only that one but that one & that too." Part I begins with some meandering yet insistent woodblocks (I believe) in an ensemble, then includes lower-pitched wooden mallets that create heightened, unfolding rhythmic interest and thematics. The momentum grows as the percussive instrumentation drills down to a kind of contrapuntal froth.

The second movement has subtly insistent, irregular unpitched soundings, then a single pitched bongo and tom-tom drum patterns, all played with a musicality that puts everything into place. The complexity grows and gathers a good deal of steam as the number of struck drums increases. The rhythmic interplay intensifies as the pulse becomes more underlined in complex ways.

The last movement involves a switch to small bell-like metallic instruments that work together in a confluence both delicate and introspective, then increasingly motile and driving in quiet ways.

The very end is a slightly mysterious yet musically satisfying suspension of both the work and the program at large, leaving one ready for more yet glad for the thoughtful whole.

The Sandbox Percussion debut fulfills its mission well. By the end one feels that one has re-created in a well evolved series of extended possibilities for percussion quartet. It is lively and absorbing fare and a most promising first album. Definitely recommended.

John J. Becker, Soundpieces 1-7, FLUX Quartet, etc.

John J. Becker (1886-1961) has been enshrouded in obscurity in our lifetime, even though he was a part of an early Modern US group of composers that were extraordinarily important in the development of the New Music movement. The "American Five" were known especially in the '20s and '30s of last century as the most dissonant and advanced voices on the American scene. It placed Becker in the illustrious company of Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Henry Cowell and Wallingford Reigger.

The good news right now is that we can hear in a new two-CD recording his all-important chamber series Soundpieces 1-7 (New World Records 80816-2).

The liners to the CDs give us context. Becker followed in part Charles Seeger's idea of a "dissonant counterpoint" where the goal was the opposite of a traditional, continual consonance. There were Neo-Classical elements to be heard and iconoclastic influences through personal friendships with Cowell and Ives, along with a Catholicism which gave him a conversant bond to church music form.

The seven Soundpieces were written between 1932 through 1949, with five hailing from the early to later '30s and the last two coming forth in 1942 and 1949. Nos. 2 and 4 are for string quartet, No. 1 for string quartet and piano, No. 3 for violin and piano, No. 5 for solo piano, No 7 for two pianos and No. 6 for flute and clarinet. All seem to revel in their advanced dissonance, with a structural flourish and rather extraordinary expressionism.

In the liners Kyle Gann discusses criticisms of Becker's music over the years, that his rhythmic sense is not always as lively as his harmo-melodic advances, that perhaps there is just too much dissonance in the end. Yet the Soundpieces are examples of his very best.

I find especially to my liking Soundpieces 3 (for string quartet, the engaging Scherzo most notably) and 4 (with lots of very engaging violin-piano interplay). The monolithic boldness of the solo piano Number 5 has a heroic grandeur that draws me in increasingly the more often I listen.

I for one am very happy to have this music to hear repeatedly. The performances are quite respectable, quite good. Kudos to the FLUX String Quartet and Conrad Harris (the latter for both his quartet and solo violin role, Joseph Kubera on piano with Adam Tendler on the two-piano work, for Margaret Lancaster on flute and Vasko Dukovski on clarinet. They go a considerable ways to make this music come alive and they are to be commended for it.

Anyone like me who takes great interest in the rise of 20th Century High Modernism will be glad to have these Becker works to discover and explore. There is a freshness, an almost naive faith in the liberating power of dissonance that is both touching and invigorating to hear, surely worthy of our consideration. Becker may not quite be another Charles Ives yet this music sounds nearly as pathblazing as it must have when it was first performed. Recommended for all New Music aficionados interested in the history of it all.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Sarah Slean, Music by Christos Hatzis, Symphony Nova Scotia, Bernhard Gueller

We humans are ever creating categories, local, international, contingent, "universal." "timeless," temporary. We are ever defending or undermining them, depending. And a new thing will then eventually come along and throw categories into confusion. When that happens, we take note.

Something like that comes to us in the form of a new CD that brings together two compositions by Christos Hatzis, featuring vocalist Sarah Slean and Symphony Nova Scotia under Bernhard Gueller (Centrediscs CMCCD27819). The music is so well-done that I can scarcely imagine not covering it. Yet is it something I might not ordinarily seek out, that all of my readers would not necessarily as a matter of course incorporate into their New Music listening? There is no simple answer because it is an unexpected twist to our categorical understanding.

Well, so what is it? Simply put it is Canadian composer Christos Hatzis's two interrelated symphonic song cycles Lamento and Ecstacy. It comes alive through the expressive presence of acclaimed vocalist Sarah Slean and the happy confluence of conductor Gueller and the Nova Scotia Symphony.

Lamento was the first of the two cycles. It came into being in 2012 as a kind of long rejoiner-tribute and/or commentary-exegesis on Purcell's beautiful "When I am Laid in Earth" from Dido and Aenaes--but also a wider meditation on loss, mental illness, suicide.

Its success for all concerned eventually made it a good idea for a second cycle with Slean and Nova Scotia. Ecstasy is the result, which features lyrics penned by Slean herself and a theme-mood in much happier territory, in a way the obverse of Lamento. 

As I wrote above, this music is exceptionally well done. The category breaking involves the injection of a "pop" element into the music. And it is not so much a today-top-40 sort of pop, it is closer to what in the later '60s were categorized as MOR (Middle of the Road), more like something Barbara Streisand might have done than, say, Joni Mitchell or even Carol King. And for that it is also a little closer to the sort of song one might hear on Broadway than on a Classic Rock radio outlet.

The lyrical content of these songs, especially the poetics of mental health in Lamento, puts them more squarely on the "Art Song" side of things. I must say I especially like the final "Despair" movement of Lamento, the one most beholden to Purcell.

Sarah Slean's performances are one-of-a-kind and I can scarcely imagine anyone coming close to her dramatically smashing way with these songs. By the same token the orchestral parts come very much alive with Gueller and the Nova Scotia Symphony. The orchestrations are quite lovely and do a great deal in setting off Ms. Slean's expression-rich readings.

Sometimes I wonder as an exercise in my own judgement whether I would (assuming a capability which is another matter) choose to write music in a certain way, here in this way. My answer in this case would be no--which is only to say that I do not feel entirely akin to this MOR-Classical meld. However I concede happily that there is a great deal of brilliance to be had in this music which transcends air-guitar visions of what I might dream of as my"own," so to say. Nonetheless if I do not exactly "speak" this language I do appreciate the music as exemplary.

It is rather remarkable fare in the end. Yet it is neither avant garde nor is it entirely capital /M/ Modern in some superadvanced way. You might say it is somewhat "old fashioned," even. Mahler meets MOR meets Christos Hatzis? Maybe. Yet it is that in unique ways that make it something one should pay attention to, for it is quite a two-fold achievement in often sublime ways. Bravo.

Recommended for those who self-select for the parameters sketched-out here. Give it your ears.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Scott L. Miller, Ghost Layers, TAK Plays Miller

According to my records, this is the fourth review article I have written on the music of Scott L. Miller (see the Gapplegate Music Review, 2015, and this blog, 2017 and 2018). His music lays out well to my ears. So now I am back with a new one to talk about, Ghost Layers, TAK Plays Miller (New Focus Recordings FCR253).

First a bit on the TAK Ensemble, who distinguish themselves markedly on this chamber program. It is ordinarily a quintet. For this program the four founding members hold sway--Laura Cocks (flute), Marina Kifferstein (violin), Charlotte Mundy (voice) and Ellery Trafford (percussion), augmented at various points in the program by Meghan Burke on cello, Tristan McKay on piano, and Joshua Rubin on clarinet. Collectively they tackle this advanced and difficult-to-play music with ease, with dash and even a heroically dynamic demeanor. TAK happily specialize in the Contemporary of yesterday and today through commissions, collaborations and dedicated New Music concertizing. A listen or two will no doubt convince you that they are near-ideal proponents of the music at hand, stars in today's Modern firmament.

So what, then, of that music? There are some five Miller chamber compositions featured, four of which combine instruments with electronic sound. The works exhibit Scott Miller's "eco-systemic" approach, where the music takes on something analogous to the function of ecosystems. This has to do with found environmental sounds, their analysis and then the establishment of paradigms within the musical structure of a given work.

So for example the opening work "Accretion" (2015) for flute, violin, clarinet/bass clarinet, cello, percussion and electronic sound has its initial basis in the composer's field recordings of waterfalls and ice floes, both subjected to spectral analysis which then provides data that figures in the instrumental and electronic components of the composition.

In the end what matters is that each work feels as a kind of natural organic entity where timbral choices and the interlaying of sounds have a feeling of inevitability without providing the listener with an obvious expected result acoustically or syntactically. Everything has an element of surprise yet gives the satisfaction of rich textural presence.

I will not try to run down each piece individually because the deep complexities and emergent form seem at this juncture better heard than subject to more words. The instrumental-electronic interfaces have a remarkable quality born out of the frisson of an exceptional collective grasp on the part of performers, electronic sounds that have a built-in logic and poetics in their interactive presence with acoustic instrumental sounds, and a totality that convinces, comes across as genuinely new, and makes for increasingly absorbing hearing the more one repeats the program.

All praise is due Scott Miller and TAK and company. This is a chamber program anyone with an interest in the latest Modernities should not miss. Outstanding music.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Richard Valitutto, Nocturnes & Lullabies

The tree falling in the woods idea holds true on the musical front, just as it always has. For New Music to exist in some validated or institutional sense there must be an audience of course. I hope I play some role in such things, originally as a consumer and physical presence on the scene, now as a writer, ever I hope also as a music-maker.

Today's selection exemplifies a good sort of "new" as a real contribution towards a special kind of solo piano music. Richard Valitutto is the pianist. The album goes by its title Nocturnes & Lullabies (New Focus Recordings FCR243). The label explains that this music concerns "themes of transitional states between light, dark, consciousness, and unconsciousness" or alternately-additionally night, sleep, and life/death  Further the eight solo works contained in the program (seven or which are premiere recordings) engage the pianist in his striving for a kind of "anti-virtuosity," or more specifically directs him away from the sort of note-weaving typical of conventional piano playing-writing and concerned more with experimental goals, of widening the palette of sound colors and techniques obtained in the act of piano performance.

This program nicely opens and expands the sort of poetic piano Modernism of sound color one might trace from Ives, Cowell, Cage and his colleagues to George Crumb and his reflective pianism. All eight of the works on this album espouse a poetry of sound that invites a kind of expansive introspection. Tone clusters, mesmeric and sometimes ritualistic repetitions, thunderously or flashingly rapid single-note rollings, percussive dampened extreme upper register repeats,  cavernous resonance and open sustains, inside-the-piano hand techniques, the enhanced use of aural space, the full syntactical recourse to all the available notes in all registers, an edgy Modern harmonic expansiveness that generally neither dogmatically favors consonance nor dissonance as a whole, those are some of the traits of the music at hand, all in the service of a thematic night of time and experience, of a nocturnal mood as we might look back upon it from John Field and especially Chopin onwards, only set free from typical cantabile stylings per se.

The full span of our Late Modern period comes into play in these works, from 1984 through 2015. Five of the eight works however are from the last decade.

The composers names may not be entirely familiar to you, yet the music shows us that each has a vision for the piano that intertwines as Richard Salitutto in effect curates wisely and judiciously, then performs each chosen work with a definite dedication and a dramatic musical proportionality. And so we are made aware of piano adventurousness from the likes of Nicholas Deyoe (two works included), Rebecca Saunders, Philip Cashian, Marc Sabat, Maura Capuzzo, Wolfgang von Schweinitz, and Linda Catlin Smith.

Heartily recommended for those wishing to remain fully versed in the most modern in solo piano music and for adventuresome souls in general. Well done!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Iris Trio, Homage and Inspiration, Works by Schumann, Kurtag, Mozart and Weiss

Inspiration from the classics, homage to their continued vitality for us. That is the central theme behind music from the considerably talented Iris Trio on their debut album, Homage and Inspiration (Coviello Classics COV92002). The program grew organically out of the trio's first appearances beginning in the Spring of 2013 when Christine Carter (clarinet), Molly Carr (viola) and Anna Petrova (piano) played their first concert as the Iris Trio at the German Consulate in New York. The program consisted of Robert Schumann's Marchenerzahlungen Op. 132 (Fairy Tales) and Gyorgy Kurtag's Hommage a R. Sch. Op. 15d, which paid tribute to Schumann with a Modern work utilizing the same instrumentation.

After that very first concert the Trio learned that the Mozartfest Wurzburg in Germany had commissioned Christof Weiss to write a new clarinet-viola-piano trio to pay homage to Mozart's "Kegelstatt" Trio K 498 with the identical instrumentation--the Drittes Klaviertrio fur Klarinette, Viola und Klavier "Gesprach unter Freunden." The threesome subsequently chosen to give the premier of that trio ended up being the Iris Trio and so in time all four works formed a double-pairing in an extended concert tour which culminated in this recording.

Add to that the additional aspect of it all--that Schumann in fact wrote the Marchenerzahlungen as a homage to Mozart and his Kegelstatt trio--and so we in fact here have a most extraordinary sequence of homages and inspirations.

The brilliant thematics of the program pull together the "classic" and the Modern with a continuity-commonality which nevertheless draws stylistic boundaries in that the "Modern" sounds more like the present than not--so that the homages and inspirations are real but not obviously quasi-quotational, instead subtle. That of course is how it should be. The compositional hand writes after having already moved on, so to speak.

The Weiss both temporally and stylistically place the most complex and virtuoso demands on the trio and they certainly and definitively rise to the occasion. Yet all four works in the end are performed with an articulate zeal that is as joyful in its expression as it is exacting in its execution. These are extraordinarily, mutually attuned practitioners that deserve our acclaim.  They take on the classic and the present-day with equal poise and authentic fluency. Bravo all concerned. A delightful offering in every way.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Vivaldi, Manchester Sonatas, Mark Fewer, Hank Knox

The very lively and out-ringing Canadian duo of Mark Fewer on violin and Hank Knox at the harpsichord give to us their impeccable and even exciting reading of Antonio Vivaldi's Manchester Sonatas (Leaf Music LM229 2-CDs), which rather incredibly were only made available to us in 1973 when they were found in a Manchester, England library. The complete Knox-Fewer recording fills two CDs with all twelve sonatas, each with four movements.

Vivaldi may have been more prolific as a composer than others and honestly at times some of it seems less indispensable than others. Happily The Manchester Sonatas do not belong to the less essential grouping. Each one has inventive drive and character that make them a welcome addition to Vivaldi at his best, lyrical or vital in turn, a joy to hear.

And part of that joy stems from just how good the Fewer-Knox Duo is at realizing this music. Mark Fewer plays without a vibrato, with a deeply, sweetly centered intonation and a straightforward musical energy that Hank Knox seconds with conviction. The harpsichord has the all-important role of realizing the harmonies and bass foundations of each movement and it is to his credit that nothing comes across as filler--but instead all sets up the musical stage so that Fewer's violin can come across with a vigorous robustness never sentimental but ever openly engaged and flourishing with animation.

The duo follow with this on the heels of their 2018 Bach Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord  which I have not heard but suspect (if it's anything like this one) it is very good.

The completely centered readings give this recording a decided edge that is as delightful to hear as it is to study and learn from. Recommended without hesitation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

David Felder, Les Quatre Temps Cardinaux, Laura Aikin, Ethan Herschenfeld, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

The BMOP (Boston Modern Orchestra Project) comes through with another very worthy release, David Felder (b. 1953) and his most ambitious and dramatic Les Quatres Temps Cardinaux (BMOP Sound 1069). It is led by Gil Rose and scored for a 40-person orchestra, soprano (Laura Aikin), bass (Ethan Herschenfeld) and a part for 12-channel surround electronic music. The work was composed in 2013-14 and first performed in concert by BMOP with the identical soloists in this recording.

An important component of the work are poetic texts by Rene Daumal (Les Quatres Temps Cardinaux or The Four Cardinal Times), Robery Creeley and Dana Gioia on the experience of lived time. The texts are variously sung, recited, abstracted into sound and otherwise serve as meaning clues and word analogs to the overall expressive-Modernistic musical flow.

The vocal-orchestral-electronic mix has a glorious complexity and an ambitious foregrounding one hears less frequently nowadays but is no less the welcome for its rarity. The combination of the various iterations of the poetry combined with the highly voluble syntactical whole of words and sound-color lucidity-abundance makes for exceptional listening. It is music not afraid of reaching for the stars as it simultaneously explores the many human poetic-soulful aspects of living existence.

The 45-minute, 12-part unfolding of the work sequence dramatically arcs through meaning universes that reflect on how life feels as time lives through us all. I will leave the poetic-semantic particulars to the listening experience. Suffice to say there is a dramatic thoughtfulness to the whole that affords us deep meaning and a most artful fullness in the end.

The level of expression is consistently vibrant with the capital /a/ of Modern Musical Arts ever present. The many faceted whole of this work benefits greatly by excellent recorded sound and magnificent performances by Aikin and Herschenfeld, with precision dramatics by Rose and the BMOP that give all the character one might hope for to this music. The BMOP triumphs in ways one can applaud without hesitation.

Felder gives us a uniquely personal reflection in a work that wears the cloak of our present time in a manner one can only hope future generations will look back upon with approval. This is a milestone work in heartfully moving performance. Hear this by all means.