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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Benedict Sheehan, Vespers, Eastern Orthodox Choral Music, The St. Tikhon Choir

 

This time of year always seems right for choral music--for obvious reasons. And so I am listening to something nicely turned and somewhat unexpected. That is Eastern Orthodox a cappella music for Vespers (Cappella Records CR423SACD) sung quite nicely by the Saint Tikhon Choir. It is the World Premiere recording of the 2021 full settings of Psalms composed by Benedict Sheehan. They are in the tradition of Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil.

What that means is that Eastern Orthodox chant elements are adapted to a melodic-harmonic later day earful. It is in the tradition and nice to hear.

If you like Eastern Orthodox liturgical vocals you will find this a nice addition. Or even if you do not! Recommended.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Dave Flynn, Irish Minimalism

 

On some level the Minimalist turn at times has been consonant with hypnotic repetitions in Folk music the world round. With composer Dave Flynn's recent release Irish Minimalism (FHR FHR116) we experience a chamber music that explicitly ties with traditional Irish Folk music and thereby injects a feel and form that both embraces and transcends conventional Minimalism. Of course Irish dance music and song have created a music universe that continues to thrive and was a wide-world influence way long before Minimalism came into the New Music scene.

Dave Flynn manages in this lively CD program to capture the energy, lyrical heft and compelling presence of traditional Irish music at the same time as he injects classical instrumentation and Minimalist flow into the sequencing. There can be a bagpipe like drone and phrasing that straddles folk and classical at times in ways that grab your attention and draw you into its orbit. Some sections are more firmly in Folk territory, some more solidly into a Minimalist sound, but it is nicely shifting, ever shifting.

The music makes use of Classical chamber ensembles (ConTempo Quartet, IMO Quartet, the uilleann pipes of Mick O'Brien and the folk-like vocals of Breanndan Begley. There is variety, variation and freshenings in the four works, variously titled "The Cranning" (String Quartet No. 1) "The Cutting" (Quintet No. 1 for Uilleann Pipes and String Quartet),  "The Keening" (String Quartet No. 3), and "Stories from the Old World" (for Voice, Pipes and Quartet).

In the end if you are like me you welcome the rightness and musicality of the hybrid and are glad for Dave Flynn's imaginative music. Recommended if the title intrigues you, for that is exactly what you get in nice ways. It all works together happily. Bravo!

Sunday, December 19, 2021

John Harbison, Diotima, Dawn Upshaw, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

 

I was happy to discover the music of John Harbison at the very beginning of my serious interest in New Music, thanks to some of the more adventurous releases  from labels like Nonesuch in their "golden age." I've managed to keep pace with many of the recordings that followed. Type his name in the search box above for my reviews of some of the gems that have come out in the last decade.

And as time marches on there is another new one and it is definitely good listening, another worthy release from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project directed by Gil Rose. The program consists of three especially expressive works, the first forming the title of the CD, Diotima (BMOP Sound  1083), the title work being Harbison's very first orchestral work (1976) followed by "Milosz Songs for Soprano and Orchestra" (2006) and "Symphony No.6," (2011) which the composer believes will be the last in his lengthy series of such pieces. The latter two works feature the exceptional soprano gifts of Dawn Upshaw.

In all three cases BMOP under Gil Rose devote great care and enthusiasm in bringing each work to life faithfully, revealing consistently Harbison's special High Modernist lucidity--in ways both advanced and lyrical, effectively sprawling in inventive beauty and imaginative orchestration girth.

The pure orchestral girth of the 1976 "Diotime" reminds us just how lucid he has been from the very beginning. The bookended recent works then give us the full flowering of the brilliance of Harbison's settings for soprano and orchestra, with the brilliancy of the "Milosz Songs" (2006) and the happily unexpected opening soprano and orchestral movement of the "Symphony No. 6" (2011).

This is music of a finely honed complexity that holds its own as a rare and masterful set of sonic adventures, beautiful New Music we can savor and grow with as we hear it the more.

This is music that forms a sonic paperweight to hold down the artistic fort, music worthy of a lifetime of consideration, a central conduit for the Modern possibilities in our current world. Molto bravo!

Richard Carr, Over the Ridge, String Quartet Music Out of the Pandemic and Beyond

 

With no doubt a certain amount of determination we face each week nowadays and look to the good things as we come across them. Today that certainly includes a recent album by composer-violinist Richard Carr, namely a set of interrelated movements for string quartet entitled Over the Ridge (Neuma Records 146). It all came about as Richard found himself in 2020 in COVID lockdown with a lot of time on his hands to make use of. He took advantage and created this set of twelve composed-notated works that stand together as a kind of counter reaction of something hopeful in the face of great uncertainty.

The music that comes to us in this program has a Contemporary tonal quality that is neither precisely pre-Modern nor High Modern nor even exactly Post-Modern--which is only to say that it feels like a very lyrical and folksy music of place, locality, of something we might have called in the pre-Pandemic the music of "home," only home is what remains when Not-home shrinks to a tiny fragment of its ordinary place.

So what does that sound like? Well it sounds like Richard Carr music that has folksy originality which in some way reminds me of Lou Harrison if Lou had never "gone World," so to speak, It is kind of primal modal in its own way, neither primarily repetitive though it has sections that open out of ostinato--but in a sort of open ethnicity of our present cosmopolis, how the local spans who we are right now.

All this so much so that I am not sure exactly what else to say except it seems like important music, delightful music well performed, and it is something you probably do not want to miss, even if it does not come careening out of some cyberspace in a far avant sort of way. By a refusal to follow any but its own dictates it gives us an alternative to the lockdown misery! Bravo.


Jeanne Golan, It Takes One to Tango, Works of Contemporary and Recovered Voices Composers, Solo Piano

 

The most valuable musicians and music people to me these days are those with the courage and insightful instincts when it comes to music we may have missed or not yet heard. In spite of periods in the last century or so where some felt it was a matter of recycling through the same, say 500 works, we now perhaps understand that the job of sifting through the many yet unheard works out there is never finished, for the reason that history is never about the exact same things endlessly repeating themselves, though sometimes it may feel like that!

And on that note we have today an excellent example of how an artist can weed through the many obscure items of past and present and come up with an unexpected and worthwhile blend of things we can grow into, grow with. I allude to a new CD by pianist Jeanne Golan entitled It Takes One to Tango: Works of Contemporary and Recovered Voices Composers (Steinway & Sons 30164).

It is piano music of character, more personally insistent than doctrinairely Modern, as personal as a signature or a special laugh maybe? At any rate it is a fine example of music we are glad to hear, played with a kind of devotion to the inner spectacle and special way of being that marks it all out.

Important to keep in mind that "Recovered Voices" according to the liners refers to "composers who were persecuted and often murdered as a consequence of the Nazi Regime." And in keeping with the title of the album all the pieces have direct or indirect reference to the Tango in its musical specialty, its rhythmic breadth and melodic-harmonic girth.

There is nothing superfluous, no space wasted, much music to come to know and appreciate, composers we may have far too little appreciation of, and in spite of what we think we know, there are surprises, happy ones contained within the 70-plus minutes playing time. Wanda Landowska, the "mother" of the modern harpsichord revival, gives us a short work that tantalizes, Toby Twining's "An American in Buenos Aires" appeals in a Golan arrangement for piano and toy piano, enchants in a bluesy directness. We get a goodly assortment of rediscovered casualties of the fascist refusal in the lively music of Wilhelm Grosz and Erwin Schulhoff, the latter in the substantial "Etudes de Jazz" of 1927. Then there are three captivating miniatures by Pablo Ortiz. All that is a good sample of the totality.

Ms. Golan shows how brightly, brilliantly musical and pianistic she is by virtually selflessly devoting all her focus to this endlessly interesting program. Viva her beautiful interpretive skills and her wonderful sense of discovery as she presents us with a delightful batch of things we might not have discovered were it not for her careful ear and critical soundness of judgement.

A topper of a program. There is every reason to like this one. Do not fail to give it your attention.




Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Amaro Dubois, Adoration, Music of the Americas, Viola-Piano Works by Price, Clarke, Coleridge-Taylor, Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, Guerra-Peixe, Fanny Mendelssohn, with Tingting Yao

 

I cannot always tell day-to-day what new musical treasures will await my ears, but there are ever good things. Today there is a fine and adventurous album by violist Amaro Dubois with pianist Tingting Yao, entitled Adoration: Music of the Americas (Spice Classics SR-101-56). 

The most apparent thing you notice is the very adventurous program of works, things that if you have not heard you are glad to or even if you have, it is a nice gathering of unexpected juxtapositions and very solid viola fare. It happens that I became quite enamored with the viola in my early listening years thanks to Walter Trampler. I still feel the same way so always glad to hear an excellent player unknown to me. Like you might come to expect from a violist of stature there is a woody, burnished deepness to Amaro's tone, and given the expressive qualities of much of the music there is an emotive sweetness that is not overblown but just right, a trim tautness coupled with a projective richness that makes the music sing out nicely. 

Dubois and Yao give poetically focused attention to works that are neglected treasures, many of them, and/or illuminating to our understanding of composers, regions. periods.

We get to hear a couple of gems by the now emergent Afro-American woman composer Florence Price, plus worthy but neglected works by Rebecca Clarke, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Astor Piazzolla, Cesar Guerra-Piexe and Fanny Mendelssohn. And then to remind us that there is a treasure trove of possible rearrangements of other works and composers  more well known, we hear a ravishing viola-piano version of Villa-Lobos's "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6."

In the end it is a pleasure to hear the brilliant musicianship of Dubois and Yao, as much as it is heartening to hear some wonderful music we are fortunate to experience today. Bravo!           

Gyorgy Kurtag, Six moments musicaux, Officium breve, Antonin Dvorak, String Quintet, Parker Quartet, Kim Kashkashian

 

Some of the best recordings in the New Music world combine brilliant compositions with special performances, vivid readings. Such things are in store for you on the recent CD by the Parker Quartet and Kim Kashkashian on viola, performing Gyorgy Kurtag's "Offiicium breve" and "Six moments musicaux" along with Dvorak's "Sextet, op. 97" (ECM New Series 2649).

The wonderfully Bohemian Dvorak "Sextet" has a great deal of sublime energy and the performance here has all the brio you might hope for, along with the lyric articulateness Dvorak often expects of a performance. This is a wonderful work and it never sounded better than here! If this was the lone item on this CD it would be a happy (if short) thing. But of course we get much more, two nicely contrasting High Modern forays by Gyorgy Kurtag, a composer to savor all the more as one hears his opus bit-by-bit.

His "Officium breve"" has deeply moodful ruminations that stand out as strikingly fashioned the more one listens. Like Berg before him, he can be on the cutting-edge as he is here, yet also extraordinarily expressive of mood and feeling. The all-but-hushed unfoldings give one a kind of eerie spaciousness, a feeling of journeying to a rare place of beauty and strangitude combined.

Kurtag's "Six moments musicaux" have more abstract expressive edges to them. They are in fact Modern with a capital /M/. You feel his mastery and complex forward momentum. This one doubtless is possibly one of the unsung high points in the chamber music of our times. In the very least it is essential listening, a sterling performance of a special work.

The Parker Quartet with Kashkashian seize the day and shine with luminescence and musicality. This is a triumph, and one of the finest chamber music releases of the year. Be sure and check it out if you can. Bravo.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Jerome Kitzke, The Redness of Blood

 

I do not suppose I need to remind readers how the integration of text-voices in all kinds of Modernist works can be an iffy proposition. It is a combination of course of composer and artist(s) and when it does not work it can even be a little painful. But then there are the good results and hurrah for them.

A very nice example just hitting the release stacks is an album of Jerome Kitzke music entitled The Redness of Blood (New World Records 80834-2). There are four chamber works to be heard on the program, two for a pianist who also sings, makes specific vocal sounds and recites text--starring nicely Lisa Moore and Sarah Cahill. Then there are two with six or seven artists who play and/or have vocal parts.

The music is a series of "Post-Modern," openly imaginative forays that show the composer can put together such things with a disarming good humor, an unpretentious idea of how these things can present themselves, sometimes even in a quasi-traditional Asian unity of expression and/or otherwise resourcefully Contemporary in outlook. The artists respond with a kind of natural expressiveness that puts everything together in nicely listenable ways. One thinks of how Crumb and perhaps how Stockhausen and Cage  have  done such things as precedent, though Kitzke remains consistently original in all of this. The voices can be percussive, articulated, wide-ranging in use of available speech sounds, and well integrated into the instrumental parts so that one feels like all this makes a special kind of sense reserved for inspired peaks in New Music of this kind. Oh and the press sheet mentions Harry Partch as well. Yes, I hear that, too. All in good, forward moving ways.

So who is Kitzke? He was born in 1955, which makes him roughly my age. He makes a music that again in the materials that came with the CD can be noted falls into a somewhat more simple expression than typical High Modernist works in this realm, yet too more transformative and mutable than typical Minimalism. And that betweenness embraces an invigorating vitality and continual possibility of transformation. 

Each work has its own momentum, its own trajectory and aural-semantic space. The two piano-voice works have a more directly presentative vibe about them. Kudos to Lisa Moore for her fine musico-dramatic wholeness on "Bringing Roses with Her Words" (2009) and Sarah Cahill for "There is A Field" (2008) with texts by Whitman and Rumi. Both handle the multi-faceted demands with a fabulous steady-state inspiration. Bravo. 

And the small ensemble works take that same down-to-earth idea of the voice in the ensemble and expand upon it, with some more intricate ensemble interactions by all with a goodly vocalization idea and lots of good instrumental parts. So I end up quite impressed with that too--"For Pte Tokabewin Ska" (2015) with text by Native American Charlotte Black Elk. And then the climax of it all, there is the title work "The Redness of Blood" (1994-95) and its full 26 minute unfolding. with five instrumentalists and simultaneous vocal parts in addition, and then another three vocalists. It is complicated and rewarding to hear, with a pronounced Native American feeling at times. It is very good listening as is the whole of this.

New World Records continues to offer an exemplary program of Modern Americana and this is a great example of how it works. Kitzke is it turns out an essential voice and this then is essential fare. It is born out of expressive need more so than a sort of formalist rigor. It works and it works very well indeed. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Mason, Muse, Barber and Rachmaninoff for Cello and Piano

 

Some music and artists seem promising straight off. That is what I felt opening up the mailer that contained cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason's album Muse (Decca B0034635-02), It is an interesting assortment of short songs--with the cello taking the vocal parts--and a Cello Sonata each, all by two Late Romantic composers from two edges of the Western world, namely Samuel Barber and Sergei Rachmaninoff, from the USA and from Russia, two composers I have long appreciated, both entering my music experience beginning with the earlier days of my exploration of Classical 20th Century music.

The artists are brother and sister and they have had the good fortune to be playing the two Sonatas repeatedly on tour during the Fall of 2019, The pandemic cut short any continuation of the tour but by then they had grown into the works by a kind of concerted osmosis. So indeed these works plus the selected songs seemed like the perfect material for their recorded debut. And here we have it!

Both composers have in common an Expressionist emotive quality and a wayward insistence that their music go its way with an intensely personal originality, each of course in different ways, partially because of the way their music worlds contrast as heritages.

Not surprisingly both composers give the duo carefully conceived and personal yet idiomatic expressions for cello and piano. And the songs come through too as wholly appropriate in the cello-piano adoptions.

I have already come to know and love the Rachmaninoff Sonata so I got to hear how their interpretation differs from ones I have heard. I must say the flow and feelingful poise is in all ways worthy and first-rate. Though unfamiliar up until now with the Barber sonata it too convinces in its whole-cloth grasp of what is lurking inside every note.

There is nothing but good things to say about this program and the beautifully poetic presence of the Kanneh-Mason siblings. This is one to savor, in solitude or with some good people. This is Modern music that seeks a beauty we sometimes leave behind in our Space Age of being. Regain some of it here. Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Jose Antonio Bottiroli, Complete Piano Works 2, Nocturnes, Fabio Banegas

 

Who? Jose Antonio Bottiroli (1920-1990) an Argentinian native, composer of piano music with an exploratory gentleness that we hear most vividly in the recent CD Complete Piano Works 2: Nocturnes (Grand Piano GP871) world premiere recordings nicely played by Fabio Banegas, the composer's protégé. They reflect in part Bottiroli's sun soaked holiday home in Los Cocos, Cordoba Province, Argentina. It is lyrical, Impressionistic in its own way, an Argentinian Satie, Grieg or Chopin with his own special originality and incisive expression.

In all the program contains 16 Nocturne miniatures stemming from 1974-1984, and then "Cinco Replicas Para Piano "1974-80, which consists of six probing poems by the composer as recited by Star Trek's George Takei, followed in each case by a piano movement in response.

It is all good, Refreshingly unpretentious, disarming, it comes off as sincere and carefully inventive. The more you listen, the more you find it all rather enchanting, or I do anyway. I recommend it to all 20th Century Moderns who love a well turned solo piano piece, and of course those who want to get a handle on what was going on in South America last century. Either way you will find music to savor and appreciate.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Knights, The Knights Before Christmas

 

Those of you who are musically sensitive like I am go through the Winter Holidays with an undiminished need for stimulating musical experiences, yet of course the many Christmas carols, some better than others, are subjected to innumerable arrangements for better or ill, and then too of course our musical memories draw sometimes rich associations with particular songs and versions, not to mention the Classical staples of the season, by Handel and Bach among others.

Since I am sent various things of a seasonal sort I try and listen to them and if any stand out write something about them on my blog pages. And so today a CD someone kindly sent that strikes me as being ultra-musical and so quite welcome.

It is by a musical outfit dubbed the Knights and the album is called The Knights Before Christmas (Bright Shining Things BSTC-0159), 

In some ways the impetus for more recordings of Christmas music in your life is a means to connect present with the holiday experience while more or less reconnecting the past with the present. While the songs are often enough old and familiar, the version are new and ideally regenerating.

I cannot say that is not the case with this one, for each is freshly arranged for a chamber orchestra and at tines one or more female vocalists. The arrangements are full throated without being overly sentimental. I post it on the "Classical" blog because the orchestral approach will no doubt appeal to classicists. So Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts classic "Christmas Time is Here" sounds rejuvenated in this female vocalist and orchestral rendition, as does "Deep in Bleak Midwinter" and the Asian sounding arrangement of "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

There are a few things I do not recognize and good for that since we need something new every year we hope. If you need some names attached to this music, what about Krystie Warren, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Magos Herrera, Gaby Moreno, Wu Man and the folk trio I'm with Her? 

"Another Lonely Christmas" has a sort of Joni Mitchell flavor to it, though rather dark and filled with feelings of loss. It is good music nonetheless. 

In the end the nicely apportioned arrangements give us music with something of a new life. The version of "Christmas Time is Here" alone is worth the price of admission, for it reminds us (or me anyway) that the song can travel far from its Peanuts origin and sound great all by itself. As a whole the album stands apart from the typical as music of a special sort.


Monday, November 29, 2021

Dai Fujikura, Glorious Clouds

 

If you are alert to what is going on these days you might know something of the music of Dai Fujikura. I reviewed his Zawazawa on these pages last September 25, 2019 (see index for that one). And now I am happy to be listening to his new two-CD set Glorious Clouds (Sony Music Labels SICX 10012-3). Like Takamitsu before him, he can incorporate traditional Japanese elements into his music while transforming them completely into his own New Music vision. And he extends the Modern vocabulary in ways both personal and brilliant.

The new music set is bracingly varied and diverse in combinations and expressions. Sandwiched between the orchestral gems "Glorious Clouds" and "Ghost of Christmas" is a wealth of musical worlds: the electric guitar of Prog meets New Music via Danlel Lippel performing "Sparkling Orbit," solo recorder on "Serene," solo horn on "Uniuni," then the koto and voice of Muyo Kumera, a Shamisen Concerto, New Music for five Shakuhachi, solo violin with motion sensor, chamber music with two clarinets, song form for soprano and piano, solo marimba, solo double bass, solo viola and solo contrabass clarinet.

What is perhaps the most remarkable about all this is how the music manages to sound idiomatic for the instruments at hand and yet refreshingly free of formula or predictability.

The twenty minute title cut for orchestra gives you a wonderful place to start with dramatic atmospherics and a sense of mystery and wonder.

All performances are first-rate and in the end you can only feel like you have been in the presence of a musical mind that seems literally endlessly inventive. Hurrah for all this. Listen all you who want a bead on what is NEW in New Music. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

George Crumb, Metamorphoses, Books I & II, Marc Antonio Barone

 

George Crumb is one of our most important living composers, as a 100% original on the Modern New Music scene in our lifetime. Perhaps he is best known for his multi-volume, sprawling, brilliant solo piano work Makrokosmos. I have over many years found it endlessly fascinating, rewarding, and dramatically moving. It epitomizes Crumb's innovative conception of the solo grand piano as a deep, nearly orchestral sound color generator. The combination of conventional piano sounding with strumming the strings, dampening the struck notes, the use of the sustain pedal for a cavernous resonance, placing objects on the strings, a heightened and unhurried sense of silence and sound, of musical events opening up the listener to a special world both periodic and intermittent. All these elements combined with Crumb's sure sense of dramatic narrative and a non-Western sense of aural space at the same time as it made the Makrokosmos a masterwork of its time that still has the capacity to enthrall and mesmerize.

The good news is that Crumb continues to write for the piano, his most recent and interesting are the two book opus written from 2015-2020, a grand and richly detailed solo work entitled Metamorphosis, Twenty Fantasy Pieces (after Celebrated Paintings) for Amplified Piano. We are fortunate that the entire work has been nicely recorded, as sympathetically performed by pianist Marc Antonio Barone (Bridge 9551).

All of the hallmark technical innovations of the earlier piano works continue to get attention here, along with little vocalisms and atmospheric percussion punctuations both on the piano and articulated on small ancillary percussion instruments as played by the pianist in the course of the work.

Each movement is  a musical analogue of a special, usually well known painting, mostly stemming from the Modern period. So we get one or more movements for various paintings by Whistler, van Gogh, Klee, Chagall, Johns, Gauguin, Dali, Kandinsky,, Andrew Wyeth, Dinnerstein, Picasso, O'Keeffe.

The performances are excellent, the music everything you might expect from Crumb and the piano solo genre he has perfected, only a step further into the future present. Grab it and enjoy. It is a wonderful addition to the Crumb oeuvre. 

 


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Britten, Milhaud, Finzi, Strauss, Music for Piano and Orchestra, Joshua Pierce, Kirk Trevor

 

Of music there can be no end, so long as there is a humanity to make it. And as long as I am here I will be glad to hear it, any of it that's worthwhile. So this morning I turn to something recent that I appreciate quite a bit. It is pianist Joshua Pierce and either the Slovak State Chamber Orchestra of Zilina or the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislawa, both under conductor Kirk Trevor. They join together in a program of 20th century music for piano and orchestra (MSR Classics MS 1756), all fitting together quite nicely as very musical tone paintings with the emphasis less on overt virtuosity so much as musical fullness and depth. So none of the works have gotten all that much concert representation of late, not that I know of anyway, perhaps because they do not have much of the bravado of a typical concerto? 

At any rate the music has an infectious verve and energy about it all, and does not strike one as Modern in the capital /m/ sense so much as a kind of Neo-Classical sometimes, and on occasion slightly Neo-Romantic in passion or frisson? And then perhaps a hint of Impressionism too? 

Each piece deserves our attention and interest, even if some we might not have heard so much in our lifetimes. The fact that Pierce gives them a concentrated and playful attention that the orchestra matches is all told an excellent reason why one should take this release quite seriously, and happily so at that.

It is all good. Beginning with Britten's striking "Young Apollo for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 16" we traverse a wide swatch of fully enthralling music. The Britten reminds us how adept an orchestral colorist he was. Then we move into rather unfairly obscure Milhaud "Le Carnaval D'Aix," then the rarely heard gem of Finzi's "Eclogue for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 10" and finally Richard Strauss' "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Orchestral Suite, Op. 60" which in part breaks from the typical Richard Straussian mode to instead give us a more Neo-Classical way than we are accustomed to hear in him, and that is refreshing.

And all in all--crisply articulate and refreshing is the program as a whole. Bravo Pierce, bravo Trevor and bravo orchestras. This one is a charmer and a welcome addition to 20th century piano and orchestra possibilities! Hear it and I think it will get you going.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Amanda Gookin, In This Skin, Forward Music Project 2.0, New Music for Solo Cello

 

The old adage about the importance of how ("It Ain't What You Do It's the Way That You Do It" as the Jimmie Lunceford Band recorded it long ago) seems to apply meaningfully to the recording up for review today--cellist Amanda Gookin's In This Skin (Bright Shiny Things BSTC 0456), being the second in Gookin's "Forward Music Project" Series, which in total aims to present  and "promote radical empathy and feminine empowerment" as the liner notes put it. You might call them "character pieces" I think. In the end they all express an aspect of a strongly feminine outlook, and that convincingly, not just any old way.

What strikes one as one first listens is how much the five compositions, each designed expressly for the artist and presented to us as premier recordings, how much each work fits into an expressive and intimate series of "sketches," all of which include a demanding solo cello part, vocals either pitched in song and/or recited as literary texts, all that come to terms with the tensile strength of being a determined woman in the world today. Each work was designed to challenge Ms. Gookin to encounter performance artistry a bit out of her comfort zone, with extended techniques, vocal interjections and electronic world building effects, all of which hold together remarkably well. Joining her effectively in cameo rolls are Chelsea Loew and Solmaz Badri on vocals for the opening work, and Sxip Shirey on electronics for the work by Paola Prestini.

Every piece in its own way identifies a world of self-knowledge, courage, determination to prevail. And so we encounter the strengths of an immersion in the now by talented contemporaries Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Alex Temple, Ms. Prestini as mentioned above, Kamala Sankaram and Shelley Washington.

The absolute artistic success of the entire endeavor is somewhat of a rare thing, given the ambition to combine a literary set of poetic communications that go together with vocal text and song, electronics and beautifully articulated cello performances. On one she adds a kick drum and that works, too. Ms. Gookin plays each one of these like she lives heartily in the contemporary now and is uniquely qualified to express it all for us with exceptional understanding and artistry. No doubt we live in an era when the confessions of straight white men have become tiresome, though of course that can be a political weapon as much as ever? Amanda Gookin and her composer colleagues help us put all of that out of mind to appreciate an authentic set of identity character pieces that work on numerous levels at once and do not sound forced or artificially eager in ways that might not convince.

That says a great deal of Amanda Gookin and these very capable and now-some composers. It is New Music with NEW out front and in advance, happily. Very recommended.


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Christian Wolff, 3 String Quartets, Quatuor Bozzini

 

At this later date in the scheme of things the main composers in the John Cage School might be taken for granted, though it is a mistake to do so. As time goes on it is clear that Morton Feldman, Earl Brown and  Christian Wolff over time forged their own identity and should at this point be listened to for themselves. That applies to Christian Wolff as much as any of them. Perhaps even more, since he has not always gotten his due, even as we consider all three. He still lives and has continued to develop into his very own stylist. I have reviewed some of his things on here that hold their own (type his name in the search box for relevant articles). And now we have another album that adds considerably to our knowledge of his music both recent and somewhat less recent.

So today we have a program of Three String Quartets (New World Records 80830-2), three World Premier recordings of as many quartets, played ably and impressively by Quatuor Bozzini. As Michael Pisaro-Liu tells us in the liner notes to this album, Wolff beginning in the '60s began to refigure, to re-emphasize key musical elements in a kind of re-thinking of chamber music. Specifically Pisaro-Liu notes how he "created music in which the activity of the performers--timing, cuing, assembling and selecting materials--were foregrounded" in more pronounced ways than might be typical in classical chamber works up until then.

All those considerations are in the end rather complex to try and address in a short little article such as this one. Suffice oi say that the music as presented here show formative and at times deep roots with that set of idea-processes.

The three quartets focused upon here show themselves as products of the three slices of time they represent and were composed within. So each of the works, the opening "String Quartet Exercises Out of Songs" (1974-76), "For Two Violinists, violists and  cellist" (2008), and "Out of Kilter (String Quartet 5)" (2019), all have their own individual identities and flairs, such as the folksy Americana and special juxtapositions in "Out of Songs" and the winning forays into Modernist abstraction contrasting with patches of straightforward, plain-spoken tonality.

And in the end it is as much a matter of when as it is of what--hence the centrality of performers as mentioned above. Each of these quartets sound like nothing else and they do not so much sound like the other two either. It is a rare and singular originality to be heard here and the Quatuor Bozzini plays them like they belong to them--which in fact they do. A strong recommendation I give this program. It is what "Modern" can sound like today! And very compellingly so.


Friday, November 5, 2021

Brett Deubner, Mother Earth, Music for Viola and Piano, with Allison Brewster Franzetti

 

The more time passes the more music evolves, it seems. Right now for example I've been getting an awful lot of music that is very lyrically and sometimes even ritually tonal, like maybe Satie and Arvo Part have more importance in our world than they used to--as an influence? Well here is another example of such things, another happy example. It features the very talented violist Brett Deubner in a program of lyrical works of today and just yesterday. He teams up nicely with pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti in a very sympathetic and able musical partnership. The album is called Mother Earth: Works for Viola and Piano (Navona NV6351).

Deubner and Franzetti have put together a program that includes a couple of Arvo Part staples in "Fratres" (1977) and "Spiegel Im Spiegel" (1978), perhaps not as the very best performances I've heard of these gems, but individual in their own way and quite nice. Then they give us a lot to consider with six more works quite recent, from 2007 through 2020. You may or may not recognize some of the composer's names, but the music will doubtless please you as it did me. So the duo richly comes forward with wonderful readings of music by Polina Nazaykinskaya, Johan Hugosson, Judith Markovich, Amanda Harberg, Ola  Gjeilo, and Maurizio Bignone.

A couple of these were expressly written for Brett Deubner. Either way though, Dubner and Franzetti triumph and we are all the better for it. The album gives much to explore and quite happily so. Very recommended.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

High Low Duo, Ravel & Bartok, Jack Petruzzelli and Cameron Greider

 

Transcriptions and rearrangements of classical works for different instruments and instrument combinations have been a constant part of the music world ever since the Middle Ages. The piano was often enough a popular transcription choice in the days when the parlor piano was a staple of Euro-American everyday life and a reasonably skilled pianists were common enough in music loving families--so that sheet music sales of such things were a good bet if a particular opera or orchestral work was well known enough that a piano version would appeal as a way to rehear at leisure in the home such a work. But versions for two guitars were understandably not a common thing.

So all the more welcome for its rare quality as well as its excellence is the album by the High Low Duo (Jack Petruzzelli and Cameron Greider) entitled Ravel & Bartok (Sono Luminus SLE-70023). It has a nicely balanced program of the well known (a version of Ravel's "Ma mere L'Oye" or "Mother Goose,") and the somewhat lesser known but equally vibrant in six of Bartok's "44 Duos for Violin".as arranged for two electric guitars.

The guitarists sought to utilize the special qualities of the electric guitar (as over and above the "classical" acoustic guitar) to match and further the composer's aural conceptual structure in each case. I must say the duo gives us convincing sound color manipulation and in so doing breathes new life into the music and its sonic possibilities.

Greider and Petruzzelli impress greatly with their virtuoso sound and control. Every bar of this program is a delight. Molto bravo! Hear this one!



Mozart, Piano Concertos, Vol. 3, K.449, K.595, Anne Marie McDermott, Odense Symfoniorkester, Sebastian Lang Lessing

 

Music, I am thinking, can be at either end of a spectrum, depending. One music is basically all compositional, another, depending on how you look at it, can be all performance, in its impact on you. So for the former for me it is Electronic Music for magnetic tape. The performance IS the composition. The final product is in a way pure structured sound without a performer intervening, most of the time. Pure performance for me depends on what I already know. In the case of today's beautifully done CD of Mozart Piano Concertos, Volume 3 (Bridge 9538), namely Concertos Nos. 14 and 27 showcasing Anne Marie McDermott as piano soloist with the very capable Odense Symfoniorkester under Sebastian Lang Lessing, it is understandably the performance that is key, since I already know and love the works themselves. Of course Mozart wrote them as vehicles of his piano virtuosity and we listen now as the living generations of music talents give us their interpretation. Of course were they not the masterpieces they are we would not pay much mind to the performances.

And of course if they have done their work well we are given a renewed appreciation of Mozart's brilliant music. Anne Marie McDermott has a beautifully singing, bright toned poise in all she does. And the Odense Symfoniorkester under Lessing sounds peppy, inspired, almost folksy, and very lyrical.

All told the volume here is hard to beat for straight up majesty and joyful singing, weaving and savory attention to every detail. Highly recommended.



Sunday, October 31, 2021

Stewart Goodyear, Phoenix, Solo Piano Works Modern and Classic Alike

 

Compositions featured on this album:

Stewart Goodyear "Congotay"

Jennifer Higdon "Secret and Glass Gardens"

Anthony Davis "Middle Passage"

Steward Goodyear "Panorama"

Debussy "La Cathedrale Engoloutie"

Debussy "L'Isle Joyeuse"

Mussorgsky "Pictures at an Exhibition"


Trinidadian Caribbean rooted pianist Stewart Goodyear shows his enormous virtuoso musicality and adept contrast of style and mood on his latest, an album of piano solos called Phoenix (Bright Shiny Things BSTC 0154). His two compositions act as bookends for the program--"Congotay" and "Panorama" have irresistible rhythmic drive and syncopation that show vibrant connections with traditional Caribbean, Trinidadian, and primal Jazz roots. They are happy wonders and show a side of Goodyear that puts him in a league of his own. 

Beyond that are a series of works that embrace our current Modernity and twentieth century gems, some staple of the repertoire along with fresh new music. The solo piano version of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" is one of the very best I have heard. It does not fall victim to the sometimes ultra-clangorous readings one tends to hear. The whole of it has brilliant phrasings and perfectly appropriate sound color pianisms.

The several Debussys have the poetic expressive qualities one hopes for in this music. And for the later Modernisms, the Jennifer Higdon and Anthony Davis works are given very sympathetic and flawlessly executed readings. Bravo! Listen to Mussorgsky's "Dance of the Un-hatched Chicks" for some almost incredible velocity and "swing"! Just great is what that is!

So there you have it. An outstanding pianist savoring a cornucopia of solo piano goodies. You really should check this one out if you are piano-oriented, or even if not! Brilliant!



Douglas J. Cuomo, Seven Limbs, with Nels Cline and the Aizuri Quartet

 

Of the new there is no end. Our Modern music turns and bends Pretzel like in a never ending panorama that parades before our ears if we are fortunate to get to hear it all. Such a thing continues happily for, today an album of chamber music by Douglas J. Cuomo featuring guitarist Nels Cline and the Aizuri String Quartet. Seven Limbs (Sunnyside SSC 1641) is both the title of the CD and the seven-sectioned, 18 part work that the recording contains.

There is a kind of magic in the blend of Nels Cline's electric guitar and the sonorous strings of the Aizuri Quartet. The liners draw our attention to something Miles Davis said that is worth reproducing here as well. Great art happens, he said, "If you put a musician in a place where they have to do something different from what they do all the time." Something like that happens when guitarist Nels Cline and the Aizuri Quartet are in some ways relied upon to accomplish the equivalent of a high wire act, inspired by the Buddhist "Seven Limbs" form of dwelling upon the turn of the wheel of dharma, a virtuoso series of situations for the group that require improvisatory and spontaneous togetherness that mark out a kind of spiritual pilgrimage in musical sound.

Like the quartet we covered the other day, Ruo's "A Dust in Time," there are long and  sometimes slow ostinatos that underpin a continual exploration of tonal reaching forward, chant-like, Expressionistic torrents and everything in between. Nels Cline comes through with a beautiful reading and extension of it all, with guitar work that suggests jazz and fusion but ultimately harnesses the energy to compliment the quartet's exciting effusion of dramatic sound. It is music that has moments of thoughtfulness, or kinetic drama, endurance, resistance, turmoil, euphoria, stillness.

Like Ruo's music of several days back, this post-post Modern approach is something that feels intimate as you live with it. We all have had a certain amount of suffering in the past few years. This music recognizes how hard it has been, maybe, and tries to speak beautifully consoling tones for you to live within. Bravo!


Apollo Chamber Players, With Malice Toward None, Globally Inspired Music

 

The last several review articles make for interesting comparisons, and now for a second offering in the string quartet Post and Post-Post Modern realm. (There is a third that is written and will be proofed and posted today as well.) Here we have the Apollo Chamber Players and their "Globally Inspired Music" in an album entitled With Malice Toward None (Azica  ACD71340).

One thing that can be said straight off the bat, and that is that the Apollo Chamber Players are to be warmly commended for the adventurous programming. All five works go to interesting places. We get a determined tonality and a kind of eclectic stance that appropriates music of the heritage of the vernacular, and thereby deliberately strays into places decidedly beyond the purity of purpose that bleep-bloop High Modernism has given us. They acknowledge the whole earth approach to the music in the subtitle "Globally Inspired Music." It is that, interestingly so.

This includes Euroamerican Rock elements, Western Folk and Songwriter influences, Armenian Folksongs, and finally a kind of synthesis of Eastern European, Far Eastern and American Folk elements. The Apollo and their special guests prove themselves ideally suited to the repertoire they have carefully chosen, kind of a furtherance of Kronos and the changing music soundscape.

First up is J. Kimo Williams and a take on the furtherance of riffing and rocking with the quartet and the rather psychedelic electric violin of guest Tracy Silverman, all attractively put together on the title work.

Pamela Z contributes her voice, electronics and an immersion in Joni Mitchell's classic "All I Want" among other things. I sometimes have a little difficulty with Minimal vocal repetitions but once I get past that she plays with the song in an intriguing way, then moves on to a abstract dissection of a hoary old folksong ("500 Miles") and etc. Once one gets past the vocal insistence there is some very attractive string abstractions that recall the originals yet stray into the world at large today. There is a high level of invention that helps offset the momentarily rote-ish vocal cycles.

Christopher Theofanidis and Mark Wingate begin their "What is the Word 20x2020 No. 11" (2017) with a start and stop poetry recitation composition, then derive inspiration from the spoken word with six rather beautiful movements for the quartet and the voice electronically transformed.

Matthew J. Detrick and the Apollo players do a fine job arranging for quartet (plus guest viola) Komitas & Astamazyan's "Themes of Armenian Folksongs." Anyone (like me) who loves the Armenian melodic-harmonic universe will no doubt love these as I did.

Eve Beglarian's "We Will Sing One Song" combines eastern (Armenian) percussion with strings and the duduk, a double-reed instrument also from Armenia. The music is very exciting, interesting, folk based without being directly folk-phrased. Then again the ensemble breaks after a time into a very unusual version of the Stephen Foster song "My Old Kentucky Home" and it is beautifully, wildly unexpected.

In the end there is much to like on this album once you get past some of the more repetitive vocal moments. The Apollo players are absolutely winning in their dedicated and full-blushed readings. And the music gives us some unexpected twists and happy outcomes involving the very contemporaneous sounds. Bravo, bravo!



Sunday, October 24, 2021

Huang Ruo, A Dust in Time (Passacaglia for Strings), Del Sol Quartet

 

In this sometimes grifting, drifting, blistering world we are in today, there perhaps is nothing quite so honest and direct than an album of New Music presented with care, with nothing but the music in general and, one ever hopes, something we will respond to, will like, something to want to hear again and again. New Music is a true element of our freedom from undue coercion, a thing to consider with never a hard sell.. In a world where people compose freely, listen freely, and ideally all are rewarded in kind, not in riches so much as to find a place in what the present-day may be self-remembered for, one hopes.

That hits me as I listen to the Del Sol Quartet performing A Dust in Time (Passacaglia for Strings)  by Huang Ruo (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0158). This is a full-length work divided into 13 sections, each of which flows to the next with a supercharged lyrical set of quietly reminiscent and sad but transcendent slow suspensions and unfoldings .Altogether the work makes for a beautiful, never ending mood that avoids the sort of rote repetition of orthodox Minimalism, but lingers on something that builds on a crawlingly slow ostinato, puts us onto very widely spanning  in ways perhaps more vaguely familiar more as chant structured than overtly hypnotic recalls. In time the music moves in melodic motion beyond the already stated and follows a wide arc in a kind of hour-long quasi a-b-a axis..

In this way Ruo creates a never-ending largo that the composer builds forward with, never exactly moving ahead in time nor exactly static. And as we listen we feel the opening up of a musical space.

Ruo explains what led to this haunting work: "Most of us have experienced moments during this global crisis where time and space seemed to be slowed or frozen. This special piece is created for the people affected by the pandemic, giving them a piece of music to reflect, to express, to mourn, to bury, to heal, to find internal peace, strength and hope," The hour long work Ruo suggests might be expereinces as a Tibetan Sand Mandala, created slowly from a center, expanding outward to a "colored fullness, and then to be subtracted from it inwards back to the central essence point"  in a life cycle-like movement from nothing to a fullness and then back to an emptiness. The journey from a kind of dust to a life affirming expression and then back to the nothingness again has the aim of creating an "internal peace laying in the heart."

All that makes sense as the Del Sol Quartet give us this contemporary passacaglia of labyrinthian growth and returning stasis. The CD comes with a cosmic coloring book meant to help the listener obtain a sort of aural and visual completeness. As the unfolding process takes place.

As the liners tell us, Ruo draws upon a wide variety of influences, from Chinese ancient folk music to avant experimental noise, processual sound, rock and various classical genre traditions, then too installation art, all meant to combine into a cross-referenced and special whole.

As one listens one gradually realizes that everything Ruo intended comes off well, thanks to his an overarching conceptual constancy and the well healed reading by the Del Sol Quartet.

It no doubt must find each listener in a receptive earnestness of openness for it to have its way. It is a most welcome peace one can gain by intended focus. It refuses to copy so much as it re-creates the aural world need to transcend the pandemic. And it does.`

This is as insistent to be itself as anything around these days. And you end up appreciating it a lot of you are like me. Bravo Del Sol. Bravo Huang Ruo!





Thursday, October 21, 2021

Tod Machover, Death and the Powers, Soloists and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

 

No doubt many readers will be familiar with the pathbreaking Electronic Music compositions of Tod Machover. Perhaps you might be less familiar with his music that combines live instruments and voices with electronics. Regardless there is reason to take notice in the face of the recorded world premier of Machover's legendary one-act opera Death and the Powers (BMOP Sound 1082), featuring a talented cast of vocalists (including baritone James Maddalena) along with electronics realized in the MIT Media Lab, plus the always focused Boston Modern Orchestra Project, all under conductor and music director Gil Rose.

The poetic and dramatic libretto is the handiwork of US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. I will not attempt to summarize it, as the libretto is included in the CD package. Suffice to say that its quasi-bildungsroman apocalyptic robot cosmos is richly detailed and gives Machover an evocative potential that helps him create a highly dramatic expressionism, a beautiful transcendence of outstanding musicality.

The entire one act opera fills our ears remarkably at some 80-some-odd minutes. It is through composed in a highly Modern chromatic and/or newly  inventive tonal manner, with some beautiful electronics mixing wonderfully well with the fully fleshed out vocal parts and the colorful and powerful expression of the orchestration. Everything comes to us with a highly effective deliberate phrasing that works  with true elegance and impresses dramatically. The more you listen to this one, the more you hear--and that in the best sense since the intricate expression comes alive with repeated earfuls. All components stand out in themselves and as part of the totality.

I very strongly recommend this album. It shows just how complete a conceptualist is Machover, how finely developed his orchestrational sensitivities are. Kudos! Bravo! A wonderful work and the performance is equally definitive. Do listen to this one, get it!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Julia Den Boer, Kermes, New Music for Solo Piano by Four Woman Composers Who Deserve to Be Better Known

 

The ever opening panorama of New Music shows no sign of fading away. And there are some strides being made out there for novel and encouraging works appearing before us in a pretty steady stream of new releases. One to take seriously and listen to with absorption is pianist  Julia Den Boer's Kermes (New Focus Recordings FCR311). It introduces to us four women composers and four new works deserving our attention--"Deserts" by Giulia Lorusso, "The Underfolding" by Linda Catlin Smith, "Reminiscence" by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and "Crimson" by Rebecca Saunders.

These are composers not yet household names. I've covered quite a few by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and a piece here and there by Linda Catlin Smith and Rebecca Saunders (type their names in the search box above for reviews).

The music has an adventuresome streak, It avoids the atonal bleep-bloop pointillism of High Modernism, though its harmonic-melodic sense embraces everything from ritualistic radical tonality to an edgy expansionist ambiguity. In a way it is beyond Modernism per se but also does not fall directly into the post-Modern Minimalist possibility. It does not ignore all of that which went before but nonetheless carves out a series of personal niches that are eminently pianistic and nicely suited to Julia Den Boer's virtuosity in latent potency and her genuine dedication to the piano as a kind of art form necessary and sufficient unto itself.

"The Underfolding" has a hypnotic continually recurring chord cluster that plays off a Satian-Cagean-Feldmanesque melody line that evokes without imitating, that converges in its paradoxically moving stasis. It is a wonderfully suspended temporary anomaly so to speak Ms. Den Boer handles beautifully the dream-like suspension that underpins the stricture of the work. It is an enchanted world we find our way into and it ravishes.

"Reminiscence" has a matching cosmic outlook of suspensions and repetitions interspersed with unique note responses that vary and open up the aural field.

"Crimson" sets up a more jagged sounding of clusters that interrelate at the same time as they unfold in ways that surprise and stray far beyond simple repetition.

Last but not least there is the opening Guilia Lorusso "Deserts" which adopts the pointillistic High Modernist rangy leaps and silence, and then makes something more hypnotic out of it. From, there the work rolls into a continual two-handed rhythmic density that has just the continuity needed thanks to Julia Den Boer's acrobatic virtuosity. This is a work to savor!

But then it all has plenty of substance to sink oneself into. Julia Den Boer triumphs and each work stands out as a worthy new gesture in high art. Do not miss this! New piano music thrives here! Listen!


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Voces 8, Infinity

 

Each day we go forward and with any luck learn good things. Musically that is ever the case in my life. Today we have something not entirely expected, but then once the music plays a number of times it starts to sound like some part of home, the home of the contemporary world, the Modern as it twists and turns in ways we never thought around, say, 1974.

It is voces8 and their enchanting voices giving us a 15-work program entitled Infinity (Decca 4851626). Their website tells us that the album "embraces renowned composers alternative, film and contemporary classical music" for voices, and at times accompanying instrumental parts. Eight works were specially commissioned for the album, while the remaining are "choral versions of calming instrumental pieces."  Now that "calming" aspect might be telegraphic for some kind of "New Age" mélange, but serious listening to this program affirms that the musical content is by no means facile and purely functional.. Plenty of effort and musical inspiration has gone into this music as a whole.

In other words the program plants its stylistic flag squarely into a kind of Postmodern ambiance, a rather meditative spatial emission. Now I like most everybody these days recognizes a planetary malaise that can heighten all kinds of anxious thoughts, fears, worries, and if some music promises to counter that, are we to reject such a thing in the interest of High Modernist insistence? Probably not. It is our call. And I do not mind the idea of something sprawling spatio-temporally outward to a calm place.

An old friend years ago announced to me that he had basically had it with the Avant Garde in music because he already felt a kind of misery of life and, he went on. "Who needs to hear that all over again in the music?" What I said then in response is not relevant to today, really. Of course with the advent of the Postmodern per se, Brian Eno's ambiance, even some of the later works of Cage, well one might find plenty of music made since 1975 give or take, music that pulls the shade down on dissonance and fire in favor of something potentially soporific but then has the challenge of being contentful, structurally sound, syntactically perhaps looking far back into the Early Music worlds as it also carves out a vision of the futuristic present.

What could be wrong with that in those simple terms? And do we need to assert then, like my friend unfortunately did, that we should abandon music that challenges our sense of confluence and rips asumder the staid musical worlds it had tried to replace on some level? Certainly not. I've said this before but think about it differently--if we get away from musical considerations for a minute, we would be perhaps too extreme if we, for example  decided that all movies from this point forward were to avoid tension, dramatic horror, contrary plot suspense? Probably a bad idea.

So my response to the music on this program is not supposed to be an advocation that this music replaces other styles. Iti s rather than it can stand along other altogether different things and not be the everything in music that we perhaps increasingly find an outmoded idea? 

If along the way this album might prove popular to listeners who would perhaps avoid the Modern music worlds of the higher octane dissonant  realms like they might avoid watching "Psycho?" Well probably but that does not force us to follow in those footsteps.ourselves. I  might venture to say that even Elevator Music of the '50s at its best might be heard with some pleasure, without assuming the genre has some right of hegemony over our musical tastes.

So the music comes to us not as some obligation, but more as a gift, free to receive and enjoy. So we hear some 15 miniatures by people you may or may not know of, Sophie Hutchings, Slow Meadow, Jon Hopkins, Porkell Sigurbjornsson, Johann  Johannsson,  Kelly Lee Owens &Sebastian Plano, Olafur Arnalds, Anne Lovett, Benjamin Rimmer, Ola Gjeilo, Stephen Barton, Nainita Desai, Hildur Gudnadottir, A Winged Victory for the Sullen and finally Luke Howard. All in common is the kind of placid Ritual Tonality and sometimes a tinge of early music spatiality, some reaching out after a few listens and staying with you, others take a bit more focus but altogether we get a distinct mode locality, a planar expanding outwards for a beautifully lucid chamber vocal group of extraordinarily consistent lyricality.

After a good number of listens the music retains its consonance but began to stand out as content worthy, a goodly ways beyond what New Age requires of its composers. If this was the music we were somehow required to like to the exclusion of all else, I would probably balk. Given our ear freedom that is not the case, and so this becomes a pleasant change of mood and a substantial batch of chamber choral music that should appeal to a good number of folks out there. I recommend this one without hesitation. Voces8 is a beautiful ensemble and the music has a lurking sweetness that does not cloy.

The Vivaldi Project, Discovering the Classical String Trio, Volume Three, Antes, Hoffmeister, Hofmann, etc.

 

Years ago I came upon an LP of Classical Period String Quartets by composers not all that familiar to me (or as it turned out, the world). It was a rather marvelous collection of finely crafted chamber gems played with a lot of brio and energy. It was fun. Now these many years later I received a new CD by the Vivaldi Project entitled Discovering The Classical String Trio, Volume Three (MSR Classics MS1623). I've been listening and, quite happily, it is the String Trio equivalent of that old LP. The music again is finely crafted and there is plenty of gusto and brio on the performances by the Vivaldi Project.

The performers give us an insight into their reasoning for this comprehensive multi-volume collection of trios. Most thinking, they note on the dust jacket, about the Classical Era assumes the String Quartet as primary and the String Trio as a kind of minor afterthought, as a sort of quartet minus one. The Vivaldi Project counter with the idea that given the popularity of the Trio Sonata in the Baroque period, one might instead understand the String Trio to be the more readily institutionalized form, the logical culmination from Baroque to Classical, with the quartet beginning in this period as a sort of trio plus one. With the carefully enthusiastic readings of the seven trios here they make a case for the primacy of the trios as flourishing nicely at that point.

So the program explores multi-movement trio works by Giovanni Battista Sammartini, , Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen, John Antes, Francesco Zannetti, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, Leopold Hofmann. and Paul Wranitzky. I must say I am not very familiar with any of these composers but the music is worthwhile. Volumes 1 and 2 have some of the more obviously familiar names. I reviewed Volume 1 some time ago--see the posting of August 31, 2016 for the first volume review. Volume 3 is all the more a discovery given the relative obscurity of the names. Either way you get beautiful performances and the works are very enjoyable.

All told this is a fine volume that anyone who loves Classical form and engaged performances will gravitate towards. High recommendations.



Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Christina Petrowska Quilico, Retro Americana, Piano Music by Cowell, Rzewski, Gershwin, Westcott, Meredith Monk, Tatum


Christina Petrouska Quilico is a pianist I admire and appreciate. She did an album of French visionaries that I like a good deal and reviewed last August. Type her name in the search box above for my reviews of the very nicely done performances of the late Ann Southam's compelling music as well as some other fine Quilico things I have been happy to hear and write about.

And now today another of note, a collection aptly titled Retro Americana (Navona NV6361). What is the first thing that strikes me? The broad breadth of composers and works covered. Some George Gershwin, that is expected, but then Henry Cowell, Frederic Rzewski, Bill Westcoff, Meredith Monk and a couple of transcriptions of a few choice Art Tatum improvisations.

What it gives you as you listen is the idea that, as you might expect, Gershwin and Tatum cover the artistic transformation of the earlier vernacular--Jazz and Popular music of the earlier time. Tatum of course excelled at taking standards and making them his own pianistically. On the other hand Gershwin does something different but equally pianistic to his own staple song classics, but either way they address a content that typifies the more cosmopolitan aspects of Americana proper. Westcott does something transformative to earthy jazz-rag piano roots, nicely so. The "Suite" has some beautifully wrought, harmonically rich jazz inflected music that makes me want to hear more.

Meredith Monk's four pieces are folkishly somewhat ritualistic and perhaps a commentary on the Jazzier sides of Americana roots. It involves a pronounced movement, a dynamic of forward motion that suggests the hard swinging of early Jazz without stating it directly.

The "Six Ings" of Henry Cowell makes his pioneering early Modernism palpable and retro in its very own futuristic way.. Ms. Quilico shows us how splayed in wonderful spaciousness an excellent reading of such Cowell classics can be. The music reminds us how the Early Modern period in North America was a special, bold time for expressive pianism--we have the Cowell works which we get a worthy sampling of here. Of course there is much else we might hear as well,  the Ives beauties among others. Cowell's "Six Ings" nevertheless sound wonderful in these brilliant readings. No doubt we would get something very interesting if Ms.Quilico did an Ives album! I certainly would want to hear that. But this anthology has plenty going for it so we listen with pleasure, or I do anyway.

After the sad loss of Frederic Rzewski it is fitting we hear his "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues," which has the insistent rhythmically of machine production and simultaneously reminds us of the lively juke blues rhythmicality of the early 20th century and beyond, from Boogie to Jump. Christina sounds perfect in her deft realization of ostinato and overlying melodic expressivity.

The performances throughout are uniformly moving, well informed and practiced in making come alive the style requisites that are critical to get this music truly to sing. It is a rather perfect joining of artist and compositional style. I suspect you will find this one a real winner, even if you do not know all or even perhaps any of the music. Kudos, bravos! Listen to this one by all means!






Jan Jarvlepp, High Voltage, Chamber Music

 

There is no one way to compose these days, it goes without saying. That is a healthy thing to my mind. So as I listen to the chamber music offering by Jan Jarvlepp entitled High Voltage (Navona NV 6366), I am happily reminded that one can encounter the unexpected even among the expected "deviations" from orthodoxy.

The program covers four Jarvlepp chamber works, namely the Quintet 2003, a Woodwind Quintet, a Bassoon Quartet and his String Quartet No. 1. What stands out in this music as it first strikes me is the musical-stylistic syntax. It steadfastly goes beyond either the Romantic or the High Modern possibilities to explore possibilities inspired by Folk and general vernacular influences. Listen to the "Fancy Fiddling" movements of the Quintet 2003, and  too the alternately rollicking versus the more contemplative sections of the Woodwind Quintet with diatonic and quasi-pentatonic earthy rocking Folksy countenances. As can be the case throughout, the middle movement "Solitude" may bring to mind a bit of Bartok and Janacek, only distinctively Jarvleppian, which grounds itself on the combined Finnish-Estonian parental roots with a Canadian life locality. The musical result is a unique self-created amalgam that transcends the obvious to go into new territory.

The Bassoon Quintet engages nicely with an inventive atmospheric and in the final "Jig" movement a sturdy insistence which has almost a Rock solidity and irresistible force of sound.

The final String Quartet No. 1 is perhaps the more ambitious of the four but all the same characteristically personal as is the music as a whole. The opening movement is nicely heavy in a block of rocking insistence yet brio in a wider way, too. The middle slow movement is introspective and ravishing in a somber kind of way.

The performers are world class. Kudos to the Sirius Quartet, the Arcadian Winds, and the bassoonists on the Bassoon Quartet. Jarvlepp is an original. Hear this one out by all means.



Tuesday, October 5, 2021

W. A. Mozart, Solo Keyboard Works, Keiko Shichijo, Vintage Pianoforte

 

Pandemic, social turmoil, isolation, there has been nothing especially easy about life of late, at least for me. As much as ever music gets me through. Today there is a good example of a musical bridge to a happier place, namely Keiko Shichijo performing W. A. Mozart Solo Keyboard Works (Bridge 9570).

What is an important part of the remarkable nature of this album is that Ms. Shichijo performs the whole of the program on an 1802 Frere et Soeur Stein d'Augsborg a Vienne, a slightly later incarnation of the Stein models Mozart first favored beginning in 1777. Unlike modern pianofortes the instrument did not have a back check to prevent the hammer from rebounding after initially striking the strings. As a result the piano requires a technique that does not favor hard-edged attacks, but rather a more gentle overall keying which the pianist after some getting used to reportedly found remarkable in the ways one might vary the string attack and the piano's unique response. If you listen with some care you start to understand how she individualized the attacks in very interesting ways.

Interestingly the piano also features a knee activated sustain mechanism.

Listening to the program one is struck how the marvelously individual tone of the piano makes logical sense to the sound of Mozart's solo piano style. What in retrospect seems a little cold and stark in hearing modern piano versions of works like his "Fantasia in D minor, K. 307" in particular, but then too the other works heard here, is on the Stein a very different experience--with a warmth and singular fullness of sound color. The music makes a different kind of sense with the magnificent sound of the piano and Keiko Shichijo's mastery over the special beauty of the combination of soundboard and key action. The various pitches come at us together with each note remaining colorfully distinct, more so than in a typical modern period rendition, as I hear it anyway.

The program includes the aforementioned Fantasia in D minor, K.397, along with the Sonatas K. 311, K. 283, and K. 310, plus the Rondo K. 511. Every piece has a kind of revelatory quality in the pianist's hands and how she realizes the pianoforte's unique sound.

Keiko Shichijo is a true poet of the ivories. This rivals some of the best Mozart solo piano performances ever, to my mind. You owe it to yourself to hear it.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Duo Diagonal, Anytime, Anka Zlateva, Adam Orvad, with Gergana Maria Orvad

 

If the album up today for discussion strikes me as being "home grown," it is not because it lacks a professional element, it is that it sounds like it is a product of coming out of a kind of musical home, that the players have worked together to form an original singularity that is far beyond the sort of slick productionism that new releases sometimes end up having (which in itself is not a bad thing, just different from the direct appeal of this album). Duo Diagonal on the contrary is earthy and disarmingly centered in a musicality all its own. That is what seems important to me in considering their album Anytime (Solist Solist Foreningen Gateway Music).

What one is perhaps first struck with is the interesting instrumentation of accordion (Adam Orvad) and harpsichord (Anka Slateva) and at times the youthful vocals of Gergana Maria Orvad. The choice of repertoire for the album is quite interesting, a mix of Baroque, Modern and some Folk-rooted numbers.

The musicianship of Orvad and Zlateva have a lot to do with why this program is fascinating and worthwhile. The unusual instrumental pairing is somewhat startling in itself, but the together confluence and individually expressive talent of the two give us much to appreciate. A valuable addition to select w0rks is the youthful vocals of Gergana--on the ornate Bulgarian folk songs and Bernstein's song cycle "I Hate Music" from 1943. Both have a remarkably refreshing quality, not quite like anything else out there really. Just the Bernstein alone is very good to hear, but there is so much more in all of this.

Then the Rameau "Pieces de Clavecin" arranged for the duo has a kind of outstandingly lyrical heft to it that one might not assume would be there unless one listened. Then you listen with a happiness, something you might not quite have expected, a pleasure of an added bonus. That applies to the Baroque gems by Buxtehude and Purcell as well.

In the Modern realm the strident movement of John Frandsen's "Sisytos" has a convincing togetherness and exploratory feel that seems just right. Louis Aguirre's "Toccata" jumps out with a manic dissonance that is in the end rather a perfect vehicle for the two. The title work "Anytime" by Hanne Orvad gallops into a Modernity that pits the duo against one another in an exciting exchange. Finally Axel Borup Jorgensen's "Fur Cembalo und Akkordeon" has depth and a dynamic movement that the Duo realizes perfectly and excitingly.

In the end Anytime works because all the pieces fit together in rewarding ways--repertoire, pacing, musicianship and aural surprise. They help us savor the old and the new in ways unusually convincing. Bravo, bravo!



Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, Laure Colladant, Stephen Lancaster

 

Robert Schumann's lieder were some of the very best of his era. In many ways he took the torch from Schubert. I suppose you could say I am generally pre-selected to like a good recording of such things. And the album up today is very much that. It features baritone Stephen Lancaster and pianist Laure Colladant on a lovely sounding vintage Molitor pianoforte. They take on two cycles with great poise, clarity, deliberation, gravitas--namely the Dichterliebe opus 48 and the Leiderkreis opus 39 (BCR56

Perhaps needless to say there may be no genre more dependent upon the performers for the ultimate product than lieder. The vocalist is of course everything and the pianist a close second. It is so much the case that one is tempted to remember Ornette Coleman's dictum that there is no bad music, only bad musicians! But of course with Schumann lieder an awful lot has to do with the beauty of the music itself. it goes without saying.

Beyond those considerations one ideally surrenders to the lyrical beauty of it all. The vintage piano sounds very sweet and Lancaster responds to Colladant's exceptionally sensitive reading with a refreshing ponderousness that does not stray from the matter-of-factness of the music as they approach it. You who read along here no doubt know at least a few of the songs in these cycles and if you do it is interesting to compare the versions you know already. For me at least there is something substantial with these readings, when I compare with others I know. They soar, true, but they also have a pronounced earthiness that seems right to the world we live in today.

So in the end I must say these complete versions of the cycles have a kind of benchmark definitiveness that makes me happy to have them. And that in itself makes me recommend the album without hesitation. Lancaster and Colladant give us detailed and inspired readings that open our ears to the beauty of it all and contrast nicely with other readings so it is worthwhile no matter what listening level you are on for Schumann's lieder. overall. A big bravo for this one!


So and the feelings about feelings as we live through this rather peculiar period.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Chris Campbell, Orison


I've happily had the occasion to review some of Chris Campbell's music over the years (type his name in the search box for those articles).  Now there is a new one and I am very glad to hear it. Orison (Innova 008 CD or LP) is an ambitious, seven-part work for a 14-member chamber ensemble.

Like the other works I have heard of his there is a kind of natural flow to the music, with everything coming into sequences that sound unforced, evocatively flourishing and easily engaging.

The composer tells us in the liners that Orison comes out of the practice of sitting, meditation, prayer. The composer has worked on it for several years, responding to events locally and also globally, a processing of world and eventua-tive happenings rising up and falling away as expressed in a gorgeous spatio-temporal flow where all that comes after relates to the before yet supersedes it in the additive sense, be it "shifting sonic image" or "textural idea" as the composer expresses it.

It is music that very effectively gives off an ambient vibe yet has both a cosmic sound envelope AND a more directly engaging melodic thrust than some other such works out there. So as you relisten you get both components coming together in ways that work wonderfully well and give you the pleasure of recall one gets from a detailed and inspired game plan.

As I listen again I feel I am in the presence of a latter-day Berg--expressively feelingful yet decidedly forward moving into the present day. In the end I come away from this music wanting to hear it yet again. It is orchestrationally ravishing and beautifully absorbing. Big kudos!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Skylark Vocal Ensemble, It's A Long Way, Timeless Early, Modern, Folk Vocal Ensemble Music

 

Each day we wake and set our house in order, we restart our experiential engines and get ready for whatever comes. If you are like me music has much to do with how that day unfolds. Today I turn once again to vocal ensemble choral music, a chamber vocal gathering named the Skylark Ensemble. Their latest plays as I contemplate what it is about. It's A Long Way (HMR004), the title cut tells us. And perhaps after all it is. "Goodnight cow jumping over the moon" sings soprano Alissa Ruth Suver on Eric Whitacre's song about a bedtime story while the horror of the pandemic reigns. And doubtless we need such beautiful yet sad music to feel that we are indeed still here.

The main thing you take note of as the program winds out is how the 20 brief compositions straddle the old and the new, the formal institutional with the earthy and idiomatic, and how it all uniformly takes on a convincingly vibrant brilliance and ultra-musicality thanks to the talent and dedication of the artists in a sort of universal embrace of what they quite obviously are happy to sing. There are solo vocals sprinkled in with the ensemble works and happily everyone sounds fabulous.

Perhaps  you will be surprised as I was to hear a nice solo version of "Wayfaring Stranger" along with some gems by Arvo Part and Josquin des Prez? As you listen you embrace stylistic duplicity and convergence. So the title piece "It's A Long Way" by Neil Shaw Cohen takes the poetry of Harlem Renaissance poet William Stanley Braithwaite and sets it to a Modern-Early Modern sequence that happy spans the great divide between our ever evolving present and the living brilliance of pasts both yesterday and far, far away in time.

And in the end we get a beautiful melding of later Minimal and post-Minimal hypnotics with revived contrapuntal gems of earlier polyphonic life. So too they allows us to embrace Folk roots and even Romantic high expression. Following the album's sequence is to experience connections and interconnections of Western vocal music over time in myriad places.

American composer Evelyn Simpson rubs stylistic shoulders with Max Reger, Schubert and Thomas Tallis--and a happy surprise in the fetching folk ditty "A Game of Cards" sung with excellent verve by Fiona Gillespie. In the process we get a  new sort of Modern stance that eschews rigid distinctions between high and low, present and past, so much as it draws enthusiastically from the great well of vocal artistry looking both backwards and forwards to the future, from plainchant to "Nature Boy" and beyond. And happily it all works remarkably well. One travels along the adventurous route gladly and expectantly.

It may not exactly be what you expect and all the better for that. Skylark is as much curators of the whole legacy of vocal music as they are excellent vocalists and dedicated artists. Bravo. Listen!



Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Herbert Howells, Requiem, Sacred and Secular Choral Music, Baylor University A Cappella Choir, Brian Schmidt

 

If you ever took things for granted, chances are in the last year or so that you no longer do? And so music remains central if you are like me, but there is no guarantee, you understand, that it will all be there for you as you are for it? The Pandemic has made it very difficult for live music, and if it is coming back all the more does it seem precious, Happily recorded music never exactly went away! And so I turn to an album I've gotten recently that is getting my ears focused. 

And so we have an absorbing disk of a cappella choral music, centered on Herbert Howells' Requiem (MSR Classics MS 1757). The Baylor University A Cappella Choir under Brain Schmidt do the honors and they sound  nicely angelic and/or robust, depending on the work at hand.

The most ambitious of the compositions and the most interesting is no doubt the "Requiem" of Herbert Howells (1892-1983). It combines a hovering, post-chant influence of early church musc with English folk roots and a modern sense of space perhaps. It will no doubt appeal to the modern-anglophile contingency, in the English neo-renaissance of choral unfolding from the time of Elgar to Vaughan Williams and so on.

The remaining nine works are in a miniaturist mode of brevity and concentration. Thee are older classics from the likes of Tomas Luis de Victoria and Felix Mendelsohn, then an interesting assortment of 20th century and beyond works by a variety of composers, all working in a rooted tradition that may include a tang of modernity but just as much or more a feeling of thoughtful continuity.

So we encounter interesting works by the likes of Enrico Miaroma, Alexander L'Estrange and Susan Labarr are some of the composers. It all makes for compelling fare, none of it exactly at the cutting edge of the new, but rather earnest choral moments worth savoring, very well sung.

If you love the a cappella choral sound and want something unfamiliar and worthwhile, this will no doubt appeal to you. I am glad to hear it. Kudos to the choir and director Brian Schmidt.