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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 Georgiana 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 Georgiana 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 Georgiana--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.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Inna Faliks, Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel

 

The world of music has many facets of course and if you are like me the whole everloving Pop scene seems ever more vast and mysterious. I've pretty much given up on trying to assimilate the new flavors of the month there. I no longer feel compelled to hear all that as it comes out. There is too much great music coming out in Classical, New Music, Jazz, Avant, "World" and Avant Rock to appreciate. And the days when I made ends meet in a "Top 40" band are long gone, for better or worse.

So today another unexpected new one by the very talented pianist Inna Faliks. It is called Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel (Navona NV6352). It is a great example of how a poetic musicianship and the freedom to rethink typical categories can make for very enjoyable and rewarding fare.

Essentially Ms. Faliks spans three centuries of piano music by paying homage to Beethoven and Ravel in interesting ways.  The program zeroes in on key compositions--Beethoven's "Bagatelles op. 126" and Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. 

Ms. Faliks had an inspired idea--to commission living composers to write piano music dedicated to work out modern implications from the Bagatelles and Gaspard. The program features some nine world premieres in all. So to begin the opening sequence each Bagatelle gets Inna's lucid reading, followed in each case by a commissioned work that draws from that Bagatelle for a special New Music utterance. Stylistically the new works cover a good deal of ground, from harmonically stretched passages to rollickingly motor minimal to anything goes lyricisms. 

Each of the six op. 126 "Bagatelles" gets a worthy performance, followed in each case by a newly commissioned work that extends Beethoven to our present day world in interesting ways. And then we have three more works based on Ravel's Gaspar.  The names of the New Music composers are some quite familiar, some less so but all of the music leads to an essential impression of the place of the revered masters in the realm of the Modern. 

So we gladly explore the adventurous adoption of each classical work in the inaginative hands of, respectively, Richard Golub, Tamir Hendelman, Richard Danielpour, Ian Krouse, Mark Carlson, David Lefkowitz, Paola Prestini, Timo Andres and Billy Childs.

It is an album that wears very well as you listen repeatedly. It is a beautiful showcase for Inna Faliks' deeply rich musicality and a wonderful program that gets you to appreciate Beethoven and Ravel anew and what they contribute to our contemporary music world. Strongly recommended.



Monday, September 13, 2021

Nomi Epstein, Sounds

 

US composer Nomi Epstein appears before us on a CD album with six compositions for solo piano and a few for small chamber configurations. The album is aptly titled Sounds (New Focus Recordings FCR260). Sounds is a meaningful title as Ms. Epstein's music gives us a heightened attention to the timbral qualities of tone production. It is also music that to some extent has the element of process, a semi-ritualized doing in patterns neither redolent of classical or song modes of unfolding (e.g., abacaba), rather coming to us with relation, at times repetition as abstraction, at times long tones and deliberate, open ended soundings that hang together like fantastic canvases in sound--in timbre-tone--where modern abstract visual art would use pigment.

The overall presence of the music including the repetitions are ambient in the manner of later Morton Feldman rather than, say, Steve Reich.


The trio of Frauke Aubert on voice, Shanna Gutierrez on bass flute and Francisco Castillo Trigueros on live electronics have special sonance on the 2016/19 "for Collect/Project." is simply gorgeous,a living breathing sound being that quietly maps out a path to a deep space inside us. It unfolds without a lot of repetition, through-composed cosmic tones it has in abundance. 

The solo piano works alone are worth the entrance fee! Each has its magic. "Layers for Piano" (2015/18) is a memorable gem. Similarly there is mysterious beauty in "Till for Solo Piano" (2003) as well as "Solo Piano Part I: Waves" (2007/11) and "Part II: Dyads" (2007/11/19).

The 2018 "Sounds for Jeff and Eliza" makes a beautiful sonance for Eliza Bangert, flute, Jeff Kimmel, bass clarinet and the composer at the piano. Long tones alternate in ways that iterate same and altered, change and stasis in ways that are exceedingly beautiful if you allow them to open to you.

This music has the kind of depth that perhaps is the antithesis of the "popular." That is not to say that it does not open the listening self to sheer aural expressivity, with a widely spatial lyricism that is not literal in the way it "means," but nonetheless  has much to understand in the way it straddles the inner aural self and a potentially infinite outward spatiality.

If you give this one enough listening frequency it should pay you back with a profoundly meditative inner space when you return to each new listening session. In this way it affirms that there are indeed places to go beyond the American School of Cage and Feldman. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Jan Lisiecki, Frederic Chopin, Complete Nocturnes

 

A good case could be made that Chopin's "Nocturnes" and Satie's "Gymnopedies" make for some of the most strikingly lyrical piano works ever. 

A couple of years back Jeroen Van Veen gave us the complete Satie piano works with extraordinarily, almost painfully beautiful renditions of Satie's best, very slow, very thoughtful, solitary and moody effusions that cover you with some extraordinary outreaching lyricality. Type into the search box above for my review of that. 

And right now we have a new 2-CD set of the Complete Nocturnes (Deutsche Grammophone 408-0761) played by Jan Lisiecki. Like that Satie set it slows things down to contemplate the beautiful atmospheric brilliance of the music. No doubt we can thank the advent of the CD and its expanded playing time to allow artists like Lisiecki to stretch out, to take all the time he needs to catch the most subtle nuances of expression, etc.

As much as there have of course been earlier milestone recordings of the "Nocturnes" I cannot recall anyone who focuses with such clarity on the nearly infinite musicality in the scrolling out of each work, the very familiar published ones and too the posthumous pieces. In Lisiecki's versions we get a savored, lucid exuberance.

You can of course tell from the cover photo that Lisiecki is still quite young. But when you listen to the performances you feel the maturity of his expression. Here is a pianist to cherish, and some of the finest readings of Chopin I have ever heard. Do not miss this one!

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Joan Tower, Strike Zones and Other Works, Evelyn Glennie, Blair McMillen, Albany Symphony, David Alan Miller

 

Sometimes when it is a matter of New Music an anthology of various composers and works can be quite illuminating, but as far as any given composer goes it may not definitively carve out the stylistic territory as she or he has patterned it. US penom Joan Tower (b. 1938) has been productively in anthologies I have heard, some reviewed here, but happily she has also had several solo Naxos disks I have covered--one orchestral, one a collection of string quartets (type her name in the index box above for those).

Now there is a new one (Naxos 8.559902) covering world premiere recordings of works for solo percussion and percussion and orchestra (with Evelyn Glennie), and also solo piano and piano and orchestra (with Blair McMillen). The Albany Symphony under David Alan Miller provide the orchestral backdrop dynamically, impressively.

The works are all relatively recent, one from 1993, the rest from 2001 to 2016. It shows Joan Tower seriously focused in a concerted zone, more or less.

The delicate "Small" (2016) gives us a brief but concentrated solo percussion universe that intelligently provides a virtuoso, microscopic sort of sound patina.

"Strike Zone" (2001) is a percussion tour de force excellently played by Glennie and an orchestral part that expands it all sonically into layers of fanfarish Modern expression, especially the animated later part with dramatic timpani and rapidly moving xylophone lines, then a busily dramatic snare and timpani (plus toms?) and brushes cadenza that has wonderful dramatic momentum.

Modern harmonic meditative  beauty in the piano and answering reverie in the strings starts off "Still/Rapids" (2013/1996) in  a very captivating way. It is extraordinarily beautiful, then later quite motility-oriented in the "Rapids" section. It all fits and sounds great.

"Ivory and Ebony" (2009) brings the curtain down on the program with a sensitively feelingful agitation-peace contrast that shows off McMillen's poetic pianism in a wonderful way.

This volume joyfully reaffirms Joan Tower as a leading light of New Music today. Catch it!


Prisma, Vol. 5, Contemporary Works for Orchestra, Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Petrolik, Stanislav Vavrinek

 

For each and every newly recorded composer-composition there does not necessarily exist an awakened lifestyle of success and continuation. As a young fellow I thought that there would be such an outcrop out of necessity. I also thought my vote counted. I still think that. 

As for the fate of the many composers out there in the world scuffling and shuffling to make it, here is to you. If you like me have sampled, for example the rich trove of New Music releases over the years on Navona/Parma, you perhaps have come to know more intimately that there have been a good number of composers out there in the last 100 years. Combine the total output of this label with whatever else has been released on other labels and you have a formidable number or artists and works. Perhaps necessarily they are not all going to change the world. Yet there are a surprising number who if you pay attention have something good to offer us.

One of the places where you can get a jolt of unknown works and composers, it is surely on the various anthologies that Navona puts out. Here in front of me is one such, named Prisma, Vol. 5, Contemporary Works for Orchestra (Navona NV6344). On it we get seven shortish works, world premier recordings one would assume. You may not know any of these musical inventors by name, or perhaps you might. The list? In order of appearance we have Lawrence Mumford, Kevin McCarter, Samantha Sack, Alexis Alrich, Anthony Wilson, Katherine Saxon, William Copper. 

"Bell and Drum Tower" by Alrich has a kind of sequential compulsion, a will to figurate that sets it apart. "Nunatak" by Saxon has a glorious sort of hushed mystery about it, then an emergence. At the beginning of the program there is another gem, a beautifully mysterious "Adagio of Times and Seasons" by Mumford. Samantha Sack's "A Kiss in the Dark" lingers gently in the memory even if you are still listening!

It is all tonal but not as backward looking as one might have assumed in tonality as we found it say a century ago. Nothing here is quite avant but there is plenty of substance to it all, which is what matters in the end. It is a rather joyful listen if you clear your mind and wipe away expectations. The Janacek Philharmonic sounds good and conductors Petrolik and Vavrinek get a good handle on the nuances and overall thrust of each work.

Recommended fare for those who wish to delve into the more obscure but nevertheless worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Reed Tetzloff, Schumann, Carnaval, Sonata op.11

 

If "September Song" is in my head, it is partly because I write these lines early in September of the current year, and too because pandemic and climate change can remind us that nobody lives forever. And what of it? There is while we linger over a cup of coffee sweet music, in this case the lyrically, expressively alive pianist Reed Tetzloff and his volume of Schumann gems for solo piano (MP Master Performances 21 001). It reminds us that great music transcends all everyday concerns and allows us for a time to commune in tones in a way that makes us somehow better creatures, for a moment a little immortal as a species? I think so.

Reed Tetzloff is new to me. This volume however tells me much about his thoughtful musicality. It is a well chosen Schumann program that includes an especially well-known referential piano suite, "Carnaval," and then a lesser-known, fully abstract absolute music essay in the "Grand Sonata No.1 in F sharp minor, op. 11." Then to cap it off there are the two fairly brief but most eloquent piano poems "Arabeske Op. 18" and "Romanze Op. 28, No. 2"

His is a tightly pithy set of readings, beautifully faithful to Schumann's score, yet no less expressively vibrant for being carefully correct. It is fitting that we get Tetzloff's take on the widely performed "Carnaval," since he covers the very familiar with a  personal sense of balance and a virtuoso stance that is nonetheless unhurried. 

The "Grand Sonata" is in some ways in a polar opposite direction--less well known, fully classicist and widely developmental in its attention to form without sacrificing feeling. Tetzloff gives us an excellent reading of this work as well, and since there are less versions of this work in recordings it is perhaps all the more valuable? Well the program would be unmistakably valuable whether he performed this one or not. Nevertheless the two works manage to balance one another well, and we are fortunate to have both versions here to play and replay.

The swirling passion of "Arabeske" clearly resounds in Tetzloff's imagination and we get a most lucid outpouring, all we might hope for. The final "Romanze" has a tenderness and depth that doubtless is a product of composer and performer communing across the centuries and amplifying one another.

Tetzloff's rubato is beautifully uncanny, never overwrought, like passages of music recalled later, after previously hearing them in real-time, so that the musical present is a kind of storybook past, a "once upon a time" in musical terms. Moreover his overall sense of pacing and drama is beautiful and somehow sensible in its "rightness" of phrasing, its poetry of sound. Do not fail to hear this if you seek exemplary new voices on the piano. Tetzloff gives us a Schumann that is remarkably clear of the hackneyed, the over-done, the grandstandingly frenetic. He negotiates some evergreen musical passages in ways that make you hear them as if anew. Bravo. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Sonidos Cubanos 2, An Anthology of Modern Works by Cuban Composers

 

One way you might gauge how the Contemporary music world is changing is to contemplate the contents of a recent anthology of Contemporary music. So today I do that with Sonidos Cubanos 2 (Neuma 133). Here we explore some five works by Cuban composers. Most interestingly it does not incorporate folk elements so much as it is resolutely "serious," examining rather dark possibilities, avoiding the "pretty" in favor of not always orthodox Modernity with a capital /M/. Regardless the music is often enough tonal with a pronounced "edge." This is dramatic fare, designed to evoke contemplation or stimulate your reflective, atmospherically reflexive listening self with alternating movement and relative stasis.

That said, none of these works resemble each other so much as they take up a slightly or pronouncedly singular space. And so much the better since one is continually moved along to successively "other" territories. There is nothing predictable or imitative about it.

These are not names you are likely to know well. But after hearing their work you may wish to know more, which is the adventuresome side of the new, of course, when  it works for us.

The program begins with a deeply outreaching moodiness from Flores Chaviano. His NiFe for symphony orchestra and voices marks the anniversary of a mining disaster and fittingly is an outburst of anguish, very marked in its despair, but very pronounced in its orchestrationally expressive poignancy.

A complementing work is "Memorial" by Ivette Herryman Rodriguez, marked by a sadness that pervades your very being. The lyrics are from Christina Rosetti, a copious weeping forth as soprano, cello and piano join together in a communal sorrow that touches yet consoles.

Odalina de la Martinez's "Litanies" gives us beautiful, somber and contemplative music for (bass) flute, harp and string trio. It proceeds to a beautifully round contrapuntal circle of yearning so to speak before returning to its long linger of a slow cyclical koan of tone, this second time with plaintive violin expressions overtop.

The dark and haunting "Libertaria Song Cycle" by Sabrina Pena Young stays in the memory and sounds better each rehearing. The final song movement "Rebellion" has a rather astonishing spot where motor string and deep metal guitar rise up--with rock drums sounding a tattoo--and brings you to an impressive ponder point. Rather unforgettable!

The final work, the chamber duo "Evolving Spheres" for bass clarinet and piano gives us dramatic and concentric High Modern musical clout, a testament to Eduardo Morales Caso's compositional capabilities. It ends the program like the works that came before it, with inventive and unexpected juxtapositions that ring true.

The recording is of good quality and the performers are all of the highest caliber.

This one is a bit of a sleeper but once you listen enough times it stands out as a happy milestone among the various possibilities in New Music emerging today. Check it out by all means.



Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Last Song, Una Sveinbjarnardottir, Tinna Porsteinsdottir, Music for Violin and Piano


As a reviewer there are some albums that come to me and I cannot easily gauge what they will be until I listen. That was the case with Icelandic composer-violinist Una Sveinbjarnardottir and her Last Song (Sono Luminus DSL-92248). 

It consists of a wisely diverse set of works for violin and piano with a good sampling of Icelandic composers plus interesting arrangements and/or interpretations of music early through the beginning of last century.

We hear in Sveinbjarnardottir a violinist with a special sound, very sweet and expressive but not precisely like Heifetz sweet. There is a burnished, wood-metal clarity that sets her playing apart as she applies her ultra-musical interpretive skills to each piece for a result that is delightful, that stands out. At the same time pianist Tinna Porsteinsdottir makes an expressively perfect , very well matched duo partner throughout. 

Una's title composition "Last Song Before the News" has depth and mystery and serves to top off the program in a most appealing and memorable way. The prepared piano plays against a rhapsodic violin line and it all sounds great!

All the ins and the outs of the program serve to increase our initial recognition of the wonder of the vibrancy of Una and Tianna's rather glorious synergy and ravishing sound.

The overall thrust of the chosen repertoire reflects the artistry of the duo and shows it off well. I will not try and give a detailed, blow-by-blow description. 

Una's "Last Song Before the News" alludes to Icelandic Radio Ras who plays an Icelandic lullaby, love song or ode to nature just before the news each time according to the station's plan. It suggested to Una "apocalyptic visions" of what that news might bring. The works leading to her final piece were meant to suggest a wide ranging period, each work representing a momentary clarity before a great change, a place between nostalgia and anticipation, along with a certain yearning. Now that is a lot to take in via these words, but a thorough exposure to this program should put it all together for you. It is not precisely a post-Modern place so much as it encapsulates the now of the present and simultaneously that now as past and present, expressive depth and independent lyrical fullness, a poeticism that transcends any given style parameter.

Beyond the overriding theme, the music chosen remains of interest along with the striking performances of it all. So first off  we get a slew of Icelandic composers of the 20th and 21st century. Whether you know any of these composers from exposure or you do not, the music has real impact. So we appreciate a suite by Jorunn Vioar, whom the composer calls the "grand lady" of Icelandic music. Then there is a pioneering counterpart, another woman with brilliance, Iceland's Karolina Eiriksdottir. Then there is Magnus Blondal Johannsson and his unusual and effective synthesis of Romantic and Modern elements, and his successor protégé Atli Heimir Sveinsson (1938-2019), Una's special mentor, friend and duo partner.

From there we have an interesting assortment of works and(re)arrangements of things that follow the theme, are "light" as they are "longing." There are works by Louis Couperin, Christoph Gluck, Ole Bull, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi and  Hildegard von Bingen. 

The entire volume is unified in ways not often found. The duo soars and does perfect justice to each work. A remarkable effort I would say. Very recommended.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Chelsea Guo, Chopin in My Voice

 

Music that has withstood time's entropy is never out of season. Any new artist that devotes herself to the music is potentially worthwhile, of course. There is necessarily room for multiple interpretations. That means we should recognize the worthy ones when we come across them. Pianist-soprano Chelsea Guo is unquestionably one of those. She comes to us with poetically heartfelt readings of Chopin for solo piano, and then she further astonishes with ravishingly beautiful performances of two works for voice and piano, played and sung by Ms. Guo simultaneously and wonderfully well.

It is as good an example of any of why one must listen to a new offering without presumption. Chelsea Guo's Chopin in My Voice (Orchid Classics ORC 100167) gives us an idea  of what to expect in the title wording. The "voice" reference is key--first off because Ms. Guo's pianism gives us Chopin (his Preludes, Fantasie, etc.) with considerable concentric and insightful phraseology.

She makes the piano sing, with subtle shadings, authentic feeling, focused beauty. Hers is perhaps less extraverted that some readings, especially from the early days of the LP--the fifties. In any event her versions hold up remarkably well with a lot of listens. Her style is brilliantly fluid. Chopin would have been pleased, I think She handles it with all warmth, and poetic precision. without the overblown gush of some grandstanding versions from the past.

And then her soprano comes to us with a tender lyricism while she accompanies herself nicely on the piano. Chopin's "Etude Op. 10 No.3" appears here in a version with a soprano line emerging out of the original piano part and lyrics by Ernst Marischko. It and the ensuing Rossini aria from La Gazza Ladra stand out with a stunning presence. If Ms. Guo's voice was not disarmingly lyrical, lovely, there would be less reason to appreciate the melding. But in fact her voice is every bit as good as her piano playing! And all that makes the album special. This album. We are immersed in the timeless beauty of the music and we begin to appreciate that we have something very gratifying to hear, indeed. Chelsea Guo is special.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Agnese Toniutti, Subtle Matters, New Music for Piano

 

As one rides along with the ups and downs of life there will be times when habitual reactions to everyday activities undergo more intense scrutiny, especially when living circumstances may be less than ideal. It is in those moments when your commitment to something seemingly without much recompense gets put to the test. Pandemic, economic struggle and world strife may cause you (on a Monday morning) to wonder why one persists at something seemingly without a lot of life survival opportunities attached. So I listen to pianist Agnese Toniutti's Subtle Matters (Neuma 138) and come to appreciate it while wondering if what I think of it matters a whole lot. Then I remember how much I appreciated in the past someone who took the time to listen to my music. What is the point of music if it is not listened to, discussed, appreciated?

So I continue. John Cage once made some reference to his music in relation to a Zen rock garden. I do not recall exactly what he said but the idea was that the elements of the rock garden--rocks, sand, little rake, patterned marks around the rocks--all of it was more than the simple elements might signify on their own. There is a series of visions and states one might attain by raking the sand and looking at the totality. So too for example one of Cage's prepared piano works--with repeated listens ideally brings you to something more than the timbral specifics, the ritual sorts of rhythms and tones per se. There is a kind of more heightened awareness one might glean as one listens. And perhaps that is a key factor in fully appreciating what he is about.

So the same might appropriately be said for Agnese Toniutti's rather wide-ranging program of avant extended technique, sound-color piano oompositions that make up today's CD. In all we experience some six single or multi-movement works, one for toy piano, the rest for an open vision of piano sounding made by conventional fingering but also by plucking, strumming, dampening and/or otherwise altering the piano string sound, following and furthering the technical innovations pioneered by composers like Cowell, Cage and Crumb.

So we get a kind of extension of the original extensions with adventuresome works by Lucia Dlugoszewski (1925-2000), Tan Dun (b. 1957) and Phillip Corner (b. 1933). As one might come to expect with such ultra-current extended piano pieces there is a sheer reveling in exotic sonic possibilities both pitched and noise-derived, a sometimes ritualistic gestural spaciousness, and a dramatically ambient architectonics of subtlety, as the album title suggests. Ms. Toniutti impresses with the practiced ease with which she moves from sound event to sound event.

Agnese Toniutti takes to these works with enthusiasm, imagination and eventful awareness. As one re-listens a few times the structural and sensual elements of each work becomes more pronounced and readily understandable, until in the end you see that no piece is arbitrary but rather poetically sensible and comprehensible in the pianist's vision of each segment.

The music vacillates between high abstraction, cavernous atmospherics and post-ethnic primality. In so doing the album sums up the spectrum and state-of-the-art for the continuingly fertile extended technique pianisms operative today. I warmly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Fantasy, Oppens Plays Kaminsky, New Music for Piano and Instruments

 

I have admired the piano virtuosity of Ursula Oppens for some time now. So it was a given for me to pay attention when in the mail I found a copy of her recent CD Fantasy: Oppens Plays Kaminsky (Cedille 90000 202). I was glad to hear it. And it turns out after multiple listens I am still quite happy about it.

Laura Kaminsky (b. 1956) has not been on my radar until now. It turns out that she writes abundantly inventive, expressionistically poised music that is neither at the edge of tonality, nor is it completely tonal-centric. It is well phrased, somewhat spicy, moody fare. It is the sort of music that improves as you listen again and again. And stylistically it is as thoughtfully beyond as any camp of New Music per se.If there are folk and mesmeric primal tonal intervallic modes, there is also dissonance and everything manages to convey a new musical sensibility in its own way.

Ms. Oppens excels in her readings of the music, from the solo intricacies of "Fantasy," to the piano four-hand maze-like animated yet introspective density of "Reckoning: Five Minatures for America" with Jerome Lowenthal. Then there are the twists and turns of the Piano Quartet (with the Cassatt String Quartet) and the formidable and expressively triumphant  "Piano Concerto" with the Arizona State University Orchestra under Jeffery Meyer. The abstract linear flow of the piano part is an amazing thing to experience, happily. And the orchestra part bolsters and carries forward the momentum in a rather profound way. 

In short we come away from this with a definitely complex and pleasurable feeling for Ms. Kaminsky's music. This is not a monolithic, single-sounded sameness that we can sometimes get nowadays.  On the contrary it is delightfully plural and open, fearless of expanded tonality or primal intervallic magic alike.

All of this music and its inspired performance totals up to an album that establishes new and stylistically worthwhile territory for a furthering of the Modern project. This is in no way a mechanical step forward as it is a nicely, directly active creative articulation that stands on its own as singular.

It is all a very good addition to the music of today. Oppens comes through and everybody puts in a remarkably consistent showing of it all. It makes me want to hear more of Laura Kaminsky, for sure. Bravo Ms. Oppens for giving us this music with, as always, the brilliance she brings to our music world. Recommended for all those who wax pianistic and modernistic. This is a substantial listen.



Monday, August 16, 2021

Robert Moran, Points of Departure

 

I have gladly coverd the music of Robert Moran on these pages before (type his name in the search box above), but as can be the case with relatively unfamiliar voices in the New Music, one can get something substantial from additional new releases. So is the case with the new CD of his chamber orchestra works, Points of Departure (Neuma 123).

The program covers five works in all, and each has a kind of essence of its own. This is music of the New or Radical Tonality, soundscapes, suspensions, sometimes probingly sustained, sometimes moving along in not-quite-modal fashion but not harmonically modulatory much either, yet the passagework has an almost neo-classical ratio on some parts, but not in any particularly expected way.

The entire program is sympathetically performed by the University of Delaware Orchestra conducted by James Allen Anderson. There are a very few rough-and-ready moments but they are made up for by a rather supremely comprehending approach to it all. And in the end you surely get the kind of straightforward presentation this music deserves in its brand-new mode.. Some things sound happily post-Feldmanesque in their quietude and flow, others have a very slight suggestion of Minimalism that nonetheless avoids getting stuck (so to speak) in an exclusively processual flow. Radical Tonality is a label that does not totally pin the music down but indeed helps suggest what this music does

Every work is a plant-like growth of its own, and yet the sum total is of a long expressive arc.

The title work "Point of Departure" begins the program in a throbbing and variable kind of pedal point that juxtaposes readily with the vivid colors of the tonal overlay that sets the music off.

"Angels of Silence" is a ravishing 22-minute hushed sustain diatonically tonal enough to evoke a kind pf primal quality, with enough spice-like chromatic or multi-diatonic chordal additions to contrast the endess flow with some realistic grit that happily fails to interrupt the rapturous continuity. It is exceedingly beautiful to me.

"Frammenti di un opera barocca perduta" gives us that same flowing diatonics with a Neo-Baroque unfolding and some beautiful counertenor from Daniel Bubeck. Nothing modulates so much as it makes coherence out of tonal primality.

"Star Charts and Travel Plans I" has an unfolding eventfulness that nevertheless keeps a prirooted tonality alive in brilliantly variational ways

The final "Yahrzeit" brings in basso profundo Zachary James, who continues fleshing out the fairy tale world in a somewhat different but nevertheless equally worthwhile way.

So there we have it. It is more and more captivating to me the more I hear it. A big bravo! This truly is NEW Music and so we are much the better for hearing it, I would say. Very recommended.


Friday, August 13, 2021

Varese, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Baldini. Orchestral Music, Munich Radio Orchestra, UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Cuckson, Haft. Christian Baldini

 

If the Space Age has resumed (with Space-X, etc.) then High Modernism cannot be too far behind? Not that it ever has gone away but it has not been as much of a touchpoint as it once was. No matter, for there is good music being made still. An excellent example just now filling my ears is a new anthology of Orchestral Music Live, Varese, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, & Baldini (Centaur CRC 3879), featuring Christian Baldini conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra with violin soloists Miranda Cuckson or Maximilian Holt alternating in the solo spot for half the program.

Baldini turned to these unedited live recordings from 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2019 as he and all of us experienced the first COVID-19 lockdown and the abrupt cessation of all live performances the world over. As if to offer a rejoiner to the viral devastation we all experienced on multiple levels, this group of works and very live recordings in some ways acts as a ritual charm, a kind of mantra magic for the future continuation of the concert universe. The works and composers reflect Baldini's personally influenced attitude toward the program as performer and composer, and then nicely and fittingly opens with a work of hs own that fits quite readily with the rest, that is in every way good company for the more well-known Classical Modernists.

That opener, Baldini's "Elapsing Twilight Shades" (2008, rev 2012), establishes the kind of  ultramodern sonic landscapes that are a legacy and a basis for Baldini's considerably eloquent orchestral approach.

And appropriately the stylistic clustering he has been influenced by appear nicely too in the versions of the works he conducts on this program.

It is all strikingly landscape-soundscape-like, where phrases flow concurrently and do not puncuate as heavily as they might hve in other and earlier performnces. So "Ameriques," a wonderful work surely, has sometging of an emphasis on its horizontal axis, predominent and interestingly so. It is by no means a perfect recording. Others are probably more driving and together but then this version forces you to feel the music passing perhaps a bit more, and some sections you hear differently and get something more from perhaps than the versions you have come to know, which of course is a reason to have more than one version of a work.. It is nice to hear, as is the whole of this album.

The Lutowslawski "Chain 2" (1985) for violin and orchestra is remarkable in itself and for Maximilian Haft's violin performance as well as the orchestra at large. It is a genuine find if you have not heard it before.

Similarly the Ligeti "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" (1989, rev. 1993) revels in Miranda Cuckson's reading and the orchestral presence. It is a wonderful work in a significant reading.

The unedited live recording reminds us that things do not have to be perfect to be rewarding and illuminating. The live spontaneity means there are some imperfections here and there, but after a time you fogive the very occasional flub for the way everything hangs together in the absolute now.

I recommend this one heartily for New Music devotees and newcomers alike. The music demands much from the performers and they surmount the live situation with fire and poise combined. Molto Bravo!


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Christina Petrowska Quilico, Sound Visionaries, French Modern Masterworks for Solo Piano, Debussy, Messiaen, Boulez

 

For a new recording to be important it should have a number of things going for it. Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico's recent album Sound Visionaries (Navona NV6358) has many such things going on throughout. First off, the compositions are uniformly excellent and not ordinarily found together in this combination. It zeroes in on three masters of Modern solo piano from last century, with well chosen works that epitomise the Modern French school from its iconic beginnings to its full flowering some years later.

Ms. Quilico begins with Claude Debussy's "Preludes Book Two," When pulled out of the flow of Debussy's output ad placed on a less cluttered display where it can be more impactful for its singularity, when performed so expressively and filled with life as it is here, you are reminded of just how advanced this music was and, indeed, still is. All eight movements are bursting with narrative color and fire, from the opening mystery of "Mists/Fog" to the declamatory "Fireworks." Of course this music to be played well takes a lot of technique and equally a good deal of imagination. Ms. Quilico has both in abundance and so gives us the kind of dynamic reading that stretches our musical understanding.

As it does all that, it within the album's chronological sequence forms the bedrock for French Modernist piano, as well it deserves to do. As such it sets us up for the next step, Messiaen's bold, strident "Vingt Regards sur L'Enfant Jesus" in its beautifully advanced seven movements. Rhythmically supercharged, harmonically-melodically edgy, filled with Messiaen's special vitality in its original mature form (1944). I listen with a feeling of great presence and musical wisdom.

To make the full trip into High Modernism we get two wonderful Pierre Boulez works, "Premiere Sonate" and "Troisieme Sonate Pour Piano," both helping define Serialism for good and all, with brilliance and poetic verve, but too with a Frenchness that has a sonically deep footprint. The performances as with the Messiaen and the Debussy mark an undoubted  high point in the pianistic personality of Chrstian Quilico. Her readings are technical triumphs but then always with the utmost musicality, which marks it all as pretty much definitive.

All the things that in this way define this program as special--performance, composition choice, etc., establish this as indispensible listening for New Music enthusiasts or acolytes alike. Get this and dive in!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Raffi Besalyan, The Sound of Black & White, Piano Music of Khachaturian, Levant, Wild and Gershwin

 

An album of piano music is a matter of diverse elements, always. The composer(s), the works and how they set each other off, the period of music and/or social-cultural history and how that illuminates the program perhaps, and of course the pianist. In today's example we get an extraordinary pianist playing repertoire for which he seems especially suited. Raffi Besalyan bursts forward and literally crackles with energy (to mix a metaphor) on his latest, The Sound of Black and White (Sono Luminus  DSL-2249).

The title implies some kind of period artsiness, perhaps a noir attitude. That is not so far fetched an assertion with the George Gershwin, the Earl Wild and the Oscar Levant kind of Jazzy Modernism, perhaps somewhat less true of the Aram Khatchaturian pieces, but on the other hand they all in their own ways typify a sort of bracing view of the 20th century, a kind of rooted pre-technicolor period? Perhaps.

What counts is that the sequence of works fit together in their own way, that they make often enough considerable technical demands on the performer and Raffi Besalyan rises to the occasion wonderfully well.

All have a kind of specially buoyant Late Romantic-meets-Modern expressionist dash, with Khatchaturian having understadanbly his own rootedness in Armenian and Russian rhapsodic poignancy in contrast to Gershwin, Wild and Levant's pronounced American Jazzed Populism.

All have a pronounced melodic vibrancy, each in its own way, with the ghostly presence of Stravinsky lurking in the wings? In subtle ways perhaps, or perhaps as a kind of convergence going forward, a synchrony of performativity and bold pianism. And then too it all makes sense as Wild and Levant were champions of Gershwin and Levant of Khachaturian as acclaimed pianists of their day, and then too both composers compositions fit in with and further that stylistic complex we associate with Grshwin.

The Khachaturian works connect together as busy and dynamic vehicles for a driving virtuosity that Besalyan seems born to. So we happily revel in the Waltz from the "Masquerade Suite," the very Armenian sounding Adagio from the ballet "Spartacus," the excitement of his three movement "Sonatina," the tender Armenian oriented Lullaby from "Gayane" and the tempestuous "Sabre Dance" as arranged nicely by Levant for solo piano.

The Oscar Levant and Earl Wild works are gems, not as often heard as they should be. The Levant Sonatina is playful, firey and dynamic. Besalyan plays it with real sympathy, rhythmic drive and Modern snap. Equally exciting is the Wild "Four Etudes on Gershwin Songs," reminding us that Gershwin in his most infectous songs was coming at Jazz in his own right and Wild puts that forward ever more pronouncedly in a Modern Classical zone here, though the superarpeggiated aspects point to a furtherance of piano Jazz tied to a Romantic origin yet bubbling over with heated energy.

Gershwin's plaintive and noir-ish "Three Preludes for Piano" fits perfelctly in the sequence and gets an excellent interpretation. 

The original piano only version of "Rhapsody in Blue" heard here seems all the more Modern and Jazz-laced in this performance, a marvel and in many ways less a period piece than the standard orchestrated version.

Repeated hearings confirms the importance of this album. Besalyan is an ideal vehicle for this music, in many ways setting or furthering a benchmark for the various works. Bravo!

 

    



Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Samuel Barber, Medea, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, A Hand of Bridge, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

 

When you look back on how you discovered certain composers when younger, sometimes you find it was nearly a matter of chance. When I was young and first exploring the wide expanses of regions, composers, stylistic schools and periods,    , budget labels and cutouts most certainly allowed someone with limited resources like me to take a chance on something unknown and not empty my pockets at the same time. 

In this way I came to appreciate American composer Samuel Barber. One first exposure was Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing selected parts from his ballet Medea and another was a budget recording of his Knoxville Summer of 1915. Munch's "Medea" was a wonder"Knoxville" was a decent enough version to get the idea, though I've forgotten who did it. I had to sel;l it before heading off the graduate school in 1981.

By the time I had absorbed both these works/performances I was impressed with how Barber managed to create very memorable New Music while in his own way acting with originality and verve in a Modern-Romantic mode. That I heard but could not put a name to it until I read about him in a Contemporary music monograph. 

As time has passed these two works have lightened my days considerably the more I continued to listen. And as time went by I subsequently embraced his "Adagio," his Violin Concerto, etc. Happily in Barber for me was a very lyrical voice that did not sound retrograde or old fashioned. He was his own outstanding self and I was happy to find this out.

So I was glad when I heard that Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project had released a volume of Barber gems, namely the complete score of the ballet Medea, a new recorded version of Knoxville with soprano Kristen Watson, and then a ten minute mini-operatic work "A Hand of Bridge" from 1950.

The performance of "Knoxville" leaves nothing to be desired. It breathes in yearning memory of a time past, yet basks in the light of the timeless beauty of summer magic. It reaffirms the highly engaging, vivid enchantment I felt on first hearing the work. BMOP show us a present-day balance that only serves to increase our feeling of timelessness. Wonderful.

The complete "Medea" in nine movements brings to us a relevance I originally felt on the Munch excerpt, perhaps with a bit less fire that the old recording but then with a nicely Apollonian central balance that gathers the total together in all nine movements and gives us a full earful of the evolving totality, the wholeness of the complete version.

The bonus 1959 "A Hand of Cards" has a nice expressivity to it and makes us appreciate further Barber's natural affinity for vocal writing.

All told this gives us carefully involved, painstaking versions of the works. They bear up on repeated hearings, giving us a Barber that sounds as fresh today as the days when he first wrote these masterful works.

The Suite, Music by Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jose Elizondo, Anthony R. Green, The Lowell Chamber Orchestra, Orlando Cela

 


Just what goes with what can be a central aspect of coming up with an illuminating program of music. That's so with The Lowell Chamber Orchestra under Orlando Cela and their recent album entitled The Suite (Navona NV 6324). The central idea is that a chamber orchestra and solo flute(s) can address the multi-movement suite form, that Baroque classics of the genre can compare and contrast with several contemporary Modern tonal analogs.

And the truth is that setting a kind of mutually reflecting historical mirror one against the other gives us some in-depth chances to contemplate being here in the present as well as embracing how humanity has been in a musically astute past--and how it still speaks to us, still matters. 

We get that with a happy and spirited performance of the Telemann "Overture Suite in E minor" which is new to me but a gem nonetheless, performed with a happy zeal. That is followed by Bach and his marvelous "Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor," an absolutely ravishing thing played in a gamy, rather Modern fashion, spawning past and preparing the listener for the two Modern-day suites that follow. Now I might have heard more Baroquely exacting performances of this suite, but this approach opens us up to a more comparative way to think about it all, so it fits the context well, and indeed is pure pleasure to hear in any event.

I can't say I know much about our present-day terpsichorians (the latter in the sense that the suites both have like the venerable works a connection with the dance one way or another). With the Jose Elizondo "Recuerdos Estivos (Summer Memories)" and the Anthony E. Green "The Green Double: A Historical Dance Suite," both have a great deal of charm and a very personal slant that is neither directly backward looking nor oblivious to the form and its ancient roots.

"Summer Memories" do seem to fill the air with a kind of halcyonic nostalgia that nonetheless avoid a haze of sentimentality. Nonetheless there is a kind of rhapsodic Romanticism joined to a kind of post-Baroque view that sets it apart nicely.

Anthony R. Green's "Green Double" has an effusive quality as well, but then a bit more delicate a bouquet of sonic sonance. It lingers in the mind as an atmospheric--yet all of it does in its own way. The eleven minute final movement gives us a playful contemporaneity that satisfies and sends us on our way with a smile.

It is a program to take you into the present by way of a retrospected past. Cela and the Lowell Chamber Orchestra bring us a fresh view of where the Suite has been and something of where it seems to be going. Bravo!


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Clifford Crawley, Moods and Miniatures, Maureen Volk

 

There are some composers out there right now, as pretty much at any time, that can make their importance known to you with just a few notes, for they have a unique character that comes through in a rapid way. That is true for me of the English-Canadian musical stalwart Clifford Crawley (1929-2016). I am listening happily to an anthology of his work that came in the mail recently. It is aptly titled Moods and Miniatures (Centrediscs  CMCCD 28621). 

He was born in England and taught and composed there from 1952 through to 1973, when he came to Canada and taught Composition and Music Education at Queen's University for the remainder of his working life. He came to know pianist Maureen Volk on moving to St. John's in 2002. 

Maureen heads up the ensemble on piano for this lovely collection of compositions. The solo piano works are the bedrock showcases in many ways for his very characteristic, tonal, post-Impressionistic, post-Satie-n playful and whimsical expressions. Ms. Volk handles them all with a beautiful sympathy that makes them all shine--"iPieces for Piano," "Toccatas for Piano," "Twelve Preludes" and then along with Beverley Diamond the "Kalamaika: Suite for Piano Duet." It is a furtherance of Satie, Ravel-Debussy brilliance taken in a personal direction that has a real charm, that is a true pleasure to hear.

This one should appeal to a wide swatch of music lovers. It makes me want to hear more! Do not miss this!

But for that matter the chamber pieces included here for clarinet and piano ("Ten A Penny Pieces"), and for flute, clarinet and piano ("pieces-of-eight") are equally original, personal and filled with whimsy and humor.

No matter how you want to slice the order of the music, this is a fine album, showing us a musical sould fully oroginal and filled with brilliance, I would love to hear more of Crawley after so happily digesting this one! Highly recommended.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Martin Scherzinger, Scherzinger Etudes, (For Piano), Bobby Mitchell

 

What New Music can be has become extended, become more opened up over the past 50 years so that one can never quite know what to expect next. That is not a bad thing. In the case of the music up today it is a very good thing. Scherzinger Etudes (New Focus Recordings FCR295) reads the type at the bottom of the cover. Look further inside at the liners and you verify that the composer is Martin Scherzinger (to spell out first and last names) and the pianist performing the Etudes is Bobby Mitchell. All that may mean something to you or possibly not--it depends of course on your. personal circle of compositions and artists. 

What matters here of course is the specific composition and performance, both of which are outstanding. The music is not what you might expect in that it is unmistakably of our time, yet not "Modern" in the genre specific capital /M/ sense. In the most obvious sense this is not "bleep bloop" rangy Serialism, which is what one expected to hear nearly universally years back. It is tonal and it often has the full-expression keyful of music that Schumann, Liszt and Rachmaninov made their own. Yet the melodic-harmonic unfolding is more primal and post-Romantic, almost Folksy, Lisztian.

And most importantly the music sounds very comfortable being what it is, which is original and lyrically effusive while also being virtuoso oriented in the best pianistic sense. It is hard to play! And Bobby Mitchell sounds great in how he performs it with elan, with excitement.

The composer tells us in the liners that the music could be seen as a kind of "musique concrete topologique of found musical sound." By that he means that "These etudes are rewritings of the music of Schumann, Couperin, Paganini, Sgambati, Brahms and others." The music is subject to transformation as in a kind of musical "hall of mirrors" to give them a newness, a hearing "as it for the first time." Those insightful words help us undestand what the composer was after, and at the same time it does not at all take away from the originality of the music as we hear it. Not at all. And indeed the key is "as if for the first time," for that is absolutely the case.

It is an excellent example of how endless music can be. There is nothing new under the sun? No, we can never run out of possibilities and here is an unexpected one, a classic-in-the-making, an important work of interest to anyone who loves the piano, who loves the new, or for that matter, perhaps to anyone musical! Strongly recommended. Molto bravo!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Daniel Lippel, Johann Sebastian Bach, aufs Lautenwerk, The Well-Tempered Guitar

 

As one grows older, if one has taken advantage of the availability of the music of Bach over the years, Bach speaks to the listening self with ever more clarity and movement, so that at least for me Bach takes a central place often enough among various musical  things and so I gain ever more from the hearing.

So today there is a recent volume of Bach that speaks volumes to me--namely Daniel Lippel's The Well Tempered Guitar, aufs Lautenwerk (New Focus Recordings FCR 920 MF18). It is, as the subtitle suggests, music Bach intended for the lute. Adapting it to the guitar involves foremost a guitar-centered aural sense, a sensitivity to making the glorious music sound anew. Daniel does just that.

If you are like me some of this music will be very familiar--through hearing guitar or lute versions or even arrangements for other instruments. Others might seem somewhat less familiar, to me anyway. All is welcome, deeply satisfying on multiple listens. So we get the five movement Suite in Em BWV 996, the four movement Sonata in Cm BWV 997 and the three movement Prelude, Fuga & Allegro in Eb BWV 998.

Daniel Lippel gives us a kind of whole cloth reading of the music, with equal weight given to each part in counterpoint and/or stretching into aural space. The line weaving is smoothly phrased so we can take it all in as the unity it was intended to be. There's not a lot of rubato and as you listen it seems quite right, quite as it no doubt sounded to Bach as he conceived it.

This is extraordinarily deep music in the end, extraordinarily phased and sounded by Maestro Lippel. Very recommended.

Monday, July 12, 2021

John-Henry Crawford, Dialogo, with Victor Santiago Asuncion, Brahms, Ligeti, Shostakovich

 

Young cellist John-Henry Crawford has a phenomenal way about him. There comes an album by him that gives us a bird's eye view of his brilliance. It is dubbed Dialogo (Orchid Classics ORC 100166). The title makes sense because it is a matter of John-Henry engaging in a vivid dialog with three compositions, and for two out of the three, with the pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion.

It turns out that the works chosen for the program seem pretty ideal in terms of giving us various sides and moods for the cellist to dwell within. And the music happens to be exceedingly beautiful anyway.

The Op. 99 Brahms Sonata for Piano and Cello has so much wonderful about it at base. Crawford attacks the cello part with a beautifully singing tone, a variable vibrato that brings the sound into various poetically aural places, and an intonation perfection that anybody with good ears will hearken to and appreciate. Asuncion returns the aural volleys with a widely subtle variability and a superb sense of touch and articulation that set us into a happy place from first to last. Anyone who knows and loves this sonata will recognize what a marvelous reading this is, surely one of the very best I have heard and I have heard more than a few.

Gyorgy Ligeti's Sonata for Solo Cello gets exceptional treatment by Crawford. The very sophisticated bowing demands and melodic complexities are taken in stride by the cellist. And remarkably he manages to retain his signature singing vibrancy throughout, so that it is both very Modern but also very lyrical.

Lastly the Shostakovich Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor brings to us a very strongly tempered, boldly outlined unravelling of the many brilliant twists and turns of the four movement work. There is more strength than delicacy perhaps but that is no doubt a good thing for the insights one can gain by hearing it all in this way, full strength as it were. The robust reading seems right, but then too it is not at a maximum assertive level either, so it all makes sense.

Get this one and hear a wonderful young cellist open up new avenues to classic works. Do not miss it.