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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Orlando Jacinto Garcia, String Quartets 1-3, Amernet String Quartet


Cuban-American composer Orlando Jacinto Garcia writes music that aims to suspend time. This according to the liner notes on the recent offering String Quartets 1-3 (Metier msv28613). The Amernet String Quartet perform all three quartets with care, precision, and understanding. And time becomes relative with close listening, or at least that was my experience.

Garcia was born in Cuba, 1954 and migrated to the USA in 1961. His compositions have received a number of awards and world-wide performance coverage.

The aural feeling of suspension in time (at least in terms of these quartets) often comes about by a very gradual unfolding of content, a deliberation that plays out bit-by-bit in each case, by repetition that involves less of a developmental processual element (as one might hear often enough in the music of Steve Reich) but instead changes and interchanges sectional elements that further the work in a temporal suspension, even if there might be rapidly expressed elements at times.

The music at its best settles into a complexly varied phrasing that repeats without haste and in the end without the least feeling of urgency. The music says its say and one finds at the end a connectivity that invites one to contemplation, non-insistently.

There are times when the music unravels like a Persian Carpet--like later Morton Feldman, where patterns repeat and then contrast with other patterns and the connectivity is a natural contiguity, a "this comes next to that" apparentness . Yet as you listen it does not sound like there is a Feldman imitation, just an affinity. And his syntax has a personal originality that sets it apart from other composers in general.

And with the repetition the term Minimalism comes to mind. Of course repetition is nothing new. As in Rock, Blues, African, European folk, some Classical, etc., to repeat is to groove sometimes, to trance, to take pleasure in the thing restated. The sort of repetition Feldman and Garcia are up to does not look for groove much, certainly, and the slowness of the unfolding brings timelessness which perhaps is the opposite of groove? 

Listening here from the second to, say,  the infinite rehearing of a motif, one does not find oneself driven into the connectedness as a somatic ecstacy. It all suspends rather than re-sends. And that is fine because no music need to conform to all other related musics of course. To not groove is to allow other music to do that, and to contrast the listening self with another place to be.

If you live with this music for awhile like I have you may well find it a special thing, serious and expressive, thoughtful and in its own way a step ahead. It is sincere, intimate and a musical world unto itself, happily. Recommended.

Friday, March 26, 2021

James Dashow, Songs from a Spiral Tree, The Vocal Works, High Modern Classics


Maybe like me you do not know a lot about composer James Dashow. The current two-CD set will help set you straight.. It is titled Songs from the Spiral Tree: The Vocal Works (Ravello RR8046 2-CDs).

This is all-hands-on-deck High Modern song grouping, five in all, that come out of the tradition of Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez and beyond. Dashow also studied the music of Dallapiccola at some length, and that influence is no doubt also in there as a general factor. 

There is a pronouncedly rangy, full throated, acrobatic vocal style and a thoughtful instrumental and/or electronic accompaniment, all mind expanding, carefully and masterfully crafted with a sure hand. He was one of the very first to work with computer music and some of the songs feature some very imaginative and skillfully executed computer electronic parts, a high point of the program, surely. 

The poetic song texts include some of our finest Modernists--with Theodore Roethke featured on "Songs for a Spiral Tree," John Ashberry on "Second Voyage" and "Ashberry Setting," and John Berryman on "Some Dream Songs." Text and music match nicely, perfectly even.

The performances are excellent, with some beautiful singing from Constance Beavon, Lisa Pierce, Sonia Visentin, Joan Logue and George Shirley. The instrumental parts for flute (Lauren Weiss or Jayn Rosenfeld), harp (Lucia Bova), piano (James Winn, Aldo Orveito, or Giancarlo Simonacci) and violin (Mario Buffa) are excellently played and beautifully written.

Anyone who loves the vocal arts and High Modernism will find this one very good to hear, I would think. Bravo James Dashow!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Sustain, Vol. 2: Solo Piano and Chamber Works, A Modern Anthology

The more disparate and numerous the musical items an anthology contains, the harder it is to write about it in some ways. Yet if the music speaks one must cast some light on it all. The Navona label periodically produces anthologies of new Modern music in various genres and with various configurations, various themes. Here today is such a one and it qualifies as something nicely adding to our appreciation of the Contemporary, so I am glad to write about it.

So then here is one that has gotten my attention. It is Sustain, Vol. 2: Solo Piano and Chamber Works (Navona NV6345). All the music tends to be in the realm of the Modern, the Tonal, the rather Neo-Classical often enough, sometimes with a slight touch of Neo-Romanticism but ever veering off on original paths, productive tangents in the miniaturist mode.

Within the totality the objective of this program is to present "piano works in solo, duo and trio settings." So we get nine works for solo piano, one for violin and piano, one for tenor sax and piano and a trio for violin, cello and piano. The ever passing parade of subtly singular works makes for fascinating listening. 

To single out a few solo piano pieces that stay in the mind, even if they all do, there is the bluesy, jazz inflected strength of Sarah Wallin-Huff's "The Reluctant Carnie," and John A. Carollo's articulate, explosively animated and weighty "Piano Etude No. 6," Kenneth Kuhn's "Of What Might Have Been" for violin and piano  has a sharply defined Neo-Classical verve and Jim Puckett's "Nocturne" for tenor sax and piano gives is a reflective lyricism that stands up and demands to be heard. The finale is "Bewildered Soliloquies," a high voltage trio by Santiago Kodela. 

It all reminds us that we live in a world where the music keeps springing forth no matter now the world fares otherwise.

So too we get a wealth of other possibilities of a very worthy sort on the additional solo piano works by the likes of Karen A. Tarlow, Chen-Hsin Su, John Craven, Gordon Monahan, Bill Sherril, plus two by Ron Nagorcka.

Edgard Varese once famously exclaimed that "the present-day composer refuses to die!" This anthology is proof, if you need any, that it still is very much the case. There is much to explore here. Any piano music acolyte will find this a boon I am of little doubt. Kudos.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Sid Richardson, Borne by a Wind


Some composers create music as they might breathe. The music follows upon itself in a natural flow, like conversation idealized into a musical transform. That's the feeling I get listening to Sid Richardson on his recent Borne by a Wind (New Focus Recordings FCR285).

It in part centers around the poetry of Nathaniel Mackey, a kind of Post-Beat brilliance well suited to getting articulated around a musical incubation, so to speak. The five movement "Red Wind" defines that, in recitation of Mackey fleshed out further by soprano Melissa Hughes and the Deviant Septet (with wind, contrabass and percussion to take on Jazz or New Music inflections alternately) giving shape and form to the poetic imagery. It all proceeds in ways that channel Jazz and New Music,  to further everything and make it make a kind of perfect aural sense, poetic, meaningful Jazz-Classical Modern elements and a touch of World, all wrapped into one. 

I've heard "Red Wind" a bunch of times so far and it keeps making more and more of an impression on me, so that is a happy thing. Rounding out the program are three additional chamber gems--"There is no sleep so deep" for solo piano, "LUNE" for solo violin, and "Astrolabe" for the six instrumentalists of the Da Capo Chamber Players. All three pieces further deepen our appreciation of the advanced, eloquent and limber contemporary inventiveness of Richardson. 

The piano piece is in the Ultra-Modern performative mode, beautifully done by Conrad Tao. "LUNE" gets concentrated soundings by Lilit Hartunian. It is meditative, open, empty and full at the same time, redolent with motivic insistence without taking on the mesmeric periodicity that old-school Minimalism typically worked towards.

"Astrolab" does for sextet what "LUNE" did for solo violin--it unwraps a kind of unified musical idea only in more complex and multivoiced ways that unveil variational endlessnesses.

As is usually the case these blog words are not meant to provide a definitive analog to the sounds so much as pique curiosity and suggest the directionality of an album. So that. On the basis of this Borne by a Wind program Sid Richardson is an important voice on the New Music scene today. The entire program combines sound color and eloquent linings ever. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

James Caldwell, Pocket Music, Concrete Miniatures 1998-2020


Early Electronic and Musique Concrete flourished of course in part by the complexity and novelty of the aural colors the artists painstakingly built up out of transformations and generations of heretofore unheard of possibilities. With the advent of synthesizers in some ways the music was akin to the idea in organ music--that there were preset "stops" and composing became in part a matter of the building of form within the available sound parameters. This is a gross simplification but true in the broadest senses.

With the recent album Pocket Music:Concrete Miniatures 1998-2020 (Neuma 135), James Caldwell  gives us in a fascinating series of very short to mid-length miniatures a revived sense of possibility in transforming acoustic sounds to timbral openings onto newly regenerative sonic universes. The infinite number of transformations possible for any given soundset gives us tantalizing pause. Like abstraction in painting there is sometimes a tangential referential relation from original to re-composed, so that you feel in a new place, an OTHER place.

And too there is a kind of performative relation to original sound transformations. Landscapes are seemingly organically congealing though each element has been aesthetically transformed with the kind of inventiveness that may remind us of the old musique concrete works of Pierre Schaefer and the others of the Euro-French School in the '50s and early '60s. On the other hand the composer draws us in to the idea of a alternate lineage down from Xenakis, Mimaroglu, Gaburo. What matters is that what he views as a rootedness I too hear in this album. And if I listen again, sure I hear those influences in essence too.

But on another level the music comes out of the idea of the encapsulating title, Pocket Music. The idea is that the sound sources can well be thought of as things that can comfortably fit in a pocket, so a rubber band or wrapper that once contained fruit, a set of keys, a pencil, ping-pong balls and more besides. It all locates the music in a casual everyday place, perhaps also at home, a place where from the world of everyday objects one may induce a set of sounds, a subset of the homespun world of sound possibilities--a Mikrokosmos  kind of miniature interrelatedness, along with a making special of the everyday. .Underneath it all is a unique conceptualism that helps distinguish this music as of a particular piece, a common source, the ready-to-hand of the most mundane of objects, yet because so everyday yet so transformed there is a kind of intimate joining of art and life.

And so there are in the grouping together of given miniatures a kind of feeling of difference and sameness for contemplation, with never a dull moment but continual movement in the best ways.

Anyone who loves classic Electronic and Electro-Acoustic Music will feel very much at home with this album. For those so rooted it will remind you perhaps why you were attracted to the new sounds in the first place? It did that to me. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Robert Moran, Buddha Goes to Bayreuth


I last posted on the music of Robert Moran in 2011, a review of his Trinity Requiem for 9-11 victims (type his name in the search box for that). Now here we are some ten years later and the world is a different place of course yet  Robert Moran's music straddles the passing time, literally. He returns in full force with his impressive opus Buddha Goes to Bayreuth (Nauma 136).

The work clocks in at a little over an hour, filled with expressive ambition for a massed forces of Stefan Gorgner as countertenor, the two choirs of the KammerChor KlangsCala Salzburg and the dual string orchestras of the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, all under conductor Rupert Huber. What we hear was well recorded live at the Salzburg Cathedral in 2014.

The premise for the music is elaborate and resonant. It was initially commissioned in 2011. Part One was added three years later to make it an evening's worth of music in the extraordinarily resonant Salzburg Cathedral. 

Wagner wanted to write an opera about the life of Buddha but didn't. Buddha Goes to Bayreuth in effect imagines it, or perhaps more properly to say he ere-imagines it  The work features among other things chordal blocks that are derived from Parsifal. Some Tibetan Mantras are also part of the raw ingredients. The end result is original and absorbing, quite cosmic in a special space-time expressivity.

It is a long ethereal stretch of massive suspensions and holdings perfectly matched for the substantially lengthy natural echo of the cathedral. There is grit in the harmonic pointedness of the score and a good hour of contemplative sounds that have a feeling of timeless endlessness. There is an unmistakable present-day currency continually rolling along in our hearing experience. It is a beautiful sprawl that in a way uses the cathedral acoustics as an instrument with a deliberate sounding of length and depth. One must hear this to fathom it all. Words are not sufficient.

It brings you to an aural space that somehow straddles East and West, today and long ago yesterdays. It is something to experience in depth and the opening effect of the hearing grows as you listen again. Definitely recommended for the New Music vocal music adept, or for that matter anyone who seeks the new.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Robert Honstein, Middle Ground, Music for Solo Violin and Electronics, Kate Stenberg


The music of Robert Honstein has not crossed my listening path all that much (but I've appreciated what I've heard on a couple of anthologies. Type his name in the search box above for those.) Today we consider an EP program devoted solely to his music, Middle Ground  (OM 2030) for solo violin and electronic manipulation, played nicely by Kate Stenberg.  There is a film that goes with the music but I have not seen it as yet. The sound work in itself attracts one's attention in very good ways either way, at any rate.

The music divides into three interrelated movements. The violin sounds out from a sonic stage that is a little bit echo-wet a la ECM. The middle section seems to have a subtly slight digital delay.

The first part "Too Far" starts the music out with a quiet mystery--somehow not unrelated to some of the thoughtful, introspective chamber sounds we have heard most definitively from the great Arvo Paert yet Honstein is singingly original in its own right. The signal splits so that the violin answers self duet-style in lyrically radical tonality, with a diatonic sweetness that does not cloy.

"Too Close" has a bit of digital delay and/or multiple tracking and produces a steady-state New Music fiddling that holds its own in minor mode that sounds almost ethnic in a post-Modernity kind of way. It pleases me greatly and holds my attention. Perhaps you too would feel that way? It is music easy to like yet not at all predictable.

The finale, "Bridging the Gap" peacefully unwinds around diatonic lower and higher register call-and-answer passages that spellbind without assertively calling attention to themselves.

The music has its say then fades off into quiet. It is not easy to present a musical front that is simple yet not the least bit banal. Robert Honstein's music and Kate Stenberg's focused and subtle violin performance execution pull together to create a markedly deep impression, a special sort of simplicity that refreshes as it expresses. 

Well done! I recommend this for the seekers of what one might call Tone-Mystery Modernism. Nice.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Douglas Boyce, The Hunt By Night, Chamber Music


Who is Douglas Boyce? A good way to start knowing about him is on a recent album of his chamber music, The Hunt By Night  (New Focus Recordings FCR 278). It is another great example of why New Focus Recordings is one of the best things to happen to New Music in a long time.

We get a chance to immerse ourselves in five works, all around 10 minutes or so long. They were composed between 2003 and 2020, so of course we are talking about very new things. Douglas Boyce puts a great deal of thought, imagination and detail into each of these pieces. They happily and refreshingly occupy a turf somewhere between Neo-Classical and High Modern chamber space--rhythmically vivid in a post-Stravinskian sense, tonally vast in a near atonal mode, adventuresomely scored.

The inner sleeve of the CD puts forward what Boyce is all about in such clear terms I think it right to quote it directly. That is, that "Douglas Boyce writes music exploring the historical entailments of musical-being and with the temporal poetics of performance." Well, uh, yes. He does do that. It actually makes sense once you listen carefully.

In the liner notes to this program Boyce agrees with Stravinsky in asserting that music is fundamentally anchored ontologically in time, as opposed to anchoring in sound. Music situates performers and audience in a special ritual temporality. History and the present coincide. They do so here in a specific bio-mechanical continuity we call "chamber music," in this case delicately specific in spite of the "severity" of the Modern. It encompasses for all that an historical meta-narrative as well. 

"Embodied performance" here joins with what we now experience as the digital--on the CD of course.

Of the five pieces on this recording, three feature the 6-7 member chamber gathering counter)induction. The title work "The Hunt By Night" reimagines in musical sound Paulo Uccello's 1470 painting by that name,  taking a middle path in some ways between symmetry and flatness with hunters, dogs and hunting horns set against the rigid envelopment of the forest. The music in turn reflects a poem based on the painting, the 1970 expression by one Derek Mahon. The eloquently matter-of-fact rhythmic vitality of the work vividly goes far in an elaborate substitution of temporal rituals of sound-in-motion. It is a music that is bracing, beautifully conversant in depicting the memory of image and word. It is a work of convincing, excellent fettle. The clarinet part marks the territory in a special pointedness that the rest of the instrumentation follows and expands.

Backing up to the opening "Quintet l'homme arme" we have more to immerse us, very gladly. It gives counter)induction another vivid explosion of sound that obliquely reflects the extraordinarily popular "l'homme arme" setting that composers adopted often enough during a pretty numerous number of decades after its emergence in the 15th century. Boyce's dramatic treatment of the melody puts it into dissonant territory and renders it wholly something other, which we Modernist sympathizers can only welcome as familial and pleasing to our specially formulated palettes. The contrast of movement and relative stasis in the two sections heightens the feeling of difference too and taking it all in, it is a happy listen, indeed!

The "Etude for Cello and Piano No. 1" (2017) comes into our hearing with a lively springboarding out from a quasi-bolero and then on to a heightened connectivity of rhythm contrasting with further elocutions we find most absorbing--or at least I do! Bravo to Ieva Jokubaviciute and Schuyler Slack for a fantastic performance of this one.

The "Piano Quartet No. 2" (2008) gives Trio Cavatina and violist Beth Guterman Chu a kind of thrillingly dissecting musical possibility in the tightly focused excitment of this considerably lucid outburst.

And finally we experience with pleasure the third counter)induction performance with the 2019 "Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind" which stands out for the nicely expressed initial sounding of classical guitar (Daniel Lippel) and its subsequent unwinding and unfailing development with both guitar and chamber group forging together as a whole.

It is music that should grab ahold of you decidedly after a few listens. Douglas Boyce is reassuringly and convincingly his own voice in these works. And the performances are fully up to the challenging demands he puts on all concerned. A Chamber Modern gem, it all comes to that. This one gets my highest recommendation. Give it a chance and see what happens. It is serious business. Bravo!

George Lewis, The Recombinant Trilogy


Anyone who follows the musical career of George Lewis should know his beginnings as an acclaimed improvising trombonist on the Avant Jazz scene--as a key AACM (Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) member, notably making his mark in Anthony Braxton's group and on from there. In time his immersion in Electronic and New Music gave us a composer of great stature and innovative inventiveness. 

I've covered gladly his music on my music blogs from the beginning of my blog posting some 14 years ago. (Type his name in the search box here and also on my Gapplegate Music Review and my Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Review. Before that I covered his releases on Cadence.

I am glad to return with another interesting disk of his music, The Recombinant Trilogy (New Focus Recordings FCR 284). It is a further and effectively moving step toward realizing, refining and redefining the performance combination of live instrumentalists and live electronics. As the liner notes inform us, the live instrumental signal is subjected in real time to put forward "interactive digital delays, spatialization and timbre transformation" that remake the acoustic sounds of each instrument "into multiple digitally created sonic personalities that follow diverse yet intersecting spatial tragectories."

It is a matter of three pieces for virtuoso instrumentalist and electro-acoustic transforming operations Lewis appropriately and helpfully calls "recombinant electronics." 

We begin the program with "Emergent" (2014), for the flute of Claire Chase and the electronic manipulation of Levy Lorenzo. The resultant music is infinitely flexible, plastic, singularly filled with human gesture yet as a magically charmed extension of the acoustic material world.

This is followed by "Not Alone" (2014-5) for Seth Parker Woods who plays cello and applies recombinant electronics to the signal himself. There is a great deal of spontaneously emergent cello in itself, a wonder to hear, but then a continual enveloping and burgeoning outward into something fascinatingly other.

Finally there is "Seismologic" 2017 for Dana Jessen on bassoon and Eli Stine on recombinant electronics. The very nature of the acoustics of the bassoon drives understandably the final electronic mélange in ways that unleash a more earthy, almost undergrounded deepness, and then a gradually rising up of emergency urgency. And in the end the synchrony and then the dis-synchrony of acoustic and electronic intertwinings stand out as the culmination of the three-pronged voyaging we travel through with interest and fascination.

In the end we get a convincing chamber tapestry of human gestural aesthetics which partake of the beautifully novel but does so with a conversational periodicity that reaffirms the personal quality of live music making while it expands the palette of possibilities for a great wealth of intention and artistry. Molto bravo. There is great spirit to these three works and so much to explore and appreciate. Recommended strongly.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Eric Craven, Pieces for Pianists Volume One, Mary Dullea


Life is short, art is long. Old words but they still ring true. Ars longa, vita brevis. And on a day like today the longness of art asserts itself in spite of how short existence might be. That is because for me it is a matter of enjoying the music of a composer I have missed until now. Eric Craven reminds us that art is long because he makes music that helps lengthen it all. I have been enjoying his album of piano music that has come out recently. It is the Volume One of his Pieces for Pianists (Metier msv 28601), written between 2017 and 2019 and very nicely performed by Mary Dullea.

This volume includes the first 25 pieces, miniatures short and very much alive with character. So in this case "art is short," but there's a bunch of it so it gets long eventually! The music is tonal, playful in ways that remind slightly of Satie without owing the least bit to him in any obvious way. The pieces revel in, if I might say this, the sheer pleasure of their sounding. It is not a music that challenges so much as it affirms itself in its singing of itself pianistically. And that owes a great deal to the pianist as well as the composer.

The CDs liners tell us that this music is as much concerned as anything with the microscience implied in the miniature, the musical equivalent to sub-atomic science. Then too the composer wants in this "to encourage and excite both a honing of technique and a quickening of the impulse toward interpretation." Hence the title we should note is "Pieces for Pianists" as much as for piano! And happily the pianist rises to the challenge and gives us the kind of poetic, interpretive readings that Maestro Craven no doubt appreciates.

As listener, we hear this and other dimensions as well, or at least I do, appreciatively. So for me there are moments that seem to refer back to old Music Hall and Jazz elements but as if through a lens, refracted. Other pieces have a reference to playfully "practicing" the piano, only not so much just in the doing as in remembering such a thing. There are elements of humor, of reflection, of reflexively evoking time well spent with the piano in days past, earlier years, formative times. So in the doing is the remembrance of the doing.

The hopefully wonderful thing about it all is that it works, that the music evokes with a bright, vivacious charm that does not try and revive some previous musical world as it takes the memory of it and makes of it a contemporary.commentary, so to speak.

In the end we have 25 miniature gems as much fun to hear as they no doubt are to play. It most certainly makes me want to hear Volume Two as soon as it comes out. Craven writes for the pianist with the care and consideration that all-but-ensures that the performances will be all one might hope for in the hands of a piano master. And so bravo Mary Dullea for coming though with infinite care and zeal. And of course bravo Eric Craven. This one is a lot of fun. Do not miss it. Hurrah!


Monday, March 8, 2021

Sam Hayden, Becomings, Works for Solo Piano, Ian Pace

Music is like life. You may think you know a lot about it, but then the future has things in store and you cannot quite know what. With music (and with life) that can be a good thing of course. So I try and maintain an open stance, to be ready for whatever comes.

Today's offering is one of those happy surprises one can experience. It is a two-CD set covering the piano music of Sam Hayden, as played extraordinarily well by Ian Pace. Becomings (Metier 2-CD msv 28611) covers the title work as disk one and three shorter works on disk two. It all has the adventuresome sort of High Modernism dash that situates pianist and instrument on a heroic and dynamic series of journeys that keep the listener challenged and well rewarded with exciting fare. It comprises to date Hayden's complete works for solo piano and as such the first recordings of same.

The stylistic territory occupied by this music has a deliberate, free spontaneity feeling, Expressionist but also open-cosmic, in a varied a-rhythmic attack that perhaps owes something or overlaps at any rate to the later improvisations of the great Cecil Taylor--it is deliberately irregular and not overtly periodistic for the most part and does not deliberately stress a key center most of the time. It sometimes also recalls some of John Cage's star chart works--for its complexity, its vastly expansive, counter-intuitive set of possibilities that then become logically conversational as a musical language, happily.

The final work in the set, "Piano Moves," for amplified piano,  has a jagged, ragged, primally dissonant, mesmerizing  insistency that marks it off as singular. To get maximum effect one should let the music take over your situation for its 24 minutes. 

"Becomings (Das Werden)" bring us seven sections and a very motionful a-rhythmic atonality that has a virtuoso level of unexpected yet especially continual  morphing that Ian Pace handles with high artistry and sensitivity.

The remaining two works on disk two, a short "Fragment (After Losses)" and the longer "...still time..." have more of the open unpredictability in motion as we hear on the title work. "Still time" has a hushed quietude that unwinds in a nicely post-Feldman poetic way. Then it breaks out with more energetic and expressive loudness before leaving more quiet rumination to contemplate.

This set will appeal to all pianistically oriented Modernists out there. Hayden is the genuine article and I hope we can hear more of his music in future releases. Good show!


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Astor Piazzolla, La Pasion, Tango-Etudes for Violin Solo, Kinga Augustyn


Some music combined with some performances seem perfectly right. And when you come across such things it is a confirmation that the world may be upside down in many respects yet music somehow makes it right even if only for a brief time, i.e., not an entire evening or such, just as long as the music is meant to last.

That is the case with a short album I've been enjoying recently. It is performed wonderfully well by violinist Kinga Augustyn. Type her name in the search box above for some other reviews I've done of her albums, some just a few days ago.

In is something very nice by Astor Piazzolla, namely La Pasion, Tango-Etudes for Violin Solo (Centaur). What's rather remarkable about these six etudes is how they manage to partake of a Tango atmosphere-adventure yet they often spin away from any very overt expression of the continual rhythmic insistence a regular Tango would need to have to be danceable. Instead they sometimes weave themselves in and out of such considerations via rubato and fractional structural-segmental pauses that put the music in a different place. And in so doing Piazzolla and Kinga suspend dance time as we might conceive of it and instead fall nicely into violin solo unaccompanied virtuoso expressions in which one recognizes readily a Piazzolla elan, something that sets him apart from virtually any other composer.

Much of this "halfway-here, halfway-there" quality works especially well in the way that Ms. Augustyn straddles the "Tango/not Tango" qualities of the writing. It is a pairings of composer and performer that stands out, that seems ever-fresh no matter how many times one listens. 

So I do recommend this one heartily. Kinga comes through again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Julien Palomo, S'Eteindre (Penderecki, Pendant La Fin Du Monde)


I have come to appreciate the music of Julien Palomo over the years as a New Music Electrician of true stature. During this Pandemic he has finished off a very ambitious, 11 part Electronic Music work S'Eteindre (Penderecki, Pendant La Fin Du Mond)  (Mutant Sounds, Bandcamp DL). It lasts many hours and so does not especially lend itself to a single-sitting hearing in general but that is the case with very long works. I found it quite worthwhile to listen to it all a few parts at a time.

The end of the great composer Penderecki and the continuing end of the world come together in this rather apocalyptic reverse paean to some extraordinarily difficult times. 

Each part has its own identity and substantiality; lasting from around 20 minutes to under an hour. Julien puts it all together with a dense orchestrational electronic wash of multiple synths, often with long, but not obviously droning sustains that ebb and flow in complexity and contrast as underpinning to foreground musical-noise events that have a discursive variability that is faster moving, that are evolving events often contrasting with the bedrock of the slower moving constants.

The more I listen to all this the more I feel like I belong in this musical maze. It is important work, advanced, endlessly stimulating, a great sound companion for your moment of repose. Listen!

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Lavena, In Your Hands, New Cello Music By Peacocke, Montgomery, Shaw, Hearne, Dessner and Adashi


One way the new can surprise is when it does something so well one rehears what is possible. That's very true of cellist Lavena's debut solo album In Your Hands (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0145). It is a most remarkable program of New Music for unaccompanied cello and then two additional works for cello and another instrument.

What first struck this listener about it all is not so much that the music is tonal, though that is true. It struck me how much the music takes care to bring out elemental cello resonances and sound colors by taking advantage idiomatically of standard cello tuning, the possibility of open strings and very resonant multiple stops, figurations that very much bring out the special qualities of effective cello string soundings and of course cello bowing, to unveil richly expressive archaic and vibrant cello acoustics.

It is especially true of the unaccompanied works.  The opening, a debut recording of "Amygdala" by Gemma Peacocke pits solo cello against an electronic backdrop for a beautifully emergent cello sonance that has a primality that does not quite drone but pairs multiple stops in long beautifully sustained melodics.

The premiere of the three movement Jessie Montgomery work "Duo for Violin and Cello" combines an intricate intertwining of William Herzog's violin with Lavena's cello for soaring arpeggios on combined string sequences and pizzicato adventures followed by a striking chorale-like interlocking with blocks of shifting sustains leading to an intense rhapsodic cello soaring atop the violin's continuous multiple-stop sustains. The lyric blocks further develop. Then the final movement gives us an exciting series of presto arpeggiations, ingenious shifts and shades very well played. Exhilarating music this is.

Caroline Shaw's solo cello "in manus tuas" follows with striking double stopped. two voiced exceptionalities. Lavena is called upon to blend her voice with the cello part and it sounds very good indeed. The work is beautifully based on a motet by Thomas Tallis.

Ted Hearne's "Furtive Movements" pairs cello with percussion (Jeff Stern) for a remarkable series of rhythmically vibrant and sonically complex expressions in four short movements. The interplay defies description in the best manner and the sound colors juxtapose in uncanny ways. That brings lots of smiles of appreciation, or at least that is the case for me! A virtuosi tour de force for sure.

Bryce Desner's "Tuusula" in its premier recording begins with some attractively dynamic fanfare sorts of figures and continues with some beautiful sequences played brilliantly well by Lavena.

The finale "my heart comes undone" was written for Lavena by her husband Judah Adashi, based on the Bjork song "Unravel" and more generally also on stylistic elements of Arvo Part. It gives us a fitting end to a marvelously fresh album.

I am favorably reminded at times of the string styles of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. But then also too of the string work of John Cale on Nico's Marble Index album from the 1960s and also Berio's string accompaniment to "Black is the Color" on his wonderful Folk Songs suite. It is Archaic Modern in that way and I love the sound.

And then it is more besides, a new take on the Contemporary Modern as a whole and undoubtedly of interest to anyone who wants to keep current and looks for something very musical as well as very new. Highly recommended.