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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Piazzolla & Galliano Concertos, Accordion Concertos by Astor Piazzolla & Richard Galliano, Jovica Janovic, Ukranian Chamber Orchestra, Valeriy Sokolov


If one has not been as mindful as one might of the music out there for accordion, it seems to be time to take note. At least, that is, with a recent release Piazzolla & Galliano Concertos (Navona NV6317) for Accordion and Chamber Orchestra. It is a happy confluence of two substantial works--by Astor Piazzolla and Richard Galliano and fine performances from Jovica Ivanovic at the accordion and the Ukranian Chamber Orchestra under  Valeriy Sokolov.

Neither concerto is expressly addressing the dance but each has a rhythmic continuity at least in the outer movements that suggest folk dance periodicity and regularity. Neither jump out at you in terms of overt Modernism in some harmonic sense for the most part,  and both are folk infused in ways that are original and carry their own weight.

Piazzolla (1921-1992) and his Argentinian New-Tango-plus-bandoneon background made me anticipate his concerto with interest. He fully lives up to expectations and perhaps surpasses them with intensive labyrinths of melodic concentricity. There is an endless melodic flow and virtuosity from the accordion part that the orchestra seconds and furthers. All three movements have a density and power that brings to the ears an original lyricism built of strong phrase blocks that fit together seamlessly.

Richard Galliano's "Opale Concerto" work perfectly complements the Piazzolla with its very own melodic-rhythmic density that strays more decidedly into "progressive" rhythmic vitality--e.g., the driving 5/4 passages of the first movement. There is a bit more chromatic dexterity that both accordion and orchestra take up. The composer met Piazzolla in 1980 whereupon he was inspired to pursue a "new French musette" music of which this concerto is the logical outgrowth. As the liners state--there is a unique combination of "raw Balkan, nostalgic Parisian and bustling American influences."

Repeated listenings bring out the full bouquet of musically heightened brilliance these two works have in abundance. The deft combination of superb readings and musically vital works make this volume an experience that will doubtless make the listener smile and think at the same time. Very recommended.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Gregory Rose, Danse Macabre, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Chamber Ensemble


English composer Gregory Rose kindly sent me some CDs devoted to his music. Right now I've been listening to his Danse Macabre (Toccata Classics TOCC0284). This is an ambitious, detailed hour-long work for vocal soloists, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, all conducted by the composer himself.

The music was inspired by a multi-paneled painting from the 16th century by Bernt Notke that is on display at the St. Nicholas Church in Tallinn, Estonia. Underneath each panel is a descriptive text in German underscoring the theme of the Danse macabre, the recognition that Death does not spare anyone but instead comes for all regardless of status or importance.

Gregory Rose took the texts from each panel and set them to music, underscoring a strikingly singular mood via those texts, requiem mass movements, and various dance movements. The 28 movements alternate soloist articulating vocal recitations with accompaniment, dramatic choral expressions and dance-oriented chamber orchestral interludes.

The music itself is quite expressive and essentially combines a nod to sacred music traditions in European musical history with a very Contemporary Modern feel that at times has quite an expansive semi-bitonal conflation and/or advanced harmonic-melodic development along with a vivid sonic palette.

What's remarkable about it all is the wealth of inventive movements, nothing patently derivative so much as a steady stream of originality unfolding in a wide swatch of idiomatic possibilities surrounding the grimly poetic or the poetically grim in meditations on death. It is a style both eclectic and original, a feeling of being in a new place that simultaneously acknowledges the near and distant sacred musical past.

The soloists and the collective give us a fittingly dedicated performance worthy of the musical content while being sympathetic and attentive to every nuance.

Anyone who loves the amassed vocal-instrumental arts in a dramatic setting will find this of interest no doubt. Listen!

Alan Hovhaness, Selected Piano Compositions, Sahan Arzruni


I count myself fortunate that when I was first getting myself into classical music seriously I stumbled on to a cutout LP of Hovhaness's Lousadzak on Wergo, the Ajemian recording,  without knowing anything about it. I bought it and it started in me a lifelong love for the composer and Armenian music in general. The minor mode and distinctive melodic brilliance still give me great pleasure, whether it is classical composers in that vein or "Folk" songs. I love it all. And of course Hovhaness is special in his own right.

So when I heard there was a new volume of mostly unknown Hovhaness piano works out I arranged to get a review copy ASAP. It arrived and I am here to report in. The pianist is Sahan Arzuni. The album is beautifully produced with a booklet and box design that stands out. It is simply titled Selected Piano Compositions (Kalan 733).

Arzruni was a close friend of the composer and ended up with a sizable stack of unpublished Hovhaness works in manuscript by the time of Alan's death in 2000. The CD at hand consists almost solely of world premier recordings, of solo piano works from that stack. The album came out in 2019 but was not widely distributed then. Now it is readily available on Amazon.

The works all reflect to a lesser or greater extent Hovhaness's love for the Armenian melodic-tonal world. A number of pieces at the beginning and the end of the program include a percussion part, nicely played by Adam Rosenblatt. The remaining middle cluster of these 34 movements or short works are for piano alone. Nothing is superfluous here. All are excellent Hovhaness and so very much a treasure trove. That fact and the wonderful sympathy Arzruni brings to this music makes for an ideal circumstance, a celebration of Hovhaness for all who love his music or for that matter a wonderful introduction for anyone who does not!

My strongest recommendation I give to this one. Wow!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Hymns of Kassiani, Cappella Romana, Alexander Lingas

It is rather exciting to me that the Early Music Cappella Romana has released an entire album of the Hymns of Kassiani (Capella Records CR422 SACD). Kassiani (or Kassia as she has also been known) gives us the very earliest surviving music composed by a woman, from the 9th century--three centuries before Hildegard of Bingen.

This is meant to be a first volume in a series that will record all of Kassiani's works. This first program includes Byzantine Orthodox Chants for Christmas and Lent,  performed in accordance with the historically informed practices now prevailing for Byzantine Chant.

The SACD hybrid ciotains high quality two-channel and 5.0 Surround mixes. The sound is excellent.

Cappella Romana gives us excellent, state-of-the-art performances of chants from male and mixed choirs, including two versions of her well-loved hymn for Holy Week. They are beautifully realized under the direction of Alexander Lingas.

This sort of Byzantine Chant includes as in the Western Organum style sustained drone vocal parts throughout for a stunning sound, bringing us to some of the most beautiful bedrock roots of Euro-Asian Christian Sacred Music.

To give you an idea of the overall sound here is a live sample of Cappella Romana performing Kassiani:

I strongly recommend this album for anyone seeking to experience an important element of historical lifeways in music. It is ravishing, invariably, and quite refreshing if you are not familiar. Either way this one is a milestone.

Monday, April 19, 2021

What is the Modern Now, Really?

I have been waking up a little ahead of my mentally scheduled time lately. And so I lay in bed and wait for time to happen. Sometimes I half-dream. Lately I realize it has been about what THE MODERN is right now.

And so some of the thoughts I reproduce here, not as some definite thing.  The Modern is not nostalgia or turning back the clock. It may glance backwards but not to try and recreate another age. It is not about technology in the end, though it is enmeshed in it. It is not about happiness, though neither need it be sad.

It is not a language though it may develop one as a result. It is not about industry (not now) but it might have an attitude toward industry. The future of Modernity is unclear. Only because the future of it might eventually supersede it.

It can be about a superhuman or a drastically rethought set of techniques. Or it could be without technique altogether.

It is embodied in forms of art, in music, writing, literature, dance, etc., but it is not directly any of that except as it is contained by that. 

Of course for my purposes "Modern" includes the music from 1900 on, at least in terms of that which has more or less consistently been thought of as Modern.

Meaning in the Modern I think about is not necessarily monolithic. In fact it often can have multiple strands. Think of Picasso's "Guernica." There is the Spanish Civil War reference, the abstraction of line and what each block of images refers to, there is the handling of paint, the total perspective, its flatness, etc.

So in MODERN music there is the tonality or the lack as a referent or the combination of the two, all of which is one might say a conscious intention of the composer from the idea that the MODERN can encompass either or both of these. There are "folk" elements sometimes and that is an attitude toward locality and the presence of non-formal, non-academic, or non-genre identity, for examples.

Probably we should think of the Modern as a way of presenting the "organic," today perhaps as post-industrial reduced carbon footprinted possibility? An enlightened view of gender, race, class, social interaction? Of course that is not necessarily a constant, but it can be present implicitly or of course explicitly.

What is Modern perhaps no longer needs to subscribe to high-low distinctions but may combine them in various ways. The Modern may reject conventional subject-object intentions and instead hang on to a anechoic idea that the self is diffuse in its presence in both deliberately intentionless and form-ful presence. So Cage comes to mind, that what we are has presence ultimately in whatever we do creatively, even if we try and bracket the self from the doing? And of course improvisation can be key to expressing the performer self on top of the compositional communications that may exist simultaneously..

The Modern tries to be present in the now while reserving a place in the future. It rejects the absolute need to succeed in the moment so long as it invests in the later-from-now. It is neutral to the demands of beauty, of pleasure, or wide distribution, of deep penetration in the fabric of present-day art.

It can remain indifferent to present-day lifeways, or it can be celebrated as epitomizing a people and place.

It transcends all socio-political co-optations or can be seen as belonging to one such faction.  It is what artists hope to contribute to human endeavors.

And so it was as I half-slept.

Prokofiev By Arrangement, Music for the Stage and Keyboard Arranged for Violin and Piano, Yuri Kalnits, Yulia Chaplina


If you love Prokofiev you will want to consider today's album, Prokofiev By Arrangement (Toccata Classics TOCC 0135). It is aptly subtitled Music for the Stage and Keyboard Arranged for Violin and Piano by Fichtengolz, Heifetz, Milstein and Others. The performers live up to expectations with warmth, energy and fire as needed. They are Yuri Kalnits on violin and Yulia Chaplina on the piano.

Some of the re-arrangements are of works very well known by the Classical music world. Others are less familiar. So we all no doubt awake with the pleasure of recognition for the violin-piano versions of Prokofiev's March for the Love for Three Oranges, and the "Five Pieces from the Ballet Cinderella." Each of these benefits from the visceral refreshment of sound it gets by means of the rearragement, whether sometimes a bit thick, other times a bit thinner.

But then if you love Prokofiev you no doubt are familiar with much of this music in its original. In any case everyone can benefit from hearing this energizing mass of Prokofiev in one continuous arc of violin and piano. Kalnits and Chaplina bring to each considerable interpretive skills and a firm determination to let the music speak through them as the primary channeling, less so to emphasize their speaking, so to say. That makes for very convincing readings.

In any case we get a heightened musical concentration of bounty in this 64 minute program. I am glad to hear these versions of the Waltz from War and Peace, "Tales of an Old Grandmother," "Visions Fugitives," the 1919 "Four Pieces for Piano," the 1906-13 "Ten Pieces for Piano," and others. All the reworkings are worthwhile, truth to say.

If you listen with a bit of dedication a few times I think that like me you will get a nicely expanded feeling for Prokofiev the melodist, the harmonist, the structuralist. In part surely that is because both the simplifying or the enriching of the sound of each of these works brings us to revelatory and also quite pleasurable places.

It's a treasure trove of resituated Prokofiev. And it feels good to hear it, surely Check it out. Bravo Kalnits and Chaplina! Strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Violeta Vicci, Mirror Images, Works for Solo Violin and Viola


The present day listener, now no doubt as ever, ideally should habitually shake off the dust and cobwebs of preconceived notions of what to expect on the music scene. An excellent example of why that is so, of the happily unexpected can be heard in the recent solo violin-viola disk by Violeta Vicci, Mirror Images (Aldila Records ARCD 010).

Violeta dedicates herself to the solo violin-viola format and also vocalizes as part of her sonic palette (see below). She began playing at age 4; made her concert debut at age 15. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Howard Davis and Tomotada Soh, then at the Royal College of Music under Itzhak Rashkovsky.  She makes her home in  London. She performs regularly in the major concert halls and at festivals all over the world.

All that having been said, we turn to the crux of the matter, the Mirror Images program and its thorough mix of periods and ways, ultimately giving us a feeling of unity in diversity. So for example the Ysaye Sonata in A Minor Op. 27, No. 2 quotes Bach then reworks the "Dies Irae" Gregorian Chant for the dead. Vicci's "Improvisation VI" turns back to the chant with Violeta's haunting vocal and drones on the strings, and it all seems right.

The concluding "Sarabande" from the Bach Suite No. 5 for Solo Cello gets a viola transformation that sounds plaintive and meditative in its dirge-ish iunfolding.

Ragnar Soderling's 1966 "Elegie II" op. 68 for Solo Violin is a find, moving and somber yet heroic in its dignified unfolding of string parts played with deep understanding. It is the World Premiere recording, so all the better!

Bach's 3rd Partita for Solo Violin gets the intense working though it so richly deserves. 

Vicci's six Improvisations have ambiance, string heroics and flourish, and make significant contrasts and creative frisson in between the written works. 

So the Holst's 1930 "Suite for Solo Viola" gives us something that deserves to be heard more widely and flourishes at any rate in Violeta Vicci's hands, in this World Premiere recorded performance. 

Another nice yet unexpected inclusion is the Jean-Louis Florentz 1985 "Vocalise," which gives us the tensile modernity of Violeta's pure yet intense voice all by itself.

When one lives with this album for a time as I did, one might well grow accustomed to the novelty of the combinatory choices and begin to feel their own special rightness. That's how it all struck me eventually.  And along with that recognition comes an appreciation of the strength of Violeta Vicci's invariably contemporary sound, her deep and poised execution and delivery. 

Strongly recommended. A true sleeper.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Sunleif Rasmussen, Territorial Songs, Works for Recorder


The recorder as it is constructed favors of course diatonic intervallic relationships as opposed to the chromatic execution that Modern music generally calls into being. The present-day composer writing for recorder must think modally, bitonally and otherwise create special matrices and polyvalent expressions that expand both the backdrops and the foregrounds of a recorder music. The recorder player too might be called upon to master various fingering acrobatics as required by the expanded syntax of such pieces.

Sunleif Rasmussen gives us his own nicely idiomatic recorder music possibilities on his collection of some World Premiere Recordings (2) and other recent works called in total Territorial Songs: Works for Recorder (OUR Recordings 6.220674). Michala Petri does a remarkable job bringing the recorder parts to life throughout for all five varied and contrasting works. The album has been released to coincide with Rasmussen's 60th birthday and it gives us happy reasons to celebrate along.

Each work has a differing configuration of players and each stands out in effective and moving contrast. And as one listens and takes stock one feels the unique presence of each work gradually, and without exception with an eventual joy of recognition. So the title work "Territorial Songs" (2009) is a concerto for recorder and orchestra and via its five movements lays down a rather remarkable impression with its Modern yet songful score and its fine performance by Petri and the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra.

Another high point is "FLOW" for recorder and string trio (2012) which has a definite expanded Modern tang and a sense of humor though it is quite serious throughout in its musical brilliance, its Neo-Classical wire-y quality, its punch.

"I" for recorder and chamber choir (2011) gives to us yet another unexpected ambiance. 

And for different reasons we get hooked into things again on the atmospheric "Winter Echoes" for recorder and 13 strings (2014), and too the recorder solo gem "Sorrow and Joy Fantasy" (2011).

The sum of it all stands out once we give the music the proper attention. It affirms Sunleif Rasmussen as a composer of stature, Michala Petri and all the accompanying performers as suited remarkably well to give us a benchmark version of each work.  Strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Yoko Hirota, Small is Beautiful, Minature Piano Pieces


The intimacy of the solo piano work lends itself to the Modern art of the miniature, as something not attempting a grand design of high drama and towering form so much as the artful snapshot of a fleeting musical moment, a Zen instant of meaning for contemplation. Pianist Yoko Hirota gives to us a compelling and full program of such works by Modernists known and lesser-known on her recent Small is Beautiful, Miniature Piano Pieces (Navona NV6294).

There is a lot to like on this one, a wealth of tiny gems spanning the Early Modern to the Present-Day Modern period. There is so much worth hearing, extremely well played. The challenge, or one of them, to such thorough-going contemporaneity and economy of means-ends is that the pianist needs to fully digest the impact of each small totality and turn it into a unified expression. For of course it is true that no composer in this group intends to be random. Instead each work means itself as the togetherness of a dialogic expression in collaboration with the pianist.

The multiple-work groupings include Arnold Schoenberg's "Sechs Kleine Klavierstucke" (1911), Ernest Krenek's "Eight Piano Pieces" (1946), Aris Carastathis' "Traces" (1991, 2007), Gary Kulesha's "Two Pieces for Piano" (1994), and Robert Lemay's "6 Ushebtis (2003). The latter is a happy surprise, atmospheric and extended in technique and sound color. But that is not to lessen the other contributions, Each individual piece in the set relates to the other as pages in a photo album perhaps, serially intertwined yet distinct.

Add to that additional individual miniaturist statements by Ligeti, Berio, Carter, John Beckwith, Bruce Mather, Brian Cherney, John Weinzweig, and a final offering by Robert Lemay. The totality of the mix is heady, with the known and the very new or unfamiliar stepping out together in a kind of tour de force of the Modern from the vantage point of right now.

Yoko Hiroto gives it all her very own personal performative-interpretive poeticism. She takes care to lay down each phrase as a syntactical element in the overall meaning of the whole. She succeeds wonderfully well in drawing together the small parts of the miniature into its totality, in relation to each the other whole so that we feel organically addressed as a musical co-respondent, an audience enwrapped in absorption, spoken to with care and attention.

Any appreciator of involved Modern piano will find this a welcome addition to her-his collection. Happily recommended. Bravo!


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Duo Shu, Yi-Wen Zhang, Nanyi Qiang, Play Faure, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Gao and Bartok


Great music is a matter of  the experiencing, of course. So in the course of one's musical life one ideally remains open to whatever music one comes across. So when a CD by Duo Shu (BGR581) arrived in the mail the other day, I was not entirely sure what to expect, since I did not know of them. But I was ready to give it my full attention. They are excellent, as it turns out.

It is made up of Yi-Wen Zhang on cello and Nanyi Qiang at the piano.

The program is a very full one, quite well suited to show the duo's expressive strengths and ways that draw one into the music and keep creating a lovely sense of movement and growth throughout. Maestros Zhang and Qiang founded their Duo in Ohio in 2019 but their first musical interactions date from 2002. Both hail originally from the Chengdu region of Western China. The end result is that both thrive together in how they share both a Chinese childhood locality and the Western Classical heritage. Their considerable musical interpretive skills and disposition add to that commonality to create a most magical musical presence on this CD.

The program has an expressive penchant party by thriving in a minor mode Romantic and Post-Romantic, from Schumann to Faure and on to Eastern Europe (Rachmaninoff, Dvorak and Bartok) and happily further on to Chinese living master composer Weijie Gao and his moving "Longing for Shu."

The substantial yet tempered warmth of Yi-Wen Zhang's cello is a thing to relish. She gives every phrase a feelingful weight and luscious tone, with beautifully true intonation and a dramatic thrust that feels just right for this repertoire and our current-day appreciation of clarity as well as push. Pianist Nanyi Qiang has a remarkably uncluttered delivery that pares all down to its essence and provides a thoughtful, singing, ringing blanket of sound to enfold the cello effusions in a well deserved royal carpeting true to how these musical possibilities feel today.

Something a little unexpected is the Luigi Silva cello-piano arrangement of six Bartok "Romanian Folk Dances," which sound quite ravishing in this format as the Duo Shu plays through them doubtless with the same utter delight one feels in hearing them. The Weijie Gao work is also a special highlight with its mysterious contemporaneity and beautifully expressive gestural depth.

It is one of those albums that not only wears well with age, listens that is, it makes connective sense and works together for a fine experience first-to-last. This one can give your season, any season really, a bright floating bubble to adorn the day. Warmly recommended.