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Friday, May 28, 2021

Inca Trail Connections, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, 20th Century Descriptive Peruvian Region Orchestral Music


Never think that you know all there is to know about something more or less finite--like, say, South American orchestral music of the 20th century. Here comes along a volume of works centered around Peru called Inca Trail Connections (Naxos 8.574266). It features quite respectable performances by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Miguel Harth-Bedoya. The title refers to the Caminos del Inca, an ancient roadway that has served over time to connect lands and peoples in the Peruvian region.

The album showcases some eight works from this past century, not precisely doctrinaire Nationalistic but not not either--in other words there are strong folkloric-folk elements as well as local pop influences. a shade of Later Romanticism but then a marked descriptive quality, with attention to orchestration and expressivity that may recall a little Stravinsky or Villa-Lobos, maybe a hint of Chavez. not exactly going out of the way to build an overt Modernism but then unmistakably of the last century (or the very end of the century before) once you listen closely.

The names might not be familiar to you (they were not for me, mostly) but each has something to contribute on this illuminating anthology--Alejandro Tobar in a 1967 work, Alfonso Leng in one from 1912, Alberto Williams, 1889, Jose Carlos Campos, 1981, Santos Cifuentes, 1894, Celso Garrido-Lecca, 1983, Enrique Soro, 1916, and Francisco Pulgar Vidal, 1989.

There is simply too much music to try and describe each. They taken altogether give us a rather varied but interrelated draught of Peruvian expression. It may not upset the apple-cart of contemporary music, but it is thoroughly enjoyable regardless. I recommend it for those willing to consider some interesting orchestral music we might otherwise not get a chance to hear. Listen!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Archivo de Guatemala, Music from the Guatemala City Cathedral Archive, El Mundo, Richard Savino


We traverse through life, those of us who are musically inclined, and cross paths with all kinds of music, if we are lucky enough to stand at various musical crossroads. Today I have an example illuminating to those of us not familiar with early Classical music from Central America. The album is Archivo de Guatemala, Music from the Guatemala City Cathedral Archive (Naxos 8.574295). The music is nicely performed by El Mundo under the direction of Richard Savino.

The 17 relatively brief works gather together multiple strands of the musical lifeways of Guatemala City in the 17th and 18th centuries. Richard Savino has arranged each piece as needed and directs the proceedings. El Mundo consists of two sopranos, a tenor and a bass vocalist, along with the combined instrumental forces of two violins, cello or viola da gamba, percussion, three or four artists alternating on (depending on the piece) Baroque guitar, early Classical guitar, theorbo, and/or lute, then there is a harpist and a harpsichordist to ground the continuo as needed.

Whether the music has a sacred or secular function does not negate the very strong combined influences of local, Spanish and diaspora African folk music, of the alternately strong or otherwise somewhat more subtle influences of  folk dance rhythms. Ensembles differ with every piece, from solo guitar to larger chamber group.

The performers give it their all and that is quite a good bit for sure. The music is lively and striking, moving, rather inimitable at times, not quite like anything I have heard, other times you feel the Spanish or folk elements in less of a hybrid mixture. Either way this is fun, memorable, very worth hearing repeatedly. Bravo!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Lincoln Trio, Trios from the City of Big Shoulders, The Music of Ernst Bacon and Leo Sowerby


I had a friend, and may he rest in peace, who so compulsively collected audio music items (LPs and CDs) that it seemed he sometimes took on an adverse reaction to anything he did not already know--as a kind of defense against the insanity of everything-by-everybody accumulation. The fact of course is that music never stops, that there are always new things or old things discovered anew and it simply wont do to "close the books" on everything else. One still needs to pick and choose, but not by refusing everything you do not already know.

A very good example of something that many if not most of us have not paid much attention to and a recent release reminds us that we should--it is the Lincoln Trio and their CD Trios from the City of Big Shoulders (Cedille CDR 90000 203). They refer to Chicago, specifically in the 20th century.

The composers in question are what we might call Early Moderns but decidedly not your typical ones, namely Ernst Bacon (1898-1990) and Leo Sowerby (1895-1968). From Bacon we get the "Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano" in its World Premiere Recording. From Sowerby there is the "Trio for violin, violoncello and  pianoforte" (H312). The Bacon work is a later one, from 1987; the Sowerby hails from 1953. Both works are little known, even if perhaps Sowerby the composer is not entirely obscure to us as such. And happily this release marks Cedille's inaugural offering in their several disk series "Summer of Sowerby." Had I not been listening to this first, I might scarcely have noticed such a thing. But this album stands out! And it makes me want to hear more Sowerby.

A word on the style complex the two works have in common: They are both rich in melodic zest, expressionist on the edge of Romanticism but further afield to the Modern in their arcs of harmonic-melodic movement, winding and labyrinthian. The Bacon is on a par with the Sowerby. Both have a dynamic and moving dramatics, with the sort of unfolding edginess of Hindemith perhaps, but perhaps also a slightly more overt nod to a sort of local rootedness, not obvious but at hand in the shadows so to speak.

The Lincoln Trio approaches but works with an elan, a zeal, a sympathy that lets us travel into an emphatic then contemplative opening outwards. Kudos to the Trio and their commitment to unveil lesser known or brand new works with attention to Chicago composers. They work together most impressively, violinist Desiree Ruhstrat, celloist David Cunliffe and pianist Marta Aznavoorian. 

If you are up for something well composed and well played. something from the recent past yet unmistakably belonging to that time, grab this and I think you'll find it worthwhile. It will be out June 11th. Preorder at Presto Music.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Stanley Grill, Remember, Brett Deubner, Viola, Thomas Steigerwald, Piano

 Listening to unfamiliar composers requires ideally a kind of clearing of expectations. Then whatever is the case stands out the more readily. Such was my frame of mind when I first listened to composer Stanley Grill and his album of music for solo viola, and viola and piano, Remember (Navona NV6338).

Stanley Grill was struck by music very early in his life when his mother took him to Carnegie Hall to hear Debussy's  "La Mer." The result was a musical awakening that translated into his initial deep absorption in playing piano and, after an initial introduction to music theory at the Manhattan School of Music, in composition. He was to study with Leon Kirchner, Robert Helps and others before setting off as a compositional artist in his own right. His avid love of Renaissance and Medieval music has influenced his compositional style, his approach to melody, modality and counterpoint.

The compositions in Memory no doubt reflect this but in the first hearing of this music what comes across most readily is a lyrical folkishness, a beauty born of inner sensibility and then what the music does not take on--namely any overt Classical-Romantic influences. In the end there is tonality but in some universal timeless expression. Yes, you will after communing with the music feel some connection with Early Music too. In the end of the experience it matters that it feels fresh and directly inspired by a musical sensibility that ends up seeming original, and it follows of course not in some predictable sense!

If you begin your listen with his treatment of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" you get a pretty good idea of his general musico-compositional approach as you recognize the melody in sometimes startling new settings.. The solo viola pieces give the instrument a wealth of fiddle-like double stops and a kind of archaic country feel. The works for viola and piano afford the listener a multi-voiced, worked-through counterpoint at times and a special approach to harmony at other times.

Violist Brett Deubner and pianist Thomas Steigerwald realize each piece with an unaffected brilliance and sympathy. They seem just right for the music. The five single or multi-movement works lock into a peaceful, pastoral openness that feels timeless and universal at heart. Stanley Grill is a phenomenon who at least with these works crafts a directly accessible presence that seems would appeal to a wide spectrum of music lovers in addition to the serious followers on what is happening in New Music.

Just as advanced tonality has very much further to go to explore itself exhaustively, so we see also does tonality-modality. Very recommended.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Robert Pollock, Entertwined, Compositions from Five Decades, Cygnus Ensemble, NJ Percussion Ensemble


In the ever unfolding world of New Music sometimes it is all about how novel and unprecedented the music is on some level. Other times it is about how well written, how inventive it is. Today we have something of the latter. 

Robert Pollock is a name that did not ring bells for me when this CD arrived recently. Entertwined (Furious Artisans FACD6827), which is subtitled Compositions By Robert Pollock From Five Decades, is a program of some seven chamber works that are thoughtfully and lucidly made up in ways that hold their interest as a whole on first listen and distinguish themselves even more so with repeated listens.

The music has a logical flow to it in the capital /M/ Modern sense. Harmonically sophisticated and slightly edgy, the works hold together well while they keeps an exploratory sensibility that translates into novel solutions and avoids cliché.

Pollock stands out first of all for his imaginative scoring for the classical guitar, as heard on "Romance-Fantasy" for the Anderson-Forsyth guitar-piano duo, "Cygnature Piece" for the Cygnus ensemble of guitar, cello, mandolin, violin, oboe and flute. Then there is "Entertwined" for two guitars, "Metaphor" for solo guitar and "Revolution" for violin, contrabass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, marimba, percussion and guitar. Throughout the guitar writing is fresh yet idiomatic and enters into dialogs as a distinct yet equal participant.

On the other side of Pollock's instrumentation choices are his "Chamber Setting #2" for the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and "Metaphor" for solo vibraphone, both very interesting in their own right. These works reminds us of Pollock's heightened and naturally forward moving sense of rhythm, but then all the works have something of that going on.

The biographical details of Robert Pollock help us to situate him in space and time. He was born in New York City. He got his BA in Music from Swathmore College, followed by an MFA in Musical Composition from Princeton and a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition. From there he embarked on a noteworthy career that has included organizing and presenting numerous concerts, headlining recitals and concerts as pianist, composer,  etc., founding-directing some key New Music composer guilds, serving as composer-in-residence for several institutions, and being the recipient of numerous awards and grants. After many decades and more than 149 compositions we enjoy some chamber gems in this album and look forward to more. 

The rather vast time span of this program, 1976-2007, forms a testament to his unflagging compositional imagination and steady unfolding development as an original voice that well deserves our recognition and appreciation.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Music From SEAMUS 30


In the '50s and '60s Electronic Music and Musique Concrete were the loci for some of the most advanced of the New Music being generated then. The advent of synthesizers of course changed the playing field and made it possible to do with much greater ease what the earlier composers had to do painstakingly--originally with extensive tape splicing and cumbersome single-tone generation. At some point the distinctly separate genesis of "organic" sounds transformed via Musique Concrete and the contrasting production of signals from purely electronic sources in Electronic Music began to break down (and perhaps had not been as rigidly adhered to in the US school from the beginning). Synthesized sound increasingly found their way into popular and commercial settings too so that today there has been a vast transformation of the sound landscape out there.

Yet of course Electronic Music as an art form in New Music has never disappeared so much as shared the aural stage with other genres. Sound color and the ability to execute musical complexities beyond the ability of the conventional instrumentalist were always key elements in the compositional mix. As time passed the concept of an aural landscape stretched out into virtual organic unfoldings of a continuously evolving and continuous expression began to become a key to the Electronic Music or Electro-Acoustic experience--though one could argue that it had already been very much present for example in Stockhausen's "Gesang der Junglinge" and "Kontakte." The term "Electro-Acoustic" became current, reflecting the melding that had taken place.

To fast forward into today, there is plenty of interesting music to be heard, including a flowering of live electronic possibilities and ever more poetic soundscapes out there. Anyone who follows this blog knows something of what has been taking place.

Cue the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS). It was founded in 1984. As their website states it is "a non-profit national organization of composers, performers, and teachers of electro-acoustic music representing every part of the country and virtually every music style. Electro-acoustic music is a term used to describe those musics which are dependent on electronic technology for their creation and/or performance." Their annual conference and juried recording projects are a key component to their presence on the scene today. 

And so we come to a recording of music coming out of their recent gatherings and projects, Music from SEAMUS 30 (EAM 2021 690277900495). It includes nine compositions that reflect the current state-of-the-art as practiced by SEAMUS Electro-Acoustic composers.

The opening "Monstress" (2019) for piano, Seaboard Rise and electronics by Christopher Biggs is a great place to start, for its skillful transformation and integration of the piano spectrum of sound into a widely colorful pallet of extensions.

Elizabeth Hoffman's "clouds pattern" (2021) give us another nicely eloquent sound color essay. 

From there we have additional works by Joo Won Park, Julie Herndon, Mei-ling Lee, Jiayue Cecilia Wu, Kelley Sheehan and Heather Stebbins. Lyn Goeringer ends the program with "Waterside," a rather haunting melange of acoustical transformations fascinating to hear and re-hear. Like many of these kinds of anthologies, there are works that appeal to me very much and others that I find less interesting. Part of that may have to do with whether the source materials have intrinsic interest to me in the first place. And that is not to say that we all will react to them in the same way, not that each has the considerable ambiguity in kind of aural Rorshact. But it is certainly true that meeting a work half-way helps you more often than not to understand the totality of it.

In the end such music deserves our support, such composers need an audience of serious listeners. The works that grab me make this experience worthwhile. I am glad that SEAMUS continues to thrive. Help support them by getting this music.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Harry Partch, The Bewitched, Harry Partch Ensemble, Danlee Mitchell


In a century remarkable for its musical fomentation (in the sense of a "poultice"), its inclusion of Harry Partch (1901-1974)  was perhaps one of the most revolutionary developments overall. His pioneering aggregation of an entire orchestra of newly invented instruments, his groundbreaking forays into alternate tuning and his compositional acuity made him special even in a special age.

The recording and release of his Delusion of the Fury after its 1969 premiere was perhaps the most decisive moment in recognition he was to experience in his lifetime. But of course there were other releases and performances that gradually built his reputation prior to this. 

Nowadays of course we happily find there is more of him to hear. For example his "dance satire" The Bewitched  has been performed and recorded more than once in later years. Not having experienced either I was glad to find that  Neuma Records has issued the 1980 Berlin performance of the Partch Ensemble under Danlee Mitchell. It is "binaural" and very much focused and clear enough that you get the idea of what it was like to sit in the audience.

The music combines some of Partch's home-made percussion complexities with conventional instruments and vocals. Because of that kind of mid-positioning aurally it is not nearly as dramatic as "Delusion" but for anyone who loves Partch it is a most welcome, ambitious addition to our understanding of his overall opus. It is worth your time.

For the reason of good performance I heartily recommend it to any Partch enthusiasts. If you do not know this one it will open up a new vista. Those that do not know Partch at all however might start with Delusion of the Fury. This one is essential for the Partch fan or completist. I am very happy to have it myself. I am glad to recommend it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Philip Glass, The Glass Hour, Gregory Harrington, World Premiere of The Hours Suite, Janacek Philharmonic, Mark Shapiro


Philip Glass of course has written many compelling works over his career. Some I like better than others, and some performances fully convince while others as with any music of this sort might fall a bit short at times.

Today I am happy to report in on a program of Glass works that fall into the former category. It is violinist Gregory Harrington with the Janacek Philharmonic uuder Mark Shapiro. The CD is entitled The Glass Hour (Estile Records) and it contains the world premiere recording of "The Hours Suite" for Solo Violin and String Orchestra plus the Violin Concerto No. 2 "The American Four Seasons".

Both works have Minimalist repetitions but often more as kinds of arpeggios in idiomatic string ways than as mesmeric hypnotics. The combination of violin solo unfolding and orchestral-string sound blanket seems nicely quasi-neo-Baroque more than typically Minimal and the sweetly reflective Harrington and enveloping orchestral wrap seem just right for this music.

Glass Hour, in short, has everything going for it. It is later Philip Glass at his best and Gregory Harrington puts it all together with Mark Shapiro and the Janacek Philharmonic for what seems to me destined to be the benchmark standard. Bravo!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Complete Violin Sonatas, Volume Three, Yuri Kalnits, Michael Csanyi-Wills


Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) has become after his death regarded as a major 20th century compositional voice. There are reasons of course why he got proper recognition only in this century and there is no need to explore that here. The main thrust of it all is our ability to be exposed to his music in a major way now. A great example of that is the recording of his Complete Violin Sonatas, of which we now have a Volume Three (Toccata Classics TOCC 0096).

Yuri Kalnits gives us a committed, dynamic and wonderfully expressive performance on violin throughout. Michael Csanyi-Wills compliments Kalnits nicely on piano, making a poetic twosome that I suspect the composer would be very happy about.

The opening Sonata No. 3 (1947) has marvelous depth, bitter-sweet, tart modern presence and a glorious sense of opening onto our musical perceptions. There is endless melodic-harmonic movement that Weinberg has in common with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and yet by this point (1947) he has his own way of unfolding it all.

The Sonata No. 3 for Violin Solo (1979) has dramatic torque and a finely exploratory resonance that gives us a leaner, more abstract projecting than the earlier work perhaps. It is fascinating and deep in its wholeness and Kalnits defines and realizes it with a grand flourish one appreciates.

The program is topped off  with the rather late (1982) Sonata No. 6 for Violin and Piano, which brings an expanded sense of space and time, a kind of meditative side more apparent and striking in how it all lays out.

After listening a good bit I must say that this volume in my view gives us some further aspects of Weinberg that help round out a portrait of him in chamber music form.

If you do a "Weinberg" search on the left-hand corner of this page you can find other related reviews I've done here. The Volume Three of the sonatas after living with for a week or so seems to me well worth your efforts to hear--for it gives us some gems of the later period and the performances are world-class. Very recommended.