Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Verona Quartet, Diffusion, Janacek, Szymanowski, Ravel Quartets


So much music keeps coming to us, the listeners. Yet dig we must for the buried treasures? Today like most days I have one that has gotten through to my ears and deserves attention. It is the recorded debut of the Verona Quartet in a program entitled Diffusion (Azica ACD-71339).

It is perhaps a truism that some works gain in comprehensibility after a certain amount of time, so that for example Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" after a certain point became more comprehensible to great conductors and great orchestras, and so too to audiences, so that at least some performances in time made greater sense, had mastered the musical language of the work and thereby played out the whole with a fluid lucidity not previously heard.

Hold that thought for a minute while we cover the preliminaries of today's album. The Verona Quartet steps forth in a thematic way here. Diffusion plays upon the quartet's diverse cultural origins--Singapore, Canada, US, UK--and presents a program that in essence assumes, benefits from and encompasses the foursome's local folk roots and gives us a kind of cohesive picture of how they diffuse their own backgrounds and come to understand the corresponding elements in each of the three quartets featured in the program, namely Leos Janacek's String Quartet No. 2 "Intimate Letters," Karol Szymanowski's String Quartet No. 2 and Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F Major.

I am not so familiar with the Szymanowski but it is a nice version and good to hear, very worthwhile in itself. The Janacek and the Ravel are both favorites of mine, melodic harmonic wholes made up of disparate parts, striking motifs that gather together in brilliant juxtapositions. 

What seems remarkable to me on these performances is the detailed finessing of all the motifs and their seamless juxtaposition of all with all perhaps like never quite heard in this way. Hence my thought at the beginning of this article about how as time passes artists who are further on in the evolution of the modern classical world can express a whole with increasing sympathy and understanding. 

In short the Verona Quartet's personal diffusion has made it possible for rather ideally ravishing readings of these most inventive Modern-vernacular exceptionalities. The time has come for the Verona Quartet and with their superb musicianship and interpretive brilliance I hope we can look forward to many years of greatness from them. Kudos and congratulations on such a fine debut! Listen to this one without fail if you can. Do not miss it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Haskell Small, Johann Sebastian Bach, Keyboard Partitas 1, 4 & 5, Bach and the Piano


Live a virtual lifetime of music appreciation and one can look back and trace a progression of gradual coming-to-know enlightenment. So for example when I moved to Hyde Park in Chicago in 1981 I knew the Bach Partitas as part of an old Vox Box, performed on harpsichord with period faithfulness, not spectacular but lovely for the music of course.

My neighborhood in Chi-town had a great used record store and one day I found there a very old Remington LP of Jorge Demus doing several of the Partitas on piano. The darned record skipped but it was a revelation. Demus really convinced in his ultra-pianistic reading. Here was a music that translated especially well to a creative piano outlook. But that became clear to me only when I heard a real world-class pianist interpret it.

A bit later and I in time came to appreciate Glenn Gould's readings of the Partitas, but the Demus dynamic and slight rubato, the variations in touch and expression lived on as a model I found quite compelling, as much as the Gould had its very own sublimities. Both are good to know.

Years have gone by, I eventually found a skip-free copy of the Demus, but then just now I received a new CD in the mail of one Haskell Small playing on piano the Keyboard Partitas 1, 4 & 5 (MSR Classics MS 1717(). The name vaguely rang a bell. In fact I checked and realized that I had covered him playing nicely a modern set of piano compositions--in a review posting of. October 24, 2016. That is I posted happily on his Book of Hours album then.

Of course one can handle adroitly and thrive at performing Contemporary Modern piano music and it does not mean one could do quite the same with Bach. But Haskell Small's new CD shows us he has a wonderful feel for the Partitas, a sure pianistic sense of the ways to translate Bach's brilliance to piano performance practice. So he can take a long contrapuntal passage and vary the articulation of each note in sequence, vary the tempo just enough that it does not sound robotic but not so much that he sounds "clever." He trills just enough to remind us of the lineage. He expresses the tenderness of the music when called for, not so much sounding Romantic as letting show a somewhat tempered feelingfulness, just right, not to interrupt the flow so much as to add to it another dimension that of course the piano in the right hands does so well.

As much as I love the Partitas I must say Small's readings of 1, 4 & 5 give me the more to love by a real pianistic sympathy born not out of a spectacular approach, rather a subtle one You do not come away from the recording being impressed in the obvious sense with astonishment, with the velocity or other showmanship one might come to expect after Gould's readings. Instead there is a total musicality about it all, a deep dedication to making this wonderful music sound. And sure, there is nevertheless no lack of technique, velocity, melodic contour, etc., all in service to Small's vision of each movement, which is foremost. In the process Small gives us a kind of lyricization of the music, a making poignant, which the piano of course can do and Small knows how to realize it.

In the end Maestro Small adds to our appreciation with a command performance. If you have a little Demus, a little Gould, fine. But even if you do not this is a wonderful version that you should seriously consider if you love Bach and love too the piano! Hoorah! The is another volume out that I suspect deserves our attention as well.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Sonidos Cubanos 2, New Music from the Cuban Diaspora


When I think of Cuba I think of great music and some great baseball players among other things. Oh, yes and great food! One of those three things came in the mail to me recently and I am very happy for it. It is an anthology of New Music by Cuban composers, entitled Sonidos Cubanos 2 (Neuma 133), Each of the composers featured in this second volume is a recipient of the Cintas Foundation Fellowship for composers of Cuban descent. Each currently holds sway somewhere in the Cuban Diaspora.

What is remarkable, one of the things that is remarkable about this anthology is not so much the Modern conceptual rigor of it all so much as that the music all sounds wonderfully well. Each work excels in its own melodic-harmonic-timbral ingeniousness. It is something one of course generally hopes for in New Music but cannot of course always get.

There is a wide variety of expressive possibilities and musical grouping in this five work set.

Flores Chaviano opens the program with an orchestra work that pays homage to the victims of a 1995 mining disaster in Spain. The music has a gradual build up to searing sadness in a tone poem that rings out with clangorous impact and brilliance.

From there we go to heartbreak and a sad beauty in Ivette Herryman Rodriguez's setting of Christina Rossetti's "When I am Dead, My Dearest." Soprano, cello and piano express a tender despair. Kudus especially to Lindsay Kesselman and her wondrous soprano reading.

Odeline de la Martinez extends the mood with a deeply reflective chamber work about the composer's Cuban childhood in "Litanies." It is haunting and just plain beautiful. If there was nothing else but this work it would be enough, at least as far as inspired fare goes. Happily all of these works are worthy and as a whole make for an experience that will ring in your head for a very long time once you get situated to the sequence.

Sabrina Pena Young follows with the five song except from the "Libertorio Song Cycle." It too calls out to us musically in special ways. The final movement-song features some impressive additions of metal guitar and bass. It works wonderfully well!

Finally there is Eduardo Morales-Caso's "Evolving Spheres" for bass clarinet and piano. It is called a "fantasy" and indeed it does have a open kind of narrative impact musically.

Taken altogether this is a program of valuable, memorable music. It does not attempt to knock over the boundaries of the Modern but instead follows the personal muse of each composer for an awesome sonic sensibility and brilliance. High recommended for all who seek something new and of course something good. It is all that, very much so.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Matt Haimovitz, Mari Kodama, MON AMI, Mon amour, Early Modern French Music for Cello and Piano


I have been playing catch up a little lately with releases that are worthwhile that I have meant to cover. So today there is an effervescent program of French Early Modern-Post-Romantic music for cello and piano. It features the magnificent cello of Matt Haimovitz and the compellingly complementary piano of Mari Kodama. It is fittingly titled MON AMI, Mon amour (Pentatone PTC 5186 816).

One thing this music reminds us of happily and memorably is that the early Modern French chamber style so nicely represented here was Post-Romantic in its general Impressionism, Romantically expressive in a different way than 19th century styles--in other words rather more luminescent, harmonically sophisticated and decidedly atmospheric.

What especially attracts me to this program is the wide swatch of composers covered, just about a definitive sample of the leading lights for expressive inventiveness back then. So we have two pieces by Gabriel Faure, and one apiece by the likes of Francois Poulenc, Darius Milhaud,  Lili Boulanger, Nadia Boulanger, Maurice Ravel, and Claude Debussy.

The music has real substance. Matt and Mari take pains to give each a detailed regardful mood and a dynamic reading, nothing less than what one might come to expect from such a talented pairing. The result is an album all Francophiles should revel in and listen to repeatedly with increasing pleasure. Strongly recommended.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Inna Faliks, Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel, Nine World Premieres


One of the ways the legacy of Classical composer titans lives on is through works written later as a homage to the master, so to speak, either in a general sense, or less often as deliberately modelling and extending a specific work. Pianist Inna Faliks gives us a volume of piano music devoted to later day Modern compositions each responding to an earlier piano work. The title gives us the plan--Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel (Navona NV6352).

On this absorbing and deeply pianoforte-centered program we have some nine world premiere compositions specifically written for Ms. Faliks. 

For the Beethoven segment there are some six original works, each modelled after one of Beethoven's six Bagatelles, opus 126. Quite sensibly and fascinatingly, each new work is presented followed by the Beethoven Bagatelle in question. So we hear in this way pieces expressly responding to a Bagatelle, one apiece by Richard Danielpour,  Peter Golub, Tamir Hendelman, David Lefkowitz, Mark Carlson, and Ian Krause.

Following on the heels of this lovely coupling are three works responding to a separate movement each from Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit"--by Paola Prestini, Timo Andres and Billy Childs.

All the homages extend the legacy, bring it into a piano-centered present day and thereby give pianist Faliks a lengthy set of tone poems and active excitement that shows off her beautiful interpretive skills and brings us to the edge of our seats--or perhaps rather our piano benches! Inna Faliks gives us a substantial program that shows her spectacular touch and immaculate phrasing. The music remains in the mind even after just a few listens for its haunting luminescence.

This album should please a wide range of listeners, including of course those New Music enthusiasts who are up for a Modernity that responds to the Classical legacy as it steps forward into the future. Molto bravo!

Monday, June 21, 2021

Philip Blackburn, Justinian Intonations, Electroacoustic Music with Ryland Angel, Vocals


Since I began writing these reviews years ago I have come to know Philip Blackburn as an articulate, erudite and very capable head of the Innova New Music label and now in the same capacity for Neuma Records. He is a fine fellow and knows his stuff. I've also come to appreciate him as a composer of sonically and inventively innovative New Music. If you type his name in the search box above you will see a number of very positive review articles I've penned on his music.

And now there is a new one, a very worthy one entitled Justinian Intonations (Neuma 127). This one is an hour of sonically fascinating drone-sustain.

Now as I have been exposed to such things, there are a number of ways to go with a drone-sustain mode of composition. One is a glitchy, almost art brut primal quality. Neither the drone nor what goes with it is in this scenario deliberately sonically well-painted so much as it is elemental--not necessarily precisely so but vaguely like the old US land line telephone dial tone. My childhood growing up with that was my first and main exposure to everyday life drone sustain experience, though there were similar aural equivalents with electric fans and tv off-the-air test patterns. The same might be said of the old nuclear attack Emergency Alert civil defense multitone signal on TV and radio in the old days, sometimes even now. So in some ways hearing a piece in that glitchy primal mode may resonate for people of a certain age with the feeling on hearing those elemental signals growing up. Similarly Varese's "revolutionary" use of sirens in his percussion classic  "Ionization" sounded potentially a similar ominous feeling in the contemporary listener.

Another important sort of drone sustain zone can be first heard in the Fripp and Eno (and then later  just Fripp) works utilizing sustain psychedelic guitar long tones with or without additional electronics and featuring sophisticated employment of digital delay.

Philip Blackburn's Justinian Intonations occupies a somewhat different realm and does so beautifully well.  A hint of what that is about can be gathered from the cover image, a stylized abstraction assembled around a visual image of an old, vastly cavernous cathedral. Those who know the wonderful sustained echo of such places will recognize a hinting at a kind of aesthetic, Early Music element of what sustain-drone music can be today--paralleled with the direct drone-longtone ways of Medieval Organum and Eastern Orthodox chant, both of which of course are built upon a drone foundation.

The beautifully complex color timbral sound of Blackburn's music resonates with those foundations without directly calling them up. Ryland Angel's vocal part, as an added meaning-color has definite chant and Early Music recollections. The wide spectrum of the total sound of the electronic-acoustic-electric totality gives us a kind of New Music analog of those earlier sound modes. There is pronounced timbral coverage and a complexity of tone soundings that rivals the orchestral modes we of course are so familiar with as Classical listeners. It does not in the last instance try to simulate directly  the orchestral possibility though. It remains firmly and "exotically" electroacoustic-electronic.

Time passes in this music like any other, but it is not at all a tedious time. Things change, they are often enough linear and sometimes quite gradual but never does it feel like a loop-de-loop as much as a kind of sacral time, the entire sequence feeling ultimately like a magical ritual, a rite of sound so to speak.

It is a contemporary New Music that unfolds naturally, organically, without some marked self-conscious newness. I've now listened to this program many times and it still seems fresh and naturally, emphatically ethereal, supportive and eventful in a gradualist way.

Bravo! Listen to this one without fail if you like a bit of the Universe in your musical kingdoms! Strongly recommended. Blackburn is a vital force in the music today.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Dave Dunn, Verdant, Long-Form Electronic Music Today


In New Music there are times when a good conceptual idea and a careful working out of it are exactly what's needed to carry the day. Such is the experience of listening to the nearly 80 minute Verdant (Neuma 129) a singular Electronic Music work by David Dunn.

The remarable thing about this work first off is that it fills an entire CD with the one continuous work, yet it manages to create a musical landscape one does not tire of. That is at least in part because Dunn deliberately stays in a place that endlessly unfolds without in any way demanding by its musical implications to move on to a part B, a part C, etc.

The central fulcrum point of the work is a contrapuntal. slowly unwinding, mostly diatonic melodic endlessness for multipart electronic tones  that are just random enough never to repeat exactly yet for all that seem vitally, musically authentic. There are also enough non-diatonic, non-stepwise tones in the mix that it expands the possibilities considerably. This central part of the music sounds quite beautiful as you contemplate it.

It is added to by  some ambient natural sounds, little bells, tinkling chimes, bird calls, a kind of feeling of musical daylight. Those sounds are continually, gradually changing, evolving against the continual contrapuntal and harmonic movement-in-stasis.

The composer in the accompanying liner notes helps us further situate the music. He interestingly notes the affinity of the music with "the idyllic and elegaic affect sought by the English Pastoral composers after the violence of World War I." He ties the idea into a "self-therapeutic" intent in response to the dark days of 2020, to create the musical equivalent to a striving after a more hopeful future. Well I concur that the music does indeed come across in such a way.

The composer gives us a detailed view of the overall musical structure of the work by dividing it into four categories. The first three center around the tonal totality. So there are "very slowly changing" sinewave drones, middle duration pitches played by two electric violins, and then arpeggiated sine tone melodies.

The accompanying ambiant backdrop I note above is actually high resolution field recordings of the composer's backyard in Santa Fe on Easter Sunday 2020.

All that makes sense mainly because of course the whole thing sounds very pastoral-positive. It is a joy to hear if you give it time to unfold.

This is perhaps not for somebody who wants continual change in their music. On the other hand it is not Minimalist per se as the composer notes. I do recommend this one strongly if it sounds like something you'll like. It is a healthy kind of music, something to bounce back from things, with things. Listen!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

American Discoveries, Orchestral Music by Priscilla Alden Beach, Linda Robbins Coleman, Alexandra Pierce, Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra, Reuben Blundell


As time keeps moving forward we continue to be surprised by music we previously knew nothing about. Just lately I've been lucky enough to be sent a volume of such things, orchestral music from the last century by US women composers that turn out to be  worthy of our consideration. American Discoveries (New Focus Recordings FCR 286) is the matter-of-fact title of the album.

The music is quite nicely and respectably performed by the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra under conductor Reuben Blundell. Each of the three works presented here have something distinctive about them, something individual and memorable. 

There is an evocative miniature that has a feeling of pastoral Americana without being obvious about it--Priscilla Alden Beach (1902-1970) and her "City Trees" (1928). It is rhapsodic without being especially Romantic, descriptively noble, lyrical and rugged like trees, perhaps. It was premiered by the Rochester Philharmonic under Howard Hansen in 1928 while Ms. Beach was getting her MA from Eastman. Tragically most of her compositions have been lost.

That opener is followed by Linda Robbins Coleman's "For A Beautiful Land" (1996), which has a kind of pastoral Impressionistic Americana that goes quite well with the opener and refreshes with an inventive lyrical melodic sense like a sunny day in late spring.

The final work is longer, more modern in harmonic expansiveness--the 1976, five movement "Behemoth" by Alexandra Pierce. There is a kind of crisp post-Varesian logical inevitability to the music, and happily so. But it does not really sound like Varese so much as it partakes of sometimes similar spatio-temporal ideas of sound and silence.

I was not sure what to expect when I first put this one on. After a bunch of listens it feels like music well considered, maybe not always at the edge of Modernity but not looking backwards either. And all told the three works are a worthy addition to our ear-time activities. Nice! Thank you Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra and Reuben Blundell for taking care that we hear these works done properly. Happily recommended.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Antonin Dvorak, The Late Symphonies, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, David Bernard


Sometimes for well-loved classics there are performance possibilities you may not have considered but once you do, it may seem very much a good idea. I've long lived happily with a multi-LP set of the Dvorak symphonies by Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic. It has all nine symphonies, played heroically with a full-sized orchestra, perhaps, as I think about it, firmly in a Beethovenian manner, in the tradition of great and grand performances of Beethoven's 3rd, 5th, 9th.

A few days ago a parcel arrived containing a two-CD set of David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony doing The Late Symphonies (Recursive Classics RC3137552) of Dvorak. That is a comfortable fit on the two CDs of Symphonies 6, 7, 8 and the Symphony No. 9--The "Symphony from the New World". Like most listeners I came to the 9th first, at a pretty young age (13) and have sampled a fair number of readings of the work ever since. A kind of Beethovenesque, full-out version suits the work very well of course, and as it happens I never contemplated some other take on it.

So the set arrived. I know the New York based Park Avenue Chamber Symphony under David Bernard through several releases. Some I appreciate a good deal (see index box for those reviews). This Dvorak set seems especially attractive for the way Bernhard and the orchestra handle it all. It sounds much less Beethovenian, even a bit less Romantic per se but more in its own right, with Bohemian, Eastern European vernacular elements coming across with a kind of faithfulness to the overall infectious local elements as Dvorak conceived and transformed them, especially in Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7, but generally speaking throughout, even parts of the "New World" 9th.

The set is available for download in the usual places. If you are reading this early the CDs are not out until July 9, 2021.

I am happy to recommend this set to anyone who is not familiar with the later symphonies as a whole, and for any Dvorak enthusiast who wants a refreshing reading of these works. The orchestra and Bernard are locked in, inspired, filled with a different vision than is the norm. I love it all myself. Give these readings a chance and I suspect you too will find them as a breath of fresh air. Bravo.

I wonder if they are considered subsequent volumes--of the Symphonies Nos. 1 through 5? I would love to hear that.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Richard Danielpour, An American Mosaic, Simone Dinnerstein


Composer Richard Danielpour shines brightly as one of the most illustrious and talented of living US composers. There is a wondrous new recording of a substantial suite for solo piano, An American Mosaic (Supertrain Records 025), as played with great sensitivity and verve by Simone Dinnerstein.

All of this music was born out of Richard's anxiety and insomnia last year in the first stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The only thing that relaxed him and allowed him to sleep was listening to Simone Dinnerstein's Bach recordings.

A plan took shape to compose a suite that would provide true solace to those like him that did their best in unprecidented, trying circumstances, "whether they [were] caretakers and research physicians, parents and children, rabbis and ministers, doctors and interns, or teachers and students, these individuals [were] the face of America" in the composer's own words.

He got in contact with Simone Dinnerstein and during the summer and fall of last year, Simone entirely remotely on the other coast of the USA collaborated with Danielpour, learning each of the 15 movements and giving valuable feedback on performance elements.

The results are here, all of the "Mosaic" plus three Bach Transcriptions Danielpour arranged for Dinnerstein--from the Mass and the St. Matthew Passion. The entire program the composer and the pianist hope will give solace to all those caught within the emotional roller coaster of various developments in the last year or so.

The music is deeply poetic, wonderfully pianistic, touching on musical equivalents to the movements titles: "The Invisible Enemy" and the "The Visible Enemy," for examples, i.e., the COVID-19 itself and what one might dub the "bleach drinking" imbalanced personalities we all experienced. Nobody important is left out--each has a movement, so "Caretakers and Research Physicians" and "Journalists, Poets & Writers." There are four "Consolations" movements. The music has depth and singing significances that are tonal and dramatically Post-Impressionist.

It is a perfect marriage of historical unfolding, musical inspiration and performative excellence. Surely it is the first Pandemic masterwork. I have listened lots of times and I must say I do feel the solace and revel in it. Danielpour and Dinnerstein are godsends, coming through with the sympathetic enjoinment we so sorely need in these difficult times! I recommend this one very highly.  

Thursday, June 10, 2021

John Adams, Chamber Symphony, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose


Some albums become especially essential for the quality of the compositions, the performances and the wisdom of the repertoire choices. That is very true of a recent release by the Boston Modern Music Project under Gil Rose, John Adams' Chamber Symphony (BMOP 1078).

It includes for us the title work, the "Son of Chamber Symphony" (2007), and the earlier "Common Tones in Simple Time" (1979). In so doing it places the Chamber Symphony (1992) in a instructively relevant context, as part of the three drop-dead gorgeous, interrelated offerings that together provide a succinctly complete view of a multi-fold gesture and a wonderful listen.

It gets you from A to B very nicely. It covers Adam's very first orchestral work ("Common Tones") which sets out a processes based mesmeric field of Minimalist expression, conjuring a kind of dream of lived space. Adams then gives us via the Chamber Symphony a shift to rhythmic interplays of complexities and a kind of endless invention that goes beyond and brings up to date the sort of Neo-Classical realm sometimes occupied by Stravinsky. In the composer's words, "The weight and mass of a symphonic work [is] married to the transparency and mobility of the chamber work." In this way the music is irresistible and no doubt fiendishly challenging to the players at times.

The "Son of" follow-up clearly and most emphatically affirms the family ties implied in the title. The liners rightfully speak of a gradual movement away from Minimalism proper to a kind of Maximalist stance. "Son of" retains the rhythmic vitality of the first work, moving as the liners discuss away from chromatic tonal ambiguity to something more vernacular without committing per se to a locality of expression. It is the chamber orchestra equivalent of an interrelated set of tongue twisters, complexity that overlaps and doubles over upon itself continually. With the fast-slow-fast movement structure that in fact can vary in intensity and effectively so. It is a rather spectacular interplay of orchestral voices contrasting and affirming alternately for a remarkable experience.

The effective and intensively focused reading of these scores serves to present us with an ideal thumbnail portrait of orchestral Adams. 

Molto bravo!

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

George Palmer, Breaking the Silence, Chamber Music

 Judging by the recent chamber music release Breaking the Silence (Navona NV 6326), Australian composer George Palmer writes with a well developed lyric tonal sensibility, music of character and vivid color.

The liners tell us he has composed since his teenage days, studying it avidly and finding his voice at the same time as he studied and practiced law, gaining prominence as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales 2001-2011. Since then he has retired and now devotes himself to composition full-time.

Listening to the four works on this program one feels his Modernity as well as the pull of lyrical tonality. The music drives out of Romanticism to a fluid place where long melodic arcs and vivid passagework combine for a music less derivative and more personal than one might come to expect these days. It is all more Neo-Classical and Post-Post-Modern than not, with a naturally direct way about it that is refreshing and quite enjoyable once one sweeps aside any pre-conceptual expectations. There is a hint of Impressionism too now and again, originally so.

The program sequencing divides more or less in two, the first two works being concerted or semi-concerted with a string or chamber orchestra backdrop. The second two works have chamber group typicality with the string quartet "Not Going Quietly" and the oboe-piano "Time Out."

The performances are first-rate while each work has its own special quality.

"Breaking the Silence," his Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra, and its three movement episodic layout has some gorgeous and very effective interplay between soloist and orchestra. It is jaunty at times, then plaintive, then soaringely outgoing in ways that twist and turn unexpectedly.  It is an auspicious opening, fully worthy of your effort to get to know it all

"Ithaca" for clarinet and string trio is haunting in its three movement incisiveness.

"Time Out" for oboe and piano has a placid lyricism and a bit of a Jazz inflection at times. There is something vaguely Satie-an in its pellucid charm. It gives off a natural vibe as evidenced by its movement headings: "Sunset," "First Light, Briefly" and "2AM". It is a fittingly beautiful end to a beautiful program. 

Palmer's alternate career in law has perhaps allowed him to compose as he pleases, beyond the schools of Modernism out there since early last century. This is not Avant Garde but then it is not as Neo-whatever as one might expect to encounter either,  given the parameters.

I am glad this volume is out and that I have it. If you do not know what to expect next this is part of that unexpected element. It is very musical. That is what natters. Give a serious listen!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time, Kurt Rohde, One Wing, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble


The first recording I encountered of Olivier Messiaen's beautiful "Quartet for the End of Time" was a late '60s Angel LP as played movingly by Michel Beroff, Gervase de Peyer, Erich Gruenberg and William Pleeth. It became the benchmark by which I compared subsequent recordings. It remains so. Just now we have a new recording by the San Francisco based Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (Avie AV2452) along with a short but perfect compliment to the work, "one wing" by Kurt Rohde.

The Left Coast Ensemble as featured in this new release consists of  Jerome Simas, clarinet, Anna Presler on violin, Tanya Tomkins, cello, and Eric Zivian, piano. This surely is a quartet especially well suited to the work. More on that in a minute.

The circumstances of the coming into being, the genesis of the work is key to apprehending its content. Messiaen was confined in a Nazi Concentration Camp. Remarkably Messiaen rose up out of the horror of his circumstance to write and first perform the work while a prisoner.

The apocalyptic theme of course resonated with to horror of Nazi ascendance. We live in very different times of course now, yet with the pandemic and other upheavals it may occur to some that another apocalyptic possibility is upon us? Messiaen's response seems as timely as it was on its first hearing. It is of course a thoroughgoing expression of his faith and his Catholicism, so that there is hope and transcendence in spite of it all. That this work stands out still as one of the chamber masterpieces of last century and one of Messiaen's most greatly loved works testifies to its beautifully wrought staying power whether you listen with some kind of awareness of the liturgical-mystical roots of the expression or just revel in the melodic and rhythmic brilliance of it all, the declamatory fervency of its dynamic confluence.

The Angel LP of the Quartet that has been a centerpiece of my listening over the years is perhaps slightly less overtly bold, less underscored, less emphatic generally compared to this version. The rhythms are accentuated with the Left Coast edition, there is still a deep passion to it all but just a little more immediacy. It is an extraordinary disk in its own right and with the bonus extra, the eloquent world premiere reading of the Rohde "one wing" (for violin and piano) it is almost as if there is a new last movement to follow--so much does it seem as of a piece in its own way.

If you do not know this Messiaen masterwork here is a good place to hear it. If you already do, this makes a nice contrast with the Angel version. Either way I recommend it very much.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Gregory Rose, Orchestral Works, Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Peter Sheppard Skaerved


It is true in the realms of music that knowledge draws us ever-closer to the deepest understandings of the inner workings of the art, provided we concentrate and allow it all to get onto our bio-musical pathways. Such is true for the music of Gregory Rose, living British composer of note, and his Orchestra Music (Toccata Classics 0558), his recent volume as recorded by the composer conducting the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

The five works cover a period from 1990 through to 2019, a rather bold collection of orchestral Modernity as Rose so lucidly portrays it. 

The opening 1990 "Birthday Ode for Aaron Copland" has a short, compact duration of four minutes but by its multi-voiced separately orbiting motifs has great power!

There is the mystery of "Red Planet" and it's post-Holstian, post-Varesian depictive orchestral  (2014, rev. 2019) immediacy with rhythmic thrusts that call out expressively in a logical narrative unfolding of inventive orchestral sound.

The "Violin Concerto" (2017) centers around a brilliant frisson between solo violin and orchestra, with strident exclamations and marked aural spectacularizing gestures both exciting and deeply complex, with contrastingly contemplative rejoiners that give pause and set up the listener for dynamic narrations to come. It is a capital /M/ High Modern tour de force that needs to be heard and explored as it is in this fine performance with soloist Peter Sheppard Skaerved taking on the Promethean role with heroic fervor and poetic grace. It is a concerto that deserves to be more widely performed, surely.

Next up, the "Suite pour Cordes" (2017) bursts forward with appealingly strident outburst- of expression and subsequent top spinning rhythmic endlessness and intensity.

The concluding "Seven Dances from Danse macabre" (2011) has an extended "primitive" feeling at times, a more sophisticated dance feel others.  Memorable form is sustained nicely and rhythmically throughout the whole of this music. The full work for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra was released on another Toccata Classics CD (see my coverage of it for the April 26, 2021 posting). These dance excerpts nicely put a lively cap on the program and leave us wanting more.

In the end this is a very attractive, exciting volume of what Rose is up to. It confirms him as a 21st century original with a lot to say and a sure sense of how to get the orchestra to say it.

Gregory Rose is the real thing. This volume presages more excellent things to come. Do listen. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Michael G. Cunningham, Proscenium Moments, Works for Orchestra


Composer Michael G. Cunningham is not a household name of course. Nonetheless his music is very worth knowing. I have had the chance to listen to and review a number of releases devoted to his music (type his name in the search box above for those).Today we have a volume of his orchestral works to consider, in a CD entitled Proscenium Moments (Navona Records NV6314). 

The music covers some five original works plus arrangements-orchestrations--of Bach on "A Bach Pre-Symphony" and Faure's "Nocturne No. 6 Op. 63." These two are definitely nice to have and hear but the main attraction centers around the originals.

So we get a choice selection of earnestly Modern works, with thoughtful skill in orchestration, melodic lucidity and harmonic advancement--from the dodecaphonic reminiscent "Impromptu"  (1999) to a wide swatch of slices in time and musical space beginning with the "Counter Currents" (1966) a later "Time Frame" (1980) and "TransActions" (1980) and then a spring forward with an insistently mesmeric and exploratory Modernity-Postmodernity of "Symphony No. 7 (A Cummings Synchrony)," Op. 293.

The vivid impression one gets by listening to this program (very well played by the Moravian Philharmonic under Petr Vronsky and the Janacek Philharmonic under Stanislav Vavrinek) is genuine inventive brilliance along with a sure vision of orchestral sonarity. None of this is in a backward-gazing, retrograve  mold so much as it assumes the accumulated past and goes it all one more, makes a Cunningham of it all.

As the liners tell us. he has been amassing an important body of works since 1958. A close and thorough listen to this volume might tell you what it does me--namely that Cunningham is a US composer of stature, deserving wider acclaim and continued performances. Anyone who welcomes new music will doubtless find this enjoyable and informative. Very recommended.