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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, Laure Colladant, Stephen Lancaster


Robert Schumann's lieder were some of the very best of his era. In many ways he took the torch from Schubert. I suppose you could say I am generally pre-selected to like a good recording of such things. And the album up today is very much that. It features baritone Stephen Lancaster and pianist Laure Colladant on a lovely sounding vintage Molitor pianoforte. They take on two cycles with great poise, clarity, deliberation, gravitas--namely the Dichterliebe opus 48 and the Leiderkreis opus 39 (BCR56

Perhaps needless to say there may be no genre more dependent upon the performers for the ultimate product than lieder. The vocalist is of course everything and the pianist a close second. It is so much the case that one is tempted to remember Ornette Coleman's dictum that there is no bad music, only bad musicians! But of course with Schumann lieder an awful lot has to do with the beauty of the music itself. it goes without saying.

Beyond those considerations one ideally surrenders to the lyrical beauty of it all. The vintage piano sounds very sweet and Lancaster responds to Colladant's exceptionally sensitive reading with a refreshing ponderousness that does not stray from the matter-of-factness of the music as they approach it. You who read along here no doubt know at least a few of the songs in these cycles and if you do it is interesting to compare the versions you know already. For me at least there is something substantial with these readings, when I compare with others I know. They soar, true, but they also have a pronounced earthiness that seems right to the world we live in today.

So in the end I must say these complete versions of the cycles have a kind of benchmark definitiveness that makes me happy to have them. And that in itself makes me recommend the album without hesitation. Lancaster and Colladant give us detailed and inspired readings that open our ears to the beauty of it all and contrast nicely with other readings so it is worthwhile no matter what listening level you are on for Schumann's lieder. overall. A big bravo for this one!

So and the feelings about feelings as we live through this rather peculiar period.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Chris Campbell, Orison

I've happily had the occasion to review some of Chris Campbell's music over the years (type his name in the search box for those articles).  Now there is a new one and I am very glad to hear it. Orison (Innova 008 CD or LP) is an ambitious, seven-part work for a 14-member chamber ensemble.

Like the other works I have heard of his there is a kind of natural flow to the music, with everything coming into sequences that sound unforced, evocatively flourishing and easily engaging.

The composer tells us in the liners that Orison comes out of the practice of sitting, meditation, prayer. The composer has worked on it for several years, responding to events locally and also globally, a processing of world and eventua-tive happenings rising up and falling away as expressed in a gorgeous spatio-temporal flow where all that comes after relates to the before yet supersedes it in the additive sense, be it "shifting sonic image" or "textural idea" as the composer expresses it.

It is music that very effectively gives off an ambient vibe yet has both a cosmic sound envelope AND a more directly engaging melodic thrust than some other such works out there. So as you relisten you get both components coming together in ways that work wonderfully well and give you the pleasure of recall one gets from a detailed and inspired game plan.

As I listen again I feel I am in the presence of a latter-day Berg--expressively feelingful yet decidedly forward moving into the present day. In the end I come away from this music wanting to hear it yet again. It is orchestrationally ravishing and beautifully absorbing. Big kudos!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Skylark Vocal Ensemble, It's A Long Way, Timeless Early, Modern, Folk Vocal Ensemble Music


Each day we wake and set our house in order, we restart our experiential engines and get ready for whatever comes. If you are like me music has much to do with how that day unfolds. Today I turn once again to vocal ensemble choral music, a chamber vocal gathering named the Skylark Ensemble. Their latest plays as I contemplate what it is about. It's A Long Way (HMR004), the title cut tells us. And perhaps after all it is. "Goodnight cow jumping over the moon" sings soprano Alissa Ruth Suver on Eric Whitacre's song about a bedtime story while the horror of the pandemic reigns. And doubtless we need such beautiful yet sad music to feel that we are indeed still here.

The main thing you take note of as the program winds out is how the 20 brief compositions straddle the old and the new, the formal institutional with the earthy and idiomatic, and how it all uniformly takes on a convincingly vibrant brilliance and ultra-musicality thanks to the talent and dedication of the artists in a sort of universal embrace of what they quite obviously are happy to sing. There are solo vocals sprinkled in with the ensemble works and happily everyone sounds fabulous.

Perhaps  you will be surprised as I was to hear a nice solo version of "Wayfaring Stranger" along with some gems by Arvo Part and Josquin des Prez? As you listen you embrace stylistic duplicity and convergence. So the title piece "It's A Long Way" by Neil Shaw Cohen takes the poetry of Harlem Renaissance poet William Stanley Braithwaite and sets it to a Modern-Early Modern sequence that happy spans the great divide between our ever evolving present and the living brilliance of pasts both yesterday and far, far away in time.

And in the end we get a beautiful melding of later Minimal and post-Minimal hypnotics with revived contrapuntal gems of earlier polyphonic life. So too they allows us to embrace Folk roots and even Romantic high expression. Following the album's sequence is to experience connections and interconnections of Western vocal music over time in myriad places.

American composer Evelyn Simpson rubs stylistic shoulders with Max Reger, Schubert and Thomas Tallis--and a happy surprise in the fetching folk ditty "A Game of Cards" sung with excellent verve by Fiona Gillespie. In the process we get a  new sort of Modern stance that eschews rigid distinctions between high and low, present and past, so much as it draws enthusiastically from the great well of vocal artistry looking both backwards and forwards to the future, from plainchant to "Nature Boy" and beyond. And happily it all works remarkably well. One travels along the adventurous route gladly and expectantly.

It may not exactly be what you expect and all the better for that. Skylark is as much curators of the whole legacy of vocal music as they are excellent vocalists and dedicated artists. Bravo. Listen!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Herbert Howells, Requiem, Sacred and Secular Choral Music, Baylor University A Cappella Choir, Brian Schmidt


If you ever took things for granted, chances are in the last year or so that you no longer do? And so music remains central if you are like me, but there is no guarantee, you understand, that it will all be there for you as you are for it? The Pandemic has made it very difficult for live music, and if it is coming back all the more does it seem precious, Happily recorded music never exactly went away! And so I turn to an album I've gotten recently that is getting my ears focused. 

And so we have an absorbing disk of a cappella choral music, centered on Herbert Howells' Requiem (MSR Classics MS 1757). The Baylor University A Cappella Choir under Brain Schmidt do the honors and they sound  nicely angelic and/or robust, depending on the work at hand.

The most ambitious of the compositions and the most interesting is no doubt the "Requiem" of Herbert Howells (1892-1983). It combines a hovering, post-chant influence of early church musc with English folk roots and a modern sense of space perhaps. It will no doubt appeal to the modern-anglophile contingency, in the English neo-renaissance of choral unfolding from the time of Elgar to Vaughan Williams and so on.

The remaining nine works are in a miniaturist mode of brevity and concentration. Thee are older classics from the likes of Tomas Luis de Victoria and Felix Mendelsohn, then an interesting assortment of 20th century and beyond works by a variety of composers, all working in a rooted tradition that may include a tang of modernity but just as much or more a feeling of thoughtful continuity.

So we encounter interesting works by the likes of Enrico Miaroma, Alexander L'Estrange and Susan Labarr are some of the composers. It all makes for compelling fare, none of it exactly at the cutting edge of the new, but rather earnest choral moments worth savoring, very well sung.

If you love the a cappella choral sound and want something unfamiliar and worthwhile, this will no doubt appeal to you. I am glad to hear it. Kudos to the choir and director Brian Schmidt.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Inna Faliks, Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

Nomi Epstein, Sounds


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 10, 2021

Jan Lisiecki, Frederic Chopin, Complete Nocturnes


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Reed Tetzloff, Schumann, Carnaval, Sonata op.11


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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