Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Knights, The Knights Before Christmas


Those of you who are musically sensitive like I am go through the Winter Holidays with an undiminished need for stimulating musical experiences, yet of course the many Christmas carols, some better than others, are subjected to innumerable arrangements for better or ill, and then too of course our musical memories draw sometimes rich associations with particular songs and versions, not to mention the Classical staples of the season, by Handel and Bach among others.

Since I am sent various things of a seasonal sort I try and listen to them and if any stand out write something about them on my blog pages. And so today a CD someone kindly sent that strikes me as being ultra-musical and so quite welcome.

It is by a musical outfit dubbed the Knights and the album is called The Knights Before Christmas (Bright Shining Things BSTC-0159), 

In some ways the impetus for more recordings of Christmas music in your life is a means to connect present with the holiday experience while more or less reconnecting the past with the present. While the songs are often enough old and familiar, the version are new and ideally regenerating.

I cannot say that is not the case with this one, for each is freshly arranged for a chamber orchestra and at tines one or more female vocalists. The arrangements are full throated without being overly sentimental. I post it on the "Classical" blog because the orchestral approach will no doubt appeal to classicists. So Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts classic "Christmas Time is Here" sounds rejuvenated in this female vocalist and orchestral rendition, as does "Deep in Bleak Midwinter" and the Asian sounding arrangement of "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

There are a few things I do not recognize and good for that since we need something new every year we hope. If you need some names attached to this music, what about Krystie Warren, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Magos Herrera, Gaby Moreno, Wu Man and the folk trio I'm with Her? 

"Another Lonely Christmas" has a sort of Joni Mitchell flavor to it, though rather dark and filled with feelings of loss. It is good music nonetheless. 

In the end the nicely apportioned arrangements give us music with something of a new life. The version of "Christmas Time is Here" alone is worth the price of admission, for it reminds us (or me anyway) that the song can travel far from its Peanuts origin and sound great all by itself. As a whole the album stands apart from the typical as music of a special sort.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Dai Fujikura, Glorious Clouds


If you are alert to what is going on these days you might know something of the music of Dai Fujikura. I reviewed his Zawazawa on these pages last September 25, 2019 (see index for that one). And now I am happy to be listening to his new two-CD set Glorious Clouds (Sony Music Labels SICX 10012-3). Like Takamitsu before him, he can incorporate traditional Japanese elements into his music while transforming them completely into his own New Music vision. And he extends the Modern vocabulary in ways both personal and brilliant.

The new music set is bracingly varied and diverse in combinations and expressions. Sandwiched between the orchestral gems "Glorious Clouds" and "Ghost of Christmas" is a wealth of musical worlds: the electric guitar of Prog meets New Music via Danlel Lippel performing "Sparkling Orbit," solo recorder on "Serene," solo horn on "Uniuni," then the koto and voice of Muyo Kumera, a Shamisen Concerto, New Music for five Shakuhachi, solo violin with motion sensor, chamber music with two clarinets, song form for soprano and piano, solo marimba, solo double bass, solo viola and solo contrabass clarinet.

What is perhaps the most remarkable about all this is how the music manages to sound idiomatic for the instruments at hand and yet refreshingly free of formula or predictability.

The twenty minute title cut for orchestra gives you a wonderful place to start with dramatic atmospherics and a sense of mystery and wonder.

All performances are first-rate and in the end you can only feel like you have been in the presence of a musical mind that seems literally endlessly inventive. Hurrah for all this. Listen all you who want a bead on what is NEW in New Music. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

George Crumb, Metamorphoses, Books I & II, Marc Antonio Barone


George Crumb is one of our most important living composers, as a 100% original on the Modern New Music scene in our lifetime. Perhaps he is best known for his multi-volume, sprawling, brilliant solo piano work Makrokosmos. I have over many years found it endlessly fascinating, rewarding, and dramatically moving. It epitomizes Crumb's innovative conception of the solo grand piano as a deep, nearly orchestral sound color generator. The combination of conventional piano sounding with strumming the strings, dampening the struck notes, the use of the sustain pedal for a cavernous resonance, placing objects on the strings, a heightened and unhurried sense of silence and sound, of musical events opening up the listener to a special world both periodic and intermittent. All these elements combined with Crumb's sure sense of dramatic narrative and a non-Western sense of aural space at the same time as it made the Makrokosmos a masterwork of its time that still has the capacity to enthrall and mesmerize.

The good news is that Crumb continues to write for the piano, his most recent and interesting are the two book opus written from 2015-2020, a grand and richly detailed solo work entitled Metamorphosis, Twenty Fantasy Pieces (after Celebrated Paintings) for Amplified Piano. We are fortunate that the entire work has been nicely recorded, as sympathetically performed by pianist Marc Antonio Barone (Bridge 9551).

All of the hallmark technical innovations of the earlier piano works continue to get attention here, along with little vocalisms and atmospheric percussion punctuations both on the piano and articulated on small ancillary percussion instruments as played by the pianist in the course of the work.

Each movement is  a musical analogue of a special, usually well known painting, mostly stemming from the Modern period. So we get one or more movements for various paintings by Whistler, van Gogh, Klee, Chagall, Johns, Gauguin, Dali, Kandinsky,, Andrew Wyeth, Dinnerstein, Picasso, O'Keeffe.

The performances are excellent, the music everything you might expect from Crumb and the piano solo genre he has perfected, only a step further into the future present. Grab it and enjoy. It is a wonderful addition to the Crumb oeuvre. 


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Britten, Milhaud, Finzi, Strauss, Music for Piano and Orchestra, Joshua Pierce, Kirk Trevor


Of music there can be no end, so long as there is a humanity to make it. And as long as I am here I will be glad to hear it, any of it that's worthwhile. So this morning I turn to something recent that I appreciate quite a bit. It is pianist Joshua Pierce and either the Slovak State Chamber Orchestra of Zilina or the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislawa, both under conductor Kirk Trevor. They join together in a program of 20th century music for piano and orchestra (MSR Classics MS 1756), all fitting together quite nicely as very musical tone paintings with the emphasis less on overt virtuosity so much as musical fullness and depth. So none of the works have gotten all that much concert representation of late, not that I know of anyway, perhaps because they do not have much of the bravado of a typical concerto? 

At any rate the music has an infectious verve and energy about it all, and does not strike one as Modern in the capital /m/ sense so much as a kind of Neo-Classical sometimes, and on occasion slightly Neo-Romantic in passion or frisson? And then perhaps a hint of Impressionism too? 

Each piece deserves our attention and interest, even if some we might not have heard so much in our lifetimes. The fact that Pierce gives them a concentrated and playful attention that the orchestra matches is all told an excellent reason why one should take this release quite seriously, and happily so at that.

It is all good. Beginning with Britten's striking "Young Apollo for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 16" we traverse a wide swatch of fully enthralling music. The Britten reminds us how adept an orchestral colorist he was. Then we move into rather unfairly obscure Milhaud "Le Carnaval D'Aix," then the rarely heard gem of Finzi's "Eclogue for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 10" and finally Richard Strauss' "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Orchestral Suite, Op. 60" which in part breaks from the typical Richard Straussian mode to instead give us a more Neo-Classical way than we are accustomed to hear in him, and that is refreshing.

And all in all--crisply articulate and refreshing is the program as a whole. Bravo Pierce, bravo Trevor and bravo orchestras. This one is a charmer and a welcome addition to 20th century piano and orchestra possibilities! Hear it and I think it will get you going.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Amanda Gookin, In This Skin, Forward Music Project 2.0, New Music for Solo Cello


The old adage about the importance of how ("It Ain't What You Do It's the Way That You Do It" as the Jimmie Lunceford Band recorded it long ago) seems to apply meaningfully to the recording up for review today--cellist Amanda Gookin's In This Skin (Bright Shiny Things BSTC 0456), being the second in Gookin's "Forward Music Project" Series, which in total aims to present  and "promote radical empathy and feminine empowerment" as the liner notes put it. You might call them "character pieces" I think. In the end they all express an aspect of a strongly feminine outlook, and that convincingly, not just any old way.

What strikes one as one first listens is how much the five compositions, each designed expressly for the artist and presented to us as premier recordings, how much each work fits into an expressive and intimate series of "sketches," all of which include a demanding solo cello part, vocals either pitched in song and/or recited as literary texts, all that come to terms with the tensile strength of being a determined woman in the world today. Each work was designed to challenge Ms. Gookin to encounter performance artistry a bit out of her comfort zone, with extended techniques, vocal interjections and electronic world building effects, all of which hold together remarkably well. Joining her effectively in cameo rolls are Chelsea Loew and Solmaz Badri on vocals for the opening work, and Sxip Shirey on electronics for the work by Paola Prestini.

Every piece in its own way identifies a world of self-knowledge, courage, determination to prevail. And so we encounter the strengths of an immersion in the now by talented contemporaries Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Alex Temple, Ms. Prestini as mentioned above, Kamala Sankaram and Shelley Washington.

The absolute artistic success of the entire endeavor is somewhat of a rare thing, given the ambition to combine a literary set of poetic communications that go together with vocal text and song, electronics and beautifully articulated cello performances. On one she adds a kick drum and that works, too. Ms. Gookin plays each one of these like she lives heartily in the contemporary now and is uniquely qualified to express it all for us with exceptional understanding and artistry. No doubt we live in an era when the confessions of straight white men have become tiresome, though of course that can be a political weapon as much as ever? Amanda Gookin and her composer colleagues help us put all of that out of mind to appreciate an authentic set of identity character pieces that work on numerous levels at once and do not sound forced or artificially eager in ways that might not convince.

That says a great deal of Amanda Gookin and these very capable and now-some composers. It is New Music with NEW out front and in advance, happily. Very recommended.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Christian Wolff, 3 String Quartets, Quatuor Bozzini


At this later date in the scheme of things the main composers in the John Cage School might be taken for granted, though it is a mistake to do so. As time goes on it is clear that Morton Feldman, Earl Brown and  Christian Wolff over time forged their own identity and should at this point be listened to for themselves. That applies to Christian Wolff as much as any of them. Perhaps even more, since he has not always gotten his due, even as we consider all three. He still lives and has continued to develop into his very own stylist. I have reviewed some of his things on here that hold their own (type his name in the search box for relevant articles). And now we have another album that adds considerably to our knowledge of his music both recent and somewhat less recent.

So today we have a program of Three String Quartets (New World Records 80830-2), three World Premier recordings of as many quartets, played ably and impressively by Quatuor Bozzini. As Michael Pisaro-Liu tells us in the liner notes to this album, Wolff beginning in the '60s began to refigure, to re-emphasize key musical elements in a kind of re-thinking of chamber music. Specifically Pisaro-Liu notes how he "created music in which the activity of the performers--timing, cuing, assembling and selecting materials--were foregrounded" in more pronounced ways than might be typical in classical chamber works up until then.

All those considerations are in the end rather complex to try and address in a short little article such as this one. Suffice oi say that the music as presented here show formative and at times deep roots with that set of idea-processes.

The three quartets focused upon here show themselves as products of the three slices of time they represent and were composed within. So each of the works, the opening "String Quartet Exercises Out of Songs" (1974-76), "For Two Violinists, violists and  cellist" (2008), and "Out of Kilter (String Quartet 5)" (2019), all have their own individual identities and flairs, such as the folksy Americana and special juxtapositions in "Out of Songs" and the winning forays into Modernist abstraction contrasting with patches of straightforward, plain-spoken tonality.

And in the end it is as much a matter of when as it is of what--hence the centrality of performers as mentioned above. Each of these quartets sound like nothing else and they do not so much sound like the other two either. It is a rare and singular originality to be heard here and the Quatuor Bozzini plays them like they belong to them--which in fact they do. A strong recommendation I give this program. It is what "Modern" can sound like today! And very compellingly so.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Brett Deubner, Mother Earth, Music for Viola and Piano, with Allison Brewster Franzetti


The more time passes the more music evolves, it seems. Right now for example I've been getting an awful lot of music that is very lyrically and sometimes even ritually tonal, like maybe Satie and Arvo Part have more importance in our world than they used to--as an influence? Well here is another example of such things, another happy example. It features the very talented violist Brett Deubner in a program of lyrical works of today and just yesterday. He teams up nicely with pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti in a very sympathetic and able musical partnership. The album is called Mother Earth: Works for Viola and Piano (Navona NV6351).

Deubner and Franzetti have put together a program that includes a couple of Arvo Part staples in "Fratres" (1977) and "Spiegel Im Spiegel" (1978), perhaps not as the very best performances I've heard of these gems, but individual in their own way and quite nice. Then they give us a lot to consider with six more works quite recent, from 2007 through 2020. You may or may not recognize some of the composer's names, but the music will doubtless please you as it did me. So the duo richly comes forward with wonderful readings of music by Polina Nazaykinskaya, Johan Hugosson, Judith Markovich, Amanda Harberg, Ola  Gjeilo, and Maurizio Bignone.

A couple of these were expressly written for Brett Deubner. Either way though, Dubner and Franzetti triumph and we are all the better for it. The album gives much to explore and quite happily so. Very recommended.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

High Low Duo, Ravel & Bartok, Jack Petruzzelli and Cameron Greider


Transcriptions and rearrangements of classical works for different instruments and instrument combinations have been a constant part of the music world ever since the Middle Ages. The piano was often enough a popular transcription choice in the days when the parlor piano was a staple of Euro-American everyday life and a reasonably skilled pianists were common enough in music loving families--so that sheet music sales of such things were a good bet if a particular opera or orchestral work was well known enough that a piano version would appeal as a way to rehear at leisure in the home such a work. But versions for two guitars were understandably not a common thing.

So all the more welcome for its rare quality as well as its excellence is the album by the High Low Duo (Jack Petruzzelli and Cameron Greider) entitled Ravel & Bartok (Sono Luminus SLE-70023). It has a nicely balanced program of the well known (a version of Ravel's "Ma mere L'Oye" or "Mother Goose,") and the somewhat lesser known but equally vibrant in six of Bartok's "44 Duos for Violin".as arranged for two electric guitars.

The guitarists sought to utilize the special qualities of the electric guitar (as over and above the "classical" acoustic guitar) to match and further the composer's aural conceptual structure in each case. I must say the duo gives us convincing sound color manipulation and in so doing breathes new life into the music and its sonic possibilities.

Greider and Petruzzelli impress greatly with their virtuoso sound and control. Every bar of this program is a delight. Molto bravo! Hear this one!

Mozart, Piano Concertos, Vol. 3, K.449, K.595, Anne Marie McDermott, Odense Symfoniorkester, Sebastian Lang Lessing


Music, I am thinking, can be at either end of a spectrum, depending. One music is basically all compositional, another, depending on how you look at it, can be all performance, in its impact on you. So for the former for me it is Electronic Music for magnetic tape. The performance IS the composition. The final product is in a way pure structured sound without a performer intervening, most of the time. Pure performance for me depends on what I already know. In the case of today's beautifully done CD of Mozart Piano Concertos, Volume 3 (Bridge 9538), namely Concertos Nos. 14 and 27 showcasing Anne Marie McDermott as piano soloist with the very capable Odense Symfoniorkester under Sebastian Lang Lessing, it is understandably the performance that is key, since I already know and love the works themselves. Of course Mozart wrote them as vehicles of his piano virtuosity and we listen now as the living generations of music talents give us their interpretation. Of course were they not the masterpieces they are we would not pay much mind to the performances.

And of course if they have done their work well we are given a renewed appreciation of Mozart's brilliant music. Anne Marie McDermott has a beautifully singing, bright toned poise in all she does. And the Odense Symfoniorkester under Lessing sounds peppy, inspired, almost folksy, and very lyrical.

All told the volume here is hard to beat for straight up majesty and joyful singing, weaving and savory attention to every detail. Highly recommended.