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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Benedict Sheehan, Vespers, Eastern Orthodox Choral Music, The St. Tikhon Choir


This time of year always seems right for choral music--for obvious reasons. And so I am listening to something nicely turned and somewhat unexpected. That is Eastern Orthodox a cappella music for Vespers (Cappella Records CR423SACD) sung quite nicely by the Saint Tikhon Choir. It is the World Premiere recording of the 2021 full settings of Psalms composed by Benedict Sheehan. They are in the tradition of Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil.

What that means is that Eastern Orthodox chant elements are adapted to a melodic-harmonic later day earful. It is in the tradition and nice to hear.

If you like Eastern Orthodox liturgical vocals you will find this a nice addition. Or even if you do not! Recommended.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Dave Flynn, Irish Minimalism


On some level the Minimalist turn at times has been consonant with hypnotic repetitions in Folk music the world round. With composer Dave Flynn's recent release Irish Minimalism (FHR FHR116) we experience a chamber music that explicitly ties with traditional Irish Folk music and thereby injects a feel and form that both embraces and transcends conventional Minimalism. Of course Irish dance music and song have created a music universe that continues to thrive and was a wide-world influence way long before Minimalism came into the New Music scene.

Dave Flynn manages in this lively CD program to capture the energy, lyrical heft and compelling presence of traditional Irish music at the same time as he injects classical instrumentation and Minimalist flow into the sequencing. There can be a bagpipe like drone and phrasing that straddles folk and classical at times in ways that grab your attention and draw you into its orbit. Some sections are more firmly in Folk territory, some more solidly into a Minimalist sound, but it is nicely shifting, ever shifting.

The music makes use of Classical chamber ensembles (ConTempo Quartet, IMO Quartet, the uilleann pipes of Mick O'Brien and the folk-like vocals of Breanndan Begley. There is variety, variation and freshenings in the four works, variously titled "The Cranning" (String Quartet No. 1) "The Cutting" (Quintet No. 1 for Uilleann Pipes and String Quartet),  "The Keening" (String Quartet No. 3), and "Stories from the Old World" (for Voice, Pipes and Quartet).

In the end if you are like me you welcome the rightness and musicality of the hybrid and are glad for Dave Flynn's imaginative music. Recommended if the title intrigues you, for that is exactly what you get in nice ways. It all works together happily. Bravo!

Sunday, December 19, 2021

John Harbison, Diotima, Dawn Upshaw, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose


I was happy to discover the music of John Harbison at the very beginning of my serious interest in New Music, thanks to some of the more adventurous releases  from labels like Nonesuch in their "golden age." I've managed to keep pace with many of the recordings that followed. Type his name in the search box above for my reviews of some of the gems that have come out in the last decade.

And as time marches on there is another new one and it is definitely good listening, another worthy release from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project directed by Gil Rose. The program consists of three especially expressive works, the first forming the title of the CD, Diotima (BMOP Sound  1083), the title work being Harbison's very first orchestral work (1976) followed by "Milosz Songs for Soprano and Orchestra" (2006) and "Symphony No.6," (2011) which the composer believes will be the last in his lengthy series of such pieces. The latter two works feature the exceptional soprano gifts of Dawn Upshaw.

In all three cases BMOP under Gil Rose devote great care and enthusiasm in bringing each work to life faithfully, revealing consistently Harbison's special High Modernist lucidity--in ways both advanced and lyrical, effectively sprawling in inventive beauty and imaginative orchestration girth.

The pure orchestral girth of the 1976 "Diotime" reminds us just how lucid he has been from the very beginning. The bookended recent works then give us the full flowering of the brilliance of Harbison's settings for soprano and orchestra, with the brilliancy of the "Milosz Songs" (2006) and the happily unexpected opening soprano and orchestral movement of the "Symphony No. 6" (2011).

This is music of a finely honed complexity that holds its own as a rare and masterful set of sonic adventures, beautiful New Music we can savor and grow with as we hear it the more.

This is music that forms a sonic paperweight to hold down the artistic fort, music worthy of a lifetime of consideration, a central conduit for the Modern possibilities in our current world. Molto bravo!

Richard Carr, Over the Ridge, String Quartet Music Out of the Pandemic and Beyond


With no doubt a certain amount of determination we face each week nowadays and look to the good things as we come across them. Today that certainly includes a recent album by composer-violinist Richard Carr, namely a set of interrelated movements for string quartet entitled Over the Ridge (Neuma Records 146). It all came about as Richard found himself in 2020 in COVID lockdown with a lot of time on his hands to make use of. He took advantage and created this set of twelve composed-notated works that stand together as a kind of counter reaction of something hopeful in the face of great uncertainty.

The music that comes to us in this program has a Contemporary tonal quality that is neither precisely pre-Modern nor High Modern nor even exactly Post-Modern--which is only to say that it feels like a very lyrical and folksy music of place, locality, of something we might have called in the pre-Pandemic the music of "home," only home is what remains when Not-home shrinks to a tiny fragment of its ordinary place.

So what does that sound like? Well it sounds like Richard Carr music that has folksy originality which in some way reminds me of Lou Harrison if Lou had never "gone World," so to speak, It is kind of primal modal in its own way, neither primarily repetitive though it has sections that open out of ostinato--but in a sort of open ethnicity of our present cosmopolis, how the local spans who we are right now.

All this so much so that I am not sure exactly what else to say except it seems like important music, delightful music well performed, and it is something you probably do not want to miss, even if it does not come careening out of some cyberspace in a far avant sort of way. By a refusal to follow any but its own dictates it gives us an alternative to the lockdown misery! Bravo.

Jeanne Golan, It Takes One to Tango, Works of Contemporary and Recovered Voices Composers, Solo Piano


The most valuable musicians and music people to me these days are those with the courage and insightful instincts when it comes to music we may have missed or not yet heard. In spite of periods in the last century or so where some felt it was a matter of recycling through the same, say 500 works, we now perhaps understand that the job of sifting through the many yet unheard works out there is never finished, for the reason that history is never about the exact same things endlessly repeating themselves, though sometimes it may feel like that!

And on that note we have today an excellent example of how an artist can weed through the many obscure items of past and present and come up with an unexpected and worthwhile blend of things we can grow into, grow with. I allude to a new CD by pianist Jeanne Golan entitled It Takes One to Tango: Works of Contemporary and Recovered Voices Composers (Steinway & Sons 30164).

It is piano music of character, more personally insistent than doctrinairely Modern, as personal as a signature or a special laugh maybe? At any rate it is a fine example of music we are glad to hear, played with a kind of devotion to the inner spectacle and special way of being that marks it all out.

Important to keep in mind that "Recovered Voices" according to the liners refers to "composers who were persecuted and often murdered as a consequence of the Nazi Regime." And in keeping with the title of the album all the pieces have direct or indirect reference to the Tango in its musical specialty, its rhythmic breadth and melodic-harmonic girth.

There is nothing superfluous, no space wasted, much music to come to know and appreciate, composers we may have far too little appreciation of, and in spite of what we think we know, there are surprises, happy ones contained within the 70-plus minutes playing time. Wanda Landowska, the "mother" of the modern harpsichord revival, gives us a short work that tantalizes, Toby Twining's "An American in Buenos Aires" appeals in a Golan arrangement for piano and toy piano, enchants in a bluesy directness. We get a goodly assortment of rediscovered casualties of the fascist refusal in the lively music of Wilhelm Grosz and Erwin Schulhoff, the latter in the substantial "Etudes de Jazz" of 1927. Then there are three captivating miniatures by Pablo Ortiz. All that is a good sample of the totality.

Ms. Golan shows how brightly, brilliantly musical and pianistic she is by virtually selflessly devoting all her focus to this endlessly interesting program. Viva her beautiful interpretive skills and her wonderful sense of discovery as she presents us with a delightful batch of things we might not have discovered were it not for her careful ear and critical soundness of judgement.

A topper of a program. There is every reason to like this one. Do not fail to give it your attention.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Amaro Dubois, Adoration, Music of the Americas, Viola-Piano Works by Price, Clarke, Coleridge-Taylor, Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, Guerra-Peixe, Fanny Mendelssohn, with Tingting Yao


I cannot always tell day-to-day what new musical treasures will await my ears, but there are ever good things. Today there is a fine and adventurous album by violist Amaro Dubois with pianist Tingting Yao, entitled Adoration: Music of the Americas (Spice Classics SR-101-56). 

The most apparent thing you notice is the very adventurous program of works, things that if you have not heard you are glad to or even if you have, it is a nice gathering of unexpected juxtapositions and very solid viola fare. It happens that I became quite enamored with the viola in my early listening years thanks to Walter Trampler. I still feel the same way so always glad to hear an excellent player unknown to me. Like you might come to expect from a violist of stature there is a woody, burnished deepness to Amaro's tone, and given the expressive qualities of much of the music there is an emotive sweetness that is not overblown but just right, a trim tautness coupled with a projective richness that makes the music sing out nicely. 

Dubois and Yao give poetically focused attention to works that are neglected treasures, many of them, and/or illuminating to our understanding of composers, regions. periods.

We get to hear a couple of gems by the now emergent Afro-American woman composer Florence Price, plus worthy but neglected works by Rebecca Clarke, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Astor Piazzolla, Cesar Guerra-Piexe and Fanny Mendelssohn. And then to remind us that there is a treasure trove of possible rearrangements of other works and composers  more well known, we hear a ravishing viola-piano version of Villa-Lobos's "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6."

In the end it is a pleasure to hear the brilliant musicianship of Dubois and Yao, as much as it is heartening to hear some wonderful music we are fortunate to experience today. Bravo!           

Gyorgy Kurtag, Six moments musicaux, Officium breve, Antonin Dvorak, String Quintet, Parker Quartet, Kim Kashkashian


Some of the best recordings in the New Music world combine brilliant compositions with special performances, vivid readings. Such things are in store for you on the recent CD by the Parker Quartet and Kim Kashkashian on viola, performing Gyorgy Kurtag's "Offiicium breve" and "Six moments musicaux" along with Dvorak's "String Quintet, op. 97" (ECM New Series 2649).

The wonderfully Bohemian Dvorak "Sextet" as a great deal of sublime energy and the performance here has all the brio you might hope for, along with the lyric articulateness Dvorak often expects of a performance. This is a wonderful work and it never sounded better than here! If this was the lone item on this CD it would be a happy (if short) thing. But of course we get much more, two nicely contrasting High Modern forays by Gyorgy Kurtag, a composer to savor all the more as one hears his opus bit-by-bit.

His "Officium breve"" has deeply moodful ruminations that stand out as strikingly fashioned the more one listens. Like Berg before him, he can be on the cutting-edge as he is here, yet also extraordinarily expressive of mood and feeling. The all-but-hushed unfoldings give one a kind of eerie spaciousness, a feeling of journeying to a rare place of beauty and strangitude combined.

Kurtag's "Six moments musicaux" have more abstract expressive edges to them. They are in fact Modern with a capital /M/. You feel his mastery and complex forward momentum. This one doubtless is possibly one of the unsung high points in the chamber music of our times. In the very least it is essential listening, a sterling performance of a special work.

The Parker Quartet with Kashkashian seize the day and shine with luminescence and musicality. This is a triumph, and one of the finest chamber music releases of the year. Be sure and check it out if you can. Bravo.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Jerome Kitzke, The Redness of Blood


I do not suppose I need to remind readers how the integration of text-voices in all kinds of Modernist works can be an iffy proposition. It is a combination of course of composer and artist(s) and when it does not work it can even be a little painful. But then there are the good results and hurrah for them.

A very nice example just hitting the release stacks is an album of Jerome Kitzke music entitled The Redness of Blood (New World Records 80834-2). There are four chamber works to be heard on the program, two for a pianist who also sings, makes specific vocal sounds and recites text--starring nicely Lisa Moore and Sarah Cahill. Then there are two with six or seven artists who play and/or have vocal parts.

The music is a series of "Post-Modern," openly imaginative forays that show the composer can put together such things with a disarming good humor, an unpretentious idea of how these things can present themselves, sometimes even in a quasi-traditional Asian unity of expression and/or otherwise resourcefully Contemporary in outlook. The artists respond with a kind of natural expressiveness that puts everything together in nicely listenable ways. One thinks of how Crumb and perhaps how Stockhausen and Cage  have  done such things as precedent, though Kitzke remains consistently original in all of this. The voices can be percussive, articulated, wide-ranging in use of available speech sounds, and well integrated into the instrumental parts so that one feels like all this makes a special kind of sense reserved for inspired peaks in New Music of this kind. Oh and the press sheet mentions Harry Partch as well. Yes, I hear that, too. All in good, forward moving ways.

So who is Kitzke? He was born in 1955, which makes him roughly my age. He makes a music that again in the materials that came with the CD can be noted falls into a somewhat more simple expression than typical High Modernist works in this realm, yet too more transformative and mutable than typical Minimalism. And that betweenness embraces an invigorating vitality and continual possibility of transformation. 

Each work has its own momentum, its own trajectory and aural-semantic space. The two piano-voice works have a more directly presentative vibe about them. Kudos to Lisa Moore for her fine musico-dramatic wholeness on "Bringing Roses with Her Words" (2009) and Sarah Cahill for "There is A Field" (2008) with texts by Whitman and Rumi. Both handle the multi-faceted demands with a fabulous steady-state inspiration. Bravo. 

And the small ensemble works take that same down-to-earth idea of the voice in the ensemble and expand upon it, with some more intricate ensemble interactions by all with a goodly vocalization idea and lots of good instrumental parts. So I end up quite impressed with that too--"For Pte Tokabewin Ska" (2015) with text by Native American Charlotte Black Elk. And then the climax of it all, there is the title work "The Redness of Blood" (1994-95) and its full 26 minute unfolding. with five instrumentalists and simultaneous vocal parts in addition, and then another three vocalists. It is complicated and rewarding to hear, with a pronounced Native American feeling at times. It is very good listening as is the whole of this.

New World Records continues to offer an exemplary program of Modern Americana and this is a great example of how it works. Kitzke is it turns out an essential voice and this then is essential fare. It is born out of expressive need more so than a sort of formalist rigor. It works and it works very well indeed. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Mason, Muse, Barber and Rachmaninoff for Cello and Piano


Some music and artists seem promising straight off. That is what I felt opening up the mailer that contained cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason's album Muse (Decca B0034635-02), It is an interesting assortment of short songs--with the cello taking the vocal parts--and a Cello Sonata each, all by two Late Romantic composers from two edges of the Western world, namely Samuel Barber and Sergei Rachmaninoff, from the USA and from Russia, two composers I have long appreciated, both entering my music experience beginning with the earlier days of my exploration of Classical 20th Century music.

The artists are brother and sister and they have had the good fortune to be playing the two Sonatas repeatedly on tour during the Fall of 2019, The pandemic cut short any continuation of the tour but by then they had grown into the works by a kind of concerted osmosis. So indeed these works plus the selected songs seemed like the perfect material for their recorded debut. And here we have it!

Both composers have in common an Expressionist emotive quality and a wayward insistence that their music go its way with an intensely personal originality, each of course in different ways, partially because of the way their music worlds contrast as heritages.

Not surprisingly both composers give the duo carefully conceived and personal yet idiomatic expressions for cello and piano. And the songs come through too as wholly appropriate in the cello-piano adoptions.

I have already come to know and love the Rachmaninoff Sonata so I got to hear how their interpretation differs from ones I have heard. I must say the flow and feelingful poise is in all ways worthy and first-rate. Though unfamiliar up until now with the Barber sonata it too convinces in its whole-cloth grasp of what is lurking inside every note.

There is nothing but good things to say about this program and the beautifully poetic presence of the Kanneh-Mason siblings. This is one to savor, in solitude or with some good people. This is Modern music that seeks a beauty we sometimes leave behind in our Space Age of being. Regain some of it here. Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Jose Antonio Bottiroli, Complete Piano Works 2, Nocturnes, Fabio Banegas


Who? Jose Antonio Bottiroli (1920-1990) an Argentinian native, composer of piano music with an exploratory gentleness that we hear most vividly in the recent CD Complete Piano Works 2: Nocturnes (Grand Piano GP871) world premiere recordings nicely played by Fabio Banegas, the composer's protégé. They reflect in part Bottiroli's sun soaked holiday home in Los Cocos, Cordoba Province, Argentina. It is lyrical, Impressionistic in its own way, an Argentinian Satie, Grieg or Chopin with his own special originality and incisive expression.

In all the program contains 16 Nocturne miniatures stemming from 1974-1984, and then "Cinco Replicas Para Piano "1974-80, which consists of six probing poems by the composer as recited by Star Trek's George Takei, followed in each case by a piano movement in response.

It is all good, Refreshingly unpretentious, disarming, it comes off as sincere and carefully inventive. The more you listen, the more you find it all rather enchanting, or I do anyway. I recommend it to all 20th Century Moderns who love a well turned solo piano piece, and of course those who want to get a handle on what was going on in South America last century. Either way you will find music to savor and appreciate.