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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Danish String Quartet, Prism IV, String Quartet Music By Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn


"He is lucky; He is experiencing the last Beethoven Quartets for the first time!" So Morris Lang (late great percussionist) told one of his students about another one of his students as I got there a little early for my lesson back in 1972. I had been listening to those quartets myself for a couple of years and I knew how wonderful they were. Of course as I grew into the repertoire I learned that all performances of those works were not alike. Surely, perhaps more tidily, things were changing. 

In time some versions from the LP years were no longer exactly perfect for the world we were in. Little-by-little the peak of Romanticist over-emoting had begun to pass by slowly like a reading of the Eroica Funeral March, so that a fully Modern interpretation might have had for us lots of gravitas and feelingful punch, but less so than a classic Budapest Quartet version might have had, for example? And that less is more like how we feel about such things today perhaps, we who might be in a sort of Neo-Baroque phase of music making, still feeling things but feeling horizontally more flowingly expansive, maybe?

Fast forward to the right now of today and a new recording by the Danish String Quartet, Prism IV (ECM New Series 2564). It is especially notable for a convincingly gravitas performance of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15, one of the very best of the Beethoven late quartets. And this Danish String Quartet version is as good or better than any I have heard in our present day. It is flawless, not precisely restrained but then not feverish either, with a kind of Apollonion ray of brilliance really, a ray of enlightened musical strength perhaps like never before or since. So hurrah.

And hurrah too for the brief but spectacular  Bach "Fugue in G minor," and for the evergreen Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 2, which the Danish Quartet gives to us as another stately strength-and-height soaring topper of an Apollonian pine.

The Danish Quartet show themselves as a beautifully tall outfit for today, as tall as we might hope to hear and appreciate as we live. Bravo to this music and its makers.  Recommended highly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Reed Tetzloff, Concord, Ives Sonata No. 2 "Concord, Mass. 1840-60," Beethoven Sonata No. 31 Op. 110

Charles Ives' "Concord, Mass" was revolutionary and iconoclastic when he wrote it, no doubt the first really important modern solo piano work last century, fiendishly difficult in its extensive clusters, advanced harmonic underpinning and alternatingly volatile and beautifully mysterious arcs that require a complete pianist of extraordinary interpretive abilities. In many ways Beethoven's ravishingly expressive Sonata No. 31 Op. 110 was an earlier counterpart for its uncompromising strength and beauty.

In Reed Tetzloff we have a giant of a pianist fully prepared to take on the formidable challenges of a superlative reading of both works.

The Concord when first entering the potential repertoire of concert pianists in the later '40s-early '50s had a continual flow that needed an exceptional sense of the musicality of the phrasings. Not everyone could meet the continual demands of the work in those early days of Ives musical scholarship. Far from it. As time went by there were ever more fully thought-out performances and we now have with this release one of the real milestones in Sonata realizations. Each movement seems aptly weighted proportionately and the through-phrasing sounds convincing every minute as all holds steady and true as part of the overall journey.

Beethoven's Sonata No. 31 is the unexpectedly perfect foil for the Ives. Tetzloff makes it fully resonant and projecting and thereby shows how both works parallel one another and invite comparison when performed with equal vigor and devotion, as is the case with this wonderful program.

The Ives most definitely reflects how this music seems at last fully of our times, readily understood and beautifully lyrical in the way we now hear such things in an ideal situation. Bravo!

Mari Kawamura, MA ~ Space Between, New and Classic Music for Solo Piano


Mari Kawamura is a concert pianist with a decidedly singular sort of musical commitment, as we might readily pick up on as we listen to her thought-provoking new anthology of solo piano music. MA ~ Space Between ~ (Furious Artisans FACD6831).

The liners give us insight into Ms. Kawamura's view of things. It is worth quoting at length. 

"Kawamura is drawn to music which utilizes the entirety of the piano  as an expressive device. She is as equally fascinated by works that showcase the tremendous agility of the instrument, as by compositions that explore its ability to produce cavernous resonances, complex spectral sounds, and unpitched noise."

Following this we get a true cornucopia of possibilities that accentuate some and most of these aspects as realized poetically and gracefully. That is clear listening to the program entailed. There are some six short Lei Liang works that bring a fully mysterious set of ruminations well worth repeated hearings. It is a reflective Modernity that parallels but does not duplicate a George Crumb. Katharina Rosenberg chimes in with an expansive and spacious analog of expressions most fitting as well.

Interestingly Franz Joseph Haydn's beautiful Piano Sonata Hob. XVI:40 sounds much more adventuresome in the midst of this program than he might in a more Classical Period program. Then Takemitsu and Xenakis both hold forth with extraordinary Modern open qualities, as you might expect, yet especially expressive and expansive in Mari Kawamura's hands.

This is nothing short of marvelous in every performative possibility and it gradually unfolds with every listen until you feel that the pianist surely speaks to all of us open to the cosmic possibilities of musical time and space. Bravo.

This is a landmark set of performances and the compositions ring true in the pianist's very capable and expressive hands. Check this one out without fail, do.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Concordian Dawn, Fortuna Antiqua et Ultra


I do not suppose I stand out from my readers when I say how much I appreciate Medieval music. It is so ethnic the way it is performed these days, whatever than means. Of course one might say that ALL music is ethnic on the other hand. But Middle Ages Europe sounds pretty folksy, pretty directly together and immediate? To me, anyway. So I am glad to have gotten a new one for my ears to love, namely the Early Music group Concordian Dawn and their album Fortuna Antiqua et Ultra (MSR Classics MS 1805).

The CD has the informative subtitle Medieval Songs of Fate, Fortune and Fin Amour (i,e, Courtly Love). And for all that the repertoire is part familiar to me as a fairly avid follower of things Medieval, but yet it is still different enough in its arrangement as to constitute a further step in filling out the outline of possibilities out there for Medieval music, happily. There are some works for a cappella vocal chamber configuration, some for solo voice and instruments, others for instrumental chamber soundings, etc. It is all rather gravitas, as might be expected, and hauntingly well done.

As you listen now the archaic harmonies sound paradoxically almost Contemporary and this group brings that out very nicely, with charm and grace but too with a subtle kind 0f latent strength and power. You feel the timelessness of the cloister or the long buried urban past, tyet too it all speaks to us now in unforgettable ways;

A disk I recommend strongly. If you feel you need the Medieval or find yourself wondering about it, here is a good one to dive into. I for one am glad to have it. Give it a try! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Inviting Worlds, Volume Two, New Works for Large Ensemble, Various Composers


Navona Records flourishes as a lively conduit for New Music and has for some time. Its anthologies of particular categories of newness always promise much and then one listens to each of course singularly to gauge what personal appeal each might offer. 

Right now a new title is getting a long listen on my player, namely the Second Volume of Inviting Worlds (Navona NV644). The Janacek Philharmonic Ostrava do the honors with several conductors sharing the podium. It all sounds right.

The label website talks about the rhythmic dexterity and textural nuance of the modern orchestral  possibilities here. Indeed the six examples by six emerging and emergent composers brings six varied and eclectically worthy approaches to Modern Mainstream decidedly worth hearing.

It might be better to name the pieces and composers and set you loose on the hearing, since there to me is no particular meaningful patterning that is obvious on the verbal level, except all are tonal, all seem to provide an expression of music in our times. Well the website copy notes that our times are indeed "dark," and that each piece seeks to grapple with the present and its complexities. There is a slight influence of Sacre at times rhythmically and perhaps some of Varesian periodicity of form and then the lyric melodicisms of Copland, Barber, etc. and other things besides but you should listen for yourself and get the thrust of it all in your own listening experience.

Take a listen to "Hope and a Future" by Lawrence Mumford, "Chasse Noir" by Dinah Bianchi, "When Quiet Comes" by Bruce Reiprich, "Gold Lights in Blue" by William Copper, "Rising Up" by Debra Kaye, and the eight part "Paisano Suite" by Richard E. Brown.

By all means give this a listen. I am going to listen to Volume One now so I will be back I suspect happily with that. Volume Two is easily recommended. You help the new voices by hearing this. They need your attention and patronage.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Anil Camci's Dekagon, New Electronic Music Gems


The state-of-the-art for CD design and graphics never ceases to stimulate me, and not always for the worse. Look here at the cover of Anil Camci's Dekagon (Innova-080) and you will see something doubtlessly avant but then readable and nicely dynamic. So who is Anil Camci? If you Google him you find his University of Michigan page (where he teaches). You see by his site that he is up to interesting things--digital instrument design, electro-audio web applications. It is all worth reading and gives the back story for what makes his Electronic Music so alarmingly good. He is first of all a SOUND artist extraordinaire, a real orchestrational innovator.

To turn to this fine disk, we have ten short works, all of which explore very fetching and beautiful sonic territory. Listen to his brief "Christmas 2013" from the album and feel the poetic rightness of this nuusic.   I find it all rather brilliant! Copy and paste this link: If that hits you, then by all means take a listen to it all, spring for the CD, enjoy this one at length. Bravo!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A Baroque Christmas at Sono Luminus, Felipe Dominguez, Organ


What is a holiday except what you make it?  I can recall more than one Christmas Season that virtually or nearly stood or fell on the basis of the music I heard that time of year. I am off to a good beginning this season with something I just got in the mail: A Baroque Christmas at Sono Luminus (Sono Luminus DSL-92260), with Felipe Dominguez at the organ. What distinguishes this one (other than the fine playing and sound) is the inviting combination of a few absolute Christmas classics with a treasure trove of lesser-known but vibrantly lively period works.

So the well-known works seed the totality richly with the Pastoral movement from the Messiah as nicely arranged for organ and so also an arrangement of "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" in the Praetorious harmonization. The four work totality  gives us a cozy familiarity that prepares us for lesser-known but nicely turned Chorale Preludes by Bach and by Johann Gottfried Walther. From there we experience nicely wrought Baroque Christmas expressions by Jean-Francois Dandrieu,  Domenico Zipoli, Johann Kaspar Ferdinand Fischer, Dieterich Buxtehude, Louis-Claude Daquin, Georg Bohm, John Stanley, Johann Pachelbel, and Bernardo Pasquin.

In the end we get a good listen to the newly installed Sono Luminus organ, which sounds just right. And then the program scores big to my ears with a wide-ranging, musically ravishing collection of Baroque gems for the season. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Moritz Moszkowski, Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume Two


September 11, 2014 was when I last covered something of note by German-Jewish Polish descended composer Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) on these pages. Today I have the pleasure of writing about a new release, the Complete Music for Solo Piano, Volume Two (Toccata Classics TOCC 0660). Doing the honors on piano is Ian Hobson, and he seems fully in the elements of the music for flow and melodic thrust.

This volume concentrates on some three multi-movement works from 1877 and 1878, namely the "Sechs Stucke" of 1877, the "Drei Clavierstucke in Tantzform" of 1878, and the "Funf Clavierstucke" of 1878.

What sets this music up for us and in the end gives us a kind of endless banquet of musical treats is the continual motion of the music in dance form and further extensions beyond it, so that the perpetual motion suggests a connection to Chopin yet continually takes it further into a personally expressive mode with exceptional inventive brilliance.

As the liners tell us, Moszkowski in his day was almost entirely known for his "Spanish Dances" for piano duet, then his solo piano "Serenata" which opens this volume as the first part of the "Sechs Stucke," op 15. That is a nice way to begin, relatively simple and lyrical. The program then goes on from strength-to-strength, with interpretations that heighten the beauty of the various pieces, plus give us pause to appreciate the charm and winning warmth of it all. 

There is no substitute for the direct appreciation of these works by repeated listens. It rewards you with a singing sort of contentment that affirms his continual freshness if we listen without an idea of what we will hear. I do recommend this one heartily. Get it and enjoy the ride!

Miriam K. Smith, Momentum, Cello and Piano by Prokofiev, Stravinsky. Nadia Boulanger, with Sandra Wright Shen, Mini-Review


Just another Monday as we live it? Well not entirely. We have a new CD by a cellist and a pianist with whom I do not have any previous eartime. It is cellist Miriam K. Smith and pianist Sandra Wright Shen and their very absorbing and expressive album Momentum (Azica ACD-71364). It gives us very much to like with two wonderful yet somewhat unappreciated  gems by Prokofiev and Stravinsky: the Opus 119 Cello Sonata in G Major of Prokofiev's and the "Suite Italienne" by Stravinsky. Then we are treated to a even more rare work by the great Nadia Boulanger, her "Trois Pieces pour violincello et piano."

This is good for your soul, I would say. Nicely performed and nice, very nice to have to hear repeatedly. Very recommended.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Dana Kaufman, Emily & Sue... An A Cappella Pop Opera Based on the Lives of Emily Dickinson and Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson


Sometimes you wake up and find yourself in a world that is changing and like my grandfather  holding his ears long ago at my brother's wedding as the reception record player blared "It's My Party," you sometimes feel Pop culture is rolling along without you. All I have to do for that feeling is to watch Jeopardy with some amazement as the contestants all seem to KNOW Pop culture things I have no idea about. Doubtless it is a factor to blame of isolation and a little a lack of money to invest in the flavors of the moment. And it is true that all that has little bearing on the "high" culture echelons and historical panoramas I tend to dwell in. But every so often like with the story of Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera maybe 30 years ago, or Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta, there are things contemplated by those in high culture that find their way to a general cache so that you need to be aware of what it says to our gender and relationship understanding, for example.

So such a thing is for sure in the works regarding the story of poet brilliance Emily Dickinson and her would-be-partner-friend Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson, star-crossed lovers now portrayed in movies, etc. And so we have now the appearance of an a cappella Pop Opera that portrays the story with music by Dana Kaufman, libretto by Aiden K. Feltkamp, and some poignant texts including Dickinson's poems and other communications as well as those of Ms. Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. All this we have on the 40 minute CD of the opera, Emily & Sue (Adhyaropa CD).

Well so what to make of it all? The music is interesting, just harmonized vocals and sometimes beatbox vocals, and yes it is a kind of Pop thing. My first listen I came away from feeling that I should ideally know the story to begin with, that the music and libretto assume this and climb atop an emotional-tragic demeanor one understands but if you are not that well versed in Dickinson bio or her poetry--I confess I have not read her as much as I should have--you feel you perhaps are eavesdropping in on a touching exchange of words and perhaps need an expanded, more contextual knowledge to emote in parallel along with the music. Otherwise it has a little too much affect to ponder without already feeling it, or that was my first blush with it anyway. Pop of course can ordinarily emote in a very highly wrought manner and the usual Pop song framework makes such of it all pretty obvious as to the given scenario at hand. Here we probably should consult a libretto as one goes on; that is a sort minimal grounding to understand it,  but sadly it is not a part of the CD packaging. Yet that probably is secondary to gauging the impact of the music per se, so we are glad in the end to have it all well performed to hear with this release in any event.

And for that it is some very well turned melodics, some nicely conceived part writings, and then the sort of dramatics in a portrayal of the text. So "open the door" and "I am right on the other side" stand in for sad misconnections, and which is text and which libretto? I am not clear about that but it has a leveling in the presentation and so it is good to experience it all and get something from it all despite not being sure about the exact provenance of every passage. The Pop sort of vocal delivery with little vibrato and a kind of plain presence gives the whole a matter-of-fact air that helps you grasp the immediacy of its here-now for us today. And the phrasings and melodizing seem never banal but opening out to our ears as we listen without distraction.

Nonetheless the singing is very well done and the music bears repeated hearings. My sympathy goes out to these two in their unhappy quandary and I feel very much by listening the implicit yet no less horrible sorts of repressions back then. They should be understood today and we should take them to heart and never go back. That is my thought. 

So you might love this music. I appreciate it and am glad to spend the time to know it here. You should give it a chance with more than one listen. Do not miss it!

If you are in and around New York City right now you might want to check out a upcoming screening of the film version of the opera on November 19th and 20th at the Tank in the city. It was created by Four/Ten Media and directed by Ron Bashford. It was filmed in Emily Dickinson's actual bedroom in what is now the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Robert Schumann, Symphonies 1 and 2 (Reorchestrated by Mahler), ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop


If you've been exposed at all to Robert Schumann's orchestral output and its brilliance, and too its reception history you have heard about and perhaps felt the sting of recognition with the idea that Schumann was a genius but in terms of orchestration he was perhaps a little too heavy-handed, with his excessive reliance upon the strings to carry much of the weight. Perhaps not as generally known is that Mahler reorchestrated all four symphonies toward the end of his career. Given the excellence of Mahler as orchestrator one comes to a recording of  Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 in the Mahler reworkings (Naxos 8.574429) with a sense of great expectations. It turns out that the expectations are well met in the performances of Martin Alsop and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. So too the recording is first-rate as we might expect from Naxos. What then of the orchestrations themselves?

By definition we expect a good deal more of the winds and horns than Schumann originally called for. That certainly is the case. Mahler delivers. The full-blown tuttis come off strengthened but understandably it is not as drastic a re-sounding we hear there so much as in the more intimately lyrical and/or developmental passages. There in the latter the new attention to winds and brass has the new prominence you might expect from Mahler, yet too there is a more a Beethovenian presence there than before, which seems only fitting given the time frame of the compositions, the Romantic flourishing that started with Ludwig and then in time fell symphonically to Schumann.

Mahler's reorchestration of Beethoven's Ninth (which was recorded by Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on a Command LP years ago) has relevance to our listening of the Schumann reorchestrations. Mahler on the Beethoven sounds like Mahler sounding like Beethoven, perhaps even more so than Beethoven sounds like Beethoven, in those uncanny woodwindy moments, in the nobility of the brass, etc. Mahler in the Schumann sounds like Mahler making Schumann sound somewhat Beethovenian, and nicely so. It is informative to hear Mahler's Beethoven's Ninth if you can find it online. It all kind of epitomizes how we think nowadays of the Romantic full orchestra, both that Beethoven and these Schumanns.

My own ears after a number of attentive listens especially has been perking up to the contrast of the Schumann version of No. 1 "Spring" versus the Mahler. I feel decidedly happy about the Mahler version of the 1st, in terms of the real gain in color, the beauty of sculpted wood and brass additions. Not that the Second Symphony under Mahler is any way lesser or not appropriate. Not at all. Yet I'll admit that since I learned the Second through a wonderful recording as conducted by the young firebrand, the young Bernstein in an early triumph for the Music Appreciation label in the '50s, since then it has remained a benchmark for my appreciation of the work, and in those terms I appreciate the Mahler reworking but cannot say it has replaced the Bernstein Schumann in my heart.

But of course as can be the case one needs to appreciate having both orchestrations in a manner that we gain from it all most surely. Bravo, then, for this recording. 

If you love the Schumann symphonies this will make you happy. And if you do not love them maybe this will change your mind. Thoroughly recommended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Knights, The Kreutzer Project, Eric Jacobsen, Hearing Beethoven, Janacek, Jacobsen, Clyne

When we enter the world of digital verbiage, the slightest mistype might destroy all previous writing. That just happened to me here after two hours of thinking the article through. So I start again, like perhaps Beethoven might have done if he had digital files on his Violin Sonata No. 9, The "Kreutzer Sonata," and perhaps Tolstoy might have also, in his Novella with the same name, or for that matter Janacek and his "Kreutzer" String Quartet No. 1. It is wonderful of course that this all has been "saved" for us to hear and ponder today.

I return and give you the bare bones, the basic outline of the CD at hand. The innovative and adventurous ensemble of the Knights, under the very capable tutelage of conductor Eric Jacobsen, furnish us with a kind of glowingly thoughtful program of Kreutzer-based thematic flow, on a CD entitled The Kreutzer Project (Avie AV255).

Rather than try to re-rehearse the underlying conceptual life this program assumes, I will leave that to you to uncover yourself if and when you decide to jump into the experience of reading the liners and thinking through how they apply, as you uncover the meaningful hearing of the program. Suffice to say that the Knights make you want to get inside the music, and so too the reworkings of the music and its performances will give you the answer that counts.

The Beethoven "Kreutzer Sonata" gains  power and girth with a re-orchestration appropriately dubbed "The Kreutzer Symphony." It is bookended with an equally revealing orchestral version of Janacek's "Kreutzer Sonata" or in other words historically the first string quartet, here in similar fashion reworked into a startling version for symphonic orchestral doings.

In between we have two striking modern day orchestral works that take the Classical-Romantic impetus behind the Beethoven and the Janacek, reworking it all as the past becomes a kind of Modern musical soup rendering. So very entrancing are these two works, fully worthy of a centering in the program. Just listen to them and you will see, Colin Jacobsen's "Kreutzings" and  Anna Clyne's "Shorthand" show us how the past can transform, authentically bi-stylistic like Foss's "Baroque Variations" yet wholly unto themselves. Bravo.

There is so much going for this album that a detailed foray into it via sonic communing is of course the only true way to experience it, so I leave you to it if you will. The reworkings and the fine performance excellence makes this a real highlight of this year's possible offerings. Listen and listen some more. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Mark Abel, Spectrum

In the ongoing cycles of seasons, events, living and keeping on in my position I can be rather amazed at the sheer number of new composers, less-known composers and new music possibilities one can appreciate in any given season. A very good example I have been delving into? That is chamber music and song by one Mark Abel, in an album entitled Spectrum (Delos DE 3592 2CDs). Type his name in the search box above and you will see he has been a good example of a lyrical bent for some time.

Listening to this set numerous times reveals a composer of lyrical gifts, a crafter of vibrant melodic-harmonic landscapes of a ravishing sort, perhaps in the footsteps but not the actual shoes of a Samuel Barber (the Knoxville and such). There are some extraordinarily well-wrought song cycles and settings here, all showing a sure sense of the vocal potentials; dramatic and lyric, with heighten musical light like a contemporary sort of Impressionist pallete, for vocalist and pianist and added instruments at times, such as very evocative clarinet on "Two Scenes from the Book of Esther."

And then happily there are also some strong instrumental chamber works that show a marked lyrical gift, from the melodically mesmerizing "Reconciliation Day" for viola and piano, "Out the Other Side" for piano trio, and the "Long March" for horn, flute and piano.

The performances are all you might hope for in a world premiere situation, very well done.

You will probably not think, "What an advanced progressive music is this!" so  much as you will appreciate the sheer beauty of it all. You listen, you grow fond of it, or I hope you like I do. Do not miss this happy set if you want a lyrical smile to brighten you up.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Pictures of Light, The Music of William Baines, Duncan Honeybourne, Piano, with Gordon Pullin, Tenor


There are some composers that have been so obscured by their times and currents that their music can come as a kind of great surprise, a most pleasant shock. That to me is the case with William Baines (1899-1922), a composer I have never crossed paths with before, but gladly do so now with the recent album Pictures of Light (Divine Art dda 26234). It is nicely performed by pianist Duncan Honeybourne and a cameo appearance by tenor Gordon Pullin with the "Five Songs." We get a further interaction of the impact of the composer, a nice view with the concluding homage piano work by Robin Walker (b. 1953), an additional finely turned and exciting work "At the Grave of William Baines." 

What we hear in the main (in the first 20 tracks) from Baines is some wonderfully wrought solo piano music that straddles the gap between Late Romantic expressive heights and Early-Modern torrents of somewhat edgy dramatics. So there is  some relationship (you might note like I have) with Sorabji, Scriabin, Alkan, Debussy and Ravel, etc. Throughout the nicely performed totality is both an affiliation as I suggest but also a very original and bold brush of beautiful exceptionality, something saddened by the realization of how much more the composer would have been had he lived past the tragically brief, twenty-something-odd years of his actual lifetime.

I can say here without the slightest hesitation that this is a rather indispensable offering, exceptional piano music of its time by one we should now re-remember and rejoice to hear no matter how brief his lifespan, you who value the golden ages of pianism! This is a heretofore unknown but no less welcome addition to what we celebrate. Bravo.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Robert Kyr, All-Night Vigil, New Music in Eastern Orthodox Chant Style, Capella Romana, Alexander Lingas

Sometimes as we go through time and music history there are old styles of music that lurk in the background but it turns out never truly die. SUch a thing is Eastern Orthodox Chant, the ritual worship choral works that so impretantly anchor the masses of the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches. John Taverner we have seen wrote some vibrant new works in the medium and we have discussed  some of them here (see the search box above for those articles).

It turns out there is another who works in the style, a composer named Robert Kyr. I am listening to a CD of his new chant influenced sounds for a capella chorus, in a CD appropriately named All Night Vigil (Capella Records Super Audio CD with Stereo and Multi Channel Options CP-426 SACD). Capella Romana take care quite beautifully of the performances under the direction of Alexander Lingas.

The style lives with some sonorous drones, extended sustains, deeply full choral outlays and deeply meditative sobriety and jubilation, plus the welcome thickening of the palette nicely with more modern harmonic densities at times, more than we would hear in the traditional form.

If you approach the music with no particular expectations, and if you are like me, you resonate with the primalities of possibility in archaic and post-archaic tonalities through the ages, well here are some beautiful new examples I suspect you will take to.

So this one is mostly self-selecting. If you think you will like it, then trust your intuitions, if not, not. Bravo for the vocal excellence, the great audio and the finely crafted honing of the Modern in the Archaic.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Robert Paterson, String Quartets 1-3, The Indianapolis Quartet


A number of years ago I came upon the music of Robert Paterson via a release or two, one on the old Musical Heritage Society label, good things and I was always wanting to hear more, though nothing seemed to come my way until now. Today I am glad to speak of one, then later on there is another.

This article presents his String Quartets 1-3 (AMR American Modern Recordings AMR1054). The Indianapolis Quartet takes on the performance responsibilities and they are both sympathetic and enthusiastic, nicely so.

I come here after six listens and working upon the seventh. I kept listening because my listening self had not settled in to a clear vision of what the music was and is. And now it is becoming clear.

All three quartets combine High Modernism with the rhythmic intensity of an ethnically charged world beyond post-understanding, and also a primal tonal radicality, and then references that channel a kind of universal Pan-Western Globality. Does that make sense? Probably not until you listen.

Of the three quartets, they each hang together in ways not exactly like some other quartet you might hear elsewhere--but it has taken me six-seven listens to get there. That means something, that it is not some typically digested  generic item, that it is filled with original twists and turns, and bears attention, giving rewards for all your listening efforts with a set of gemstones, of sparkling elements across a happy beach by the water, so to speak.

These will put a niche into your reach, so to say. It reminds me why I liked the Paterson CDs I found decades ago. Here is one for you if you seek adventure and not a typical thing at all. Bravo 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Valentin Silvestrov, Maidan, Kyiv Chamber Choir, Mykola Hobdych, Contemporary Choral Music From the Ukraine


A few years ago I did not really know the Ukraine in itself as an identity, other than some old stamps from my grandfather's collection, a few nice folk choral albums from the earlier LP days and Mussorgsky's "The Great Gate of Kiev!" Now all that has changed due to the tide of events and my coming to know and appreciate some wonderful people from there. Like many over here I follow the tragic wartime unfoldings with concern and dismay. We hail the truly heroic response of those who steadfastly defend their homeland. Slava Ukraini!

And in a timely way we hear a recent release of some deeply carved out a cappella choral music by Maestro Silvestrov, Maidan (ECM New Series 2359). The Kyiv Chamber Choir under Mykola Hobdych gives us spirited and spectacularly sonic readings, filled with great beauty and a rootedness in old Orthodox Chant timbres, deep bass, and long notes as a springboard to the new Modernisms.  An expansiveness marks Silvestrov as a very original contributor to the Contemporary and innovative movement forward we have also in our times in Arvo Part and other luminaries in the new consonance. The music haunts, ever more so with the ECM high-sonics production rigor. Great choir!

In my listens for this one, now four and counting, by hearing number three I was convinced fully and greeted the motifs with the joy of happy recognition. It broadens our appreciation of the composer and his nicely Contemporary and local lyricism. The music plummets deeply, then plumbs the depth and leaves you satisfied and ready to hear again.

Strongly recommended. Some of his very best!

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Mahler, Symphonie Nr. 9, Simon Rattle, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks


The recent and happy release of Simon Rattle's conduction-interpretation of a live and lively Mahler Symphonie Nr. 9  (BR Klassik 900205) is an occasion for some rejoicing in my neck of the woods. My appreciation of the ten Mahler symphonies has roughly followed a chronological order with me, partly because that was the way I followed in my intense program of listens and coming to know the corpus over the years. It is also true for me at least that the latter symphonies I ended up with versions originally not particularly defining, at least for six and nine.

And here with this version of the ninth I am lifted aloft, thanks to Rattle's exalted, heady reading and the ready response of the entire Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, strings, winds, brasses, everyone of necessity attacks each passage with detailed feelingful presence, which Mahler in his Viennese exacting professional and recall modes demands and ever has, surpassing the expressive limits of what came before him, maybe more so in the latter that in his earlier works? And we are right in supposing that a definitive performance requires all the synthesizing that orchestral Vienna originally began to presuppose. It is as if Rattle and the orchestra were recalling the symphony lovingly from some past which of course necessarily the music has dwelt within, and now we have it all unveiled for us in dazzling silhouette for this recording. Rattle here sometimes makes the orchestra into a personal piano, into a 100-member rubato expression.

I see in my search for the cover image on Google that there have been a number of records by Rattle of the Ninth. After hearing this wonderful version I must say I might well like them all, might want to hear the lot of them for sure. But what matters in this live reading is the monumental wholeness of balanced and specially expressive presence of all the Mahler wrote out in brilliance for the entirety. It is not the "strings plus rest of orchestra ornamenting" that might comprise the assumption of the pre-Mahlerian orchestrations out there all too often. It is the epitomizing expressions of each section and parts of sections with the full congruity and depth of musical being that makes of it all a beautifully rewarding reading.

In the course of this fabulous performance we begin to understand fully the lucid expression Mahler gives to us of his lifeworld as looking back, in a kind of gently, then assertiveuvely yet still then decidedly melancholy reverie. It is a testament to the full vision of Rattle and his successful realization and the wonderfully responsive articulation of the parts by each in the orchestra, and finally the equally brilliant engineering-production of this live recording so that each part is faithfully reproduced in an exuberant fullness of balance. I have never heard such a performance of this ninth. Now I think I understand the greatness of the work as Mahler might have wished us to be experiencing it today!

Do not miss this one!

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Alex Weiser, Hocket, Water Hollows Stone


In the realm of New Music EPs, a twenty- or thirty-minute romp into new territory is a good thing for explorers of the musical arts. You get to hear something and decide what you think without an eighty-minute ordeal, potentially. So today we have such a thing, the music of Alex Weiser as played by the Hocket Duo (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0176), the two-piano tandem of Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff. The present-day experience of the Contemporary on disk has as the first challenge to discern what it is you are about to or already are listening to, from graphic design conventions nowadays that emphasize visual aesthetic over comprehension, and there are maybe reasons for this that need not interrupt the survey-review of this program. Virtually all releases have gone the way of design singularity and I will not waste any more time here, except to be thankful for PR folks who provide a key to it all via press sheets!

On the back cover of the CD Weiser gives us the central thought behind all here. It comes out of encounters he had travelling through New York's Bryant Park subway station. Oddly enough (I missed this in my travels years ago) etched on the tiles of the walls there is a quote from the ancient Roman poet Ovid in Latin! Weiser unpacks it--water hollows stone bit by bit, accomplishing the seemingly impossible via a lengthy process facilitated by the gradual drip of long time, in interesting ways something of what Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins called "structures of the long run."

So Weiser on the back cover ties the aquatic process into the musical one, noting how a drip of water like a single musical note has no real power except in the continual process of its re-presentation. The music by its continual presence, repeating and moving forward, creates a force unknowable except in its processualizing. This uncanny temporal transformation in the composer's words, gives rise to "something that has the power to move is and change how we view the world." We might recall early Steve Reich works and how the emphasis too was on process, on gradual development and change over a relatively long time, on an instantiation only possible in the re-presentation.

So Weiser has created "Water Follows Stone," and following it giving us a punctuation in the terminus of "Fade." The two piano works enter the swim of time and life and introduce us to a kind of metonymic modeling of sound to analogize the water's long term changing ability. The movements "Waves," "Cascade" and "Mist" each devote note deliberation to different processual ends. 

So "Waves" models a primordial maelstrom of darkness and void that transforms to the presence of creative waters in motion. 

The ensuing "Cascade" is based on a misquotation of the 19th of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and a wonderful flowing thing it is, representing and suggesting the rise of civilizations, a "combination of imperfectly remembered models and innovation that results in a distinctive new character." And so it does this with musical sequences that are rather arrestingly compelling.

The final "Mist" borrows an idea of composer Helmut Lachenmann, to release notes from a given chord singly and consecutively to emphasizes the utterance of sounding as well as the eventual decay in time.

The point of it all ultimately of course is to give you a fantastic listening experience. I find it so. Listen to the flow and gradually you will find in time you are part of it, you are in it and of it. Recommended. Give it a good listen by all means.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Leo Brouwer, Cuban Sketches for Piano, Mariel Mayz


Because of the nature of politics and history, where you are situated sometimes has something to do with when and how you come to know some composer, some music. So the fact that Leo Brouwer is Cuban means his music was not always flowing into our ears here in the US in years past. I am not here to delve into that fact so much as to acknowledge it. So the advent of Leo Brouwer here has not been a steady factor, and so sometimes we finally get to hear some things in greater depth than we have previously. That surely is a very good thing. Accordingly I find myself appreciating his originality more and more as I dig deeper into his output.

So happily we have right now the release of significant Leo Brouwer piano works with an enthusiastic and care-taking, indeed a rather definitive performance by pianist Mariel Mayz. That is namely the full length Cuban Sketches for Piano (ZOHO  ZM 202206). Now I should point out that the sum of the program is what is being entitled here, so really we are talking, and quite happily, about "Diez Bocetos" and then "Nuevo Bocetos para Piano" (3), and then further a Maiz arranged "An Idea (Passacaglia for Eli)" and then finally Maiz' own "Variations on a Theme by Brouwer."

And as you listen you may find the occasion to revel in the idea that Brouwer here is neither exactly fully "Modern" nor is he determinably "unModern." The music has the contemporary tang of the 20th century but then he goes his own way in a lyrical and inventive melodic-harmonic individualism that is in a league of its own. Yet too the "Nuevo Bocetos" do channel a more consistently Modern palette to a greater extent that the others. Nothing is wholly a monolith nor is it exactly all wholly Cuban in some obvious sense, at least not very often.

So we hear the not easily categorized flow of these piano works and find a great deal to appreciate, or at least I do.The performances give much in an imaginative making so, a very sophisticated and subtly lyrical reading that stands out as something even Goldilocks would find satisfying. I recommend this one warmly, wholly. It is one to savor over one hopes the many hours and years of listening ahead.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Music From SEAMUS 31, New Electro-Acoustic Music 2022


The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) has done a great deal in the decades of its existence to forward the art and help get the word out to listeners. The annual SEAMUS selection of new Electro-Acoustic works define by its presence the US scene as it has now for 31 years. In any given year the density of the offerings can vary, but Music from SEAMUS 31 (New Focus Recordings CD) has a pleasing wealth of invention high by any standards.

This anthology sports some nine new works by composers not exactly household names. Two things stand out to me as I listen. One, that we need to appreciate what the digital world has given composers in electronics and transformed acoustics. The analog world had and has charms, of course. But the ease of editing and collating on the digital palette ideally leaves more time for composers to work out fully the sound color landscapes that center the music in vibrant imagination. You hear that nicely here. The sounds are rich, gorgeous at times, with a depth of field and clarity the medium now allows virtually as never before.

The second thing to note as you listen is the new dexterity that one hears in how composers can manipulate and extend vocal acoustics, both as transformed within realistic timbres, and also as artfully aural transformations passing out of our customary real-world sound.

And as you listen a few times you start feeling the pleasure of recognition--you increasingly get inside and understand intuitively the complex and elaborate structures, the almost lascivious pleasures of aural expansion.

This is the nicest, most interesting SEAMUS anthologies I've heard in a while. Do explore this if you want to hear the directions things are going in these days, or even if you have no idea about Electro-Acoustics and want to sample from a rich stream of possibilities over time. Here is what is happening now. Bravo.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

John Wilson, Upon Further Reflection, Piano Works by Michael Tilson Thomas, George Gershwin-Earl Wild, Aaron Copland


Americana is a term applied to mostly North American composers, mostly in the 20th century, with music that has a pronounced vernacular tinge, Jazz, Country, Folk, etc. The term Nationalism has been used in the Classical worlds to denote that similar trend in various countries and locales from  the late 19th century onwards. Because it simultaneously denotes a political-cultural stance that has historical associations with fascist definitions of monolithic hegemony it may be better discontinued for some alternate descriptor?

Well this is not the place to go on further about terms and etc. We do have a very lively and enjoyable album however in the Americana category with pianist John Wilson's Upon Further Reflection (Avie AV2458). It covers a judicious yet brief sampling of things familiar and less familiar, played with care and kinetic power throughout.

There are nice surprises and assuring confirmations to be heard. Of the former, the world premiere recording of Michael Tilson Thomas's "On Further Reflections" is a big, gainly, sprawling success in its High Modern Blues inflection, with a goodly amount of virtuoso pyrotechnics that never seem gratuitous so much as they are driven by the organic dynamic of it all. And then the middle movement has a brittle bittersweet lyrical matter-of-factness that spells the work and provides a kind of island of difference. I will admit I had no idea what to expect since I have scarcely heard his compositional output. I was happy to find it all convincing and very well wrought. Bravo!

Earl Wild's "Virtuoso Etudes After George Gershwin takes some wonderfully alive Gershwin song forms--The Man I Love, Embraceable You, Fascinating Rhythm, I Got Rhythm, etc.--and brings to them a blistering, sparkling torrent of pianistic energy that sounds great in Wilson's hands.

The Aaron Copland Piano Sonata is not familiar to me but turns out to be a modern expressionist gem of chordal and melodic engagement one can come to expect when Copland is edging to the side of abstract purity. It has the tasteful tang of complex dissonances that place it squarely in a then ultra-Contemporary mode. And it suggests the momentum of Americana rooted strains without especially referencing anything directly. And it stands out as a work one hopes other pianists will turn to more often, since it well deserves a wide hearing most certainly. I am rather astonished that I never really heard this major opus before,

In sum this is some wonderfully adept pianism and John Wilson has complete command of it all in spite of its considerable demands. Strongly recommended.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Beethoven: The Symphonies, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nezet-Seguin


When I was coming of age as a serious follower of things Classical I naturally found my way to Beethoven's glorious symphonies, at first a fine old reading of his Eroica by Leonard Bernstein in the Music Appreciation Series that came out I guess in the late '50s. From there it was Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic doing the 9th and so on, culminating in the complete symphonies on a box set as the NBC Orchestra conducted by Toscanini--renditions of great passion and fire but at times acoustically  challenged in their primitive audio qualities. I most naturally fell into hearing other versions of most of the nine but never another complete set. 

Nonetheless what a treasure trove it all has been for me over my life. The great depth of the Eroica, the human triumph of the Ninth, the beautifully prototype of the Romantic nature symphony of the Pastoral 6th, there is an unparalleled adventure of the nine in sequence, and symphonic composers thereafter too as a kind of paradigm, perhaps they never quite overcome the startling brilliance of the Beethoven but they did successfully create parallel swarms of symphonic bliss when all went well.

And the Toscanini recordings helped define the 20th century vision of it all, on recorded media: a rather large orchestra and hugely big and emotive explosions of sound at their peaks. The revolutionary 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th were what conductors and orchestras of note expended the most attention on, and of course for good reason. Yet one could also open to the real charms of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 8th, but if it were a matter of large and fire-y explosions these were not the very best place to find such things.

Skip ahead to right now, and a new recording of the complete symphonies by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe as conducted by Yannick Nezet-Sguin (Deutsche Grammophon 486 3050 5-CDs).

As for conductor Yannick Nezet-Sequin, type his name in the search box above for some nice programs he has conducted recently. He is a meticulously accurate yet spirited exponent of the symphonic repertoire as I have heard him so far. But that did not necessarily prepare me for what comes to us with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Nezet-Sequin taking on the nine Beethoven symphonies.

First off of course is the chamber symphony quality of the nine as realized here. The lesser number of strings puts everything into a new balance, as indeed the master composer must have been intimate with in a normative performative situation. Perhaps indeed this is how he initially heard the music in his head and in the concert halls. The woodwinds naturally come up in the balance, forming more of an equal partnership with the strings. What that does to the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th at least as focused in on here is a set of works that turn out to be innovative and revelatory less in terms of being Late Romantic in potentia as rather being Late Classicist taken a step further. The melodic peaks in both these and in the blockbuster 3,5,7, 9 symphonies have a new lyrical edge that puts the balance less in fire than in fire and warmth, so to speak. There can be a wonderfully brisk quality to some movements that comes together very impressively in the symphonies we have paid less attention to, but also a wonderful Pastoral that reads more coherently, and then shifts the emphasis on the blockbusters as well.

So for example the funeral movement of the Eroica or the scherzo of the Ninth both have a new poignancy and we can hear lots of other wonderful moments when we close listen to it all. Nezet-Seguin deserves most of the credit for knowing how to bring out the new emphasis and balance in these chamber orchestra readings, but of course kudos are in order for the orchestra itself as well.

I could wax on about each of the symphonies and how the performances here differ from a typical 20th century reading, but it all applies in various ways so the best impression to be gained is to listen to it all yourself, of course. I suspect nearly everyone who loves this music will benefit from hearing these versions, but too it is a good place for the novice to start as well. It capitalizes on what the early 19th century perhaps assumed in performing these wonders. but then perhaps this kind of reading also speaks fully to where we may be musically in the new century.

Make note that these performances are all from the "urtext" that has been constructed in each case in the new Beethoven Complete Edition. So all the more reason to appreciate the results!

I do not hesitate warmly to recommend all of this to you. It is a triumph in every way. Molto bravo!

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Music of Stephen Jaffe, Volume 4, Light Dances (Chamber Concerto No. 2), etc.


All across the musical planet we live on today, in the world of Classical music there are living composers galore, lots of them and not surprisingly many excellent ones, with some, maybe most not getting wide social recognition. I try to cover the ones I like, though it is not exactly helping my statistical readership ratings by posting on relatively lesser knowns. A Beethoven post naturally might as a matter of course boost my ratings. Because as a midwestern concert goer reacted in the late 1800s and the introduction of Beethoven to ordinary folks, he wrote "some kinda music!" I've posted on Beethoven here because I love him as much as anyone, and new ways of hearing, of performing, new attention to his various periods, all are good things that continue to have relevance to us all.

Bur today we need to consider another name new to us, some of us, someone who in his own way writes some rather special music. I speak happily of one Stephen Jaffee, born in 1954 and very much a living voice. I was glad to be able to hear Jaffe's recent Volume 4 of his multivolume series, The Music of Stephen Jaffee, Light Dances (Bridge 9563). On it we have some three chamber works that strike me as uniquely triumphant, not necessarily novel in avant terms but then nevertheless exceptionally well expressed, sublime originals that carry into my listening as something vital, alive.

The works stand out in their vibrant rhythmicality, their tone color originality, their harmo-melodic avoidance of cliche or dependency upon fashionable phrases in currency. 

So we have a good variety of configurations in the "Light Dances (Chamber Concerto No. 2)," as ably performed by the Da Capo Chamber Players, the "String Quartet No. 2 (Aeolian and  Sylvan Figures)"  by the Borromeo String Quartet, and finally the "Sonata in Four Parts" with David Hardy on cello and Lambert Orkis on piano.

I do recommend this without hesitation for the New Music adventurer. Jaffe has a way about him that is unmistakably memorable and individual.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Miniature Symphonies, Contemporary Examples by Milhaud, Mason, Benton, Nakatani, Scott, The Lowell Chamber Orchestra, Orlando Cela


A reaction to the potential bloat of gigantism and sprawling, lengthy symphonies, we have the counterthrust of the chamber miniature. A timely foray into such realms we find happily in the recent release Miniature Symphonies (Navona NV 6447). The Lowell Chamber Orchestra under conductor Orlando Cela handle the performances with charm and picaresque presence (the latter in terms of an episodic and at times a somewhat wry character).

The symphonies hover around Darius Milhaud as frontier establishing Modern NeoClassical examplar. So we are happily treated to some five refreshingly bittersweet, puckish and edgy Milhaud miniatures, "Symphonie de Chambre Nos, 1-5," each in three movements, each a little gem. They are interleavened and spelled by subsequent endeavors in the miniature symphonic fold, from the explicit Milhaud hommage of Quinn Mason's "Petite Symphonie de Chambre Contemporaine (apres Milhaud)" and on to Brittney Benton's "The Sentinel," Yoko Nakatani's "La Giclee" (the only work here in one, not in three movements), and finally on to Kevin Scott's "Second Little Symphony."

The end result is a nicely differentiated collection of miniatures that say their say succinctly and disarmingly, well played and worth hearing and enjoying. A refreshing program, this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Lisa Batiashvili, Secret Love Letters, Franck, Szymanowski, Chausson, Debussy, Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nezet-Seguin


In the realm of the development of Classical Music history over time of course we know how music in the Romantic phase paid new and more focused attention to depicting feelings and sentiments. And then as time passed composers perhaps found a new emphasis on the expression itself and a language of highly evolved  and increasingly variable forms of expressing ever less literal and eventually more and more abstracted and superchromatic soundings in early Modernism. 

That movement out of Later Romanticism is captured in a kind of freeze frame series in a lively album of violin and orchestral, and violin and piano works,  loosely grouped under the rubric Secret Love Letters (Deutsche Grammophon 486 0462). Each work expresses the secret love idea and I will leave it to you to read the liners for all of that spelled out.

Violinist Lisa Batiashvili teams with pianist Giorgi Gigashvili or the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nezet-Sequin as called for. The violin performances are ultra-magical, delicately feelingful and expressive in a varied sense, marvelously so. The piano and the orchestra form a perfect foil and express all one might hope for in these works.

The four works represented here are above all beautiful and lyrical, melodically and harmonically. They afford the solo violinist a maximum of expressive opportunities and interpretive openness that Ms. Batiashvili fulfills with real brilliance and panache. It is all told a series of works of true singing, classic late Romantic and early expressive Modernism. And so we go from French and Polish pioneering flights through Romanticism and its depiction of signified feelings to another shore and the future in so-called Impressionism and a new emphasis on expression, on the musical signifier. And funny perhaps but musical Impressionism is less like the painting of "nature" and more like further 20th Century developments in art and music. Literally it is not lily pads in various forms of repose because it is not literal like that, as music there is of necessity and in its own right too a heightened level of abstraction.

The Franck "Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major" in this performance  is extraordinarily beautiful and lyrical, yet complex. Szymanowski's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1" is very expressive in a sort of variegated, airy mysterioso. The Chausson "Poem" has a little less of the orchestrally mystical, shows a little more impassioned a tone but no less poetic for all that. The closing Debussy "Beau soir" comes across as brief, yet sweet.

In the end this has great charm and elan. I do not hesitate to recommend it highly.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Monica Pearce, Textile Fantasies


Monica Pearce writes music new to me, yet I feel close to it in temperament.   If you do not yet know of her, count her as a significant Canadian composer acclaimed especially for her chamber music and operatic works.  

She gives us a rather astonishing program of music for piano, keyboard and percussion on her just-up album Textile Fantasies (Centrediscs CMCCD 30322). Each of the eight medium-length compositions given a hearing on the album devotes itself to a particular textile and the texture associated with it. So for example there is the opening "Toile de Jouy," which explores the feel of canvas in a rather dense motility for harpsichord. It is almost Cecil Tayloresque in its busy, densely noteful expression.

From there Ms. Pearce takes us to some magical music places, all of which yield a metaphoric connection between texture and sound. Some such links strike me as startlingly surprising, such as the toy piano and tabla raga-like exploration of "Damask," or the percussion ensemble workout with an almost swinging rhythmic thrust on "Denim." Ar how about a sonic colored percussion fantasia followed by rollicking piano-percussion rhythmic spice on "Leather."

"Chain Maille" gives the percussion group a telegraphic periodicity suggested by the woven metal patterning of the chain mail of older times. The solo piano "Houndstooth" forms a ravishing high point of sonic vibrancy, almost George Crumb like in its reflective ecstatics, but then ultimately very Pearce-original and satisfying. I love this! I wont give you any further examples because you I hope get the idea.  Every work is its own mini-adventure, imaginative and meaningful each in its own way.

Go to to see and hear some videos of this music. The album is out officially on 13 Oct of 2022. It is absolutely lovely at its best, nicely apportioned at any event throughout. I must say I've really enjoyed hearing this one. Do not miss it!

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

James Romig, The Complexity of Distance, Mike Scheidt, Solo Electric Guitar


Over the years, there has been a gradual realization by some that the fully electric guitar, perhaps akin to the hurdy-gurdy or the various other common folk vehicles in Early Music, is ripe to be appreciated as a worthy instrument for serious New Music.  Francis Thorne (1922-2017), American New Music composer, was perhaps the first to excel, to be instrumental in composing for the very electric guitar. Listen to his "Liebesrock" from 1968-69, which happily was part of a CRI release years ago. Beyond that, among other things, there have of course been electric guitarists/composers Terje Rypdal, and Robert Fripp especially, who have pioneered a guitar style that at times came to a kind of New Music viewpoint and gave a very cogent argument for the happy depth of sound color and musicality of the very electric guitar as soloist in Modern Classical ensemble music, or for that matter its parallels in ambient Rock and advanced Jazz.

We segue to the present and another significant milestone with such developments, namely James Romig's The Complexity of Distance (New World Records 80847-2), a full length work for solo metal-strength electric guitar as played adeptly by Mike Scheidt.

The work unfolds gradually with long sustains of power chords that richly fill the aural space. It is in its own way a kind of tour de force of the metal guitar as a New Music solo/orchestral vehicle. Highly recommended. A pioneering achievement!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Claire Bryant, Whole Heart, New Music for Cello and Cello with Violin, Viola


Cellist Claire Bryant shows us the beauty and strength of her playing while working through a satisfying series of short works by composers in the thick of New Music and Radical Tonality (if I can keep that latter descriptive moniker-phrase alive here). The program as a whole enriches our appreciation of the sort of early-post timeless depth of composers like Arvo Part, music akin to what he has so wonderfully given us over the years, yet each a step in their own direction. This is music that heightens the expressive virtuosity so readily at hand in Ms. Bryant's playing and too that of violist Nadia Sirota and violinist Ari Streisfeld, as called for.

There is a kind of Plein Air natural yet Modern feel to these works. The composers themselves may not be well known to you, but each partakes of the bare-bones matter-of-fact open chamber sound of solo cello and cello-violin or cello-viola concentrations. There is a pronounced kind of contemplative-meditative atmosphere surrounding each of these works in their own way.

So to consider the composers themselves: there are compositions, one each, by Andrea Casarrubios, Adam Schoenberg, Jessica Meyer, Caroline Shaw, Reena Esmail, Tanner Porter, and Jessie Montgomery.

The entire program captivates end-to-end. The thoughtfulness of the works themselves are matched by the dedicated brilliance of Claire Bryant and her cohorts. I recommend this one to you strongly, especially you all who like me have grown very attached to the solo string presence, the string duos and the unfolding repertoire for such groupings, 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Mozart Matures, 1780s Piano Works, Roberta Rust


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stands for the poignant situation where a life was relatively short and fame and fortune nowhere near what it became after death, and it all follows with the cliche that nonetheless rings true that sometimes genius will out, will trump despite the practical difficulty of the lifetime of the artist.

To bear that out there are of course countless recordings and concert attention that never flags. Happily  the performance levels remain high out there. As if to remind us of such things we have pianist Roberta Rust and her framing of the last decade repertoire in a nice way, namely Mozart Matures, 1780s Piano Works (Navona Records NV 6403). 

The juxtaposition of this thoughtful sampling of later Mozart piano works coupled with a kind of lovingly meditative set of performance by Roberta Rust leaves you appreciative and gratifyingly satiated with it all.

Anyone well experienced in Mozart pianism will doubtless know this music, and if not, one should. The "Fantasy" in D Minor and in C Minor, the "Sonata No. 1," the "Adagio" in B Minor, "Eine Kliene Gigue" in G Major, and the "Rondo" in A Minor, all clock in with careful, slightly rubato poetics, not especially keen to show excessive virtuoso expressivity but rather an intimacy that xalled forward the beautify and excitement of it all, and doubtless goes well with, as examples, a crackling fireplace or a luminous night sky.

When all is said one goes away content, human-purring like a satisfied cat, but ready to hear it again--now or sometime later. It may not knock over your water pitcher, or cause the sun to turn green, but it is in its own way down-to-earth yet glorious fare. Recommended for newcomers but also for old hands who are up for listening to a new set of readings. Bravo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Sarah Bernstein, Veer Quartet


Sarah Bernstein is one of those New York originals, a genuine voice, a special straddlemaster between Avant Jazz and Modern Classical, and just herself in there as part of the mix, a violinist of accomplished yet personal, Jazz-related delivery.  So if you check my other blogs,  if you search for her on the Gapplegate Music Review and on the Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog you will see that I have covered a bunch of her CDs over the years. And that naturally has to do with how I appreciate her music.

So now there is a new one, a recording of her Veer Quartet (Panoramic Records New Focus Recordings). It is a string quartet made up of Sarah on violin, Sana Nagano, violin, Leonor Falcon, viola, and Nick Jozwiak on cello. All four improvise well, solo singularly or collectively depending on the passage at hand, as well as realize Sarah's compositional frameworks and thematic refrains, some so very much put together in a Modern New Music way, a few others functioning as elaborate near-head motives. The juxtapositions work in the best ways. These are truly Third Stream if you want to resurrect an old name. The music lingers hypnotically at times and sometimes hovers somewhat darkly, which is one of Sarah's ways, happily and very aptly so. The six separate pieces stand each on their own yet segue in ways that make for a marked flow.

This is an outstanding venture if you but give it a chance with repeated listens. Sarah Bernstein burns quietly but warmly as a sometimes hidden but luminous talent in today's adventurous music realm. Kudos!

Monday, August 29, 2022

Wenting Kang. Mosaic, French-Spanish Cross Cultural Roots in the Early-Modern Period, Viola-Piano Gems


When we sometimes get smug and think we know it all, then maybe a CD comes our way and we learn to listen again as if for the first time. I can say happily that the album Mosaic (Blue Griffin BGR 609) with the sterling and ravishing playing of Wenting Kang on viola (most ably accompanied by pianist Sergei Kvitko) has awoken me with a kind of renewed appreciation of what the viola can be in addition to showing wonderfully well the beautiful and beautifully rendered repertoire featured here.

What this album so nicely hands to us are a series of works originally intended for viola or otherwise adapted to the viola and piano instrumentation, that notably uncover some of the fertile interflows between Spanish and French musical lifeways. 

Many of the works here will be quite familiar to any dedicated listener to the early 20th Century repertoire. The album excels in its wise choice of interrelated works but then too in its ravishing readings of the works.

Wenting Kang is a viola exponent of true brilliance. She is patently  lyrical without being gushing or cloying. There is a steady beauty of vibrato and burnished tone and she is in the mind to express her part with the utmost in feeling but not with the mannerism that too many string solosts brought with them from the Romantic Era, especially in the recorded repertoire through the 50s if not further and closer to our time, even perhaps through to today.

Perhaps it is an oversimplification to say that the music has a kind of special synthesis between Spanish melodic power and French atmospherics and harmonic girth. Surely that nexus is articulated as well as anywhere by these Kang and Kvitko readings.

The works take on a special life here thanks to the performances. We all doubtless know a good amount of this, but at times nicely transformed, as in the Ravel "Pavel pour une infante defunte" as transcribed for viola and piano by Borisovsky.

One finds much to appreciate in the close readings of it all, with some choice Debussy, Tarrega, Ravel, Faure, Albeniz, and de Falla, but then a nice little surprise by Pablo Casals and an unexpected gem in the unaccompanied viola work by Akira Nishimura (b. 1953) "Fantasia On Song of the Birds."

It hit me from the moment I put it on, with the familiarity underscoring the beautiful performances, and the unknown few also telling us that while giving us fresh music to consider.

Wenting Kang has the sort of presence you might feel when listening to Heufitz, a sound original with a kind of musical aura.  I cannot imagine a violist topping this series of performances,. Ms. Kang clearly triumphs. Bravo!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Kuniko, Tribute to Miyoshi


I have long honored Akira Miyoshi (1933-2013) as one of those musical icons of the High Modern era in Japan. For some reason in the States he has perhaps not been as well known as, say, Takemitsu, but I feel he is just as breathtaking when you give his music a chance. Happily we are now given a great further opportunity to savor his musical brilliance with a timely album I am happily catching up with, namely marimba virtuoso Kuniko's Tribute to Miyoshi (Linn OKD 596). This one brings you a kind of mood born of an open space spareness that has nothing to do with repetition and everything to do with space and sound conjunctivity. Listening I though of the aesthetic of haiku, of the traditional Japanese house, of letting something breath and thrive out of the bracketing of a key element or two.

We are treated to five absorbing works performed on marimba marvelously well. The "Concerto for Marimba and String Ensemble"(1969) brings Kuniko together with the Scottish Ensemble and it is thing of cogent beauty. It comes to us after three sparking works for solo marimba and so seems all the more revealing in its facticity and gives us pause before a solo farewell brings us to a complete circle.

If you need a high water mark it is in part felt in the third work, a triumphantly demanding piece de resistance, "Ripple for Marimba Solo" (1999). The overall music arc of building to heights and closing with dramatic space is beautifully spelled out with the sandwiching-framing of the concerto with the opening "Conversation" (1962), the following "Torso for Marimba" (1999) and the closing "Six Prelude Etudes" (2001).

And in the end, the Concerto has such a sonic fingerprint that you feel like you have been in a special musical place, that Miyoshi has given us such a vivid image of things that it stands out, and forms a nicely contrasting part of the program for that matter. And I can scarcely imagine a better performance for all of this. Kuniko shines as brightly as an all encompassing sun. And we are all the better for it.

It is music to dwell in, the more the better it sounds, the more you are inside of the music and its colors, its dazzle and its meditative sureness of purpose, its expressive depth and heights, the more it comes clear in the hands of Kuniko. It is in every way a triumph. Bravo.