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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Margaret Brouwer, Reactions, Songs and Chamber Music

 

We roll into the end of the month and I am happy to grapple with a disk by a living composer I have as yet missed. She is very musical, kind of Neo-Classically Modern in her attention to unfolding form and open harmonic and progressive sonance. I speak of Margaret Brouwer and her album of Songs and Chamber Music entitled Reactions (Naxos 559804).These are compositions penned recently, between 2005 and 2020--world premier recordings in fact.

It is music that occupies its own space, neither retrograde nor highly, overtly modernistic. It is music of some care and quality, some fine invention, responding to the musical world we occupy today without being enslaved to anything referentially. Ms. Brouwer goes her own way and we do not miss what she choses to leave out. We appreciate conversely what she gives to us in each instance;

The "Rhapsodie Sonata" from 2011, revised 2016, has a wonderfully alive viola part nicely handled by Eliesha Nelson and an equally, nicely  complexly conjugated piano part realized with grace and musicality by Shuai Wang. It is serious music, brimming over with crackling electricity and turbulence but post-Romantically rhapsodic, which is something rather rare in my listening experience. I find it very fetching and absorbing. Its 20 minutes makes the album worthy just for its happy presence, but there is more.

The more consists of two song cycles for mezzo-soprano or tenor and piano, complexly expressive and something to grow into surely as you listen. There is also a nicely evocative summer meditation for violin and piano, then there is a rather humorous encounter with the ever-present telephone robot menus one encounters all too often today--crafted partwise nicely in this work for narrator-violinist. All goes by and you feel the presence of musical eloquence that sounds thoroughly contemporary yet self-contained in its alternate dialogic invention. The performances are all one might hope for and help us to feel the music enter our listening selves.

I find I would love to hear more of her music, which is what of course I should be feeling if a new composer gets my positive attention. Listen to this one a bunch of times and I think you will understand how I feel and why.


Friday, June 24, 2022

The Living Earth Show and Danny Clay, Music for Hard Times

 

I do not need to tell you if you are reading this right now that the COVID Pandemic was one of the more unsettling times to live in. As I write these lines it is not entirely over either. Well during the heart of the lockdown composer Danny Clay and several cohorts began working on a substantial multi-part work meant to calm the jangled nerves of folks undergoing the Pandemic. It is a sort of acoustic, ambiently mesmerizing meditation he calls Music for Hard Times (Earthy Records CD). This CD as far as I know comprises volume 1. There is a shorter Volume 2 that at this point seems to be a brief cut available at Bandcamp as a download. I concentrate on the CD (Volume 1) here. The entirety was recorded at Danny's home and also the home of TLES on instruments and vocals in the thick of isolation.

The music means to heal in its own way, and indeed it does feel like that as I listen. It is in a kind of primal diatonic realm, with a kind of floating and slowly rolling series of musically spellbinding aural moments one after the other. There is nothing banal about it all, though such things  can rapidly become so in New Age-dom realms. The simple beauty is unforced, the diatonicism never condescending but rather genuinely lyrical.

I find the album indeed quite peaceful and pleasurable as well as aurally satisfying. Give it a listen!

Thursday, June 23, 2022

John-Henry Crawford, Corazon, The Music of Latin America, Music for Cello, Guitar and Piano

 

The longer we might live, we who hold music dear, the more there might be if we but open up to it. So today I am appreciating an album by cellist John-Henry Crawford entitled Corazon: The Music of Latin America (Orchid Classics ORC100198). The title says it all, As cellist Crawford tells us in the liners, it all came about when he came to Mexico to compete in the Carlos Prieto Cello Competition in 2019 and won first prize. His time in Mexico for the initial competition and then return visits for performances kindled a love in the cellist for Latin Ameican music and culture.

The album at hand is the fruit of this budding affection for such things, a kind of musical tour through Argentina, Cuba, Brazil and Mexico, covering some 140 years of compositional lyricism and vitality. It centers around Crawford's cello readings of some true gems accompanied quite ably and spiritedly by pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion and guitarist Jiji. Manual Ponce's Sonata for Cello and Piano is the centerpiece of it all and surrounding it are some brilliantly crafted lyrical miniatures by composers we all need to appreciate it seems to me.

So Ponce comes our way through the aforementioned Sonata, the very beautiful and well known "Estralita" in the version here as arranged and made famous by Heifetz and further modified for guitar accompaniment by Jiji. Another Ponce miniature graces the program and we appreciate that as we also get more gems by the likes of Leo Brower, Villa-Lobos, Carlos Quastavino, Egberto Gismonti, and Astor Piazzolla. The Corazon theme applies as much to the repertoire as to Maestro Crawford's engaging affection and devotion to the musical finery we are happy to be inundated with from start to finish.

Maestro Crawford burnishes his sound with a warming glow that suits well the warmth and lovingly insistent lyricism of the entire program. It is excellently played and a font of vibrancy throughout. Heartily recommended for a most engaging romp through Latin American masterpieces. Bravo!

Victor Herbiet, Airs Dances

 

If you have a sort of broad understanding of  music lifeways and/or folkways you will remember Victor Herbert (1859-1924) as the composer of some well-known operettas and Tin Pan Alley popular songs. But as I get older I can sometimes not see things clearly. So when I got a new CD of the music of Victor Herbiet I misread it, then  proceeded to do a review of "Herbert." No wonder he sounded so fresh!

So thankfully the label just sent me a message that I got it wrong.

It hit me on first listen as music simultaneously in the "vernacular" and yet Neo-Classically well honed. Most of these are short miniatures of definite interest. "Troika" for example has a modern tang and a dance-redolent infectiousness. Beyond that intriguing beginning we have a Herbiet tango, a sonatina for spring, A "Trois Valses-Caprices" for alto saxophone, a three movement Sonata for alto and piano, and on from there.

The performances are very good and the music itself fits in indirectly with the inside-outside jazz influenced Classical compositions of the past 100 years and so all the better for that.

I did not know precisely what to expect when I first put this on, but after a good number of listens I am glad to get to know the music. Now that I know WHO it is it makes perfect sense and sounds good and worth hearing no matter what you know or do not! Recommended.


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Pathos Trio, When Dark Sounds Collide, New Music for Percussion and Piano

 

As Hamlet most famously said to Horatio, "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." When I first started listening seriously to Modern Classical music, it was more or less a commonplace that what the composer had to say about his outlook on the music was critical in understanding the music you would hear. I was fascinated by such things and for music of that period it still can be a central part of it all. Imagine John Cage works in the absence of what he meant by it. At the time it was central and his role as musical conceptualist is still a huge part of his importance. On the other hand once you know something of that you still need to appreciate the music as music, and at least to me this has an importance that ultimately transcends at least in part the scaffolding he created around it.

As time has gone by the Modernist music we hear from our current time frame assumes a conceptualism that does not always need spelling out at this point, just as, for example, Classical period music did not have to spell out sonata form assumptions for every work that had some relation to it. It was not something that needed direct reference, and at the time composers generally assumed it and the result was what mattered. The same perhaps with counterpoint. Someone might have heard with pleasure, say, 100 of Bach's Cantatas without necessarily knowing a thing about some of the principals he proceeded by when composing. Similarly you can read Moby Dick in the original English quite profitably without necessarily being able to spell out the grammatical underpinnings that Melville had absorbed and took for granted.

All that gets us to today's music, an album entitled When Dark Sounds Collide: New Music for Percussion and Piano (Panorama/New Focus Recordings PAN24). This by the very capable and dynamic Pathos Trio for two percussion and piano. When you turn to the liner notes, there is helpful information--that the five compositions on the program were commissioned by the trio as nicely conceived collaborations of composer and instrumentalists to realize "Dark Sounds" that sought to "combine aesthetics of contemporary classical music with the ensemble's interest in dark, heavy, dense sounds drawn from other genres of music such as alternative rock, cathedral music, minimalist music, electronic synth-wave and more." So there are indeed some conceptual underpinnings to this music, and it is surely good to understand what this is all about, but there is not all that much about the underlying ideas that could be considered "rigorous" or in other words the unfolding of the music as you listen requires attention but is not explicitly musico-grammatical or mathematically sonorous in some deep way. It is music that unfolds with rhythmic, melodic and harmonic logic that is a part of the musical logic of our musical world today. And there too is a pronounced attention to color sonority that is readily understood in the hearing of it.

The five composers each give the trio a series of musical poeticisms that are performed with great sympathy and dedication. And in the end we come to appreciate the compositional inventiveness of Evan Chapman, Alison Jung-Fei Jiang, Alyssa Weinberg, Finola Merivale, Alan Hankers. If one wished to delve deeply into what acoustico-philosophic assumptions are behind the music, one could no doubt say much about that. But the modern day listener does not necessarily need those things to be explicit in some descriptive way, and proscriptively there is much less entailed than might be the case in, say, Webern in his prime. So that is fine, and everything that has come before this music might be assumed but again a full listening may not need to think of such things.

Now I must say that this is music that pleases me for its boldness and its sonic eloquence. You might want to try a listen. If you are like me you will find this a kind of comfortable, home based  musical intelligence that feels right and keeps you listening.



Friday, June 10, 2022

The Sonic Arts Ensemble, Live from the Multiverse, Collective Improvisations in A Modern Classical Zone

 

There may be more than one way to look at things in our present-day music spheres, and all the better for that, as we can ill afford a tendency to dismiss various trends of New Music based on some dogma. I try always not to get myself boxed into a set of expectations. And happily.there comes music now and again that defies what might be typical of a period. Today I am glad to talk about such an album--namely the Sonic Arts Ensemble and their album Live from the Multiverse (Ravello RR 8065).

It is a most interesting presentation of one compositional vehicle and then some four collective improvisations, accomplished with some advanced audio technology that fascilitates a kind of multi-artist live but musically and audio-wise a sophisticated kind of ultra-quasi-Zoom for simultaneous group performances.

And then of course what natters is the music itself. Marc Ainger on guitar and laptop and some 14 additional musicians--both ensemble members and special guests, form different size ensembles for each work.

The results are very fascinating sound color, extended technique and an electronically sophisticated series of improvisations that cluster in various ways, sprawling in a more New Music orientation than a Avant Jazz one--so think of the heritage of such groups as MEV and Il Grupo, AMM etc. This gathering is especially sensitive to one another--there is a pronounced and very captivating series of ambient music panoramas, a wide scope of soundscapes of character and poetic substance.

The more one listens the more one finds oneself drawn into the vortex of sound and style. It takes a few listens but in the end one feels that one is in the presence of the truly new! Highly recommended.`


Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Aznavoorian Duo, Gems from Armenia, Ani and Marta Aznavoorian

 

Those who know and love Armenian music like I do no doubt have an aural picture in their minds of what to expect. Part of that has to do with the highly developed and special minor or otherwise distinctly diatonic tonality that has prevailed so happily in the music. There is a new anthology of classical music just out entitled Gems from Armenia (Cedille CDR 90000 209), which consists of some 15 Armenian works for cello and piano, played convincingly and sensitively by the Aznavoorian Duo (Ani, cello, Marta, piano).

It all comes to the listener as a kind of cornucopia of possibilities, beginning with the well-known Komitas Vartabed (1869-1955) and four of his beautifully rhapsodic miniatures. Then follows two short but evocative pieces by perhaps the most well known Armenian composer of our modern times, Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). It includes "Yerevan," which I suspect any avid music lover will recognize. The cello-piano version sings and soars thanks to the Aznavoorian passion and lilt, so to speak.

The program continues on without the least bit of flagging, so we get works by three more Soviet era composers--Arno Babajanian, Avet Terterian, and Alexander Arutiunian, then works by two present-day living Armenian composers, Serouj Kradjian and Vache Sharafyan. The final item is a specially commissioned work by living American composer Peter Boyer, on the iconic Armenian landmark "Mount Ararat."

All of the works feel like a logical sequence going from the rooted to the refreshing of the aural memory with a wealth of music that should appeal to all who love Armenian or for that matter the world of Asian-Indo classical in the recent past and in the present.

The Aznavoorian Duo make their debut appearance recording here auspiciously. It is a lively and lovely program of melodic and harmonic jewels. There are neo-Romantic elements at times and some in a Modern Neo-Classicist vein, but all have elements of Armenian musical tendencies that are realized with a dedicated devotion by the Aznavoorians. 

It is a happy addition to your Armenian collection or for that matter an excellent introduction to Armenian chamber Classical as a Modern whole. Very recommended.


Soul of Brazil, Alma Brasileira, Villa-Lobos Piano Music, Martha Marchena

 

All, or most all of us who explore Modern Classical have listened to the piano music of Heitor Villa-Lobos at least some over the years, depending in part on how old you are, with age accentuating the probability of such things. I have come away from it with a feeling that the opus has much to appreciate about it but also that the piano music stands virtually alone in that there are lyrical reflections and harmonic-rhythmic stridencies not entirely relatable to the rest of the Villa-Lobos repertoire. With a new volume devoted to selected piano works as played by Martha Machena, we get another opportunity to consider some choice pieces. All this on the CD entitled Soul of Brasil: Alma Brasileira (MSR Classics MS 1764).

Martha Marchena, a pianist of Cuban abstraction, did her doctoral thesis on Villa-Llobos. It is clear from this recording that she is very sympatico with his brilliant musical inventions. As we hear the nicely chosen variety of works presented here, we of course hear moments where the folkloric Brazilian music roots are very much out front. Yet there are reworkings in this music and a stance towards the piano that go a considerable distance into the poetic piano arts for their own sake. So there can be thoughtful expressive rubato and clangorously striking dynamics. Of course no matter the configuration Villa-Lobos nearly always has a musical agenda a good deal more complex at times than a facile sort of Nationalism would suggest.

Still, for example as you hear Ms. Marchena's boldly energetic foray into the "Jungle Festival" movement of his "Ciclo Brasileiro," it is the direct allusion to folk roots that delights the senses as it gives us a most lovely Villa-Lobos approach to folk transformation. And in the end there is ever some perhaps more subtle references to his country's musical ways. Perhaps  it is the way Villa-Lobos applies his brilliance to the piano as a virtuoso and inimitable musical vehicle that stands out in these works.

The five pieces presented here ("Alma Brasileiros," "Rudepoema," "Valso Da Dor," "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4" and the "Ciclo Brasileiro") stand out in the hands of Martha Marchena as music well worth reconsideration as some gems of the earlier Modern era. At the same time they reassure us that Ms. Marchena is just the artist to pull off the complexities and turbulent lyricism the piano cycles can express so nicely.

Highly recommended.


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

James Kallembach, Antigone: The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement, Lorelei Ensemble

 



James Kallembach occupies original New Music space with his Antigone: The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement  (New Focus Recordings FCR 33), featuring a chamber chorus of some eight female vocalists as a choral totality and then also with soloist parts, and so too with the chamber instrumental poeticisms of a cello quartet, all brought forth as a whole for this work by the Lorelei Ensemble directed by Beth Willer. They are a fine, detailed and accomplished set of performers who have a distinct feel for this music and give us spirited and exacting readings.

The work has an exploratory, declamatory tonal feel to it with close harmonies in the vocals punctuated by instrumental timbral poignancies by way of the cello quartet. It was commissioned by the Lorelei Ensemble and Carson Cooman, premiering in 2017. It gains a kind of structural backbone via the Greek play Antigone, but then focuses too on considering the writing of Sofie Scholl, a key member of the White Rose Movement--an underground resistance  opposing the Nazis in the Germany of WWII, and based at the University of Munich. The work is in multiple movements, with lyrics in part culled from the anti-Nazi pamphlets distributed by the White Rose participants and then further text-song melding--Scholl's expressive  texts fusing with the classicism of Antigone. It appreciates it goes without saying the courage of Ms. Scholl, who was executed by the Nazis in Germany, 1943. And at the same time it explores the lyric, poetic expressivity of her writings as a whole.

It winds introspectively, contemplatively through the vignettes from Antigone and the contrasting vocal treatment of Ms. Scholl's texts.

It is alternately tender, somber, classically retrospective and reflective gaining a timeless quality which nevertheless has a judicious contemporary feel to it and a movement away from any vestiges of Romanticism, yet nonetheless as the press sheet notes he flourishes as he seeks to consider that past within the present, particularly processual as a vivid dialog--and in so doing has an almost Classicist facticity. And that for me works well since the subject matter comes to terms with a heroic refusal that can become all the more poignant when looking upon it in insightful yet Apollonian terms.

All of that comes to bear on your listening experience, leaving you perhaps with a sort of even-handed heroics that underscores a kind of quiet resistance of the morally virtuous in time, looking back while  laying out nicely, with a careful and intensive performance suchness, a thereness that rightly insists on its need to express itself.

I recommend this one for its powerful relevance to time and history as we live it. It is beautiful yet terse music, completely self-sufficient as a contemporary insistence, and leaving in the end a deep impression of alternate aesthetic reality, heroic and nonplussed moral uprightness.

If you are reading this in June 2022, the album is out on the 17th. You can preorder on Bandcamp. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Carl Vine, Complete Piano Sonatas, Xiaoya Liu

 

There are those who insist that there is nothing new under the sun. They are reassured in this thought, no doubt, but they are wrong. Today we have a very worthwhile example of new. There is a composer new to me and perhaps for many readers, one Australian-based compositional wizard, one Carl Vine (b. 1954), and there is also in this bundle of newness a young pianist unfamiliar to me but fully prepared, an amazing, very simpatico interpreter of the technically demanding and present-day poetic motility of Vine's Complete Piano Sonatas (Dynamic CDS 7931).

There are four sonatas in all, from the years 1990, 1997, 2007, and 2019, respectively. Each one stands up for itself, showing introspection and an exciting, exhilarating motility that Xiaoya makes poetically ravishing without fail. The sonatas have plenty of advanced harmonic elements that mark it all as of our time, yet they also advance the exciting pianoforte movement that burgeoned in earlier days in the inventive creative minds of Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Sorabji, and Alkan, to name a few that come to mind as I listen. Yet it all covers that advanced unfolding on very much its own terms.

Its considerable demands and its moving cascades of pedaled, sustained torrents are taken on heroically and  very sympathetically by Ms. Liu. I have a hard time imagining a better reading of these gems. And it is clear as I listen repeatedly that Xiaoya Liu is a voice of our time, a most impressive dynamo, an extraordinary brilliance, a thrilling presence.

It is some of the most exciting piano music I have heard in years. Touch, finesse and rolling power stay conjoined in ways no doubt Maestro Vine appreciates, as I think would anyone who loves demanding and well executed unfolding in our present tense! It is marvelous music. Do not miss it. Like a concatenation of many bells bursting out over the aural air, this assures one, stuns and makes one look forward to more!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Marti Epstein, Nebraska Impromptu, Chamber Music for Clarinet, Rane Moore, Windsor Music

 

There is something new under the sun with Marti Epstein and her Nebraska Impromptu (New Focus Recordings FCR 324). It is an album of music for clarinet and various chamber configurations, handled gracefully and winningly by clarinetist Rane Moore and the Winsor Music players. There are five works in all, written between 2001 and 2018.

The music apparently spawned an interaction between a student and the composer, which I stumbled upon on FB but I lost track of when I went back to the newsfeed. It got my attention because it addressed what today's Modern music scene is all about, essentially in the composer's view (rightly) it is less and less about some kind of 12-tone Serialist High Modernism, but then in fact is in a wildly open post-one-thing world. Now any regular reader of this Blog knows I champion that very notion, that what one might hear today exists within a wide expanse of possibilities, and that nothing automatically can be assigned a status above another in terms of "currency." The discussion made me want to hear the album and I realized it was on my stack ready to be heard.

And as it seems plain to me and happily so, this collection of Marti Epstein chamber gems finds its own turf in an ever unfolding, lyrically yet fully tonal palette of brilliant sound color and rhythmically, gradually blooming contrapuntal open form. And the music is in line with the wide-open set of expectations of what one might find in any given collection of New Music these days. So three cheers for that.

So to my mind the five compositions presented here are as interesting and as introspectively encompassing as anything new out there today. Epstein responds to the many things now "in the air" in New Music without joining any particular school in some slavish way. We get processual and repetitive elements but not as a paradigmatic constant, no more than, say, a Modern poet might add reiteration to the substructure of unfolding without, say, committing to the absolute, almost ritual systematicity of a Gertrude Stein. The world has turned and we individually and collectively can take what insights we have gotten from the Modernist generations and move it further along expressively.

Perhaps we are in an age where the program notes are not an essential part of hearing what is going on. We can trust our now fully Modern-and-beyond musical senses to understand and appreciate what is being expressed. The press sheet mentions the influences of Webern, Feldman and Takemitsu as well as the American plains and Nebraskan vistas. I understand and concur--and if I might be so bold to suggest, there is a fragile, terse yet overarching beauty in classic Webern that of course never depended completely on 12-tone procedures, there was more there and Ms. Epstein has taken it to heart!

Each of the five works stands on its own in terms of structure, in terms of syntax and spacing. So we listen with gradually more enthusiastic responses to "Oil & Sugar" (2016), "Liquid, Fragile" (2010), the title work "Nebraska Impromptu"  (2013), "Komorebi" (2018) and "See Even Night" (2001).

Rane Moore's clarinet work here is nothing less than magical. The spellbinding, ever renewing presence of clarinet and differing chamber combinations underscores Ms. Epstein's poetic luminosity, be it clarinet and piano, same with additional flute and violin, or with viola, and then clarinet, violin, viola and cello, or oboe and violin in tandem with clarinet.

Every piece has its place in the contemplative matrix, each revealing a slightly different musico-inventive acumen.

After a good number of hearings I am sold on all of it. Someone of the caliber and originality of Marti Epstein does not come along every day, of course. But we are lucky for such a revealing newness that emphasizes a togetherness more so than an "advancement" per se.  It advances into itself. We are all the better for it. Bravo! Strongly recommended. Music for the present day and ages to come! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Matthew Aucoin, Orphic Moments, American Modern Opera Company, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose

 

 
Composers new to us open up unexpected musical autobiographical worlds, when things are right, that we never would hear otherwise. And in the end our musical worlds on the New Music front are built person-by-person, artist-by-artist, composer-by-composer. And happily Matthew Aucoin (b.1990) is one of those potential building blocks of stature today. I have been listening to his two-CD release Orphic Moments (BMOP Sound 1084) and it is filled with interesting orchestral and vocal-orchestral music spearheaded by Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, along with the American Modern Opera Company.

This release marks the first of a series of collaborations of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project with the aforementioned American Modern Opera Company, the latter co-founded by Aucoin.

The seven works featured in this set were written over a period of seven years, showing a coming of age and artistic development in both orchestral music per se and also with operatic vocal-orchestral works. It is a music of inspired complexity, expressive Modern dynamic and harmo-melodic depth.

Many of the works were written for specific musicians in mind and benefit nicely by having those artists on the performances as applicable. The music can groove and pulsate somewhat and it can also extend outward in intricate multi-stranded musical passages. Like a number of present-day composers the music assumes that both Serialism and Minimalism have passed through our musical consciousness but that it is a time for a beyondness that avoids the doctrinaire specifics of those styles and instead strikes out on its own with a personal expression that is of our time without necessarily making a point of its Modernity per se.

But then again there is no mistaking the fresh Contemporary quality of the music. Listen to the 2016 "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" and the 2014 title work "The Orphic Moment" with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and you will get a strong impression and a lucidly inventive certainty that is a joy to hear. The remaining five works each have a special resilience and presence that makes it a first rate listen and gives you a bird's eye view (bird's ear?) of the Aucoin musical personality. Very impressive music. Bravo!



Peter Tomasz, Bach, Goldberg Variations

 

When it comes to Johann Sebastian Bach, a lifetime can be devoted to hearing it all and not seem enough. The keyboard/harpsichord works always seem ripe for new readings, and so it is the case today with the Goldberg Variations  in dramatic and exciting interpretations by pianist Peter Tomasz (MSR Classics MS1791).

Maestro Tomasz gives us thoughtful readings of the many ins and outs of the set, tender and wistful at times, other times filled with determined and diverting velocity and agility. Glenn  Gould of course is best known for the velocity approach to Bach on piano. Tomasz heeds his own muse as he wends his way through each variation, crisp and rapid trills as suits Tomasz at key points, a pendulum swinging  infectiousness in the movements he takes rapidly, and a kind of nostalgic tenderness for slow passages. It all manages to come across as personal and illuminating in its own right.

Of course this is Bach at his most brilliant, most inventive. Given that many have turned to playing it, it is is desirable and  fulfilling when we experience a freshening via a viable new reading such as this.  Its many facets seem to lend itself to poetic pianisms, perhaps more so at times than say a typical keyboard fugue. (Though of course there is much room in any harpsichord work for a special pianism.) This Peter Tomasz version is quite masterful enough to be an only version if you do not have the music yet. And for those that know the music well it stands upright nicely as a wonderful expression of it all. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Max Richter, Exiles, Works for Orchestra

 

Sometimes lately I do some internet work in the morning and just keep playing the featured selection while I am doing that. By the time I am ready to write about it I get four-square insight into just how much the music is getting to me, or of course sometimes less so. Today the selection is orchestral music by Max Richter, a volume entitled Exiles (Deutsche Grammophon 486-0445).

Now I've heard some of Richter's music in the past and generally liked it, but it did not stick in my head very long. That sometimes has to do with a particular time frame where you might have been distracted or was not able to listen without interruption. Well no matter. This Max Richter album gives us a well-rounded portrait of the artist with six works. all distinctive in their own way. Think of Barber's "Adagio," Arvo Part's instrumental writing, the expressivity of later Glass--now do not expect to hear exactly that but something Richter establishes as his in part certainly of the later Minimalist camp but unwinding as more ostinato-like as in Pachebel's Cannon at times--in other words more at times an ostinato bubbling up against other ostinatos and an expressivity that does not rely on the kind of dervish entrancement of earlier Minimalism.

Each of the six works linger almost timelessly at some point. They establish themselves on their own ground each one and than travels along on the special path the work defines and then travels, each in its very own way, building contrasting ostinatos to create a gradually more dense expression. Drones, sustains, lyrical snippets that build atop the flow are significant and enough out-of-the-ordinary/inventive as to make you sit up and take notice.

We should not be surprised if Minimalism stands or falls on the quality of the inventions, just like every other genre and subgenre we have encountered in our musical lives, following from the idea that each genre may have its own parameters on what constitutes good invention. That could easily be the topic for a book and I would love to read such a one or address it myself? No matter right now.

The Baltic Sea Orchestra under Kristian Jarvi sounds just right for the music, feelingful without gushing, accurate without a machine-like sameness. It comes across the more you listen as somehow descriptive of our everyday life nowadays? Easy to say that, no doubt, but seriously it sounds contemporary even Modern without keeping slavishly to a particular thrust.

I happily recommend this to those who think after reading this post think they might like it--I suspect you will take to it like I did.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Tyler Kline, Orchard, A Collection of 50 Short Piano Pieces

 

Tyler Kline is a composer of Modern-Tonal and Post-Tonal imagination. I cannot say I've had much exposure to his music--that is, until now and his Orchard: A Collection of 50 Short Piano Pieces (Neuma 2-CDs). My eyesight does not handle the modern graphic design trend of very small lettering so I cannot read the liners but wait, I have the press sheet. Fourteen pianists from around the world take part in performing the works, and they do a fine job I must say.

What is remarkable and in part transcends what words can express is the abundance of inventive pianisms, all inspired and thought-out, with a certain tenderness at times and other times a dynamic rugged quality that is both whimsical and serious at the same time? It has something of the playfulness of the Alt Moderns, I mean French Impressionists and Satie, a hint of Messaien, then too Cage, Feldman, Crumb, ritual suspensions and repetitions that say their say quickly then go. it is piano music to follow much beyond the folks we have lived with since, say, 1900 to the present, those folks, and an element I cannot quite wrap into words. And given that there are 50 miniatures it is not a simple thing to characterize. 

Given the short and quixotic flight of work-to-work, tones-to-tones, being-to-between-piece expectations, there is almost a compendium of Modern pianistic possibilities here. The idea that this is a kind of musical orchard makes sense, in that each fruit relates to all the other fruits yet none is exactly like the other.

The harvest of this piano work orchard gives you two full CDs or new and refreshing fare, very pianistic yet also unexpected in how there are journeys through original thoughtful key playfulness.

I must say that this extensive collection of piano musical moments brings me to a happy listening place. Anyone who sees the poetry in the piano solo will no doubt find it here as I did. A real boon to all inclined. Bravo!

Yevgeny Kutik, The Death of Juliet and Other Tales, Music of Prokofiev, with Anna Polonsky

 

Prokofiev, when I was a young listener, specifically as it was in the USA, was distinctly not as popular as Stravinsky, at least in general terms. There of course were reasons for this, partly that Stravinsky was on the American musical scene. 

Today that may have changed. In terms of sheer numbers of new releases, Prokofiev has been getting a great deal of attention lately, possibly more than Igor these days. It is of course not a kind of horse race, or should not be, so it is not in my head all that important, but interesting and informative nevertheless. I would not want to choose between the two, because each has a brilliance that goes on untarnished to this day. 

Nonetheless I check in today with a welcome new release of works for violin, namely Yevgeny Kutik's The Death of Juliet and Other Tales, Music of Prokofiev (Marquis 114718162328). In the realm of Prokofiev chamber music violin performances there of course is Oistrakh as a sort of benchmark, with  Heifetz on the sweeter end, then Stern more or less in the expressive middle, and my favorite version of the Violin Sonatas on an old Columbia recording, that by Joseph Szigeti.

Yevgeny Kutik takes on the Sonata No. 2 as his own and acquits himself well. He has some of the exuberant, almost strident enthusiasm of Szigeti, with some of the sweetness of Heifitz. Pianist Anna Polonsky forms a vibrant and engaged counterpart throughout.

I am not one to complain, but the graphics on this CD, like so many others these days is not geared to be readable. The list of selections is printed in a very small point size, a goopy red which when put onto a gray screen is impossible to read. So there are other compositions here and let me try to decipher what they are. There is a short solo violin piece that I cannot possibly decipher the name of. It is traditional, arranged by Kutik. There is another nicely attractive solo violin version of "The Death of Juliet," and a fine thing it is. It is plaintive, sorrowful and unmistakenly Prokofievian! The old standby "Song of the Volga Boatman" is arranged by I can not read who. Sorry, the booklet design makes reading quite difficult. Then there is "Kalinka for Solo Violin" by Ivan something-or-other, arranged by somebody or other. Again, I apologize for my inability to read it all.

Happily there follows Prokofiev's "Sonata for Solo Violin" which is given a brilliant reading. Then follows two traditional pieces for solo violin, arranged by folks other than Prokofiev.

And then as already mentioned the Violin Sonata No.  2 concludes the program with a very personal, dedicated performance that may not quite reach the heights of Heifetz, Kogan or Szigeti, but it holds is own in spite of that.

All in all this volume heralds Kutik as a major force in Russian violinists today. Any fan of Prokofiev and Russian tradition will find this to their liking I suspect. 


Orion Weiss, Arc I, Piano Music of Granados, Janacek, Scriabin, 1911-1913

 

Pianist Orion Weiss gives us on his album Arc I (First Hand Records FHR127) the first installment of a three-part, ambitious series of historically grounded solo piano anthologies. This first part looks at the period of 1911-13 as a world on the brink of WWI and grappling with what was coming, shining on a kind of hope yet at moments filled with despair for what might be ahead. The volume helps express a historical tuneful and timefulness with three piano compositions that illuminate a sort of musical mood index of a state of being expressing the impending advent of a world-changing crisis that transformed all in its path in time and in a way made Modernism possible after a levelling of the status quo that was decidedly fading before the sweep of change that hit Europe like a tidal wave. By situating the works in the chronology of world cataclysms it invites experiencing the works in situ and as reflections of the world in which stunning piano moods emerged. Of course that does not mean we should apply some absolute blanket of causality, rather it is to consider the works within their experiential backdrops.

So we get "Goyescas" by Granados,  "In the Mists" by Janacek, and "Piano Sonata No. 9" by Scriabin, all written in a three year sequence, Granados in 1911, Janacek in 1912, and the Scriabin in 1913.

That the three works considered in a continuum.gradually increase in turbulence is something that we might experience as an opening into a event scenario that corresponds with the music; it is something we can sense and yet we do not have to pin it all down absolutely. Palpably it does invite experiencing in this way and in the process it gives us another dimension to consider outside of the works as individual entities in themselves.

And Orion Weiss gives us performances fully worthy of the importance of each of these works. We feel the drift of historical events yet of course the ability of classic works to state the world in their own terms.

This one is enthusiastically recommended. History, the early vitality of Modernism and a wonderful performative pianism join together for an experience well worth your listening time.



Monday, May 2, 2022

George Perle, Solos & Duos

 

George Perle (1915-2009) is one of those New Music composers whose importance was perhaps overshadowed by the vagaries of fortune. It wasn't so much that he was unknown, but then he might have been performed more often than he was, maybe. At any rate he was an American Modernist of a very accomplished sort and any earnest recorded attention devoted to his music is something New Music lovers should find of interest. I think back to a New Music concert I attended in New York as early as 1972. There was a Perle work on the program and I liked it much, but then for whatever reason, I never quite found things to check out on record to speak of. I suspect part of that was my fault but at any rate I am glad his music has become increasingly available in recent decades. On here for example I happily reviewed a BMOP recording of his "Serenades" in 2019. Look it up for more about him and his music.

So in that vein a significant new release has come across my desk and I duly report in after a bunch of listens. It's a two-CD set of Perle Solos & Duos (Bridge 9546A/B). On it we are introduced to some 16 works, a number with several movements, all focused around the simple presence of one or two instrumentalists and the Perle magic. He is a committed High Modernist and so the music has the full-fledged edgy harmonic-melodic underpinnings and asymmetrical and non-repetitive rhythmic thrusts one might expect to find in this style set. Yet too it sports a definite individuality if you give it the requisite time to become familiar with it all.

So in the course of the two-CD's unfolding we hear several solo piano works, several solo violin pieces, a work for solo clarinet, one for clarinet and piano, one for violin and piano, one for cello, two for cello and piano,  for double bass, and two for bassoon. The works cover a wide range of time between 1943 and 2004. There is a kind of unified expressionist High Modernism at play throughout and perhaps the principal variable is the idiomatic writing for each instrument.

The instrumentalists are all well prepared and well endowed with technical prowess so that each piece gets a concentrated focus and comes off well without exception. Richard Goode is on piano for one of the works, so that gives you some idea of the high caliber of all involved.

The seriousness of intent and the comprehensive instrumental possibilities make this a welcome addition for all those who appreciate George Perle or would like to explore his works and do not know a great deal of his music as yet. Either way this is a fine program. I recommend it strongly.


Friday, April 29, 2022

Claremont Trio, Queen of Hearts, Newly Commissioned Works for Piano Trio

 

Every so often a chamber group comes my way who I have not paid enough attention to, who impresses in exceptional ways and makes me take notice. That is very true of the piano trio known as the Clairmont Trio, as heard in their recent release of commissioned new works, Queen of Hearts (Tria Records CD). It is in celebration of their 20th anniversary, and a happy thing that. On the program we get six works or sets of works especially commissioned by the trio. The results are a testament to the Trio's discerning patronage of some very talented new voices on the scene, and too also the exceptional flexibility and virtuosity of the Claremont Trio.

This is modern Piano Trio music on the tonal side, nicely complex and expressive, all worthy vehicles for the trio to show us their remarkable sensitivity and expressivity, their exceptional interactive prowess. Every work here is interesting, some for a kind of modal tonality or heightened rhythmic flow and sometimes an expanded tonality that points to modern traditions, so to speak.

The way the Clairmont jump into each work makes you want to hear them do more--they are exciting and poetic whether it is "Four Folk Songs" by Gabriela Lena Frank, Sean Shepherd's "Trio," "A Serious Man" by Judd Greenstein, "Three Whistler Miniatures" by Helen Grime, Nico Muhly's "Common Ground" and finally Kati Agoca's "Queen of Hearts."

It is one of the most engaging and enlivening Modern Chamber disks of the last few years. If you appreciate some vital Modern works played remarkably well, this one is a must. I can't wait for more from these fine young talents!


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Lux Aeterna, Choral Works By Ligeti and Kodaly, Marcus Creed, Danish National Vocal Ensemble

 

As I sit here and listen happily to Lux Aeterna (Our Recordings 8.220676) I wonder why it should strike me as out of the ordinary, not entirely expected. I wonder why my initial reaction to the pairing of choral works by Gyorgy Ligeti and Zoltan Kodaly seemed unusual to me. They both are Moderns, of course, both have Hungarian roots, and both have Slavic aspects to their music. Still, they contrast in that Ligeti is of course more advanced in the avant sense than Kodaly. And perhaps it may sound odd for me to say this, but as time goes by the degree of avantness seems not to matter as much as it once did to me. The music convinces or it doesn't, regardless of the degree of advancement. It is I think a part of being in the world we are in, where there is a multiplicity of styles and tendencies.

All that only makes sense of course if the program and its performance hang together. That is most certainly so with this album. The Danish National Vocal Ensemble under conductor Marcus Creed puts a greatly expressive focus on each piece of music, conceiving the essence of the program in moving and absorbing ways.

So we appreciate how all concerned make High Modern sense and yet also have a sort of folk quality --whether it be a matter in the case of Ligeti of his "Lux Aeterna" (1966), the earlier works "Zwei a cappella-Choir" (1955) "Matraszentimrei Dalok" (1955) or the "Drei Phantasien nach Friedrich Holderlin" (1982). The 1955 works understandably have a slightly more down-to-earth almost nationalist dynamic than the title work, and the "Phantasien" nicely falls somewhere in between stylistically.

They are all excellent examples of how Ligeti does not easily fall into a neat cubbyhole in terms of style and trajectory. Every work in many ways forms an indivisible exemplar, a set of one. And as one gets to know each work here one feels in the presence of a master in exceptional control of his resources and creative expressibity.

And it so happens that the earlier works set up nicely a contrast with the Kodaly works, how a kind of folk veneer bounces off a contemporary stance in either case, with Kodaly perhaps a more elemental Modernism and melodic Folk hybrid with his "Evening Song"  (1938), "Evening" (1904) and the  "Matra Pictures" (1931).All three remind us what a powerfully inventive lyrical voice Kodaly could be.

And as it so happens the four compositional groupings by Ligeti and the three shorter ones by Kodaly are fine offerings and work well together in their essential rootedness. It is a pleasure to experience this one. Recommended highly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Palaver Strings, Ready or Not, Music for Strings By Women Composers

 

Music unfolds for us in our lifetime, should we be so inclined, into the infinitude that it always has been. It seems like in my experience the period leading up to the present has been chock full of the most diverse and influential music accessible for us perhaps as never before, should we take the trouble to explore it all. Today is no different, at least for me. So I get rolling this morning with an album that breaks new ground in its eclectic desire to cover as much New and/or worthwhile Early Music as possible as vividly realized by a state-of-the-art string orchestra.

It is a fine and refreshingly unique program of Early-to-Modern music by women composers covering a broad swatch of possibilities with things we are fortunate to hear now as played with a good deal of imagination and focus by the orchestra known as Palaver Strings. The album, appropriately dubbed Ready or Not (Azica Records ACD-71342), keeps a tonal center regardless of the work and then covers a sort of Early-to-Post-Modern realm of folkish palate-freshening in a number of guises.

Grazyna Bacewicz's "Concerto for String Orchestra" opens the program with an energetic three-movement vibrancy of Polish rootedness. It is one of Bacewicz's strongest such works, a stunning presentation that rings out and rings in simultaneously. 

Beyond that we have Maddelina Casulana's miniature folk harmonic "Non puo il mio cuore" as arranged by Jesse MacDonald. From there we go on to a touching minor-feelingful-dirgish "Lagrime mie" by Barbara Strozzi as arranged by Adam Jacob Simon. Mezzo-soprano Sophie Michaux takes a stunning lead in this songful poeticism.

Akenya Seymour brings a very lively folk-jazzishness to her three movement "Fear the Lamb." Poignant blues reworking and stunning extensions of harmonic movement make for an exciting Third Stream wonderment that wears well and feels virtually-effortlessly authentic in its own way.

The three part folk fiddling influenced "Treehouse/Jig for John #2/Fore Street" by Liz Knowles/ Elizabeth Moore has stunning earthiness and sheer joy. It closes out the program in ways one could not imagine being topped, a wonderful end. 

The full-blown sympathy of Palaver Strings to the put-forward newness and/or evergreen foundations of the works make for an ideal present immediacy. I give you encouragement to hear this one, and I recommend it highly. Download and CD are available now. Either way it is something consistently worthwhile and refreshing. .

Benjamin Whitcomb, 20th Century Music for Cello, Bloch, Cassado, Hindemith, Britten

 

Perhaps to some the idea of music for unaccompanied cello is something esoteric, off the beaten track. But it is more the case now than not that the repertoire is being represented on disk far more than it might have been 50 years ago or so. A very good example is the music before us today, with cellist Benjamin Whitcomb in a nicely turned volume of 20th Century Music for Cello (MSR Classics 1798), covering relevant works by Ernest Bloch, Gaspar Cassado, Paul Hindemith and Benjamin Britten. Some may recall or even have his first volume in the series, which I reviewed with pleasure here this past April, 2020. 

The first thing one might note on listening is the finely granular readings and masterfully commanding performances of these works by Benjamin Whitcomb. He is not in any way attempting to grandstand his way through these pieces, but rather seems purely inspired by the music and responds with a deeply detailed, middle ground between the far end of expressionism and the somewhat contrasting one of unrelenting abstraction. None of these works are in the High Modernist panoramic breadth of leaps and bounds (i.e. twelve tone or atonal, very dissonant and/or fully dedicated to a kind of anthematic post symmetrical infinity of unfolding. Nor is this music in Whitcomb's reading filled with Romantic  sentimentality. So in that way Maestro Whitcomb's response seems exactly right for the music, and in fact he is more a composer's faithful representative than a cellist's cellist, so to speak, at least as I hear it.

My ears over the numerous listens I have given this program perk up especially at the rendering of the stand-up, complex striations of the Paul Hindemith "Cello Sonata, Op. 25, No. 3," an exemplary work from his ambitiously contemporary early period (1922) in Germany. Each time I hear the sequence of works the Hindemith stands out nicely as a high point among high points.  So too the Benjamin Britten "Suite No.1" expands the tonal center outwards and sounds more Modern in that way than not. The nicely spaced and open field melodic unfolding gives us a kind of poeticism not at all programmatic and so a typical but satisfying venture into art for art's sake, so to speak. 

And both works as done with panache by Benjamin Whitcomb take on a special life and become memorable in all their complexities, as a music that reminds us of itself the more times we hear it--which after all is what music should ideally be in contexts where it is all about carving out a musical landscape of some sublimity and uncompromising strength.

Yes and then the opener by Ernest Bloch, "Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello" (1958) has something of a Semitic quality that is subtle yet distinctly there to appreciate as you pay attention to how it plays itself out, minor and ornate and expansive.

Then we have something by a composer less known to us, one Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966) and his "Suite for Solo Cello" (1926)--in its own way very declamatory, articulate, fanfarish and deliberately dramatic and outreaching. Then follows a folk-like dancing moment before a concluding melding of song and fanfare. It all is nicely satisfying.

Perhaps this is not the kind of album you would see is out and say to yourself, "I've got to have this one!" But when you play it enough you realize you are lucky to experience it, that it is a special thing any "Modernist" and cello appreciator will be glad to have to hear often, I suspect. So please give it a listen and perhaps it will makes its way into your musical being like it did for me. Recommended!

PS See the April 7, 2020 article for a discussion of the previous volume of Whitcomb playing 20th century Modern repertoire for unaccompanied cello.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Arcomusical, Emigre and Exile


Every so often an ensemble comes along that is dedicated to some sort of stylistic-meta-acoustical  way of playing-listening. Steve Reich's ensembles were/are that, as were some of course that Harry Partch assembled and so also Lou Harrison. Arcomusical is a new ensemble in that general channel of stylistic expression. Their third album is now available, entitled Emigre and Exile  (Panoramic Records Pan25).

It is some four composers giving us single movements with one exception, that is Matt Ulery's title work with its six movements. Then there are three pieces by Gregory Beyer, and one apiece by Jeremy Muller and Alexandre Lunsqui.

Each work forwards an instrument not typical of western  chamber music, such as the single stringed Brazilian Berimbau, or at times the inclusion of one or more typical western instruments, such as contrabass, vibraphone. for coloration and sometimes played in a non-standard manner for an even more pronounced coloration.. The Berimbau ensembles are inspired, beautifully sonic and a major reason to listen. But also the compositional approaches are all worth your attention over and above the sonic wonder of it as an entirety.

The music pulsates in engaging ways. Everything has a kind of tribal folk-avant forward momentum, an elementally riff-like tonality, with repetition ostinatos not at all formulaic. One hears Asian elements both Southeast and Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, some African momentums and Lou Harrison-esque transformations into a New Music singularity.

I've been an admirer of Matt Ulery's music for some time--I've reviewed a number of his recordings on the blogs over the years (see indexes on this and the Gapplegate Music Blog for those). This music has a departure element that fits in more specially for this ensemble. The other composers too line up the musical language to further flesh out the ethno-lyrical element so pronounced and well done here.

This is not an ordinary sort of album. It is uplifting and unusual. T recommend it if you are wanting something different, something off the well beaten path. Bravo.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Grazyna Bacewicz Piano Works, Peter Jablonski

 

Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) is an important Polish Eastern European Modernist that I have only come to know musically in the last few decades. In that way I am not unlike many New Music appreciators in the US. It took some time before we got to hear her music. And it turns out it was very worth waiting for.

An excellent example is a new disk by pianist Peter Jablonski, Bacewicz Piano Works (Ondine ODE 03992). When one encounters such fare, of course one hopes the works are stimulating and the performances enthusiastic yet precise, or something like that. I must say this volume gives us both and therefore establishes itself as an important advancement on the average person's knowledge (that would include me!) while also giving the solo piano music enthusiast some fare that fully deserves emergence into the light of day.

It consists of some five major works from Bacewicz's middle years: so there is the 1949 "Concert Krakowiak," the 1956-57 "Ten Concert Etudes," the 1955 "Two Etudes on Double Notes," and the Piano Sonata Nos. 1 (1949) and and 2 (1953).

What perhaps is most striking to me is how firmly pianistic all are and then also how she is an original contributor to the lively Eastern European developments of Modern times through extending the idiom while also reflecting something of the earthiness of a nationalist folk influence represented in oblique traces and shades. You have an original stance but then you might note an affinity with the unfolding of the Slavic potential to the notes we have to work with, including the Expression-laden open harmonic captivations of Scriabin, in the related period works of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Weinberg, Bartok, Janacek, and the like. She fits in originally with her own take on the possibility of the earthy yet new.

It is a damn fine album. Listen!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

CPE Bach Wurttemberg Sonatas Nos. 4-6, WF Bach Keyboard Sonata, David Murray

 

The sons of Bach have prodigious talent, at least some of them, so that even if they were not the sons of Bach we would likely be listening to them still. C.P.E. is a real talent of course, as is J.C. and even W.F.!

There is a nice volume just out that frames such things in the right spirit. It is pianist David Murray and his recording of the Wurttemberg Sonatas 4-6 by C.P.E. Bach and a Keyboard Sonata by W.F. Bach (MSR Classics MS1716).

First off this one stands out through David Murray's performances, rewardingly forward moving yet also brightly phrased in legato poetics. He sounds very right.

And of the piano versions of the sonatas we hear in this volume, they are magical examples of the emergent Rococo post-Baroque. All of the works have a remarkable inventiveness, an unforced brilliance, a refreshingly alive quality. Just listen to the first movement of the WF Bach Sonata and it I hope will jump out at you. Only one copy of the sonata survived the ravages of time, and the work is as yet unpublished. That is astounding but no matter because Murray gives it all to us in ways we recognize, we are heartened by such focused concentration. And the counterpoint is delicious as it emerges in variations from the original themes, And the legato expressivity sings out to you with an contained joy that sparkles and shines like a spring sunrise.

Happily recomended!

Rain Worthington, Passages Through Time

 

In my series of reviews on this site there are certain composers I have been happy to cover come what may. One of them is Rain Worthington. (Type her name in the search box above for additional review articles). Her latest is a collection of eight works that go together well in an album entitled Passages Through Time (Navona NV 6398).

Ms. Worthington's music is marked by an eclectic folk-local-archaic sacred-pan-stylistic timelessness.  The liner insert to the album tells us that the album centers around a universality of communicability in the nonverbal world of instrumental music. And indeed there is unmistakability a mood and expressivity in a minor or quasi-modal archaic-based idiom unfolding in each of these works. The musical syntax should be quite comprehensible to anyone musically inclined. The music fuses or references multiple stylistic elements so that there is no definite singularity as much as there is a manifold multiplicity--in the case of this music you hear a kind of World Music archaicism, a commonality at times with Medieval, with Postmodern Radical Tonality, with a sort of World Folkishness.

Each piece embodies a sonarity born of the instrumental configuration of each and a common minor expressivity.. The musical trajectory is meditative and contemplative and then expansive in turn.

So we listen.  "Full Circle" starts things off for orchestra, followed by "Night Stream" for two violins, "Within Deep Currents" for orchestra, "Balancing on the Edge of Shadows" for violin and piano, "Shadows of the Wind" for orchestra, "Resolves" for solo cello, "Dreaming Through Fog" for orchestra, and "In Passages" for violin and chamber orchestra. Performances are first rate throughout. The music hangs together like a series of Japanese woodcuts, each at base related in a continuum, like as a set series,  but each decidedly distinct in its end sequence and overall sonarity. 

I cannot think of a single thing to say negatively about this offering. It is beautiful and original, rugged and tender, seriously expressive and an uplifting example of what musical humans are doing these days. I have found Ms. Worthington ever her own stylist and ever inspired. This volume is no exception. It is a joy to hear.

Strongly recommended.


Monday, April 11, 2022

Johanna Beyer, Music for Woodwinds

 

Of the composers of the 20th century, there are many, of course. Every so often I come across one who has not ordinarily been a part of my listening rounds in the past, but turns out to be worthy and important. Such a figure is the German-American woman composer Johanna Beyer (188-1944). There is a recent collection of her Music for Woodwinds (New World 8-826). I cannot say I've heard these before, and the music is substantial so it is a treat to listen to them. They are angular, They are Modern pre-Ultramodern in that they have an advanced harmonic-melodic chromatic bent and a definite character and personal edge to them. Some are somewhat more classically tonal but everything retains a Beyer touch and sonarity. Sometimes too there is a subtle suggestion of the Beethovinian Impressionism of the Moonlight Sonata and that is welcome, too. The performances are exemplary.

She spent some time in the States  in 1911-14 but it was her second and permanent migration to New York in 1923 that was critical, in time studying with Dane Rudhyar, Ruth Crawford, Charles Seeger and Henry Cowell. All of them had some significant impact on her style so it seems, and they steered her in the New Music creative direction, something for which she had a definite affinity.

The works span a period from 1933-41, clearly a productive time for her compositionally. The works are instrumented in a variety of ways, all with fine results. So we hear music for clarinet and piano, for oboe and bassoon, oboe and piano, clarinet and bassoon, bass clarinet and piano, woodwind quintet, and woodwind trio. 

It all hangs together convincingly and indeed has a kind of originality and currency that is a pleasure to hear. I am glad to have this and look forward to hearing more of her work. She is the real thing! 

Recommended.


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Magdalena Hoffman, Nightscapes for Harp

An excellent harpist is not so much a common thing as a treasure. So as I listen again to Magdalena Hoffman and her album Nightscapes for Harp (Deutsch Grammophon 486 1724) I recognize just how accomplished a harpist she is. The program consists of some 18 brief but rewarding pieces for the instrument, spanning the Romantic period through to more current times. So we enjoy  evocative works from Chopin, Respighi, Pizzetti, Britten, Field, Penie, Clara Schumann, Tournier, Fred Hersch, Damase. Understandably some works are adapted from the original piano part, others were meant for the harp from the first, but all sound eminently idiomatic and gorgeous in Magdalena's very capable hands.

Throughout Ms. Hoffmann's technical and interpretive prowess is at the forefront. Sometimes only naturally you recognize in the arrangement of piano pieces for harp the original right hand melodic and left hand accompanying figures, and then otherwise we hear a composer's idea of the harp in its own right, a kind of orchestra of its own at times, an intimate chamber expression other times.. Either way Ms. Hoffmann phrases and elocutes magnificently throughout.

The "Nightscape" thematics are not an afterthought but rather built into the fashioning of the program and its execution. So we get Nocturnes and other pieces, music of mystery and magic, of heightened meditative and soaringly dream-like reveries.

As the harpist says in the liners, "My instrument creates a special for this nocturnal intimacy, and also for the fantastical and magical. There are good reasons why the harp is often used in orchestral works to evoke the unearthly and the supernatural. [On this album] I wanted  to use the harp to tell different nocturnal stories, to dance through the night and dream the night away."

In this poetic aim Ms. Hoffmann succeeds admirably. There is magic and dreams from start to finish. I recommend this strongly for all who seek an otherworldly musical state. Bravo!


 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Nick Vasallo, Apophany

 

It is probably true that historical forces at work in any given time  period can be either more or less auspicious for creators of music, and then of course perhaps only for some, not necessarily all. Certain periods of time may inspire, depending on how one is situated., and that may have nothing to do with the economics of it. "The cricket sings for love," as Des Prez has his singers sing. He meant to remind his benefactors to pay them!

In the course of my studies I remember somebody (but forget who!) raised the question of whether tempos generally increase in apocalyptic times. It is one of those things that would be hard to verify one way or another, since not all music indicates an exact range of possibilities, etc. And of course for other elements of music we can quickly get mired in speculation. For example, not all peoples think minor modes are "sad;" dissonance has meant different things at different times, and harmonic complexities are not always registered on a uniform emotional range depending on where you are and when. So Gesualdo is one thing, Ligeti another.

My own intuitions suggest we are in a historically unprecedented time in terms of world human and natural happenstances. So are we cranking out more masterpieces per square foot of creative time now? I chuckle because it is an impossible question. Who can say for sure until we are long gone and "posterity" has had its say?

On the other hand, we can put that aside,  jettison such thoughts and concentrate what is in front of us, the music of today one way or another, and appreciate the many points of musical light that penetrate our musical selves right now. Case in point is a recent anthology of works by present-day composer Nick Vasallo entitled Apophany (Numa  150). I have been listening closely to it and now I think I can speak of it with some certainty.

There are a wealth of contrasting and sonically distinct musical fingerprints on the nine works that make up the album.  They vary from concert choir to chamber ensemble, chamber orchestra to wind band to full orchestra.

The music itself tends to be a flexible thing, often with a dynamic High Modern contemporaneity that includes sonic color weaving, with skillfully eloquent use of advanced harmonic ranges of consonance and dissonance.

Perhaps the most stunning and interesting (to me) works include "Ozymandias" for heavy metal electric guitar, rock backup and chamber ensemble. It is a convincing melding of caustic electricity and expressionist currency. Since such an endeavor is inclined to be rare these days and since this work comes together well it is a good place to consider how such meldings can stand out and give us musical pause. It is a rather excellent example of such possibilities and so stands out. "Inches Away from Freedom" continues the Metal-Avant onslaught nicely with heavy underpinning and glowing agitation. "Black Swan Events" completes the hard edged trilogy of electricity. These three interrelated works alone make this album important

But from the very start with "Ein Sof" the music bursts forward with an agitation for orchestra that aptly presages and anticipates the conclusion as it works nicely with a pronounced stridency. "When the War Began" continues the dynamic outbursting in varied electrifying ways.

"The Prophecy" maintains our interest as it mixes things up with a choral interlude that brings to us a kind of chant-like elementality that is good to hear, a listen of note no matter how many times you hear it. "ATUM" continues the dramatic soundscape with a chamber ensemble of expressionist clout. "The Eternal Return" matches what came before and adds emotive megaliths of ensemble sound. Then follows "The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time" with events of turbulence and moving starbursts of dramatic vistas.

It is an album that will keep your attention throughout and also sports some of the most successful combinations of Metal and High Modernist New Music I have heard in years. Listen, by all means.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

French Connections, Jonathan Rhodes Lee, Harpsichord Music by Louis Couperin, Francois Couperin, Antoine Forqueray

 

If you want to bring a smile to my face, send me some music from the French Baroque. As I remarked on my FB wall the other day, at its best there is a sweetness, a kind of Romanticism of its own,  that sets it all as a thing apart in ways that differ from any other period and style. So happily the other day the mailman brought such a release, an album of harpsichord music done beautifully and meticulously by Jonathan Rhodes Lee, the program entitled French Connections (Navona Records NV6389).

The combination of nicely chosen works and committed performances makes this one a happy go of things. I have heard most all of this music in other versions, but I must say that the sequence here seems especially inspired, a great introduction for those that do not know much of this but then also a nicely put-together selection even for those well versed in it.

The program consists of three series of interconnected works--Louis Couperin's "Pieces in F," Francois Couperin's "17th ordre,"from "Troisieme Livre de pieces de clavecin," and finally  Antoine Forqueray's "Selections from suite no. 5" as arranged for solo harpsichord by Jean Baptiste Forqueray. I know these latter pieces in their original scoring for solo viol, and so I am glad to hear them in this way.

The idea of putting together a series of dance music pieces into a suite is most admirably exemplified by the Louis Couperin "Suite." His nephew Francois follows with a suite where nicknames are in part the orienting principal. Finally we get Fouqueray's Suite selection where the virtuoso element is more toward the forefront.

Well now I must say in conclusion that this all constitutes a delightful set of works played with both care and zeal. French Baroque harpsichord styles come though with clarity and concentrated zest. I thoroughly recommend this music! Molto bravo!