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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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

John Williams, Violin Concerto No. 2, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Boston Symphony Orchestra


With all the world of music unfolding today we are sometimes as in  a maelstrom, a storm of creative effort amidst a sea of unprecedented developments. If trying circumstances can lead to great music, as is the case for example with some gem symphonies that came out of World War II, should we expect the same today? Things seem promising and a fruit of that we hear in the recent music of John Williams, known by many for his expressive and effective film scores, but showing a somewhat more adventuresome and wayward inventive and orchestrational singularity in his concerted works. We can hear that nicely in the recent recording of his Violin Concerto No. 2 (DGG 80035442-02) as played so beautifully by violin titan Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the composer. 

The concerto is a major feat, a beauty refashioned perhaps of the bedrock Modernist roots of Berg's concerto and perhaps at times of Ravel's "La Valse." There is a kind of thoughtful look backwards to early modern times musically and then a bold jump forward with stridencies, devilishly virtuoso violin emanations that Ms. Mutter is especially well prepared for, and the glowing sort of mysterious orchestration and a rhapsodic yet contemporary fullness as end points that go a long way to taking you ahead for a noteful and insightfully sonic spatial ride. All it needs is your ears to begin the journey.

The follow up to this fortuitous work and fruitful pairing are three workings of "Selected Film Themes" from Star Wars and other memorable soundtracks. They provide lovely carpets for more of Anne-Sophie Mutter and her most beautiful renderings.  Both she and Williams are inseparable throughout, a collaboration that if you are like me invite you to abandon all resistance and surrender to the sheer magic of it all. Is this music meta-classic? Time will of course tell. Nice to hear certainly in any event. Bravo!

Grazyna Bacewicz, Peter Jablonski Plays Bacewicz Piano Works


The gradually unfolding appreciation of Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) continues apace, at least here in the States. There is another enlightening release I have been catching up with lately with no small amount of...delight I guess the word is. It is an album masterfully navigated by Peter Jablonski, entitled Peter Jablonski Plays Grazyna Bacewicz Piano Works (Ondine ODE 1899).

It affirms further that Bacewicz is a genuine voice of last century Polish Modernism in some compelling, advanced harmonic and melodic ways, another way to get beyond the late Romantic gush of pianism to be heard in somebody like Scriabin. I don't mean to over simplify but she manages to sound a clarion call to Eastern European musicways, a bidding to express the present in her very own way, not to lose sight of folk roots and necessarily then to open to the alternation and conjoining of the complex with the simple. But in ever inventive flow with a remarkable ease and fluidity.

So as we gradually absorb and appreciate it all, we get to hear her "Concert Krakowiak" (1949), "Ten Concert Etudes" (1956-57), "Two Etudes On Double Notes" (1955), "Piano Sonata No. 1" (1949) and "Piano Sonata No. 2" (1953).

All these works have undiluted presence and Peter Jablonski brings each one to life with care, enthusiasm, feeling, and formfulness. 

I heartily recommend this one for reasons that I hope are clear. Jablonski triumphs and helps us appreciate the ultra-musical pianism of Bacewicz at her best.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Carlo Monza Quartets, Opera in Musica, Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante


What we still can know anew can startle. So it turns out composer Carlo Monza (1735-1801) is something rewarding to hear, certainly as played so well by Fabio Biondi and the quartet Europa Galante doing a fine thing on the release Opera in Musica: Carlo Monza Quartets (naive CP SPPF V7541).

These quartets, some six in all, are bright, sparkling with brio and depth as realized by these talented players. It is an early Classical kind of confection, not stickily sweet but sincerely, pointedly bristling and bubbling. Violinist Bondi puts it plainly in the liners, "Monza's music is characteristic of the late eighteenth century, with delightful themes, varied moods and a gallant tone."

Doubtless when you awoke this morning you had no idea you'd wonder about this Carlo Monza, But seriously if you want something unexpectedly charming, beautifully played, you will no doubt find this most appealing as I did. Get it, hear it, let it grow on you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Carolin Widmann, L'Aurore, Music for Solo Violin, Music by Ysay, Benjamin, Hildegard of Bingen, Enesu, Bach


Music for solo string instruments seems to be surging in popularity and frequency of performance like perhaps never before. In the past few weeks I have covered several albums partly or solely devoted to such things. So today once more. This time it is an all-solo album put across with wonderful spirit and microscopic nuance by Carolin Widmann, whose excellent playing we have appreciated several times before on here--type her name in the search box above for those review articles.

The album at hand is evocatively entitled L'Aurore (ECM New Series 2709). In it we are treated to some six nicely contrasting, skyfully filled works. The program begins with a short, tenderly meditative working of a piece by the pioneering early music composer Hildegard of Bingen, as realized for solo violin. It is later reprised to dramatic effect. The Ysaye Sonata No. 5 is playful and intimate, thanks especially to Carolin's ecstatic and virtuoso reading. George Benjamin (b. 1960) and his "Three Miniatures" gives us an Expessionistic clangorousness that is a delight to hear in Ms. Widmann's hands. Equally essential is Georges Enescu's "Fantasie Concertante" with its characteristic verve and concentrated line spelling artfulness.

The finale is the spectacularly singing and heartful lyricism of Widmann's triumphant performance of Bach's Partita No. 2, one of the most interesting and satisfying versions I have had the pleasure to hear.

And that is the sum of it, a wonderful offering that affirms Carolin Widmann's place as one of the most singular and accomplished violin soloist alive. I recommend this with no reservations. It is a delight from start to finish.,

Sarah Cahill, The Future is Female, Vol. 1 In Nature, Piano Music by Women Composers


Of all the music I have listened to over the years, there were at first few female composers recorded who wrote for the solo piano. In years gone by, the emphasis of course originally was of the dominant male composers over time, and of course there was plenty to appreciate as there still is. On the other hand the musical lifeways as expressed in recordings and performances has gradually turned as the world view changed to consider women and their contributions, to resurrect or uncover the talent and achievements of women, even if many were not given the attention of their male counterparts when they lived or until recently.

All that of course has changed and we now have many worthy woman composers to appreciate in the contemporary world but also historically. As a welcome aspect of such things pianist Sarah Cahill has embarked on an ambitious multi-volume set of relevant piano works which are apparently available as a set but now also coming out on individual CDs as well. The project as a whole is entitled The Future is Female and the first installment I have been listening to and I consider here is entitled Volume 1: In Nature (FHR 131).

On this initial volume we are treated to some 16 compositions by women hailing back as early as the 18th century through to today. Ms. Cahill approaches each work with care and sympathy, and not some little amount of flair.

The list of composers is largely unknown or little known to me, but the works themselves bear intense scrutiny, opening up new worlds for those eager for more of such fare. The composers included bears presenting, to give you an idea of the persons involved and when they lived. So we have the music of Anna Bon (1739/40-after 1767), Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (1805-1847), Teresa Carreno (1853-1917), Lookadiya Kashperova (1872-1940), Fannie Charles Dillon (1891-1947), Vitezslava Kapralova (1915-1940), Agi Jambor (1909-1997), Evo Beglarian (1958- ), Deirdre Gribbin (1967- ), Mary D. Watkins (1939- ).

So all that as you give it some good listens stands out as well worth hearing and having. The music runs the gamut from early Classical through Modern and beyond. Very good music, very well performed. I thoroughly recommend it for those who find the idea interesting. It is all one could hope for and more besides.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Martin Matalon, Formas del Tiempo, Elena Klionsky, Piano


Free Jazz master Ornette Coleman once quipped that "there is no bad music, just bad musicians." If you know his music and the whole idea of a Jazz freedom, you can understand where he was coming from, but is it true of other musics, too? Well there is much to be said about the virtues of a great performance, but then the music still lurks in its repository on music paper or for folk etc. in folk memory, and of course there is a long tradition of individual rankings of works, for better or ill.

Today's music offering does not stand or fall on the performances, but they are absolutely key nonetheless. It is an album of compositions by Martin Matalon (b 1958), featuring the pianism of Elena Klionsky. It is a compendium of some four piano-centered compositions, the program as a whole given the title Formas del Tiempo (MSR Classics MS 1789). 

The instrumentation goes between solo piano and more, for example "Artificios" for solo piano (2014), "Dos Formas del Tiempo" for solo piano (2000), "La Makina" for two pianos, two percussionists and electronics (2007), and finally "Trame IV - Concerto for Piano and Eleven Instruments" (2001).

All performers and performances are top notch, with Ms. Klionsky holding forth heroically and magically, with Salome Jordania taking the second piano part with a real flair as needed, with the New Juilliard Ensemble under Joel Sachs doing a great job in the chamber orchestral mode as needed, and finally with strong percussion appearances by Eve Payeur and Julien Macedo as called for, and intelligent electronics by David Adamcyck.

The piano parts are virtuostic and High Modern in the most thoroughgoing ways, with clusters, momentum, space travelling and full throttled expresson. All four works bring to us very effective and atmospheric cosmic projecting in ways that make us want to hear it all again and again. I will not try and describe in detail the sequence of each work as it is probably more rewarding just to listen. All four pieces have an original yet admirably Modernist thrust that triumphs thanks to the excellent performances by Elena Klionsky and company. Bravo!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Gity Razaz, The Strange Highway


For today's music post we have a very moving and dynamic Gity Razaz (b 1986) and her album of compositions entitled The Strange Highway (BIS 2634 CD). She was born in Tehran and came west to pursue her classical compositional aspirations.

The results are this very personal, Expressionist-Modern compendium of some five varied but consistently compelling works. It is a sort of program that rewards when you open up to it. And by its very special waywardness its ability not to conform but to reaffirm the newness of the new, we all might gain something worthwhile by letting it play!

"The Strange Highway" (2011) begins the program by giving us a deeply dramatic minor-chromatic journey for cello octet that is of a kind of soundscaped expansiveness that marks it of today yet also calls the ancient muses in its dramatic sweep. The musico-logical and chronological bookend to the opener is the closer, the dramatically extended reverie "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" (2011) for chamber orchestra and fixed electronics. It has a truly expressive chromatic depth that beautifully closes the entire sequence.

In between the bookends is a series of some three works featuring a Modern rhapsodic take on string instruments--the 2007 "Duo" for cello and piano, the 2015 "Legend of Sigh" for cello, pre-recorded cello and electronics, and then the 2020 soliloquy "Spellbound" for solo viola.

There is a good deal of dramatic flourish and thoughtful line weaving throughout. There is a special originality from start to finish, a markedly idiomatic set of parts, and thanks to the well hewn performances we get to hear this music with admirable fidelity it would seem to the composer's vision. In the end I for one look forward to hearing more of Razaz's music. This one has a real presence that reminds us how far we have come but then how much more music is possible going forward. Good things here and I heartily recommend it all to you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Jennifer Bellor, Oneira, Clocks in Motion


The chamber group Clocks in Motion presents Oneira (Aerocade Music AM012), which gives us an entire album of the music of Jennifer Bellor. None of this was familiar to me until I kindly received this album in the mail for consideration. Several days of listens later, I can say confidently that I now KNOW, and I am happy I do.

Clocks in Motion is a threesome of mallets and percussion with the addition of a guest percussionist to make up a quartet. So we hear John Corkill, Christopher G. Jones and Sean Kleve with guest Megan Arns or Kyle Flans. Everybody sounds excellent as they wind their way through the three specially composed works by Jennifer Bellor.

The composer is the first in what the group hopes will be a long line of artists in residence for their "Clock Shop," a long term, in this case four-year collaboration where she worked with them to workshop, create and develop multiple percussion compositions ultimately to perform and record. The happy first fruits can be appreciated on the CD at hand.

It turns out that Ms. Bellor came through with music that is not rote-ly repetitively Minimalist or New in an expected sense. Rather you might experience this music as I did, as a kind of New Classical Ethnic-Folk hybrid of pentatonic and diatonic musics of infectious rhythm and brightly chiming and syncopating excitement, like perhaps in essence Balinese Gamelan, only wholly original and local to the US like the legacy of percussion group music classics from here, only evolved and inventive in its own ways.

Each work unfolds in nicely built structures of expression, in ways that those who love melodic percussion groups will doubtless find as charming and continually invigorating as I did. Happily recommended!

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Poul Ruders, Harpsichord Concerto, Mahan Esfahani, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segerstam


The fecundity and presence of NeoClassicism in music--the interjection of some past elements into a present-day Modernism--has had its ups and downs. Stravinsky most certainly benefited greatly by such possibilities. He had a clear idea of what to do and he did it to our great aural satisfaction. Certainly someone like a Penderecki and what he did with the Passion took advantage of early music expression and forms at times, and there can be little doubt about the beauty and expressiveness of Part and his clear adaptation of earlier music ideas or sonics. Not everything has been wonderful that has come out more or less under this rubric, but that is true of pretty much everything.

Last century there were some successful Neo aspects in a number of Concertos for Harpsichord and Orchestra. I will not rehearse that list right now, except to mention such concertos by Poulenc, de Falla, Martinu, Frank Martin. Well now we gain another very viable approach to it all with Poul Ruders' 2020 work, out in a World Premier recording on Ours 9.70892, a digital release featuring Mahan Esfahani on harpsichord and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra under Leif Segerstam.

This Ruders work gets a detailed reading with a careful Modern expressionist kind of flavor that one continuously feels seems at least very near-definitive, if not simply definitive.

There is so much dissonant complexity here and that juxtaposes nicely with a near Baroque momentum. The three movements have that Classical spelling by an andante in Movement Two and otherwise there is dramatic pacing throughout that wears well and continues to fascinate with repeated listenings. The harpsichord part is dense and virtuoso-like. The orchestra plays off the dissonant, dark animation with deliberate counterfoils nicely projecting and setting a wide aural-spatial set of parameters that seem just right for the present-day rough worldscape, the complexity of everyday pandemic, climatic and political strife that characterizes our current world.

It is a stubbornly, organically full work that like a particularly appealing Rorschach blot one might well find one reacts to perhaps according to your own personal musical psychology? If so all seems to invite listening-participation and appreciation over a lengthy listening lifetime potential. This is no quick aural snack. It is something to settle down with now and again as you need something of our time, perhaps something inspiring that you did not at first expect?

The composer informs us how by slightly amplifying the harpsichord vis-a-vis the orchestra he was able to match and contrast respective sonances and you can hear that as you mark out the sequences for yourself a number of times.

The music fits our era but not in just any old way--rather in an intensely personal view we recognize as poignant and transformative alike.

The work fits in with our recent Modern Neo-Classic possibilities but then follows Poul Ruders' very personal way to express it all, and as the author notes, without "slipping into a hackneyed Neoclassicism." Happily recommended for both compositional and performative excitement.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Grazyna Bacewicz, A Portrait, Kinga Augustyn, Music for Solo Violin and Violin with Piano


When I used to get tickets to the NY Philharmonic concerts because I was covering the NY beat for the relevant edition of the monthly Delta Airlines Destination Guide, Kurt Mazur happily programmed a piece by Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) into one of the programs. It was the '90s and for whatever reason I was unfamiliar with her music then. It was the beginning for me of a long appreciation of her works that continues today. Gradually I am coming to know her full output, and now I am especially pleased to hear violinist Kinga Augustyn and her new recording of music for solo violin and violin with piano, Portrait (Centaur CRC 3971).

It is a deeply rewarding collection of wonderfully expressive-Modern vehicles taken with great introspective yet jubilant depth by Kinga Augustyn, seconded admirably by Alla Milchtein on piano for the four short pieces and the 1945 Concertino for Violin and Piano. The remainder of the works cover her well wrought solo violin pieces spanning a rather wide swatch of time from 1935 through 1968.

All of the music fascinates and rewards with the kind of fluid ease and memorability that marks Bacewicz at her best and for that matter gives Polish Modernism a special edge in the most general terms, though Grazyna is her own master and sustains originality. So one might feel at times the affinity with Panufnik, Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Paderewski, of course in varied ways yet happily so, especially if you take a wide view.

The concentrated focus and virtuostic dedication of Ms. Augustyn rings true and makes of it all a wonder, a vivid and contrasting program I find as moving and worthwhile as anything I have heard thus far this year. Bravo! For those reading in August 2022 the CD comes out in September but you can pre-order online.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Fernande Decruck, Concertante Works, World Premiere Recordings

If you asked me before I went to the mailbox the other day who was Fernande Decruck, I would have said I had no idea. But here we are a few days later and I have been listening to the album of her Concertante Works  (Claves SO-3056) some in premier recordings, some in premiere performances. She is a she, first off, which explains in part why maybe you've never heard of her? Women and Jews, according to some in the earlier days, supposedly did not make good composers. Well that turned out to be utter nonsense, of course. So to further debunk that myth here is the music of Ms. Decruck, who was French, born auspiciously enough on a December 25th, 1896 and leaving this earth on August 6, 1954. 

The album is one that takes a bit of patience to start with. After a while it begins to get through to your ears, to have a cogency, a definite French evocative sense of melodic form. She is not quite Ravel or Debussy-esque. But then she has her own lyrical sense. It is a happy discovery if you give it a chance-- well played by soloists and the Jackson Symphony Orchestra conducted by Matthew Aubin.

The album has three concerted-like works for solo instruments and orchestra. She apparently wrote quite a few works for saxophone, including the opening "Sonate et un diese pour saxophone (ou alto) et orchestre."  Also well worth your ear time is the "Poem Heroique" for trumpet and orchestra and finally the (to me) especially charming "Concerto pour harpe et orchestre."

Strongly recommended. Give it a listen by all means!   

String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Enfolding, The Music of Scott Wollschleger and Anne Leilehua Lanzillotti

Every day is a new day. And every day out there there is new music to be heard, things you may not know from people you may not know. I feel I should cover as much as I can, so I do. Of course that is a problem because when nobody knows an artist they may not respond to the article and I perhaps am doing myself in? Well I cannot help that.

So today I've got another for you, something worth checking out, something local for me, not far from where I am so I feel the need to cover it even if you do not know it. It is by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, who sound very good here.  The album is entitled Enfolding (New Focus Recordings FCR 331).

It is a gathering of new and worthy works that you might know nothing about until now. That was the case for me. It features Scott Wollschleger and his 15 minute "Outside Only Sound," and then Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti's Pulitzer Prize nominated work "With eyes the color of time."
Now both works are in a kind of PostModern, not quite Minimalist mode. Both works have something distinct and original to impart and the String Orchestra of Brooklyn give us a sincere, committed and very together reading of both works.  "Outside Only Sound" has a fascinatingly hypnotic wall-of-sound quality about it. "with open eyes the color of time"  gives us a wonderful title and the nine part work itself takes us for a ride with slowly unfolding drone-sustain-melodies in stop time and then, well, listen!

Now if you are not really in the mood to explore the very new, you might not want to venture here. But if you are ready for a real musical adventure, this is one to add to your listening pile! Very happily recommended!

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Elaine Greenfield, Ravel Compared, Solo Piano Works on Two Period Instruments


As I write these lines it is peak summer outside, a sunny morning surely made for Ravel's piano music. So I feel all is well as I listen to the two-CD set at hand, Ravel Compared (Navona NV6401) as played with real artistic vibrancy by Elaine Greenfield. I might argue that Ravel was at the very top of 20th century composers for the piano. It is not like I would be saying something not already generally felt out there. And as times goes on I still feel that way, not surprisingly.

What is especially nice about this compilation is that each of the two CDs features the same repertoire, only Ms. Greenfield plays each set on a different period instrument. CD 1 features an 1893 Erard from Paris; CD 2 features an 1917 Ivers & Pond from Boston. MS. Greenfield responds to each piano as she feels it. The Erard has a great kind of mirrored liquidity, the Ivers & Pond has a sunshiny woodiness equally charming. As you listen to each you feel you are closer to the music the way Ravel himself may well have heard it. But at the same time you hear Elaine's unwavering sympathy to the works and her open nd poetic readings, more about the warmth and lucidity of the music than some technical self-aggrandizement.

So the works chosen sound great in slightly varying ways each outing."Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte" reminds us how wonderful his melodic-harmonic gifts were. Then we get to appreciate Ms, Greenfield's well varying readings of the "Sonatine," a couple of movements from "Miroirs," his "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales," "Gaspard de la Nuit," and :"Le Tombeau de Couperin."

Anyone who has communed in the Ravel pianistic approach will have plenty to appreciate in Elaine Greenfield's supreme artistry. A newcomer to the music would benefit from hearing both piano-based versions and their heightened lyrical dynamics. Strongly recommended!

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Gene Pritsker, Cloud Atlas Symphony, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony, Kristjan Jarvi


I've appreciated composer Gene Pritsker since I first started listening to his album releases. Nothing has changed and I am always glad to hear more whenever I can. The new one is especially special because it gives us a wonderful reading of the Cloud Atlas Symphony (NEscapes Records), a compelling thing to hear indeed. This album fulfills the Pritsker promise of an assumption of all that has come before but then something only Gene might create as the furtherance, the comeback, the rejoiner and the return volley? Well yes, yes it does.

I am perfectly serious about all that above. It is ever an adventure when Gene gets a project going. And here with the Cloud Atlas Symphony we get an excellent performance and a high quality recording of the work. As Gene expresses it on the promo sheet, there is the original world of Cloud Atlas the novel, there is the film made on the basis of the story, there is the movie soundtrack Gene adapted for it, and then there is the symphony as it is an extension, expansion, and an abstraction of all of the above.

And as I listen a bunch of times I feel the story theme obliquely but I hear the symphonic presence of it all as a beautifully descriptive set of passages that somehow channel Brahms and everybody after yet make of it all something new!

Now the full symphony comes at us in six dynamic movements, and then there are three additional segments written by Tom Tykwer. Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, all masterfully orchestrated by Gene. I am not sure how they relate to the symphony but it does not entirely matter because they are intriguing and hypnotic and add something definite to the program. Well, OK I get it I just realized that underneath the Symphony notes it says "based on the music from the film Cloud Atlas written by" the three composers mentioned above. OK, right.

What we have in the end is one cohesive sequence of powerfully constructed and deeply expressed musical fare and another beautifully wrought feather in the Gene Pritsker compositional cap. Bravo! Very strongly recommended.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Steven Ricks, Assemblage Chamber


There is much, ever so much New Music still, and the day we take it for granted is the day we must renew our love of being here with the music in the present-tense.. So, good readers, I come to you today with a kind of bubbling under excitement of a new disk of chamber works by Steven Ricks, in an album named after one of the compositions, Assemblage Chamber (New Focus FCR328). 

There are Baroque elements, both musically and in instrumentation, at times and the overall impression I get is of a highly singular Neo-Classical Modernism of today. Liners author Michael Hicks instructs us to remember the Baroque as channeled by Ricks not "as a kind of stone-tablet monument to the intellect or dexterity," but rather something "sown with adventure, defiance, mannerism, improvisation, eclecticism and spectacle." The second cautionary assertion is not to "Take 'baroque" and attach a 'neo-' to it" which to Hicks entails imitating "seventeenth or eighteenth century style with a few token dissonances or syncopations" to make it Modern. Well that of course is not to be desired, but what does that have to do with the prefix "neo-," except perhaps as abused in the must facile of Neo attempts? If so, I agree. But then I might wonder, does Stravinsky qualify as Neo-Classical in some of his middle period music? And is it not completely and utterly Stravinsky-esque? Of course. And Hicks is right to caution us away from some mechanical vision of the period as it speaks to us, and truly Steven Ricks gives us nothing at all mechanical here, instead a living, breathing New Music that draws inspiration from the past but then transforms it into his own compositional matrix, just as he does the "Modernist" element as he claims it as his own. 

There is nothing borrowed in this music as much as it is explored in transformation. And if "neo" still means "new" then Neo-Classical would only mean New Music in a Classical mode, which may then refer to elements of earluer periods incorporated but not necessarily to imply a servile copyist's vision, for surely Steven Ricks is a visionary as much as anything! I actually agree with Hicks, just not his abandonment of "neo" as a descriptor. But of course what matters is the music. And that is something to appreciate for sure.

So for example the "Reconstructing the Lost Impressions of Aldo Pilestri (1683-1727)" from 2018 includes transformed quotations from Vivaldi's "Seasons" but a great deal more elsewise to the naked ear, nicely scored for prepared guitar, violin, viola, cello, and bass clarinet. The end-experience of the music is simultaneously appropriation-transformation of the earlier musical world yet also completely immersed in the this-world of Modernity. 

"Heavy with Sonata" (2021) takes the violin, viola and harpsichord medium and parallels the Baroque chamber sonata as rejuvenated and re-created to Ricks' own vision of musical unfolding.

The remaining "Piece of Mixed Quartet" (2011) and the electroacoustic cut and reassembled, ravishing "Assemblage Chamber" (2022) have more of the patented Ricks original novel appropriations and re-placements that are so striking in all of these works.

In the end this is some of the most original and inspired contemporary chamber music I have heard in years! The performances are right on it and the music gets better with every hearing. Hail Steven Ricks. Very recommended.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

William Grant Still, Summerland and Other Works, Zina Schiff, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Avlana Eisenberg


Maybe as we live we look at how there is a month for this and a month for that, and the rest of the year we hope people will still honor the importance of this and that? As I write these words it is Black Music Month. Well I approve. And happily because of the existence of such a month, we might get to hear music that otherwise we might not? Well the point is to appreciate whatever such things can spawn. For example today I am most happy to extol the virtues of a recent release celebrating the music of William Grant Still, one of the most worthy of 20th century Afro-American Classical composers.

So as I write these words this morning I continue to listen to this Still anthology of some four works, Summerland, Violin Suite, Pastorela, American Suite (Naxos 8.559867). It is competently and inspiringly brought to us here by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Avlana Eisenberg. Violinist Zina Schiff handles beautifully well the solo violin parts for the two works that call for the instrument in the spotlight.

And you listen perhaps as I did with a gradually growing appreciation for the inventive brilliance of the composer. This is not "Modernism" with a capital /M/. And it is not without some references to Afro-American music in the larger world of national music, but in many ways it is not overflowing with such things either. 

And in the end we do well if we do not insist someone like Still, clearly a truly talented composer in his day, if we do not insist he create music in some mold we would create for him. No, that will not do. Listen to this music, Listen a few times if you will. And if you expect nothing particular, you will doubtless come to appreciate this music. That is the way of our last 200 years. Expect nothing "ordinary," get everything! Heartily recommended.

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.