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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!