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Monday, May 23, 2022

Carl Vine, Complete Piano Sonatas, Xiaoya Liu


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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


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

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

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

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

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

Peter Tomasz, Bach, Goldberg Variations


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

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

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Max Richter, Exiles, Works for Orchestra


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 2, 2022

George Perle, Solos & Duos


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

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

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

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

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