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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Richard Carr, Landscapes and Lamentations


I covered on these pages an interesting string quartet album by composer-violinist Richard Carr on December 19, 2021. He is back with a new one called Landscapes and Lamentations (Neuma 161). It is a matter of some twelve short and engaging compositions with Carr on violin ion the company of various chamber lineups from the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME).

The works are very well performed and come out of a Pomo Tonal Folksy and even at times a Folk Fiddling sort of immediacy that is easy to appreciate and complex enough not to sound pandering in the least way. The folkishness is not an Americana a la Copeland so much as it is a loosely inventive articulation center with bottom  range drone at times and melody atop, and moreover with a kind of unfolding scalular and pentatonic touchstone that is given a poignant musical brilliance.

The beautiful string motion of "Castle Point" seems like a good focal point of the program with its open fiddling excitement and rhythmic momentum. It perhaps is the very opposite of New Age Music as I have sometimes experienced it--that is it is by no means facile or banal, but rather joyously musical and complex.

So perhaps you never expected you might want to hear this music because how could you know? But then you find it brings pleasure, fulfills a need for deep and new things and so it is a good thing! Happily recommended.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Peter Gregson, Quartets


The web blurb says:"This deluxe release follows the success of Quartets 1 & 2 and features the newly released Quartets 3 & 4 from the renowned composer and cellist." 

So officially the two CD set is called Peter Gregson  Quartets One - Four (Deutsche Grammophon DGG 2 CDs).

I'll admit I have been a bit ignorant about the compositions of Peter Gregson until now. Yet as I listen to the nicely wrought performances of these four quartets I feel an easy sympathy with the lyrical unfolding of the composer's own take on Pomo Postmodernism. It is in the mode of Radical Tonality in its ritual sort of chant-like unfolding, the sensuous play of mostly strings in their performative currency, an ambient set of soundscape strengths not simplistic so much as engaged in superconsonantality as it were.

All four quartets have nicely turned content and a sort of cosmic consolative that one might well appreciate in the turbulent times we live through. After a long sitting and intense listening I do want to jump back to a Bartok Quartet say, or Elliot Carter for some spicy and tangy dissonances, or Haydn for inventive and structural brilliance. But that is a  given with my ears after a Pomo soak in a musical sweathouse so to speak.

This is ravishing and well paced music that brings a peaceful ruminency to our musical brown studies, for that it cannot be bettered so much as changed. And when you think of the places that Terry Riley went with his music in time, Gregson takes over the wheel on this ride, as it were,  and steers it all further afield to places adjacent but some distance on to a new spiral ascent, perhaps.

If you want to hear substantial yet relaxing sounds, here is a nice place to be. Well done.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Hans Thomalla, Dark Spring, New Music Opera Today


Opera in the New Music zone can be an economically precarious venture and so relatively rare in the main. But of course when it is good we simply must pay it some definite mind, or so I think. I've covered some wonderful ones on these pages, check in the search box for them. And though I am a little late covering this one today, it is another one we need to study and appreciate, to my mind.

Hans Thomalla's opera Dark Spring (OEHMS Classical OC994 2CDs) clocks in at about 90 minutes. It premiered in 2020. Happily the recorded version has been out for a time and I have had the good fortune to have received a copy for listening. It is "Postmodern" in its tonality and post-Romantic songish presence, with some repetition but not much. Interestingly the relative reticence makes its use all the more powerful. 

It is about four students in the grip of an extraordinary amount of stress, in the battle to achieve academically in a highly competitive world, and so too in this world to perform romantically-sexually in the same circumstances. The emphasis is on the character's experience of the feelings such situations entail. Stagnation against the extreme difficulty of self-realization in this world causes all four characters to grapple continually with the uneasy feelings that result. In this way we have a sort of deep psychology of things here, movingly so. Opportunity feels more like importunity and despair. To proceed at times with an attitude yet without a set of encouraging beliefs does little to ameliorate the strain of intense striving, and in the thick of it all, things build to expressive monotony and self or other-directed aggression.

We go to school so that we might be examined, goes one of the libretto musings, and that is what it all is about, competition for its own sake largely, and so there arises stress as a divider, a separation, a marking off, a denial of access.

The opera invites and then rewards your attentiveness with something that feels unique and original, that wears easy on the ears over time with ritualistic and lyrically tense then lax states that rivet you with great strength through a music far from the simplistic excesses of some of the lesser Minimalism in the last few decades. 

It is characterized by a fine sense of inventiveness throughout, nothing banal here! The cast of singers Shachar Lavi, Anna Hybiner, Christopher Diffey and Magid El-Bushra give the English libretto a passionate yet uber-musical reading while the Nationaltheater-Orchestrer under Alan Pierson give us a very winning first performance that satisfies and brings it all into our orbit with grace and charm. A hearty molto-bravo I give this without hesitation, It may well be a new masterpiece in opera today, one of the really original and captivating things I have heard in the last few years.

Greg Stuart, Subtractions


Music for a solo percussionist was a part of the legacy of 20th century uber Modernism. It was John Cage, Lou Harrison, Edgard Varese and Karlheinz Stockhausen we can thank, among a few others, and it has changed the idea of instrumentality to include now the extraordinary potential of the language of nonpitched sound color.

As if to fill us in for some of where the percussive New Music arts are now we have Subtractions (New Focus Recordings FCR 348) by Greg Stuart. It gives us some very intensively probing compositions, some two, that further define the possible sound universe in engaging ways.

The most satisfying is perhaps "Border Loss" (2021) by Sarah Hennies. The work concentrates on a recurring universe of combinatory logic from specific percussion objects and the manner in which they are struck, a kind of free falling, tumbling expressive panorama of testificatory fullness. Happily to it reminds of some exemplary early Free Jazz drumming, such as the classic duet by Sonny Morgan and Miford Graves, Percussion Ensemble (1966). There is like on that recording a barrage of recurring sound family identities. It then kicks into a higher intensity explosion that nicely takes it all into higher orbit in virtuoso post pitching that gives us the Space Age as we might dream of it. In the final thrust of the music we get an all over continuous smear of sound that we do not expect to hear in such a context, yet then it alerts us to how much sound a physical battery such as this might produce in imaginative compositional minds and ready-to-hand performatives. This is a real tour de force that anyone interested in the New Music percussion world should contemplate by deep listening.

From there we get a two-movement work entitled "Side By Side" ( 2021) as composed by Michael Pisaro-Liu. We revel in extended techniques of sounding a drum, in setting an initial set of tones in provocative ways, and then on to another continuous soundscape of rubbing drum sounds that gradually acquire exploratory pitch center drones that surprise and beguile in time. Mallet driven cymbal-gong sustains then enter into the wash and thicken the timbral construct even further.

From there the second movement starts with vibraphone long notes that refresh and set up another sonic micro-orchestration that is nice to hear of not exactly world shattering. Yet in does land us suitably after a height scaling percussion deluge. 

But in the end the first half of the program makes it all worthwhile. So surely give this a listen and get a good feel for what can be happening in percussive advances. Bravo Greg Stuart for his brilliant performing self, and composers Sarah Hennies and Michael Pisaro-Liu for their often bold sorties into where we are. Recommended.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Roger Eno, The Turning Year


Roger Eno steps forward with this, a well-paced solo album of compositions and performances of his works new and older, It is titled The Turning Year  (Deutsche Grammophon 486  2024). The main portion of the album features Roger's piano. Some tracks nicely add the string ensemble Scoring Berlin, for string ensemble moments and in  tandem with Roger's piano. Within this melange there are some truly ravishing sequences that if you are like me open your musical wave lengths to dreamy soundscapes that can bring poetic nocturnal musings and feelings. Alternately there are some whose more tightly coiled repetitions have the mesmeric effect of a dance of magical spinning note dervishes that nevertheless remain succinct for a balanced program. Ultimately you get a nicely flowing cornucopia of well aligned musical steady-states. 

The music does not exactly undergo development in the old sort of classicism of a Papa Haydn so much as it evolves a bit in time as you listen.. It sometimes flows with an almost singer-songwriter pianism, though perhaps more unfolding in one flow than sectioning in a song form layout. It works in any case.

It is the sort of music you might put on for anybody and they would no doubt not object to it, in its mellifluous sonics that have an appeal that might attract more pedestrian ears as well as discerning Modernists, but so what of it? Perhaps one  should applaud the accessibility of such things, knowing of course it is one kettle of fish and not the entire catch of the sea in the end,.The slow and at times statuesque poetics from strings and piano bring in a cinematic dreamspell not quite typical of anything else, so all good to my mind.

Pastoral poetics that unfold in a sensuous carpet of harmo-homophony? Yes, and who says we should not be allowed such recreational holidecks of festive sound? I recommend this if you need to take your ears on a little fishing and re-creation trip. Bravo this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Heiner Goebbels, A House of Call, My Imaginary Notebook, Ensemble Modern Orchestra, Vimbayi Kaziboni


A recent two-CD release has gotten my attention and I am happy to write about it today. It is a long, ambitious four-part work for orchestra and historical recorded sound by Heiner Goebbels; it is entitled A House of Call, My Imaginary Notebooks (ECM New Series 2728/289 2-CDS). The music has a fine complexity and expressiveness that is generally characteristic of the best High Modern works of the peak period for such things, only passing time and Goebbels' encompassing grasp of our times means you can hear the most fired-up post-Stockhausenesque atonality alongside  Postmodern ritual depth and a definite reframing of some of the stylistic open and edgy Free Jazz demeanor.

It is a masterful work, very nicely performed and a surprise for its avant tendencies that one encounters less today on a label like ECM, so all the more welcome for that. The title suggests a line from Joyce;s Finnegan's Wake. This work is inspired by this and the novel as a whole, and John Cage's treatment of it in his Roaratorio. Beyond that Goebbels says it entails "a cycle of calls, invocations, incantations, acts of speech, poems and songs for large orchestra." But the idea as he goes on to explain is how the orchestra is confronted by the recorded examples of speeches and ethnic vocalizations such as African chants, Persian classical vocals, and etc. The orchestra responds in kind or resists and sounds sometimes slightly contrarian in response. Finally the work is an elaborate, brilliant juxtaposition of the two forces of sound, of voice and instruments. These stylistic variables come out of  the recorded vocals and their ethnic periodicity out of a local folk or local classical genre. So Persian vocal elaboration is matched by an complementary droning, then a complex synchronicity by the orchestra, then African repetition or grooving is complemented by a Postmodern riffdom, etc.

The hearing and rehearing of the work takes place within the special sound world the work sets up. There is nothing quite like it. It has a breakthrough quality that feels futuristic. Listen to it and give it your attention and I think you will find it as exhilarating as I did! A milestone this seems to me, See what you think.

Sharon Isbin & Pacifica Quartet, Souvenirs of Spain and Italy, Guitar and String Quartet Music by Castelnuevo-Tedesco, Vivaldi, Turina, Boccherini


What makes the music of Spain and Italy so lively and expressive? One answer is that both countries had a period of enculturation with originally nonlocal peoples, the Moors and Arabs, and at least in Spain a pronounced Judaic influence as well. Today's post certainly bears out tha liveliness of the music on a very compelling album of music for classical guitar and string quartet, namely the Pacifica Quartet and guitarist Sharon Isbin play Souvenirs of Spain and Italy  (Cedille CDR 90000 190).

One key thing that makes this a winner right off the bat is the quality of the performances, with Sharon Isbin nicely on guitar and the Pacifica String Quartet presence as lively and as authentically dedicated as you might want to hear.

And another key is the beauty and intelligent choice of the repertoire featured in the program. So we have Mario Castelnuevo-Tedesco in a pleasant surprise with his less well-known "Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet," Isbin and Emilio Pujol's arrangement of Vivaldi's "Concerto in D Major," Turina's "La Oracion del Torero for String Quartet," and finally Boccherini's stirring  "Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet."

The music has such a detailed and vibrant feeling and demeanor and serves fully to flesh out the abundant talents of the artists on display here. There way be one or two works you have not heard much if at all, and then in the end it is all the more educational and rewarding to mix familiar and not-so-familiar works in these wonderful performances.

Ms. Isbin is a hearteningly lyrical presence on these erfoamcnes, matching the expressive brio of the strings and putting forward a joyful noise without fail. The simpatico stylistic fluency of the five artists brings the Spanish-Italian qualities to the forefront just as one might hope.

Recommended heartily for novice and seasoned listeners alike.You likely will find many hours of pleasure here as I am doing.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Evgueni Galperine, Theory of Becoming


Over hill, over dale and next thing you know it is 2023 and a new year looms before us. I was glad to listen inside this new panorama and vista for the first time the latest music by Evgueni Galperine, namely the album titled Theory of Becoming (ECM New Series 2744). This is a adventuresome set of ten interrelated works. acoustic and electroacoustic, ambient tonal sound color extravaganzas. The composer notes in the lines that at first it seemed like altogether new territory that was being visited creatively, But the composer found he had set out upon the previous paths he had visited, but as he proceeded further he reached new stops upon the way, new and related stylistic realms. As a listener unfamiliar with this composer I have heard and gradually understood it all after several heartings/

I most say there is much in the way of new ambient sonics and ritually open matrixes that vary in time and space. It all can remind one of some of the zones of the Psychedelic Prog Rock album folks from years back, but then it is much more acoustic and electroacoustically refined and structured.

There are spectacular fanfares and orchestral electronic excitements that contrast with more ruminative reflections in a world that the lyrics to a Stockhausen pieces called in his own words both "near and far alike!"

It is not music that precisely screams Avant Garde as you hear it unfold, but it is by no means a revisitation of old territory so much as it is of the world now, somehow, so resound in ingly sonic in ways ECM-like but post the sort of mellow fare of several decades ago. Sometimes "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Strawberry Fields" come to mind as you listen, only somehow transfixed, then a high modern moment followed by a repetition of remembering but only for a minute and cleanly done ,more like Orff than Glass. And it is all so rather eerie after a while.

If you relax and get rid of expectations you will perhaps like me find it all quite rewarding and involved, underplayed in its subtle nuances but brilliant and determined to go in an original pathway, What it is doesn't have its own frame so we must listen without sone detailed fieldmap. No matter, since all that works for this far-Modern future 2023 as we might hope. The future is here and we can try some of it on for size with this I do believe. Listen. It is worth your time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

William Walton, The Complete Facades, Hila Plitmann, Greg Child, Kevin Deas, Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta


The resituation of Edith Sitwell's humor-laced, tongue-in-cheek sendup of proper Victorian byways in the poetry drenched Facades stands today perhaps with Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire  as two of Early Modernism's most convincing settings of poetic nuances in the new sensibilities fully beyond Romantic sentiment and happily plunging into a kind of meta-abstract, surreal sarcasm that the music serves very much to project and re-produce in the form of speech-song and chamber instrumental.

We recently have gained a new performance of the very complete William Walton chamber orchestral and vocal Facades (Naxos 8.574378), which includes the original 1922 setting, the 1978-79 Facade 2--A Further Entertainment, and first recordings of  two Additional Numbers from 1922 and 1977. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first truly complete Facades on disk. That in itself is saying something, but then too the performances are as fresh and wry as one might hope for, with vocalist-narrators Hela Plittman, Fred Child and Kevin Deas sounding appropriately bemused and the Virginia Arts Chamber Orchestra with an exaggeratedly idiomatic, hyper-proper spoofing quality, all under the very inspired direction of JoAnn Falletta. 

I have listened to and enjoyed a number of performances of this work over the years, mainly on LP. I am happy to say that this version rivals the others I've heard for color and attitude, and then with the new additions to the complete opus and the good price of the Naxos as ever, this version would get the edge and my nomination as a vibrant "yes" for the best choice.

All told when considering some key settings of early post-Romantic Modernity, such as Virgil Thompson's treatment of Gertrude Stein's verse in the two operas he created out of the librettos Stein fashioned (Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All), in comparison to this Walton and the Schoenberg Pierrot, there seems an overarching  attempt at a seriousness with Thompson that no doubt grounds its approach in the extensive ambitions of Stein to create a long narrative form, but then if one has listened to Stein's own readings of her shorter poems, one especially might find a humorous over-the-top, playfully mischievous tone that Thompson might have made better use of had his musical attention been directed there. Not to say we should not listen and appreciate the Stein-Thompson collaborations that have come down to us, just that they seem less essential in setting poetry to music than the Walton and Schoenberg seem to me looking back to years of listening, 

Part of that has to do with the immediacy of the sprechstimme speech song of Schoenberg and the rhythmic speech inflections of the Walton. Both give the poetry a kind of harder Expressionist quality that seems in keeping with the poetic libretto-texts. And so also these two works seem much more decisively post-Romantic. Both works are looking back rather fully paradigmatic, and the music meaning in either case extends and agrees with the poetic texts, so for example the rhythmic underpinning and in the end the vernacular directness of a well known sailor's hornpipe in the opening of Facade inform us that this music and its lyrical poetic compatibility both make fun of the pretentions of high theatrical arts one might say. So too the droll waltzes, marches, tangoes, ragtimes, music hall trifles and other then favored English entertainment expressions become fantasmagorical exaggerations that still ring true and delight in their serious silliness.

And then too one recalls the Brecht-Weill theater music of the era and how too they make a heightened fun of things as they ringingly put forward the beautiful Dance Jazz with sarcasm. And so Walton's Facades was along with the Schoenberg landmark--as well as the two Thompson works--the very most effective early Modern poetic compositional send-offs. 

So do not miss this newly complete edition of all the Walton in this triumphant recorded version. Bravo!

Friday, January 6, 2023

Bernhard Sekles, Lieder, Malte Muller, Werner Heinrich Schmitt


Today we have another worthy unknown in the person of Bernhard Sekles (1872-1934) and an album of his Lieder (Toccata Classics TOCC 0651). Contained within this program are a rather bracing set of songs adeptly handled by tenor Malte Muller and pianist Werner Neinrich Schmitt. The beautifully burnished, tonefully tuneful tenor joins with a heroically dashing piano brilliance and finely gradated coloring for some rewarding performances of which doubtless the composer would have approved.

Sekles was in his lifetime a prominent Late Romantic and a staple of music education in Frankfurt. Among his composition pupils were Hindemith and Adorno. He composed successfully in all mediums and his songs were among the most acclaimed of his time. He set up the first Jazz curriculum in Germany and for that was banned when the Nazis took power in 1933. He subsequently died of tuberculosis the following year.

The lieder featured in this rewarding set included his most acclaimed  song cycle, the 1907 "Aus dem Shi-king," but all  represented here impress with inventive and well-wrought significance. They all deserve your attention and as first recordings they are happily finally here for us to appreciate in the years to come. Bravo Muller, Schmitt and all concerned. 

If you like Lieder from this period this is a real find. Very recommended.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Daniel Carr, Works Volume 3, High Voice and Piano Trio

The hustle and bustle of everyday life can mean that one is continually prioritizing and evaluating the time every day. When and what absolutely must be done? What after that? There are times when I am sent so much music that it is all I can do to open and listen, and beyond that it must involve a backlog, And so recently I found myself combing through and hearing the recent offerings as best I could willy nilly, including Daniel Carr's Works Volume 3, High Voice and Piano Trio (MSR Classics MS 1761). 

I try of course to listen to all I am sent and take it all seriously, so when I put on this CD for the first time recently the name of the composer seemed familiar to me but I had no idea what I'd hear. As I listened I was impressed with the inventive nature of it all, its melodic-harmonic individuality, tonal without especially sounding like  Neoclassical or Neoromantic, Minimalist, Post- or Premodern or Non-Serialist fare, etc. It all suggested the sort of elaborate song brilliance of some of the best singer-songwriters in the Rock High Modern period, and the instrumental work carried that inventiveness into pure instrumentality.  It all seemed very musical and very well wrought and not at all predictable. The emphasis was more or less on a through composed lyrical flow that moved away from repetition but instead made for a beautiful sonance of piano trio and piano trio with a high vocal part.

You will listen if you play this one, first, to the Piano Trio, op. 19, and what a memorably expressive work that is, a nice example of how Carr rolls in the trio chamber mode.

Then as a logical extension we hear "Nine Bethany Swann Songs" for high voice (Mindy Ella Chu, mezzosoprano, very effectively and ravishingly so) and violin, cello and piano (as throughout the Benefic Piano Trio does a fabulous job with the music). Finally there are the same vocal and instrumental forces doing more wonders with the final work "Vocalise."

I can't help at times hearing these vocal songs to be very happily reminded of Joni Mitchell and the sort of lyricism she so personally and musically forged. Not that there is imitation but there is high invention and a touching reflectiveness like the best of Joni, only more through-composed, maybe a little more flowing-river-like to its inevitable end.

This is another one of those composers who refuses to be easily classified. So that means you simply must hear repeatedly the music before you feel yourself completely inside it, or it was the way for me at least. And so I do recommend these works and their considerably committed performances here. Go forth and listen up, then see how it makes you feel. Bravo.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

William McClelland, Where the Shadow Glides, Songs, Solo Piano and Choral Works, The New York Virtuoso Singers


Composer William McClelland is a living voice in the New Music of today. According to the liner notes of the album at hand he has been acclaimed the world round as a distinct stylistic influence, or at least that is what is implied in the discussion. I am not one to gauge for the acclamation of the music world for I am not in the thick of it. But hearing the music at hand I can understand if he has a wide following today. So accordingly here we consider the McClelland set entitled Where the Shadow Glides, Songs, Solo Piano and Choral Works (Naxos 8.559906). The album notes underscore that the works performed in this album have in common a music born out of poetry. 

And so on this extensive collection of world premiere recordings we experience it all in a variety of ways. In the choral works early poetic texts give us a special evocative assertion of time and place, while the "Five for Piano" come out of a reaction to as many poems. Then the songs peppered through the program each set particular poetic texts and show us how skilled McClelland is in his ability to carry the feeling of the poems into the musical expression of them He is very talented at such things and we experience the many stylistic ins and outs of the program with fascination and a respect for such a complete musical vision.

This music is not especially avant  garde but more attuned in fact to the echoing of past tonalities and vernaculars, almost a comment on the folk-laced music of Copland without directly quoting but rather alluding to a particular strain of folkdom, perhaps. Yet the music itself presupposes generation of song, of local musics celebrated by large segments of the population, the music of some homeland not directly stated, as in a dream. And that stylistic re-collection-transformation covers multiple style subsets, in the end an authentic and creative re-appropriation of Modern and Contemporary Mainstream roots.

The New York Virtuoso Singers under Harold Rosenbaum  deliver a marvelously unwavering set of performances of the highest caliber. Bravo.

If you sit back and ignore the expectations of what you think a composition should or must be, you are in the right frame to appreciate this cornucopia. Then like me, perhaps too you will feel the adventure of this skilled everything-goes expressivity. Kudos. Listen.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Jacob Greenberg, Living Language, Selected Piano Works by Bartok, Lewis, Chopin, Janacek, and Wang Lu


Here with the first post of the new year I am happy to talk about pianist  Jacob Greenberg's album Living Language (Furious Artisans CD 6830), featuring the select music of Bela Bartok, George Lewis, Frederic Chopin, Leos Janacek and Wang Lu.

The George Lewis is the most overtly Modern of the works, understandably, and at the same time calls upon Jazz influences for a startling cascade of melodic invention. But nonetheless the programmatic  emphasis throughout is on works that develop a highly fluid melodic syntax, a note-to-note speaking as it were, an articulate flow of musical-melodic meaning. Wang Lu's premier recording of "Constellations" brings us more of the High Modernist triumphant with sparkling luminosities of scale-chord assertions of great beauty.

Beyond that we get remarkable flow and brilliance in Greenberg's reading of Chopin's "Mazurkas, " Op. 41, the stunning Bartok workings of his "Improvisations on Hungarian  Peasant Songs" and the equally thrilling ins and outs of "In the Mists" by Janacek. 

Greenberg's lucid phrasings makes some special and spectacular fare out of these exceptional works. I highly recommend this one without hesitation. Listen and you will know, I suspect.