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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Anthony Davis, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Odyssey Opera, Gil Rose


Anthony Davis is a Contemporary Jazz pianist and bandleader and a New Music composer of original stature. His first opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X has garnered acclaim and appreciation since its premiere some years ago. And now there is a new version, a most welcome addition by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Odyssey Opera directed by Gil Rose. All has led to a two-CD recording (BMOP Sound 1088) I have been listening to of late, so I now report in.

The opera covers Malcolm's existence from a streetwise urbanity, to conversion and the Nation of Islam, travel and enlightenment and the apocalyptic last days, all within a musical realm that is Jazz influenced, post-Modern at times and otherwise very expanded and musically advanced throughout.

The singers and orchestra turn in an idiomatic and stylistic gem and the opera is unforgettable and vital all at once.

Stream the recording on the BandCamp site. Highly recommended.

This was nominated for a Grammy, happily, for it deserves such attention. 

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, A Gentleman of Istanbul, Symphony for Strings, Percussion, Piano, Oud, Ney and Tenor, George Lernis Conducts A Far Cry


Not only are there a good deal of things new under the sun these days, even the sun itself is subject to renewal and becomes somehow new ever again as all the universe gets subjected both to steady-state and transformational forces. I am reminded of this daily as I go out to my mailbox and find regularly that lurking within the mailbox there is New Music to hear. 

Just lately I was sent a most interesting release that combines the Folk-Classical viewpoint of historical modern Turkey with the Western Modern Classical symphonic view as we experience it in our world today. I refer to composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol's A Gentleman of Istanbul, A Symphony for Strings, Percussion, Piano, Oud, Ney and Tenor  (Crier Records CR2301). It brings to us the Boston-based ensemble named A Far Cry under the direction of George Lernis. They acquit themselves most impressively, balancing the amalgam of stylistic contrasts and making it all seem inevitable, spirited and effortless, though of course here as elsewhere that is rather never quite an easy task. 

From the wondrous passages for oud and strings to the Jazz  harmonic brilliance of piano and rhythm to passages incorporating Ney Flute and vocal singing and chanting, this is music decidedly inventive and interesting, the Postmodern Classical elements mingling deftly with Mideastern Turkish melodic fluid distinctions. It all works together well and keeps your attention with substantial composed lyrical and motility content of a high caliber. Neither the Western symphonic nor the Turkish elements are simple rote presences but originally full, vibrant and memorable throughout. This is a Fusion far beyond what initial throat clearing one might have heard a few decades back. It has more content than function of course here, but this music might have excelled in its own way as a film soundtrack though again, there is not a cliche to be heard.

If this be Fusion, which of course it is, it takes nothing for granted and in so doing avoids the banal and the conventional to create a living art music we can all appreciate given half a chance. Mehmet Ali Sanlikol is a voice for today, talented and accessible in the best ways. I recommend this without reservations. Listen to this live excerpt to get a concrete idea of what you will hear.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A Brief Comment on the Relationship of "Modern" to "Classical"

Note: I see lately on Google some interesting questions and answers regarding the relationship of Modern to Classical. To me Modern music in this context is a contemporary part of the overall Classical Genre, "Modern" referring to the Classical music of the past 120 years or so starting around 1900. But then Classical also refers to a period of Classical music that is associated with Mozart and Haydn, and then again the idea of a Modern Classical is also referring to the state of the art in Classical music today, in terms of performance practices and repertoire. I use all of these senses in this blog and all of them to me illuminate aspects of the optimum listening experience available to us today. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Messiaen Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps, Christina Astrand, Johnny Teyssier, Henrik Dam Thomsen, and Per Salo


We all know by now that "war is hell," but then some wars are better than others. No doubt most of us I hope are still very glad that Hitler and Mussolini lost WWll. The World Wars transformed Europe, Asia and America in many ways, and the death toll meant that an entire generation was nearly wiped out worldwide. Some governments fell, some regimes toppled, many lives were forever changed and we mostly look back and feel grateful for those that resisted and prevailed. WWII was one of those events that tore the world into pieces and then put it back together. The classical music written in those years was moving, a fair much of it, especially those works written about the wartime world. There was the dramatic but determined beauty of Prokofiev's Symphony No 5, Shostakovich's Symphony No 7, Hindemith's Requiem for the death of FDR, "When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloomed," and then Messiaen's tragic Quartet for the End of Time, written in a Nazi Prison Camp during the war yet filled with a very musical hope.Time does not diminish its beauty and relevance, perhaps especially now.

So there is a new performance of it available and it is a clear contender for the very best of the recordings, Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Our Recordings  6.220679) brings together a remarkably savvy and attuned quartet with the presence of Christina Astrand on violin, Johnny Teyssier on clarinet, Henrik Dam Thomsen on cello, and Per Salo on piano.

The Messiaen Quartet shows us as perhaps never before or since (save the Turangalila) the special tonal and post-tonal synthesis as forwarded by Messiaen in that early middle period. With this Our Recordings performance the Quartet shows so aptly how it all combines for the most haunting sort of expression and completely viral originality, in theme after unforgettable theme. Perhaps, and I do not really want to say this, but I cannot see how else, it took the kind of faith, the unwavering Catholicity Messiaen had ever to be able to respond to the Fascistic prison camp end of time in the way he did, a model perhaps for the musical response that ever should be made in the face of evil and adversity. Take a listen to the seventh movement and how this quartet lets it sing if you want an idea of why I favor this version. This link gives a live version with the same quartet lineup as the album. It gives you a good idea of what you'll hear in the studio recording.

So grab a copy of this one if you want to explore this evergreen work or indeed if you want another beautiful take on it. I've loved this work and listened to it happily for upwards of fifty years now. Trust me this recording will send you to where Messiaen hoped you would dwell as you listened. Highly recommended.

Astor Piazzolla, Album for Astor, Bjarke Mogensen, The Danish Chamber Players, Johan Bridger, Mathias Heise

Like Villa-Lobos did for the Brazilian Choros only even more so, Argentinian Astor Piazzolla has taken the local Tango form and made from it his own kind of expression. That is all quite clear if you listen to Accordionist Bjarke Mogensen as he joins with the Danish Chamber Players and soloists Johan Bridger on vibraphone and Mathias Heise on harmonica for the freewheeling, well conceived and enthusiastic homage to the composer on the recent Album for Astor  (Our Recordings 8.226916).

Select Piazzolla gems sparkle one after the other on this album. Solo accordion, accordion with vibraphone or harmonica and, for more than half, accordion with chamber group keeps the pacing and momentum going for a nicely considered program. Mogensen and company turn in a meticulously considered and broadly appealing set of performances here. It is as infectious as it is intrinsic.

I am glad to have this one and recommend it without hesitation. Viva Piazzolla!

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Cappella Romana, Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation, John Tavener, Ikon of Light


Eastern Orthodox Chant and Liturgical Music is one of the sometimes neglected Wonders of the Musical World and a form that has seen important contributions to the repertoire in recent times. Cappella Roman gives us something worthy in that vein on their sonorous Heaven and Earth (Cappella Records CR424SACD 2CD).

The first disk covers the John Tavener work Ikon of Light in its totality. It is cosmic and deeply meditative, like in some ways Arvo Part meets ancient Orthodox ambient spirituality. The second disk covers Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation, nine short works covering a thematic totality. There are six living or recently living  modern day Orthodox composers involved, and all create a sonance worthy of the tradition but too with a present day demeanor despite the traditional garb. It all is breathtaking. In its realization of the spiritual connection between voice and light for both works, we get a music of illumination and shining forth,  very primary with its droning and melodic-harmonic denseness. If you know Western Organum, this is the Eastern complement historically and a delight to experience.

The Cappella Romana performs on its own for the second disk and with 45th Parallel Universe chamber group on the Tavener wor. They all  excel under the capable leadership of John Michael Boyer. It has beautifully detailed staging and fully immerses you in the deeply inward focus.  Bravo.

Stream the album to get a preview of what is in store at this link:

Friday, March 10, 2023

Thomas Ades, Marchentanze


It can easily be argued that Thomas Ades is at the very top of the English crop of Modernist composers active today. The recent Marchentanze (Ondine ODE 1411-2), a set of four World Premiere recordings that have representative as well as an abstract aspect that indicates how strong and central a voice Ades is in our time. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Collon with soloists Pekka Kuusisto on violin and Tomas Nunez, cello, all give us the exciting readings these works deserve and as such constitute a must-hear and no doubt must-have offering.

It touches upon four musical opus markers, the 2018 :Hotel Suite from the opera "Powder Her Face," the 2016 Lieux retrouves, the 2021 Marchentanze and the 2020 Dawn. The frisson between abstraction and musical reference puts this music in a special Adesian universe we gradually come to know and love in successive listens, not the least being the gorgeous finale of Dawn to set us on our way to some other day-night labors and pleasures.

I would not hesitate with this one. Get a taste of what you will hear on the trailer video

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Nicholas Chase, Tiny Thunder


Composer Nicholas Chase gives to us a new EP of mesmerizing solo piano music entitled Tiny Thunder (Cold Blue CB 0064). Pianist Bryon Pezzone gives us carefully poetic performances of the two movements that exemplifies the Radical Tonality that the Cold Blue label so effectively and promisingly espouses.

The emphasis throughout is on ultra slow, infinitely sustained piano explorations that take their time unfolding into a mysterious world we can sense and dwell in happily for the brief but event-filled vibrancy of the work. The second movement ups the pace yet maintains the hovering mystery of it all. 

Chase triumphs. Give it a listen.

Stream it on BandCamp.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Howard Hersh, A Crown of Feathers, Music for Soloists


I've appreciated Howard Hersch's compositions for quite a while now. Type his name in the search box above for previous reviews. Today there is a new one of solo instrumental works called A Crown of Feathers  (Self Published CD). It consists of some four well-considered works, for flute, for marimba, for multiple piccolos and for violin. The latter piece has a Jewish folk flavor, and a brief quotation from same. The marimba work has some Jazz underpinnings, and elsewise there are rewarding works that do a lot more than give a solist something to do.

Each has a full bouquet of content that becomes more apparent and enjoyable as you listen multiple times. Recommended, Hear the album on Bandcamp