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Monday, August 28, 2023

Steve Reich, The String Quartets, Mivos Quartet


The music, the performances and the meaningful musical synergy present on this revelatory recording of Steve Reich's The String Quartets (DGG Deutsche Grammophon 5385) by the Mivos Quartet helps us experience in good order some of the masterpieces that confirm why Steve Reich is no doubt among the very most important of Minimalist Composers but also aside from style a towering musical figure of our era.

And perhaps that is because he turned to the String Quartet with a certain amount of awe based on the legacy it represents. And so surely there is a seriousness to these works that goes along with the composer's commitment to it as a tradition of high art. "Different Trains" views an experience of routes in an embattled world,  "WTC 9/11" confronts the Twin Towers tragedy of  9-11. "Triple Quartet" has a somewhat more abstract way about it, but it too is as serious as anything Reich has written. Many will note how Reich came to notoriety with his electronic essays that utilized a musically inspired and very emotional snippet statement of a preacher and a protester, respectively, as the motif that expands and develops out of its temporal and sequential manipulation on the works entitled "Ain't Gonna Rain" and "Come Out." So too "Different Trains" and "9/11" take speech phrases and make of them the principle motifs, but with a more elaborated instrumental development alongside them. In this way Reich obtains a high seriousness rarely approached in the quartet literature.

Taking that basic speech melody idea the speech-vocal narratives for "Different Trains" and "WTC 9-11" underscore the affect frame of the situation, on "Trains" via the conductor and passengers speaking and then indirectly reflecting on the different train routes of relevance to the situation as  before, during and after the war. On the other hand "WTC" allows those who experienced the tragic events of the World Trade Center to create melodic phrases coming out of the live and reflective remarks in the witnesses' unfolding narrative. And so the sadness and terror finds a kind of natural musical resonance, most unusually so.

The latter day Reich as heard here does not always depend on a kind of hypnotic excitement (as heard especially in earlier works) so much as a sober, almost Kaddish-like recognition and tragic grieving, and a more open flying against the face of a supremely tragic Second World War. All this takes place within  the especially spatial aspect of the arena via European and American biographical scenography allowing for a more landscaped world unfolding as by definition of course it was.

The music repeats as earlier Reich works, yet it does so more in line with the linearity of Modern Classical Post-Romantic phasings. And in the process too Reich's inventive brilliance is allowed to reach out at a great distance and form a kind of stream-of-conscious ritual melodics reflecting the larger sadness of our eras as we look back. Like Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" there are outcries of remonstrance, sheer agonistics on the horror of the world going so wrong. And so there can be incredibly moving rhythmic melodic thrusts born of repetition and its lack, so that a tension between again and not-again is felt much more prolifically compared to some of his earlier work. And the agony finds its further counterpart in the air-raid sirens and telephone emergency signals that form a melodic fulcrum point. There are moments of dancelike intensity, frozen anguish and halting but inevitable remembrance.

"Different Trains" especially moves me in how the whistle, steam engine pulsing rhythms and ritual pronunciation of route itineraries affirm the feeling of rail travel in those days. So of course the regularity of repetition on rail movements finds a natural analog in the Reichian melodic-hypnotics as effective as any of the strong inventive materials we hear in the course of the unfolding of the three quartets. 

The Mivos Quartet give us the sort of high-energy benchmark performances these works demand and so the CD is highly landmark. Do not miss it. To hear a stream of it all start with this link

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Georgina Isabel Rossi and Silvie Cheng, Chorinho for Viola and Piano


The last post on these pages was for viola and piano and it was a good one (with Amaro Duboise and TingTing Tao in full command). Today we have another, another good one with a significant musical selection of some seven works for viola and piano, mostly with the two sounding together but a few for either solo instrument. Ravishing Contemporary works from Brazil, some new, some less new but all in a serious yet dazzling Brazilian Impressionist mode, all played with musical intensity and an impassioned yet thoughtful focus by Georgina Isabel Rossi and Silvie Chen. All the music owes a good deal to pioneer Villa-Lobos and what he originally drew from the mainstream  Choro Folk-Pop form then so prevalent and beloved in the Rio music scene of his young adulthood.

These seven rather less known works make important statements about the Brazilian Classical landscape and its continued modern importance, be it by Joao de Souza (1898-1982), Osvaldo Lacerda (1927-2011), Ernani Aguiar (b 1950), Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Lindembergue Cardoso (1939-1989), Brenno Blauph (1931-1993), or Chiouinha Gonzaga (1847-1936).
The pieces sum up Villa-Lobos' adaptation and transformation of Chorinho, or in other words the uniquely Brazilian rise of a local music singularly successful and deigned to become a foundational bellwether for Brazilian Modernism, and how the infectious rhythmic core of the music made an ideal partner to the counterpart of a  harmonically spicy melange.

In these new and newer works the wholeness of classical modern Brazilianism stands forward; it rises up beautifully singing and sometimes delightfully depth plummeting.

The music has lots of grit and folk energy and the musical artists  here make it work with a smoothly forthright but consistently finessed eloquence of the highest sort. Bravo, bravo, hear this and its wealthy rich content from first to last crank then send them to the bank
Hear tis album at  full stream at

Monday, August 14, 2023

Amaro Dubois, TingTing Yao, Luz for Viola and Piano

Viola tonemaster Amaro Dubois teams with ultra-sensitive accompanist-pianist TingTing Yao for a intoxicating  mélange of  heady but balanced lyricism and folk-infused earthiness on the well paced and nuanced album Luz (Navona NV6491). The entire program revolves around a most dedicated kind of impassioned presence bristling with New World fountainheads of melodic brilliance. 

We start in the mold with composer Edmundo Villani Cortes and the title piece "Luz" and move through a consistently invigorating cache of memorable presence and a totally refreshed familiarity as in the folk and spiritual heritage of the North American African diaspora with spiritual and folk vibrant mini-gems from Florent Price, William Grant Still, Michael Tippet and then too South American rejuvenations of the roots of an exuberant effusiveness via Dimitri Cervo, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Edmundo Villani-Cortes, Jose Elizondo, and Zequinha de Abreu.

As you listen to Luz ideally and gradually you enter into the musical representation  and feeling of light coupled with a threesome presence of passion, love and peace--and in the process ideally feel a consistently ravishing burnishment of the rich viola tone in conjunction its counterpart in the steady, folk- driven energy and vivacity of TingTing Yao's supercharged accompaniment.

It is just enough folkishly over the top at times that it jumps out without pretense and always with an unabashedly human quality. It all  lets in a nice helping of sunshine at a time when we all no doubt would like to respond and recharge through a healing experience, with a good deal of musical hope and reassured resolve that nowadays would be most welcome to many. Hear it by all means. Listen to the whole album on YouTube:

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Taylor Joshua Rankin, Sun, Will Grow, New Music of an Unexpected Sort


Here is music that a filmmaker who is brilliantly musical might make, as I am discovering also recently from the opposite end in a survey of films made by Indian master Satyajit Ray. Here with the latest from Rankin is music of a very full and beautiful tone color mix, for a quite good chamber orchestra of instruments carefully written for and balanced in the mix and not really obviously electroacoustic but so sounding at times by solely "legit" means, yet too at  times with some parts newly forged from altered or purely electronic signal voicings. The seven movements present beautifully wrought alternating panoramas of tone and periodicity that hypnotize but do not get into an overly formulaic mantra like  classic Minimalism sometimes does. And all that is a part of Rankin's compositional style, now more than ever concerned with all the sorts of sonic issues we live within today and more especially how that has expression in linear contrapuntal writing and micro-polyphonic harmony. There is a personal autobiographical element here as well as a kind of homage to his favorite filmmakers in the titles and the musical contents as well.

In the early middle years of last century the typical creative processes central to Musique Concrete involved taking natural sounds such as water dripping or leaves rustling and transforming them as it were from within, into musical values that retain something of their natural qualities. With something like Sun, Will Grow, today Rankin takes hyper sound colored natural musical tones and both transforms them in reverse engineering into wild natural sounds or combines the raw and the refined together to make a heady mix not exactly concrete, not that at all really but also staying in a periodic real that is closer to nature surely than, say,  Mozart's sonata allegro forms. Does that mean that Sun is destined to be influential and widely listened to? Well not necessarily but it means we personally might well gain something from seriously and repeatedly hearing it and perhaps reveling in its unusual non-formalist nature and more intuitive natural but refreshingly, unusually rhapsodic in a more or less non-Romantic way. He utilizes field recordings from San Francisco and surrounds to evoke special personal memory and time. and the music takes off out of that personal recall to lead us anew into the beckoning future? Perhaps.

So this is some music of the moment and perhaps of our musical future, too. A big bravo and kudos on this one from concept to execution. I most definitely want you to hear this one if you can; head on over to Bandcamp for a run through of it all for free, then order it there if you like: Or if you are pressed for time. take a listen to a 2,5 minute series of excerpts on YouTube

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Jenny Beck, Up to the Surface, New and Very Personal Electronic Music


In an era that culminated perhaps in the interjection of electronics into every avenue of Pop music, we see a continued, healthful response from the New Music worlds, not the least which is the Electronic, New Music work out soon as an EP, Up to the Surface (New Focus Recordings Digital Release) by composer/sound artist Jenny Beck. This is an integrated four movement work that achieves a true individuation as a soundscape, a continuous coloration envelope of distinction. It does not seek to beguile the senses with repetitive sonic mantras so much as to prevail with continuous walls of presence, a flight into the realm of pure musical re-imagination perhaps, and the mellifluous ability to create a shifting ground of sound spatial animation, wellsprings of aesthetically pleasing continuance.

A thorough grounding I think constantly in this work is the idea that repeated listens are critical to grasp intuitively the structure of the music as a whole. Accordingly I have listened many times before reviewing.

The title of each movement, not surprisingly gives as good idea as anything as to the contentful motion of the work and its unfolding meaning. So starting with the first movement we encounter "Some Place Sacred and Submerged," then on to 2: "Radiant Currents," then "In the Ether" and on to the final "Wake." Combine all that with the overall title Up to the Surface and so perhaps we get a kind of allegorical trip through to a kind of enlightenment, a special knowledge imparted via sound. It is suspension in ordinary spacetime and perhaps the sort of sounds denoting traveling through liquid, or even becoming a sounding liquid itself? You listen for yourself and decide.

And so it is a sonic journey and in the end did we get to where we wanted to go? Probably so the less we let the hereafter words pin us as to a literal meaning. The Bandcamp notes give us a little from their end, that is, that they go on to tell us that such timbral ambience is not run-of-the-mill thing (it isn't) and that we should listen as the dynamic soundscape evolves and changes them to so many "teenage electro-werewolves," to a unique and potentially newly paradigmatic musical soundscape.

The music is somewhat modest, unassuming, subtle. It does not speak in a loud manner or with a hint of anger or arrogance. It exerts, perhaps, the composer's personality, whimsical yet cosmic. I keep listening and it feels increasingly unique, timbrally distinct and personal. Bravo. The totalized world is electronic and a combo of relatively clean tones without being pure sine waves but also colored in ways that add a bit of pleasing granular texture if you will.

Stream the first movement or total album once released: