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Friday, October 27, 2023

Leonard Bernstein, Music for String Quartet, Aaron Copland, Elegies for Violin and Viola


In music you might spend a lifetime with some composers and still not know some of the works. That is the case for me to date with Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland and their respective Music for String Quartet (1936) and Elegies for Violin and Viola (1932). The former by Bernstein is in its world premiere recording here, and the Copland in any event is not especially well known. I do not believe I've heard either previously. So here we have both (Navona NV6557), as played very capably by Lucia Lin, Natalie Rose Kress, Danny Kim, and Ronald Feldman. For the duo it is Kress and Kim.

What is amazing in part is how good the Bernstein is, considering we had to wait 77 years to hear it in recorded version. The Copland is also heartening in its probing Modernistic stance.

The Bernstein is very motile, dense, rhythmic and at times thick harmonically. The Copland makes a case for something somewhat more sparse but is equally serious in its contemporary ultra-musical stance.
All-in-all this is superior, no-nonsense art-for-art's sake and shows you the early brilliance present in both, wow!

Stream a telling excerpt of the Bernstein:

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Justin Dello Joio, Oceans Apart, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Garrick Ohlsson, Alan Gilbert


You live your life day-to-day and for me anyway the new music I hear marks time as a constant and an inspiration to me. There is no different a situation today except perhaps the offering stands out aore captivating than the average. Namely Justin Dello Joio, son of Norman Dello Joio, and his title-bearing Concerto Oceans Apart (Bridge 9583) along with two chamber works that provide contrast--namely "Due Per Due" for cello and piano and "Blue and Gold Music" for brass quintet and organ. 

The "Oceans Apart" Concerto runs for around 20 minutes of the 40 minute CD, but in terms of the emphasis it is much more the dominant work.It is a piece that commanded my immediate attention and kept on. It has the full force of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Alan Gilbert, with Garrick Ohlsson on piano, even with numerous replays. It is a stunningly dynamic and enthralling work, like an after-Scriabin modernity in the sensibility of the new Millennium.

"Due for Due" gives us piano and cello in an Expressionist firebrand of a score that keeps the momentum of the concerto. 

"Blue and Gold Music in turn nicely parses out the brass and organ parts with some haunting music for the finale, At timesit all recalls earlier periods where the music was more widespread in the churches and cathedrals of Europe yet show a modern sensibility which connects it with today.

All in all we have a vibrant program that speaks to us with musical details worth you time. This one is a goodie. Stream the concerto in full

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Vivian Fung, Insects & Machines, Quartets, Jasper String Quartet

Vivian Fung steps forward  thanks to a rewarding new album covering her four string quartets on the recent CD Insects & Machines (Sono Luminus DSL-92270), played with a beautiful sense of color and SUBSTANCE by the Jasper String Quartet. These four quartets were written between 2001 and 2019, and show each a special sonarity and musical ethos.

The Quartet says "Vivian's String Quartets Nos. 1-4 reflect a remarkable journey of absorbing, integrating and synthesizing a unique spectrum of influences into her compositional voice. Unwavering in all of the works is a fierce heart, instrumental fearlessness, and an amazing instinct for texture."

And the synergy between composer and quartet is palpable and deep to my mind. Each of the four quartets has its say in Modernist, Expressionist terms that convince, especially after a number of listens. There is a belonging to a rewarding set of aesthetic principals and an original, authentic sounding that one does not come across every day. Very recommended.

The composer's Asian heritage is never far from the consideration in her music. Quartet No.3 for example is in part based on Chinese folk themes. As you would expect of any good composer the influences are not the primary reason to hear the music.There is much more, in terms of what is actually done to those influences.

The fourth quartet has the title used on the overall album and is based on Ms. Fung's time spent in  Cambodia and the singular insect buzz she found so fascinating there.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Quinsin Nachoff, Stars and Constellations


The so-called Third Stream of Jazz and Modern Jazz and Classical music has never really died in our lifetimes, it just has changed names in various ways. There is no shortage of inspired examples if one goes out of the way to seek them. A new one that is particularly absorbing and and welcome is Quinsin Nachoff and his album entitled Stars and Constellations (Adhyaropa Records AR00050).

The premiss is clear. Take a string quartet or two and pair them with Nachoff's tenor sax, Mark Helias on double bass and Dam Weiss on drums for Nachoff's compositions, which are invariably stimulating and appropriate in the Modern Jazz and Classical zone. The Bergamot Quartet and the second Quartet of The Rhythm Method join in on "Pendulum," the trio and first quartet on ?Stars and Constellation: Scorpio" and then "Sagittarius." 

Written and improvised parts understandably and winningly hold forth throughout in ways that make an expressionist blend of the two with real eloquence and fire.

There is plenty of heat from Quinsin's tenor and the trio puts down a trail into invariably adventurous zones. This is some of the best such fusions I have heard in recent years. Bravo. Nachoff is the real thing!

Listen to a movement here:

The premiss

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Arvo Part, Odes of Repentance, Capella Romana, Alexander Lingas


Estonian master composer Arvo Part is probably the world's most acclaimed choral composer among the living, and that for good reason. The Capella Romana present fresh versions of some of Part's most moving choral works, centered around Odes of Repentance (Capella Romana CR 428). 

So we have in all some 12 gems of expression that Arvo gives to us, remarkable music beyond either early or the Modern, in a way one of the first really important composer to work outside of Modern classical syntax with such extraordinary originality and a beyond quality that makes him a of a class of one in many ways.

In choral music the passion of Part's a cappella Odes compares perhaps like no one else the kind of lamentations one still hears effectively in Gesualdo's later works.

So we are treated to a moving litany (in its persistence, of course not in some tedious way) of rarified and heightened choral expression of the early in the late, superlatively so. This should make a perfect one disk epitome of Part's choral profundity for those who want a singular introduction, as well as a good one even for those who know most all of his output, for the Capella Romana have a kind of homogeneous perfection in how they address each of these beautiful works.

Hear more on the music and excerpts at

Monday, October 16, 2023

Dan Flanagan, The Bow and the Brush, New Music for Solo Violin


Solo violin music in the Contemporary Classical world has become something like what the solo saxophone offerings became in New Jazz beginning in the seventies, a kind of opening frontier and as such a qualisign of a sort of artistic sincerity, more or less. Well put that thought at the top of mind for violinist Dan Flanagan as he steps ahead with a 14-work anthology he has commissioned or composed for on the new CD The Bow and the Brush (MSP Classics  xxxx). For the synasthesiastically oriented such as myself each work has a corresponding artwork to which it refers and re-registers in aural terms, if you will.

Of the 14 compositions and composers represented (13 composers with the violinist handling two himself) doubtless there are composers you might not know, but they all produce solo violin works without an overly prescriptive label; all are imaginative and require substantial facility. Some are more obviously tonal than not, most in fact, then there is adventure in the advanced quality of stops and figurations in the concentric depth you might expect from such thoroughly advanced fare, yet too a sometimes demonically fiddling quality that brings us nearer to earth.

So we hear works by Flanagan and then also Nathaniel Stookey, Jose Gonzalez Granero, Shinji Eshima, Linda Marcel, Cindy Cox, Evan Price, Libby Larsen, James Stephenson, Jessica Mays, Trevor Weston, Edmund Campion, Peter Josef.

It is all first rate fare and will give the violin lover a wealth of the best kind of new music, things that really are new!

Watch a full concert of Dan Flanagan and his Bow and Brush music in depth:

Julia Werntz, Somebody Who Loves You Throws Me at You


One way to avoid a strait and simple return to tonality is perhaps at times to carve a path through microtonality, so that if all goes right it expands our sense of what is available, stretches our ears and gives us a new proportional universe. The music of Boston-based  composer Julia Werntz gives us a new and compelling set of chamber works in such a mode on her recent album Somebody Who Loves You Throws Me at You (New Focus Recordings 362). There is much to grow into, explore, and expand the musical with here, some five sets of works for everything from solo piano to violin and cello, through to soprano, clarinet, bass clarinet and viola,  the Ludovico Ensemble, and finally two sopranos and mezzo-soprano. The music has a High Modern sense of syntax,  sonic adventure and a complex set of parameters that keep you listening attentively for many go rounds if you give it half a chance.

The recordings are first-rate in musicianship and sound quality and every work is something deeply worked out and  inspiring to get to know without fail. We've come quite a distance from Charles Ives' two-piano works in quarter tones, but then we can take heart in the human spirit that there has been good work in such a category from then to now. Julia Werntz surely is one of the best and I very much recommend you hear this. Give it a free stream  on the BandCamp page devoted to the album. Click here:

Bach 6 with 4, Amit Peled, Mount Vernon Virtuosi Cello Gang


When is Johann Sebastian Bach not Johann Sebastian Bach? One might answer, when he is arranged to sound somewhat differently than he himself customarily would call for? For example we have this recording at hand, with celloist Amit Peled leading the Mount Vernon Virtuosi Cello Gang doing Bach arrangements that turn Bach's solo cello "Suite No 6" into a newly arranged version for four cellos entitled Bach 6 with 4 (CTM Classics).

It is an arrangement that revels in the extraordinarily melodic qualities of the Suite as written. What it does not do is turn it all into the sort of contrapuntal extravaganza that Bach might have fashioned had he been working in the four-part mode that the arrangement provides. It does have a little counterpoint, but mostly it is a thickening of the solo part. On listening you hear a marvelous extension of it all, not entirely Bachian in its new treatment, but wonderful music nonetheless. So of course we might welcome this as something rather excellent, wonderfully alive and wonderfully played. If it may not be according to Hoyle, so what? It is lovely! Sometimes it even sounds folksy, as almost a kind of village music, down-to-earth, lively and jaunty. And that is fun.

Peled talks about the project here

Check this one out and it will bring a smile I suspect. Nicely done.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The King's Singers, Wonderland, A Capella Music by Ligeti, etc.


The King's Singers are a choral institution. We have the good fortune to hear part of why that is and to hear them right now at a peak, performing music they have commissioned over the years that have a whimsical quality in a collection aptly entitled Wonderland (Signum Classics SIGCD739). The central six part Gyorgy Ligeti work Nonsense Madrigals forms a pivot point of this album as it also marks 100 years since Ligeti's birth, based on  excerpts from  Alice in Wonderland and children's poetry of a playful and imaginative nature. It is a testament to the group's musical precision, their remarkable tone control and focus.

Alternating are other wonderfully whimsical musical settings with a wonder of children's fantasy stories with music by Paul Patterson, Malcolm Williamson, Judith Bingham, Joe Hisaishi, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers,  Ola Gjeilo, and Makiko Kinoshita. The "Musicians of Bremen" by Williamson is one of the brilliant heights of it all with a hilarious and sparkling gathering of elderly animals who go to Breman to join rhe musical scene they hope to find there!

All told this one is a joy and something to play repeatedly for the kids no doubt. It is a King's Singers triumph and a lot of fun! Nuanced and supremely well delivered. Do hear this one. gives you a sample.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Jon Christopher Nelson, The Persistence of Time and Memory


Jon Christopher Nelson's The Persistence of Time and Memory (Neuma 1840) has a landmark quality to it as an ambitious electronic and concrete landscape that thrives in its multi-movemented, lucidly articulated set of tone poems for a long-toned excellence of orchestral electronic sustain through six cosmic movements and then a concluding compliment, "When Left to His Own Devices."

It remains in high form throughout in ingenious ways, covering such bristlingly brainy conundrums as "And Time Unfolds Like A Flower," "Ripples in the Fabric of Space-Time" and etc. Each movement has concrete and electronic parameters that work well together and create a kind of musical space-time matrix that is as convincing as it is evocative and poetic.

It is one of the best such things I have heard in the last couple of years and it behooves you to sample it and see if it wins you over as it did me. 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Myths Contested, Washington Bach Consort Plays and Sings Bach and Trevor Weston


Of all the cantatas Johann Sebastian Bach wrote over his lifetime (many), his secular cantatas are not as prevalent and sometimes seem somewhat overlooked in the swim of things, partially because Bach's position as Cantor meant that cantatas were performed for potentially every Lutheran Sunday and holy day of his career as a part of the service for that day in the season, and too of course they still remain central as western Sacred Music beyond compare. That doesn't mean that the secular cantatas Bach wrote were in any way inferior, not at all if you listen from a concert perspective.

So we have a Secular Cantata that is new to me, The Contest Between Phoebus and Pan, as performed with care and authentic brio by the Washington Bach Consort. A few of the movements utilize music familiar to me from other cantatas but not in the main and at any rate it all comes off smashingly well.

This on the new release Myths Contested (Acis 53742) which also contains a remarkable modern work by Trevor Weston, "A New Song" which shows the influence of Bach's Cantatas yet also makes of the format something new and contemporary.

I find this music everything I might expect, authenticity, beautifully written music, a rare gem from Bach and some nicely turned modernity from Weston, to which i say bravo, bravo, bravo.

Stream a movement from each work here  and here

Monday, October 2, 2023

Amazonia, Villa-Lobos, Glass, Camilia Provenzale, Philharmonia Zurich, Simone Menezes


Some time in the late '50s as Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos neared the end of his life he was commissioned to compose the orchestral soundtrack to the movie Green Mansions, the soundtrack to which was later released on LP as Forest of the Amazon. The movie was not a success and at this point it hardly matters for the music is something we can appreciate fully  with or without the film. I found the full soundtrack many years ago in a used record store and have appreciated it ever since. The composer conducting the full LP version remains fixed in my mind as the version I most seek to hear, but there is the Suite version we can hear on the new CD Amazonia (Alpha-Classics CD) coupled with Phillip Glass's Metamorphosis 1 from his Aguas de Amazonia, all by Simone Menezes conducting Philharmonia Zurich with soprano Camilio Provenzale  on several of the Villa-Lobos movements.  

This is Villa-Lobos-ian Brazilian Impressionist tone painting of the highest order, extraordinarily well orchestrated. and evocative of the lushly exotic Amazonian canopy as only perhaps Villa-Lobos understood it. I still think the old United Artist LP of the complete soundtrack is a killer but this version of the suite is quite nice and representative. 

And then you get to hear the related Glass work, some ten minutes of Minimalist slanted Amazonian expression, so that is a definite plus.

Take a look at a brief video for a taste of the music