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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

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Catalyst Quartet, Uncovered, Volume 3, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still, George Walker


The Catalyst Quartet shows itself to be a first class, ultra-musical outfit with their third volume of Uncovered (Azica ACD-71357 download digital only), a well-conceived compilation of historically and artistically important Black composers and their String Quartets. The Third Volume looks at three quartets written between 1895 and 2018, by George Walker, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson and William Grant Still. All three works contain Afro-American rooted materials that undergo various transformation in constructing a Classical or Modern Classical chamber work in more or less recognizably mainstream form.

All that is the case and what ultimately unfolds is nearly an hour of state-of-the-art string quartet music played with spirited brilliance and well balanced expression throughout. The music fills in an important gap in Black chamber music by some of the most important of all US exponents. This is every bit as good as expectations would have it. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Steven Christopher Sacco, Parables and Meditations, A Concerto for Piano and Fixed Media


Steven Christopher Sacco has given us a worthy Sonata for Clarinet and Piano on these pages (see entry of February 12, 2021). Now he returns with Parables and Meditations, A Concerto for Piano and Fixed Media (The Hill Studio CD 198004 702331).  The work was written especially for pianist David Oei, and the music in many ways functions as a kind of portrait of the artist-pianist.

David plays the five solo piano movements unaccompanied. Directly following each are five "Meditations" responding to the piano through digital signal processing conversions of piano sounds via speech sounding of clusters, diphthongs and fricatives as filters for the piano soundings transformed. So five piano-based sorts of neo-orchestral electronics as meditations on each piano movement follows each upon the other piano movements that start each section.

The music is uncanny, lyrical in the best ways, like perhaps a post-Satian landscape, gorgeous and brilliant. The solo piano and the solo electronics each have their profound leaning say in turns unaccompanied, that is to say pure of itself in timbre.The results are magical, some of the most ravishing music of our time I would say happily. Do not miss this! It is a towering achievement and ever worthy of many listens. My strongest recommendations!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Michael Byron, Halcyon Days


Michael Byron is a composer who innovates in the Neo-Minimal, Radical Tonality zone in ways that sometimes suggest, and nicely so, a cross affiliation with Avant Jazz in its spiritual aspects, such as we have heard from mature Cecil Taylor and later John Coltrane, and then from the Minimal school later Terry Riley also, in its hypnotic quality. In this manner the new album of some five lively chamber works steps forward boldly and appealingly. It is a new one on Cold Blue Records, named Halcyon Days, Music for Marimbas, Xylophones, Vibraphones, Glockenspiels, Maracas and Pianos (Cold Blue Music CB0065).

The volume adds to the strong batch of works by Byron that gradually found their way into aural publication (type his name in the search box above for my reviews of recent albums) and we are all the better for it since Byron has his own special voice yet draws upon roots music and tonal lyricism in gratifying resonances.

Performances are championed with flair by William Winant and the William Winant Percussion Group, the Ray-Kallay Duo of four-hand piano performances and Lisa Moore on piano. Getting this music right takes persistence and spirit, and that  is just what they do.

The first part of the program highlights some special music for mallets from the '70s, with clusterings of notefulness in dense testificatory energetics rather than pulse, and nicely hovering over our listening selves. We hear with interest the two solo percussion works, from 1972 the tubular bells of "Drifting Music," and the maracas and marimbas of the 1974 "Music of Every Night."

The three movement "Music of Steady Light" (1978) gives us a spacious soundscape of twittering  and expressive multimallet configurations. You should let this music wash over you while noting how it passes over like a virtual series of celestial weather forays, with a enchantingly expressive way about it.

"Starfields"  (1974) creates a another hovering superstructure via four hand piano configurations. It bears scruitiny and repeated hearings.

Finally "Tender, Infinitely Tender" brings us to 2016 and a solo piano work that enchants wonderfully for a time again and then is gone like all music, stays in the air and then nowhere to be found as Eric Dolphy noted some time ago. It has that endless melody of a cosmic Coltranesque aura to my ears and I myself love to bask in it all throughout.

I recommend you give this one your ears if you respond to the sort of contemplative zone that Radical Tonality excels at. Listen, do. A milestone in the genre.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Kenneth Newby, spectral (golden) lyric


Kenneth Newby has gotten my ears before in the course of this site (see May 30, 2018 review) and for good reason. Today he comes forth with a recent one I am reconsidering after having missed a concentrated listen, namely spectral (golden lyric) (Emergence Trilogy, Volume Three) (Flicker Art Collaboratory FAC 201703), works for string quartet, solo piano and small ensemble. This one comes from 2017 but still very much speaks to us, There are 20 interrelated  works for chamber assemblages, performed nicely by Flicker Ensemble.

This is a brace of rather haunting ambient soundscapes in a mysteriously hypnotic, ritually alive kind of Neo-Minimal manner, spatially open yet coiled round itself like a cosmic folkloric snake eating its tale and its tail all at once.

Every piece is an element in the overall puzzle and the whole thrives as the together thing all 20 parts have become.

Kenneth Newby needs to be heard and this album brings him to us in all its flourishing best. Please listen by all means! Highly recommended. Worth resurrecting!~

Monday, February 20, 2023

Milton Babbitt, Music for Treble Voice and Piano


When you live through a period of music history, which of course we all do, it is not always clear how things will shake out when the years pass and it is the futurel. Like some fellow oldsters I bore witness as a listening self to some of the peaks of High Modernism and now get the chance to go back again to it in retrospect. For that I am happy to report in on an album that helps us further gauge and indeed affirm the stature of a leading light of US High Modern musical art.

Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) when I was coming up was mostly known as a brilliant pioneer of Electronic and Computer music in the USA, primarily via his long association with the Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Studio and the iconic RCA Synthesizer. Perhaps only in later times do we truly value his brilliance as a Serialist and instrumental composer of equal stature.

And accordingly on today's recent release we get a lot of exhilaratingly advanced Babbitt music, well performed. I allude to the CD Music for Treble Voice and Piano (New Focus Records FCR 369), with soprano Nina Berman and pianist Steve Beck plus Eric Huebner on the two-piano works.

The CD covers a broad swatch of time from 1951 to 2002. Each composition is a little gem, with voice and piano parts diverging widely in terms of space and time, Vocals tend at times to utilize longer held notes while the piano(s) is a spicy clamor of brilliance, with the bifurcated  soprano-piano sounding making for an enormously complex array in space. If you recall the many fine works Webern put across to us for voice and instruments, this Babbitt seems like a fine rejoinder and an artistic triumph in his own right,

It is hard to imagine better performances than these, though given the hugely detailed music scape it is easy to imagine equally interesting but somewhat different readings.

Anyone wanting to grasp the very high points of the Serialist US school should hear this and no doubt check out some choice Elliot Carter as well, like the String Quartets. This album today scores high for Serialist excellence in the later period. Do not miss it! Bravo!

Beethoven, The Late Quartets, Calidore String Quartet


If you know about chamber music in general you probably know that Beethoven's last String Quartets are considered among the most sublime and intensely personal chamber works of all time. There of course have been many recordings of them over the years. Here is a new version (Signum Classics SIGCD733 3CDs) by the  Calidore String Quartets and it has a freshness to it that helps it all rival the most acclaimed versions, to my mind.

The music is astounding fare, strength-after strength from the 12th Quartet through the 16th and the grippingly profound Grosse Fugue. It is all here and each is given the sort of loving care each deserves. What is most remarkable about the Calidore Quartet's extended focus through it all is how they manage to express all the deep introspection that Beethoven put into these quartets. And they do so without an ounce of excess expression, no heart-on-sleeve desperation so much as a transcendance of human hubris, a springing through vast canopies of structural presence with extraordinary gravitas and panache.

But more than that ever, as you listen, does it all come to you with impeccable spirit. Sometimes Beethoven's last String Quartets will break your heart as at times you feel he is saying goodbye and he was. Yet nobody took leave of life with such beauty and grace as he. The classic bio claimed that there was thunder sounding all around him when he passed. It probably did, for he was more than mortal.

These performances do as much as any to convince you of the depth of his last music. Bravo.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Lei Liang, Hearing Landscapes, Hearing Icescapes


As we travel through the seasonal cycle we experience the natural and cultural elements tied to each. It is a part of our birthright to recognize each element in conjunction with its multi-complemental whole. Major living Modernist composer Lei Liang gives us two major electroacoustic soundscapes that span seasonal and culturo-natural zones of timeliness conjoining multidisciplinary gestalts in two multipart works of importance, Hearing Landscapes, Hearing Icescapes (New Focus Recordings FCR 360). 

The idea is that through a combining of musico-artistic and scientific knowledges we can appreciate a kind of vibrant soundscape inside a broad episteme, or that at least is my take on it all. The granular methodologies include oceanography, Chinese landscape painting and Folk Song, software development, earth science and underwater acoustics. The electroacoustic soundscapes vary between earthy and resonant, or electro-acoustically noisy, or birdcall filled natural landscapes. They combine at times with  instruments in blends uncanny, adding trumpet, flute and/or violin.

Hearing Landscapes perhaps has the more vivid and absorbing sound sequence, but both stand out as poetic, intelligent and evocative. It is a music of impressive strength and lingering profundity if you meet it all halfway, or that is my take on it at least. This is one of the landmark efforts on the New Music scene today.  Take time for this music and it will pay off. Strongly recommended.

You can preorder now at Bandcamp. Official release date is March 10, 2023.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Scott L. Miller, Coincident, featuring Zeitgeist with Joseph Horton and No Exit


Composer Scott L. Miller has in the past few years done some of the most interesting Modern music out there. It is not capitulating, nor is it a rehash of earlier ways so much as a new offering that sounds like the future again, promisingly. (Type his name in the search box for previous reviews.)  So today there is his latest, COINCIDENT (New Focus Recordings CD FCR 337).

The objective on these eight movements for electronic synthesizer and chamber ensemble is to do something in furtherance of telematic music, or in other words in this case multipart music with live chamber ensemble and the composer on remotely constructed electronic synthesizer part with the software program Kyma.

The opening "Coincident Episode 5" has a nice part for intelligently poetic and punky vocal that sets the stage for the other seven heady movements that follow. It is all a specially sonic inventiveness and nicely co-occurring whole that piques the aural imagination and satisfies the wish to plummet ahead to the musical future. Very recommended.

It is yet another feather in the Miller cap, showing us decisively that he is one of our leading voices in  High Modern expansion.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Vivaldi, Concerti per violino X 'Intorno a Pisendel', Julien Chauvin, Le Concert de Laloge


If you think Baroque music need not worry about the aural sweetness of tone, of the period orchestral sound,  especially the strings, maybe you should listen to the fine performances of violinist Julien Chauvin and Le Concert de Laloge as they go forth in the recent CD of Vivaldi's Concerti per violino X "Intorno a Pisendel."  (Naive OP 7546). When we listen to Bach one might note that his level of invention is so high that the brilliance would shine even if played by a consort of kazoos! Someone like Vivaldi on the other hand has a pronounced inventive bent but then too his music almost sounds at times folkish with its lyric but often "down home" expressivity. His music benefits surely by historically informed performance practice.

And in a pronounced way, Chauvin and Le Concert de Laloge give us a rather stirringly enthused and spirited folksy reading of some primo Vivaldi. It is alternately peppy and placid in turn, alternately sweetly singing and heroically brio.

Without fail you who cherish a good sized holding of baroque gems or even if you only seek a few more than you have, here is an example doubtless sure to brighten up your musical world. Get this one! Recommended.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

RAM Tokyo to New York, Six Quintets for Flute, Clarinet, Harp, Percussion and Piano


RAM (Random Access Music) this past December 11, 2022 put on a special concert entitled "Tokyo to New York" in Martha Graham Studio One in Manhattan. Very happily they made a very high quality recording of the proceedings and as happily sent me a CD-R  of same so I could experience it all in spite of being stuck in the bottom of New Jersey at Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway. I've been listening and enjoying the whole of it numerous times and I now report in on it for you.

The concert sparkled with some six quintets for flute, clarinet, harp, percussion and piano as played by, respectively, Lish Lindsey, Thomas Piercy, Tomina Parvanova, Josh Perry and Tengku Irfan. There is a luminescence, a liquidity of sound color to each of these works that to me suggest the poeticism of a thoroughly enchanting musical passage from Tokyo to New York.

Each work has a sound fingerprint of its own all within the sort of Impressionist-shaded High Modernism of contemporary Tokyo and the parallel fine shades of New Music Manhattan from, say, the New York School of Cage, Feldman and so forth through to today.

So we bask in the sonic brilliance of Joji Yuasa and his "A Winter Day" -- Homage to Basho (1981), of Frances White and her "Phases of the Moonflower" (2022), of Gilbert Galindo his "Where are You, Spirit Most High" (2022), of Yoshio Hachimura and his "Breathing Field" (1982), of Masatora Goya and his "Deep Dive" (2022), and finally of Toru Takemitsu and his "Rain Spell" (1982). 

If you think of classic solo Shakuhachi music and classic Japanese Nature Poetry, of classic Japanese woodblock print art, and then perhaps classic Western Impressionist music of Debussy and how in his special ways he carried over the aesthetic of such things to Western music and then the US Modernists, then perhaps we can think of the passage from there and back as a series of full circles.

The music at hand has in its three 2022 premieres and its three Japanese works from the 1980s a fully fleshed out Modern Art of high beauty. The RAM Quintet gives us hauntingly idiomatic readings of this music, winning projections of great soundscaping art. I hope they see fit to release this concert on a commercial recording.  It surely deserves to be heard--and  I hope Random Access Music (RAM) can  give us many further concerts like this  for us to appreciate. Bravo!

Nicholas White, Songs of Innocence, The Raven, The Raven Consort


As the local world ever remains within our sites necessarily, so then what life demands of us can regulate how much we can do at any moment. That in the past year I have nearly completed my first draft of a 1,000 page prose-poetry volume as the first in  a five-volume sequence on music and life, so necessarily I have modified how much time I have spent on reviews. As I start to get my head above water I've been able to identify some of the better review CDs I have been sent over the past year that I have yet to cover. One of them certainly is the two-CD set of vocal settings of two classic poetry texts, William Blake and Edgar Allen Poe's Songs of Innocence and The Raven (MSR Classics MS 1799) as performed beautifully by the Raven Consort of vocalists and chamber instrumentalists.

As it so happens I dearly love both poets and both works, as I do also find the idea of such settings good, like I love Vaughan William's settings of the Blake, even though that  might make me all the more critical of anyone's attempt to make further settings. Perhaps I am. After a good number of listens I must day however that these appeal and surprise and make for memorable music regardless of what has been done or how challenging it is to do right by it all after so much water has gone under our musical bridges.

This is lyrical fare, sometimes ravishing so, and in the main it has a Pomo jauntiness at times that charges our batteries and does away with a heavy ponderousness, yet still has a pinch of gravitas as needed. What captivates and beguiles is the obvious inventive strength of every bit of White's settings. Nothing is exactly High Modernist but you engage and if you are like me it all works so well, you in the end care nothing for hanging on to some style directives and just immerse your ears in the very brilliant tunefulness.

I must in the end recommend this set to those who love vocal settings and do not insist that the music follow a radically new-or-nothing sort of path. Like some Bernstein, White could perhaps find it in hi, write a Broadway Musical that stood the test of time?  That is a tall order. but this music stands out as strong on striking melodic charm and maybe some day he will give us that as well. The performances are wonderful, the music endearing. Bravo for all that,

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Jane Antonia Cornish, Sierra, Vicky Chow


The music of Jane Antonia Cornish is no stranger to these pages. Type her name into the index box above and you will see that there have been three reviews of as many albums over the years. Today, another, Sierra (Cantaloupe Music CA 21174) as nicely performed on piano by Vicky Chow. 

The piano and echo effect goes as far back as Ussachevsky's 1952 "Piece for Tape Recorder" if I am not mistaken. As if to take the idea further in time and place we get a full-throated piano sonance and a light echo-like repetition or drone at times in this Cornish work for solo piano. Arpeggios, tremelo-ed trills and pedal pointed centers give us beautiful pause in this multipart and at times seemingly multiple tracked work. It has that kind of early, cosmic Terry Riley feel to it and so also a kind of maximal lyricism. 

It follows the genre but in creative and inventive ways. The more I hear it the more welcome it becomes to me. Happily recommended.

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.