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Monday, September 25, 2023

Sybarites, Collective Wisdom, New Chamber Music for Strings


The more you listen to the newest of New Music, the more you apprehend and perhaps appreciate the gradual shift away from a High Modernist, and then too beyond a Minimalist overall stance. What takes its place even in the midst of a comingling tripartite style triumvirate? We hear the third style gate open consistently on the anthology of previous little known and unknown chamber string innovative works, that is on Sybarite's Collective Wisdom  (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0191).

In this surprisingly current offering we immerse the listening self in some nine infectiously wide ranging and dance suite like bundlings of some nine works on Collectiove Wisdom, a blockbuster by the string sextet Sybarites, an outfit fashioned highly and also skillfully in this superlative offering. Each short work says something original and classically new, thanks to the composing prowess of the Punch Brothers and Paul Sanho Kim, Curtis and Elektra Stewart, Jessica Meyer, Komitas, Pedro Giraudo, Michael Gilbertson and Jackson Greenberg.

If you do not already know of course this is music not so much seeking to make harmonic advancement as the watch phrase goes so much as post folk-earthy sorts of emanations as pleasurable to the novice no doubt as to the acolyte and pro-appreciator alike.

Take a listen to the full stream of the album on Bandcamp.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Robert Schumann, The Roots & the Flower, Organ Works, Op. 56 & 60, Jens E. Christensen, Organ


Robert Schumann at this point in music history has a legacy that is of course ubiquitous and well established. He is unparalleled for the clarity of his piano style in the many now well loved solo tone poetic pieces for piano. Then too his Lieder is superb, and puts him at the very top of Romantic composers for such things,  and then his Piano Concerto and Symphonies are justly among the most beloved today, a considerable body of work and a long prevailing fulcrum of the repertoire classics, as popular today as yesterday.  In spite of all that we might see in contrast how his organ works might not have broken through to the cognoscenti in our times, or at least I have not been exposed much myself. Schumann familiarly as the old saw has it is not exactly an orchestrator of landmark character if we go by his symphonic reputation over time. However the symphonies are melodically and thematically seminal, perhaps less so as orchestrations, at least in terms of a Ravelian vibrancy say, though very much Schumann's own. And that different kind of vibrancy, of theme and even its descriptive character can be felt so plainly on the "Kinderszenen," the "Carnival," etc.

So what of the twelve organ works from this album we consider today? They are not models of sound color invention exactly. Nonetheless we get a happy chance to dive deeply into Robert Schumann the organ composer and what that means with the works from Op. 56 and 60 on the recent album  The Roots and the Flowers, performed nicely by Jens E. Christensen (Our Recordings 6220676). Some of it now and then seems a tad murkey, not as transparent perhaps as one might ordinarily expect, yet supremely moody and Schumannesque in that way. And so there is a parallel at times perhaps with the very personal styles of his symphonies. Yet then we need to consider the subtitle to this offering, "Counterpoint in Bloom," for that is a special key to appreciating this music, Schumann's well developed sense of the contrapuntal muse as a key aspect of this organ music.

These some 12 works shine often via a contrapuntal flourish. It is part of Schuman's genius and indeed sets it apart as classic in its best moments.

The performances are not lacking in any way thanks to Jens E Christensen's prowess and enthusiastic warmth. There are some real gems here and otherwise generally solid and memorable music well constructed. Anyone a Schumann fan will jump at the chance to hear him in this mode, and you doubtless as I did feel the rewards of the adventure.. Organ aficionados with find it a fascinating listen as well!

Listen to a partial stream on Soundcloud

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Violeta Dinescu, Solo Violin Works, Irina Muresanu, Violin

Solo violin works (and other solo string pieces) have never been more popular to the serious New Music listener than now, if the large number of solo releases in the last decade is any indication. What once was treasured by violin master and her pupils now is sought out by any with advanced ears who would like to follow a string-strong master and a brilliant composer in tandem for excitement and contemplation alike. Today we have an especially important new pairing in Rumanian composer Violeta Dinescu's Solo Violin Works (Metier CD 77106) as played with great finesse by violinist Irina Muresanu.

You might venture to say that any people with composers whose musical culture includes fiddling probably have it in them to produce GREAT solo violin works. So Bartok-Hungary-Gypsy conflagrations of course. The music of Kodaly and Janacek, Dumitrescu (he comes to mind as a composter but anybody know any of his solo string works, I do not recall any), Russians, American folk fiddlers influencing, say Copland, Berio Black Black Black on his Folk Song work composed in 1964 after teaching in USA from 1960, and other things no doubt follow the pattern with degrees of folk fiddle rootedness one way or another. The viola "Sequenza" comes to mind also. Yet I stray a little from solo violin per se.  Let us return to it.

So too then the composer Violetta Dinescu fits right in with a long series of solo violin works that as experienced here really take on a lengthy and effective post-fiddle narrative, and at that violinist Irina Muresanu has a great feel for the music at hand and interjects an intuitive feel for the violin in its local excellence. I talk about the recent CD Solo Violin Works  (Metier Mex 77106).

There is a great deal of it and all of it has New Music/Folk influenced detail that anyone who is immersed in the new/old tradition will find an abundant wealth of musical experience to take seriously and abandon oneself within.

The music rolls along in profound ways with key centers yet extended and expanded in ways of the Modernish today with a clearly adventurous and inventive quality, so it goes well. Perhaps like when listening to a wise and sympathetic reading of Joyce's  difficult Finnegan's Wake, you as it were recognize the "fiddling" in the flow of the syntactic sequence, here genuine English phrases and another in the middle of something quite other  the English turns to a modern memory maze as it were and you go further gladly hearing it read sympathetically when otherwise you might despair to find it "meaningless" when surely it isn't. So bravo, I recommend you hear it all at least once. Go to the stream site below and tell me what you think. Then if you have a little time go back to You Tube and listen to a chapter or two of a live reading of the Wake  as you follow along with the text there!

Thursday, September 7, 2023

David Mastikosa, Escape, Chamber Works

David Mastikosa is a prolific composer for his age. He is around 31, born in Herzegovina, Bosnia. He may be young but he sounds quite seasoned.This we hear in Escape (Ravello Digital RR8075), his inaugural effort and a wide ranging series it is, with some nine absorbing compositions for chamber combinations. The title work "Escape" portrays the struggle against the mundane and negative aspects of everyday life.  It  has a notable Eastern European flavor with avant oriented accordion expressing a variety of colors and textures. That color possibilities approach is seconded in the dramatic juxtaposition of  prepared and solo piano on the following "Detune," with avant composition contrasting with conventional pianism sounding an old school chorale. 

Then we have a poignant violin solo and string orchestra in "Ul-la". The bracing  big band sound of "Nucleus Expansion"  sets up a riff and a vehicle for a kind of madly swinging Jazz Improv feel. Listen to that alone and I suspect you like me will get a good feeling about the composer. But each work has its own presence and vitality.

Hear a complete stream at

I find this all intriguing and a nice example of a younger composer off to a great start in his embracing of a vast array of differences in sound and sty;e, but especially fitting into a Modernism for today. Bravo.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Craig Madden Morris, Kaleidoscope


Of music and feelings we all know of both, let us hope, but what matters in listening to music that expresses such? For the New Music the Expressionist angle is virtually always of some relevance, never old hat. It is not so much the presence of emotions as how they are presenced that matters in the end. No music is entirely without feelings, of course, though some may have less obvious expression of it, for example a particularly abstracted Webern piece. In the experience of a new work of music we may find feelings either out front and important, especially perhaps in a lieder, or less so in various examples. So we might note that Chopin's music reflects a good deal of emotion, and if you are like me and find it interesting to watch reruns of the Ed Sullivan Show, the pop chanteuses and such from  the '60s sang a great deal about emotions too, but of course not so much of that sort of music approaches the heightened musical level of a Chopin, if any. Of course such things may situate a piece of music in our world of New Music today,

So really when music expresses emotion we should consider a look to the amount of musical intelligence built around such a music. Craig Madden Morris is a present-day composer who does not shy away from expressing a variety of emotions, and to that extent there is an interestingly untypical strain of Neo-Romanticism inherent in his work, so I have found. 

When you listen to his album of such compositions, Kaleidoscope (Navona NV6494), what matters happily is the brilliance of the human-to-human connectivity of the expression, and fortunately we have much to go on in this wise on his some seven works presented here.

All the works have a good deal of Expressionism, a high level of powerful sonic worthiness, and an inventive melodic-harmonic cohesiveness. The very first work you hear is the ten-minute orchestral "Elegy" on the tragic self-inflicted death of a violinist in the Ridgewood Symphony. I will admit it took me some almost ten listens before it came clear in my head how compelling it all was, the kind of feelingful sprawl; and brilliantly orchestrated irregular lyricism that takes you somewhere after Mahler but then where are you? Not in a Kindertotenleider place, surely. You are in Morris-land in the end, somewhere unexpected and original.

Next in the body of works here we have the title work, "Kaleidoscope" for string quartet, which brings us almost to Bartok with the furrowing deepness of that and later Beethoven as touchpoints, yet Morris stays in his own place in the end, nicely so. Then follows the solo piano rhapsodic "Reflections," a intensely longing sort of story with harmonic expansion built in.

In "3 Pieces for Choir " a kind of Modern extension of glee club emoting not precisely old nor advanced so much as determined to be rhapsodic in choral Modern way.

The remaining three works in the program follow the general trend in singular ways. "Longing" for violin, clarinet, cello, piano and "The Gentle Path" for violin and piano keep the music feelingful and absorbing. 

Then finally solo clarinet and orchestral conclude the program in "Romance," sin an almost Schubertian natural setting that goes one to fukk our eqars with Impressionistic light and beyond  before calmly closing out for us the intriguing set of works.

None of them can be predicted easily within the notion of a new Romantic or even wholly Expressionist palette, none are of the ordinary x follows y sort of style, each stands out in its own not as typical of backward leaning compositions or of  a Progressive Modern outlook either. 

That somewhat unexpected yet very musical approach for each work sets it outside a formulaic Romantic or a rote perspective of the Modern and New. And the fact that it is situated where it is yet also excels as a set of well wrought musical examples and makes it all something special. 

I recommend you listen. Go to  to get a complete stream of all of it. See also my review of his previous album Dreams by typing his name in the search box above.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Su Yeon Kim, Mozart Recital, Solo Piano Music


One should never take anything for granted now or any other time, for that matter. There are no guarantees. And that is part of what makes the emergence of pianist Su Yeon Kim all the more remarkable. Take the new album Mozart Recital (Steinway & Sons CD and Digital). Over the years of course there has been a good deal of coverage of such staples of the repertoire. Yet the superficially facile quality of much of it can be a sign that sometimes the music might be grossly underappreciated. An acceptable level recording of much of it is a given, yet how much more moving are the Simple Simon works not as usually tossed off, how much more they seem when given a detailed everything counts reading by Su Yeon Kim. It all is a matter of a kind of living vibrancy when Ms. Kim takes it all on with care and concern. Legato so needs to be there in the mix, as well as a just sense of pauses and none of at its extreme the ratatat machine-gun regularity monotony and such. So with Su Yeon Kim we get a living, breathing music here no matter sometimes how initially simple it may seem on the surface.

Generally speaking the LP era showed so many wonderful pianists tackling the sonatas with some care and energy, but for all the rest sometimes a kind of offhandedness. The other stuff sounded dashed off at times. And for the Sonatas sometimes speed was the byword. Not as much with Su Yeon Kim's full bodied recording here. Yes, revel in the Sonatas 9 and 12, then too of "Eine Kleine Gigue," where the intensive reading of the right-hand line is so mesmerizing as to bring us to where Mozart heard it and wonderfully so? She shows herself an intelligently expressive poetess throughout.

And so it is more or less with every inch of music heard on this album. It shows Su Yeon Kim as a master of her art and an extraordinary painter of tonal images. It brings to us a side of Mozart pianism not as frequently heard as we might like, the rubito articulate poet, the deep wielder of extraordinary subtle power.

Go here to choose a place to stream the recital in full for free

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:

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Sirius Quartet, Playing On the Edge 3, New Music for String Quartet


The string quartet continues today in a wealth of compositions that epitomize at times the state-of-the-art of serious music as practiced in the Western world.  There are lots of New Music albums coming out lately, and in the string quartet literature not the least are given to us, as several reviews on this blog space will attest. The plethora of the new can only be a good thing but it is a calling to try and explore it all. I cannot say I hear 100%. Perhaps nobody can. It is just not possible right now, but I do hang my ears at a good angle to catch all I can, and I am glad of it for there is much to like. Today we have a good example, the accomplished and exciting Sirius Quartet and Volume Three of their  Playing On the Edge (Navona NV 6520). We hear and come to appreciate some nine New Music Quartets by the likes of Mark Edwards Wilson, Adam Grimes, Liova Bueno, Bernard Hughes, Nathan Wilson Ball, L Peter Deutsch, John Summers, Mark Eliot Jacobs, and Peter Dickson Lopez.

Danish composer Carl Nielson once famously remarked that his music should not be thought as beautiful, but rather as characteristic. Today we are thrown into the vortex of a new millenium and find that beauty has not become something only applicable to some past humanity, but rather an ongoing need for us all today and in the future. What that is however is not simple. We get nines composers with nine quartets that in some way come to terms with beauty in the face of a life sometimes rather starkly ugly out there.

We in the process come to appreciate the varied response of all nine composers, and in the end appreciate what new and serious shapes chamber music may take today, whether intricate interplay as in a post-Bartok realm, tonal in thick impastos of fundamental tones and added texture of some dissonance, earthy folk-like rhythmic life, tender yet all knowing lyricism, strident clusters of toinal life or lithely dancing string figuraton; or all of the above as you listen.

All this comes alive under the deeply skillful, the subtle interplay and memorable certitude of the Sirius Quartet at their finest. It is by no means a simple matter to characterize what New Chamber Music is all about today. Doubtless no single anthology can properly characteristic all the stylistic complexities involved, though this volume three of Edge gives us a pronounced post-Romantic and post-Dodecaphonic view of it all. It stays on the side of self-sufficient expression, not especially itching to dominate as a  Modern School per se. And that is probably a healthy thing, do you think?

Highly recommended. Release date July 14, 2023. Listen to a preview of the music here

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Lei Liang, Six Seasons, Mivos Quartet


Lei Liang gives us a most unusual work for a string quartet as a part of the source and inspiration for the boldly  sprawling soundscape Six Seasons (New World  80849-2). It centers around the Inuit Eskimos of Canada  and their ideas on the six seasons based on what they hear in their seascape habitat, the ever changing sounds they experience in daily life. These do nor follow strictly in some temporal order like do our winter-spring-summer-fall time blocks. Instead they are periodic but not so much continuous--each season gets its own separate movement, and then there is a final coda sequence.

The seasonal six movements are "New Ice," "Darkness," "Sunrise," "Migration," "Cacophony," and finally "Bloom." Laing placed underwater microphones in the ocean depths where Inuit live and then recorded water movement and freezing to ice, sea animals and fish, and the sound they might make in any given season, and then used those acquired sounds in tandem with scoring for extended sound production techniques for the members in the Mivos Quartet. 

The results are sound-noise innovations and soundscapes of a breathtakingly unexpected nature. He cites as influences the compositional advances and classic Contemporary assumptions that went into works by Crumb, Cage and Oliveros, "especially for the way they enlarged an instrument's sonic palette in the service of extra-musical concerns."

This music stands out after a few listens as very different. There is lots of tumbling free time, an overarching energized Free Improv feel, and a whole lot of sound art going on. Bravo. This may well end up as a milestone in the repertoire going forward. Do not miss it. Go on over to BandCamp to hear it and, if inclined, to order too:

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Ashley Bathgate, 8-Track, Minimalist Goodies for Cello(s)


When sometimes I feel like I am tired of Minimalism something good comes along and I pay attention and enjoy it all again. That is so with today's cello ensemble disk performed so very nicely by Ashley Bathgate overdubbing all parts. The album is entitled 8 -Track (New Focus Recordings, BandCamp) .

Ashley is a talented and dedicated cellist, a formidable artistic force for this sort of music, really mature and lively as much as beautiful in sound, a ravishing cello voice carefully creating multiple cello parts for some stunning  Minimalist works.  Each work follows the game plan of Steve Reich's Counterpoint series--that is, the performer plays a live part on top of  seven tracks previously recorded on the same instrument.

All the works we hear so deftly constructed on this unique album were written in this millennium in the Counterpoint plan and come alive in the doing. So we get the Steve Reich gem "Cello Counterpoint" (2013) that gives us the brilliant passagework juxtaposed with open and then figured long notes for a happy midperiod  musical romp fully worthy of the Reich name. Each composer in her or his very own way furthers our appetite for such explorations and productive emanations, so we hear in succession Fjola Evans, Emily Cooley, and two gems by Alex Weiser. Highly recommended.

Give it a listen on the BandCamp stream and if inclined place an order there (preorder if you read this in early summer of 2023): 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

A Left Coast, New Music Songs from British Columbia Performed by Tyler Duncan and Erika Switzer


Listeners to Classical and/or New Music may or may not ordinarily take some time to explore songs and songful lieder as part of what is out there to appreciate. In my humble opinion everybody should do so. Why?  If some have not spent much time in that universe if they did they might well discover an inviting  kind of alternate chamber possibility,  a world unto itself in many ways. Such a world may be considered and inhabited on a exploratory basis via the various surveys out these days in recorded form. You might well consider a new one that is nicely detailed and expressive, covering British Columbian byways, namely A Left Coast (Bridge Records 9574) featuring the significant artistry of baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Erika Switzer. It is series of some 18 songs or song suite  movements that they characterize as "A heartfelt playlist for British Columbia." 

That both artists and composers share an affinity with the Canadian province translates to a kind of unity of purpose for all the artists in ways not always present in a typical anthology. And here there too is an remarkably successful Expressionist commitment to the combined complexities of text recitation and musical performance. In the process Tyler Duncan shows us a classic heroic temperament that turns out nicely attuned dramatic fictions that live inside your listening musical being in ways worthy of your appreciation.

Pianist Erika Switzer has a poetic touch that makes of the lieder something timeless, not unModern but with a pronounced lifeway of heroic immediacy that the dedicated exceptional pianism serves to forward in  tandem with Duncan's beautifully nuanced delivery.

Each of the composer featured in this anthology has taught at the University of British Columbia's School of Music, and each as such represents one of the region's prime voices on the local new music scene. None follow some set Modernist path nor exactly a set New Classicism either.

So you may well appreciate as I did each of the compositional contributions to this vital anthology, they in fact consist of  Iman Habibi (b. 1985), Jean Coulthard (1908-2000), Jocelyn Morelock (1969-2023),  Stephen Chatman (b. 1950), Leslie Uyeda (b. 1953), Melissa Hui (b. 1966), Jeffrey Ryan (b. 1962)

Check out a video of one of the Habibi works at the following YouTube link:

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Brian Baumbusch, Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet, Premiere Recording


The synergies of Gamelan from Java and Bali with EuroAmerican Classical and New Music goes back a ways, from Debussy's and Ravel's fascination to Colin McPhee's dedication to Harry Partch and Lou Harrison's activation and so we go. The impetus remains a viable one as attested by today's new album of the music of Brian Baumbusch, the World Premiere recording of Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet (New World Records 80833-2), featuring Jack Quartet and Nata Swara, a Gamelan Ensemble for today.

This new series of works is weighted a bit more initially towards the energy of Balinese music than the more Apollonian contemplation of the traditional Javanese approach. And this Gamelan as representative of the Baumbusch synthesis is very much intrinsically and explicitly rooted in the music not as in some past hybrids,  familiar in sound but only tangential to what has been practiced in Javanese and Balinese forms over time, but quite the opposite as we hear in the opening "Prisms for Gene Davis."  The closing movement is especially moving with its busy swirl of convincing Gamelan figuration and the underlying long form melodic pattern, a different one from a traditional Balinese piece per se but functioning in the same way.

A work for string quartet alone follows, "Three Elements" from 2016. The sound color pattern is exhilarating and expressive with especially good use of harmonics in bowing and the like. The results are rather uncanny and fantastical, a pleasure to hear, original and very much its own sound color expression universe.

The final work combines the two ensembles and worlds for "Hydrogen(2)Oxygen," a virtual chemical reaction of sorts. First, we hear long bows and mallet punctuations that ravish in a momentum of pulsations of gamelan along with held variations of bowed string clusters. It is a vital amalgam much more than a simple joining; it is a music of reaction-interaction so to say. It is a satisfying unfolding in a new territory that is glorious in tone and temper, building to a tapestry of  periodicity, a sort of industrial revolution of timbres, and there we have the first movement . Then follows something wholly unique and sensuously sonic in happy ways. Eventually polyrhythmic and multiphonic, fittingly, an in- tandem conglomeration of notable hue. It all morphs with high-gloss string harmonics and a tattoo from the gamelan, then string twitters of quiet cricketude that expand and unfold in winning ways, with a prettiness unexpected but welcome nonetheless.

The final movement brings a new division of rhythmic labor with Western instruments at times splitting functions to create an ever-expanding and contracting duplex structure that transcends a hard and fast dichotomy of Gamelan and West.

In total we have an adventurous and musically throughgoing romp through inner and outer differential relations between Gamelan and New Music. Brilliant it all is. Bravo!

To stream the album and find out about ordering go to the bandcamp link.


Thursday, June 8, 2023

Roger Reynolds, For a Reason


My first exposure to the music of Roger Reynolds was pretty early on, when in  high school I found a New Music anthology that nicely included his chamber group opus from 1965 "Quick are the Mouths of  Earth." Thanks in part to the benchmark performances of the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble under Arthur Weinberg it was a bellwether for me in its uncanny soundscape of evocative Modernisms. Over the years  I have much appreciated the trajectory of Maestro Reynold's powerful works, and here we are with yet another notable offering at this late date. I refer to Reynolds latest recording of four interrelated works for performer (s) and electronics, For A Reason (Neuma 128), a fine two-CD set now out.

What stands out is Reynolds' care in building each sound poetics, so that we look at the finished performed result in its wealth of detail and see the Reynolds we have heard and loved over the years, evolved to hone in on an ever fine grained musical object that each time asserts a sound identity that gives us further entrance into a sonic depth most original, eloquent and effective.

The first half of the program on CD 1 gives  us two sonic adventures for acoustic instrument and direct electronic manipulations via "Computer Musician" Paul Hembree. So "Dream Mirror (Shakespace I)" enables a complex and vibrant acoustic guitar part realized by Pablo Gomez Cano and beautifully transformed in real time by Hembree.  "Shifting/Drifting (Shakespace IV)" does the same with the dynamic violin expressions as nicely realized by Irvine Arditti. 

The second half of the program starts with "Here and There," the considerably orchestral sequence  for close miked solo percussionist who also recites a deeply inner directed poetic text. Steven Shick takes on the daunting part of "Speaking Percussionist" with a true flair and an exciting artistry, a truly musical phrasing of the whole that works remarkably well. Shick combines a pronounced flourish and the precision of a master on this performance. Bravo. 

The program concludes with "Sketchbook, for the Unbearable Lightness of Being," which honors Kundera as it gives us Liz Pearce's extraordinarily music performance on piano and riveting  "low female voice." There is electronic processing here as well and in the end one comes away invigorated and impressed.

In the end we appreciate Reynolds' long journey toward this Sound Color rhythmically conversational eloquence which is less about notes per se and instead zeroes definitively into a post-Serial independence that nonetheless remains at the pinnacle of the High Modernist project.
Hearing the whole once more as I grasp the whole happily after a lot of listens, I feel we might all take some time and appreciate just how important Roger Reynolds has become to us as a master artist both original and transcendent. Definitely recommended. This bears close examination as a set of examples at the apex of this kind of intimate yet exotically vibrant sound performance practice.

Take a look at a few fantastic moments in the Shick performance of "Here and There!"


Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Debra Kaye, Ikarus Among the Stars, New Modern Works of Note

Living, breathing composer Debra Kaye has happily come to the attention of this blog with a few releases that nicely included her music (type her name in the search box above to access those articles). Now we hear a full CD devoted to her compositions, and a good thing that very much is. Ikarus Among the Stars (Navona NV 6521) brings together some six compositions from select chamber works through to a significant finale, the title work, commissioned by the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, filled with a most interesting fusionoid melding of Modern Orchestral and Contemporary Pop, Hip-Hop, and Prog Rock stylings that fascinate and move the needle forward on what can be done and done well in the Modern spheres. Sometimes I catch myself going to say, well this is tonal, but then I realize in the Modernity of today Atonality and/or Serialist ways are pretty much relegated to past masters, the no-longer active cadre of composers of yesterday and the day before yesterday. Of course that is not to say that noise and sound color options are not important these days in the avant garde, and good for that if done well.

To keep on the main point though this album affirms Ms. Kaye's stature as a singular voice for today's Modern scene. Each work gives us a world of its own, from 'The Exchange" and its brittle clarion voicings for clarinet and cello, to the serious, probingly inventive demeanor of the First String Quartet,  "Encountering Lorca."

Each work is a gem and together we find upon multiple listens a compelling argument for Debra Kaye as a key "new" voice in American music today. This music will give you a nice introduction to her music if you do not already know it. Bravo.

See this link to find out where to stream the album:

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Poul Ruders, Rudersol Chamber Players, Clarinet Quintet, Throne, Piano Quartet


Ours Records came out a while back with a nice recording of the music of Danush composer Poul Ruders. I was happy to check it out and review it.  See index box above for that article on his larger forces music as well his presence on a piano anthology.

Today we have a nicely moody addition of three chamber works penned between 1988 and 2016, well performed by the Rudersol Chamber Players, It covers his Clarinet Quintet, his Thrones, and his Piano Quartet (Our Recordings  6.220680).

These are deeply meditative, exploratorily modern works with an emphasis on well constructed chamber depth and close focus. The harmonic content is a nicely advanced modern sort with a good shade of dissonance to give it all distinctive character. It should appeal to all devoted Modernists out there but if you are not yet give this some time and it may convert you. Good show, bravo.

Sample some of his music on YouTube

Lowell Liebermann, Violin Concerto, Aiman Mussakhajayeva, Kazakh State Symphony Orchestra, Tigran Shiganyan


Living composer Lowell Liebermann is seemingly riding a wave of popularity unusual for a living artist as a rule, with many performances and much acclaim in recent decades that put him  toward the apex  of the contemporary scene. To further that end we have a  notable new recording of four concerted works for violin in the hands of superlative violinist Aiman Mussakhajayeva. She joins with the well prepared Kazakh State Symphony Orchestra under Tigran Shiganyan for a welcome premiere of four Liebermann works from the millennium and beyond, featuring the especially vital Violin Concerto of 2001 (Blue Griffin Records  BGR645). Also included are the well wrought companions of our current era in his Chamber Concerto No. 1 for violin and the composer at the piano in a new version for string orchestra as the ensemble,  and similarly the Chamber Concerto No. 2 for violin and string orchestra, and then finally the 2011 "Air" for violin and string orchestra.

There is real magic in this music, in some ways reminding of the essence of the Berg Violin Concerto in its expression drenched rhapsodizing, and perhaps also recalling indirectly the late Romantic lyricism of a Samuel Barber, not in obvious ways but effectively and poetically. It is tonal music in an inventive original mode while hearkening back as a glancing remembrance to Impressionist dazzling and shimmering  of light and sound last century, combined with a heightened expression not typical of the full Modern period but lively in the edges recalled of a long time past if you will. All four works have the real potential of joining the permanent repertory of classic concerto fare, deservingly.

This is music to stop questioning, to let play and find what the composer intends and then if of like mind, to surrender to most willingly.  It is a gem of a program to appreciate over a long time I would think. I recommend a listen for your understanding and then repeated listens, too. A good one for your latest Modern Concerto holdings. But that of course is up to you.

Stream the music starting at this link to get a glimpse of it all.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Sarah Cahill, The Future is Female, Vol. 3, At Play, Woman Composers for Piano, 1700s to Today


Multi-stylistic piano poet Sarah Cahill  chimes in with her Third Volume of The Future is Female, At Play (FHR 133) which provides us with some nine female composers and their compositions in a creative vein, with a wealth of inventions ranging from the period around 1700 through to today. What is rather exhilarating about it is the significant form of it all and its diversity of stylistic means according to the varying historical-stylistic musicways at hand.

Beginning with the elegant Classicism of  Helene de Montegeroult (1764-1836) and her three-part Piano Sonata No, 9, to the meditative Eastern Modernism prepared piano of  Franghiz Ali-Zadeh  (b. 1947) and  her :Music for Piano," we experience myriad possibilities of an expressive but also exploratory set of works that leaves you satisfied yet wanting still more. And of course that can be had in the earlier volumes of this project. I will be posting presently on Volume Two as well. Stay tuned.

In the course of the current program we are exposed readily and superlatively to some six additional gems by woman composers now known and some still relatively unknown. So we get pieces by Cecile Charminade (1967-1944),  Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), Chen Yi (b. 1953), Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), Hannah Kendall (b 1984), Aida Shirazi (b. 1987), and Regina Harris Baiocchi (b. 1956). It is all substantial fare, worthwhile and as you experience it a treasure trove of woman composers worthy of our attention. Ms, Cahill triumphs as she does throughout the series as a whole, Highly recommended. 

To  choose repertoire is to be a kind of music curator. Ms. Cahill is a wonderful curator in addition to being an outstanding pianist Bravo.

Listen to samples of it here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Mozart, Complete Piano Sonatas, Yeol Eum Son


To me the Mozart Piano Sonatas make for must-hear music no matter who or what you are. Nobody topped them for their special brilliance of invention, lyric and lively continualization, and sheer consistently plus wonderful thereness throughout all 18 of them. Part of that has to do with Mozart's love of his instrument of choice and too with the loving care with which the best performers approach the music. I cannot think of a better general exponent for this complete cycle than Ms.Yeol Eum Son and her recent release, who rings in just now with her beautiful played and recorded Complete Piano Sonatas  (Naive V8039 6 CD set).

Of course whenever listening through an entire cycle like this, it may gradually dawn on you like for me just how significant this slice of pianism was for then and so too for now. It is a vast treasure that may at first seem a fairly simple matter. But no, as you listen the simplicity semblance of a first blush grows deeper and you hear the depth in the rugged energy and articulate brilliance of the whole. And as you live with the chronology you begin to sense how early on Mozart's initial and life-long devotion to the piano keyboard allows him from the beginning to explore the wide band of possibilities inherent in the whole, how his inventive genius systematically develops the first real piano sound, of a consistently sympathetic reading of what the piano can do in Mozart's head and of course what he actually does at every step. This was music he thought people might like and he of course was so right!

And it is our reaction in part of course thanks very much to pianist Yeol Eum Son that we hear it all the way we do. She is ever a bundle of bright energy, of a subtle range of touch that brings all of it to life with poetic and eminently musical sureness that gives it all wonderous results, happily. She is in no hurry to impress but instead wisely lets the music unfold the way the composer intended, gradually maturing and becoming ever more brilliant. It is the music on a plane it deserves and demands to be on. Ms. Yeol Eum Son triumphs and we are all the better for it I think. Check this one out, do.

Listen to a stream if it. Please paste link in browser window: 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

William Bland, Sonata No. 9 "Spring," Nouveau Rag, Sonata No. 10, Kevin Gorman

William Bland, a New Music composer, walks among us (b 1947) and a recent album of his piano compositions gives us reasons to be happy about that. On this compilation, a second volume of the series, Kevin Gorman poetically performs the Sonata No. 9 "Spring," the Nouveau Rag and the Sonata No. 10 (Bridge CD 9580).

The music is substantial, lyrical and worth hearing. It has perhaps a residue of a Schumann, the further evolved expression of post-Lisztian voice, and perhaps, the ring of cascading Scriabin, only most times more thoroughly post-Romantic, a sometimes attractively strong shading of old Jazz and Ragtime especially in the Rag piece here, and a harmonic scaffolding that sometimes identifies it as very current I suppose you could say. As you listen repeatedly it all comes out as memorable and well invented, compositions with a full exposition of talented inventive pianisms and melodic-harmonic contentfulness. The final 10th Sonata gives us an especially exciting virtuosity that brims over with expression and sincerity. Give this your ears and see what you think.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Symphonic Chronicles. Vol. 1, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Miran Vaupotic, David Watkin


What is on tap today is some six symphonic works by some six new, new music composers in a compendium dubbed Symphonic Chronicles, Volume One (Navona NV6519).   Through the duration conductors Miran Vaupotic and David Watkin alternately, ably and poetically direct the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra in a series of tonal works with a narrative and lucidly descriptive way about them. Like perhaps Vaughan Williams in early days you listen and not so much ask yourself if  this is Modern so much as whether it communicates some special musical contents to us, is the music creating a world we want to experience and how does it do that? 

I think it does do that throughout. The music holds its own in varied and vital ways, with a definite personal voice on the part of each composer. Perhaps the most weighty and pronoiunced part of the album is Steve Law's nicely poised Piano Concerto. The pianism of the work is most pronounced and contemporary without necessarily  being atonal or avant. It reflects the expressive places the piano has occupied in recent years, in our sometimes  vaguely postmodern era, The orchestra and piano interact in memorable ways that make you glad to get to know the work. It is as Jazzy on the edges as it is Modern Classical and all the better for that. It like much of these works is devoted to a kind of lyrical management of light, an  exploration of sonic personal contours. Each work sets its own agenda and proceeds to realize it on its own terms, So we get some real chestnuts with five more works by the likes of Deborah Kavasch, John Wineglass, Barbara Jazwinski, Nan Avant and Simon Andrews. These may be new names to me but their works show a maturity and originality of purpose that is most heartening to get to know.

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