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Monday, April 15, 2024

Rodney Sharman, Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, Known and Unknown, New Music for Solo Piano


Not everything can be grasped in a single setting as we all have learned over time. For New Music these days it has never been more true. It used to be at times that you more or less knew what you were getting by gazing at an album cover, the art, the label, the liners and giving it a single listen but that is rare today in some settings. So with the one for today, distinguished Canadian composer Rodney Sharman and pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa bring to us a stunning series of works based imaginatively on opera transcriptions, 18 works under the rubric Known and Unknown (Redshift TK539 CD). This is music not obvious, with true originality and unexpected brilliance.

For me this one was a natural, the combination of vivid sound color, a modern yet a distinct melodic-harmonic foundation, ambient brilliance and a sort of eloquent expressionist pianism, a kind of moody, haunting thoughtfulness and a refreshing bit of text narrative and singing by the pianist in her enchanting performative role.

The eighteen short and longer works each hold their own in ultra-musical and inventive ways. That there is a Non-binary element in the thematics is the case thought for me it all works together as a poetic, lyrical whole so that I embrace  it all as ART, which for me is what especially matters in the end.

Though the transcriptions are based on well known operas the end product stands out again as more in its finality of brilliance than as source inspiration.

This is piano music that thrives in its wonderful pianism, both in composition and  performance. It stands out is a high point of the music I have heard thus far in the current year! Do not miss it.

Listen to a full stream on Bandcamp:

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Vincent Larderet, Ravel, The Complete Works for Solo Piano, Vol. One

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), as many readers will ,know. was one of the 20th centuries most original and poetic of composers for the piano. His was a voice of great color and poise. He gives the contemporary pianist a manifold challenge for realizing great expression and symphonic dimensions, along with a great intimacy of voice that broke new grounds continually. Pianist Vincent Larderet appears with the first of several volumes devoted to The Complete Works for Solo Piano  (Avie AV2623).

In this inaugural volume Larderet tackles five remarkably articulate and brilliant compositional sets, allowing the pianist to hold forth with novel and appealing interpretations that give us pause and move us along into Ravel's special aural world.

The set opens with Ravel's five movement Miroirs (1904-05) a breakthrough world of great sound color impressions and clangorous tonal brilliance. Larderet brings his own personally inventive aesthetics to each movement. 

The 1903-05 Sonatine forms another high water mark of pianistic dazzle with effective stretching of rubato singularity that stands out among classic renditions since the advent of the LP Ravel's ravishing Pavane pour une infante defunte (1899) chimes in as another outstanding reading, a hovering liquidity of great beauty one should not miss in this reading. The Jeux d'eau (1901) and the Valses noble et sentimentales (1911) are not in any way lagging and benefit from a thorough immersion in the periodicity of Ravel's and so bring forth a period charm here. Larderet shines thoughtfully regardless. which work on this set

Whether you are familiar with this music or are a newcomer you will doubtless benefit greatly by the pianist's genuine feeling for the music. Bravo. Catch a free stream of the music here:

Monday, March 18, 2024

Plinio Fernandes, Bacheando, Works for Solo Classical Guitar


Brazilian born classical guitar virtuoso Plinio Fernandes returns with more sparkling fare for solo classical guitar, this time flourishing within the Bachian strain with works initially written for  lute by Bach, followed by Paulinho Noguera's Bachianinha Nos 1 and 3 plus other gems by Assaf, Villa Lobos and Mario Albanese on the album Bacheando (Decca Gold B0038-493-02). The eleven works here presented are substantial, the performances do not distract with a lot of rubato so much as they move nicely forward with a kind of infectiously rocking presence.

It all does not attempt to overwhelm so much as it gives you a compact brilliance that speaks to our contemporary sensibilities. It convinces by staying close to the original spirit of the music and in so doing Fernandes distinguishes himself as one of the very best today.

Listen to a stream at

Bravo, Plinio. A  fine effort.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

George Crumb, Music For Amplified Piano, (1979-2012), Yoshiko Shimizu, Celestial Mechanics, Zeitgeist, Otherworldly Resonances


If you are like me you sometimes think of various lists of favorite artists and/or perhaps composers... like for example what about the more important and innovative High Modern composers for the piano, like Ives, OK, then perhaps Cage, Messaien, Stockhausen, and George Crumb? I suspect many aficionados would include Crumb, surely. His open, sometimes sparse, spooky style with sustains and various inside the piano trademarks, such as pluck, strum, slide, sustained echoes, then centering folk-like motives or High Modern tattoos on the piano keys, etc. have justly gained a lot of attention and appreciation over the years.

With Crumb it all started with various early works featuring piano voice and other instruments, leading to the various volumes of his celebrated Mikrokosmos. It all culminates in his last works, which happily are well represented in this new volume of Music for Amplified Piano (Kairos 0022012KAI) as beautifully realized by Yoshiko Shimizu.

So to begin we get Makrokosmos IV, or in other words Celestial Mechanics (1979/2021), the Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four and Six hands, then Zeitgeist (1988), and finally Otherworldly Resonances (2005), the final two for Two Amplified Pianos. 

Yoshiko Shimizu heroically creates the immersive piano worlds for each piece with dramatic distinction and convincing thrust. It is an ideal hearing of these wonderful end works that fully deserve our repeated attention. Bravo. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Alice Ping Ye Ho, Blaze, Christina Petrowska Quilico, Contemporary Works for Piano


The state-of-the-art when it comes to Modern virtuoso music for the piano today can be had nicely in the recent album of piano works by Canadian-Chinese composer Alice Ping Yee Ho as played with insightful concentration by the formidable Christina Petrowska Quilico. This on Blaze (Centrediscs CMCCD 31323).

In all some eight compositions flow with dramatic High Modern intensity in the course of the program. It is a nice example of High Modernism today and how the more advanced sorts of musical contours thrive in dedicated hands. 

"Erupting Skies" (2022) is doubtless the most sonically spectacular of the eight works, with bracingly elaborated interplay between the piano part and equally so the full bore counterpart of the electroacoustic construction, all pinned down by the central narrative of natural danger and eventual triumph.

Thanks to Ms, Quilico's finely granular, precision and poetic readings, all of these pieces come alive in the most enthralling ways as sprawling and highly absorbing masterworks that sacrifice nothing to easy listening sorts but instead carve each a twistingly elaborate excitement. Kudos to all concerned. This is a monumental breakthrough that all New Music aficionados should doubtless find as interesting as I have.

Hear samples and some insightful thoughts on the album

Monday, December 18, 2023

Susan Alcorn, Jose Lencastre, Hernani Faustino, Manifesto

Today we roll into the modified Space Age and that robotic vision of Hal in 2001 is closer to our experience than certainly it was when the movie was made. And the music we hear now, is that any closer to the swirls of mad blips, bloops  and barongs that formed part of the score in 2001? Well sure and you might argue that most of 2001 was already present in some form in the culture for which it was made, maybe inevitably we are what we are when we make things. It just was not perhaps as central as the movie made it. So then Ligeti's avant work "Atmospheres" graces the score and of course it was made for initial hearing in a neutral concert venue situation. Well now that we are well past the "New Millennium" these days has our music taken a decisive turn into an all prevailing Space Age? Maybe not entirely as yet.

On the other hand the Modern in Modernism can be said to be a constant in New Music Avant circles. There are of course purely Electronic essays in the Modern Music world, there too are Orchestral and Chamber Classical related musics that can be readily heard out there. On the other end of the spectrum too there is the world of Avant Post-Classic Jazz as we hear it.

A very good example of the latter today we can contemplate on aa a new release from the Cleanfeed Label, an intrepid concern with a substantial monthly release schedule of more advanced Improvisation being played today, with natives from Europe especially Portugal but the rest of Europe very much as well as the East and the US West, sometimes a conglomeration of all, or two of the three or so possibilities. On today's release we have two regions well represented--for the USA steel pedal guitarist Susan Alcorn, a very-much-in-the-limelight artist these days, doing important work, and here also two fellow travelers from Europe involved in such heroic endeavors as well. So making the rest of the trio are Jose Lencastre on alto and tenor sax and Hernani Faustini on acoustic double bass.

Six probing and adventurous pieces make up the whole, all in a free improvisatory style so often a fixture of the Clean Feed way. Susan Alcorn has pioneered an avant style using the conventional steel pedal guitar and she is very much in her element here with the full spectrum of the instrument's note possibilities to vitiate advanced figures that glide like conventional playing of the instrument but then stand out with a good deal of imaginative note spinning and some advanced technique propelling us along as well.

Alcorn is given two especially well healed avant artists with Jose Lencastre wielding an aggressive and exciting stridency making a statement about the ethnicity and forward loving nastiness and then the all-over intensity of the stellar sorts of jazz dates that define where it all is as a modernism should go. Hernani Faustino does all the right things to help enflame and engulf caustic kindling.

Give a listen to the entire album at Bandcamp

Linda Catlin Smith, Dark Flower, The Thin Edge New Music Collective


Linda Catlin Smith is a composer getting attention in good ways with her work in recent years including especially her new album Dark Flower (Red Shift CD). The Thin Edge Music Collective commissioned the works and play them here with just the right (deep) level of understanding and participation. Six interrelated compositions follow a special, long form elevation of tone color and lyrical unfolding, from the larger chamber quintet of clarinet, violin, cello, piano, violin and percussion (wanderer), to dual cello, then cello, piano, violin and viola (dark flower) thereafter subtracting instruments until the finale, a solo piano presence of unbroken dramatic girth.

The music haunts in gripping ways that get you involved the more you listen.  There is a logical unfolding that has some relation to Morton Feldman's Oriental-rug-like opening out, only somewhat less abstract. It is always convincing and poised.  In the end Ms, Smith comes off nicely as a major New Music narrative voice. 

As much as any New Music composer today Linda Catlin Smith here shows us a completely affirming sense of musical discourse, a natural elegance and inventiveness that flows with inevitable charm and poise, in the process creating a tone world that is very original and compelling. Highly recommended.

Stream the whole album at Bandcamp