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Friday, July 21, 2017

Yassen Vodenitcharov, Blue Echo

Yassan Vodenitcharov, Bulgarian born modernist composer of worth, brings to us some six illuminating examples of his music on Blue Echo (Gega New 395). His current association with IRCAM in Paris all but guarantees that he espouses some form of High Modernism, and he does. What he is not however is someone out of the "bleep and bloop" serial and post-serial style of pointillistic neo-hockett. There are multiple lines to be heard, understandably, but they can be homophonic or in multiple parallels. One of course does not often find a neo-Webernian approach carrying the day in contemporary music these days, and so too Vodenitcharov goes into the fray with his own sense of sound clusters, color blocks and explorations of personal, well mapped terrains.

The works themselves employ a quite varied instrumentation. "The Ribbon of Mobius" features two pianists and two percussionists, "Blue Echo (Concerto for Trumpet and String Orchestra)" is indeed for that, "Bacchus and Ariadne" utilizes bassoon and celeste, "Trajectories of Silence" has the unusual quartet instrumentation of two mandolins, mandola and guitar, "Lamento" is for orchestra with voice, and "Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra" is self-explanatory.

I would not venture to suggest that this music has some of the dynamic thrust of the new improvisation style currently practiced by some Americans, Europeans and Japanese, mostly because there may be a convergence that is coincidental or not. Nonetheless there are expressive similarities, though Vodenitcharov's examples here are more overtly planned and architecturally framed works with some of the high modern rigor of methods holding sway often enough, if my ears are a good judge.

Each work is unto itself and yet the overall impression is consistent and rewarding. I will not run down my impression of each here. Listening is key of course. Suffice to say that Vodenicharov comes to us in his own special way.

Any following modernist new music trends would be well served by this volume. It is something to immerse oneself in, to study, to enjoy and appreciate with a little effort.

Another one I do recommend as important listening.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Franz Schmidt, Symphony No. 2, Richard Strauss, Dreaming By the Fireside, Wiener Philharmoniker, Semyon Bychkov

Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) and his Symphony No. 2 (Sony Classic 88985355522) have been victims of vicious critical attacks since Schmidt wrote the work in 1913. Yet it (the symphony) tends to be subject to some attention via performances and recordings to this day. Perhaps not nearly enough?

Wikipedia calls the score reminiscent of Strauss and Reger with some of the heroic largess of Bruckner, and my ears hear that but to the point more of an originality in the late-romantic realm in which Schmidt worked.

The new recording I have been hearing, with Semyon Bychkov conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, does much to make a case for its heroic complexities. This is a late-romantic Austro-Hungarian work that when well played as it is on the new recording comes very much into being with lyric tenderness and power (and I hear as much Mahler's influence as the others but Schmidt is here very much Schmidt). This has been described as a kind of pastoral symphony. I can hear that.

An added bonus is Richard Strauss's short orchestral interlude from his not often performed opera Intermezzo, "Dreaming By the Fireside." It is a worthwhile tidbit and serves to remind us how Schmidt is another thing apart from Strauss. If nothing else you hear a much different harmonic palette, even if both have a large and lush orchestral carpeting in common. The variational aspect of the inner movement of Schmidt's Second is of a very different nature than the tone-poem sequentiality of Strauss.

So what we have s a very stimulating and rewarding program. The care with which Schmidt is elaborated marks this as an extraordinarily fine version, a very best, and gloriously sound staged in ways we scarcely hope could be bettered. Kudos!


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Purcell, Ayres & Songs From Orpheus Brittannicus, Harmonia Sacra & Complete Organ Music, Jill Feldman

Henry Purcell (1650-1695) was one of England's most gifted composers. He had a melodic brilliance and a sense of lyrical form that set him above or at least equal to the greatest of his era. His songs are unforgettable, and then so are his instrumental works. You can hear a very generous sampling of some excellent but not so well know works on Ayres & Songs from Orpheus Brittannicus, Harmonia Sacra & Complete Organ Music (Outhere-Arcanna A430).

Jill Feldman graces the program with her richly ornate and satisfyingly projective soprano voice. I have grown up associating Purcell's songs with the countertenor Alfred Deller thanks to a number of fine recordings I obtained early on. Ms. Feldman brings her own sensibilities to bear on the musical program and after a couple of listens to acclimate, I ended up hearing her interpretations as very right in their own way, quite lovely in fact.

She is joined and in some cases spelled by Nigel North on archlute, Sarah Cunningham on bass viol, and Davitt Moroney on organ. The spare period instrumentation works quite admirably on the vocal works--where lute and viol bring out the accompanymental structural bones


Monday, July 17, 2017

Volti San Francisco, This is What Happened

The choral realm of new music remains a potent idiom when approached creatively. Volti San Francisco gives us a hearing of five contemporary choral works of interest on their CD This is What Happened (Innova 964).

The music covers a spectrum from high modern event worlds to the modern new tonality. Robin Estrada's "Paghahandog" is an example of the former while Stacy Garrop's "Songs of Lowly Life" the latter. From there we are treated to Mark Winges' "Canticles of Rumi," John Muehleisen's "...is knowing...," and finally Shawn Crouch's "Paradise."

The whole entails a kind of freeze-frame snapshot of where choral music is in the modern present. It is something most certainly worth your time if you seek to follow the new and not just the already enshrined history of the new.

Volti are consummate artists. They deserve your attention.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dalia Raudonikyte With, Solitarius

New music requires new composers, of course. And of those there are no shortages. Virtually every day I find the music of somebody I do not know in front of me. And many of them surprise me in good ways. I am lucky to be alive right now for music. Even if it impoverishes me. What is joy worth? One cannot translate it into monetary terms. So my life is very rich on the level of gratitude, much less so in some other ways. C'est la vie.

Today we have another example: the music of Daliya Raudonikyte With, a she, Norwegian maybe? The recent album of her music, Solitarius (New Focus 186) gives us pause. It is a compendium of some six works, four involving a solo instrument, one a kind of duet, and one a chamber orchestra work.

In each case there is a literary quotation as a springboard--Thomas Wolfe, Picabia, Virginia Woolf, Chopin, Stefan Zweig. What results is distinctive, carefully sonorous music that stays within to reverberate with your being. There is sonic acuity, deliberation, gesture, and a special envelope full of the present.

Expect very appropriate ventures into extended techniques, a contemporary modernism that has more than the norm of invention, often far more. "Grues et Nix," the single orchestral work, has a kind of uncanny opening onto a personal sonic mapping of what Woolfe declaims as "Melancholy were the sounds on a winter's night." This work is in its very own way as evocative as something like Ives' "Central Park in the Dark," and without sounding like Ives at that, but equally home-spun, native individual like.

The other works each have a particular personal With touch, whether it be "Solitarius" for clarinet, "Ventus" for alto sax and electronics, "FCH" for piano, "Primo cum lumine solis" for guitar, or "Idem non semper idem" for alto sax. Nothing is tentative, even if nothing seems exactly formal in some scientistic way, and so much the better because With is expression first perhaps, structure second?

In the end it is all of course about the listening experience. With gives us an excellent one while being very much herself.

So I do suggest this one as rewarding, essential in its own way as music of this very second!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New Music for Clarinet, Another Look, F. Gerard Errante

The clarinet as a virtuoso solo instrument has been an established fact in new music for many years. As if to sum up the current state of the art in such matters, F. Gerard Errante distinguishes himself admirably and spearheads an anthology of provocative contemporary modern chamber works on New Music for Clarinet, Another Look (Ravello 7941). It is a reissue of some excellent performances originally available on LPs in the '70s and '80s on CRI and New World Records.

Errante has agility and remarkable tone control. He can dive artistically into extended techniques and revert to more conventional articulations with ease and grace. Indeed his formidable and imaginative approach seem tailor-made for the works on the program.

They are lively, exciting and varied in the most capable hands of Errante. Especially welcome to me are two compositions by new music-jazz icon clarinetist and composer William O. Smith. His "Solo for Clarinet with Delay System" and "Asana" (the latter making use of the MXR Digital Delay and Pitch Transposer) remind us that he has long established an original voice for himself.

Vladimir Ussachevsky's "Four Studies for Clarinet and EVI" (the latter an electronic keyboard) brings us some classic early modernism from a composer who broke so much ground in modern American new music.

But the music continues into equally interesting areas with exceptional performances of Adolphus Hailstork's "A Simple Caprice," (with Lee Jordon-Anders at the piano), Dana Wilson's "Piece for Clarinet Alone," Errante's own "Souvenirs de Nice," and finally the tumultuously irrepressible "The Dissolution of the Serial," which chaotically and beutifully does exactly that via brilliant performances by William Albright on piano and Errante on tenor sax.

It is a re-release that fully rewards us with a program of all-too-neglected music in remarkable performances. Errante soars and the music does not fail to enchant! Need I say more?


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Arvo Part Live, Choral and Orchestral Works, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, The Hilliard Ensemble, Muncher Rundfunkorchester

The Estonian Arvo Part has the distinction of being one of the handful of living composers who is most influential and celebrated throughout the world. If you by chance do not know his music, today's CD would be an excellent place to start. And at any rate it is doubtless an excellent place to aurally dwell  whether you are a devoted follower or a newcomer to his music.

Arvo Part Live (BR Klassik 900319) combines contributions from the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, the Hilliard Ensemble and the Munchner Rundfunkorchester, under the various direction of Peter Dijkstra, Robert King, Ulf Schirmer and Marcello Viotti.

The performances are culled from various concerts recorded between 2000 and 2011. The selected works covered on the CD are well matched and not entirely what you might expect.

What is most unexpected and welcome is the opening orchestral "Collage Uber B-A-C-H" from his earlier period. There is unabashed modernism to be heard, yet there is no mistaking the Partian sensitivity to time and place that continually marks his ongoing originality. Here the music is based on the B-A-C-H motive but also a transformation of a Saraband from Bach's "English Suite."

Part's period of crisis from 1968-1976  ultimately gave rise to the special "old-in-the-new" style we hear so effectively and performatively in the works that follow on this program. We are treated to competitively enchanting versions of "Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen" for a capella choir, "Cecilia, vergine romana" for choir and orchestra, "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" for string orchestra and bells, and "Litany - Prayers of St John Chrysostom for Each Hour of the Day and Night" for soloists, choir and orchestra.

These works provide the key in microcosm to all that has given us pause and wonder in the special spirituality that is the mature Part for us.

This is a fine collection that everyone should probably hear. Certainly anyone who follows new music today needs to know Part, but then anyone of a general classical bent should also, and, why not, just everyone out there who loves music as well. Confirmed Part appreciators will find in this anthology many reasons to own it, even if you already have versions of some of these works,

A triumphant offering! Listen.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Derek Clarke, In Sonorous Falling Tones, Wired! Ensemble, Mark Hopkins

Canadian composer-flautist Derek Clarke chimes in with four choice compositions featuring the Wired! Ensemble and the composer as flute soloist. We have in this offering exciting, dynamic modern music of a high caliber.

The first, "In Sonorous Falling Tones" is a concerto for flute and bass flute with much going on and an especially bracing part for the flutes. "Lachrymae" is a not unrelated work for solo piccolo.

"What Do the Birds Think?" follows, a post-Darmstadtian thing of great imagination and beauty for chamber ensemble. The music is abstracted and generated out of the key words "remembrance," "nostalgia," "migration," "birdcalls" and "isolated places." Various moods and mysterious, almost unconscious-unveiling sounds create a world that intrigues and fascinates.

"Warning! Gustnadoes Ahead" closes out the program. It is flute centered at times, based on various environmental sounds as processed and represented in instrumental transformations.

The totality of the four compositions mark Derek Clarke as a composer of beautifully crafted importance--and a master flautist of great virtuosity and originality. There is a great deal here to savor.

Definitely recommended!

Monday, July 10, 2017

John Luther Adams, Canticles of the Holy Wind, The Crossing, Donald Nally

By now it is clear that John Luther Adams has created a body of work that represents a pinnacle of development in the post-minimalist tonal ambient realm today. His music consistently gives off a sort of poetic glow that evidences his extraordinary sensitivity and brilliance. He knows what he wants to hear and what that is seems very right.

The latest, a long, mostly a capella choral work that features the remarkable vocal group the Crossing under Donald Nally, is by no means an exception to this trend. Far from it. Canticles of the Holy Wind  (Cantaloupe 21131) delivers a paen to hope, for the resurgence of humanity through her-his place in the natural cosmos of earth and universe. Things on earth have become pretty grim, he is saying, but our ultimate destiny is beyond where we are. The music represents that place we can and should occupy in the creation as it were, as perhaps an integral part rather that an adversary.

Adams makes full us of the sonority of the Crossing, with long sustains, chordal drones, multipart cosmic counterpoint and rhythmic acrobatics by various sections at various times. The latter is underscored by the subtle percussion of Amy Garapic. There is continual movement and growth. And amidst the mostly diatonic beauty and chromatically expansive descending figures, there is a sort of musical narrative that signifies in tones what one might not say easily in words.

The sectional logic has dimensionality and forward thrust. We never feel the lack of change yet all relates organically each to the other.

It is a universe that centers around what voices can give us when imagination and timbral care have an important place for composer and performers alike.

This may not be an absolute John Luther Adams masterpiece, but it is very absorbing and beautiful music that will put the serious listener in a special musical world as very few other composers today can do.






Friday, July 7, 2017

Milica Djordjevic, Deutscher Musikrat, Edition Zeitgenossische Musik

The music of Milica Djordjevic? From the Deutscher Musikrat, Edition Zeitgenossische Musik (Wergo 6422 2) volume now available in the US and Canada,  we have a very kinetic-high modern expanded tonality program of a definite abstract ambiance. Performed by the Arditti Quartet and a distinguished cast of chamber musicians, the seven compositions take us far and wide into avant garde territory. This in the end is music beyond Darmstadt, a determined breaking out into the realm of energy and performativity.

A musically precocious childhood in Belgrade led to an interest in  theatre, painting, physics and in the end composition. Her music reflects biographical elements such as growing up in war-torn Serbia, the challenge of realizing a thoroughly immersive musical composition, the incorporation of failure into the final result, and the search for a wider palette of sound beyond conventional and typical extended techniques for instruments.  She is a complex soul and no brief and glib summary does her justice.

The music has an expressivity that to my ears aligns it as much to European New Music Improv as much as it settles into a concert high modernism. The wealth of content on the CD defies easy description. Suffice to say that there is an impressive depth and breadth to be heard, a fluid eloquence that marks Ms. Djordjevic as a highly talented artist who has embraced the new and found herself an original place within it.

A definite must for those seeking to understand and embrace new high modernist trends.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Erik Satie, Musique d'Entracte, Almost Forgotten Masterpieces, Fumio Yasuda

If musical life is sometimes like being an outfielder in baseball, where you have to "call" and catch every somewhat ambiguous fly ball, so too I field every review on these blogs and hope there are no sudden gusts of wind or dazzles of sunlight that would confuse my tracking of the ball and its trajectory. There seems no difficulty for me in fielding the album before me, Erik Satie and Musique d'Entracte, Almost Forgotten Masterpieces (Music Edition Winter & Winter 910 241-2). I love Satie deeply and so I am predisposed toward the volume, in that my expectations were high.

No disappoinment here, happily. What we have is a nicely judicious selection of more-or-less lesser-known Satie miniatures arranged for piano and prepared piano (Furnio Yasuda), clarinet-bass clarinet-saxophone (Joachim Badenhorst), and cello-voice (Julie Laderach).

The 13 short works in the anthology include "Cinema," which Satie wrote for the film Entre-Acte. Then there's "Dance of the Man and the Woman" from Relache, a brief, quietly articulated prepared-piano centric version of  "Vexations" and a smart peppering of other short works, many originally conceived for solo piano but given very sympathetic treatment by the trio. They aren't afraid to introduce a smattering of free improv or jazz-type solos now and again, add some Bill Evans-like rubatos or otherwise treat the ever-varied, brilliant works to more adventurous touches than one might expect.

Once the music is over, you might like me want to play the whole thing again right then and there. It is a worhwhile approach to some of Satie's most advanced, quirky and/or lyrical masterworks.The glowing re-creations help remind us how timeless his music can be. Most of this might have been written yesterday. Yet of course it was not. Yasuda and trio bring it all alive for us, beautifully.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Desyatnikov, Sketches to Sunset, Russian Seasons

The music of Destyatnikov has imagination, warmth and modern tonal folk fire. At least that is what I feel when listening to the two-work CD Sketches to Sunset / Russian Seasons (Quartz 2122).

"Russian Seasons" (2000) is divided into 12 vignettes for violin (Roman Mints), voice (Yana Ivanilova) and chamber orchestra (Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under Philipp Chizhevsky). It was written for Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, who gave it the first performance. Lake District Russian folk themes form the basis of the music. There are some moments that have a genetic affinity with the neo-classic-folk period of Stravinsky, especially in its modular rhythmic liveliness and thematic organicism. But then you discover an overall originality that transcends influence yet remains very much Russian. It is a work that captivates and enchants in the most worthy ways.

"Sketches to Sunset" (1992), in first recording for Mints, Alexey Goribal and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra under Chizhevsky, kicks off with a rhapsodic mysterioso folk-laced theme for violin and orchestra. It is segued to a Russianesque quasi-Jewish sounding tango theme based on "Death in Venice." Onward it goes from there, touching down poignantly on various memorable moods and modes. The sunset has an almost sultry air to it in Destyanikov's hands, yet there is regret and a biblical underpinning ("Absolom's Death") that feels ultimately Russian-Jewish in fascinating ways. The music is based on the Desyanikov's score to the film "Sunset" which takes place in Odessa before the revolution. A primal sort of experience of the haze of time seems palpable in the thematic sequencing. One is left holding the air of the present as the spell the music casts comes to a close.

The two works stand out as very characterful, strongly tonal and giving off with originally transformative pre-modern and post-modern elements.

Any Russophile will respond well to this music I would think. Desyatnikov has an inimitably tabula rasa way, yet there is strong tradition paradoxically present, too. A definite joy to immerse oneself in!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Charles Villiers Stanford, Complete Works for Piano Solo, Vol. 1, Christopher Howell

The world of Charles Villiers Stanford (1857-1924) I'll admit is not very familiar to me. He was as big a name composer in his day in Great Britain as virtually anyone. Yet his music is not so well known today. I was surprised at a release of his choral music a while ago (type his name in the search box) and favorably reviewed it. His music was much more engaging than I had imagined it would be.

And now we get to hear his Complete Works for Piano in the 2-CD first installment, Vol. 1 (Sheva Collection 115) as aptly performed by Christopher Howell. There is plenty to like on the first go-round. We are exposed to "Six Waltzes," "Three Waltzes," "Six Characteristic Pieces," "Five Caprices," two sets of "Six Sketches," "Three Fancies," "Five Irish Folk-tunes," and "Twenty-Four Preludes in all the keys." A number of the works are in first recordings.

These are well-constructed pieces, surprisingly post-romantic. They eschew virtuoso technique and flashiness, ending up something like a British Chabrier, with the emphasis on invention and straightforward directness. These are not works of a modernist sort, of course. But they do precurse composers like Vaughan-Williams and Holst. They are not stuffy nor typically Victorian. He shows a kind of affability and tunefulness I was not at all expecting to hear.

I must say I did not anticipate hearing disarmingly charming music of this kind from Stanford. Anyone who wants a wealth of unpretentious pianistics would do well to hear this, as would any Anglophile. It is very much a pleasure to hear. I will be covering Vols. Two and Three in a while, so stay tuned.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Roadshow, Music of Carl Schimmel

Carl Schimmel comes across as an almost wayward iconoclast on the recent CD RoADSHoW (New Focus 167). The music has an element of circus whimsy meets modern chamber seriousness, especially on the flute-cello-clarinet-piano work "RoADSHoW for OTTo" (2010/2012) and "RoADSHoW FoR THoRA" (2015), for clarinet, violin, cello and piano.

The song cycle "FoUR NoCTURNES FRoM 'THE OBLIVIoN HA HA'" ((2010) has a rather soberly expressive contemporary post-serial demeanor, punctuated by the burnished vocal quality of  mezzo-soprano Lucy Shelton and the carefully drawn parts for the quintet of instrumentalists known as the DaCapo Players.

"String Quartet #2 'Six Faces'" (2010) begins with a dense thicket of strings, which metamorphoses into quietly expressive worlds and contrasting moods inspired in its six movements by six varied paintings. The music in the composer's vision is like a six-sided cube, a single woman in six different faces or identities. It is a very dramatic, modernistically complex work that shows the hand of a master chamber craftsman at his finest.

"THE PISMERIST'S CONGERIES" (2005) takes flute-violin-cello-piano form with nine movements, each musically describing an object in the collection of a pismerist (a collector of small or insignificant things). The character pieces/sketches have a playful quality and bring the program to a satisfying close.

Schimmel gives us equal doses of whimsy, mathematical-musical rigor and expressive power in this collection of works. He goes his own way to a happy result. Anyone with a modern-oriented set of ears will do well to check this music out.







Villa-Lobos, Symphonies Nos. 8, 9 and 11, Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Isaac Karabtchevsky

It does not matter how far along I go in life. It seems like every so often there is more excellent Villa-Lobos to discover. Naxos has been doing a good deal lately to underscore how his entire oeuvre has much to recommend it.  That is the case once again in the latest release from the Villa-Lobos symphony cycle, the Symphonies 8, 9 and 11 (Naxos 8.573777) as played with great capability and verve by the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra under Isaac Karabtchevsky.

They are a product of Villa-Lobos' later period, having been written between 1950 and 1955. They have that distinctive meld of rhapsodic modernism and Villa-Lobos' own take on Brazilian influences. In the case of the latter there is less of a direct line to a national strain and more of a haunting. Everything he did had some relationship to his rich Brazilian heritage but then in this case there is less a conscious effort of incorporation so much as a natural predilection that gets harnessed to a symphonic classical-modern identity. The years in the United States had no doubt an influence on the widening of his musical view, but in any event it reflected a natural growth and a continued opening of his expressive needs.
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By this time Villa-Lobos had fully mastered the modern orchestra as a personal extension of his musical personality, so much so that you could recognize him by hearing only a few bars of a work. These three symphonies give us a generous helping of the composer at this juncture. All of them are substantial and very worth hearing. Perhaps the 11th has the most gravity, but then the 8th and 9th have the most buoyancy.

None of these symphonies are inconsequential. Far from it. They are manna for the Villa-Lobos enthusiast and a deep plunge into the later world of his approach even if you are not fully conversant with his total span of expression. Karabtchevsky and the Sao Paulo Orchestra breathe a good deal of plein air into the scores.

An excellent addition to anyone's Villa-Lobos holdings! Very recommended.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Louis Couperin, Suites st Pavane, Skip Sempe

When I was listening the other day to Louis Couperin's Suites et Pavane (Alpha Classics 333) as recorded by harpsichordist Skip Sempe my partner perked up her ears and commented, "That's nice. Who is it? Sounds like Bach!" And I tried to explain it all succinctly. "Well, maybe the Bach of the English and French Suites. Otherwise, not so much. The fugal Bach was about the architecture and perfection of God's creation; Louis and Francois Couperin and the French Baroque were more about the human in the world with all her or his feelings and frailties. They were closer to a kind of Romanticism; Bach was raising great edifices of form."

And she understood. Neither schools are in the end exactly comparable. There is a sweetness to Couperin and Rameau where Bach was a master builder who incorporates feelings but more internal, more embedded in each structural whole. So it seems to me.

This recording of Couperin by Skip Sempe is close to ideal. The six "Suite de Pieces" and the "Pavane" are played with a poetic rubato that is just enough to heighten expression without going to distorted extremes. That sweet quality is brought to the forefront and gives us as cogent an argument for Louis Couperin's brilliance as any I've heard.

Each of the Suites and the Pavane relate to one another as equals. They are spiritually related as are siblings of the same family. They share traits but in the end differ enough one to the other to be readily distinguished.

Each goes its way memorably and elegantly and then makes way for the next. There is beauty maybe more so than truth, but neither are they pretty lies, flattering baubles of a superficial veneer. Rather, they do run deep in spite of their exuberant charm and poignant melancholy.

Sempe's dedication to a vibrant and meditative realization underscores the universality of this music and its continued relevance to the thinking and feeling music lover.

The whole program ravishes. Truly, this will if you let it be a faithful companion to your musico-reflective self, always able to weave its spell on your being whenever you put it on and give it your attention.

An excellent addition to your collection!


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Juri Seo, Mostly Piano

Juri Seo is a composer-pianist who resides in my state of the States, New Jersey. Some of her music stands out on the recent release Mostly Piano (Innova 968). As the title suggests, this is...mostly works for piano. But not just any works.

For Ms. Seo has her own way, tonal--and the examples "#Three" (for piano and percussion), "Three Mini-Etudes in C" and parts of "Piano Sonata No.1 - 'La Hammerklavier'" show a rhythmic vitality bursting at the seams with dynamic tension and personal form. The sonata has a lyrical-classical aspect that glances backward as it forges ahead into something unique to the composer.

The "Etudes for Cimbalom" cover much ground in six movements. Folk dance elements and contrasts, energetic dynamics and contemplative counterthrusts intermingle for some exhilarating fireworks.

The final piece, a solo piano and percussion piece entitled "vi" (2010) marked her inaugural return to tonality, in this case triads and seventh chords contrasting bitonal ambiguity with tonal clarity. There is as with the other works a somewhat startling freshness about the music.

So that is what I experience from this album, telegraphed in necessarily sketchy ways to fit the here and gone format of the everyday blog pages. There would be a great deal more to say were I to concentrate for the rest of the day on why this music is special. For the spinning world we are in I must simply iterate that Juri Seo is a modern original, and that her music on the current volume veers into breathtaking territory at times, and for all that never seems content to work inside the usual trends that occupy much of the contemporary music world.

Bravo!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eclipse, Chamber Music By Mischa Zupko

Mischa Zupko writes with a modernist flourish music that sometimes has a lyrical underpinning, while always to my ears blossoms forth with a personal fluidity in his insightful musical-dialectical discourse. The Zupko anthology Eclipse (Cedille 90000 168) features chamber music for piano (Zupko), violin (Sang Mee Lee), and cello (Wendy Warner).

Each work has literal thematic content. "Rising" (for violin and piano) is all about meditations on the ascension of Jesus. "Fallen" (for cello and piano) is based on a Garcia-Lorca poem about the suicide of a young man of promise who has fallen into despair."From Twilight" (for solo violin) comes out of the experience of observing the evening sky as the curtain of night gradually descends. "Eclipse" (for violin and cello) encapsules the feeling of serenity as an evolving eclipse condition is made into music via the overlapping and mingling of motives for the violin and cello. "Nebula" (for solo cello) pits the cello against silence as we are exposed to parts of a wide overarching arc of musical content.

From there we go to "Shades of Grey" for violin and piano, in four movements, realizing in musical terms the marriage preparations of Winston Choi and Minghuan Xu, otherwise known as Duo Diorama, for whom the work was written.

"Love Obsession" (for cello, piano and six prerecorded cello tracks) is the dramatic finale. It deals with the relentless pursuit of a love object by a determined subject. Highly rhythmic figures portray the manic chase of passionate absorption, ending in some sort of quietly realized fulfillment.

There is no simple description of how this music plays itself out. Every work is a world unto itself. Zupko is musically multilingual in the way he adapts a spectrum of tonal possibilities and spins his own original form and content for each.

The trio of musicians each brings an enormous absorption and focus to the music, making it sing, bringing its reflective and reflexive brilliance to bear on our experiencing ears.

Zupka has a musical mind both open and exceptionally inventive, certainly as exemplified by the works on this album. He is like a fine wine. He is best savored, allowed to breathe. You need to open yourself up, to permit his many faceted music to resonate against your listening sensibilities in a state of centered concentration,  Like a complex wine at a peak of maturation, the long finish you experience is just as you might have hoped, in the end satisfying and total in its effect.

I have no hesitations in recommending this music to you.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rachmaninov, Rare Piano Transcriptions, Julia Severus, Piano

Yesterday, I spoke a little about how the romantic piano practice of rubato cascading became more harmonically daring in the hands of Scriabin and ended up further extended by a composer like Roslavets, but that by last mid-century modernist pianism had all but jettisoned the stylistic parameters which found its most eloquent practitioner in Liszt.

What such a scenario ignores is the figure of Rachmaninov. (Early Prokofiev aside, who was already very much more the modernist.) Like at least on the surface we think of Bach and his attention to fugal form even if in his later years it was no longer au courant. So Rachmaninov espoused the rolling romantic rubato when many of his compatriots had moved on. I would not want to suggest that Rachmaninov reached the sublime heights of Bach in his anachronistic endeavors. That is no doubt unfair. How many composers would you put alongside Bach in any way? Very few.

Rachmaninov (1873-1943) stayed stylistically where he began, for the most part. Of course he excelled in lyric effusions and left us with some beautiful piano music that transcends time in the best ways.

For those like me who cannot get enough Rachmaninov piano works, there are today a batch of them that you no doubt have never heard, at least not like this. I speak of the recent CD of Piano Transcriptions (Naxos 8.573468). On it is Rachmaninov's transcription of the  "Suite in D minor," which was discovered only in 2002, along with a transcription of the Intermezzo from Aleko, plus 21 of his songs, transcribed for solo piano by Rachmaninov and six other composers, including the pianist on this collective program, Julia Severus.

She is most definitely in her element with this music. A more sensitively romantic but never overly gushing exponent of this rare music would be hard to find.

Many of these pieces, indeed most are in first recordings. The songs in their original form contained involved piano parts, so that the transcriptions carry over the extraordinary pianism and integrate it fully into the solo realm.

Perhaps not everything to be heard on the program is an absolute masterpiece, but then some come close. For those for whom the Rachmaninovian path is one you long to linger on, this small fork into more vistas will doubtless delight you.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Roslavets, Complete Works for Solo Piano, Olga Andryushchenko

Nicolay Andreyevich Roslavets (1881-1944) is currently at best a footnote in the history of Russian 20th century modernism. Yet Stravinsky at one point called him "the most interesting Russian composer of the 20th century." Now there is a chance to explore his work in depth on the recent 2-CD set Complete Works for Solo Piano (Grand Piano 743-44).

Olga Andryushchenko does the duties as the pianist throughout. Her fluid readings seem expressively right for the music. Roslavets was a victim of Soviet disapproval and so never got a lot of exposure or recognition. This complete piano set includes a good deal of undiscovered and reconstructed works that see the light of day here for the first time. Many are first recordings. It is much more involved than one has a right to expect from a long-unknown. There is a kind of pristine coming-into-being to be heard with great profit if you give the music a chance.

The music is programmed to follow roughly a chronological order. The first period of his music, say 1914 through 1916, finds the composer in a rather Scriabinesque mode. From around 1917 through 1923, the influence remains in terms of a poetic rubato, yet further modernizes in terms of an idiosyncratic tonal ambiguity and the use of what Roslavets called "synthetic chords."

To get the maximum out of Roslavets, you need to cast away expectations and let the music itself work its way into your listening mind. It is something a Scriabin enthusiast (such as myself) will see as a further step into a modernism that mostly dead-ended but in the hands of Roslavets convinces and holds its own even though the vibrant currents of modernism by mid-century had largely jettisoned the cascading rubatos that Roslavets embodies in his very own way.

Why the Soviet Union party censors should see this music as objectionable need not detain us much. Clearly they found any kind of formalism, or any kind of autonomous musical striving counter-revolutionary. All must be an arm of propaganda. Sometimes composers were able to satisfy the dictates of social realism or circumvent them and still make great music and keep on. Roslavets could not find a way and more's the pity.

At least with this two-CD set we are treated to some exceptional music that deserves our respect and admiration. I find the music much to my liking. It has a brilliance of its own and that mysterious cosmic quality that Scriabin pioneered. But it stands or falls as Roslavets. It stands.

Recommended for Russophile modernists and anyone interested in the trajectory of modern solo piano, surely.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Stewart Goodyear, Ravel, Piano Music

Some composers and compositions have formed such a seminal part of my life experience that they have become important residents of my "permanent" musical mind. The piano music of Ravel (Orchid Classics 100061) qualifies in very absolute ways. When particular works enter into my imaginary shrine of eternal verities, they usually do so in terms of my memory of specific performances that I either first heard at a younger age or versions that I have since come across that somehow have redefined my vision of what the music is about.

For Ravel's solo opus I fell upon Samson Francois's 3-LP set on Seraphim many years ago and it has ended up as a benchmark standard for comparison. The versions are not in any way flashy but carve out each musical statement with a care and a fidelity that seem close to what the composer himself heard. I have not had time to audition any of the other complete opus recordings, though I've experienced enough Gieseking Ravel that I imagine his set would be ravishing. A real ear-opener was the old Everest Archive of Piano release of Ravel playing his own music on the touch sensitive player piano that was state-of-the-art in his day. The piano roll transcription of "La vallee des cloches" from Miroirs was one of those revelations you can get when you hear the composer's own version of something for the first time. It is the opposite of a virtuoso approach, slow, brooding, atmospheric, lingering over every note so that the "Valley of Bells" as just that came through like never before for me.

With all of the above as a prologue. . .  I was interested to receive pianist Stewart Goodyear's Ravel, a single CD compendium of some of Ravel's most beautiful pieces. Goodyear has fabulous technique which he puts to brilliant use on movements that can be taken much faster than the norm, so that a shimmer of pulsatingly ecstatic passagework transforms the music to something excitingly other at times.

Yet when appropriate Goodyear can dig into the pastoral and/or reflective sort of lyricism that "Le vallee des cloches" or "Pavane pour un infante defunte" demands.

We are treated to the sort of dual polar readings he excels in--with the music of "Jeux d'eau," "Sonatine," "Miroirs," "Gaspard de la nuit," and the "Pavane."

In the end Goodyear brings an exceptional beauty and sparkling dazzle to these works that is nothing short of extraordinary. I still cling to the Francois and Ravel LPs as a sort of bedrock given for these works, yet I find Goodyear opens other vistas for me, other ways to hear much of this music. Anyone who already loves these pieces as I do will find in the Goodyear spirit a new take on it all. It is tour de force pianism, sometimes incredibly exciting.

Recommended with no reservations whatsoever!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bernard Rands, Vincent, Arthur Fagen, Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Chorus

I suppose it had to happen eventually. That is, an opera based on the life of Van Gogh. It took until 2011, when composer Bernard Rands completed the two-act Vincent (Naxos 8.669037-38), now available as a two-CD recording by soloists and the Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Chorus under Arthur Fagen. It is a sometimes lyrical, sometimes agitated or otherwise dramatic recounting of Van Gogh's life in essence, from his disastrous experience as a salesman in an art gallery, his struggles to find his style, his closeness to brother Theo, the Arles triumphs and anguish, the fight with Gauguin and Vincent's breakdown and death.

All is handled with taste and appealing musical values, a healthy dash of modernism a la post-Wozzeck and a sure theatrical flair. I will confess that the idea of an opera rehashing the tragic life of the brilliant painter did not on first blush appeal to me. His life story has entered the pop-folk vernacular of the misunderstood artistic genius and in some ways given us a romantic myth that may provide a cautionary tale of how one can never be sure of talent when a great one could possibly be living among us, but otherwise perhaps justifies a kind of collective shrug of the shoulders when it comes to modernism and its supposed inscrutability.

Nonetheless I have immersed myself in the work and come out with a positive feeling about it. It is constructed with the sort of event arc conducive to gaining an absorbed audience attention. And in the end J. D. McClatchy's libretto meshes with the well-wrought score to maintain and grow the dynamic tension necessary to experience the life story and its very sad yet triumphant end points. There are brilliant moments that musically match the anguish of the main character.

Arthur Fagen, the effective soloists and the amassed Indiana University singers and musicians all give us a convincing and intense reading of the score.

This is a good one for you who want to keep abreast of developments in modern opera today.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Vitezslav Novak, In the Tatra Mountains, Buffalo Philharmonic, JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra can be counted on to do justice to late-romantic, proto-impressionist scores. And so they do us a real service handling the ins and outs of composer Vitezslav Novak (1870-1949) and his In the Tatra Mountains (Naxos 8.573683).

As can be heard in this three-work program, Novak was a Bohemian Nationalist who constructed vast panoramas that perhaps owed something to Dvorak but took the music into the 20th century in his own way.

The three works open Novak's musical world with a maturity and a sense of motion and tone color painting that mark him as talented and eloquent.  You can hear echoes of Bohemian folk music but indirectly for the most part, as if reflected by distance and wide spaces in woodlands or mountains.

Each of the three have character and very worthy orchestrations. They seem descriptive but well beyond a literal program. And so as we immerse ourselves in the title work "In the Tatra Mountains" (1902), and the following pieces, "Lady Godiva - Overture" (1907) and "Eternal Longing" (1905). We linger in expressively evocative worlds, now pastoral, now in a terrain of inner feelings and passions, always with a sense of proportion and contrast.

Novak may be pretty well forgotten to most of us, but Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic give us very musical reasons to revel in his rediscovery. The three works give us much substance and pleasure. And so there is a good deal to appreciate on this disk.

Recommended.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bach, The Art of Fugue, Stephanie & Saar

Johann Sebastian Bach's  1748 The Art of Fugue (New Focus Recordings FCR 181, 2-CDs) is one of a handful of his most sublime works. He composed it in his final years, a part here and there unfinished, never specifying the instrumentation or tempo, yet giving us a soaring set of 14 fugues and 4 canons based on a single theme. There is nothing quite like it anywhere in the cannon of great works. I've had various versions of it throughout my lifetime. The mostly single piano four-hand version by DUO Stephanie & Saar rivals and possibly surpasses them all,

Why? The utter seriousness of the music, its incredible power is given to us undiluted, aesthetically sound yet not overly florid, tempos seeming just right, now lingering and contemplative, now expressing great depth of feeling and strength. The notes themselves are the central focus, with enough interpretive feeling but never too much. The parts are articulated with a clarity of purpose so that we continually hear the equal unfolding of fugal voices, never missing the contrapuntal whole that is so critical for a full understanding of this masterpiece.

The fugal Bach surpasses its times to speak across all time. Indeed the "Art" is within that select grouping as perhaps the highest of expressions of Bach's razor-sharp otherworldliness. Words cannot begin to do justice to the music.

All I can do is point you towards this version. Your ears will do the rest. Let your mind boggle!






Thursday, June 15, 2017

44 Waltzes on 88 Keys, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Ravel, Peter Schaaf

When you do not know what you want to listen to, you may want to hear pianist Peter Schaaf's 44 Waltzes on 88 Keys (Schaaf Records 102). That may sound facetious but I am quite serious.  It is what the title suggest, waltzes. Little miniaturist gems both familiar and not, by the likes of Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak and Ravel. Everybody will doubtless know the Ravel, much fewer the Dvorak, but all have a special something that takes the music well beyond the salon per se (we do not have salons anymore regardless) and into the realm of pure music (which thankfully many of us still need and demand).

An important key to it all is Peter Schaaf. Most of the waltzes have a periodicity and symmetry that have generally been expected of the form over the years. Excepting Ravel's "Valses nobles et sentimentales" they have brilliance but also a dominant regularity of waltz form. They give a world-class pianist an interpretive set of possibilities that includes rubato, dynamic variations, subtle articulations, varied attacks and whatever else seems fitting to the artist in his or her vision of what a performance might sound like. Of course a supremely endowed pianist may make a love-fest of pretentious over performativity out of works like this, if "taste" is not sufficiently present.

Peter Schaaf has the ability to keep the musical content foremost while engaging in convincing interpretive readings. The Ravel, most inviting to the interpretive arts, has a subtle beauty in Schaaf's hands. Like the more straightforward waltz pieces in this delightful program, the readings wear well and bring to the forefront the brilliance of the composers involved.

Schaaf makes of it all a great pianistic outing. I do not fail to respond to this program, no matter what mood I may be in, and I have been in definite moods lately so I am confident in my reactions.

44 Waltzes is a kind of triumph of musicality. I heartily recommend it! Schaaf makes the experience a true pleasure.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Akoka: Reframing Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz & Friends

Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" is without question one of the masterpieces of modern chamber music. Once you hear it a few times, it takes its place inside your musical mind and stays there. It expresses in sorrow and transcendence the horror of Nazi Europe and its evil promise. No wonder, Messiaen wrote it as an inmate in a concentration-work camp, for performance by himself and fellow musicians to play as an act of musical defiance in the face of despair. Never has such bitter sorrow led to such music!

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (Pentatone Oxingale 5186 560) is as it says, a new recording of  the Quartet  as the centerpiece of an extended performance which sandwiches the work in between David Krakauer's "Akoka" and socalled's "Meanwhile".
The latter is an ultra-contemporary coda to the work, a sort of remix of the Quartet; "Akoka" is dedicated to the original clarinetist in the first performance, one Henri Akoka. It is a structured improvisation based on Krakauer's template.

The bookend performances give us a current-day framing and affirm that Messiaen's music of protest remains completely relevant to our times, as we feel the shadow of evil making itself felt again all over the world.

This performance of the Quartet is up there with the best. David Krakauer, clarinet, Matt Haimovitz, cello, Jonathan Crew, violin, and Geoffrey Burleson, piano, give us a very thoughtful and spirited reading. The bookend pieces serve to situate and extend the impact of the music and do so in interesting ways. All in all this may well be the version you should get if you have none to date. It is essential music, as fresh as ever, as movingly personal as it is universal.

Paul Lustig Dunkel, Alive in the Studio

Extraordinary flute master Paul Lustig Dunkel appears before us at the peak of his powers on the recital recording Alive in the Studio (MSR Classics 1554). On it Peter Basquin provides sensitive and appropriate accompaniment as needed. Laura Conwesser, Rie Schmidt and Tanya Witek flesh out the flute quartet on Dunkel's "Quatre Visions Pour Quatre Flutistes." Tony Moreno gives us the percussion-drum part on his "Episodes for Flute and Percussion."

Those are the bare-bones basics. It is the flute of Dunkel and its fine tonal presence and virtuosity that carries the day in the end. He is a well healed flautistic spectre on Dunkel's arrangement of Shostakovich's "Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor Op. 40." The work sounds completely natural and poignant in the flute substitution of the cello part.

Dunkel's own "Quatre Visions Pour Quatre Flutistes" (2014) has a dynamic and very idiomatic fullness and inventiveness about it. The four-fold flute family sonority is a joy to hear.

The rest is worthy as well. It all ends up as a model of what a world-class flautist can do. Bravo!

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Sergio Cervetti, Triptych Revelation

Sergio Cervetti's music is in the process of being well documented by Navona Records. (I've covered a number of them. Type his name in the search box above for those reviews.) The latest release, Triptych Revelation (Navona 6099), is an especially good one. It covers three most interesting and provocative modern works from three different periods of his career, the "Concerto for Trumpet, Strings, and Timpani" (1973), the "Piano Quintet - Toward the Abyss" (2015) and "The Hay Wain" for virtual orchestra (1987).

Each of the three shows a pronounced quality of its own. Taken together there is a kind of revelation about his music.

"The Hay Wain" is a response to Hieronymus Bosch's painting, with synths and such forming a thick wash filled with narrative mystery. It has all the complexities of Cervetti's acoustic orchestral music and a convincing orchestration of the battery of sound module tracks as well.

The Piano Quintet is a musical realization of Le Voyage from Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. It is an intricate modernist work worthy of Cervetti at his very best.

The "Concerto for Trumpet, Strings and Timpani" makes classic use of the instrumentation and its ceremonial fanfarish possibilities, perhaps reminding slightly of Lully but of course all Cervetti.

And so there we have it. This is music of our current modern age, not afraid of tonality but not trying to resurrect a movement backwards, either. And the expansive possibilities of high modernism are never wholly absent (hear the Quintet!). It is an excellent listen.

Very recommended.




Friday, June 9, 2017

Raats, Complete Piano Sonatas 1, Nicolas Horvath

Oh, the things we will hear once we open our ears! There is so much out there. There is Jaan Raats (b. 1932) a name as unknown to me as the umlauts in his name (that my current writing program cannot produce). The World Premiere recordings of his Complete Piano Sonatas 1 (Grand Piano 765) as deftly handled by pianist Nicolas Horvath is something of an event, The music has a dash and panache that is as revelatory as it is appealing,

This first volume gives us sonatas 1-4 and 9-10; the first three hail from 1959, No. 4 from 1969, No. 9 from 1985, rev. 2014 and No. 10 from 2000, rev. 2014.

His is a very motile, dynamic modernism that takes maximum advantage of the percussive nature of the instrument.

The music is not quite like anything else. The long span between the first and tenth sonatas does not at first listen show a huge stylistic change, there is a pronounced Raats-like quality to all of them. But that pronounced originality is the constant thread that makes the entire program stand out as special.

Jaan Raats has found a way to be modern without being what one might expect. That is something to appreciate. Explore this music and find another musical world awaiting!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Alvin Lucier, Two Circles, Alter Ego

The avant garde new music world in the '60s and beyond in the USA? The world has not caught up yet, except of course for those intrepid listeners who have made a point of immersing themselves in its explorations and exceptionality. One can draw connecting lines between the American and European scenes of course, and what has taken place in Japan. In the end though there have been as many differences as convergences.

The all pervasive influence of John Cage has been decisive here. His liberation of noise and silence, the use of chance and indeterminacy, and the overall nonconformist and Zen obstinacy has left a mark on those who came in his wake.

Alvin Lucier (b. 1931) has been one of the more controversial and innovative of the post-Cagean 20th century group. Two Circles is a recent anthology of  Lucier chamber works for instruments, electroacoustics and voice. The chamber ensemble Alter Ego  brings to the music great care and understanding. The works cover a broad swath of time from 1968 through 2012.

The earlier work, I Am Sitting in a Room (1968) has the uncanny meta-part for Lucier's voice, remade now so that his voice shows a golden ripening. It is a simple statement of what the project is meant to do, and then its repetition, each time played back into the room so that Lucier's voice becomes an acoustic transformation that gradually takes on the room's acoustic resonance and in the end becomes that room.

His instrumental works represented in this album have to do with tunings and microscopically contrasting alternate tunings that beat against one another, and the making present of the acoustic properties of the space in which the music sounds.

There is more to it than that of course. And there is a science-like rigor to it that in the end brings enlightenment to the hearer. There are a times an almost clinical quality that may at first be off-putting. But ultimately the music stands or falls as music. Lucier's music can be difficult and challenging. These works are most certainly that. Yet careful, repeated listens take you on a journey through a microscopic universe that has all the qualities of aesthetic experience but brings us there in ways more radically contemplative than we may be used to.

Two Circles serves as a worthy introduction to Lucier. It adds to our appreciation of his music if we already are familiar. This is certainly not in the realm of entertainment. For those willing to take the music as seriously as Lucier intends it to be it is revelatory.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Piotr Szewczyk, Bliss Point, Selected Chamber Works

How many excellent composers active today do you not know? Of course the answer for all of us is that we cannot know how many unknowns there are unless we already know them. One I am glad to know is Piotr Szewczyk. His album of Selected Chamber Works, Bliss Point (Navona 6093), brings to our ears some nine provocative examples of his art.

The violinist and composer is Polish-born, which explains the hard-to-spell name. The music does not sound so much Polish as modern-international in scope. There is a great rhythmic vitality and kinetic energy in this music.The modernistic thematic-harmonic bedrock of the music is in no sense vitiated by its rhythmic core. The whole gestalt of the music enchants and speaks with a specially singular voice that makes it all stand out.

Nine works in all, each with an instrumentation that seems wholly appropriate to the piece at hand. The combinations and permutations are considerable--oboe, violin, cello and piano; violin and viola; piano trio; string quartet; flute, clarinet, cello and piano; string trio; violin and piano; two violins; and violin, clarinet, cello and piano. Each has considerable individuality. Each is performed with zest and sympathetic understanding.

This one is memorable! Viva Piotr Szewczyk.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Messiaen, Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinity, Colin Andrews

Messiaen's Meditations sur le mystere de la sainte trinite (Loft 1150) is one of the monumental organ works of our day. Messiaen completed it in 1969. It started in 1967 as four improvisations in celebration of the rebuilding of the organ at Sainte Trinite as well as the 100th anniversary of the cathedral's existence. The work grew and blossomed until it reached its final form. Birdcalls, plainchant, and Greek and Indian rhythmic patterns all are incorporated into the work, as was the case in varying degrees in his later period.

Of all of Messiaen's organ opuses of the later days this one is as complex and monumentally titanic as any. Organist Colin Andrews comes through with a reading that underscores the complexities but also draws coherently the outline shape of the ongoing structural essences. That is only to say that in his hands there is great sympathy and understanding for the work and its fullness.

The Meditations are essential listening--both as some of the most advanced modern organ music ever written and as a milestone of the composer's later evolution. This version rivals any others I have heard. Get it without hesitation.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry, L'epreuve villageoise, Opera Lafayette

If the French school of baroque-classical music has put you under a spell, you will be happy with Andre-Ernest-Modeste Gretry (1741-1813) and his most popular work, the comic opera L'epreuve villageoise (The Village Trial) (Naxos 8.660377). The 1784 opera gets, surprisingly, its World Premiere Recording with this release, under the very capable and enthusiastic auspices of Opera Lafayette and soloists under Ryan Brown.

In truth this is a great example of how the best of the French school can be lighter than air, extraordinarily tuneful yet in no way insubstantial. A listen or two illuminates exactly how the opera delighted audiences the world over in the century between 1784-1884. It still has the power to charm, as Opera Lafayette show so convincingly.

Here is an opera that has the catchy accessibility of Rossini, yet a French lyrical dynamic at its core.

It is a beauty. And it has the Naxos price and quality. Take the jump if you want to explore a forgotten gem.



Friday, June 2, 2017

Ralph Samuelson, Shakuhachi, The Universal Flute

The venerable art of Japanese Shakuhachi flute goes back some ways, to a sect of Zen monks in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today we contemplate a Western player of great finesse performing a program of contemporary, mostly American compositions on The Universal Flute (Innova 942).

We are treated to five compositions, each combining deftly the traditional Shakuhachi tonality and technique with some new music twists. Ralph is either unaccompanied or joined by idiomatic ensemble elements: koto, kugo harp, vocals, shamisen, and bansuri. As in the traditional art there is the use of space and special attention to each note to get a cosmic sort of suchness that is part of the aura surrounding the shakuhachi. This explains the album's subtitle "Discovery in a Single Tone."

We experience two versions of Henry Cowell's "The Universal Flute," one for unaccompanied flute and the other with bansuri accompaniment. Then follow Teizo Matsumara's "Shikyoku Ichiban" with shakuhachi and koto, Richard Teitelbaum's "Hi Kaeshi Hachi Mi Fu," Bun-Ching Lam's "Three Songs of Shide" with kugo harp, and Elizabeth Brown's "Afterimage" with shamisen and vocals.

This is music of depth, something that will appeal to all who know the shakuhachi tradition as well as those seeking ambient meditative moods. Samuelson is a true artist of the instrument and the music has much about it to explore and discover.




Thursday, June 1, 2017

J. S. Bach, Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, Arranged for Solo Guitar, Francesco Teopini

The smaller ensemble world of Johann Sebastian Bach seems to me as I grow older ever more timeless, whether it be the unaccompanied cello pieces, the keyboard works or the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, The latter we consider today in their version for solo guitar (Brilliant Classics 2CD 95424). Francesco Teopini does the honors on the nylon stringed classical instrument. The results are alternately introspective and lively, and always rather brightly insightful.

Teopini gives us warm, feelingful readings, nicely idiomatic interpretations that have a glow of sincerity, ringingly clear and expressive.

The three Sonatas and partitas come to us with loving care and an immanent presence on the guitar. It is as if we are hearing these pieces anew, yet the deja vu recognition points come at us regularly, like the gradual dawning that the person who is speaking to us is our long-lost life twin.

Brilliant! And especially attractive at the Brilliant budget price.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tigran Mansurian, Requiem

Armenian lyrical composer Tigran Mansurian chimes in with a remarkable Requiem (ECM New Series 2508) dedicated to the victims of the Turkish genocide against Armenians (1915-17). There is a haunting aura about it all, born of  heartfelt sorrow and the melding of traditional Armenian modal byways and Western modern and early music elements.

On the surface of it such combinations are not surprising, but then this music is inspired. The RIAS Kammerchoir and the Munchener Kammerorchester under Alexander Lienreich take advantage of the spacious ECM production values to create a remarkable sonic aura that gives maximum expressive reflectiveness.

The various movements of the Requiem Mass have each their own beauty, regret and sorrow being of course a common denominator but expressive power and tenderness holding sway in contrasting ways.

After all has ended one feels like one has been subject to a ghostly visitation, an otherworldly presence of the long deceased victims, while alternately agitation and an unearthly peace reigns, There are few contemporary choral works more moving and singular than this. Performances are as close to perfection as one might dare to expect for such a new work.




Schoenberg, Chamber Symphonies, Five Pieces Op. 16, Berg, Webern, Two Pianos & Piano Four Hands Versions, Matteo Fossi, Marco Gaggini

The contingent of Arnold Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern did as much or more than anybody to shape the modern classical world in the early-to-middle twentieth century and beyond. Schoenberg was the lynchpin of the three, of course, though Berg and Webern each made of it all something extraordinary in their own right. Schoenberg's Chamber Symphonies & Five Pieces Op. 16 (Brilliant  94957) were landmark achievements in the movement away from conventional tonality but also compellingly significant as absorbing listens in themselves today.

"Chamber Symphony No. 1" was completed in 1906, "Five Pieces Op. 16" in 1909, "Chamber Symphony No. 2" in 1916. Early performances caused much controversy. They were followed by piano arrangements: a four-hands version of the first Chamber Symphony by Alban Berg, a two-piano version of the "Five Pieces for Orchestra" by Anton Webern, and Schoenberg's own two-piano version of the second Chamber Symphony.

Matteo Fossi and Marco Gaggini bring us spirited and idiomatic readings of the piano versions. What is remarkable especially is how, stripped of the orchestral tone colors and boiled down to their essences, each work exhibits its harmonic and melodic brilliance like a old master painting cleaned and scraped bare of yellowed varnish and grime, exposed to our view once again the way the artist originally conceived it. That of course is not to criticize the orchestrations so much as to underscore how hearing these versions renew for us the hearing of the vitally new, the revolutionary core of the works as they sounded to listeners then.

The experience of listening to this disk has been revelatory to me. There in short is a wealth of naked musical truth that showcases Schoenberg's remarkably forged vocabulary as if for the first time. Nothing can quite compare. Fossi and Gaggini bring a new brightness to these works and in their hands the transcriptions themselves are almost startling to hear now.

Strongly recommended.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Caetani, The Two String Quartets, Alauda Quartet

Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961) ? Another 20th century Italian instrumental composer most of us do not know.  Like some others covered lately on these pages, he is not exactly a full-blown modernist. Far from it. But there is some very good music to be heard on the recent release The Two String Quartets (Brilliant Classics 95198). The youthful but considerable Alauda Quartet tackle Caetani's "Quartetto Op. 12 in F minor" and the "Quartetto Op.1 No. 1 in D."

The minor mode of the Op.12 brings out a gentle impressionist-romantic melancholy that the Alauda Quartet handles without sentimentality, with the matter-of-fact presence that we in our contemporary world need to hear in this music--as closer to our time than the 19th century. This is a work I would not like to hear the Budapest Quartet play, because they might give it a heart-on-sleeve nerve-driven reading that would miss the subtlety and transcendence that the Alauda give to the work.

The early Op. 1 No. 1 in a single movement has a somewhat similar hushed expectancy, and a moodiness that like the Op. 12 speaks with a kind of intimacy that is not unwelcome. It has moments that are perhaps a little less transparent and more romantic than not, but there is nothing perfunctory about it, either. Caetani speaks with his own sincerity, lives and expresses convincingly within the style sets he inhabits.

If you have some time to devote to unfamiliar music and feel a little moody yourself this is attractive music. Recommended for you who feel the lack or recall a life abundance now dissipated! Or for that matter it  is for you who just like the idea of a kind of mysteriously gentle impressionist-late romanticism.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

William Hellermann, Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December, Robert Dick

The minimal can turn out to be far from that; it can be an external cloak for the micro-maximal. That is very true of William Hellermann's soliloquy Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December (New World 80789-2). It has a never-ending, infinitely expansive way about it. A single work lasting some 50 minutes it proceeds with the premise that a small number of fundamental tones on Robert Dick's flute can be subjected to sound color variations via circular breathing, breath control, articulation, etc.

What unfolds is an opening into the fabric of aural space. Fundamental root tones, harmonic overtones and differing shades of tonal color inherent within the audio production of sounding--all get ample time for us to contemplate. The simple has within it the infinitely complex. That comes forward into our consciousness as Dick articulates Hellermann.

The liners describe the revolutionary act of the premiere performance, by Robert Dick at the American Center in Paris, 1979. The recent recording tells the rest. It is a music you feel, beyond its verbal description, which can only tell you what is, maybe, more so than what it feels like to hear it.

I would try and tell you more, of that inner world of feeling the hearing, But it is better that you simply hear it for yourself, repeatedly, without expectations. That will  be decisive for you.

I recommend you engage with this one. It might change you!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lei Liang, Luminous

Some high modernist chamber excellence can be had on Chinese-American composer Lei Liang's Luminous (New World 80784-2). Five compositions for varied instrumentation fill the program. The liner notes no doubt say it all definitively so that I probably come to this with less insight.

The string quartet "Vergo Quartet" (2013) is an example of what Liang is about. There are Mongolian aspects but they are so well integrated into the whole that you may not notice. Instead this is very lively music that manages to be both tonal and modernistically three-dimensional.

"Trans" (2013) for solo percussionist (Steven Schick) has a spacious, sprawling quality. A dramatic series of waxing and waning burst of notes contrasts with suspended cymbal rolls. A sprightly, more densely rhythmic kind of dance follows.

The solo piano work "The moon is following us" (2015) has a Cagean Eastern quality and goes him one further.

"Inkscape" (2014) for Third Coast Percussion and pianist Michael Lewenthal is spacious like "Trans" but ever more structurally profound.

Then finally we have bass wonder Mark Dresser team up with the chamber ensemble Palimpsest for a lengthy modern narrative on "Luminous" (2014). Mark is called upon to show the wide range of sounds a master like himself can produce. The chamber ensemble parallels his beautiful playing with excellent contrapuntal dialectics.

I feel I have not done justice to the rewarding complexities of Lei Liang's music. The album has many riches that careful listening will uncover. I recommend you listen!



John Gibson, Traces

When the world seems the opposite of what you thought it was, there still is music and the love of the new. John Gibson comes to us with his album Traces (Innova 896), a fine collection of seven electroacoustic works, covering a fascinating spectrum of sounds that make a coherency--a very intelligent and moving program.

Some are pure electroacoustics, some add or are built around live instruments. In the latter category are "Out of Hand" which is built around Michael Tunnell's trumpet and Brett Schuster's trombone. Then there is "Red Plumes" with Craig Hultgrin on cello. Finally "Blue Traces" centers on the piano of Kati Gleiser.

The musicality and fresh musical thinking of Gibson predominates in any case, no matter what the work's premises and sound design.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Alban Berg, Wozzeck, Houston Symphony, Hans Graf

There is little doubt. Many would agree with me that Alban Berg's Wozzeck (Naxos 8.660390-91 2-CDs) is the greatest opera of the 20th century. In spite of its pioneering modernity--or more rightly because of its supremely appropriate adoption to a harrowing dramatic theme, it has been staged over the world continuously since its premiere in 1925. The uncanny, seamless fit between the expressionist music and tragic portrayal of a social misfit makes for riveting, bone-chilling fare.

There have been a number of performances on record since the advent of the LP. The Boulez with the Paris Opera and the Karl Bohm with the Orchester des Deutschen Opernhauses Berlin and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau  stand out in my mind as the definitive, pace setting winners. But now we have a new one on the budget Naxos label with soloists and the Houston Symphony under Hans Graf.

Roman Trekel in the role of Wozzeck, Anne Schwanewilms as Marie and Marc Molomot as Captain Hauptmann are convincing both dramatically and musically. The orchestra brings us a full, well-rounded interpretation, not perhaps as edgy as Boulez but fully in tune with the score and its remarkable fitness to the drama.

There are several moments in the opera that I have found remarkable in themselves. The whistling, the out-of-tune piano in the bar-room scene and the final scene with children playing and singing in chilling contrast to the brutal murder that marks the climax of the opera. Graaf  and company underscore the whistling very well. The bar piano seems a little under recorded, as does the children's choir and dialog at the end. No matter.

This version introduces anyone unfamiliar with the essential work nicely, and its middle-level expressivity marks a decided contrast to the Bohm and the Boulez, so much so that it is worth having as another take on the music. Either way Graaf's version is a winner.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ockeghem, Masses, Beauty Farm

We can be thankful that Flemish Renaissance master contrapuntalist Johannes Ockeghem lived and thrived (1410?-1497) and that much of his ravishing music has come down to us intact. Just how ravishing we can readily hear on the two-work album Masses (FB Limited Edition 1701743), as sung by the exceptional period vocal group Beauty Farm.

Included is the "Missa L'Homme Arme" in four parts, possibly the first such setting based on the popular song as cantus firmus, and "Missa Quinti Toni" in three parts. The six vocalists bring out the unparalleled beauty of the parts, made so attractively otherworldly via their vibratoless delivery and heightened by the excellence of the countertenor Bart Uvyn and the other vocalists in the ensemble..

This is truly remarkable music, made all the more so by the quality of the performances. Ockeghem's contrapuntal writing has a sublimity of which only a master of the highest caliber is capable.

It is hard to imagine an intersection of composer and choral group more felicitous. The hard-edged articulation of each line (made especially alive by the small group) allows us to experience the living presence of the contrapuntal totality, the virtual absence (aside from the mandatory cadences) of a single banal intervallic movement, the singularity of every part and their near miraculous juxtaposition into an enchanting whole.

Anyone who is an early music enthusiast or for that matter anyone who needs further exposure to Renaissance masterworks will be well served by this album.

Truly.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bruce Crossman, Living Colours: Pacific Sounds & Spirit

New music lives! As Edgard Varese put it, "the present day composer refuses to die!" That remains as true as ever. We find plenty of life out there, perhaps nowhere more than on Bruce Crossman's bouquet of compositions, Living Colours: Pacific Sounds & Spirit (Navona 6095).

As the title suggests Crossman allows the music of the Pacific, specifically of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Filipino traditions, to influence his more or less high modern attention to sound color and sound space. Harrison and Partch are possible forebears without becoming templates.

Four adventuresome chamber works comprise the program, each a significant waystep in understanding Crossman's musical ways. The longest work, "Gentleness-Suddenness" for mezzo-soprano, violin, percussion and piano, has the spacious stop and go perhaps of Korean Pansori music, only rethought and reactivated as an inspiration for the new music realm.

"Where Are the Sounds of Joy?" makes thoughtful use of an even smaller ensemble--trumpet, percussion and piano--for something spaciously Asian but with an effectively communicative vocabulary of Western new music. I cannot help recall Stockhausen's "Refrain," but only again as precursor. There is a modern improv music element as well. It makes a beautiful end to a significant program.

Backtracking though, the album begins with two small ensemble works of note, "Double Resonances" for percussion and piano, and "Not Broken Bruised-Reed" for violin, percussion and piano. Both are exemplary of the Crossman approach and give us much to appreciate.

You out there who look for the new in new music, seek no further. Crossman is a real force for the present-future. The album is outstanding!