Collectif9 based in Montreal bills themselves, aptly, as a “string band”. This is their second album and I haven’t heard the first but this one is a hoot!
Drawing on the age old practice of transcribing music for chamber groups which used to be common in taverns and such back in the 18th and 19th centuries they create delightful riffs on the music they chose. Here they chose Gustav Mahler. If the appellation of my title, “Mahler Lite” seems pejorative fear not. This album is sheer delight.
There are 8 tracks drawing variously from the first, second, and fifth symphonies as well as Das Lied and the Wayfarer Songs. The last track is a fantasy by Philip Hersant on themes of Mahler. Nine musicians, all on bowed string instruments, do a marvelous job of evoking a big sound out of their ensemble.
Transcription is a true art and this is a shining example. Anyone familiar with Mahler’s work will find a comforting familiarity in these pieces. What struck this listener was their ability to evoke the orchestral instruments with some clever extended techniques. Tympani, trumpets, trombones, tympani, etc. are all slyly and successfully implied in their playing.
While the liner notes don’t go into much technical detail they are all the average listener will need. The charming thing here is the reproduction of the painting (apparently common in nurseries in Austria) which inspired the third movement of his first symphony. If you don’t know the painting it depicts a bunch of animals carrying a dead hunter which, perhaps, they have killed. And it is printed on the fold out liner notes. Mahler uses Brother John (in a minor key) as a starting place for a set of variations with the intent of evoking this image.
The design by Kanelloscob.com deserves mention. It deserves a closer look. They manage to integrate a group photo, a track list, credits, commentary, and a large reproduction of that nursery art. And they do it all with paper, no plastic to crack and become unusable. It’s low key but a really beautiful production.
Collectif9 is John Corban, Yubin Kim, Robert Margaryam, and Elizabeth Skinner on violins; Xavier Lepage-Brault and Jennifer Thiessen on violas; Jérémie Cloutier and Andrea Stewart on celli; and Thibault Bertin-Maghit on double bass (who actually did these wonderful transcriptions).
Of course the music is the main point and that is the best reason to buy this disc. Who knows? Maybe we’ll start seeing/hearing chamber groups like this in our coffee shops. Wouldn’t that be cool?
The late Donald Buchla (1937-2016) Invented many instruments from his keyboardless Model 100 (pictured here is a Buchla 200), the Marimba Lumina, but no guitar. So along comes one Alan Courtis and he creates what Buchla did not live to invent.
Courtis is an Argentine guitarist who was the founder of the group Reynols who collaborated in recordings with Pauline Oliveros. Oliveros was one of the composer/design consultants with whom Donald Buchla collaborated along with Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick. So this album returns this busy, eclectic musician to his roots back to the days of the Tape Music Center.
Well, it surely doesn’t sound like a guitar for much of the time but the star here (or maybe co-star is more accurate) is the Buchla 200 which is the instrument through which the composer processes his guitar and which widens the range of what he can do with his instrument immeasurably. This album will remind listeners of the work of Morton Subotnick and perhaps early Pauline Oliveros.
There are four tracks, no titles, just absolute music. Courtis is clearly skilled and schooled in the operation of the Buchla 200, so much so that his guitar playing is rather eclipsed. This is likely by design. This is in many ways a tribute to Buchla and peaen to the heady days of radical invention that was the Tape Music Center (later moved to Mills College) and its luminaries
This is not easy listening but it it is a must for anyone interested in the various orbits which surround this historic and creative enclave. I don’t know if this album will appeal to many listeners but it is a huge effort and is, in effect, another brick in the wall as far as the history of electronic music on the west coast of the United States (and its dissemination to Argentina and points beyond)..
While this album came to me as a digital download (something which tests the limits of my technical skills) it does contain at least a little bit of liner notes. More would be nice but Courtis and Reynols seem more concerned with making interesting sounds and compositions and seem rather unconcerned with telling us how they got there except in the most general ways. Bravo Mr. Courtis.
Another refugee from one of those new music groups comes forth with a debut album. This time it is cellist Clarice Jensen who also serves as artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME). And what amazes this listener is the sheer diversity one can find in solo cello recordings.
This recording focuses on the special tunings by La Monte Young student Michael Harrison who has carved his own unique compositional style as well as some interesting work by the late Johan Johannson and by the soloist herself.
There are 4 tracks: bc by Clarice Jensen and Jóhann Jóhannsson Cello Constellations by Michael Harrison For this from that will be filled (a) by Clarice Jensen For this from that will be filled (b) by Clarice Jensen
While there are consistencies between the sound world of these pieces they have their own identity. Johansson’s work opens the disc and sets the tone for all that comes after. This is not simply a cellist with a set of cool effects pedals. Rather this is a soloist seeking to become one with her instrument (which includes the electronics).
Michael Harrison’s work is heard too infrequently. The former student of La Monte Young carries on the tradition of exploring new tunings in a manner one might expect of the next generation of this practice. Harrison (no relation to Lou) creates dream like worlds with the psychological effects of these tunings and this work is a stunning example.
Jensen plays the two parts of the title track, “For this from that will be fulfilled”. Multiple generations beyond the kitschy “one man band” novelty concept, Jensen’s playing must be a mesmerizing live experience. This track was originally designed to accompany visuals by one Jonathan Turner who did the striking photography of the album’s cover.
The review copy lacked liner notes (a personal bugaboo) and the press release and notes on the soloist’s site and that of Bandcamp also tell precious little. Fortunately this is music which speaks pretty directly and can easily be enjoyed with no knowledge of whence it came. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy. Jensen’s playing is magical.
Shostakovich dealt with a great deal of adversity as a result of wars, the revolution, and Stalinism. That is sad but it makes for some really amazing stories. So it is with this symphony.
It was composed in 1936 and would mark the entry of more post-romantic elements into the composer’s work which gives it a Mahler-like cast at times. Unfortunately the politics resulted in the composer withdrawing the symphony. During WWII the score was lost and reconstructed from surviving orchestral parts and the present two piano transcription by the composer. The world premiere occurred in 1961 under Kiril Kondrashin.
It is the two piano “reduction” which is featured here. Reduction refers to the transcription of the piece for two pianos but the grand symphonic nature shines through with amazing lucidity. Of course this is as much due to the skill of the transcription but also of the artists. If you have never heard a great transcription this will amaze you.
Davies and Namekawa have established quite a name for themselves as a duo piano team. Davies, the long established conductor and his life partner Namekawa, herself a dazzling pianist have collaborated for some time now as a duo and this recording is testament to what they can do. Here they joyfully share their interests and insights on this masterpiece. Even if you have and know the orchestral version you will want to hear this.
There are three movements here. The outer movements are long extended compositions with a small(but amazing) interlude in between. This is not the Shostakovich of the famed 5th symphony. Rather it is a sort of transitional piece between the student work of the first symphony and the social realism of the second and third symphonies. While deeply intelligent the work has no intended program and one could almost pass this off stylistically as a lost Mahler work.
Fear not, though, the composer’s fingerprint is here. After all this is his 4th essay in the symphony genre. Unfortunately a perfect storm of politics conspired to almost destroy this work. Fortunately both this reduction and the reconstruction make the work available. It is especially curious for the Shostakovich enthusiast to listen to this work and imagine the care that must have been taken to avoid being associated with non state-approved music. It’s a good example of how politics places additional meaning on a piece of music that originally had none.
The recordings is lucid and is due for release on February 8th. One added sort of irony. The work is scheduled for its west coast premiere in San Francisco on February 10th.
Rachel Barton Pine is one of the brightest lights of the solo violin in Chicago and worldwide. Her partnership with Cedille records (also a venerable Chicago based institution) has been both fruitful and revelatory.
In addition to the standard virtuoso repertoire such as Brahms and Beethoven this soloist has demonstrated a passion and a genuine interpretive feel for music by black composers. Were we living in a less racially charged time this focus would be of minor interest. But the fact remains that music by black composers, regardless of the composer’s national origin or the quality of the music, have been seriously neglected.
Indeed this soloist has become a sort of shepherd of the lost and neglected. Her recorded catalog is testament to her achievements in a really wide range of repertoire from the Bach solo violin music to neglected concertos and occasional pieces ranging from the 17th century to the present.
The present disc was an October, 2018 release I am reviewing for Black History Month. And it is a gem. No fewer than 11 composers, 5 of whom are still living. It is both an acknowledgement of some of the classics produced by black composers over the last 100 years and an introduction to new and emerging voices.
The recently deceased David N. Baker (1931-2016) is represented here in the first track, Blues (Deliver My Soul ) and provides a context immediately. The word “blues” is used to refer to the uniquely black musical form which consists of a poetic form in which the first line is repeated. The vocal styles that are the blues are probably the most recognizable aspect of this musical form. But one can’t miss the persistent subtext of the neglect of such fine music as yet another insult to widen the racial divide.
In fact many of these pieces are not, strictly speaking, blues. But that is not the main point here. Pine, along with her quite able accompanist Matthew Hagle, present a beautiful and wide ranging selection which presents some wonderful music and, for those with a conscience, illustrate what can be lost when listening choices are hampered by prejudice.
The Baker piece helps to create a context. It is followed by Coleridge-TaylorPerkinson’s (1932-2004) Blue/s Forms for solo violin. This man’s career alone is worth a book at least. His eclectic and learned musical style found him writing music for movies, television, and the concert hall. He was also versed in jazz and blues and even played drums with Max Roach for a while. These solo violin songs are a beautiful example of the composer’s melodic gifts. One can easily imagine these pieces programmed alongside the Bach solo music.
William Grant Still (1895-1978), truly the dean of black American composers, is next. His Suite for Violin and Piano is happily performed with some frequency and deserves to be recognized as one of the masterpieces by this really still too little known composer. The piece is in three movements, each a representation in music of a painting.
Noel Da Costa (1929-2002) is a new name to this writer. He hails originally from Nigeria but made his career in New York City. His “Set of Dance Tunes for Solo Violin” makes a nice companion to the Perkinson pieces. This is one of the world premieres on the disc. Here’s hoping we get to hear more of this man’s work.
Clarence Cameron White (1880-1960) is another unfamiliar name. His Levee Dance is next. He was one of the lesser known of the group of early twentieth century black composers which included R. Nathaniel Dett, Dorothy Rudd Moore, Florence Price, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
By far the best known name here is Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974). One out of eleven here has “household name” status. He is represented by Wendell Logan’s arrangement of, “In a Sentimental Mood”. This is the premiere of this arrangement.
Now to the living black composers. This is a forward looking recording which pays homage to the past but also acknowledges a living tradition. Dolores White (1932- ). Her “Blues Dialogues for Solo Violin” add admirably to the solo violin repertoire.
Belize born Errollyn Warren is next with her brief, “Boogie Woogie”. Warren is a composer with a wide range and, while this is a fun piece, she has composed a wealth of music for various sized ensembles including orchestra. She was the first black composer to be represented at the famed Proms concerts. Wallen was a featured composer at Other Minds in San Francisco.
A slightly longer piece by Billy Childs (1957- ), “Incident a Larpenteur Avenue” gives the listener a taste of the work of this prolific composer. This is a world premiere which was written for the soloist. Childs won a Grammy for his jazz album, “Rebirth” in 2018.
Daniel Bernard Roumain is of Haitian roots and works in New York City where he works with turntables and digital sampling to augment his classical compositions. His work, “Filter for Unaccompanied Violin” is given its world premiere recording here.
Charles S. Brown (1940- ) concludes this amazing recital with, “A Song Without Words”.
This is a rich and rewarding recital which will take the interested listener into wonderful new territories. Listen, read about these composers, enjoy their artistry. This is just a beginning.
For this listener, traversing contemporary music concerts in the 1980s there appeared a trend to modify the traditional look of classical performers. The first striking example I can recall is the venerable Kronos Quartet performing all in tight black leather outfits. And there are performers who have an intentionally different look such as violinist Nigel Kennedy or Kathleen Supove whose look is decidedly unconventional. Focusing on attire could conceivably detract from a musical performance but the previously mentioned performers have in common with the performer on this disc both virtuosity and a distinctly different look which seems integral to their performance delivering decidedly unconventional music. The photography by Corrie Schneider creates a striking and evocative cover image giving her a sort of superhero ambiance. Why not?
Rebekah Heller, of course, is also one of the members of the wonderful ICE Ensemble, one of the finest working chamber groups focusing on contemporary music. ICE has in common with groups like Bang on a Can, Alarm Will Sound, ACME, and others the fact that they are populated by some of the finest young musicians who seem to be able to meet any challenge…er, commission thrown at them. In addition many of the musicians in these groups are also interesting composers. The others have a profound interest in new music that match their skills and passions oh so well.
In Metafagote Rebekah Heller presents 4 works on 4 tracks. Rand Steiger (1957- ) is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and Cal Arts. Steiger has been at UC San Diego since He is a 2015 Guggenheim Award recipient and though his discography is adequate this writer sees his name, hears his music too infrequently.
Steiger’s work opens this disc with Concatenation (2012) for bassoon and live electronics. Steiger is skilled in writing for both conventional instruments and for high tech electronics including spatialization, live processing. Steiger’s work is assertive, pretty much freely atonal, and packs a punch emotionally if memory serves. There was a vinyl record (this composer is younger than me by one year and I’m guessing still hoards at least a selection of LPs. The work was Hexadecathlon: “A New Slain Knight” (1984), basically a horn concerto for horn with chamber ensemble. It burns in my brain still, wonderful 6 minute cadenza at the end too.
Back to Concatenation, it is a sort of all consuming experience, a sound bath if you will. The timbres achieved with the combination of bassoon with electronics creates some grand, almost orchestral textures.
The second work is by one Jason Eckhardt (1971- ), a name vaguely familiar but his work is new to me, Eckhardt earned a B.A. from Berklee in 1992 followed by an M.A. (1994) and a D.M.A. (1998). He has studied with James Dillon, Jonathan Kramer, Milton Babbitt, Brian Ferneyhough, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. That provenance gives one an idea of what to expect…complexity. And he dishes that out for solo bassoon. Heller is up to the challenge in this piece, “Wild Ginger” (2014) from a series of pieces based on native plants in the Catskills. Again, why not?
The third track contains, “Following” (2014) for solo bassoon from a composer whose inspiration also sometimes comes from plants. Dai Fujikura (1977- ) is a prolific Japanese composer who also comes from a legacy of complexity having studied with the likes of Boulez, Taketmitsu, and Ligeti. Fujikura’s music may be complex but his music tends to have a softer edge, more like Takemitsu than Boulez. Again Heller demonstrates her technical skills that rise to meet the challenges posed here.
Last but not least is a piece as large and encompassing as the Steiger. Felipe Lara (1979- ) is an accomplished Brazilian composer. He is represented here by, “Metafagote” (2015), the most recent of the compositions here. It is scored for bassoon and 6 pre-recorded tracks. One is naturally put in the mind of Steve Reich’s counterpoint series for soloist playing against multiple pre-recorded similar instruments. The piece also can, and has been, performed by a soloist with 6 other bassoonists.
While the Reich notion is not the worst place to start, this piece is anything but minimalist. Rather it is distinctively modernist. It is a virtuosic exploration of some fascinating possibilities of the lowly bassoon. Lara owes more to free jazz at times in this epic, almost a concerto, piece.
I don’t know how many bassoon fanciers are out there but if you like new and experimental music of a virtuosic nature this is a great bet.
Let me start with an apology. I received this lovely CD digitally, that is, I had to download it, catalog it (so I don’t lose it), download a picture file, burn a CD, listen and write a review. OK, by now most readers have recognized the whine of a pre-millenial grappling with changes in the music distribution system. The bottom line and the reason for the apology? It took me a bit longer to process this submission.
Now let’s get down to the main reason for writing this, the CD itself. Miloš Katanić (1991- ) is a musician who hails from eastern Europe and is just beginning to gain international recognition. This, as far as I can tell is his first release. It consists of twelve short tracks representing ten composers of which this writer is able to recognize three, Philip Glass, Gene Pritsker, and Robert Moran.
Now just a bit about accordions. This writer’s understanding of accordions is that they are a group of instruments which use reeds to generate sound and a bellows to compress air to vibrate those reeds. Sounds like an organ, right? Well, the concept is basically the same only with an accordion (and with those foot pumped organs once popular), the wind is generated by the operator of the instrument.
The accordion certainly has a history in its folk band origins. It is a rather maligned instrument whose provenance fails to connect it to “respectable” instruments such as one would find in an orchestra (though it has had an occasional appearance in orchestras beginning in the late 19th century.
In the mid to late twentieth century several very serious and talented musicians took up this instrument and forever changed the public’s perception. In order by age I am speaking of Pauline Oliveros who took the accordion places no one imagined it could go, Guy Klucevsek who embraced the maligning and the folk aspects of the instrument, and William Schimmel who simply developed it as a classical instrument capable of virtuosity and, most of all, respect.
So along comes Mr. Katanić who now throws his hat in the ring. He is led in part by the most eclectic and prolific Gene Pritsker who I believe directed him to send me this disc. This young musician has a passion for much music which finds a frequent home in one of my audio players. And, as I suspected, the composers whose name were unfamiliar (Tauan Gonzalez Sposito, Antonio Correa, Wolfgang W. Mayer, Anthony Fiumara, Wellington E. Alves, and Ivan Bozicevic) are also of significant interest. The only problem here is the lack of liner notes and hence there is little on these other composers.
No matter really, This is a very enjoyable album by a truly talented musician. Of course my first stop was the Philip Glass Modern Love Waltz (originally for piano but now in many arrangements particularly those by Robert Moran). It is a delightful reading of the piece and hooked the Philip Glass junky in this reviewer in the process.
He manages to include two additional pieces by this really poorly represented master of American music (Moran) as well as two pieces by the also always interesting Gene Pritsker. The remaining pieces are by the composers that are not household names (. This will take a bit more time to listen but in the meantime I think we have here an auspicious debut by a musician who is poised to define his instrument, the accordion, for the 21 st century.