William Susman (1960- ) may not be a household name but, since my first encounter (purely by chance) with this man’s work I have heard, enjoyed, and reviewed several fascinating CDs of chamber music and film music which demonstrate a significant musical voice with some mighty substantial compositions. I don’t know how Mr. Susman feels about being called a “minimalist” but that is the most useful way I can convey with words his musical style. That much used word is a sort of catch all for what is in fact a plethora of compositional styles based in some basic, though hardly rigid, set of practices like static harmonies and repetition.
There are, as of this writing, four books of Quiet Rhythms (2010, 2010, 2012, 2013), each book contains 22 pieces further divided into 11 “Prologues” followed by 11 “Actions”. While I have only the vaguest idea of what processes the composer uses in these works (Book I at least) sounds to these ears like music which should share company with the likes of Terry Riley’s “Two Keyboard Studies” (1965), William Duckworth’s “Time Curve Preludes” (1977-78), Jeroen van Veen’s “Minimal Preludes” (four books1999-2013), Philip Glass’ “Etudes” (two volumes1994-2012). Spiritually they share a kinship with antecedents such as Bartok’s “Mikrokosmos” (six volumes1926-1939), and, ultimately I suppose, Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” (1722-1742). Yes, these are a diverse set of works for comparison, but to my ears they seem to share attempts to codify and/or experiment with their respective materials. They are the composers’ working out of their ideas.
And, in a delightful coincidence the pianist chosen to interpret these works is none other than Nicolas Horvath, a name that has graced these pages numerous times since our first online meeting in about 2014. Horvath has become a sort of pied piper for minimalist composers. He has performed solo recitals lasting up to 35 hours including Philip Glass’ complete piano music, a solo rendition of Erik Satie’s “Vexations” (1893-94), whose 840 repetitions were first performed by a tag team of pianists helmed by John Cage (of course) in 1963. He has also recently recorded all the piano music of little known French minimalist composer Jean Catoire (1923-2005) and numerous other projects including his own original compositions and sound/art installations.
Horvath was born to play this music and Mr. Susman kindly informed me that he will indeed record the remaining three books. This musician’s curatorial radar is as unique as it is accurate. That is, he knows good music when he sees/hears it and he searches far and wide. He delivers loving and authoritative performances here. It is, after all, his métier.
Susman’s etudes are experimental only in the sense of a composer exploring his inspiration, transcribing the dictation of his muses. The title “Quiet Rhythms” is quite apt as these are really kind of soothing in their harmony and meandering developments. And, more importantly, they have the weight of substance.
Three of these have been recorded before and I’m pleased to say that the remaining 8 compositions are equal in quality to the ones I’d already heard. Each numbered piece is actually two pieces, a prologue of 90-120 seconds followed by a more complex sounding work using similar methods. At first I had wanted to write about each of the pieces but I found myself enraptured by the music and insufficiently skilled in musicology to do a respectable analysis of these works.
So I’ve chosen to simply say that these are fascinating and engaging pieces whose structure is very much secondary to the quality of the musical content. These are truly post minimal works with a much wider harmonic palette than its minimalist predecessors. The sound is quite rich and the pieces engage the listener transporting them to a powerful emotional experience. The music echoes Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley but they also are destined to share a place in the repertoire alongside similar works by William Duckworth, Jeroen van Veen, and Simeon ten Holt.
Horvath is truly in his element here and his performances are hypnotically engaging. I can’t imagine these works being done better but, that said, they are attractive concert pieces for adventuresome pianists to program. Above all these are listener friendly despite the feel that they are almost a sort of textbook or manifesto by the composer which describes in music his vision of minimalism/post-minimalism.
If you’re a fan of minimal/post-minimal music this is a must have. but beware and remember to budget for the forthcoming 3 discs. You will want them all.
This double album by guitarist, composer, producer, etc. Dan Lippel is sort of his Yellow Brick Road, an album which listeners of a certain age know well. Elton John’s album was more about dropping the shackles of adolescence and conformity but Mirrored Spaces is more about setting aside the shackles of Lippel’s very busy life with ICE (The International Contemporary Ensemble), Flexible Music, and the daunting task of producing for (the also very busy and wonderful) New Focus Records. Here he presents a virtual manifesto of works for solo guitar with electronics which, if only by proximity of release date, suggests a comparison with Jennifer Koh’s Limitless.
Promo photo from the artist’s web site
The present disc is at once a virtual CV of his interests as performer and composer as well as a forward looking compilation by which future new chamber music with guitar will be compared. It is a collection which looks like he culled the best of his current working repertoire to present a sort of photograph of his vision.
The two discs are actually an overwhelming listening experience of new material. Here are the tracks:
Its easy to see the richness and complexity of this release from the track listing alone. Having already demonstrated his facility with minimalist classics like his wonderful recording of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint he presents selections from what appears to be his current active repertoire. It is a joy to see the diversity of composers he has chosen. Clearly he confronts the new and technically challenging works with the same zeal with which he approaches his various other responsibilities as performer and producer. We even get to hear some of his chops as a composer in the live recording of Scaffold as well as his collaborative work with Oriana Webb on the eponymous Mirrored Spaces. These are unusual works, not the “usual suspects” nor the latest rage but new and interesting music. Even the presentation of Kyle Bartlett’s pithy Aphorisms are scattered among the other tracks like pepper on your salad at a restaurant (personally my obsessive nature wants to re-order these tracks in sequence) demonstrating a sensitivity to alternate ways to present music.
I have at best a passing knowledge of most of these composers having heard some of the work of Douglas Boyce and some of Kyle Bartlett. I know Ryan Streber via his work as a recording engineer. the rest of the names are new to these ears. And that is exactly the point of this wonderful collection. I really can’t say much useful about the individual pieces except to say that they are compelling listening. The liner notes included in the CD release are useful and informative. (Now last I looked the CD version is not available on Amazon so you will have to go to Bandcamp to order it but I highly recommend it for the notes alone.) Many of these pieces will have a significant performance life and you heard them here first. Much as Jennifer Koh defines new collaborative adventures in Limitless with her trusty violin, Lippel brings his axe down on some challenging but substantive music in this forward looking collection.
OK, I admit that using the term “rogue” is a stretch. But titles of reviews should help draw the reader to it. And “clickbait” is the new “catchy”. But, in another sense one doesn’t generally think of the bass clarinet as a standalone recital instrument, even with electronics. Increasingly, it seems, new music purveyors are liberating instruments once unthinkable outside an orchestra or chamber ensemble. Jazz players have long used the bass clarinet as a solo instrument alongside the ubiquitous family of saxophones and the flute as the woodwinds that comprise most jazz ensembles,
Classical music has been slow to accept the bass clarinet until relatively recently. I don’t know when the first use of a bass clarinet either as a standalone solo or as part of a chamber ensemble occurred but certainly post 1950. Without getting in to the “whys” of this one can simply embrace the increasing presence of this instrument and its fascinating players.
Here, we get another of the subgenre of “COVID Isolation music”, itself a category worth further exploration.
There are five selections with composition dates ranging from 1983 to 2020 and composers from the still underappreciated Isang Yun to a new name, Hidiaki Aomori, a composer and friend of the soloist. And the remainder are risen and rising stars including the late conductor/composer Pierre Boulez, Grawmeyer Award winner Unsuk Chin, and the prolific Japanese composer Dai Fujikura.
The Fujikura work opens this isolated recital with a melancholy piece which appears to be a set of variations and has the character of a cadenza calling upon both technical and interpretive skills of the performer. And do I hear a nod to minimalism at the end? “Contour” (2020) is a fine opener where Lee displays her technical skills and insight to the composer’s vision.
Then its back to 1985 with one of the technical peaks of Boulez’ work at IRCAM, “Dialogue de L’Ombre Double” for bass clarinet with inscrutably complex electronics. This once leading edge example of the avant garde in its day actually sounds a bit dated but the soloist here seems to humanize the piece with her warm interpretation. And, despite what you may hear in the other tracks here, it is the only one using electronics on this disc.
Isang Yun (1917-1995), the late prolific Korean master is beginning to get more of a reckoning, and this 1983 piece, “Monolog for Bass Clarinet” is a fine entry to the expanding recorded oeuvre of this mid/late-twentieth century embattled and neglected genius. This piece speaks deeply of alone-ness.
Unsuk Chin (1961- ), a rising star and Grawmeyer Award winner is represented by a bass clarinet solo from her much lauded opera “Alice in Wonderland”. This stand alone solo, titled “Advice from a Caterpillar” is a maze of hallucinatory nods to Gershwin, Carl Stalling, and perhaps Prokofiev (in a “Peter and the Wolf” sense) using multiphonics and seems to expand the possibilities of this instrument to limits which might only be transcended with electronic assistance.
Hideaki Aomori‘s “Split” is a rather personal addition, a submission from one friend to another, a gift from one alone to another alone. It is another fine solo work which sits stylistically somewhere between the technical extremes of Boulez and Unsuk Chin and the more melodic work of Fujikura and Yun.
This is a very personal disc on many levels and it is a fine calling card by which to introduce listeners to this fine musician.
I thought I knew this music. After falling in love with György Ligeti’s (1923-2006) work having heard it so aptly used in Stanley Kubrick’s, “2001: A Space Odyssey” I eagerly purchased both of the complete works surveys on Sony and Telefunken but these fresh, insightful performances by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble under conductor Marcus Creed have made me fall in love again. And, while I have some familiarity with Zoltán Kodály’s (1882-1967) music (he is underappreciated) I did not know his unaccompanied choral works. So this encounter was an absolute revelation.
This release succeeds on several levels. First, it is one of the always reliably fine productions from Lars Hannibal’s OUR Recordings. So, from the physical design to and the the choices of repertoire and performers as well as the sound of the recording, this is a thoroughly enjoyable experience for the listener.
But what brings this release from competent to outstanding is the interpretive skillset of conductor Marcus Creed and the disciplined Danish National Vocal Ensemble. These are fresh, insightful readings that shed new light on these masterful composers and their work. Looking at Creed’s extensive discography it is clear that he commands a wide range of repertoire with a penchant for the twentieth century and beyond. His reading of Ernst Krenek’s massive 12 tone contrapuntal a capella masterpiece from 1941-2, “Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae” Op. 93 remains perhaps this challenging work’s finest interpretation in the 1995 Harmonia Mundi recording and a personal favorite of this reviewer. So it should come as no surprise that he is able to breathe new life into these works.
The opening work is probably the most familiar here. Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna” (1966) was first thrust into the spotlight via its (unpermitted at the time) inclusion is the Kubrick film. This is mid-career Ligeti and one of the most effective uses of his “micropolyphony” and cluster chord harmonies. It is first heard in the Clavius Moonbase scene fairly early in the film. It accompanies the otherwise silent animation of a sort of space shuttle bus as it glides along the lunar surface. Along with the Kyrie of Ligeti’s 1965 Requiem and his orchestral “Atmospheres” (1961) work beautifully in telling the story in this film with its well known paucity of dialogue.
This opening track grabbed my attention immediately. The text, which appears in the traditional Catholic Mass and Requiem Mass is a communion hymn with the following words:
May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy Saints for evermore: for Thou art gracious. Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them: With Thy Saints for evermore, for Thou art gracious.
But the experience of this music is positively otherworldly. Its wall of sound ambiance belies a rather complex construction which has become a landmark in the development of compositional practice. And it is vitally that this music, now nearly synonymous with the film, be heard as originally intended. It exists in both worlds now and this reading helps reaffirm it as the masterpiece it is.
The next six tracks are by Ligeti but this is the Ligeti still composing under the powerful spell of Bela Bartok. All date from 1955 but are a quantum leap back from the sound world of the first track. The two brief a capella choruses (the second includes solos for bass and soprano voices) are settings of words by Hungarian poet Sándor Weöres (1913-1989). These settings are ostensibly influenced by the composer’s early encounter with modern music in Vienna (Ligeti ultimately relocated from the artistically and socially oppressive Hungary to Austria). The second of these choruses had to wait until 1968 for a performance which provides some notion of how oppressive the Hungarian regime had been.
Those brief choruses are followed by four folksong settings which take the listener back into the sound world of Bartok and Kodaly with their respective folksong transcriptions. These are very enjoyable travels into Ligeti’s excellent but markedly more conservative beginnings.
Next is another Ligeti work but one from his later years demonstrating that he never stopped evolving as a composer. The “Three Fantasies after Friederich Holderlin” (1982) are themselves a quantum leap stylistically from the 1966 Lux Aeterna. These are also more complex settings and, suffice it to say, they are a powerful experience. What was micropolyphony in the earlier work is replaced by a more traditional style of polyphonic writing but one that could not exist were it not for those earlier efforts.
And then we come further back again to early and mid-career Kodaly in three a capella works, “Evening Song” (1938), “Evening” (1904), and “Matra Pictures” (1931). I say at the beginning of this review that I believe Kodaly’s music to be underappreciated. Indeed but I find myself with no excuse given the easy availability of so much music on You Tube and other online sources. And this is why the inclusion of this fascinating selection of the composer’s significant cache of a capella choral music is so very welcome.
Like, I suppose, many listeners I mostly know Kodaly’s work via his Peacock Variations and excerpts from his opera, “Hary Janos”. Of course I had also been aware of Kodaly’s pedagogy and his methods for learning music (and I was aware even before I saw it in “Close Encounters).
But my encounter with these fine choral works revealed to me the depth of the composer’s skills. This is marvelously written music by a composer intimately familiar with this medium and it has already sent me to exploring more of this composer’s work in all genres. It is not difficult to see Kodaly’s work as a logical predecessor to that of Ligeti. he same skill and invention the same ability to convincingly set text to music. This is a terrific release, highly recommended to lovers of choral music in general and, of course, of these two composers.
A wonderful trend was begun by London/Decca in the early 1990s with the release of their “Entartete Musik” series. It featured music by composers whose work had been suppressed by the dictates of the Nazi regime. It brought to light a great deal of wonderful music by mostly but not entirely Jewish composers many of whom died in concentration camps or were forced to live in exile. These recordings sparked a trend which continues today and this time the Chandos label hosts the efforts of the Toronto based ARC Ensemble whose scholarship and performance skills bring this, the fifth album in this important series. It is saddening to see the sheer volume of these oppressed works evidenced by the seemingly endless flow of new releases in this genre but there is some joy to be had in the fact that this music is slowly getting performances and recognition.
Previous releases featured premiere recordings by Jerzy Fitelberg, Szymon Laks, Walter Kaufmann, and Paul Ben-Haim. Haven’t heard these names? Well, maybe you’ve heard of Paul Ben-Haim, the Jewish/German composer who changed his name (Paul Frankenberger) when he emigrated to Palestine in 1933. The importance of projects like this one is to bring to light the art of composers lost to history and unknown in concert halls due to political oppression and/or outright murder.
This release features music by Jewish/Ukrainian composer Dmitri Klebanov (1907-1987), a composer whose work displeased the Stalinist regime. He wasn’t put in a concentration camp, he wasn’t killed, he wasn’t even sent into exile in the Gulag. Rather he was forced into a sort of intellectual exile in which he produced music which pleased the regime. But he had been cast as a sort of “whipping boy” by the regime and used as an example in the hopes of preventing others from straying to more liberal and outspoken paths such as those of Prokofiev and Shostakovich.Fortunately he outlived Stalin and was able to return to his own personal style of composition. It is this music which is presented here.
The three works from 1946, 1958, and 1965 respectively seem to have been chosen to reflect three fairly distinct eras in Klebanov’s artistic development. Whether these are ultimately representative of those chosen eras seems beside the point which is, I believe, to present a representative sampling of his work to give listeners a taste of his work and to help guide interesting performers and record companies to decide what to record next.
These works will serve to represent this neglected composer for now. There do exist some recordings of this music but these are mostly on small labels and very difficult to find. The hope for this recording and for a project like this is to provide good recordings with authoritative performances which may inspire musicians to explore the remainder of the composer’s work and, hopefully, bring these gems to audiences.
The disc begins with the nearly classical sounding fourth quartet from 1946. Cast in the classical four movements it’s difficult, in 2021, to imagine how this very accessible music could offend Soviet leaders but that is another issue entirely. All music ultimately exists within a variety of contexts but it is only possible to hear this music as it is today, listening with ears that did not exist at the time the music was written. Suffice it to say that this is eminently listenable music played with insight and dedication by the wonderful ARC Ensemble (Erika Raum, violin; Marie Berard, violin; Steven Dann, viola; Thomas Wiebe, cello; and Kevin Ahfat, piano).
The second selection is the Second Piano Trio of 1958. It is cast in three movements, some of which will remind listeners of Shostakovich whose fame and mastery loomed brightly at this time. But neither the rather conservative classical form of a piano trio nor the basically tonal idiom is likely to have charmed Kremlin leaders of the time. This is intelligent music that show the composer at the height of his powers and this, generally speaking, was not appreciated by the powers that be at the time of the work’s genesis.
The last work on the disc is the composer’s fifth string quartet from 1965. Like the two works that precede it in this recording this is music of both substance and charm. It is as listenable as the other two works and would doubtless entertain the average concert goer. It bears comparisons to Shostakovich, yes, but also to Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Completists, such as your reviewer here, will wonder at the music not included on this disc: the first three string quartets, the first piano trio, the other chamber music, nine symphonies, and various concerti along with five operas and two ballets. It is both fitting and sad that this overdue review be published at at this moment in history when, as I write, the Russian army advances into the Ukraine leaving death and destruction in their wake. There is doubtless much more music yet to be uncovered/discovered, rescued from oblivion but the sad fact is that the forces which suppressed this Ukrainian composer’s works continue to oppress artists today.
Having chosen a debut album featuring solo cello without electronics or accompaniment the Sono Luminus label virtually guarantees that every one of the subtleties of the performer’s skills will be heard in all their glory. And so we have an auspicious solo debut album by a skilled and talented artist with a unique and intelligent vision in her choice of repertoire for her instrument. Hannah Collins has a beautifully designed web page describing her background so I will focus only on the music on this release.
Even a brief glance makes it obvious that Collins’ radar captures a wide range of music which encompasses five centuries of compositional efforts by both a consciously curated selection of composers that reflect both racial and gender diversity and who themselves represent a substantive variety of styles and visions. She begins with a rather obscure baroque composer (I had never heard of him), Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694). His Chiacona (1670) is apparently the first identified composition for solo cello (the famous solo cello suites by J.S. Bach wouldn’t come along until 1717-1723).
This arguably foundational work of the solo cello genre is then followed by the very fine Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (1952- ) whose Dreaming Chaconne (2010) is in fact a variation on the Colombi piece.
The third track, “In manus tuas” (Into your hands) by the equally fine American composer, Carolyn Shaw (1982- ) was written for Ms. Collins, and is an aural peek inside the mind of the composer as she recalls a performance of a motet by 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). Shaw evokes a sonic memory moment of hearing a performance of “In manus tuas Domine” in Christ Church in New Haven, Connecticut which made a strong impression on her. It is a work that appears to be destined to become a modern classic. It creates spectral harmonics that engulf the listener inside Shaw’s memory of the event. The composition’s title also function metaphorically as she offers her music into the hands of the artist and the minds of the listeners. It is a challenge both technically and interpretively and Collins rises to those challenges with seeming ease.
The next seven tracks are given to another Saariaho composition, “Sept Papillons” (2000). This earlier work from her extensive catalog is also given to extended instrumental techniques as she evokes the seven butterflies of the title. This set of pieces was written for the fine Finnish cellist, Anssi Karttunen. It was at the 2008 Creative Dialogue Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico (run by Karttunen) that Collins encountered this music and the extended techniques required for its performance. Saariaho’s sound world is like that of an incarnation of Debussy and his impressionist aesthetic. There is apparently no visual program here but the music recalls, in this listener’s mind, Saariaho’s earlier “Nymphea” (1987) for string quartet and electronics which was inspired by Monet’s famed “Water Lilies” of 1906.
This fine disc includes the first (of three) suites for solo cello by Benjamin Britten. All three of these (1964, 1967, 1971) had all been composed for the Russian virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich. Like the the Saariaho and Shaw pieces these suites are inspired by earlier works, in this case the Bach suites of the early 18th century. Collins plays the first (Opus 72) of these and her performance makes this listener hope that she will later record the other two.
While modeled on earlier music, the Britten work utilizes techniques that would likely be unfamiliar to cellists before the 20th century. It is homage both to Bach and to Maestro Rostropovich. And Collins’ playing furthers this homage to both of these past masters.
The final track is a work by one Thomas Kotcheff (1988- ). Like the first track, this young composer is unfamiliar to this writer. His work, “Cadenza (with or without Haydn)” of 2020” carries on the theme of homage. In a nod to the late great Frederic Rzewski (1938-2021) whose “Cadenza with or without Beethoven” (2003) is an extended cadenza which can be played on its own or as part of the Beethoven 4th piano concerto.
Kotcheff’s work is a cadenza for Haydn’s C major cello concerto. Like the Rzewski, it can be performed with the concerto or as a solo work on its own. Also like the Rzewski, the more modern aspects of this “cadenza” might confuse audiences anticipating more conventional music that fits with the context of the concerto for which it was written and the music stands very strongly on its own.
Like a lot of solo artists are doing these days, Collins’ debut solo album is like her personal manifesto of music for her chosen instrument. It is a fine foundation anticipating what will likely be an enlightening as well as entertaining career.
Receiving this album for review the fact is I actually shed a tear when, upon opening my mail, I found the cover of this album cause my emotions to jump to regions of nostalgic memories deeply treasured.
Another fact is that, due to COVID 19, the virtual stoppage of all live concerts, and shifts in my scheduling priorities I had stopped following the career of Mr. Gibson (1940-2020) for the last few years and I wasn’t even aware that this disc had been released. I had heard that he had died in October, 2020. Gibson is a musician I first encountered, as most people had, via his omnipresence at concerts of the Philip Glass Ensemble where he was a founding member. Gibson’s performances of the saxophone solo in Glass’ “Facades”, which I first heard in 1980, are forever etched in my memory. And I caught pretty much every concert they did in or near Chicago from 1980 to perhaps 2000. So that little personal history gives you some idea as to why seeing this album was a “gut punch” of emotion to me.
I lifted this discography of Gibson’s releases from discogs.com and it does not include his work the Philip Glass Ensemble in which he was a member since 1968. It is probably not definitive but it provides some perspective on Gibson’s range of repertoire and his musical affiliations.
The Dance (CD, Album) Orange Mountain Music 70072013
Relative Calm (CD, Album)New World Records 80783-22016
Jon Gibson’s Visitations Otoroku2017
Violet Fire – An Opera About Nikola Tesla (2xCD, Album) Orange Mountain Music70182019
Songs & Melodies, 1973-1977 (2xLP, Album) Superior ViaductSV1732020
David Behrman with Jon Gibson & Werner Durand -Viewfinder / Hide & Seek (LP, Album, Ltd)Black Truffle BT08220211
Gibson’s brand of minimalism resembles Glass’ at times but Gibson’s eclecticism, his mix of styles bear the fingerprints of a style which will be easily recognized by listeners familiar with some of his previous albums.
This is an album’s worth of music written for a performance piece with choreography by the wonderful Lucinda Childs (who choreographed Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” and commissioned Gibson in 1981 for this piece). Relative Calm (1981) is in four sections (or movements) each with its own character.
1. Relative Calm (Rise) (1981) Composed By, Wind, Keyboards, Autoharp, Sounds [Field Recording] – Jon Gibson Keyboards – Joseph Kubera Percussion – David Van Tieghem
2. Q-Music (Race) (1981) Composed By, Keyboards – Jon Gibson Keyboards – Joseph Kubera
3. Extensions RC (Reach) (1981) Sopranino Saxophone, Composed By – Jon Gibson
4. Return (Return) (1981) Keyboards – Joseph Kubera Percussion – David Van Tieghem Saxophone, Composed By – Jon Gibson
Gibson’s fondness for jazz is evident here but the dominant style is the composer’s brand of minimalism. Relative Calm was commissioned and choreographed by Lucinda Childs with decor by Robert Wilson, it received its world premiere by the Lucinda Childs Dance Company at Théatre National de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France on November 26, 1981. It’s wonderful and it is a blessing to have this recording available.
This was released in 2016 on New World Records and is now available for streaming on Bandcamp. The excellent liner notes are by Kyle Gann and Dean Suzuki tell you pretty much all you need to know and the album sounds great. Thanks, Mr. Gibson, RIP.
My review of Carpenter’s Sony Classical release Flash with Substance, Cameron Carpenter Takes on Rachmaninoff and Poulenc, in which he played his transcription for Organ and Orchestra of Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Paganini Rhapsody paired with his exciting rendition of the always welcome Poulenc Organ Concerto. It’s kind of a gutsy move to perform the Rachmaninoff with an organ instead of a piano, bordering on sacrilege for some. Given that programming though, the choices for this recording are a little less surprising as both further stretch the notion of what an organist is actually able to play and demonstrate the sheer breadth of this composer/performer’s musical vision.
Here’s the track list for his Decca Gold debut. Take a good look and meet me at the end of this list:
J.S. Bach – The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (1741)
Variatio 1. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 2. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 3. Canone all’Unisono. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 4. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 5. a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.
Variatio 6. Canone alla Seconda. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 7. a 1 ô vero 2 Clav. al tempo di Giga
Variatio 8. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 9. Canone alla Terza. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 10. Fughetta. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 11. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 12. a 1 Clav. Canone alla Quarta in moto contrario
Variatio 13. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 14. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 15. Canone alla Quinta. a 1 Clav.: Andante
Variatio 16. Ouverture. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 17. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 18. Canone alla Sesta. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 19. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 20. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 21. Canone alla Settima
Variatio 22. a 1 Clav. alla breve
Variatio 23. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 24. Canone all’Ottava. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 25. a 2 Clav.: Adagio
Variatio 26. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 27. Canone alla Nona. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 28. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 29. a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.
Variatio 30. a 1 Clav. Quodlibet
Aria da Capo
Howard Hanson (arr. Carpenter) – Symphony No. 2 in D-flat Major, Opus 30 “Romantic” (1930)
Andante con tenerezza
Allegro con brio
Yup, the Bach Goldberg variations played on the organ followed by Carpenter’s transcription of Howard Hanson’s (1896-1981) lovely Second Symphony, subtitled, “Romantic” (Trivia: the finale of this work is played over the end credits on the Ridley Scott film, Alien). But I’m willing to wager that neither Hanson aficionados (always among my faves) nor fans of Alien ever imagined hearing this piece played on an organ. But it works.
And that is Carpenter’s genius, or a portion of his genius. He is a man with a mission. He is a virtuoso of the highest order, he is a showman such that earns him a membership in my “glam classical” category, and he is a scholar with wide ranging tastes whose choices have challenged and charmed this humble listener and doubtless many others. My God, the man had a digital portable touring organ custom built for him! It is the instrument upon which he recorded this and the previously referenced disc.
He has antecedents such as Virgil Fox and Anthony Newman, musicians who eschew the stoic musician stereotype (nothing wrong with stoic, either) and engage the audience in their more theatrical manners. And it is the delicate balance between the musicianship and the stage presence that is worth the audience’s time. By my count this is his 8th album released. Check out his web page for more.
Watch any of his YouTube videos where his stage presence is as engaging as his virtuosity. Sure, he plays the “standard repertoire” authoritatively. His Bach is as engaging as his genial manner. This is one exciting composer/performer and it is a joy to watch him develop his brand. All sorts of ideas chase themselves in my mind when I ponder what he’ll do next. But I’d rather be surprised.
Were it not for the wishes of some of my valued readers I would not produce such a list. It has no more validity other than, “These are my personal choices”. But there is some joy to be had in contemplating these past 12 months as I have lived them on this blog. So here goes.
First I have to tell everyone that March, 2022 will mark the 10th anniversary of this blog, a venture which has been a rich and exciting one. Future blogs will soon include, in addition to album/concert reviews, some articles on subjects which I hope will be of interest to the select group of people who read this material and who share my interest in this music (which I know can be anywhere from difficult to repulsive to many ears). But I have deduced that my readers are my community, a community of kindred spirits freed from the boundaries of geography, a number rather larger than I had imagined was possible and one that I’ve come to cherish. Bravo to all of you out there.
COVID 19 has reduced the number of live performances worldwide and I have not attended a live performance since early 2020. But, happily, musicians have continued to produce some amazing work, some of which gets sent to me, and a portion of that gets to be subjected to the analytic scrutiny of my blog.
My lack of attention to any music should never be construed as deprecatory, rather it is simply a matter of limited time to listen. So if I have provided a modicum of understanding or even just alerted someone to something new I am pleased and if ever I have offended, I apologize. All this is my personal celebration of art which has enhanced my spirit and which I want to share with others. Look what Ive found!!!
So, to the task at hand (the “best of” part):
The formula I’ve developed to generate this “favorites retrospective” has been to utilize WordPress’ useful statistics and look at the top viewed posts. From these most visited (and presumably most read) articles I produce a list of ten or so of my greatest hits from there. Please note that there are posts which have had and continue to have a fairly large readership from previous years and they’re not necessarily the ones I might have expected but the stats demand their inclusion here.
Following that I then toss in a few which are my personal faves (please read them) to produce what I hope is a reasonably cogent and readable list. Following my own description of my guiding principles I endeavor to present the perspective of person whose day job and energies are spent in decidedly non-musical efforts but whose interest and passion for new music drives this blog where I share those interests.
As a largely self taught writer (and sometime composer) I qualify my opinions as being those of an educated listener whose allegiances are to what I perceive as pleasing and artistically ideal based on my personal perception of the composer’s/performer’s intent. I am not a voting member for the Grammys and I receive no compensation for favorable reviews. I have the hope/belief that my blogs will ultimately garner a few more listens or performances of art that I hope brings my readers at least some of the joy I feel.
New Music Buff’s Best of 2021
As of this writing I have published 37 blog posts in 2021. COVID, job and personal stressors have resulted in my failing to post at all in December, 2020, January, June, and July of 2021. And only one post in February, 2021. Surprisingly I have managed to get just over 9300 views so far this year (a little more views than last year actually) and it is my plan to publish 4-5 blogs per month going forward into my tenth year.
Not surprisingly, most of my readers are from the United States but I’m pleased to say that I’ve had hits from 192 countries at last count. Thanks to all my readers, apologies to the many countries who didn’t make the cut this year (you’re all welcome to try again in 2022). So, following the United States here are the subsequent top 25 countries who have viewed the blog:
Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, China, France, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Ireland, India, Italy, Turkey, Nigeria, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Poland, Philippines, Ghana, Norway.
Top Ten Most Read of 2021
The following are the most seen articles of 2021. Some of these are articles whose popularity surprise me as they were written some time ago and are not necessarily, in my opinion, my best work. But readership is readership and I am grateful for that.
Top article, Linda Twine, a Musician You Should Know. Twine is a musician and composer who has worked for some years in New York theater. I chose to profile her and I guess she is well liked because this article from 2018 is one of my top performers. Kudos, Ms. Twine.
Next up is, The Three Black Countertenors, an article suggested by my friend Bill Doggett whose website is a must visit for anyone interested in black classical musicians. This one, from 2014, continues to find readers. It is about the first time three black countertenors appeared on the same stage. Countertenors are themselves a vocal minority when considered in the company of sopranos, baritones, tenors, contraltos, and basses. Being black adds another level of minority in the world of operatic voices so this was indeed historic.
Art and the Reclamation of History is the first of the articles written this year to make the top ten most read. It is about a fabulous album and I hope more people read about it. This Detroit based reed quintet is doing something truly innovative. You really need to hear this.
Number four is another from this past year, Kinga Augustyn Tackles the Moderns. This album, kindly sent to me by the artist is worth your time if you like modern music. This young Polish/American violinist has both technique and vision. She is definitely an artist to watch.
Number five is a truly fabulous album from Cedille records, David Schrader Plays Sowerby and Ferko. This double CD just fires on all cylinders, a fine artist, excellent recording, interesting and engaging repertoire, amazing photography, excellent liner notes, and love for all things Chicago. This one is a major classic release.
The Jack Quartet Plays Cenk Ergun was a pleasant surprise to this blogger. The Jack Quartet has chosen wisely in deciding to release this recording of new string quartet music by this young Turkish composer of serious substance. I’m glad that many folks read it.
Number seven on this years hit list among my readers is another album sent directly to me by the artist, one whose work I had reviewed before.
Catherine’s Oboe: Catherine Lee’s New Solo Album, “Alone Together” is among the best of the COVID lockdown inspired releases that flooded the market this year. It is also one of the finest examples of the emerging latest generation of “west coast” composers. Dr. Lee is a master of the oboe and related instruments and she has been nurtured on the artistic ideas/styles that seem to be endemic among composers on the west coast of the United States. She deserves to be heard.
Number Eight is an article from 2014, Classical Protest Music: Hans Werner Henze’s “Essay on Pigs” (Versuch uber Schweine). This 1968 noisy modernist setting of leftist political poetry combines incredible extended vocal techniques with the dissonant modernism of Hans Werner Henze’s work of that era. Also of note is that his use of a Hammond Organ and electric bass guitar was allegedly inspired by his having heard the Rolling Stones. It’s a classic but warn anyone within earshot lest they be terrified.
As it happens there is a three way tie for the number ten spot:
Black Composers Since 1964: Primous Fountain is one of a short series of articles I wrote in 2014. I used the date 1964, 50 years prior to the date of the blog post, because it was the year of the passing of the (still controversial) voting rights act. As a result of this and a few related articles I have found myself on occasion categorized as a sort of de facto expert on black music and musicians. I am no expert there but I have personally discovered a lot of really amazing music by black composers which is way too little known and deserves an audience.
I am pleased to tell you that this too little known composer (and fellow Chicagoan) is being recognized by no less than Michael Tilson Thomas who will conduct an entire program of his works in Miami next year. If my blog has helped in any way then I am pleased but the real honors go, of course, to Mr. Fountain and Mr. Thomas (who first conducted this composer’s music many years ago). Stay tuned.
And the third contender for my tenth most read of 2021 is, Kenneth Gaburo, the Avant-Garde in the Summer of Love. This is among the first volley of releases on the revived Neuma label with Philip Blackburn at the helm. Blackburn’s instincts guided Innova records to release many wonderful recordings of music rarely on the radar of larger record companies and this first volley was a harbinger of even more wonderful releases to come. Just do a Neuma search and see what I mean.
The Ones That Didn’t Make the Top Ten
I would be negligent and boringly formulaic to simply report on these top ten. This is not a democratic blog after all, lol. So here are my choices for the ones that many of my dear readers may have missed and should definitely check out. It is anything but objective. They are, in no particular order:
Dennis Weijers: Skill and Nostalgia in an Auspicious Debut Album is a sort of personal discovery for me. This reworking of Philip Glass’ “Glassworks” and Steve Reich’s “Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards” scored for solo accordion and electronics pretty much knocked me over as soon as I heard it. Read the blog to see why but you have to hear this. This is NOT your granddaddy’s accordion.
Vision, Virtuosity, and Interpretive Skill: Igor Levit’s “On DSCH” is an album I just can’t stop listening to. I raved about his earlier set of piano variations by Bach, Beethoven, and the late Frederic Rzewski and I look forward to this man’s musical vision as he expands the concert repertoire with works you probably haven’t heard or at least haven’t heard much. You owe it to yourself to watch this artist.
Black Artists Matter: The Resurrection of the Harlem Arts Festival, 1969 is one of the relatively few times when I write about so called “pop” music. It is wholly unconscionable that these filmed performances from 1969 (many of which predated Woodstock) languished for 50 years in the filmmaker’s basement and were nearly lost. One of the recurring themes in this blog is the lament over unjustly neglected music and this is a glaring example. I was delighted to see that the filmmaker Questlove received an award at the Sundance Festival for his work on this essential documentary of American music.
Less “flashy” but sublimely beautiful is Modern Tuning Scholarship, Authentic Bach Performance: Daniel Lippel’s “Aufs Lautenwerk”. This is a masterpiece of scholarship and a gorgeous recording on a specially made Well-Tempered Guitar played with serious passion and interpretive genius by a man who is essential to the productions of New Focus recordings as well as being a fine musician himself. Read the review or the liner notes for details but just listen. This is another one that I can’t stop listening to.
Unheard Hovhaness, this Sahan Arzruni album really rocked my geeky world. Arzruni, a frequent collaborator with Hovhaness turns in definitive performances of these previously unheard gems from the late American composer. A gorgeous physical production and a lucid recording make this another disc that lives on my “frequently played” shelf.
New Music from Faroese Master Sunleif Rasmussen with soloist Michala Petri is an album of world premieres by this master composer from the Faroe Islands. It is also a tribute to the enduring artistry of Michala Petri. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting both of these artists some years ago in San Francisco and anything they do will demand my attention, they’re that good.
Last but not least, as they say, Robert Moran: Points of Departure is another triumph of Philip Blackburn’s curation on Neuma records. I have personally been a fan of Moran’s music since I first heard his work at the Chicago iteration of New Music America in 1982. Blackburn’s service to this composer’s work can be likened to similar service done by David Starobin at Bridge Records (who have embarked on complete works projects with several contemporary composers) and Tom Steenland’s work with Guy Klucevsek and Tod Dockstader at Starkland records. Blackburn had previously released the out of print Argo recordings of Moran’s work and now, at Neuma has released this and a few other new recordings of this major American composer’s work.
My apologies to the albums I’ve reviewed which didn’t make it to this year’s end blog but I have to draw a line somewhere. Peace, health, and music. And thank you for reading.
I first came to know these Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues Op. 87 (1950-1) in the recording by Keith Jarrett on ECM some years ago (1992). At the time I was not familiar with this post-Bach set of compositions (one might even call it a “meme”) written to showcase the newly codified “Well Tempered Tuning” but I was intrigued by Jarrett’s choices of repertoire. Not surprisingly, I immediately liked this gargantuan undertaking. I appreciated these pieces as listenable, stimulating musical compositions and a good choice of repertoire by the always interesting Mr. Jarrett. Many pianists have recorded this cycle of works though I can’t recall a recital of the entire set being performed live as occurs fairly frequently with the Bach cycles (he wrote two sets of 24 preludes and fugues in each of the 24 keys of the western musical scale).
Readers of this blog may recall my fawning over an earlier Levit release, a 3 disc set of piano variations containing Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” (1741), Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations” (1819-23), and Frederic Rzewski’s “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” (1975). I asserted that Sony, whose recording (1955) of Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations helped elevate that work into the popular repertoire, had at least implied that these three large sets of variations are musically on the same level of significance thus potentially elevating the Rzewski piece to the more mainstream repertory.
Now comes yet another 3 disc set from this fine Russian/German pianist who seems to be possessed of vision as well as virtuosity and interpretive skills. Levit is clearly comfortable with the “usual suspects”, the common repertoire of live piano recitals (Beethoven’s Sonatas, Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Liszt, etc.) but is clearly interested in expanding the general repertoire by discovering lesser known works that he finds deserve to be heard more often. A quick look at the pianists other releases reveals a similar pattern even in works of a less grand scale than those discussed in this essay.
Anselm Cybinski’s fine liner notes derive from his reading of history, Shostakovich’s and Stevenson’s biographies, and his conversations with Mr. Levit. Here he describes what Shostakovich was enduring in the years when he brought forth these compositions, post WWII, life in the repressive Stalinist regime, recent censure by said regime, and his attempts to be return from this censure and be allowed to have his works performed again. He relates the story of the then 21 year old Tatiana Nikolayeva who premiered this work and played it before the committee. He also sketches the impact of various historical events on Shostakovich and his music.
The preludes are described as emotional responses to these varied events, a sort of exorcising of the emotional turmoil these events had on the composer. He describes in these notes the contexts which clearly impact the pianist in his understanding and subsequent interpretation of this music, contexts which help the listener grasp the deeper levels of meaning inherent (or at least implied) in these works.
He does the same with the Stevenson work, itself a response to the sufferings of a fellow artist, a sort of artistic dialogue analogous to that of songwriters and other musicians who used their art to make a point (Lynyrd Skynyrd writing, “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to Neil Young’s, “Southern Man” or Leonard Bernstein’s performance of Haydn’s “Mass in Time of War” concurrently with the second inaugural concert for Richard Nixon as a political counterpoint are two such examples), not the same situations perhaps but artistic dialogues nonetheless.
Apparently Ronald Stevenson (1928-1915) wrote his gargantuan “Passacaglia on DSCH” in 1960 as a tribute to his fellow composer. There are many examples of Shostakovich using the German note spelling of “D”, “Es” (pronounced, “S”), “C”, “H” (German notation for “B”) all of which translates to the actual notes of D, E flat, C, B as a motif in his work so Stevenson’s use of it is quite apt.
This Passacaglia is a work which I had “known of” but never heard before hearing this recording. It is a marvelous work, not exactly easy listening but a very satisfying work which improves with subsequent hearings, revealing itself as a multi-layered masterpiece. And it is Levit’s vision that effectively gives this work, and the Shostakovich cycle a significant and, thanks again to Sony, a very large public nudge to get this music heard and played more often.
No doubt many reviewers will spend time comparing the various recordings of the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues and the Stevenson Passacaglia. For the record I did a quick search and found four recordings of the Stevenson work and at least 12 complete recordings of the Shostakovich. However, for the purposes of this review I will leave discussion of the merits and shortcomings of the various interpretations to people better qualified than I. The takeaway I hope to share with my readers is, “Get this set and enjoy it” and to musicians and producers, “Pay attention to Igor Levit’s artistic radar”.
This is a big work written expressly for these musicians and commissioned by conductor Jonathan Haas. It is titled percussion “symphony” which suggests a grand undertaking. It is the only work on the disc.
The composer, Tomas Kozumplik is an American composer unfamiliar to this writer and most likely to most listeners. Kozumplik is a percussionist and composer based in Brooklyn. He is perhaps best known as a film composer but his interests and his collaborations reveal him to be embracing a wide variety of musical interests.His website is definitely worth your time as it describes this artist’s range.
This work is neither noisy modernism nor “lite classical”. It is almost neo-romantic at times as it lives up to the grand promise of its title. It is a great example of how to write for percussion. Indeed the genesis of this work lies partly in the collaborative. Kozumplik worked closely with the musicians to mold this work into its final form. Multiple listens reveal more of the structure and unity of this work. It is not, strictly speaking, difficult music but it is also not simple either.
Indeed, as the titles suggest this piece has a sort of external program, “Child of the Earth” and the subtitle, “Un nino busca a Dios” (which my limited Spanish means, “A child looks to God”) are referred to in greater detail in each track. It’s not clear how these ideas are integrated musically it does couch this work in a sociopolitical genre. The music certainly works well by itself but astute listeners will want to be aware of the meaning these ideas have had for the composer’s and, doubtless, the performers whose intimate investment here is ultimately the joy in this release.
The Julliard Quartet is a hallowed name in classical music. This release reflecting its current generation of musicians is consistent with their practice of playing established classics alongside the modern. These are interesting choices of string quartets from the 18th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Many will likely speculate on the motivations for these choices but it is a typical set of choices for a Juilliard Quartet recital, an intelligent mix of standard repertoire, not the “usual suspects” or most popular but musically solid pieces. And, of course, there is their all important embrace of the modern.
The Beethoven and the Barton are lovely choices intelligently played but the real draw, at least for this reviewer is the Davidovsky. Mario Davidovsky (1934- ) is a major American composer who deserves more performances and documentation of his work. Fortunately Bridge Records has taken on this task.
He is best known for his “Synchronisms” series pairing electronics with various acoustic instruments. This won him a Pulitzer Prize. But his music sans electronics is just as substantial and this 2016 String Quartet, his sixth, provides ample evidence of that substance.
Near as I can tell this is only the second recording of any of his quartets but it is sufficiently intriguing to whet the appetite for the other 5.
As a recital disc this one is thoroughly enjoyable and it’s inclusion of the Davidovsky is gloriously consistent with the overall image of the hallowed name of the Juilliard Quartet.
Since her debut in 1969 at the tender age of 11 Danish born recorder virtuoso Michala Petri has been one of the finest masters of the recorder. This ancient instrument, a forerunner of the flute, has existed since the Middle Ages and has amassed a huge repertoire and Petri seems to have demonstrated mastery over all of it and has been an advocate and promoter of new music for her instrument as well. She has inspired composers to write new works for her and she continues to entertain audiences and has assembled an ever growing discography of startling range and diversity. Nearly single handed she has managed to honor past repertoire and firmly ensconce this instrument in the 21st century.
In this release, produced by Lars Hannibal (himself a fine guitarist and frequent Petri collaborator) Petri takes on the music of Brazil and, despite the fact that recorders have seldom found their way into the music of this geographic region, she delivers a convincing and hugely entertaining program on this disc. Along with Marilyn Mazur on percussion and Daniel Murray on guitar the listener is given an entertaining cross section of Brazilian music ranging from the more classically oriented work of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) and Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) to the smooth jazz/pop sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim (1925-1994) and Egberto Gismonti (1947- ). In between are included works by the album’s guitarist Daniel Murray (1981- ) and a few names unfamiliar to this reviewer including Paulo Porto Alegre (1953- ), Paulo Bellinati (1950- ), Hermeto Pascoal (1936- ), and Antonio Ribero (1971- ).
There is a remarkable unity in this Danish production which stems from a meeting between producer Lars Hannibal and Daniel Murray in Vienna in 2014. Hannibal’s ear found a kindred spirit whose musicality is a good match for that of Petri. And like a good chef he added the delicate and necessary spice of the tastefully understated (but extraordinary) percussionist Marilyn Mazur to create a unique trio that sounds as though they’ve played together for years. Here’s hoping that they’ve secretly recorded enough material for a second album.
All the tracks appear to be transcriptions though the transcriber is not named (I’m guessing they’re collaborative). What’s nice is that there is nothing artificial or uncomfortable about these arrangements. The overall impression left is that of a skilled ensemble and listeners encountering the original forms of these works might well assume those to be the transcriptions. So convincing are these performances.
One last thing. The sound. This super audio CD release was engineered by Mikkel Nymand and Preben Iwan and the sound is fabulous. I don’t have a machine that can read the super audio tracks on this hybrid disc but what I can hear is a lucid recording which embraces the subtleties of this unique ensemble. Enjoy!
I first encountered the music of this undeservedly obscure but unique composer/pianist in the late 1980s with the purchase of a double vinyl album of his “Lund-St. Petri Symphony” a work for solo piano which is stylistically one of the tributaries of minimalism. Melnyk was born in Germany of Ukrainian descent and now lives and works in Canada. I began this article for inclusion in my series about minimalist composers (the designation of “minimalist” is imposed by the author and is not necessarily the identity embraced by the artist). In addition to providing a sketch of the artist I am pleased to be able to review this major label release.
Ilirion marks this composer/pianist’s big label debut and this is a fitting recognition for this long established composer, pianist and teacher. Lubomyr Melnyk (1948- ) has been performing since the 1970s and has released over 20 albums. His web site is in need of updating and here’s hoping that this release will help provide the impetus for that and for the greater distribution of this artist’s work.
Below is the description of Melnyk’s music from his web site:
Melnyk’s Continuous Music is based on the principle of a continuous® and unbroken line of sound from the piano — this is created by generating a constant flow of rapid (at times EXTREMELY rapid) notes, usually with the pedal sustained non-stop. The notes can be either in the form of patterns or as broken chords that are spread over the keyboard. To accomplish this requires a special technique, one that usually takes years to master — this technique is the very basis of the meditative and metaphysical® aspects within the music and the art of the piano. Moreover, in his earlier works, Melnyk devoted much attention to the overtones which the piano generates, but in his more recent works, Melnyk has become more and more involved with the melodic potential of this music. Melnyk’s earlier music was generally classified as Minimalism®, although Melnyk strongly refutes that term, preferring to call his music MAXIMALism®, since the player has to generate so many, many notes to create these Fourth Dimensions of Sound®. Because his piano music is so difficult and requires a dedicated re-learning® of the instrument, no other pianists in the world (so far) have tackled his larger works — and so, his recordings are truly collector’s items (both as LP-s and CD-s). He has however recorded extensively for the CBC in Canada, as well as various European stations. He has performed and given lecture-recitals across Canada and in Europe.
I’m not sure how useful this explanation will be to listeners but I think it’s important to acknowledge that the composer has attempted to establish a system explaining his work. However one does not need to be deeply familiar with the underlying theory to appreciate the music. One does not need to understand Schoenberg’s twelve tone theories or Anthony Braxton’s far out ideas to appreciate their music. One doesn’t even need to understand the basics of western classical harmony to appreciate Mozart, for that matter but such knowledge can contribute to appreciation. I certainly lay no claim to understanding this man’s music and I am not aware of any musicologists or critics who have written anything analyzing Melnyk’s work but I find his music compelling and worth wider attention.
Rather than attempting a comprehensive review of Melnyk’s output (and risking muddying the field) I am simply going to recommend a couple of discs which I have found particularly interesting and may help put this latest release in useful perspective. The disc which is intended to provide a sort of exposition of his work is KMH.
The other disc, and the one which I have admired most, is the Lund St. Petri Symphony. I bought it as a two disc vinyl album and it does not appear to be easily available now but it is well worth seeking (and maybe Sony will consider re-releasing it).
The present release on Sony contains 5 tracks:
Beyond Romance is the first and longest track on the disc (16:12) and is certainly representative of his work. The composer’s brief notes describe this work only as a grand romantic piece. It perhaps has echoes of Liszt but certainly with at least an echo of minimalism.
Solitude No. 1 is a much briefer piece (7:36) and is a live improvisation by the composer recorded in the Netherlands.
Sunset (3:49) is the briefest on the disc and is an impressionistic description of its title.
Cloud No. 81 (16:02) is a far more extended impressionistic essay with more harmonic variety than the other tracks.
The title piece, Ilirion (14:12) is another extended essay more akin to the first track.
These discs range from interesting to enthralling for this reviewer and the limited descriptions contained in this release do little to guide the listener. So I guess I can only say, “Please listen”.
Tracks 1, 3, and 4 were recorded at Clearlight Studios in Winnipeg, Canada. Track 2 is a live recording from Tilburg, Netherlands and the last track is described as being an archive recording from also from Tilburg. All were recorded between 2012 and 2015.
The rather sparse liner notes are by one Charles Bettle who is described as a “long time friend and admirer” of Melnyk’s work. The even sparser notes on the music are by the composer. The beautiful photography is by Alexandra Kawka.
It is difficult to say why this artist remains as marginally known but, as I have asserted before, artists from Canada get strangely little notice here and Mr. Melnyk does not appear to be a very good publicist. I hope that this endorsement by Sony results in more releases and, more importantly, in more good studio recordings of his work. It is unique and highly recommended to aficionados of piano music and minimalism.
Let me start here with a confession: I have never been a real big fan of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. However I am a huge fan of Jennifer Koh and of Cedille Records in their intelligent productions which place music like this in a more proper context. The usual pairings of this concerto with Brahms or Beethoven only seem to highlight the distinct difference in style rather than a context more conducive to the appreciation of the music. Another problem with Tchaikovsky is that his reputation tends to hang on the 1812 Overture, the Violin Concerto, the first Piano Concerto and the last three Symphonies. He wrote a lot more than that (including ten operas and three string quartets).
Now with that bit of whining out of the way let’s take a look at the recording at hand. Jennifer Koh is one of the shining lights of contemporary violin soloists and that alone should be sufficient recommendation to listen to any of her recordings or performances. She holds a special place in this reviewer’s heart for her attention and expertise with contemporary music and for having performed the solo violin part in the most recent production of Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. In costume with a shaggy wig she brought new and highly virtuosic life to that obbligato violin part.
It is her virtuosity and her perspective as one of the more recent generations of artists to wield this classic string instrument that holds the main interest here. The Tchaikovsky concerto has been the darling of all the great violinists from Heifetz and Kreisler to Milstein and Stern. I suppose that every violinist must confront this work at some point and it is a genuine challenge as well as a showpiece for virtuosity.
The other works on this disc (which are presented chronologically) are the Serenade Melancolique Op. 26 (1875), the Valse-Scherzo Op. 34 (1877) followed by the Concerto Op. 35 (1878) and finally the Souvenir d’un lieu cher Op. 42 (1878, originally for violin and piano orchestrated by Alexander Glazounov and published in 1896). Hearing this concerto in the context of the composer’s other works for violin and orchestra does more clearly delineate the composer’s process.
In addition to providing a complete accounting of Tchaikovsky’s violin and orchestra music listeners are able to hear the interpretation by this wonderful artist. Indeed she does truly grasp the grand romantic sweep of the concerto and the more intimate shorter works. Let me say too that if you like the concerto you will also find much delight in the shorter works which frame it on this disc. Her virtuosity shines and Koh’s ability to handle romantic as well as modern repertoire certainly mark her as a versatile modern master.
Of course one can’t miss the powerful contribution of the orchestra in considering these performances. The Odense Symphony Orchestra (Denmark) is absolutely stunning in its clarity and drive. The conductor Alexander Vedernikov is of Russian musical royalty (both his parents were accomplished musicians) and was the conductor of the Bolshoi from 2001-2009. He is definitely a name to follow and his feel for this music of his homeland is most genuine and exciting.
This truly excellent recording is produced by Grammy winning veteran producer Judith Sherman. Session engineering is by Viggo Mangor with post-production and editing respectively by Bill Maylone and Jeanne Velonis. Audiophiles might even want to have this disc for the sound alone. It’s that good.
This tasty little disc of world premieres commissioned through grants to Cedille Records in Chicago consists of new works which celebrate the culture of the Sephardim, the Jews of southwestern Europe, primarily Spain. It both memorializes and resurrects the rich music of this all but lost culture. In the last few years we have seen a growing interest in this culture through settings of texts in the original Ladino language as well as in the melodies which sprang from their folk traditions.
The Cavatina Duo consists of Eugenia Moliner, flute and Denis Agabagic, guitar. Moliner is originally from Spain and Agabagic is originally from Yugoslavia (now Bosnia-Herzegovina) and they are husband and wife. Both have a strong interest in the folk musics of their respective cultures and in exploring other folk music cultures. Their previous album for Cedille, The Balkan Project, similarly demonstrates their affection and scholarship for the cultures of that region of the world.
Five composers were commissioned for this project: Alan Thomas (1967- ), Joseph V. Williams II (1979- ), Carlos Rafael Rivera (1970- ), David Leisner (1953- ) and Clarice Assad (1978- ). This is one of those wonderful crowd funded efforts through Kickstarter.
Thomas’ contribution adds a cello (played by David Cunliffe) to the mix for this Trio Sephardi in three movements each of which is based on a traditional Sephardic song. The piece makes good use of the vocal qualities of the songs quoted and the lyrics seem to exist as a subtext even though they are not sung here.
Isabel by Joseph V. Williams is a sort of homage to Isabel de los Olives y López, a Sephardic woman who lived during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. She outwardly converted to Catholicism but lived secretly as a Jew. One can hardly miss the sad irony of this tale of religious intolerance from the 15th century and its relevance for today. This piece is based on a resistance song which masquerades as a love song, again a metaphor for our times. It is scored for flute and guitar.
We move again into the realm of the trio, this time with violin (played by Desiree Ruhstrat), for this piece by Carlos Rafael Rivera called, “Plegaria y Canto”. This is the most extensive single movement amongst all the works on the disc and is a deeply affecting and dramatic piece for which the composer’s notes provide insights.
The last two pieces utilize the forces of the Avalon Quartet for whom this is their second appearance on the Cedille label. Their first disc, Illuminations, was released last year. They are currently in residence at Northwestern University and Cedille does a great job of promoting the work of talented Chicago area musicians.
Love and Dreams of the Exile is David Leisner‘s poignant contribution. Its three movements tell an aching tale of love, pain and, ultimately, transcendence.
Clarice Assad is a Brazilian composer too little known in the U.S. She is indeed related to the famed Assad family of musicians and she clearly has as abundant a talent. Her Sephardic Suite concludes this program with this three movement essay on love and relationships.
Bill Maylone is the engineer with editing by Jean Velonis and the executive producer is James Ginsburg. Photography of the Alhambra Palace by Maureen Jameson graces the cover. Design is by Nancy Bieshcke.
This is music of an oppressed culture and it is tempting to look upon the creative impetus which oppression sometimes seems to provide but the message here is one of sadness and nostalgia but also of hope. It is perhaps a tribute to the ultimate triumph over said oppression even if it took 500 years. There is some comfort and healing to be had from the celebration of this lost culture and that is the triumph of this disc.
William Ballard Doggett, better known as Bill Doggett was born in Philadelphia in 1916 and was introduced to music by his church pianist mother. He played in a combo while still in high school and went on to work with a plethora of stars in rock, jazz, rhythm and blues amassing a string of hits but, sadly, seems to have barely been noticed on this the 100th anniversary of his birth. Where is NPR at a time like this?
Well, all is not lost. Fortunately his nephew and namesake Bill Doggett is doing justice to the memory of this important American musician. This younger Doggett is an archivist, lecturer, curator, strategic marketer, photographer, filmmaker, and arts advocate (his website is well worth your time). I am hardly as well prepared to provide more than an overview of this musician’s work but I feel obliged to do my small part in recognizing this man’s work.
Promotional poster for the September 28, 2016 centennial celebration curated by nephew and namesake, Bill Doggett.
Doggett’s list of chart singles:
“Be-Baba-Leba” (vocal by Helen Humes) (Philo/Aladdin 106) 1945 (#3 R&B)
“Moon Dust” 1953 (#18 R&B)
“Early Bird” 1953 (#21 R&B)
“No More In Life” 1953 (#20 R&B)
“High Heels” 1954 (#15 R&B)
“Honky Tonk, Part 1″/”Honky Tonk, Part 2” (King 4950) 1956 (#1(14) R&B/#2(3) Pop)
“Slow Walk” (King 5000) 1956 (#4 R&B/#19 Pop)
“Ram-Bunk-Shush” (King 5020) 1957 (#4 R&B)
“Soft” 1957 (#11 R&B)
“Leaps And Bounds, Part 1″/”Leaps And Bounds, Part 2” (King 5101) 1958 (#13 R&B)
“Blip Blop” 1958 (#11 R&B)
“Hold It!” (King 5149) 1958 (#3 R&B)
“Rainbow Riot, Part 1″/”Rainbow Riot, Part 2” (King 5159) 1959 (#15 R&B)
“Monster Party” (King 5176) 1959 (#27 R&B)
“Yocky Dock, Part 1″/”Yocky Dock, Part 2” (King 5256) 1959 (#30 R&B)
Bill Doggett photographed in France in 1980 by Lionel Decoster (from Wikipedia article)
The Hammond Organ is known for being the workhorse of modern classical as well as rock, rhythm and blues and jazz. It was Bill Doggett who became one of the early masters of this (then new) electronic instrument. While he was also a highly competent pianist, it was with the Hammond Organ that he had his greatest success. There is little doubt that his playing has influenced subsequent musicians who took on this instrument.
Here’s hoping that astute musicians and producers will take on the task of recognizing the work of the late great Bill Doggett. Toward that end here, from Wikipedia, is a discography of his work:
10 inch LPs
Bill Doggett: His Organ And Combo, Volume 1 King 295-82 (1954)
Bill Doggett: His Organ And Combo, Volume 2 King 295-83 (1954)
All Time Christmas Favorites King 295-89 (1954)
Sentimentally Yours King 295-102 (1955)
12 inch LPs (on King Records)
Moon Dust King 395-502 (1956)
Hot Doggett King 395-514 (1956)
As You Desire Me King 395-523 (1956)
Everybody Dance The Honky Tonk King 395-531 (1956)
Dame Dreaming With Bill Doggett King 395-532 (1957)
A Salute To Ellington King 533 (1957)
The Doggett Beat For Dancing Feet King 557 (1957)
Candle Glow King 563 (1958)
Swingin’ Easy King 582 (1958)
Dance Awhile With Doggett King 585 (1958)
12 Songs Of Christmas [reissue of King 295-89 plus 6 additional tracks] King 600 (1958)
Hold It! King 609 (1959)
High And Wide King 633 (1959)
Big City Dance Party King 641 (1959)
Bill Doggett On Tour [this is NOT a live album] King 667 (1959)
For Reminiscent Lovers, Romantic Songs By Bill Doggett King 706 (1960)
Back With More Bill Doggett King 723 (1960)
The Many Moods Of Bill Doggett King 778 (1962)
Bill Doggett Plays American Songs, Bossa Nova Style King 830 (1963)
Impressions King 868 (1963)
The Best Of Bill Doggett [compilation] King 908 (1964)
Bonanza Of 24 Songs [compilation] King 959 (1966)
Take Your Shot King 1041 (1969)
Honky Tonk Popcorn King 1078 (1970)
The Nearness Of You King 1097 (1970)
Ram-Bunk-Shush [compilation] King 1101 (1970)
Sentimental Mood [compilation] King 1104 (1970)
Soft [compilation] King 1108 (1970)
14 Original Greatest Hits [compilation; reissued as ‘All His Hits’] King-Starday 5009 (1977)
Charles Brown: PLEASE COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS [this vocal album includes 4 instrumental tracks by Bill Doggett] King-Starday 5019 (1978)
12 inch LPs (on other labels)
3,046 People Danced ‘Til 4 A.M. To Bill Doggett [this is a live album] Warner Bros. WS-1404 (1961)
The Band With The Beat! Warner Bros. WS-1421 (1961)
Bill Doggett Swings Warner Bros. WS-1452 (1962)
Rhythm Is My Business (Ella Fitzgerald with Bill Doggett) Verve V6-4056 (1962)
Oops! The Swinging Sounds Of Bill Doggett Columbia CL-1814/CS-8614 (1962)
Prelude To The Blues Columbia CL-1942/CS-8742 (1962)
Finger-Tips Columbia CL-2082/CS-8882 (1963)
Wow! ABC-Paramount S-507 (1964)
Honky Tonk A-La-Mod! Roulette SR-25330 (1966)
The Right Choice After Hours/Ichiban 4112 (1991) Note: this is Bill’s last recorded album of original material; also released on CD.
As someone who grew up attending Polish weddings and hearing more than his share of polka music I was fascinated at the unusual role of the accordion as I began to get interested in new music. People like Pauline Oliveros and Guy Klucevsek completely upended my notions of what this instrument is and what it can do. The accordion came into being in the early 19th century and was primarily associated with folk and popular musics until the early 20th century. It has been used by composers as diverse as Tchaikovsky and Paul Hindemith but the developments since the 1960s have taken this folk instrument into realms not even dreamed of by its creators.
Guy Klucevsek with some of his accordions
Guy Klucevsek (1947- ) brought the accordion to the burgeoning New York “downtown” new music scene in the 1970s. He began his accordion studies in 1955, holds a B.A. in theory and composition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. (also in theory and composition) from the University of Pittsburgh. He also did post graduate work at the California Institute of the Arts. His composition teachers have included Morton Subotnick, Gerald Shapiro and Robert Bernat. He draws creatively on his instrument’s past even as he blazes new trails expanding its possibilities. The accordion will never be the same.
Klucevsek has worked with most all of the major innovators in new music over the years including Laurie Anderson, Bang on a Can, Brave Combo, Anthony Braxton, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Rahim al Haj, Robin Holcomb, Kepa Junkera, the Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant, Present Music, Relâche, Zeitgeist, and John Zorn (who also recorded him on his wonderful Tzadik label). He has released over 20 albums and maintains an active touring schedule. He recently completed a residency (April, 2016) at Sausalito’s Headlands Center for the Arts.
Starkland has released no fewer than three previous albums by this unusual artist (all of which found their way into my personal collection over the years) including a re-release of his Polka from the Fringe recordings from the early 1990s. This landmark set of new music commissions from some 28 composers helped to redefine the polka (as well as the accordion) in much the same way as Michael Sahl’s 1981 Tango and Robert Moran’s 1976 Waltz projects did for those dance genres.
The present recording, Teetering on the Edge of Normalcy (scheduled for release on September 30, 2016), continues this composer/performer’s saga. His familiar humor and his unique experimentalism remain present but there is also a bittersweet aspect in that most of these compositions are homages and many of the dedicatees have passed from this world. Klucevsek himself will turn 70 in February of 2017 and it is fitting that he has chosen to release this compilation honoring his colleagues.
On first hearing, many of Klucevsek’s compositions sound simple and straightforward but the complexities lie just beneath the surface. What sounds like a simple accordion tune is written in complex meters and sometimes maniacal speed. To be sure there are conservative elements melodically and harmonically but these belie the subversive nature of Klucevsek’s work which put this formerly lowly folk instrument in the forefront with the best of the “downtown” scene described by critics such as Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann. You might mistake yourself as hearing a traditional music only to find that you had in fact wandered into the universe next door.
Many favorite collaborators have been recruited for this recording. Most tracks feature the composer with other musicians. Four tracks feature solo accordion, two are for solo piano and the rest are little chamber groupings from duets to small combos with drum kit.
The first three tracks are duets with the fine violinist Todd Reynolds. Klucevsek’s playful titles are more evocative than indicative and suggest a framework with which to appreciate the music. There follows two solo piano tracks ably handled by Alan Bern. Bern (who has collaborated on several albums) and Klucevsek follow on the next track with a duet between them.
Song of Remembrance is one of the more extended pieces on the album featuring the beautiful voice of Kamala Sankaram along with Todd Reynolds and Peggy Kampmeier on piano. No accordion on this evocative song which had this listener wanting to hear more of Sankaram’s beautiful voice.
The brief but affecting post minimalist Shimmer (In Memory of William Duckworth) for solo accordion is then followed by the longer but equally touching Bob Flath Waltzes with the Angels. William Duckworth (1943-2012) is generally seen as the inventor of the post-minimalist ethic (with his 1977-8 Time Curve Preludes) and he was, by all reports, a wonderful teacher, writer and composer. Bob Flath (1928-2014) was philanthropist and supporter of new music who apparently worked closely with Klucevsek.
Tracks 10-12 feature small combos with drum kit. The first two include (in addition to Klucevsek) Michael Lowenstern on mellifluous bass clarinet with Peter Donovan on bass and Barbara Merjan on drums. Lowenstern who almost threatens to play klezmer tunes at times sits out on the last of these tracks. Little Big Top is in memory of film composer Nino Rota and Three Quarter Moon in memory of German theater composer Kurt Weill. These pieces would not be out of place in that bar in Star Wars with their pithy humor that swings. They also evoke a sort of nostalgia for the downtown music scene of the 70s and 80s and the likes of Peter Gordon and even the Lounge Lizards.
The impressionistic Ice Flowers for solo accordion, inspired by ice crystals outside the composer’s window during a particularly harsh winter, is then followed by four more wonderful duets with Todd Reynolds (The Asphalt Orchid is in memory of composer Astor Piazolla) and then the brief, touching For Lars, Again (in memory of Lars Hollmer) to bring this collection to a very satisfying end. Hollmer (1948-2008) was a Swedish accordionist and composer who died of cancer.
As somber as all of this may sound the recording is actually a pretty upbeat experience with some definitely danceable tracks and some beautiful impressionistic ones. Like Klucevsek’s previous albums this is a fairly eclectic mix of ideas imbued as much with humor and clever invention as with sorrow and nostalgia. This is not a retrospective, though that would be another good idea for a release, but it is a nice collection of pieces not previously heard which hold a special significance for the artists involved. Happily I think we can expect even more from this unique artist in the future.
Guy Klucevsek, looking back but also forward.
The informative gatefold notes by the great Bay Area pianist/producer/radio host Sarah Cahill also suggest the affinity of this east coast boy for the aesthetic of the west coast where he is gratefully embraced and which is never far from his heart (after all he did study at the California Institute of the Arts and has worked with various Bay Area artists). Booklet notes are by the composer and give some personal clues as to the meaning of some of the works herein. Recordings are by John Kilgore, George Wellington and Bryce Goggin. Mastering is by the wonderful Silas Brown. All of this, of course, overseen by Thomas Steenland, executive producer at Starkland.
Fans of new music, Guy Klucevsek, accordions, great sound…you will want this disc.
Sono Luminus continues their dedication to high quality performances and recordings of a wide variety of music from the 20th and 21st centuries. In this lovely disc we are treated to a great deal of interesting and very listenable a capella choral music from the mid-twentieth century to the present.
It is this reviewer’s perception that a capella choral music is somewhat of an outlier in the classical music field and is generally not as well known as solo instrumental, orchestral, chamber music and such. (Band music is a similarly neglected area which is not frequently explored by many composers and not as familiar to audiences.) It is not an area very familiar to me but this recording appears to be one that can expand this niche considerably by virtue of the sheer beauty of these recordings.
There are eight pieces by seven composers of varying levels of familiarity. The most familiar names here are those of the late John Tavener (1944-2013) and William Schuman (1910-1992). (Schuman was also no stranger to writing for band music.) Some listeners may have heard of Jon Leifs (1899-1968), an Icelandic composer who should definitely be better known. (Curiously the only comprehensive information available in English on this composer is in Wikipedia.)
The disc opens with Elegy (2013) by Daniel Elder. It is the only piece which features soloists and is a touching piece which demonstrates the composer’s skill with this specialized genre.
Butterfly Dreams (2002) by John Tavener is a series of eight choral meditations based on Chuang Tse known for his “…Am I a man dreaming he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he is a man?”. Tavener’s work has pushed the solo choral genre more to the mainstream than nearly any composer of the last 50 years and this piece is a good example of how he has managed to do this. Tavener’s inspiration comes in part from the choral styles of eastern rite church music, a rich and sonorous sound.
Otche Nash by Nicolai Kedrov is apparently a classic in sacred music circles. In Latin this would be Pater Noster and in English, Our Father. This is a beautiful setting of the classic Christian Prayer.
Requiem (1947) by Jon Leifs is based on Icelandic folk poetry. It was written in response to his grief at the loss of his daughter who drowned at the age of 18. While not exactly representative of Leifs’ modern style it is a good example of the power of his invention in this heartfelt homage. This is perhaps the composer’s best known work.
Heliocentric Meditation by Robert Vuichard is another example of the deep knowledge of the specialized techniques available to composers in this genre. Vuichard appears to be a niche choral composer and one who has considerable skill. There is a rather modernist feel to this powerful meditation.
William Schuman’s Carols of Death (1958) is a sort of modern classic which has been recorded many times. There are three movements, each on a separate track. It is curious how well these pieces fit in style with the rest of the disc given the date of composition.
Beyond the Veil (2005) is a setting by Anna Thorvaldsdottir of an old Icelandic psalm. It is a prayer which is, in part, a meditation on death. The composer has a mystical/impressionistic style that suits this music particularly well.
Funeral Ikos (1981) by John Tavener is definitely a modern classic. This piece pretty much marks the beginning of the change from his early modernist style to the sort of “holy minimalist” (if you will) style that followed his conversion to and immersion in eastern rite sacred music.
Skylark is a chamber choir (five voices to each part, SATB) and this is their second album. They were formed in 2011 and are under the direction of Matthew Guard.
This review is basically about the music but I have to say that this is also one of the most beautiful booklets I have seen. It is short on info about the music but the photography and graphic design by Collin J. Rae and Caleb Nei deserve special recognition as well. Each page features a photograph and texts of these pieces are tastefully printed across the photos. This really enhances the experience and seems to be in harmony with the overall production.
Dan Mercurio, producer, has definitely made something special here and one hopes that this will help promote this compositional and performance niche to a more common experience and will encourage composers to write for a capella choir as well. Daniel Shores is the recording and mastering engineer. I am unable to assess the DVD audio and can only imagine how it must sound. The CD itself is amazing to hear.
For an album ostensibly about death there is great joy and beauty to be found here. Highly recommended, and not just to fans of choral music.
Reiko Füting (1970- ) is the chair of the music department at the Manhattan School of music. The present album is actually my introduction to this man and his work. It consists of a series of 15 works written between 2000 and 2014.
These works tend to emphasize brevity especially the solo vocal pieces (tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10). These, originally for baritone and piano are here rendered very effectively as solo vocal pieces. They are used as a sort of punctuation in this recording of mostly brief pieces which remind this listener of Webern at times. They are in fact the movements of a collection called, “…gesammeltes Schweigen” (2004/2011, translated as Collected Silence). It is worth the trouble to listen to these in order as a complete set.
The first track here is also the longest piece on the album at 15:43. Kaddish: The Art of Losing (2014) for cello and piano is an elegiac piece inspired by several people and seems to be about both loss and remembrance. The writing in this powerful and affecting piece is of an almost symphonic quality in which both instruments are completely interdependent as they share notes and phrases. The cello is called upon to use a variety of extended techniques and the piano part is so fully integrated as to make this seem like a single instrument rather than solo with accompaniment. It has a nostalgic quality and is a stunning start to this collection of highly original compositions.
tanz, tanz (dance, dance) (2010) is a sort of Bachian exegesis of the Chaconne from the D minor violin partita. This sort of homage is not uncommon especially in the 20th/21st century and this is a fascinating example of this genre. The writing is similar to what was heard in the cello writing in the first track. This piece is challenging and highly demanding of the performer. It is a delicate though complex piece but those complexities do not make for difficult listening.
leaving without/palimpsest (2006) for clarinet and piano begins with a piano introduction after which the clarinet enters in almost pointillistic fashion as it becomes integrated to the structure initiated by the piano. Again the composer is fond of delicate sounds and a very close relationship between the musicians.
names erased (Prelude, 2012) is for solo cello and is, similar to the solo violin piece “tanz, tanz”, a Bach homage. The performer executes the composer’s signature delicate textures which utilize quotes from various sources including the composer himself. And again the complexities and extended techniques challenge the performer far more than the listener in this lovely piece.
Track 9 contains two pieces: “ist-Mensch-geworden” (was-made-man, 2014) for flute and piano and “land-haus-berg” (land-house-mountain, 2008) for piano. Both pieces involve quotation from other music in this composer’s compact and unique style. Here he includes references to Morton Feldman, J.S. Bach, Alban Berg, Gyorgy Ligeti, Schumann, Debussy, Nils Vigeland, Beat Furrer, Jo Kondo and Tristan Murail.
light, asleep (2002/2010) for violin and piano apparently began its life as a piece based on quotation but, as the liner notes say, lost those actual quotes in the process of revision.
finden-suchen (to find-to search, 2003/2011) for alto flute, cello and piano is a lyrical piece with the same interdependent writing that seems to be characteristic of this composer’s style.
…und ich bin Dein Spiegel (…and I am Your Reflection, 2000/2012) is a setting of fragments by a medieval mystic Mechthild von Magdeburg for mezzo soprano and string quartet. This is deeply introspective music.
All of Fùting’s compositions have a very personal quality with deeply embedded references. His aesthetic seems to be derived from his roots in the German Democratic Republic having been born into that unique nation state both separate from the West German state and still deeply connected to it. He is of a generation distant from the historical events that gave birth to that artificially separate German nation but, no doubt, affected by its atmosphere.
The musicians on this recording include David Broome, piano; Miranda Cuckson, violin; Nani Füting (the composer’s wife), mezzo soprano; Luna Cholong Kang, flutes; Eric Lamb, flutes; Joshua Rubin, clarinet; John Popham, cello; Yegor Shevtsov, piano; Jing Yang, piano; and the Mivos Quartet. All are dedicated and thoughtful performances executed effortlessly.
The recording is the composer’s production engineered by Ryan Streber. This is a very original set of compositions which benefit from multiple hearings.
Cedille has tended to be very supportive of local artists (they are based in Chicago) and this is a fine example of them hitting a bulls eye. Stacy Garrop boasts about 20 CDs which include her music and she has, as of 2016, began her career as a freelance composer. She had taught composition at Chicago’s Roosevelt University from 2000-2016.
Her name is a new one to this reviewer but one which will remain on my radar. This stunning disc contains three major works by her, the five movement Mythology Symphony (2007-2014), the three movement Thunderwalker (1999) which was her doctoral dissertation and Shadow (2001).
A quick look at Garrop’s intelligently designed website shows her to be a very prolific composer with works for almost every imaginable ensemble. Scores and recordings can be ordered from the site. Garrop earned degrees in music composition at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (B.M.), University of Chicago (M.A.), and Indiana University-Bloomington (D.M.).
The composer at the piano (from the composer’s website)
Another of the nice features of this disc is the opportunity to hear the fine musicianship of the Chicago College of Performing Arts Symphony (and their chamber symphony) of Roosevelt University. Conductors Alondra De La Parra and Markand Thakar are also new to this reviewer but I am glad to be able to acquaint myself with their skills in this recording. Listeners would do well to note these fine artists and to thank Cedille for supporting them. This is a fine example of producer James Ginsburg’s ability to recognize and promote local talent.
Alondra De La Parra (from the conductor’s website)
Markand Thakar photos (c) dennis drenner 2012
The centerpiece here is, of course, the Mythology Symphony. Its five movements were composed over several years and the symphony was first performed in its entirety in 2015. One is immediately struck by the directness of the composer’s invention and the elaborate but lucid orchestration. This work would likely please any concert audience and its color and sense of narrative suggest almost cinematic aspirations. Indeed Ms. Garrop could undoubtedly write for the screen with her wide ranging palette.
The second work, Thunderwalker, as mentioned above, is Garrop’s doctoral dissertation and the listener will doubtless perceive the fact that her style and skillful handling of the orchestra appear to already have been fully formed in this, her earliest orchestral composition. The work, which does not have a specific program as does the symphony, still demonstrates the composer’s fascination with the mythological dimension as she weaves classical forms of fugue, pasacaglia and scherzo to describe her imagined image of the Thunderwalker.
Shadow (2001) is described in the notes as a reflection of the composer’s experience at the Yaddo artist colony. Again her fascination with images to drive the music are present and her style remains remarkably consistent with the other two works on the disc.
The recording was engineered by Bill Maylone at the Benito Juarez Community Academy Performing Arts Center in Chicago. Graphic design is by Nancy Bieschke with the lovely Medusa cover art by Thalia Took. The very informative liner notes are by the composer.
At first an all flute album featuring a contemporary composer would seem to be a risky idea at best but this disc of some of Joseph Schwantner‘s flute compositions works very well. Pulitzer Prize winning Schwantner is no stranger to the concert or recording scene and deservedly so. He writes a modern, though not terribly experimental, style which works well in the concert hall and on disc. He won the Pulitzer for his wonderful 1978 Aftertones of Infinity and wrote a substantial guitar concerto championed by Sharon Isbin among many other works.
Jenny Oh Brown is an unfamiliar name to this reviewer but I suspect that will not be the case for long. This is one talented and charismatic artist and she has recruited some marvelous fellow musicians for this album. This is not the complete flute music of Mr. Schwantner but it is certainly a very nice representative sampling.
The album starts with Black Anemones (1980), a piece which is pretty much part of the standard flute and piano repertoire now. The performance of this lyrical post-romantic essay clearly demonstrates why this piece has become popular. It requires a great deal of skill and virtuosity for both the flautist and the pianist and both musicians handle their roles expertly.
The next three tracks are the separate movements of a piece,, again for flute and piano, called, Looking Back (2009). The first movement, called Scurry About is a frenetic and virtuosic little romp which gives both musicians ample opportunities to demonstrate their chops. The second movement, Remembering, is a sort of nostalgic solo flute cadenza and the finale, titled Just Follow brings the work to a satisfying conclusion.
The highlight for this listener, though, is the three movement quartet for flutes, Silver Halo (2007). No piano here but every member of the flute family pretty much and each gets what sounds like a very satisfying role.
In addition to Jennie the album features Jeffrey Panko on piano, Karin Ursin, flute and piccolo; Janice McDonald, flute and alto flute; and Susan Saylor, flute and bass flute. This Innova release is a must for fanciers of the flute and of Mr. Schwantner’s music.
I first heard of this young Monacan pianist and composer when a composer friend, David Toub, told me that he was going to program one of this piano pieces. That piece along with quite a few other performances are available on Nicolas Horvath’s You Tube video channel here.
Horvath developed a strong interest in contemporary music from Gerard Frémy among others and has been programming a great deal of new music ranging from the more familiar such as Philip Glass to a host of others including quite a few pieces written for or premiered by him as well as his own transcriptions and reconstructions. He is known for his concerts in non-traditional venues with very non-traditional lengths of performance as well as traditional concerts.
His current projects include Night of Minimalism in which he performs continuously for 10-15 hours with a wide variety of minimalist and post-minimalist pieces and Glass Worlds in which he performs the complete solo piano works of Philip Glass (approximately 15 hours) along with pieces by an international list of composers written in tribute to Glass. He is also an electroacoustic composer (he counts Francois Bayle among his teachers) and a visual artist all with a passion for contemporary works.
The artist standing in one of his installations.
We had corresponded via e-mail over the last year or so and when I suggested the idea of interviewing him he responded by arranging time after a (traditional length) concert he gave in Minsk, Belarus on December 1, 2014. I prepared for what I anticipated would be a one hour interview after which I imagined he would probably need to get to sleep. But when I attempted to wrap up our conversation (at a couple of points) he immediately asked, “Don’t you have any more questions?”. What followed resulted in approximately three and an half hours of delightful and wide-ranging conversation about this man and his art which he ended with the comment, “I must go, the piano is calling me.” It appears that his seemingly boundless energy extends well beyond the stage. The following January (2015) he gave the world premiere performance of all of Philip Glass’ 20 Etudes in none other than Carnegie Hall.
Horvath with spent score pages as he traverses one of his extended performance ventures. (copyright Jean Therry Boisseau)
Since that time we have continued our correspondence and this affable, patient young artist continues on various projects and no sign of his interest or energy waning. He recently sent me various photos of him in various settings pursuing his varied artistic interests for this article.
Composer as well as performer in an electroacoustic performance without piano.
Horvath was born in Monaco in 1977. He studied piano at the Académie de Musique Rainier III de Monaco and the École Normale de Musique de Paris. At 16, Lawrence Foster took notice of him in a concert and, securing a three year scholarship for him from the Princess Grace Foundation, was able to invite him to the Aspen Music Festival. After his studies in the École Normale de Musique in Paris, he worked for three years with
Bruno-Léonardo Gelber, Gérard Frémy who instilled in him a sensitivity to music of our time as well as Eric Heidsieck, Gabriel Tacchino, Nelson Delle-Vigne, Philippe Entremont and Oxana Yablonskaya. Leslie Howard got to know him and invited him to perform before the Liszt Society in the United Kingdom. He has been playing professionally for 7 years and puts his own characteristic style into his productions and performances.
In a move reminiscent of Terry Riley’s all night solo improv fests Horvath has performed several lengthy programs. He has performed Erik Satie’s proto-minimalist Vexations (1893) in performances that ranged widely in length. One notable performance at the Palais de Tokyo lasted 35 hours, the longest solo piano performance on record as far as I can determine. Previously this piece has been performed by tag teams of pianists (the first in 1967 in New York was curated by John Cage) to perform the 840 repetitions of the piece whose tempo or recommended duration is not specified. Horvath, taking on a musicological mantle is preparing his own edition of this unique work. He has published an 24 hour version on his You Tube channel here.
Given his intense schedule and vast repertoire he has been remarkably responsive and has an irrepressibly strong appetite for new music. He tells me that he had worked on a project in which he planned to play all the piano music of the French composer Jean Catoire (1923-2005), some 35 hours of material (in a single program, of course). Unfortunately that composer’s relative obscurity seems to have resulted in insufficient support for the project which is, for now, on hold. Here’s hoping that this can be realized sometime soon.
Horvath’s fascination with authenticity, completeness and performances of unconventional lengths uninterrupted by applause where audiences are invited to lay on the floor with blankets and sleeping bags and approach the piano seems unusual but he has been getting enthusiastic audiences and has enjoyed overflow crowds. Like Terry Riley and perhaps even some of Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts there is a ritual feel to these marathon performances. Regrettably I have not yet been able to attend one but I would love to partake in what must be a powerful shared experience. He invites people to come to the piano and to watch, look at the score. It is unlike the conventional recital and therein lies some of its charm. At least one of his videos features a small sign which reads, “Don’t feed the pianist” and attests to his warmth and wonderful sense of humor.
His passion has parallels in his spirituality and he has pursued sacred pilgrimages which require a great deal of time and energy but without doubt fill a very deep and sincere need. More details and photos are available on his blog. And, as with music, he is very open to discussing this very personal aspect of his life.
The artist braving the elements on one of his pilgrimages.
There are conventional two hour with intermission style recitals in more conventional concert venues that he has played and Horvath also enjoys playing with an orchestra. His performances of both of Philip Glass’ piano concertos can be viewed on You Tube and you can see the intensity of his execution. This came through in the course of our interview as well when Mr. Horvath would speak of the music and then verbally imitate the rhythms (no doubt endlessly practiced) which drive his enthusiasm. The music seems to be deeply integrated into his very being.
His first solo commercial recording was released in 2012. It consists of Franz Liszt’s ‘Christus’, an oratorio composed in 1862-66 for narrator, soloists, chorus and orchestra. Horvath plays a piano reduction done by the composer. This is the first known recording of this unique and virtuosic set of piano works. It is certainly an unusual choice for a debut recording but it is consistent with his very personal tastes. (He lists Scriabin and Chopin as among his favorite composers.). He is in the process of recording all of Philip Glass’ piano music for Grand Piano records distributed by Naxos. At the time of this writing four well-received volumes have been released. He is also planning to record all of Satie’s piano music and he has just recently released his rendition of Cornelius Cardew’s indeterminate masterpiece, Treatise.
I have seldom encountered a musician with such intensity and drive. He is also one of the most skilled in using the internet to promote himself and his projects. And though this is no doubt a man with a considerable ego he is in fact very unpretentious and very genuinely turned on, driven by the music itself. Don’t get me wrong, he is concerned with developing his image and career but he seems happy to be doing the work he has been doing and he is, like any really good musician, self-critical and a perfectionist.
A quick look at his YouTube channel here reveals some of the range of his interests which include the standard repertoire along with interest in contemporary works. Just released is a creative video with Horvath playing Glass’ Morning Passages while he apparently experiences a reverie involving a beautiful woman which could have been on MTV at its height. Perhaps he is even channeling Oscar Levant who embraced roles in films along with his pianistic talents. His website is a good resource for updates on his various projects and performances.
Focused concentration at the keyboard.
As of the time of this writing his discography includes:
Hortus Records 100 (2012)
A very unusual choice for a debut recording. Nonetheless this is a distinctive recording which reflects the virtuosity as well as the careful scholarship which continues to characterize his work. He managed to locate a couple of previously lost pieces in this set of composer transcriptions. One also can’t miss the spiritual dimension here, as close to his heart as music and an equally important aspect of his personality.
Grand Piano GP 677 (2015)
This first disc in the series manages to provide the listener with truly inspired interpretations of Glass’ keyboard oeuvre and gives us a world premiere recording of How Now as well.
Grand Piano GP 690 (2015)
The complete Piano Etudes by the man who premiered the set at Carnegie Hall. These etudes were also recorded by the wonderful Maki Namekawa and the opportunity to hear these really different takes is positively revelatory.
Grand Piano GP 691 (2016)
The third disc in the traversal of Glass’ piano music (original and transcribed) also offers world premieres. Horvath’s inclusion of Glass’ early Sonatina No. 2 reflects his work under the tutelage of Darius Milhaud and provides insight into the composer’s early development before he developed his more familiar mature style.
Grand Piano GP 692 (2016)
Haven’t yet heard this disc but I have in queued for ordering in the next few weeks.
Demerara Records (2016)
Haven’t heard this one yet either but, again, it’s in my Amazon shopping cart.
Horvath’s interpretation of this important work by Cornelius Cardew
Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) was sort of England’s John Cage, a major voice in 20th Century experimental music. Scholarship has yet to do justice to the late composer’s work but this disc is an important contribution toward that end..
Horvath’s career is characterized by innovation and passion combined with astute scholarship and a keen sense of what is new and interesting in music while clearly being schooled in the classic repertoire. The piano calls him as do his other passions and I highly recommend paying attention as he answers those calls. He is truly an artist to watch.
N.B. Mr. Horvath generously read and approved an advance draft of this article shortly after arriving in the United States for concerts at Steinway Hall in Rockville with a Chopin program and a recital at The Spectrum in New York City which will include two pieces written for him by Michael Vincent Waller along with some Chopin pieces.
I had reviewed another disc of this composer’s music on this label here and I must admit that it took me quite a while to meaningfully grasp the music of this too little known Danish composer (1924-2012). It should be no secret that the Danes have had and continue to have a rich musical culture and have produced quite a number of world class composers and this man is no exception. However his style, apparently gleaned from his association with the modernists of Darmstadt, can be a tough nut to crack.
As with the aforementioned disc one might require multiple listenings before coming to realize that this man has a unique style and one that bears some serious attention. This disc of piano music (and one piece for celesta) fills a gap in his recorded repertoire and is an excellent opportunity to see how he works in the genre of keyboard music.
These ten tracks contain works written from 1949 to 1988 so they cover a significant portion of his career and illustrate the development of his style. Pianist Erik Kaltoft, a longtime associate of the composer, demonstrates interpretive skill as well as virtuosity and dedication in this fascinating survey.
The first (and longest 11:29) piece is Thalatta! Thalatta! (1987-88) and is given the opus number of 127. The exclamation of the title translates as, “The Sea! The Sea!” and is said to have been spoken by the Greek armies upon reaching the Black Sea during one of their campaigns. It is an impressionistic piece about the many moods of the sea. His harmonies are like a modern update of Debussy, a bit more dissonant but providing a similarly soft focused feel.
Continuing with the maritime theme are the 6 miniatures called Marine Sketches (1949) opus 4b. It is one of the earliest compositions in this collection (along with the Miniature Suite opus 3b, also 1949, on track 8). Each of the pieces lasts around one minute and there are no track breaks to separate them. The composer seems to expect that they will always be performed together and with a total time of 6:53, why not? In contrast to the first piece these contain more melodic contours with less overall dissonance but clearly the same compositional fingerprint.
The four Winter Pieces opus 30b (1959) contain more energetic rhythms but with strategic silences punctuating the overall flow. They end with a brief epilogue.
From winter we move to another season with the Summer Intermezzi opus 65 (1971) comes back to the sound world of the first track. Here he experiments with different techniques to expand the language of the keyboard and incorporates the strategic silences of the piece on the former track.
Track 5 contains the earliest piece in this collection, Pasacaglia opus 2b (1948) which seems to suggest some influence of Scriabin. It is a classic set of variations over the initial bass line and has a rather romantic feel.
Raindrop Interludes opus 144 (1994) is an impressionistic suite with the more dissonant style of his other later pieces. It is the most recently composed of the recorded selections.
Epigrams opus 78 (1976) at 9:15, is the second longest piece here. This is one of the most abstract pieces on the disc and demands concentration from both the performer and the listener to perceive delicate statements made with a wide dynamic range.
The Miniaturesuite opus 3b concentrates a praeludium, fantasia, interludium, sarabande and a repeat of praeludium in a brief 2:49. It is more melodic and less dissonant in keeping with the composer’s earlier style.
Praeludier opus 30a (1958-9) are seven pithy and brief preludes.
The last track contains Phantasiestùck opus 115 (1985) written for celesta. This instrument, forever doomed to familiarity by its use in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, has a limited repertoire and this gentle abstract piece is a welcome addition. It is consistent with the composer’s late style using dissonance and silences in an almost meditative and strangely nostalgic piece.
The extensive and useful liner notes are by Trine Boje Mortensen and are printed in both Danish and English (translation by John Irons). The fine recording and mastering are by Preben Iwan in the fine acoustics of the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Grateful assistance and input from the composer’s daughter Elisabet Selin.
One needs to be cautioned never to take lightly anything produced from this creative country and this album is proof of that. Kudos to OUR recordings for bringing this music to the listening public.
Michael Nicolas is the new cellist of Brooklyn Rider as well as member of the International Contemporary Ensemble and numerous other affiliations. This French Canadian/Taiwanese young man now residing in New York is definitely an emerging artist to watch and his debut album does much to demonstrate why he deserves serious attention.
This selection of mid/late twentieth and twenty first century cello pieces comprises an intelligent survey of this repertoire introducing new music and providing a younger performer’s take on some classics of solo cello with electronics as well some more recent works. As he says in his liner notes this survey is concerned with the dichotomy between the solo instrument and the attendant electronics in various guises (even the quasi-Max Headroom cover art seems to reflect this). Erin Baiano did the photography and Caleb Nei did the graphic design. If I have a criticism of this fine album it is perhaps that the liner notes provide less detail than this listener prefers so I have tried to provide a few details here.
Beginning with Mario Davidovsky‘s classic Synchronisms No. 3 (1964) for cello and electronic sounds (one of twelve such works for solo instrument with electronics) and continuing with Steve Reich‘s Cello Counterpoint (2003) Nicolas begins his survey with two relatively well-known pieces in this genre and he certainly does them justice. These pieces serve as Nicolas’ sort of homage to the past which he follows with some very current compositions.
He introduces some pieces unfamiliar to this writer. David Fulmer‘s Speak of the Spring (2015) is a piece for solo cello with electronics. Fulmer is a composer/performer apparently worth watching from a quick read of his web site. As I was unable to determine the date of composition I contacted the composer who graciously responded despite his busy travel schedule: “The work was written last year, in 2015 specifically for Michael Nicolas and this particular project (cello and electronics). Michael had asked me for a piece for his recording project, and having known him (we went to school together) for many years, and admiring his playing so much, I was very interested in writing this piece for him. As for perspective…as a string player, I always enjoy writing string works. I’m interested in the beautiful timbres that the strings have. Tuning is also an important concept for me; at the end of the work, the cello electronics (pre-recorded cello) is scordatura.All of the prerecorded lines are recorded by Michael. I see this as a work written for Michael, played by Michael, and many versions of Michael.”
Next are two pieces by Annie Gosfield for cello and sampler. Four Roses (1997) and “…and a Five Spot” (2015, commissioned by Nicolas as a companion to the former). Both pieces are basically lyrical with spectral effects, microtonal passages, extended techniques and the samples of course. The first piece is more assertive and direct while the second seems more introspective. Both appear to be typical of Gosfield’s fully developed style.
Next up is a piece by the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir whose album length “In the Light of Air” performed by ICE was reviewed here. Her piece on this disc for solo cello and electronics Transitions (2015) has a similarly ethereal character but one gets the impression that her approachable style belies complexities that underlie her work.
The last piece is flexura (2015) by Jaime E. Oliver La Rosa, a Peruvian born composer now working in New York. This piece functions almost like a bookend with the Davidovsky piece that opens this disc (Davidovsky also comes from South America having been born in Argentina). La Rosa holds a PhD. in computer music from the University of California San Diego and is developing open source software (and hardware) for live performance. His MANO controller can be seen in the video on his website. This last piece inhabits a similar sound world to that of the Davidovsky. It is thorny and modern sounding and works as a showcase for the cellist. Strictly speaking I suppose this piece is more of a duet in that there are two musicians required to perform it.
As always the impeccable production by Sono Luminus makes for a wonderful listening experience and this is quite an impressive debut for this interesting young musician. Kudos to producer Dan Mercurio recording technician David Angell and executive producer Collin J. Rae.
Perhaps I am premature in saying this but this release has the earmarks of a being classic survey of the current status of this genre. One of the joys of such a project is to hear new interpretations of established works and to hear an intelligent selection of new pieces. Definitely want to hear more from Mr. Nicolas as well as from the composers represented.