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Monday, August 29, 2016

Chris Brown, Six Primes, for Piano in 13-Limit Just Intonation

The well untempered clavier is alive and well in the form of Chris Brown's solo piano series Six Primes (New World 80781-2). The six pieces are based on just intonation--the prime number ratios 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, and 13 are utilized varyingly for tuning and temporal structure according to the piece at hand.

The music takes a bit of adjustment on the part of your ears and then takes hold. Much of it sounds vaguely Indonesian--principally due to the sound of the scales as created by Brown. The composer in the liners gives us a full scope of the influences that went into the music: "Lou Harrison's endlessly branching melodies, Cowell's polyrhythms and tone clusters, Cage's equanimity and Stockhausen's deterministic force, the complex minimalism of Morton Feldman and the harmonics buzz of Ellen Fullman....And although I never thought about it during the composing process, I think I hear in its mixture of styles an influence of Ives." All this makes sense to me as I listen, though I do not believe I am familiar with Ellen Fullman's music.

One is never bored with these pieces--they are consistently inventive and the tunings bring continual difference to the ears. It is new music in a very new world context, or in other words it sounds as a natural expression of a world beyond our traditional Western one, which is fitting to the lineage of composers Chris Brown cites as influential. And in the end the music has its own trajectory that takes it beyond influence and into a music unto itself.

I find it all fascinating and substantial. Anyone with an interest in microtonal and post-classical forms will respond to this. Anyone with a sense of musical adventure in general will also get much out of this CD. It is important as a furtherance as well as lively and interesting music on its own terms. Very recommended.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Matt Haimovitz, Overtures to Bach

If you do not know, Matt Haimovitz is that enormously talented, accomplished and daring more-or-less young cellist who has embarked on a series of brilliant, genre bending cello albums that I have covered on this blog--many of them anyway. Even though I awoke this morning with the musical theme from the Bugs Bunny Show playing in my head ("On with the show, this is it!"), Matt's latest is a bit more serious, to say the least. (But then Bugs Bunny was seriously funny, so....)

It is called Overtures to Bach (Pentatone Oxingale Series 5186 561), and fittingly so. The Prelude movements from Bach's six Suites for Solo Cello form the cornerstone of the album. Each of the Preludes are wondrously performed, but as a kind of answer to six newly composed cello solo works meant to pay homage to and comment upon the essence of the solo cello Bach.

So we get modern yet absorbingly timeless works by Philip Glass, Du Yun, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, David Sanford and Luna Pearl Woolf. Many of the works make rather extraordinary technical demands on Haimowitz and of course he is very much up for the challenge. But then a proper interpretation of the Preludes demands no less.

Once you relax your expectations and listen with naked ears it all becomes a part of a whole, of Bach and what he brings to us today, of modern contemporary works today and how they channel Bach in contrasting fashions. The modern works were written, especially commissioned for this project and so enjoy their world premiere recordings.

After a few listens everything flows together marvelously. It's another considerable feather in the Haimovitz cap. He is one of those special forces on the contemporary scene and as usual he gets you to hear differently while also bringing to us his unparalleled musicality.

For those who love Bach and/or for those firmly involved in new music listening, this one is a most fascinating revelation. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chiara String Quartet, Bartok By Heart

I believe I've said this before on these pages, but it is nevertheless true that as some early modern classics have become more and more familiar to us all, keenly discerning younger musicians seem more inclined to take the music as whole cloth. They understand the music much better than many of their predecessors did--as they have learned to speak fluently the language of modernism from a young age, as "native" speakers, and they make it all sound like a natural expression, which by now of course it should be.

This is no more true than in the case of the Chiara String Quartet, who give us such beautiful renditions of Bartok's complete String Quartets that you think they themselves wrote them. Bartok By Heart (Azica 71310 2-CDs) is what the title suggests. The Chiara set about memorizing all six quartets and then finessed the details thoroughly. This is the recorded result.

Those results are stunning. These are the quartets the way Bartok envisioned them, one feels as one listens. The early quartets are not overly romantic, the folk elements sound as they might have inside Bartok's head, as truly folk-like, the modernisms are not just technically right, they are phrased naturally and with great spirit.

The Bartok Quartets have long had the reputation as some of the very finest of our times, indeed of any era. The Chiara String Quartet bring you the WHY of that perhaps as never before. It's a product no doubt of the group realization process once they had memorized each quartet--to then concentrate on the four-way expression of the implications of the notes beyond merely getting it all right. There is an incredible togetherness and spirit expressed that make all the complexities seem inevitable, that give the feeling of genuine performative spontaneity, that musicalize each movement well beyond the abstractions they no doubt are. Chiara adds the cognizant connecting tissue, so to speak, the syntactical logic, that gets to the essence of what Bartok is saying.

It is a performance not likely to be surpassed in the near future. It takes the ALL of Bartok and reflects upon it with loving care and attention. This is a release everyone should hear! Superb!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Modes, Society of Composers, Inc., Volume 30

The world of new music continues to flourish. Time does not stand still. We can hear that nicely on the 30th volume of recent compositions for the Society of Composers' ongoing anthology series. Modes (Navona 6051) gives us a wide-ranging gathering of works from seven worthy but lesser-known exponents.

We hear some high modernism from Karen Keyhani on her chamber ensemble work "As Far as Possible," a lively oboe-cello-percussion trio entitled "Valence II" from Robert A. Baker, a solo flute sound poem "Princess Ka'iulani" by Nolan Stolz, a cycle for mezzo-soprano and string quartet "Five Love Songs" from Arthur Gottschalk, Benjamin D. Whiting's electroacoustic "Melodia sin Melodia," "A Mournful Cry" for solo guzheng by Yip Ho Kwen Austin, and a chamber sextet, "Acoustic Field," by Chin Ting Chan.

Time goes by quickly as each work has its say and moves on. It is a bellwether of how diverse new music can be these days, but also a vivid example of the talent and highly evolved craftsmanship that shows itself in such abundance in our times, nowhere more so than on this volume.

Anyone who seeks the new today will find plenty of works of interest here, well performed and happily contentful. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hakki Cengiz Eren, Color Studies

Relatively young (b. 1984) Turkish composer Hakki Cengiz Eren comes through with four outstanding high modernist compositions on the CD Color Studies (Ravello 7938). Sound color, as the title suggests, is a prominent aspect of these works. Indeed Eren excels in creating soundscapes that maximize the sonic contours of the instruments for each piece.

"Buffavento" features the large chamber ensemble Thornton Edge and depicts a castle in Northern Cyprus perched high atop the mountain range there. The structure's name literally means "buffeted by the winds." And accordingly the tone poem vividly brings to us in sound poetic terms an image of a structure isolated and exposed, yet providing a (one presumes) marvelous view of the area.

"Four Studies on Archipenko" is hauntingly scored for violin, Bb and bass clarinet, flute and harp. The extended techniques and moody sprawl Eren fashions for the quartet is played with great beauty by the chamber group ECCE.

"Music for Strings No. 1 (Doors)" is a relatively brief but sonically spectacular string quartet realized nicely by the Argus Quartet.

Finally, "Four Pieces for Solo Viola" weaves together a wide variety of color techniques and expressive pacing in a tour de force that gets superb results in the hands of violist Garth Knox.

All four works have a ravishing color sensibility and cohesiveness that marks Hakki Cengiz Eren as a vital creator on today's high modern scene. It's a wonderful program that I recommend to you without reservations. I hope we can hear more from this composer soon!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Robert Carl, The Geography of Loss

Robert Carl devises a modern music that sounds like no other. On The Geography of Loss (New World 80780-2) we have the opportunity to hear four major works, each with definitive personality and dramatic impact.

His teachers, Xenakis, Shapey, Rochberg, and Jonathan Kramer gave him perhaps the courage to go his own way, as he does in these works.

We last encountered Carl on these pages on October 1, 2013 with an anthology of piano music, Shake the Tree. I found that one quite illuminating and now we get to hear his recent music for larger ensembles.

His "Symphony No. 4, The Ladder" (2008) is a brilliantly orchestrated, highly dynamic, dissonantly modern work with a musical narrative that deliberates as it expands a sound universe all its own.

The "Chamber Concerto for Guitar and 10 Instruments, The Calm Bee in the Busy Hive" (2009-10) was written in response to Carl's rapid loss of both parents in a short piece of time. There are parts for two unusually tuned guitars, with the second reinforcing what the first is doing. The first movement is oddly canonical, musically representing the building of the hive with the queen bee at the center of things. The second movement is elegaic, movingly funereal.

"The World Turned Upside Down" (1999/2000) for symphony orchestra began as the final movement in his "Piano Sonata No. 2" in 1999 and was orchestrated and reworked as the third movement of his "Symphony No. 3" (2000), but can also be heard as it is here on its own. It is the turning point of Carl's compositional methods toward a concern with harmonic series. Somber and full of dense clusters of vertical chords, it is evocative, very memorable and towards the end takes the form of a sort of modern chorale.

The final piece is the eight-movement title work, "The Geography of Loss" (2010) for soprano, baritone, mixed chamber ensemble and chorus and again was written in reaction to the sudden deaths of his parents. Carl cites the influence of Bach and Stravinsky for this music and you can hear a certain structural quality in all of it that seems to reference the masters, yet it like the others stands out as original. Modern and lucidly scored, it covers a great deal of ground. The choral writing is especially poignant.

In the end you come away from this program with a distinct impression of a modern master finding his own way in a high modern zone with a noticeable lyric and dramatic panache that places him in a class of one. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Nicolas Kaviani, Te Deum

Nicolas Kaviani writes his modern day Te Deum (Navona NV6021 CD plus Documentary DVD) to praise the heavens in the fundamental manner that Western Civilization has done for many centuries past. In our modern age however the full creation is something we now know much more about than we previously believed. Yet it is still a mystery. The vastness and ineffable nature of boundless space as science has come to know it is the material entity Nicolas Kaviani sets out to praise in his half-hour work for orchestra (Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Petr Vronsky), choir (Janacek Opera Choir under Pavel Koranik) and soloists (Martina Kralikova, soprano, etc.).

This is jubilant, ecstatic glorification in the capital /G/ sense; Post-Beethovian, post-Mahlerian largess with a hugeness appropriate to its subject matter. A DVD comes with the CD recording to document the making of the music. I have not had DVD capabilities yet since my move so I was unable to watch.

But certainly the music speaks multitudes. A short "Tous les Matins du Monde" for 16 unaccompanied voices ends the program on a subdued, questioning note.

This is music of great drama and impact, a post-Romantic tour de force that unleashes some blockbuster power. Hear this!