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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Larry Polansky, Four-Voice Canons

Today I catch up with a Cold Blue release from several years ago (CB0011) that retains my interest and shows no sign of aging. It is a disk by composer Larry Polansky called Four-Voice Canons. The album  features performances by various personages, some of them taking the form of collaborations, others functioning more in the composer vs. performer realm. All are canons by virtue of having counterpoint from four distinct voices, whether that be human voices talking, reciting or singing, natural and electronically altered sounds and/or conventional instruments. There is an imitative element oftimes, sometimes in ways not readily clear at first, others more overt. Still others have more pointillistic entries and exits by the various voices so that the canon idea is expanded into less traditionally classic interactive ways.

Each of the 15 examples included here is unique in itself. The range of sound sources and corresponding  atmospherics can vary widely. So we get solo marimba, a gamelan instrument, fretless electric guitar, the voice-patter of a child or a group of adolescents saying specific words to form a contrapuntal tapestry via electronic alteration, a chamber choral number by New York Voices,  and so forth.

Some utilize noise or unpitched sounds, others are in a sort of radical tonality mode, still others utilize extra-diatonic tones. All are situated within a spectrum of a postmodern-meets-classical-modernist diversity.

There is much that piques your ears via sheer inventive imagination. Many of the canons grow in stature as you listen repeatedly. Some form interludic segmentation as a part of the whole, and perhaps have something less than iconic interest in themselves after many hearings.

Polansky and his collaborators/participants manage to redefine how we think of canonical form and in the process give us a lively potpourri of brief pieces that encapsule a diverse array of possibilities and keep the ears interested.

It may not be a landmark offering of the new century but it grabs you and sends you over a vast terrain of sound landscapes with a consistently imaginative approach. It is at all times an interesting and provocative listen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Danish String Quartet, Thomas Ades, Per Norgard, Hans Abrahamsen

An excellent string quartet graces our presence today with three lesser-known yet blockbuster modern works. It is the Danish String Quartet playing Thomas Ades, Per Norgard, Hans Abrahamsen (ECM New Series 2453). Each of the works was written when the respective composer was still relatively young, in his 20s. Each shows a vibrant sonarity and a strong sense of form; each shares a kind of modern, youthful expressive quality that the Danish String Quartet brings out with lyrical care and fine detail.

Thomas Ades' "Arcadiana for string quartet, op. 12" (1994), Per Norgard's "Quartetto Breve, String Quartet No. 1" (1952), and Hans Abrahamsen's "10 Preludes, String Quartet No. 1" (1973), span a fairly vast period of time and yet share a basically tonal but modern coloristic palette, a sense of the lyrically dramatic, a singing quality and a modern choice of widely varying harmonic possibilities.

The Danish String Quartet shows us masterfully coherent readings of the works, a syntactical flowering born of strict attention to the dynamic and coloristic demands of each composer and the quartet's own artistic togetherness of purpose.

It is a tribute to the outstanding artistry of the Danish String Quartet. The performances help us experience directly the subtleties of these works. Very recommended.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Ensemble Reconsil, Exploring the World, Roland Freisitzer

Today's offering may not be for everybody. Probably NOTHING is that. It is a 14-volume CD box set that was recording during a series of concerts by the talented and dedicated large chamber Ensemble Reconsil, Roland Freisitzer conducting. Exploring the World (Orlando Records 0014) devotes a CD each to 14 countries. Every disk gives us five or so chamber works in a high modern/postmodern vein, featuring three mostly very recent compositions (this decade) by composers from that country, plus a couple of works by new Austrian composers, as Ensemble Reconcil has their home base there. The composers are of the younger generation in the main. A wealth of compositional approaches and sonic results are on display, all of definite interest.

One disk each represents the US, Australia, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Argentina, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Korea and Japan.

Everything from post-minimalism to post-Darmstadt to new expressionism can be found in this veritable cornucopia of contemporary modernism. The performances are very good to smashing and in the end you get an incredibly diverse and inclusive set of programs. It was a labor of love for all concerned, clearly.

It would take many pages to give a run down of all the composers and works involved. Suffice to say that we get a milestone survey of the newest of new music from around the globe, a host of composers and works, most of which the vast majority of us will be unfamiliar with. All the more reason to value what the ensemble has done. It is a tribute to the nearly selfless dedication of Freisitzer and Ensemble Reconsil. To seek out and give us world-class performances of such a global abundance of new music is a remarkable achievement.

It is a monumental release that will give avant new music aficionados a huge boost on understanding something of where we are today across the globe. I plan to devote much time to re-exploring it in the months ahead! Molto bravo! Get this if you can!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Pedro Iturralde, Complete Music for Saxophone and Piano

The music of Spanish composer Pedro Iturralde (b. 1929), as heard in his Complete Music for Saxophone and Piano (Naxos 8.573429), is both eclectic and original. Eleven pieces are performed with a lively and spirited demeanor by Juan M. Jimenez on alto and soprano saxes,  and Esteban Ocana on piano, expanded on one number by the addition of Claude Delangle on alto. All pieces are in new versions for world premiere recordings.

We get throughout in varying degrees the Spanish folk tinge, along with an Eastern European folk influence--on the "Suite Helenica" and the "Aires Rumanos." There is also a pronounced jazz influence that forms an important part of his style, as in "Tribute to Trane," "Jazz Waltz" and others. The jazz aspect may sound vaguely Brubeckian, foundationally McCoy Tyneresque at times, something perhaps of the Bill Evans harmonic wealth, but also with traces of earlier jazz styles, so perhaps a bit of Gershwin, boogie-woogie and such.

There are in addition two pieces for piano solo the composer felt it important to include.

The saxophone parts are singing, sometimes rather virtuoso oriented, but always a prime carrier of melodic line, with the piano part forming an indispensable accompanying role.  The liner notes mention the scarcity of available recordings of his work so this volume becomes even more worthy. All three performers studied Iturralde's style sets in depth before attempting these performances and it most certainly shows in the results. Both Jimenez and Delangle have beautifully projecting tones and Esteban Ocana gives us a bubbling exuberance in the piano parts, the combination bringing the music fully alive.

Iturralde comes across as a composer very much of his time and place, but not so much a modernist per se. This is music that takes on traditional Spanish, eastern and mainstream jazz tonalities and runs with them in a specially personal way. There is a kind of joyous demeanor to most of this music that one does not often counter today. If you set aside expectations and let the music have its way you are in for a very accessible musical ride that takes no shortcuts on musical substance and yet speaks with a straightforwardly infectious enthusiasm and tonal elegance. This is not meant to be cutting edge new music, but it succeeds via a kind of natural contemporary way, with a knack for vivid melodic songlike strains and lively rhythms.

Nicely done! It may well be essential listening for those who seek full coverage of contemporary Spanish new music or the saxophone repertoire, somewhat less so but very pleasantly so for others.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Schoeck, Complete Violin Sonatas, Maristella Patuzzi, Mario Patuzzi

If the music of Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) is perhaps not as well known as it deserves to be, it no doubt has something to do with the tumult of the era in which his musical career began. He was of the generation that came to age when a stylistic crisis was in the air. The very nature of the musical language was at stake. He shared with such generational luminaries as Webern, Berg, Stravinsky, Bartok, Kodaly, Casella, Pizzetti and Szymanowski the need to devise personal solutions to the malaise of the times. (All this can be gleaned via the excellent liner notes to the album at hand.)

Schoeck was well prepared via studies in the Musikschule in Zurich and then several years under the tutelage of Max Reger in Leipzig. The composer ultimately found a neo-classical modernist approach with a rhapsodic, yet expressionist flair.

His Complete Violin Sonatas (Brilliant 95292), as played with great charm and grace by Maristella Patuzzi on violin and Mario Patuzzi on piano, cover early and somewhat later periods of his work: the "Sonata in D Op. 16" from 1909, "Sonata in E Op. 46" from 1931, and the "Sonata in D Wo022," written in 1905 and revised in 1953. We hear in the "Sonata in E" a more modern approach. The other two sonatas are delightfully lyrical and romantically effusive though never gushingly so.

The works show both the youthful and the more mature Schoeck, a talent with substantial inventive abilities. It is music that is decidedly worthwhile and beautifully played. He was of his time yet not comfortably classed as a radically advanced stylist. Yet there is great beauty and substance to these works. The Patuzzi's give the music near-definitive performances. It is most certainly a good introduction to the composer if you do not know of him. And the music wears well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Diego Castro Magas, Shrouded Mirrors, New Music for Guitar

Today, an album of startling virtuosity and modern new music of great interest and complexity. Diego Castro Magas is a classical guitarist who internalizes the formidable demands of these compositions and produces performances that shine with the luster of brilliant architectonics and make very much alive some ravishing music.

The album is Shrouded Mirrors (Huddersfield Contemporary Records HCR10). On it six contemporary composers give us six fascinating high modern and/or postmodern works that reward with labyrinthian expressionism and fully idiomatic guitar passagework. These are the sort of things one would not trust to just any old classical guitarist. They require someone with great technical facility and a full understanding of the new music idiom.

Every work has something going for it, be it microtonalism/unusual tuning in Brian Ferneyhough's "Kurze Schatten II" (1983-89) or Wieland Hoban's "Knokler I" (2009), mesmeric repeating complexes with a kind of aural kaleidoscope feel as in Bryn Harrison's "M.C.E." (2010) , or complexes of jagged abstractions that extended what a guitar is usually called upon to do, as with Matthew Sergeant's "bet maryam" (2011), Michael Finnissy's "Nasiye" (1982, rev. 2002), and James Dillon's "Shrouded Mirrors" (1987).

It is music where both the performer and composer stand out as bringing the contemporary modern classical guitar to new levels of avant brilliance. A most impressive program. Anyone who revels in new music that expands the boundaries and enters fearlessly the frontiers will find this one exceptional. And even the novice will be mightily impressed, I would think, with the level of achievement. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tom Cipullo, After Life, Lori Laitman, In Sleep the World is Yours, Music of Remembrance

Today, a world premiere volume of recent American works, the short opera After Life (2015) by Tom Cipullo and the song cycle In Sleep The World is Yours (2013) by Lori Laitman (Naxos 8.669036). The chamber group Music of Remembrance under Mina Miller gives us a well paced and nicely realized chamber orchestra backdrop. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, baritone Robert Orth and soprano Ava Pine perform the principal roles well for the opera. Megan Chenovick does a fine job in the soprano role for the song cycle.

Cipullo's After Life imagines an afterlife meeting of the ghosts of Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein who struck up a warm and mutually productive friendship in pre-WWI Paris, then gradually drifted apart, culminating in a turn to the right for Stein and to the left for Picasso--and subsequent opposing stances regarding occupied WWII Paris. The opera is a ghostly dialog about those decisions, the role of art in desperate political and social circumstances, what they might reflect on looking back today and the personal vulnerabilities of each.

The music is modern neo, basically tonal, well wrought, a meditation on the horrors of the epoch and its available responses.

The 20-minute Laitman song cycle gives us the poetry of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, a Jew who died in a Nazi Ukranian labor camp in 1942. It is stylistically akin to the Cipullo work, a bit more lyrical, and ultimately neo-romantic with a bit of a lineal relationship to Samuel Barber, perhaps. It is moving music.

The coupling of the two works makes perfect sense thematically and stylistically. Both are well worth hearing and well performed, very good examples of some of the significant tonal modern work being made right now in the US.