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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Frederik Magle, Like A Flame, New Music for Organ

New solo cathedral organ music in the grand tradition? Frederik Magle's Like A Flame (Proprius 2061 2-CD) is very much that. He improvised some 60 works in a marathon session over two days. 23 works were selected out of that for this recording. These were sufficiently and outstandingly inventive such that Magle transcribed them all so that others too might perform them. Good idea.

He is playing the brand new Frobenius organ in Jorlunde church, Denmark, an instrument he was responsible for designing sonically. It sounds quite beautiful.

This is music that is modernly tonal and reaches back to the symphonic organ work of the French school, Tournemire et al., but has the Magle touch and brilliance throughout.

He is young and very able. The music jumps out of the speakers with contrasts of intensity and quietude, some remarkable improvisations that have a multi-dimensional depth one expects of such music. Yet this is in no way generic but sonically present continuously as original and sweepingly expressive.

I like the music all the more as I have listened all the more often. It is a remarkable achievement. All organ afficionados will find this much to their liking, I do believe.

Very recommended.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Torvund/Thoresen/Schaathun, Abstraction in Folk Art, Ingfrid Breie Nyhus

The thematic unity in the album at hand today has to do with using Norwegian folk songs as a basis for new music compositions for piano and electronics. Pianist Ingfrid Breie Nyhus thoughtfully and thoroughly takes on three works for a programmatic CD entitled Abstraction in Folk Art (LabLabel LAB002).

The works at hand: Oyvind Torvund, "Abstraction in Folk Art" for piano, electronics and cassette players (2014), Lasse Thoresen, "Solspill" for piano (1983), and Asbjorn Schaathun, "Nations" for piano and live electronics (2014).

All of the music partakes in transformed, reworked folk phrasings and tonality, broken out of rigid musical straightjackets to breathe freely as abstractions of the new music sort.

Ms. Nyhus focuses on the all-important flow of the phrases to reveal to us the sometimes jagged, sometimes torrential, always reshaped structures of pianism in partnership at times with electronic transformations.

What seems especially interesting to me is that the music generally deconstructs its folk material so that we get something wholly other, wholly new-music oriented. In an analogy with visual arts, these aren't cubistic reframings of recognizable objects so much as abstract expressionist reformulations of form and color that share something of the essence of folk modes but transform them into somewhat unrecognizable all-over, irregular patternings.

That I hope is helpful as an analogy. In any event Ms. Nyhus gives us a very pianistic take on the music. All three works share a re-representationalist outlook, which gives the program a very special unity-in-identity. It is some rather wonderful music, fantasia-like yet airborn by a musical wind that drives the sonic elements forward in an ordered regrouping.

I find the music both rather ultra-modern yet no doubt quite readily accessible to any serious listener. Bravo Ingfrid Breie Nyhus! Bravo composers!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Honegger, Jeanne D'Arc au Bucher, Marc Soustrot, Barcelona Symphony & Catalonia National Orchestra

Arthur Honegger, 20th-Century master modernist, seems to get less attention out there in the recent present than he did earlier on. Sure, some works still form a cornerstone of the repertoire but much else in his pretty vast output has been subject to benign neglect, relatively speaking. Often enough the vocal works don't get the attention they deserve, mostly.

Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher (Alpha 709) is a good example. I know there have been a number of previous recordings, not many of late, and in fact I have never heard the work up until now. The recording at hand offers a very respectable, even quite good performance. Marc Soustrat conducts the Barcelona Symphony & Catalona National Orchestra with various amassed choirs and Marion Cotillard & Xavier Gallais as the principal soloists. The libretto was written by Paul Claudel. It received its first performance in 1938 in concert version, the staged version would have to wait until 1942.

The prologue was written later on, in 1944. It is followed by eleven scenes. The present recording takes up 75 minutes. There are some dialog segments, some quasi-sprechstimme with orchestra and choral background, necessary for the narrative but sometimes less interesting as music. The whole is vintage Honegger, moody and dramatic. It is not rabidly modernistic, but extends a tonality outwards in Honegger's brilliant way. It took me a number of listens to get into the music but I eventually did.

It may not be the end-all of Honegger vocal works. There are others of course, some really seminal. Jeanne d'Arc may not be Honegger at a masterpiece level but it is very effective, even haunting at times. Soustrat, the Barcelona orchestra, the choral forces and the soloists capture the moodiness of the work quite well. There may be better versions from the old days but I have not heard them.

Anyone who reveres Honegger will find this release essential. I for one am glad it exists. If you are a full-bore 20th century classicist you will want this one.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Now Ensemble, Dreamfall

The contemporary chamber Now Ensemble shows us a novel way through the thicket with new music in a radical tonality, post-minimalist zone on their album Dreamfall (New Amsterdam 064). Their close-knit ensemble sound thrives through a careful selection of new repertoire that comes from the ensemble itself as well as stylistically compatible works from associates not directly associated, and from the dexterous affinity of each ensemble member with the whole.

The ensemble has a core group of instrumentalists: Sara Budde on clarinet, Logan Coale on contrabass, Mark Dancigers on electric guitar (who wrote the title track "Dreamfall I, II, III"), Michael Misrahi on piano and Alex Sopp on flute. There are several others who are a part of the group as composers only, Patrick Burke and Judd Greenstein, the latter of whom contributes for the album the work "City Boy."

There is some electronic manipulation to be heard here and there, to add to the ambiance of the music on occasion. And ultimately a kind of polar drift takes place on the album between ambient soundscapes and more dynamic linear forms. The combination of Dancigers's electric guitar with electronic enhancements and traditional classical chamber instruments gives the composers involved a kind of ultra-contemporary template for ambitious sound sculpting. The musical excellence of the ensemble and their strong affinity to the works leads to some marvelously spacious results.

In addition to the previously mentioned Greenstein and Dancigers works there are another five relatively short pieces by Scott Smallwood, John Supko, Nathan Williamson, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Andrea Mazzariello. Each has its own distinct identity; each operates and engages fully thanks to the ensemble's obvious relish of the music, their carefully established identity as players of post-, anything goes music within a relatively unified universe of new sounds.

The Now Ensemble and the compositions represented give us a kind of torqued oscillation between space and thrust, heft and feather-lightness, the subtle and the bold, the lyric and the powerful. It is new music with the experience of all that went before harnessed to what is "now" and, perhaps, what is still to come.

I found the entire program very uplifting, very capable of giving the listener sounds that have a vivid, ever increasing memorability after repeated close listens.

This is one not to miss!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Moto Continuo, New Works for Piano Trio and Solo Cello, John A. Carollo, etc., Trio Casals

The formidable Trio Casals give us Moto Continuo: New Works for Piano Trio and Solo Cello (Navona 6003), a series of six worthy pieces in modernist and neo-classic zones. There is Robert Fleisher's solo cello piece "Ma Mere," based on Debussy, well played by Ovodiu Marinescu. The rest are piano trios with some very lively modernity.

John A. Carollo's "Piano Trio No. 1" has some excellent advanced, integral part writing that stays in the mind and fills us in on his latest chamber music. We hear contemporary neo-classic music of great interest in Diane Jones' "Three Songs." We get some serious contrapuntal writing on Osias Wilenski's "Variations for Trio" and Nicholas Anthony Asciotti's "Adirondack Tableau."

Brian Noyes' "Piano Trio Op. 38" concludes the program with a moody, compelling work that has an almost orchestral fullness to it.

Trio Casals makes it all come alive with genuine artistry and superb interpretive skills. Moto Continuo is a winner on all fronts. It should be heard by anyone interested in experiencing some of the latest superior chamber music from the modern zone. Encore!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Louis Babin, Saint-Exupery and Other Works

Saint-Exupery was a French writer, poet and pioneering aviator. His novel masterpiece The Little Prince appeared in 1943 at the same time as he was serving as a pilot in the French Air Squadron in North Africa. He flew on a mission over Occupied France and never returned, presumed dead.

Saint-Exupery: De Coeur, De Sable et D'Etoiles and Other Works (Les Productions Louis Babin ODL-LB-002) is Canadian composer Louis Babin's tribute to the life and work of Saint-Exupery. It features the centerpiece "Saint-Exupery: de coeuer, de sable et d'etoiles" along with "Couleurs" and "Le Suite du promeneur," all orchestral works performed quite respectably by the Moravian Philharmonic under Petr Vronsky.

These are descriptively modern tonal pieces that cover some considerable terrain with a post-romantic sensibility and a varied palette of orchestral colors. There is much to appreciate, vivid music from a Canadian composer who is perhaps not as well known outside his home country as he deserves. Saint-Exupery gives us three exemplary works that serve as a good introduction to Louis Babin. Listen and enjoy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Alfred Schnittke, Film Music Edition, Frank Strobel, Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) was extraordinarily accomplished, increasing polystylistic, and unpredictable. He left behind him a body of works that have still not been fully explored in new music circles and among serious listeners.

Many will know that he found employment composing film soundtracks, for example, but few in the world at large have had the chance to familiarize themselves with any of them. The opportunity for that is very much here in the comprehensive four-CD set Film Music Edition (Capriccio C7196), with orchestral suites based on soundtracks for ten films, performed well by the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Frank Strobel.

It is treasure trove of orchestral music occupying a stylistic universe so diverse as to surprise often and nicely. We hear everything from neo-classical to rock-influenced to neo-romantic, ultra-modern and contemporary anthemic (i.e., memorable yet tied to the mood of a film).

There is so much worthy music to absorb on these four CDs that I still have some ways to go to a full assimilation of it all. I need more time which I will gladly give this music in the weeks to come. The box set gives you a Schnittke both fully original yet harnessed to the particular needs of any given film. To his credit the music is never perfunctory. There is consistency in the realization of high standards of craft and inspiration. It shows the creative brilliance of the composer while it no doubt furnishes highly effective music to fit each film.

If you do not know Schittke as yet, you should. This is not the place to start, however, unless you want to approach his music from the outside in. His quartets and symphonies otherwise would be the best place to begin. Nevertheless this is music to complete the picture of Schnittke as composer-in-the-world. It is invariably fascinating music, a revelation to all who think they know Schittke fully. Very recommended!