The term “Mild Violence,” a PG Rating on a video game box, inspired the title for a 2005 chamber work on Steven Ricks’ Bridge recital CD. Performed by the New York New Music Ensemble with characteristic élan, the piece features explosive percussive utterances, juxtaposing moments of pointillism with quirky ostinato and shimmering splashes of harmonic color. While one ‘gets’ the tongue in cheek humor, the music is anything but mild; Indeed; it’s stirring stuff!
Ricks runs the electronic music studio at Brigham Young University in Utah. Two works for chamber groups and electronics are included here. “Boundless Light” is a meditation on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Featuring shakuhachi-styled effects and vigorous electronic interjections; one is reminded of Davidovsky and Krieger here. It’s excellently rendered by Carlton Vickers. “American Dreamscapes” features the most thrilling moment on the CD – a swelling crescendo of electronics that introduces an ensemble tutti of considerable fervor. The piece features alto saxophonist John Sampen; who impresses with all manner of playing – including copious bends, microtones, and altissimo notes.
The Talujon Percussion Quartet performs “Dividing Time;” the piece’s background deals with the Divisions of time at the beginning of creation.Cleverly, Ricks uses overlapping polyrhythms to illustrate this inspirational focus, accumulating a rhythmic canvass of considerable flexibility and coloristic variety.
Curtis Macombcer is the “go-to guy” for violin-electronics pieces. “Beyond the Zero,” based on Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” contains sudden outbursts of fury, uncommon to the Synchronisms. But after an early focus on ‘effects’ – an explosive musical illustration of the V2 rocket from Pynchon’s novel, Macomber is given a great deal of angular electroacoustic interplay of the high modernist variety – his bread and butter. The piece is an excellent addition the solo plus electronics repertoire.
The CD closes with “Haiku,” a tenderly evocative piece for percussion and electronics. Spoken poetry is interwoven with prayer bowls and tam-tams, creating and ethereal, Eastern-influenced soundscape. Its inclusion is fortuitous; it allows us a full length glimpse at a talented composer of considerable versatility.
Composed in 1986, just one year before his death, For Christian Wolff is one of Morton Feldman’s late, long masterworks. While briefer than For Philip Guston and String Quartet II, which can take upwards of five hours to perform, For Christian Wolff still clocks in at well over three hours without interruption, making it a daunting enough gauntlet for performers and audience members alike. But on California E.A.R. Unit’s triple disc recording, time seems to stop; one is entranced by the otherworldly sounds Feldman has wrought.
Christian Wolff (b. 1934) was the youngest member of the “New York School.” In the 1950s, along with Feldman, John Cage, and Earl Brown, he helped to forge new musical pathways that explored ground-breaking terrain – aleatory, unconventional structures, noise, silences, and graphic notation among them. Feldman’s homage to Wolff doesn’t make explicit references to the latter’s music. Feldman instead captures the slowly evolving, methodical aspects of Wolff’s hermetic life as a New England academic and transcribes them into an enigmatic score.
Piano, celesta (both played by a single keyboard player), and flute play slowly and softly for the piece’s entire duration, repeating just a few notes at a time – over and over and over again. The intervals formed are curious, spiky dissonances that never resolve conventionally. Despite the piece’s atonality, the prevailing pianissimo dynamic and lack of overt gesture removes any sense of confrontation or drama. Keyboardist Vicki Ray and the much-missed flutist Dorothy Stone (who passed away just last year) have recorded a focused, moving performance of this important and provocative work.
This week has been focused on revising the paper I gave at IRCAM in December on Carter’s late concerti and reviewing a Carter centennial volume (as well as a bunch of other stuff) for Signal to Noise. But occasionally, one has to take a break from all-interval tetrachords and metric modulations. Chopin has been just the ticket, and Bridge Records has recently released two enjoyable Chopin recordings: one historic and one contemporary.
A 4-disc set (Bridge 9276 A/D) by Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983) presents Chopin recordings from the 1940s and 50s, originally released on Westminster. It includes all of the Nocturnes, 56 Mazurkas, the Allegro de Concert, and the late Berceuse and Barcarolle. The pianist’s sense of line, particularly in the Nocturnes, is limpidly impeccable. Reisenberg’s recording of the Third Sonata, taken from a 1947 concert at Carnegie Hall, presents a different portrait of the artist; passionate, even tempestuous.
Hot Ticket tomorrow – Vassily Primakov
Russian pianist Vassily Primakov (b. 1979) brings brilliant technique and a similarly inspiring fire to his recording of Chopin’s Piano Concertos 1 &2 (Bridge 9278). He’s particularly impressive in the vivace movements of both works, in which runs are cleanly executed with a con brio fervor that that renews my interests in the concerti, of which I’ve heard some lukewarm performances in recent years. His rendition of the Romanze in the E-minor Concerto is quite touching as well.
Tomorrow at 2 PM, Primakov plays a recital at Weill Hall; a program consisting of Tchaikovsky – From “The Seasons” (op. 37b) and Grand Sonata (op. 37), Brahms Intermezzi (Op. 117), and Schumann’s Carnival. If his Chopin is any indication, this should be a memorable show!