Strings, Keyboard, Percussion, Voices, Horn
Karen Krummel (cello), Glenn Freeman (percussion), Paul Hersey (keyboards), Christina Fong (violin), Debora Petrina (piano/celeste),Paul Austin (French horn), Gwendolyn Faasen (voice), Alicia Eppinga (cello), Brian Craig (voice), Barbara Witham McCargar (voice)
1. Morton Feldman: Two Pieces [For Danny Stern] (1948) for cello and piano 1. Allegro [:26]
2. Morton Feldman: Two Pieces [For Danny Stern] (1948) for cello and piano 2. Intermezzo [1:18]
3. Morton Feldman: Extensions 5 (1953) for 2 cellos [4:21]
4. Morton Feldman: Two Instruments (1958) for horn and cello [13:26]
5. Morton Feldman: Wind [For Naomi Newman (text by Boris Pasternak)] (1960) for voice and piano [1:31]
6. Morton Feldman: Followe Thy Faire Sunne [text by Thomas Campion] (1962) for voice and chime [1:54]
7. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste I [9:57]
8. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste II [4:41]
9. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste III [1:07]
10. Morton Feldman: Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963) for percussion and piano|celeste IV [5:37]
11. Morton Feldman: For Stockhausen, Cage, Stravinsky and Mary Sprinson (1972) for cello and piano [:33]
12. Barbara Monk Feldman: Duo for Piano and Percussion (1988) [12:49]
13. Barbara Monk Feldman: The Gentlest Chord [text by Rainer Maria Wilke] (1991) for voice [3:02]
14. Barbara Monk Feldman: Clear Edge (1993) for piano [4:59]
15. Barbara Monk Feldman: Pour un Nuage Violet [after Marguerite Clerbout] (1998) for violin and cello [24:33]
OgreOgress Productions (DVD-A)
I had heard about this project a few years ago on the vertical thoughts listserv. At first, I wasn’t sure much of this represented music Morton Feldman wanted heard-it seemed like music that was fragmentary, or else possibly discarded by Feldman, and perhaps only of real interest to musicologists and die-hard Feldmanites like those of us on the listserv. I’m delighted to say that this is not at all the case. Indeed, this disc represents a badly needed addition to the Feldman discography. While I’m delighted by the multiple recordings of Triadic Memories and For John Cage, there remain several works by Feldman that remain unrecorded, and the list has been winnowed down thanks to this album. Yet unreleased works include:
1943 Jubilee (string orchestra)
1943 Night (string orchestra)
1945 [Composition] for string orchestra (no basses)
194? I Loved You Once (voice, string quartet)
1946 Sonatina for Cello and Piano (3 movements)
1949 [or 1959] (458-0808) Lost Love (voice, piano)
194? [Composition] for piano
1953 Intersection (piano?)
1972 Half a Minute It’s All I’ve Time For (clarinet, trombone, piano,
All of the works by Morton Feldman on this audio DVD (mp3′s will no doubt be available on iTunes, Amazon and others in the future) are important works in his oeuvre. The one oddity is the very brief For Stockhausen, Cage, Stravinsky and Mary Sprinson (1972). This piece is half a minute long, and makes most of Webern’s works seem like, well, late Feldman. I’m not sure what Feldman intended for it, or if it is a complete work as indicated by Glenn Freeman, but it is nice just the same. I could have a contest, perhaps, to see who knows who Mary Sprinson is, but I’ll give it away-she was a girlfriend of Feldman’s in the 70′s.
Two Pieces [For Danny Stern] is an early work of Feldman’s yet is a lot like other works he would write in the early 50′s. It is short and sparse, but has his fingerprints all over the notes. Extensions 5 is a beautiful work for two celli, much like the other works in the Extensions series. Two Instruments is perhaps my absolute favorite piece on this album. It is like Four Instruments in concept, but is not at all the same work or a rehash. It is a series of tones for horn and cello, all quiet and always beautiful. I can’t get it out of my head.
The album includes two brief vocal works, both of which are pleasant. Then there’s the Dance Suite, which is in four movements for percussion and piano/celesta played by two performers. It is often sparse and static like much Feldman at that time, and seems to predict later works like Why Patterns and For Crippled Symmetry in regard to the timbres.
Besides the premieres of music by Morton Feldman, this DVD-A is remarkable for its inclusion of four works by Feldman’s wife, Barbara Monk Feldman. Written between 1988 and 1998, they encompass the decade just after her husband’s untimely death from pancreatic carcinoma. Not surprisingly, they owe much to Morton Feldman, but also express an individual voice. For example, the Duo for Piano and Percussion, written just after Morton’s death, seems to me to be a riff on For Bunita Marcus, and expands on some of the chords from that long piano work. I enjoyed listening to it a great deal. The Gentlest Chord is a solo vocal work that is also worth hearing. Clear Edge is a brief piano piece that, I think, owes the least to Morton Feldman. Finally, there is the work Pour un Nuage Violet [after Marguerite Clerbout] that I think expands upon the musical universe that her husband created. There are parts that certainly remind one of late (Morton) Feldman, but this is also a work that has its own unique voice. The rapid pizzicato textures between the violin and cello are not anything I’ve ever found in any of Morton Feldman’s works, and while some of the chords inhabit part of his galaxy, the work itself is from another universe. It’s an incredible piece, and I’m glad it is available, along with the other works by Barbara Monk Feldman.
The performances are first rate and the many artists on this album were clearly devoted to doing the music justice. This album belongs on any Feldmanite’s holiday wish list, and should be heard by anyone with any interest in late 20th-century music. Now, I’m still waiting for the other works on the list above to get recorded already. And I definitely want to hear more music by Barbara Monk Feldman.
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Steve Reich: Double Sextet/2×5
eighth blackbird/Bang on a Can
Last evening, the eagerly awaited release of SR’s newest album became available on MP3 and I downloaded it. I’m going to begin with a disclaimer: I already know both works very well, and have heard at least three performances of Double Sextet through the wonders of the Interwebs, at least one of which involved 12 live musicians (rather than a sextet performing against prerecorded tape of itself, which is how both works on this album were recorded). So part of my interest in downloading the new album was to see if there were any differences, and if the overall recording quality was better. To cut to the chase, yes, these performances are somewhat different from what I’ve previously heard and come to know well. More on that in a bit.
The big attraction on this album, presumably, is Double Sextet. This is the piece that won SR a long-overdue Pulitzer, and even if it isn’t as strong or as notable as some earlier works like Drumming or Music for 18 Musicians, Double Sextet is still a very notable work. I’d gradually greeted each new Reich release over the years with a greater lack of enthusiasm. His works seemed all to be variations on 1-2 pieces written many years ago, most notably Sextet (which beget Nagoya Marimbas, You Are (Variations), and a few others. But Reich started to get back to his idea of playing multiples of the same instrument against one another using prerecorded tapes, which goes all the way back to his early phase works. If you add some more edgy rhythms and variants of the “usual Reichian harmonies,” you end up with recent works like Mallet Quartet, Dance Patterns and the two works on this album. In other words, Reich’s more recent works are quite worth listening to, and still work after repeated listenings. The last minutes of Double Sextet are amazing, at least in my opinion, and get developed a bit more in 2×5.
A lot (too much, probably) has been made of how Reich has turned to rock instrumentation for 2×5. Personally, I think this is ludicrous. Reich has composed for electric guitar in the past, and the music of 2×5 transcends any perceived gimmickry. In other words, this isn’t a crossover album or pandering to a rock crowd. 2×5 is a really good piece. There’s nothing particularly unexpected in the work, if you’ve heard Double Sextet, but it builds upon it. I think it’s a very strong piece, one I like very much.
As to the performances, I’m biased, but I think the three performances (all of which were by eighth blackbird, as well as one with eighth blackbird together with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble) I’ve heard previously seem more animated, enthusiastic and exciting than the studio recording of Double Sextet. I suspect part of this comes from the differences between performing live and melding things together in a studio; live recordings may have more energy. So while I like this recording (and the recording of 2×5 is also good, but less animated than the concert performance I’ve heard), I actually prefer the streams of live performances even if the audio quality is a bit better on the Nonesuch release.
The liner notes are okay, and include an interesting interview with SR.
So if you’re a Reich fan, buy this album (download it-it’s better for the environment). If you’re not a Reich fan, download it anyway since I think it’s better than much of Reich’s recent work, and goes in a bit of a different direction (this isn’t your father’s Steve Reich album).
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In the Upper Room
? Performers conducted by Michael Riesman
Orange Mountain Music
I had the original LP of Glass’ album Dancepieces, which had five of the the nine dances from the Twyla Tharp collaboration In the Upper Room. It was a decent album, although I think it heralded a lot of the decline in originality and quality of Glass’ music that pretty much started with Glassworks and The Photographer. The original LP of Dancepieces included a fair amount of synthesizers, which isn’t a bad thing, but for this new release, Glass elected to present the complete series of nine dances and all for acoustic instruments.
One thing I resent about this album is the lack of mention of any of the performers. All I can say is that it is an ensemble conducted by Michael Riesman. It would be nice to list the musicians. I think it’s pretty safe to say it isn’t the Philip Glass Ensemble.
To be honest, the differences in sound from the original synthesizer-heavy recording isn’t as great as I would have imagined. It’s interesting to hear the dances that were omitted from the earlier recording, but none of them are particularly revelatory. It’s an ok album, especially for Glass fanatics, but if you really want to hear some great music by Glass, check out pretty much anything written before his masterpiece Satyagraha.
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the place we began
John Luther Adams
Cold Blue Records
John Luther Adams is a great underappreciated composer, who has written music of enormous beauty and sophistication while staying true to his roots as an outsider. This latest album actually presents electronic music that was composed in the 70′s by Adams, and he only recently revisted his original reel-to-reel tapes and created soundscapes based upon them. This is what one hears on this new release, and it’s some really great stuff. There are four pieces total, at least three of which are extremely compelling (the only one that didn’t grab me was the third piece entitled in the rain, which reminded me too much of the sounds I listen to on a red eye flight in order to drown out background noise and let me get some sleep).
I really like this album, and anyone who either appreciates Adams’ unique compositional gift or likes soothing electronic music will also gravitate to this CD.
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Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts
Philip Glass, Philip Glass Ensemble, Bruckner Orchester Linz, Michael Riesman, Dennis Russell Davies
Orange Mountain Music
Having taken a lot of heat in the 70′s for being a devout admirer of the music of Philip Glass, I’ve been terribly disappointed for many years by the direction his music has taken, with few works since Satyagraha that really interest me. Not too long ago, a documentary was released in which director Scott Hicks was given free rein to take in Glass’s hectic day-to-day life over an 18-month period, and the result was the film Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. I confess, I’ve only seen the movie trailer, but have seen a previous documentary about Glass called Looking Glass that struck me as fairly fawning in its approach.
Anyway, this album contains music from the latest Glass documentary, and it provides at least some of his earlier music, like cuts from Einstein and the album formerly called North Star as well as some later excerpts from Orphee and his eighth symphony. As such, it might provide an introduction to Glass’s music for those who have yet to experience it. But with the exception of , none of these excerpts really strike me as major works, although they might have worked well in the film. Given that there is nothing on the album that has not already been commercially released in some form, there is little here for anyone already familiar with Glass’s music, and what is here provides a very incomplete view of Glass’s music for the uninitiated. So it’s not clear to me why this was released over, say, some of his early music that has yet to be released (such as In Again Out Again).
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Studies for Player Piano
The Original 1750 Arch Recordings
Supervised by the Composer
Other Minds (4 CD set)
I first encountered the original LPs of Nancarrow’s amazingly intricate Studies when I was in college and hosting a new music program on WHPK-FM. Nancarrow’s background (he was in the Lincoln Brigade that fought against Franco’s fascist government in Spain, which made his continued presence in the US untenable), along with his incredibly focused devotion to his music for player pianos (which required a very laborious and time consuming process), was as compelling then as it is today. At that time, however, while I respected his music and genius, his works just didn’t grab me. I was awash in minimalism, coming out of a background in 12-tone music, and Nancarrow’s music didn’t register with me.
My ears have since matured, fortunately. Several years ago, I obtained the Wergo set of the Studies, and I’ve been in love with Nancarrow’s player piano works ever since. Much has been made of the influence Nancarrow’s music had on Ligeti, and it’s easy to see elements of Nancarrow in Ligeti’s later works, particularly the Etudes. To say that Nancarrow’s player piano works are among the most important music of the 20th century is not an understatement.
So if the Wergo set is so good (it is), why bother with this 4-CD set? Because it’s the real deal. All of the recordings were done under the direct supervision of Nancarrow himself, using his own player pianos (“two 1927 Ampico player pianos, one with metal-covered felt hammers and the other with leather strips on the hammers.”), and now digitally remastered. Just as no two pianos are truly identical, no two player pianos have quite the same sound. What you hear on these recordings is exactly what the composer heard in his studio in Mexico. Plus the comprehensive and detailed notes by James Tenney and an essay by Charles Amirkhanian (who produced the set), nicely reproduced from all four original LPs, are by themselves well worth the price.
Of all the studies, my personal favorites are #21 (one of the most amazing compositions, IMHO), #25 (with the famous ending of 1028 notes in 12 seconds that even grabs my daughter’s attention) and #37. Nancarrow was a master of tempo canons, and of canonical writing in general. I didn’t appreciate this when I was in college, and have been making up for lost time in the past few years by listening to as much of Nancarrow’s music as I can get my hands on. If you have any interest at all in new music, buy this album. If you already own a recording of the Studies, buy this album, since it’s as authentic as you can get short of going down to Nancarrow’s studio and playing his piano rolls on the original pianos in real time. I should note, however, that the Wergo album has a few items (like Study 2b and the Tango) that are not included in the 1750 Arch set.
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The Death of Don Juan
Elodie Lauten, composer
Elodie Lauten, Peter Zummo, Randi Larowitz, Bill Raynor, Steven Sauber, Arthur Russell, performers
This is a reissue of an LP from 1985 of Lauten’s seminal postminimalist work, and it’s a pleasure to hear after all these years. While technically an opera (or rather, a “neo-opera”) in the same way that Glass’s Einstein is an opera, The Death of Don Juan is perhaps best described as a multimedia happening. In the end, it doesn’t matter what one calls it—the music is pretty compelling and the performance is definitive.
The libretto was written by Elodie Lauten and relates to “timeless Don Juan archetype (staged as an unseen character, screen character or a multiple) facing death in the form of a woman, with a complex emotional, sexual, political and spiritual subtext that addresses concerns of our time” The music is programmed from a matrix created by Lauten (The Scale of Number Seven(, but I’m not sure any of this is critical to experiencing the music. So what does the music sound like? Some of it reminded me of the best of Laurie Spiegel, and even part of Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, while other parts sounded like nothing else. In the end, however, the music defies description since it doesn’t fall into a neat package. And that’s to its credit—this is music to be listened to and experienced. I suspect that the work comes across differently in live performance, since it is an opera, after all. However, the music is very remarkable on its own, and I recommend anyone interested in minimalist or postminimalist music pick up this album.
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Johanna Beyer: Sticky Melodies
Suite for Clarinet No. 1
String Quartet No. 1
Three Songs for Clarinet and Soprano
The Federal Music Project
Movement for Two Pianos
Suite for Clarinet No. 2
String Quartet No. 2
Ballad of the Star-Eater
Movement for Double Bass and Piano
Three pieces for choir
Sonatina in C
Astra Chamber Music Society, John McCaughey, director
New World Records
Johanna Beyer is a composer who has been woefully neglected. As the composer of what many consider to have been the first electronic piece (Music of the Spheres, 1938), it’s amazed me how little one hears of her. I first became enamored with the 1938 work on a landmark LP with new music by women composers, and am delighted that New World Records is making a lot of Beyer’s music available in a recent 2-CD set. The recordings provide a really nice overview of Beyer’s music since 1930 (her pre-1930 music remains unknown). Beyer was a contemporary of Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, Henry Cowell and other American “experimentalists” of that era, and her music was very much ahead of its time. She ultimately developed ALS and, along with a worsening relationship with Cowell after his release from prison, made her last years tragic and unfortunate.
Fortunately for us, however, we have these 2 CDs with a good deal of Beyer’s music in extremely sympathetic and skillful performances. Of all the music on the album, the two string quartets particularly stand out. While the fourth movement of String Quartet No. 1 have been described in terms that make it seem proto-minimalist, I’m struck more by its use of repetitive glissandi than its stasis. The string writing reminds me of the one performance I heard years ago of John Becker’s string quartet, another amazing piece that I wish were heard more often (note to performers: I’ll die a lot happier if I could hear the Becker again, it’s that good).
The two works for clarinet solo are gems, as is the piece for contrabass and piano. In fact, all the pieces on these discs are incredible finds, and belong in any new music aficionado’s playlist. I’ve wanted to hear more of Beyer’s music since hearing that early electronic piece of hers, and now want to hear the remainder of her oeuvre.
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From Etudes to Cataclysms
Charlemagne Palestine (composer and pianist)
Sub Rosa Records
Right now, I’m in nirvana. Literally. I mean, almost 2 1/2 hours of Charlemagne Palestine on solo piano. What’s not to like?
This is an incredible album if you’re like me and love pure minimalism, which this is. It’s not going to be for everyone (someone just walked out of the office where I’m playing the album right now because it’s giving her a headache), but I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard so far this year. Charlemagne Palestine is one of the gods of minimalism, and regrettably remains obscure for a variety of reasons. When he emerges on independent recording or in an occasional live performance, it’s a treat. Palestine is best known for his masterpiece, Strumming Music, but he has also produced a lot of other great works for piano, voice, organ and electronics, such as Jamaica Heinekens in Brooklyn and Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone. I’m delighted to say that this double-CD set is in the same class.
From Etudes to Cataclysms is performed on a double piano, a unique instrument built by Luigi and Paola Borgato in Padua, Italy that combines an 88-key grand piano with another on the bottom in which the performer can play the lower 37 notes of this second piano with his or her feet. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a carillonneur perform, the resemblance is striking. This performance was recorded in a church in Italy, and as best I can tell is largely improvised. The work explores various intervals, including tritones, that get rocked back and forth with variable speeds similar to what Palestine did in Strumming Music but the intervals and overall structure is very different from that earlier work. Like most, if not all, of Palestine’s music, this is a very ritualistic piece of music. I don’t want to diverge into his use of stuffed animals, Cognac, etc. for many of his live concert experiences, since none of that would mean anything were it not for the primal, and very beautiful, quality of Palestine’s music. His music is often drone-like, as it is on this recording, but I think of it as drones with a rhythm (or DWA; drones with attitude). Trying to categorize it is useless and of no consequence. The best way to think of Palestine’s music is to simply experience it.
I’m glad that Sub Rosa is releasing a work by Charlemagne Palestine, and the liner notes hint that there will be much more to come on this independent label, including some rereleases of what are hard-to-find albums of Palestine’s earlier work.
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From the Philip Glass Recording Archive, Vol. III -JENIPAPO
Orchestra conducted by Michael Riesman
Keyboards/Piano: Michael Riesman
Suzanne Vega, voice (in last track)
Orange Mountain Music
This album is one example of why I don’t bother with much Philip Glass anymore. I love his early music. I love his first three operas and most of his first three symphonies. Pretty much everything else from there onwards is at best non-compelling for me, at worst, dreck.
Still, it’s like watching Saturday Night Live; you do it in the hopes that against all odds, it will be exceptional, like it was in the old days. These days, SNL has a better batting average in my home than the music of Philip Glass.
Why am I being so harsh? Perhaps because this album meanders along like a retrospective of every Philip Glass device from the last 25 years. There are the occasional rapid arpegii, which worked so well in music like Music in Twelve Parts and other earlier pieces. There are the syncopated rhythmic figures. There are the chords that date back to his score from The Thin Blue Line. And so on and so forth. But these pleasant snippets just don’t go anywhere. And while some sections are indeed nice to listen to (I have to throw something into this review that’s positive, after all), they’re ruined by intrusions that sound cheap and brutish, all of which make it hard for me to like this album.
Perhaps the music works well in the film. The movie is about an American who writes for a Brazilian newspaper and gets involved in a political and social upheaval. The social message might be very compelling, but the music is a dud. Even the score for Anima Mundi, which overall sounds like something patched together on a deadline, is more interesting than the music for this film. I’m not saying that Glass should keep recycling Koyaanisqatsi. Rather, I wish he wouldn’t keep recycling his trademark ideas by patching them together to create film score a, then film score b (a slight variant of “a”) then c (based on…you got it…”a”), like an infinite series. I realize that he has a lot of demands on his time and writes a minimum quota of pages every morning. I’m impressed by the discipline. But I’d be even more impressed if he wrote less music of higher quality. The Philip Glass I grew up with and loved appears to be no more. I’ll keep listening, just like I keep watching the beginning of SNL, hoping to experience something amazing. Eventually, however, I reach the point where my wife and I look at one another and agree it’s not worth staying up any longer. I’m rapidly reaching the point with Glass’s albums where I might not think it’s worth listening for a minute more.
To end on a positive note, the performance by the unnamed “orchestra” sounds very definitive, and as always, Michael Riesman is an incredible keyboard artist. And if you’re a Glass groupie whose motto is “My Philip Glass, right or wrong,” you’ll buy this album. My advice: spend your money on the Alter Ego 2-CD set of early Philip Glass or, even better, the exquisite album of Early Voice and Another Look at Harmony, Part IV.
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