Author Archive


Ear Gardens

1. Johnny Reinhard COSMIC RAYS Tom Chiu and Corinne Stillwell, violins
Tanya Halko, viola
Dave Eggar, cello

John Schneider and Wim Hoogewerf,
Just-fretted guitars
Anastasia Solberg, viola
Rebecca Pechefsky, harpsichord
Skip La Plante, kanon
Steven Antonelli, guitar pulse

3. polymelody
4. harmonic stasis
Peter Zummo, trombone
Johnny Reinhard, theremin

5. John Cage TEN
Andrew Bolotowsky, flute
Ron Kozak, oboe
Chris Soder, Bb clarinet
Chris Washburne, trombone
Joshua Pierce, piano
Annemarie Wiesner and Gabriela Klassen,
Martha Mooke, viola
Jodi Beder, cello
Skip La Plante, percussion

American Festival of Microtonal Music

Pitch Records

This is an interesting album of microtonal music, and contains the first recording I know of of In C using a microtonal tuning. In this case, the tuning was provided by Terry Riley himself as a result of a 1988 commission from the American Festival of Microtonal Music. The Riley is a particularly noteworthy and unique performance, consisting entirely of plucked instruments, a collection that includes harpsichord and a kanon (also known as an Armenian zither) built by the performer Skip La Plante. The duration of the performance is also shorter than any I’ve heard before and uses a smaller ensemble. These factors along with the lack of instruments that can sustain notes translates into a very different sort of performance from what is more commonly experienced, and that’s actually a good thing. Unlike most other performances I know of In C, and I have something like five versions on my iPod, there are sections here and there where there are only a few notes with silence between them rather than the usual motoric underlying patterns. These sections sound more in keeping with the work’s heritage from La Monte Young, at least to my ears. While microtonal, it’s not that blatant; the tuning provides more of a subtle underlying richness to the performance. I really like this version, and also appreciated finding the name of an old friend among the performers when I looked at the liner notes.

The Cage is another in his set of “number pieces,” which represent some of Cage’s best music, period. Written for 10 performers, it uses an 84-tone equal temperament scale. The performance appears to be first rate, in that there is a musicality to the work that isn’t always there in some performances of late Cage. I think this performance is up there with the OgreOgress series of Cage’s number pieces, and perhaps the Arditti Quartet’s performance of Four.

Johnny Reinhard, who directs the AFMM and is also known as having done the definitive realization of the Ives Universe Symphony. He is also a composer in his own right, and his work Cosmic Rays was written for the FLUX Quartet (of FSQ2 fame) and is a mashup of improv, serialization, polymicrotonality and the Fantastic Four to boot (somehow the comic adventures were used to characterize pitches…it was one of my favorite comic books growing up, so I’m fine with it, even if I don’t exactly understand what he did). In other words, there is a lot of diversity to the music, and while it wasn’t exactly my taste, I could respect it nonetheless and find something to like in it.

While I’m not a fan in general of Philip Corner’s music, his (two) Microtonal Melodies for trombone and theremin had some great moments, especially the second piece that is more static and drone-like. It’s an interesting piece to listen to coming off of the classic Riley work, and is expertly performed by Peter Zummo on trombone and Johnny Reinhard on Moog Theremin. Like much of Corner’s music, this is a graphic score with almost poetry-like instructions.

All in all, this is a very nice album, and I’m hoping more albums from the AFMM will be forthcoming in the future.

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Hands Like Waves Unfold
Improvisations for Prepared Piano
Kui Dong

Other Minds

The prepared piano has had a long history and has been used by composers such as Cage (who invented the concept), Nancarrow (just once, to the best of my knowledge), and even Arthur Berger. The composer Kui Dong can now be added to the list, as she has released this very nice album of improvisations she performed on a prepared piano, some of which used preparations specified by Cage himself.

Dong trained both in China and at Stanford, and has been active in a free improvisation group with Christian Wolff and Larry Polansky up at Dartmouth (or down at Dartmouth, if you live further north than NH). As such, she is well versed in improvisation and this recording reflects her skill and creativity. For starters, regardless of whether or not she used Cage’s preparations, this music sounds nothing like any of Cage’s prepared piano works. Rather, it has an individual quality all its own, to Dong’s credit. At some points, Dong also seems to go the Henry Cowell route and play the strings of the piano.

This is largely very meditative music, and was a pleasure to listen to. What is particularly interesting is the fact that Dong tends to approach the prepared piano less percussively, to my ears at least, than did Cage and others. In all, this is a very fine album of improvisation for the prepared piano, one that is meant to be enjoyed.

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Lesser Epitomes
K. Leimer

Palace of Lights

This is an unusual album, in that the cover is almost identical to that from another album (The Useless Lesson), and the music consists of numerous tracks of ambient music that may be shuffled however one wants. The composer (who really goes by his first initial only) Refers to this as “process music for active or passive listening” and involves both instrumental components and live field recordings From various countries.

What does this all mean? And does it mean anything, or even have to mean anything? The questions themselves are irrelevant. Rather, this is music designed to be listened to rather than discussed, and is unobtrusive music that reminds me both of Eno’s Ambient series from the 70’s and certain Zen-like albums by a variety of new age composers. However, this isn’t quite like those “let’s relax and feel better about ourselves” CDs that one can purchase at Starbucks or some museums. Rather, this is music that intentionally takes you somewhere else without being kitschy or inauthentic. I really enjoyed listening to this album, and highly recommend it.

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Giacinto Scelsi
The Works for Double Bass

Nuits (1972)
I. C’est bien la nuit
II. Le Reveil profond
Et maintenant c’est í  vous de jouer… (1974)
Robert Black, double bass

Ko-Tha “Three Dances of Shiva”
transcription for double bass by Fernando Grillo (8:14, 2:19, 3:44)
Robert Black, double bass
First Recording

Dharana (1975)
for cello and double bass
Robert Black, double bass
Felix Fan, cello
First Recording

Maknongon (1976)
for any low instrument (or bass voice)
Robert Black, double bass

Kshara (1975)
for two double basses
Robert Black, double bass
John Eckhardt, double bass
First Recording

Okanagon (1968)
for harp, double bass and tam-tam
Robert Black, double bass
June Han, harp
Tom Kolor, tam-tam

Mantram (undated)
Robert Black, double bass

Mode Records

I knew some of Scelsi’s music when I was much younger, such as Anahit and kinda liked it, but didn’t get seriously involved with Scelsi’s vast oeuvre until the past year or two, and at this point probably have nearly everything that has been released. Or at least I thought I pretty much had it all until I came across this recording of music for contrabass as expertly performed by Robert Black and a variety of additional performers.

Scelsi, who has been called the “Charles Ives of Italy” (just like Vermeulen is the Charles Ives of The Netherlands). But that really doesn’t do Scelsi justice. Scelsi was a great original, who started writing beautiful, yet conventional, works like his first string quartet, then suffered a nervous breakdown and recuperated by playing one note over and over again. This was at least a decade before La Monte Young was to find his voice with drones and silence. Initially writing Eastern-inspired works for piano, Scelsi became even more taken with writing for single tones as augmented with microtonal glissandi, and gave up writing for the piano for good, favoring strings and winds. He wrote a total of five string quartets and a string trio, which (as in the second string quartet) might involve the use of metallic mutes to modulate string timbres, and (as in the fourth quartet) could even require four staves per instrument (one per string).

This recording is a welcome addition to any serious devotee of Scelsi’s music, and mostly contains works from the later period of his compositional life. Some of these works represent first recordings or (as with Ko-Tha, which I also know as a work for guitar or cello), transcriptions of works. Ko-Tha is particularly noteworthy in that the instrument is played lying on its back and in a percussive fashion.

Scelsi’s music works very well for contrabass, and the virtuosity and interpretive excellence of Robert Black is clearly on display, as it is with all the performers involved in this recording. The performance of Okanagon compares very well with the old LP performance by Ensemble 2e2m, while the recording of Maknongon is somewhat slower than the version for saxophone as recorded by Claude Delangle. Both performances of this work, however, are valid and expertly done, so I can’t say that either one is preferable. That there is more than one performance of any Scelsi work available on recording is a great thing.

So if you already know Scelsi’s music, this recording is a treat and a must-have. If you already don’t know Scelsi’s music, which is one of the most original outputs of the 20th century (up there with Ives, Partch, Nancarrow, Cowell, Feldman and a few others), you should, and this is a good introduction to his incredible and very beautiful music.

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Stockhausen: Stimmung
Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier
Harmonia Mundi

I confess, I’m not a huge fan of Stockhausen’s music. However, Stimmung has always been among my favorite works by KS, perhaps because of its steady drones and repetitive structures. I remember the original LP from the 70’s, which I have not heard since that decade, and have the Singcircle recording that is a very good performance. However, this recent release by The Theatre of Voices under Paul Hillier is absolutely first-rate, and I’d be hard pressed to imagine a better interpretation of this work.

Stimmung is a work for six voices that lasts well over an hour and was inspired by Aztec ruins. The various sections invoke names of different deities, including Ahura Mazda and names drawn from a wide variety of religions. Indeed, the composition consists of 51 “models” that include rhythms and 61 “magic words” that include some pretty funny language at times, and at varying points, there is pure text recitation (generally in German). Imagine a bunch of gods being invoked, along with some random words and at one point a cowboy saying “C’mon ” and you have a pretty good idea of what Stimmung is about. Oh, and all this revolves around a drone in B-flat. For 78 minutes.

If you described this to most people, it would sound like pure nonsense, even dreck written under the influence of some serious peyote or mushrooms. But the music really works, and indeed, Stimmung remains one of Stockhausen’s best pieces, at least to my ears.

So if previous versions have been so good, why add another to the mix? Perhaps because this represents yet another interpretation of the various models, and because the musicality of the performance is so good. That doesn’t diminish the Singcircle recording (indeed, I actually prefer their performance of the one section near the beginning where a female voice keeps repeating something like “Kommit” over and over again at increasingly higher pitches till it sounds like a near-inaudible high pitched tone, which is more amusing than in the Hillier recording that phrases this more operatically). But the two existing versions complement one another quite well. The Hillier recording is a few minutes longer, and I do think the tempo is a tad slower in some parts than in the Singcircle recording, so if you want to prolong your enjoyment of Stimmungfurther, the Hillier recording would be your best bet. This is a welcome addition to the vast catalog of Stockhausen’s work (most of which can only be had through Stockhausen’s own recording and distribution firm at higher-than-average prices), and is also available as a DRM-free download online.

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Gunnar Berg: í‰clatements
Erik Kaltoft, piano

Da Capo Records

I’d never heard of the Swiss Danish composer Gunnar Berg until this album, but I’m glad I encountered this work. Berg (no relation to Alban), who died in 1989, was a serialist who was part of the Darmstadt scene with Messiaen, Boulez, Stockhausen and others. The 72-minute, unfinished piano work í‰clatements is an interesting group of 13 serialist movements and performed exquisitely by Erik Kaltoft.

What I find fascinating about this work, which is given its recording premiere via this CD, is that it never sounds like the dry 12-tone style that is sometimes associated with the Darmstadt school. I suspect that characterization isn’t fair; Feldman, Ligeti and other nonserialist composers certainly attended Darmstadt. In any case, this set of pieces is quite a find. They’re short, pithy movements that are at times dead serious, at times comical, and always engaging. I don’t sense much in the way of the influence of Boulez or Stockhausen in this long collection. Rather, there seems to be an individual voice at work, one who understood how to use rows melodically and expressively. About my only complaint with the CD is the often dry acoustics/engineering. The liner notes are useful, and the CD has motivated me to learn more about this composer.

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John Cage: Solo for Voice 58; 18 Microtonal Ragas

Amelia Cuni: dhrupad vocals
Werner Durand: drones/electronics
Federico Sanesi, Raymond Kaczynski: percussion

Other Minds

In 1970 or thereabouts, Cage wrote his Song Books, a collection of 90 vocal/theater pieces. Solo for Voice 58, from the Song Books, amounts to a collection of pitches upon which the vocalist can improvise, and include microtones. From this raw material are derived the 18 Microtonal Ragas, and this is a fascinating and often beautiful album.

The vocalist, Amelia Cuni, is nothing short of amazing as she puts forth a virtuosic performance in conjunction with three other musicians on electronics/drones and percussion. At first, it sounds like a lot of Indian raga music for voice, but then one notices some subtle, and not so subtle, differences. In my opinion, the use of microtones fits in very naturally. While this could have amounted to mere chinoiserie, the musical instincts of Cuni and her colleagues, along with the freedom afforded by Cage himself, make this a very individual and wonderful composition, one which acknowledges the influence of Eastern musics without imitating them for the sake of cheap imitation (hmmm…”cheap imitation” sounds like it could make for a good title of a future composition).

While I don’t find the 18 Microtonal Ragas to be as compelling for me personally as, say, Four or Postcard from Heaven, this is still a very important and compelling release on the Other Minds label. The performance is definitive, and I could not imagine anyone else coming along and outdoing the amazing performance that is represented on this CD.

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Arnold Schoenberg

6 Orchestral Songs, Op. 8
Welch-Babidge, Jennifer, soprano
Philharmonia Orchestra
Craft, Robert, Conductor

Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), Op. 13
6 Pieces for Male Chorus a cappella, Op. 35
Ei, du Lutte
Simon Joly Chorale
Craft, Robert, Conductor

Kol Nidre, Op. 39
Wilson-Johnson, David, narrator
Simon Joly Chorale
Philharmonia Orchestra
Craft, Robert, Conductor

Moses und Aron, Act II Scene 3, “The Golden Calf and the Altar” (excerpt)
Meynell, Eleanor, soprano
Foulkes, Carolyn, soprano
Porter, Kim, mezzo-soprano
Jellard, Frances, mezzo-soprano
Miles-Johnson, Deborah, contralto
Simon Joly Chorale
Philharmonia Orchestra
Craft, Robert, Conductor


I listened to this CD with great interest, as I hadn’t heard Kol Nidre in many years, and was not familiar with the Six Songs or the Six Pieces. Schoenberg is perhaps not as appreciated as a vocal composer, despite his having written so much for voice (including the absolutely beautiful The Book of the Hanging Gardens and the amazing opera Moses und Aron. To be honest, with the exception of the excerpt from Moses und Aron and perhaps Friede auf Erden (which I knew from an old Robert Shaw LP), this just isn’t Schoenberg’s strongest music. However, even if not his best stuff, or at least his most memorable, the works are of interest in that many of them represent his early pre-atonal style.

The Six Songs date from 1903-1904 and are pretty substantial. They are not particularly noteworthy, however, sounding like much German music of the late 19th century and lacking the intensity of Mahler or Bruckner. However, one can still detect the early stirrings of Schoenberg’s distinctive voice, at least after repeated listening. The Six Pieces date from around 1929-1930, yet are entirely tonal. These pieces are initially a genuine curiosity, since they sound nothing like the dodecaphonic works from the 20’s, until one realizes that they were written a few years before Schoenberg emigrated to the US and wrote a few better known works that were entirely tonal. That Schoenberg could, and did, write tonal music (he is known to have said something to the effect that “There is still a lot of music to be written in the key of C,” apparently predicting the rise of Terry Riley and minimalism in the 60’s) confirms (at least to me) that he was more interested in writing “music” than in writing “serial music.”

I confess that I have never thought very much of Kol Nidre. Part of it is that it sounds too programmatic for my tastes, and part of it is that as Hebraic tunes go, the Kol Nidre is somewhat overrated. I mean, it’s not bad. But there are better melodies one could draw upon.

I do like the inclusion of the section from Moses und Aron and hopefully this will whet people’s appetite to hear the whole thing. The performance of this excerpt is quite good, almost as good as my favorite performance by Michael Gielen.

And indeed, Robert Craft and all the musicians and vocalists do a very commendable job with the music. I’m very surprised this is on what amounts to a “budget” label.

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Notes From the Kelp
Music by Alex Shapiro
Various Performers

1. Slipping, For Violin, Harpsichord and Very Mixed Percussion
2. Bioplasm, For Flute Quartet: 2 Bass Flutes, 2 Alto Flutes, 2 C Flutes,
3. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Surge
4. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Ebb
5. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Rip
6. For My Father, For Solo Piano
7. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Observe
8. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Reflect
9. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Act
10. Phos Hilaron, For Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon and Piano
11. Music for Two Big Instruments, For Tuba and Piano
12. Deep, For Contrabassoon and Electronics

Innova Records

Alex Shapiro is a NYC expat now living on an island off of Washington State who writes what has been described as “midtown music” for lack of a better term. In her words, Alex’s music lies somewhere in the canyon between downtown and uptown. I think the reality is somewhat different—Alex Shapiro’s music doesn’t need to be categorized; it should be listened to on its own terms.

This is a very personal album, the first one exclusively devoted to her music, and one that provides a wide range of Alex’s works spanning a number of years. It asks the question “Can a composer be happy and live a balanced life filled with music, social activism and marine biology?” Apparently, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

There are a lot of works on this CD, including pieces for electronics as well as acoustic instruments. Of all the pieces, the two that worked most for me were Current Events for string quintet and Music for Two Big Instruments (piano and tuba). The tuba works very well in this piece, and it’s great to hear the instrument being used so lyrically and in a way that it is so exposed. The string quintet was nicely written for strings and is a compelling work of music.

The other items were great to listen to and probably will grow on me after even more repeated listening. There is a wide range of styles that makes this album diverse enough to have something of interest for anyone. There is also a great range of instrumentation, including strings, winds, (very mixed) percussion, piano, electronics…even a harpsichord. The piano work For My Father is particularly compelling. I should also say that the performances can be assumed to be definitive, being supervised by the composer. So unless Alex blew it and didn’t pay attention, this is as good a set of performances of her music as it gets.

You’re not going to find postminimalism on this album, or totalism, or serialism, or whatever. It’s just pure music, and there’s nothing wrong with being a movement of one.

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Ralph Shapey: Radical Traditionalism

21 Variations for Piano (1978), String Quartet No. 6 (1963), String Quartet No. 7 (1972), Fromm Variations (31 Variations for Piano) (1966; 1972-73), Three for Six (1979)

Wanda Maximilien, piano; The Lexington Quartet of the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago; Quartet of the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago; Robert Black, piano; New York New Music Ensemble: Jayn Rosenfeld, flute; Laura Flax, clarinet; Daniel Druckman, percussion; Alan Feinberg, piano; Cyrus Stevens, violin; Eric Bartlett, cello; Robert Black, conductor New World Records

Ralph Shapey died a few years ago in 2002, and very little of his music gets heard anymore. There was a time, back when he was very active in Chicago, when I heard a lot of his music, such as his choral/orchestral works Praise and The Covenant. However, I suspect some of this had to do with my being a student at the U of Chicago during a period when Shapey was one of the more significant presences in the local music scene; outside the Hyde Park academic enclave, Shapey’s name just didn’t come up very often. These albums, particularly the New World Records release last month, start to re-present Shapey’s output in an important context, even if everything on the New World discs has been previously released.

As a student at Chicago from 1979-1987, I knew Ralph Shapey, mostly from chance meetings at receptions or concerts since I didn’t take any music courses at the University. He didn’t come off as a nice person. If that seems harsh, I should say that it was well known that Shapey was difficult, and as a gnarly, self-absorbed professor, he fit in very well at the University and was therefore hardly unusual. When we spoke, it was clear that we had little to agree upon; he was dismissive of the minimalist music that I advocated, and seemed to prefer the seclusion of the academic music world that was the U of Chicago, one better known for musicology than for composition. Even though I might not have liked him personally (and to be fair, I suspect I didn’t exactly make his day, either), I held a lot of respect for him, and much of his music I found captivating: the early work Evocations for violin and piano, the Fromm Variations for piano, and a few others. I confess I found some of his music too self-absorbed, too angry, and often just went on too long. His scores, most of which were easy to find in the Regenstein Library, were largely messy handwritten reproductions, and his nested tuplets (a staple of his later music) were so complex I couldn’t understand how anyone could accurately perform them.

Shapey was someone I felt was a nonacademic trying to be an academic. I agree with Robert Carl’s detailed liner notes, however, that Shapey wasn’t truly an academic. Indeed, Shapey was hardly accepted by the “uptown” establishment and was something of an exile from the NYC scene. Unlike Feldman, who also had very little formal education (indeed, Shapey had but a high school diploma), there is nothing avant-garde or groundbreaking/innovative in Shapey’s music. True, he was never serial, and like Feldman, studied with Wolpe and was a fellow traveller in terms of some of the abstract expressionist painters of that time in NYC. But unlike Feldman, Shapey’s music often sounds no different to my ears than a lot of the music I used to force myself to listen to as a kid at the usual ISCM or New York New Music Ensemble concerts at the old Carnegie Recital Hall. Yet even with its harshness, a lot of Shapey’s music is compelling.

Shapey considered himself a “radical traditionalist.” The “tradition” is what often reminds me of uptown music. Shapey was rooted in traditional forms and wrote for musicians who were in the mainstream of contemporary music. Yet Shapey’s music is much more impassioned and unique than, say, that of Arthur Berger’s, even if the latter’s String Quartet at times inhabits a sound world that is not that different from that of Shapey’s. Shapey is known for having withdrawn his music from performance and publication for several years (in an old NYT interview, he stated, perhaps with a combination of malaise and self-aggrandizement, ”I was disgusted with the depth of degradation the world had sunk to in Korea and Vietnam and withdrew my music because I didn’t want to give it to humanity.” He had devoted friends and devoted enemies, and I wonder how much his personality had to do both with his being dissed by the Pulitzer Committee and the general neglect of his music since his death.

If this sounds like a negative review, it isn’t, nor is it meant to be. Having heard the premiere of the Fromm Variations sometime in the early 80’s, I have for a long time regretted never having purchased the LP on CRI records, and was even starting to barter for Kyle Gann’s copy when fortunately, this New World release came out re-releasing the 51-minute piano work and several other neglected masterpieces. It is a great overview of much of Shapey’s music, authentically performed by several of the people who championed his difficult, thorny music over the years, such as Robert Black and members of the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago.

Let’s start with the 31 Variations for Piano (Fromm Variations). This is a long work, with a recurring motif of two pedal points each followed by a dissonant chord. It blew me away when I first heard it, and still does. Like many works by Shapey, there is repetition, but not in the minimalist way. Nor is the repetition akin to what Feldman did in his later works with providing slightly varied “memories.’ Selected motifs come back, sometimes varied just a bit but often not, and these provide landmarks along the way. But there is much variation and new material along the way that doesn’t get repeated, so I never find myself engaged in a timeless new universe the way I do with Feldman’s long works. The Fromm Variations is a masterpiece, and an unfairly neglected one. It’s perhaps not as innovative or cutting edge as Triadic Memories, and certainly whole galaxies removed from The Well-Tuned Piano. I think of the work as an extension of some of Wolpe’s piano music, albeit more dense and lengthy. And that’s no surprise, given that like Feldman, Shapey studied with Wolpe. Parts of the Fromm Variations remind me of Form or Form IV: Broken Sequences, but make no mistake, Shapey had his own unique voice and avoided the serialism of his teacher.

The other works on this 2-CD set are also noteworthy. The String Quartet #6 is an earlier work in one movement that is striking in its counterpoint. The later String Quartet #7 is even more complex, and pairs the instruments much as Carter did with his String Quartet #3, yet both works are very different in their approaches to counterpoint and rhythm. There are moments in SQ7 that are very quiet and ineffable, and the composer’s shared heritage with Feldman are hinted at. The 21 Variations for Piano I’m still working through. I like it, but I’m trying to get the Fromm Variations out of my head and appraise the 21 Variations on its own merits. In other words, I don’t want to subconsciously compare one work with the other. Finally, Three for Six is a piece for chamber ensemble that was written in 1979, coincidentally when I started my freshman year at the University of Chicago. It’s a piece in three movements (for six players, natch) that at times reminds me of the humor that I detected in Shapey’s Evocations and also has a more introspective, quiet second movement that is a contrast to the outer movements.

Overall, this is an outstanding album, and hopefully will inspire other performances and recordings of Shapey’s neglected music. Robert Carl’s liner notes are thorough and provide important perspective, even with the disclaimer that he was one of Shapey’s students at Chicago.


Music of Ralph Shapey

Mann Soli
Millennium Designs

Miranda Cuckson (violin), Blair McMillen (piano)

Centaur Records

Unlike the New World 2-CD set, this album provides unrecorded music for violin and violin+piano by Ralph Shapey. Shapey was a violinist, and his knowledge of the instrument comes through in this recording. Interestingly, the CD contains an early work from 1945, the Etchings for violin, which remind me in some ways of Feldman’s 1945 Sonata for Violin and Piano, in that both works presage the later, more mature music by their respective composers. Three of the five works on this album are for solo violin, and while these don’t strike me as being as distinctive as some of Shapey’s works for chamber groups or orchestra, they are good listening just the same. The two works for violin and piano, however, are much more “typical” Shapey, and the late Millennium Designs is particularly engaging. The disc is noteworthy as well for including music that ranges from the early Etchings to Millennium Designs that was composed two years before the composer’s death.

The performers are clearly dedicated to Shapey’s music and share a genuine affection for it. This is often not easy music to perform, and Miranda Cuckson and Blair McMillen pull out all the stops in making it seem a lot easier than it really is. This is a first-rate performance of music for solo violin and violin and piano.

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