Archive for the “David Toub” Category

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Beyond the Windows Perhaps Among the Podcorn

Jessica Catron/cello, Elizabeth Schenck/saxophones, Sara Schoenbeck/bassoon, Tara Tavi/voice, Kris Tiner/trumpet, Mia Doi Todd/voice

Transparency Records

Upfront confession: I had no expectations from this album whatsoever, and had a preconceived notion that I wouldn’t like it. I have to say that from moment one, this album blew me away. The piece is nearly an hour long and consists of sustained tones in just intonation by winds, voice and cello. While the piece owes a lot to La Monte Young, of course, there are no prolonged silences (at least none that I could detect). Even more amazing is the fact that other than the cello, all of the instruments require breathing (including the voices), yet the tones are sustained for very prolonged periods. I’ve read something that suggests some overdubbing was done, but even so, this is quite a performance feat.

If you hate postminimalist music in just intonation, this album isn’t for you—go back to something safe. But if this stuff is as much your taste as it is mine, then this is a great CD to listen to. My only complaint about this album is the absolute lack of liner notes—the only reason I know anything about the composer is through the Web. I’d like to hear more of Kraig Grady’s music, and suspect many others will as well once they hear this album.

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filesk0Ff-jpg-full.jpgJohn Cage: Music for Keyboard 1935-1948
Jeanne Kirstein, prepared piano, piano, and toy piano

Morton Feldman: The Early Years
David Tudor, Morton Feldman, Edwin Hymovitz, Russell Sherman, pianos; Matthew Raimondi, Joseph Rabushka, violins; Walter Trampler, viola; Seymour Barab, cello

New World Records
This is a 2-CD release of a historic recording of early music by Cage and Feldman. Even though I already own a lot of this music (this is something the fourth version of Cage’s Bacchanale that I have on my iPod), these represent important early performances from Columbia Record’s “Music of Our Time” series that was overseen by David Behrman. The Feldman CD represents a 1959 LP that served as the first major recording of his music. The Cage CD is from another LP that contains classic performances by Jeanne Kirstein.

The Cage CD contains the following:

Two Pieces, Metamorphosis, Bacchanale, The Perilous Night, Tossed As It Is Untroubled, A Valentine Out of Season, Root of an Unfocus, Two Pieces for Piano, Prelude for Meditation, Music for Marcel Duchamp, Suite for Toy Piano, Dream

The Feldman CD consists of:

Piece for Four Pianos, Intersection 3 for Piano, Extensions 4 for Three Pianos, Two Pieces for Two Pianos, Projection 4 for Violin and Piano, Structures for String Quartet, Extensions 1 for Violin and Piano, Three Pieces for String Quartet

A few comments about selected tracks—all of the performances of Cage’s piano and prepared piano works are outstanding. While there’s a lot to be said for Markus Hinterhauser’s performances of many of these works on his CD set of Cage’s works for prepared piano, Kirstein’s performances are similarly inspired, and are said to have been highly regarded by Cage himself.

I was particularly interested in hearing the recording of Feldman’s Piece for Four Pianos. This is one of Feldman’s most noteworthy works, in which the four pianos paly the same notes but on their own time frames, and this means that each performance is particularly unique. I own a recording by Le Bureau des Pianistes that is amazingly beautiful, and clocks in at just over 16 minutes. This recording by David Tudor, Russell Sherman, Edwin Hymovitz and Morton Feldman is less than half the length of my other recording, and is very different in other ways as well. Yet it is just as valid and captivating. Similarly, I have recordings of Structures and Three Pieces for String Quartet by the Concord and Rangzen Quartets respectively, and these are captivating performances. The recordings on the New World CD by a string quartet consisting of Matthew Raimondi, Joseph Rabushka, Walter Trampler and Seymour Barab are different in some ways but offer an engaging sonic experience. The repetitive section with mostly string harmonics in Structures is perhaps better accentuated in the New World CD performance. The included performance of Projection 4 by Matthew Raimondi and David Tudor is as definitive as that of the recent recording by Christina Fong and Paul Hersey on OgreOgress.

So even if you might have some or all of these works on other recordings, this is a very special 2-CD set, both from historic and listening perspectives.

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Huang Ruo: Chamber Concerto Cycle

International Contemporary Ensemble/Huang Ruo, conductor

Naxos

This is a recording of four chamber concerti by the composer Huang Ruo, who is currently a DMA student at Juilliard. The works are: Chamber Concerto No. 1, “Yueh Fei,” Chamber Concerto No. 2, “The Lost Garden,” Chamber Concerto No. 3, “Divergence,” and Chamber Concerto No. 4, “Confluence.” I probably like the subtitles most of all. The music, competently performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, struck me as a combination of Western and Eastern music, but more on the “chinoiserie” end of things. It also came across to me as accomplished music, certainly very commendable and advanced work for a graduate student, but following a safe course rather than striking out and finding new ground. After a few minutes I was genuinely uninterested. That perhaps reflects more my own taste and attention span (or lack thereof), but I felt there is more compelling music in the first five minutes of the average piece by Somei Satoh than there is in this entire album.

I hate dissing new music, especially when written by someone who is not fully established (although with a dedicated album on Naxos, Huang Ruo is certainly “not too shabby,” as Adam Sandler would say). But in all honesty, much of the music was something of a hybrid between Western and Eastern styles, without any real sense of what makes each unique and beautiful. It’s more of a mashup than anything else. A lot of different influences abound, which is fine (all of us ultimately betray our various influences in our works), but after listening to this album I have no sense of the composer Huang Ruo; rather, I have a sense of the synthesist Huang Ruo who melds together many disparate styles and influences. I suspect one of his influences had to have been George Crumb, and I had a distinct sense of “been there, done that” when I listened to the disc for the first time.
On a more positive note, I should mention that this is the first release of the International Contemporary Ensemble, which as I recall was a participant in the first Sequenza 21 concert back in November. Their performance is first-rate, and I should add that this is no mean feat, as the performers must engage in a lot of musical activity outside their usual instrumental roles (speaking, vocalizing, etc).

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Philip Corner: Extreme Positions

The Barton Workshop

New World Records

Disc: 1
1. For 2 Trombones No. 2 13:26
2. Calling! OM 8:54
3. attempting whiteness 10:07
4. Round Sound 5:14
5. One Note More Than Once (A) 7:41
6. An Earth Bereath Trilogy: I 3:28
7. An Earth Bereath Trilogy: II 4:54
8. An Earth Bereath Trilogy: III 5:36
9. Big Trombone 9:27
10. One Note More Than Once (B) 8:44
Disc: 2
1. Zen Om 7:07
2. Just Another 12-Tone Piece 4:06
3. Sang-Teh, movement III 13:21
4. Passionate Expanse of the Law 11:30
5. Lovely Music 13:53
6. When They Pull the Plug: Part I 3:41
7. When They Pull the Plug: Part II 4:41
8. When They Pull the Plug: Part III 4:33
9. Chopin Prelude I: The V9 Chord Which Begins The Chopin D Major Prelude…as a revelation

I’ve known Philip Corner’s music for many years, but only the stuff he’s written for gamelan, of which I’m a big fan. This 2-disc set is a very nice overview of his work, spanning several decades, as performed by James Fulkerson and his colleagues with the Barton Workshop. The first disc contains works for brass with/without tape and/or piano, while the second disc has music for ensemble and also Corner’s 2002 piece When They Pull the Plug for percussion.

Corner has been active on many fronts over the years, including the Fluxus movement, Gamelan Son of Lion, and even the Judson Dance Theatre. His music comes out of a deep understanding of Eastern music, and while some works are notated “conventionally,” graphic notation and written instruction are used for many compositions. Thus, the music is largely indeterminate and improvised, based on the composer’s instructions.

Most of the music on this set is interesting for the various sounds elicited by the (mainly brass) instruments, and the use of tape collages, while characteristic of the early 60’s when such music was written, is intriguing. But I have to confess that it doesn’t work for me in the same way that, say, many of the works by Christian Wolff do. In other words, I found the music of interest, but not something that blew me away.

With one exception, however—Chopin Prelude I: The V9 Chord Which Begins The Chopin D Major Prelude… as a relevation. Conceived as a series of “revelation” pieces based on older works, this piece struck me as a very nice example of 60’s minimalism. Given that that’s my taste, it wasn’t surprising that this compositions stood out in my mind when I listened to this album over several days.

The performance is undoubtedly first rate and the musicians are incredibly dedicated. If you’re a fan of Corner’s music, this is an essential, must-have album.

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Stefan Wolpe: The Man from Midian / Violin Sonata

The Group for Contemporary Music

Naxos


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Stefan Wolpe: Dr. Einstein’s Address About Peace in the Atomic Era, Songs: 1920-1954

Patrick Mason, baritone; Robert Shannon, piano; Leah Summers, mezzo-soprano; Jacob Greenberg, piano; Leah Summers, mezzo-soprano; Jacob Greenberg, piano; Ashraf Sewailam, bass-baritone; Susan Grace, piano; Tony Arnold, soprano

Bridge Records

I’ve always been pretty fond of the music of Stefan Wolpe. His music is perhaps best known for his later serial works such as Piece in Two Parts, Form, Form IV, String Quartet, etc. This is music that focuses on rows that often have more than 12 tones, and while highly chromatic, is often quite melodic. In any case, Wolpe’s serial music is very different from the music of other serial composers, and fit in particularly well with other NYC composers like Ralph Shapey and Morton Feldman (both of whom studied with Wolpe).

The music on these two albums represents earlier efforts. In the case of The Man from Midian, this is ballet music for two pianos based on the story of Moses and was written a few years after he left British Mandate Palestine for the US. The music reveals Wolpe’s nascent style, which incorporates various elements from Palestinian music. Wolpe never approached Palestinian music in a way reminiscent of chinoiserie; rather, he found ways to incorporate Middle Eastern scales with his European-based approach. In other words, Wolpe melded several traditions together in a way that created something new, rather than something false. The Man from Midian is a very compelling piece, and quite distinct from Enactments, for three pianos. It is an easily approachable work, less dense than some of Wolpe’s later music, yet still complex in its use of various folk melodies and scales. The Violin Sonata, on the same Naxos disc, is quite a find. It was inspired to a large extent by his future wife, and is a very pleasant work that, at the same time, portends a lot of Wolpe’s more complex works that were yet to come. I would think of the Violin Sonata as a significant step in the composer’s evolution. The performances on this album are first-rate and clearly enthusiastic.

The Bridge album of various songs by Wolpe includes 18 world premieres. The languages span German, English, Hebrew and Yiddish. While Wolpe spent many years in Palestine after leaving his native Germany, his approach to Hebrew and Yiddish settings is secular rather than religious. In other words, he was interested in the Yiddish poetry from a cultural perspective, no different from that of any other language other than the fact that it represented his own heritage.

The most noteworthy piece on this very diverse album is the title track, Dr. Einstein’s Address About Peace in the Atomic Era. Written shortly after Truman announced plans to pursue the H-bomb (aka “The Super” in Edward Teller-speak) and Einstein spoke out against the bomb, this represents Wolpe’s outrage against nuclear proliferation and is a very moving work for baritone and piano.

The other song cycles are interesting for their variety. The Arrangements of Yiddish Folk Songs (1925) are exactly that, and are interesting in that they represent an earlier Wolpe style, but are also amazing for the time in which they were written. This is not “safe” or bland music, but clearly indicates a composer attuned to the music of his time. The songs struck me as reminiscent of some of Wolpe’s early piano music.

The remainder of this excellent album consists of Ten Early Songs (1920), Songs from the Hebrew (1938-54), Der faule Bauer mit seinen Hunden. Fabel von Hans Sachs (1926), and Epitaph (1938). All of these are of interest, and while my personal tastes perhaps run more to Wolpe’s later works, this is a very nice album to listen to. The performances appear definitive, which is good since with the exception of the Songs from the Hebrew, none of these have been previously recorded.
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B000LXIMYM-01-_SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpgArnold Schoenberg: Early and Unknown String Works

Rangzen Quartet & Strings, Christina Fong

OgreOgress Productions

1. Sonnenschein-Polka [Sunshine Polka] for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [3:09]
2. “Alliance” Walzer [“Alliance” Waltz] for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [5:41]
3. Lied ohne Worte [Song Without Words] in B-flat major for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [3:05]
4. Idylles Lied ohne Worte [Idyllic Song Without Words] in C major for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [2:34]
5. Lied ohne Worte [Song Without Words] in A minor for 2 violins (after 1882) {U10} [2:29]
6. Geburtstags-Marsch [Birthday March] for 2 violins and viola (after 1882) [1 part] {U10} [4:01]
7. Romance Ré mineur [Romance in D minor] for 2 violins and viola (after 1882) [2 parts] {U10} [8:32]
8. String Quartet in F major (before 1897) [fragment] {U119} [:33]
9. Gavotte und Musette (im alten Style) [Gavotte and Musette (in old style)] for string orchestra (1897) [original version] {U193} [2:18]

11 Walzer für Streichorchester [11 Waltzes for String Orchestra] (1897)
10. I. Krí¤ftig {U566} [1:12]
11. II. Nicht zu rasch {U567} [1:13]
12. III. Etwas langsam {U568} [1:11]
13. IV. Etwas rasch {U569} [1:33]
14. V. Rasch {U571} [1:37]
15. VI. {U573} [1:57]
16. VII. Krí¤ftig {U582} [1:22]
17. VIII. Getragen {U584} [1:18]
18. IX. Lebhaft {U586} [1:24]
19. X. Nicht rasch {U575} [2:17]
20. XI. Allegro rasch [fragment] {U578} [:17]

21. Toter Winkel for string sextet (1899) [fragment] {U167} [1:46]

String Quartet in D minor (1904) [fragments]
22. Nicht rasch {U121} [:54]
23. Sketch for the Langsam movement [1] {U129} [:17]
24. Sketch for the Langsam movement [2] {U129} [:24]
25. Sketch for the Langsam movement [3] {U130} [:21]
26. Langsam [double fugue, version 1] {U121} [3:29]
27. Langsam [double fugue, version 2] {U125} [3:33]

28. String Quartet in C major (after 1904) [fragment] {U142} [1:01]
29. String Quintet in D major (1905) [fragment] {Sk45} [:32]
30. String Septet (1918) [fragment] {U175} [:54]
31. String Quartet Movement (1926) [fragment] {U133} [:26]

String Quartet (1926) [fragments]
32. Beginning of a movement [version 1] {U137} [:14]
33. Beginning of a movement [version 2] {U137} [:13]
34. Beginning of a movement [version 3] {U138} [:12]
35. Theme for another movement {U137} [:24]
36. Violin/cello duo for another movement {U139} [:08]
37. Violin theme for another movement {U141} [:29]

38. Untitled in D major (1926) [fragment] {U549} [:12]
39. String Quartet in C major (after 1927) [fragment] {U107} [1:49]
40. Mirror Canon in A major for string quartet (after 1930) {XXXIII} [:27]
41. Fugue [arranged for string quartet by Stephen Dembski] (1938) [fragment] {Ms95} [1:27]

String Quartet #5 (1949) [fragments]
42. I. {U143} [:39]
43. II. {U144} [:21]
44. III. {U145} [:44]
45. IV. {U147} [:57]

This is an audio DVD containing 45 tracks of little known and unknown works for various string groupings by Schoenberg, the vast majority of which represent early compositions, many of which are fragments. All of us who compose have various fragments representing ideas we eventually abandon, and Schoenberg was no different. Similarly, we all have early works that we like and want to see performed, along with other early works that we would prefer never see the light of day.

It’s hard to say why some of the works on this DVD were not pursued to completion by Schoenberg, and it’s an interesting debate as to whether or not Schoenberg would have wanted them published, performed and even recorded. Regardless, here is a wealth of music that is of interest both on a musical and a musicological level. Indeed, none of this music has been previously recorded, and eight of the works are heard in their entirety.

It is a shame that many of these works remain as fragments. I was particularly intrigued by the promise of the unpublished, and incomplete, String Quartet #5 (1949). Unfortunately, what exists of the score is extremely short and fragmented, lasting less than three minutes in total. That’s even shorter than Webern’s op. 28 Quartet. Some measures resemble portions of the late Trio for Strings, which is a very underappreciated and underperformed masterpiece. It is interesting to compare many of the works on this disc with some of Schoenberg’s more mature and complete works for strings. In some cases, these works, even when fragmented, presage some of the better known compositions, such as the first two string quartets.

While these are not major works, even those that are performed in their entirety, it is pleasant music, much like some of the early music of Webern and other German/Austrian composers from the very early 20th century. For those who still doubt that Schoenberg could write very easygoing, “conventional” music, this album should dispel those misconceptions. The performances are first rate, and genuinely capture the Viennese gestalt. The engineering is also very well done. Of particular mention are the extensive liner notes, unusual for an independent label to have provided. My only regret is that the author, Severine Neff, is mentioned more prominently; I finally found the attribution on the small side of the DVD insert. I’m also puzzled why there is an insert with a continuation of the text that is smaller than the rest of the liner notes, but that’s a very minor issue. In all, it’s a very noble release of historic importance, but it leaves me wishing Schoenberg had finalized more of his music, particularly his fifth quartet.

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jordanova1x.jpgJohn Cage

Postcard from Heaven for 1-20 harps

Victoria Jordanova [harps]

Pamela Z [voices]

ArpaViva Foundation CD 001

This is an incredible album, one that likely would not have been recorded anytime soon were it not for the tenacity of the harpist Victoria Jordanova, who started the ArpaViva label and who spent at least a year preparing for this release. It is a very complex piece, premiered in 1982 and infrequently performed. no less because of Cage’s instructions for the work:

“Three double ragas, double because either part may be used for ascending or descending. One may move from one side to another of a single raga at “transfer points,” closed note heads. Where no such note heads exist, separate the use of one side of the raga from the other by silence. The associated numbers of talas on the basis of which phrasing or durations or sounds or silences may be improvised.

Improvisation may be “melodic” and/or “percussive.” “Melodic” means proceeding stepwise, leaping only in the opposite direction, following a leap by a step or steps in the opposite direction, continually establishing, that is, the character of the raga. Ornaments are welcome. “Percussive” means single events preceded and followed by silence, or several events performed repetitively. These may be glissandi (the ragas permitting them); chords and /or single tones; the single tones may be produced conventionally, or with an EBow (electronic means of setting a metallic string into continuous vibration). Dynamics are free.

The improvisation may be continuous or interrupted by silences, its total length to be determined by the players. It should begin and end with use of all harpists of the EBow, for a period of between one-tenth and one-sixth of the total time length. Any unintended sounds (clicking of the push button, etc.) are acceptable though not to be sought.

Ossia: Hum ppp any one tone of the raga as long as the breath holds continuing after a new breath with the same or another tone of raga.

Five pedal arrangements are given. Changes from one to another must be complete, but may take place at any time (during a passage, or between passages)”

Got that? Like any good Cage work (and this is a great work, incidentally), there is a lot of room for interpretation. The ragas are essentially a group of diatonic pitches and have nothing to do with Indian ragas. The talas are rhythmic pulses specified by Cage, but the tempo is up to the performer. Interestingly, Cage specified the use of an Ebow, used by electric guitarists to sustain their sounds. However, an Ebow just doesn’t work well with harps (the strings are spaced quite differently), and so this recording takes advantage of sound processing to sustain different sound layers. And this work also makes use of a voice to delineate the ragas, and Pamela Z did such a great job that her ragas are included as separate tracks.

Big deal, you are probably saying right now—what does the piece sound like? That’s hard to describe, but let’s say it is extremely mellow, haunting, and unlike anything you’ve probably heard. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard in a long while, and well worth discovering.

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B000IZJ1ES-01-_SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V38161691_.jpgTerry Riley, soprano sax, time-lag accumulator

Elision Fields

A lot of us have known and loved the original LP of Riley’s Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band, which often was performed in all-night concert sessions. This represents a much expanded performance from the LP, and took place live in concert in the wee hours of the morning during 1968. It was originally released on the Organ of Corti label, so this represents its re-release.

When I first turned it on in my car this morning, it sounded just like the recording, but by the time I hit Philmont Avenue en route to work, it was in an altogether different place, with a lot more material and permutations than was ever on the LP.

The music consists of rhythmic fragments over a drone, that are manipulated by electronic means along with live performance. There are no notes with the album, so I’m relying on what I’ve heard anecdotally over the years. It’s a great album, even if one is already familiar with the original LP. I believe there might have been another version recorded as well, but I do not know that it is available, so this is the best thing out there right now as an archival performance of Poppy Nogood. The sound is excellent, and the length matched my commute perfectly (40 minutes).

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alterego_300.jpgAlter Ego Plays Philip Glass

Music in Similar Motion
Strung Out
Piece in the Shape of a Square
Gradus
Music in Contrary Motion
600 Lines
How Now

Alter Ego:
Manuel Zurria, flute; Paolo Ravaglia, clarinet; Francesco Peverini, violin; Francesco Dillon, cello; Oscar Pizzo, keyboard; Gianluca Ruggeri, marimba
Orange Mountain Music

I’ve always been particularly enamored by Glasss early music, and Two Pages was actually the first work of his that I knew, on an old LP with Glass and Michael Riesman. I still have the old Chatham Square albums of Music with Changing Parts, Music in Similar Motion and Music in Fifths, and once saw a page from an early work involving two flutes back in college (well, maybe that was actually Steve Reich’s Reed Phase, but whatever); I still remember trying to play that fragment to get some sense of what it sounded like.

I had known that the Italian new music ensemble Alter Ego had recorded two separate albums of some of Glasss early music, including How Now and 600 Lines and went crazy trying to track one of these down, as it apparently was only available through the Italian distributor Stradivari.it. Fortunately, a 2-CD set has just been released containing a wealth of Glass’s early music, some of which exists in other recordings (such as Music in Similar Motion, Gradus, Music in Contrary Motion, Strung Out and some of which I have not seen any recordings of (How Now, 600 Lines, Music in the Shape of a Square). The recordings of Music in Contrary Motion and Gradus represent the first recordings of these versions for ensemble or bass clarinet, respectively.

Lets start with a general comment: this album is excellent. The recorded sound is wonderful, the performances are first-rate, and the liner notes, written by Glass himself (including a paragraph from his book Music by Philip Glass), are insightful.

In terms of the individual pieces, being very familiar with Music in Similar Motion and Music in Contrary Motion as performed by Glass’s ensemble, it is interesting to hear a different scoring and interpretation. The latter has always, in my experience, been performed by a solo Farfisa or other electronic organ, while Alter Ego scores it for mallet instruments, keyboards, winds and (from my listening) violin. Its a very different, yet pleasant interpretation and scoring and complements other recordings well.

The same is true for Strung Out, which I originally knew through a recording by Paul Zukofsky. I like this performance very much, and the violin sounds warmer to some degree. Strung Out was one of Glass’s first minimalist works, and was performed by having the score on many pages that were supported by several music stands that the violinist navigates during the piece. The music is literally strung out among the music stands, and as I recall Glass’s own description from years ago, the music also suggests being strung out in the physical/mental sense. Unlike the later Two Pages and other works, there are no additive processes present within Strung Out, but it is repetitive nonetheless.

Gradus has also been recorded, I believe, by Jon Gibson. This version is performed on bass clarinet, while the original was for soprano sax. It is immediately recognizable as Glass, even though a relatively early work. The same could be said for Music in the Shape of a Square for two flutes, which is very rhythmically driving.

The remaining two pieces, How Now and 600 Lines are repetitive but like some works on this album, do not have formal additive processes. Both of these are relatively long (600 Lines takes around 40 minutes), and very compelling. I’d love to also have been able to hear how they would have sounded with Glass’s nacent ensemble, but that is a secondary issue; having these works at all on a great recording is more than enough.

In all, this is a great addition to my iPod,and a nice way to start 2007.

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ten exercises
Christian Wolff

Michael Riessler, Natacha Diels, Larry Polansky, Christian Wolff, Frederic Rzewski, Robyn Schulkowsky, Chiyoko Szlavnics and Garrett List, various instruments

New World Records

I’ve known of Christian Wolff mainly through his association with his compatriots John Cage, Morton Feldman and Earle Brown, and have heard very little of his music, if at all. This disc changes all that, and I’d strongly suggest anyone who appreciates improvisation, indeterminacy and new music in general consider listening to this album, which has ten pieces from his set of 18 Exercises.

Why? There are many reasons; aside from utilizing stellar performers and composers like Rzewski, Polansky and List (whose Your Own Self remains one of the best downtown works ever), the music is unique, simple yet complex, and begs for further listening. Plus the cover art is worth the price of admission all by itself, along with the excellent notes by Rzewski and Wolff himself.

The idea behind most of ten exercises is this:

  • Neither the specific instruments nor number of performers is indicated (other than some additional specifications for percussion instruments)
  • The music consists of phrases usually written on a single staff, which may be interpreted as either treble or bass clef, depending on the performer and instrumentation involved
  • Pauses between phrases have an indeterminate duration at each performer’s discretion
  • Performers can play as much, or as little, as they want
  • Improvisatory elements are encouraged

The above holds true largely for Exercises 1-14. For numbers 15-18, there are different specifications. The music involves improvisation, but not free improvisation. Like the graph pieces of Feldman, there are options available to the performers, but not all options are possible or desirable. It should be mentioned that Wolff pioneered game strategy compositions, predating and anticipating many of the works of John Zorn.

All of this by itself would suggest that this is a significant release and worthy of at least some passing familiarity. But none of this matters were the music worthless. Indeed, from the description of the processes, I expected a bit of a melange, with some good parts and a lot of iffy ones, simply due to the nature of aleatory (and indeed, no two performances of the Exercises will be alike). I was quite surprised, and pleased, to find a lot of compelling music on this album. By the time Exercise 16 came on the iPod in my car, I was absolutely taken. That Exercise is performed by bass clarinet and vibraphone, and is absolutely ephemeral. There is another performance on the web that I’ve heard, by Larry Polansky and Ha Yang Kim using a steel guitar tuned in just intonation and cello, respectively, and that is very good as well.

Each Exercise is, of course, different, although 14b is scored for percussion duet and intended to “run concurrently and independently” from 14a. Unfortunately, there was no satisfactory performance of 14a, hence the recording of 14b by itself.

Definitely worth a listen. The performances, one can assume, are all first-rate and include the composer on piano, percussion and melodica.

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