Archive for the “Innova” Category
Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Millikan, Piano
Music of Ann Millikan
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Grigor Palikarov, conductor
- Ballad Nocturne (with Emanuele Arciuli, piano)
- Trilhas de Sombra
- Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal
Ann Millikan’s music is a wonderfully eclectic mix of several contemporary compositional styles and yet Millikan retains an individual and consistent voice throughout each work on this Innova CD. Ballad Nocturne, (2009) for piano and chamber orchestra, puts jazz harmonies and figurations through a Druckman-esque prism. Neither straight-ahead jazz nor purely-abstract instrumental music, this piece encapsulates Millikan’s musical personality: that of a synthesizer. Disperate elements flow together and mix in seamless compositions. Around the 8 minute mark of Ballad Nocturne, time simply stops as high strings and a repeated high piano figure float over a slightly-disturbed walking piano bass. The piece switches gears from pseudo-lounge to Morton Feldman without dislocating the listener’s eardrum. Instead of ending the piece at this moment, which I fully expected, a more traditional jazz ballade lugubriously emerges and clarifies everything we’ve heard previously with the subdued juxtaposition of earlier elements.
Perhaps jazz transformations aren’t your thing. No worries there, because the orchestral triptych Trilhas de Sombra, (2009) a programatic work based upon a story written by Millikan’s niece, feeds any needs you have for good ol’ American atonal expressionism. Except, of course, when Millikan doesn’t need such language to express the ideas in the story. Gestures and textures tend to abound instead of melodies but the music is still a cohesive unit that moves in a single, unified direction. The melodies that emerge are long and fluid and showcased with solid and direct orchestrations. Millikan doesn’t get caught in the trap of being overly clever and instead crafts a wonderfully picturesque and programatic work and like many great programatic orchestral showcases, Trilhas de Sombra doesn’t come across as a movie soundtrack without the visuals. Unabashedly contemporary in sound, this is an approachable and enjoyable work that does not condescend to the listener.
Millikan has been flexing her synthesis muscles in the previous two works and the final composition, as one would expect, merges elements from the previous two (even though it is the earliest piece on the disc – 2008). Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal is just as trippy and fun as the title might suggest. I don’t know how to land “inside the inside” of something, nor do I wholly understand how the spacey, abstract, atonal music of the first half relates to the Afro-Cuban inspired dance rhythms that drive the second half. I also don’t know how this all ties into the “story of initiation” mentioned in the program notes. You know what? I don’t care that I don’t know how this works. It works. Being a fan of WTF moments in compositions, Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal hits me right where I live. This piece is a journey but, unlike Trilhas de Sombra, there didn’t seem to be a predetermined path to follow. It is as if Millikan just struck out to go somewhere and ended up in the most wonderful and fantastic places.
I do have one problem with this disc. While the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra sounds great on each piece, it really irks me that such purely American music written in the last 2 years had to be outsourced for the recording. I should think that American orchestras would be falling all over themselves to perform and record Millikan’s output.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Clarinet, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, chamber music, Clarinet, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Piano, saxophone
Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets
Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon
- Rafael Leonardo Junchaya – Tres Danzas Episkénicas
- HyeKyung Lee – Shadowing
- Keith Carpenter – The Devil His Due
- Eric Honour – neither from nor towards
- Marco Antonio Mazzini – Imprevisto
- Kevin Walczyk – Refractions
- Fernando Benadon – Five Miniatures
The Thelema Trio’s modular nature, even within the context of being a trio, is one of its primary strengths and they strut their stylistic, coloristic, versatile stuff with this collection of pieces. No two works share the same instrumentation nor do any of the compositions share the same sound world. The only performer not showcased with a solo feature of some sort is the pianist but Ward De Vleeschhouwer is a superb collaborative artist who can highlight his abilities within a chamber music setting. Peter Verdonck has excellent tone and energy on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones and Marc Antonio Mazzini has a lithe and supple sound on standard or bass clarinet. Together, the two reed players have a perfectly communal sound quality.
Each piece on the disc showcases the Thelema Trio’s mercuriality. Rafael Leonardo Junchaya’s Tres Danzas Episkénicas is equal parts sultry, ethereal and playful. This work uses the most instruments overall with the reeds changing from bass clarinet to clarinet and use of baritone and tenor saxophones. Overall, these dances are attractive, slightly thorny pitch language and extremely well orchestrated.
HyeKyung Lee’s Shadowing is a canonic/imitative work for clarinet and alto saxophone. Long melodic lines weave in and out with sinewy and twisty motions. The blend between the performers is spot on and the whole piece has great long-term trajectory. The high climax reached early on in the work is the exact right music at the exact right time. Keith Carpenter’s raucous The Devil His Due for baritone sax and piano is a punchy, aggressive, and energetic toccata for the two instruments. Instead of the baritone sax being the “front man” of the piece, both instruments engage in funky rhythmic interplay.
The title track on the CD, neither from nor towards, is an extended rhapsody for baritone sax, clarinet, and piano written by Eric Honour. This obsessive piece spends a lot of time spinning its wheels (in a good way) where the music is, indeed, neither from anywhere nor moving towards anywhere. Long overlapping tones in the reeds and mid-range piano are broken by the occasional spiky piano accents in extreme registers. Gradually a melody emerges and by the halfway point we are in a soaring, melodic section. The soaring becomes frenetic, dies down, but then trashes around with one last outburst. If you were to drop in on any single section of the piece, you might wonder how it all fits together. But listening to the complete work, Eric Honour draws an excellent through-line. The programming for this piece is perfect since it showcases not only the coloristic blend between the reeds but also the rhythmic punctuation possibilities found in earlier works.
The only solo composition on the disc, Marco Antonio Mazzini’s Imprevisto sounds like music we aren’t really supposed to be hearing. The slow unfolding work for clarinet gives the impression that we are eavesdropping on the performer while they worked out musical/emotional stuff. This piece is haunting and captivating. Refractions, by Kevin Walczyk, brings back some playful and bouncy music back to the disc. The motoric repeated notes in the piano provide a platform for melodies and shapes in the alto sax and clarinet. The energy is constantly pushing forward, even when the music slows and becomes more tender. The light and springy material returns to close out the composition.
Finally, the Five Miniatures for baritone sax, bass clarinet, and piano by Fernando Benadon are delightfully quirky pieces that present a focal idea, perseverate upon said idea, and then vanish. Niether of the five movements feels underwritten and, while one might hear how each idea could become longer, I think it would destroy the chiseled nature of these pieces. There is a lot of fun and whimsy in their brevity, making this piece the perfect waft of light flavor after a satisfying meal.
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Courtney Orlando, violin; Evan Price, violin; Kurt Rohde, viola; Marco Mazzini, clarinets; Michael Formanek, bass; Christopher Froh, percussion; Nasar Abadey, drums
At first, I thought this disc was another great example of insightful free-improvisation. Each player takes great care to contribute to a fundamental aesthetic per track and makes groovy, understated, or rhapsodic lyrical music as the track demands. Then, I read the CD notes. It turns out that Fernando Benadon, the mastermind behind this disc, recorded each player doing free improv in isolation from the other players. Benadon then took the helm of mixmaster and chiseled together these insightful and intuitive (hence the disc name) tracks.
The end result is a breezy sounding ensemble that is never too heavy or too meandering. This music could easily be foreground or background in any of a thousand hip settings. It sounds like performers that have a mature working relationship and an excellent set of ears.
The conflict between the natural sound of the group and the unnatural story of the recording is equal parts engrossing, maddening, and bewildering. I expect this disc to spark up the conversation about the truth (or lack thereof) in the recording process. I’ll leave that discussion aside and say that I like where Benadon’s ears are and I look forward to hearing more.
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Innova CD 734
LA-based pianist DANNY HOLT, currently on the faculty at Cal-Arts, is a brilliant player. A percussionist as well as a pianist, he attacks the instrument with verve. On his Innova recital disc, the pianist presents five world premieres; all pieces written since 1997. The disc opens with Caleb Burhans’ In Time of Desperation (2003). Written to commemorate the passing of Luciano Berio, the piece is a series of variations on a ground. This venerable technique is refreshed by pop-inflected harmonies and a postminimal rhythmic ostinato. While the language seems distant from Berio’s, Burhans’ engagement with elements from the distant musical past, as well as his willingness to explore vulnerable emotional terrain, resonant with the departed as music of a kindred spirit.
Holt’s fulsomely energetic approach seems well-suited to the Yamaha grand he favors. Brightly shaded incisive attacks give appropriate luster to the CD’s title work; Lona Kozik’s Fast Jump; Etudes and Interludes for Piano. Kozik writes brilliantly for the piano, inhabiting an earnest, postmodern language rife with virtuosity. “A Tangled Web We Weave (We Keep our Demons Intact)” is filled with whirling arpeggiations and punchy repeated clusters. Traversing the entire keyboard, it alternates registers in strategic, dramatically-charged juxtapositions. Another highlight is “Disperse (the quick but calm spread of sunlight – on water – at dawn)” is an appropriately Impressionist etude in polyrhythmically overlapping arpeggiations, creating a diaphanous swath of shimmering harmonies.
Jascha Narveson’s ripple (2005) is a welcome respite in the midst of these stormy musical proceedings. Its spare harmonic palette and gentle demeanor remind one a bit of Tobias Picker’s “Old and Lost Rivers;” but Narveson favors a more pointillist sensibility. In a clever programming choice, this “eye of the hurricane” is followed by Graham Fitkin’s “Relent.” This postminimal powerhouse is a live staple of Holt’s; and he plays it assuredly and impressively. At eleven minutes in duration, Fitkin’s constant keyboard assault is a grueling gauntlet, containing enough material to keep the players in his multi-piano works happy; Holt manages to grab it all with two hands – con fuoco!
The disc closes with another set of elegies: David Lang’s memory pieces (1997). Although his recent Pulitzer prize award has garnered Lang increased scrutiny of his latest works, these pieces serve as a reminder that he’s been a consummate craftsman and thoughful composer all along. Each of the pieces serves as a memorial to a departed friend. The half-hour cycle is frequently poignant, but also serves as a collection of etudes. “cello” highlights cross-hands playing; “cage” is an exploration of ambient effects. “Spartan arcs” is a delightful showcase for one of Holt’s favorite techniques: overlapping arpeggios. While one seldom thinks of etudes solemnly emotional works, “memory pieces” is both a technical tour de force and a considerably eloquent collection.
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The Phenomenon Of Threes
Trios For Flute, Clarinet And Piano
Suite for Flute, Clarinet and Piano,
Breezes of Yesteryear,
A Time To…,
Esther Lamneck, clarinet; Keith Underwood, flute; Martha Locker, piano
The five works on this disc are nothing like I thought they would be. With the instrumentation of flute, clarinet, and piano, I imagined that the music would be showpieces for the woodwinds while the pianist provided some kind of obligatory backdrop. Instead, I found delightful and engaging chamber music. It is nice when that happens.
Each of the five works has its own sense of fluidity and flow. Lawrence Moss’ Suite is a delightful collection of miniatures, rich with color and vibrant gestures. Breezes of Yesteryear is an impressionistic-inspired fantasia that swims through time and timbres. Richard Brooks’ three movement Circular Motions takes the performers through spritely and playful material, keeping everything light and airy the whole time. Isomorphic Plenum is the thorniest work on the disc but is engaging and compelling with rich contrapuntal lines and long, sinewy passages. The final work, A Time To… is an energetic and passionate work with abstracted electronic sounds which are well-orchestrated into the acoustic fabric. I preferred the shuffled vocal textures over the synth punctuations, but everything works well together.
The performances on the disc are first-rate. The ensemble has a wonderful sense of blend and a smooth, rich sound overall. The cohesiveness in their playing makes every piece shine, shimmer, and sparkle regardless of compositional language. I can’t wait to hear more from them!
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In Two Worlds
music for saxophone with electronics
In Two Worlds,
James Paul Sain
John Anthony Lennon
Susan Fancher, soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones
In Two Worlds
collects recordings of works for saxophone and electronics that cover a wide range of styles and showcase different sound worlds from the 80s, 90s, and today (that latter part sounded like a radio station ad, I apologize). The title track, composed by Morton Subotnick, is at times dreamy and at times driving. Some of the synth sounds are a little dated sounding (the original date on the work is 1987) but the quality of the work and the performance outshine any cheese the synths possess. This recording addresses the issue of historic preservation and performance practice of electronic music. The technology originally used to create In Two Worlds
is no longer viable and available. Thanks to the interest of Susan Fancher and the programming chops of Jeff Heisler and Mark Bunce, the work gains new life. I love it when a work of this nature is embraced by such talents that are unwilling to let technological adversaries overcome the access to the music.
Jovian Images, for soprano sax and electronics, let’s Fancher play around an improvised landscape that provides space and shimmering serenity. Fancher’s tone and control are the real draw here, the electronics are more texture than gesture and the focus never turns us away from her solo line. For something completely different, we follow up with SaxMax by Mark Engebretson. This work is sneaky, murky, and dark. Fancher’s sax murmurs and mutters, the textures of the electronics murmur back and coalesce into a freaky calliope of twisting accompaniment. Fancher really controls this work, guiding and shaping its energies through a myriad of sound worlds. When the drums kick in and the piece turns into a free jazz style jam, it is hard to remember how exactly we got here. It sounds right, though, so I don’t ask too many questions.
Solemnity returns with Corail for tenor sax and interactive electronics. Fancher’s sound is sultry and thick, even as the piece erupts with ebullient pops and snaps. Pound for pound, this piece sounds like it does the most with the saxophone’s sonic potentials. An earthy funk groove tries to emerge about 3 minutes in and, again, it sounds like the absolute right thing to have happen. Corail’s organic processes make you forget about the electronics and just listen to the sound of what is going on. Fancher seems to be playing chamber music with her subconscious.
Penelope’s Song seems to take the most traditional approach to sax+computer music. A solid beat starts the piece, representing Penelope’s loom from the Odyssey. Fancher sings in a playful and spritely manner which is a fitting match to the sneaky story of the source material. The beat, while persistent, is never sonically static. Shatin resonates the beats, providing extra nuggets of timbre and pitch to the groove. At the same time, Fancher does the same with multiphonics (in a truly integrated and effortless way). There is a lot to listen to on this track and repeated listenings will provide rich rewards.
The last two works, Slammed and are perfect polar opposites to round out the CD. Slammed is muscular, angular, rough, and irritating. You start in an uncomfortable place, intentionally, and the energy keeps pushing and pushing and pushing until the whole system reaches the breaking point and snaps. A fun ride. Aeterna, with its simple delay, is a lovely and plaintive closer. Instead of dazzling us with computing power, Fancher reminds us why we were interested in this disc in the first place: the soloist. Alternate fingerings provide the spectromorphology, but it is Fancher’s poetic playing that gives this work a real soul. Lennon gives Fancher the right material, the right use of electronics, and just lets the music happen. The piece could keep going but manages to find a perfect ending nonetheless.
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Da enstünde ein Engel,
Chrismos Vocal Ensemble, Alexander Hermann, dir.
Elegy for a Young King,
Robert Ridgell, organ of Trinity, Wall Street
Latvian Radio Chorus
Obrigado, Stirling: I’ts Raining Cats and Dogs,
Iowa Percussion, Dan Moore, dir.
Robert Ridgell, organ of Trinity, Wall Street
Robert Moran’s music lives in two different worlds. The first world, that which occupies the first half of this disc, is the world of serene, graceful, and timeless music. The first three works waft through the ether with lush tonal harmonies. The halls used for the recordings are extremely resonant and this greatly enhances the spacious nature of Moran’s chords and gestures.
The title work on the disc turns the spirit of the music towards rhythmic energy. Mantra sounds a bit like a live version of a Paul Lansky Chatter piece with a slower harmonic rhythm. Where the first few pieces on the CD were about timelessness, these last works permeate joy, something I’m afraid to say I haven’t heard in a while. The three percussion ensemble pieces exude happy and peaceful energies. Of particular note is the work Sterling: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. This piece, for a gargantuan setup of percussion, does for the rain what Messiaen did for bird calls.
Categorically, all the performers are excellent. Each ensemble and performer hits all the right notes, musically and emotionally, on this recording. Iowa Percussion does an absolutely phenomenal job with their three pieces. I hope we hear more from this ensemble in the future.
It is also important to note that the CD is dedicated to the flood recovery efforts that damaged so much of Central Iowa this summer, including the music building at the University of Iowa which is the home for Iowa Percussion. As a native Iowan, and one with many family members in that region, I do hope that the recovery in Iowa City (and all other effected communities) is swift. The great performance of Sterling: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. might be seen as prophetic. I hope Iowa Percussion keeps it in their repertoire, though.
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The Henry Brant Collection: Volume 8
Whoopee in D; Music for a Five and Dime Store; Revenge Before Breakfast; Inside Track; Jazz Toccata on a Bach Theme; Jazz Clarinet Concerto; Double-Crank Hand Organ Music; Altitude 8750; Dialog in the Jungle
Netherlands Wind Ensemble; Henry Brant; Vera Beths; Reinbert de Leeuw; New Performance Group, Seattle; Barbara Hannigan; Yvar Mikhashoff; Gerrit Hommerson; Werner Herbers; Jacques Meertens; Telluride Glacial Spatial Ensemble; Arioso Winds; Modern Brass Ensemble; Frank Baker
It feels a little odd for me to write a CD review on Brant’s music the day that I learned of his passing. I’ve been spinning the disc for the past few days and enjoying it quite a bit.
I was delighted to hear rash and exuberant music matched up with the meditative and spatial works. The opening Whoopee in D and Music for a Five and Dime Store are energetic and spleen-venting. The following Revenge Before Breakfast is rather subdued and mellow in comparison with a mournful accordion serving as a sonic centerpiece.
We are missing something in hearing Brant’s spatial works on CD instead of in a concert hall. Altitude 8750, Revenge Before Breakfast, and Inside Track are all given great performances that make me wish for the live experience. I hope that someone takes it upon themselves to create surround mixes of Brant’s spatial work so his acoustic visions aren’t mashed into a simple stereo field.
Back on task. Where Revenge is moody and spatial, Inside Track is an absolute nutjob of a composition. And I mean that in the best possible way. The energy and kinetic nature of Whoopee and Dime Store merge together with expansive spatial ideas in this rather trippy piano concerto. Strings, woodwinds, and a “street band” duke it out around the soloist. Inside Track synthesizes the playful and the expansive natures of Brant’s output in an extremely attractive package. Altitude 8750, an improvised work, shares more with the sound world of Revenge than Inside Track.
Now, throw all that away and listen to the jazz works: Jazz Toccata and Jazz Clarinet Concerto are up next. These live recordings are sparkling gems. The only complaint one might have about these two pieces is the audio fidelity of the concerto’s recording. Recorded in the 80s, it sounds a bit more like a vintage recording from the 60s. Since that recording aesthetic matches the spirit of the composition, it doesn’t bother me. It might bother some. If there is something wrong with his toccata on “Wachet Auf,” I certainly can’t think of what it would be.
Brant’s compositional craft and mercurial voice ooze all over this whole disc. Brant’s voice was too big to be contained in a singular focused output. His compositions are all over the map, brimming with ideas and sprawling out over the stage and into the world.
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Music for Percussion (mostly)
Todd Hammes and his Tool and Drum Ensemble
Four Movement from Remembering, Kalimba on Marimba, 14+8: A Mood, Eh Wa Ba Wa Jo, Marimba, Pan and Tabla, Spedway Boulevard: Tucson, Four Steps, Inconsistencies, My Hunter of Dragonflies
performed by Todd Hammes and his Tool and Drum Ensemble, Norman Weinberg, Doug Smith, John Snavely, and Brian Harris. All music composed by Todd Hammes.
Todd Hammes’ percussion writing is clearly an extension of various world music traditions synthesized with a quirky and charming harmonic vocabulary. The Four Movements from Remembering
are excerpts for dancers and, while the visual element is clearly lacking on the CD, the music holds its own. Each movement has its own hypnotic groove and I’m sure many dancers would enjoy “doing their thing” to this music.
In contrast to smooth dancy music, we have the “musical temper tantrum” of 14+8: a Mood. This work sounds a lot more like the contents of Mr. Hammes’ drum studio falling on the ground in clumps. The xylophone solo over the top of the crashes is, in my opinion, a little too polite as is the virtual piano (played by Mac Intosh). Virtual instruments have come a long way, but it will take a while before they can match the overpowering smashes that a big grand piano can deliver. This is definitely a piece to hear live.
Mr. Hammes has clearly made African and Indian tabla music a part of his own style. Eh Wa Ba Wa Jo is a delightful setting of a Nigerian song that is well arranged and well performed by Mr. Hammes (on all three parts). The hypnotic Marimba, Pan, and Tabla combines the sound worlds of Indian tabla with a quasi-Gamelan-inspired tenor steel drum and a peculiar-yet-engaging harmonic rhythm.
Most of the pieces on this disc are smooth and serene. They are very pleasant to listen to and would also make for some hypnotic concert pieces. Sonically, the recordings vary from live (Four Movements) to hyperclose (Inconsistencies) to just weird (Kalimba on Marimba has a very close and fairly dry marimba sound against water splashes that sound cavernous and distant). What I like most about this disc is the synthesis of world styles. This music isn’t just the emulation of African or Indian musics but an interpretation of those musics through Mr. Hammes’ mind.
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Notes From the Kelp
Music by Alex Shapiro
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
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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