Archive for the “Jay Batzner” Category

Long Piano (Peace March 11)

Christian Wolff

Thomas Schultz, piano

New World Records

When faced with a work promoting a specific political or ideological slant it can be hard to find the line between art and propaganda.  Christian Wolff’s Long Piano (Peace March 11) definitely falls into the category of a politically-inspired work but the music itself remains austere and carefully detached from its surroundings.  Composed in 2004-2005, this hour long solo piano work is built largely of sparse gestures and thin textures.  The piece is constantly beginning anew and never fully coalesces in any one place for long.  Each fragment has its own internal life and motivations.  Thomas Schultz certainly had his work cut out for him in creating a coherent and linear performance of a work that is almost anything but.  Schultz is displaying a type of virtuosity that goes beyond pounding volumes and rapid arpeggios.

Never still enough to be ambient yet not directed enough to contain a typical emotional through line, Long Piano seems set on an eternal simmer.  It still manages to make you pay attention to it and simply hear its sound.

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September Canons

music of Ingram Marshall

performed by Todd Reynolds, Members of the Yale Philharmonia, The Berkley Gamelan, and Ingram Marshall

New World Records


September Canons for violin and electronic processing
Peaceable Kingdom for ensemble and tape
Woodstone for gamelan
The Fragility Cycles (“Gambuh”) for gambuh, synthesizer, and live electronic processing


The four works on this disc span the career of composer Ingram Marshall and provide keen insights into the organic, intuitive, and expressive sides to Marshall’s output.  September Canons, from 2002, draws its inspiration from September 11 and features floating and mournful lyricism from violinist Todd Reynolds.  The composition and performance have a timelessness about them.  Everything unfolds at a slow yet deliberate pace with a certain amount of serene detachment.

Peaceable Kingdom (1990) blends a live ensemble with various atmospheric and musical recordings with excellent results.  The audio narrative and interaction of live and recorded sounds are constantly compelling.  Inspired by travels to Yugoslavia, one key motif is a recorded funeral procession and other sounds evocative of a funeral in a small village.  I began repeated listenings of the work without knowing any programmatic details and was simply draw into the sonic world of the piece.  The mixture of ambient/natural sounds and obviously recorded music makes for interesting interplay with the live ensemble.  Many times the ensemble mixture with the recorded events was such that I wasn’t sure if they were “live or Memorex,” if you will.

Woodstone, a play on the title and theme of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata, is an engrossing work for gamelan.  The delicate and sparse opening morphs into more active and driving material that still keeps a slow yet steady pace towards its growth.  This work does not sound like Beethoven nor does it sound like traditional gamelan music.  It is pure Marshall.  Like all other works on the disc, this piece grows organically and with a sense of long-term transformations.

The last work on the disc is also the earliest (Woodstone was completed in 1981).  The Fragility Cycles (“Gambuh”) was finished in 1976 and sets the composer in a cloud of Balinese flute playing, Serge synthesizer sweeps, and live electronics.  The rich flute tones and the droning synthesizer paint a foggy and abstract aural picture.  There is a sensuousness to the sounds and a depth of timbral space that is plumbed throughout the work.  In keeping with the other compositions included with this one, The Fragility Cycles sounds as if it could last forever.  I certainly wouldn’t mind.

This reverse chronology highlights some of the core values present in the works of Ingram Marshall: longer compositions, often centered around a very limited sonic palette, but manipulated and paced with a keen and crafty ear.  The sounds put me in a very specific and contemplative mental space.  I enjoy this disc, this music, and what it does to me very much.  If you are unfamiliar with Ingram Marshall’s music, this is an excellent first step.  If you are familiar with Marshall’s compositions, you probably already own this.

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Per Nørgård 

Symphonies 3 and 7

Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Choir

Thomas Dausgaard, conductor

DaCapo Records


DaCapo has released a new recording of Per Nørgård’s Symphony #3, a masterpiece of color and structure to say the least.  The only other recording of this work that I have ever encountered (and perhaps the only other recording) is the Chandos release paired with Nørgård’s piano concerto.  The Chandos recording has served me well over the years and was a major contributor to me becoming a fan of Nørgård’s music.  This new recording, however, is sonically superior in almost every respect.  The sounds are sharper, crisper, and more detailed.

From the opening piano notes, through the glistening high-pitch descending lines, to the rich full brass and vibrant flexatone in the first three minutes, I felt like I was hearing this work for the first time again.  The sonic clarity and crispness of the performance is perfectly stunning.  The orchestra and voices perform with an infectious sense of joy and tranquility.  I can’t listen to the piece without my stomach fluttering.

There are moments in the piece that I think are best left to recording, dare I say, instead of a live performance.  This symphony is a work in which anything can and will happen.  The organ’s entrance is a moment of musical perfection, especially when you don’t know it is going to happen (sorry to spoil the surprise).  The same goes for the choir’s entrance 10 minutes into the second movement.  You didn’t know that you wanted to hear voices until they emerge.  Ulla Munch’s solo is buttery and lovely.

The disc also presents the world premiere recording of Nørgård’s Symphony #7.  This composition is an excellent pairing to Nørgård’s Symphony #3 as there are many similar sonic elements but the overall tone is much darker with more drive.  Instead of languishing in transcendant lush harmonies and colors from the symphony from the 70s, Nørgård’s most recent symphony (completed 2006) is full of agitation and motoric contraptions.  The first movement’s molto agitato looses its steam for just a moment in the middle before winding back up again.  Simple melodic paths and sprawling chords form the second movement but still placed together in a disquieted way.  The ending movement is a jagged and dance-like romp that sounds like it could serve as a contemporary Petrouchka ballet.  The same high-quality recording and performance holds true in this symphony.  You hear everything that happens and everyone is performing on their highest level.


Per Nørgård

String Quartets 7, 8, 9, 10

The Kroger Quartet

DaCapo Records

The same coloristic worlds that are explored in Nørgård’s symphonies are still at work in the more intimate genre of the string quartet and the Kroger Quartet sounds to be the perfect vessel for these four works.  Each of the quartets on this recording were written in collaboration with the Kroger Quartet and these later quartets span the early 90s to the mid 2000s (Quartet 10 is from 2005).

Quartet 7 is a very extroverted display of Nørgård’s colorful style in an approachable harmonic and gestural language.  Quartet 8, subtitled Night Descending Like Smoke, spans 5 short movements and captures moods and materials from Nørgård’s chamber opera Nuit des Hommes. The Kroger quartet nails the tense sound, terse language, and microtonality.  This quartet is my personal favorite on the disc, even though all four quartets are given rich and nuanced performances and once again display DaCapo’s knack for a transparent capturing of sound.

Quartet 9, Into the Source, tracks the notion of moving against the flow of things.  The gestures are energetic and driving throughout, even in the calmer second movement.  There is a sense of disquiet that I find foreshadows much of what I hear in the depths of Nørgård’s Symphony #7.

Quartet 10, Harvest Timeless, is the only quartet in a single movement and the long lyrical line that laces the whole movement together feels deeply personal.  This might sound strange, but I feel like this quartet is like eavesdropping.  I hear the joy and serenity from Nørgård’s Symphony #3 doing battle with the darker tone of Symphony #7 throughout this quartet.  Throughout it all, The Kroger Quartet has chameleon-like powers of color shifting and timbral transformation.  If you are into Nørgård in any capacity, neither of these discs should escape your ears.

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Vivian Houle, vocalist Treize

Treize

Drip Audio


  1. Mandrake (with Peggy Lee, cello)
  2. Molehills mumps (with Lisa miller, piano)
  3. Paperthin (with Coat Cooke, saxophone)
  4. Gratte-moi le dos (with Kenton Loewen, drums)
  5. Quiet eyes (with Ron Samworth, guitar)
  6. It’s not the moon (with Chris Gestrin, analog keyboards and live sampling)
  7. Betters and bads (with Jesse Zubot, violin)
  8. Finely tuned is my heart (with Jeremy Berkman, trombone)
  9. Au revas (with Paul Plimley, piano)
  10. A little storm (with Jeff Younger, guitar)
  11. Bells hung in a tree (with Clyde Reed, bass)
  12. Song not for you (with Brent Belke, guitar)
  13. Curve (with Stefan Smulovitz, kenaxis)

The very essence of chamber music is perfectly captured in these thirteen tracks. Viviane Houle’s duets with each of these artists is raw music making – free improvisations that transcend the ordinary and provide sonic experiences unlike anything else.  Houle’s sonic repertoire is no short of astonishing.  Half of the time I can’t tell which sounds she is making and which are being made by her instrumental counterpart.  On the same token, both performers on each track are so adept at listening to each other that the flow of events sounds totally organic and alive.  While the bulk of the tracks are showcases for Houle’s vocal fireworks she is always blending with the ensemble and creating a sonic “hyperinstrument” that is neither one nor the other.

A few of the tracks feature a more traditional melodic and sung role for the voice.  Houle, who also wrote all the texts, trends towards the smokey and hazy sounds of somber jazz or beat poetry.  Her rich sound and warm emotional expressions are further featured on one of my favorite tracks, It’s not the moon. Houle’s voice is the DNA of Chris Gestrin’s synth work creating a haunting, graceful, and eternal sounding track.

The last three tracks on the disc transition smoothly from one to the next, making an excellent journey.  Bells hung in a tree has a subdued ending that sounds like it continues as the next track fades in.  Song not for you hits me right in my Heavy Metal spot.  Houle and Belke sound like a great thrashing metal duo from somewhere in the Oort Cloud who have recently learned to sing using random Japanese phonemes (and I mean that in the best possible way).  The thrash continues while the ambient sizzle of Curve takes over.  Like It’s not the moon, Curve puts Houle’s voice in the background and she inexorably emerges from the synthetic world into an oozing and pulsating mass of delicious aural goo.

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Steve Horowitz  horowitz

Stations of the Breath

music for Disklavier and others

The Code International


  • Connecticut Nocturne, Moon over Mudge Pond
  • Like Powder to the Light
  • The Ceremony of Souls (with Dave Eggar, cello)
  • Stations of the Breath
  • The Ghost of Juniper Ledge (Ned McGowan, contrabass flute)

When I first received this disc of Steve Horowitz’s music for Disklavier, my initial assumption was that the music would be thick and heavy, taking advantage of the complexity that human performers cannot readily achieve but a Disklavier can manage quite easily.  The titles of the tracks, though, seemed in direct conflict with Nancarrow/Gann-style rhythmic shenanigans.  Much to my surprise, the music on the disc is much more meditative, expansive, and considerably less dense than I assumed.  The end result is music that defies its mechanical creation.  The moods, shapes, and gestures sound as if a human being is performing.  The only giveaway, to my ears, is the thinner and slightly tinny quality of the Disklavier’s timbre.

So what, you might ask, is the point?  Why use technology when you don’t have to?  It is a question that I’m sure will keep coming up.  The bottom line, though is that my ears don’t want to hear technology.  They want to hear music.  This disc is certainly far more concerned with making music than flexing any technological muscles.  Unplayable passages may be few and far between but effective and enjoyable music abounds.

The opening track is a glimmering nocturne that evokes its mood in gentle swaths of harmonies and gestures.  The music is filled with tonal inflections which are far from derivative harmonies but still coherent and leading.  Like Powder to the Light is a jagged and playful toccata reminiscent at times to Bartok rhythms with hints of Nancarrow’s boogie-woogie or Crawford-Seeger’s mixed accents.

The Ceremony of Souls, cowritten by cellist Dave Eggar, again draws on gestures and colors rather than straight ahead motives or melodies.  A long, solemn cello line exists in spite of the spastic and punchy piano chords.  As the piece unfolds, a relationship between the two instruments emerges.  The piano punches start to lock in with the cellist’s line and gradually the two morph into one with the cello ending up in the piano’s original hectic and wild realm.

Stations of Breath is a slow, expansive work that seems as if it could go on forever.  The harmonies and timing sound natural and fluid, as if the work was always playing somewhere and this CD represents a mere slice of the eternal.  The Ghost of Juniper Ledge is similar to  Stations of Breath in many ways.  The timeless quality is shared but the harmonic language is thinner and events are much more sparse.  The contrabass flute is not competing with or working at cross purposes with the piano, the two instruments are one.  The music simply hangs in the air.  I find these last two tracks the most compelling on the disc.  They are the least technological but musically the most affective.  The moods are straightforward, the ideas are right on the surface, and the execution is well worth experiencing.

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cd cover art

cd cover art

Hovhaness: solos, duos, and trios

music of Alan Hovhaness

OgreOgress

Paul Hersey, piano; Christina Fong, violin|viola; Libor Soukal, bassoon; Jirí­ Å estí¡k, oboe; Karen Krummel, cello; Michael Kornacki & John Varineau, clarinets; Christopher Martin, viola

  • Trio I for piano, violin & cello Op. 3 (1935)
  • Sonata Ricercare for piano Op. 12 (1935)
  • Artinis ‘Urardüan Sun God’ for piano Op. 39 (1945)
  • Suite for oboe & bassoon Op. 23 (1949)
  • Poseidon Sonata for piano Op. 191 (1957)
  • Bardo Sonata for piano Op. 192 (1959)
  • Sonatina for piano Op. 120 (1962)
  • Trio for strings Op. 201 (1962)
  • Three Haikus for piano Op. 113 (1965)
  • Night of a White Cat for clarinet & piano Op. 263 (1973)
  • Sonata for 2 bassoons Op. 266 (1973)
  • Sonata for 2 clarinets Op. 297 (1977)
  • Sonata for oboe & bassoon Op. 302 (1977)
  • Sonata for viola Op. 423 (1992)
  • The vastly prolific composer Alan Hovhaness gets captured in a time capsule of chamber music in this OgreOgress release.  This 126 minute DVD-A disc (96kHz|24bit for you audiophiles out there) contains a full fourteen chamber pieces, thirteen of which are getting premiere recordings.  The chronological ordering of works provides a journey from Hovhaness’ early populist tonal/modal style through his initial experiments with his better known Eastern influenced mystical language.  There are pieces from each decade of Hovhaness’ productivity so if you are wanting a sampler of Hovhaness’ chamber output, there really isn’t a better place to start than this recording.

    While probably better known for his symphonies, Hovhannes is equally skilled at writing his musical ideas in chamber form.  The disc is crammed full of top notch performances and the audio quality of the disc is stunning.  The solo piano works are rich with harmonics.  The string trio sounds as if they are right in front of you.  I was especially struck by the overtones in Libor Soukal’s bassoon sound in the Op. 23 Suite for oboe and bassoon.

    There is no one large, dominating work on this disc which again makes it enjoyable for hearing the evolution of Hovhannes’ style and also encouraging performers to take up more of his chamber music.  As I first listened to the disc, I was surprised at the style of the earlier pieces but the through line of Hovhaness’ development seemed as natural as breathing air.  Then, when I started over with the early piano trio, I was amazed at how much of the later music is hidden in the earlier.  Flirtations with modality in the early pieces evolve into raga-esque melodies a few decades down the road.

    Each performance on this disc is well crafted from the performer to the ensemble through to the recording.  The musical language overall is accessible and just plain pretty.  I was especially fond of the piano trio, the piano sonatina, the string trio, Night of a White Cat, and the solo viola sonata.  That is quite possibly more music than I would get on a standard CD.  The fact that I get all the other works, which I also enjoyed, is a major bonus.  OgreOgress is doing it right with good music, great performers and performances, and excellent recordings.

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    CD cover art

    CD cover art

    Interview

    Amy Horvey, trumpet

    Music by Scelsi, Arditto, Hōstman, Purchase, and Horvey/Morton

    Malasartes Musique

    • Quattro pezzi per tromba sola – Giancinto Scelsi
    • Míºsica Invisible – Cecilia Arditto
    • Interview – Anna Hōstman
    • Apparatus Inconcinnus – Ryan Purchase
    • Overture to “The Queen of the Music Boxes” featuring Jeff Morton

    This is not your typical solo trumpet disc.  Some folks might dismiss a CD made up almost entirely of solo trumpet music, but when the most straightforward thing on a disc was written by Scelsi, I get kind of excited.  Amy Horvey tackles exciting and provocative repertoire on this offering and nails all of it.

    The Quattro pezzi by Scelsi kick off the disc and highlight Ms. Horvey’s chops and musicality.  Her tone is dark and somber, her ability to connect the lengthy lyrical lines in each piece is uncanny, and the only thing that would make the performance better would be hearing her live.  These are demanding pieces and she squeezes every nuance of music from them.

    Cecilia Arditto’s Míºsica Invisible is in three movements (Sfumato, Chiaroscuro, and Anamorphosis) and uses both flugelhorn and trumpet.  Each work involves the use of extended techniques such as singing while playing, extreme pedal tone melodies, and putting the bell of the trumpet into a bowl of water.  Regardless of the techniques, which are intrinsic to the sound worlds of the pieces and not mere gimmicks, the music is haunting and meaningful.  Each gesture is given time and space to develop and mature and, at about 12 minutes, I could stand to listen to a whole lot more.

    The next two works both feature spoken passages as well as played passages.  Anna Hōstman’s Interview relates to a larger work about trumpet soloist Edna White called “Queen of the Music Boxes.” The fragments of text coax listeners into an emotional world with very little said.  The music that follows is sometimes playful, sometimes sorrowful, and Ms. Horvey communicates the text well without being too hammy or too stoic in affect.  In contrast to the fragmentary Interview, Apparatus Inconcinnus by Ryan Purchase contains more of a linear narrative about remembering how to count by Russian author Daniil Charms.  This humorous anecdote takes some serious musical terms and would be, of course, most effective in a live performance.  The story holds the music together very well.  My only quibble of this disc, if I have to have one, is that these two very similar works were programmed back to back.

    The final work,  Overture to “The Queen of the Music Boxes”, includes the electro-acoustic/circuit-bending/composer Jeff Morton working with prepared music boxes, toy instruments, and electronics.  The composition is largely about Morton’s sound world of dreamy, lo-fi mechanical music making than it is Amy Horvey’s trumpet playing.  When the trumpet melody does emerge, the dreaminess of Morton’s contraptions becomes more accompaniment  than ambient.  The whole piece projects an introspective mood and is the perfect sound world to close off the CD.

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    thelema trioThelema Trio

    Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets

    Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon

    innova records

    • 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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    Fire & BloodFire and Blood, MotorCity Triptych, Raise the Roof

    Ida Kavafian, violin

    Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Neeme Jí¤rvi, conductor

    Naxos Records

    The Detroit Symphony released three excellent performances (live recordings, to boot) of orchestral music by Michigan-based composer Michael Daugherty.  Fire and Blood for violin and orchestra was inspired by Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals and throughout the composition Daugherty adeptly integrates Latin-inspired touches into his regular boisterous musical language without sounding cliche or silly.  Ida Kavafian draws every ounce of passion and fire (and blood) out of the music and brings it into the sonic world.  Daugherty’s musical language is, on one hand, very traditional and comfortable but also includes touches and flares of more expressionistic passages that lend much to the drama and tension of his music.  Given the picturesque subject matter I hear a lot of musical connections to, of all pieces, Scheherazade.  Yes, Daugherty’s work is a full-blown violin concerto but the story lines of each movement propel the drama forward in a similar manner as in the Rimsky-Korsakov.  Maybe it is just me.

    MotorCity Tryptich is a lighter exploration of Detroit-inspired sources.  In “Motown Mondays,” Daugherty again takes a foreign (to orchestras, anyway) musical language and sets it within the orchestra with flair and panache that goes above and beyond cheesy “pops concert” fodder.  “Pedal-to-the-Metal” takes some obvious Copland references and runs wild and free with them.  “Rosa Parks Boulevard” starts with some dramatic harmonies and morphs into and out of various scenes and landscapes.  The trombone section is heavily featured in this movement and play with a rich, soulful sound.

    The timpani concerto/showpiece Raise the Roof is a perfect closer for the disc.  Brian Jones, timpani soloist, is a great force in front of the orchestra but also brings subtlety and nuance to the quieter passages.  The rapid pitch changes of the midpoint cadenza are clean, crisp, and musically done.  The roof gets sufficiently raised, in case you were worried.

    Metropolis Symphony Metropolis Symphony, Deus ex Machina

    Terrence Wilson, piano

    Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

    Naxos Records

    Now it is Nashville’s turn.  Metropolis Symphony was the first piece by Michael Daugherty that I ever heard.  Drawing from Superman mythos, Daugherty creates vibrant and energetic aural pictures of people, places, and events that are vital to the Man of Steel.  Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and Mxyzptlk all show up in almost perfect musical form.  Completed around the time of Superman’s highly publicized death in the early 90s (as opposed to the other deaths of Superman’s, but that is a different story), the piece culminates in the “Red Cape Tango” which mixes tango rhythms with the Dies irae chant.  Each movement is well crafted, expressively performed, and just fun to listen to.  The five movements function as a concerto for orchestra, with each section getting time to shine.  Nashville breathes wonderful life into this character music and is able to give the piece everything it needs to be successful.

    Deus ex Machina, for piano and orchestra, takes its inspiration from trains.  “Fast Forward” spins and whirls around with the kind of focused energy you’d expect from a train motif.  The middle movement, “Train of Tears,” is a heartful and sad exploration full of expressive and colorful piano gestures and haunting orchestral solos.  The final movement, as you might expect, is a barn burner that rides along a boogie-woogie style bass line in the piano.  This recording is another instance of a great orchestra playing well, recording it in concert, and getting it out for others to enjoy.

    I know some who poo-poo Michael Daugherty’s music as being “gimmicky.”  I disagree completely.  While Daugherty is quite a ways away from “high modernism,” he is extremely capable of writing good tunes with vivid imagery and satisfying dramatic arcs.  I get the sense that his music is a fluid extension of his creative desires.  Nothing sounds forced or strained, instead the music just goes where it needs to go.  If you think that “accessible” is a four-letter word, you probably won’t enjoy these discs.  If you want to hear traditional tone poems written for a modern audience, I can’t think of a better place to start.

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    Time CurveTime Curve

    Music by Philip Glass and William Duckworth

    Bruce Brubaker, piano

    Arabesque Recordings

    Six Etudes for Piano – Philip Glass (original 1994 version)

    The Time Curve Preludes, Book I – William Duckworth

    Bruce Brubaker has assembled strong performances of attractive solo piano music on this recording.  The Glass etudes are a kind of “Glass concentrate” to my ears: all the harmony and rhythm but few (if any) timbral changes and developments.  Mr. Brubaker plays these works with a fair amount of rubato and feeling, something that others might shun in the face of such minimalist compositions.  These recordings are much more reverberant and meditative than the recordings on Orange Mountain Music.  

    Mr. Brubaker’s work on the Duckworth preludes is similar in interpretation to the Glass.  There is more of an emphasis on ringing sound and a distance from the piano than, say, the Bruce Neely recording.  The overall affect of Mr. Brubaker’s recording is more of a watercolor smear instead of crisp Mondriaan lines.  I don’t mean that as a negative statement.  Brubaker’s sound is warm and comforting, letting me revel in the harmonic arpeggiations of each piece.  Listening to this disc, I get a better sense of what Mr. Brubaker sounds like in concert as opposed to in a studio.  I see this as a positive thing.

    I like that Bruce Brubaker is able to draw a different sound out of these same pieces.  Instead of hearing a machine play the music, you hear a person interpret the score.  Mr. Brubaker has found his own path through these pieces and I find his path quite listenable.

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