Archive for the “Piano” Category
Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, minimalism, Piano, tags: CD Review, Charlemagne Palestine, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Piano, strings, Sub Rosa
(piano, harpsichord, and string ensemble versions)
Upon first cracking open this 3-CD collection of Strumming by Charlemagne Palestine, I saw the brief newspaper article by John Rockwell who tells the tale of a Palestine performance cut short because the composer was playing a Steinway and not a Bösendorfer (“cut short” is relative since the piece lasted 2.5 hours instead of 4). The article presents the situation as an acute case of “diva-itis” but when I heard the original version of Strumming (even listed as “for Bösendorfer piano”) and heard the massive clouds of overtones and sympathetic vibrations, I could see why Palestine would not be pleased with a Steinway instrument. So much of the piano version of Strumming doesn’t happen at the keyboard but in the air around it. The incessant keyboard hammerings melts into waves of sound much like dots in a Seurat painting. Around the 17 minute mark of this 52 minute performance from 1974 my brain couldn’t hear the keyboard anymore – just the spectra of the harmonies pushing against each other. The cresting wave around 30 minutes is an absolutely transcendent ride as is the surrender to the “power chords” 7 minutes later. I trust Charlemagne Palestine to deliver what he wants me to hear and this recording is one you can trust. As much as I would love to hear a more recent, higher-resolution, and longer version of the work, I think it is hard to call this performance anything other than definitive. It makes the 12 minute version of Strumming on the Godbear album feel like a 5 Second Film.
In addition to Palestine performing on Bösendorfer, the Sub Rosa collection has two other versions: one for harpsichord performed by Betsy Freeman in 1977 and one for a string ensemble organized at the SF Conservatory by John Adams in that same year. The harpsichord version weighs in at 35 minutes and is probably the closest to providing an actual “strum” aesthetic although without the pronounced melting of sustained sonic spectra. Freeman’s technique and treatment of the material is compelling and well paced. Some folks might approach a harpsichord version of Strumming with extreme distaste but there is no reason to avoid this wonderful performance.
I found the string ensemble version (about 25 minutes long) to be surprisingly sustained whereas the keyboards furiously chug away. There is nary a tremolo to be heard nor any other picturesque technical tricks that one would expect from string ensemble writing. The harmonic journey is laid bare and exposed in a frail and naked manner. It is this string version that I really hope gets taken up and revisited in a longer and higher quality recording (at least one without coughing). As a minor quibble, I’m not sure why this is sold as a 3 disc set since the harpsichord and string versions could comfortably fit on a single disc. True, there are few of us who will spin all versions back-to-back-to-back, but I always bristle when I have a disc with so much dead space by a composer known for extended compositions.
While these recordings are supposedly of the same piece of music, each of these versions contains a different element of “truth” to them. Each stands squarely on its own as a performance of a hypnotic and unique compositional voice instead of sounding as mere arrangements of the original piano version. These three recordings are interconnected the same way that good film/book pairings (2001, Blade Runner) contain the core of the work while still showcasing different distinct artistic visions.
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IVES: Songs. Various Artists. Volume 1: “123” through “Cradle Song”. Naxos 8.559269. 75 minutes. Volume 2: “December” through “Gruss”. Naxos 8.559270. 68 minutes. Volume 3: “Harpalus” through “Luck and Work”. Naxos 8.559271. 76 minutes. Volume 4: “Majority” through “Over the Treetops”. Naxos 8.559272. 73 minutes. Volume 5: “Paracelsus” through “Swimmers”. Naxos 8.559273. 80 minutes. Volume 6: “Tarrant Moss” through “Yellow Leaves”. Naxos 8.559274. 66 minutes.
Charles Ives completed nearly 200 songs between 1887 and 1926, spanning the entirety of his composing life. All of his aesthetic, musical, poetic, philosophical, and political concerns are addressed, one way or another, in one style or another. All of the completed songs are included in Naxos’ six volumes, which are organized according to song titles, in alphabetical order. This arrangement seems extremely counter-intuitive, but it turns out to be really inspired, as it allows a listener to get a picture of the range of Ives’ work in the form, without having to purchase the entire set.
Like every collection of this size and this variety, every listener will have favorites and every listener will find revelations. Many of the songs are well-known, such as “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” (Volume 2, David Pittsinger, bass, and Douglas Dickson, piano), “Majority” (Volume 4, Robert Gardner, baritone, and Eric Trudel, piano), “The Cage” (Volume 1, Gardner and J. J. Penna, piano) and “The Greatest Man” (Michael Cavalieri, baritone, and Dickson).
An example of a revelation is “Ich Grolle Nacht” (Volume 3, Gardner and Penna). This is an early (1898) song on a text by Heinrich Heine. This song and others from the same time frame show a fully mature composer with a solid grasp on the late Romantic style of the day. The touching lyricism that characterizes this song emerges throughout Ives’ career, as in the deconstruction of the hymn “At the River” (Volume 1, Sara Jakubiak, soprano, and Dickson).
Ives’ stentorian mode comes into play in such political/patriotic songs as “Lincoln, the Great Commoner” (Volume 3, Gardner and Trudel) and “Walt Whitman” (Volume 6, Ryan MacPherson, tenor, and Trudel), which are also portraits of their subjects in the manner of the composer’s “Concord” Sonata. Patriotic fervor also brings out Ives at his most gloriously impractical, as in the 42-second song for voice and three pianos “Vote for Names! Names! Names!” (Volume 6, MacPherson and pianists Laura Garritson, Dickson, and Trudel).
Every disc is replete with the special pleasures of Ives’ art. Hymn-tunes, patriotic songs, and chaos abound. Anyone wishing to stick a toe in this repertoire would do well to get any one of the volumes.
The performances throughout the collection, featuring about two dozen singers, a number of pianists and assorted instrumentalists, are ardent, committed, and expressive, if not quite as polished as those of Susan Narucki and Donald Berman. Naxos’ production is solid, and Richard Whitehouse’s notes are well-written and richly informative.
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IVES: Sonatas 1 and 2 (“Concord”). Jeremy Denk, piano; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute. Think Denk Media 2567. 74 minutes.
Charles Ives (1874-1954) was the first composer whose music gave a comprehensive sound-picture of life in America. This musical picture is of America during a certain time and in a particular place. This America was the New England of Ives’ youth, and later the New York of his adulthood. The music moves back and forth between overwhelming complexity and childlike simplicity, between grinding, aggressive dissonance and clear, hymnal-like harmony, and between tunes we’ve known all our lives and alien other-worldly abstraction, often with whiplash-inducing speed. It is probably inevitable that this musical embodiment of a diverse, almost contradictory nation is based on such striking dualities.
The most important of the dualities embodied in Ives’ music, though, is that of interior/ideational and exterior/experiential expression. (You could argue that all art is based on this dichotomy, but it is radically at the center of Ives’ aesthetic.) That is, Ives takes his memories and experiences and abstracts them into musical structures, while at the same time he often puts the external experience on the surface of the music in the form of quotations.
In Ives’ music for orchestra and for string quartet, this internal/external dichotomy is a function of community, where the layers of music can be heard as a picture of an event projected through the prism of artistic remembrance. Whether “Columbia, The Gem of the Ocean” or “Turkey in the Straw” is heard in the foreground is a matter of perspective when they occur simultaneously in the musical texture.
In a piece for solo piano, it’s different. All of the various strands of music come from the same place, from the same fingers. The expressive tension that results from the external/internal dichotomy in Ives’ music is magnified exponentially. His two piano sonatas are monumental essays on American thought and experience.
Pianist Jeremy Denk is known in the musical blogosphere for his imaginative and informative writing. Reviews of his performances cite a powerful combination of intelligence and imagination in his playing. Given this, it’s not surprising that Denk chose for his debut recording Ives’ two piano sonatas. Throughout both of these pieces, Denk handles the shifts in mood and style, and the contrapuntal complexities of this music with apparent ease.
The First Sonata is a sprawling arch in five movements. Denk projects Ives’ architecture without sacrificing the often playful expressive elements, such as the raucous quotation of “Bringin’ in the Sheaves” near the end of the second movement. Denk’s performance makes a very strong case for this often-neglected work.
The First Sonata is neglected only because the Second Sonata (“Concord, Mass., 1840-1860”) is one of the most influential piano works of the 20th century, as well as one of the touchstones of American concert music. The Concord Sonata is one of Ives’ most difficult works, both in execution (which you would never know from Denk’s performance) and in musical substance, but since that difficulty is part and parcel of what the piece is about, it is immediately approachable as well.
The Concord Sonata’s four movements are character sketches of figures associated with American Transcendentalism—Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts, and Thoreau. The subject matter is a natural field for Ives’ one-foot-in-the-world-the-other-in-the-stars approach to music. It is clearly natural to Denk as well—this is the best, most convincing account of this work I have ever heard. His technique seems to know no bounds and his ability to shift gears without warning is a tremendous asset here. The violence in passages in both the Emerson and Hawthorne movements is more than matched by the tenderness is the lyrical episodes of “The Alcotts”.
Not surprisingly, Denk’s notes are a lively read, offering clues to what we will hear in the recording, and the sound is excellent. Denk is an extraordinary musician and a fine thinker. I have a list of pieces in my head that would love to hear him take on, but I think I’ll keep it to myself and just see where he goes next.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, Piano, tags: Canada, CD Review, cello, chamber music, Jay Batzner, Montreal, Piano, piano trio, strings, violin
5 x 3
- Ana Sokolovic – Portrait parle
- Paul Frehner – Quarks Tropes
- Jean Lesage – Le projet Mozart, où l’auteur s’interroge sur la complexité du style et le métissage des genres
- Analia Llugdar – Tricycle
- Chris Paul Harman – Piano Trio
Julie-Anne Derome, violin; Gabriel Prynn, violoncello; Anna D’Errico, piano
Trio Fibonacci is quite a group. I first heard them on their recording of Jonathan Harvey works a few years back and I am astounded at their ability to program and perform Old Warhorses alongside cutting-edge contemporary music. This recent release, 5 x 3, plays to the trio’s strengths in technique and interpretation providing an end result of excellent music making. All of the composers represented have some connection to the Montreal new music scene but beyond that, the five compositions provide unique experiences. Ana Sokolovic’s Portrait parle, inspired by 19th century French phrenology practices, is reminiscent of the sparkling colors and shifting hazes found in Jonathan Harvey. The trio is made of many small vignettes which are woven together in a compelling and kaleidoscopic narrative. Paul Frehner’s Quarks Tropes is about as different as it could be: long, stoic melodic lines and dark harmonic tones in the first movement and aggressive energies in the second. The more conservative harmonic language is still fresh and inviting as both movements traverse satisfying emotional arcs.
Le projet Mozart, où l’auteur s’interroge sur la complexité du style et le métissage des genres (The Mozart Project, where the author questions himself on the complexity of styles and mixing of genres), other than winning long title competitions, shines a wondrous magnifying lens on the music of Mozart and watches it melt and subsequently catch fire. Jean Lesage treats the Mozart as an elusive figure, slipping in and out of recognizability with remarkable skill. The music could, and does, go anywhere at any time. Analia Llugdar’s Tricycle brings back the coloristic sound world of the Sokolovic trio but with an emphasis on pointalistic moments and slowly developing shapes. Energies ebb and flow throughout the piece but the overall vibe projected is one of almost serene detachment.
The final composition on this disc is Chris Paul Harman’s Piano Trio, set in six brief movements. This composition gives Trio Fibonacci yet another chance to shine since it contains some of the most intricate and quickly orchestrated material on the entire disc. Trio Fibonacci is adept at sounding as a singular unit as well as three separate virtuosi but this Piano Trio gives Trio Fibonacci the presence of 9 people. The overall rough and rugged language (pitch and rhythm) is a great contrast to the delicate works which proceeded it and its closing position on the disc is a good choice. The silky smooth and poignant ending in movements 5 and 6 (attaca) is a surprise (which I’ve ruined for you now but it is still worth hearing).
In general, there is hardly anything left that you should want from this disc. The excellent music, fabulous performances, and great programming have kept this disc in my regular rotation for quite some time.
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Diatribe Records CD
Born in Ireland and now based in New York, pianist Isabelle O’Connell has been an energetic advocate for living composers on both sides of the Atlantic. She also plays some mean Messiaen.
Her new CD Reservoir features works from the past two and a half decades by nine Irish composers. The results are not merely a dogmatic presentation of a particular national “school of composition.” On the contrary, O’Connell’s clearly quite willing to program a stylistically eclectic recital. And the Emerald Isle has a richly wide-ranging and imaginative group of composers from which to choose. But here, among their influences, many of the pieces evince a strong strain of minimalism.
The title track by Donnacha Dennehy, is a standout; its inexorable ostinati piling up into a cascades of brilliantly colored walls of sound. BIG, by Ian Wilson, also favors muscular swaths of repetition; but these are counterweighted with contrasting sections that echo the deft colorings of a Debussy Prelude. Jane O’Leary’s Forgotten Worlds explores a more ambient kind of minimalism, with a healthy dose of Far Eastern inflections.
Speaking of preludes, another of the disc’s highlights is the first of John Buckley’s Three Preludes. The Cloths of Heaven (inspired by the famous Yeats poem), inhabits a beautifully crafted Francophilic palette from later in the 20th century, recalling one of O’Connell’s favorites: the aforementioned Oliver Messiaen.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Walshe’s becher is built around snippet-length quotations (not sympathetic gestures) by everyone under the sun: Beethoven, the Doors, Bach, Debussy, etc. It’s a fun idea for a classically inspired mashup. With Along the Flaggy Shore by Philip Martin, O’Connell closes out the disc with an almost equally digressive, but far more demanding piece. It calls upon her to play crashing dissonant clusters, rapid-fire repeated notes and arpeggios, and contrasting passages of pensive delicacy.
Throughout this varied program, O’Connell plays with impressive power, clarity, and commitment.
O’Connell will be performing Donnacha’s Reservoir again at her next NY solo show on Nov. 4th at the Music at First series in Brooklyn.
The rest of the program will be music by American composers: John Luther Adams, Bunita Marcus, and James Mobberley.
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The Exploding Piano
Major Who Media
Kathleen Supové’s latest recording The Exploding Piano, is a collection of works by Randall Woolf, Missy Mazzoli, Anna Clyne, Michael Gatonska, and Dan Becker. While, thankfully, nothing blows up, the piano is subjected to a wide range of preparations, alterations, and dramatic exertions.
Supové is a dynamic performer, willing to try new and different things. Some of the pieces, like Mazzoli’s “Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos” and Becker’s “Revolution,” mix samplers and synths into the pianistic equation. Woolf’s “Sutra Sutra,” combines jazzy inflections and spoken word components, skirting the edges of performance art and playing to the pianist’s charismatic onstage strengths. Clyne’s “On Track” instead focuses on inside the piano plucks and punctilious semitone clusters. For Gatonska’s “A Shaking of the Pumpkin,” the performer prepares the piano by placing a bass drum under the lid.
While this is a piano recital where the piano doesn’t necessarily often sound like a piano, The Exploding Piano is an intriguing display of fascinating sound worlds. Supové deserves kudos for fearlessly exploring the depths of these disparate works.
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CRUMB: Eleven Echoes of Autumn, 1965 (Echoes I); The Sleeper; Vox Balaenae; Five Pieces for Piano; Dream Sequence. Jamie Van Eyck, ms; International Contemporary Ensemble. Bridge 9261. 72 minutes.
This release of some of George Crumb’s early (mostly) mature works is Volume 12 of Bridge’s Complete Crumb Edition. Most Sequenza21 readers are undoubtedly familiar with Crumb’s style, which combines an expanded tonality sensibility, an extraordinarily sensitive ear for color (often expressed in a plethora of special instrumental effects), and a keen feeling for ritual to make directly expressive musical statements.
The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), joined by the talented mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck for The Sleeper, turn in outstanding performances. When Crumb doesn’t work for me, it tends to be because the performance falls into being a kind of catalog of special effects, but there’s no hint of that here. The effects are seamlessly integrated into the musical flow.
The big pieces here are Eleven Echoes of Autumn, 1965 (Echoes I) (1966), Vox Balaenae (1971), and Dream Sequence (Images II), (1976). All of the characteristics of Crumb’s mature style listed above are in full flower in these works. Of special interest to me is the spectacularly assured reading given Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale, for amplified flute, amplified cello, and amplified piano), one of the composer’s signature pieces. The ICEers (Claire Chase, flute, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello, and Jacob Greenberg, piano) play this moving (and difficult) score as if they were born to it.
Bridge’s Crumb series continues to be an important tribute to an iconic American composer.
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Visions de l’Amen
Marilyn Nonken, Piano I
Sarah Rothenberg, Piano II
In the spring of 1943, in the midst of the German occupation of Paris, Olivier Messiaen, assisted by his teenaged student Yvonne Loriod, presented a most unusual duo-piano recital. The times being what they were, there were undoubtedly a few Vichy collaborationists in the audience, taking down notes, alert to detect any evidence of sedition or rebellion (which might have been expected of one who had been conscripted in the Army of the Republic and spent some time in a POW camp following the downfall of France). If so, they were disappointed. For Messiaen’s music, as heard in Visions de l’Amen, already existed on a supernal plane that was totally alien to the fascist mind that can only believe in the realities it can compel other people to accept. And Messiaen was that rarest of creatures, one who would continually seek the spiritual truth and transcendant beauty in the dogmas of the Catholic faith.
Concerning “dogma”, which refers to any religious doctrine or belief that is not open to disputation (a notion that leaves a bad odor for many people), it needs to be said that Messiaen continually sought the mystical reality behind those dogmas. Without the existence of that reality, to someone like Messiaen, dogma is meaningless because it would then just boil down to the statement: “You must believe this because those of us who know what is good for you, say so.” Messiaen sought, and found, the spiritual realities he craved in his faith, and it informed his music almost from his eartliest beginnings as a composer.
One other thing you need to know about Messiaen is that he heard the most basic elements of music – such as color, harmony, rhythm, pitch, and time – in a markedly different way than the great majority of us do. With the assistance of Yvonne Loriod, his artistic collaborator, inspiration, and his eventually his wife, he explored new and breathtaking avenues in all these respects over a course of fifty years, until his death in 1992. Of Loriod, who herself died just recently on 17 May, 2010, he paid the highest tribute to her formidable piano technique: “I am able to allow myself the greatest eccentricities because to her anything is possible.”
On the present Bridge recording, Sarah Rothenberg, distinguished American pianist who studied Messiaen’s music in Paris with Loriod, and Marilyn Nonken, who has already established a reputation as a champion of modern music, give an enthusiastic and supernally skilled interpretation of what is certainly one of the greatest works of the modern era. There are seven movements in Visions de l’Amen, and they reflect aspects of the eternal Amen (“So Be It”) like facets of light show its component colors. They are: 1) Amen of Creation, 2) Amen of the Stars, the Planets, and the Rings of Saturn, 3) Amen of the Agony of Jesus, 4) Amen of Desire, 5) Amen of the Angels, the Saints, and Bird Songs, 6) Amen of Judgement, and 7) Amen of the Consummation. Unity is provided by the “Theme of the Creation, heard first in (1) and at various key points throughout the score, emphasizing the overall purpose and design of “L’Amen” itself. “Desire” in (4) refers to spiritual striving, expressed in themes representing deep tenderness and infinite patience, and “a paroxysm of thirst” (Messiaen), in the sense that the angel called the prophet Daniel “man of desire.“ The bird songs in (5) reflect Messiaen’s abiding interest in nature’s singers – here the Thrush, Chaffinch, and Blackcap – as voicing the purest praise to the Amen of Creation. As ornithologist and musician, he heard their songs with an unusual degree of sensitivity and incorporated them in his music to the end of his life.
The physical demands of Messiaen’s music must surely have required Rothenberg and Nonken to posses something of the technical skills and keen sensitivity to each other’s performance of a present-day Messian and Loriod. The composer’s pulsations, polyrhythms, and sudden changes of register, brilliant, scintillating rhythms and colors, culminate in the final movement as coruscating facets of light like “the whole rainbow of precious stones mentioned in the Apocalypse, sounding, jarring, dancing, coloring and perfuming the light of life” (Messiaen). (“Perfuming?” You’ve got me there, pal! But then, a mystic would understand these things.) Captured in beautiful, glorious-sounding detail by producer Judith Sherman and engineer Andrew Bradley, this has to be one of the very finest recordings of 2010. To those who might think it short measure at 48:53, I would say in closing that (a) what would you possibly program with Visions de l’Amen as a filler? And (b) you will probably want to audition this incredible music again once you’ve heard it, so that 49 minutes will soon become 98, then 147, and so on (Amen).
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Piano Works (revisited)
I was surprised when the two-disc collection of piano music (composed and performed) by Elodie Lauten had me entranced from the opening of the first track: Cat Counterpoint. I approached this particular track with a fair amount of apprehension. I’ve simply been around too many instances of composers using their pet’s meanderings on music instruments as source material. Any hesitation I felt towards the track melted away within seconds. Instead of Lolcats, the room filled with driving and energetic punctuations. You can’t judge a track by its title.
The collected Piano Works from 1983 take the lead on the first disc: Cat Counterpoint, Revelation, Adamantine Sonata, Alien Heart, and Imaginary Husband make for excellent character pieces as well as a cycle of works. There is a foundation in minimalism present, as one would expect from an icon of the Downtown scene. Lauten’s minimalist language is one full of play and punk, separating it from the austere minimalism found safely inside textbooks. The underlying simplicity lends to a strong sense of flow over process. Each piece creates a moment that rarely extends beyond itself nor do they need to extend. These 1983 pieces were constructed with an ear and not a slide rule. I find Adamantine Sonata particularly charming.
The inclusion of ambient sound and supporting electronics is frequent in the 1983 works and the technique is put in overdrive for Lauten’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory. This 1984 set uses a quilt of disconnected instrumental and electronic textures to create eight signature moments. Each of these segments is strongly focused around a shape, texture, or groove and throughout the segment’s lifespan the idea simply is. There is a zen element in this concerto, each track is totally of the moment. Some listeners may want more of a sense of trajectory and dramatic shape but I am not among them. These moments are what they are and as such they are fascinating. The spacious Orchestral Memory and the cheeky Tempo di Habanera form polar opposites of affect and, for that very reason, appeal to me the most. Disc one closes with a fairly straight-ahead Tango with a mournful and husky vocal line.
If you are looking for a deep end off which to go, then disc two will be happy to serve you. Instead of many short tracks, disc two provides two beefy works: Variations on the Orange Cycle and Sonate Modale. Any criticisms laid out about disc one’s lack of trajectory can be laid to rest in Orange Cycle. Within the opening seconds I knew I was going to be here for a while, letting the hypnotic and resonant sounds wash over me, La Monte Young-style. After about seventeen minutes, Lauten does the most amazing thing. The low drone, the foundation of the very work, goes away. The listener drifts and floats, untethered for some time, and when the low voice returns it is not the same static firmament we had left behind us. Where I expected the drone to reassert itself, it never finds full strength again. The piece closes on that drone pitch but with uncertainty, timidity, and quiet. The world of the piece has changed and Lauten did not take the easy way out. Variations on the Orange Cycle is worth every second.
Sonate Modale, in this live recording from Toronto in 1985, is a rather intimate experience. I felt as though I was a fly on the wall while Lauten created all the 1983 pieces and the Concerto. The ambient electronic environments are cut from the same cloth as the earlier pieces and the live piano meanders through gestures and stream-of-consciousness improvisations. Dramatically, the piece works well as a whole, as if Lauten decided to stich together the quilt of the Concerto.
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PACCIONE: Rhapsody; Stations–To Morton Feldman; Inscape: Three Choral Settings from Gerard Manley Hopkins; A Page for Will; Three Motets: Arabesques; Five Songs from Christina Rossetti; “Postlude,” from Planxty Cage. Molly Paccione, cl; Jenny Perron, p; Michael Campbell, p; Western Illinois University Singers/James Stegall; Nurit Tilles, p; Terry Chasteen, tenor; Moisés Molina, vcl; Andrea Molina, p. New World 80706-2. 57 minues.
[DISCLAIMER: I’ve known Paul Paccione and his music for many, many years. The following may be read with this in mind.]
Paul Paccione’s music has always been concerned with the manipulation of musical space/time. That is, Paccione reconceives musical geometry (x=time, y-space) as a canvas on which musical objects are placed, like figures or brushstrokes in an abstract painting or drawing. These objects—chords and/or melodic gestures—retain their identity through repetition rather than development. Structure is projected through placement of objects at different coordinates on the musical canvas.
The result is a musical abstract expressionism that has developed over the years in surprising and gratifying ways. I first learned of Paccione and his music in the late ‘70s, when he was coming into his own as a disciple of Morton Feldman. His music at that time was quiet and sparse, with subtle melodic threads. His sense of color was (and is) so keen that a performance of his music gave a feeling of voluptuous austerity. In early pieces like Stations–To Morton Feldman (1987) the music is extremely spare—splashes of color on a blank temporal field, with a great deal of expressive silence.
In more recent years Paccione has embraced tonality, but his music still sounds like him. The Rhapsody for clarinet and piano (2005) is a good example. A lean piano part limns out a slow, non-dramatic chord progression in triplet eighth-note arpeggios while the clarinet plays lyrical melodic lines mostly above it. It’s as if the gentle triplets in the piano have replaced the blank canvas as a surface to be painted on.
The vocal or choral music Paccione composed early in his career was either wordless or was a setting of a short text that moved so slowly it may as well have been textless. In the pieces offered here, Inscape: Three Choral Settings from Gerard Manley Hopkins (2007) and Five Songs from Christina Rossetti (2003), the non-dramatic but lyrical presentation of the texts serves as a vehicle for the composer’s characteristic tone explorations.
My favorite piece on this recording is the Three Motets: Arabesques (1999), for four prerecorded clarinets. These motets are simple—contrapuntal in the extreme, they are made of short, tonally-enigmatic melodic gestures that are imitated by subsequent instrumental entrances. The result is a haunting, subtly and constantly changing soundscape.
The performances and recording here are of the highest quality. Paccione teaches at Western Illinois University, and most of the performers are his colleagues there. Several pieces were written for clarinetist Molly Paccione, the composer’s wife, and her readings show deep understanding of the music.
Not unlike Elliott Carter’s “time screen” in concept, but very different in practice.
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