Archive for the “Steve Hicken” Category
BRí˜DSGAARD: in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. Rolf Hind, piano; Esbjerg Ensemble/Christopher Austin. Dacapo 226514. 62 minutes.
Anders Brí¸dsgaard’s in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (“we enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire”) is a cycle of seven solo piano pieces and a piano concerto written between 1990 and 1995. The pieces were composed using the composer’s own personal “system” that derives rhythmic relationships from the frequency ratios of the harmonic series.
That’s not as schematic as it might sound. Given that some of the frequency ratios at the lower end of the harmonic series are very simple (the perfect fifth is 3:2 for example) and easily translated into cross-pulses, the music itself is often effervescent and quite accessible. The more ratios used the denser and more complex the harmony.
Brí¸dsgaard operates with a great deal of flexibility, layering intervals and their associated pulses according to immediate expressive needs. The first piece in the cycle, Joker (1990), is a rhythmically alive, harmonically static machine ride. Other pieces are more contemplative, like Requiem (1992) and Hymn (1994).The concluding Piano Concerto (1994-95) includes material from each of the preceding seven pieces of the cycle, and was written, in part, as an experiment to see if the procedures could work on a larger scale, which it does in this piece.
Rolf Hind gives passionate performances of all the pieces, and the Esbjerg Ensemble, led by Christopher Austin, provides skillful and sympathetic accompaniment. Dacapo’s sound feels a little small, without the detail we’ve come to expect from digital recordings of piano music. But that shouldn’t discourage anyone otherwise interested in this colorful music.
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KERNIS: Simple Songs; Valentines; Songs of Innocents, Books 1 and 2. Susan Narucki, soprano, Donald Berman, piano; Chamber Ensemble/Aaron Jay Kernis. Koch 7667. 77 minutes.
Aaron Jay Kernis has steadily built an imposing catalogue of well-made, expressive pieces that reside well inside the compositional mainstream. He has a firm grasp on the technical and expressive possibilities that are available through essentially tonal means. He has a really good ear for instrumental and vocal color, and a keen sense of scale and form.
This disc of songs is a good introduction to Kernis’ work. The Simple Songs are scored for soprano and chamber ensemble, and they show off the composer’s orchestrational skills, as well as his rhythmic vitality. The composer leads a pick-up ensemble in this bright and engaging work.
The other two cycles on the program are for voice and piano. Kernis successful treats the voice as a vehicle for the text and as a “purely” musical partner for the piano. His text setting is clear, with the words always coming through.
That latter is also due to the fine singing of Susab Narucki. She has a fine voice and projects an understanding of the poems that brings out their relationship to the music. Donald Berman is a skilled and expressive accompanist.
The sound on this recording is very good. Every detail comes through clearly. Highly recommended, especially for fans of new vocal music.
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TANGUY: Violoncello Concertos 1, 2. Anne Gastinel, cello; Orchestre national de France/Alain Altinoglu. Naí¯ve V5078. 57 minutes.
í‰ric Tanguy’s cello concertos blend elements of the genre’s rich conventions””mulitple, contrasting movements; conflict and cooperation between soloist and orchestra; virtuosic solo writing; and passages of singing lyricism””with an up-to-date musical outlook. The materials of these pieces range from dissonant harmonies to passages of almost chorale-like tonal progressions. The solo part, which stays in the cello’s intense upper register for much of its course, is made of gestures more than themes, but they are highly expressive gestures and clearly identifiable.
Tanguy’s orchestration is fairly traditional, in that the choirs work as choirs, but there is far more brass and percussion than you normally get in string concertos. His rhythmic style is very flexible, with some passages tied to perceptible pulses and others not.
Cellist Anne Gastinal plays these pieces as if they were first nature to her (the Second Concerto was written for her.) with ravishing technique and a big, singing sound. Alain Altinoglu leads the Orchestre national de France in committed and assured performances.
Recommended for those who like contemporary Modernism and essential for cello fans.
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BURLEIGH: Spirituals and Art Songs. Karen Parks, soprano; Wayne Sanders, piano; ALIAS Chamber Ensemble. Ottimavoce. 46 minutes.
Harry T. Burleigh was a pioneering force in African-American music and in American music in general. His art songs were among the first American efforts in the genre to be widely performed by the most famous singers of his time (He lived from 1866-1949). His arrangements (for voice and piano) of traditional Negro spirituals were a significant musicological achievement as well as an important addition to the song repertoire.
Nobody Knows: Songs of Harry T. Burleigh is a representative sampling of the composer’s songs and spirituals, sung with style and expression by soprano Karen Parks in her debut recital recording. Ms Parks has a rich and creamy voice, strong intonation and diction, and a highly developed sense of drama and phrasing.
These performances communicate a clear understanding of the relationship between text and music in both the spirituals and the songs. She also illuminates the differences between the genres without erecting an artificial aesthetic wall between them.
Wayne Sanders offers solid and musical support for Ms Parks, and the ALIAS Chember Ensemble does the same in an arrangement of “Weepin’ Mary”. The recorded sound is clear and well-balanced, and David Macias’ liner notes are informative. This is a debut that reveals Karen Parks as an artist to keep an eye on.
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GERBER: Symphony 6; Variations. Electronic realizations by the composer. Ottava 07-009. 51 minutes.
Jerry Gerber’s music is written for “virtual orchestra” and is “realized” rather than performed. Gerber spends a lot of space in the program notes for this disc on the value of the technology that allows composers to hear even works for full orchestra in almost real time, as they are composed. At the end, then, this:
Nevertheless, the age-old artistic problem for composers remains: What do I want to say and what kind of music must I write? This compact disc is a consequence of trying to answer those questions one more time.
Gerber’s answer (from the evidence of this disc) is to write splashy mid-century style music of gestures and themes that remain for the most part undeveloped. The combination of his style and the technology would seem to be ideal for a certain kind of film composition.
Fortunately, for the sake of working musicians, the virtual orchestra doesn’t sound enough like a real orchestra to replace it. On the other hand, film producers looking to cut costs will be all over it.
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COATES: Symphony 15; Cantata da Requiem; Transitions. Teri Dunn, soprano; Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Michael Boder; Talisker Players; Ars Nova Nuremberg/Werner Heider. Naxos 8. 559371. 59 minutes.
Originality is no longer the coin of the realm in music composition. It’s been over forty years since Charles Wuorinen wonder how you could have a revolution when the revolution before last declared “anything goes”. However, there are still many ways a composer can produce works whose hallmark is a striking originality. Given that anything goes, one avenue towards originality is in the striking juxtaposition of disparate musical elements.
Gloria Coates is a master of this juxtaposition. In his informative notes to this recording, Kyle Gann describes the signature elements of her music:
. . . slow string glissandos. Another is wavery textures of faster glissandos, at varying rates. Another is conventionally tonal chorale writing, often quoting previous music. Another is simple, even marchlike rhythmic patterns, sometimes offset within her favorite 5/4 meter.
What makes this music so compelling is the way these simple, clearly identifiable gestures are put together. Actually, they are often forced together, and it’s the strain of the disparate elements coming together that gives Coates’ music its dark, expressive power.
A fine example of this power is the second movement of the Fifteenth Symphony (“Homage to Mozart”). A wind chorale is gradually overcome by massive, slow glissandos in the strings. Simplicity itself, but indelible nonetheless.
All of the performances on this remarkable program are top notch. Soprano Teri Dunn gives a moving reading of the soprano part in the Cantata da Requiem, a setting of texts by American and German women written during the Second World War. The instrumental ensembles all play Coates’ difficult-sounding music with apparent ease, born of commitment and understanding.
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HARTWAY: Three Myths; Imaginary Creatures; Images of Mogador; Scenes from a Marriage. Pauline Martin, piano; Pamela Schiffer, soprano; Imaginary Creatures String Quartet; Woodland Trio; Catherine Wilson/Robert Conway Piano Duo. Naxos 8.559346. 59 minutes.
James Hartway’s music is accessible, open, and directly expressive. It is extremely well written, revealing Hartway’s sure command of mid-20th century tonal vocabularies. (Some of the richest passages on the disc remind me of Samuel Barber in their harmonic flavor.)
No new aesthetic ground is broken here””you won’t hear anything you haven’t heard before, but that may or may not matter to you. What is here is very well done. The musicians clearly get the music and enjoy performing it.
For what it’s worth, my favorite piece on the program is Three Myths for solo piano. Pauline Martin gives an authoritative account of this rhythmically alive and very listenable suite. The disc as a whole is recommended for those whose taste in the new runs towards the accessible.
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VASALLO: Vivi In Infernum; Lumen et Tenebras; De civitatibus; The Vertigo Series; Never Odd or Even; The Atheist; Lamentation; Inconsolable; The 5 Stages of Grief; Falling Into You; Howling Winds; Emergence of the Kraken; The Network; unidentified track. Amy Boyer, Lisa Landis, soprano; Elizabeth Calame, Mart Low, alto; Sean Cooper, David Zelenka, tenor; Alexander Kadaruch, bass, cello; Rodrigo Cortez, Curtis Kent, Jeff Patterson, bass; Nick Vasallo, bass, organ, conductor; Ryan Rey, Jeremiah Massey, guitar; Israel Santiago, Andrew Walker, trombone; Daniel Ferrera, clarinet; Arthur Storch, conductor; Carl Stanley, trumpet; Matt Payne, synthesizers; CSUEB Percussion Ensemble; Lawrence Granger, cello; Irene Gregorio, I-Wen Wang, Dominic Serrano, piano; Tommy Folen, David Lockhart, double bass; CSUEB Trombone Ensemble. Ars Nova 105. 49 minutes
Nick Vasallo is a doctoral student. These pieces were written when he was an undergraduate and as a master’s student. They are competent and accessible. No pretension, except in The Vertigo Series, which sounds like the Blood, Sweat & Tears cover of “Sympathy for the Devil”.
Nothing objectionable here. Vasallo stays within whatever style he picks for a given piece, and he adept at a wide range of styles, indeed. No individual voice is detectable here, but that may come. Good, clean performances.
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ROTHKAMM: LAX. Flux Records. 41 minutes.
Frank Rothkamm describes his LAX as “a cinema vérité of contrasting soundtracks: 10 scenes map the gradual collective re-wiring of reality to that of high-parallelism during the 2 years before the year 00 in the megacity of Los Angeles”. It reminds me of some of the great musique concrete pieces of the 1960s and 70s, and that’s a very good thing. I really like the sounds Rothkamm builds using material “recorded in its entirety in Los Angeles with vintage equipment – including, but not limited to, a Hewlett-Packard first-generation model sine wave oscillator, and classic Atari and Macintosh home computers, both of which were custom programmed”.
Here we have filter sweeps, amplitude modulations, bell-tones built from sine waves, the whole analog trip. I really don’t know what else to say besides this: If you dig Hymnen, you’ll dig LAX.
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LeBARON: Pope Joan; Transfiguration. Kristin Norderval, Lucy Shelton, soprano; Dorothy Stone, flutes; Camilla Hoitenga, flute; Keve Wilson, oboes; Jim Sullivan, clarinets; Lorna Eder, piano; Eric km Clark, violin; Andrew McIntosh, viola; Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, cello; June Han, harp; Nicholas Terry, William Trigg, percussion; Mark Menzies, Rand Steiger, conductor. New World 80663. 70 minutes.
Anne LeBaron writes ritualistic music of excitement and power. LeBaron uses techniques from a dazzling array of styles and periods to craft pieces that hang together as expressive wholes. Pope Joan and Transfiguration are both settings of texts that deal with secret or alternative histories, in which the world is either very different from the world we think we are in (Pope Joan) or a world that has turned out differently (Transfigurations).
LeBaron brings her considerable talent and imagination to bear in these pieces, producing works of deep political commitment that are not swallowed up by the politics. LeBaron’s voice is a distinctively late 20th century American one, embracing the European and American avant-garde traditions and American pop gestures with equal effect.
The performances here are assured and expressive. Everyone involved is on the composer’s wave-length and make the stylistic changes seamlessly. The sound is very good and the notes, especially an essay by musicologist Judy Lochhead, are excellent. Highly recommended.
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