Archive for the “Women Composers” Category
Songs by American Composers
Lisa Delan, soprano
Kristin Pankonin, piano
Assisted by Susanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano; Matt Haimovitz, cello
This recital by the wonderful American soprano Lisa Delan created pleasant peril for me, and I don’t mind admitting it. Lord, but there’s so much diversity here! These seventeen songs by six composers – William Bolcom, Gordon Getty, Jake Heggie, David Garner, John Corigliano, and Luna Pearl Woolf – range from cabaret and blues to genuine art song and modern folk-inspired. The lyrics cover the whole poetic spectrum: poignant, piquant, witty, profound, wickedly satirical, sad, and sensuous, with even a bit of pathos here and there. It’s as if I’d been admiring the artistry of one of those jugglers who can balance a rubber ball, a basketball, a bowling ball, and a pineapple all at the same time, and was requested by the artist: “Here, won’t you please keep these going for a while so I can take a break?”
Nor were my brother wizards in the upper stratosphere any help at all. A diligent search of the “˜net failed to reveal any previous reviews from which I could crib. It could be I’m the first reviewer with the temerity to tackle this musical landmine in the shape of a compact disc. That’s a scary thought!
So, where to begin? Where, I ask you? Could it be Bolcom’s delightfully impudent Cabaret Songs to lyrics by Arnold Weinstein, Amor, Close the Curtain, Waitin’ and Toothbrush Time? Impossible in just a few words to describe the impish quality Delan imparts to the flirt who inspires just one response from everyone she encounters, from the ice cream man to an all-male jury: “Amor!” Or the light twist given a contemporary wail of morning-after alienation in “It’s toothbrush time, / ten a.m. again and toothbrush time. / Last night at half-past nine it seemed O.K. / But in the light of day not so fine at toothbrush time.” Gordon Getty’s settings of three of his own poems, ranging from the delicate tracery of Where is My Lady, (“In footfall and starfall again and again, / beauty and grace she is, beauty and grace / Hang in the air like chimes when she goes by”) to the rousing, stamping high spirits of Tune the Fiddle and the poignant sense of pristine beauty lost in The Ballad of Poor Peter, bring forth an impressive range of interpretive responses from Delan, in collaboration with the sensitive accompaniment of pianist Kristin Pankonin. “Upon a day, along a way, / I met a child. / She said, “˜Come find me if you can: / you lost me when the world began.’ / I asked her meaning but she ran / into the wild.”
Jake Heggie, like Getty a native San Franciscan, finds inspiration in the traditional, represented by his setting of Sir Philip Sydney’s Elizabethan lyric My True Love Hath My Heart and arrangements of three American folk songs, Barb’ry Allen, He’s Gone Away, and The Leather-winged Bat. The first three are moving and dignified in their expression of deep-running emotion, as befits tradition. The last is a purely delightful romp that gives Delan the chance to characterize the four avian voices in the poem with some shrewdly funny accents: “‘Hi,’ said the woodpecker sittin’ on a fence, / “˜Once I courted a handsome wench, / She got sassy and from me fled, / And ever since my head’s been red.’” Garner’s Annettes-Lieder are modern art song settings, sung in the original German, of three poems by the remarkable poetess Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848): Im Grasse (In the Meadow), Am Turm (On the Tower), and Der Weiher (The Weir), the last-named filled with the atmosphere of her beloved moorlands in Westphalia. What a remarkable figure Annette must have seemed to her contemporaries: her poems are vigorously romantic, stern, and completely unsentimental. They cry out for the spirit of wild adventure then enjoyed solely by men, and were not what her era expected of a woman, even an aristocrat. With the aid of Pankonin and Matt Haimovitz, whose cello lends eloquent support here, Ms. Delan reaches sublime heights in such verses as “When in my breast the dead come to life, / Each corpse wakens and stretches; / Lightly, so lightly drawing breath, / And the eyelids lightly flutter, / Loves past, times past, joys past. / All these treasures mingled in the rubble, / Brush against each other: timid sounds, / Like the tinkling of chimes in the wind.”
The “wickedly satirical” element I mentioned earlier is found in Corigliano’s Two Cabaret Songs, to poems by Mark Adamo. Dodecaphonia, for which Corigliano originally flirted with the title “They call Me Twelve-tone Rose,” evokes police suspect descriptions a la film noir. It’s spiced with choice lyrics like “She lured the likes of Bernstein, even / Copland to her camp, / that vaguely ethereal, always funereal, / post-Wagnerian vamp” and “she’ll lead you to inversion / and you’ll fall for ev’ry pitch, / “Cause she’ll never use the same pitch twice.” Originally premiered by the incomparable Joan Morris, Dodecaphonia sounds just as great when Lisa Delan does her own take on it. Marvelous Invention satirizes the tendency for even great music to descend to mere wallpaper when pressed into a handbag full of compact discs: “So play me Sondheim or Takemitsu when / it’s time to walk my Shih-Tzu.” Finally, Woolf’s Odas de Toto el Mundo (Odes for Everyone), for which Haimovitz again adds the dark color of his cello, captures the flavorful Latin dance rhythms, the insouciance, the melancholy, and the exotic metaphors of the poem by the great Chilean author Pablo Neruda. Delan, who commissioned this piece, revels in such exotic imagery as “I sell / jungle odes / that run on puma feet: / they must be handled with care, behind bars, / they come / from age-old forests, / they are hungry.” What better way to conclude so thoroughly enjoyable and provocative a recital than the poem’s final stanza: “See you soon / when all things / become song”?
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String Quartet No. 1
Designs for Violin, Piano
Ursula Mamlok was born in Berlin in 1923, left Germany to escape the Nazis in 1939, and has resided once again in the city of her birth since 2006. In between, she spent her seminal years in the United States, absorbing the influences of her teachers (including Vittorio Giannini, Roger Sessions, Stefan Wolpe, and Ralph Shapey). She probably represents the purest example of a “modernism” of any composer whom I’ve reviewed lately. Since that fact is not calculated to endear her music to me, I feel a particular obligation to be fair and objective in the present review.
One immediately noticeable quality of Mamlok’s music is her terseness of expression. As a result of it, we have here on this compact disc seven major works by the composer, without straining the time limit of the medium. Another is her constant rhythmic, textural and registral variations and her manipulations in pitch, traits that keep the listener off-balance as she constantly seeks new combinations of elements. Finally, there is a nascent lyricism in her writing that is usually kept submerged under her other preoccupations. On this program, it finds partial expression in the Haiku Settings for soprano and flute, but is found most fully only in her early Woodwind Quintet of 1956. One also detects a fascination with musical games; the opening movements of String Quartet No. 1 (1962) and 2000 Notes are in the form of palindromes, while in Designs (1962) Mamlok experiments with the use of twelve tones in four basic rows.
A number of famous musicians contributed their talents to this program, a testimony to their esteem for the composer, so I will try to give then all credit. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson is solo performer in Notes 2000, whose four movements are realized in a mere 7:23. Only the first movement, Gruff, has any sort of expressive subtitle, the others having only metronomic markings. Brief bursts of activity resolved into sustained tones in the opening movement are succeeded by rapid, rhythmically irregular figures, melodic and chordal motifs (but not melodies) in the middle movements, and contrary motion octaves and a final fff cluster chord in the finale. This is “pure” music with a vengeance! As such, it places great stress on the artist in attempting to characterize it – if such can even be done. In Haiku Settings (1967), with soprano Tony Arnold and flutist Claire Chase, Mamlok attempts to convey sense impressions in many features of her writing for the flute, for instance the angular, asymmetrical shapes in the flute lines, set against the interval of a minor third in the vocal, suggest the gull rocking fitfully in the restless sea in “So cold are the waves.” Her virtuosic writing for the flute is in stark contrast to her mannered use of the voice, which is used comparably to the flute only in the last Haiku, “How cool the green hay smells.” In Designs (1962) violinist David Bowlin and pianist Jacob Greenberg wrestle with the pithy (5:48) work’s numerous configurations of pitch, rhythm and texture.
String Quartet No. 1(1962), which clocks in at a leisurely (for this composer) 9:59, absorbs the collective talents of the Daedalus Quartet, whole are often called upon to exercise high degrees of independence and individual virtuosity in dealing with the shifting patterns of Mamlok’s rhythmically fluid writing. In the opening of the second movement, a scherzo, the quartet members play wide-spanning figures at different speeds and with different articulations; in the trio section, viola and cello play cadenzas, prestissimo and fortissimo. All of this sounds more cerebral than engaging to my ears, although those listeners of a more “modernist” persuasion may think otherwise. Concertino for Wind Quintet, String Orchestra and Percussion (1987), with the Odense (Denmark) Symphony Orchestra under Scott Yoo, blends Mamlok’s neoclassical techniques with her modernist language. The four movements are entitled Energetic, Joyful, Elegy, and Playful. The composer employs her material in irregular phrases and rhythms, so it scarcely seems appropriate to term it “melodic.” The most convincing movement is the Elegy, its dark mood relieved somewhat by two virtuosic cadenzas for the wind instruments.
Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra (1976, rev. 2003) features the talents of oboist Heinz Holliger and the Ensemble SurPlus conducted by James Avery. The three movements – Spirited, Dirge, and Rondo – are played without a break. A feature of the opening movement is the brief, rhythmically free cadenzas for oboe, xylophone and harp. (In fact, the two percussionists in the group get quite a workout in this opus.) In the slow movement and the finale, the texture of the music is punctuated by the oboe’s multiphonics (which I assume accounts for the strangulated quality of the soloist’s tone, which elsewhere sounds more like the “duck & bagpipes” school of oboe playing than the singing tone of the Heinz Holliger we have been used to hearing.) Woodwind Quintet (1956), the earliest work on this program, was also the one I found most satisfying, not the least for a true lyricism that I found rare in the later works. The performance by the woodwind quintet Windscape is superb, especially when dealing with the swinging eighth-note figures and the rapid scalar passages and trills in the opening movement. The second movement, marked Andante tranquillo, is nocturnal in mood, characterized by a melismatic melody that passes through the ensemble. The finale, marked Allegro molto, is spirited, ending decisively in a brilliant coda.
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James MacMillan: The Confession of Isobel Gowdie
Thomas Adí¨s: Chamber Symphony
Jennifer Higdon: Percussion Concerto
Colin Currie, percussionist
Marin Alsop conducting the London Philharmonic
Marin Alsop leads the LPO in a program of three of today’s most important new composers, James MacMillan (b.1959), Jennifer Higdon (b.1962) and Thomas Adés (b.1971). MacMillan is heard from first, in a treatment of an historical event that is very close to this composer as a Scot, a Socialist and a Catholic, The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. The work describes, as painfully as is well nigh possible in music, the persecution for witchcraft of the title figure, who in 1662 was induced to “confess” following the most horrible tortures and afterwards strangled and burned at the stake. The music is appropriately brutal, violent and dissonant, utilizing some of the most rasping, rattling, tortured and strangulated sounds that can be produced by percussion, brass and woodwinds, involving a massive chord for full orchestra, repeated thirteen times in the middle of the piece, and then building gradually to a final crescendo on middle C. Running counter to all this calculated anarchy is a theme, first heard on the lower strings and then running throughout the string section, that evokes a plainchant Lux Aeterna from the Requiem Mass. MacMillan’s purpose could not be clearer: it is to remind us to be vigilant against the hysterical outbreaks of intolerance that periodically infect our species. Have we not seen in our own supposedly enlightened time the re-emergence of the ancient benighted belief that one can obtain good results by torturing people?
London native Thomas Adés also writes some ugly-sounding music in his Chamber Symphony, but without MacMillan’s higher purpose. The 12-minute work with allusions to jazz, utilizes a bass clarinet, whose low timbre influences the coloring of the piece. It replaces the usual bassoon in the woodwind quartet, to which Adés adds three brass, five strings, two percussionists, a piano employed percussively, and an accordion. The texture is spare and spikey, with a rather undistinguished motto of a turning semitone running through the entire work. I found the whole thing tremendously uninvolving. If you like the so-called “Ash-Can” school of dramatic art, you will probably like Adés, too. They say every composer has an identifiable “thumb print” running throughout his work; Adés’ should be kept on file at Scotland Yard.
The Percussion Concerto (2005) of American composer Jennifer Higdon provides a change of pace and a satisfying conclusion to the program. Here, Colin Currie has the opportunity to realize a percussionist’s life ambition, in a program placing the artist front and center, showcasing all the sounds the artist’s battery can produce, from the loudest and most aggressive to the softest twinkling tintinnabulation. The array of instruments available to Currie ranges from marimba, vibraphone and crotales (tiny antique cymbals) to bongos, a resonating bowl, and a small Peking opera gong. The large orchestra includes harp, piano, celesta, tympani and three percussionists, with whom the soloist sometimes joins to make a single unit or to play in opposition to the orchestra. Later, a cadenza involving all the percussionists opens a window, similar to the common procedure in a jazz ensemble, allowing for the soloist to do an imaginative improvisation on the drums. The orchestra re-enters, and enlarges on earlier ideas, including the two-bar riff that has largely propelled the work. Things build to a zestful conclusion, followed by well-deserved applause at the end of this live recording, made at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.
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Dark Full Ride: Music in Multiples
music of Julia Wolfe
Matthew Welch, bagpipes
Talujon Percussion Ensemble
Lisa Moore, pianos
Robert Black, double basses
This disc is bound to get an immediate reaction and I’m willing to wager that the reaction will be extreme. When approached with the fact that Julia Wolfe has written a piece for nine (9) bagpipes, the reaction is going to be one of the following:
- “Why would anybody do such a thing?”
- or “Holy crap, it must be awesome! Put it on RIGHT NOW!”
I fall into that second category. This Canteloupe release collects four works by Julia Wolfe all featuring ensembles of a single instrument type and all with a singular musical focus that can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with, don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and absolutely will not stop, ever, until the piece is over. And then you’ll want to listen to the music again. Trust me. I haven’t lied to you yet.
LAD for nine bagpipes is a glorious work featuring drones (of course), expressive melodic fragments, life-altering glissandi, and the most revelatory emergence of tunes this side of Denis Smalley’s Pentes. Wolfe’s sense of musical timing is outrageously good. There is a slow wind-up of activity in the first half of the piece and then, when she “brings it” in the second half, she really Brings It. Matthew Welch, covering all 9 parts, provides a fantastic wall of sound, tons of musical expression, and has a palpable amount of fun with the material. The last 5 seconds of the work, where all 9 bagpipes power down, is simply perfect.
The title track of the disc is a work for four drum sets and is performed by the Talujon Percussion Quartet. Similar to LAD, Dark Full Ride is in two parts. The first part obsesses on cymbals and metal, especially the hi-hat, for an all too short seven and a half minutes. Wolfe is the master of transfixing the listener the simplest idea (running sixteenth notes). Part 2 brings in the drums and what starts off as a fairly normal groove. It doesn’t take long for the groove to become a distorted and lumbering engine and I mean this in an enthralling sort of way. Dark Full Ride grooves along with a propulsion and drive. The Talujon Percussion Quartet smacks out ever nuance and detail.
my lips from speaking, for six pianos, is a prismatic projection through a single soulful progression taken from Aretha Franklin’s song Think. The first third of the piece is dark and lugubrious with lots of space and resonance between gestures. Part 2 starts pushing forward with the help of a solid and comfortable blues bass line. You can hear every harmonic and overtone in Lisa Moore’s playing, which makes the piece that much more engaging and detailed. In part 3, Wolfe “let’s it snap” as my father says. Imagine the most soulful and explosive piano music you can muster. Now multiply it by 6.
Last, and certainly not least, is Stronghold for eight double basses performed by Robert Black. Part 1 is held together through throaty throbbing arpeggiations. There is a great stratification in registers that keeps the gestures clear when they need to be or hazy background when called for. The arpeggios give way to rapid tremolo fixations that lithely wind their way into part 2. In part 2, there is a clarification of musical elements and a clearer pecking order of melody, harmony, and bass line. It doesn’t take long for this clarity to complicate itself and devolve into rich static harmonies. The last two minutes of the piece consists of each bass groaning out the low E string with such ferocity and intensity that you would swear Robert Black was using electronic manipulation. Black’s sound is so huge and powerful that it seems as if it emanates from the most primal forces of nature. It is the perfect ending to the piece, the only ending you really want, but you don’t know it until you are soaking in it.
Did I mention how much I like this disc? I really, really do. Each piece transfixes me. I am writing my own music differently because of this disc. I am so glad that Julia Wolfe exists, is writing music, and that such talented performers play the hell out of her stuff.
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Music for flute by Beyer, Vierk, Polansky, La Barbara, and Tenney
Margaret Lancaster, flutes; Beth Griffith, soprano; Larry Polansky, electric guitar; Matthew Gold, percussion
New World CD 80665-2
On io, Flutist Margaret Lancaster performs a program that spans nearly three quarters of a century. Despite this, most take the 1930s Ultramodernist tradition in American music as a point of referral.
Written in 1936, Johanna Beyer’s “Have Faith” is a brief, angular piece that presents the nightingale’s song in a fetching, somewhat spiky, costume; it is sung with pure tone and detailed care by Beth Griffith. This segues directly into the title piece, by Lois V. Vierk. Lancaster is joined here by Larry Polansky (playing electric guitar) and Matthew Gold (playing marimba). The material encompasses many of the slides and inflections of Gagaku, a subject of extensive research by the composer. Lancaster thrives with Eastern flair in the subtleties and characterizations demanded by the score. Meanwhile, Polansky and Gold articulate vibrant ostinati and pulsating drones. Thus, the piece supplies an East-meets-West, traditional music plus Downtown amalgam that is simultaneously distinctive and appealing.
Premiered in 2008, the most recent work on the CD is Joan La Barbara’s Atmos. Although written for multiple instruments and “sonic atmosphere” as a theatre piece, it still shows off Lancaster’s considerable dramatic flair as an audio-only presentation. La Barbara revels in the sounds of breath, manipulating both live performer and recordings to create a wide range of “wind shadings.” Other effects include percussive attacks, key clicks, and all manner of vocal utterances. La Barbara’s piece may be more directly influenced by Cage than Cowell or Seeger, but it is welcome for its inclusion as a stunning showcase for Lancaster regardless.
Another echo of the Ultramodernist school is James Tenney’s Seegersong #2 (1999). Tenney (1934-2006) used Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Piano Study in Mixed Accents as a basis for the piece, extending Seeger’s ideas about tempo flexibility (perpetuo mobile) to encompass some of the investigations into large-scale rhythmic design that engaged him during his late career. While all of this precompositional conceptualizing may be fascinating to insiders, the aural result is widely appealing: a skillfully written, artfully shaped solo flute piece. Lancaster affords it the precision its tricky rhythmic shifts require, all the while maintaining a sumptuous tone.
The CD closes with Larry Polansky’s five-movement work for solo piccolo entitled Piker. Taken from a reference in a 1935 letter by Marion Bauer to Ruth Crawford Seeger (“You’re no piker! But please drop me a card from somewhere!”). Generally, one might think that five movements of solo piccolo is four too many, but Polansky varies the part enough to keep things quite interesting, including microtones, devilishly difficult polymetric twists and turns, distressed Shaker tunes, and percussive foot stomps. Truth be told, Lancaster is joined by Polansky and Gold on the final movement of the piece, so it’s not strictly a solo work. But for many, it takes an artist of Lancaster’s caliber to make piccolo diverting for twenty minutes; a task she accomplishes handily here.
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Ethos Percussion Group
Break It Down
by Robert Levin
These Trees That Speak
by Susie Ibarra
The Guiros Talk
by Dafnis Prieto
by John Hollenbeck
performed by Eric Phinney, Yousif Sheronick, David Shively, and Trey Files
The Ethos Percussion Group’s release Building
is a well-performed, attractive, and engaging collection of percussion music. The four musicians display ensemble virtuosity throughout each piece and launch the CD with the track Break it Down
by Robert Levin. In this 2001 work, the four percussionists work together to sound as one drummer grooving through different styles. Upon casual listening, the piece comes across as a solo drumset performance. Deeper listening reveals a terse rhythmic interplay that could only be done my some robotic superhuman drummer. Or, as it so happens, by the Ethos Percussion Group.
These Trees That Speak by Susie Ibarra adds a haunting and simple pre-recorded track of ambient sound to the quartet. The opening heartbeat provides a motivating background to an otherwise meditative vibraphone solo. The heartbeat gives way to earthy deep drumming that just grooves all day long (okay, the piece is only 11 minutes, but I could listen to it all day). The second half of the composition brings back the mellowness of the opening over a backdrop of rain. The work is natural and exudes contemplation and serenity.
The Guiros Talk is a two movement piece, the first being just for guiros. It is, to borrow from Shakespeare, awesome. The dialog of guiros is sensitive and fresh to the ears. I am a fan of the “do more with less” approach to percussion that this movement hits the nail on the head. Or the guiro on the side. The second movement, “Claveteando,” is a quirky romp through Cuban and Latin drumming influence. The piece grooves, definitely it does, but the groove is constantly growing and changing. In contrast to the Levin work, in which Ethos sounded like one superdrummer, “Claveteando” makes them sound like one impressive quartet.
The last work, Ziggurat (Interior), is the least concrete and groovy of the four works. What you get instead is an avalanche of mystery sounds (oh how the mind wanders when trying to determine how they are making those sounds) interjected with a boomwhacker obbligato. The work has a tense energy to it, sounding as if the ziggurat is being raised into position before your eyes. The composition is full of sonic trajectory and Ethos supports this trajectory every step of the way. When the piece gave way to rapid rolls on tiny tinny bells, I just sat and thought “what on EARTH is going on here?” But I thought it in a good way. Hollenbeck’s work is hypnotic in its mysterious quirkiness and Ethos commands your attention at every moment.
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HEGGIE: For a Look or a Touch; SCHWARZ: In Memoriam; LAITMAN: The Seed of Dream. Morgan Smith, Erich Parce, baritone; Julian Patrick, actor; Julian Schwarz, cello, Mina Miller, piano; Music of Remembrance. Naxos 8.559379. 61 minutes.
Music of Remembrance is a Seattle-based ensemble/organization dedication to the creation (through commissions), performance, and dissemination of music whose subject is the Holocaust, especially victims of the Holocaust who were musicians.
This Naxos disc includes first recordings of three memorial pieces, two of which (are Lori Laitman’s The Seed of Dream and Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch) are Music of Remembrance commissions. The Seed of Dream, for baritone, cello, and piano, is a setting of poems by Vilna Ghetto survivor Abraham Sutzkever. The mood is, naturally, dark, but there are often rays of light and hope in Laitman’s direct and lyrical music. Erich Parce sings the vocal line in a rich baritone voice. Cellist Julian Schwarz and Music of Remembrance Artistic Director Mina Miller (piano) provide solid and poetic accompaniment.
Gerard Schwarz’ In Memoriam is a very straight-forward lament. His experience as a conductor (he is currently Music Director of the Seattle Symphony) shows in how well he writes for string instruments. The piece is in three clearly laid out sections, and is ably played by Julian Schwarz and member of Music of Remembrance.
The revelation of the disc, for me anyway, is Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch. Heggie is best known as a composer of opera (Dead Man Walking) and this piece, though not an opera, shows its composer as an artist who knows his way around narrative and drama. For a Look or a Touch (libretto by Gene Scheer) is a story of a Holocaust survivor and his struggle to remember his lover, who died at Auschwitz. It is a romantic and harrowing work, one of the first to deal directly with the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis. Heggie’s music is eclectic, with touches of romantic jazz along side passages that explore the darker aspects of the story without ever wallowing in bathos. Morgan Smith ably sings the role of survivor Gad, while the role of his doomed lover, Manfred is read by Julian Patrick. The device works, and the piece is very moving. Members of the Music of Remembrance ensemble play Heggie’s music with skill and conviction.
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The Music of Vítezslava Kaprí¡loví¡
Virginia Eskin, piano
Stephanie Chase, violin
Koch International Classics
April Preludes, Legend, Burlesque, Five Compositions for Piano, Elegy, Sonata Appassionata, Vriations sure le Carillon de L’Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, Little Song
Czech composer Vítezslava Kaprí¡loví¡ lived only 25 years (1915 – 1940) yet her musical language is surprisingly mature and well crafted (much better than what I was doing when I was in my 20s, that is for sure). The works on this disc, all from the 1930s, show a variety of stylistic influences synthesized into a personal vibrant language. Her music sounds to be equal parts of early Bartok, pre-atonality Berg, and of course Janacek. Each piece is remarkably expressive (of course it helps that the performers here are so wonderfully expressive as well) with equal amounts of moribund and ponderous music balanced by spunky and fiery compositions.
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LEí“N: Bailarín; Singin’ Sepia; Axon; Arenas d’un Tiempo; Satiné; Horizons. David Starobin, guitar; Tony Arnold, soprano; Continuum; Mari Kimura, violin; Speculum Musicae; Quattro Mani; NDR Sinfonie Orchester/Peter Ruzicka. Bridge 9231. 56 minutes.
Tania Leí³n writes music in a lyrically Modernist vein. Her music is colorful and virtuosic, but the virtuosity is filtered through the composer’s strong sense of “play”, the kind of “serious lightness” that informs much recent Modernist art. This sampler of Leí³n’s solo, vocal, chamber, and orchestral music from Bridge Records begins with guitarist David Starobin’s winning performance of Bailarín. The composer’s Cuban background is evident in the piece, but not in a heavy-handed or clichéd way. Bailarín is lithe, attractive, and idiomatically written.
There is virtually complete expressive identification between music and poetry (by Rita Dove) in Singin’ Sepia, a cycle of songs on slavery and its diasporic effect. The music, for soprano, clarinet, violin, and piano/four-hands, is, by turns, joyous and reflective. Tony Arnold’s performance is rich and intimate.
Axon is a remarkable piece for violin and interactive computer. Both instruments “dance” and sing. The material is spiky and rhythmically alive (those adjectives can be applied to all of the composer’s music). Mari Kimura is a talented violinist. She gives a fine performance of this difficult piece.
The program closes with three instrumental works (Arenas d’un Tiempo, for clarinet, cello, and piano, Satiné, for two pianos, and Horizons, for orchestra) that show off the composer’s stylistic interests, especially rhythmic invention, and expressive skills. The performances here, and on the disc as a whole are first-rate. I’ve heard Tania Leí³n’s name many times, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to heard of her music. I hope to hear much more of it, and soon.
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Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute
Ian Clarke: Orange Dawn
Paul Shoenfield: Achat Sha’alti
; Ufaratsta [Valentine]
Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute and Piano
Sofia Gubaidulina: Allegro Rusticana
; Klí¤nge des waldes [Sounds of the Forest]
Dan Welcher: All the Words to All the Songs
Joseph Schwantner: Soaring
; Black Anemones
Paul Ben-Haim: Three Songs Without Words
Glen B. Cortese: I Dream’d in a Dream
Anne Boyd: Goldfish Through Summer Rain
The combination of Alexa Still on flute and Stephen Gosling on piano creates a veritable “Brangelina” of musical technique. Both performers are constantly praised for their technical prowess and amazing ability to make the most challenging works sound effortless and easy. Reviewers far and wide agree that Alexa Still doesn’t make anything sound tough. She gracefully sprints and hurdles through menacing challenges without seeming to break a sweat. On a similar note, I once heard Stephen Gosling begin a sentence with “When I played Eonta…
” and I just kind of blanked out after that. It just wasn’t something I’d ever heard a pianist say before. Added to this technical superiority comes an equally superior sensitive musical side. This disc isn’t just flautistic fireworks.
There is a perception that flute music is light and twee stuff. Yes, there are plenty of twee flute works out there, recorded ad nauseam. My better 15/16ths plays flute and I have several of “those” recordings. This disc is a delicious collection of works that are less known but still connected in spirit to those countless Parisian salon discs that include yet one more recording of Poulenc’s sonata. The title work for the disc, Carl Vine’s Sonata for flute and piano, is a delightful and serious work that I want to hear more often. Luckily, I get to keep this disc.
The two selections by Gubaidulina are more conservative earlier pieces that show the underpinnings of her colorful and crafty later works. Of Schwantner’s two pieces, Black Anemones sounds more restrained than his better-known large ensemble works. Soaring is a treacherous journey despite its rather mellow title. To my ears, it sounds like a beginning and doesn’t really sound complete after its brief 1:35 runtime. Paul Schoenfield is the third composer with two works on the disc and it feels good to hear something other than his ubiquitous (yet enjoyable) Café Music. Achat Sha’alti and Ufaratsta show two sides of his Jewish music inspirations. Achat Sha’alti is beautiful, sometimes mournful, and rich while Ufaratsta bubbles along with joyous energy. Dan Welcher’s extended quote of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” in All the Words to All the Songs seems downright cheeseballish but it is instead intended as a elegy for an old friend.
There really isn’t anything, composition-wise or performance-wise, on this disc that I didn’t enjoy. The opening track of Orange Dawn by Ian Clarke sucked me in right away and I’ve been spinning the disc a lot ever since. Paul Ben-Haim’s Three Songs Without Words are wonderfully lyrical. I Dream’d in a Dream by Glen B. Cortese balances the dark and dramatic side with the hopeful in an effectively fluid form. The closing track, Anne Boyd’s Goldfish Through a Summer Rain is a picturesque closer played with much sensitivity. Good stuff abounds on this disc. If you like flute music or hate it, I’m betting that you will enjoy this CD.
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