Posts Tagged “chamber music”
Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, Piano, tags: CD Review, chamber music, Ensemble CMN, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Laganella, Marilyn Nonken, Prism Quartet, saxophone
The Calls of Gravity
music of David Laganella
The Prism Quartet, Marilyn Nonken, Ensemble CMN
New Focus Recordings
- Leafless Trees – The Prism Quartet
- The Hidden River – Marilyn Nonken
- Unattainable Spaces – Ensemble CMN
- The Persistence of Light – Marilyn Nonken
- Sundarananda – Ensemble CMN
These recent works by composer David Laganella feature a constant nattering of activity full of motion and gestures and with very little stability or repose. Leafless Trees is an energetic and coloristic set of miniature toccatas for saxophone quartet. The Prism Quartet are clearly at home here as they make the acrobatics and difficult timbral shifts sound fluid and organic. The quartet is a showy virtuosic piece and I found that I wanted to listen to the individual sound worlds of each movement for a greater amount of time that Laganella had composed.
Marilyn Nonken’s two performances (The Hidden River and The Persistence of Light) features almost constant activity and flow as is fitting to the compositions’ inspirations. Both pieces function with their own internal logic through a linear form that eschews repetition for constant development. These pieces are based on textures instead of gestures with broad dramatic shapes to guide the listener. Harmonies are dense clusters which occasionally relax into softer sounds. As a whole, Laganella uses the piano as a single voice with very little use of large-scale polyphony. The smaller gestures that make up the whole composition are again appropriate given his inspirations of water and light.
Unattainable Spaces stays true to the sound world that Laganella has presented thus far. Tight dissonances are the glue that bind this ensemble (string trio, clarinet, and percussion) into a single unified instrument. The language is equally sinewy and slippery as it progresses from one moment to the next. In a refreshing change of pace, the final composition played by Ensemble CMN has smooth edges and a more tender touch. Sundarananda for flute, cello, and guitar, is a compellingly understated piece built of slower moving lyrical lines sometimes punctuated by more hectic activity. The trio waxes and wanes and is full of breath. Short spiky gestures that become the mainstay of Laganella’s later compositions (this work is the earliest on the disc – 2004) are given resonant space. A tight control over the dramatic arch is still maintained. I’m not sure what has happened in the past 7 years to move Laganella’s music into a more hectic and manic direction but I hope he will still draw upon the serene contemplations he had when composing Sundarananda.
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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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Tre Canti Popolari
Due Componimenti Impetuosi
Sub Rosa record
- Tre Canti Popolari: Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto, Vincent Bouchot – baritone, Paul Gérimon – bass
- Duo: Georg-Alexander Van Dam – violin, Jean-Paul Dessy – cello
- Wo Ma: Paul Gérimon – bass
- Sauh: Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto
- Aitsi: Jean-Luc Fafchamps – piano
- Sonate #4: Johan Bossers – piano
- Suite #11: Johan Bossers – piano
Vocal chamber music and solo piano works form the bulk of this two disc assortment of Scelsi’s music on Sub Rosa. Being mostly familiar with Scelsi’s instrumental chamber music, I was anxious to hear how he wrote for unaccompanied voices. Tre Canti Popolari does not disappoint at all. All of the focus and dramatic tension from Scelsi’s string quartets is transfered beautifully into the vocal medium. The four performers sound tremendously good. The blend is sublime but there is never a sense of monochromaticism. The vocalists’ sensitivity and balance between independence and ensemble elevate this already stunning composition. I am also a big fan of the male voice selections, specifically the choice of baritone and bass instead of tenor/bass or tenor/baritone. Sclesi’s natural darkness gets accentuated by the darker vocal colors. As enamored as I am with the quartet’s performance, I am equally enamored with Paul Gérimon’s interpretation of Wo Ma and Marianne Pousseur’s and Lucy Grauman’s performance of Sauh. These soulful performances wring every note for its full amount of nuance and emotion. The only thing better would be hearing it live.
The Duo for violin and cello is a bit of an outlier on this disc being the only work that involves strings. The piece is well executed and serves as a great sonic break for the vocal pieces. The composition is lithe and intense, disquieting and expressive. The first disc closes with the solo piano work Aitsi and Scelsi’s piano music, once again, has the ability to captivate with extremely little surface activity. The opening punctuations of Aitsi are sudden and harsh, at first obscuring the delicious amplified distortion. After several thwacks, though, the vibrant electronic sounds nourish the chords into longer and richer lifespans.
Disc two of this set is comprised of solo piano works composed about a decade before anything on the first CD (with the exception of the short 2 years between Suite #11 and Tre Canti Popolari). In Piano Sonata #4, from 1942, I can hear the aural conflict between the musical language of the time and the language Scelsi would later develop. The first movement is thorny and jagged but the low register melody meanders in an unusually drunken-yet-focused way. Movement two, with its open harmonies and tenderly dark melody, hints at the expressive power of his later compositions while the final movement is spastic and rough with a singular trajectory.
Suite #11 is a real trip. To my ears, I hear Scelsi experimenting with alternate ways of organizing and expressing his musical nature. Each of the nine movements contains a stream-of-consciousness feel that keeps the piece, however loosely, from breaking apart into musical atoms. The energies present in the piece reminds me of the rugged atonal expressionist American composers from the early 20th century such as Ruggles and Ornstein – the time when free atonality was brash and expansive instead of smug and superior (but maybe I’m romanticizing that a bit). Suite #11 is wild, unhinged, and Johan Bossers plays it with the right amount of control and furor.
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Red Garuda / Rilke Songs / Bagatelles /
Peter Serkin, James Conlon, New York Philharmonic, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Orion String Quartet
First, a clarification: “Red Garuda” is not the name of a gangster, a professional wrestler, or a rodeo cowboy. Garudas are colossal bird-like creatures that exist in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. A golden Garuda is the symbol of Indonesia and the name of its national airline. A red Garuda is the national symbol of Thailand. More to the point of why contemporary American composer Peter Lieberson (b.1946) chose this title for his work for piano and orchestra, the Garuda is said to be capable of flying vast distances without tiring and of changing its shape and size. Thus, the creature can be taken as an emblem of absolute freedom, of a life unrestricted by conventional limitations. The inspiration for the creative artist is clear. As Lieberson explains it, “Before I began composing the piece, I had a dream vision of sitting on the back of a huge Garuda flying over different kinds of landcapes.” The work premiered, significantly, in 1999, the year the composer married his wife, the late, beloved mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The wonderful upsurge of powerful emotion one encounters in the 25 minute work may well reflect the joy he felt at this time.
Red Garuda is listed as Lieberson’s second piano concerto, but is really more a symphonic poem with a piano soloist, much in the way that Scriabin’s Poem of Fire is. The analogy is not an idle one, as Lieberson employs Scriabinesque pulsating chords, tubular bells, and powerful contributions from the lower strings and bass drum to portray the Garuda’s emergence from the darkness and the apprehensive atmosphere of a pre-dawn world. This striking introduction, powerfully realized by pianist Peter Serkin and by the New York Philharmonic under James Conlon, gives way to variations symbolizing the ancient elements of Fire, Water, and Earth combined with Wind, as the Garuda soars over continents and oceans.
Eastern mythology is one thing. But when it comes to the verse of German language Austro-Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), that’s something else! I must confess I’m beyond my depth when it comes to explicating lines such as “Oh be inspired for the flame, in which a Thing disppears and bursts into something else; the spirit of re-creation which masters this earthly form, loves most the pivoting point where you are no longer yourself.” While even Lieberson admits there are lines in Rilke that defy exact explanation, the sense one gets in Rilke of continual transformation, of becomings rather than endings, obviously appeals strongly to him as a composer. That he could draw on the interpretive insights of his wife and of his frequent collaborator Peter Serkin in his settings of five of Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus” was definitely to his advantage. I was especially impressed with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s considerable prowess as a song interpreter, which is essential in re-creating the sense of a very difficult and often paradoxical poet, and then expressing it in terms of pure lyricism.
I wasn’t as taken with Lieberson’s three Bagatelles (1985), partly because the titles puzzled me. My notion of a “bagatelle” is that of a trifle or an amusing anecdote, something lighter in mood than these somber piano pieces. “Proclamation” bears out its name musically well enough, but “Spontaneous Songs” seems a misnomer for a group of short subjects that strike me as rather hesitant and not terribly lyrical at all, and “Nocturne” might have been a better title for the restlessly probing third movement that Lieberson calls “The Dance.”
I’m more sanguine about Lieberson’s Piano Quintet (2003), an energetic work that further benefits from an outstanding performance by Serkin and the Orion String Quartet (Daniel Phillips and Todd Phillips, violins; Steve Tenenbom, viola; and Timothy Eddy, cello). By this time, Serkin had been performing with the Orions for years, going back to the old days at Marlboro, and its shows in the solid mutual support these musicans give one another. The spirit of Cape Breton folk fiddling permeates the mood and rhtyhms of this music, evoking a place with strong associations for the composer. Part I of the work is in the form of a fantasy based on a four-note motif heard early-on. There is a brief interlude, the theme of which becomes the subject of a finely wrought fugue in Part II which builds to a vigorous climax. We have a recolection of earlier material, including a terse quotation of the four-note motif that we heard at the beginning, and then it all ends suddenly, good night and good luck!
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String Quartets 2 & 3
Ida Kavafian, Violin I
Mark O’Connor, Violin II
Paul Neubauer, Viola
Matt Haimovitz, Cello
With credentials as both a folk/bluegrass fiddler on one hand and a classical violinist on the other, Mark O’Connor’s journey through the world of music has been unique. So don’t expect anything ordinary about this offering on his own OMAC label. String Quartets 2 and 3, subtitled “Bluegrass” and “Old-Time,” respectively, are clear signposts on that journey as well as O’Connor’s tribute to his own early American family roots, which include New Amsterdam Dutch and Mohawk Indian strains. (And come of think of it, when have you last heard a classical composer talk about “hot licks” in describing his music?)
With the aid of three collaborators who are all well known to conoisseurs of string music in America, O’Connor launches us, in his “Bluegrass” Quartet, on a thrilling ride that will have many listeners unable to resist the urge to toe-tap and move in time to the music. The authentic whine and twang of bluegrass is present here, as well as the soulful harmonies and (of course) those hot licks we spoke of. That includes a lot of rhythmic “bow chopping” in the fast movements. A highlight of the slow movement is the down to earth somber melody with ”gospel yearnings” (O’Connor) taken by the first violin to sublime lengths. In the third movement (there are no descriptive markings) Bluegrass makes its closest approach to the four A’s of modernism: A-tonal, A-symmetrical, A-stringent, and A-tomic. The finale builds to almost unconscionable lengths, dying to a fall and rising again at several points, until we end with a well-deserved flourish.
Quartet 3, commissioned by the Hudson River Quadricentennial Music Project, pays its respects to old-time folk fiddling such as O’Connor’s ancestors found when they migrated from the Hudson Valley down the Appalachians to the south in the early 1800’s. The fast movements here are even more condensed and tightly wound than those in the “Bluegrass” Quartet and there is no real slow movement as such, and so the playing time is appreciably shorter, about 25 minutes compared with 35. As in the earlier quartet, O’Connor’s music is not as simple as it might at first appear, since he employs techniques such as canonic variation and re-harmonization to bring original but authentic-sounding folk phrases in line with the sound of contemporary music. One may question whether it represents a new direction in American music, based as it is on this composer’s unique history and keen personal interests, but it’s all tremendously exciting. The finale builds to a peak, and then ends suddenly and dramatically.
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Music of Viktor Kalabis
Zuzana Růžičková, piano & harpsichord
Josef Suk, violin; The Suk Trio
Vlach String Quartet
Prague Chamber Soloists
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by
Jiří Bělohlávek, Zdeněk Košler, Václav Neumann, and Karel Šejna
Czech composer Viktor Kalabis (1923-2006) was an unknown name to me when this 3-CD jewel box arrived in the mail. As I began scanning the Internet for basic research in writing this review, I was astonished to find that only two Kalabis works were listed on Arkivmusic.com, both buried in recordings of works by other composers. My wonder increased as I actually began listening to the composer’s music. Here was a distinctive, major voice of the 20th century, one who by rights should have a place in modern music near to Bartók or Kodály, two older contemporaries whom he admired, or Stravinsky, of whom he wrote a thesis. (I will leave it to others more qualified than I, and to time, which reveals all things, to determine the exact niche.) Why had I never encountered this striking figure before, in concert or on record?
The answer lies in the fact that Kalabis spent his most creative years in a time when his country was under a Communist regime. That he fell in love with and married a Jewish woman (the great keyboard artist Zuzana Růžičková) probably did not endear him to the authrorities. That they both steadfastly refused to join the Party met with petty retribution. For Růžičková, the first harpsichordist to record all the works for her instrument by J.S. Bach, it meant confiscation of all her fees from foreign concerts. For Kalabis, it meant denial of every visa application to travel abroad and promote his own music in the concert hall. It was a conspiracy of utter silence, in its effect more damning than anything that even Shostakovich experienced under the Soviet regime in Russia.
But there were some unexpected plusses. If Viktor Kalabis was denied a visa to travel, so were other artists. Thus he benefitted from the opportunity to develop professional and personal relationships with a number of great musicians in Prague in the four decades before the Party was overthrown in 1987. The work of many of these artists, as well as the contributions of outstanding sound engineers, is heard in the present program. Further, he had the advantage of being married to a world-class musician who might be expected to critique and perform his music. (Has anyone , other than Robert Schumann, ever been in that situation?) And just as he devoted his energies to the Bohuslav Martinu Foundation and Institute at a time when that composer’s work was a cause to fight for, so he himself has had the benefit of a similar foundation that continues to promote his work after his death (for information on its activities, visit www.kalabismusic.org ). The story of how the present MSR release became a reality is no doubt involved, but I note that the secretary of the international Viktor Kalabis and Zuzana Růžičková Foundation, the distinguished American flutist and educator John Solum, is credited here as executive producer. Providing further aid in the transatlantic effort were MSR’s Robert LaPorta for product management, unnamed engineers at Supraphon, Prague who provided superb digital transfers, and Richard Price of Candlewood Digital, who did the final digital mastering. It was a quality job all around, right down to the cover art and package design by Tim Schwartz of Orion Productions.
Having said all that, let’s get around to discussing the music. Viktor Kalabis’ style is distinctive. His music is economical, honest and direct. Right from the opening of any of the works in this program you get a clear impression of its purpose and specific weight. He is clearly a modernist with little of the romantic heritage in the forefront of his music, and yet his music has a distinctly Czech flavor that separates it from the modern mainstream in which it flows. The modernist features in his music compel, rather than repel, the listener, in particular his compelling rhythms, to which he frequently interjects boldly contrasted elements, his occasional use of bitonality and tone clusters, as he does in the Sonata for Trombone and Piano (1970), and most of all his wonderful color palette, especially at the dark end of the spectrum. His music is pure, with no implied program – the exception being The Two Worlds: Ballet Music, which he wrote for a staging of Alice in Wonderland by the Children’s Music department of Czech Television. Though his music is serious, it is never depressive.
Due to Kalabis’ concise style, we have the advantage of hearing eleven major works in this 3-disc package. Beginning with his Piano Concerto no. 1 (1956), which he wrote as a wdding present for his wife (Růžičková performs it here in a delightful performance with the Czech PO under Karel Šejna). Intended partly as a tribute to Mozart in his bicentennial year, it is a modern work that is very Mozartean in its formal design, its clarity, and its gentle humor. Listening to it, I kept recalling Mozart’s Concerto No. 24 in the seriousness of its opening movement and the wonderful way the piano leavens that severity with the warmth and intimacy of its solo in the slow movement, an Andante marked molto quieto e semplice. Two symphonies are included. Symphony No. 4 in two movements (1972) is highly dramatic, with sensational use of the percussion as an integral element. No. 5 (1976) is subtitled “Fragment,” not because it is incomplete (it is in fact a unified work in a single movement), but in honor of Michelangelo’s famous unfinished sculptures, which it emulates in its highly condensed content and emotion. Chamber Music for Strings (1963), written for the Prague Chamber Soloists, shows a striving for all the rich tonality and expression of which a string orchestra is capable.
The chamber works bear further evidence to Kalabis’ concise expression and dramatic power. String Quartet No. 2 (of seven), which Kalabis wrote in 1962-63 in the shadow of his father’s impending death, reveals these qualities. So do the Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord (1967), here performed by the artists for whom it was written, Suk and Růžičková, and the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello (1974), likewise performed by the Suk Trio, to whom it is dedicated. In both we have distinguished ensemble playing and a central slow movement in which the final word is left to Suk’s violin, magically trailing off its final phrase into ultimate silence. In its mastery of harmony and counterpoint in a modern context, Kalabis’ six 2-voice Canonic Inventions for Harpsichord (1962, played here by Zuzana) pays handsome, scintillating homage to both Bach and Scarlatti. And even the Divertimento for Wind Quintet, perhaps the lightest work on the program, reflects Kalabis’ concerns for concision and pithy expression as it pays its respects to a golden past era from the perspective of a more problematical modern one in which it is still possible to find meaning and even elusive happiness.
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performed by Relâche
Book 1: Sun, Moon, Venus, Mars
Book 2: Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn
Book 3: Uranus, Neptune, Pluto
Members of Relâche: Michele Kelly, flute; Lloyd Shorter, oboe; Bob Butryn, saxophone; Chuck Holdeman, bassoon; John Dulik, synthesizer; Chris Hanning, percussion; Ruth Frazier, viola (on Neptune, Sun, Mars, and Jupiter); Sarah Sutton, viola; Douglas Mapp, bass.
For too long it has seemed like the most comfortable portions of the cosmos were musically owned by a dead British composer. Holst had essentially staked his claim on the biggest chunks of well-known real estate outside of the Earth and put up a sort of musical “Do Not Enter” sign. We composers could write about the Earth or Pluto, the “dwarf planets” that may come and go, or any other cosmic entity (manmade or otherwise), but Holst took the celebrities of our galactic neighborhood and hung them on display like so many apples on the Tree of Knowledge. From 1994-2008, Kyle Gann refused to be daunted by this musical monopoly and created his own suite of suites inspired mainly by the more recent evolutions in cosmology/astrology.
Relâche proves to be the perfect vehicle for Gann’s music and this collection of works showcases their extreme virtuosity in the realms of rhythm and blend. Relâche’s rather quirky instrumentation provides a constantly shifting sense of color and, like an instrumental Pierrot Lunaire, each movement maintains its own timbral character within the context of a unified whole. At first I was skeptical of the synthesizer but in the hands of John Dulik the synth always blends with the woodwind-dominated group and never sounds cheesy or anything less than ethereal. Gann, of course, knows what he is doing and The Planets comes across with light and careful touch. Every movement, no matter how driving and rigorous, maintains a fundamental buoyancy.
While some of these works were available as singles from Gann’s website, this disc is the first aggregation of all ten movements collected into three “books.” Each book could be performed autonomously and, to my ears at least, each individual movement works on its own as well. Gann’s attention to internal driving structures never trumps his generally accessible and listenable sonic palette. This music is intensely difficult to perform but Gann and Relâche never make it difficult to hear. The surface is attractive and approachable and repeated listenings reveal a web of clockwork structures that madly spin forth in a way that would make Bach jealous. I never feel as if I am receiving some grand and verbose lecture on How to Write Post-Minimal Music, even though this disc is a treasure trove of relationships and techniques. Kyle Gann is, in this respect, the Neil Degrasse Tyson of contemporary music. Gann has all the smarts and his passion towards the subject is augmented by sharp and highly refined communication skills. I’m sure Gann would kill on The Daily Show, too.
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The Key Masterpieces
Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Michael Schønwandt;
Danish Radio Sinfonietta, Hannu Koivula;
Athleas Sinfonietta Copenhagen, Giordano Bellincampi;
Morten Zeuthen, cello; Trio Ondine; Kontra String Quartet
I must admit total ignorance as far as prior experience of Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996), and I’m probably far from alone in that respect. His fellow countrymen regard him as the successor to his mentor Carl Neilsen as Denmark’s greatest composer. But while Neilsen has gradually achieved world fame, thanks in large part to the untiring efforts of his admirers among conductors and critics, Holmboe remains little known outside his native land. Of the 33 recordings of his music currently listed on Arkivmusic.com, only one is on a label that is not Danish (Dacapo, Danacord, or Classico). Like that of Nielsen, Holmboe’s music is uncompromisingly honest and direct, solidly structured, very personal and very intense (“Controlled ecstasy” is the way he described it). There is little in it that is superficially colorful or pretty. His use of the strings is notable for its extremes, from the darkest stratum of the lowest strings to the most brilliant high register of the violins, a sound so intensely brilliant it hurts.
In keeping with the aim of Dacapo’s Perspectives series, this 2-CD set is described as comprising the composer’s “Key Masterpieces,” as culled from that label’s discography. Actually, it’s a fairly representative sampling of the range of Holmboe’s writing, considering the fact that it comprised more than 200 opus numbers. None of his 13 symphonies is represented, but we do have Chamber Symphony No. 4, Op. 20 (1940) and Sinfonia 1, Op. 73a (1957). The former is distinguished by the interweaving lines of violin and flute soloists and by a strikingly original use of the percussion as an integral part of the texture and not just for accents or special effects. The latter is notable for its tight structure and economy of means. The Sonata for Solo Cello (1969), which makes exceptional technical demands of the performer, is also highly expressive, illustrating what Holmboe meant by “controlled ecstasy.” It calls for the excellent performance it receives here from cellist Morten Zeuthen. Nuigen (1976) was Holmboe’s own pet name for his Second Piano Trio. The title could be translated “What, again?” It, too, represents the composer’s attempt to extract the essence of folk music in its outer movements, to which he contrasts an intermezzo “in sacred style.” His Fourth String Quartet and his tone poem “To the Seagulls and the Cormorants,” Op. 174 (both completed 1987) show that his rigorous approach and the rugged expressive power of his music were far from diminished in his later years.
That leaves us with his oratorio Requiem for Nietzsche (1963-64), based on sonnets by the Danish poet Thorkild Bjørnvig describing Nietzsche’s journey toward both enlightenment and madness. It is an almost indescribable work, making heavy demands on the tenor and bass soloists (particularly the latter, sung here by Johan Reuter) and calling on the chorus for a number of surprising aleatoric effects that include speaking in a hubbub of voices, whispering, and shouting in addition to plain old-fashioned singing. Even if it didn’t include some controversial notions in its libretto – such as that the voice of Jesus’ tempter in the wilderness was the voice of truth, corresponding to Nietzsche’s idea of man as a limitless, self-contained god – this avant-garde work makes such demands on the listener that it is clearly not for everyday listening.
The performances on this program are universally fine. The recordings, made at different times and in different venues, have been mastered in clear, transparent sonics that give the listner the feeling of a coherent program.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, New World, tags: CD Review, chamber music, electronics, flute, Ingram Marshall, Jay Batzner, New World Records, strings
music of Ingram Marshall
performed by Todd Reynolds, Members of the Yale Philharmonia, The Berkley Gamelan, and Ingram Marshall
New World Records
for violin and electronic processing
for ensemble and tape
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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Soloists, Valley Festival Orchestra and Amherst College Concert Choir
Lewis Spratlin conducting
Streaming: Quartet for Piano and Strings
Yvonne Lam. Violin; David Kim, viola; Christian-Pierre La Marca, cello; Xiang Zou, piano
“Sun, Sun, you bring us light. Never can we pay for the blessings that you give to us.” Thus begins a Mayan prayer to the Sun that calls forth an appropriately rhythmical choral setting by American composer Lewis Spratlan, concluding Part IV of In Memoriam. Earlier, in the course of the Mexican Serenade portion of Spratlan’s ambitious choral work, the composer waxes lyrical in a soprano/tenor duet: “And when I close my eyes at night / I hear the threadbare music / of your streets / and I fall asleep as if adrift / in the air of Sinaloa.” Here, the unmistakable echoes of Mexican popular song add to the enchantment of the nocturnal images in the poetry by Pablo Neruda.
Unfortunately, there are precious few instances of such perfect melding of poetic inspiration and musical setting in the 50-minutes length of In Memoriam, based on translations of Spanish language poetry by Neruda and César Vallejo. Spratlan’s professed aim is to celebrate the resilient spirit of the people of Mexico and Central America in their journey from pre-Columbian times to the present, in spite of an often tragic and bloody history, just as the land itself seems to be endlessly renewed by luxuriant foliage. That’s all well and good, although just how much a Miami, Florida native like Spratlan can be expected to understand an alien culture – to which he is not, unlike Neruda and Vallejo, an inheritor – could be debated. True, the Mayans made impressive achievements in art, architecture, mathematics, and astronomy, but they also practiced very bloody human sacrifice. That’s not so easy for a modern person to relate to! And future generations will require historical footnotes for references to “Trujillo” and “Somoza” in the revolutionary theme of Neruda’s “The Hero.”
The greater problem is that Spratlan basically employs a style of heightened declamation, a sort of tortured sprechstimme in American English, for the great majority of his settings. One hears this all too often in contemporary choral and vocal settings, and the effect is tedious in the extreme when carried over a long work such as In Memoriam. Free, unrhymed verse explodes in a spectacular profusion of imagery such as “The peace, the wasp, the shoe heels, the slopes / the dead, the deciliters, the owl, / the places, the ringworm, the sarcophagi, the glass, the brunettes, / the ignorance, the kettle, / the altar boy, the drops, the oblivion / the potentate, the cousins, the archangels, / the needle, the priests, the ebony, the rebuff, / the part, the type, the stupor, the soul”¦” (Vallejo). These things, to Vallejo, are part of the stored common memories that a poet must not forget, but how do you set them to music?
The sad truism that second-rate poets – the Wilhelm Müllers rather than the Pablo Nerudas – are more likely to inspire great music than the truly great ones would seem to apply here. Also, the live recording of In Memoriam, made in April 1993 in Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College, is less than optimal in the clarity with which it registers the large forces employed here, 5 solo vocalists plus a chorus of 110 singers and 70 instrumentalists. There’s too much bleed-through in the moments of heightened intensity. The recording sounds as if it were intended for archival purposes, rather than commercial release.
“Streaming” for Piano and Strings (2004) benefits from a better recording, which is essential since so much of the effectiveness of the music is in its details. Spratlan claims to have aspired to something analogous to a stream of consciousness in literature, in which “ideas and images appear, merge, retreat, reappear changed, [and] jostle for place” (Spratlan), much as in the state in we emerge from sleep but are not yet fully conscious. With repeated auditions, the 16-minute piece appears less aleatoric (i.e., by random chance) than we might have at first imagined. A principle of form begins to emerge from the “buzz of consciousness” (Spratlan) that employs vivid contrasts between a beautiful, languid theme in the strings, like a slowly drifting cloud tinted by the colors of sunset, and bumptious, scrambling frenetic figures that threaten to overwhelm it.
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