Posts Tagged “flute”

Terrestre

New Focus Recordings FCR 122

Claire Chase, flute

International Contemporary Ensemble

The only drawback to a Claire Chase CD is that you don’t get to watch her play. Fortunately, the performances and production on Terrestre are such that Chase’s visceral energy comes through loud and clear. She is joined on several pieces by her outstanding colleagues in the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

Terrestre opens with the title track, by Kaija Saariaho. ICE has worked with Saariaho on several occasions, and it’s apparent from this vibrant recording that Chase, violinist Erik Carlson, cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman, harpist Nuiko Wadden and percussionist Nathan Davis feel a deep connection to her music.

The old chestnuts on this disc are by modernist icons. Chase and pianist Jacob Greenberg romp through Pierre Boulez’s Sonatine and Franco Donatoni’s Fili, while she and clarinetist Joshua Rubin spar elegantly in Elliott Carter’s Esprit Rude, Esprit Doux.

The highlight of the album is Dai Fujikura’s Glacier for solo bass flute: a subterranean, twenty-first century answer to Debussy’s Syrinx. Chase follows it with a graceful reading of Laura Mullen’s poem was-O, closing out her second solo release and building anticipation for her third.

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Manuel Zurria

loops4ever

music for flute and electronics

Mazangran

  • Casaciescelsi – Giancinto Scelsi
  • Portrait – Pauline Oliveros
  • Almost New York – Alvin Lucier
  • Madonna and Child – Alvin Curran
  • The Carnival – John Duncan
  • The Garden of Love – Jacob TV
  • I Will Not Be Sad In This World – Eve Beglarian
  • Lipstick – Jacob TV
  • …Until… – Clarence Barlow
  • A Movement in Chrome Primitive – William Basinski
  • Last Judgement – Frederic Rzewski
  • Dorian Reeds – Terry Riley

There is nothing typical about this 2 disc set. I would submit that when most flutists are putting together a recording project of music for flute and electronics, they would tend to shy away from the majority of the works that Manuel Zurria has so expertly collected and performed. Not only that, Zurria ups the ante by leading off with his own Scelsi-hommage. Casadiscelsi is really a combination of Scelsi’s bass flute work Maknongan and flute work Pwyll with sounds that Zurria himself recorded from Sclesi’s house in Rome. It sets the stage for this whole first disc which is one of luminesce and slow-moving atmospheres. The virtuosity of performance is not one of a million notes per second but one of tone, mood, and environment. Zurria nails it every single time and loops4ever is consistently captivating. In Portrait by Oliveros, Zurria is almost invisible, with the voice taking center stage, yet he could not be removed. Few flutists are brave enough to feature a work like Lucier’s Almost New York for flute and three oscillators, giving up 25 minutes of precious CD space so they can play long tones, but Zurria anchors the first disc around this particular work to great affect. After the Scelsi and the Oliveros, the Lucier is exactly what we want to hear, played in precisely the way we want to hear it.

Curran’s Madonna and Child is a relief from the stasis which culminated in the Lucier but still the work floats in a somewhat restless and rocking manner. Zurria’s bass flute tone is sumptuous and once layered upon itself, the lullaby nature of the piece is exponentially amplified. I couldn’t believe my ears with the last work on the disc, The Carnival by John Duncan. A single sustained piccolo pitch (and not the most comfortable one, I should add) is held, Lucier-style, for 17 minutes. There are gradual spectral and timbral changes through the electronics but for the most part, it is a monolith of piercing brightness. Imagine a piccolo arrangement of Lucier’s Silver Streetcar. I don’t mean any of this is a bad way, although some folks will be quick to skip this track. The Carnival is an amazing listen, the perfect tonic/alarm clock to the slumber found in the Curran.

Disc two contains works that are more expected of a “flute and electronics” recording. Zurria has packed in more peppy and traditionally-technical works with the same quality of performance found in disc one. Jacob TV’s works are rhythmic and cool, quirky and spiky with the electronic component coming almost exclusively from voice editing while the flute zips out perky punctuations. I Will Not Be Sad in this World by Eve Begrarian is the perfect palate cleanser, silky smooth and tender with subdued sustained vocal manipulations.

Clarence Barlow’s work for piccolo and drone finds the middle ground between Lucier’s work and Berio’s oboe Sequenza. Barlow’s repetitive melodic fragment changes subtly enough to keep me engaged while the drone does what drones do. It was also refreshing to hear a drone in the middle of the flute’s line as opposed to underneath. Once again, Zurria highlights his programming prowess by contrasting the bright sounds of the Barlow with the murky and luxurious sounds of Basinski’s A Movement in Chrome Primitive for bass flute, temple bells, and delays. Rzewski’s Last Judgement uses the bass flute as well but in a more strained and tense register, focusing more on propulsive energy than letting the listener wallow in sound. Either way, Zurria sounds great. Dorian Reeds, originally for soprano sax, gets the final word on the second disc. The overall take on this track uses more reverb than I expected, leaving the different delayed lines a grayish wash instead of dense contrapuntal lines.

The notes for the disc consist mainly of the short interviews that Zurria did with each composer and they make for a compelling read. I find the music and the performances speak for themselves, though. This is a terrific disc full of great repertoire and expertly performed.

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September Canons

music of Ingram Marshall

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

New World Records


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


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

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

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

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

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

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Steve Horowitz  horowitz

Stations of the Breath

music for Disklavier and others

The Code International


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

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

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

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

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

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

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