Posts Tagged “instrumental”

Mivos Quartet mivos

Reappearances

music by Mincek, Rihm, Franzon, and Lara

Carrier Records

  • Alex Mincek: String Quartet No. 3, “lift-tilt-filter-split”
  • Wolfgang Rihm: Quartettstudie
  • David Brynjar Franzson: On Repetition and Reappearances
  • Felipe Lara: Corde Vocale

Mivos Quartet – Olivia de Prato and Joshua Modney, violins; Victor Lowrie, viola; Mariel Roberts, violoncello

String quartets are tricky business for composers and quartets alike. How does a composer compete with The Masters when writing new works? How does a quartet make a name for itself without performing works that haven’t been played a billion times already, especially since the realm of “contemporary music string quartets” is a pretty dense and tricky market already? Looking at its website, Mivos Quartet has a lot of exciting repertoire, programs, and opportunities to foster new music for string quartet. Their debut album Reappearances is a sonic dynamo of unrelenting musical power. The four quartets performed are staggering compositions in their own rights and Mivos’ interpretation and performance of each piece is absolutely transfixing. Okay, so maybe I’m gushing a bit. This is one of those discs that I cannot have playing while I’m writing about it. Usually I’m listening to the disc I’m writing about just to keep the sounds in my head. With Reappearances, I end up listening instead of writing.

Mivos hits hard right out of the gate with Alex Mincek’s String Quartet No. 3. Aggressive noise-based chords bounce around the group over a background nattering and gradually a straight-tone groove emerges in contrast. The counterpoints of texture and color are complicated and rigorous but still approachable and engaging through the palpable waves of musical gestures. It is a rough ride but Mivos’ sound is glassy, silky, and clean. The quartet makes sense of the abstract gestures and shapes the whole experience into quite an aural ride.

After the rough and tumble world of Mincek, Wolfgang Rihm’s Quartettstudie open with soothing and quiet shapes. These shapes unfurl into tendrils of counterpoint and texture and again Mivos can take complex thorny atonality and communicate its structure by drawing on more overt emotional states. Rihm’s music is also rich food upon which they can feed as it is full of contrast and drama with a solid emotional core.

On Repetition and Reappearances by David Brynjar Franzson is less active on the surface than the other works on this disc and Mivos works the silences around the moments just as expertly as the moments themselves. Franzson’s work is full of quiet murmurs, sporadic moans, and disconnected textures which all hang together according to the simple metaphor of the work’s title. Mivos uses a defter touch of tone on this particular composition given the stark and direct nature of the sparse musical moments.

Finishing off the disc with a bang, Felipe Lara’s Corde Vocale is hyper-colorful full of rich singular moments of arrival. Less a work of counterpoint and juxtaposition, Lara’s composition is more akin to aural surfing; the ideas build and grow around the listeners and then inevitably and inexorably crash down around them. Mivos performs this work as a single polyphonic hyper-instrument. This piece is a strong closer for the group and an excellent way to complete an auspicious debut disc. I’m excited about what they might release next.

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Music of Philip Glass and Mohammed Fairouz NoTowers

University of Kansas Wind Ensemble

Paul W. Popiel, conductor

Naxos

Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra (transcribed by Mark Lortz) – Philip Glass

  • (Ji Hye Jung and Gwendolyn Burgett, timpani)

Symphony No. 4 ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ – Mohammed Fairouz

The Naxos collection of “Wind Band Classics” has consistently delivered strong performances and this recording of two large-scale works by the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble under the direction of Paul W. Popiel is no exception. True, I am an alum from KU but I don’t think any of the praise I am about to extoll on this disc can be led back to some kind of Jayhawker loyalty. Everyone should be able to agree that the performances on this disc are top notch.

The Concerto Fantasy by Philip Glass is a bit of an odd work. Featuring the timpani can be quite tricky and while the performances by the timpani soloists are precise and impressive, I think that this piece rarely sounds like a fully completed composition. The timpani are certainly active in the piece but there is little to my ears which makes them foreground material. The recording is clean and clear and preserves the physical separation between the pair of soloists but at the end of the day the piece just sounds like an accompaniment lacking a focal element. Glass’ harmonic vocabulary seems even more conservative than usual and I found little to engage in either texturally or rhythmically. I am not overly familiar with the original orchestral version of the piece so I am in no way trying to compare the wind ensemble sound to the orchestra (see apples v. oranges, books v. movies, etc.). And honestly, the piece doesn’t intrigue me enough to track down more recordings of it.

My general dislike of the Glass is made up for, however, with Symphony No. 4 ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’ by Mohammed Fairouz. Inspired by the Art Spiegelman graphic novel of the same name, Fairouz delivers as powerful and evocative a work for wind ensemble as Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968. Beginning with “The New Normal,” this four movement symphony draws in a wide array of creative and affective ensemble colors but none more colorful as in the second movement “Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist.” In this second movement, metal percussion, harp, piano, and double bass scrape and groan through a grey-inspired aural landscape. The not entirely playful third movement “One Nation Under Two Flags” portrays a “Red Zone” and “Blue Zone” through musical juxtapositions of a sort which would make Ives proud. The final movement, “Anniversaries” uses a ticking clock motive throughout to highlight the notion of passing time but also to imply a ticking time bomb. The composition rides this metaphor well by transforming a simple steady rhythm into something ominous and foreboding. Throughout the entire disc, the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble sounds fantastic. All the musical layers are clear and articulate but their precision does not come through sacrificing emotion and lyricism (such as it exists in either work). Rock chalk, Jayhawks!

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Native InformantCD cover art

Music of Mohammed Fairouz

various performers

Naxos

  • Tahwidah – Mellissa Hughes, soprano; David Krakauer, clarinet
  • Chorale Fantasy – Borromeo String Quartet
  • Native Informant – Rachel Barton Pine, violin
  • Posh – Christopher Thompson, baritenor; Steven Spooner, piano
  • For Victims – David Kravitz, baritone; Borromeo String Quartet
  • Jebel Lebnan – Imani Winds

If you can’t tell by the star-studded cast of performers on this disc, a lot of people like performing the music of Mohammed Fairouz and with good reason. This Naxos release gathers recordings of some of Fairouz’s recent chamber works (only Tahwidah and Chorale Fantasy date before 2011). Overall, the music is focused and dramatic, emotively powerful, and full of rich harmonies and sumptuous melodies. Fairouz does wear his influences on his sleeve and his borrowings from the classical canon and Middle-Eastern traditions mix well into an authentic and unique voice. Chorale Fantasy, for example, sounds very much like the slower harmonic sections of Shostakovich’s 8th quartet pressed through a colander of Arabic modes.

Tahwidah for soprano and clarinet is a prime example of Fairouz’s emotional and lyrical style. On one level, the music is lithe and sensual and without reading the text I figured it was a juicy love song. The text, while rich with omnipresent love metaphors, is actually being spoken by a mother to her son at his funeral. A second listening brought out the darker and elegiac qualities while still resonating the ideas of eternal love.

The solo violin sonata Native Informant also collects moments of supreme elegy alongside playful and fiery energy. Each of the five movements maintains a specific character throughout and most of these characters are simple and straightforward. “Lyric Sketch” is just that. “Rounds” is a peppy and zippy Arabic dance. In “For Egypt,”  Fairouz crafts a haunting and woeful piece. While “For Egypt” has the gravitas to end the piece, the last two movements liven things up a bit. “Scherzo” is a cosmopolitan blend of Arab-inspired tunes which morph into and out of Tin Pan Alley-inspired tunes. The last movement, “Lullaby of the ex-Soldat” is another slow lyrical movement with a plaintive arpeggio motive in the middle. And of course Rachel Barton Pine sounds amazing throughout (I have yet to hear her play otherwise).

Vocal music is also served up on this disc. The brief song cycle Posh takes three poems from Wayne Kostenbaum’s collection Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films: “Ballade of the Layette,” “Blue Sea Songs,” and “Posh.” Of the three, my hands-down favorite is “Blue Sea Songs” which centers on a dreamt collection of Ned Rorem songs. Fairouz does a great Rorem impersonation (musically, anyway, I don’t know about personal). While Rorem-via-Fairouz is delightful, Fairouz’s own language serves the voice well with harmonic and orchestrational support. Christopher Thompson earns the fach “baritenor” well with a deep, rich, and powerful lower range and a light, floating, unstrained high register. For Victims is darker, thicker, and more intensely dramatic. David Kravitz navigates the David Shapiro text quite well and the blend between Kravitz and the Borromeo String Quartet is well done.

The final work on the disc is the colorful and charming Jebel Lebnan for wind quintet performed by the Imani Winds (again, when have they ever sounded less than amazing?). Each of the short character pieces, inspired by events from the Lebanese Civil War, is richly orchestrated and uses color and rhythm to their maximum. The spiky and chunky “Bashir’s March” shows obvious Stravinsky influence. The solo flute “Interlude: Nay” is the perfect transition into the bassoon solo which begins “Lamentation: Ariel’s Song.” “Dance and Little Song” try to be cheerful but have a dark and moribund underlayer that keeps the music from being truly joyous. The last movement, “Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh” closes off the disc with another Arab-inspired round dance.

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Towards DaybreakCD cover art

Billband

Music of Bill Ryan

innova records

Ashley Bathgate, cello; Vicky Chow, piano; David Cossin, percussion; Michael Lowenstern, bass clarinet; Pablo Mahave-Veglia, cello; Jonathan Nichol, saxophones; Todd Reynolds, violin; Paul de Jong, cello

  • Simple Lines
  • Towards Daybreak
  • Rapid Assembly
  • A Simple Place
  • Solitude in Transit
  • Friction
  • Sparkle
  • Blurred

Billband is another fine example of a post-minimalist/alt-classical chamber ensemble. Bill Ryan’s compositions fit the model well with direct and clear musical ideas well-paced and orchestrated for his mixture of performers. Whereas (gross generalizations follow, prepare yourself) Build draws from a jazz combo sound, Newspeak leans towards aggressive and edgy literature, and Victoire centers around a subdued synth-driven music, the Ryan/Billband sound world is heavily connected to a more traditional chamber music aesthetic with occasional bits of rock drumming deftly added to the mix.

As a composer, Ryan gets a lot out of a little. His penchant for simplicity (aside from appearing in several titles) makes for affective music making. Simple Lines is just that, good melodic gestures woven together using an overdubbed Ashley Bathgate. A Simple Place contains more surface action but it maintains attractive and clear emotional trajectories. Towards Daybreak and Sparkle are other contemplative pieces which paint clear aural pictures. Blurred uses copious piano pedal and reverb to gently smear an otherwise driving pulse towards its inexorable climax.

Ryan contrasts his contemplative nature with a handful of more groovy and driving works. Rapid Assembly starts with a thin groove which picks up speed and energy as the whole composition comes together. Friction jumps right in with a heavy rock groove. To my ears, it sounds like something someone is about to rap over but no real melodic material emerges until the drums subside and the whole piece quiets down. Even in his more driving works, Ryan has a delicate hand at orchestrating his ideas. Each instrument has not only its own musical space but also serves a vital role in creating a single ensemble sound. Most of the music utilizes strings, piano, and metal pitched percussion but the woodwinds are well balanced and blended in the group (expressively played by Lowenstern and Nichol). The whole of the Billband sounds great on this disc and I look forward to more releases.

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Ursula Mamlok: Volume 3


various performers


Bridge Records

  • Five Capriccios for oboe and piano (Heinz Holliger, Anton Kernjak)
  • Stray Birds for soprano, flute, and cello (Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Harvey Sollberger, Fred Sherry)
  • Fantasy-Variations for solo violoncello (Jakob Spahn)
  • Panta Rhei (Time in Flux) for piano trio (Susanne Zapf, Cosima Gerhardt, Heather O’Donnell)
  • Five Bagatelles for clarinet, violin, and cello (Helge Harding, Kirsten Harms, Cosima Gerhardt)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (Sonar String Quartet: Kirsten Harms, Susanne Zapf, Nikolaus Schlierf, Cosima Gerhardt)
  • Confluences for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (Helge Harding, Kirsten Harms, Cosima Gerhardt, Heather O’Donnell)
  • Kontraste for oboe and harp (Heinz Holliger, Ursula Holliger)
This third volume of the music of Ursula Mamlok on Bridge Records is a great snapshot collection of Mamlok’s musical language captured in small chamber ensembles. The earliest pieces on the disc, Stray Birds and Five Capriccios, are fragmented atonal miniatures. Stray Birds (1963), a five movement work setting aphorisms by Rabindranath Tagore, evokes bird sounds in the voice, flute, and cello equally while giving each performer their own unique space. Given the sparse and angular nature of the melodic materials, Phyllis Bryn-Julson’s performance is absolutely stunning (as one might expect). Bryn-Julson connects even the most disjointed pitch sets into a coherent whole. Sollberger and Sherry, two names you can trust to do the same, balance Bryn-Julson perfectly, creating a chamber trio instead of an accompanied voice. Five Capriccios for oboe and piano (1968), are four charming pointillistic gems and one extended lyrical final movement. Holliger, as one has come to expect, navigates each moment with clarity and a subtly nuanced interpretation.
Mamlok’s penchant for collecting many short movements under one roof is a recurring theme of this disc. Oftentimes, as with Fantasy-Variations for solo cello, these shorter movements really catch my ear as part of a single narrative journey. One of my favorite works on the disc, Panta Rhei (Time in Flux) for piano trio, really blurs the lines between movements. The angular and pointillistic gestural trends are still present but in Panta Rhei I hear a slight softening of the pitch language. Dissonances aren’t as harsh, gestures are less frenetic, the piece seems to have a bit more breath and life to it. The trio of Zapf, Gerhardt, and O’Donnell do a wonderful job merging together in a sophistically orchestrated score. The Five Bagatelles for clarinet, violin, and cello are equally well scored and orchestrated and Harding, Harms, and Gerhardt take full advantage of the material. Again on this disc, the ensemble blends extremely well and projects a unified sonic trajectory which is easy to follow. Confluences does the same but with a bit more mystery and fullness to the ensemble sound. The Sonar Quartet’s performance of Mamlok’s String Quartet No. 2 is equal parts playful, tender, and fun. The most recent work on the disc, Kontraste for oboe and harp (2009/2010) is also the most playful (the Humoresque first movement) and spaciously lyrical (Largo e Mesto second movement).

Throughout the disc I hear a lot of similarities to the music of Alban Berg: finely crafted short movements (the oboe capriccios hit me in the same spot as Berg’s clarinet pieces), strong dramatic profiles and gestures (String Quartet No. 2 evokes Berg’s op. 3 in my ears), and atonal pitch constructions which still seem to be rooted in Romanticism somehow (pretty much everything on this disc sounds like that to me). If you, like me, wish that Berg could have composed more before his untimely death, you’ll enjoy Mamlok’s offerings.

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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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Bang on a Can All-Stars cd cover art

Big Beautiful Dark and Scary

Cantaloupe Music

Ashley Bathgate, cello; Robert Black, bass; Vicky Chow, piano; David Cossin, drums and percussion; Mark Stewart, guitar; Evan Ziporyn, clarinets, saxophones, gongs

  • Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, Julia Wolfe
  • sunray, David Lang
  • For Madeline, Michael Gordon
  • Music from Shadowbang, Evan Ziporyn
  • Instructional Video, Matt Damon, Breakfast at J&M, David Longstreth
  • Study 2a, 3a, 3c, 11, Conlon Nancarrow (arr. Ziporyn)
  • Life, Marijke van Warmerdam (video) Louis Andreissen (music)
  • Ridgeway, Kate Moore
  • Closing (live), Philip Glass (iTunes exclusive track)

Bang on a Can certainly knows how to celebrate turning 25. This two-disc release of new recordings features the mainstay composers of BOAC and stellar performances all around. Big Beautiful Dark and Scary also showcases shrewd marketing and promotion. Not only was the recording made available as a free download before the physical CD release, the CDs come with Marijke van Warmerdam’s video component to Life. But, to complete the experience, you’ll also hop over to the iTunes store and pick up the live recording of Closing, an iTunes exclusive track. Yes, I’ve done all these things and I am pretty satisfied with the results.

Disc one contains music by the BOAC Quadrivium: Wolfe, Lang, Gordon, and Ziporyn and each work is an exceptional model of their musical personalities. Julia Wolfe’s title track Big Beautiful Dark and Scary is one continuous and compelling swell that lives up to every adjective in the title. Wolfe’s music is constantly pushing forward through waves of tension and tremolo until it finally releases a scant 10 seconds before the end of the piece. When I think of the music of Julia Wolfe, I think of intensely focused compositions that make even the most basic of materials into a mesmerizing kaleidoscope and this work is a perfect example of her technique, craft, and emotional shaping. Sunray’s vibrant rhythmic texture, lighter instrumentation, and somewhat emotionally detached affect make David Lang’s piece a great contrast to Wolfe’s previous composition. The music hovers around a bright textural groove with occasional heavier monophonic ensemble sections.

Michael Gordon’s For Madeline is more obsessive in its treatment of materials than the Lang. For Madeline floats around a nattering piano/vibraphone chatter while the others smear around in uncoordinated lines. After 5 minutes of almost undetectable raising tensions, the sliding lines take over as the prominent textural material. Eventually the chattering elements are wiped out, leading the rest of the ensemble into a sparse and vacant ending. Evan Ziporyn’s three movements from Shadowbang are equal parts fun and funky (Angkat), timeless and still (Ocean), and hypnotic (Meditasi, Head).

Disc two opens with pure awesomeness. Instructional Video by David Longstreth is a delightfully charming piece of postminimalism/totalism. The guitar strums instantly establish a wonky rhythmic environment and gradually other instruments join in and interlock with each other in mind-bending ways. The piece simmers as such for a short time and cadences with unison rhythms. At under 2 minutes, this track functions as the “elevator pitch” for what makes the album Big Beautiful Dark and Scary worth hearing. Longstreth’s other two compositions, Matt Damon and Breakfast at J&M are equally attractive for opposite reasons. Matt Damon is slow, lyrical, and just pretty. Breakfast at J&M has the same quirky spark as Instructional Video but focuses more on ensemble textures than cumulative processes.

The arrangements of four of Nancarrow’s player piano studies are right in the wheelhouse of the BOAC All-Stars. Ziporyn’s arrangements are sensitive and fresh sounding and the ensemble performs them with a joyful comfort and playful laziness that makes the music sound anything but mechanical.

The mood-painting in Louis Andriessen’s Life are thoroughly engaging as they are but when paired with the spartan video work of Marijke van Warmerdam the work is complete. Both the video and the music revolve around similar themes (movements are Wind, Couple, In the distance, and Light). Andriessen’s music is not a soundtrack to the video nor is Warmerdam’s video a reaction to the music. Both elements hang in similar spaces that reinforce each other while not interfering with each other. The video (exclusive to the CD release) captures environments over actions and I was especially impressed with the simplicity of Couple. An older couple is sitting on a bench while the camera gently sweeps up and over and around them. It sounds simple, yes, but it is incredibly entrancing nonetheless. The four video elements function as a cycle, too, with that couple appearing again in the final section. My biggest complaint is that the m4v file that is included on the second disc is not very high quality. At full screen resolution on my computer there was a high level of pixelation that really destroyed the elegance of van Warmerdam’s work. I would have happily paid for an HD file of this video.

Kate Moore’s Ridgeway is a panoply of polyrhythmic textures that serves as a strong finish for this 2-disc set. These textures are woven together with a direct narrative trajectory that keeps me engaged throughout its duration. The extra bonus track available via iTunes, a live rendition of Closing from Glassworks is a delightfully understated palette-cleanser. The obligatory minor-third oscillations are present, as are long melodic lines and all the harmonic progressions you have come to know and love. Unfortunately the piano’s entrance sounds overly compressed and unnatural and doesn’t mix well with the rest of the ensemble. Ignoring that detail, Closing is sonic comfort food. But in my opinion, you’d just be better off spending your $0.99 on the Expanded Edition Glassworks track.

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BassoonMusic   CD cover art

Peter Kolkay, bassoon

with Alexandra Nguyen, piano

CAG Records

  • BassoonMusic – George Perle
  • The Dark Hours – Judah Adashi
  • Andy Warhol Sez – Paul Moravec
  • Three Songs – Russell Platt
  • Seven Desert Elegies – John Fitz Rogers
  • Journey – Katherine Hoover

Bassoonists rarely feel the love in the contemporary music world. It seems like all the attention went towards the flute, clarinet, and saxophone leaving the double reeds to lurk in the corner of Baroque or 19th century repertoire. Sometimes they’ll break out the Zappa quote but for the most part the bassoon seems to be ignored outside of the Common Practice Period. This disc by bassoonist Peter Kolkay buts the breaks on that kind of thinking and reminds us that one of the most iconic and recognizable figures that gave birth to “contemporary music,” if you will, was a bassoon solo. How apt that the disc begins with George Perle’s BassoonMusic, an unaccompanied piece that uses the opening measures of Le sacre du printemps as one of its primary gestures. Amidst the Stravinsky quotes and transformation lies other contrasting materials that, if they aren’t directly from other famous bassoon excerpts, sound as if they were. Peter Kolkay is all over the instrument, his tone and articulations perfectly matched to the demands of the material. Not only is this work first on the disc, it is also the oldest work on the CD dating from way back in 2004. Kolkay has a brilliant lineup of pieces that show great composers are making extremely compelling cases for composers to write bassoon music (and for performers to play more modern stuff).

Judah Adashi’s The Dark Hours from 2007 is a meaty three movement work. The music is austere, lyrical, and rich with extended tonal harmonies. Even when very little is happening on the surface, my attention is always held fast by the music. Andy Warhol Sez by Paul Moravec is a series of playful miniatures separated by spoken Warhol quotes. Each miniature works well with neither too much or too little material and they reflect the various quotes nicely. I was a little turned off by the actual spoken quotes, though. I would have preferred to just hear the music and save the quotes for reading material.

Unaccompanied music returns with Russell Platt’s Three Songs, all short lovely movements that contemplate simple melodic shapes. The stark Seven Desert Elegies by John Fitz Rogers is held together more by a lugubrious ensemble momentum than virtuosic pyrotechnics. The duo coalesces into a single voice quite well on this piece. There are more fireworks in the shorter movements of Katherine Hoover’s Journey but again the bulk of the piece is based upon tender lyrical lines and a continuity of sound with the piano. Kolkay’s tone is entrancing. Not only do I listen to his melodic line, I get lost in the layers of overtones that emerge. Alexandra Nguyen’s piano work is fluid, gentle, and effortless. These two make quite a pairing and I look forward to hearing more releases by them.

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cd cover

 

PRISM Quartet

Dedication

innova records

Timothy McAllister, soprano saxophone; Zachary Shemon, alto saxophone; Matthew Levy, tenor saxophone; Taimur Sullivan, baritone saxophone

 

  • Roshanne Etezady: Inkling
  • Zack Browning: Howler Back
  • Tim Ries: Lu
  • Gregory Wanamaker: speed metal organum blues
  • Renee Favand-See: isolation
  • Libby Larsen: Wait a Minute
  • Nick Didkovsky: Talea, Stink Up! (PolyPrism 1 and 2)
  • Greg Osby: Prism #1
  • Donnacha Dennehy: Mild, Medium-Lasting, Artificial Happiness
  • Ken Ueno: July 23
  • Adam B. Silverman: Just a Minute, Chopin
  • William Bolcom: Scherzino
  • Matthew Levy: Three Miniatures
  • Jennifer Higdon: Bop
  • Dennis DeSantis: Hive Mind
  • Robert Capanna: Moment of Refraction
  • Keith Moore: OneTwenty
  • Jason Eckhardt: A Fractured Silence
  • Frank J. Oteri: Fair and Balanced?
  • Perry Goldstein: Out of Bounds
  • Tim Berne: Brokelyn
  • Chen Yi: Happy Birthday to PRISM
  • James Primosch: Straight Up

I don’t think there are enough words to describe the technical precision, the unity of sonic intent, the musicality, and the timbral facility present in the Prism Quartet’s playing. Fortunately for me, I don’t really need the words; I have this disc instead. These 23 compositions, all short and wonderfully focused, paint a wonderful aural picture of this amazing sax quartet. The slithering of Roshanne Etezady’s Inkling showcases the extreme fluidity of their sound and as soon as it is over – BAM – we are hit with the spiky and strident Howler Black by Zack Browning. Adam B. Silverman’s Just a Minute, Chopin is as tender and expressive as Gregory Wanamaker’s speed metal organum blues is not, yet Prism sounds like they were born to play both. Compositions using lots of extended techniques like Ken Ueno’s July 23… (the full title takes longer to read than it takes to listen to the piece) and Jason Eckardt’s A Fractured Silence are gorgeous and rich sounding. The composers’ voices are strong and resonant and Prism plays these works as if no effort was involved (the effort for these pieces is considerable). Frank Oteri’s Fair and Balanced? exploits Prism’s pitch and tuning control with his four microtonal movements. By the time the disc is over, you’ll think there is nothing the Prism Quartet can’t do. And you’d be right.

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CD coverThe 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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