Posts Tagged “Jay Batzner”
Earlier this year I chatted with Chip Michael about the social media based ensemble TwtrSymphony. At the time, only a single movement of Michael’s Symphony No. 2: “Birds of a Feather” had been recorded. The full symphony is now complete and you can hear the complete work on their website.
The music is rather attractive, rhythmic stuff with a general tendency for thick orchestration and conventional harmony. The four movements (each 140 seconds in duration, a play on the Twitter restriction of 140 characters) takes the traditional classical approach to structure (1. Moderate, 2. Slow, 3. Dance, 4. Fast) and as a whole, the music is rather charming and well constructed. Such a short time restriction creates difficulties but Michael has a way of making each movement sound like the length is appropriate and not simply arbitrary. At around 10 minutes, Chip Michael manages to cover a nice amount of ground.
The biggest obstacle to be worked out by TwtrSymphony is in the mixing and mastering of the recording. With each part recorded in isolation by each performer using whatever materials they have on hand, assembling and crafting a master mix is a technological nightmare. At its best, the ensemble sounds pretty good (the first movement, “The Hawk Goes Hunting,” is the most successful to my ears). At its worst, the group sounds like software playback from a moderately priced set of virtual instruments. I found the strings particularly troublesome in this respect. Also, the panning is too severe and ends up highlighting the unnatural nature of the group. I think Chip Michael’s music is quite pleasant and I am willing to bet that this piece will get a fair amount of play by other ensembles. I’m also still intrigued by the nature of the TwtrSymphony and I look forward to hearing them address these sonic issues in future releases.
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The Mimesis Ensemble
Scott Dunn, conductor
- Mabrouka: Jo Ellen Miller
- Asakir: Rachel Calloway
- Sumeida: Robert Mack
- Alwan: Mischa Bouvier
Sumeida’s Song, Mohammed Fairouz’s first opera, is based on the play Song of Death by Tawfiq al-Hakim. This story of a young man returning home and facing a long-standing family feud was adapted by Fairouz, as well, and the relatively plain language does well at communicating the major plot points. The music is very Stravinskian with punctuated orchestral rhythms, little ostinato figures, and slightly boxy tonal mechanics. The growth of microtonal colors in the third scene, however, is rather refreshing and engaging. I was surprised at the overall lack of ethnic-derived music given that the Egyptian setting and culture are strongly tied to the plot. I’m not asking for cliches or tastelessness, of course, but the relatively unspecific music suggests that the story could be happening anywhere. I suspect that the musical intent might be to make the story more of a generalize parable (since the story of sacrificing oneself for peace is a relatively universal ideal).
While Sumeida is in the title, this opera belongs to Rachel Calloway as Asakir. Present in almost every scene, this opera seems to be so much more about her than the title character but the libretto never really generates any sympathy for her. Calloway’s rich and powerful tone sounds like it has potential for great tenderness and nuance but the tone of this particular character never gets away from “angry evil shrew.” Her character’s edge is always present in her voice, never giving way to softness, and I would have enjoyed hearing Calloway’s dark sound in a more soothing melodic ground.
Overall, the music is a chain of solos with almost no ensemble singing whatsoever. I found most of the melodic lines emotionally flat with few resonating moments. Alwan’s lines “I won’t kill” towards the end of the second scene are punctuated with highly traditional harmonic cadences, for example. The ensuring argument builds up has wild energy and vibrant orchestration, I just find the drama uncompelling. This is always difficult when listening to an opera (instead of seeing it). All the motions that are happening on the stage could do much to heighten the impact.
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Wood and Forest
works by Jacob Bancks, Kenji Bunch, Robert Pateron, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, and Michael Torke
American Modern Recordings
- The Trees Where I was Born for solo marimba – Jacob Bancks
- Duo for Viola and Vibraphone – Kneji Bunch (with Kenji Bunch, viola)
- Forest Shadows for solo marimba- Robert Paterson
- Arbor Una Nobilis for marimba and violin – Jacob Bancks (Jesse Mills, violin)
- Winik/Te’ for solo marimba – Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez
- After the Forest Fire for marimba, flute, and cello – Michael Torke (David Fedele, flute; Wilhelmina Smith, cello)
Makoto Nakura has assembled an impressive array of compositions which feature not only his fluid solo playing but also his superior collaboration and chamber musician skills. The solo marimba compositions by Bancks, Paterson, and Sanchez-Gutierrez each draw on different kinds of virtuosity from Nakura and he delivers wonderfully compelling performances of each. Banck’s The Threes Where I was Born is fairly disjunct in texture yet cogent in thought throughout the three movements. Nakura is nimble and graceful as he zips around the whole range of the instrument and connects the musical dots in a salient manner. Forest Shadows by Paterson is less theatrical and notey, using sustained chorales to build and resolve tension. Nakura does a wonderful job creating a musical through-line and solid sense of emotional trajectory. Winik/Te’ stands out from the pack with its brighter, crisper gestures and groovier rhythmic structures. Nakura plays the piece with admirable amounts of spunk and vigor.
This is not just a solo recital recording, though. Nakura’s chamber collaborations are just as excellently performed as the solos. Bunch’s Duo for Viola and Vibraphone is probably my favorite composition on the disc (right up there with Winik/Te’). The warm, throaty sound of the viola pairs well with the cooler vibraphone and Bunch’s music embraces simple musical textures and moods over complex virtuosity. Bancks’ chant-inspired Arbor Una Nobilis puts the violin in the primary role adding sparse yet important flourishes in the marimba. The final composition on the disc, After the Forest Fire by Michael Torke, casts the marimba in an even more traditional role than the Banck’s work. The marimba is an erstaz-piano providing conventional boom-chicks and arpeggios of functional harmony while the flute and cello do their best to hog the melodic spotlight. Regardless of where Nakura is in the musical texture, featured soloist or in various stages of the collaborative relationship, he is an impressive performer who knows how to pick music that features his many skills.
Six Mallet Marimba
music of Robert Paterson
American Modern Recordings
- Stillness (with Sarah Schram, oboe)
- Clarinatrix (with Meighan Stoops, bass clarinet )
- Duo for Flute and Marimba (with Sato Moughalian, flute and alto flute)
- Tongue and Groove (with Jeremy Justeson, alto saxophone)
- Braids (with Victoria Paterson, violin)
- Links & Chains (with Robin Zeh, violin)
- Fantastia (with Dan Peck, tuba)
Also released last week by American Modern Recordings, a disc of the music of Robert Paterson using Paterson’s unique six-mallet marimba technique (and featuring Paterson on marimba throughout). The addition of two more mallets is actually more subtle of a change than I expected. The texture is mildly thicker but what really comes through are more nuanced shapes on the inside voices rather than a bombastic “listen to all those notes!” kind of effect. The solo works Komodo and Piranha are great compliments to each other (Paterson wrote them to be so) in that Komodo fixates on the lower range of the instrument while Piranaha surfs and splashes nimbly in the upper register. I must confess that oftentimes I have difficulties with the form of solo marimba music since a lot of it sounds (to me anyway) as inspired by a stream-of-consciousness narrative that never connects with my ears. Paterson’s works do not suffer from this ailment, however, and his fluid forms are well communicated.
The bulk of the disc features the six-mallet marimba as an accompaniment instrument for a wide variety of performers: oboe, bass clarinet, tuba, violin, and flute. In each case, Paterson largely regulates the marimba to the background of the texture, providing harmonic support for facile and enjoyable melodic writing. Paterson is adept at mixing and matching the timbre of the marimba with these various instruments so it never sounds as if he is recycling materials or techniques from one piece to the next. The feature of the disc, after all, is the six-mallet technique. Paterson’s range of music expressions show variety in using six mallets, whether it be ominous dark chords with Stillness or the sultry bass lines of Clarinatrix and the middle movement of the Duo for Flute and Marimba. Nuanced arpeggiations are possible and displayed in the Duo as well as Tongue and Groove. I am particularly fond of Links & Chains for violin and marimba with its tightly woven accompaniment and edgy yet lengthy violin melody. I’m not sure how wide-spread the technique of using six mallets is but this disc and Paterson’s music show lots of potential for those willing to try.
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Ain’t Nothin’ But a Polka Band
Polka from the Fringe
29 polkas by various composers
Aint’ Nothin’ But a Polka Band are: Guy Klucevsek, accordion and vocals; John King, electric guitar, electric violin, dobro, vocals; David Hostra, Fender bass, doublebass, tuba; Bill Ruyle, drums, marimba, triangle; David Garland, lead vocals, whistling.
Confession time: I didn’t know what to think about this disc when I first received it. I thought I had gotten on the wrong person’s mailing list and couldn’t understand why anyone would send me a polka disc (much less a 2 disc set of polkas). All I really know about polkas I learned from Weird Al. Then I started looking at the disc: Starkland? Mary Ellen Childs? Aaron Jay Kernis? Carl Stone? Fred Frith? Lois Vierk? William Duckworth? What?!? I instantly put the discs in and all my questions were answered.
While far from being some kind of “gag disc” or collection of jokey compositions, this double-disc set is a heck of a lot of fun. Each composer makes their own work on the subject of “polka,” some are very traditional sounding others flirt with polka-ness, others take the instrumentation and write their own thing. The boisterous opening “The Grass, It Is Blue” sets the stage well with its riffs on Gershwin. Peter Garland’s “The Club Nada Polka” stutters and stammers through polka world. Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Phantom Polka” sounds like bits of Petrushka which were swept up off the floor and stitched back together. Bobby Previte’s epic (8 minutes seems appropriate for a polka to be called ‘epic’) “The Nove Scotia Polka” is equal parts polka and fantasia. Disc two contains just as many gems as disc one. William Duckworth’s “Polking Around” has all the subversive rhythmic arpeggiation grooves you would expect. Fred Frith’s “The Disinformation Polka” is full of fits and starts which make me chuckle every time I hear it. I would talk about each piece but there are just too many!
What I really love about the disc is, well, everything I suppose. You can tell that the composers had a good time writing these pieces and Ain’t Nothin’ But A Polka Band delivers clean and genuine performances of each work, no matter how “un-polka” they get. I don’t get the send of this being Hugely Important and Reverent Music. This is a boatload of composers writing out of the joy of writing. Some days you want to be blown away by profound artistry. For every other day, there are discs like this full of joy, pleasure, and talent.
- The Grass, It Is Blue - Guy Klucevsek
- The VCR Polka - David Garland
- Polka Dots And Laser Beams - Guy De Bievre
- Diet Polka - Daniel Goode
- The Club Nada Polka -Peter Garland
- The 22nd St Accordion Band - David Mahler
- The Nova Scotia Polka - Bobby Previte
- Happy Chappie Polka - Elliott Sharp
- The Winnemucca Polka - Robin Holcomb
- (Do The) Lurk – Part 2 – Polka - Bill Ruyle
- Oa Poa Polka - Mary Ellen Childs
- Peek-A-Boo Polka - Joseph Kasinskas
- Solidarity-Polka Song - John King
- Phantom Polka - Aaron Jay Kernis
- Prairie Dogs - Carl Finch
- Guy, Won’t You Play Your Accordion? - William Obrecht
- Polking Around - William Duckworth
- The Imperial Buzzard - Tom Cora
- The Disinformation Polka - Fred Frith
- Medjunarodni Nacin Polka - Anthony Coleman
- From Here To Paternity Polka - Steve Elson
- (The) Who Stole the Polka - Peter Zummo
- Some of that “Old Time Soul” Polka - Guy Klucevsek
- Polka I - Rolf Groesbeck
- Attack Cat Polka - Lois Vierk
- Fuddle The Shux - Carl Stone
- Guy De Polka - Mary Jane Leach
- Pontius Pilate Polka - Phillip Johnston
- Wild Goose - Dick Connette
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, tags: Andrès, CD Review, chamber music, Currier, harp, Jay Batzner, Kathryn Andrews, Kristi Shade, Lizaotte, Paterson, Taylor
music by Andrès, Paterson, Lizotte, Currier, and Taylor
American Modern Recordings
- Le Jardin des Paons – Bernard Andrès
- Scorpion Tales – Robert Paterson
- Raga – Caroline Lizotte
- Crossfade – Sebastian Currier
- Unfurl – Stephen Taylor
- Parvis – Bernard Andrès
I must confess that harp duos aren’t something I’ve thought a lot about in the past. Duo Scorpio’s first release, Scorpion Tales, has me thinking a lot more about this ensemble and this particular duo. On the whole, Duo Scorpio’s album simultaneously affirms and denies any stereotypes you might have about music for two harps. Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade deliver stellar performances throughout the disc regardless of how conventional or unconventional the compositions might be.
The disc is bookended by works of Bernard Andrès. Le Jardin des Paons reflects the impressionistic tendencies of the harp but also highlights many nuanced coloristic possibilities which might not be as readily explored in other ensemble writing. Parvis contains more drive and darkness, ramping up the timbral possibilities by quite a few notches. Parvis is quite an exciting barn-burner to close the disc, too. Both compositions are thickly scored at times, showcasing the duo’s ability to create huge clouds of sound across their entire range. Andrès treats the duo as if it was a quartet and that treatment pays off.
The title composition for the disc, Robert Paterson’s Scorpion Tales, is a three movement work which treats the duo more as one hyper-instrument. Gestures and textures stay unified throughout the duo, blurring the lines between Andrews and Shade and presenting singularly focused musical shapes. Similarly, Crossfade by Sebastian Currier takes a more “single instrument” approach to the harp duo by shifting ideas in and out of the ensemble gradually. Counterpoint between the two instruments is kept on the micro-level until the loudest and most active sections.
Two works on this disc use more unconventional approaches in exploring the sonic potential of this duo. Unfurl by Stephen Taylor, unwinds itself in sparkling arpeggios through Pythagorean tunings. The retuned instruments are a quite refreshing sound and add much to the harmonic resonance of the composition. Additionally, some of Taylor’s low range writing is rather impressive and enjoyable. Caroline Lizotte’s Raga is a real gem. Beginning with a haunting sound (a snare stick rubbed on the string) I am still not convinced that the piece doesn’t involve either of the performers singing. The gentle build in activity from these spacious and gorgeous tones flows naturally until Duo Scorpio hits their apex of chamber music writing outside of the Andrès pieces. With a little augmented percussion, Raga shows yet another rabbit hole for coloristic possibilities. Lizotte explores these colors incredibly well and Duo Scorpio makes it all seem completely natural and idiomatic.
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Where (we) Live
music by Grey McMurray
- This Place the Place
- Five Rooms Back
- Strange Steps
- Room and Board
- In Our Rooms
- All Along
- Strangers All Along
- Five Rooms Down
- Thank You
So Percussion: Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting; Guitar and vocals: Grey McMurray
Where (we) Live, a collaborative composition/performance/event by Grey McMurray and So Percussion, does everything in its power to communicate a sense of place and space. The first track sets McMurray as the leader of a guided meditation asking the listener to think about various places he/she has lived and how it felt to move into a new place. It is the kind of metaphor one might expect someone to build a piece around but it is a narrative which would require ample program notes (and listeners who would read them) in order to communicate the piece’s true intent. McMurray cuts right through that and after 20 seconds, you know exactly what he is shooting at. Even before his narration comes in, though, we get a sense of space. The scratchy LP sounds and the distant piano recording established a sense of space and mood immediately. Being asked to think of the places we’ve lived just takes us deeper inside.
So Percussion and McMurray keep all details focused on mood, tone, and event throughout the disc. All details, from subtle timbres to large formal designs, all point back to the whole composition. Even a track like “Moat,” which contains some jarring shifts from loud and percussive moments quickly dropping into subdued delicate textures all seem to convey the very idea of what a moat is and what it does: a drastic shift in the landscape meant to isolate one thing from another. As this particular track continues, the disparate elements are unified into one cohesive unit.
“Room and Board” walks that fine line between a work for narrator and ensemble and a story on This American Life with a slightly more exuberant soundtrack. “All Along” is a straight-up groove for a while but gives way to spare electric piano chords at the end. While the disc has a mostly ambient sound world about it, So Percussion gets plenty of rhythmic and driving moments to contrast the pointallistic and quieter moments. Everything blends so well together, every sound is so perfectly chosen, each component is exactly where it needs to be.
It can be difficult to talk about this disc as a collection of tracks or songs. Where (we) Live is a complete and unified whole. It is equal parts groove and sparse points, equal parts spoken and sung, equal parts soloist feature and ensemble playing, equal parts acoustic and electronic, equal parts of all things. It isn’t casual listening, either. I can’t have this on in the background. It becomes the foreground, takes over my listening space, and puts me in its world. When the disc is playing, it is where I live.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, tags: alex mincek, andy akiho, CD Review, chamber music, daniel wohl, electronics, Jay Batzner, mariel roberts, sean friar, String quartet, Tristan Perich
Mariel Roberts, cello
- Three Shades, Foreshadows – Andy Akiho
- Teaser – Sean Friar
- Saint Arc – Daniel Wohl
- Flutter – Alex Mincek
- Formations – Tristan Perich
My favorite quote from Mariel Roberts about this disc is “I wanted to make an album that sounds like the city I live in,” and I cannot think of a better aural enticement to move to New York City right now. These five solo cello/cello and electronics pieces are bustling with compelling energy and quirky sounds that constantly draw me in closer and closer. The Rodin sculpture-inspired Three Shades, Foreshadows by Andy Akiho bubbles and roils along. The electronic component stays strongly within the realm of natural sounds and the cello has been prepared with clothespins to change the pizzicato resonance. Any and all tapping and pizz sounds are used throughout the piece and the blend between live and recorded elements is perfectly seamless. Roberts has a perfect sense of timing to accentuate the grooves and create vibrant clouds of sounds.
Teaser is a monster of a solo piece in terms of technique as most of the music is made of double-stops. Roberts maintains a very playful and effortless energy throughout which belies the composition’s difficulty. Teaser’s form is mainly of moments which build and coagulate together into jaunty grooves (Sean Friar uses the title as a reference to the “tease” in storytelling). Teaser moves into and out of interesting spaces quite effectively and, while it doesn’t go where I expect on first listen, its arrival points are always worth the trip. Similar things can be said about Daniel Wohl’s Saint Arc, which brings electronics back into the mix. The piece itself uses timbral juxtapositions to build a sense of tension and release and Wohl shapes his piece quite well in that regard. Different than the Akiho work, the electronics are certainly cello-related/based sounds but the goal is the “otherness” of the sound and putting the live performer in relief to more sustains and shimmering backgrounds.
Alex Mincek’s Flutter is, pretty much, a perfect encapsulation of the title. Flutter is exactly what this piece does. Shuffling sounds swirl in and out of (what I think is) an electronic accompaniment and Roberts’ live cello seems to invoke these murmurs at first and then scrambles in ever-increasing counterpoint against them. If those initial sounds aren’t electronic, I have no idea how it is all being done. After the piece reaches its climactic peak, Roberts exhales out all the tension which was build up. The gradual detuning of the low C string for the piece’s extended final sighs is particularly haunting.
Closing the disc is the monolithic Formations by Tristan Perich for cello and 1-bit sounds. Perich’s signature blend of punchy and energetic synth timbres plays alongside a focused and repetitive live cello. The cello doesn’t always sit in the forefront of the musical texture which, while it makes for some interesting interplay with the synth world, might be an irritant for some. If you enjoy dynamic contrast, this is not the piece for you. The upbeat, active, and driving rhythmic interplay is always engaging and hypnotic. I find the piece right on the edge of captivating and irritating, which is a fascinating place to be. I have the feeling that you will know within 10 seconds of this piece’s beginning whether or not you will want to hear the whole 20 minutes. I wanted to, and I have on several occasions.
Another mild criticism some might have of the disc would be Roberts’ tone, which is much more on the edgy side of the spectrum and not the deep, dark, bassy kind of sound one would want for Brahms sonatas. I, for one, think he tone is spot on to the music she is playing which is the sign of a skilled performer. I would love to hear Roberts play something more lyrical and emotive in the future but this disc, as a presentation of Roberts’ voice, really rocks. There is a gesamtkunst-at-werk going on here: the energetic performances, the matching of tone to the aesthetics of the compositions, the language of the music chosen, it all creates a “unified field theory” making every detail of this CD point back to Mariel Roberts as Someone to Which We Should Be Listening.
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Ursula Mamlok: Volume 3
- 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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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, tags: CD Review, chamber music, electronics, iO quartet, Jay Batzner, Michael Chertock, Odense Symphony, orchestra, Paul Mann, String quartet, Tod Machover
music of Tod Machover
Odense Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paul Mann
- Sparkler for orchestra and live electronics
- Interlude 1 – “After Bach”
- Three Hyper-Dim-Sums for string quartet
- Interlude 2 – “After Byrd”
- …but not simpler… for string quartet
- Jeux Deux for Hyperpiano and orchestra (Michael Chertock, Hyperpiano)
The intersection of music and technology is one that is constantly fraught with peril. The balance between these two elements is difficult and when both elements click some sublime music can be made. Tod Machover’s career has been largely built through the application of technology onto musical environments (or the application of music onto technological environments). This disc shows that sometimes the balance is just right but sometimes technology can seem superfluous or, even worse, a detriment.
Sparkler is an appealing orchestral work that riffs on Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” with Coplandish harmonies and orchestration. The live electronics are balanced well in the orchestral textures but more often than not they are overshadowed by the colorful instrumentation Machover uses on his various gestures. I don’t find that the usage of live electronics really enhances the piece to a point that they are wholly necessary.
The string quartet portion of the disc is very well handled. Two interludes, one based on Bach and the other on Byrd, are fixed media pieces meant to sound like an augmented string quartet. The textures to both of these pieces is interesting and each interlude matches up well with the following acoustic piece. The timbre of the instruments does have an edge to it that denies a purely acoustic origin. Instead of the thickening texture emerging as a surprise, an unexpected moment of “I thought I was listening to just four people,” that virtual instrument sound serves as an aural obligation for the work to build into something that the performers alone could not create.
When Machover is entirely acoustic, the pieces work quite well. The 3 Hyper-Dim-Sums are charming miniatures for string quartet, played with vigor and nuance by the iO Quartet. …but not simpler… transitions beautifully from the Byrd interlude and continues to be colorful and engaging. Machover certainly knows color and he uses all means of string sounds in this floating 14 minute movement.
Jeux Deux, a three movement concerto for Hyperpiano and orchestra, has wit and energy about it but again the technology is more often a sore thumb than an ally. It could be that piano virtuosity has reached a state where I simply can’t tell when the piano is using technology to supplement the performer but the times when the technology is ouvert, it is painfully so. Mechanical trills, devoid of humanity, are just irritating. The concept behind the piece, one that uses a computer to augment and enhance the piano’s material in real time, is an intriguing one, but to my ears this is a case of the technological idea winning over the musical implementation.
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Music of Vladimir Martynov
- The Beatitudes
- Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) (with Joan Jeanrenaud, cello)
- Der Abschied
David Harrington and John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola, Jeffrey Ziegler, cello
Vladimir Martynov’s flavor of minimalism (if you will allow me to call it that) is incredibly sneaky and pleasurable. When I received this disc in a simple, nondescript cardboard sleeve, I was unfamiliar with Martynov’s music but I was certainly looking forward to anything Kronos was going to play. At first, I was surprised by the complete conservatism of the first track The Beatitudes. A simple melody is repeated incessantly for five and a half minutes with an unsurprising and standard tonal harmonic progression. The thing is, it works. The tune is gorgeous in its sparseness and further listenings revealed subtle harmonic changes. It makes me think of one of the most important composition lesson’s I learned from the music of Schubert: you can’t go wrong with pretty. This piece is an arrangement of a choral work and while usually instrumental transcriptions of vocal pieces fall flat on me the variety used in scoring this music for four performers keeps the music fresh in the absence of text.
Speaking of Schubert, the Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) was maddening at first listening. Schubertian harmonies and gestures abound but anything remotely melodic is surprisingly absent. It truly sounds like Martynov found a fragment of another Schubert quintet, one in which Schubert would later add a melody, and presents it whole for the listener to experience. The repetition of dramatic motions makes the work seem stuck at times but that only leads to more pleasurable breakthroughs as the piece evolves.
The epic Der Abschied does to Mahler what Martynov previously did to Schubert. A small moments and hints of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde are stretched out and composed through for 40 minutes. If you like Mahler but wanted it to have more breath and stillness, then this work is for you. What is even better is that you don’t need to have any connection to the Mahler prior to hearing this work. It is, in some ways, the antithesis of The Beatitudes which opened the disc. Der Abschied is a constantly shifting unresolved mist that keeps its hooks in you through tensions which are never satisfactorily released (sounds like Mahler, doesn’t it?) and holds you, breathless, until the music just floats away. I swear I could still hear the final string harmonics and cadences for the next half hour after the piece ended. It never lets go.
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