Posts Tagged “Jay Batzner”

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.

Comments No Comments »

music of Tod Machover

Odense Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paul Mann

iO Quartet

Bridge Records

  • 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.

Comments No Comments »

Music of Vladimir Martynov 

Kronos Quartet

Nonesuch Records

  1. The Beatitudes
  2. Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) (with Joan Jeanrenaud, cello)
  3. 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.

Comments No Comments »

Bitter Music by Harry Partch cd cover

Music of Harry Partch, Volume 1

Bridge Records

performed by John Schneider, Garry Eister, Richard Valitutto, and Paul West

Bridge records is no stranger to “The Music of [insert composer here]” releases and I am glad to see Harry Partch as one of those names being so inserted (alongside Carter, Crumb, Ruders, Lanksy, etc.). Bridge has put out a few discs with Partch’s music already, most featuring the talents of John Schneider, and this audiobook of Bitter Music is a great place to begin the official series. Schneider takes the main narration of Partch’s memoir (labelled as the “Subjective Voice” as opposed to Garry Eister’s “Objective Voice”) and again, due to his involvement in other Partch works on Bridge, brings a consistent sound to Partch’s voice. In addition to reading the journal, each musical idea and composition found in Bitter Music is performed with Schneider on adapted guitar or adapted viola, Richard Valitutto on piano, and Paul West on kithara. The 3 CD set is a compelling listen, full of the interesting stories you’d expect Partch to have during the 1930s and some of his earliest microtonal compositions and etudes. At the end of it, you get a great picture of the evolution of Partch’s language, philosophy, and style. Reading about Partch’s music is fascinating, hearing it is illuminating. This project brings the best of both worlds together. I look forward to their next release in this series.

Comments 3 Comments »

Manuel Zurria


music for flute and electronics


  • 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.

Comments No Comments »

Boost/False Doors CD cover

Mikel Rouse

ExitMusic Recordings


  • Hurdle Rate
  • Professional Smile
  • Hardwired Superstition
  • Dumb Young
  • Side Pockets
  • Orson Elvis
  • Redemption Fee
  • The Movie We’re In

False Doors

  • Words are Missing
  • Prosperity Gospel
  • Sky Sprites
  • Thumb Skills
  • Make Her Won
  • Blow Dried Bodies
  • The Next World
  • The Albany Handshake
  • God Said No
  • Homegoings
  • Face Around
  • Come From Money

Mikel Rouse has done it again. Today the two album set Boost/False Doors is released and once again both albums deliver powerful and unique listening experiences which couldn’t be created by anyone else. Last time Rouse released two albums simultaneously, Recess and Corner Loading Vol. 1, those albums were treated as separate entities and for good reason. While both discs capture quintessential aspects of Rouse’s musical vocabulary, each album obsessed on totally unrelated issues. It was as if there were two Mikel Rouses for a while, each doing their own thing.  Boost and False Doors, being packaged together, show how these two halves are gradually being brought back together. Each disc is a world in and of itself but these two different halves are binding with each other. The glue is Rouse’s omnipresent steel guitar.

Boost is the manic dance-party side of Rouse’s nature. Tight beats and crisp percussive sounds provide the foundation for his vocal layers of “counterpoetry.” Melodically, tracks shift between catchy sung tunes and spoken word. In many ways, the musical language is similar to Dennis Cleveland but updated to more contemporary dance music aesthetics and production values. There is an oblique narrative through-line as one might expect from a song cycle but what mainly catches my ear is the frenetic beat energy. The opening thoughts in “Hurdle Rate” draw you in quickly and I’m also partial to “Side Pockets” as a great stand-alone track.

No matter how the melodies float by, no matter how the harmonies freely drift, Rouse’s beat creation skills are the star of the show. I’m reluctant to call them “grooves” since Boost is driven and propulsive, never lazy and funky. Even slower-paced moments like the opening of  “Orson Elvis” don’t dally long before beats take over. There is still a lightness to this disc, though, and these beats are clearly more than simple loops. Rouse’s metrical/rhythmical bag of tricks has been compressed into these crisp metallic pulses. He makes the stuff they play in dance clubs sound even more shallow and lifeless than it already does.

Everything that Boost is, False Doors is not. This is not to say that False Doors is in any way inferior. On the contrary, I listen to this album significantly more frequently than Boost. The pacing of this disc is slower and more contemplative which suits my own personal tastes. “Sky Sprites” is especially striking with a singular guitar lick that punctuates his sung melody (this lick returns in a most perfect way in “Come From Money”). In comparison to Boost, events are drawn out and repeated more obsessively. The poetry in the lyrics is more raw and plainspoken. “God Said No,” for instance, sounds a bit like Rouse is channeling a lost Simon and Garfunkel song with his own peculiar lyrical slant. A song like “Thumb Skills” sets you up lyrically but then twists the expectations ever-so slightly for more dramatic weight.

The opening track “Words are Missing” sounds like a direct outgrowth to the phasing techniques featured on Corner Loading. If Corner Loading was Rouse’s most spartan work, False Doors adds in just the right parts of what he had taken away. “Homegoings” is also just a perfect microcosm of everything that makes Rouse’s music what it is.

Should these be two separate releases? I don’t think so. Recess and Corner Loading were two clearly separated bits of work. Boost and False Doors represent these two parts of Rouse’s music coming back together. Boost is young people’s music: quirky dance beats (my daughter prefers Boost) yet Rouse’s steel guitar gives a slightly folky/country tinge to it all. False Doors is more adult: the music is more about contemplation and nostalgia. Many of the songs sound almost too personal to hear. Again, the guitar provides the soulful through-voice to it all. Any way you hear these two discs, each disc relies on the other to create a complete picture, though, and that picture is completely worth your time.

Comments No Comments »

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.

Comments No Comments »

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.

Comments No Comments »

Ironworks Percussion Duo CD cover

Dave Gerhart and Axel Clarke, percussion 

  • Uncompression – Ming-ching Chiu
  • Volume – Missy Mazzoli
  • Tribute – Dave Gerhart
  • Arc & Current – Roger Przytulski
  • A Cosby Sweater – Axel Clarke
This intriguing disc of works for percussion duo covers a wide gamut of color and style. Two pieces, Uncompression and Volume were award winners in Ironworks’ first percussion duo composition contest held in 2009 and it is easy to see why both pieces were given honors (Uncompression won 1st prize, Volume took 3rd). Uncompression is a simultaneously focused yet sprawling work for unpitched percussion. Gestures and textures shift from driving drums to ambient cymbals and tinkles. Rhythmic ideas keep the composition coherent without using an obviously underlying motive or germ. Things fit together in this duo because everything feels right. In contrast, Mazzoli’s Volume uses steel pans, wine bottles, vibraphone, and kick drum to create a tightly woven cloud of harmony over a twitchy and energetic rhythmic language.
Two pieces are also composed by the duo. Dave Gerhart’s Tribute is a three movement piece based on African drumming. The first movement is bound with a hypnotic groove of drums and stick clicks, the second movement is wonderfully sparse with whispers of shakers, lightly brushed drums, and other softer sounds. The final movement is a barn burner of driving drums. A Cosby Sweater by Axel Clarke begins with bold and dramatic metrical gestures and unfolds in what sounds like a rather strict metrical environment (as opposed to the metrical freedom found in Tribute). Tempo becomes the most motivating factor in the various sections of A Cosby Sweater. Having these various groove zones stitched together is somewhat reminiscent of the title’s source…

Arc & Current is the most pitch-based work and uses only steel drums as its instrumentation. Irregular rhythms and punchy homophonic accents motivate the Arc movement while a more tender and slower (although not THAT slow) melodic line winds through Current. Under these irregular melodic phrases come moments of pop-inspired cadential harmony which work very nicely. This final movement reminded me of harmonic and structural moments in the Levitan Marimba QuartetArc & Current contrasts with the rest of the works on this disc but, come to think of it, so does every other piece on this disc… At any rate, Ironworks makes all of these musical styles sound natural to them and manages to relate the sound world of each piece to the others. Each composition sounds different yet the entire album sounds coherent. Both Dave Gerhart and Axel Clarke should be commended on their performances, recording, and programming of this disc. I can’t wait to hear 2.

Comments 2 Comments »

A Different World CD cover art

string chamber music of James MacMillan 

Gregory Harrington, violin 

Estile Records 

  • Kiss on Wood
  • After the Tryst
  • A Different World
  • Fourteen Little Pictures
  • Walfrid, on his Arrival at the Gates of Paradise
  • 25th May, 1967
  • In Angustiis…I
  • In Angustiis…II (for violin solo)

James MacMillan’s lyrical instrumental writing often takes a back seat to his choral work and the compositions and performances on this CD make an excellent case against seeing MacMillan as someone restricted to the vocal idiom. Violinist Gregory Harrington is the central figure in these compositions and particularly shines on the opening three pieces for violin and piano. The wistful and lonesome melodic lyricism is expressive and emotionally compelling while still sounding very much of contemporary times. Pianist Simon Mulligan makes an excellent collaborator in these three works and is given a bit more to chew upon when cellist Caroline Stinson joins in for the Fourteen Little Pictures for piano trio. These miniatures are strung together in a seemingly stream-of-consciousness form that I find difficult to parse into separate components. On the one hand, the trio blends together extremely well for a singular chamber sound. On the other, the fourteen smaller works, almost entirely attacca, makes grasping the through line a bit of a challenge, at least to my ears. Programming this piece in the middle of the album makes a lot of formal sense. The shorter pieces do well to frame this 20 minute monolith.

The somber and haunting-yet-real musical material of the violin and piano works returns in Walfrid, on his Arrival at the Gates of Paradise for solo piano. Abruptly, the scene changes from the contemplative into a delightful dance tune towards the end. I find this move particularly enjoyable since it plays on the idea of being sad that someone is entering paradise. I can’t hear the dance tune strike up without smiling and, at the same time, being a little sad. Simon Mulligan has a generally light and breezy touch on the keys which keeps even the heaviest of chords from sounding too downtrodden. Similar treatment holds true for the piano works 25th May, 1967 and In Angustiis…I. The final track brings attention to the crystalline sounds of Gregory Harrington, who here brings an almost folk-ish quality to the solo violin version of In Angustiis…II. There is a permeating sadness to the piece but the affect is one of solitary contemplation instead of heart wrenching sobs. MacMillan’s music is evocative and expressive, even when he isn’t setting text which expresses those emotions. The performers and performances on this disc seize every opportunity for expression on this recording and make a very compelling disc.

Comments No Comments »