Posts Tagged “Jay Batzner”
Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, tags: barlow, basinski, beglarian, CD Review, curran, duncan, electronic, flute, instrumental, jacob tv, Jay Batzner, lucier, oliveros, riley, rzewski, Scelsi, 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.
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- Hurdle Rate
- Professional Smile
- Hardwired Superstition
- Dumb Young
- Side Pockets
- Orson Elvis
- Redemption Fee
- The Movie We’re In
- Words are Missing
- Prosperity Gospel
- Sky Sprites
- Thumb Skills
- Make Her Won
- Blow Dried Bodies
- The Next World
- The Albany Handshake
- God Said No
- 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.
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Bang on a Can All-Stars
Big Beautiful Dark and Scary
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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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, tags: bassoon, CD Review, chamber, George Perle, instrumental, Jay Batzner, John Fitz Rogers, Judah Adashi, Katherine Hoover, Paul Moravec, Peter Kolkay, Russel Platt
Peter Kolkay, bassoon
with Alexandra Nguyen, piano
- 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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Ironworks Percussion Duo
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 Quartet. Arc & 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.
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A Different World
string chamber music of James MacMillan
Gregory Harrington, violin
- 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.
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Monica Harte, soprano
Long Island Songs
songs by George Brunner, Tom Cipullo, Christian Mcleer, and Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- Long Island Songs by Tom Cipullo
- Three Japanese Songs by George Brunner
- See the Lilies of the Field by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- In Remembrance of Me by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- Why Faith Abides by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- No Bird Soars too High by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- Three Light Pieces by Christian McLeer
- Longing Eternal Bliss by Christian McLeer
Monica Harte brings her bright clarion voice to several short song cycles on this MSR disc. Tom Cipullo’s Long Island Songs maintain a solid harmonic palette by using plenty of textural changes that keep the collection sounding fresh. The serious “Invocation” is followed by a rigorous and busy “The Odor of Pear.” The third song, “The Nesconset of Crickets” is sparse and brief, leading seamlessly into the more traditionally narrative “The Crane at Gibb’s Pond.”
Three Japanese Songs by George Brunner are wonderfully small gems of text setting and mood creation. The melodic line floats and twists in the air over extremely spartan piano touches. Most of the piano writing is monophonic, working in counterpoint with the featured melodic line. The longest of the three is still under two minutes long but each does such a fantastic job of capturing the poetry that I am never left wanting. This is the only piece in which the composer is not the pianist; Noby Ishida does much with the understated part.
Christian McLeer’s two collections are charming and lyrical. Harmonies can be very straightforward or a bit more intriguing and he carefully balances the textures of his accompaniment to not interfere with the vocal line. The four songs by Anne Dinsmore Phillips are much more conservative in taste. The voice sings a melody, the piano accompanies with traditional harmonies. There are few surprises in either melody or harmony and they left me with the impression that I’d heard them before but they don’t leave a lasting impression.
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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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Soundings for a New Piano
R. Andrew Lee, piano
Irritable Hedgehog Music
Ann Southam is one of those composers I wish I would have been introduced to sooner. Soundings was the first piece of hers that I have heard and the work brings forth such a delicious dichotomy that I have scoured available sources to find more of her music and hear how it is, and simultaneously is not, an example of commonly mentioned techniques. The two words that I have heard tossed about regarding Southam’s music are “serialism” and “postminimalism.” Soundings is easily both and yet also neither. Is there a twelve-tone process at work? In a sense. The austere opening arpeggio adds new tones as a means of development and Southam admits to working with the same row for several decades. Is this post-minimal? Why not? There is a rhythmic stubbornness but it seems to come from a sense of obsession with the sonority rather than some rigorous process. This is the same opening chord (and articulation) found in Southam’s Simple Lines of Enquiry, so obsession seems to be the right word. In contrast to Simple Lines, Soundings has a more urgent aura about it and a brighter, more vivacious piano sound in the recording.
Through the twelve short movements and one central interlude, this chord is played out in mostly monophonic and spacious gestures. The serial music you are taught to hate in college doesn’t ruminate, it lectures. This music, serial in the looses sense, is languid and floating. Deceptively simple arpeggios dissipate from the beginning to the interlude, where time seems to stop completely. Post interlude, thick and chunky chords appear and provide the firmament for the final five movements. Those meaty chords try to dissolve but rebuild themselves in the 11th movement and, once they have been worked out of the composer’s system, the whole composition unwinds and vanishes.
This EP release (Soundings is around 23 minutes) is another excellent vehicle for R. Andrew Lee to showcase a subtle virtuosity and sensitive musical touch. It is also one of the best sounding pianos I’ve heard on disc in quite some time. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am close friends with David and Michelle McIntire, the Executive Producers of this album and masterminds of the Irritable Hedgehog label. You may subsequently dismiss this review as cronyism but I am positive those thoughts will evaporate once you’ve heard this disc or their An Hour for Piano recording (both available for free streaming on their website).
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The Pulitzer Project
Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus
Carlos Kalmar, Conductor; Christopher Bell, Chorus Director
- A Free Song – William Schuman
- Appalachian Spring – Aaron Copland
- The Canticle of the Sun – Leo Sowerby
Cedille’s initial release of The Pulitzer Project comes across as one of those great ideas that you can’t believe hasn’t been done before. With all the pomp and circumstance that revolves around the Pulitzer, it is a real shocker to find how few of these pieces are commercially recorded, much less have entered any sort of regular programming rotation. The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus seek to correct this startling issue by recording early Pulitzer winners and, in two out of of three cases on this disc, provide world premiere recordings, to boot.
William Schuman’s secular cantata A Free Song won the first Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1943 and the piece is a contemporary of his better known Symphony for Strings (Symphony #5). The choral writing is full of strong and richly scored harmonic writing with a few excited sprinkles of contrapuntal writing. The text, From Drum Taps by Walt Whitman, seems made for Schuman’s setting. Part I is somber and solemn with an almost ritualistic quality. Part II begins with boisterous imitative fugal counterpoint in the orchestra which quickly catches fire in that typical Schuman way.
Leo Sowerby’s The Canticle of the Sun is the last work on the disc and is comprised of 11 shorter attaca movements based on text by St. Francis of Assisi. Sowerby’s music is lush and dramatic at the opening but Sowerby easily transforms the mood from segment to segment. The music is equally playful, tender, rhapsodic, bold, and joyful. While the chorus dominates the musical activity, the orchestra deftly balances its activity and blurbles so as to never get in the way of the voices. The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus have created an exemplary recording of these works.
In an interesting choice of programming, this disc skips Howard Hanson’s 4th Symphony, the Pulitzer winner in 1944 and skips on to Appalachian Spring and The Canticle of the Sun, winners of the 1945 and 1946 prizes, respectively. I take some issue with this exclusion of the Hanson but I can see all sides of the situation. Cedille is aiming the disc at as broad of a market as possible. Librarian/collector folks will be interested in hearing the world premiere recordings of lesser known (or completely unknown) works. Appalachian Spring, the single most performed Pulitzer winner in the history of the prize, is going to attract a broader audience who are simply interested in that piece. Since the Schuman and the Sowerby each use chorus and orchestra, it does make a certain amount of programming sense to have those two works on the same disc, too. Personally, I would rather have a Grant Park Orchestra recording of Hanson’s Fourth Symphony than another recording if Appalachian Spring.
Appalachian Spring is, in some ways, a bit of a let down. The performance is solid and the orchestra does a great job with the piece, but this is the same Appalachian Spring that I’ve heard hundreds of times before. If the GPO would have recorded the work in its original 13 instrument form, with the full ballet score and not the shortened suite that has become so popular, then I would have been exceedingly interested in the disc. Furthermore, the longer version with its original instrumentation was the piece that won the Pulitzer, not the popular orchestral suite. There would be no better time to record that version of Appalachian Spring than this very disc.
As it stands, the disc gives good performances of lesser known works and one warhorse. It is interesting to hear how the sound world of a “Pulitzer winner” has changed in the last 70 some years. I hope the series continues and might consider putting Concerto Fantastique alongside the 1992 winner The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark due to the notoriety of the Shapey work. That isn’t going to happen, I know, but a guy can dream.
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