Posts Tagged “Piano”
Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, Piano, tags: Canada, CD Review, cello, chamber music, Jay Batzner, Montreal, Piano, piano trio, strings, violin
5 x 3
- Ana Sokolovic – Portrait parle
- Paul Frehner – Quarks Tropes
- Jean Lesage – Le projet Mozart, où l’auteur s’interroge sur la complexité du style et le métissage des genres
- Analia Llugdar – Tricycle
- Chris Paul Harman – Piano Trio
Julie-Anne Derome, violin; Gabriel Prynn, violoncello; Anna D’Errico, piano
Trio Fibonacci is quite a group. I first heard them on their recording of Jonathan Harvey works a few years back and I am astounded at their ability to program and perform Old Warhorses alongside cutting-edge contemporary music. This recent release, 5 x 3, plays to the trio’s strengths in technique and interpretation providing an end result of excellent music making. All of the composers represented have some connection to the Montreal new music scene but beyond that, the five compositions provide unique experiences. Ana Sokolovic’s Portrait parle, inspired by 19th century French phrenology practices, is reminiscent of the sparkling colors and shifting hazes found in Jonathan Harvey. The trio is made of many small vignettes which are woven together in a compelling and kaleidoscopic narrative. Paul Frehner’s Quarks Tropes is about as different as it could be: long, stoic melodic lines and dark harmonic tones in the first movement and aggressive energies in the second. The more conservative harmonic language is still fresh and inviting as both movements traverse satisfying emotional arcs.
Le projet Mozart, où l’auteur s’interroge sur la complexité du style et le métissage des genres (The Mozart Project, where the author questions himself on the complexity of styles and mixing of genres), other than winning long title competitions, shines a wondrous magnifying lens on the music of Mozart and watches it melt and subsequently catch fire. Jean Lesage treats the Mozart as an elusive figure, slipping in and out of recognizability with remarkable skill. The music could, and does, go anywhere at any time. Analia Llugdar’s Tricycle brings back the coloristic sound world of the Sokolovic trio but with an emphasis on pointalistic moments and slowly developing shapes. Energies ebb and flow throughout the piece but the overall vibe projected is one of almost serene detachment.
The final composition on this disc is Chris Paul Harman’s Piano Trio, set in six brief movements. This composition gives Trio Fibonacci yet another chance to shine since it contains some of the most intricate and quickly orchestrated material on the entire disc. Trio Fibonacci is adept at sounding as a singular unit as well as three separate virtuosi but this Piano Trio gives Trio Fibonacci the presence of 9 people. The overall rough and rugged language (pitch and rhythm) is a great contrast to the delicate works which proceeded it and its closing position on the disc is a good choice. The silky smooth and poignant ending in movements 5 and 6 (attaca) is a surprise (which I’ve ruined for you now but it is still worth hearing).
In general, there is hardly anything left that you should want from this disc. The excellent music, fabulous performances, and great programming have kept this disc in my regular rotation for quite some time.
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Tre Canti Popolari
Due Componimenti Impetuosi
Sub Rosa record
- Tre Canti Popolari: Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto, Vincent Bouchot – baritone, Paul Gérimon – bass
- Duo: Georg-Alexander Van Dam – violin, Jean-Paul Dessy – cello
- Wo Ma: Paul Gérimon – bass
- Sauh: Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto
- Aitsi: Jean-Luc Fafchamps – piano
- Sonate #4: Johan Bossers – piano
- Suite #11: Johan Bossers – piano
Vocal chamber music and solo piano works form the bulk of this two disc assortment of Scelsi’s music on Sub Rosa. Being mostly familiar with Scelsi’s instrumental chamber music, I was anxious to hear how he wrote for unaccompanied voices. Tre Canti Popolari does not disappoint at all. All of the focus and dramatic tension from Scelsi’s string quartets is transfered beautifully into the vocal medium. The four performers sound tremendously good. The blend is sublime but there is never a sense of monochromaticism. The vocalists’ sensitivity and balance between independence and ensemble elevate this already stunning composition. I am also a big fan of the male voice selections, specifically the choice of baritone and bass instead of tenor/bass or tenor/baritone. Sclesi’s natural darkness gets accentuated by the darker vocal colors. As enamored as I am with the quartet’s performance, I am equally enamored with Paul Gérimon’s interpretation of Wo Ma and Marianne Pousseur’s and Lucy Grauman’s performance of Sauh. These soulful performances wring every note for its full amount of nuance and emotion. The only thing better would be hearing it live.
The Duo for violin and cello is a bit of an outlier on this disc being the only work that involves strings. The piece is well executed and serves as a great sonic break for the vocal pieces. The composition is lithe and intense, disquieting and expressive. The first disc closes with the solo piano work Aitsi and Scelsi’s piano music, once again, has the ability to captivate with extremely little surface activity. The opening punctuations of Aitsi are sudden and harsh, at first obscuring the delicious amplified distortion. After several thwacks, though, the vibrant electronic sounds nourish the chords into longer and richer lifespans.
Disc two of this set is comprised of solo piano works composed about a decade before anything on the first CD (with the exception of the short 2 years between Suite #11 and Tre Canti Popolari). In Piano Sonata #4, from 1942, I can hear the aural conflict between the musical language of the time and the language Scelsi would later develop. The first movement is thorny and jagged but the low register melody meanders in an unusually drunken-yet-focused way. Movement two, with its open harmonies and tenderly dark melody, hints at the expressive power of his later compositions while the final movement is spastic and rough with a singular trajectory.
Suite #11 is a real trip. To my ears, I hear Scelsi experimenting with alternate ways of organizing and expressing his musical nature. Each of the nine movements contains a stream-of-consciousness feel that keeps the piece, however loosely, from breaking apart into musical atoms. The energies present in the piece reminds me of the rugged atonal expressionist American composers from the early 20th century such as Ruggles and Ornstein – the time when free atonality was brash and expansive instead of smug and superior (but maybe I’m romanticizing that a bit). Suite #11 is wild, unhinged, and Johan Bossers plays it with the right amount of control and furor.
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Piano Works (revisited)
I was surprised when the two-disc collection of piano music (composed and performed) by Elodie Lauten had me entranced from the opening of the first track: Cat Counterpoint. I approached this particular track with a fair amount of apprehension. I’ve simply been around too many instances of composers using their pet’s meanderings on music instruments as source material. Any hesitation I felt towards the track melted away within seconds. Instead of Lolcats, the room filled with driving and energetic punctuations. You can’t judge a track by its title.
The collected Piano Works from 1983 take the lead on the first disc: Cat Counterpoint, Revelation, Adamantine Sonata, Alien Heart, and Imaginary Husband make for excellent character pieces as well as a cycle of works. There is a foundation in minimalism present, as one would expect from an icon of the Downtown scene. Lauten’s minimalist language is one full of play and punk, separating it from the austere minimalism found safely inside textbooks. The underlying simplicity lends to a strong sense of flow over process. Each piece creates a moment that rarely extends beyond itself nor do they need to extend. These 1983 pieces were constructed with an ear and not a slide rule. I find Adamantine Sonata particularly charming.
The inclusion of ambient sound and supporting electronics is frequent in the 1983 works and the technique is put in overdrive for Lauten’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory. This 1984 set uses a quilt of disconnected instrumental and electronic textures to create eight signature moments. Each of these segments is strongly focused around a shape, texture, or groove and throughout the segment’s lifespan the idea simply is. There is a zen element in this concerto, each track is totally of the moment. Some listeners may want more of a sense of trajectory and dramatic shape but I am not among them. These moments are what they are and as such they are fascinating. The spacious Orchestral Memory and the cheeky Tempo di Habanera form polar opposites of affect and, for that very reason, appeal to me the most. Disc one closes with a fairly straight-ahead Tango with a mournful and husky vocal line.
If you are looking for a deep end off which to go, then disc two will be happy to serve you. Instead of many short tracks, disc two provides two beefy works: Variations on the Orange Cycle and Sonate Modale. Any criticisms laid out about disc one’s lack of trajectory can be laid to rest in Orange Cycle. Within the opening seconds I knew I was going to be here for a while, letting the hypnotic and resonant sounds wash over me, La Monte Young-style. After about seventeen minutes, Lauten does the most amazing thing. The low drone, the foundation of the very work, goes away. The listener drifts and floats, untethered for some time, and when the low voice returns it is not the same static firmament we had left behind us. Where I expected the drone to reassert itself, it never finds full strength again. The piece closes on that drone pitch but with uncertainty, timidity, and quiet. The world of the piece has changed and Lauten did not take the easy way out. Variations on the Orange Cycle is worth every second.
Sonate Modale, in this live recording from Toronto in 1985, is a rather intimate experience. I felt as though I was a fly on the wall while Lauten created all the 1983 pieces and the Concerto. The ambient electronic environments are cut from the same cloth as the earlier pieces and the live piano meanders through gestures and stream-of-consciousness improvisations. Dramatically, the piece works well as a whole, as if Lauten decided to stich together the quilt of the Concerto.
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Red Garuda / Rilke Songs / Bagatelles /
Peter Serkin, James Conlon, New York Philharmonic, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Orion String Quartet
First, a clarification: “Red Garuda” is not the name of a gangster, a professional wrestler, or a rodeo cowboy. Garudas are colossal bird-like creatures that exist in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. A golden Garuda is the symbol of Indonesia and the name of its national airline. A red Garuda is the national symbol of Thailand. More to the point of why contemporary American composer Peter Lieberson (b.1946) chose this title for his work for piano and orchestra, the Garuda is said to be capable of flying vast distances without tiring and of changing its shape and size. Thus, the creature can be taken as an emblem of absolute freedom, of a life unrestricted by conventional limitations. The inspiration for the creative artist is clear. As Lieberson explains it, “Before I began composing the piece, I had a dream vision of sitting on the back of a huge Garuda flying over different kinds of landcapes.” The work premiered, significantly, in 1999, the year the composer married his wife, the late, beloved mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The wonderful upsurge of powerful emotion one encounters in the 25 minute work may well reflect the joy he felt at this time.
Red Garuda is listed as Lieberson’s second piano concerto, but is really more a symphonic poem with a piano soloist, much in the way that Scriabin’s Poem of Fire is. The analogy is not an idle one, as Lieberson employs Scriabinesque pulsating chords, tubular bells, and powerful contributions from the lower strings and bass drum to portray the Garuda’s emergence from the darkness and the apprehensive atmosphere of a pre-dawn world. This striking introduction, powerfully realized by pianist Peter Serkin and by the New York Philharmonic under James Conlon, gives way to variations symbolizing the ancient elements of Fire, Water, and Earth combined with Wind, as the Garuda soars over continents and oceans.
Eastern mythology is one thing. But when it comes to the verse of German language Austro-Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), that’s something else! I must confess I’m beyond my depth when it comes to explicating lines such as “Oh be inspired for the flame, in which a Thing disppears and bursts into something else; the spirit of re-creation which masters this earthly form, loves most the pivoting point where you are no longer yourself.” While even Lieberson admits there are lines in Rilke that defy exact explanation, the sense one gets in Rilke of continual transformation, of becomings rather than endings, obviously appeals strongly to him as a composer. That he could draw on the interpretive insights of his wife and of his frequent collaborator Peter Serkin in his settings of five of Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus” was definitely to his advantage. I was especially impressed with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s considerable prowess as a song interpreter, which is essential in re-creating the sense of a very difficult and often paradoxical poet, and then expressing it in terms of pure lyricism.
I wasn’t as taken with Lieberson’s three Bagatelles (1985), partly because the titles puzzled me. My notion of a “bagatelle” is that of a trifle or an amusing anecdote, something lighter in mood than these somber piano pieces. “Proclamation” bears out its name musically well enough, but “Spontaneous Songs” seems a misnomer for a group of short subjects that strike me as rather hesitant and not terribly lyrical at all, and “Nocturne” might have been a better title for the restlessly probing third movement that Lieberson calls “The Dance.”
I’m more sanguine about Lieberson’s Piano Quintet (2003), an energetic work that further benefits from an outstanding performance by Serkin and the Orion String Quartet (Daniel Phillips and Todd Phillips, violins; Steve Tenenbom, viola; and Timothy Eddy, cello). By this time, Serkin had been performing with the Orions for years, going back to the old days at Marlboro, and its shows in the solid mutual support these musicans give one another. The spirit of Cape Breton folk fiddling permeates the mood and rhtyhms of this music, evoking a place with strong associations for the composer. Part I of the work is in the form of a fantasy based on a four-note motif heard early-on. There is a brief interlude, the theme of which becomes the subject of a finely wrought fugue in Part II which builds to a vigorous climax. We have a recolection of earlier material, including a terse quotation of the four-note motif that we heard at the beginning, and then it all ends suddenly, good night and good luck!
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Millikan, Piano
Music of Ann Millikan
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Grigor Palikarov, conductor
- Ballad Nocturne (with Emanuele Arciuli, piano)
- Trilhas de Sombra
- Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal
Ann Millikan’s music is a wonderfully eclectic mix of several contemporary compositional styles and yet Millikan retains an individual and consistent voice throughout each work on this Innova CD. Ballad Nocturne, (2009) for piano and chamber orchestra, puts jazz harmonies and figurations through a Druckman-esque prism. Neither straight-ahead jazz nor purely-abstract instrumental music, this piece encapsulates Millikan’s musical personality: that of a synthesizer. Disperate elements flow together and mix in seamless compositions. Around the 8 minute mark of Ballad Nocturne, time simply stops as high strings and a repeated high piano figure float over a slightly-disturbed walking piano bass. The piece switches gears from pseudo-lounge to Morton Feldman without dislocating the listener’s eardrum. Instead of ending the piece at this moment, which I fully expected, a more traditional jazz ballade lugubriously emerges and clarifies everything we’ve heard previously with the subdued juxtaposition of earlier elements.
Perhaps jazz transformations aren’t your thing. No worries there, because the orchestral triptych Trilhas de Sombra, (2009) a programatic work based upon a story written by Millikan’s niece, feeds any needs you have for good ol’ American atonal expressionism. Except, of course, when Millikan doesn’t need such language to express the ideas in the story. Gestures and textures tend to abound instead of melodies but the music is still a cohesive unit that moves in a single, unified direction. The melodies that emerge are long and fluid and showcased with solid and direct orchestrations. Millikan doesn’t get caught in the trap of being overly clever and instead crafts a wonderfully picturesque and programatic work and like many great programatic orchestral showcases, Trilhas de Sombra doesn’t come across as a movie soundtrack without the visuals. Unabashedly contemporary in sound, this is an approachable and enjoyable work that does not condescend to the listener.
Millikan has been flexing her synthesis muscles in the previous two works and the final composition, as one would expect, merges elements from the previous two (even though it is the earliest piece on the disc – 2008). Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal is just as trippy and fun as the title might suggest. I don’t know how to land “inside the inside” of something, nor do I wholly understand how the spacey, abstract, atonal music of the first half relates to the Afro-Cuban inspired dance rhythms that drive the second half. I also don’t know how this all ties into the “story of initiation” mentioned in the program notes. You know what? I don’t care that I don’t know how this works. It works. Being a fan of WTF moments in compositions, Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal hits me right where I live. This piece is a journey but, unlike Trilhas de Sombra, there didn’t seem to be a predetermined path to follow. It is as if Millikan just struck out to go somewhere and ended up in the most wonderful and fantastic places.
I do have one problem with this disc. While the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra sounds great on each piece, it really irks me that such purely American music written in the last 2 years had to be outsourced for the recording. I should think that American orchestras would be falling all over themselves to perform and record Millikan’s output.
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Long Piano (Peace March 11)
Thomas Schultz, piano
New World Records
When faced with a work promoting a specific political or ideological slant it can be hard to find the line between art and propaganda. Christian Wolff’s Long Piano (Peace March 11) definitely falls into the category of a politically-inspired work but the music itself remains austere and carefully detached from its surroundings. Composed in 2004-2005, this hour long solo piano work is built largely of sparse gestures and thin textures. The piece is constantly beginning anew and never fully coalesces in any one place for long. Each fragment has its own internal life and motivations. Thomas Schultz certainly had his work cut out for him in creating a coherent and linear performance of a work that is almost anything but. Schultz is displaying a type of virtuosity that goes beyond pounding volumes and rapid arpeggios.
Never still enough to be ambient yet not directed enough to contain a typical emotional through line, Long Piano seems set on an eternal simmer. It still manages to make you pay attention to it and simply hear its sound.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, chamber music, free improvisation, Jay Batzner, Piano, saxophone, strings, Vocal, voice
Vivian Houle, vocalist
- Mandrake (with Peggy Lee, cello)
- Molehills mumps (with Lisa miller, piano)
- Paperthin (with Coat Cooke, saxophone)
- Gratte-moi le dos (with Kenton Loewen, drums)
- Quiet eyes (with Ron Samworth, guitar)
- It’s not the moon (with Chris Gestrin, analog keyboards and live sampling)
- Betters and bads (with Jesse Zubot, violin)
- Finely tuned is my heart (with Jeremy Berkman, trombone)
- Au revas (with Paul Plimley, piano)
- A little storm (with Jeff Younger, guitar)
- Bells hung in a tree (with Clyde Reed, bass)
- Song not for you (with Brent Belke, guitar)
- Curve (with Stefan Smulovitz, kenaxis)
The very essence of chamber music is perfectly captured in these thirteen tracks. Viviane Houle’s duets with each of these artists is raw music making – free improvisations that transcend the ordinary and provide sonic experiences unlike anything else. Houle’s sonic repertoire is no short of astonishing. Half of the time I can’t tell which sounds she is making and which are being made by her instrumental counterpart. On the same token, both performers on each track are so adept at listening to each other that the flow of events sounds totally organic and alive. While the bulk of the tracks are showcases for Houle’s vocal fireworks she is always blending with the ensemble and creating a sonic “hyperinstrument” that is neither one nor the other.
A few of the tracks feature a more traditional melodic and sung role for the voice. Houle, who also wrote all the texts, trends towards the smokey and hazy sounds of somber jazz or beat poetry. Her rich sound and warm emotional expressions are further featured on one of my favorite tracks, It’s not the moon. Houle’s voice is the DNA of Chris Gestrin’s synth work creating a haunting, graceful, and eternal sounding track.
The last three tracks on the disc transition smoothly from one to the next, making an excellent journey. Bells hung in a tree has a subdued ending that sounds like it continues as the next track fades in. Song not for you hits me right in my Heavy Metal spot. Houle and Belke sound like a great thrashing metal duo from somewhere in the Oort Cloud who have recently learned to sing using random Japanese phonemes (and I mean that in the best possible way). The thrash continues while the ambient sizzle of Curve takes over. Like It’s not the moon, Curve puts Houle’s voice in the background and she inexorably emerges from the synthetic world into an oozing and pulsating mass of delicious aural goo.
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Stations of the Breath
music for Disklavier and others
The Code International
- Connecticut Nocturne, Moon over Mudge Pond
- Like Powder to the Light
- The Ceremony of Souls (with Dave Eggar, cello)
- Stations of the Breath
- The Ghost of Juniper Ledge (Ned McGowan, contrabass flute)
When I first received this disc of Steve Horowitz’s music for Disklavier, my initial assumption was that the music would be thick and heavy, taking advantage of the complexity that human performers cannot readily achieve but a Disklavier can manage quite easily. The titles of the tracks, though, seemed in direct conflict with Nancarrow/Gann-style rhythmic shenanigans. Much to my surprise, the music on the disc is much more meditative, expansive, and considerably less dense than I assumed. The end result is music that defies its mechanical creation. The moods, shapes, and gestures sound as if a human being is performing. The only giveaway, to my ears, is the thinner and slightly tinny quality of the Disklavier’s timbre.
So what, you might ask, is the point? Why use technology when you don’t have to? It is a question that I’m sure will keep coming up. The bottom line, though is that my ears don’t want to hear technology. They want to hear music. This disc is certainly far more concerned with making music than flexing any technological muscles. Unplayable passages may be few and far between but effective and enjoyable music abounds.
The opening track is a glimmering nocturne that evokes its mood in gentle swaths of harmonies and gestures. The music is filled with tonal inflections which are far from derivative harmonies but still coherent and leading. Like Powder to the Light is a jagged and playful toccata reminiscent at times to Bartok rhythms with hints of Nancarrow’s boogie-woogie or Crawford-Seeger’s mixed accents.
The Ceremony of Souls, cowritten by cellist Dave Eggar, again draws on gestures and colors rather than straight ahead motives or melodies. A long, solemn cello line exists in spite of the spastic and punchy piano chords. As the piece unfolds, a relationship between the two instruments emerges. The piano punches start to lock in with the cellist’s line and gradually the two morph into one with the cello ending up in the piano’s original hectic and wild realm.
Stations of Breath is a slow, expansive work that seems as if it could go on forever. The harmonies and timing sound natural and fluid, as if the work was always playing somewhere and this CD represents a mere slice of the eternal. The Ghost of Juniper Ledge is similar to Stations of Breath in many ways. The timeless quality is shared but the harmonic language is thinner and events are much more sparse. The contrabass flute is not competing with or working at cross purposes with the piano, the two instruments are one. The music simply hangs in the air. I find these last two tracks the most compelling on the disc. They are the least technological but musically the most affective. The moods are straightforward, the ideas are right on the surface, and the execution is well worth experiencing.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Clarinet, Jay Batzner, OgreOgress, Piano, tags: bassoon, CD Review, chamber music, Clarinet, Hovhaness, Jay Batzner, oboe, OgreOgress, Piano, strings
cd cover art
Hovhaness: solos, duos, and trios
music of Alan Hovhaness
Paul Hersey, piano; Christina Fong, violin|viola; Libor Soukal, bassoon; Jirí Å estí¡k, oboe; Karen Krummel, cello; Michael Kornacki & John Varineau, clarinets; Christopher Martin, viola
Trio I for piano, violin & cello Op. 3 (1935)
Sonata Ricercare for piano Op. 12 (1935)
Artinis ‘Urardüan Sun God’ for piano Op. 39 (1945)
Suite for oboe & bassoon Op. 23 (1949)
Poseidon Sonata for piano Op. 191 (1957)
Bardo Sonata for piano Op. 192 (1959)
Sonatina for piano Op. 120 (1962)
Trio for strings Op. 201 (1962)
Three Haikus for piano Op. 113 (1965)
Night of a White Cat for clarinet & piano Op. 263 (1973)
Sonata for 2 bassoons Op. 266 (1973)
Sonata for 2 clarinets Op. 297 (1977)
Sonata for oboe & bassoon Op. 302 (1977)
Sonata for viola Op. 423 (1992)
The vastly prolific composer Alan Hovhaness gets captured in a time capsule of chamber music in this OgreOgress release. This 126 minute DVD-A disc (96kHz|24bit for you audiophiles out there) contains a full fourteen chamber pieces, thirteen of which are getting premiere recordings. The chronological ordering of works provides a journey from Hovhaness’ early populist tonal/modal style through his initial experiments with his better known Eastern influenced mystical language. There are pieces from each decade of Hovhaness’ productivity so if you are wanting a sampler of Hovhaness’ chamber output, there really isn’t a better place to start than this recording.
While probably better known for his symphonies, Hovhannes is equally skilled at writing his musical ideas in chamber form. The disc is crammed full of top notch performances and the audio quality of the disc is stunning. The solo piano works are rich with harmonics. The string trio sounds as if they are right in front of you. I was especially struck by the overtones in Libor Soukal’s bassoon sound in the Op. 23 Suite for oboe and bassoon.
There is no one large, dominating work on this disc which again makes it enjoyable for hearing the evolution of Hovhannes’ style and also encouraging performers to take up more of his chamber music. As I first listened to the disc, I was surprised at the style of the earlier pieces but the through line of Hovhaness’ development seemed as natural as breathing air. Then, when I started over with the early piano trio, I was amazed at how much of the later music is hidden in the earlier. Flirtations with modality in the early pieces evolve into raga-esque melodies a few decades down the road.
Each performance on this disc is well crafted from the performer to the ensemble through to the recording. The musical language overall is accessible and just plain pretty. I was especially fond of the piano trio, the piano sonatina, the string trio, Night of a White Cat, and the solo viola sonata. That is quite possibly more music than I would get on a standard CD. The fact that I get all the other works, which I also enjoyed, is a major bonus. OgreOgress is doing it right with good music, great performers and performances, and excellent recordings.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Clarinet, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, chamber music, Clarinet, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Piano, saxophone
Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets
Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon
- Rafael Leonardo Junchaya – Tres Danzas Episkénicas
- HyeKyung Lee – Shadowing
- Keith Carpenter – The Devil His Due
- Eric Honour – neither from nor towards
- Marco Antonio Mazzini – Imprevisto
- Kevin Walczyk – Refractions
- Fernando Benadon – Five Miniatures
The Thelema Trio’s modular nature, even within the context of being a trio, is one of its primary strengths and they strut their stylistic, coloristic, versatile stuff with this collection of pieces. No two works share the same instrumentation nor do any of the compositions share the same sound world. The only performer not showcased with a solo feature of some sort is the pianist but Ward De Vleeschhouwer is a superb collaborative artist who can highlight his abilities within a chamber music setting. Peter Verdonck has excellent tone and energy on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones and Marc Antonio Mazzini has a lithe and supple sound on standard or bass clarinet. Together, the two reed players have a perfectly communal sound quality.
Each piece on the disc showcases the Thelema Trio’s mercuriality. Rafael Leonardo Junchaya’s Tres Danzas Episkénicas is equal parts sultry, ethereal and playful. This work uses the most instruments overall with the reeds changing from bass clarinet to clarinet and use of baritone and tenor saxophones. Overall, these dances are attractive, slightly thorny pitch language and extremely well orchestrated.
HyeKyung Lee’s Shadowing is a canonic/imitative work for clarinet and alto saxophone. Long melodic lines weave in and out with sinewy and twisty motions. The blend between the performers is spot on and the whole piece has great long-term trajectory. The high climax reached early on in the work is the exact right music at the exact right time. Keith Carpenter’s raucous The Devil His Due for baritone sax and piano is a punchy, aggressive, and energetic toccata for the two instruments. Instead of the baritone sax being the “front man” of the piece, both instruments engage in funky rhythmic interplay.
The title track on the CD, neither from nor towards, is an extended rhapsody for baritone sax, clarinet, and piano written by Eric Honour. This obsessive piece spends a lot of time spinning its wheels (in a good way) where the music is, indeed, neither from anywhere nor moving towards anywhere. Long overlapping tones in the reeds and mid-range piano are broken by the occasional spiky piano accents in extreme registers. Gradually a melody emerges and by the halfway point we are in a soaring, melodic section. The soaring becomes frenetic, dies down, but then trashes around with one last outburst. If you were to drop in on any single section of the piece, you might wonder how it all fits together. But listening to the complete work, Eric Honour draws an excellent through-line. The programming for this piece is perfect since it showcases not only the coloristic blend between the reeds but also the rhythmic punctuation possibilities found in earlier works.
The only solo composition on the disc, Marco Antonio Mazzini’s Imprevisto sounds like music we aren’t really supposed to be hearing. The slow unfolding work for clarinet gives the impression that we are eavesdropping on the performer while they worked out musical/emotional stuff. This piece is haunting and captivating. Refractions, by Kevin Walczyk, brings back some playful and bouncy music back to the disc. The motoric repeated notes in the piano provide a platform for melodies and shapes in the alto sax and clarinet. The energy is constantly pushing forward, even when the music slows and becomes more tender. The light and springy material returns to close out the composition.
Finally, the Five Miniatures for baritone sax, bass clarinet, and piano by Fernando Benadon are delightfully quirky pieces that present a focal idea, perseverate upon said idea, and then vanish. Niether of the five movements feels underwritten and, while one might hear how each idea could become longer, I think it would destroy the chiseled nature of these pieces. There is a lot of fun and whimsy in their brevity, making this piece the perfect waft of light flavor after a satisfying meal.
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