Posts Tagged “Piano”

Steve Horowitz  horowitz

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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cd cover art

cd cover art

Hovhaness: solos, duos, and trios

music of Alan Hovhaness

OgreOgress

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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    thelema trioThelema Trio

    Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets

    Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon

    innova records

    • 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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