Posts Tagged “strings”
Music of Vladimir Martynov
- The Beatitudes
- Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) (with Joan Jeanrenaud, cello)
- Der Abschied
David Harrington and John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola, Jeffrey Ziegler, cello
Vladimir Martynov’s flavor of minimalism (if you will allow me to call it that) is incredibly sneaky and pleasurable. When I received this disc in a simple, nondescript cardboard sleeve, I was unfamiliar with Martynov’s music but I was certainly looking forward to anything Kronos was going to play. At first, I was surprised by the complete conservatism of the first track The Beatitudes. A simple melody is repeated incessantly for five and a half minutes with an unsurprising and standard tonal harmonic progression. The thing is, it works. The tune is gorgeous in its sparseness and further listenings revealed subtle harmonic changes. It makes me think of one of the most important composition lesson’s I learned from the music of Schubert: you can’t go wrong with pretty. This piece is an arrangement of a choral work and while usually instrumental transcriptions of vocal pieces fall flat on me the variety used in scoring this music for four performers keeps the music fresh in the absence of text.
Speaking of Schubert, the Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished) was maddening at first listening. Schubertian harmonies and gestures abound but anything remotely melodic is surprisingly absent. It truly sounds like Martynov found a fragment of another Schubert quintet, one in which Schubert would later add a melody, and presents it whole for the listener to experience. The repetition of dramatic motions makes the work seem stuck at times but that only leads to more pleasurable breakthroughs as the piece evolves.
The epic Der Abschied does to Mahler what Martynov previously did to Schubert. A small moments and hints of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde are stretched out and composed through for 40 minutes. If you like Mahler but wanted it to have more breath and stillness, then this work is for you. What is even better is that you don’t need to have any connection to the Mahler prior to hearing this work. It is, in some ways, the antithesis of The Beatitudes which opened the disc. Der Abschied is a constantly shifting unresolved mist that keeps its hooks in you through tensions which are never satisfactorily released (sounds like Mahler, doesn’t it?) and holds you, breathless, until the music just floats away. I swear I could still hear the final string harmonics and cadences for the next half hour after the piece ended. It never lets go.
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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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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, tags: CD Review, chamber music, Clarinet, electronics, Jay Batzner, Missy Mazzoli, New Amsterdam, Piano, postminimalism, strings, violin, women composers
music of Missy Mazzoli
New Amsterdam Records
Victoire is Missy Mazzoli: compositions, keyboards, piano, melodica, toys; Olivia De Prato: violin; Lorna Krier: keyboards; Eileen Mack: clarinet; Eleonore Oppenheim: double bass, electric bass
- A Door into the Dark
- i am coming for my things
- Cathedral City
- Like a Miracle
- The Diver
- A Song for Mick Kelly
- A Song for Arthur Russell
- India Whiskey
Victoire is an ensemble that is hard to categorize. On the one hand, this is an instrumental chamber group that (on this album) is championing the music of one of its members. Mazzoli’s compositional voice is clear and focused, she definitely has something to say. The textures of the music, the timbres in the ensemble, the use of synthesizers and electronics, though, make Victoire appear less like a conventional chamber ensemble and more like a “band.” Unlike Build, a similar genre-bending group on the same label, Victoire’s connection to either the “chamber music” or “popular music” worlds is much more fluid. You can love or hate this group based on whichever camp you find yourself.
But enough about what Victoire is not. Mazzoli’s compositions are smooth and flowing with a aura of emotional detachment. Harmonies are comforting, long lyrical lines are abundant, and Mazzoli finds exciting ways to provide rhythmic propulsion without a dedicated percussionist. The music simmers. Distorted guitar in A Song for Mick Kelly could have plunged that track into some real spleen-venting thrash but Mazzoli shows excellent restraint and control. This isn’t minimalism, this isn’t pop, this is simply Mazzoli. Her compositional voice is distinct and highly listenable. Events unfold slowly, unhurried, but never lagging or taking too long.
Each player in Victoire blends extremely well with the various synth and electronic sounds that form the sound world of each track. I am especially drawn to the juxtaposition of bubbling synths and the lyrical line of the double bass in Like a Miracle. The various breathy and hollow synth sounds are well chosen for their blend.
Many vocal elements permeate the compositions but again, there is a distancing of those emotionally charged elements from the listener. i am coming for my things replicates an answering machine message rich with emotional potential. India Whiskey uses the same technique of distancing a vocal element by manipulating a “number station” recording of a male voice counting over radio static. This static becomes the rhythmic motivator of the track as well as a timbral touchstone for the synths and instruments. I fear that a lot of the discussion about Victoire is going to revolve around the “what are they/what aren’t they.” I would much rather put that conversation aside and focus on their product: Intriguing music of our time, expertly crafted, performed, and produced.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, minimalism, Women Composers, tags: Cantaloupe, CD Review, Ensemble Resonanz, Jay Batzner, Julia Wolfe, postminimalism, strings
Brad Lubman, conductor
The big question I had when putting in this disc for the first time was “Will a string orchestra be able to recreate the visceral power and energy that I find vital in Julia Wolfe’s string quartets?” My fear was that the harder and sharper attacks I enjoy will be too diluted with more players in the ensemble. It was a silly skepticism to hold and any trepidations I had quickly melted away once I started listening. Also, Ensemble Resonanz is the same group that recorded Weather and a disc of Xenakis. I was pretty sure I was going to have a good time with this CD.
Ensemble Resonanz and Julia Wolfe make an excellent team. Not only did Wolfe obviously compose music better suited for an orchestra than a quartet (it was foolish of me to doubt that she would) but Resonanz also threw serious energy behind both pieces. Cruel Sister, inspired by a dark Old English ballad, is expressive and emotive balancing the programmatic elements with a clean dramatic line that makes sense in the abstract. The hollow open intervals which throb away at the beginning enmesh with more angry and spiky punctuations. The four attacca movements are woven together in a solid and disrupted narrative. Ensemble Resonanz brings power and control to the whole range of the sonic spectrum and Wolfe adeptly showcases register and texture. I am especially fond of the transition between the second and third movements which is (to my ear) simultaneously abrupt yet smooth.
Fuel is a far more abstract work driven by the problems the world faces regarding the necessity of fuel. Ensemble Resonanz masterfully blends in a variety of coloristic techniques, making sounds like scratch tones a part of the woven tapestry of sound. The CD notes go so far as to state that electronics were not used at all and that all the sounds in the piece are acoustic. I think that disclaimer is a bit much. There is certainly a wider variety of string techniques and timbres in Fuel than in Cruel Sister but I never had a “What the heck was that?” reaction. Scratch tones, harmonics, tremolo, and filtering the sound via bow placement are all active parameters in the sound world. Again, Resonanz brings a whole lot of power throughout the registers and forms a massive hyper-instrument blend the likes of which make string quartets secretly jealous.
Wolfe’s music is also doing what she does best: frenetic power created through post-minimalist techniques that transcend mere repetition. The music materials are sharp, taut, basic, and the economy of material is expertly managed. Wolfe knows how to make a lot out of a little AND pull the listener along for the ride. Both works have programmatic elements but not knowing the program does not interfere with the listening experiences. These works sound fresh and contemporary and I’m confident that audiences in the future will continue to relate and connect with the ideas therein.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, minimalism, Piano, tags: CD Review, Charlemagne Palestine, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Piano, strings, Sub Rosa
(piano, harpsichord, and string ensemble versions)
Upon first cracking open this 3-CD collection of Strumming by Charlemagne Palestine, I saw the brief newspaper article by John Rockwell who tells the tale of a Palestine performance cut short because the composer was playing a Steinway and not a Bösendorfer (“cut short” is relative since the piece lasted 2.5 hours instead of 4). The article presents the situation as an acute case of “diva-itis” but when I heard the original version of Strumming (even listed as “for Bösendorfer piano”) and heard the massive clouds of overtones and sympathetic vibrations, I could see why Palestine would not be pleased with a Steinway instrument. So much of the piano version of Strumming doesn’t happen at the keyboard but in the air around it. The incessant keyboard hammerings melts into waves of sound much like dots in a Seurat painting. Around the 17 minute mark of this 52 minute performance from 1974 my brain couldn’t hear the keyboard anymore – just the spectra of the harmonies pushing against each other. The cresting wave around 30 minutes is an absolutely transcendent ride as is the surrender to the “power chords” 7 minutes later. I trust Charlemagne Palestine to deliver what he wants me to hear and this recording is one you can trust. As much as I would love to hear a more recent, higher-resolution, and longer version of the work, I think it is hard to call this performance anything other than definitive. It makes the 12 minute version of Strumming on the Godbear album feel like a 5 Second Film.
In addition to Palestine performing on Bösendorfer, the Sub Rosa collection has two other versions: one for harpsichord performed by Betsy Freeman in 1977 and one for a string ensemble organized at the SF Conservatory by John Adams in that same year. The harpsichord version weighs in at 35 minutes and is probably the closest to providing an actual “strum” aesthetic although without the pronounced melting of sustained sonic spectra. Freeman’s technique and treatment of the material is compelling and well paced. Some folks might approach a harpsichord version of Strumming with extreme distaste but there is no reason to avoid this wonderful performance.
I found the string ensemble version (about 25 minutes long) to be surprisingly sustained whereas the keyboards furiously chug away. There is nary a tremolo to be heard nor any other picturesque technical tricks that one would expect from string ensemble writing. The harmonic journey is laid bare and exposed in a frail and naked manner. It is this string version that I really hope gets taken up and revisited in a longer and higher quality recording (at least one without coughing). As a minor quibble, I’m not sure why this is sold as a 3 disc set since the harpsichord and string versions could comfortably fit on a single disc. True, there are few of us who will spin all versions back-to-back-to-back, but I always bristle when I have a disc with so much dead space by a composer known for extended compositions.
While these recordings are supposedly of the same piece of music, each of these versions contains a different element of “truth” to them. Each stands squarely on its own as a performance of a hypnotic and unique compositional voice instead of sounding as mere arrangements of the original piano version. These three recordings are interconnected the same way that good film/book pairings (2001, Blade Runner) contain the core of the work while still showcasing different distinct artistic visions.
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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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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, New World, tags: CD Review, chamber music, electronics, flute, Ingram Marshall, Jay Batzner, New World Records, strings
music of Ingram Marshall
performed by Todd Reynolds, Members of the Yale Philharmonia, The Berkley Gamelan, and Ingram Marshall
New World Records
for violin and electronic processing
for ensemble and tape
The Fragility Cycles (“Gambuh”)
for gambuh, synthesizer, and live electronic processing
The four works on this disc span the career of composer Ingram Marshall and provide keen insights into the organic, intuitive, and expressive sides to Marshall’s output. September Canons,
from 2002, draws its inspiration from September 11 and features floating and mournful lyricism from violinist Todd Reynolds. The composition and performance have a timelessness about them. Everything unfolds at a slow yet deliberate pace with a certain amount of serene detachment.
Peaceable Kingdom (1990) blends a live ensemble with various atmospheric and musical recordings with excellent results. The audio narrative and interaction of live and recorded sounds are constantly compelling. Inspired by travels to Yugoslavia, one key motif is a recorded funeral procession and other sounds evocative of a funeral in a small village. I began repeated listenings of the work without knowing any programmatic details and was simply draw into the sonic world of the piece. The mixture of ambient/natural sounds and obviously recorded music makes for interesting interplay with the live ensemble. Many times the ensemble mixture with the recorded events was such that I wasn’t sure if they were “live or Memorex,” if you will.
Woodstone, a play on the title and theme of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata, is an engrossing work for gamelan. The delicate and sparse opening morphs into more active and driving material that still keeps a slow yet steady pace towards its growth. This work does not sound like Beethoven nor does it sound like traditional gamelan music. It is pure Marshall. Like all other works on the disc, this piece grows organically and with a sense of long-term transformations.
The last work on the disc is also the earliest (Woodstone was completed in 1981). The Fragility Cycles (“Gambuh”) was finished in 1976 and sets the composer in a cloud of Balinese flute playing, Serge synthesizer sweeps, and live electronics. The rich flute tones and the droning synthesizer paint a foggy and abstract aural picture. There is a sensuousness to the sounds and a depth of timbral space that is plumbed throughout the work. In keeping with the other compositions included with this one, The Fragility Cycles sounds as if it could last forever. I certainly wouldn’t mind.
This reverse chronology highlights some of the core values present in the works of Ingram Marshall: longer compositions, often centered around a very limited sonic palette, but manipulated and paced with a keen and crafty ear. The sounds put me in a very specific and contemplative mental space. I enjoy this disc, this music, and what it does to me very much. If you are unfamiliar with Ingram Marshall’s music, this is an excellent first step. If you are familiar with Marshall’s compositions, you probably already own this.
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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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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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