Posts Tagged “violin”

Simon Thacker’s Svara-KantiCD cover

Rakshasa

Slap the Moon Records

Simon Thacker, guitar; Japjit Kaur, voice; Jacqueline Shave, violin; Sarvar Sabri, tabla

  • Thacker – Dhumaketu
  • Osborne – The Five Elements
  • Riley – SwarAmant
  • Korde - Anusvara – 6th Prism
  • Thacker – Svaranjali
  • Thacker – Multani
  • Thacker – Three Punjabi folksongs
  • Thacker – Rakshasa

The rich diversity of musical influences available in this world can yield truly inspired works which weave multiple threads into a single aural “rope” or works which use cursory cultural details out of the desire to sound “exotic.” Happily, Rakshasa is a work in the first category, bringing together musical elements into an attractive musical package.

Thacker’s compositional output on the disc reflects this polycultural synthesis with a delightful blend of traditional sounding Indian music with very Western harmonic progressions. Shave’s violin playing clearly draws from traditional Indian practices but to my ears her sound is only a slight nudge away from American fiddle technique. Kaur’s voice is bright and clean without ever becoming irritatingly nasal. Sabri’s tabla playing is direct, focused, and provides ample forward momentum when present.

As I am not an expert in music of India, I can’t speak much about the traditions surrounding the influences of each composition. The notes provide a wealth of guidance on all of these issues but I never found much need to refer to them in order for specific tracks to make sense. Everything on the disc makes sense as it is and left few questions that led to a need for research.

If I could point to a single track that represents the core of the music, I would choose Thacker’s compositions Svaranjali. The scales and rhythms used throughout this propulsive work are right on the edge of traditional ragas and something you might find on a Bela Fleck album. It isn’t that Thacker has “cleaned up” Indian rhythmic and pitch vocabulary to fit Western classical guitar tradition, Thacker instead draws on elements of both musics to shape a fiery and groovy piece.

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Native InformantCD cover art

Music of Mohammed Fairouz

various performers

Naxos

  • Tahwidah – Mellissa Hughes, soprano; David Krakauer, clarinet
  • Chorale Fantasy – Borromeo String Quartet
  • Native Informant – Rachel Barton Pine, violin
  • Posh – Christopher Thompson, baritenor; Steven Spooner, piano
  • For Victims – David Kravitz, baritone; Borromeo String Quartet
  • Jebel Lebnan – Imani Winds

If you can’t tell by the star-studded cast of performers on this disc, a lot of people like performing the music of Mohammed Fairouz and with good reason. This Naxos release gathers recordings of some of Fairouz’s recent chamber works (only Tahwidah and Chorale Fantasy date before 2011). Overall, the music is focused and dramatic, emotively powerful, and full of rich harmonies and sumptuous melodies. Fairouz does wear his influences on his sleeve and his borrowings from the classical canon and Middle-Eastern traditions mix well into an authentic and unique voice. Chorale Fantasy, for example, sounds very much like the slower harmonic sections of Shostakovich’s 8th quartet pressed through a colander of Arabic modes.

Tahwidah for soprano and clarinet is a prime example of Fairouz’s emotional and lyrical style. On one level, the music is lithe and sensual and without reading the text I figured it was a juicy love song. The text, while rich with omnipresent love metaphors, is actually being spoken by a mother to her son at his funeral. A second listening brought out the darker and elegiac qualities while still resonating the ideas of eternal love.

The solo violin sonata Native Informant also collects moments of supreme elegy alongside playful and fiery energy. Each of the five movements maintains a specific character throughout and most of these characters are simple and straightforward. “Lyric Sketch” is just that. “Rounds” is a peppy and zippy Arabic dance. In “For Egypt,”  Fairouz crafts a haunting and woeful piece. While “For Egypt” has the gravitas to end the piece, the last two movements liven things up a bit. “Scherzo” is a cosmopolitan blend of Arab-inspired tunes which morph into and out of Tin Pan Alley-inspired tunes. The last movement, “Lullaby of the ex-Soldat” is another slow lyrical movement with a plaintive arpeggio motive in the middle. And of course Rachel Barton Pine sounds amazing throughout (I have yet to hear her play otherwise).

Vocal music is also served up on this disc. The brief song cycle Posh takes three poems from Wayne Kostenbaum’s collection Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films: “Ballade of the Layette,” “Blue Sea Songs,” and “Posh.” Of the three, my hands-down favorite is “Blue Sea Songs” which centers on a dreamt collection of Ned Rorem songs. Fairouz does a great Rorem impersonation (musically, anyway, I don’t know about personal). While Rorem-via-Fairouz is delightful, Fairouz’s own language serves the voice well with harmonic and orchestrational support. Christopher Thompson earns the fach “baritenor” well with a deep, rich, and powerful lower range and a light, floating, unstrained high register. For Victims is darker, thicker, and more intensely dramatic. David Kravitz navigates the David Shapiro text quite well and the blend between Kravitz and the Borromeo String Quartet is well done.

The final work on the disc is the colorful and charming Jebel Lebnan for wind quintet performed by the Imani Winds (again, when have they ever sounded less than amazing?). Each of the short character pieces, inspired by events from the Lebanese Civil War, is richly orchestrated and uses color and rhythm to their maximum. The spiky and chunky “Bashir’s March” shows obvious Stravinsky influence. The solo flute “Interlude: Nay” is the perfect transition into the bassoon solo which begins “Lamentation: Ariel’s Song.” “Dance and Little Song” try to be cheerful but have a dark and moribund underlayer that keeps the music from being truly joyous. The last movement, “Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh” closes off the disc with another Arab-inspired round dance.

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Journaling

Innova Recordings 831

 Cornelius Dufallo, violin and electronics

Cornelius Dufallo seems to be everywhere of late, making great music wherever he goes. At one time best known for his work as a violinist with the adventurous string quartet ETHEL, Dufallo has now turned his full attention to a wide-ranging career as a composer and soloist. Having established a recital series, Journaling, devoted to collaborations with fellow composers, Dufallo’s new release of the same name documents those partnerships alongside his own music.

Dufallo’s two pieces on Journaling are driven by loops. Violin Loop I serves as a propulsive opener, and Violin Loop V as a meditative interlude. These works are inextricably tied to the composer’s explorations of his instrument as a performer: Dufallo’s gliding lyricism, pure tone, and sensitive use of varied techniques and technologies articulate a sound world all his own.

The album includes uniformly strong contributions from a broad range of composers: John King’s restless Prima Volta; Joan Jeanreneaud’s mesmerizing Empty Infinity; pianist-composer Vijay Iyer’s contrapuntally rich Playlist One (Resonance), which culminates in a melody of understated beauty; Huang Ruo’s soulful, sinuous Four Fragments; and Kenji Bunch’s wistful Until Next Time.

The centerpiece of the disc is John Luther Adams’s Three High Places, written in memory of the composer’s longtime friend Gordon Wright. For those who know Adams’s music primarily from his larger-scale soundscapes, this eloquent study in open strings and natural harmonics will sound at once familiar and revelatory.

Both as a composer and as a performer, Dufallo has a gift for personal, direct communication. Journaling affirms that he has found kindred spirits along his musical journey, and affords a rewarding glimpse into the private world that they are creating.

 

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A Different World CD cover art

string chamber music of James MacMillan 

Gregory Harrington, violin 

Estile Records 

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

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

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

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Cornelius Dufallo 

Dream Streets

music for violin and electronics

innova Recordings

  • introduction
  • cosmic clouds
  • incantation
  • automaton
  • waiting for you
  • lighthouse
  • naiad
  • suite for electric violin
  • onefivesix
  • transcendence

Cornelius Dufallo’s Dream Streets is a sublime collection of music for violin and electronics. Expertly crafted, beautifully played, and something that I’m honestly ashamed that it has been out since 2009 and I’m only now getting acquainted with it. The first seven tracks form a seamless cycling journey through a variety of moods and textures with very deftly deployed electronics. Most of the electronic touches fall in the categories of  reverb and looping as well as some ambient soundscape accompaniments. Dufallo is no stranger to genre-crossing string+electronics settings and every moment on this disc is perfectly placed. I never felt like “oh, here is the section where he builds up a lot of loops” even though there are clearly sections where he does just that. Those moments contain a momentum that many other loopers lack and, in “Waiting for You,” Dufallo hits us with an enchantingly simple and catchy tune. A wise man once said “Reverb is like garlic; too much is just enough” and it is clear that Dufallo feels the same way. And still, reverb is an active tool. Dufallo uses it when it is most effective and builds up a three-dimensionality to his soundworld by drying out the solo lines for contrast.

Dufallo’s Suite for Eleectric Violin is edgier and more overtly abstract and artificial. Still, he chisels out distinct sound worlds that draw you into ornate and vibrant environments. Each of the six movements is a world in and of itself and the Suite still comes across as a single organic whole. Onefivesix is a brief and haunting gem weighing in at only 1:49. On the one hand it is so perfect as it is, on the other I wish the music would go on. It does lead well into the final track, Transcendence which shimmers and ripples with Paganini-style arpeggios. The harmonic language, while firmly tonally rooted, throws some most welcome curveballs and the manic bow work sounds free and easy as it smears into broad colors.

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VictoireCD cover

Cathedral City

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

  1. A Door into the Dark
  2. i am coming for my things
  3. Cathedral City
  4. Like a Miracle
  5. The Diver
  6. A Song for Mick Kelly
  7. A Song for Arthur Russell
  8. 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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Charles Dodge

a retrospective (1977 – 2009)

New World Records

It may be unfair to say that the genre of electronic music is one that ignores its history.  Of course that isn’t entirely true, there is always attention paid to the past, rarely does that attention manifest itself in the presentation of music more than ten years old.  Concerts that feature or include electronic music typically showcase the “newest in new” as if anything prior to 2004 is the sonic equivalent of day-old donuts, anything from the 1990s is “quaint” and literature found before 1980 is approached the way a music appreciation class approaches Machaut.

I know this is a brash generalization and a stunning example of hyperbole, but it is rare that the pioneers of electronic music are given much air time in concert halls when compared to acoustic composers who also paved the way for future generations.  And since fixed media pieces lack the element of performer interpretation, there seems to be no need to release a composition more than once.  That the work is available at all seems to be enough.

New World Records does a great service here by releasing a collection of works by the venerable master Charles Dodge.  Dodge, a paragon of the early American pioneers, is someone who made exquisite compositions from the digital equivalent of banging two rocks together.  Most of those early compositions, released on vinyl, haven’t found the larger distribution in part because earlier electronic compositions are not as valued as more contemporary pieces.  Sites like Ubuweb and the now defunct Avantgardeproject.org offer access to earlier experimental electronic recordings.  New World’s commitment to preserving, promoting, and distributing cornerstones of the genre is worthy of praise.

What about the music?  The bulk of the disc is occupied by Dodge’s seminal Cascando, based on the radio play by Samuel Beckett.  Cascando dates from 1977 and makes heavy use of the vocal synth/sampling techniques found in Dodge’s earlier Speech Songs.  Cascando is to Speech Songs, though as Reich’s Drumming is to Clapping Music.  Cascando’s texture is sparse and draws the bulk of its sound world from the speech synthesis engine.  My reaction to the work is similar to my reactions to much of Beckett; I don’t feel a strong narrative arc but I find the events compelling in and of themselves.

New World includes two other more recent compositions alongside the 30 minute Cascando.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles for fixed media, from way back in 1995, connects well to the older work and demonstrates a through line in Dodge’s compositional voice.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles is built from fairly plain and simple synthetic bell-like timbres.  The event language is similar to Cascando in that there is rarely a counterpoint of ideas.  Dodge favors single events and a slow unfolding of activity.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles has quite a bit more pep, though, as the active pseudo-gamelan textures that arise help motivate the narrative and provide formal continuity.  Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles is also strongly concerned with just intonation.  The pure timbre of the synth helps the tuning relationships shine through.

The final composition is the 2009 work Violin Variations for violin and computer, played here by Baird Dodge.  Again, just intonation and the slow unfolding of simple textures are the motivating factors in the construction.  The synth sound is subtly refined from Fades, Dissolves, Fizzles with more overtones and richer sonic fabrics behind each pitch.  The four movements rarely move past a contemplative affect, a faster tempo and pizzicato third movement help break monotony.  Like the other pieces on the disc, I don’t feel a sense of a traditional dramatic narrative but find the work sonically compelling.

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Glass Heart

Orange Mountain Music CD 7006

Maria Bachmann, violin

Jon Klibonoff, piano

When it comes to minimalism, I must admit I’ve always been more of a Steve Reich guy. But I was quite taken with Philip Glass’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano (2008), the work at the heart of a new disc on the composer’s Orange Mountain Music label. This world premiere recording by violinist Maria Bachmann and pianist Jon Klibonoff highlights a Romantic urgency I hadn’t heard in Glass’s music before. Indeed, Glass’s program note cites a childhood memory of listening to recordings of the Brahms, Fauré and Franck violin sonatas with his father, at the time a record-store owner in Baltimore.

The fundamental Romanticism of Glass’s piece is underscored by Bachmann and Klibonoff’s programming, which places his recent duo alongside nineteenth-century staples: the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, and Schubert’s magisterial Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 162 (in the liner notes, Bachmann notes a “similar pathos” shared by the Schubert and Glass sonatas). The disc is rounded out by Ravel’s intriguing Sonata Opus Posthume, a work written in 1897 but left unpublished at the composer’s request, only to be discovered and published in 1975.

I first encountered Bachmann and Klibonoff on their eloquent recording of Paul Moravec’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tempest Fantasy, a work composed for their ensemble, Trio Solisti, and clarinetist David Krakauer. The warmth and assurance of their playing is such that I would happily listen to them play most anything, canonical or contemporary, and their commitment to new American music is a boon to composers and audiences alike.

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Trio Fibonacci

5 x 3

Centredisques

  • 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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