Posts Tagged “voice”

Specific GravityGravity

music of Lansing McLoskey

various performers

Albany Records

  • Specific Gravity 2.72 performed by the newEar ensemble
  • Sudden Music performed by Rebecca Duren, soprano; Alan Oscar Johnson, piano
  • Requiem v.2.001 performed by Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players
  • Processione di lacrime (pavan) performed by Philipp A. Stäudlin, saxophone; Zoya Tsvetkova, violin; Scott Woolweaver, viola; Joshua Gordon, cello
  • Quartettrope performed by Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players

I find myself at a slight loss when trying to describe the music of Lansing McLoskey. Elements of just about every major stream of contemporary American concert music get wrapped together in different amounts in different pieces. A little minimalism here, some neo-romanticism there, atonal expressionism woven throughout, and colorful orchestrations to wrap it all together. McLoskey’s musical eclecticism doesn’t suffer from a lack of focus; each piece hangs together according to its own rules. I was about to say that McLoskey seems to be the rare composer without an obsession but instead it seems more apt to say that McLoskey is pan-obsessive. An equal opportunity obsessor.

The opening work, Specific Gravity 2.72, splashes with color at first while a slow-moving and determined melody unfurls against the more extroverted material. The second movement, “November Graveyard,” replaces these waves of gestures from the ensemble with more subdued and resigned harmonies. The quiet and static aspect of McLoskey’s language is prominently displayed in Processione di lacrime for saxophone and string trio. A single harmonic sigh underlies the whole seven minutes while forlorn melodies emerge from the ensemble and then fade into the background. The saxophone might be seen as the “odd instrument out” here but the instrument is perfectly balanced in performance and composition.

One of McLoskey’s better known compositions, Requiem v.2.001, takes up the center of the disc. This one piece probably does the most to summarize the various aspects of McLoskey’s musical language. Punchy grooves underscore long melodies in the first movement. Thick harmonies and darker colors make for a moody second movement. The violin solo “Trope [virus]” is frenetic and edgy, heightened by the extremely nasal mute sound. “Eulogy” recalls the opening groove from the first movement but maintains the more aggressive and forward trajectory initiated by the solo violin movement. The final “Epitaph – Obit.” discards the energy using colors and harmonies similar to the second movement.

While the formal designs of McLoskey’s music isn’t always taken from a traditional model, his music maintains satisfying and recognizable dramatic shapes. The four song collection Sudden Music gives McLoskey a place to show his adept understanding and setting of text, creating lines and harmonies which, while a bit more reserved than the rest of the music on this disc, still sound like his harmonies.

The final work, Quartettrope, uses the Webern quartet for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano as a touchstone for McLoskey’s own original work. The first movement starts with the full first movement of the Webern original with McLoskey fusing his music onto the end in true trope fashion. The second movement begins with original McLoskey material and progresses towards the second movement of the Webern. This is not commentary on the Webern nor an attempt at stylistic camouflage; it is extremely clear when and how McLoskey’s music stops and the Webern starts. The idea behind the piece is rather interesting and the execution is rather compelling. More than anything, Quartettrope summarizes the mercurial nature of McLoskey’s voice and his compositional craft to put it all together.

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Ursula Mamlok: Volume 3


various performers


Bridge Records

  • Five Capriccios for oboe and piano (Heinz Holliger, Anton Kernjak)
  • Stray Birds for soprano, flute, and cello (Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Harvey Sollberger, Fred Sherry)
  • Fantasy-Variations for solo violoncello (Jakob Spahn)
  • Panta Rhei (Time in Flux) for piano trio (Susanne Zapf, Cosima Gerhardt, Heather O’Donnell)
  • Five Bagatelles for clarinet, violin, and cello (Helge Harding, Kirsten Harms, Cosima Gerhardt)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (Sonar String Quartet: Kirsten Harms, Susanne Zapf, Nikolaus Schlierf, Cosima Gerhardt)
  • Confluences for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (Helge Harding, Kirsten Harms, Cosima Gerhardt, Heather O’Donnell)
  • Kontraste for oboe and harp (Heinz Holliger, Ursula Holliger)
This third volume of the music of Ursula Mamlok on Bridge Records is a great snapshot collection of Mamlok’s musical language captured in small chamber ensembles. The earliest pieces on the disc, Stray Birds and Five Capriccios, are fragmented atonal miniatures. Stray Birds (1963), a five movement work setting aphorisms by Rabindranath Tagore, evokes bird sounds in the voice, flute, and cello equally while giving each performer their own unique space. Given the sparse and angular nature of the melodic materials, Phyllis Bryn-Julson’s performance is absolutely stunning (as one might expect). Bryn-Julson connects even the most disjointed pitch sets into a coherent whole. Sollberger and Sherry, two names you can trust to do the same, balance Bryn-Julson perfectly, creating a chamber trio instead of an accompanied voice. Five Capriccios for oboe and piano (1968), are four charming pointillistic gems and one extended lyrical final movement. Holliger, as one has come to expect, navigates each moment with clarity and a subtly nuanced interpretation.
Mamlok’s penchant for collecting many short movements under one roof is a recurring theme of this disc. Oftentimes, as with Fantasy-Variations for solo cello, these shorter movements really catch my ear as part of a single narrative journey. One of my favorite works on the disc, Panta Rhei (Time in Flux) for piano trio, really blurs the lines between movements. The angular and pointillistic gestural trends are still present but in Panta Rhei I hear a slight softening of the pitch language. Dissonances aren’t as harsh, gestures are less frenetic, the piece seems to have a bit more breath and life to it. The trio of Zapf, Gerhardt, and O’Donnell do a wonderful job merging together in a sophistically orchestrated score. The Five Bagatelles for clarinet, violin, and cello are equally well scored and orchestrated and Harding, Harms, and Gerhardt take full advantage of the material. Again on this disc, the ensemble blends extremely well and projects a unified sonic trajectory which is easy to follow. Confluences does the same but with a bit more mystery and fullness to the ensemble sound. The Sonar Quartet’s performance of Mamlok’s String Quartet No. 2 is equal parts playful, tender, and fun. The most recent work on the disc, Kontraste for oboe and harp (2009/2010) is also the most playful (the Humoresque first movement) and spaciously lyrical (Largo e Mesto second movement).

Throughout the disc I hear a lot of similarities to the music of Alban Berg: finely crafted short movements (the oboe capriccios hit me in the same spot as Berg’s clarinet pieces), strong dramatic profiles and gestures (String Quartet No. 2 evokes Berg’s op. 3 in my ears), and atonal pitch constructions which still seem to be rooted in Romanticism somehow (pretty much everything on this disc sounds like that to me). If you, like me, wish that Berg could have composed more before his untimely death, you’ll enjoy Mamlok’s offerings.

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Monica Harte, soprano CD cover

Long Island Songs 

songs by George Brunner, Tom Cipullo, Christian Mcleer, and Anne Dinsmore Phillips 

MSR Classics 

  • Long Island Songs by Tom Cipullo
  • Three Japanese Songs by George Brunner
  • See the Lilies of the Field by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
  • In Remembrance of Me  by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
  • Why Faith Abides  by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
  • No Bird Soars too High  by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
  • Three Light Pieces by Christian McLeer
  • Longing Eternal Bliss by Christian McLeer
Monica Harte brings her bright clarion voice to several short song cycles on this MSR disc. Tom Cipullo’s Long Island Songs maintain a solid harmonic palette by using plenty of textural changes that keep the collection sounding fresh. The serious “Invocation” is followed by a rigorous and busy “The Odor of Pear.” The third song, “The Nesconset of Crickets” is sparse and brief, leading seamlessly into the more traditionally narrative “The Crane at Gibb’s Pond.”
Three Japanese Songs by George Brunner are wonderfully small gems of text setting and mood creation. The melodic line floats and twists in the air over extremely spartan piano touches. Most of the piano writing is monophonic, working in counterpoint with the featured melodic line. The longest of the three is still under two minutes long but each does such a fantastic job of capturing the poetry that I am never left wanting. This is the only piece in which the composer is not the pianist; Noby Ishida does much with the understated part.
Christian McLeer’s two collections are charming and lyrical. Harmonies can be very straightforward or a bit more intriguing and he carefully balances the textures of his accompaniment to not interfere with the vocal line. The four songs by Anne Dinsmore Phillips are much more conservative in taste. The voice sings a melody, the piano accompanies with traditional harmonies. There are few surprises in either melody or harmony and they left me with the impression that I’d heard them before but they don’t leave a lasting impression.

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The Voice Inside / How Swift the Hours / Cassandra’s Songs / Kaea

Madeleine Pierard, mezzo-soprano; Vesa-Matti Leppänen, violin; Michael Kirgan, trumpet; David Bremner, trombone
James Judd conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Naxos

Lyell Creswell (b.1944), Wellington, NZ native who now considers Edinburgh home base, shows a decided interest in furthering the scope of activity of four instruments (trumpet, trombone, violin, and voice) in works that reveal his range of interests as a composer. The Voice Inside, based on the striking and incisive verse of contemporary Scottish poet and novelist Ron Butlin, is billed as a concerto for soprano, violin and orchestra, and it truly casts both Pierard and Leppänen in virtuosic roles, vis-à-vis the orchestra as well as each other. The six poems center around the transcendent moments in which both voice and violin give utterance to sound, and then to music. The relationships are ever-changing: “Catch as catch can, / boy and girl, woman, man / contrapuntal, asymptotic, / palindromic / mirrorwise inversion / canonic imitation / Your theme or mine?” The two instruments appear as both lovers and rivals against the light orchestral backdrop. Movement VI is a scherzo, in which Pierard engages in pleasant verbal gymnastics with the evocative sounds of a string of names of famous violin virtuosi. VI, Burlesque, playfully twits the 12-tone school of composition: “Twelve equal tones, dangling on a score, / if one of them should modulate / would there be a melody / where none had been before?”

“Alas! How Swift,” the title of Crewell’s 11-minute concerto in a single movement for trumpet and orchestra, alludes to the fleeting passage of time, reflected in the swirling movement of the orchestral accompaniment, at the constant speed of 138 beats to the minute. That movement seems to echo the restlessness of wind and water (including, at the 0:57 mark and again, about a minute later, the chugging, guggling sound of water passing down a drain!) Often the orchestra is required to play both quietly and swiftly (musicians can tell you the difficulties that involves), and the trumpet player to execute frequnt double-tonguing. To return to the washday analogy, the orchestra goes into a final speed rinse cycle as we near the end, prompting a last burst of virtuosity from the trumpet.

“Cassandra’s Songs,” another example of a fruitful collaboration between Ron Butlin and the composer (with a verse from Euripides’ The Trojan Woman inserted as the text for the third song, of five) are poignant expressions of exile, identity, loss, hope and despair. It is another instance in which outstanding vocal artistry, here executed to perfection by Pierard, is brought to the service of great poetry: “Teach me, gods of song, some harsh lament / Dissonant with tears and howls, / Help me to sing Troy’s sorrows, invent / New sounds for my grief.” (The words I’ve chosen are Euripides’, but Butlin’s are on the same high plane of inspiration.)

Finally, Creswell returns to his Kiwi roots with Kaea, a concerto for trombone and orchestra that draws its title and the inspiration for its primitive beauty on the so-named war trumpet that was traditionally used by the Maori people to terrify their enemies before a battle. Of course, the Maori also have some of the world’s most beautiful songs and chants. But here, with the exception of a brief legato melody in the slow section of this work, the music is mostly staccato, phrased stunning by the soloist in a way that pushes the limits of the trombone in the way of terse, rhythmic excitement and a blaring suddenness that can create a miasma of sound, as it does when we first hear the voice of the Kaea. Truly, a hair-raising moment!

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Vivian Houle, vocalist Treize

Treize

Drip Audio


  1. Mandrake (with Peggy Lee, cello)
  2. Molehills mumps (with Lisa miller, piano)
  3. Paperthin (with Coat Cooke, saxophone)
  4. Gratte-moi le dos (with Kenton Loewen, drums)
  5. Quiet eyes (with Ron Samworth, guitar)
  6. It’s not the moon (with Chris Gestrin, analog keyboards and live sampling)
  7. Betters and bads (with Jesse Zubot, violin)
  8. Finely tuned is my heart (with Jeremy Berkman, trombone)
  9. Au revas (with Paul Plimley, piano)
  10. A little storm (with Jeff Younger, guitar)
  11. Bells hung in a tree (with Clyde Reed, bass)
  12. Song not for you (with Brent Belke, guitar)
  13. 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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