Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Trumpeter Nate Wooley Tackles the Deceptively Simple Challenges of a Michael Pisaro-Liu Solo Piece

It’s rare that an album of music for a solo wind instrument is of much interest to anyone beyond those who play it. There are notable exceptions. Wadada Leo Smith has put out several breathtakingly beautiful solo trumpet albums. Peter Evans’ solo trumpet work is more spectacularly breathtaking (and electronically enhanced). And Natsuki Tamura’s solo trumpet albums are a lot of fun for those who appreciate his renegade extended technique and irrepressible sense of humor.

Nate Wooley is probably not the first trumpeter you’d think of doing a solo record, especially considering his dense and bracing recent output with his Columbia Icefield project. But he has a solo album (for trumpet and sinewave), a recording of Michael Pisaro-Liu’s longform, minimalist composition Stem-Flower-Root. It hasn’t hit the web yet, although there’s a live version from 2017 up at Soundcloud. The calm and unhurried development of the work might be reflected in Wooley’s upcoming gig on July 5 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery, where he’s playing with Cuban saxophonist Hery Paz and drummer Tom Rainey. Jazz bassist Henry Fraser and Americana violinist Cleek Schrey make an intriguing duo afterward at 7:30; it’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

Pisaro-Liu’s work requires Wooley to sustain a series of simple tones using subtly different timbral approaches, and a changing series of mutes. If a reveille or fanfare could exist on Pluto, this triptych would be both. But it’s not all warmly immersive reflection: there are a few moments where the harmonies edge into unexpectedly acerbic territory, and there’s a joke about two thirds of the way in which, intentional or not, is too good to spoil.

The album also comes with a chapbook designed by Jessica Slaven, where in similarly uncluttered prose, Pisaro-Liu raises many provocative philosophical questions. Some are eternal, some more specific to the piece. To what extent does the architecture of musical composition mirror the symmetry of nature? Can a composition, or for that matter, a whole genre, have a genuine personality? What improbable practical lessons can be gleaned from music as rigorously structured and focused, yet as comfortably atmospheric as this?

The composer and performer also share an interesting dialogue concerning both the nuts and bolts of playing it, along with some of the philosophical ramifications.

July 3, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Max Richter Playfully Reinvents an Iconic Vivaldi Suite – Again

A decade after reinterpreting Vivaldi on his playfully innovative Recomposed album with the Britten Sinfonia and violinist Daniel Hope, keyboardist Max Richter has opted to revisit lucrative territory with his latest project The New Four Seasons. Violinist Elena Urioste and the Chineke Orchestra join the composer, who unobtrusively plays a vintage Moog synth as well as sprightly harpsichord on the new vinyl record, streaming at Spotify.

Is this art-rock? The avant garde? Modern classical? Ambient music? A little, or sometimes a lot of all of those labels come into play here. Spring is reconstituted in four parts, the other seasons in three. Frequently, Richter’s cuisinarted baroque barely resembles the original. All the same, it’s playful, sometimes affectingly pensive music and draws the listener into his allusive treasure hunt.

Birdsong-like strings chatter and flutter over a somber loop from the basses as Spring begins, shifting to a steady, often hypnotic pavane. Richter lets the composer’s hushed anticipatory riffs from Summer resonate; from there, he makes a striding march out of it and then brings it down to a suspenseful summer-evening pulse. The conclusion, with Urioste going lickety-split, is a visceral thrill.

The goofy quasi-flamenco syncopation of the intro to Autumn borders on the ridiculous, but Urioste’s quicksilver volleys quickly take charge. Richter’s shift to sheer luxuriance is a welcome contrast, as is the stately harpsichord movement and the kinetic conclusion. 

Winter is where Richter reaches furthest into the avant garde, notably with the microtonal introduction kicking off a memorably blustery, symphonic sweep. Urioste’s wary lyricism and then her precise run through the closing labyrinth take centerstage as the suite winds up. 

Where can you hear Vivaldi around New York this summer? Tonight, June 28 at 7:30 PM at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, where Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky play works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison. Get there early if you want a seat.

June 28, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Knights Make History With Beethoven and Janacek at the Naumburg Bandshell

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park was a welcome return for one of New York’s most enduring cosmopolitan traditions. This was a particularly clever installment. It’s been done before: pairing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” A Naumburg Concert favorite, chamber orchestra the Knights worked several levels of meta with new symphonic arrangements of both: the former a chart by violinist Colin Jacobsen, the latter a collaboration between his brother Eric and Knights horn player Mike Atkinson.

Orchestral scores for both works go back as far as Tschaikovsky, who did it with Beethoven. Likewise, there have been plenty of programs pairing both of the original pieces. But yesterday evening’s concert might have been the first time two orchestral versions of both have been played on the same bill. It turned out to be as colorful as expected, considering the ensemble’s penchant for surprise.

They opened with a Colin Jacobsen piece, playfully titled Kreutzings, rising from dizzyingly dissociative layers through jaunty microtonal glissandos from around the ensemble, to a coyly contrapuntal waltz. Flickers of each of the night’s main composers bubbled to the surface occasionally as the strings joined in precise, steady eighth notes while winding their way out.

Jacobsen, celebrating his birthday, served as soloist in the Beethoven. Crisp, elegant cheer interchanged with a little suspense and a bustling freshness that veered toward the raw side in the opening movement, confirming how well this material lends itself to orchestral sweep and majesty. Jacobsen quickly went for silkiness and ran with it amid anxious Vivaldiesque counterpoint. The restless thicket of low strings toward the end was a particularly juicy moment for the orchestra to sink their teeth into.

As if by design, a passing airplane introduced the andante second movement, bubbly woodwinds picking up the pace considerably before Jacobsen took over with a fine-toothed staccato. The bristling energy never dissipated, through lushness and a coyly pulsing bounce beneath the violinist’s spirals, flurries and animated pizzicato. Interestingly, the finale was on the spare and restrained side, despite the velocity: an urbane party that earned a contrastingly raucous standing ovation.

After the intermission, the ensemble tackled Anna Clyne’s Stride. Echoing the concert’s opening number, fleeting hints of Beethoven percolated amid tense close harmonies and microtones over a striding tempo flecked with rather suspenseful lulls and a long trajectory up to an anthemic, Dvorakian coda. Clyne doesn’t usually go for fullscale High Romantic: turns out she excels at it. This was a revelation.

Janacek’s first quartet follows the drama and familial mischegas of the Tolstoy tale, giving us an extra level of meta. Furtive Balkan chromatics quickly receded for an aching lushness and unexpected pageantry in the opening movement, only to reappear in a tensely gripping, Bernard Herrmann vein. Giving the anxious conversation in the third movement to the woodwinds paid magnificently poignant dividends on the way to an equally memorable stampede out. The ensemble encored with flutist Alex Sopp leading the group through a lickety-split, buoyant arrangement of a Taraf de Haidoucks Romany dance tune.

For those who missed the concert, the Knights managed to record the Beethoven and Janacek in February 2020, just under the wire before the fateful events that would crush the world a few weeks later. The next Naumburg Bandshell concert is on June 28 at 7:30 PM with the Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky, playing works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison.

June 15, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Poignant, Rapturous, Gorgeous Armenian Classical Album by the Aznavoorian Duo

The most rapturously poignant album of the year so far is Gems From Armenia, by the Aznavoorian Duo, streaming at Spotify. Sisters Ani and Marta Aznavoorian – cello and piano, respectively – draw on their heritage for a lyrical playlist of material that spans from the 19th century to the present. It underscores the disproportionately rich influence this tiny nation’s music continues to make around the globe.

They open with a steady, spare, pensive theme, Chinar Es by foundational Romantic-era composer and musicologist Komitas. As she often does throughout the album, Ani plays in the high midrange, with a stark vibrato that sometimes evokes a kamancheh spike fiddle. A second Komitas tune, Tsirani Tsar comes across as a more nocturnal variation, lowlit by Marta’s distantly starry piano. The third, Garoun A, is a gorgeous solo piano work, more mysteriously modern and practically furtive in places. The duo continue with a balletesque grace in the fourth, Al Ailux, both hypnotic and pulsingly rhythmic.

The fifth, Krunk is not a drinking song but an achingly beautiful love ballad and a launching pad for some of Ani’s most incisive, soaringly lyrical work here. The best-known in a long line of great Armenian composers, Aram Khachaturian is represented first by the emotive miniature Ivan Sings and then his lively, pointillistic tribute to his hometown of Yerevan.

Marta plays Arno Babajanian’s Elegy with restraint but also close attention to ornamentation that mimics the microtones of Armenian folk music. Ani returns for his Aria and Dance, a fondly reflective ballad and variations.

The duo make their way methodically from a stern, tightly clustering intensity through more sparsely lyrical passages in the first movement of Avet Terterian’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. They let the allusive chromatics and poignancy speak for itself, understatedly, in the second movement and romp with a triumphant, acerbic glitter through the conclusion.

The two bring out High Romantic passion in Serouj Kradjian‘s arrangement of the traditional ballad Sari Siroun Yar and follow with Alexander Arutiunian’s Impromptu, a dynamic mashup of a levantine dance and Rachmaninovian lustre.

Vache Sharafyan’s Petrified Dance, an elegy for Armenian soldiers, is the most subdued and vividly sepulchral work on the program. The sisters conclude with the world-premiere of Peter Boyer’s Mount Ararat, climbing from a portentous cello melody to a syncopated gallop up the slope, with stunning, chromatically bristling breaks to view the scenery. This unselfconsciously beautiful collection deserves a second volume. For that matter, the Aznavoorians could have a franchise here if they felt like it.

May 3, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorful Environmentalist Playlist From Yolanda Kondonassis

Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis is a force of nature. The author of The Composer’s Guide to Writing Well for the Modern Harp has wide-ranging and impeccable taste in repertoire, from Satie to Hovhaness and just about all points in between. Her new solo album Five Minutes For Earth – streaming at Spotify – is a sparkling, dynamically rich collection of new works inspired by nature and the need to preserve our world from manmade disasters. Most of these pieces are on the short side, commissioned from an eclectic mix of well-known and up-and-coming composers.

The first number, Takuma Itoh’s Kohola Sings, traces the migration of humpbacked whales through the desolate depths, to a convivial, intricately woven crescendo. Kondonassis begins Michael Daugherty‘s Hear the Dust Blow, an Oklahoma Dust Bowl tableau. with gentle guitar-like voicings in a ballad without words that dissipates in cascades and frenetic flurries.

With its careful cadences and occasional enigmatic close harmonies, Aaron Jay Kernis‘ On Hearing Nightbirds at Dusk seems to focus more on the dusk than the birds. Kondonassis gets to revel in her instrument’s wide expanse throughout the elegant trajectories and sudden bursts in Chen Yi‘s Dark Mountains.

There’s muted mystery as Maximo Diego Pujol’s Milonga para mi Tierra unfolds, to a graceful tango. Reena Ismail‘s Inconvenient Wounds balances murk and sudden smoky smudges against a delicate lattice, a striking cautionary tale. Gary Schocker’s Memory of Trees shares a dichotomy, in this case between the catchy baroque melody at the center, and more unsettled passages.

As Earth Dreams, by Keith Fitch is not a portrait of troubled sleep, although its starry milieu is definitely restless. Jocelyn Chambers packs a lot of catchy, broodingly strolling riffage into her miniature Melting Point. In The Demise of the Shepard Glacier. Philip Maneval balances spacious phrases and steady rivulets to illustrate the slow disappearance of the Montana ice formation.

Kondonassis follows a brisk series of eighth-note passages and feathery interludes in Patrick Harlin‘s Time Lapse. Green, by Zhou Long is a spare and allusively Asian-tinged piece originally written for pipa and wood flute. Nathaniel Heyder‘s Earthview portrays a descent to earth through the atmosphere, an imperiled planet coming into clearer focus via insistent anchor notes and eerie, Messiaenic tonalities.

The album’s most verdantly minimalist number, complete with wry woodland sounds, is Meditation at Perkiomen Creek, a Pennsylvania tableau by Daniel Dorff. The final composition is Stephen Hartke‘s Fault Line, with its stabbing phantasmagoria and close-harmonied disquiet: it’s a strong closer.

Happily. greenwashing doesn’t seem to factor into Kondonassis’ agenda. She’s not endorsing any sinister schemes like the abolition of home or motor vehicle ownership, or the imposition of personal carbon allowances or Chinese communist-style social credit scores. She just loves the outdoors – which, in the context of 2022, is a welcome and genuinely radical concept.

April 16, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Darkly Memorable Duo Album by Saxophonist Thomas Giles and Pianist Liana Pailodze Harron

Under ordinary circumstances, an album titled Mysteries of the Macabre would be most likely to be found at Lucid Culture’s sister blog during the annual, October-long Halloween celebration of all things dark and creepy there. But these last several months have been all that. And it wouldn’t be fair to make you wait til the fall to hear saxophonist Thomas Giles and pianist Liana Pailodze Harron‘s album, streaming at Spotify. It’s a powerful and vivid reflection of our time.

Both artists dedicate themselves to popularizing the work of new and obscure artists: they make a good team. The album comprises four medium-length pieces, which are in general more haunting than outright macabre. The first work is Poeme for Saxophone and Piano, a partita by Asiya Korepanova. Giles enters on alto sax with just short of a shriek, then follows a steady, subtly dynamic series of allusively grim chromatic variations, employing a crystalline, oboe-like tone punctuated by foghorn trills. Harron doesn’t get to join the disquieted parade until the end. The obvious influence is Messiaen, a composer the duo will explore shortly.

They intertwine in a similarly somber, skeletal stroll in the next part, Harron fueling a turbulent drive and liquidly articulated cascades. Giles’ spacious, uneasily soaring minimalism finally lures Harron in to rise and fall, in an increasingly agitated theme. Korepanova may be best known as a pyrotechnic concert pianist, but this speaks mightily to her prowess as a composer.

Messiaen’s Theme et Variations is next, the two following a similarly determined if more muted path, Harron’s meticulous, icepick attack balanced by Giles’ floating legato, through the composer’s eerily chiming tonalities and an unexpectedly jaunty if enigmatic dance. Giles’ rise to a shivery, theremin-like timbre right before the piece winds down is breathtakng.

The two revel in the Gyorgi Ligeti piece from which the album takes its title, through initial poltergeist flickers, scrambling phantasmagoria, a dazzling display of circular breathing, from Giles, and some playful spoken word.

The concluding work is Jay Schwartz‘s Music for Saxophone and Piano. Giles parses spare, somber motives over just the hint of resonance from inside the piano, serving as an artful echo. From there Harron develops a bounding melody line as Giles’ tectonic sheets bend, weave and flurry. Rising and falling from a muted pavane to tense doppler sax and a grim quasi-boogie in the low lefthand, the musicians reach an ending that will take you by surprise. It’s a fitting conclusion to this darkly beguiling album.

March 31, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Springtime Blossoms in Boston With a Concert of Vivid World Premieres

Last night at the Multicultural Art Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Juventas New Music Ensemble played eight verdant world premieres celebrating the Frederick Law Olmsted bicentennial. In a spot-on example of post-March 2020 programming, the bill was titled Lungs of the City. It was a breath of fresh air on many levels.

A subset of the ensemble – which comprised flutist Wei Zhao, clarinetist Wolcott Humphrey, horn player Anne Howarth, violinist Ryan Shannon, cellist Minjin Chung, violist Lu Yu and percussionist Thomas Schmidt – went off script to open with a sober arrangement the Ukrainian national anthem. With the stark cello introduction, it seemed like more of an elegy than a celebration of solidarity. Such are the times we live in.

The first piece on the program was The Forest and the Architect, by Christina Rusnak. The Portland, Oregon tableau began with elegantly cheerful passages spotted with moments of more somber reflection, moody clarinet over a gently emphatic march and a visceral sense of relief. Burred woodwind timbres and a dancing, enigmatic, circular theme quickly gave way to a lush pastorale and then a dance kicked off by woody flute tones. A terse interweave with lower pitches developed to mingle with the initial theme: this music breathed, deeply.

Ryan Suleiman‘s still, meditative Piece of Mind was inspired by Olmsted’s Brookline home workshop, as well as the Japanese concept of a park coexisting with nature rather than being imposed on its milieu. Subtly breathtaking long tones and circular breathing from the wind players were first punctuated by momentary sprouts in the ether, then the group slowly unfolded a calm series of harmonies. Like a muezzin, Chung’s cello sounded a bracing trill before the whole group returned to calmly shifting tectonic sheets.

That work’s minimalism was echoed more playfully by Libby Meyer‘s diptych Beauty of the Fields. Butterfly weed was brought to life by minutely oscillating overtones from Schmidt’s vibraphone behind a minimalistically balmy flute theme sailing on the breeze. With echoey percussion through a buzzy haze, evocations of muted insect activity and birdsong, her portrait of milkweed just might have involved somebody plucking a ripe stalk and blowing it on an unsuspecting neighbor.

Ayumi Okada‘s tantalizingly brief partita Golden Hour Walk at Fort Tryon Park traced the Washington Heights composer’s 2021 winter solstice stroll through her favorite spots there just as the sun was about to go down over the Hudson. It was characteristically evocative, beginning as a wistful pavane and growing more animated, with Carl Nielsen-esque echo phrases bouncing from voice to voice. Baroque inflections, elegantly intertwined horn and flute, and colorfully squirrelly pizzicato rose to a lushness that contrasted with shivery strings and silken flute lines. The final sunset theme became a gently wafting, Dvorakian singalong.

Composer Justin Ralls related that prior to creating parks, Olmsted worked as an undercover journalist chronicling the horrors of slavery in the American south, and that those experiences informed the democratic aspect of his designs. Ralls’ Olmsted 200: Theme and Variations reflected the bustle of the landscape assembled around Seattle’s Lincoln Reservoir. Somewhat akin to Peer Gynt taking a stroll in the garden, the group’s long tones coalesced from echoes of a familiar, sunny morning theme to a rather triumphant, steady, circular pulse fueled by the highs. Tight polyrhythmic counterpoint receded to a reflective, echoing quiet signaled by Schmidt’s lingering vibes.

The most unselfconsciously catchy piece on the bill was Michael-Thomas Foumai’s Indian-flavored mini-suite Olmsted Gardens. Anticipatory sprouts of melody pushed up, to a cheery carnatic flute theme followed by a deliciously coy, suspenseful interlude with film noir bongos, furtive individual voicings having devious fun in the shadows. The group took it out with an anthemic return to the initial dance.

Also on the bill were an unhurried, warmly crescendoing Oliver Caplan ballad without words, and a similarly fond summer pageant by Nell Shaw Cohen bookended around a cautious dance.

Those who missed the concert can catch the video of the entire performance here. Juventas New Music Ensemble’s next scheduled concert is June 5 at 6 PM at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts. Tickets are $18, ages 4-12 get in for $12.

March 27, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Epically Genre-Smashing, Deliciously Unpredictable Album From Charlotte Greve

Over the years there have been a ton of jazz records made with a string section, or even an orchestra. But jazz with a choir? Has anyone ever made a jazz album with a choir? Saxophonist/singer Charlotte Greve has. Her latest release Sediments We Move – where she bolsters her quartet of guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, bassist Simon Jermyn and drummer Jim Black with adventurous, endlessly shapeshifting choir Cantus Domus – is streaming at Spotify..

This seven-part suite is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Sometimes Caroline Shaw‘s new classical work comes to mind when the phrasing gets particularly cellular. Some of the most rhythmically straightforward interludes evoke bands like Wye Oak and My Brightest Diamond, when they straddle the line between artsy indie rock and modern classical music. There’s so much going on in this catchy but endlessly permutating album that what you see here is just the highlights. Conductor Ralf Sochaczewsky does Herculean work keeping the choir on the rails through Greve’s endlessly kaleidoscopic twists and turns.

The first interlude begins with a series of airy loops intertwining at glacial tempos. A delicate guitar figure enters and enlaces the choir’s stately vocals . Bass and drums become more prominent as the choir’s highs and lows coalesce into a quasi-canon. Greve moves to the mic with a stately, gracefully leaping melody over terse, steadily rhythmic bass and guitar, the men of the choir answering. The rainy-day feel warms as Black picks up the energy again. That’s just the first eight minutes of the record.

The second segment has a determined, emphatic sway, Greve’s unaffected, clear voice giving way to uneasy close harmonies from the choir and a simmering distorted guitar solo. From there she takes a carefree sax solo over subtly contrapuntal, looped choral parts, Matsuno finally kicking in toward the end.

A dancing bassline and incisive guitar lead to an unselfconsciously joyous crescendo of voices, then the sound grows more stark as the voices back brief sax and bass solos. Press repeat for extra joy…and whisper en masse when it’s almost over.

The deep-space interlude midway through comes as a complete shock, first with starry guitar, then pensive sax and ambience disappearing into the ether, followed by agitation and roar. Greve’s sax pulls the melody together tersely over Black’s steady tumbles before the nebula sonics return.

Part four opens with a couple of slow, lingering choral themes. There’s extra reverb on Greve’s judicious sax spirals and warmly conversational counterpoint from there, winding down to the most minimalist point here. But Black gets restless…he doesn’t want to let the pull of deep space get the best of everybody a second time around.

Guitar jangle and clang careens over calm resonance as the fifth segment kicks in and motors along: the point where the choir pick on the punk rhythm is irresistibly funny. Likewise, this is probably the first album to feature a sputtering bass solo backed by a towering choir in insistent 4/4 time. Scrambling guitar over an enveloping atmosphere evaporates for a funkier sway, the choir at the center.

Calmly and hypnotically, band and ensemble segue into the concluding portion, the bandleader’s sailing solo introducing a funky/stately dichotomy and hints of circling Afrobeat. Greve’s sax leads a reprise of the lush opening interweave. After a couple of triumphant, well-deserved crescendos, the choir take over with a carefree but unwavering rhythm. At this point, there’s no sense in giving away the ending: it’s not what anyone would expect. Maybe, ultimately, it’s not even an ending.

January 20, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Entertaining, Dynamic New Classical Orchestral Works on the Latest Polarities Compilation

The second volume of the Polarities compilations of new orchestral music – streaming at Spotify – came out last summer and is very much worth your time if you like colorful, translucent, robustly performed sounds. To open the album, Pavel Šnajdr conducts the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra in Margaret Brandman‘s Spirit Visions, a “symphonic tone poem.” It’s variations on a catchy, folksy theme straight out of Nashville circa 1972. Brandman sends it goodnaturedly around the orchestra: everybody gets to indulge, especially the brass.

The orchestra’s second contribution here is Kamala Sankaram‘s 91919, playful flourishes contrasting with a nebulous density that no doubt draws on her time working with Anthony Braxton’s large ensembles. Natalia Anikeeva’s terse, astringent viola stands out resolutely against the smoky backdrop and occasional deviously twinkling accent or drumroll. Sankaram’s signature sense of humor comes to the forefront as a goofy march ensues.

The second piece on the album is Beth Mehocic’s Tango Concerto, played in striking high definition by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra under Ivan Josip Skender, with Charlene Farrugia on piano and Franko Božac on accordion and bandoneon, Don’t let the strangely tremoloing strings make you believe that there’s something wrong with the recording: the two keyboardists’ regal introduction quickly brings the first movement down to earth, right up to what could be a sly allusion to a famous Led Zep song.

Movement two has an elegant pas de deux between accordion and piano over increasing deep-sky nocturnal lustre. The muscularly pulsing third movement is where the inevitable Piazzolla comparisons arise, but Mehocic chooses her spots and packs a lot into not much time – around thirteen minutes. It’s inspiring to hear a piece like this that matches the iconic Argentine composer’s outside-the-box sensibility without being imitative.

Stanislav Vavřínek conducts the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra in the album’s three other works. Echo figures filter in over drifting suspense in Larry Wallach’s Species of Motion, rising to a flurrying agitation as the main theme coalesces and winds animatedly through the ensemble. From there the piece is calm without losing brightness. Everybody has a good time with this one – what a fun piece to play!

Does Mel Mobley‘s Labored Breathing allude to a recently ubiquitous divide-and-conquer technique? Probably not, although this ominously colorful piece quickly escalates from brooding resonance to a bellicose intensity that sometimes borders on the macabre. A desolate, fugally-tinged interlude sets the stage for the next skirmish; from there, the suspense doesn’t let up. It’s the most distinctly noirish and most memorable piece on the program.

The final work is Brian Latchem’s picturesque, Dvorakian Suffolk Variations, a relatively brief (ten-minute) viola concerto. A wistful canon sets the stage, soloist Vladimír Bukač following a steady, restrained, baroque-tinged upward trajectory. There’s a rustic, rather lushly dancing passage and then a wry crescendo before the orchestra bring it full circle. Spin this for anyone who might feel daunted finding their way around the new classical scene: it’s as good a place to start as any.

January 12, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Catchy, Entertaining New Orchestral Music Playlist

For the last few years, Navona Records has been advocating for new and contemporary composers with their ongoing series of Prisma compilations. Volume Five – streaming at Spotify – is a characteristically colorful, diverse collection, played with as much of a sense of adventure as attention to detail by the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra under Jiří Petrdlík. Every composer represented here is a first-class tunesmith: this is a very cinematic, translucent mix. Unexpected false endings figure heavily here.

The first work is the opening Adagio, “Of Times and Seasons” from Lawrence Mumford‘s Symphony No. 4, essentially variations on a song without words, with unhurried, warmly puffing phrases and contrasts between cheery high woodwinds and the density of the strings and brass below. There’s a Gershwinesque sense of contentment mixed with moments of bittersweetness and a counterpoint that goes back to Haydn in theory, if not idiomatically. As Petrdlík leads the ensemble upward, there’s a towering, Vaughan Williams-like pastoral solidity.

In Kevin McCarter’s All Along, the group shift between balletesque precision and a similarly verdant lushness. The palindromic architecture around the lull at the center is ingenious. They begin Samantha Sack‘s A Kiss in the Dark dreamily, then the high strings begin circling tightly as the low brass looms in and a hypnotically heroic theme ensues. The false ending is amusing: this, um, incident is just getting started!

Bustling drama mingled within passages of muted furtiveness introduce Bell and Drum Tower, by Alexis Alrich. It’s akin to a 21st century neoromantic take on the 1812 Overture as Angelo Badalamenti might have reimaged it, with an increasingly Asian sensibility fueled by precise piano cascades. The wistful bassoon solo midway through is one of the album’s highlights; from there, the composer’s edgy sense of humor starts to burst out.

There’s a similar, low-key furtiveness and even more of a sense of impending trouble in Nunatak, by Katherine Saxon, complete with an eerie twinkle from the bells amid pillowy strings. From there, Petrdlík shifts the group seamlessly toward more optimistic, envelopingly ambered terrain.

Is Anthony Wilson‘s 3 Flights of the Condor a reference to sinister deep-state meddling in Latin American affairs in the 1970s? Possibly. Sinister low rustles reach further into the lustre above as the tableau unveils. A dip to a moody exchange of low winds and horns rises to a Rimsky-Korsakovian nocturne

The album comes full circle with William Copper‘s This Full Bowl of Roses, Pt. 3, a second set of variations on a song without words, full of tension and release and baroque-tinged counterpoint. It’s a good vehicle for the orchestra to show off the dynamism of their brass section and aptitude for Beethovenesque exchanges.

January 9, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment