Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jon Mendle’s L’Infidele Dusts Off Some Old Gems

Classical guitarist Jon Mendle’s new album L’Infidele is one of the most singularly enjoyable and interesting releases to come over the transom here this year. Playing solo on 11-string archguitar – a relatively recent invention devised to enable guitarists to play Renaissance lute repertoire – Mendle resurrects two obscure eighteenth-century compositions and gives a third a welcome reinterpretation. He plays with stately precision and fluidity – while the occasional torrents of notes can be hypnotic, the incisive melodies here are strong and memorable, transcending the centuries between composition and performance here. In particular, the first two pieces have a striking plaintiveness, and Mendle embraces it vividly.

The first composition is German baroque lutenist Adam Falckenhagen’s Sonata IV, Op. 1, dating from 1740. The opening largo section is wary and deliberate, enhanced by Mendle’s careful pacing – he doesn’t rubato it, which might not seem like the compliment that it is, but that’s a plus, considering how many players have decided to warp the era’s steady tempos to make them “postmodern” or something like that. Here, the additional low bass notes of the archguitar give the arrangement a piano-like tone. Mendle attacks the second, fugal movement with both smoothness and bite and spins off the rolling ripples of the finale with a deliberateness that stops a step ahead of carefree – this is a dark work.

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s Prussian Sonata V begins on a similar tone, steady yet with a pensive undercurrent. The second, andante movement is essentially a diptych: a wary waltz, and a second one even slower, and yet Mendle finds room for additional dynamics. The fluid, final Allegro Assai movement lets Bach the son go to his dad’s playbook for a blend of catchiness and mathematical logic. The final work here is L’Infidele, a six-part sonata by another German lutenist, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, impressive even to current-day ears for its eclecticism. It’s easy to imagine the opening movement as a processional for organ. The second expands the theme as a waltz; the third, Sarabande movement begins slow and hypnotic, then loosens up and loses a little of its gravitas, but not much. Mendle gets to cut loose more on the final three movements: a minor-key waltz that could pass as a Bach miniature; a Musette whose courtly gentility has a hint of the woods, and the best part, the final Paysanne where Mendle gets to take it out as more of a full-fledged dance. The album is out as both hard copy and download from In a Circle Records. Mendle’s next performance is June 4 at 8 PM as a soloist with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony performing Villa-Lobos’ Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St. in San Francisco

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May 4, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Thomas Piercy and Vilian Ivantchev’s Cafe Album

A collection of brilliant segues. For a casual listener, this is the perfect rainy day album, pleasantly pensive with a balance of melancholy and more upbeat material, especially toward the end. For more adventurous fans, it’s a smartly innovative concept that works all the way through. Clarinetist Thomas Piercy and acoustic guitarist Vilian Ivantchev link fourteen pieces together as a suite, beginning with the French late Romantics, taking a detour into the German baroque before following the gypsy path to Brazil and from there to Argentina, where the trail ends on a note that threatens to jump out of its shoes with joy. It’s a very subtly fun ride.

Having worked with both Leonard Bernstein and KRS-One, Piercy is diversely talented. He’s as strong in his upper register, with a buoyant, flute-like presence on Telemann’s A Minor Sonata, or soaring with bandoneon textures on the Piazzolla pieces here that close the album, as he is mining the darker sonorities of Bartok’s Roumanian Folk Dances suite, or Erik Satie’s Gnossienne or Gymnopedie No. 1. Ivantchev displays almost superhuman discipline, restraining himself to terse, rock-solid chordal work or precise arpeggios, with the exception of the Piazzolla where he gets to cut loose a little more – but not much. Ultimately, this album is all about connections, and the duo make them everywhere. Debussy’s Le Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (The Blonde Girl) follows so seamlessly out of Satie that it could practically be the same piece. Likewise, following the last of Bartok’s gypsy dance transcriptions with Villa-Lobos’ Modinha is so logical that it’s almost funny when you think about it. The duo close the album with two brief arrangements of songs by vintage Argentinan tanguero Carlos Gardel (Mi Manita Pampa and Sus Ojos Se Cerraron) into a stripped-down yet melodically rich version of Piazzolla’s four-part suite Histoire du Tango and then, seemingly as an encore, Jacinto Chiclana which ends the album on a note equally balmy and bracing. Piercy’s viscerally intuitive feel for the tension-and-release of tango lets the guitar hold things together this time, giving him a chance to launch into some quiet rejoicing. Piercy plays the cd release show for this album at Caffe Vivaldi on June 19 at 8:15 PM with his trio: live, they are considerably more boisterous.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | classical music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Duel Amid the Pews

“Is there anyone else who needs to leave?” grinned classical guitarist Bret Williams, “Like the guy in the back there?” He was referring to the screaming rugrat who’d erupted in rage at the end of the La Vita/Williams Guitar Duo’s first song, an anonymously springtimey piece by Brazilian composer Sergio Assad. As welcome as it is to see classical music on a program outside of the usual midtown concert halls, the infant slowly wheeled outside by a lackadaisical mother never would have made it past security at Carnegie Hall. Apparently, the church fathers at St. Paul’s Chapel today were too nice to turn her away. And this was somebody who obviously wasn’t homeless. Memo to parents: you had a choice, you had the kid, now you pay the price. No concerts for at least four years (for the kid, anyway).

What started inauspiciously got good in a hurry. Duetting with Williams was Italian guitarist Giacomo La Vita, whose fluid, brilliantly precise playing made a perfect match for Williams’ lickety-split yet subtle fingerpicking. The two ran through two pieces by Manuel de Falla, the romantic, flamenco-inflected Serenata Andaluza and the swaying, 6/8 Danza Espanola, then did two Scarlatti pieces that La Vita had arranged himself. In music this old, the emotion is in the melody, not the rhythm, and both of them dug deep into the stateliness of the tunes to find it.

The high point of the show, and probably the drawing card that got the audience in here on a cold, rainy Monday was Astor Piazzolla’s 1984 Tango Suite, another original arrangement for guitar. It’s unclear if the pantheonic Argentinian tango composer actually knew Charles Mingus personally, but the third piece in the suite definitely had the same kind of defiant scurrying around that the great American jazz composer was known for, beginning with a chase scene, running through all kinds of permutations to arrive at a fiery chordal ending. The two parts which preceded it began darkly reserved, then became expansively jazzy.

“We usually have an intermission, but we have to get up to the Upper West Side to teach,” explained Williams. “To a bunch of kids who probably haven’t even practiced. We’ve got to be there at 2:30!” And with that they burned through yet another of their own arrangements, this for De Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, an orchestral piece every bit as volcanic as the title would imply. An impressively good crowd, especially for the time of day and the drizzle outside, responded with a standing ovation. Obviously, fans of acoustic guitar music will like these guys best, but they cover vastly more terrain than most of their colleagues, a savvy move because it will earn them more of an audience. One hopes enough to eliminate the need to rush off to a midafternoon private-school teaching gig after they’ve finished playing a great set.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bach Has Been Reformed!

That’s right. Good old Johann Sebastian has finally discovered syncopation, dynamics and standard tuning! And it’s rumored that he’s become an atheist. OK, enough of that joke.

Bach ReformedRob Moose alternating between tenor guitar and mandolin, accompanied by violinist Dana Lyn – played last night at Barbes and earned a roaring ovation from a surprisingly full house, especially for an early show. This isn’t the latest scheme to market classical music to a rock crowd: it’s new interpretations of Bach that breathe fresh energy into the music while remaining impressively true to its original passion and intensity. Both players have a smooth, legato style, a unique approach that works because they make the music fluid without actually swinging it.

The emotion in Bach is not in the rhythm: done right, it’s metronomic and mechanical. But as anyone in the Bach cult (it’s hard to think of a real Bach fan who isn’t completely hardcore about it) is aware, the melodies span the entire spectrum of human emotion, from the subtle to the extreme. Tonight’s show alternated between wistfulness and ebullience, as the duo ran through almost an hour’s worth of their own arrangements of several pieces including the Partita in D Minor for Violin, an E Major cello piece that they’d transposed to G (it works better that way on guitar, without all the open strings that have to be muted), and a six-part cello sonata.

Moose is also an occasional composer, and the two played an air that he’d written a couple of years ago, whose slightly nostalgic feel (with some indie rock chords snuck in for extra volume) fit perfectly with the rest of the program. Lyn, who plays a lot of Irish music, played one of her own pieces (“127 bars,” noted Moose) that started very Celtic, then took a striking detour with a somewhat drastic tempo change and a lot of eerie dissonance before getting all pretty and upbeat again. They closed with a jig and a bourree, Moose playing from memory, very impressively. The two didn’t completely nail every single change: “Check out this really cool intro!” Moose encouraged the audience, as he’d missed his cue seconds before. But the passion and fun of the performance far overshadowed any slight imperfection.

“We decided to talk to the audience tonight,” revealed Moose. “All this Bach just makes us more introverted.” Throughout the show, they shared amusing, off-the-cuff insights into how this piece or that was especially difficult, or interesting, and why. Lyn told a long joke with a limerick whose punchline involves screwing up the limerick. And she screwed it up even further, which actually made it even funnier. Bach Reformed will dispel any ill-founded notions you might hold after being subjected to NPR fund drives or WQXR’s programming for the entirety of December: in their hands, Bach is all about the fun (and the dance: remember, that’s what jigs and bourrees are for). Whether you’re hardcore, or just discovering how beautiful and intense Bach’s music is, you should see these guys sometime.

April 9, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment