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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