Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

An Electrifying Debut Album by Cellist John-Henry Crawford

Cellist John-Henry Crawford obviously wanted to make a splash with his debut album, which hasn’t hit the web yet. First he tackles an old Germanic warhorse, then a cruelly challenging solo sonata and closes with prime Shostakovich. And he leaves a mark with each piece.

Brahms’ Sonata for Piano and Cello No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99 may be a pleasant if unmemorable work, but Crawford goes deep under the hood and finds innumerable ways to hold the listener’s attention. He airs out his vaunted technique in Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Cello And Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40 is as sardonic and vibrant as anyone could want.

Right out of the gate in the first movement of the Brahms, Crawford explores the fullness of his range, with a stark, stygian resonance on the lows and contrasting airiness in the highs. His use of vibrato is intuitive and varied, depending on the phrase: he tends to be sparing with it, eschewing full-blown High Romantic drama. Meanwhile, pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion matches that dynamic attack, from distant glimmer to the occasional insistent peak.

There’s a welcome spareness to the second movement, from both cellist and pianist. Yet Crawford’s versatile attack in the pizzicato sections, from a stomp to a whisper, are attention-grabbing to say the least. The two really dig into movement three: this is far more of a boisterous country waltz than tiresome Viennese high-society gala. They close it out with a finely detailed wariness and wistfulness: if only others would play it that way more often.

Crawford’s approach to Ligeti’s completely different, elegaic Sonata for Solo Cello is similar in that dynamic contrasts and shifts are every bit as finely honed, and striking when a sudden, troubled moment appears. The steadiness of the first movement harks appropriately back to Bach; the chase scenes of the second are less furtive than simply breathtaking.

The duo close out the album with Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40. It’s the composer putting an acerbic modernist edge on his early Romantic influences, with a vividly lyricism. The first movement shifts between a rather nostalgic glimmer to more enigmatic insistence, aching crescendos and a stunning move to a mutedly stalking theme out of a poignantly resonant passage.

The elegantly off-center dervish dance of a second movement is pure fun: Crawford’s harmonic glissandos are hilarious (and brutally tough to play). The third’s slow, broodingly upward drift from minimalism to an increasingly wary pavane and back is otherworldly and unselfconsciously affecting. The two wind up the sonata, and the album, with a gremlinish playfulness, trading off breathlessly between torrential streams of notes and an irresistibly wry jauntiness. It’s reason to look forward to whatever else these two choose to do together – and let’s hope they will.

June 7, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

High-Voltage, Picturesque, Purposeful New Jazz Epics From the Alchemy Sound Project

The Alchemy Sound Project’s new album Afrika Love – streaming at youtube – comes across as one of those recordings which under less duress would have been a 2020 release, and maybe a bit longer. It’s fantastic as it is, with picturesque, edgy compositions from each of the band’s core members and an acerbic, often combustible blend of very distinct, individual voices. There’s a lot happening in these songs. Pianist Sumi Tonooka, multi-reed players Salim Washington and Erica Lindsay, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack and bassist David Arend are joined by trombonist Michael Ventoso and drummer Chad Taylor.

The album kicks off with The Fountain, a biting clave tune by Arend, featuring bubbly horn riffage, a marvelously elusive Washington tenor sax solo winding around and behind a bracing rise. Tonooka’s careeningly rhythmic solo backs away for a tense tenor duel between Washington and Lindsay as Taylor builds the perfect storm. One doesn’t expect a composer collective to be this unhinged, or have this much fun.

Dark Blue Residue, a Tonooka tune has a similarly assertive but more syncopated rhythmic drive, Taylor just slightly more restrained through ambered horn passages, Arend’s elastic leaps anchoring a terse, considered piano solo. It’s an aptly conflicted portrait of the memory of friendship: play this for someone whose friends were brain-drained out of a place like New York in the months following March 16 of last year.

Washington begins Afrika Love – a dramatic, suspenseful shout-out to his South African countryman, pianist Afrika Mkhize – with a moody oboe solo based on Zulu modes. Arend’s stinging riff signals a fondly soaring Boshnack solo, Taylor’s relentless turbulence enhanced by ominous harmonies from Ventoso and Lindsay. Bracing, rapidfire solos from Lindsay and Washington bookend Tonooka’s decisive move to part the clouds and introduce a subtle shift to waltz time.

Boshnack is a devoted fan of the outdoors, reflected in The Cadillac of Mountains. A regally shuffling theme hints at New Orleans and then subsides for a gorgeously lyrical clarinet duet between Washington (on bass clarinet) and Lindsay, the latter shifting to tenor and soaring skyward. Taylor – who kills on this album, again and again – gets a secret cha-cha going, Arend a spring-loaded wild card against the horns’ cohesive comfort.

With its wry Ellington allusions, stately rhythms and wistfully lyrical horn lines punctuated by the rhythm section’s incisions, the album’s concluding cut, Kesii is Lindsay’s shout-out to a friend who died recently at 107. Clearly, this was a life well lived. Count this tantalizingly short album as one of the best of 2021 so far.

June 6, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting, Purposeful, Hypnotic New Trio Album From Pianist Dahveed Behroozi

Pianist Davheed Behroozi‘s new album Echos – streaming at Sunnyside Records – is a magically immersive, often haunting, stunningly improvisational suite of sorts. Behroozi likes to cast a stone and then minimalistically parse the ripples, joined by a sympatico rhythm section of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Billy Mintz. Interestingly, it’s Morgan – who’s done similarly brilliant work with Bill Frisell, especially – who pierces this nocturnal veil more often than not. Mintz flashes his plates for drizzle and snowstorm ambience more than he drives the music forward: rhythms here are tidal rather than torrential.

The trio open with Imagery, a broodingly drifting, subtly polyrhythmic, frequently rubato tone poem that draws obvious comparisons to Keith Jarrett and never strays far from a central mode. Yet the shifts in timbre, dynamics and the trio’s elastic use of space are stunning, all the more so for being so minute. The moment where Morgan steps back to get a Weegee angle on this shadowy tableau about midway through will take your breath away.

Track two, Chimes comes across as a more dizzyingly rhythmic variation on the same theme, like a waterwheel on an off-center axle, a perpetual-motion machine wavering but ultimately unstoppable. The band revisit the theme toward the end of the record with a more stern, lingering approach.

Gilroy (the California municipality which produces a major percentage of the world’s garlic, in case you weren’t aware) seems like an absolutely haunted place, if the album’s third track is to be taken at face value. Again, the triangulation between the trio’s minimalistic, emphatic rhythmic gestures is staggered just enough to raise the suspense factor. Behroozi brings up the lights a little with a bit of a churning drive and a few wry glissandos as Mintz mists the windows with his cymbals.

Mintz’s cymbal bell hits add coy mystique as Behroozi ventures little by little from a circling pattern in Alliteration: you could call it Tiny Steps. Then with Sendoff he completely fips the script, building a murkily raging stormscape, torrents from Morgan and Mintz finally breaking the stygian levee.

Royal Star is the album’s most unselfconsciously gorgeous, mysterious number, Dark Side-era Pink Floyd done in 12/8 over Mintz’s steady brushwork, Morgan’s terse upward flickers in subtle contrast with the bandleader’s saturnine resonance.

Behroozi’s much more trad, bluesy-infused rivulets in Tricks come as a real shock: maybe this unexpectedly upbeat quasi-ballad is a pressure valve for all the meticulous focus of what’s been played up to here. The trio bring the record full circle with TDB (that’s their initials). a calmly minimalistic, benedictory coda. Play this with the lights out but not if you’re trying to drift off to sleep. And let’s hope it won’t be so long between albums for Behroozi next time out.

June 5, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pensively Intriguing Improvisations With Guitarist Andre Matos’ and His Vast Vault of Online Collaborations

We’re still digging out from the glut of recordings made over the web since the lockdown, and one of the most intriguing is a series of projects by guitarist Andre Matos. Aptly titled On the Shortness of Life – a quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca – it’s a series of pensive, sometimes atmospheric, mostly duo pieces streaming at Bandcamp. Matos’ most persistent trope here involves constructing spiky, incisive. sometimes subtly disquieting layers around tersely drifting melodies, often using a slide.

The obvious comparison is Bill Frisell‘s loopmusic. Both guitarists explore the pastoral as well as the noir and don’t waste notes; if anything, Matos plays with an even greater economy here. Most of these tracks originated when the guitarist asked his wide and talented circle to send him improvisations he could play over; a few of these numbers are his colleagues’ responses to his own creations. Matos typically overdubs additional layers using a wide palette of electric and acoustic effects. Most of the numbers in this vast collection are on the short side, many under two minutes. Matos encourages listeners to pick their favorites and create their own playlists.

The album opens with a lingering, reverbtoned, brightly verdant sunrise scene sent in by pianist Richard Sears and closes with their much more somber sunset theme. The album’s most expansive interlude is the enigmatic title track, Matos’ lingering, minimalistic accents around João Lencastre’s slowly tumbling drums and misty hardware. The drummer turns out to be a great sparring partner, the two building deep-space quasi-Wallesonics, icier and more sparse tableaux, and blue-flame rubato delta blues.

Matos’ wife, the brilliant singer Sara Serpa joins him on three tracks: a study in spiky clusters versus ambience (and a couple of great jokes); a tongue-in-cheek, goofy little tree-frog tableau; and a tantalizing miniature with some surprisingly trad scatting.

Matos joins with keyboardist Dov Manski to assemble spare bits and pieces of warmly pastoral phrases over ominously looming atmospherics. A duet with bassist André Carvalho rises to catchy pastoralia, ending with a virtual game of catch-and-follow. Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger contributes the most animated, singalong melody, Matos bending and weaving around it. Another tenor player, Nathan Blehar – who’s represented several times here – adds a similarly upbeat, tuneful interlude later on.

The album’s usual dynamic turns inside out with Matos’ calmly rhythmic, echoing phrases against trumpeter Gonçalo Marques’ gritty, increasingly intense volleys of circular breathing. The same happens later with bassist Demian Cabaud’s whirling high harmonics and wild swoops. There’s an immense amount of music to choose from here.

June 2, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elisabeth Remy Johnson’s Solo Harp Album Highlights Gorgeous Works by Female Composers

Elisabeth Remy Johnson‘s new album Quest – streaming at Spotify – is a rapturously eclectic mix of solo works for harp by women composers from the past 150 years. Beyond the monumental amount of sleuthing that Johnson put into this, these compositions are absolutely gorgeous, deserve to better known and transcend the lure of the harp demimonde. Most but not all of them are on the quiet side; Johnson’s attention to detail and dynamics is as meticulous as it is heartfelt. And her new arrangements of piano works are revelatory.

She opens with the album’s title track, an utterly Lynchian short work by Niloufar Nourbakhsh, eerie dissonances interpolated within a simple two-chord vamp. Cécile Chaminade’s even briefer Aubade, a subtly wistful pavane, makes a good segue, even if the idiom is completely different.

Amy Beach’s A Hermit Thrush at Morn is a characteristically fascinating blend of the Romantic….and what Messiaen might have written had he been up early one New Hampshire morning to transcribe birdsong. French Late Romantic composer Mel Bonis is represented by five arrangement of short piano pieces: a gently bubbling stream; a steady, baroque-tinged lullaby; Mélisande, a nocturne; Desdémona, a broodingly ornamented waltz; and a distant, dreamy clock-chime theme.

Johnson stays in stately 3/4 time for one of Fanny Mendelssohn’s better-known short piano works, Melodie. Romanze, a Clara Schumann piano piece, gets a tersely resonant reinvention on Johnson’s harp that brings out new levels of pensive angst. There’s more of that, played more spaciously, in Lili Boulanger’s Debussy-esque D’un Vieux Jardin.

Johnson maintains that ambience in her imaginative, pointillistically harmonized version of the old folk song Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies, shifting to the stark, starry bluegrass tinges of John Riley, from Kati Agócs‘ suite Every Lover is a Warrior

Sally Beamish‘s Pavan has immensely more sprightliness and color than the title would imply. There’s mysterious, scintillating detail in Skye, a dynamically shifting Scottish-inspired work by Freya Waley-Cohen. Johnson winds up the album with the longest and most dramatic piece here, Johanna Selleck‘s Spindrift, a bracingly chromatic, windswept ocean scene that draws heavily on extended technique.

Johnson’s extensively researched liner notes are acerbic and priceless: “From today’s perspective, some of the stories of the composers born in the 19th century range from mystifying to enraging. I believe their families did not operate from an overt intent to oppress, but instead were contemplating societal norms, and trying to chart the path of least resistance for their daughters, sisters, and wives. Luckily for us, each of these women defied the limits and defined their own paths. It also bears mentioning that, for the most part, each had substantial financial resources at their disposal.”

June 1, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Angela’s Ring: A Witheringly Funny, Unexpectedly Prophetic Satire of EU Political Skulduggery

One of the most original and savagely insightful new albums to come out since the fateful days of March, 2020 is Angela’s Ring, a large-ensemble jazz opera written by bassist Kabir Sehgal and pianist Marie Incontrera, streaming at Spotify. Premiered before the lockdown, it’s a meticulously researched, venomously satirical look at the inner workings of the European Union, focusing on the admission of Greece and the nation’s precipitous decline afterward. As context for the lockdowners’ almost complete takedown of democracy around the world, it’s eye-opening to the extreme.

It’s more a story of political corruption gone haywire than any kind of examination of the sinister International Monetary Fund scheme to cripple the Greek economy with debt and devastate its citizenry. And it’s ridiculously funny. EU heads of state come across as decadent fratboys and sorority girls who never grew up and live in a bubble. If there’s anything that’s missing here – Sehgal has obviously done his homework – it’s the point of view of the average European. For instance, we only get a single number about the Greeks who’ve lost their property, their jobs and in some cases, their lives, to satisfy speculator greed.

The Leveraged Jazz Orchestra spoof Beethoven right off the bat in the suspiciously blithe overture, launching a Western European alternative to nationalist strife that left “a hundred million dead” over the centuries, as German dictator Angela Merkel (Lucy Schaufer) puts it. She is, after all, prone to exaggeration. And then she seduces the wary but bibulous George Papandreou (David Gordon) on a waterbed over a sultry, altered tango groove. Meanwhile, he frets how long it’s going to take the rest of the EU to find out that he’s cooked the books.

It takes IMF honcho Christine Lagarde (a hair-raising Marnie Breckinridge) to rescue him…but this deus ex machina comes with a hefty pricetag. A shady, crude Silvio Berlusconi (Brandon Snook) tells him not to worry, that Italy is in over its head even deeper, so…party time! With a monumental Napoleon complex, France’s subservient Nicolas Sarkozy (Erik Bagger) gets skewered just as deliciously. “Democracy isn’t your natural state,” he tells Merkel at a pivotal moment.

A hedge fund manager suggests a joust between Merkel and Papandreou, with Lagarde as referee. Who wins? No spoilers.

The music is inventive and imaginative, a mashup of styles from across the Continent, from folk to classical to jazz. Who would have ever imagined a celebratory Greek ballad played on Edmar Castaneda’s harp? That’s one of the more cynical interludes here. There’s also a slinky, smoky baritone sax break after Greece’s debt gets downgraded to junk by traders hell-bent on shorting it. Tenor sax player Grace Kelly adds suspicious exuberance; trombonist Papo Vazquez takes a moody break in a salsa-jazz number where Merkel’s treachery finally comes out into the open. Clarinetist Oran Etkin’s agitatedly sailing solo in an even darker latin-tinged number is one of the record’s high points, as is pianist Aaron Diehl’s similar interlude a couple of tracks later.

Ultimately, this is a cautionary tale. If you think this is outrageous and revealing – and it is – just wait til the collapse of the lockdown, the Nuremberg trials afterward, and the likely dissolution of the EU. Maybe Sehgal can write a sequel.

May 31, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Iconic, Haunting Schubert Song Cycle Reinvented For Our Time

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and pianist Yannick Nézet-Séguin‘s new live recording of Schubert’s Winterreise – streaming at Spotify – is heartbreaking on more levels than usual. DiDonato isn’t phased by singing a male role: she’s done that before. Unquestionably, she brings new levels of depth and angst to Wilhelm Muller’s interminable, metaphorically loaded journey through a winter wasteland. Maybe listening to this from a male perspective actually doesn’t give her enough credit, considering how troubling it is simply to hear a woman channel so much emotional devastation. In her liner notes, DiDonato relates how she’s been intrigued by how little we know about the nameless love interest whose ex was sent off stumbling into the snow. In this interpretation, the breakup was just as hard on her.

Nézet-Séguin’s clear-eyed, meticulous focus is a welcome backdrop and guide for everyone involved. He lets what might well be the most famous classical song cycle ever written tell itself, carving out a path of subtly blinding lucidity. The elephant in the room here is that this is a concert recording, from Carnegie Hall in December 2019. Just over four months later, the venue was shuttered and remains cold and dead. That context is as heartbreaking as the story itself. How much longer are New Yorkers going to tolerate Cuomo and the lockdowners’ relentless campaign of terror?

With that in mind, the suite is an even more potent metaphor – it’s hardly a stretch to read Muller’s tale of lost love as a parable of freedom lost to forces of evil, followed by an escape attempt whose end remains in doubt. Take The Signpost, a muted, troubled, spare interlude about eighty percent of the way in: is this simply an embattled individualist’s lament, or a subtle revolutionary cry? This duo leave that possibility wide open.

DiDonato’s downward cascades in the sarcastically titled overture pack quite a wallop as Nézet-Séguin maintains a very light-footed stroll, eschewing any temptation to go for either grand guignol or florid operatics. It’s a portent for the rest of the record.

There’s an almost furtive scramble to the fourth segment, Numbness, the anguish of DiDonato’s narrator wanting to melt the ice with her tears and rekindle the affair. Happy memories under the linden tree seem more ghostly here, at a distance: sleep in heavenly peace, ouch!

Rivers rise with DiDonato’s voice as Nézet-Ségui serves as anchor, both musically and emotionally. Rest proves tantalizingly elusive, a spring thaw vastly more so, in a rare crushing crescendo. Increasingly somber intimations of mortality are much more vastly spacious and funereal. The scene where the traveler ends up sleeping in the graveyard because the inn is full seems only logical, and Nézet-Séguin really makes those cruelly conclusive chords sink in. And the hushed coda, out on the ice with the homeless, drunken hurdy-gurdy player, makes for sheer horror. These two really go to the core of this music. Newcomers to the Winterreise who discover it through this recording are especially lucky.

May 30, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Electrifying, Entertaining, Amusing Magnum Opus From Multi-Reedwoman Anna Webber

Damn, this is a funny record. Multi-reedwoman Anna Webber‘s mammoth new double album Idiom – streaming at Bandcamp – is her most ambitious yet. She’s no stranger to large-ensemble work, most memorably with her Webber/Morris Big Band album from a couple of years ago. The loosely connecting thread here is extended technique, something Webber has plenty of and uses liberally but not gratuitously. The jokes are relentless and irresistible. Webber gets extra props for having the nerve – and the optimism – to put out another big band record at a time when big band performances in New York have been criminalized. Hopefully for no longer than it takes for a Cuomo impeachment!

There’s also an opening disc, Webber joined by her long-running Simple Trio. The first number is a creepy, circling flute and piano theme and variations, with sudden dynamic and rhythmic shifts. It’s closer to Terry Riley than jazz. Drummer John Hollenbeck adds flickering color to the steady sway, pianist Matt Mitchell setting off a lake of ripples from the lows upward. Furtiveness becomes spritely, then the hypnotic spiral returns.

The second of these Idiom pieces has even more of an air of mystery in the beginning, its spaciously wispy minimalism growing more herky-jerky, up to a clever piano-sax conversation over Hollenbeck’s funky drive. Forgotten Best is a great track, beginning as a very allusive, rhythmically resistant take on hauntingly majestic Civil Rights Coltrane, then hitting a triumphant, quasi-anthemic drive. The trio follow with a coyly comedic, hypnotically circular, flute-driven march.

Webber subtly employs her pitch pedal for sax duotones and microtones in the third of the Idiom series over Hollenbeck’s straight-ahead funk and Mitchell’s surgical staccato, then clusters wildly over the pianist’s various vortices. The drummer’s persistent gremlin at the door signals a shivery shift.

The twelve-piece large ensemble play an epic, largely improvisational seven-track suite on the second disc. Emphatic swats over a murmuring background, with a wryly funny low/high exchange, pervade the opening movement. One assume that’s the bandleader’s distant squall that sets off a racewalking pace. Sounds like somebody’s using a EWI for those Marshall Allen-style blips and squiggles.

An airy, increasingly suspenseful interlude introduces movement two, Webber back on flute, fluttering in tandem with Yuma Uesaka’s clarinet over the tiptoeing Frankenstein of the rhythm section – Nick Dunston on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. A swinging fugue follows, the rest of the horns – Nathaniel Morgan on alto sax, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, David Byrd-Marrow on horn and Jacob Garchik on trombone joined by the string trio of violinist Erica Dicker, violist Joanna Mattrey and cellist Mariel Roberts. Webber’s mealy-mouthed meandering, picked off by the trombone, is another deviously amusing moment.

O’Farrill punctures the mist of the second interlude and then wafts optimistically, a goofy faux-takadimi duel between horn and trumpet finally disappearing into a chuffing shuffle; ersatz qawwali has seldom been so amusing. Everybody gets to make a Casper the Friendly Ghost episode out of the fourth movement. Movement five slowly coalesces out of looming mystery, O’Farrill playfully nudging everybody up, Webber’s acidic multiphonics over a slinky quasi-tropical syncopation and an ending that’s predictably ridiculous.

The group rise out of the ether a final time to impersonate a gamelan for awhile the string section leading the ramshackle parade this time. It’s as if Webber is daring us to go out and have half as much fun as she did making this album.

May 29, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jitro Czech Girls Choir Celebrate Owls, Mudpuddles, and the History of Western Music

Today’s album falls into the fun classical category. Czech composer Ilja Hurnik liked bright, singable melodies but also enigmatic harmonies. His music is picturesque to the extreme, deceptively playful and more complex than it might seem on the surface. The Jitro Czech Girls Choir’s new album Gratias, a Hurnik retrospective streaming at Spotify, contains two numbers about owls and more than one vignette of children having fun in the rain…alongside an improbably successful capsule history of western choral music. That speaks volumes. Jiří Skopal conducts these young women in an evocative performance of very serious unserious music.

Variations on a Mouse Theme are actually an ambitious attempt to trace the entire history of choral music, from the pre-Renaissance to the present, in less than ten minutes. After a coyly bustling bit of an intro, there’s a trio of leaping, Handel-ish miniatures followed by a more austere interlude punctuated by incisive bursts in the high harmonies. The false ending to the fourth segment is irresistibly funny, the group gamely tackling the thorny harmonies and tricky rhythms of the modernist coda.

June Night, for piano and choir, comes across as a more sober series of etudes: counterpoint, Romantically-tinged glitter with an affecting soprano solo, and a study in slowly shifting long tones are part of the picture. If the chromatics of the fifth segment are to be taken on face value, they’re a headache.

The Children’s Tercetta suite is more piano-centric. Icicles drip busily, a sparrow and swallow banter, a colt romps for a bit, a butterfly dips and lingers gracefully. Pianist Michal Chrobák’s poignancy alongside the voices in that second owl miniature make a strikingly somber contrast: it’s one of the album’s high points.

Water, Sweet Water is a triptych for choir and the most lushly enveloping piece here. The ensemble wind up the album with the brief, strikingly translucent six-part Missa Vinea Crucis for choir and organ. The opening kyrie is stunningly dark and chromatically bristling: organist František Vaníček brings to mind the great French composer Maurice Durufle, as he does again in the disquieting twinkle and gusts of the gloria. The lively counterpoint of the credo and ethereal agnus dei each make quite a contrast.

Much as all this music is essentially etudes, the fun Hurnik obviously had writing it translates vividly in the girls’ performance.

May 28, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cellist Arlen Hlusko Finds Mesmerizing Beauty in Scott Ordway’s New Solo Suite

Cellist Arlen Hlusko’s new recording of Scott Ordway’s Nineteen Movements for Unaccompanied Cello – streaming at the composer’s music page – is a bundle of contradictions: sprightly and immersive, old and new. Drawing equally on the baroque and current-day minimalism, it’s on the slow, pensive side, but with all sorts of dynamic shifts and demands on extended technique. Hlusko really sinks her teeth – and her bow, and her fingers – into this. It’s quite beautiful in its own austere way, emphatically rooted in the lows. Some of this could be a work for solo bass.

She begins the suite with a stately, minimal, circling baroque-tinged pizzicato theme which  instantly reveals the room’s rich natural reverb. She picks up her bow for the echoingly brief second movement, its long, rising tones and harmonically-spiced chords.

Her attack grows spikier and more forceful, occasionally with percussive boom or plucked glissandos, There are a handful of passages with striking low/high contrasts and uneasy close harmonies, as well as one centered around expressive allusions to a well-known Bach theme.

Movement nine has rich contrast between the almost feral attack of the first part and the wistful, wispy ending. From there, Hlusko shifts energetically from increasingly complex, raga-like variations around a pedal note, to aching, slowly crescendoing single-note lines, to what could be a fondly anthemic 19th century folk ballad. Ordway brings the suite full circle as a warmly resonant pavane.

May 27, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment