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"New" Music Log

Discussion in 'classical' started by Todd A, Dec 27, 2008.

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Time to take a musical journey to the Caucasus, here in in the form of three works for string quartet by two composers named Sulkhan, and played by the Georgian State String Quartet. Not only was the bargain basement closeout disc worthwhile for the music alone, it also gave me the chance to hear how Lisa Batiashvili's father, Tamaz Batiashvili, also a fiddler, played. (Ah, Commie nepotism - the best kind!) Anytime I listen to music from beyond the eastern shores of the Black Sea, I expect something a bit exotic sonically, and I look forward to it.

    Sulkhan Nasidze's Fifth String Quartet, Con Sordino, goes first, and as it happens, it is dedicated to Sulkhan Tsintsadze. The single movement quartet is in a slow-fast-slow structure. The first slow section sounds slightly funereal, drawn out, and uncentered - perhaps weightless, as the booklet notes suggest - and is spiced with judicious sul ponticello playing, sounding like a mish-mash of high minded modernism and folk elements, like a less compelling Bartok. The middle section sounds like a Glass-Bartok-vaguely folkish blend, and finally raises the volume materially beyond mezzo piano. The second slow section maintains greater tension and dynamic range than the opener, but regains something of a funeral sense, especially in the low strings, and what sound likes nods to Janacek in the coda. It's a pretty spiffy modern quartet.

    Sulkhan Tsintsadze gets two works, starting with a collection of eight Miniatures for String Quartet. Here, the folk element is baked right in as the pieces are explicitly based on Georgian folk songs, all are about three minutes or less. Some are dance-like, some more song-like, and they all have varying degrees of more eastern influences. The peppiest, most "exotic", and definitely most fun of the bunch is Sachidao, apparently a fighting song. One can sense the influence of Bartok, but one also gets a sense that the music is even closer to its folk roots than the sometimes more abstracted works by the Hungarian. The composer's Sixth String Quartet ends the disc. Another single movement work, this time split into five sections, the works is the most unabashedly modernist piece on the disc, and blends elements of DSCH, highly abstracted Georgian folk elements, some middle period Bartok, and various post-war influences. It's not so much a mashup as it is an original, effective, well structured and proportioned work, mixing high art and (probably more for seasoned listeners) an easy approachability. It's like the disc gets better with each work, as though the artists and producers planned it that way.

    The quartet plays at a very high level, which does not surprise, and the mid-90s sound is perhaps a bit too close and airless, but otherwise far more than acceptable.
     
  2. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I kind of stumbled upon Miloslav Kabeláč when I picked up an Ivo Kahánek piano recital disc with some familiar fare, including Janáček's very familiar sonata. It was and is Kabeláč's Preludes that made the disc special, and so I started buying some more. Including this, the first recording of his complete symphonies. And, well, wow.

    The set starts out with a Symphony No 1 in D for Strings and Percussion, from 1942, and this joins the ranks of the great wartime orchestral works. Martinů's Memorial to Lidice, works by Honegger, DSCH, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, whomever, this work matches them. Pretty brief, with at times searing string writing, and brilliant use of percussion, including, as one would expect, the potent force this mix of instruments can impart, and one has a tense, nervous, dark work that packs a huge wallop. One can certainly hear various influences, including the names I mentioned and Bartók, but this is as non-derivative as a symphony can get. Whew. The Second Symphony in C for Large Orchestra gives away its bigness from the outset. Hints of Straussian gigantism and DSCH stings combine into a big ol' orchestral good time. Not light, not at all, but not so dark as to make a listener potentially feel gloomy, it just works. Does one detect the influence of one-time teacher Schulhoff in the bold inclusion of sax in the second movement? Whatever the influence, it adds something a bit different.

    Not quite as different as the Third, scored for Organ, Brass, and Timpani. Say what? At times it sounds like a huge, angry funeral march, moving forward grimly, with the fanfares cutting right through the organ and timps. Hardly easy or frequent listening, here's something new under the sun, at least in my collection. The much smaller scale Fourth, for chamber orchestra, follows, and here one gets a feeling on DSCH and Janacek combining forces, with some Stravinsky and generic French composers in the mix. That seems cool; it sounds cool. Light, certainly, and rhythmically buoyant, but with moments of bite, it bounces along, causing no little delight as it does so.

    The Fifth starts the third disc, and the wordless soprano part paired with music containing some very lovely passages lightens portions of the piece, but otherwise it packs more of an intense, at times bitterly angry punch, coming off as a mix of DSCH, Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs but really good, and something entirely unique to the composer. Apparently, the composer favored this symphony, and it is not hard to hear why. (And the composer does like timps.) The Sixth, the "Concertante" for Clarinet, gives the listener no respite after the stinging end to the prior work. Shrill, sharp, and aggressive, the piece launches ferociously, as the "Feroce" designation implies. The solo part takes on an eastern flavor, the brass slice through everything else, blaring at the listener, and the percussion rattle things. Except when they don't, as with some gentle snare taps, carefully spotlit. In a nod to the avant garde, the Lento movement includes some string music played back through loudspeakers as a sort of musical doping agent - as if the music needed it. The concluding Presto, where one gets some really nice texture from the two pianos, wraps the whole thing up in a big, weighty, impactful musical ball. This is one of the biggest, baddest, most severely mislabeled Clarinet Concertos out there, but whatever one calls it, the work kicks ass start to finish and represents a (a, not the) peak of the cycle.

    The Seventh, for Orchestra and Reciter, sets to music the Book of John and the Book of Revelations, as well as an elegy from New Guinea. The opening fanfares remind one of the harshest blasts from Mahler's 10th - and then the listening gets harder. Dissonance here, there, and everywhere (thankfully), loaded with percussion and eerie pizzicato and everything else that 60s era avant garde music had to offer, Kabeláč's composition has the benefit of actually being good. Without delving into the text, it comes off as a harsher version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, or even Die Jakobsleiter. I adore both works, so now I adore this one, too. Just a whole lotta wow in there. The Eighth, Antiphones, starts off where the Seventh leaves off. Borrowing from his third, this is scored for organ percussion, mixed choir, and soprano, and sets biblical text. It comes off as an industrial strength liturgical work, and almost hints at the works of Gubaidulina that came later. Since I really dig her religious compositions, I am predisposed to dig this. Also, the organ reminds one of nothing less than the Glagolitic Mass. Yeah.

    Conductor, soloists, and band do excellent work, and sound is just fine, though a bit low in level, necessitating cranking the volume a bit. (Or was that my desire to listen loud?)

    Here's music that I now know has been missing my whole life. Rarely have I experienced complete symphony sets that go from strength to strength, offer such variety, such superb craftsmanship, and so much unique invention. What a find! A purchase of the year. Almost certainly the decade. Probably the century.
     
    jandl100 likes this.
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    My small collection of recordings and experience listening to the Vlach Quartet has centered on core rep, but in their day they performed and recorded some new stuff. Such as on this disc. Hugo Wolf is not new to my collection, but Iša Krejčí, Jan Rychlík, and Pavel Bořkovec all are. The Bořkovec Second String Quartet starts things off, and it sounds like a work straight out of turn of the century writing, and sounds like a blend of Dvořák and Szymanowski, which is quite alright, thank you. Hugo Wolf's Italian Serenade follows, and the Vlach unsurprisingly nail it. The only surprise is that it sounds like the music is transferred from LP. Jan Rychlík's Chamber Suite for String Quartet follows, with five movements structured on baroque models, at least in terms of naming. The pieces vary in style, and the Danza mixes things up quite a bit all by itself, with multiple influences apparent, none of them dominating. It's hard to call it especially modernist, or neo-anything. It is easy to call it enjoyable. Iša Krejčí is apparently labeled a neo-classical composer, but this Second String Quartet, a memorial, comes off as more emotive and romantic, especially in the lovely and affecting Moderato movement. As with the other Czech works, it sounds quite lyrical much of the time, and if it does not emerge as a masterpiece of the highest order, as none of the works here do, it and they nonetheless have seriousness, a beauty, a listenability that make them nice to just sit and listen to.

    The Vlach play very well, of course, and the style, rich with vibrato and some nice dollops of portamento unlikely to be heard these days, adds something of an appealing old-time feel.
     
  4. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Haydn pretty much rules the roost when it comes to classical era string quartets for me.* Not even Mozart really compares. No shame in that. Haydn knew his business and cranked out masterpiece after masterpiece. Well, along comes Leopold Koželuch. I've previously sampled some Koželuch piano sonatas and found them to be exceptionally good, if perhaps expressively limited - fairly light classical fare without any romantic affectation or even Sturm und Drang weight, at least in the selections I've heard. Turns out he wrote a half dozen quartets, too, including his own Op 33. Okay, he does not match Haydn overall, and certainly not the Austrian's Op 33, but damned if he the Czech didn't write some nifty chamber music. One quartet is in two movements, and all the others are in three, with all of them following a fast-slow-fast model. The same overall impression left by his piano sonatas gets reinforced here. Light, tuneful, quite lovely, with beautiful but not deep slow movements, one never gets bored while listening and just lets the good times roll. There's literally nothing to kvetch about. Even the relative sameness of the works works as one just bops along from one sweet movement to another. The different, all major key works just delight. It may even be possible to appreciate the writing more than some of Mozart quartets. The Stamic Quartet, veterans of the recording studio including one of the few complete Dvorak sets, play superbly well, reinforcing just how good Czech string quartets can be. Wonderful discs both.
    * Beethoven resides in his own category.
     
    ralphj and BrianPK like this.
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Chang Ping is a composer new to me. Not yet fifty, the composer received his training at the Central Conservatory of Music in China before getting some additional training in Berlin. He has written a pretty good number of works in a variety of genres, so these are no beginner works. This massive, 80+ minute collection of four concertos, completed in 2015, for four different traditional Chinese instruments and western orchestra, blends east and west as a sort of whole with a very unwoke name by contemporary occidental standards. I've got works for the Pipa and Ehru in my collection already, but the other two instruments are new to my collection.

    The disc opens with The Wind Washed Clouds, for Guzheng (a Zither-type thing) and orchestra, with Ji Wei the soloist. The harpsichord-meets-harp sound of the instrument adds a eastern sound to what otherwise sounds like orchestral music that could very easily have been recorded as part of Claudio Abbado's Wien Modern series way back when. Now, how one responds to post war orchestral music in general may very well inform how one responds to this. Me, I like said music when done right, and for the most part, this is done right. Lots of bold dynamic contrasts meet with clangy orchestration and, somehow, the Guzheng offers a significant contrast in texture and sound. The Noble Fragrance, for Erhu and Orchestra, starts off with giant, Mahlerian drum thwacks and then the orchestra enters in full-on Henze mode before the ehru emerges like some ethereal voice which plays solo for an extended period. The longest work on the disc, at just over a half hour, it sounds remarkably close to a contemporary violin concerto, but for the widely different tonal characteristics of the solo instrument. And it sounds like Yu Hongmei knows her erhu, because she meets what sounds like taxing demands quite well. While it doesn't sound like the instrument can produce a massive sound, it sure can produce a gentle one, and I have to guess this piece demands high end playing. Also, in some passages, and I don't mean to make it sound like the work is derivative, but I could swear, especially in the solo part, that the impact of DSCH can be heard. Which is no bad thing. The Movement of Wash Painting for pipa and orchestra, with Zhang Qiang the soloist, enters into a field with at least one outstanding work, Nanking! Nanking! by Bright Sheng. This work lacks the dramatic back and forth of Sheng's piece, and sounds more generically avant garde, but anytime this instrument and a big band merge, it seems like there will be some type of unbalanced dialogue. (Makes me wonder what a chamber work might be like.) The almost French sounding Blue Lotus for Zhudi (bamboo flute) and orchestra is probably the most easily accessible work of the lot, at least for big swaths. The music starts off smaller scale than the other pieces, and big, thumping tuttis, which do arrive, don't pervade as much as in the other works. When orchestration is sparse, the instrument pops, and it can have the brightness of a piccolo without the shrillness, and when mixed with fewer instruments, it makes for ear-catching music. Yuan Feifan does what sounds like splendid work here. All of the works are worth hearing, but Blue Lotus and The Noble Fragrance make the disc, and make me want to hear more from the composer.

    This live recording, taken from a single concert, has expected audience noise, and it must be noted that it sounds like some Chinese orchestras are catching up to, or have caught up to, western orchestras in executive ability. Conductor Lin Tao gets good work from all involved. Sound quality is pretty spiffy, too.
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    More of the Vlach playing lesser known works. The very short download starts with Viktor Kalabis' Second String Quartet. Zuzana Růžičková's husband wrote in his time and place, which means that his music cannot escape the influence of the avant garde or Bartok or Shostakovich in this medium. There's nothing wrong with that, and indeed, the taut, tense work moves forward with sometimes grinding dissonance, sometimes appealing melody, sometimes austere writing letting for the first violinist, and various other techniques (eg, playing the instrument pizzicato like a lute), and the overall effect is one of focusing the listener's mind on the musical here and now? DSCH 9 or Bartok 4 it is not, but it does not have to be. Of an earlier generation, Pavel Bořkovec's Fifth Quartet dates from 1961, but it harks back more to the first few decades of the 20th Century stylistically. At times dissonant, it does sound more lyrical much of the time, though with something of an edge. It comes off as a blend of styles, with late romantic flourishes one might associate with Dvorak, but with dashes of Martinu and Prokofiev thrown in. It's not merely derivative at all, and indeed, the composer was lucky to have advocates as strong as those on offer here. This recording makes a welcome addition to my collection, and the big mono sound works just fine.
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    If you're gonna listen to one version of Kalabis' Second String Quartet, you might as well listen to two. The Panocha strip away some of the bite and harshness and deliver a smoother, more meticulous rendition. The slower music generally sounds more beautiful here. So outta the gate, one can hear contrasting styles. Best to have both, of course. (The Panocha barely gets the nod.) Ladislav Kubík short String Quartet in One Movement follows. The early 80s era work is at times a taut, nervous ball of energy, at others an almost grim, nervous slow grind. Astringent and dissonant, packing in all the string quartet tricks in a short span - think Webern, Bartok, and nameless avant garde composers mashed together - the piece moves along with striking logic, with no musical idea coming close to wearing out its welcome. Vladimír Sommer's String Quartet in D Minor ends the short recording. It starts off gently, beautifully, harking back to late 19th Century music, but after little more than a minute, the music adds some intensity. It never really sounds harsh or modernist as its mid-50s vintage might imply. In that it's sort of like Martinu, but it sounds nothing like Martinu. The Adagio ends up upping the beauty and the tension, somehow, and the concluding Vivace adds more energy and pulsating energy alternating with playful, light music that again harks back to the 19th Century, or maybe the early 20th. One may detect whiffs of Korngold, too, which is no bad thing. All things considered, it works rather well.

    Of course the Panocha deliver the goods, and sound is better than expected given vintage and source.
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    A second disc of chamber music by Jia Daqun. The disc opens with Flavor of Bashu for two violins, piano, and percussion. A blend of western and eastern styles and sounds, one can easily think of it as an even more eastern Bartok, with hints of John Cage thrown in. That doesn't really do justice as a description, but it's decent shorthand, and fans of dissonant music and some aggressive percussion may very well dig this piece a whole lot. Counterpoint of Times switches over to a wind ensemble written using the golden section ratio in parts. The bright piece sounds more vaguely avant-garde French than Chinese, but that's OK, too. It lacks the impact of the opener, but it ain't too shabby. Next is the String Quartet from 1988, and it offers a basically perfect merging of Chinese folk tune inspired music and avant garde string quartet writing one hears more commonly. You get the night music pizzicato thing and glissandi, and so forth, but here it emerges even more colorful and varied than is often the case. Muy bueno. The disc closes out with the brief The Prospect of Coloured Desert, for Violin, Cello, Percussion, and both the Sheng and Pipa, so this work has the most decidedly eastern sound to it. Jia, does not fall back on straight up folk music at all. Instead, the instruments play fully contemporary, abstract music, like an up to date Bartok. The more distinctive and unusual sound makes it stand out more than the other works, which says something. Overall, the music sounds most compelling and makes the listener want to seek out yet more works by the composer.

    Tip-top playing. Tip-top sound.
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Picked up on a lark when spotted on closeout, this disc ended up far surpassing any reasonable or unreasonable expectations I may have held. The pleasant surprises start with Korngold's Unvergänglichkeit. Tuneful, yes, as expected. Lush, kinda, yeah. But more than that. The theme of immortality sparked the composer to write music that presages Messiaen's later religiously themed good stuff. Karl Goldmark offers good, (literally) old-fashioned German lied in the Schubert and Brahms tradition, never daring to tread an original path. But that doesn't matter a whit since the songs works so darned well, melodic and unchallenging but unyieldingly inviting and lovely. Cornelia Hübsch nails her part, singing with beauty and superb diction, with Charles Spencer tickling the ivories in a most becoming way. Superb in every way.
     
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    When two of the best instrumentalists recording today put out a duo recording, especially when one is William Youn and the other is Nils Mönkemeyer, then it’s only a matter of time before listening. This recording, entitled Whispers, is devoted to the music of Konstantia Gourzi, and she also plays some percussion in some pieces and penned the brief intro. The pieces are all inspired by nature and were written for Youn and Mönkemeyer specifically.

    The listener gets to hear tip-top shelf playing from two artists at the top of their game, and production values are high end as well. The music does not quite work as well as I had hoped. wind whispers for solo piano opens, and the overall mood is set. A blend of minimalism and almost New Age inspired music has multiple beautiful parts, all but guaranteed with Youn playing, but doesn’t really engage this listener. The second piece, evening at the window II, for viola and percussion, leaves a similar impression. With call of the bees, starting with a beefy piano ostinato underpinning some more gnarly but lovely viola playing, one gets to something more enjoyable, a bit closer to chamber music with oomph. The back half of the recording, comprised of messages between trees, a love song, and melodies from the sea, inhabits a stylistically similar world as the first couple works, with the brief duo a love song the strongest piece. While the earnestness of the project can plainly be heard, the recording as a whole does not match up to the best from either main artist. Others may very well love Ms Gourzi’s style, of course.
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Brahms is basically the end of the road for me when it comes to piano concerto gigantism. I love 'em and listen to 'em rather frequently. There are a handful of other big beasts out there, like Henze's Second or, at the end of the concerto rainbow/nightmare, Feruccio Busoni's bloated monstrosity of interminable musical notes strung together in almost music. (Henze was lucky to have a champion in Christoph Eschenbach, back when he tickled the ivories with the best of them, so the piece remains listenable for that reason.) I wasn't really looking for a really, really long piano concerto, but then I found Kimmo Hakola's fifty-six minute monster for a few bucks, I figured it couldn't hurt, not really, to give it a shot. I believe I've seen Hakola's name before, as he's part of the Finnish musical scene, and that this recording was made by Ondine ensured some spiffy sonics, so it seemed worth trying.

    The concerto starts off with hints of Ravel's D Major, with growling low strings laying the foundation, but that's essentially the only similarity. The work unfolds over nine movements, and it's a journey, and something of a chore to sit through. It's from the clang-boom pastiche school of contemporary classical composition. Alternatively, one could say it's an everything but the kitchen sink style work, with the kitchen sink being tunes. Tunefulness is most definitely not needed to make a work successful, but it often doesn't hurt. The work manages to flit from idea to idea, with homages to jazz and Bach and Rachmaninoff and Puccini and Harrison and Ligeti and Klezmer music and organ and almost everything else. There are multiple assaults by percussion instruments, and passages of oodles of piano notes with no discernible purpose. And it seems to more or less just unfold as one long, flowing wall of sound, like a piano concerto modelled on Coma by Guns N' Roses. As an instrumental exercise, it does actually work well enough. The pianist has a ton to do, and every section of the orchestra gets a workout. All involved give their all; Hakola is lucky modern conservatories pump out grads who can play anything.

    The disc also comes with the Sinfonietta from 1999, and it's more to my liking, and not just because it's only fourteen minutes long. The string heavy sound, though percussion gets lots of love, is more accessible and nearly tuneful, albeit in a strident, pungent way. It betrays influences of Lutoslawski and Bartok and various and sundry others, and it just kind of cruises along. In many contexts, it would be the hard-hitting piece, but following a nearly hour long piano concerto, it's the light entertainment.

    Fine playing and predictably fine sound for a disc I listen to maybe once more in my lifetime.
     
  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    This disc marks the third appearance of Huang Ruo in the New Music Log thread. The disc includes multiple, diverse works inspired by multiple artistic and cultural and historical influences, which the composer outlines in his own liner notes. The works date from roughly 2000 through 2019, so some of the music is super fresh.

    Shattered Steps opens the disc, and it starts with the composer himself singing a manufactured language in a Chinese style before segueing to a full-scale orchestra that adopts the overall pulse of the music as set forth by the singing and merging Chinese music, Aaron Copland, and movie soundtrack style music. That sounds derivative, but it's not really derivative, as I've not heard anything quite like it. The relentless forward drive and at times chaotic, cacophonous feel works rather well. It's formless yet focused. Nice. Becoming Another, derived from a Chinese saying, combines rich strings and colorful percussion in a Strauss meets Streitenfeld kind of piece, with eastern sounds generously thrown in. As with the opener, it kind of unfolds continuously throughout its modest length, though it sounds smoother and more continuous, thanks to the low strings.

    Next come two excerpts from Ruo's opera An American Soldier, which sets the tragic tale of Private Danny Chen to music. Mezzo Guang Yang sings two pieces as the soldier's mother, and it immediately calls to mind Britten, Berg, and Zimmermann in overall mien, though it sounds distinct from any of those. The two pieces amount to only a short interlude and make at least this listener most interested in hearing the whole opera. The disc turns back to orchestral music with Still/Motion. Commissioned as a modern companion piece to The Butterfly Lovers violin concerto, Ruo relies on Chinese Opera and Tang Dynasty court music as inspiration, as well as motives from The Butterfly Lovers and Emperor’s Princess Flower. While the eastern influences are obvious, the western tradition offers the overall structural and technical framework for the music. It's incredibly cohesive, and marks one of the finest blendings of East meets West in my collection. This melding of styles and Chinese influences continues in Two Pieces for Orchestra, the oldest piece on the disc. Eastern influences sound less pronounced in the opening Fanfare, with (unabashedly) modernist style pervading, though it sounds much more noticeable in Announcement, including in this Chinese singing that the orchestral players offer up in the coda.

    Finally, the disc closes out with Folk Songs for Orchestra. The songs come from different portions of China, including, quite purposely, Xinjiang, in the closer The Girl from Da Ban City. The pieces all fall into the folk-music inspired category, with no question whatever where the influences come from, even if western ears may not be familiar with the source material. Ruo manages to orchestrate most successfully, evoking the appropriate feel from a modern orchestra using regular instrumentation. It ends up a crowd pleasing closer for a concert and reinforces Ruo's formidable talent.

    The disc is taken from a single concert by the Shanghai Philharmonic from October 2019. Conductor Liang Zhang appears to have had plenty of prep time with the band because they put in some good work.

    A keeper.
     
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Argentinian composer Graciela Jiménez gets the Naxos treatment with a disc comprised of five works for solo piano and one for piano and cello. The disc displays a couple consistent traits. First is poor sound quality. The disc was recorded in 2017 and the composer acted as producer, so even if one accepts that there are practical considerations to achieving good sound quality (eg, available instruments and technicians), one must conclude she was satisfied with the sound quality. The piano sounds ridiculously close, almost claustrophobically so, the dynamic range is blunted, the sound is compressed, and there is no edge, though one gets overdone lower register weight if that appeals. The cello sounds marginally better, but the reverbless sound grates quickly. The next trait is rhythmic flexibility and, at times, vitality. At times, the music sounds dance influenced, and at other times it sounds very jazz influenced. These traits hold whether the music is fast or slow. The music generally sounds nice enough, and this is about as far from gnarly, academic or avant garde style contemporary classical as one can get.

    Cellist Marinis Villafañe and pianist Dora De Marinis do fine work, though I would rather have heard the composer play piano since she is apparently an accomplished pianist. No matter, ultimately the sound quality is just not up to snuff and makes this disc not pleasant enough to listen to. It may get one more listen in my life.
     
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Yet another disc of new music, for me, from Mr Heymann's company. Deqing Wen is a Chinese born Swiss composer, and another artist who deftly blends disparate influences and cultures in his artistic corpus.

    The recording opens with Shanghai Prelude, which is really a Cello Concerto, and while it purports to mix baroque and Chinese music, it sounds more varied than that. Sure, there's the baroque(ish) form, and some folk music, but one hears Strauss and Stravinsky and Balada and a hodge-podge of post-war neo-isms. The music sounds ridiculously well blended together unfolds in a continuous almost twenty-minute stream. It demands some gnarly playing from the soloist - and band - and it almost seems to end just as it's getting good. I mean, like, yeah. Nicolas Altstaedt must perform and record this piece. The high register playing and virtuosic writing also mandates that Sung Won Yang take up the work, as well.

    The Fantasia of Peony Pavilion, based on the work by Ming Dynasty writer Tang Xianzu. One can hear folk traits, but here expressionistic opera and post-war, aggressive orchestral music dominate proceedings. The energy, texture, and vitality make it pop. Where has it been all my life, or at least since 2013? The oldest work on the disc, Variation of a Rose, from 2000, is based on a Xinjiang folk song named A lovable Rose. The composer was inspired by personal events to write a piece that very much sounds like a more dissonant, tense, updated version of Barber's Adagio for Strings. Nice.
    Inspiration moves from east to west with Nostalgia, a set of variations based on a French folksong. The same fluid, continuous musical unfolding from prior works occurs here, while the music sounds less intense and dense. It still packs a lot into a brief nine-minute span, with ample color and elegance and refined bite. The disc closes with Love Song and River Chant, an orchestration of a set of piano variations. Based on folk songs again, only the percussion sort of give away the far eastern influences, because it sounds more Slavic or middle eastern, and then filtered through dense, very western sounding writing with hints of known names (Strauss again, for instance).

    Overall, another fine collection of works deserving more performances (the opening piece, especially), and further exploration of the composer's work.

    Superb playing and sound from all involved.
     
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    An all-New Zealand affair. Composer, soloist, conductor, and ensembles all hail from the country. The Lilburn Trust underwrote the recording, just like it funded one of Michael Houstoun’s LvB sonata cycles. Yep, this here’s a fully southern hemisphere deal.

    Geographical niceties aside, it’s time for the music. For no reason at all, I expected something melodic and tuneful, like an updated Vaughn Williams. Nope. The seven movement Piano Concerto that opens the disc starts off in full boom-clang mode, which initially made me think of Hakola’s chore of work to sit through, but fortunately the work is more properly scaled and much more satisfying. The first movement is a Funeral March – it was written in memory of a deceased friend – and that material serves as the inspiration for the rest of the work. Sure enough, the faster music in the form of two scherzo and a Presto sound similar, but the atmospheric magic happens in the two adagios and the middle Addolorato. Sparser, quieter, sometimes trailing off into near silence and sometimes peppered with some night music, it compels.

    The second work, I passaggi dell'anima, or Landscapes of the Soul, gives the disc its title and explores links between painting, music, and landscapes, and was undertaken in conjunction with the painter Maurizio Bottarelli. Whether one agrees that the work successfully links the subjects at hand or not, the music does sound string-dominated, close to tuneful at times, or least aurally pleasing to this listener, and it does mix accessible contemporary compositional style, nicely varied rhythm, and as promised by the composer, evolving motifs. This sound like precisely the type of work that orchestras ought to program in well balanced concerts. Most enjoyable.

    The disc closes with a fairly rare type of concerto, a concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra. (The not properly edited liner notes refer to a Sting Quartet in one instance.) Martinu wrote one, and I have a recording of that, but I think that’s it for this type of concerto in my collection. The New Zealand String Quartet take the four soloist parts, and the eleven section, single movement piece unfolds in a fragmented fast-slow-fast structure. Unabashedly contemporary but also eminently listenable, one must wait for about five minutes before hearing the full string quartet play together, but one is treated to some concerto like playing from the individual members before that, like brief musical intros. Some dark brass and string playing from the band add some nice variety, like modern Wagner as filtered through the Second Viennese School, with some Schnittke adding further color. Weighty, properly proportioned, and taking just the right amount of time, the piece works splendidly.

    Everything here is up to modern standard, including sonics, and artists all do excellent work.
     
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    As with Mr Ruo, this marks the third appearance of Jia Daqun in this thread. This time the disc is devoted to percussion music. Generally, I do not listen to a lot of percussion music since it lacks a lot of what I usually want. But I was game.

    Generally speaking, rhythm, clarity, timing, and precise execution rule in percussion music, and so it goes here – for the most part. The opening piece Pole is an exercise in rhythm and punchiness. Same for the opening movement of The Song Without Words. But come the second movement, Arias of Gong and Vibraphone, one gets treated to color and harmony not necessarily anticipated going in. The final movement, Sonority of Drums is back to rhythm and punch. The disc closes with Sound Games, for five Chinese percussion players. This maintains the “generic” percussion music vibe with some vocalization tossed in.

    The biggest surprise comes in the third work, the nine-ish minute Prologue of Drums, scored for Chinese drums and Chinese winds. It’s the winds that make all the difference. The way Jia combines them really evokes some Wow! moments. Sometimes they sound like a chamber organ. Sometimes they sound like modern electronic instruments. Sometimes they sound eerie and ethereal. At all times they offer wonderful contrast with the percussion instruments. The work also has some vocal contributions of the seemingly random shouting variety, which I have heard more than a few times in various works. Generally, I am not a huge fan of this, but it works better than normal here. It blends in with the rhythmic elements and reinforces them nicely. It’s an unusual work, but it offers something very new. (Okay, it’s from 1994, so it’s not new.) It’s definitely the highlight of the disc.

    Mr Jia’s hit rate in his three discs is quite high, and I should very much like to hear what he can do with a full orchestra and with some solo instruments. Maybe he can write more for his daughter, including a concerto. That would be nifty.
     
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Until I stumbled upon this closeout disc, I do not think I had ever even seen the name Douglas Weiland. Born in 1954, the British composer still cranks out works, with these two dating from 2011 and 2012.

    The disc opens with the Fifth Quartet, and it can best be described as classical era music with some light modernist touches thrown in. The first violinist of The Melbourne Quartet, Will Hennessy, writes the notes, and he cites the biggest of big names – Haydn, Beethoven, Bartok (more of the first two quartets), Schubert – and it's easy to hear why. While the music most certainly sounds more dissonant than all but Bartok wrote, there is nonetheless a great deal of beauty. The opening movement does sound lovely, but man, the Siciliana second movement sounds like a Haydn-Schubert mashup, with some Korngold tossed in, all delivered with some gently spicy dissonance. The concluding two part final movement maintains the gentle modernity soundworld to start, but the Presto section adds some verve, and even a little bite, but it sounds light rather than weighed down. Weiland crafts easily accessible contemporary music in this quartet.

    The disc then moves back to the Fourth Quartet, which comes in at almost thirty-eight minutes spread across five movements, and sounds more modernist, with Bartok the most obvious influence for much of the work. Weiland does not merely imitate, but some of the techniques sound very close to the Hungarian’s work. Weiland does maintain a dissonant yet attractive sound, and with the ensemble layering on the vibrato in places, one also gets the sense of some hints of Britten tossed in the mix. The Scherzo Germanesque has hints of Schubert, but also Zemlinksy and Schoenberg. After that, the brief Intermezzo sounds relaxed and quite beautiful, and the concluding Allegro molto has some verve and edge, but sounds more relaxed than the opening movements. An altogether satisfying and varied work that does not sound as long as its timing suggests.

    The Melbourne Quartet play the works magnificently and sound quality is basically SOTA.

    A treat of a disc.
     
    jandl100 likes this.
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Here’s something new, a blending of South American and Japanese musical influences, along with the centuries-old classical tradition. Esteban Benzecry is an entirely new name to me, so this whole disc is like a miniature world of musical discovery. Since I went the download route, I did not end up with the liner notes, but that never distracts from just listening.

    The recording opens with the nearly half-hour Violin Concerto, and it sounds dandy. Strangely, one name that comes to mind listening is the rather non-South American, non-Japanese Einojuhani Rautavaara, though in a general sense in how orchestral colors are drawn out. One needn’t strain to hear rhythmic elements found in the works of some other South American composers, and one also needn’t strain to hear both the virtuosity of violinist Xavier Inchausti and the knotty yet accessible writing in the cadenza. The short second movement, Évocation d’un tango, is a languid and freely unfolding piece that sounds exotic and familiar, dissonant yet gorgeous, and truly captivating. The final movement means to evoke pre-Columbian South American traditions, and as such it ends up having hints of Revueltas in it, either by chance or on purpose. It definitely does not sound merely derivative. The low brass and the percussion are used to superb effect in a slow-motion movement of no little drama and impact, with the violin floating above the band.

    The second work is a five song, well, Song Cycle. It mixes poems by four different female poets, including the composer’s wife Fernanda Victoria Caputi Monteverde, Nobel prize winner Gabriela Mistral, and ends with a setting of ancient text by the Quecha people. The first song has a very Queen of the Night style opening, and then each piece mixes the closely recorded soloist delivering somewhat cool but precise singing, backed by colorful and blended orchestral music, with hints of the piano version in the end of the third song. It was impossible not to be reminded in a vague way of Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs, but this work does not match that qualitatively, and as good as Ayako Tanaka is, she cannot match the great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, but the works shoot for different things, and this definitely works very well indeed.

    The disc ends with the Clarinet Concerto, which launches with almost two minutes of just the clarinetist playing before the strings enter. The soloist, like in the Violin Concerto, seems to float above the orchestra, due partly to the recording, but also due to what sounds like shifting musical pictures in quasi-programmatic music. It works best when the orchestral music sounds quiet and continuously shifting, but in the percussion heavy stretches of Danzas volcánicas it also works well. One also gets treated to a blending of the folk and the academic in Baguala enigmática, which displays its folk origins but has some hints of Wagner (or something similar), and then in the concluding movement one hears something reminiscent of Leonarda Balada in its blending of old and new, and one also gets another nice and very easy listening cadenza in the final movement. Perhaps the piece does not equal the Violin Concerto for overall impact, but it offers much to the listener.

    This Naxos disc immediately brings to mind two other similar blockbusters from the label: Vivian Fung’s Dreamscapes and Stephen Hartke’s Clarinet Concerto. Here’s contemporary music that can hold every second of the listener’s attention.

    All sorts of wow.
     
    darkstarcrashes likes this.
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Now here’s something a bit different, but also a bit familiar. Alexander Kastalsky was a Russian composer who studied under Tchaikovsky and Taneyev, worked with Rachmaninoff, and specialized on religious music for most of his career, though he changed course after the revolution. This work, Requiem for Fallen Brothers, was written in response to the Great War. Writing religious works in response to war is not new and was not at the time, but the style and approach with this work is a bit different. It’s a gigantic musical collage that blends musical styles from the allies, so one is treated to Russian, English, French, Italian, Greek, Serbian, American, and of course Latin sources and inspirations. It’s like Mahler, Ives, and Scriabin in their grandest styles all mushed together and written in a most serious way. The work also went through several versions, with this recording the first of the complete, final version.

    The work opens with Russian music and style, and the name Mussorgsky pops into one’s consciousness immediately, but Kastalsky ends up weaving in multiple musical inspirations, including Orthodox sources, the familiar and ancient Dies Irae, which goes through nifty variations, and various folk and religious melodies, including the Rock of Ages, which gets paired with the funeral march from Chopin’s Second Sonata. Some of the music sounds gorgeous, filled with luscious melodies, while some sounds pastoral and gentle. Indeed, this sprawling work for massive forces almost always emphasizes beauty and gentleness, sort of coming off as a scaled-up Faure Requiem. Upon first reading about the work, it came off as a bit kitschy, but it is not. It is as earnest a piece of religious or religiously inspired music as one can imagine. That earnestness, combined with the immense beauty, ends up producing something more effective and affecting than a written description may indicate.

    That this version of the work has a champion in Leonard Slatkin is fortuitous. He was able to put together the massive forces needed and have it recorded on a single day in DC. The sound is distant and resonant, but then that is what is needed for something of this scale. The whole thing comes off better than anticipated, and one hopes that others may take it up in the future.
     
  20. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Last year, I finally stumbled upon some chamber music written by Krzysztof Meyer. It was revelatory, in that it revealed to me a composer who writes chamber music every bit as good qualitatively as some core rep greats. The music sounds dense, knotty, gnarly, uncompromising, and brilliant. Perusing offerings at various recording vendors, I found other available recordings, but I waited until now to go for something else. That something else is the composer’s set of thirteen string quartets since very often composers write some of their best music for that ensemble. With a Naxos sale, I scooped up the set for the princely sum of $14 and change. Even if the quartets ended up sounding lousy, something I thought essentially impossible, I’d be out of pocket next to nothing. If they met expectations, well, now we’re talkin’.

    Listening proceeded in volume order, so quartets 5, 6, and 8 came first. The Fifth starts off with an opening movement where the cello plays almost every note, and the music sounds dark and brooding and unforgiving, like Shostakovich minus the laughs. Things get more intense from there. The second movement is a nervous, grueling piece of music, like an Allan Pettersson symphony but in string quartet, but good. Meyer never lets up on the tension in the faster second and slower third movements, though maybe he does just a bit in the fourth movement, which ends with heaping helpings of solo cello, but the dark but not overwhelmingly heavy fifth movement returns to unremitting seriousness. This is one heckuva of a way for an ensemble to launch a quartet series. The Sixth sounds lighter in mood to start, but its dissonance and reliance on pizzicato and Sul ponticello lend it a modern sound, which remains whether music is fast or slow, and Meyer returns to unremittingly serious music in the concluding Lento. The Eighth can hardly be considered light, and the somewhat tart, slow, and serious opening gives way to intense and unwaveringly serious sounding music. It just never lets up for its duration, but it never sounds anything less than absolutely compelling, forcing the listener to await every note with something approaching aural avarice. A monumentally great opening to the cycle.

    Volume two includes the Ninth, Eleventh, and Twelfth quartets. The Ninth, closely and airlessly recorded, which aids the work, starts off with high voltage stridency which doesn’t let up for the duration of the movement, and then the second wallops the listener’s ear with some superb harmonic invention that is at once hard to hear and impossible not to devour as greedily as possible, and the third dances around with all those pizzacati. The work continues along on a similar trajectory, returning to high voltage playing in the final, fifth movement, revisiting styles from earlier and revealing influences, but sounding distinct from them. The single movement Eleventh follows, and the dark, intense work fills a void, a void of music for those who think some of DSCH’s quartets sound too lightweight. The tension never really yields in this work, yet it does not wear the listener down. The massive Twelfth goes on and on, taking the listener on a ride, with much debt to DSCH, on whom the Meyer is a published expert. The movement names end up properly descriptive as well. The Vivo perks up, with nifty tremolos, and the Dolente expresses sorrow as well as any quartet has, and the Prestissimo is truly prestissimo. The whole thing works and hides its duration as the listener gets absorbed in every musical moment.

    The third volume opens with the Seventh Quartet, and it continues on with the supremely high quality from the first note. The single movement work sounds like a discombobulated, almost unsteady musical representation of a troubled dream, though not quite a nightmare. The individual instruments at times sound uncannily distinct, and though they are playing the same piece, it sounds purposely disoriented, and the tension never lets up – fast, slow, those are just variations in how quickly the tension assaults the ears. Yet it never sounds too harsh or oppressive. Neat. The slow Lento that opens the first movement of the Tenth Quartet sounds like late DSCH in its desolation, but it transitions to an Allegro assai that switches to biting playing, and then it alternates styles seamlessly. The long, slow second movement likewise alternates between slow and slower music, yet it maintains tension such that its over fourteen-minute length doesn’t matter, and it does so while not feeling quick or feeling long – it feels like fourteen minutes well spent. The brief Scherzo starts off plucky and sort of playful, but Meyer ratchets up the intensity significantly in the middle section, and then in the long final movement, the music veers between melancholy and tense and fast and intense playing, again with transitions so seamless and old Lou would have approved. A big, beefy, weighty work. The disc closes with the composer’s Thirteenth. The five-movement quartet played attacca has four descriptive titles for the first four movements (Calmo, Impetuoso, Appassionato, Feroce) and then a perpetuum mobile Prestissimo closer. The second and fourth movements are brief, while the other three are more standard. It’s almost like a valedictory work, with every compositional device crammed in, in perfect proportion, in each movement, and at times it takes on an almost neo-romantic feel, in an uncompromisingly modern way. It’s a peach.

    The cycle ends with the first four quartets, and here one can hear a younger composer at once expressing music in his own, unabashedly modernist voice, and some influences, including a bit of Bartok, to name one, which includes some near quotations. (Might as well borrow from the best.) The first two almost sound like apprentice works, but an apprentice destined to greatness, as it takes only until the single movement Second for the composer to hit his stride, where the intensity factor gets ratcheted up with some fierce unison writing and searing tension. The Third and Fourth sound like qualitative steps closer to the quartets that follow, with transitions nearly as seamless, scale just about as large, harmonies just about as dense, and every compositional technique included in just about as satisfying a manner. I do not want to make these seem like lesser works, because they are humdingers and hold the listener’s attention more than almost any quartets, it’s just they the quartets that follow offer even more.

    For these recordings, I had high expectations going in. They got smashed. For the first time in a long time, probably since I discovered the music of Cristóbal de Morales, listening to these works provided experiences where I listened as excitedly and intensely as I did when I first started discovering core rep classics. I cannot think of a body of post-war quartets that sound better, more significant, more immediately impactful than these, and Meyer’s achievements immediately rival the works of the Holy Tetrarchy. This is great music; these are masterpieces. For real. Clearly, I need to explore more of the composer’s music. He needs to have some Big Name conductors, artists, and ensembles take up his cause. In the meantime, in the cycle, the Wieniawski String Quartet delivers the goods at a world class level and Naxos delivers up to snuff if not always SOTA sound. I need to see about getting the Wilanów Quartet’s recordings.

    One of my purchases of the century.
     
    PsB likes this.

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