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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Michael Nyman, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Nashville Opera, Trevino, Williamson, etc.

I first read neurologist Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat when I was working for Scientific American (Books) in the later '80s. Michael Nyman's opera in world premiere CD followed soon after and I was impressed with Michael's treatment. So-called minimalism in music reigned and Nyman managed to come up with his own version and simultaneously to move beyond it. His treatment of the Sacks case study captured the wonder and trauma of the man who had acute neurological impairments that gave him severe problems recognizing images--which in turn resulted in incredible mis-recognitions.

Time passes on and we now find ourselves with a new recording of the chamber opera by the Nashville Opera under Dean Williamson. The three principals Matthew Trevino, Rebecca Sjowall and Ryan MacPherson do a great job realizing the roles and the chamber orchestra fills out the score with zest and brio.

It is a milestone work in its first recording. The new Nashville Opera version virtually matches and even surpasses it at times.

Nyman fans should have both versions; others will find the Naxos release satisfying and moving. It is an opera of startling dimensions and superior musical content, as exciting as it is humane. It somehow captures what it is to be human by addressing a tragic lack.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Haskell Small, Book of Hours

What comes into your ears quiety and poetically? Haskell Small's modern piano music anthology, Book of Hours (MSR Classics 1601). Inspired by Aldous Huxley's thought: "All the things that are fundamental...all the things that are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed. The rest is always and everywhere silence. After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music..."

"A Journey in Silence: Reflections on the Book of Hours" (2015) takes that mystery and gives us 11 movements with excruciatingly beautiful mediations, quiet in a post-impressionist, post-Satiean, post-Messianesque way that is expressively becalmed in blissful originality. As with the entire anthology Haskell plays the piano parts himself and he gives us his world undiluted, ultra-pianistic. It is profound music.

"Lullaby of War" (2007) is for piano and two narrators. Select poetic texts by Hart Crane, Walt Whitman and others punctuate and are punctuated in turn by the piano response. It is as haunting as "Silence" but understandably contrasting in mood and tone.

This all is a testament to Haskell Small's musical poignancy, his brilliant demeanor, his modern expressivity. It is an album you should live with and plumb your depths with.

I recommend it gladly and happily.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Peter Maxwell Davies, Piano Works 1949-2009, Richard Casey

Peter Maxwell Davies is no longer with us. But he has left behind an extraordinarily distinguished and vital body of works spanning many years and a number of style shifts. The finality of his departure closes the book on anything truly new from him, of course, yet we have a treasure island's worth of wonderful music to explore while we still live ourselves, and of course for musical lovers in the ages to come.

Piano Works 1949-2009 (Prima Facie 017/018) gives us a broad and scintillating body of examples of his solo piano works, covering 60 years and a myriad of style sets and difficulty levels. Richard Casey does the honors and he certainly is the right artist for the job.

Two full CDs of music gives the listener a very broad swath of contrasting sounds and styles. There are difficult, very high modernist expressions along with tonal lyric miniatures for the relative beginner.

Throughout though there is a consistency of craftsmanship, inspiration and idiosyncratic originality which Casey tackles with enthusiastic precision. A short but illuminating discussion on the music between Maxwell Davies and the pianist closes out the set.

It is a worthwhile addition to your library for its pianism, its insights into the Maxwell Davies musical mind and its appreciable contribution to the modernist solo piano repertoire.

Nicely done! Quite recommended.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Georgy L'vovich Catoire, Complete Works for Violin and Piano, Laurence Kayaleh, Stephane Lemelin

If nothing else, and I imagine there is more to him, Russian composer Georgy L'vovich Catoire (1861-1926) wrote two strikingly beautiful sonatas for violin and piano. We hear them plus the brief "Elegy" on the recent Complete Works for Violin and Piano (Naxos 8.573345), nicely performed by Laurence Kayaleh on violin and Stephane Lemelin on piano.

Catoire was influenced by Wagner and the French impressionists. In Russia he is remembered more for his music theory but the sonatas have a very fertile and loquaciously winding melodic-harmonic vocabulary that has advanced chromatic qualities to put the music on the lyrical edge of modernity.

There is a depth of expression that is as exploratory and flowing as the best of the late romantics and/or early impressionists but goes its own way with long form unfoldings as involved as they are steeped in an inward directed beauty.

In short Catoire is no slouch. Kayaleh and Lemelin do not fall into an overblown, heart-on-sleeve sort of interpretation, but rather keep a respect for the exceptional flowing trajectory of the music.

Thus though I have never heard these works previously, I feel the power of the duo's conviction and languish in the sensuous originality of what Catoire is about here.

The program will appeal to all those Russophiles seeking new and movingly interesting works from the dawn of our modern era. But even if you aren't quite a Russophile at this juncture, you will find music of depth and importance, worth your time surely.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kim Kashkashian, Lera Auerbach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arcanum

The viola, so says Lera Auerbach in the liner notes to the album up today for consideration, is the sound of mystery. I never thought of it that way, especially, particularly when I owned a cheap viola and attempted valiantly to coax sounds out of it. Of pain, frustration, lack of rosin, in my case, and the mystery was how long I was going to keep at it. But then I think of Walter Trampler as an example of a master and yes, I suppose I can hear that. Or Kim Kashkashian on the CD at hand with Lera, Arcanum (ECM New Series 2375), surely there is a mysterious ineffability.

But there is a full range of evocative sounds surrounding the mystery too, questioning, playful sarcasm, puckishness, sureness of assertion, I could go on. Kashkashian on viola and Auerbach on piano obtain a remarkable sensibility and a tremendous sort of panache as they perform Auerbach's reworking of Shostakovich's "24 Preludes, Op. 34" (1933), originally of course for solo piano, for the duo, then go on to Lera's "Arcanum, Sonata for Viola and Piano."

The two works come alive in the duo's hands, with the Shostakovitch taking on a fullness and communicative vibrancy new-found as Kim handles the singingly melodic parts with a pointed personal expressiveness and the logic of the piano part holds forth alongside with a sympathetic and harmonic exceptionality. It makes of the work something major, indeed.

Auerbach's "Arcanum" has the mysterioso viola in beautiful synchrony with an exploratory harmonic rhapsodic touch that anchors this as a paradigm for a new modernism attached to Auerbach in the best lineage of chamber intimacy.

The music is central and endlessly absorbing, the performances very personal and characteristic, poetic and well beyond what words can express.

I am put into a place of wonder and ecstatic appreciation as I hear the album once again. This is music of great value, performances of great presence.

A hearty and heartfelt recommendation I give for this one!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Carolina Eyck, Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet

The theremin was one of the very first purely electronic instruments. Science fiction flicks, the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," the sound of the instrument has been in our musical folkways for a long time, yet not as many new music works have featured the instrument as one might have expected. Part of that has to do with the genuine challenge that playing the instrument well poses.

Carolina Eyck is one of the present-day masters of the theremin. She also is a composer of talent. Put the two together and you have her Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet (Butterscotch Records CD and LP BSR-015), joining her instrumental prowess with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble String Quartet for six postmodern-modern journeys into spacious realms of the new. Readers may recall Kalevi Aho's "Concerto for Theremin" recording that features Ms. Eyck in a prominent role. That was posted on here last September 24, 2014.

The string quartet on these compositions forms the all-important melodic and harmonically patterned backdrops over which Eyck's theremin soars. The fantasia form opens up the music to a wide set of contexts with the emphasis on expression and dreamy soundscapes.

Ms. Eyck triumphs both instrumentally and compositionally for some of the most important and engaging theremin music of our times.

Enthusiastically recommended.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Grand Piano Masters, Concertos By Beethoven & Ustvolskaya, Patricia Hase, Ensemble Galina, Peter Leipold

Piano phenom Patricia Hase teams up with Ensemble Galina under Peter Leipold for a most unusual but successful combination of piano concertos: Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19" (1790-1801) and Galina Ustvolskaya's "Concerto for Piano, Strings and Timpani" (1946).

The Beethoven is happily heard in the chamber reorchestration by Vincenz Lachner in 1881, a first recording on CD.

The album, for the record, is entitled Grand Piano Masters, Concertos by Beethoven & Ustvolsakya (K&K Verlagsanstalt Kuk 123).

This is a live recording from the Hanover University of Music this past October, 2015. It has a beautiful ambiance and everyone, clearly, is inspired.

The string orchestra arrangement of the Beethoven gives the work an intimate sweetness and fire which is intensified by the sparkling brilliance of Patricia Hase, who sounds positively angelic in her performance.

The Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) work further reminds us that her time has come. I covered a recording of her solo piano works earlier (see search box) and was tremendously impressed. The Concerto only confirms that initial encounter with a swell of original, majestic and unsettling luminescence that confirms her as no Shostakovich clone (whose pupil she was) but rather a Russian dynamo in her very own light. Hase and Ensemble Galina unfold the tremendous expressivity of the work so that we feel the enormous creative force unleashed by Ustvolskaya in no uncertain terms. The climax is riveting, unprecedented for the time, still packing an enormous catalytic punch.

The end result is one ear-opening album that affirms Patricia Hase as a lyrical marvel and expressive titan, with Ensemble Galina under Peter Leipold a youthful torrent of energy and sensitive passion. The Beethoven is revelatory, the Ustvolskaya even more so.

This music makes me smile!! I recommend it to you on multiple levels without the slightest hesitation.