Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Julius Rontgen, Symphonies 9 & 21, Serenade, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, David Porcelijn
The Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt under conductor David Porcelijn bring to us careful and nuanced readings of the three scores.
The "Semmering Serenade" is the earliest representative work, hailing from 1902. It marked his late entrance into large scale orchestral composition, though several youthful symphonies were under his belt by 1875. Apparently he destroyed them sometime after. The "Serenade" has some beautifully alive, long lined lyric melodics.
The "Symphony No. 9 'Bitonal'" (1930) has an elusive way about it. It does not exactly sound "modern," and indeed Rontgen did not find that the modern ways of his time suited his own sensibilities. Instead a kind of feelingful inspiration was his approach. There is a residue of romanticism to be heard here and elsewhere, but like Grieg and Sibelius it was but an idiom to allow inventiveness free reign. The "Bitonal" Symphony oscillates between centers. It is more a continual modulation between key polarities than a simultaneity of two keys at once as in Milhaud. Rontgen's bitonality is a linear trajectory between two key centers. Never does the bitonal twain meet. The mysterious and the characteristic are more at the forefront than a sort of tonal assault. Sometimes it feels like a continual developmental section of sonata form and a transition that does not transit in the end. Nothing wrong with that, really. It is fascinating music.
The "Symphony No. 22" has much charm and an orchestrational luminescence which somehow channels Brahms and Mendelssohn into the 20th century. In this Rontgen asserts himself as a consummate craftsman of neo-romantic pastoral pasturization? Yes. A man out of his time, no doubt, but if we forget that it does not matter.
Interesting and well-fashioned symphonics. And for that there is much pleasure to be had.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
We hear this all very clearly on a well-realized three-work anthology. Violinist Tim Fain, pianist Michael Boriskin and the PostClassic Ensemble under Angel Gil-Ordonez bring to us a well finessed reading of Violin Concerto, Grand Duo and Double Music (with John Cage) (Naxos 8.559825).
Fain has the right combination of rhapsodic projection and modern sonar facticity. The same might be said in pianistic terms for Michael Boriskin. The PostClassical Ensemble handles the various percussive and chamber requirements of the composer with a bit of dash and aplomb.
These are all nicely representative of Harrison at his finest. The Grand Duo (1988) is perhaps the lesser known of the three works and in some ways it brings us a Harrison slightly more integrated into Western classical tradition. That is, on the surface. Listen to the subtle interweaving of violin and piano parts and you will recognize something of the Harrison world expansiveness. It all takes place though in a more quietly underscored expressive way.
On the other hand the Violin Concerto (1940-1959) uses a percussion chamber group to suggest the more exotic allusions to gamelon and other non-Western music, which the violin in turn takes on with acute extroversion and seamless expressivity.
Harrison and Cage's breakthrough percussion work Double Music (1941) makes a decided break with Western norms to create an analogic new music entranced with and entrancing the non-Western elements that make a clearing and at the same time give momentum to the idea of New Music for percussion ensemble, which at that time was a very new idea. The lines intermix and continually vary within and against themselves. This is a fabulous version that stands out among the many recorded. It is that for its most musical approach, the way every phrase presents itself with great tensile strength and the near ghost of a rubato that applies torque and makes it all "swing," if you'll pardon a borrowed jazz term.
All told the Naxos release brings to us seminal Harrison played with ideal sympathy, creative fervor alternating with expressive quietude. The Naxos price helps make this CD well nigh irresistible.
Monday, August 21, 2017
Korvits himself says of the work that it is a journey "into the darkest, most mysterious corners of loneliness to where one doesn't dare peek twice." Composers are apt perhaps to wax hyperbolic about what a work purports to do. In this case though, it is almost an understatement. The eerie poetic revery builds sonic worlds that have the capacity to poetically transfix, and they do so without release. It is the sort of work that silence or any everyday sound you hear after the work has ended takes on the coloration of the music the remains in the active imagination. Moorland Elegies colors your world so thoroughly that for some time afterwards nothing seems to return to the crisp mundane everydayness that you normally operate within.
What can be said musically can rarely be said so well that there is no mistaking its content. Moorland Elegies does this in magical terms, where that which is concrete in its building blocks transforms into an ethereal presence and an ever-liquidian flow that refers back to long stretches of vegetative leveling, wind that states its disregard of human presence, and the totality of being utterly alone within such a world.
To say it eschews a romantic sentimentality is the case. It instead gives forth with an "after all, this is what remains" kind of dynamic finality. There is the mysterious ineffable quality of Ives' "The Unanswered Question." This work gives us the unquestionable answer. That in the end is the historically positioned subject at a point where all the hurly burly of past experience disappears into a haze of not-self.
There is singularity of purpose and rare totality of tonal imagery to be heard on this recording. To listen is to enter a world where we matter by disconnecting from the world outside of the desolate moor-scape and immersing ourselves fully in its facticity.
Nothing quite has this titanically fragile moodiness. It is a world that is post-pastoral, way beyond the nostalgia for a lost world, but rather a lost-in-the-world solitude. All is what it is, and that is regretful in its beauty. There is more I could say. The main thing is how the music stuns by an uncanny analogic juxtiposition of subject-text and tonal refractory magic.
Friday, August 18, 2017
That L.A. born pianist Karin Kei Nagano chooses to perform Bach's Inventions & Sinfonias (Analekta 2-8771) is wholly a part of the picture. She is a very talented artist, completely steeped in classical tradition and performance practices and yet she also gives us crisply poetic interpretive versions of these masterworks that inject her very own sensibility. This is how it should be.
If in my opening lines if I say the obvious it is only with a righteous indignation because of what local White Supremacists have been doing: attempting to hijack the world's cultural heritage to serve their own evil agenda. (Among other unspeakable things.) It will not stand.
So as it happens Bach's Inventions & Sinfonias (BWV 772-801) are gems of the highest order. Yet Bach simply wrote them for his family and students as a pedagogical device to enable them to gain fluency on the keyboard. In the process he created a set of contrapuntal works that mark his genius as surely as anything he ever wrote.
If you took classical piano lessons the chances are good that you learned them. If you did or did not matters little in the end, since Ms. Nagano plays them all with great interpretive sensitivity so that they all sing out in all their glory. She does not generally take things at a maddening clip. Instead she seeks to bring out each part with clarity and poetic poise.
Wonderful versions of wonderful music. Time and identity virtually cease to exist when listening.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
Here is a modern English composer of obvious caliber. He presented a first set of inventions in 1955, when he was only 21 years old. Three more sets followed through 1990. All four sets of inventions comprise the full 24 performed here. The short pieces all have a Scarlatti-like rhythmic drive, expressiveness, and compact incisiveness, thriving within a chromatic-diatonic realm one might call neo-classical without doing the music an injustice, although the composer himself might have had something to say about that category. It is another old-in-the-new set of works, with an obvious nod to earlier inventions but a 20th century modern outlook at base.
Stephen's widow has been on hand, happily, to guide Ekaterina Likhina on tempo, notation and character. The resulting performances sound to me definitive. Liners say that these Inventions are among the most important works for harpsichord in our times. Based on the more well known modern works I have heard repeatedly I would have to say that these compare most favorably.
There is much excellent music to absorb. The complexities and inventive detail in these works demand multiple and unsuperficial hearings to grasp fully. It is worth the trouble, since in the end there is a great deal to like!
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
For the second outing Pepe Romero handles the solo duties on "Homenaje a la seguidilla" (1962) and the "Tonada concertante" (1975-80). Vicente Coves takes over for the "Concierto de Castilla" (1960).
Romero's pupil Vincente Coves plays as beautifully as his mentor. The Extremadura Orchestra sounds every bit as idiomatic and vibrant as one would hope for in this music.
The music is captivating, with Castilian-Spanish folk elements vying with a kind of neo-impressionist shimmer and lyricism. The solo guitar parts have bravura and introspection at the forefront alternatingly.
The three works that comprise Volume 2 of Torroba's Guitar Concerto outing continue the wonderful fare and make for a beautiful listen. I heartily recommend it.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Earlier this year Parma Records released a recording of Mark John McEncroe's "Natalie's Suite" for orchestra along with several solo piano works. The present release continues the relationship with a two-CD recording of the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra under Anthony Armore performing McEncroe's Symphonic Suites 1 & 2: A Medieval Saga (Navona 6116). The orchestration is handled deftly by McEncroe's mentor Mark Salibus.
There is a series of thematically intertwined continuities that serves to unify both suites into a cohesive whole. The two suites musically depict a story of Middle Age political upheaval and its aftermath.
What strikes me most on hearing and rehearing the lengthy two-part work is the way the sprawling unfolding of the score in a consistently minor mode serves to put this music into a kind of timeless world zone. It has a sort of mysterious east-meets-west aura about it. Indeed, its minor ornamental continuity reminds me a little of some of Hovhaness's more Armenian tinged works, only with less focus on a specific region or time and perhaps more of an alternate contemporary-in-archaic mode that straddles a wider set of allusions.
One is left with a singular impression of a kind of organicized stylistic unity and flow that places the music outside of time yet also anchors itself fully in a post-modern kind of present. It transcends a typical pomo vision by unfolding more according to modal-flowing, flowering lines that allude to early music melodic expression without actually quoting or directly assimilating it.
I am left with an impression of something complete unto itself yet rather thoroughly outside contemporary modern music currents. It virtually stands apart from any modern mainstream realms yet in the end reflects our times as through a lens into the past.
Something entirely different, this is. Any adventurous soul may well readily take to this music as I have. Happily recommended.