Michael Gielen Edition Volume 10 (CD Review)

Michael Gielen Edition Volume 10: Music After 1945

SWR Sinfonieorchester, Michael Gielen conductor

SWR 6xCD boxed set

 

The tenth and final boxed set in SWR’s Michael Gielen Edition spotlights his considerable contributions to post-1945 concert music. Seven hours of live recordings of music by European avant-garde figures Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, György Ligeti, György Kurtág, Jorge E. López, Maurizio Kagel, and Bernd Alois Zimmerman and Americans Morton Feldman, John Cage, and George Crumb. Gielen’s own compositions are featured as well. Gielen (1927-2019) may not have been prolific, but proves to be a fine composer, one whose works should be considered for programming more regularly. Vier Gedichte von Stefan George (2010) (“Four Poems of Stefan George”) finds the SWR Vokalensemble joining a chamber segment of the SWR Sinfonieorchester in a performance that displays the virtuosity of both groups to excellent advantage. Pflicht und Neigung (1988) (“Duty and Inclination”) is imaginatively scored for a sinfonietta sans strings, with muscular percussion writing, crystalline wind chords, and eruptive brass lines.

 

As the previous nine boxed sets of the Gielen Edition attest, he was a conductor who excelled in many different eras and styles of music-making. Still, Gielen’s championing of contemporary music is legendary, as are some of the performances included here. Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Requiem für einen junge Dichter (1969) (“Requiem for a Young Poet”) has a particularly dark history that lends to the already harrowing nature of the work. Both the narrator, a pivotal performer in the piece, and Zimmermann himself committed suicide shortly after the Requiem’s premiere by SWR and Gielen. It has been widely debunked that Mozart was “writing his own Requiem,” but can one say that of Zimmermann’s riveting piece? Gielen reportedly wasn’t so sure. Ligeti’s Requiem (1965) is another selection that is a standout, with radiant singing of its tight clusters and affecting emotive delivery. Instead of the dizzying polyglot assemblage of myriad texts in the decidedly secular and even nihilistic Zimmermann piece, Ligeti uses portions of the Catholic Requiem liturgy as part of his postmodern setting. George Crumb’s Star Child (1977) is another textual amalgam, with references to Gnostic concepts of Advent and Apocalypse. As so frequently in Crumb’s work, his attention to declamation is only matched by imaginative and exquisitely detailed scoring.

 

Having recently finished Nono’s collected writings, it was particularly wonderful to hear these fine recordings of his music. In the book, Nono mentions working out complex canons with Bruno Maderna as a focal point of his training, which he deploys here in Variazioni canoniche. His signature orchestral work, No hay caminos hay que caminar (1987) (“Walker, there is no path yet you must Walk”), and A Carlo Scarpa (1984), dedicated to the famous twentieth century architect, also represent Gielen’s staunch support of and insights into Nono’s work.

 

Kurtág’s Stele (1994) is the piece that elevated his compositional career, and it remains one of his most durable works; SWR provides a rendition that could be the benchmark for a long time to come. Ein Brief (1986) (“A Letter”) by Mauricio Kagel is a piece for mezzo-soprano and orchestra that features angular vocalise and Schoenbergian harmony; it reads like an enigmatic sequel to Erwartung.

 

The artistic breadth and consistently superior musicality of this set are extraordinary. Given their archival nature, listeners may be surprised at the fidelity of the recordings. Details are clear, and dynamic range is tremendous; the disc containing the pieces by Lopez even includes a warning to be careful of the dynamic extremes of the piece when choosing a volume level. The selections by this composer are all premiere recordings. Born in Cuba and an emigree to the United States, Lopez has for some years been a citizen of Austria, flying under the radar of much of the American musical establishment. His formidable scoring and the aforementioned extremes navigated by his music may also play a role. These prove to be right in Gielen and SWR’s wheelhouse; they make a case for Dome Peak (1993) and Breath-Hammer-Lightning (1991) as compelling works that deal with a gargantuan spatial aesthetic.

Two of Pierre Boulez’s most important orchestra pieces are included here, Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna (1975) and movements from the seemingly ever enlarging Notations (recorded in 1990, with an additional portion added in 2003). Rituel incorporates expressive gestures and formal bearing; it was truly a turning point piece for Boulez. Notations was a touchstone work emblematic of the composer’s willingness to build up and revise fragments of material throughout his lifetime. It is masterfully scored and tailor made for a detail-oriented Gielen. Once again, SWR displays extraordinary fluency in densely complex music.

 

The late Feldman piece Coptic Light (1985) clocks in at nearly a half hour, which is short by the composer’s standards. It is still one of his most impressive essays, requiring 106 musicians to create a kaleidoscope of colors, staggered entrances, and off-kilter near repetitions. The Gielen set closes with another New York School piece, the totemic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1958), an audacious open form piece in which the conductor is literally a time-keeper, using his hands to indicate positions on the clock to move through the piece’s sections. The soloist’s part, written on single sheets, can be assembled in any order. Despite all of the chance procedures at work here, the SWR and Gielen understand the performance practice surrounding Cage’s output well, making clear that they are as equally at home in American experimental music as they are the European avant-garde. Highly recommended.

-Christian Carey

 

January 7: Premiere at soundON Festival

NOISE Ensemble

This Friday, January 7th at 7:30 PM, cellist Franklin Cox premieres my In Nomine as part of the soundON Festival at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla California. The festival runs from January 6-8 and features the NOISE Ensemble performing a number of new works as well as pieces by established composers. For more info/tickets, see their website.

Program note:

The In Nomine melody, taken from the Benedictus in John Taverner’s Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas, was one of the most famous bases for English consort music in the Renaissance. Numerous composers incorporated both its melodic material, derived from plainchant, and the harmonic framework of the mass movement in their settings. More recently, a Kairos recording featured new settings by a number of Second Modern European composers. It was in this spirit that I chose to create my own In Nomine for cellist Franklin Cox, who has premiered, composed, and chronicled so much of importance in Second Modernity. The piece begins by lining out the tune. Gradually, microtones, rhythmic talea, and chromaticism derived from rotational arrays complicate the material to create a post-millennial set of variations. In Nomine was composed for Franklin Cox in June 2021.

I am at work on a second In Nomine setting, this one for bass clarinetist Benjamin Fingland and cellist Caleb van der Swaagh.

-Christian Carey

56 Years Later, “A Love Supreme” Certified Platinum; Alice Coltrane Reissue

Best of 2021: A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle and Alice Coltrane’s Kirtan: Turiya Sings

 

Fifty-six years after its release, John Coltrane’s recording of his suite A Love Supreme has been certified platinum by the RIAA. With the lauded release of the recently rediscovered tapes of A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, renewed interest has moved the recording of the original to this distinguished sales standard. The Live in Seattle version expands the personnel from the classic Coltrane Quartet to include saxophonists Pharaoh Sanders and Carlos Ward, and a second double bassist Donald Garrett. Thought some outlets have criticized the bass response on the recording, on my rig the vinyl versions sounds excellent. Several interludes augment the original suite with improvised solos.

We have Joe Brazil to thank for recording the 1965 gig at Seattle’s The Penthouse, and saxophonist Steve Griggs for rediscovering the tapes from which this vital recording was made. 

 

The original version of Alice Coltrane’s album of spiritual songs, released in 1982, had a fuller instrumentation. In 2004, Ravi Coltrane discovered alternate mixes that instead just featured Alice’s voice and Wurlitzer organ. These are intimate, simple, and emotionally resonant versions of the material on the album and it was wise to reissue it. The songs combine bluesy chord voices with gospel and Carnatic singing in eloquent synchronicity.

Sunday: counter)induction in Brooklyn

This Sunday: counter)induction performs in Brooklyn (Livestream)

The ensemble counter)induction has been active for over twenty years, premiering countless pieces. A collective of performers and composers, counter)induction has performed at many venues in NYC. This season, they will be in residence at Soapbox Gallery, a Brooklyn venue for visual art and music. counter)induction’s first concert in their new home will be this Sunday, December 5th at 4 PM EST. My new piece Chimera, for clarinet, guitar, and cello, is being premiered.  

If you can’t make it to Brooklyn, here is a livestream for the event:

Anabasis: counter)induction presents trio music

Sunday December 5th at 4 PM EST

Soapbox Gallery

636 Dean Street

Brooklyn, NY 11238

counter)induction

Benjamin Fingland, clarinet

Dan Lippel, guitar

Caleb van der Swaagh, cello

Program

Christian Carey: Chimera

Nils Vigeland: Quodlibet (cello and guitar)

Tania Leon: Paisanos Semos (solo guitar)

Jessica Meyer: Forgiveness (clarinet with loop pedal)

Iannis Xenakis: Charisma

Brittany Green: Intersections

Kyle Bartlett: Before 

Purchase tickets here.

Messiaen on Kairos (CD Review)

Sequenza 21 – Best of 2021

 

Olivier Messiaen

Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus

Alfonso Gómez, piano

Kairos CD

 

In 1944, Olivier Messiaen wrote a recital length work (about 2 hours in duration) for pianist Yvonne Loriod, one of his proteges and, later, his spouse. Vingt regard sur l’enfant-Jésus (“Twenty Visions of the Infant Jesus”) widely encompasses the techniques of Messiaen’s musical language and epitomizes the importance of religious contemplation and corresponding symbolism in his work. Where some Christmas music takes a sentimental approach to regarding the infant Jesus, there is none of that here. Instead, Vingt regards explores the awe inspiring power of this event, with music that ranges from ecstatic joy (Noël) to prayerful reverence (Le Baiser de-l’Enfant Jésus) to fear of the abyss. 

 

Messiaen was quick to point out that, while religious symbolism and belief were intrinsic to his creativity, believers and non-believers alike could be moved by his music. However, his intimate knowledge of scriptural symbolism is intrinsic to Vingt Regards and is well explicated in Meinrad Walter’s lucid booklet notes. The movements are interconnected in a number of ways. The modes of limited transposition are the building blocks of the pitch material, and the composer’s characteristic birdsong is also present in many places, with great eloquence in Regards de la Vierge. Messiaen pointed out a particular chordal motif that is frequently present at pivotal points, as well as a God theme, a theme of the Star and the Cross, and a theme of Mystical Love, helping to bind Vingt Regards together. Correspondingly, his interest in syncopation and mixed meters abets the livelier sections, with complex yet exuberant dance music, as in Regard de l’esprit de joie, and in Par lui tout a été fait. In addition to Trinitarian formulations, Messiaen pays special attention to the Virgin Mary. Indeed, Première Communion de la Vierge (“First Communion of the Virgin”) is one of the most moving portions of the piece.

 

There are a number of recordings of Vingt Regards, but Alfonso Gómez proves to be an individual and distinctive interpreter, skilful in navigating the piece’s many challenges and expressive details. Aphoristic sections like L’Echange and Regard des hauteurs , are provided with incisive clarity of gesture, the latter’s birdsong practically evoking a grove of avians. Where Gómez truly thrives, though, is in the longer movements, where he shapes the juxtaposition of motives to underpin vivid textures. His rendition of the piece’s final movement, Regard de l’église d’amour (“Contemplation of the Church of Love”)  knits together many threads of the essential material of Vingt Regards, providing a sophisticated and powerful conclusions to this towering example of 20th century pianism. 

 

Christian Carey

Magnus Lindberg on Ondine (CD Review)

Magnus Lindberg

Aura – Marea – Related Rocks

Emil Holmström, Joonas Ahonen, piano and keyboards; 

Jani Niinimaki, Jerry Plippomem, percussion 

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu

Ondine

This recording includes three live recordings of compositions from the 1990s by Magnus Lindberg. Hannu Lintu leads the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in energetic and focused renditions of two of these challenging works, bringing out considerable detail from Lindberg’s vivid orchestrations. A quartet of pianists and percussionists perform the chamber piece, Related Rocks, an interesting corollary to the larger compositions. 

By 1990, when Lindberg had completed Marea, he was already an established composer. Particularly noteworthy was 1985’s Kraft, with a large orchestra, multiple soloists, enormous gongs, and influences from German industrial music, notably Einstürzende Neubauten. Marea is for more modest forces, a sinfonietta; however, it sounds larger than the sum of its parts. The title means “tides,” and the piece is a single movement set of variations. There is much in Marea that is muscularly scored, indicating the powerful ebb and flow of the ocean. Indeed, the flowing nature of the music overwhelms its constructivist design to create densely imprinted textures and dramatic climaxes.

The chamber piece Related Rocks (1997). for a quartet of pianists and percussionists with electronics, was written at IRCAM. It has a similar instrumentation to the Bartôk Sonata for two pianos and percussion, and its raucous ending is certainly Bartôkian in design. Most of the piece departs from this script, with a blending of the instrumental cohort rather than the bifurcation of the Bartôk sonata. Lindberg explores gamelan-like harmonics with spectacular shimmer. Rhythmic canons between piano and pitched percussion provide rigorous contrast for the more vertically oriented passages. Lindberg demonstrates both the percussive and sonorous qualities of the instruments, and the software he uses allows one to morph from one sound to the next. 

Aura (1994) is dedicated to the memory of Wiltold Lutoslawski, who passed away while Lindberg was composing the piece. At forty minutes in duration, it is the longest piece in his catalogue. Cast in four movements, played attacca, with a scheme of fast-slow-scherzo-finale, Lindberg has said it is neither a symphony nor a concerto for orchestra. Instead it seems to flow organically, with successive movements commenting on their predecessors. The concerto designation is tantalizing because material is often deployed in smaller cohorts of the orchestra and soloists. The first movement’s brass fanfares are followed by ricocheting counterpoint from winds and strings. Each successive climax adds to the complexity of the vertical chords that announce it. Winds, strings, brass, and percussion each take a turn as active ensembles. A general pullback allows for diaphanous strings and whorls of woodwinds to blend together. This is supplanted by edgy ostinatos and rangy clarinet passages. The trading off intensifies, bringing the movement to a fortissimo pileup and moto perpetuo coda that leads into the spectral verticals that begin movement two. 

Lindberg is not known for writing slow movements, but the second one of Aura qualifies. Blocks of harmony are connected by trumpet filigrees. Overtone chords and long string lines are underscored by stentorian timpani and succeeded by wind trills. The chorale-like movement of the harmony continues, until heraldic brass announce descending cellos and divisi string harmonies. Oscillating cells and intricate blocks of chords cascade through much of the rest of the movement, with echoing harmonics and busily moving pitched percussion giving decay a boost. Percussion – gongs notable in their appearance – and glinting winds bring the movement to a close. It is followed by a Scherzo, with skittering lines, repeated motives, and wide-ranging cascading verticals. The finale is a boisterous summation, with allusions to the music that has come before, motorized by post-minimal ostinatos, generously scored string melodies, and triumphal brass. Aura is an imposing, impressive piece. 

-Christian Carey

Matt Evans – touchless (CD Review)

Matt Evans

Touchless

Whatever’s Clever Records

“touchless questions the phenomenology of touch, reaching to transcend the boundaries of the physical to embody touch while remaining touchless.” – Matt Evans

In 2019, Matt Evans lost his partner, the sculptor and eco-feminist artist Devra Freelander. He commemorates both grief and the light that came into his life as a result of their relationship on the recording touchless. Synthesizers, field recordings, piano, and additional acoustic instruments provided by guest musicians come together to create beguiling textures. 

Two piano pieces bookend the recording, Arcto 2 and Arcto 1. Artco 2, which begins the recording, consists mostly of muted chords in reasonably predictable patterns, only to go sideways at the end and venture into significant chromaticism. Arcto 1 repeats a middle register drone against which a repeating chordal ostinato and water sounds contend. 

Two other pieces that form a pair are “Solar Silhouette” and “Fluorescent Sunrise,” made of drones with extensive harmonics. The former is girded by octaves in bass and treble; rising glissandos populate the latter, perhaps as a slight programmatic evocation of sunrise.  

The title track is the most elaborate, with a harmonic series reinforced by Tristan Kasten-Krause’s double bass and, in multiple registers, David Lackner’s tenor saxophone. Overlaid with dissonant sustained tones, the piece serves as an eloquent statement on loss, in which unresolved tensions coexist with spectral harmony. A coda of trills adds a sense of belated keening, which cuts off suddenly; the inference is clear.

A modal canon, played on the piano, alongside sustained tones from violin, played by Elori Saxi, are the main components of “Firn.” The canons begin to operate in phase as Saxi plays in successively higher registers. Partway through, Kasten-Krause adds low register octaves to the proceedings, which reach a significant level of syncopation. Gradually, the music returns to being in sync. The reference to early minimalism by Steve Reich is clear, but Evans is also concerned with creating a version of ambiance that pushes the genre’s envelope in terms of expressivity. touchless is touching. 

  • Christian Carey

Martin Suckling on NMC (CD Review)

Martin Suckling

This Departing Landscape

NMC Recordings

CD/DL

Tamara Stefanovich (piano), Katherine Bryan (flute), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, Ilan Volkov

Two concertos and two substantial orchestral works by Scottish composer Martin Suckling are programmed on This Departing Landscape, his debut portrait CD. The White Road (after Edmund de Waal) is inspired by De Waal’s ceramic artworks. It features flutist Katherine Bryan, a friend of Suckling’s since childhood – they played in youth orchestra together, and she managed to extract a promise of this commission some twenty years ago. Her virtuosic and energetic performance is remarkable. The violin part consists of frequent registral shifts, microtones, and angular melismas, often at high speed.  The White Road includes a series of cadenzas punctuated with brash interruptions from the orchestra. The orchestral writing also consists of “virtual flutes” that Suckling makes by selecting particular string harmonics with an uncanny resemblance to the flute’s sound quality. 

Release has a terrifying opening, with stentorian tutti followed by portentous silences. Gradually the spaces are filled in with echoes of microtones, then an English horn and viola duet, and a song-like theme in the upper register. Cascades of polyphony replace the tutti to create even more reverberant releases.

Although the piano is a fixed pitch instrument, microtonal harmony plays a significant role in the concerto too. Suckling, like Julian Anderson (a colleague who writes the liner notes for the CD) picks different instruments from the orchestra to supply quarter tones related to deviations from equal temperament in the overtone series. Anderson calls this technique “macrotonality,” and it is an effective way to exploit rich timbres. The rhythmic design is also intricate, with frequent use of polyrhythms.The concerto is cast in five movements, a fifteen movement first movement marked “Vigorously” followed by three intermezzi and a passacaglia as the finale. The first movement has a Carterian division of forces, with the piano interacting with different subsets of the orchestra: cor anglais and viola (the same combination found in Release), then strings, clarinets, oboes and horns (which contains some truly mind-blowing sounds), piccolo and violin, claves, and back to solo viola to finish the movement.

In Intermezzo 1 – Implacable,  a vigorous moto perpetuo inhabits the upper register with gradually introduced bass pedal points unfolding a chromatic ground against the dissonant counterpoint above. This leads attacca into the second Intermezzo, marked Luminous in which hushed repeated notes and chromatic melodies  on the piano are accompanied by high string harmonics, brief wind melodies, and brass swells. Intermezzo 3 has a more aggressive cast, with determined piano attacks, overblown flutes, and acerbic string lines. The final movement is a passacaglia that begins delicately, with ornamented lines in the piano and sustained strings. The piano builds corruscating lines over the ground bass, successively joined by members of the wind family who play sustained passages. Arcing strings and brass chords crescendo before cutting off to allow the solo piano to return to music reminiscent of the reflective opening, which here leads to a hushed close. Tamara Stefanovich is a powerful performer with a commanding presence, full sound, and facility in fleet passages. She also plays, in places such as the close of the final movement, with considerable delicacy. The Piano Concerto is an impressive, formally inventive, addition to the genre. 

The title work concludes the CD. In his program note, Suckling expresses the desire  to “write twenty minutes of orchestral music that lives its life in a perpetual state of high energy.” He achieves this goal, creating an imaginatively scored and formally intricate work. It begins with attacks from percussion and disjunct pitch cells and glissandos from strings and winds. These gradually accrete into a short ostinato in which bass octaves are followed by gear shifting gestures that alternate between sections of the orchestra. This ends with an accelerating, thunderous climax of hammering bass octaves and fortissimo polytonal tutti chords. It is succeeded by a quieter, but no less vivid, section for altissimo flutes and sustained strings. A sudden breakthrough of loud brass chords, exuberant drumming, and oscillating strings propels the piece forward only to be cut off in favor of solo timpani repetitions. 

The second movement begins attacca, with flute filigrees returning, set against brass swells this time, with a horn melody that begins to reestablish a sense of tonality. The brass moves from chorale to coloristic overtone chords. Microtonal adjustments added by instruments joining create a bevy of shimmer. Suckling maintains this spectral aura, tweaking it with overtones added and subtracted. In the midst, a lyrical theme appears first in lower brass and then oboe. We move gradually from microtones to a blurring into the micropolyphonic spectrum, with glissandos, clusters, and sustained notes competing for the field. This builds into an intense cluster chord that is echoed by a just major triad and then a harmonic laden overtone passage. Polychords in a reverberant echo, stacked verticals, and slashing melody are succeeded by an echo of the beginning of the first movement’s percussion attacks, which closes the piece. 

Martin Suckling has an unerring sense of pacing and is an abundantly talented orchestrator. This Departing Landscape establishes him as a distinctive voice. One hopes his second portrait CD isn’t long in coming. 

  • Christian Carey