Are We There
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten’s latest solo album retains elements of her previous work: the immediacy of her lyrics and her songs’ beautiful musical atmospheres. As on Tramp, one continues to hear Van Etten’s vocal range expand – by now able to encompass keening soprano lines as well as a growling contralto a la Stevie Nicks. Some of the best moments on Are We There combine both vocal approaches, as on the multi-layered “Taking My Chances.” Her more confessional and emotionally stark selections, such as “Your Love is Killing Me” are compelling as well; here we are relieved by a swelling build to the chorus that offsets that stark ambiance of the verse. One is most impressed with the range of material on display here. So often, singer-songwriter albums can get stuck in a particular vibe or groove that leaves them monochromatic. Not so with Are We There: Van Etten has crafted her most varied, and most compelling, album to date. Recommended.
My “Ascendit Deus” setting will be performed as part of a service celebrating the Feast of the Ascension tonight at 6:30 PM at Grace Church in Newark.
Man Forever with So Percussion
New classical collective So Percussion joined forces with Oneida’ drummer Kid Millions, recording as his Man Forever project, for Ryonen, a release on the indie imprint Thrill Jockey. Two long form pieces combine Millions’s experimental rock drumming with the post-minimal inspired playing of So Percussion to create a swinging, polyrhythm-infused music. Unlike their recording last year of Dan Trueman’s music, where So focused on playing unusual instruments, here drums reign supreme. Reverberant ambling vocals soar over the top of the maelstrom of beats, sometimes overlapping into a hazy chorus of held chords.
Locrian Chamber Players concert will give a concert next Thursday (May 29) at 8PM in Riverside Church, 10th floor performance space. The concert is free.
George Crumb–“Sun and Shadow,” for mezzo-soprano and amplified piano
Harrison Birtwistle–“Lied,” for cello and piano
Nils Vigeland–“Capriccio,” for flute, glockenspiel, cello and harpsichord (world premiere)
Justin Merritt–“A Gauze of Misted Silver,” for harp and string quartet
Ashley Wang–“Antares Falling,” for piccolo and piano (New York premiere)
Edmund Jolliffe–“Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out,” for flute, harp and string quartet (world premiere)
Calvin Wiersma and Curtis Macomber, violin; Daniel Panner, viola; Greg Hesselink, cello; Diva Goodfriend-Koven, flute and piccolo; Anna Reinersman, harp; Jonathan Faiman, piano; Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, mezzo-soprano; Elaine Comparone, harpsichord.
A reception will follow the concert.
Carter – Sessions – Eckardt
Miranda Cuckson, violin; Blair McMillen, piano
Urlicht Audiovisual CD
Violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Blair McMillen have already proven themselves an estimable duo for works by American Modernists such as Shapey and Martino. Their latest outing features Elliott Carter’s Duo for Violin and Piano (1973), a formidable piece written in the midst of Carter’s most compositionally rigorous period. And while the twosome emphasize the brittle, cutoff phrases that frequently appear in the work, they also do a deft job of pointing up the places in which violin lines melt into the resonance of piano chords (and vice versa). Thus, theirs is a rendition that juxtaposes rigor and grace, violence and gentleness; this versatility makes it one of my favorite outings with this piece I’ve thus far heard.
Composed in 1953, Sonata for solo violin is one of Roger Sessions’ first large-scale attempts at 12-tone composition. Clocking in at over thirty minutes, it is a bear of a piece, demanding both virtuosity and considerable thoughtfulness from the violinist to bring it off: Cuckson has both in spades. I particularly enjoy her traversal of the work’s last movement, a brisk “Alla Marcia” with incendiary passagework and double stops aplenty. Cuckson brings laser beam accuracy to the numerous tricky to tune passages.
Jason Eckardt wrote Strömkarl to complement the other pieces on this recording. It is based upon a Northern European legend of violin playing sprites who took up residence near waterfalls; depending on the rendering of the story, either charming passersby with music or leading them to drown. Eckardt captures this mischievous ambiguity with pixellated altissimo violin writing and brittle pizzicati; the piano is also given an angularly terse role to play. My money is on Eckardt’s image of the sprite being a wicked little beastie, but either way the piece is vividly characterful and a real workout for the performances; one they assay handily.
Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, pianists
ECM New Series CD 2374
Meredith Monk is best known for her vocal works. However, she has been writing for the piano since early on in her studies and has mature works in her catalog that date back to the 1970s. Starting in the 1980s, she began to write a number of pieces for piano duo. Both solo works and duos are represented on this ECM CD of her piano music, played expertly and energetically by Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker. They even engage in a bit of hand percussion and vocal call and response on the ebullient “Folkdance.“
As Monk points out in her liner notes, these are pieces that may seem simple on the surface. This is deceiving. Accounting for all their details and dealing with the slightly off-kilter rhythmic sensibility that is so often brought to bear in the works is quite tricky. One might wonder why the selections are called “Piano Songs.” Truth be told, Monk’s work, be it for instruments or voices, retains such a strongly vocal quality to the shaping of its lines that calling these pieces songs, much like Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte, seems apt.