ECM Records 2416
We’re enjoying the holidays abetted by Aquilonis, the latest ECM recording by vocal group Trio Mediaeval. The disc contains several carols from 15th Century England and Scandinavian folksongs. Its varied program also encompasses 12th Century lauds from Italy contrasted by pieces from Iceland: excerpts of the Office of St. Thorlak.There is also a substantial amount of contemporary fare, including imaginative miniatures written by members of the trio. There are lushly beautiful offerings by Andrew Smith, a composer who has written several pieces for the group. Ama, by Anders Jormin, intersperses delightfully crunchy cluster chords with chanted solo lines. William Brooks’s Vale Dulcis Amice closes the album with gentle, serenely eloquent chordal writing.
Congratulations to New York Polyphony for receiving their second Grammy nomination for a Christmas CD, Sing Thee Nowell (BIS). It includes pieces from the Renaissance, traditional holiday classics, and new compositions by Andrew Smith, John Scott, and Michael McGlynn. Like all of their previous CDs, the programmed works are superlatively performed and thoughtfully interpreted. Last minute holiday shoppers take note!
Works by Debussy, Takemitsu, and Gubaidulina
Marina Piccinini, Flute; Kim Kashkashian, viola; Sivan Magen, harp
ECM New Series CD 2345
One of his last completed works, Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1915) has been variously construed as a crystallization of Impressionism into a neoclassical mold, a nod to Debussy’s French compositional ancestors Rameau and Couperin, and an outlier in an otherwise venturesome output. I’m of the opinion that it is none of these things. Instead, the work is a late career example of the composer seeking out what was for him new formal terrain and compositional challenges. The performance on this ECM recording by flutist Marina Piccinini, violist Kim Kashkashian, and harpist Sivan Magen is utterly beguiling, with fluid interplay between the players, rhythmically decisive execution, and incandescent voicing of the work’s entrancing harmonies.
Toru Takemitsu frequently mentioned Debussy as a significant touchstone for his work. And then I knew ‘twas Wind’s title is inspired by an Emily Dickinson poem. This piece for the same forces as Debussy’s sonata is clearly written as an homage. Yet at the same time, it has a different style of pacing, an ebb and flow and a textural fragility that distinguish it from its predecessor. Sofia Gubaidulina’s Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten adopts the works of multiple poets as reference points: Iv Oganov and Francisco Tanzer. The latter’s lines even make an appearance at the end of the piece as a spoken word component. Frequent harp glissandos and pianissimo effects from the viola are offset by alternately angular and voluptuous flute melodies. A surprising, yet engaging, response to Debussy.