Upcoming Performances

November

24- Carson Cooman, organist and choir director – Chapel service consisting entirely of my music, including Psalm 103, Chanson Variations, and a new hymn setting, Appleton Chapel, Memorial Church, Harvard University, 8:45 AM.

December

15- Magnificat Antiphons, Wesley United Methodist Church, Vienna, Virginia, 11 AM.

8- Magnificat Antiphons, Wesley United Methodist Church, Vienna, Virginia, 11 AM.

1- Magnificat Antiphons, Wesley United Methodist Church, Vienna, Virginia, 11 AM.

Messiaen – Poemes pour Mi (CD Review)

Olivier Messiaen

Poèmes pour Mi

Bruun Hyldig Duo (Hetna Regitze Bruun, soprano; Kristoffer Hyldig, piano)

Naxos CD 8.573247

Hetna Bruun is billed as a soprano here, but she routinely sings as a mezzo. Given that Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Poèmes pour Mi was composed for a Wagnerian soprano, Marcelle Bunlet, to sing, Bruun’s voice has the perfect combination of requirements to do it justice: a warm vocal color and a mezzo’s timbre with fine control of an extended upper register. Similarly, Kristoffer Hyldig combines traits at the piano, playing with power where needed and acting elsewhere as a reserved colorist. The 1936 composition is a love letter to Messiaen’s first wife Claire Delbos (nicknamed “Mi” because she played the violin and its top string is tuned to “E”). The CD includes another song cycle dedicated to Delbos, Chants de Terre et de Ciel (1938), one that celebrates the birth of their son Pascal in 1937. It is astonishing to be reminded that, even though both of these cycles are from relatively early in Messiaen’s career, they demonstrate most of the signatures of his mature musical language, harmonically and rhythmically. Vocalise-Étude is also included here. Of the three it is the least successfully performed, as it sits a bit higher than Bruun’s comfort zone. Still, all told, this is an impressive disc of Messiaen’s vocal music that reminds us of the prodigious feats he was capable of even early on in his career.

The First Four Notes! – Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress

Constellation LP

This review begins with a hat tip to Matthew Guerrieri, whose book The First Four Notes is required reading for those wishing to better understand Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The first four notes which concern us here emanate from the speakers of highly politicized post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor (and yes, that’s where the exclamation point goes). Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress, their latest LP, begins a track called “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!'” with a low-pitched four-note riff that proves to be the material out of which everything in the piece is spun. Like Beethoven’s 5th, it starts with an upbeat that leads to a downbeat thrust of energy. This propels the music forward, seemingly ceaselessly. Like much of GY!BE’s music, it may exhaust the listener, but it never becomes tiresome. Elsewhere, sound is used skilfully; drones, feedback, and improvisatory textural playing are featured. But on “Peasantry …” it is all about the riff, and it is a heavy riff well worth remembering.

Eighth Blackbird: “Filament” (CD Review)

Filament

Eighth Blackbird

Cedille Records CD 90000 157

The “M” word: minimalism: oft-quoted, sometimes maligned, often misunderstood, and seldom accepted as a self-descriptor by composers. We get into ever more thorny ground as we begin to contemplate “post-minimalism:” does it describe chronology, influence, or some kind of murky musical terrain? If we are to use the descriptor for chronology, even Philip Glass suggests that his pieces departed very early from minimalism. So what are listeners to do with a release such as Filament, on which there is a 17-minute long piece of process music (Two Pages by Glass) that clearly makes much out of comparatively little? Further, what do we call pieces by the younger generation of indie classical composers (another loaded term), clearly enamored with repetition, who make up the bulk of this disc? Perhaps it is better to avoid the style tags altogether and instead say that each of the pieces on Filament is composed by a creator fascinated with repetition, but each one in a different way.

Bryce Dessner channels the instrumentation and affect of murder ballads of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries to create the rustic ostinatos of Murder Ballades. Written for a celebration of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday, Nico Muhly’s Doublespeak is designed to hearken back to the “obsessive repetition” of the 1970s, but it does so in a powerfully articulated fashion. Son Lux’s contributions, abetted by the vocals of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), are brief remixes of material from the album. Filament’s high point is a high octane and highly coordinated performance of Glass’s Two Pages. A single, propulsive line that can be played by any combination of instruments: the elements couldn’t be more minimalist in conception, but the execution is anything but.