Best Chamber Music CDs of 2018

Best Chamber Music 2018 

Prism I

Danish String Quartet

Prism I

ECM Records

Prism I is the first of five CDs by the Danish String Quartet, each featuring a work by Bach, a work by Beethoven, and a complementary piece. The key of E-flat is the central focus of this recording. J.S. Bach’s Fugue in E-flat major (transcribed from Book Two of the Well-Tempered Clavier) is a buoyant opener. Shostakovich’s last string quartet, in E-flat minor, vividly contrasts with it. Shostakovich brings together pensive passages, a funeral march, and what appears to be a reprise of the “knock on the door” from the Eighth Quartet, meant to describe the danger of the secret police to the composer: all intimations of fragility and mortality.

The disc concludes with the first of Beethoven’s late quartets, Op. 127 in, you guessed it, E-flat major. Writing for strings, it  is fascinating to note how these composers have responded to this key. E-flat can be tricky: the instruments only have thirds (G and D), not roots, of the tonic and dominant triads to play as open strings, which lends interesting chordal voicings to these pieces. From the muted angst of the Shostakovich quartet’s opening to the nobility and grandeur embodied by Beethoven’s finale, the Danish Quartet are expressive and authoritative throughout. Looking forward to what else will be refracted through the Prism series.

In the Theatre of Air

Marsyas Trio

In the Theatre of Air

NMC Recordings

A CD of flute, cello, piano trios by female composers (mostly British), In the Theatre of Air is thoroughly engaging.  The title work by Hilary Tann is filled with the calls of various birds, ranging widely from goldfinches and starlings to white owls and wild geese in a poetic manner that, while quite distinct from Messiaen’s birdsong transcriptions, is eminently evocative. Laura Bowler’s Salutem provides a forceful representation of multiple epochs of human civilization, affording the ensemble the chance to let loose: even scream with abandon.

Several Concertos by Judith Weir gives each member of the trio a virtuosic solo turn. York Minster by Georgia Rodgers plays with off-kilter ostinatos, creating a loping groove with incisive punctuations. An arrangement of Thea Musgrave’s Canta, Canta is an all-too fleeting visit with this composer; a miniature finely sculpted with undulating, overlapping lines. Two charming short works by the Nineteenth century American composer Amy Beach round out the program.

In the Theatre of Air will likely provide a number of listeners with an excellent entrée into the music of these must-hear composers. The Marsyas Trio are formidable advocates for contemporary music.


Duo Gazzana

Ravel, Franck, Ligeti, Messiaen

ECM Records

In their third recording for ECM, the violin-piano Duo Gazzana (Natascia and Raffaella) assay one of the great warhorses of the standard repertoire, the César Franck Sonata in A-major. Their rendition, full of life and long-breathed lines, rivals and bests many of the totemic recordings of the piece. The other works on the CD are under-programmed pieces by iconic composers, mostly early in their respective catalogues. Ravel’s Sonata Posthume, composed in 1897 but not published until after his death, is a lovely example of his early incorporation of stylistic hallmarks of Impressionism.  Duo for Violin and Piano, filled with Bartokian ostinatos,  was written by Gyorgy Ligeti to be performed by another famous composer: Gyorgy Kurtag. This is its first recording — it certainly merits a second and a third. Theme and Variations by Olivier Messiaen was written in 1932, but its musical language sounds of a piece with his more mature works, like Quartet for the End of Time and Vingt Regards, both from roughly a decade later. From their very first recording until now, Duo Gazzana have programmed imaginatively: this disc is exceptional both in terms of imagination and execution.

Þráinn Hjálmarsson on Carrier Records (CD Review)

Þráinn Hjálmarsson

Influence of Buildings on Musical Tone

Caput Ensemble, Krista Thora Haraldsdottir, Icelandic Flute Ensemble, Ensemble Adapter, Nordic Affect

Carrier Records

Composer Þráinn Hjálmarsson’s latest CD, Influence of Buildings on Musical Tone, revels in the exploratory sound world of effects and extended techniques. That said, his work is more than an assemblage of alternative ways to treat instruments. Rather, the technical extensions serve to expand Hjálmarsson’s considerable palette of expression.

The five different pieces on Influence of Buildings each employ a different ensemble. The title work features the Caput Ensemble, while “Grisaille” is performed by the Icelandic Flute Ensemble. Both pieces deal with an upper register melodic line that is slowly bent and distressed until it is entirely transformed.

 

https://vimeo.com/282605939

 

Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir plays the solo viola work Persona, adopting a penetrating tone and easily reaching stratospheric harmonics and digging in to sections with varying bow pressure. A flair for the dramatic allows this piece to move from pensive to more animated gestures in a captivating meditation. Mise en scéne plays up the percussive capacities of Ensemble Adapter, eventually deploying sustained upper register flute lines against the percussive attacks of harp and percussion and breathy exhalations and plosive pops from bass clarinet. The piece develops into a more harmonic terrain, with shades of spectra creating beguiling verticals.

The album’s closer is the string trio Lucid/Opaque, performed by members of Nordic Affect. The strings repeat pitch patterns that, while not necessarily tonal in orientation, encompass individual partials of a harmonic series. The overall effect is enhanced by a reverberant space, lending a naturally ambient character to the proceedings, even more so the case because of the number of repetitions of the opening gesture. Gradually, the opening shape is altered, with splashes of string noise and edgy bowing, changes in rhythm, and the overall duration of phrase overlaps developing the character of the main line over time. The material becomes even more forceful as octave displacements, notably a low cello line and repeating altissimo violin notes, are added. Here, and elsewhere, Hjálmarsson’s Influence of Buildings on Music Tone demonstrates a judicious approach to the selection of material that is then most imaginatively deployed and developed. Recommended.

 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Hanoi 6” (Video)

During recording sessions in Hanoi for Sex and Food, their last LP, Unknown Mortal Orchestra also worked with local musicians to create IC-01 Hanoi, a set of instrumental tracks. This collection, emphasizing jazz and Krautrock stylistic signatures, will be released October 28, 2018 on the Jagjaguwar label. Check out a teaser video for album track “Hanoi 6” below.

Low – “Rome (Always in the Dark)” (Video)

 

This week, Low released a video for “Rome, Always in the Dark,” one of the tracks off of their new Sub Pop recording Double Negative (released yesterday).

On Double Negative, Low, probably best known for its work as one of the premier slowcore bands, moves their music closer to an aesthetic involving deconstruction and electroacoustic elements. One saw glimmers of this approach on their previous album, Ones and Sixes (2015), but now the band approaches distressing and reconstituting recorded material, including warped cassette tapes, full on and with aplomb. It is a fascinating new layer that complements, rather than replaces, the duet vocals of group founders Alan and Mimi Sparhawk and the group as a whole’s knack for finding fetching melodies and fashioning memorable instrumental arrangements. Double Negative is one of the freshest-sound and best executed recordings to see release this Fall. For a band in its third decade together, this vitality is all the more remarkable.

 

The band is touring in support of Double Negative (see dates below)

2018 Tour Dates
Sep. 19 – New York, NY – National Sawdust
Sep. 20 – New York, NY – National Sawdust
Sep. 21 – New York, NY – National Sawdust
Sep. 29 – Lisbon, PT – Lisboa ao Vivo
Oct. 01 – De Compostela Santiago, ES – Sala Capitol
Oct. 02 – Madrid, ES – Sala But
Oct. 03 – Barcelona, ES – Fabra i Coats
Oct. 05 – Milan, IT – Teatro Dal Verme
Oct. 06 – Zurich, CH – Bogen F
Oct. 08 – Leipzig, DE – UT Connewitz
Oct. 09 – Berlin, DE – Festsaal Kreuzberg
Oct. 10- Bochum, DE – Christuskirche Bochum
Oct. 11 –  Brussels, BE –  Orangerie (at Botanique)
Oct. 12 – Amsterdam, NL – Paradiso
Oct. 13 – Paris, FR – La Gaîté Lyrique
Oct. 15 – Bristol, UK – Trinity
Oct. 16 – Manchester, UK – Manchester Cathedral
Oct. 17 – Dublin, IE – Vicar Street
Nov. 02 – St. Paul, MN – The Fitz
Nov. 05 – Detroit, MI – El Club
Nov. 06 – Toronto, ON – Great Hall
Nov. 08 – Montreal, QC – La Sala Rosa
Nov. 09 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
Nov. 10 – Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts
Nov. 12 – Washington, DC U Street Music Hall
Nov. 13 – Pittsburgh, PA – The Funhouse
Nov. 14 – Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
Nov. 15 – Grand Rapids, MI – Pyramid Scheme
Nov. 16 – Chicago, IL – Rockefeller Chapel
Nov. 17 – Madison, WI – High Noon Saloon

2019 Tour Dates
Jan. 29 – Glasgow, UK – Tramway
Jan. 30 – Birmingham, UK – Birmingham Town Hall
Jan. 31 – Brighton, UK – St. George’s Church Brighton
Feb. 01 – London, UK – Barbican
Feb. 02 – Kortrijk, BE – De Kreun
Feb. 04 – Groningen, NL – Vera
Feb. 05 – Erlangen, DE – E-Werk (Erlangen)
Feb. 06 – Cologne, DE – Kulturkirche Köln
Feb. 07 – Frankfurt, DE – Sankt Peter
Feb. 08 – Hamburg, DE – Uebel & Gefährlich
Feb. 09 – Aarhus, DK – Voxhall
Feb. 11 – København, DK – The Koncerthuset – Studie 2
Feb. 12 – Gothenburg, SE – Pustervik
Feb. 13 – Oslo – Norway – Parkteatret
Feb. 14 – Stockholm, SE – Kagelbanan (Small Room)
Mar. 08 – Denver, CO – Globe Hall
Mar. 09 – Santa Fe, NM – Meow Wolf
Mar. 11 –  Phoenix, AZ – Valley Bar
Mar. 12 – Tustin, CA – Marty’s On Newport
Mar. 13 – Tijuana, MX – Moustache
Mar. 15 – Los Angeles, CA – Lodge Room
Mar. 16 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
Mar. 18 – Portland, OR – Star Theater
Mar. 19 – Vancouver, BC – Imperial
Mar. 20 – Seattle, WA – Neumos
Mar. 23 – Provo, UT –  Velour Live Music Gallery

Jessica Moss – “Particles” (CD Preview)

Jessica Moss.

 

On October 25th, Constellation Records will release Entanglement, the second solo release by Jessica Moss. A violinist and vocalist who is one of the central members of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and co-founder of Black Ox Orchestar, Moss draws upon a prodigious range of influences: from the post-rock and avant-klezmer of the aforementioned groups, to drones and loops reminiscent of post-minimalism. Over the past year, she has honed the material of Entanglement at over eighty concerts, developing a side-long piece, “Particles,” and a suite of four “Fractals.” Impassioned, moody, and slow-burning, her compositions are some of the most compelling fare we have to anticipate this Fall.

 

BMOP: an Interview with Gil Rose

Gil Rose

Gil Rose directs the Boston Modern Orchestra Projector BMOP. The orchestra’s in house label, BMOP/Sound, has released a spate of vital CDs of American music. I recently interviewed Rose about recordings already released on the label and a preview of the rest of 2018’s live and recorded events.

 

In recent years, BMOP has released several recordings that “crossover” into pop, what some writers have described “Indie classical.” Which of these projects do you think have most effectively helped the ensemble to grow musically? Do you approach conducting differently when a groove supplied by a rhythm section or drum kit is part of the proceedings?

 

Several projects come to mind including Eric Moe’s Kick and Groove  both discs we did of Evan Ziporyn’s music and Tony Di Ritis Devolution. I think that when you have a “kit” involved listening is at a premium. At that point its important to share the stage with the drummer and try not to be a groove buster while keeping all the proceedings together. I think there is a lot of trust in the orchestra which empowers the players.  That always brings out their best. I think we saw this at its best in our recording of Mackey’s Dreamhouse.

 

I found BMOP’s Wayne Peterson recording to be fascinating, both because theIre isn’t a comparable disc of his orchestra music and because of the history of his Pulitzer prizewinning piece “The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark.” At the time that he won the award, there was some controversy because Ralph Shapey was one of the other finalists and was told his work was rejected in the finals after being recommended by the music subcommittee. He got mad and was very public about it. Listening to the two pieces, they are certainly different but are in the same pocket, relatively speaking: One wonders what all the fuss was about Peterson winning. Did you two discuss the Pulitzer situation at all or do you have any insights?

 

I never have discussed the Pulitzer “incident” with Wayne.  I think the piece is a knockout all by itself. It’s those American orchestral “Tone-Poems” that was likely to be forgotten in spite of the Pulitzer history.  Robert Erickson’s Aurorus in the same ilk. There are MANY others. Great works that have been left behind because they require a virtuosic orchestra to pull off but major American orchestras are unwilling to take them on for reasons that personify the stagnation of our orchestral culture.

 

Paul Moravec’s ‘secular oratorio’ seems to share an affinity with some British pieces in a similar vein: Tippett and Vaughan Williams, for example. Was that on your mind at all when preparing the piece for recording? Congratulations, by the way — it seems like a very challenging work — tough vocal parts as well as an ambitious orchestration — and BMOP/NEC pulled it off without a hitch.

 

I think you are right to point out the connection to English Music.  Though the piece is written for full orchestra it relies primarily on the strings. It gives it a sheen that makes it very exposed for the singers.  Also the the vocal writing is tricky because the tonality is extended in the direction of chromatasicm which makes the tunig hard for the singers while they still have to sound lyrical.  The subject matter is a challenge as well. The piece luckily (through clever design) has a few lighter moments as well as a good bit of hope to go along with the considerable pathos.

 

For Innova, BMOP and you recorded Ann Millikan’s “Symphony,” which deals with someone close to her battling cancer? Will you please tell us a little more about the impetus for this piece and the way in which you interpreted its very personal story?

 

Ann approached BMOP about making a recording of what for her was a very personal work.  We were honored that she thought of us. Although the piece is dedicated to, and about someone who died, it actually is more of a portait of his interests and activities.  It sort of functions as a celabration of his loves and life. I tried to bring out the character of each movement and how they related to the subject.

 

Del Tredici’s Child Alice is one of an extensive series of his pieces that are based on Lewis Carroll? How do feel that his take on the stories of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ are inhabited in the music of “Child Alice?” What did you do to prepare yourself and the musicians for dealing with the particular sound world and quirky expressivity of the piece?

 

I think the Alice stories and characters gave David the chance to deal in a kind of deep psychological exploration while at the same time show his sheer showmanship. His understanding of how music works at technical and sonic level when married his great sense of theater and sheer insanity creates an experience that you can’t prepare for.  All I told the players was buckle up as your about to go several Rabbit Holes at the same time.

 

Looking ahead to 2018, what are some of the recordings and activities to which BMOP listeners can look forward?

 

In 2018 we have a full slate of concert and releases.  We did a tribute to Joan Tower in February, In April were world premieres by Lei Lang, Anthony Di Ritis, Huang Rou followed by performances at the Library of Congress and June in Buffalo.  Upcoming releases include works by Charles Fussell & Peter Child the complete orchestra works of Leon Kirchner, a great Chen Yi CD and Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and a few other surprises.

 

Information about BMOP’s first Fall concert is below.

 

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Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) Kicks Off 2018-19 Season with Four Boston Premieres

 

When: Friday, October 19, 2018, 8:00pm

Where: NEC’s Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough Street, Boston

Who: Boston Modern Orchestra Project led by conductor Gil Rose with soloists Hannah Lash (harp) and Colin Currie (percussion)

What: Four Boston Premieres:

Steven Mackey – Tonic

Hannah Lash – Concerto No. 2 for Harp and Orchestra

Hannah Lash, Harp

Harold Meltzer – Vision Machine

Steven Mackey – Time Release

Colin Currie, Percussion

 

Quatuor Bozzini at Time Spans 2018 (Concert Review)

Bozzini Quartet.
Photo: Yuko Zama.

Quatuor Bozzini

Timespans Festival

DiMenna Center for Classical Music

August 14, 2018

NEW YORK – Quatuor Bozzini, a Canadian string quartet, have performed and recorded a plethora of contemporary music. While their advocacy is wide-ranging, the music of Canadian composers is near and dear to Quatuor Bozzini. They demonstrated this at the opening concert of Time:Spans Festival, five concerts this past week devoted to some of the most ambitious repertoire of today. The Bozzinis’ committed and razor-focused performances of works by Linda Catlin Smith and Cassandra Miller made them a tough act to follow.

Linda Catlin Smith’s Folkestone (1999) is inspired by an 1845 sketchbook of watercolors by J.M.W. Turner. While the Catlin Smith piece isn’t programmatic, Folkestone’s point of departure is the idea behind the sketchbook, that of returning to the same location over and over again to depict it in different light, weather, and events, thus creating a panoply of artwork that responds to it. The piece is cast in a series of twenty-four sections, called “panels” by the composer, interspersed with silences in between them to denote “page turns” between the musical sketches.

 

Composing prevailingly slow and soft music, allowing it silence and space to breathe, Catlin Smith is a kindred spirit of the Wandelweiser collective, John Cage, and Morton Feldman. However, she employs a highly individual pitch language. In places, piquant clusters populated Folkestone, casting adrift from pitch centers and offering instead rich polychords. However, peering out of the corners of her music are singable tunes and sumptuous consonances. All of these features in combination supply a slowly evolving, gently articulated music that is truly beguiling.

 

Cassandra Miller’s About Bach (2015) co-opts a phrase from J.S Bach’s Chaconne No. 2. However, the quotation is a jumping off point for an extended meditation on repetition. The melody, in the altissimo register, is repeated over and over by the violins in the quartet. They trade off the tune in a ricocheting antiphony that is among the most interesting aspects of the piece, underlining the element of space in the quartet. The other players provide brief, bustling lines in counterpoint.

 

In Catlin Smith’s piece, repetitions were varied and off center, requiring the listener’s attentiveness to differences in the various sketches she creates. Miller’s About Bach instead revels in repetition with the small differences of antiphony being the only change. One had to be willing to put aside the desire for differences of a large sort in Miller’s piece. But in the right headspace, going with the repeats instead of waiting for them to end, the piece proves spellbinding.

Both Smith and Miller have new CDs out on the British label Another Timbre. Miller’s disc, a recording by Quatuor Bozzini, is one of the label’s latest run of discs by Canadian Composers. Smith has been recorded both by the Bozzinis and, more recently, Apartment House. All Another Timbre outings are heartily recommended.