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.

 

Marc Sabat and JACK – “Harmony” (CD Review)

Marc Sabat

Harmony

JACK Quartet

Canadian Composers Series #5

Another Timbre

 

Euler Spirals Scenery (2011), Claudiu Ptolemy (2008), Jean Philippe Rameau (2012)

 

A long time fixture on the Toronto scene as a string performer, improviser, and composer, Marc Sabat now resides in Berlin. However, he has taken his experimental penchant for tuning systems with him, writing in extended just intonation with a fluency that rivals Harry Partch and Ben Johnston’s own explorations of pitch. On the CD Harmony, JACK Quartet plays two quartets and a duo with rapt attention to the detailed nuances of Sabat’s pitch language and a keen sense of its corresponding flowing rhythms.

 

Euler Lattice Spirals Scenery (2011) is a five movement work that name checks various elements and personages of the intonation studies milieu. The first movement, Preludio, is subtitled “Les Quintes Justes” and it indeed does deal with sustained pure fifths in evocative fashion. Two of the movements, numbers two and five respectively, are titled Pythagoras Drawing. Movements three and four are each dedicated to a different composer who has been influential on Sabat; they are titled Harmonium for Claude Vivier and Harmonium for Ben Johnston. Each successive movement sends us a little further into the dark forest of dissonant overtones that accumulate on top of “Les Quintes Justes.” Thus, the entire piece can be seen as gradually revealing the compass of Sabat’s pitch palette.

 

Claudius Ptolemy (2008) is a duo, played by JACK violinist Christopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland (note: Jay Campbell now plays with the group). Open string double stops as well as dissonant intervals, harmonics, and ambling melodies combine in this adagio essay to make a fresh-sounding conglomeration of familiar playing techniques. The aforementioned “ambling affect” is one that Sabat shares with a number of his Canadian colleagues, not least Linda Catlin Smith, whose volume in the Canadian Composer Series (#1) appeared as a review here earlier in 2017. The final work on the Sabat CD is named after another important music theorist: Jean-Philippe Rameau (2012). Here the simultaneities are particularly fetching, with double-stops from multiple quartet members overlapping into beautiful chords. In one of his treatises( from 1737), Rameau struggled to describe the consonant and dissonant properties of just intonation: Sabat’s Rameau lays it out for all to hear with abundant clarity.  

 

 

 

Linda Catlin Smith on Another Timbre (CD Review)

Linda Catlin Smith

Drifter

Apartment House and Bozzini Quartet

Another Timbre at105X2

 

Born in the US and residing in Canada for more than a quarter century, Linda Catlin Smith has become a fixture on that country’s cultural radar. She has been welcomed and feted as one of Canada’s own. For instance, she is only the second woman to win the Jules Léger Prize for Chamber Music and has had a long association with the ensemble ArrayMusic, whom she served as Artistic Director. Several recordings have been released of her music, but last year’s Dirt Road won her critical acclaim and belated notice in the United States, ending up on many critics’ “best of year” lists (mine included). Released by Another Timbre, Dirt Road was merely a foretaste of that label’s commitment to Canadian music. Another Timbre has recently released a set of five recordings in its Canadian Composers series (another batch of five is due later this year). Catlin Smith features prominently, with the double disc Drifter serving as Volume 1 in the series. Other composers include Martin Arnold, Isiah Ceccarelli, Chlyoko Szlavnics, and Marc Sabat.

 

Drifter’s program is performed by two chamber groups: Apartment House and Bozzini Quartet. The “drifting” in question is not itinerant hitchhiking, but rather the placid tempo pathways frequently chosen by Catlin Smith. The piano trio Far from Shore, played here by Philip Thomas, Anton Lukiszevieze, and Mira Benjamin, is a case in point. Slow, soft music for the trio, often reminiscent of Morton Feldman’s approach (one that Catlin Smith acknowledges as a signature influence on her work) abides alongside passages of colorful piano chords. The spectrum moves from inexorably repeated constrained sets of pitches, to chromatic counterpoint, to whole washes of sound. The intuitive sensibility that Catlin Smith claims as her approach in preference to any dogmatic systemization clearly allows her to move through constantly changing musical terrain, all the while maintaining an organic sense of each piece. How does she manage this? An interview in the booklet accompanying the Canadian Composers set quotes her as saying,”Listening. Lots of listening.” One could do worse as a composer in any style to listen as carefully as Catlin Smith does.

 

Cantelina (2013) for viola and vibraphone, played by Emma Richards and Simon Limbrick, presents another of the composer’s interests, one in heterogenous instrumental pairings. Both here and in the Piano Quintet ( 2014), another of Catlin Smith’s predilections, exploring tightly knit counterpoint in close registral positions, is featured. The overlapping in Cantilena is quite fetching (it is a combination that should be explored by more composers and one I’ll keep in my own hip pocket) and it is equally affecting when writ large in the quintet. The title work is also for a seemingly challenging combination, piano and classical guitar, played by Philip Thomas and Diego Castro Magas, but Catlin Smith’s gentle daubs of coloristic harmony and unequal ostinatos work beautifully in this duo context as well. Mon Qui Tremblais (1999), played by Thomas, Benjamin, and Limbrick, has a pulse-driven piano part that is joined by sustained violin and bowed pitched percussion. An interesting notational device is used: rather than writing out all the notes and rhythms, the composer specifies that the musicians silently read a Rimbaud poem and use its speech rhythms to shape the musical work (for instance, the percussionist gets his attack points from the accented French syllables).

 

Bozzini Quartet appears in two string quartets by Catlin Smith. Folkestone (1999) pits a persistently high violin line against blocks of slow articulated, syncopated chords played by the other three members (these have an almost accordion-like quality in their spacing). Gradually, other lines emerge from the texture, with the cello playing a poignant solo dissonant with the rest of the harmony. The chordal passages begin registrally to disperse, bringing the locus of activity closer to the violin’s sustained flautando melody. Mid-register lines now break free and the chords move in double time for a brief stretch before ceding the terrain to widely spaced and again slowly articulated harmonies. This alternation of patterns includes still more elements to be introduced: pizzicatos, duets, flashes of quartal harmonic brilliance, and a bass-register cello melody made truly weighty by the registers it has balanced against before. Clocking in at more than 32 minutes, Folkestone is a substantial and thoroughly captivating composition. Gondola involves members of the quartet coming in and out of unison and a gentle boat-rocking pacing that Catlin Smith describes thus:”The title loosely refers to its slight undulation or floating qualities – a subtle motion or disturbance of the surface, like trailing the hand in water.”

 

Evocative imagery for truly evocative music-making. Drifter is an album (a double-album at that) worth savoring.

 

 

 

Bryn Harrison on Another Timbre

at96

Bryn Harrison
Receiving the Approaching Memory
Aisha Orazbayev, violin; Mark Knoop, piano
Another Timbre CD 96

Another Timbre’s  96th CD is devoted entirely to Bryn Harrison’s “Receiving the Approaching Memory,” a violin-piano duo lasting nearly forty minutes. Throughout its duration, the piece consists of overlapping spirals between the violin and piano, corruscating gently but emphatically. The piece is divided into five sections. While each has a similar gestural language, the pitch material starts with a regular circulation of the total chromatic and, with each section, gradually has the parts drop shared notes until, by the end, only two pitches (C and F) are held in common. While these common tones might suggest glancing against tonality (they form a fifth), Harrison instead sets up “shadow selves” among the increasingly impoverished means. The thinned texture points up the repetitive nature of the gestures rather than any sort of pitch consolidation. As such, it is a fascinating and often beautiful work. Harrison is fortunate in his advocates: violinist Aisha Orazbayev and pianist Mark Knoop play with accuracy, musicality, and indefatigable stamina. Recommended.