Michael Harley – Come Closer (CD Review)

Come Closer

Michael Harley, bassoon

Phillip Bush, piano; Ari Streisfeld, violin, Daniel Sweaney, viola; Claire Bryant, cello

New Focus Recordings

A longtime member of Alarm Will Sound, now on the faculty of University of South Carolina, Michael Harley makes his monograph CD debut with Come Closer on New Focus Recordings. The program features repertoire by living American composers in a variety of styles.

John Fitz Rogers uses overdubs on Come Closer to create a four-bassoon texture in a propulsive minimalist excursion replete with repeated notes. Pianist Phillip Bush joins Harley on several pieces, providing a Gershwin-esque theater jazz accompaniment on Stefan Freund’s Miphadventures and multifaceted textures and styles on Reginald Bain’s Totality. Harbinger of Sorrows by Caleb Burhans is achingly affecting and quite beautiful.The most successful duo is Carl Schimmel’s Alarum’s and Excursions, an energetic and often virtuosic tour-de-force.

The sole solo on the recording, Fang Man’s Lament, is an excellent extended work that involves overtones, vocalization, and microtonal inflections. Come Closer’s final piece, Yonder by Jesse Jones, is for bassoon, string trio, and piano. It combines post-minimal and alt-folk gestures in a finely wrought ensemble work that one hopes will gain wider currency.

Harley has done a double service with Come Closer, presenting music by some of the finest young and mid-career composers currently at work in the United States and substantially enlarging the repertoire for bassoon with his advocacy. Recommended.

Rebekah Heller – Metafagote (Recording review)

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Metafagote

Rebekah Heller, bassoon and electronics

Tundra, 2017 (digital release)

 

Bassoonist Rebekah Heller, a member of ICE, released Metafagote, her second solo album, in 2017 on Tundra. Featuring premiere recordings of four works written for Heller by Rand Steiger (Concatenation), Dai Fujikura (Following), Jason Eckardt (Wild Ginger), and the title composition by Felipe Lara, Megafagote supplies Heller with ample opportunities to demonstrate the bassoon’s entire bag of extended techniques, from multiphonics to microtonality, as well as various live electronic manipulations. That said, one never feels that the plethora of effects on display are mere showpieces; all four composers are working on extending the bounds of the instrument. There also is a significant interest demonstrated in spatiality which features in different ways in each of the pieces.

 

Steiger’s live electronics supply echoing canons and additional resonance to Heller’s bassoon. Following is a follow-up piece to the hard-driving Calling, written by Fujikura for Heller in 2011. This time around, angular melodies that span the compass of the instrument, beginning gently but picking up speed and energy over time, are hauntingly evocative. Eckhardt’s Wild Ginger employs many of the aforementioned extensions, but does so in a seamless way, using them to inflect asymmetrical groupings of melodic cells that variously congregate and concatenate i. Partway through, the interruption of rests and sustained pitches add other elements of tension, leading way to a low-register eruption that Heller unleashes with fulsome power. The closing section contrasts this with pitch bends and multiphonics in the bassoon’s upper register. It is a most persuasive piece.

 

Lara’s work is for live bassoon alongside a half-dozen pre-recorded bassoons. The chords and shrieking glissandos emitted from the tape part create an uneasy shadowing of a solo part that often departs from its prefabricated brethren on extended flights of fancy, but occasionally touches down to intone alongside them. Percussive articulation, wide pitch bends, trills, and a brusque gestural palette combine to make this a dramatic showpiece with which to end a compelling recording.

 

Heller’s advocacy for the bassoon, and her staunch commitment to expanding its repertoire, are laudable. Her playing is both detailed and thrilling throughout. Metafagote is one of my “Best-of” solo recordings of 2017.