David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp on AUM Fidelity (CD Review)

DavidSWare+MatthewShipp-AUM

David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp

Live in Sant’Anna Arresi 2004

AUM Fidelity CD 100

 

Tenor saxophonist David S. Ware passed away in 2012, and he is sorely missed on the ecstatic jazz scene that he was pivotal in creating. While Ware’s discography is extensive, AUM Fidelity has released one more recording, Live in Sant’Anna Arresi 2004, which presents the saxophonist in an entirely different context: a duo setting with longtime collaborator pianist Matthew Shipp. Given their close and longstanding association, it would at first seem improbable that this was their only duo outing. Thus, all these years later, it is a gift to have it available for posterity.

 

While both Ware and Shipp were able to improvise comfortably in many settings, they knew each other’s musicality intimately: there is an almost telepathic connection between the two that is demonstrated here. An example: While many pianists would need to be careful to stray clear from a saxophonist’s main registers, Shipp is able to navigate close-knit counterpoint with Ware, often in the lower octaves, that never swamps or constrains his lines. Rather, it seems to exhort even more power from Ware’s solos. Nor is Shipp an accompanist to the saxophonist; he is an equal partner in shaping the musical narrative, at turns propulsive and reflective.

 

The two main selections of the date are titled “Tao 1” and “Tao 2.”  This is entirely appropriate, as the yin and yang of ecstatic jazz discourse, the kinetic and the lyrical, are both present in these wide-ranging essays. The shorter “Encore” distills fervent energy that unleashes like a coiled spring, bringing the concert to a rousing conclusion. It is somewhat bittersweet to realize that there won’t be any more opportunities to hear these musicians in a duo context; it is still hard to believe that Ware is gone when his spirit looms so large in the ecstatic jazz milieu. Live in Sant’Anna Arresi 2004 is a moving and engaging release that is among AUM Fidelity’s finest to date. Recommended.

 

Tigran Mansurian Requiem on ECM Records (CD Review)

Tigran Mansurian

Requiem

RIAS Kammerchor; Anja Petersen, soprano; Andrew Redmond, baritone;

Münchener Kammerorchester, Alexander Liebreich, conductor

ECM New Series 2508 CD

 

On the cover of this CD’s booklet is a picture from 1917, 100 years ago, of deportees from Turkey travelling through the desert to Aleppo in Syria. One thinks, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

 

Tigran Mansurian’s Requiem is written to commemorate victims of the Armenian Genocide, which took place in Turkey from 1915-’17. It is a calamity that affected his own family and one that he has long wanted to address, albeit with some trepidation. In the copious liner notes, which include thoughtful essays both by writer Paul Griffiths and the composer, one learns that the tension of writing a Requiem using liturgical Latin while coming from the tradition of the Orthodox Church proved a significant challenge, both compositionally and culturally. How could Mansurian depict and honor the struggle and emotional condition of the Armenian people while using such decidedly Western material, with the weight of luminaries such as Mozart, Berlioz, and Verdi behind it?

 

 

 

The struggle to address this situation has proven well worth it. Mansurian’s solution is ingenious. Like Fauré, he is selective with the text, omitting much of the Dies Irae sequence (what remains is absolutely chilling). Mansurian also realized that the great Requiem masses from the 18-19th centuries often sounded as if their protagonists’ singing was “less like a prayer, more like a demand.” That would not do for depicting the mindset of Armenian Christians. Thus, Mansurian chose to try to reflect the Orthodox tradition in a Latin mass. He did so in two ways. The first was to incorporate melodic material, often modal or synthetic scales, that represent Eastern liturgical and folk music. The second was to include chanting reminiscent of Orthodox monodic singing, but with the Latin words as its textual basis.

 

These incorporations make the piece timeless in its sound world. Sections of chant, both in the tenors and in alternim sections between men and women’s voices, present haunting scalar passages that resonate with Eastern music. Two brief solos – one for soprano Anja Petersen and the other for baritone Andrew Redmond – are memorable parts of the Tuba Mirum and Domine Jesu Christe movements.

 

Despite the comparatively modest forces – four-part chorus (with no divisi) and strings – the texture does not rely solely on the spareness of chant. Indeed, there are moments of exceeding richness. Like so many Requiem masses, the key of d-minor, with a number of modal variants and splashes of D-major as well, is prevalent. Polychords press into bare triads (there is even a moment of C major amidst the plethora of minor key successions). The orchestration is particularly vivid, so much so that you don’t mind having strings accompany the “Tuba mirum” sans brass. Conductor Alexander Liebreich leads the combined forces of RIAS Kammerchor and Münchener Kammerorchester in a pitch perfect performance that is austere and emotive in just the right moments.

 

It is, of course, too soon to tell if Mansurian’s Requiem will be a piece for the ages. It is certainly a deeply touching and sensitive reimagination of a text that some may feel has long since been ossified by its own traditions. Perhaps more importantly, in addressing genocide and refugee crises from a century ago, Mansurian holds up a mirror to our own time and dares us to be unflinching in our gaze. For that alone, it is a work of great value.

James Matheson (CD Review)

Matheson-CD-cover_Esa

James Matheson

Violin Concerto, String Quartet, Time Alone
Baird Dodge, violin; Chicago Symphony, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen;

Color Field Quartet

Laura Strickling, soprano; Thomas Sauer, piano

Yarlung Records

On his latest CD for Yarlung, composer James Matheson presents strong essays in both the concerto and string quartet genres. His String Quartet, played in vibrant fashion by Color Field Quartet, is filled with overlapping scales and glissandos, post-minimal ostinatos, and impressionist harmonic colors. Thus, it presents as a postmodern response both to composers such as Ravel and Debussy and more recent figures such as John Adams and Aaron Jay Kernis.

There is a similar variety of instrumental color in Matheson’s violin concerto. Its conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, is described in the liner notes as a great champion of the piece, helping to arrange for its recording (a live tape of the Chicago Symphony). The muscularly motoric violin part, played here by Baird Dodge,  is formidable. The violin soloist is required to execute limpid runs clear up into the stratosphere of the instrument’s compass. In addition to its impressive solo part, the concerto’s orchestration has a cinematic sweep that is most engaging. The second movement, Chaconne, features a gradual build by the soloist, with the part starting down near rumbling cellos and basses and concluding within striking distance of high flutes (which seem to mimic gestures from movement one in slow motion). The concerto concludes with Dance, a moto perpetuo in which the violinist faces off with a boisterous orchestra (which ends on the supertonic!).

The songs are idiomatically set, but I was left wishing for a less diffident performance than the one provided here. They were written for Kiera Duffy; perhaps we can hope that she gives them a hearing soon.

Matheson’s musical language is appealing in its variety. He is also a creative orchestrator, parsing multiple threads of activity yet always providing music with a clear surface.

Lei Liang: “Luminous” (CD Review)

Lei Liang

Luminous

The Formosa Quartet, Aleck Karis, piano; Third Coast Percussion, Daniel Schlosberg, piano; Michael Lewanski, conductor; Mark Dresser, contrabass solo; The Palimpsest Ensemble, Steven Schick, percussion, conductor

New World CD

Luminous, composer Lei Liang’s latest CD for New World, is among his most imaginative releases yet. In an email exchange, Liang cited fruitful artistic partnerships as central to his inspiration for the five works on the CD. Percussionist/conductor Steven Schick is central to the project. The percussion solo Trans, written for Schick’s fiftieth birthday also incorporates an effective use of audience participation: 100 or so people were given small pairs of stones to knock together, creating a sheen, like ardent rainfall, that provides a backdrop of sound to Shick’s virtuosic playing of a multi-instrument kit.

 

Another piece that features percussion is Inkscape. Written for a consortium of ensembles, this piano/percussion work is performed here by Third Coast Percussion and pianist Daniel Schlosberg and conducted by Michael Lewanski. The piece moves from a diaphanously mysterious saturation of soft dynamics and textures to a more fragmented, stentorian presentation. Thus, Liang puts two of the most important aspects of any percussion piece – those of texture and dynamics – in opposition, crafting an overall formal design that is quite elegant. The end of the piece takes these juxtapositions and presents them in smaller chunks, allowing the listener moments of reverie only to be thrust again into fortissimo passages.

Verge Quartet is, in part, based on Mongolian folk music, its gestural language as well as its folksongs. That said, it is no pastiche piece. The folk influences are integrated into Liang’s overall compositional approach, not as an East-meets-West hybridization, but in truly organic fashion. One could compare his approach in Verge Quartet to those of  Béla Bartók, György LigetiUnsuk Chin, and Michael Finnissy, composers who make the incorporation of folk material a seamless yet integral part of their respective musical languages. The Formosa Quartet plays the work with brilliant energy and carefully detailed authenticity.

Alec Karis is an authoritative pianist on the solo work “The Moon is Following Us,” demonstrating the capacity to evoke all manner of dynamic shadings and varied phrasing with nimble accuracy. Starting with brash repeated clusters, the music gradually moves through assorted ostinatos to a shimmering palette of added note chords. Neo-impressionist touches, such as harp-like arpeggiations and quickly unspun treble register melodies, gradually soften the hard-edged modernism of the opening into a more fluid sound world.

The title work is a concerto for double bass, written for the contemporary music virtuoso (in both of notated and creative improvised music) Mark Dresser. Schick conducts the Palimpsest Ensemble, the new music group in residence at University of California San Diego, where both Liang and he teach, in this challenging and ambitious composition. In the album’s liner notes (excellently curated by the BSO’s Robert Kirzinger), Liang writes of Luminosity:

“The instrument’s rich spectra embody ‘voices’ that encompass extreme opposites—lightness and darkness, angels and ghosts, paradise and inferno—unified by a singular vibrating body. The composition explores these voices in a few large sections, starting with bowing on one string that produces multiphonics, double-stop bowing, and pizzicati. It concludes with the threading technique (attaching the bow from beneath the string), which allows the performer to bow multiple strings simultaneously. The last section is subtitled ‘The Answer Questioned’ as an homage to Charles Ives and György Kurtág.”

This summer, Liang’s Gobi Canticle will be premiered at the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood. I very much forward to hearing it.

BMOP Records Thomson and Premieres Sanford

Virgil Thomson – Gertrude Stein

Four Saints in Three Acts; Capital Capitals

 

Charles Blandy, tenor; Simon Dyer, bass; Aaron Engebreth, baritone; Andrew Garland, baritone; Tom McNichols, bass; Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, mezzo-soprano; Sarah Pelletier, soprano; Deborah Selig, soprano; Sumner Thompson, baritone; Lynn Torgove, mezzo-soprano; Stanley Wilson, tenor;

Boston Modern Orchestra, Gil Rose, conductor

 

BMOP/Sound 1049 2xCD

 

Virgil Thomson’s 1934 collaboration with the eminent author Gertrude Stein resulted in their first of two operas, Four Saints in Three Acts. Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose, has made successful forays into recorded opera before, bringing scores such as Lukas Foss’s Griffelkin and Charles Fussell’s Wilde to life. Their recording of Thomson/Stein’s opera is a very successful addition to the orchestra’s burgeoning catalog of works.

 

Taking Stein’s use of non-linear narrative in her writing as a cue, Thomson created a score that, for its time, was exceedingly adventurous. At first blush, one might well think of Thomson’s harmonic language – relentlessly tonal – and his borrowing of material from the American vernacular – ranging from hymns and folksongs to popular songs and dances – to be far more conservative than Ives or other contemporaries who mined similar material but with a more dissonant palette. There is also a component of repetition and scalar melismas, even counting that sounds like a cousin of passages in Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, that suggests a proto-minimal approach to Thomson’s design. However, near-constant shifts of texture and demeanor, which mirror Stein’s approach to text, provide their own set of challenges for both musicians and listeners: in essence, how to follow the thread?   

 

Four Saints in Three Acts is a work with a large cast, yet all of the roles in BMOP’s production are populated by fine singers, many of whom are associated with the Boston area’s various operatic ventures. The orchestra’s playing under Rose is also exemplary: this is a score in which frequent changes of instrumentation create a balancing act that could undo a lesser ensemble.

 

The liner notes are well curated. Given his totemic role as a writer on music, including Thomson’s essay about Four Saints is a particularly nice touch. Thomson scholar Steven Watson contributes his own enlightening essay, underscoring the durability of the opera through many production incarnations, from its original — an all African-American cast (most unusual for its day) — to Robert Wilson’s staging for huge animal costumes.

 

Capital Capitals is another Thomson/Stein collaboration, this one from 1927, for four male voices and piano. The text discusses the various virtues of “capital cities” —  Aix, Arles, Avignon, and Les Baux — in Provence (Stein became acquainted with the region during her tenure as an ambulance driver in the First World War). It is breezier than Four Saints and proves an eminently charming counterpart.

 

_______

David Sanford

At 8 PM on Friday, March 31st at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, BMOP presents a concert featuring works by John Harbison, Eric Sawyer, Ronald Perera, and the world premiere of BMOP commission Black Noise by David Sanford. Soloists include violinist Miranda Cuckson, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Andrea Lam. At 7 PM, a pre-concert lecture with the composers will be lead by Boston Symphony’s Robert Kirzinger. A repeat performance, this one with the Claremont Trio as soloists, will be at 3 PM on Sunday, April 2nd at Amherst College’s Buckley Recital Hall.  

Tarik O’Regan on NMC (CD Review)

Tarik O’Regan

A Celestial Map of the Sky

Hallé

Hallé Youth Choir

The Manchester Grammar School Choir

Jamie Phillips conductor

Sir Mark Elder conductor

NMC Recordings CD

 

Tarik O’Regan’s music has appeared upon some thirty recordings, but NMC’s CD, A Celestial Map of the Sky, is the first entirely devoted to his orchestra music. The disc supplies an excellent overview of the British composer’s work. The title piece is persuasively performed. The Hallé Youth Choir and The Manchester Grammar School Choir make music worthy of cherubim and the Hallé Orchestra accompanies them with clustered harmonies that glow. The piece has a fascinating back story: it was inspired by two woodcuts of the celestial hemispheres engraved by Albrecht Dürer in 1515. These are among the oldest “star charts” that have been found in Europe. Latent Manifest takes its inspiration from a few centuries later, in a single gesture from a Bach violin sonata which then undergoes procedures of expansion until it positively flourishes. Premiered at the BBC Proms, Latent Manifest is a muscularly orchestrated work that features Hallé’s formidable brass section to stirring effect.

 

O’Regan is of Moroccan descent on his mother’s side. When he was growing up, he lived for a time in Africa. Raï and Chaâbi present elements of African folk music through a Western lens.

Components from that tradition – African instruments, choices of timbre, and, particularly, rhythmic patterns – enliven both pieces. It is here that O’Regan’s music takes on its most “post-minimal guise,” exploring percussive ostinatos punctuated by strings. Here and elsewhere, the orchestral forces are martialed with incisive command by Jamie Phillips and Sir Mark Elder. The disc is capped off with Fragments from Heart of Darkness, a suite of instrumental music from O’Regan’s chamber opera based on the Joseph Conrad book. It begins suitably mysteriously with sinuous chromaticism but gradually moves toward another bevy of ostinatos, first folk-tinged and then martially stentorian.

 

Those who would like to hear a bit of the composer’s famed vocal music aren’t left wanting by this project. A bonus download-only track, “Now Fatal Change,” features countertenor Ryland Angel and violinist Lara St. John. A reworking of material found in Chaâbi, with a text originally set by Henry Purcell, it is an attractive piece fetchingly performed by the duo. Angel has a rich, resonant voice that handles both registral edges of the vocal part with ease. St. John draws similarly plummy tone from her instrument, finely tuning the many passages of multiple stops and performing ostinato sections with verve.

 

He may be as prolific as all get out, but A Celestial Map of the Sky marks itself as a special project in O’Regan’s catalog. Recommended.

Fifth House and Baladino – Nedudim (CD Review)

Fifth House Ensemble & Baladino

Nedudim

Cedille Records/Baladino CD

 

Fifth House Ensemble’s second CD for Cedille, Nedudim (Hebrew for “wanderings”) employs material from a plethora of folk traditions: Appalachian American, blues, Greek, Balkan, Turkish, and Indian, to name only some of them. Fifth House enlists as their performance partners the versatile world music group Baladino. Composer Dan Visconti and Baladino member Thomas Moked Blum supply imaginative arrangements that juxtapose notated material for Fifth House and quasi-improvisatory guides for Baladino. In addition to standard Western instruments – horn, flute, clarinet, saxophone, piano, and strings – the listener is also greeted by didjeridu, duduk, oud, ney, and African percussion.

 

The combination of these two ensembles is a successful one, creating a fluidity of rhythmic interaction that many crossover albums with folk elements lack. Indeed, the coexistence of instruments East and West and pieces that hew closer to classical or folk traditions provides the CD with enjoyable variety. A star in the proceedings is the incredibly versatile vocalist Yael Badash, whose singing matches the fluency of the instrumental performances. Nedudim traverses a great deal of musical ground, but never strays.