BMOP Plays George Perle (CD Review)

George Perle

Serenades

Boston Modern Orchestra Project

Gil Rose, conductor

BMOP Sound

Composer George Perle passed away a decade ago, but his music has remained part of the repertory. This is noteworthy in that, upon their deaths, many composers are eclipsed for a time. An excellent example of the resilience of Perle’s work is a new recording on BMOP Sound. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose, presents a disc of Perle’s Serenades: one featuring viola soloist Wenting Kang, another featuring piano soloist Donald Berman, and another for a chamber orchestra of eleven players.

Serenade No. 1, which features Kang, is deftly scored to accommodate the tenor/alto register of the viola, allowing the other members of the ensemble to move astride the soloist in the soprano and bass registers. The violist is supplied a fair amount of virtuosity to navigate, as well as the lyricism to which the instrument frequently adheres. The piece is cast in five movements, beginning with a Rondo and traversing through Ostinato, Recitative, Scherzo, and Coda. As is customary in Perle’s “12-tone tonality approach,” Bergian row-types, that allow for triads to appear in the midst of post-tonal harmony, make for varied and attractive pitch structures. Kang plays with considerable fluidity and appealing tone.

Serenade for Eleven Players is like a concerto for orchestra in miniature, also configured in five movements. The first movement begins with stentorian brass pitted against staccato piano shuffles and string solos. The timpani thwacks tritones instead of fifths, and wind chords provide a piquant underpinning. Later, sinuous saxophone lines are offset by angular piano arpeggiations and countered by string solos and trills from the remaining winds. The third movement has a mournful cello solo set against pensive lines in the winds. Bustling counterpoint fills the fourth movement with a number of jump cuts between textural blocks. The finale begins stealthily with chordal stabs juxtaposed against melodies in multiple tempi that build in intensity. There is a pullback before the finish that telegraphs a gentle coda. The piece as a whole is reminiscent of Schoenberg’s early post-tonal music.

Donald Berman is the piano soloist in Serenade No. 3, again a five-movement work consisting of pithy sections. Here, however, instead of Schoenberg or Berg, Perle explores a sound world akin to that of Stravinsky’s 12-tone concerto Movements. Twelve-tone tonality can be deployed in a manner similar to Stravinsky’s own idiosyncratic approach to serialism, rotational arrays. Both these details of pitch and the general muscularity of the gestural palette, again made up of blocks of material, allow us to hear Perle through a different lens of influence. Berman does a marvelous job with the solo part, playing incisively with rhythmic precision and precise coordination with the ensemble.

Rose leads BMOP through all three serenades with characteristic attention to detail and balance. The players prepared well for this challenging program. Better advocates would not have been the wish of the composer. Kudos to BMOP for keeping Perle’s memory and music alive. This disc handily makes my Best of 2019 list.

-Christian Carey

John Luther Adams – Become Desert (CD Review)

Become Desert

John Luther Adams

Seattle Symphony, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Ludovic Morlot, conductor

Cantaloupe Music

“Become Desert is both a celebration of the deserts we are given, and a lamentation of the deserts we create.” – John Luther Adams

Born in Mississippi, John Luther Adams first came to the attention of listeners as a composer and author based in Alaska, where he lived and worked for some forty years. Pieces such as Inuksuit, The Place Where You Go to Listen, and Dream in White on White are eloquent expressions of Adams’ time there and how it impacted him both as a creator and as a person. His book, Winter Music, is a required text for composers, as well as an accessible read of significant appeal to non-musicians. In a remarkable change of pace, Adams has recently moved to the desert, staying in Mexico and Chile.

In 2013, Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for Become Ocean, a work for the Seattle Symphony that mourned the rising seas caused by climate change, posing a timely questions: would land-roaming creatures, humans among them, be subsumed and return to the waters from whence they came. Since then, the piece has become a trilogy, followed by Become River and now Become Desert. The latest piece deals with climate change’s impact on water supply and the effects of warming in dry climates.

Like its performance and recording of Become Ocean, the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot, creates beguiling sounds eloquently shaped in their rendition of Become Desert. Whereas the former piece had an apocalyptic cast, moving from low to high and then cascading, the latter is filled with bells and chimes and sustained chords, creating the aura of aridity and hazy lights so appropriate to its subject matter. Partway through, rolling drums give us the only hit of respite from dryness, thundering against reiterated brass chords. Harps and plenty of sixth chords recall Impressionism, while the insistent repetition of overtone chords provides a spectral cast. Its end is a deliciously long denouement leaving us with faint chimes that evoke the piece’s opening.

Become Desert is one of the best recordings of contemporary music of 2019. Recommended.

Jan Garbarek and Hilliard Ensemble (CD Review)

Remember Me, My Dear (ECM, 2019).

Remember Me, My Dear

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble

ECM New Series 2625

The Hilliard Ensemble disbanded five years ago. Happily, they made a few recordings for ECM that have allowed listeners to continue to enjoy new music from them. Remember Me, My Dear was recorded on their last tour in 2014 at the Collegiate Church in Bellinzona, Switzerland. It celebrates a quarter century of collaboration, beginning with the Officium album, released in 1994 to wide acclaim.

As with their previous collaborations, Remember Me, My Dear features both early music by composers such as Hildegard von Bingen, Pérotin, and the ever ubiquitous Anonymous, as well as twentieth/twenty-first century pieces by Arvo Pärt, Komitas, and Russian liturgical composer Nikolay Kedrov. Often the blending of resources is impressive. Garbarek creates imitative lines that further elaborate Kedrov’s “Litany” and revels in the modal scales found in “Procedentem Sponsum.” The saxophonist solos over the Hilliard Ensemble singing suavely arranged jazz chords on his original “Allting Finns.”

Elsewhere, there is a juxtaposition of disparate elements. On an Agnus Dei by the Renaissance composer Antoine Brumel, the counterpoint from the voices serves as a backdrop for cascading runs by Garbarek. In the title track, which originally appeared on the studio album Mnemosyne, a homophonic chanson is elaborated with saxophone filigrees between phrases.

Garbarek’s original “We are the Stars” is a rapturous piece, with soprano saxophone contributing altissimo register climaxes that are shadowed by countertenor David James in his own upper register. Guilliame Le Rouge’s fifteenth century chanson Se je fayz deuil ideally presents the autumnal warmth of the quartet’s sound in the Collegiate Church’s generous acoustic. Pérotin’s Alleluia Navitas provides a joyous colloquy between Garbarek and the singers. Who knew that medieval organum could so successfully afford rollicking, bluesy rejoinders?

Remember, My Dear amply demonstrates that, until the end of their work together, the Hilliard Ensemble remained in fine voice.  It is always difficult to say goodbye to a group that has played such a pivotal role in one’s study and enjoyment of music. The post-disbandment releases shared on ECM have been a generous surplus. The Hilliard Ensemble, and their collaboration with Garbarek, will be dearly remembered for a long time to come.

-Christian Carey

10/16 at the Jazz Standard – Ethan Iverson with Tom Harrell

Photo: Monica Frisell/ECM Records

In recent years, pianist Ethan Iverson has been collaborating with a number of artists, particularly elder statesmen of the jazz tradition. In 2017, he appeared at the Village Vanguard with trumpeter Tom Harrell. The performances were document on Common Practice, Iverson’s most recent ECM recording. In addition to Harrell, the CD’s personnel includes bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson, longtime associates of the pianist.

The common practice to which the title refers are jazz standards, mostly from the Great American Songbook but also bebop originals. The group investigates a range of styles, from ardent balladry on “The Man I Love” to smoky lyricism on “I Can’t Get Started” to puckish wit on “Sentimental Journey.” Harrell and Iverson display imaginative recasting of harmonic changes throughout, but especially on vigorous versions of “All the Things You Are” and “Wee.” Iverson contributes two tunes, “Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed from Teaneck,” both blues with twists and turns of the form.

Photo: Monica Frisell/ECM Records

On Wednesday, October 16th, the quartet reunites for two sets at Jazz Standard (details below). Their take on jazz’s common practice is not to be missed.

Photo: Monica Frisell/ECM Records.

Event Details

Ethan Iverson Quartet featuring Tom Harrell

Wednesday, October 16 - shows at 7:30 and 9:30 PM
Jazz Standard
116 E. 27th Street, NYC
Tickets here
Ethan Iverson – piano
Tom Harrell – trumpet, flugelhorn
Ben Street – bass
Eric McPherson – drums

10/13: Tonight at Nublu – Sun of Goldfinger

Sun of Goldfinger

On Sun of Goldfinger, his latest recording for ECM Records, saxophonist Tim Berne partners with guitarist David Torn and percussionist Ches Smith. The outing incorporates the avant-jazz palette usually adopted by Berne and Smith along with amplified sonics and effects incorporated by Torn.

There are three long-form pieces on Sun of Goldfinger. “Eye Meddle” builds from a fragmentary welter of ostinatos, each at first seeming to go their own direction, into a tightly interwoven and densely populated texture with wailing upper register saxophone accompanied by an insistent guitar melody and double time rhythms from Smith. Torn’s guitar then soars to match Berne, overdubs allowing for him to add a feisty rhythm guitar part to the mix. A filigreed, polyrhythmic denouement follows.

“Spartan, Before it Hit” opens with sustained upper register guitar answered by a mournful saxophone melody. A unison melody is offset by altissimo saxophone harmonics in imitation of the earlier high-lying guitars; Smith takes on a motoric beat while Torn contributes thunderous rock riffs and Berne corresponding squalls. The climax involves a huge crescendo from Smith, Torn’s laser beam guitar lines, and angular soloing from Berne. A subdued interlude, quite gentle in context, follows. Alternating with more forceful passages, an extended reflective demeanor explores fascinating musical pathways. At the conclusion, altissimo register saxophone alongside loping guitar is reasserted to make for a neat moment identifying the piece’s larger form.

The album’s closer, “Soften the Blow,” begins with oscillating dyads and bits of scalar passages. Sonorous guitar chords interrupt these fragments, followed by sci-fi effects, overblowing, and reverberating sounds from Smith. The drums finally enter, punctuating the music’s surface with short, muscular gestures. Berne then takes a solo that combines the fragments of the opening into piquant, post-tonal lines. While Torn reaches deep into the spacey side of his effects kit, the saxophone solo kicks into high octane, as do the drums. Smith creates a fascinating panoply of cymbal sounds and Torn’s solo matches Berne’s intensity, even bringing out the whammy bar for bent note emphasis. Behind all this is a doom-rock ostinato that propels the proceedings. The structure devolves, yielding a more ruminative passage where each member of the trio goes their own way. Wailing guitar and emphatic drums provide the link to another long crescendo in which Berne bides his time, allowing the spotlight to rest on his colleagues’ interaction for a time before rejoining the proceedings to lead it into fervent free jazz territory. A brief coda brings the boil back to simmer, leaving the listener with much to ponder.

Photo: Robert Lewis/ECM Records

On October 13th in New York City at Nublu 151 (151 Avenue C in the East Village), the trio will appear in a show at 9 PM; doors open at 8 (Tickets here).

Odyssean Ensemble debuts with Byrd (CD Review)

William Byrd – The Great Service and Anthems

Odyssean Ensemble, Colm Carey, director; Christian Wilson, organ

Linn Records

William Byrd is often associated with Catholic church music, contributing three masses and collections of propers. He also composed one of the finest collections of Anglican music, a “full” or “long” service of the music for the daily offices. After his death, it was dubbed “The Great Service.” One can readily hear why in this superlative debut recording by Odyssean Ensemble, directed by Colm Carey. Written for two vocal quintets – placed on either side of the chancel – the piece is a feast of antiphonal effects with many vocal combinations and a plethora of contrapuntal techniques. Byrd was mindful of reformers’ insistence on textual clarity and primarily syllabic declamation; all of these peregrinations are accomplished while incisive text-setting is maintained.  

Singing from a new edition of the piece prepared by Andrew Johnstone (who also contributes informative liner notes), recorded in a sumptuous space, Odyssean Ensemble deploys a warm sound with impressive diction. Carey’s shaping of the piece yields spry rhythms and elegant phrasing. A selection of English anthems appealingly augment the program. In addition to accompanying the singers on the lovingly reconstructed St. Tello instrument, organist Christian Wilson contributes a nimble reading of a Fantasy by Byrd. Devotional texts, read by the actor David Suchet, are a welcome inclusion. The recording is an example of fastidious detail to history breathing new life into an underserved work. One hopes that a recording of Byrd’s masses will be soon to follow.

Dominique Schafer on Kairos (CD Review)

Dominique Schafer

Vers une présence réelle

Ensemble Proton Bern, Matthias Kuhn, conducter

Kairos CD 0015036KAI

Born in 1967, Swiss composer Dominique Schafer spent time in Paris and Boston before taking up his present academic position at Chapman University in California. This is his first monograph CD. Ensemble Proto Bern supplies the recording’s eloquent performances, illuminating intricate timbres and revelling in the rhythmic intricacies of Schafer’s music. 

While musical style and geography of scenes aren’t always complimentary, Schafer’s time in Paris is a clear point of departure for post-spectralist works Cendre, for bass flute and 8-channel electronics, and Ringwood, for clarinet and live electronics. Both flutist Bettina Berger and clarinetist Richard Haynes are estimable advocates who take extended techniques in stride. Microtones and colorful alternate fingerings are haloed by electronically deployed harmonic series.The varied, muscular gestural palette that ensemble works such as the title composition, Anima, and INFR-A-KTION possess suggests that Schafer’s time at Harvard may have imbued his work with more than a hint of East coast modernism. Whatever the source of his inspiration, Schafer’s is an attractive, polyglot musical language.  

Vers une présence réelle  demonstrates the variety Schafer seamlessly brings to bear. Verticals are frequently treated to intervals that fall outside of the equal temperament spectrum, coloring chords with tart microtones and overblown howls. Piano and harp, both playing in equal temperament, supply a contrasting harmonic spectrum. These are offset by half-step oscillations and repeated notes in the strings and dissonant trumpet fanfares. Surging wind harmonics, contrasted by wide-ranging piano arpeggiations and flurries of violin, populate the coda with echoes of the main body of the piece.   

The instrumentation of most of the pieces can be accommodated by standard instrumentation. However, INFR-A-KTION features lupophone, an extremely low oboe, played by Martin Bligginstorfer, and contraforte, a contrabassoon on steroids played by Elise Jacoberger.  The overall registral deployment of the piece sits low, providing a sepulchral environment in which to hear these portentous low winds to good effect. Strings arc overhead, playing angular filigrees in contrast to the bass register utterances.  

Vers une présence réelle provides an excellent introduction to the breadth of expression in Dominique Schafer’s music. One eagerly awaits future recorded documentation, perhaps of some of his orchestra music.

-Christian Carey