Laura Cetilia on Estuary, Ltd.


Used, Broken, & Unwanted

Laura Cetilia, cello, autoharp, voice, and electronics

Estuary Ltd. CD


A live recording from 2013 made in Providence, Rhode Island, Used, Broken, and Unwanted demonstrates to good effect the wide-ranging timbral palette and drone-based structures that artist Laura Cetilia explores. The title track makes use of repetition, not in the symmetrical fashion of process-driven minimalism, but to create an undulating undergirding for the wisps of vocal and cello melodies that sporadically emerge. This elegantly segues into the exquisitely fragile “Thrum/Pin.”

“Plucked from Obscurity” makes efficacious use of pizzicato; the electronics with which it contends range from the bell-like to the percussive. Particularly lovely is the delicate album closer “Tears of Things,” in which the main, initially pizzicato-driven, ostinato is gradually supplanted by sweeping guttural electronics and an accumulation of upper register sustained notes.

In the surprisingly burgeoning field of cellists who sing, Cetilia is a distinctive one. Alternately penetrating and atmospheric, Used, Broken, and Unwanted is a stimulating listen throughout.



Messiaen – Poemes pour Mi (CD Review)

Olivier Messiaen

Poèmes pour Mi

Bruun Hyldig Duo (Hetna Regitze Bruun, soprano; Kristoffer Hyldig, piano)

Naxos CD 8.573247

Hetna Bruun is billed as a soprano here, but she routinely sings as a mezzo. Given that Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Poèmes pour Mi was composed for a Wagnerian soprano, Marcelle Bunlet, to sing, Bruun’s voice has the perfect combination of requirements to do it justice: a warm vocal color and a mezzo’s timbre with fine control of an extended upper register. Similarly, Kristoffer Hyldig combines traits at the piano, playing with power where needed and acting elsewhere as a reserved colorist. The 1936 composition is a love letter to Messiaen’s first wife Claire Delbos (nicknamed “Mi” because she played the violin and its top string is tuned to “E”). The CD includes another song cycle dedicated to Delbos, Chants de Terre et de Ciel (1938), one that celebrates the birth of their son Pascal in 1937. It is astonishing to be reminded that, even though both of these cycles are from relatively early in Messiaen’s career, they demonstrate most of the signatures of his mature musical language, harmonically and rhythmically. Vocalise-Étude is also included here. Of the three it is the least successfully performed, as it sits a bit higher than Bruun’s comfort zone. Still, all told, this is an impressive disc of Messiaen’s vocal music that reminds us of the prodigious feats he was capable of even early on in his career.

Decca Sound – the Mono Years

In music circles, there has been a lot of debate of late about the current vinyl revival. Are people drawn to LPs because they want a “warmer sounding” recording? Is it the artwork? Or is consumerism gone amok to blame?

If you can get past the heated rhetoric and have it in your budget to buy a hefty CD boxed set, the newly reissued Decca Sound -the Mono Years provides a sense of perspective on the advent of the LP.  Originally touted as “ffrr” – full frequency range recordings – the set includes releases from 1944-’56, as well as essays that help to put them into historical context.

There’s something here for nearly everyone. But I’m particularly drawn to the vintage Stravinsky recordings, including a performance of Petrouchka that appeared on the very first LP recording!

BMOP Plays Scott Wheeler


Crazy Weather

BMOPsound 1038

As evidenced by Crazy Weather, Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s latest recording of music by Scott Wheeler,  the composer really knows his way around the percussive sounds. Even on pieces for strings like the title track, there is the ‘thwack’ of pizzicatos and bow slaps to help propel the proceedings. Pacing is another strong suit of Wheeler’s. The shadowy passages of City of Shadows are balanced by flurried gestures that enliven the music and help to articulate the work’s overall architecture. The outer movements of Northern Lights give the impression of intense and quicksilver slalom runs, while the middle movement, marked “Still and Granitic,” provides a portentous counterpart.

Helen Grime Portrait CD on NMC


Helen Grime

Night Songs

Lynsey Marsh, clarinet; Hallé Orchestra and Hallé Soloists; Sir Mark Elder and Jamie Phillips, conductors

NMC Recordings NMCD 199

Helen Grime is Associate Composer of the Hallé Orchestra. The ensemble has given her a generous portrait CD on NMC with excellent performances of both chamber and orchestral works, all composed in the past seven years. It commences with her Virga (2007), which has enjoyed enormous success; it has been championed by luminary conductors Oliver Knussen, Stéphane Denève, and Pierre Boulez. Hearing the glistening coloristic orchestral palette and unerring sense of pacing – with strong gestures succeeded by passages of fragile delicacy and a coda that beguilingly vanishes into thin air – one can readily understand why it might have attracted such attention. Composed in the same year, her string sextet Into the Faded Air provides a similarly shimmering effect.

The first work I heard of Grime’s live was her Clarinet Concerto in a sterling performance by Fellows at Tanglewood’s 2010 Festival of Contemporary Music. The Hallé’s recording of the piece stands up to that fond memory, with soloist Lynsey Marsh providing fleet cadenzas and unerringly cutting through the forceful accompaniment (again a testament to Grime’s savvy and skilful orchestration).

Composed for the BBC Scottish Symphony, Everyone Sang (2010) is a set of variations on a melody that typifies the linear writing found in Grime’s work: angular yet vivacious. There is counterpoint aplenty here too, with competing passages from the upper and lower registers of the ensemble. Night Songs, a gift for Oliver Knussen’s sixtieth birthday, distills this distinctive language into a taut six minutes of abundant variety. One can certainly hear affectionate nods to some of Knussen’s works, but Grime never stoops to mimicry.

The beginning of Near Midnight (2012), a work composed for the Hallé, finds lower register instruments and the percussion section holding sway. Eventually clarion trumpet calls, flutes, and divided strings are inserted into the proceedings, creating a colloquy between registers and a bevy of traded gestures. The piece’s middle section calms things down, allowing the strings a long, arcing line against which occasional flurries from the other sections interject. Out of this builds a crescendo in which fragmented passages and terse melodic utterances are once again traded between sections of the ensemble. Fluid upward gestures are countered by more earthbound sustained passages. The gradual denouement that concludes the work contains glinting shimmers that vivify the overall fadeout.

Adam Berenson’s Lumen


Adam Berenson
Dream Play Records

Composer/pianist Adam Berenson makes an eclectic array of music: classical compositions, controlled improvisations, electronic music, and jazz. Lumen, his latest release for Dream Play Records, collects two CDs of his works.

Spanning more than two decades of documentation, it features performers Bob Moses, Bill Marconi, Scott Barnum, Eric Hofbauer, and JACK Quartet. Berenson is at the center of the proceedings, playing piano, prepared piano, synthesizers, percussion, and live electronics. Reveling in diversity, Berenson’s variety of approaches yields several compelling pieces. For those who want to sample a bit of these before buying the discs, his Soundcloud page provides a wealth of audio examples. I enjoyed experiencing the mix of music Lumen has on offer.