Best Chamber Music CDs of 2018

Best Chamber Music 2018 

Prism I

Danish String Quartet

Prism I

ECM Records

Prism I is the first of five CDs by the Danish String Quartet, each featuring a work by Bach, a work by Beethoven, and a complementary piece. The key of E-flat is the central focus of this recording. J.S. Bach’s Fugue in E-flat major (transcribed from Book Two of the Well-Tempered Clavier) is a buoyant opener. Shostakovich’s last string quartet, in E-flat minor, vividly contrasts with it. Shostakovich brings together pensive passages, a funeral march, and what appears to be a reprise of the “knock on the door” from the Eighth Quartet, meant to describe the danger of the secret police to the composer: all intimations of fragility and mortality.

The disc concludes with the first of Beethoven’s late quartets, Op. 127 in, you guessed it, E-flat major. Writing for strings, it  is fascinating to note how these composers have responded to this key. E-flat can be tricky: the instruments only have thirds (G and D), not roots, of the tonic and dominant triads to play as open strings, which lends interesting chordal voicings to these pieces. From the muted angst of the Shostakovich quartet’s opening to the nobility and grandeur embodied by Beethoven’s finale, the Danish Quartet are expressive and authoritative throughout. Looking forward to what else will be refracted through the Prism series.

In the Theatre of Air

Marsyas Trio

In the Theatre of Air

NMC Recordings

A CD of flute, cello, piano trios by female composers (mostly British), In the Theatre of Air is thoroughly engaging.  The title work by Hilary Tann is filled with the calls of various birds, ranging widely from goldfinches and starlings to white owls and wild geese in a poetic manner that, while quite distinct from Messiaen’s birdsong transcriptions, is eminently evocative. Laura Bowler’s Salutem provides a forceful representation of multiple epochs of human civilization, affording the ensemble the chance to let loose: even scream with abandon.

Several Concertos by Judith Weir gives each member of the trio a virtuosic solo turn. York Minster by Georgia Rodgers plays with off-kilter ostinatos, creating a loping groove with incisive punctuations. An arrangement of Thea Musgrave’s Canta, Canta is an all-too fleeting visit with this composer; a miniature finely sculpted with undulating, overlapping lines. Two charming short works by the Nineteenth century American composer Amy Beach round out the program.

In the Theatre of Air will likely provide a number of listeners with an excellent entrée into the music of these must-hear composers. The Marsyas Trio are formidable advocates for contemporary music.


Duo Gazzana

Ravel, Franck, Ligeti, Messiaen

ECM Records

In their third recording for ECM, the violin-piano Duo Gazzana (Natascia and Raffaella) assay one of the great warhorses of the standard repertoire, the César Franck Sonata in A-major. Their rendition, full of life and long-breathed lines, rivals and bests many of the totemic recordings of the piece. The other works on the CD are under-programmed pieces by iconic composers, mostly early in their respective catalogues. Ravel’s Sonata Posthume, composed in 1897 but not published until after his death, is a lovely example of his early incorporation of stylistic hallmarks of Impressionism.  Duo for Violin and Piano, filled with Bartokian ostinatos,  was written by Gyorgy Ligeti to be performed by another famous composer: Gyorgy Kurtag. This is its first recording — it certainly merits a second and a third. Theme and Variations by Olivier Messiaen was written in 1932, but its musical language sounds of a piece with his more mature works, like Quartet for the End of Time and Vingt Regards, both from roughly a decade later. From their very first recording until now, Duo Gazzana have programmed imaginatively: this disc is exceptional both in terms of imagination and execution.

loadbang Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Concerts, New Focus Recording

CC: Cheering for the home team in this post (I collaborated with loadbang back in 2011 on a microtonal setting of “Prayer,” a poem by Joannie Mackowski). 

loadbang
Photo: Anthony Collins

Ten years ago, the members of loadbang met in the Contemporary Performance Program at Manhattan School of Music. A mixed chamber ensemble, consisting of Jeffrey Gavett, baritone, Andrew Kozar, trumpet, William Lang, trombone, and Carlos Cordeiro, bass clarinet, they have since commissioned, composed, and arranged a number of works for their hybrid grouping. They specialize in extended techniques, microtonality, and unconventional notation systems. In short, they are some of the most daring performers at the vanguard of contemporary music.

As in past years, loadbang held a Commission Competition in 2018, awarding First Prize to Cristina Lord: 

Oren Boneh and Yoshiaki Onishi were runners-up.

Earlier this year, loadbang released its latest recording, Old Fires Catch Old Buildings on New Focus.

It features compositions by two of the group’s members – Gavett and Lang – as well as pieces by Paula Matthusen, Reiko Fueting, Taylor Brook, Scott Wollschleger, and Angélica Negrón. Old Fires brings together some of the aforementioned special techniques with new demeanors: the jocularity of Brook’s piece, references to Sciarrino in Lang’s, and the spectral-based and breath-focused work of Fueting.

Below you can find a video  of the title track from the latest CD, as well as listings for the ensemble’s coming season. Happy anniversary loadbang!

 

 

loadbang: Upcoming Events

September 18, 2018: Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA)
loadbang will be performing music by Mark Applebaum, Evan Johnson, Andy Kozar, William Lang, Paula Matthusen, Angélica Negrón, and Heather Stebbins.

September 23, 2018: Longy School of Music (Boston, MA)
loadbang will be performing a faculty recital featuring music by Mark Applebaum, Evan Johnson, Nils Vigeland, Heather Stebbins, Julia Werntz and ZongYun WE.
2pm

October 11, 2018: loadbang Presents: Premieres Vol. 10 at location TBD (NYC)
loadbang will be giving world premieres of works by Daniel Bayou, Anne Hege, Eli Greenhoe, Lisa Atkinson, and Sonja Mutic. 7:30pm

October 17, 2018: Pendulum New Music at University of Colorado, Boulder (Boulder, CO)
loadbang will be performing a recital of works by Mark Applebaum, Eve Beglarian, Taylor Brook, Anne Here, Paula Matthusen, and Sonja Mutic.

October 21, 2018: Chatter New Music Series (Albuquerque, NM)
loadbang will be premiereing two pieces for loadbang and strings by Eve Beglarian and Scott Wollschleger in addition to works by Lisa Atkinson, Eli Greenhoe and Eric Richards.
10am

November 6, 2018: Out of the Box Series at the University of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA)
loadbang will be performing music by Quinn Collins, Paula Matthusen, Angélica Negrón, Paula Matthusen and Paul Schuette.

November 14, 2018: Concert in the Crypt at the Church of the Intercession (New York, NY)
loadbang will be performing music in this remarkable space by composers including Eve Beglarian, Jeffrey Gavett, Evan Johnson, William Lang, Hannah Lash, Paula Matthusen and a NY premiere of a new work for loadbang by Christian Wolff.
7:30pm

November 20, 2018: loadbang Presents: Solos at Arete (Brooklyn, NY) Featuring loadbang’s trumpeter, Andy Kozar. Repertoire TBA
7pm

December 4, 2018: loadbang at 10: Concert #1 ­ The Music That Defines at Roulette (Brooklyn, NY)
loadbang will be performing works that have been cornerstones of the repertoire. Music by Charles Wuorinen, Reiko Füting, Eve Beglarian, Andy Akiho, Hannah Lash, and Alexndre Lusqui. 8:00pm

December 5, 2018: loadbang at 10: Concert #2 ­ loadbang plays loadbang at The Crypt at the Church of the Intercession (NYC)
The members of loadbang have been writing for the ensemble since its inception. This concert will feature works by Carlos Cordeiro, Jeffrey Gavett, Andy Kozar and William Lang.
7:30pm

December 6, 2018: loadbang at 10: Concert #3 ­ Commission Competition Winners at The DiMenna Center’s Cary Hall (NYC)
For many years, loadbang has been holding a yearly Commission Competition. This concert will feature the past winners, Gary Philo, Evan Johnson, David Franzson, Chris Fisher­Lochhead and Ioannis Angelakis
7:30pm

February 11, 2019: CPP @ MSM 10th Anniversary Alumni Showcase at Manhattan School of Music’s Ades Space (NYC)
loadbang formed 10 years ago as students at MSM’s Contemporary Performance Program (CPP). This concert, as a celebration of the program’s 10th year, will feature alumni ensembles including loadbang, MIVOS, Rhythm Method, and TAK.
7:30pm

February 16, 2019: Brandeis University (Waltham, MA) February 17, 2019: Brandeis University (Waltham, MA)

Premiering works of student composers.

March 7, 2019: loadbang Presents: Premieres Vol. 11 at Opera America (NYC)
loadbang will be giving world premieres of works by Chaya Czernowin, Vincente Atria, Andrew Harlan and a NY premiere by Andrew List. 7:30pm

March 19, 2019: loadbang Presents: Solos at Arete (Brooklyn, NY) Featuring loadbang’s vocalist, Jeffrey Gavett. Repertoire TBA
7pm

April 13, 2019: American Opera Projects and Chatter present Hannah Lash’s ‘Stoned Prince’ at SITE Santa Fe (Santa Fe, NM) loadbang will be performing an expanded version of Hannah Lash’s monodrama, Stoned Prince

April 14, 2019: American Opera Projects and Chatter present Hannah Lash’s ‘Stoned Prince’ at Las Puertas (Albuquerque, NM) loadbang will be performing an expanded version of Hannah Lash’s monodrama, Stoned Prince

April 18, 2019: loadbang Presents: Premieres Vol. 12 at Opera America (NYC)
loadbang will be giving world premieres of works by George Lewis, Claus Steffen­Mankopf, Alex Temple and loadbang’s Carlos Cordeiro and Jeffrey Gavett.
7:30pm

This September – Premiere Performances of “A Lady”

Byrne Kozar Duo

 

The Bryne:Kozar Duo – soprano Corrine Byrne and trumpeter Andy Kozar – recently commissioned a quarter-tone piece from me, a setting of Amy Lowell’s poem “A Lady.” They will be premiering the work in Boston on September 9th, one of three performances they will be giving of the piece; the others are in New York and Media, Pennsylvania (see listings below). Also on the program are pieces by Paula Matthusen, Scott Wollschleger, Reiko Füting, Rob Deemer, Scott Worthington and David Smooke.

 

Byrne:Kozar Duo – September Performances

9/9 – A Lady (premiere), Byrne:Kozar Duo, Second Sunday Concert Series, Boston Sculptors Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts; 4 PM.

9/14 – A Lady, Byrne:Kozar Duo, National Opera Center, New York, New York; 7:30 PM.

9/16 – A Lady, Bryne:Kozar Duo, Delaware County Community College, Media PA; 3 PM, $10.

Ljova in Princeton

Lev_Ljova_Zhurbin-photo_by_Mark_Gurevich-20160807-IMG_6331-Edit-red_background_hat-sm
Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin. Photo: Mark Gurevich.

“Sorry About the Mess – Portraits in Music:”

Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin and Friends

Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University

February 27, 2018

Sequenza21.com

By Christian Carey

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY – Violist and composer Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin has been a guest artist this semester at Princeton University’s Atelier. The special courses in this program feature guest artists in interdisciplinary collaboration: student participants can “mirror” or “shadow” their work. Zhurbin’s course, “Grandma’s Russian Painting: Puppetry and Music,” also involves puppeteer Basil Twist.

As part of his residency, on Tuesday, February 27th Zhurbin gave a composer/performer portrait concert. Held in The Forum, at the Lewis Center for the Arts, the event’s vibe was casual; the intensity of the actual performances was anything but.

The core ensemble for the concert was The Secret String Quartet: Zhurbin with violinists Cornelius Dufallo and Jennifer Choi, and cellist Yves Dharamraj. They presented the violist’s first string quartet, “Culai,” an homage to one of the violinists in the Gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks. Boldly polystylistic and exquisitely well scored, it is a formidably challenging piece that hybridizes classical and folk music. All the members of the Secret Quartet amply demonstrated an affinity for the various playing styles contained in the piece. It is rare to hear such a seamless performance of demanding and versatile music.

Secret Quartet was joined by Vasko Dukovski for “Clarinet Quintet: The Refugee,” a poignant work that references the current refugee crisis in the United States and elsewhere. Zhurbin showed a depth of feeling in this piece with corresponding sensitivity to scoring and pacing. It equaled the quartet’s polished performance standard.

Much more music was on offer. A solo with loops provided an impressive sequence of post-minimal layering.  Arrangements of repertoire from Zhurbin’s other ensemble, Ljova and the Kontraband, as well as a set of Yiddish and Russian folk songs, added vocalist Inna Barmash and accordionist Patrick Farrell to the assembled musicians. Both are tremendously talented exponents of Eastern European folk music who supplied performances that encompassed lilting inflections and, where required, burning intensity. An excellent concert; one looks forward to what Zhurbin’s collaboration with Twist will yield.

Danish String Quartet – Last Leaf

Danish String Quartet - Last Leaf

Last Leaf

Danish String Quartet

ECM Records CD

 

The Danish String Quartet is best known for their insightful interpretations of classical and contemporary repertoire. For instance, a 2016 CD for ECM Records presented early works by Ades, Norgard, and Abrahamsen to widespread acclaim. However, back in 2014, the quartet had a best seller on Da Capo, Wood Works, that consisted of arrangements by its members of Scandinavian folk tunes. In 2017 they released Last Leaf, another album of these arrangements and original compositions for ECM.

 

Last Leaf is in many ways even more successful than Wood Works. The arrangements by the Danish String Quartet’s various members are more sure-footed and varied in ensemble deployments. ECM’s sonics are, as usual, top notch, and the space chosen for the recording, a Danish museum, provides exemplary chamber acoustics. In addition, the group has combined classical and folk dances in adroit ways in several places. One of the most fetching and memorable of these is “Nadja’s Waltz” by cellist  Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin. Another is “Shine No More,” a reel-like tune by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen. “Polska from Dorotea,” an arrangement by the full quartet is a wonderful blend of contrapuntal writing and boisterous dance music. Sumptuous sonorities populate the ballad-like “Now Found is the Forest of Roses,” a poignant album closer.

 

Often, string quartets rely on their creativity to provide impetus for interpretation. It is gratifying hear a group that is as interested in the acts of creating arrangements and compositions as it is in providing stalwart renditions of preexisting music. Recommended.

 

-Christian Carey

Best Chamber Recording 2017

Dark Queen Mantra

Terry Riley and Stefano Scodanibbio

The Dark Queen Mantra

Del Sol String Quartet; Gyan Riley, guitar

Sono Luminus

 

On this Sono Luminus CD, Terry Riley’s chamber works are superlatively performed by Del Sol String Quartet. Joined on the title piece by the composer’s son, guitarist Gyan Riley, the group navigates an array of rhythms, many of Spanish origin. Movement titles evoke the Basque region Vizcaino and the paintings of Goya. The final, eponymous, movement builds to an intense conclusion; Gyan Riley incorporates distortion and high volume, matching the whirling dance of the quartet in a rock-inflected finale.

 

Stefano Scodanibbio, who died in 2012, was a friend to both Rileys. Diamond Fiddle Language (Wergo, 2005), his collaboration with Terry Riley, is a standout in both of their respective catalogues. After his passing, Gyan Riley presented a memorial concert of Scodanibio’s music at New York’s The Stone. He invited Del Sol to play the composer’s Mas Lugares ( su Madrigales di Monteverdi), a work they have since made their own. A five-movement homage to the early Baroque master, Scodanibbio takes his source material on all sorts of fascinating of twists and turns. A virtuoso bass-player himself, Scodanibbio wrote prolifically and eloquently for strings. Channeling and transforming early music was only one aspect of his work – he was well known for extended techniques and as a formidable improviser. This is reflected in Mas Lugares … : The piece isn’t a neoclassical take on its source material. Instead, it is a persuasive update with considerable refashioning.

 

Originally premiered by Kronos Quartet, The Wheel and Mythic Birds Waltz is more of a minimalist affair than The Dark Queen Mantra. That said, few of Terry Riley’s pieces for quartet are unadulterated minimalism – apart from In C, his is a polyglot musical language. There are a considerable number of extended chords, folk-like melodies, and jazz-inflected wrinkles amid the repetitions. As such, the piece pairs well with the other two on the CD, and serves as a fitting closer.

The Dark Queen Mantra is Sequenza 21’s Best Chamber Recording 2017.

 

 

Rebekah Heller – Metafagote (Recording review)

tun006_cover-540x0

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.

 

 

 

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.