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.

 

 

 

Zodiac Trio (CD Review)

Zodiac Trio

Dreamtime

Zodiac Trio

Kliment Krylovskiy, clarinet
Vanessa Mollard, violin
Riko Higuma, piano

Blue Griffin Records CD/download

Formed at Manhattan School of Music in 2006, the Zodiac Trio have been ambitious in their commissioning projects. Joined by guest cellist Ariel Barnes, on their second album Dreamtime they tackle a program consisting entirely of 21st century music.

The CD features two substantial commissioned works: Lamentations, by Richard Danielpour, and Andrew List’s Klezmer Fantazye.  As one might well expect, both use the scalar patterns and gestural language of Klezmer, Danielpour in plaintive fashion and List with greater exuberance. On Aboriginal Dreamtime, List uses that culture’s creation myth as a starting pointing for an evocative piece. The group switches gears on John Mackey’s Breakdown Tango. Joined by Barnes, the Zodiac demonstrates ample virtuosity, playing with rhythmic verve and tight knit ensemble coordination.

Dreamtime is capped off with Across the Universe, a twelve-piece collection featuring one-minute pieces all inspired by signs of the Zodiac. It is a great way to put a distinctive stamp on the commissioning process (each piece responds to its particular sign thoughtfully and imaginatively) and to provide a “taster platter” of several composers’ styles. Standouts include Stanley Hoffmann’s lilting dance for Capricorne, James Romig’s delicately mysterious Virgo, John McDonald’s piquant Scorpio, and Francine Trester’s bumptious Aries. 

One hopes that Zodiac will continue commissioning. Dreamtime demonstrates that they excel at bringing new compositions to life.

 

March 15: Quintet 2 Premiere at Tulane

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My Quintet 2 will be premiered Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 in Dixon Recital Hall at Tulane University by East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, conducted by Jean-Philippe Wurtz. If you are near Tulane, you should check out ECCE’s whole residency (March 11-17). It features composers Erin Gee, Yu-Hui Chang, Isabel Mundry, and Chaya Czernowin and guest vocalist Amanda DeBoer Bartlett.

Quintet 2 will be repeated twice on the East Coast in May: on the 3rd at DiMenna Center for Classical Music and on the 6th at Le Laboratoire in Cambridge, MA.
East Coast Contemporary Ensemble

Program note: Quintet 2

Quintet 2 will be premiered later this month at Tulane University by East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, conducted by Jean-Philippe Wurtz.

Quintet 2 – by Christian Carey (2016)

Quintet 2 was composed for East Coast Contemporary Ensemble and conductor Jean-Philippe Wurtz at the request of John Aylward, their artistic director. The quintet is cast in a single movement that is about fifteen minutes in duration. It utilizes the group’s core instrumentation – oboe, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano – marrying their respective timbres and techniques in a variety of combinations and interactions.

First stated in the clarinet, there is a tune that reappears in different guises, treated as a lyrical melody that travels from instrument to instrument and as a contrapuntal building block in faster passages. Towards the end of the piece, we begin to hear melodies being shaded microtonally, with quartertones appearing, notated in the Maneri-Sims (New England Microtonal School) fashion. This is contrasted with chromatic verticals that become increasingly triadic. The piece ends with a widely spaced version of a major triad with chromatic extensions.

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Christian Carey is Associate Professor of Music Composition, History, and Theory at Westminster Choir College of Rider University. His music has been performed by ACME, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Atlantic Chamber Orchestra, C4 Choral Ensemble, the Choral Fellows at Harvard’s Memorial Church, Chamber Players of the League of Composers/ISCM, loadbang, Locrian Chamber Players, Manhattan Choral Ensemble, New York New Music Ensemble, Righteous Girls, and the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra. Recordings of his music have appeared on New Focus Records and Perspectives of New Music/Open Space.

 

 

 

Jürg Frey – Portrait CD (review)

Jürg Frey

Musiques Suisses CD

Mondrian Ensemble

Daniela Müller, violin; Petra Ackermann, viola; Karolina Öhman, cello; Tamriko Korsaia, piano

Konus Quartet

Fabio Oerhli, Jonas Tschanz, alto saxophones; Christan Kohi, tenor saxophone; Stefan Rolli, baritone saxophone, alto saxophone

Jürg Frey, famous as a member of the Wandelweiser Collective, is given an excellent portrait CD on the Musiques Suisses imprint. Memoire, horizon for saxophone quartet is the longest piece on the disc, clocking in at a little over half and hour. It features sustained lines for saxophone, gradually shifting from consonant verticals to chords with added dissonant notes that spice up the proceedings.

Six pieces on the program are from the Extended Circular Music series. The chordal structures here are often more consonant, but there still is a slow moving pace to the proceedings. That said, the sounds never fully die away; there isn’t the kind of space for silence that one hears in some other composers’ music. Instead, chords gently saturate the sound space, treading evenly without a sense of dynamically articulated direction. It is hard to select standouts, as these feel “of a piece,” but I am quite fond of Extended Circular Music No. 2, for solo piano; it has some beautiful sonorities.

The second longest piece on the disc, Architektur der Emfindungen, for piano quartet, once again finds the piano initially taking the lead, providing upper register melodies and repeated notes while the strings supply undulating lines and chordal accompaniment. Eventually, roles reverse, and the strings get their turn in the lead while the piano plays a chordal accompaniment. By the piece’s conclusion, the transformations in ensemble groupings and instrumental roles have left us amid a panoply of changes in role, direction, and instrumental coloration. A fascinating introduction to a composer with a strong individual voice.