Barbara Hannigan – La Passione (CD Review)

La Passione

Barbara Hannigan, soprano and conductor; Ludwig Orchestra

Alpha Classics

La Passione is soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan’s second CD with Ludwig Orchestra. Their first collaboration, Girl Crazy, won a 2018 Grammy Award. Like Girl Crazy, the selections on La Passione are disparate, but they cohere into a convincing program. Whether she is performing a solo vocal piece by Luigi Nono, conducting a Haydn symphony, or conducting and singing a spectral work by Grisey, Hannigan is a compelling performer. This is also true of Ludwig Orchestra, who thrive in this setting. 

Luigi Nono’s solo vocal work Cjamila Boupacha eulogizes a dissident who, during the lead up to the French-Algerian war, was raped and murdered. Her story galvanized anti-colonial resistance in the country. The piece is a vocalize that often accesses the extreme upper register of the soprano’s range. Hannigan navigates its wide range and visceral expressive qualities with eloquence and impeccable technique.

It might seem strange to pair a Haydn symphony with a Nono piece, but Symphony No. 49, “La Passione,” explores grief with depth of feeling and dramatic flair. Composed in 1768, it is one of Haydn’s “Sturm und Drang” pieces. Its formal design is that of a church sonata, with an extensive slow movement preceding the sonata allegro second movement. In terms of both form and demeanor, it may have been played at Esterhazy during Holy Week. The first movement extends a mournful demeanor over a quarter-hour, and it is followed by a combative allegro. Hannigan provides a supple reading of the minuet and trio, with the latter finally allowing the listener let-up from f-minor’s pathos, which has thus far dominated the proceedings, with a glimpse, albeit brief, of F-major. The emotional finale truly embodies the “Sturm und Drang” aesthetic, ending the piece in powerful, albeit tragic, fashion.

French composer Gérard Grisey passed away in 1998 at age 52 from an aneurysm, leaving behind a compact but compelling body of work that helped to define the spectral approach to composition. His last completed piece was Quatre Chants pour Franchir les Soueil (“Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold”), premiered posthumously in 1999. In recent years Hannigan has championed Quatre Chants, notably performing it with Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Susanna Mälkki and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. On La Passione, she undertakes the daunting task of both singing and conducting the piece. Of the recorded performance with Ludwig Orchestra, Hannigan has remarked, “It took us to our limits.”

A variety of texts are used: Guez-Ricord’s The Hours of Night, Egyptian Sarcophagi of the Middle Empire, a fragment from sixth century Greek poetess Erinna, and an extract from the Babyloninan Epic of Gilgamesh (courtesy Tim Rutherford-Johnson).  Overtone chords and micro-tunings abound. The instrumentation is distinctive, particularly the percussion cohort that includes fifteen tuned gongs that are played in quick arpeggiations at a low dynamic level, an impressive feat and singular sound. The bass drum has an evocative role as well, serving to toll a memento mori that divides the piece’s several sections. In the first song, “Death of the Angel”, is one of the piece’s signatures, bracing unison lines between soprano and trumpet that shatter an otherwise merely ominous atmosphere. A variety of wind instruments are employed throughout, including saxophones. Hannigan’s singing seamlessly intermingles with the various instruments, moving from sinuous angular lines to altissimo shrieks with myriad gestures in between. After the four songs is a postlude, “Berceuse,” haunting in its comparative reserve with a number of duets between Hannigan and various instruments in floating vocal lines.

An ambitious program with a “can’t miss” piece (the Grisey) and all of it exquisitely executed: recommended.

-Composer Christian Carey is Associate Professor at Westminster Choir College, Editor at Sequenza 21, and regularly contributes to Tempo, Musical America, and other publications. He has created eighty some compositions for orchestra, choir, solo voices, and chamber musicians. His electronic score for Gilgamesh Variations was produced at Bushwick Starr Theatre in Brooklyn, NY.

Brabant Sings Hellinck and Lupi (CD Review)

Lupus Hellinck – Missa Surrexit pastor bonus

Johannes Lupi – Motets

The Brabant Ensemble; Stephen Rice, conductor

Hyperion CD A68304

Lupus Hellinck (1493-1541)  isn’t a household name among mid-Renaissance composers. Based on a new recording of his Missa Surrexit pastor bonus, Hellinck’s work deserves wider currency. Despite having several pieces attributed to him that were actually by more prominent composers (Gombert and Verdelot among them), Johannes Lupi (1506?-1539) has also flown under the radar of many listeners. This excellent compact disc recording by the Brabant Ensemble should do good service in restoring both of them to rightful places of greater prominence. 

Hellinck’s mass juxtaposes imitative lines within tautly constructed movements  – the Agnus Dei, for instance, only has two rather than three sections. The Brabant Ensemble has a well-blended sound, its intonation precise. The counterpoint is well-delineated, especially in the Agnus Dei, where canonic entries proliferate until a luminous cadential close. Particularly lovely are the “Domine Deus,” “Et Resurrexit,” and  “Benedictus” sections, in which duets and trios are employed to good effect. 

Lupi uses a number of motives in each section of a piece that accumulate into large-scale motets.  The ensemble also displays a more daring approach to musica ficta (chromatic accidentals) in the Lupi motets, creating some delightful crunch chords as a result. Several prolonged cadences give the opportunity to play with tempo and dynamics, the Brabant ensemble alternating nimble and expansive approaches, usually to better express the text. The most extensive and impressive of the Lupi pieces is a polyphonic setting of the Te Deum, one of only about sixteen extant examples from the sixteenth century (several of which were alternatim settings). By comparison, there are over a hundred extant Magnificat settings from this time period. Lupi’s penchant for “black notes” often presents quicksilver passages of corruscating counterpoint. Part of the plainchant appears at various points in the piece, including transposed and inverted statements that accumulate into swaths of imitation. Duple and triple meter are also used to delineate sections of the work, with a fast triple meter section concluding the proceedings with a rousing cadential elaboration. 

The Brabant Ensemble sings this music persuasively enough that it stands up besides better known counterparts in the era of its composition, such as Clemens and Gombert. One hopes a second disc of the composers’ works might be in the offing. 

Adés Conducts Adés (CD Review)

Adés Conducts Adés

Kirill Gerstein, piano; Christianne Stotijn, mezzo-soprano; Mark Stone, baritone; 

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Adés, conductor

Deutsche Grammophon CD/DL 4837998

Thomas Adés is in his third year as Artistic Partner of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It has been an extraordinarily fruitful pairing. Adés has performed with the ensemble as a conductor and pianist, contributed new pieces to its repertory, and curated events such as the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood. In the midst of this plethora of activities, the March 2019 premiere of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was a highlight. Both the performance of the BSO under Adés’s direction and the brilliant playing of the work’s soloist, Kirill Gerstein, were widely acclaimed. The DG recording of its premiere confirms the buzz — the concerto is indeed a formidable work and the performance is radiant.

Cast in the traditional three movement structure (fast-slow-fast), the concerto demonstrates Adés’s encyclopedic familiarity with composers of the past, including hat-tips to Prokofiev, Ravel, Liszt, and Stravinsky. Despite revelling in touchstones of eras past, Adés ultimately distills them into a glinting, sharply contoured language with a distinctive character all its own. The first movement contrasts extensive glissandos with clock-like ostinatos. Sustained chorales create an aura of poignancy in the middle movement. The finale juxtaposes upward and downward scalar passages that provide a tilt-a-whirl of intensifying momentum that ends the piece aloft – and on a brilliantly orchestrated major triad to boot. 

In these times of pandemic and social distancing, Adés Totentanz (2013) is a particularly sobering piece. It is based upon the text of a fifteenth century frieze, which depicts all walks of life, from the Pope to an infant, being invited to dance with the Grim Reaper. Baritone Mark Stone embodies Death with a muscular and menacing delivery. Mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn sings the parts of the various people attempting to elude his grasp as heartfelt laments. Adés creates a searing score that allows space for declamation while interpolating ominous interludes, often supplying aggressively syncopated ostinatos that suggest the inexorable dance. Bracing listening, but engaging throughout. Recommended.

Michael Harley – Come Closer (CD Review)

Come Closer

Michael Harley, bassoon

Phillip Bush, piano; Ari Streisfeld, violin, Daniel Sweaney, viola; Claire Bryant, cello

New Focus Recordings

A longtime member of Alarm Will Sound, now on the faculty of University of South Carolina, Michael Harley makes his monograph CD debut with Come Closer on New Focus Recordings. The program features repertoire by living American composers in a variety of styles.

John Fitz Rogers uses overdubs on Come Closer to create a four-bassoon texture in a propulsive minimalist excursion replete with repeated notes. Pianist Phillip Bush joins Harley on several pieces, providing a Gershwin-esque theater jazz accompaniment on Stefan Freund’s Miphadventures and multifaceted textures and styles on Reginald Bain’s Totality. Harbinger of Sorrows by Caleb Burhans is achingly affecting and quite beautiful.The most successful duo is Carl Schimmel’s Alarum’s and Excursions, an energetic and often virtuosic tour-de-force.

The sole solo on the recording, Fang Man’s Lament, is an excellent extended work that involves overtones, vocalization, and microtonal inflections. Come Closer’s final piece, Yonder by Jesse Jones, is for bassoon, string trio, and piano. It combines post-minimal and alt-folk gestures in a finely wrought ensemble work that one hopes will gain wider currency.

Harley has done a double service with Come Closer, presenting music by some of the finest young and mid-career composers currently at work in the United States and substantially enlarging the repertoire for bassoon with his advocacy. Recommended.

Recordings of the Year

Recording of the Year: Terry Riley, Sun Rings, Kronos Quartet, Volti (Nonesuch)

            Terry Riley’s 2002 work Sun Rings simultaneously celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Voyager exploration and soberly reflects on September 11, 2001. Kronos Quartet, longtime collaborators with Riley, the ethereal voices of Volti, and a collection of space sounds are combined to create a fascinating and engaging amalgam. An exhilarating ride through the various styles that Riley has at his disposal.

Best Recordings of 2019 (in no particular order)

  • Terry Riley, Sun Rings, Kronos Quartet, Volti (Nonesuch)
  • Matana Roberts, COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation)
  • Heinz Holliger and György Kurtág, Zwiegespräche (ECM)
  • Andrew Norman, Sustain, Los Angeles Philharmonic – Gustavo Dudamel (Deutsche Grammophon)
  • Bonnie Prince Billy, I Made a Place (Drag City)
  • Igor Levit, Beethoven Piano Sonatas (Sony Classical)
  • Thomas Zehetmair, Sei Solo – The Sonatas and Partitas (ECM)
  • John Luther Adams, Become Desert, Seattle Symphony – Ludovic Morlot (Cantaloupe)
  • Philip Glass, Symphony 5, Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Downtown Voices, Trinity Youth Chorus, Novus NY – Julian Wachner (Orange Mountain)
  • Cipriano de Rore, I madrigali a cinque voci, Blue Heron – Scott Metcalfe (Blue Heron)
  • Johannes Ockeghem, Complete Songs, Volume 1, Blue Heron – Scott Metcalfe (Blue Heron)
  • Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises (Drag City)
  • Dominique Schafer, Vers une présence réelle (Kairos)
  • Leo Svirsky, River Without Banks (Unseen Worlds)
  • Christian Wolff, Preludes, Studies, Variations, and Incidental Music, Philip Thomas (Sub Rosa)
  • Caroline Shaw, Orange (New Amsterdam/Nonesuch)
  • andPlay, Playlist (New Focus)
  • Jan Garbarek and Hilliard Ensemble, Remember Me, My Dear (ECM)
  • Lucas Debargue, Scarlatti: 52 Sonatas (Sony Classical)
  • Cassandra Miller, Songs About Singing, Plus-Minus Ensemble (All That Dust)
  • Sarah Hennies, Reservoir 1 (Black Truffle)
  • Jenny Hval, The Practice of Love (Sacred Bones)
  • Sergei Rachmaninov, Arrival, Daniil Trifonov, Philadelphia Orchestra – Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Deutsche Grammophon)
  • Kali Malone, The Sacrificial Code (iDeal)
  • Stile Antico, A Spanish Nativity (Harmonia Mundi)
  • David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith, Sun of Goldfinger (ECM)
  • Ka Baird, Respires (RVNG)
  • David Byrne, American Utopia (Nonesuch)
  • Þuríður Jónsdóttir, Halldór Smárason, Páll Ragnar Pálsson, and Hafliði Hallgrímsson, Vernacular, Sæun Thorsteinsdóttir (Sono Luminus)
  • Matt Mitchell, Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi)
  • Julian Anderson, Poetry Nearing Silence (NMC)
  • Jaimie Branch, FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem)
  • FKA Twigs, Magdalene (Young Turks)
  • Kris Davis, Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)
  • Angel Olsen, All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)
  • Guided by Voices, Sweating the Plague (GBV)
  • Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Haukur Tómasson, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, and Páll Ragnar Pálsson, Concurrence, Víkingur Ólafsson, Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, Iceland Symphony Orchestra – Daniel Bjarnason (Sono Luminus)
  • Michael Finnissy, Vocal Works 1974-2015, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, James Weeks (Winter and Winter)
  • Emmanuel Nunes, Eivend Buene, Andreas Dohmen, Márton Illés, Chaya Czernowin, Donaueschinger Musiktage 2017 (Neos)
  • Minor Pieces, The Heavy Steps of Dreaming (Fat Cat)
  • Zosha di Castri, Tachitipo (New Focus)
  • Morton Feldman, Piano, Philip Thomas (Another Timbre)
  • Aaron Copland, Billy the Kid and Grohg, Detroit Symphony – Leonard Slatkin (Naxos)
  • Ivo Perelman, Matt Maneri, Nate Wooley, Matthew Shipp, Strings 4 (Leo)
  • Liza Lim, Rebecca Saunders, Chaya Czernowin,  Mirela Ivičević, and Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Speak Be Silent, Riot Ensemble – Aaron Holloway-Nahum (Huddersfield-NMC)
  • Saariaho, Schleirmacher, Werthmüller, Sturm, Ensemble Musikfabrik (Wergo)
  • Josquin and Bauldeweyn, Missa Mater Patris, Missa Da Pacem, Tallis Scholars (Gimell)
  • Antoine Beuger, Traces of Eternity: Of What is Yet to Be (Editions Wandelweiser)
  • Richard Barrett, Timothy McCormack, Liza Lim, World-line, ELISION (Huddersfield NMC)
  • George Perle, Serenades (BMOP)
  • György Kurtág, The Edge of Silence, Susan Narucki (Avie)
  • American Football, American Football LP3 (Polyvinyl)
  • Julia Kent, Temporal (Leaf)
  • The Comet is Coming, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (Impulse)
  • Pan American, A Son (Kranky)
  • William Basinski, On Time Out of Time (Temporary Residence)
  • Shasta Cults, S/T (Important)
  • Harry Partch, Sonata Dementia, PARTCH (Bridge)
  • Robert Erikson, Duos, Fives, Quintet, Trio, Camera Lucida (New World)
  • James Tenney, Changes 64 Studies for 6 Harps (New World)

Stile Antico’s Spanish Nativity (CD Review)

A Spanish Nativity

Stile Antico

Harmonia Mundi 902312

The “Golden Age” of Spanish polyphony (during the sixteenth century) yielded a number of pieces suitable for Christmastime by some of the finest composers of the Renaissance: Tomás Luis de Victoria, Franciso Guerrero, and Cristóbal de Morales. On the a cappella vocal group Stile Antico’s latest disc, A Spanish Nativity, these leading lights are set alongside Alonso Lobo, Mateo Flecha el Viejo, and Pedro Rimonte; all three’s music is worthy of revival.

The dozen singers of Stile Antico create an extraordinarily well-blended sound on Victoria’s great motet “O Magnum Mysterium,” Guerrero’s “Beata Dei genitrix Maria,” and the Lobo mass based upon it. The contrapuntal sections are clearly delineated and the chordal passages are resonant and beautifully tuned. Lobo adeptly parodied the textures of Guerrero’s motet while significantly embellishing the source material. It makes the case for Lobo’s music to be far better known. This appears at least somewhat likely; of late ensembles are making the case both for him and for Mateo Flecha – one is glad to see them having a moment.

Stile Antico is equally adept at the syncopated dance rhythms of Guerrero’s “A un niño llorando,” Rimonte’s “De la piel de sus ovejas,” and Flecha’s “El jubilate” and “Ríu ríu chíu.” The juxtaposition of motet and villancico (a ‘peasant song’) shows the range that Guerrero was able to employ in his work. Flecha was the premiere purveyor of “Ensaladas,” (yes, salads), quodlibets of secular songs that are nearly always about the nativity. Those programmed here are among his most famous Ensaladas.

The recording closes with a beautiful selection, Morale’s motet “Cum natus esset Jesus.” Built around a canon between the alto and soprano, its technical rigor is no impediment to beautifully flowing lines and deftly crafted cadences.

A Spanish Nativity is highly recommended, as is Stile Antico’s other 2019 release, In A Strange Land – Elizabethan Composers in Exile, which features music by recusant Catholic composers during the time of Elizabeth I. The ensemble has had quite a year and one waits expectantly for their next project in the studio – as well as their next concert tour of the United States.

-Christian Carey

Vienna Boys Choir at Carnegie Hall

Photo: Lukas Beck.

Vienna Boys Choir

Carnegie Hall

December 8, 2019

By Christian Carey

NEW YORK – On Sunday, the Vienna Boys Choir performed a Christmas program at Carnegie Hall. It included much standard Christmas fare, both carols and pops selections. However, there were also a number of more substantial pieces, both Renaissance polyphony and 20/21st century music. The superlative musicianship of both the choir and its director/pianist Manuel Huber were impressive throughout, and the flexibility in navigating the various styles of the programmed music seamlessly was noteworthy. 

Although the membership rotates through some hundred members at a given time, with various touring groups and educational activities, the sound of the choir remains distinctive. Unlike English boys choirs, the sound up top is narrower yet retains a bell-like consistency. Several members of the group are in the midst of their voices changing, which allowed for tenor and baritone registers to be accessed in select places. The retention of adolescents not only allows for the group’s larger compass, it is also a compassionate way to treat young people, flouting the long tradition of dismissing choristers whose voices have “broken.” 

The choir entered from offstage singing plainchant. This was followed by a selection of Latin church music by Palestrina, Duruflé, Salazar, and Verdi. The latter piece was the most taxing on the program and the singers navigated it with aplomb. Gerald Wirth has long been the music director for Vienna Boys Choir, arranging and composing pieces for the group. The Sanctus-Benedictus from his Missa-apostolica showed the choir’s voices to best advantage. Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer’s pentatonic vocalization of Gamelan sounds was another winning selection. A nod to America included “I Bought Me a Cat” from Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, and Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm. On the pops selections, choirmaster Manuel Huber provided jaunty accompaniments at the piano with cocktail jazz embellishments.

The second half of the program was divided between carols and pops selections. Es ist ein Rose entsprungen, Adeste Fideles, O Holy Night, and others were performed with gossamer tone and considerable musicianship, putting paid the many stolid renditions one must endure during the holiday shopping season. A new carol to me, Es Wird sho glei dumpa, from Upper Austria, will certainly feature in my own Christmas performances in the future. 

The closing set of pops numbers included “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – it was once again impressive to hear the change in tone the choir was able to adopt between stylistic margins of the program. The inclusion of “Let it Snow,” which is more suggestive than the other pops tunes, marked a questionable choice. Ending with “Stille Nacht” made far more sense for this fine group of young singers.

-Christian Carey

Tallis Scholars: new CD, Concerts in Princeton and New York

Now in their forty-sixth year of singing, the Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips, have long made an annual December concert at Church of St. Mary the Virgin in midtown Manhattan a stop on their winter tour. Part of Miller Theatre’s Early Music Series, these concerts have focused on Renaissance polyphony, but there have also been some noteworthy new works on the programs. They frequently program the music of Arvo Pärt. Last year’s concert featured the premiere of a piece for the Tallis Scholars written by Nico Muhly.

However, this year an imaginative program, titled “Reflections” is on offer that interweaves selections based on different liturgical sections, bringing together composers from England and on the Continent active throughout the Renaissance as well as twentieth century French composers Francis Poulenc and Olivier Messiaen.

The group is nearing the completion of its edition of Josquin’s Masses. Their latest recording of Missa Mater Patris and Missa Da Pacem (Gimell CD, 2019), presents pieces whose attribution has been the matter of some controversy. The former mass is based on music by Brumel, which would be the only such borrowing by Josquin, contains some uncharacteristic blocks of homophony at strategic places and fewer of the composer’s signature imitative duos. So, is it a misattribution? Without stating anything categorically, in his characteristically erudite liner notes Phillips suggests the Brumel connection might place the mass in 1512 or 1513, shortly after Brumel’s death as an homage to a composer friend; this would make it one of the last two mass settings we have by Josquin. The source material might help to account for the different approach.

Whether Josquin wrote it or someone else, Missa Mater Patris contains some much fine music that is superlatively sung on the Gimmell CD. The Hosanna sections of the Sanctus and Benedictus, borrowing cascades in thirds from the Brumel motet, is both fleet and exuberant. The Agnus Dei III is another section where the contributions of Brumel are expertly integrated.

Phillips relates that, from the nineteenth century to relatively recently, Missa Da Pacem was held up as an example of the Josquinian style. Recent discoveries have suggested another author, Noel Bauldeweyn (Beauty Farm recently released a fine disc of this lesser known composer’s masses). Phillips is not entirely willing to concede that Da Pacem isn’t Josquin’s, he instead mentions passages that seem to point to one and then the other author and leaves the listener a chance to judge – and savor – for themselves.

CONCERT DETAILS

PROGRAM

Salve Regina

Chant: Salve Regina

Padilla: Salve Regina

Poulenc: Salve Regina

Cornysh: Salve Regina

Ave Maria

Chant: Ave Maria

Cornysh: Ave Maria

Poulenc: Ave Maria a10 (arr. Jeremy White)

Miserere

Allegri: Miserere

Croce: Miserere Mei

O sacrum convivium

Tallis: O sacrum convivium

Messiaen: O sacrum convivium

Magnificat

Byrd: Magnificat from Short Service

Victoria: Magnificat Primi Toni 

Princeton, New Jersey, USA

McCarter Theatre

December 13, 2019, 8 PM

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, USA

December 14, 2019, 8 PM

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.