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Volume 26 Issue 7 - May and June 2021

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Meet some makers (of musical things) - a live filmed operatic premiere of a Handel oratorio?; 20 years of Summer Music in the Garden, short documentary film A Concerto is a Conversation; choirs Zooming in to keep connection live; a watershed moment for bridging the opera/musical theatre divide; and more than 100 recordings listened to and reviewed since the last time.

Density 2036

Density 2036 (2013-2015)/(2016-2017) Claire Chase Corbett vs Dempsey CvsD CD076 (corbettvsdempsey.com) ! Claire Chase is a force. Our modern understanding of contemporary music performance is pushed forward with artists of this calibre. The eminent flutist’s latest release comes as a monumental four-disc statement toward why Chase is one of the world’s most celebrated performers. As one would expect, the execution on this release is extraordinary. That said, expected excellence must not be confused with anything inherently predictable: each piece is delivered with a stunning level of musicianship that demands attention and respect. Titled Density 2036, this release represents the first five years (2013-2017) a of a 24-year project through which Chase will commission new pieces for solo flute each year until the 100th anniversary of Edgard Varèse’s seminal flute composition Density 21.5, written in 1936. The first disc begins with Marcos Balter’s Pessoa for six bass flutes – a piece that embodies a rather meditative atmosphere with shakuhachi-like gestures. There are two pieces by Brazilian-American composer Felipe Lara, the second of which, titled Parábolas na Caverna, is wonderfully mysterious in its richness, drawing the listener into a highly successful soundworld and unusual invocations for the flute. Chase takes command of the extended techniques to such a world-class level that I had to listen several times to believe what was being heard. It is not simply technical fireworks on display that makes Chase’s playing so compelling: it’s technical wizardry combined with a level of care, dedication and nuance that makes a recording like this so important. George Lewis’ Emergent for flute and electronics is a true gem of the repertoire. This highly original music is stunning for its thrilling otherworldliness. An Empty Garlic for bass flute and electronics written by Chinese-born composer Dun Yun is exquisite. It is a lush garden of undiscovered essences producing an irresistible listening experience. The first CD caps off with Chase’s own interpretation of Varèse’s Density 21.5 that may objectively be considered a seminal recording of this early-20th-century masterpiece. We also receive a dynamic and adventurous piece from Dai Fujikura and an engagingly hip work from Francesca Verunelli. Pauline Oliveros’ Intensity 20.15: Grace Chase – a work inspired by a text written by Chase’s grandmother – is 20 minutes of pure ingenuity suspended in a realm beyond imagination. Suzanne Farrin’s The Stimulus of Loss is an expressive and delicate work with an appearance by the ondes Martenot; the playful energy in Tyshawn Sorey’s Bertha’s Lair is a magical landscape with percussive edges; Pauchi Sasaki’s Gama XV: Piece for Two Speaker Dresses makes brilliant use of technology in a highly evocative soundscape where the ears become enveloped within an airy expanse. The fourth CD contains an eight-movement work by Balter, titled Pan, which is a substantial journey inspired by memory. This work embodies a rather theatrical aesthetic and is written with an intense and luminous brilliance and with clever novelty of material. This first installment of Chase’s Density 2036 project is impressive, and a profound affirmation of why Chase is one of the most important champions of contemporary music. Her tremendous musicality and breathtaking command of the flute is dramatic and remarkable. As the CD liner notes remind us, density is a matter of scale; this release deserves 10 out of 10 with any metric I can think of. Adam Scime Per Nørgård & Poul Ruders: Works for Solo Cello Wilhelmina Smith Ondine ODE 1381-2 (naxosdirect.com/ search/ode+1381-2) ! Courageous and captivating, cellist Wilhelmina Smith has released a new album spotlighting Danish composers Per Nørgård and Poul Ruders. This disc makes a welcome sequel to Smith’s previous solo release featuring Finnish cello music by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho. Attractively programmed in two parts, this album opens with three sonatas by Nørgård, followed by Bravourstudien, (L’homme armé Variations) by Ruders. Within the sonatas, the listener gains a chronological sense of expressive storytelling. Beloved amongst string instruments, the cello is predisposed to a masterful narrative ability, epitomizing the perfect solo instrument in a number of ways. It possesses a wide tonal and dynamic range that resonates warmly and reverberantly in multiple environments. When wielded by an expert player such as Smith, the cello can direct the most intimate modes of expression and in turn manifest a certain spaciousness, with majestic soundscapes of impressive import. It is this latter profile that proves most exceptional in Nørgård’s three sonatas; they are immediately striking with an outward sonic expanse. In this bowed string land, capacious vistas prevail. By the third work, subtitled “What - Is the Word!” we remain in awe of darkly pulsing melodies as they haunt our ears, questing after an elusive (collective) Nordic heart. Smith then shifts seamlessly to the whimsical – even impish – soundworld of Ruders. The slightly younger composer of the twain, Ruders is a modern musical maverick; the very same might be said of Smith. Adam Sherkin Echos et résonances Martine Vialatte (piano) CiAR CC003 (ciar.e-monsite.com) ! Debussy’s piano preludes have become staples of the repertoire and with so many fine recordings, it is difficult to say something different – a feat that virtuoso Martine Vialatte achieves with subtle mastery. The phrasing and careful use of the pedals creates a sonorous palette not heard in many recordings of Debussy’s set of Préludes (Premier livre). Also found on this release, aptly titled Echos et résonances, are two pieces by French composer Tristin Murail – a short piece titled Cloches d’adieu et un sourire and the spectral masterpiece, Territoires de l’oubli. In the former, a piece dedicated to Messiaen, chords swing before the listener like memories becoming ever more elusive. In the latter, Vialatte’s delicate touch provides a stunning resonance necessary for this hypnotic and intriguing work. In spite of the composer’s reluctance to be labelled an impressionist, the two pieces by Murail do make for perfect companions to Debussy’s preludes with clearly similar evocations of the natural world. Vialatte delivers world-class interpretations of some of the most resonant works written for her instrument, making for a rich and rewarding listen. Adam Scime Alvin Lucier – Music for Piano XL Nicolas Horvath Grand Piano GP857 (naxosdirect.com/ search/gp857) ! American composer Alvin Lucier has found an impressive exponent in pianist Nicolas Horvath. An artist regarded for a dizzying variety of musical tastes, Horvath is especially celebrated as a leading interpreter of Franz Liszt and yet he has recorded the music of Philip Glass, Cornelius Cardew and Jaan Rääts, to critical acclaim. In his latest release, Horvath dives headlong 42 | May and June 2021 thewholenote.com

into a vast, single-movement work for piano and wave oscillators. He is no stranger to such endeavours, having staged past live performances running up to 12 hours in length. Here, Horvath (via Lucier) offers a sprawling brand of listening experience, supported by “slow sweep pure wave oscillators.” Only single acoustic piano notes are struck throughout, echoing for minutes at a time over a backdrop of acoustic beating. (Two pure waves move up and down with a range of four octaves. The beats are directed by the piano tone’s proximity to pitches from the oscillator.) While the resulting soundworld is undeniably retro, such creations can reward the assiduous listener. This aesthetic urges a holistic mode of attentiveness. One has to empty the ears of preconceived notions of structure, melody – and even of texture. These tones and beats sear through a vacuum of space on their own sort of photon, commingling and naturalistic: unhindered sonic spectres that speak truly. In what realm could such sounds move us most? Imagine that we’re listening amongst the cosmos, unbounded and flung loose into the stars. Adam Sherkin In Your Hands Lavena Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0145 (brightshiny.ninja) ! Another stellar offering from the label Bright Shiny Things, American cellist Lavena’s debut album already feels like a veteran project. Lavena champions powerfully through one perfect piece after another – a diverse and colourful collection, each as interesting and compelling as the next. Beginning with Gemma Peacocke’s Amygdala (“an exploration of the way in which anxiety comes in waves…” – oh, how timely!) this work for solo cello and electronics perfectly delivers its description. The duos by Jessie Montgomery, for cello and violin, and Ted Hearne, a powerful and dynamic setting for cello and percussion, are outstanding compositions beautifully delivered. In between is in manus tuas, a rich and melodic composition in Caroline Shaw’s classic multi-layered chordal style for singing cellist, based on a 16th-century Thomas Tallis motet. The piece Tusuula, by the brilliant and multi-talented American composer Bryce Dessner, anchors the album’s solo content. Written in 2015 during the week Dessner spent as composer-in-residence at Finland’s Meidän Festivaali, Tusuula is destined to become an outstanding addition to the solo cello repertoire. Lavena leaves no doubt of her commitment to every note. Tender and yearning, My Heart Comes Undone, a valentine gift to the artist from her composer husband Judah Adashi, inspired by Björk’s Unravel, gently closes the album. In this iteration it’s played by solo cellist with loop pedal. This is an adventurous yet cohesive mix of compositions that manages to remain totally accessible to the contemporary newbie. Cheryl Ockrant Leo Chadburn – Slower/Talker Apartment House; Quatuor Bozzini; Gemma Saunders Library of Nothing Records CD06 (leochadburn.com) ! The wild card of the British contemporary classical music scene, composer Leo Chadburn (aka Simon Bookish) widens the scope of his musical experimentation with this remarkable new release. Featuring performances by Quatuor Bozzini (Canada) and Apartment House (UK), and the voices of actress Gemma Saunders and Chadburn himself, the album combines minimalism with spoken word in a way that is symmetrical in form, yet inquisitive and uninhibited in its expression. The six compositions included on Slower/ Talker span a decade of the composer’s work. All explore the relationship between found text and its instrumental counterpart, made up of mostly strings and keyboard instruments. The text’s subjects are comprised of lists of a kind – names of moth species (The Indistinguishables), topographical features encircling London (Freezywater), a lexicon of words used in the fragrance industry (Vapour Descriptors) or a stream of consciousness and properties of chemical elements (The Halogens). The words are spoken theatrically or in a musical way, always with restraint. Some are sung, understatedly, such as words of Mao Zedong in X Chairman Maos. The instruments are interweaving in and out, mostly supporting, sometimes questioning, making up meanings of their own. The textures created are beautiful in their sparseness. The result is a floating dialogue that is hypnotizing and luring, stripped of drama, smooth, as if outside of this world. Slower/Talker engages the listener in a subtle way. It is a sonically explorative journey, one worth taking. Ivana Popovic Ghost Light Akropolis Reed Quintet New Focus Recordings FCR292 (newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue) ! I was thinking about the Crash Test Dummies’ The Ghosts that Haunt Me, when the eerie, first moaning microtonal chord from the Akropolis Reed Quintet’s Ghost Light sounded in my headset. Spooky! This fantastic group of woodwind players from Detroit explores life and death at the far end of the musical spectrum; toe-tapping, mysterious, in tune and in synch. The cover art of the disc brought to mind the Dummies’ release from long ago. Look carefully, there’s purpose to the whimsy. All the music was commissioned. Unusual? No, but the instrumentation is: two clarinets (soprano and bass), plus an oboe, a bassoon, and… saxophone! Here is range, here is agility and grace, here are complementary colours, never the cloying homophony of a saxophone quartet or worse, clarinet choir. Listen to the blends intentionally exploited by Michael Gilbertson in the brief and chipper Kinds of Light. That opening moan is from Rites for the Afterlife, a four-movement work inspired by ancient Egyptian rituals guiding the soul from this world to the next. Composer Stacy Garrop’s unearthly timbres of microtonal clusters, executed with clean precision, draw the listener into the mystery. Unpitched whispery effects evoke reed beds by a river. Styx or Nile? Iranian Niloufar Nourbakhsh based Firing Squad on the greatest opening sentence in literature, from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. This melancholy, melodic one-movement work explores mortality and memory. Jeff Scott, French horn of the Imani Winds, wrote the disc’s most substantial work: Homage to Paradise Valley. This is activist music, composed to poems by Marsha Music, commissioned to commemorate the destruction of Detroit neighbourhoods and landmarks taken from the African American community during the mid-20th century, in the name of urban renewal. Max Christie thewholenote.com May and June 2021 | 43

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