5 months ago

Volume 26 Issue 8 - July and August 2021

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Last print issue for Volume 26. Back mid-September with Vol 27 no 1. And what a sixteen-month year it's been. Thanks for sticking around. Inside: looking back at what we are hoping is behind us, and ahead to what the summer has to offer; also inside, DISCoveries: 100 reviews to read, and a bunch of new tracks uploaded to the listening room. On stands, commencing Wednesday June 30.

from the Pacific

from the Pacific Northwest, often incorporating the vibrant sounds of nature with the pastoral timbre of the oboe, oboe d’amore and English horn. Although each composition brought different perspectives of the oboe family’s tonal variety, the one that really stood out was the final work Silkys, co-created in 2020 by Catherine Lee and Juniana Lanning. Silkys depicts the lifecycle of the domestic silk moth with the integration of field recordings of natural sounds. You can hear the entire metamorphosis from the very beginnings of life, crawling around as a caterpillar, to being sealed in a cocoon hearing the faint world around outside, to developing and trying new wings, to finally emerging a free moth. Lee has cleverly paired this composition with images, creating a video to enhance the experience. Lee showcases her beautiful dark tone on all three instruments and her mastery of 20th-century techniques. Remote Together is a direct reflection of current society and nature’s ability to adapt to surrounding circumstances. Melissa Scott Alan Hovhaness – Selected Piano Compositions Şahan Arzruni Kalan 773 ( ! Drawing upon his friendship with the composer and what he describes as “stacks of handwritten manuscripts,” Armenian pianist-ethnomusicologist-media personality Şahan Arzruni performs ten works by Alan Hovhaness, several unpublished, here receiving their first recordings. Hovhaness (1911-2000) was born in Massachusetts to an Armenian father and Scottish mother. Many of his hundreds of compositions reference Armenian historical and musical traditions. Embracing as well the melodic, rhythmic, modal and colouristic resources of other diverse cultures, Hovhaness’ music evokes ritualistic processions, incantations and dances in moods ranging from lamentation to jubilation. This disc contains 34 tracks, nearly all under three minutes long. In the five-movement Invocations for Vahakn, Op.54, No.1, percussionist Adam Rosenblatt adds Chinese drums, Burmese gongs, cymbal, conch and thunder sheet to the suitably aggressive music. (Vahakn was an ancient Armenian war god.) Rosenblatt rejoins Arzruni in the eightmovement Sonata Hakhpat, Op.54, No.2. (The Hakhpat monastery complex in Armenia is a UNESCO World Heritage site, dating from the tenth century.) Unlike its martial companion piece, it begins with slow, belllike chords; a pensive Pastoral and mournful Aria provide repose between mesmerizing, propulsive dances. Of the solo piano works, my special favourites are the quirky Suite on Greek Tunes, the sensuous Mystic Flute and the glowing, beautiful Journey into Dawn. I enjoyed the entire CD, though, along with all of Hovhaness’ music that I’ve heard throughout over 60 years of appreciative listening to it on disc. Quite simply, I’m a fan! Michael Schulman Eric Lyon: Giga Concerto String Noise; Greg Saunier; International Contemporary Ensemble New Focus Recordings FCR293 ( ! Frenetic energy and whirling pastiche permeate throughout Eric Lyon’s Giga Concerto. Performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), with guest soloists, this sixmovement work is certainly a fun ride. The composer notes that the music of Brahms is decidedly “gloomy” and aims to avoid this attribute in his own music. The Giga Concerto does exactly that: the obvious polar opposite of gloom. The listener is treated to pure giddiness as Lyon enjoys many jaunty moments in each movement of the piece. The joviality of mood is unrelenting with many sarcastic string slides and punchy percussive romps. This release is truly a carnival dance in a not-to-distant land. The International Contemporary Ensemble, soloists Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris (also known as the duo String Noise) and percussionist Greg Saunier execute the piece with supreme musicianship and technical mastery. The Giga Concerto is wonderfully buoyant – the perfect listen on a gloomy day. Adam Scime 113 Composers Collective – Resistance/ Resonance Duo Gelland New Focus Recordings FCR291 ( ! Duo Gelland is comprised of virtuoso violinists Cecilia and Martin Gelland. In their nearly 30-year history, the duo continues to champion contemporary music to a seemingly inexhaustible degree. In the duo’s latest release titled Resistance/ Resonance, members of the 133 Composers Collective were commissioned to provide the six pieces on the album. Each piece delivers a wide-ranging approach to the violin duet from a noisebased aesthetic to shimmering landscapes produced by string harmonics. Jeremy Wagner’s Oberleitung is a jagged study in electric gestures. Michael Duffy offers contrast with airy tones and gentle threads. The nostalgia-laden Autochrome Lumière by Joshua Musikantow offers a more melodic approach matched with prickly taps of the bow on the instruments. Sam Krahn’s piece, the title track, is an engaging juxtaposition of different characters that provide interesting contrast and occasional togetherness. Difficult Ferns by Adam Zahller is a decidedly microtonal work filled with unstable and phantom imagery. The last track on the disc, cistern . anechoic . sonolucent by Tiffany M. Skidmore, creates a distant shadow aura amid slow-moving whispers – a piece that is magnificent in its understated quality. Duo Gelland has produced yet another astounding example of their talents, and they handle each piece with an expressive and technical mastery that is not to be missed. Adam Scime Caeli Bára Gísladóttir; Skúli Sverrisson Sono Luminus SLE 70020 ( ! The duo of Icelandic bass players Bára Gísladóttir and Skúli Sverrisson has documented their finely tuned working relationship with Caeli. Deep explorations of sounds from Gísladóttir’s double bass are sculpted by Sverrisson’s skillful mastery of the electric version of the instrument, shaded by the subtle blues and greys of his electronics. Long expansive bowed scrapes are pushed to the edge, just hanging on before bubbling over to the world of overtones and edgy depths of deep space. This music is definitely not for everyone, but I found the work expressive and beautiful. More along the lines of a Deep Listening experience, it is enigmatically shy of information either on the album or the press kit, so I am going to assume they are improvisations curated and finely edited to their current state. Caeli is exquisite in its expression of layered textural nuances created between the partnership of the acoustic double bass and the electric bass and processing. This is an album that is at times darkly overbearing while simultaneously free and endless; it is without borders, almost frightening in the way one might dream about falling off the edge of a flat Earth or losing sight of the mothership while floating in space. The length of the double album only enhances the endlessness. 46 | July and August 2021

With each track delicately balanced and compositionally complete, this is an album for those who are into darkly cinematic ambient sounds. Put on some good headphones, sit in the dark and enjoy the ride. Cheryl Ockrant Gunnar Andreas Kristinsson – Moonbow Siggi String Quartet; CAPUT Ensemble; Duo Harpverk Sono Luminus DSL-92246 ( ! Who’s up for some sombre Nordic music? Icelandic composer Gunnar Andreas Kristinsson’s moody compilation matches the colour palette on the CD jacket: black, white and muted earth tones. Essentially this is all chamber music, even the opening cut, Sisyfos, a concerto for clarinet and small orchestra, featuring Ingólfur Vilhjálmsson with the CAPUT Ensemble. Vilhálmsson has a wildly unconventional sound and an impressive technical range. Portraying the protagonist in the myth, his part struggles against the accompaniment: descending scales, all at varying speeds and tonalities. The soloist rolls phrase after phrase up this sonic mountainside. Based on an Icelandic folk song, Patterns IIb is quite playful by comparison, but it’s still serious play. Reworked from its original scoring, Kristinsson replaced the gamelan ensemble with three mallet instruments, alongside the original violin and bass clarinet. Moonbow, for string quartet, depicts the meteorological phenomenon of an arc surrounding the moon. The opening phrases purport to mirror the arc’s shape; the musical ideas fragment and spin. Kristinsson means to depict the experience of seeing this nocturnal arc-en-ciel; one might be dreaming of flying in ever-narrowing circles upwards, reaching for the thing, then waking suddenly to silence. Mathematical influence reappears in PASaCAgLiaB, originally a duo for harp and percussion with bass clarinet added later. Within the Baroque form, Kristinsson references the numeric pattern of Pascal’s triangle. A slow sad dance grows more and more manic, before reverting to resigned calm. It’ll take a few more listens before I can detect either a passacaglia format or a triangle. Roots, the final work in three movements for chamber orchestra, reacquaints one with an old friend, the overtone series. It gets pretty funky, especially the third bit. Actually left me smiling! Max Christie Archetypes Third Coast Percussion; Sérgio & Clarice Assad Cedille CDR 90000 201 ( ! For 15 years, Grammy Awardwinning Third Coast Percussion has been praised for the “rare power” (The Washington Post) of its records filled with “an inspirational sense of fun and curiosity” (Minnesota Star-Tribune). The Chicago-based quartet currently serves as ensemble-in-residence at Denison University. On Archetypes Third Coast has invited celebrated Brazilian guitarist Sérgio Assad and his vocalist/composer/pianist daughter Clarice Assad to collaborate on an album with an intriguing conceit: to conjure up a dozen contrasting universal human archetypes in music. In 12 movements, each from three to just over five minutes, archetypal figures such as magician, jester, rebel, lover, hero and explorer take their turn at the thematic centre. Instrumentally and stylistically the music comfortably inhabits a double frame: contemporary percussion chamber music is infused with harmonically adventurous Latin jazz, acoustic guitar and occasional vocalise. The results of this genuine collaboration can be extraordinary. Archetypes IV: The Lover for instance, in its restless and surprising modulations, rippling guitar and marimba arpeggios counterpointed by spare vibraphone and piano melodies floating above, seems to be reaching for something just beyond reach. The 11 other movements evoke other moods and effects, characterized by innovative arrangements and brilliant playing. Composed by Sérgio, Clarice, members of Third Coast, or jointly, the suite flows organically, exuding musical confidence and virtuosity. With its mix of classical and jazz elements, the 20th-century music fusion term third stream comes to mind – and here in a good way. Archetypes is an unexpectedly delightful musical discovery. Andrew Timar Curtis K. Hughes – Tulpa Boston Percussion Group; Sentient Robots; Various Artists New Focus Recordings FCR298 ( ! Curtis K. Hughes’ music is redolent of mystery, wit and adventure, set in a world that is both concrete and abstract. Its harmolodic and rhythmic architecture is expressive, and because it is inspired by the humanity around him (real and imagined) it is never still and dances in graceful movements that are often not simply balletic, but also dizzying. The repertoire on Tulpa adds another exciting layer to the character of Hughes’ musical oeuvre, being as it is, evocative of a kind of otherworldly erudition. The title of every work represented here comes not only with an aura of rhythmic mystery but always leads the listener to a luminous musical world, often dappled with many-splendoured tone-textures. Beginning with the solitary majesty of flagrant, we soon find ourselves surrounded by a whole battery of percussion colourists nestling cheek by jowl in antechamber. But Hughes, being a ubiquitous master of surprise, constantly switches tonal and structural gears in the music that follows. Percussion instruments give way to the gravitas of the bass clarinet and moaning cellos; back again to the rich woody tones of the clarinet and piano before he turns his attention – and most definitely ours as well – to a large, grander palette in the fourpart suite, tulpa. Through this, the album’s apogee, Hughes demonstrates an uncommon character which is inward looking and outward bound, woven together with melodic, harmonic and rhythmical elements, and unexpected colours and patterns sweeping through everything musical. Raul da Gama A Gentle Notion Hanick Hawley Duo Il Pirata Records ( ! A Gentle Notion, the title work for this disc by clarinetist Richard Hawley and pianist Conor Hanick, is a short meditation by Jennifer Higdon. It’s sweetly tonal and at two minutes plus, sweetly brief as well. It sets the stage for all the works on this release. The duo open with Aaron Copland’s transcription of his Violin Sonata, written in what Copland refers to as his “plain period,” the early 1940s. I enjoyed wrestling with the piece myself, but to my mind it belongs on the stack of transcriptions more elegant in ideal than action: Schubert’s Arpeggione, the Franck Sonata for Violin (or flute?) and the Prokofiev Sonata for Flute (or violin?). Copland transposed it down a major third to ease high tessitura, making better use of the clarinet’s baritone voice; I hear Hawley suffer some difficulty preventing pitch from rising in the middle range, a forgivable but nagging flaw. There are also passages that are more suited to the bow than the tongue. Higdon’s two-movement Sonata, originally July and August 2021 | 47

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