Tenor Benjamin Brecher and pianist Robert Koenig have created a sweet jewel of a CD for MSR Classics. Forgotten Liszt: Songs for Tenor and Piano is a 2016 release with fascinating pretext and unusual programming. At the suggestion of Liszt scholar Dr. Michael Vitalino who discovered a large swath of Liszt’s art songs that had fallen out of the repertoire, Brecher and Koenig set about recording 12 of them. A few, like the three Sonetti del Petrarca are not unfamiliar to singers and audiences but most, especially early first versions of songs, have been dusted off and prepared for this recording, fomenting fresh insight into Liszt’s tastes and temperament. Six songs on this disc are world premieres.
Benjamin Brecher is Professor of Voice and Area Head for the Voice Program at the University of California Santa Barbara. Well known to Opera Santa Barbara audiences, Brecher maintains a busy opera and concert schedule in the United States and beyond as well. A graduate of The Juilliard Opera Center, New England Conservatory of Music and Bowling Green State University Brecher joined the UCSB music faculty in 2008. Robert Koenig is Professor of Keyboard and Chair of the Department of Music at UC Santa Barbara specializing in collaborative piano and chamber music. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, he enjoys an active career nationally and internationally as a soloist and collaborative pianist for many of the world’s great musicians. He has been on the faculty at UC Santa Barbara since 2007.
The first two art songs on Forgotten Liszt are world premiere recordings; first versions by the composer of Angiolin dal Biondo crin with a lovely piano intro and sweet timbre to Brecher’s mid-high voice and Die Lorelei, favored with clear diction and delicacy in voicing, clean high notes with perfect intonation on Brecher’s part, Koenig’s keyboard collaborations bringing moods and images vividly to life. A third, much later version of Die Lorelai, now using a French translation (La Loreley) is next up - the writing more complex and exposed for both voice and piano, including challenging but glorious high tessitura moments for tenor, fantastically expressive writing for piano and a dramatic last couple of bars for tenor, exquisitely realized by Brecher.
Three Petrarch Sonnets are likely the most recognizable to listeners because of their original iterations as solo piano pieces. Refreshing to hear with Petrach’s texts, Sonnets 47, 104 and 123 are beyond song in scope and imagination, more like bravura grand arias for both instruments. Brecher and Koenig make a particularly good case for the last, I’vidi in terra angelici costumi (I behold on earth the habits of angels). A delicate sound soufflé suits Petrarch’s words, “and air and wind were filled with sweetness.” The opening piano solo spreads a huge spell, while Brecher’s mid/low register is given opportunity to resonate - rich and evocative. A lovely piano finish to this sonnet caps the set- moving, whispering, distant, marvelous.
Six more songs finish out the disc - four are world premiere recordings. Dr. Vitalino’s CD notes make for informative reading as he describes the histories of Elegie, Quand tu chantes bercée, Jeanne d’Arc au bucher, Wenn die letzten Sterne Bleichen, Vergiftet sind meine Lieder and Die Tote Nachtigall. Of the six, Jeanne d’Arc au bucher to text by Alexandre Dumas is the most powerful. A vivid narrative, Jeanne laments her fate to be burned at the stake, “and yet I saved France.” Brecher’s voice is full and expressive throughout this last set of songs, but particularly operatic here. A heartbreaking story, Die Tote Nachtigall, the last piece on this revelatory Liszt CD is superbly realized by both artists - magnificent.
Learn more about Neil Douglas-Klotz and his Prayers of the Cosmos
Canadian composer, lyricist and arranger Joanna Estelle has arrived at an artistic Rubicon with the 2018 Navona Records release of her first CD Emergence. The title is not cursory, for it distills in one word “The process of coming into being” that has been Estelle’s personal and artistic journey of the past several years.
Estelle was in her forties before she took the courageous decision to free herself of the expectations of others and soar with the angels. Completing her undergraduate degree in music in 2009 at the University of Ottawa, an achievement undertaken over a span of eight years while working her day job as an accountant for the Canadian government, Estelle graduated summa cum laude on the Dean's list as winner of the Faculty of Art's silver medal. She quit her job with the government that same year and began graduate study at York University in Toronto. She is currently pursuing further studies at the doctoral level.
Joanna Estelle has served on the National Board of Directors for the Association of Canadian Women Composers (2004-2014) and is a member of the Founding Board of Ottawa New Music Creators. Her Joanna Estelle Commemorative Scholarship Fund is a bequest to the University of Ottawa to encourage other women to find their musical voices.
Talent, training, study, perspicacity, faith and above all discipline and self-esteem are immediate gut takeaways from this marvelously diverse sampling of Joanna Estelle’s work. Collaborative assistance from colleagues John Gordon Armstrong (arranger), Laurence Ewashko (baritone), Morgan Strickland, Susan Elizabeth Brown and Laura Dziubaniuk (soprano), Brandon Wilkie and Roland Gjernes (cello), Frédéric Lacroix (piano), and two choral ensembles, Ewashko Singers and Capital Chamber Choir bring distinct cachet and color to each of the pieces on this premiere disc.
Pianist Frédéric Lacroix is featured in several chamber ensemble pieces on the CD, but is given a lovely opportunity to shine as a soloist in 10 brief and charmingly simple Umori (Moods), the first set of pieces on the Emergence CD. Soprano Morgan Strickland has a voice of genuine purity and round tone, handsomely displayed in three Estelle songs of great beauty; Susannah’s Lullaby (This is a Face of Love) with Lacroix, Language of a Rose and Qu’est-ce que c’est la vie? (Tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales with cellist Brandon Wilkie and pianist Lacroix. The three artists soar together quite naturally, the result of Estelle’s songwriting craft and elegant sense of style.
Another beautifully fashioned song in folk character Moyi mamij (For My Mother) brings together soprano Laura Dziubaniuk and baritone Laurence Ewashko - two superbly balanced instruments - for a heartfelt and emotionally powerful vocal duo, sustained admirably by cellist Wilkie and pianist Lacroix (nice writing for the two). Soprano Susan Elizabeth Brown and cellist Roland Gjernes bring a clean, contemplative, even fragile Bach-like delicacy to Estelle’sAbwoon d’bwashmaya (Aramaic Lord’s Prayer).
John Gordan Armstrong’s wonderful arrangement for chorus and soloist of Estelle’sWater Canticle (For Margaret Trudeau) is a beauty. Armstrong’s sensitivity to Estelle’s aesthetic - a perfect synergy between the two is apparent - has created an exceptional collaborative result, performed nicely by the Ewashko Singers, featuring tenor Robert Ryan with pianist Aude Urbancic.Likewise, Armstrong’s arrangement for the Capital Chamber Choir of Estelle’s Child of the Manger. The Capital Chamber Choir also performs Estelle’s La chanson de ton coeur (The Song of Your Heart) with pianist Sonya Sweeney.
The last work on Joanna Estelle’s Emergence CD is also its most complex and satisfying. Song for Abwoon offers an 11 minute overview of Estelle’s compositional ambitions and orchestration skills. Written for chorus (Ewashko Singers), soprano solo (Brown), cello (Wilkie), two flutes (Jeffrey Miller,Pascale Margely), oboe (Frédéric Hodgson), violin (Brigitte Amyot), viola (Kevin James), cello (Jean-François Marquis) and bass (Peter Kilpatrick)Song for Abwoon hints at things to come from this unique and now fully liberated musical voice.
Music Lovers cherish Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) for his powerfully visual orchestral tone poems The Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals. His works for chamber orchestra also captivate the imagination by achieving wondrous levels of orchestral imagery. Respighi’s flair for sound color animates The Birdsand Brazilian Impressions, which reimagine the already descriptive melodies of Renaissance and Baroque animist composers. Ancient Airs and Dances, three chamber orchestra suites inspired by lute pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries conjure technicolor daydreams of courtly life in Respighi’s brilliantly fleshed out orchestrations.
Considering his popularity as a colorist, it’s a bit puzzling Respighi’s not immodest portfolio of vocal and instrumental chamber music has been programmed less frequently. Violinist Jameson Cooper, with scholarly as well as collaborative assist from pianist Eli Kalman has produced a magnificent antidote to this conundrum. The duo’s 2018 Centaur release Nebbie: Music for Violin and Piano by Ottorino Respighi resonates with energy and finesse, revealing a composer of refined taste and temperament; the vast landscapes of his orchestral writing reduced like great poetry, to exquisite miniature.
Recorded in the Music Hall of the Arts and Communications Center at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and mastered meticulously by Kevin Harbison, the program on this revelatory CD is a beauty. Three of Respighi’s most elegant and descriptive songs, Nebbie (mists); Pioggia (rain) and Lo Sono la Madre (I am the mother) in thoughtful adaptations for violin and piano by Jameson Cooper serve as sweet meditations between two signature masterpieces, the lesser known Violin and Piano Sonata in D minor (1897) and the slightly more familiar Violin and Piano Sonata in B minor (1917).
Violinist Jameson Cooper is Artist In Residence at the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts, Indiana University South Bend. Founding first violinist of the Euclid Quartet, whose repertoire is as vast and interwoven as string theory - Haydn passing through Marsalis - Cooper is able to look afresh at late nineteenth century repertoire and discover sunbursts, postulate subtexts and execute complicated passagework with intuitive vigor and expressive self-confidence.
Pianist Eli Kalman, who discovered and performed the premiere of the Violin Sonata in D minor is Professor of Piano at the Department of Music University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He is the perfect embodiment of the best of old school, a steadying yin to Cooper’s eagerly emphatic yang. Kalman’s solid musicality and tempered understanding of give and take, statement and response anchor both sonatas in late romantic turf where they rightly belong. The three songs on this disc, quite freely and interestingly reimagined by Cooper are fluid, even impressionistic. Kalman and Cooper have forged a delightful artistic marriage for this CD, their distinct temperaments conflating to a union of superb artistic quality.
The Violin and Piano Sonata in D minor (1897) is first up on the disc and because it is so little known, surprises. Highly romantic in the best of all passionate ways, extraordinarily mellifluous, soaring and propulsive, its three movements look back to Schumann but also tap into a premonition of the free-spirited harmonic experimentation that would become fashionable with the impressionists a few years later. The first movement Lento, Allegro and particularly the second movement Adagio are pure Brahms, breathtakingly earnest and unaffected, performed with exquisite collaborative sensitivity by both artists. The last movement Scherzo dips carefully from time to time into twentieth century tonality but finds comfort still, in steadfast romanticism. An incredible discovery, the dynamic performance on this disc will convince colleagues the effort involved in preparing and adding the sonata to their recital portfolios will be rewarded handsomely; a solid and deeply moving work, performed with enlightened certainty about its place in the repertoire by the duo.
Jameson Cooper’s reimagining for violin and piano of three Respighi art songs Nebbie, Pioggia and Lo Sono la Madre are fresh mini-masterpieces in their new and expertly conceived setting. Cooper’s mastery of the violin and its expressive capability, his extraordinarily rich tone and inspiring execution of these “new works” grace and make clear, his command of the art of transcription; neither imitative nor condescending. Rather, wholly recreated, reinvented, revoiced. Respighi’s three songs are now new jewels in the violin/piano repertory.
Another monumental Respighi achievement, the Violin and Piano Sonata in B minor (1917) is honored by Cooper and Kalman with a glorious performance that highlights its virtuosity but more importantly, Respighi’s unbridled passion - an intimacy at once disarming and enlightening. Not unaware of the world falling apart around him in 1916-1917 as the First World War ravaged centuries of European certainty and established order, the B Minor sonata longs for what will never be again. Resignation is the path to redemption and Respighi takes the listener on that journey. Cooper gives the work lavish expressive license, ably vouchsafed by Kalman at the keyboard.
Definitive interpretations all, this CD sheds new light on a composer whose orchestral showmanship was nonpareil, but whose soul resided in his chamber music.
View British visual artist David Emmanuel Noel’s paintings commissioned for Pictures at an African Exhibition
Composer/saxophonist Darryl Yokley has described his 2018 Truth Revolution Recording Collective release Pictures at an African Exhibition as a jazz symphony. Yokley has opted for a big brush approach to instrumentation, including a wind ensemble of 12 players in addition to the five members of his band Sound Reformation. The 13-movement result, while indebted in spirit to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is entirely original. And not unlike Mussorgsky’s masterpiece, Yokley’s brilliantly conceived and highly entertaining Pictures at an African Exhibition already has legs, with performances over the past year enthusiastically received around the world. Darryl Yokley’s Pictures at an African Exhibition has raised the bar of expectation in the growing genre of large, multi-movement and purposeful jazz compositions. Jazz symphony, indeed!
Mussorgsky’s narrative premise - a visitor promenading through an art exhibit, the composer describing with musical imagery, several paintings the visitor sees- has been turned around by Yokley, commissioning British visual artist David Emmanuel Noel to create artworks that convey the composer’s 13 distinct musical titles: First Sunrise; Migration; Ubuntu; Stories from the Village Elder; Ominous Nightfall; Hunting Natives; The Birth of Swing; Echoes of Ancient Sahara; Genocide March; Mines of Diamonds, Crimson and Gold; Cry The Beloved Country; Blessings from the Bennu and New Sunrise.
Pictures at an African Exhibition sequences through 13 historical tableau using a device that worked well for Mussorgsky; a central narrative protagonist. Yokley’s alto sax is tour guide for this exhibition iteration, his often optimistic improvisatory suave acting as guidepost and guardrail through the wonderful big band craziness and many beautifully written cameos and vignettes of Migration. Ubuntu is already a hit single, Yokley’s keen sense of orchestration (the bass clarinet/sax bits for example) coloring this movement beautifully. Stories from the Village Elder is magical for its wise, peaceful temperament, while Ominous Nightfall presents Yokley’s credentials as a composer for wind ensemble.
A superb and mesmerizing drum solo by Nasheet Waits segues the listener fatalistically from Ominous Nightfall to the horrors of Hunting Natives, a further example of Yokley’s command of orchestration. Sound imagery in The Birth of Swing is so powerful (the lapping surf sounds) one can “see” vividly, that gate through which Africans were herded in chains to ships for the slave trade journey to North America. Echoes of Ancient Sahara, an homage to African Moorish styles in a surround of sophisticated jazz club couture contrasts starkly with Genocide March, it’s little drummer boy cadence in the opening bars soon morphing to grotesquery and Mines of Diamonds, Crimson and Gold, a death march reminding us that Africans are still slaves on their own continent.
The hard but necessary segments of Yokley’s epic historical journey addressed, Pictures at an African Exhibition salves hurt with joy in its last three tracks. Cry The Beloved Country is just plain stand-alone sweet, busy, jazzy and classy with a wonderful tenor sax improv and more. Blessings from the Bennu, rich in magical colors and imaginative development (the solo piano riff midway through the movement is mesmerizing) segues naturally into the last track New Sunrise, a delightful wrap for a fascinating and difficult project.
Sensitive as well as spectacular performances by Darryl Yokley primarily on tenor but also alto sax (tracks 4 and 12) with members of Sound Reformation Zaccai Curtis piano, Luques Curtis bass and Gimbri, Wayne Smith J.R. drums and chains and special guest Nasheet Waits drums. The superb wind ensemble Yokley assembled for this disc are Kevin Willois and Ellen Fisher Deerburg flutes; Marie Trudeau oboe and English horn; Kenneth Ellison and Deno Orkin clarinets; Gregory Riley bass clarinet; Zachary Feingold bassoon, Jonathan Powell and Josh Lawrence trumpets; Marshall Sealy French horn; David Gibson trombone and Brent White bass trombone.
Visual artist/collaborator David Emmanuel Noel describes the pageant of Yokley’s vision in Pictures at an African Exhibition as “capturing a continent’s milestones, from the celebration of life and execution of cultural creativity, to human struggle and the emancipation of a diaspora.” Yokley’s music is the source material for this CD and is by itself complete, When the listener also takes time to pair the music with Noel’s artwork for each track (easily accessible online), the aesthetic reward doubles. Mussorgsky and painter Vicktor Hartmann found each other and created a masterpiece together. So too, composer Darryl Yokley and visual artist David Emmanuel Noel. Art begets art.
American composer Rain Worthington channels her spirit through the medium of chromatics; repetitive descending half step fragments become gateways to her deeply personal sound world. Worthington’s 2016 Navona Records release Dream Vapors expresses poignantly, the composer’s fascination with reality and unreality, how modality and meditative pulse can channel and inform. There are seven tone poems on this disc, each illustrative of Worthington’s fascinating and idiomatic subconscious.
Shredding Glass, Reversing Mirrors in the Quiet, Tracing a Dream, Fast Through Dark Winds, Within a Dance, Yet Still Night and Of Time Remembered are indeed vaporous; reflections on emotional remembrance, cathartic experience, continuation and disintegration. The composer has not charted an easy journey for her listeners, yet when embraced with open mind and ears, the cumulative effect of these dramatic meditative projections in sound is cleansing. Outstanding and beautifully balanced audio engineering adds luster to performances by the Czech Philharmonic (Shredding Glass, Yet Still Night); Moravian Philharmonic (Reversing Mirrors in the Quiet, Fast Through Dark Winds, Within a Dance, Of Time Remembered ) and Russian Philharmonic (Tracing a Dream).
Shredding Glass for Orchestra (2004) is Worthington’s painful memory of the Twin Towers attack of 9/11/2001. Eerie descending chromatics, like those drifting pieces of paper fluttering down from the devastated buildings we saw and remember so well; a tonal mood of impending calamity given weight by chilling low orchestral grumblings and insistent rhythmic pulses of foreboding; an isolated piano fragment one might hear from outside a nearby apartment building drifts briefly into then out of the haunting soundscape. These terse sonic subtexts finally culminate after uninterrupted anxiety and horror in an inevitable drift, like the dust clouds after the collapse; no resolution, no peace. The incomprehensible expressed in sound. Powerful.
Worthington describes Reversing Mirrors in the Quiet for Small Orchestra (2014) as “the subtle shifting of perceptions between reflection, translucence and transparency.” Her choice of dark, enigmatic harmonic colors hints at lessons yet to be learned and leaves the listener pondering the composer’s sound vocabulary in reverse order - translucence, transparency and when all is said and done, reflection. Something about mirrors unsettles some corner of our collective psyche and Rain Worthington explores these goblins with salutary conviction and insight. In Tracing a Dream for Orchestra (2009) Worthington adds occasional mallet percussion to brighten, like sunlight streaking through storm clouds, otherwise dark orchestral imagery.
Fast Through Dark Winds for Small Orchestra (2013) describes a fearful dream experienced by the composer. The imagery is of a bicyclist whose brakes have failed, careening through dark night fog. No doubt triggered by Worthington’s personal unease about her family history, Fast Through Dark Winds is a latter day Legend of Sleepy Hollow. No headless horseman, rather the fear of losing one’s psychic head gives the work frisson.
Within a Dance: A Tone Poem of Love for Small Orchestra (2012) speaks to humankind’s predilection to reflect on events long past, while Yet Still Night: A Nocturne for Orchestra (2001) seeks comfort in resignation as the composer makes clear in her annotation, “dreams and conflict will continue, insistent and inconsolable.”
Of Time Remembered, the last piece on the disc deserves its “Proustian memory” analogue. Descending chromatic fragments, terse repeating sequences and an ambiguous harmonic structure help convey the composer’s artistic ambition to tap into “subconscious rooms and pathways where memories play like shadows cast against a screen of emotion.”
There is nothing accidental or contrived about Rain Worthington’s fixation on troubling realities in Dream Vapors. Her grandmother and mother succumbed to Vascular Dementia disease. Worthington recounts how these experiences so close to her own psychic wellbeing have made her “acutely aware of the tenuousness of ‘reality’ and how fragile the fine lines are drawn between real, imagined or dream perceptions.”
Rain Worthington’s Dream Vapors CD is an attempt to understand through music, the whirlpool into which her loved ones descended against their conscious will and never returned, even as their corporeal bodies remained behind. Heady stuff, good for the soul.
All proceeds from sales of Dream Vapors accrue to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.
Australian/American composer Douglas Knehans has enjoyed worldwide recognition for his imaginative, often whimsical, occasionally apocryphal but never superfluous sound visions and compositional style; music that is at once demanding yet easily understood, charming but not a little haunted. A post-primordial prescience informs the composer’s worldview that when conflated with his kaleidoscopic command of color, grips the imagination and transforms consciousness.
Such is the stunning takeaway from Unfinished Earth a 2018 premiere recording of two substantial and also substantially diverse Knehans works on this beautifully engineered Ablaze Records disc. Tempest For Flute and Orchestra (2014) performed by the extraordinary Principal Flute of the London Symphony Orchestra Gareth Davies and Unfinished Earth for Orchestra (2016) a three-movement journey to the center of Knehans’ molten muse, offer fascinating takes on the Greeks’ five elements - earth, water, air (winds), fire and aether (the void).
The Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Douglas Knehans is also the director of Ablaze Records, founded with the intention of representing todays living composers across a range of media. Unfinished Earth has already garnered five international recording awards for good reason; the sound quality is crystal clear, particularly important considering the sometimes dense orchestrations, fascinating layers of sound color, moody narrative subtexts and virtuoso riffs for not just flute but other instruments in the orchestra - Knehans’ compositional calling card. The performances are executed with uniform virtuosity by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra and managed throughout with style and finesse by conductor Mikel Toms.
An important new work for a raft of reasons, Knehans’ Tempest - Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (2014) should be on every professional flutist’s must-learn list. It will disappoint neither the artistic priorities of soloist and orchestra, nor at the box office. In three beautifully constructed movements that describe Ostro, a southerly, Mediterranean/Adriatic wind; Mistral Funérailles, the cold, strong northwesterly winds that roar down the Rhone Valley and into the northern Mediterranean and Etesian, the annual summer winds that blow over Greece and the Aegean, Tempest is as fresh and breezy as the currents swirling above the planet it describes; a bright and fascinating new concerto for flute and orchestra that speaks with narrative clarity and an adventurers sense of virtuosity and excitement. Not since John Corigliano’s Pied Piper Fantasy has a flute concerto been so chock-a-block with narrative action and disciplined mischief for both soloist and orchestra; a delight at several levels of pleasure. Kudos to flutist Gareth Davies for a thoughtfully definitive, technically virtuoso world premiere recording of this powerful new addition to the flute concerto repertoire.
Unfinished Earth is an orchestral Earth Abides, focusing energy and color on the catastrophic forces that have shaped the universe, our planet and the collective psyche of its sentient inhabitants since before knowledge. Tempering, Eternal Ocean and Tearing Drift, the three movements of Unfinished Earth afford Knehans a spacious compositional canvas for his dystopian vision of a planet in peril. The first movement Tempering, describes the roiling lava that forms from the void and becomes land, water, air - sustainers of life. The second movement Eternal Ocean “evokes the shifting currents of the deep ocean,” in the composer’s words, but is also a metaphor for the churning subconscious. Tearing Drift, it’s metallic colors and percussive chord clusters imagining seismic disaster, is a swirling maelstrom of chaos and grief, “the Munchian silent scream of isolated man,” according to the composer. The result for listeners is edgy, apocryphal, exciting and satisfying.
Visit the School of Music at the University of Missouri
Violinist Julie Rosenfeld and pianist Peter Miyamoto have produced a stunning CD for Albany Records, New Music for Violin and Piano, which is a must-own for professional violinists and collaborative pianists scouting fresh repertoire. Both artists are on the faculty at the University of Missouri School of Music-Columbia and have enjoyed extensive careers singly and more recently, as a duo.
When the College of Arts and Science at UM offered start up funds for a CD of original works to celebrate her joining the music faculty in 2014 Rosenfeld wasted no time, commissioning music from several composers she knows well including Kenneth Fuchs, Katherine Hoover, John Halle, Laura Kaminsky and Tamar Muskal. Rosenfeld also invited her new colleague Stefan Freund of the UM School of Music Composition and Music Theory faculty to contribute a piece to the project.
After additional funds were raised to cover costs including the superb sound engineering services of five-time GRAMMY Award-winning producer Judith Sherman, the first recording sessions began in April 2017. Released by Albany in 2018 the result is a wide-ranging and superbly eclectic set of six new masterpieces for violin and piano duo composed between 2014 and 2016.
Uniquely American in temperament and color Kenneth Fuchs’ Duo for Violin and Piano (2015) is alive with simple yet glorious imagery. A solo reverie for fiddle in the middle of the piece becomes nimbus - starlight, cosmos, infinity - then morphs with an increasingly intoxicating pulse and lilt into a joyous narrative of ecstasy; a significant, challenging and extremely beautiful new addition to the repertoire.
Dancing (2014) is Katherine Hoover’s three-movement contribution to Rosenfeld’s treasure trove of new music for violin and piano. Arabesque - its jazzy, casual canter belying deeper intension; Cortege - empowered by purposeful regret and poignant reminiscence, without doubt one of Hoover’s most beautiful sound miniatures and Stomp, a 21st century barn dance packed with dervish energy and a Rodeo finish elevate this piece to the category, fabulous!
John Halle’s Amen Choruses (2016)is immediately accessible to the listener, a gauzy jazz temperament lending subtle, gospel ambiance to its uplifting mission, while Laura Kaminsky’s Undercurrent (2015) scans the subconscious depths of the human psyche with mesmerizing colors hued in quarter tone malaise and propelled by pitch slides and ominous low chords on the piano. The piece occasionally reaches the bright surface but like the Gulf Stream, ultimately runs silent, swift and deep. An important if harrowing addition to the violin/piano duo pantheon.
Tamar Muskal’sWhere Do We Belong? A Conversation with Bach (2015) is a complex cipher. Solo fiddle machinations, including pitch slides and harmonic anomalies remind us we are in the twenty-first century, but the composer also unambiguously harkens in spirit at least, to the solo partitas and sonatas of Bach. Where Do We Belong? is a kind of trans-century experience, exploring the violin temperament and colors Bach found so fascinating, while also shapeshifting without apology, to reflect a present and future aesthetic.
Life (Still) Goes on (2015) is Stefan Freund’s intriguing, episodic and ultimately hopeful homage not just to his father, but humankind and its quirky survivability. Somehow, despite often cataclysmic setbacks, the human pulse (literally) continues, bringing this wonderfully engineered and superbly performed disc full circle.
Considering all six works were commissioned specifically for violinist Rosenfeld and each is receiving its world premiere on this disc, the listener comes away satisfied the interpretations are definitive. Superb technical authority and a subtlety of collaborative ensemble playing between Rosenfeld and Miyamoto brings a bracing energy and excitement to these virtuoso new works.
Hollywood-based film and television composer, arranger, songwriter, conductor, producer and powerhouse Grammy Award winner (best arrangements for Natalie Cole), five time Grammy nominee and seven time Emmy nominee Nan Schwartz has released a fascinating disc of her orchestral music on the Divine Art label (2018) that recounts her journey as a master of composition and genie of the magic carpet ride that is orchestral color, harmonic purpose and narrative landscape rooted in personal experience. This disc presents premiere recordings of four Schwartz orchestral works - Aspirations, Perspectives, Romanzaand Angels Among Us.
Sharing the CD is a premiere recording by Australian composer Brenton Broadstock, his four-movement Made in Heaven: Concerto for Orchestra. Recipient of a 2014 AM - Member of the Order of Australia - for significant service to music as a composer, educator and mentor, Broadstock was Professor of Music and Head of Composition on the Faculty of Music, University of Melbourne from 1982 to 2007. His orchestral and chamber music, including six symphonies, several orchestral works, four concertos, three string quartets, a chamber opera and a raft of chamber music for diverse instruments is performed regularly by the major orchestras and chamber groups of Australia and throughout the world.
Antipodes literally and figuratively - Schwartz lives in Los Angeles, Broadstock in Melbourne; hers has been a career in the hardscrapple world of Hollywood filmmaking, his rooted in academia - both nevertheless enjoy common ground in their love and respect for jazz that is deliciously palpable on this disc. A mastery of compositional lyricism and inventive orchestration seals the bond between the two composers and makes this CD so interesting.
Schwartz has been awash since childhood in encounters with legendary jazz artists who were regulars at her parents’ home in Hollywood. Her music is infused with that aesthetic. Aspirations, which opens the CD features soloists Harry Allen tenor sax and pianist Lee Musiker and speaks vividly to Schwartz’ understanding of the art of orchestration and her unerring sense of harmonic movement; purposeful, emotive and full of textured character. Perspectives features Jon Delaney on electric guitarin a mellow, convivial dialectic with pianist Musiker to sophisticated jazzy orchestral asides à la Henry Mancini. Violinist Dimitrie Leivici is the soloist for Schwartz’ Romanza, where the composer’s careful construction of emotional electricity and frisson colors the narrative beautifully.
Angels Among Us features trumpeter Mat Jodrell and is the most sophisticated of the four Schwartz works on this CD. The opening bars of the piece shimmer with suspense; Schwartz’ use of the trumpet’s low register creates an evocative and touching narrative ambiance; jazz colors abound discreetly; a solo trumpet cadenza and vibrant coda end the quasi-concerto in a splash of breathtaking chutzpah. Trumpet soloists, take note!
Brenton Broadstock’s Made in Heaven Concerto For Orchestra (2009/2013) is an abstract tribute to the iconic jazz recording Kind of Blue(1959) that featured a royal family of jazz artists including Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. The concerto’s four movements - So What?, Flamenco Sketches, Blue in Green and All Blues are cyphers, Broadstock’s compositional language opaque rather than literal. Like Schwartz, Broadstock is a master of ebb and flow, managing the vast orchestral soundscapes of Made in Heaven with magical realist results, like the sound imagery in Flamenco Sketches, the quizzical temperament of So What? and moody introversion of Blue in Green. Rhythm and pulse the heart and soul of jazz, bring Broadstock’s visionary homage full circle with the playful last movement All Blues.
Two wonderful orchestras, the Synchron Stage Orchestra Vienna (Schwartz) and the Bratislava Studio Symphony (Broadstock) perform splendidly under conductor Kevin Purcell.
WatchHarvey Thurmer’s lecture recital Music in the Shadow of Stalin and read my review of the video performance
In 2003 violinist Harvey Thurmer and soprano Audrey Luna prepared and recorded Romanian-Hungarian composer György Kurtág’s esoteric masterpiece Kafka Fragmente, Opus 24 (1987) a series of 40 splintered word phrases by German Jewish novelist and short story writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924) set to music. Kafka Fragmente focuses on the author’s bleak world view and sheds light on his enigmatic and often troubling stream of consciousness writing. Despite its inescapably dense intellectual nature and extreme musical difficulty, Kafka Fragmente has earned the composer kudos as one of central Europe’s important contemporary minds. Opus 24 ranks among the most performed and recorded in Kurtág’s chamber music portfolio.
Audrey Luna’s vocal repertoire is broad and operatic, but her voice - clean, perfectly pitched, richly colored and elastic as the universe - affords her opportunity to successfully specialize in contemporary chamber music as well. This recording illustrates her unique capabilities and stamina, stretching vocal technique and color to virtuoso limits in achieving Kurtág’s visionary expectations. Harvey Thurmer’s spot-on sense of pitch and nuanced dynamic capability, his encyclopedic command of the violin’s host of special effects and his intuitive understanding of the composer’s intention and purpose give him ample chops on this CD to realize Kurtág’s challenging writing for the instrument and garner bragging rights as a contemporary music interpreter of unusual empathy snd strategic worth.
Divided into four sections, many of the 40 sound miniatures are less than a minute in length yet define, often eloquently, Kafka’s existential predilections about human character, not just the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. Though Kafka’s word bites are often cynical and isolating - Someone tugged at my clothes, but I shook him off, or I will dive into my story even if that should lacerate my face - there is in Kurtág’s pointillist writing for the violin and imaginative vocal soliloquy an awareness of vulnerability that penetrates the listener’s soul and speaks to our collective frailties.
Kurtág uses the fiddle as talisman, mood setter and meditative presence beneath the text shards, shifting colors and harmonic densities as the words dictate. Luna’s voice ranges comfortably over a huge tactical, technical, musical and notational terrain often fraught with hazards, which she nimbly addresses and makes part of her diverse narrative.
One fragment in particular, Sunday, 19th July 1920sums up Kafka’s incredibly bleak verbal pointillism: Slept, woke, slept, woke, miserable life. Kurtág’s writing here is fascinating and difficult for the violin, the mantra of Kafka’s discontent intoned with luminous clarity by Luna. Kafka Fragmente isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this recording by violinist Harvey Thurmer and soprano Audrey Luna is definitive.
With malice toward none and clarity for all conductor and popular TED Talk speaker on the soul-strengthening power of classical music, Benjamin Zander hasresolved nearly two hundred years of misunderstanding about the tempo markings of what is without question the greatest celebration of hope for humanity ever penned, Beethoven’schoral Symphony No. 9 “Ode To Joy.” He, with input from Beethoven scholar Stewart Young, has produced concrete answers to questions about Beethoven’s tempi where hearsay and superstition have previously held sway.
London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra Chorus, Stefan Bevier Chorus Master and world class soloists soprano Rebecca Evans, mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon, tenor Robert Murray and bass-baritone Derek Welton have released a breathtaking new recording under Benjamin Zander’s inspired intellectual guidance, after 40 years experience of conducting the work, that needs to be studied carefully by every conductor, musician and singer in the world, professional and amateur alike who loves this masterpiece. The reward for listeners and performers is discovering what Beethoven really intended.
Two CDs of this beautifully designed three CD package are devoted to Zander’s fascinating narrative of discovery. Rather than diss the current mistaken performance traditions - the famous march in the last movement for example is heard here for the first time at Beethoven’s hair-raisingly fast intended tempo - Zander celebrates the beauty of these interpretations, while also encouraging musicians and listeners to consider open-mindedly that several of the tempos we’ve become accustomed to are simply wrong.
Conductor Benjamin Zander and his Philharmonia Orchestra colleagues, singers and soloists have shaken off a late romantic Brucknerian patina that has weighted performances of the Ninth Symphony for over a century. The result is a lighter, faster, far more energized and text-pertinent interpretation that honors Beethoven’s instructions and corrects what in some cases was simple human notational error. This Beethoven 9 put simply, is historic and will change forever, our understanding of Schiller’s words, “Your magic binds together what habit and fashion has torn apart.”
A refreshing interpretative pace animates Erickson’s carefully calibrated but sublimely intuitive performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition which occupies most of one disc. True to the composer’s exact written intent on the page, Erickson also uncovers inner passageways and characterful sound cameos throughout the work’s 16 painterly episodes. Constellations of scholarly revelation and Freudian insight pepper the discourse. Hailed already as a definitive interpretation, Erickson has earned rightful kudos from critics including David Canfield atFanfare Archive: “A superior recording, worthy to stand alongside the best of the many fine recordings of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.”
Russian expatriate David Finko and American Richard Brodhead are unexpected points of light illuminating Tableau Tempest & Tango. A credit to Clipper Erickson’s artistic sixth sense, Finko’s music - a sweeping and inventive Fantasia on a Russian Theme and three extraordinarily tight and flawlessly conceived piano sonatas including the Third Sonata composed for Erickson in 2009 - brings depth, focus, structure and human empathy to the Tableau Tempest & Tangoset. Alluring for its often melancholic but intimate beauty, Finko’s music explores dark topics like Stalin’s systematic murder of the Russian intelligentsia (Sonata No. 1, Solomon Mikhoels) with stark, open-eyed malaise but enpoweriing courage. Finko is a survivor and his music strengthens the soul.
American composer Richard Brodhead has two works on the Tableau set, Sonata Notturna - Piano Sonata No. 2 composed for Erickson in 2016 and Una Carta de Buenes Aires - Tango Sonatina For Piano. Though he hasn’t the Russian blood provenance of Mussorgsky and Finko, there is nevertheless a hypnotic synergy of temperament between Brodhead and his colleagues that Erickson explores with superb technical, interpretive and intellectual relish. The longest single piece on the Tableau set Sonata Notturnais a universe of night-centered shadow and vaporous color. Erickson is at home as well in the focused meditation, pointillist articulation, spatiality and mystery that is Brodhead’s Tango Sonatina. Sound engineering throughout this diverse and fascinating 2 CD Tableau Tempest & Tangoset is perfection.
Soprano Amy Pfrimmer and her collaborative partner on piano and later organ soloist on this disc Thomas Kientz offer a recital of lieder and organ works by Belgian/French composer César Franck (1822-1890) that is both satisfying and revelatory.
Souvenanceis the title of this 2017 MSR Classics release and it shimmers with Pfrimmer’s exquisite narrative color palette, superb diction and text-driven phrasing, matched at every nuanced turn by Kientz’ intuitive pianism.
Assistant Professor of Voice at Tulane University in New Orleans, Pfrimmer also enjoys an active career in opera. Little wonder; her interpretation of these mostly brief and not often performed masterpieces of succinct melody and romantic temperament illuminate in subtle ways, Franck’s larger instrumental works.
The pace of these 13 delicious mélodies is always forward, but without sacrificing expressive intent or textual character. Both artists thread their individual narratives into one distinct and intimate emotional voice, at once superb and artfully contained, while also immediate and communicative to an audience.
Banality banished, Pfrimmer’s resonant and wide-ranging vocal timbre - sometimes bright, at other moments rich and dark depending on the needs of the texts - brings balanced, considerate and empathic intellectual heft to phrases like French poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s “When the evening bells, in their slow flight bring down the hours at the bottom of the valley/If you have no friends or loved ones close to you, think of me!” from Les Cloches du soir (Evening Bells).
What a pleasure as well, considering Franck was one of the greatest organists of his time, to hear Thomas Kientz - titular organist at Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Protestant Church in Strasbourg and co-titular organist of the choir organ at Strasbourg Cathedral - perform two works; a Pastorale from Six Pièces Opus 16-21 and the Fantaisie from Trois Pièces pour Grand Orgue on the superb instrument at L’abbaye de Royaumont near Paris.
Sound engineering by Jean François Cardonne at Royaumont and L’église St. Guillaume in Strasbourg where the songs were recorded, is a perfection of sonic ambiance, each space a resonant and pliant music box of hue and color captured with unblemished skill by Cardonne, an artist in his own right.
Souvenance is a repertoire gem; 13 superb examples of Franck’s wide-ranging but not often performed lieder and two excellent examples of the composer’s facility, compositionally and technically, from his large oeuvre of organ masterpieces.
My review is coming soon. Meanwhile, a translation from the French publication My Head is a Jukebox:
With her two hands on the keyboard of her piano, Danaë dreams. Established long ago in Los Angeles, the musician, born in Bordeaux, keeps the melancholy of her native land throughout compositions all entitled in Molière’s language, as is this record. Thus this album presents four pieces, Fantaisie, Nocturne, Petite Valse, and Prélude (the latter strangely placed at the end), all in three movements.
Alone at the piano, an accomplished instrumentalist, the musician is at one with her instrument that becomes an extension of herself. Beyond the music, leaning towards the classical and neoromantic, the pianist reveals us feelings, emotions through strings of notes, played with mastery where the virtuosity is never vain but, on the contrary, is in service of the purpose.
A long album, over an hour of music, that takes the listener through all the colors, where the music sweeps as a wave rolls on. As the calm follows the tempest, as the rain comes after the sunshine, quiet moments of ethereal beauty, giving way to silence, follow surges of stormy notes, played with urgent swiftness. A magnificent effort, providing much listening pleasure in the evening, to unwind at the end of the day.
Published on April 22, 2018 | translated by Lorenz Rychner
danae.vlasse on 2018-11-30 at 16.42
Fantaisie #3 "Élégie"
Composer Byron Bellows: Lazy Afternoon — watch the interview with saxophonist Javier Oviedo
The power of words and storytelling anchor this 2016 Ravello Records CD release To Keep The Dark Away by pianist Gayle Martin. Recorded at Octavan Audio in Yonkers, NY the sound capture by digital editing producer Marlan Barry and studio engineer Ryan Streber is magnificently clean and intimate, while also attending to every nuance of color coaxed from the studio’s in-house instrument by the pianist.
Martin’s programming for To Keep The Dark Awayas the title track makes clear, focuses on music that enhances the already vivid aural imagery of poetry, literature, narrative and legend. Two works written for Martin by American composer Judith Shatin, To Keep The Dark Away inspired by five Emily Dickinson poems and Fantasy on St. Ceciliaa redux transcription for solo piano of her 1985 piano concerto The Passion of St. Cecilia; Liszt’s arrangement for piano of Robert Schumann’s lied Widmung; five selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 75 and two Wagner/Liszt transcriptions for piano, Ballade of the Flying Dutchmanand Isoldes Liebestod give this disc patent on several levels, not least for originality.
Friedrich Rückert’s poem Widmung (Dedication) [track 1]informed Robert Schumann’s passionate love for his wife Clara and is the opening work of his 1840 song cycle Myrthen, Opus 25, a wedding gift for his wife-to-be. Liszt’s piano only transcription is arguably one of the most beautiful ‘songs without words’ in the keyboard repertoire. Martin’s approach to the piece on this disc is one of sublime elegance, her playing reflective, gentle, caressing and understated, the last gossamer bars embodying poet Friedrich Rückert’s paean; Du meine Seele, du mein Herz/Du meine Wonn’,o du mein Schmerz (You my soul, you my heart/You my rapture, O you my pain.
American composer Judith Shatin explores sound with an informed and inquisitive compositional palette. Her enthrallment with the tonal world at large - a cross genre interest in the banal as well as the brilliant, the electronic as well as the acoustic - informs with even greater clarity the succinct musical imagery and profound messaging of the spoken word.
Five poems by the enigmatic American recluse Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) inspire Shatin’s 2011 set of fragile, often pointillist and occasionally coy piano miniatures, To Keep the Dark Away [tracks 2-6]. Composed for Martin and premiered by the artist in New York City, The first of the set and the work’s namesake seems to emerge from a grotto - slow ripples of sound that run deep. A short, foggy pianistic discourse on dissipation, like a memory not quite remembered, To Keep the Dark Away emulates Dickinson’s text to a tee, especially the last stanza; ‘Till his best step approaching/We journey to the day/And tell each other how we sung/To keep the dark away.
The next piece in the set, A Glee Possesseth Me, is delightfully light and pointillist, exploring with splashes of color and sweet musical mischief Dickinson’s charming fantasies conjured from her cloistered upstairs bedroom in Amherst; I cannot dance upon my Toes - No Man instructed me/But oftentimes, among my mind/A Glee possesseth me. An Actual Suffering Strengthens is the third piece in the set, inspired by poem 686, They say that “Time assuages.” Shatin’s compositional imagery is impressive. Dark, pounding, persistently anxious in stinted meter and dramatic portent, a short-lived and terse futility permeates the distressed mood of the poem and music like walking barefoot on broken glass; Time is a Test of Trouble/But Not a Remedy/If such it prove, it prove too/There was no malady.
The Auroral Light sets a magical mood with its mystical pulse and circumnavigation of tonality, like the passage of galaxies through the universe. Hypnotic, the music eventually becomes gaseous and twinkles out, but not before Dickinson/Shatin make clear their personal catechism; Morning is due all/To some - the Night/To an imperial few - The Auroral light. The opening chords of the last piece of the set, Whose Spokes a Dizzy Music Makes, seem to pose an enigma of some kind, then forge ahead through the tonal spectrum, nesting here then flitting there, as does Dickinson’s avian protagonist. Shatin the colorist, has a collaborative partner in Martin, whose clarity of technique, articulation and nuanced narrative helps transform words to sound; Within my Garden, rides a Bird/Upon a single Wheel/Whose spokes a dizzy Music makes/As ‘twere a travelling Mill.
The second Judith Shatin work on this extraordinary disc, Fantasy on St. Cecilia [tracks 12-14] is another commission by pianist Martin from 1996 - a transcription for solo piano of the composer’s 1986 piano concerto The Passion of St. Cecilia. Martin premiered the piano concerto and offers a riveting performance of the three-movement transcription worthy of the sole American laureate to reach the finals of the sixth International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow - the third American woman to do so.
A stunning contrast in compositional style and heft after the appropriately spare, even minimalist delicacies of the Dickinson-inspired To Keep the Dark Away, the first movement titled Her Struggledescribes the agonized fore-knowledge of impending martyrdom for music’s patron saint; a cataclysm of smashing chord clusters (arm slams on the keyboard) and foreboding lower register rumblings.
Chaos and self-doubt rake the sound spectrum of the movement. Hope is continually interrupted by quirky, dance-like permutations and macabre harmonic descents into the void. Staggered, off-kilter rhythms and black colors inhabit Her Struggle and leave the listener appropriately drained.
The second movement, Her Passion, is a musical out-of-body experience. Diatonic ecstasy – Shatin’s colors are spellbinding – take the listener to a different world altogether; subconscious, resigned, metaphysical. Beatitudes, visions of angels and redemption ultimately prevail, as the delicate last bars of the movement attest, but the journey to bliss is never easy.
The last movement of Fantasy on St. Ceceliais graphic, like Berlioz’ Walk to the Scaffold movement from Symphonie Fantastique. Scary stuff, with a pervading and unsettling restlessness, more dark colors and thick chord clusters. Powerful writing in the lower register for the piano renews the horrifying rhythmic figure of the movement’s opening bars, achieving an hysterical frenzy before plunging resolutely downward to oblivion. Wow! A signature part of Gayle Martin’s portfolio, Fantasy on St. Ceciliashouts the artist’s virtuosity and justifies composer Shatin’s trust. Spectacular!
Also on the CD, a dazzlingly stylish and flawlessly descriptive performance by Martin of five movements from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 75and two gorgeously executed Wagner/Liszt transcriptions, Ballade of the Flying Dutchman and the exquisite Isoldes Liebestod.
Kudos to pianist Gayle Martin for a unique CD of cutting edge virtuoso contemporary piano works by composer Judith Shatin, paired beautifully with piano transcriptions of late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century masters Wagner, Liszt and Prokofiev.
Violists of the world, rejoice! Los Angeles-based freelance violist Victor de Almeidahas boosted the repertoire for the instrument recently with brilliant performances on his personally released CD of two compelling showpieces; Almeida's unique and extraordinarily inventive transcription for viola and piano of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and a definitive performance of Los Angeles-based composer George N. Gianopoulos’ irresistibly optimistic Hatzlacha Rabbah!!! (Much Success!!!). Almeida’s brilliant collaborator on the CD is Los Angeles-based pianist Harout Senekeremian.
Not the first iteration for viola and piano of Stravinsky's enormous and complicated ballet score, Almeida's Rite of Spring is far more than a transcription, venturing beyond his predecessors in thoughtful dissection and careful re-voicing of the original scores to give his version as much orchestral color and authenticity as possible.
Artistic license is skillfully employed by Almeida to frame and color his version of The Rite of Spring in a manner and to a level of expertise that both flatters his technical mastery of the instrument and his romantic take on the score. A profound understanding of Stravinsky’s muse (six years studying the scores) gives the arrangement and by extension its performance, both already brimming with creative independence, additional authenticity and cachet.
Folk centered yet urbane in compositional style, Gianopoulos’ Hatzlacha Rabbah!!! the other work on the CD is spirited from the get-go, a playful and joyous celebratory dance; the perfect salute to Almeida’s Stravinsky project. For its optimism alone, the piece is a wonderful programming discovery. Originally a viola duet, the composer rearranged Hatzlacha Rabbah!!! for viola and piano and dedicated the new version to Almeida – mazel tov!
The CD is no longer generally available, but both performances can be found on YouTube. Former Principal Viola of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Evan Wilson, was Almeida’s mentor and producer for the Stravinsky portion of the CD. Scott Hosfeld produced the Gianopoulos segment. Overall Sound Engineer for the project was Damon Tedesco with whom Almeida works regularly in the Hollywood film and television industry.
Pianist Clipper Ericksonhas devoted an enormous amount of thought, preparation time, energy, and virtuoso pianism crafting this remarkable 2 CD set (over two hours of fascinating music) comprising the complete piano works of Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943). A member of the teaching and adjunct faculties at Westminster Conservatory in Princeton and Temple University in Philadelphia, Erickson’s beautifully packaged and superbly performed compilation, My Cup Runneth Over: The Complete Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett is offered by Navona Records (NV 6013), a PARMA Recordings company.
Exquisite sound engineering at Reitstadel, Neumarkt in Oberpfalz, Germany under the world-class recording supervision of Dirk Fischer ranks this set as arguably one of the most significant releases of neglected piano repertoire since the revelatory Nonesuch recordings in the 1970s of Scott Joplin’s piano music. Those releases thoroughly transformed performance practice regarding ragtime and other popular music of the turn of the last century. This recording of Nathaniel Dett’s piano music presents to the world for the first time, an important and essentially fresh portfolio of major piano works by a significant North American composer of African descent.
Nathaniel Dett is admired as the first American composer to incorporate Negro folk music into the European art music tradition. Born in Canada, the composer spent most of his life and career in the United States, graduating from the Oberlin Conservatory majoring in piano and composition in 1908. His education continued at Harvard with composer Arthur Foote (1920-21) and in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He earned his Master of Music from the Eastman School of Music in 1932. Dett was a polymath; not only composer, choir leader, pianist, and teacher but recognized poet and writer. His, The Emancipation of Negro Music,won an important literary prize at Harvard in 1920 and his volume of poems, The Album of a Heart, conveys Dett’s transcendent message of human oneness – a notion revolutionary then, as now.
Unerring prescience and stunning technical prowess are Clipper Erickson’s interpretive tools as he unravels without fuss, the subtle mysteries of the composer’s deep and often melancholic musings. The evocative titles on these two discs offer a richly rewarding and audibly discernible progression through Dett’s intellectual, moral, and musical life over four decades, from the turn of the last century to the mid 1940s. His piano suites Magnolia(1912), In the Bottoms (1913), Enchantment(1922) Cinnamon Grove (1928), Tropic Winter(1938), Eight Bible Vignettes(1941-43) and his other descriptive musical snapshots After the Cakewalk(1900), Cave of the Winds(1902), Inspiration Waltzes(1903), and Nepenthe and the Muse(1922) are masterpieces of form and structure. Dett’s passionate but private world view, which he held tightly, is discreetly channeled through Erickson’s poignant interpretations.
The most moving and prophetic work on this one-of-a-kind collection was also Dett’s last. Eight Bible Vignettes [tracks 8-15 on disc two] composed over a span of three years before the composer’s death in 1943 is a masterful example of compositional maturity, conflating virtuoso writing in the tradition of Liszt or Brahms with 20th century harmony. Erickson’s performance of each Vignette glitters with finesse and erudition. Likewise, the pianist’s approach to a much earlier suite, In the Bottoms [tracks 6-10 on disc one]. Careful stylings and cheerful panache are brought to the keyboard by Erickson for the lighter pieces After the CakewalkandInspiration Waltzes but even these reveal a serious and thoughtful curation of Dett’s profound musical mind that will satisfy scholars for years to come. My Cup Runneth Over: The Complete Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett is a must own for those who love hearing the piano captured exquisitely on disc. More importantly, this thoroughly researched set (the program notes are fabulous) is an important reference resource for pianists and programmers alike. Superlative performances all, pianist Clipper Erickson has resurrected an American master.
An interview with pianist Clipper Erickson about his recent recording of the complete piano music of Nathaniel Dett
Pianist Clipper Erickson
Clipper Erickson plays "Magnolias" by Nathaniel Dett
Leo Niedermayer adjusting, re-voicing, and tuning the Steinway D Concert Grand used for the recording of My Cup Runneth Over - a task that preceded and followed every taping session
Clipper Erickson plays "Father Abraham" by Nathaniel Dett from Eight Bible Vignettes
Pianist Clipper Erickson on the stage of the Reitstadl, Neumarkt in Oberpfalz, Germany flanked on the left by piano technician Leo Niedermeyer who adjusted, tuned and voiced the hall's Steinway D Concert Grand throughout the recording sessions, and recording producer and engineer Dirk Fischer
In the Bottoms: IV. Dance. Juba
8 Bible Vignettes: No. 5, I Am the True Vine
The 500 year-old Reitstadel, Neumarkt in Oberpfalz, Germany was built by Frederick II, destroyed at the end of World War II and after 30 years in ruins was rebuilt in 1976-1978 as a cultural center.
Guitarist/composer Chris Fossek: Camino Cielo - watch the interview
Classically trained flamenco/Mediterranean/jazz composer and guitarist Chris Fossek has developed a fascinating pan-cultural aesthetic for this, his premiere CD of original compositions and improvisations. Together with Los Angeles-based colleagues Kai Kurosawa electric bass, Nate Keezer percussion, Hugo Aguayo palmas and Peter Slocombe tenor saxophone Fossek offers nine diverse and magical works that speak to his superb musicianship, quietly passionate taste and profound respect for and interest in the culture, music and manner of his mentor, Balkan guitarist Miroslav Tadic.
A confident command of color, atmosphere, harmonic movement and compositional architecture - not to mention stunning technique - inform Fossek’s unique compositional voice. Recorded and mixed with care and discipline by the artist, the studio ambiance and purity of sound is remarkable on this disc.
As the CD’s title makes clear to all who have walked the trail along the summit of the Santa Ynez mountain chain behind Santa Barbara, where the cool and refreshing climate of the coastal side mixes happily with the warmer, drier climate rising from the floor of the Santa Ynez Valley side to create a hybrid that can only be experienced in that precious space and moment, Camino Cielo is a perfect metaphor for Chris Fossek’s muse.
Composer, pianist, and conductor Leon Gurvitch can’t help himself. Freedom - artistic, intellectual, and personal - is writ large in his approach to the world. His music-making in particular mirrors his thinking; a stunning mastery of improvisation, fearless interpretations of works previously thought sacrosanct. His 2017 disc of piano music on the Centaur label, Poetic Whispers, is stunningly original. In addition to his own compositions, all metaphors in sound, five composers who have guided his artistic journey are represented. Igor Stravinsky, Joaquín Rodrigo, Erik Satie, Gabriel Fauré, and Astor Piazzolla are not so much reproduced in the flesh (their notes on paper) as in kindred spirit. Gurvitch tinkers with their music as a baker might a recipe, and the result is a Babette’s Feast of intelligent improvisatory genius.
The CD opens with its namesake, Poetic Whispers, the first of seven original compositions and free improvisations by the composer/pianist. A superb melding of classical technique and savvy understanding of the colors of contemplation - harmonic progression - Whispers is rich in interpretive styling and narrative curve despite it’s too brief four minutes. Even shorter in duration, but joyous in its celebration of another genius, Gurvitch’s Hommage à Stravinsky composed in 2015 captures, with the elan of Petrushka, the spirit of one of the twentieth century’s freest spirits.
Another pair of Gurvitch originals follow - Autumn Song and the entirely improvisational November. Together, they evoke the change of season; waning daylight, quiet contemplation, and not a little sadness. With subdued, mesmerizing prescience, Gurvitch uses the melodica, with its free-reed organ/harmonica colors, as a melancholic solo voice over a “rustling leaves” piano ostinato in Autumn Song. Gently Jazz infused, as is all his music, there can also be heard an occasional and barely audible (except to the soul) percussive ping, which is somehow consciousness-raising. The arc of improvisation on melodica intensifies, soars, peaks in joy, then settles for the winter. And in the same pensive spirit, Gurvitch’s thoughtful November improvisation satisfies and comforts.
Impressions after Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez (Joaquín Rodrigo) is a florid, lilting, energized, and moodily playful dissection by the artist of the Iberian character of Rodriguez’ masterpiece. An example in spades of Gurvitch’s technical prowess at the keyboard and his on-the-spot improvisational genius, a listener can discern fragments of the Adagio, but is otherwise swept away by the atavism of it all; Gurvitch channeling the First Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez, a virtuoso pianist in his own right, in the freewheeling daylight of virtuosity.
Likewise, Gurvitch’s fascinating, quasi-improvisational take on Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane. Ignoring the babble of purists and tearing up the written page, Gurvitch renders impotent by comparison, most of the performances this listener has heard over the past half century or more, and liberates this war horse from its chains – a stunning and intellectually defensible re-thinking that minces tradition. Fauré for example, played the piece at something just under a galop. Gurvitch on the other hand, lingers lovingly over each cadential moment, is sprightly where generations of pianists have not thought to be, and reveals without pretense, his thorough technical and interpretive command of the score. Marvelous.
Rainy, another image-filled Gurvitch improvisation, with its opening tinkling (rain) and intermittent darker musical structures (clouds), is simply delightful. Lovely jazz riffs, gorgeous and expressive like all his playing, conjures Fred Astaire dancing in the precipitation. Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1 follows, in a realization studded with Gurvitch’s innovative rhythmic embellishments and marvelous improvisatory stylings. Another Gurvitch improvisation Reflections, is brief but harmonically dense and dynamically large.
For Astor Piazzolla’s deeply moving Oblivion, Gurvitch makes use once again of the melodica for the solo voice - a superb sonic stand in for the evocative Argentinian bandoneon - and effectively sets the mood, like tapas before the main course, for Piazzolla’s spacious tone poem Milonga del Ángel. A brief chordal exposition by the pianist sets up the main tune, which Gurvitch nourishes with the tenderness of a true devotee - an interpretation that soars head and shoulders above previous performances of the piece in this listener’s experience. Capturing the very soul of tango, Gurvitch knows intuitively, that music is to be toyed with, expanded upon, filtered through one’s own sensibility, and does so here, tinkering with meter, tempi, rhythmic stylings, and discreet embellishment.
The final track on Leon Gurvitch’s extraordinary Poetic Whispers CD is another brief but emotion-packed improvisation titled simply, Lonely. A meditation on yearning and perhaps the isolation of deep thinkers, the piece also speaks to resilience and strength – an apt musical metaphor for a man who has lived the life of a stranger in a strange land since immigrating from Belarus to Germany in 2001 shaping an extraordinary career for himself in the greater world of art.