Rite - Jon Kimura Parker

03 stravinsky parkerRite
Jon Kimura Parker
Independent FP 0907 (www.jonkimuraparker.com)

Rite is an exciting CD of world premiere transcriptions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913) and the complete ballet Petrouchka (1911) by pianist extraordinaire Jon Kimura Parker. There have been numerous transcriptions of the Rite, notably, by Stravinsky himself, Sam Raphling and Dickran Atamian. There are countless CDs and YouTube versions of three movements from the ballet Petrouchka. Emil Gilels, Grigory Sokolov, Alexis Weissenberg, Maurizio Pollini are excellent, Yuja Wang and Lang Lang with huge followings less so. What makes Parker’s version of Petrouchka a “must listen” is his remarkable and sensitive adaption of the complete ballet for solo piano. The focus is not so much on the pianistic fireworks of the famous dances but more on the pathos and lyrical qualities of melodic passages and the storyline. His attention to detail in transcribing is impeccable and his performance is never rushed but unfolds with singing lines and capricious humour. The ballet breathes in shapes and emotions. I realized at the end of the piece that I had not thought about the orchestra or the dancers because Parker’s transcription works beautifully as an extraordinary solo piano piece. This is definitely a welcome addition to the piano repertoire.

May 29, 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the Rite of Spring premiere performance in Paris, France. Today The Rite of Spring is one of the most influential works of the 20th century. Claude Debussy knew the work well and played it with Stravinsky in the four-hand duet version. Stravinsky himself worked on the score from the piano so it is no surprise that it works well as a solo piano piece. Jon Kimura Parker discovered Stravinsky’s piano duet version, which was used for ballet rehearsals. He felt that it was “less fastidious with details than I had expected.” Parker then began to add instrumental lines that had been left out. Other solo piano versions were deemed either too minimal or unplayable. I like Parker’s version with the encompassing layers of sound, from extreme delicacy and poignant colour to raw sensuality and primitive power. His performance is virtuosic both technically and artistically. I also agree with Parker’s quote about his own inspiration for this project. “Playing the Rite of Spring at the piano I am reminded of the day that I saw an exhibition of Picasso’s pencil sketches side by side with the finished paintings. Despite the absence of colour the angular power of the lines had even a greater impact.” We can use the same words about this CD which is excellent and I recommend it highly.

Ives/Brant - A Concord Symphony; Copland - Organ Symphony

04 ives-brantIves/Brant - A Concord Symphony; Copland - Organ Symphony
San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas
SFSMedia 821936-0038-2

The four movements of Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata for piano (published in 1919 at Ives’s own expense along with his philosophical Essays Before A Sonata) are entitled Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts and Thoreau – all leading authors of the American Transcendentalist school. Ives’ visionary writing is similarly “transcendent” and extremely challenging for performer and listener alike. Canadian-born composer, teacher and professional orchestrator Henry Brant had a particular affection for this groundbreaking work and set out to transcribe it for orchestra, a labour of love that occupied him off and on over the course of 35 years. The resulting 50-minute work was completed in 1994. Brant explained his intent was “to create a symphonic idiom which would ride in the orchestra with athletic sure-footedness and present Ives’s music in clear, vivid and intense sonorities.” Brant’s transcription is masterful and highly imaginative. He freely shifts the contours of melodic lines from one register to another and occasionally constructs inner voices to enhance his orchestral palette while remaining true to the content of Ives’s original piano score which, with its multiple staves, extreme density and general absence of time signatures, clearly suggests a blueprint in the form of an orchestral short score. The result could hardly be in more capable hands than those of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, both of whom have an outstanding record of support for contemporary American music.

The disc also includes Aaron Copland’s Organ Symphony of 1925, a work commissioned and first performed by his mentor Nadia Boulanger. It is a remarkably assured accomplishment by the then 24-year-old composer and was the first of his works to receive wide public acclaim. Organist Paul Jacobs delivers a knockout performance of this intriguing and surprisingly intimate work. Superlative SACD quality sound throughout makes this disc a must-have item.

Cage - Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano

05 cages sonatas interludesCage - Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano       
Henry Kucharzyk         
Artifact Music ART-041 (www.arraymusic.com)
What to say about John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano? The piece has been recorded scores of times. Cage “invented” the prepared piano by inserting bolts, screws, pieces of rubber and other objects between the piano’s strings at precise points along the strings’ lengths in order to change the instrument’s timbre and tuning in unexpected ways. He described the result as a percussion ensemble under the hands of a single player. Cage’s insight and ingenuity in creating the prepared piano are a legendary moment in 20th century music. He had been exploring the possibilities of the prepared piano for some years up until the date of Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48) and continued to write for it for some years afterward. The prepared piano is the signature instrument of this early-to-middle phase of the composer’s career. 
What do we listen for in each new interpretation of the Sonatas and Interludes? Often, we tend to listen to the surface of this music – the novel sounds that result from Cage’s preparations. But Henry Kucharzyk’s performance takes us deeper into a new world of sound possibilities to approach the music’s essential motives. Cage’s “subject” was the nine “permanent” emotions of the Hindu tradition: the heroic, the erotic, the wondrous, the mirthful, sorrow, fear, anger, the odious and tranquility, to which the others all tend and aspire. Cage does not specify whether a particular sonata or interlude was intended to depict one or more of these nine. The overall effect of this very beautiful CD suggests that Henry Kucharzyk was especially highlighting tranquility, without short-changing any of the others. The erotic and the wondrous would be my next choices as guidelines/impulses in Kucharzyk’s interpretation, which has its mirthful and sorrowful moments, too.
I don’t remember now why I wasn’t there to hear this performance at the Premiere Dance Theatre 23 years ago. It must have been wondrous indeed. But we have this unique recording thanks to Artifact Music, Arraymusic, recording technicians John Oswald and Christopher Butterfield and, most of all, to Henry Kucharzyk for his deeply intelligent and elegantly realized rendition – emotional in just the way Cage intended.

Rota - Clarinet Sonata; Clarinet Trio

06 rotaRota - Clarinet Sonata; Clarinet Trio
Goran Gojevic; Mary Kenedi; Lynn Kuo; Winona Zelenka; Michael Sweeney
Naxos 8.572778

The name Nino Rota may not be all that familiar, but if you’ve ever seen The Godfather or heard the famous love theme from the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, you’ve heard his music.

Born in Milan, Rota studied composition with Pizzetti and later at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Although he is chiefly known today for his film scores, his output also includes a large number of chamber and orchestral works, all of it written in a contemporary but thoroughly accessible style. And what better way to sample some of his non-commercial output than through this fine Naxos recording with music performed by some of Toronto’s top musicians? Among the pieces presented here are the Clarinet Sonata, the Clarinet Trio, Improvviso, Toccata for Bassoon and Piano and the Fantasia for Piano, admirably performed by Goran Gojevic, clarinet, Mary Kenedi, piano, Lynn Kuo, violin, Winona Zelenka, cello, and Michael Sweeney, bassoon.

This is a charming disc, its appeal not only in the high level of performance, but in the inherent contrasts found within the music. The Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano from 1973 is pure cheekiness, with two playful outer movements surrounding a languorous andante. In contrast, the lyrical Clarinet Sonata, written 18 years earlier, clearly looks back to the 19th century with its expansive melodies and mood of introspection. Gojevic’s warm tone and Kenedi’s solid command of the score result in a fine performance. Equally romantic is the Fantasia for Piano, also from 1945. A recent discovery, this piece seems to draw from numerous sources, but few of them from the 20th century – do I detect a snippet of Schubert at times? A touch of French impressionism?

This collection is a most welcome addition to the catalogue, and ample proof that there is much more to Nino Rota than what we’ve heard on the big screen during the last 45 years. Bravo to all performers involved for some fine music making.

Elżbieta Sikora - Solo and Electronics

07 sikoraElżbieta Sikora - Solo and Electronics
Various Artists
DUX 0679a (www.dux.pl)

The soundworlds of the four works composed by Polish born Elżbieta Sikora emerge in this album out of the inspiration generated by the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert. Through the skilful interweaving of instrumental and electroacoustic timbres, each piece is an evocative sonic image stimulated by Herbert’s words: a striding Orpheus-Apollo; a hesitant Nike beckoning; a waking dream shimmering; a collection of stones distilling midair.

Although celebrated in Europe Sikora is relatively unknown in this country, but if you love listening to new sounds and are intrigued and curious about the electroacoustic genre, this CD offers music of breathtaking imagination and compelling sonic textures. Each piece presents an interaction between a solo instrument – flute, cello, harpsichord, piano – and electronic sources generated within a studio environment. 

This interaction takes varying forms: question and answer, expression of opposite polarities, or one sonic plane enhanced by the other. And within each of the pieces, she has carefully crafted various approaches to creating a sense of open flexibility within the realm of a fixed time frame -- always a compositional challenge with electroacoustic works for live players and pre-recorded electronics.

Even though the pieces were created over a period of 25 years, at no time do you feel as if the older technologies used are a limitation. In fact, quite the opposite. Each piece offers a window into a rich and diverse sonic language, and is full of dramatic vigour and intensity. Definitely a composer worth discovering.

On the Nature of Electricity & Acoustics - Electro-Acoustic Music from Ireland

01-Electricity-and-AcousticsOn the Nature of Electricity & Acoustics
Electro-Acoustic Music from Ireland
Curated by Daniel Figgis
Heresy 010

Imagine the sound of a traditional Irish jig or reel in the hands of someone who loves playing with electronic instruments and recording devices. Think of all the possible combinations that could arise. That’s exactly what you will hear on the CD On the Nature of Electricity & Acoustics. Curated by Daniel Figgis, this album is a compilation and sampling of 23 pieces, each created by a different Irish composer or musician. And to add to the mix, these musicians come from a wide range of backgrounds and influences: contemporary classical composers, rock musicians, sound experimentalists, traditional music virtuosi and visual artists. The fascinating images in the accompanying booklet offer glimpses into early instruments — both acoustic and electric in nature.

Over the last three or four decades, traditional Irish music influences have swept across the globe, bringing their unique identity to the pop, rock and world music genres. With this album we are treated to the inimitable Irish sound under the influence of experimentation and boundary pushing. It opens with a very early electroacoustic work, created in 1978 using classic tape techniques, by one of the country’s leading composers, Roger Doyle. We immediately land in the familiar soundworld of the piano presented with a driving rhythmic force so characteristic of the Irish essence. These strong rhythmic qualities, along with looping and repetitive melodic or harmonic patterns, textural layering and the presence of a recognizable instrument are present in almost every work on the album. The distinctive instrumental sounds heard include the fiddle, bagpipes, bodhrán, accordion, electric guitar, cello, as well as a few flashes of a Celtic vocal presence. Electronic sounds include the presence of lush synthesizer textures, wild electric guitar riffs, static and noise articulations and gliding filter sweeps.

The final track by the curator Daniel Figgis really sums up the spirit of the whole album. If I were to lift a pint of beer to my mouth and close my eyes, I could easily imagine I was sitting in a traditional Irish pub, tapping my toes in time with the music. Yet my ears would be overjoyed to hear the unusual and mind-bending twists and turns that unfolded before me. There would be no denying that I was in the presence of an ancient musical tradition whose indelible spirit penetrates through time, technologies and trends.

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