Secret of the Seven Stars: Music of Hope Lee and David Eagle

Secret-of-Seven-StarsSecret of the Seven Stars:
Music of Hope Lee and David Eagle
Stefan Hussong; New Music Concerts; Robert Aitken
Centrediscs CMCCD 18012

Three of this recording’s five selections feature German new music accordion virtuoso Stefan Hussong. Hope Lee’s Secret of the Seven Stars is performed by the New Music Concerts Ensemble with Joseph Macerollo as soloist. Hussong’s sound highlights a brighter, more metallic area of the instrument’s timbral range, while Macerollo’s accordion is deliciously deep and mellow sounding.

Composer David Eagle’s works make up the first half of the program and each relies on an electronically enhanced sense of acoustic space. This music requires a good delivery system, i.e. headphones or home stereo. Computer speakers won’t cut it, and MP3 is less than adequate, so buy a full quality download or, better still, the physical CD to get the added benefit of extensive printed information in a very nice package. (The same goes for my review of Janet elsewhere in these pages.) Eagle pursues an inventive array of strategies and techniques in combining and counterposing the live accordion with the computer’s “responses.” In his 2009 work for flutist Robert Aitken, Fluctuare, the computer interactivity elegantly supports Aitken’s warm and masterful interpretation of the solo part.

Hope Lee’s spiritually inspired, highly gestural style is featured in Secret of the Seven Stars and the unaccompanied solo and the end is the beginning. Here, the accordion’s extended resources are on display: pitch bending, bellows shaking and other titillating accordion exotica. Both works trace the emergence of entire soundworlds from a single, sustained pitch — a process the composer repeats in a consistently fascinating variety of ways. Lee’s approach to the contemporary quasi-concerto format in Seven Stars is more to combine solo and ensemble voices than to counterpose them, making her acoustic music sound just as “interactive” as Eagle’s electronica.


Vagn Holmboe – Chamber Symphonies - Lapland Chamber Orchestra

02-Vagn-HolmboeVagn Holmboe – Chamber Symphonies
Lapland Chamber Orchestra;
John Storgårds
DaCapo 6.220621

Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909 –96) composed three chamber symphonies over the span of his career. Holmboe described his compositional approach as “metamorphosis technique,” a concept he developed from his close relationship with nature — the liner notes state he planted 3,000 trees himself over his lifetime! The subtle changes in say, for example, a blade of grass, did not go unnoticed by him. He expanded this metamorphosis idea into his music. Each symphony abounds with subtle tone colour shifts, while a short melodic (aka a blade of grass) idea will be transformed by instrumentation, harmony and rhythm.

Chamber Symphony No.1, Op.53 (1951) is the most “classical” sounding of the three. The music develops within a more traditional harmonic framework. In Chamber Symphony No.2, Op.100 “Elegy” (1968), the turmoil in the composer’s life appears as short ideas and motives. Still tonal, it is the independent instrumental lines that never quite coincide, and a dramatic and unexpected pause in the middle of the third movement that makes this the strongest work here. Chamber Symphony No.3, Op.103a “Frise” (1969–70) is a curious six movement work. Each movement seems like an independent score with the witty percussion part adding to the rhythmic vitality. The unexpected appears as a quiet tone at the work’s conclusion.

Conductor John Storgårds achieves a detailed and colourful performance with the Lapland Chamber Orchestra. The string section especially is tireless in its execution of whirling lines and ensemble precision. A very enjoyable world premiere recording!

Ernst Krenek – Complete Symphonies

02-KrenekErnst Krenek – Complete Symphonies
NDR Radiophilharmonie; Alun Francis; Takao Ukigaya
cpo 777 695-2

Ernst Krenek’s orchestral music receives loving attention from Takao Ukigaya on this four disc package recorded 1993–2006. The Viennese composer’s atonal language connects to Schoenberg and Berg; he tries to inherit the symphonist mantle of his fiancée Anna’s father, Gustav Mahler. His Symphony No.1 in nine linked movements is a wide-ranging exploration departing from previous symphonic concepts. Krenek’s orchestration is idiomatic; solo winds and strings of the Hanover Radio Symphony shine particularly in the third movement. The composer’s predilection for counterpoint is especially clear in the eighth movement, as is his quirky side in the final movement’s disintegration into Webernesque whispers.

Ukigaya and the Hanoverians deliver a masterful performance of the sprawling Symphony No.2 (1922). Krenek’s own metaphor for this work is of a giant trying to get out of a cage. (Perhaps the “giant” was the 22-year-old Krenek himself, struggling with his teacher, the more conservative Franz Schreker!) The Third Symphony (also 1922) is more economical; Krenek parodically sneaks in a popular march-like melody, foreshadowing the eclectic Potpourri Op.54 (1927) also on this disc. The last two symphonies composed in the late 1940s develop logically from the earlier works. The Symphony No.4 disc is conducted by Alun Francis; both it and Krenek’s Concerto Grosso No.2 are given capable readings, with beautiful pacing in the processional of the latter’s Adagio leading to its moving climax.

Bouliane; Gougeon; Rea Joseph Petric; Nouvel Ensemble Moderne; Lorraine Vaillancourt

01-Bouliane-Gougeon-ReaBouliane; Gougeon; Rea Joseph Petric;
Nouvel Ensemble Moderne;
Lorraine Vaillancourt
ATMA ACD2 2395

Lorraine Vaillancourt and the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM) deliver a vibrant performance in this most recent of an ongoing series of releases celebrating the new music of Montreal. Equally precise and passionate, they play the music like they own it.

Denys Bouliane’s Rythmes et échos des rivages anticostiens is an exciting work based on his imagined historical reconstruction of the music of Anticosti Island. The composer is particularly interested in the encounter between European and First Nations cultures, a project in which he brings to bear both his European academic background and more recent research into First Nations music. Sophisticated use of devices such as simple repetition achieve highly complex results, propelling the piece though an intense and inventive timbral tour of the NEM’s resources.

In En accordéon, Denis Gougeon, the self-described “knitter of sounds,” bases his ideas on the alternating squeezing and stretching of the accordion’s bellows. Dramatic gestures abound in this contemporary rendition of the classic concerto genre, as Joseph Petric’s virtuosic passage work and the silvery tone of his accordion are juxtaposed and combined with the sound of the ensemble. In Mutation, the composer’s use of musical gesture lengthens to encompass the entire work, giving it a strong sense of sweep and clarity.

John Rea’s fascination with music’s essential foundation, time, connects him with György Ligeti, to whom his piece Singulari-T is dedicated in its subtitle. Listeners will be fascinated to follow various musical manipulations of our sense of time: from metronomically steady, speeding up or slowing down, to irregular and unpredictable. At certain moments, some tendency reaches a breaking point and everything suddenly changes.

In all, a highly recommended album.

Eatock, Colin – Chamber Music

Eatock, Colin – Chamber Music02-Eatock
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 17812

Toronto-based renaissance artist Colin Eatock is successful and thought provoking at whatever he attempts. As a writer and critic, he is thorough and relentless at unearthing the truth. As a composer, he is justified in his acknowledgement of such musical influences as Shostakovich, Messiaen and Crumb, as he experiments and develops the truth of his own sound.

The six works featured here were composed from 1987 to 2010, and are colourful examples of his favourite musical worlds. Eatock is strongest in the three vocal works. Especially noteworthy is the final movement of Three Songs from Blake’s “America” (1987). The transparent piano part exposes the bass-baritone (Andrew Tees) in a haunting hummable melody. This ethereal sparse quality again surfaces in the “Elegy” movement of the Suite for Piano (1995) performed by Timothy Minthorn. The stillness of this movement is a welcome rest after the previous jaunty Toccata with its movie music chase lines.

Eatock’s compositions are carefully written works that accommodate the performer while pushing them to enter his harmonic nuances. All the musicians on this studio release recorded at various times since 1999 are superb in their interpretations. Recording quality is of an equally high standard.

Premieres: Music by Bruce Broughton, Ronald Royer and Kevin Lau - Conrad Chow; Sinfonia Toronto;


Premieres: Music by Bruce Broughton, Ronald Royer and Kevin Lau
Conrad Chow; Sinfonia Toronto;
Ronald Royer; Bruce Boughton
Cambria Master RecordingsCD-1204

The concept of this project is new works that are inspired by earlier musical styles. Bruce Broughton’s Triptych: Three Incongruities for violin and chamber orchestra (in this case 15 solo instruments) is essentially a type of concerto, with each movement written in a different style. Thus, we hear influences of J.S. Bach’s violin music in the first movement, Prokofiev and more romantic expressions in the second and rhythmic, dance-like elements of Scottish fiddle music in the third. Another composition by Broughton, Gold Rush Songs, is based on three American songs associated with the California Gold Rush.

Ronald Royer’s Rhapsody displays influences of French impressionism and Spanish violin music, among others, with mysterious elements in the first movement and more rhythmic expressions in the second. Royer’s In Memoriam J.S. Bach is based on different motifs from Bach’s works. Sarabande is expressive, even romantic at times, while Capriccio carries playfulness coupled with recognizable Bach rhythms.

Joy for solo violin and string orchestra by Kevin Lau is a lyrical, meditative piece that lets the soloist explore different colours and textures. Conrad Chow’s tone has a wonderful quality of sweetness, which is most prominent in Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, No.20 Op. posth., the encore piece on the album. His playing is rhythmical and precise, and he easily traverses the variety and depth of expression in each piece.

Some may argue that contemporary classical music should be forward-looking and not an evocation of the styles and musical tastes of the past. This, however, should not limit the scope of creativity and inspiration, which can spring from all objects and times. If your musical tastes enjoy revisiting compositional styles of the previous centuries while using contemporary expressions and techniques, this recording is a wonderful opportunity to hear Toronto composers in collaboration with Toronto musicians.

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