03 Paris 1847Paris 1847 – La Musique d’Eugène Jancourt
Mathieu Lussier; Camille Roy-Paquette; Sylvain Bergeron; Valérie Milot
ATMA ACD2 2834 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Most classical music enthusiasts know that Johann Sebastian Bach was, during his lifetime, better known as a church organist and music educator than as the composer of some of the finest and most canonic pieces of Western Art Music. While the classical world has Felix Mendelssohn to thank for not only contributing his own fine work to the aforementioned canon, but for his rediscovery of Bach’s music. The circuitous path that at least some of Bach’s pieces took from dashed-off manuscript sketchings for the pedagogical purposes of instructing his many students, to sacrosanct artifacts of musical genius, says as much about what society values, collects and ordains as symbols of high culture, as it does of Bach’s considerable genius.

Simply put, beauty and musical inspiration abound in exercise and method books, as well as in etudes composed for didactic and instructive purposes. And that is certainly the case here on this fine ATMA recording by Mathieu Lussier, Camille Roy-Paquette, Sylvain Bergeron and Valérie Milot. Collectively, they mine the beautiful repertoire of Eugène Jancourt, a 19th-century French bassoonist and educator, much of which originated in his 1847 method book. While Lussier, who remains a central figure in promulgating the solo bassoon as a concertizing instrument, acknowledges that this recording “may be of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about historically informed wind playing in the 19th century,” Paris 1847 is no archival recording or historical exercise. Rather the pieces, presented here as the first recording entirely devoted to Jancourt’s music, leaps from the speakers with energy, effervescence and a joie de vivre, capturing this unique and beautiful music from such an intriguing place and time in music history.

04 Bruce Liu Chopin jpegChopin
Bruce Liu (Winner of the 2021 Chopin Competition)
Deutsche Grammophon (deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/chopin-bruce-liu-12506)

One of the few silver linings to arise out of this incessant pandemic has been the boundless, world-class music events made available (often for free) for livestreaming on a variety of platforms. Taking advantage of as many of these musical offerings as my Zoomed-out brain has allowed, one day last October I spent a few sublime hours on YouTube watching the livestream of the 2021 Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. I was enthralled, in particular, by Bruce Liu, who in fact, went on to become the first Canadian to win the prestigious competition! 

Shortly thereafter, Deutsche Grammophon (DG) released this CD featuring live highlights of Liu’s solo performances from the competition’s various rounds. According to Liu, DG chose the playlist: the entire round one recital of two Etudes (Op.10 No.4; Op.25 No.4), a Nocturne (Op.27 No.1) and the fourth Scherzo; the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante, and a Waltz (Op.42) from the second round; the Op.33 Mazurkas and the Variations on “La ci darem la mano” from round three. 

Rather than parse out bits and pieces from those performances, I wish to say this about Bruce Liu: the to-be-expected and breathtaking technical prowess aside, what sets Liu apart from the others is his risk-taking spontaneity. His interpretations are revelatory; his joy in playing, palpable. He is a sparkling, elegant and original virtuoso. A true sensation!

Bruce Liu will continue to enchant a worldwide audience. This keepsake CD will continue to remind us why.

05 Clara Robert JohannesClara Robert Johannes – Lyrical Echoes
Adrianne Pieczonka; Liz Upchurch; Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Alexander Shelley
Analekta AN 2 8880-1 (analekta.com/en)

Is it by accident that the lead-in to the album title Lyrical Echoes begins with the name of Clara Schumann – ahead of her more celebrated peers, husband Robert and Johannes Brahms? Even if the avowed aim of the proposed four-part series is to show how “closely intertwined personal and artistic connections between the three musical giants” were, I prefer to think it as poetic justice.

Clara Schumann (nee Wieck) was one of the world’s leading pianists of her day, admired by Goethe, Mendelssohn, Paganini and others. As a young woman she was known for her inclination to melancholy. She was proclaimed wundermädchen by the Emperor of Austria and praised by Liszt for her “complete technical mastery, depth and sincerity of feeling.”

Indeed her songs here highlight the ravishing daintiness and poetic feeling of her work. Her skilful use of rhythm, harmony and pianistic colours raises these miniatures to the divine, with the lustrous soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and masterful pianist Liz Upchurch performing them with such a whispered intimacy that you feel almost like an eavesdropper throughout.     

Robert Schumann was a genius in his own right, albeit feeling himself a failure throughout his life. The Symphony No.2 is the darkest work he ever wrote. In each section of this poetic work the National Arts Centre Orchestra soars under Alexander Shelley. The orchestra’s Brahms Symphony No.2 is refined and lustrous, capturing the composer’s epic vision as Shelley maintains its flow and noble grandeur.

06 Orion Weiss Arc IARC I: Granados; Janáček; Scriabin
Orion Weiss
First Hand Records FHR127 (firsthandrecords.com)

American pianist Orion Weiss delivers a powerful musical statement with his new album, ARC I: Granados, Janáček, Scriabin. Please note that I am using the term album, rather than recording. This is purposeful. Without generalizing, or hopefully sounding overly pedantic, much of what exists in both classical (and jazz) discographies are recordings; a sound capture of what, essentially, is a live musical event documented in such a way as to preserve and remember a concertizing moment in time. An album, conversely, has, at the very least, an extra musical purpose to it, cognizant of track order, narrative arc and overall presentation. 

What Weiss has created, by connecting music written by Enrique Granados, Leoš Janáček and Alexander Scriabin (historically congruent, but stylistically and nationalistically disparate composers), through their zeitgeist-appropriate shared aesthetic of writing bleak, self-referential and globally aware music shortly before the world plunged into a devastating and worldwide war, is creative, programmatic and most definitely, album worthy.

As the first of three recordings in a projected ARC trilogy, Weiss here finds the commonalities of modernism, despair and haunting beauty that unites Granados’ Goyescas, Janáček’s In the Mists and Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No.9 “Black Mass,” mining historically prescient meaning from these pieces, as our world watches what seems likely to be an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine. Weiss’ album is beautifully played, captured with sonic elegance and presents an eerie programmatic message in musical form of what creatively was in the air between 1911 and 1913. The world should listen. Not only for the beauty of this recording, but for the message therein.

07 Bruckner 2Bruckner – Symphony No.2 in C Minor
Wiener Philharmoniker; Christian Thielemann
Sony Classical G010004595494F (naxosdirect.com/search/19439914122)

Bruckner is not everybody’s cup of tea. Some worship him and some outright despise him. And he is so easy to ridicule. He was a country bumpkin, a peasant. The funny story goes that he even gave a thaler to Hans Richter, his conductor, as a reward to buy himself a beer. His reputation was also hampered by the British critics calling his symphonies “boa constrictors” and so he had difficulties gaining acceptance in England or North America. Today however, his reputation has never been higher. His symphonies are a step-by-step progression towards an ultimate goal and the last three are works of a genius.

Due to the COVID pandemic all concert activities were stopped so Christian Thielemann, onetime assistant to Karajan, famous as general music director of the Bayreuth Festival and principal conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle, decided to record all nine of Bruckner’s symphonies in a leisurely manner with plenty of time now being available. The Vienna Philharmonic was the obvious choice, since it was they who had premiered those works, and in the Musikvereinssaal with its legendary acoustics. This recording is part of that series.

After the turbulent, sturm und drang First Symphony, the Second is entirely different. It is notable as the first time Bruckner opens with a tremolo on the high strings pianissimo, which has been described as a “primeval mist” that Thielemann renders nearly inaudibly. From this tremolo a sinuous cello theme emerges which returns in many guises throughout as a leitmotiv. Another new idea is the so-called “Bruckner rhythm” of two beats followed by three that appears here for the first time. 

Thielemann takes a relaxed approach, a slower tempo than some, so all the details come out beautifully and the climaxes are shattering.

08 Debussy OrchestratedDebussy Orchestrated
Pascal Rophé; Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire
BIS BIS-2622 (naxosdirect.com/search/bis-2622)

Who better than a French orchestra – in this case, the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire conducted by Pascal Rophé – to pay homage to the music of Claude Debussy in this delightful recording on the BIS label? Two of the works here – the Petite Suite and the Children’s Corner Suite  were originally composed for piano and later orchestrated by Henri Büsser while the ballet scenario La Boîte à joujoux  (The Toy- Box) existed only in a piano version at the time of Debussy’s death in 1918, but was later orchestrated by his friend André Caplet. 

The four-movement Petite Suite from 1899 was inspired by the “fêtes galantes” paintings of Watteau and Fragonard as portrayed in poems by Paul Verlaine. The suite may have originated from a request for music that would appeal to skilled amateurs, and its simplistic and affable style stands in contrast to the more progressive music Debussy was creating at the time. 

Debussy adored his young daughter “Chou-Chou” and she was undoubtedly the inspiration for the ballet-scenario La Boîte à joujoux devised by writer André Hellé. The plot in this highly descriptive six-movement score revolves around three principle characters, and in the end, love triumphs over adversity. It was for Chou-Chou that Debussy composed the Children’s Corner Suite in 1908. More than 100 years later, the music continues to charm, with movements such as Serenade for the Doll, Jimbo’s Lullaby and The Snow is Dancing, a poignant and wistful glimpse of childhood in a more innocent age. Throughout, the ONPL delivers a polished and elegant performance, at all times thoughtfully nuanced. This is a fine recording of some familiar (and less-than-familiar) repertoire. Debussy – and quite probably Chou-Chou as well – would have heartily approved!

09 Popov SchulhoffPopov – Schulhoff
Quartet Berlin-Tokyo
QBT Collection QBT 001 (quartetberlintokyo.com)

Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian – in 1948, the USSR’s three leading composers were denounced as “formalists” by the Communist Party’s Central Committee, removed from official positions, many of their works banned. Now almost forgotten is that along with unspecified “others,” three less-celebrated composers were also named in the condemnation – Nikolai Myaskovsky, Vissarion Shebalin and Gavriil Popov. In the following years, the fearful composers tended to employ the folk-flavoured, patriotic or “optimistic” styles demanded by the authorities.

Popov’s whopping, 57-minute String Quartet in C Minor, Op.61, subtitled “Quartet-Symphony,” premiered in 1951 and here receives its first recording. There’s no evident folk music but, following the Party line, it’s unremittingly cheerful. In the first movement, lasting nearly 25 minutes, muscular buoyancy frames extended sweet violin melodies bordering on sentimentality. The six-minute scherzo, propelled by cello pizzicati, dances lightheartedly. A dreamy violin solo over slow pulsations begins the 15-minute Adagio cantabile colla dolcezza poetico. As the other instruments join in, the music becomes more animated and festive, then subsides with an eloquent cello melody. The 11-minute Allegro giocoso opens with graceful pizzicati before repetitions of the five notes of “bin-de-en wie-der” from the Ode to Joy slowly build to the quartet’s own joyful conclusion.

Included on this CD is Erwin Schulhoff’s tuneful, heavily rhythmic, 14-minute Five Pieces for String Quartet (1923). Each of these playful, satiric miniatures would make a superb concert encore piece. Superb, too, is the playing of the multi-award-winning Quartet Berlin-Tokyo. Bravi!

Listen to 'Popov: Schulhoff' Now in the Listening Room

10 Uncovered Florence B PriceUncovered Volume 2 – Florence B. Price
Catalyst Quartet
Azica (catalystquartet.com/uncovered)

It is a proverbial travesty that we are “discovering” the work of an important Black composer – such as Florence B. Price – almost a hundred years after her career began. And that too, even as the music continuum has now been propelled into the 21st century. After all, it’s no secret that over three hundred years ago the it was a celebrated Black English violinist, George Bridgetower who, in 1803, performed Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 in A Minor (Op.47) much to the composer’s delight. 

Happily, Azica Records has taken action again with the Grammy Award-winning Catalyst Quartet’s Uncovered Vol.2, featuring Price’s stellar chamber works. 

A measure of how remarkable a recording this is is heard not only on Price’s re-invention of Negro Spirituals – such as Go Down Moses – in her elegant chamber works, Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint and Negro Folksongs for String Quartet. Even more remarkable is that five of these works are world premieres on this album that includes the Quartets and Quintets for Piano and Strings, which carry the heft of this recording

The Catalyst penetrates the skins of these melodies and harmonies with deep passion and uncommon eloquence. The nobility of this music is quite beyond reproach. Each piece seems to speak to the musicians like a secret revealed from the heart. The Negro Folksongs in Counterpoint are bittersweet and often even exhilarating. This is a delicate, perfectly weighted performance by the Catalyst; a recording to die for.

11 David Jalbert ProkofievProkofiev – Piano Sonatas Vol.1
David Jalbert
ATMA ACD2 2461 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Sergei Prokofiev began his career as a concert pianist, so perhaps it’s not surprising that music for piano would comprise such an important part of his output. Undoubtedly his finest keyboard writing is to be found in the nine piano sonatas composed between 1907 and 1953, four of which are presented on this ATMA recording with pianist David Jalbert.  A graduate of the Conservatoire de musique du Québec, the Glenn Gould School and the Juilliard School, Jalbert is currently head of the piano department at the University of Ottawa.

The brief Sonata Op.1 in F Minor from 1907 went through numerous revisions and is very much steeped in the late-Romantic tradition. From the outset, Jalbert demonstrates keen understanding of this daunting repertoire tempered by a flawless technique.

While the first sonata has roots in the 19th century, the second from 1914 is clearly a product of the 20th, with its biting dissonance and angular melodies. Very much the music of a young composer finding his own voice, the work embodies a spirit of buoyant enthusiasm. The single-movement Sonata No.3 completed in 1917 contains a variety of contrasting moods all within a seven-minute timeframe.

Jalbert admits his partiality towards the Fourth Sonata, Op.29, also finished in 1917. Again, the work is a study in contrasts, from the restrained and darkly introspective first movement to the exuberant finale, which Jalbert performs with great panache.

An added bonus is the inclusion of four miniatures, the Marche, the Gavotte and the Prelude from the set Op.12 and the Suggestion diabolique from Op.4, which further enhance an already satisfying program. This is a stellar performance of engaging repertoire and we look forward to future additions in this series.

01 Memory in MotionMemory in Motion; Percussion in Surround (Xenakis; Mâche; lanza; Tan)
Percussion Ensemble; Aiyun Huang
Mode Records mode325 DVD (moderecords.com)

Renowned percussion virtuoso Aiyun Huang and the Memory in Motion Ensemble release a recording project representing Huang’s recent research into how percussionists memorize musical actions within ensembles. The album begins with François-Bernard Mâche’s goosebump-inducing Aera. This work undulates with a welcomed anxiousness that brings warmth and beauty amid its numerous menacing arrivals. Glacial sonic behemoths envelop and serrated swarms cascade upward – all working harmoniously toward Promethean attempts at an apogee. 

alcides lanza’s sensor VI is an excited wild ride with an unrelenting hornet’s nest of activity. Here, the performers are able to place their incredible virtuosity on display. Sorites, one of two commissions for the project (and meant as a companion piece to Xenakis’ Persephassa – a work that appears later on the album), is a dusty scratchy expanse composed by Zihua Tan. Emerging from the haze is the occasional clarity of ringing bells – much like ephemeral shimmering grains flickering in brilliance but for a moment in a sunbeam strewn across a room. Next, lanza’s mnais mnemes is the murmuration of starlings beyond which storm clouds signal their approach: the endeepening of rumbling light in the distance. 

Lastly, the Ensemble’s interpretation of Xenakis’ Persephassa – a masterpiece of percussion repertoire – is outstanding and worth the price of admission alone. It is always a question for performers how to phrase contemporary music outside of what is taught when performing works of the common practice. The Ensemble brings a staggering interpretive quality that will surely propel this recording of Xenakis’ well-known work into definitive territory. The culmination of breathtaking musicianship and powerful performance mastery makes this album a must listen.

02 Jorndan Nobles Marimba CollegeMarimba Collage – Open Score Works by Jordan Nobles
Nicholas Papador; University of Windsor Percussion Ensemble
Redshift Records TK 512 (redshiftrecords.org)

The music of Jordan Nobles draws you in from the first note – one immediately feels invited into an expanse that is gentle in its complexity. This Redshift recording represents the culmination of a longstanding collaboration between Nobles, percussionist Nicholas Papador and the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts where the composer’s Open Score Works for marimbas have been regularly programmed. As with many projects in the pandemic, this recording was achieved through each musician capturing their performance remotely, later to be multitracked for the finished album. 

Nobles’ Open Score Works are indeterminate in their structure leaving many performance attributes – such as number of musicians, combinations of instruments, pitch, and duration – to be determined by the performers themselves. The result is a series of haunting intermixtures where the marimba gladly offers its deepest resonant brilliance. Throughout the 12 works on the recording the listener passes through a series of enchanting moods that shift like sand storms, as seen from miles above, that are somehow at once violently gripping across the landscape and also frozen in time. Works like Still Life, aether, Stasis and Nocturne paint sonic geomorphologies that propagate amid shimmering ephemera while works like Quickening, Ostinati and Kinetics rely on charming rhythmic interplay. 

It is clear through listening to this release that Nobles’ Open Score Works are a pleasure to perform. The unmistakable gratification inherent in this recording only adds to what Nobles continues to offer through his music: a gift.

Listen to 'Marimba Collage' Now in the Listening Room

03 Birtwistle ChamberHarrison Birtwistle – Chamber Works
Adrian Brendel; Melinda Maxwell; Nash Ensemble; Lawrence Power; Richard Benjafield
BIS BIS-2561 (bis.se)

This album of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s recent chamber works is released by the virtuosic Nash Ensemble. The exceptional performances by the world-class musicians are delivered with impressive bravura – a necessary quality when attempting to successfully interpret the highly challenging music of the British composer. 

The Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano is richly complex and contains a great deal of cerebral expressionism throughout the single movement. The unrelenting prickly gestures in this trio are answered with sombre lyricism in the strings, only to be interrupted with towering pianistic dissonances. The 20-minute Duet for Eight Strings (scored for viola and cello – each instrument having four strings combining to eight) is decidedly more romantic in expression as compared to the powerhouse trio heard before it. The rich and sonorous colours in this piece are wonderfully at odds with the unexpected suspended atmosphere heard throughout. Written in 1981 and later revised in 2018, Pulse Sampler, for oboe and percussion, is a raucous display of oboe fireworks above bombastic hits and jabs on various drums and wood blocks. This thrilling music is remarkably challenging for the oboe and Richard Benjafield delivers a stunning performance of unbelievable virtuosity and clarity of tone. Lastly, the Oboe Quartet, for oboe, violin, viola and cello, is a scintillating ride in four movements where each player engages in clever interplay. For those familiar with Birtwistle’s music, this release won’t disappoint as the inventive neo-modernist approach is ever-present and performed expertly by the ensemble.

04 max andrzejewski mythosMax Andrzejewski – Mythos
Berliner Ensemble; Max Andrzejeskski
Backlash Music (backlashmusic.net)

German drummer and composer Max Andrzejewski’s work takes up stylistic residence somewhere in between the freedom of jazz, energy of experimental rock and historically informed European classical music. His four-movement Mythos bears the earmarks of these multivalent stands of musical DNA, effectively interpreted by the 12-member Berliner Ensemble. 

The liner notes give us insight into the work’s origin story, boldly proclaiming that “the piece is born out of Max’s violent interaction with Richard Wagner’s infamous Ring Cycle […] built on German myth.” The resulting work “deals with the artistic remains of a much heralded prophet of classical music the way it maybe should be dealt with: scrap it and leave it for parts.” 

While few contest the ambition and grandeur of Wagner’s hefty four-opera cycle, or overlook his hateful personal anti-Semitism, how exactly does Andrzejewski repurpose this music? The notes claim he cites some (melodic) leitmotifs from the four overtures as a point of departure in Mythos, though it also imagines that, “even the most devoted Wagner connoisseur would have trouble picking out any trace of the original overtures.” I agree: Andrzejewski returns from his stealth mission having extracted thematic elements from his predecessor’s scores in order to recast them for his ensemble to render anew.

Moreover, with musicians hired from classical and jazz worlds Andrzejewski’s 21st-century group seamlessly integrates scored composition and improvisation using both acoustic and electronics. It inhabits a completely different world from Wagner’s 19th-century orchestral aesthetic. And for listeners today that’s a good thing.

05 Laura Cocksfield anatomies
Laura Cocks
Carrier Records CARRIER062 (carrierrecords.com)

Brilliant and fearless, American experimental flutist Laura Cocks’ solo album field anatomies is a collection of works featuring various varieties of flute, one each by US-based composers David Bird, Bethany Younge, Jessie Cox, DM R and Joan Arnau Pàimes – all exciting new discoveries for me. 

Today the executive director and “flutist-in-chief” of the TAK Ensemble, the title field anatomies was inspired by Cocks’ experiences in the prairie fields of her childhood, memories she carries in her body still and transfers to her flute playing. And the results are striking. 

Just one example is Bird’s substantial 18’38” Atolls (2017) for solo piccolo plus 29 spatialized piccolos. This studio recording employs panning techniques to emulate the surround sound of the 29 auxiliary flutists in the stereo field, here all played by Cocks. Beginning with a virtuoso catalogue of solo breath and metal piccolo clicking sounds punctuated by Cocks’ own vocalise, around the six-minute mark Atolls morphs into elegantly sculpted sound clouds. These are craftily constructed of single sustained tones expanding to masses of many-part chords ever shifting around the listener’s ears on headphones – or around the room you’re sitting in, if on speakers.

I was fascinated to read the composer’s note that the work’s “pitch material is derived from the combined spectral analysis of a crash cymbal and Janet Leigh’s infamous scream from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.” That may sound like a chilling listening experience, daunting even. Far from it, I find Atolls in turns highly intimate and elegantly sculpted – and at times a reassuringly gentle sonic experience.

06 Victoria Bond IlluminationIllumination – Piano Works of Victoria Bond
Paul Barnes; Philharmony Bohuslav Martinů
Albany Records TROY1880 (albanyrecords.com)

Veteran American conductor Victoria Bond (b.1945) is also very active as a composer. Her melodic inventiveness and dramatic flair are perhaps the most notable features of both her instrumental and operatic scores. On Illumination Bond shares her compositional spotlight with her collaborator, the concert pianist Paul Barnes. He has one of the most unusual doubles for a concert pianist I’ve ever heard: he is also a very credible singer of Byzantine chant. And he shows that vocal talent to good effect on the concluding four concise tracks, accompanied by a male chorus.

The album begins with Bond’s three-movement Illuminations on Byzantine Chant for solo piano (2021), an extended piano meditation on three contrasting Byzantine liturgical chants. It’s followed by two piano concertos – Black Light (1997) and Ancient Keys (2002) – the program bookended by Barnes’ idiomatically convincing rendering of the aforementioned Byzantine chants.

The composer writes that the title “Black Light implies the light that shines from African America music, which has had a profound effect on my compositions. The first movement contrasts a driving, aggressive orchestra with a playful, jaunty response in the piano.” The slow soul-searching second movement was inspired by Jewish liturgical music, while the third by the scat singing of Ella Fitzgerald set in a combination of orchestral variation and rondo forms. Featuring the Philharmony Bohuslav Martinů and Barnes’ rhythmically and dynamically incisive solo piano, this is my favourite music on the album.

07 Melia Watras String MasksMelia Watras – String Masks
Various Artists
Planet M Records PMR003 (planetmrecords.com)

American composer and virtuoso violist Melia Watras’ latest album String Masks primarily features her sensitive playing and several string instrument-centred compositions – with a brief detour to a delicate unaccompanied song with Icelandic lyrics. The dramatic exception is the 23-minute title track which also includes singers, actors and instruments invented by the iconoclastic American composer and music theorist Harry Partch (1901-1974), by far the longest and most complex work here.

String Masks opens with Watras’ Kreutzer for string trio, explicitly eliciting Beethoven’s well-known sonata for violin and piano of the same name, as well as borrowing from Janáĉek’s String Quartet No.1. Michael Jinsoo Lim (violin), Watras (viola) and Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir (cello) perform the four-movement score with restrained eloquence and passion. 

Watras has been captivated by the Partch Instrumentarium ever since they arrived at University of Washington, where Watras serves as professor of viola. She includes three of them in String Masks, the narrative-based work in which she echoes Partch’s manner of using his microtonal instruments to reflect the cadences and phrases of human speech, and to set an idiosyncratic mood. She effectively uses Partch’s Harmonic Canon (44-string zither with microtonal tunings), Bass Marimba (with organ-pipe resonators) and Cloud-Chamber Bowls (14 large hung glass carboys) in addition to violin, viola and voices.

The composer writes that the “otherworldly sounds of Partch’s inventions” are used to set the aural stage for a “fantastical vision of an underworld inhabited by string-playing legend[ary musician]s from the past. Read by three actors, each is evoked in the text, the narrative forming the metaphoric backbone of the aptly titled String Masks.

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