05 Cradle Will RockMarc Blitzstein – The Cradle Will Rock
Opera Saratoga; John Mauceri
Bridge Records (bridgerecords.com)

On June 16, 1937, the evening of the scheduled premiere of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Blitzstein, the producers, director Orson Welles, singers, musicians and ticketholders found the theatre padlocked, a reaction to Blitzstein’s anti-capitalist opera. Welles was undeterred: an unoccupied theatre and piano were rented and the opera, minus orchestra, sets and costumes, was performed with Blitzstein at the piano, the cast singing from the audience.

This, the first complete recording of Blitzstein’s original score, is from 2017 performances by Opera Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, New York. Blitzstein’s music for his self-written libretto, a bitter satire on America’s corruption by capitalism, was clearly influenced by Kurt Weill’s acerbic scores for The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the city of Mahagonny.

Set in “Steeltown, USA,” the arrest and court appearance of anti-union protestors, mistaken by police for pro-union activists, provides the frame for flashbacks revealing how Mr. Mister, the steel factory’s owner, controls all the city’s institutions, while ordering the fatal bombing of union headquarters. Union leader Larry Foreman, arrested for making a speech, sings that when organized labour’s “wind blows…the lords and their lackeys…in the nice big cradle” will find that “the cradle will rock.”

Conductor John Mauceri elicits exuberant, 1930s-style performances from the large cast and orchestra. The 2-CD set also includes an archival recording of Blitzstein (who died in 1964) recounting the events of that now-legendary opening night, adding significantly to the documentation of this iconic 20th-century opera.

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06 Notorious RBGNotorious RBG in Song
Patrice Michaels; Juang-Hao Huang
Cedille CDR 90000 178 (cedillerecords.org)

Marking the 25th anniversary of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, this recording honours an 85-year old champion of equal rights who continues to vigorously oppose injustice in an environment of increasingly reactionary conservatism. The title, Notorious RBG, a famous meme (and play on the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.), stuck to Ginsberg after her 2013 dissent in response to a rollback of voting-rights protections.

This recording features works by five American composers celebrating Ginsberg’s family and professional life. Family is, after all, at the heart of this project. Cedille Records is Ginsberg’s son James’ label. Soprano and daughter-in-law Patrice Michaels is the ardent album performer and composer of the nine-part cycle The Long View, which gives us a deeply personal glimpse into Ginsberg’s life as daughter, wife, mother, lawyer, academic and public figure. Composer Lori Laitman’s setting of Wider Than the Sky by Emily Dickinson, was performed as a tribute to Ginsberg on her 80th birthday. Canadian composer Vivian Fung’s Pot Roast à la RBG is a lighthearted play on the judge’s domestic life, while Stacy Garrop’s My Dearest Ruth poignantly recalls the farewell letter written by Ginsberg’s late husband. The final piece, You are Searching in Vain for a Bright Solution, is an aria from Derrick Wang’s comic opera Scalia/Ginsberg, celebrating the unlikely friendship of two colleagues able to find common ground despite oppositional viewpoints. A tribute to the intelligence and humanity of this phenomenal woman.

01 LachrimaeLachrimae John Dowland
Nigel North; Les Voix humaines
ATMA ACD2 2761 (atmaclassique.com)

Nigel North. To whom else would you turn to play the lead lute part in a Renaissance consort? Fifty years of playing and teaching, whether or not for solo lute, continue to enhance his reputation. And so it is that ATMA Classique has engaged North to perform alongside Les Voix humaines, themselves a group of exceptional viol players. 

This CD interleaves Dowland’s seven passionate pavans, those prefaced Lachrimae, with some popular pieces, e.g., Captaine Piper his Galiard. The latter features skillful treble viol playing, belying the idea that this piece can only be played by the Elizabethan consort of six instruments. However, this collection is centred around the pavans. The players’ interpretation of the “usual” Lachrimae incorporates every possible nuance that Dowland could have introduced, North’s lute playing adding to the treble line’s existing intricacies. The introspective Lachrimae is followed by the sprightly Earle of Essex Galiard, giving our minds time to refresh before hearing the next pavan; this model is repeated throughout the CD.

Of course, which pavan is the most meaningful must be in the listener’s mind. Lachrimae Gementes does indeed have a tortuous, drawn-out quality, as does Lachrimae Tristes. Perhaps these two pavans are even more thoughtful than the aforementioned usual Lachrimae. Finally, bear in mind that two of the viols in this recording were created by Henry Jaye in the early-17th and by Barak Norman in the late-17th century. We are in exalted company, not to mention local, as the Jaye treble viol was loaned from Hart House, University of Toronto.

02 Bach baroque flute harpsichordJ.S. Bach – Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord
Stephen Schultz; Jory Vinikour
Music & Arts CD-1295 (musicandarts.com)

Of the four sonatas on this disc, two are almost certainly by Bach: the B Minor and the A Major. The other two are given as “attributed to Bach.” The case of the E-flat Major is particularly interesting. It used to be attributed to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel but it has since been established that the work is based on a trio sonata by Quantz. The B Minor sonata is the finest work on this disc with its long-breathed melodies and its large intervals. Schultz and Vinikour are fine players and in the B Minor sonata they are at their best.

03 Beethoven TripleBeethoven – Triple Concerto; Trio Op.11
Anne Gastinel; Nicholas Angelich; Gil Shaham; Andreas Ottensamer; Frankfurt Radio Symphony; Paavo Järvi
Naïve V 5418

Like a stepchild, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C Major from his middle period (Op.56) is much underrated and seldom played – but it is in fact the most difficult and challenging of all Beethoven’s concertos. One of the reasons is that there are three soloists working almost independently and it is very difficult to find a balanced sound, yet they are still very much a team, like soldiers in a battle. My perennial favourite has been the Karajan on EMI (Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Richter), one of the great recordings of the last century, but this new issue with a stellar team of soloists and up-to-date sound on the French Naïve label is a worthy successor.

In the long and arduous first movement the cello is the real hero. French cellist Anne Gastinel leads all the charges, introducing all the new themes that are always different and very beautiful. Gil Shaham is one the world’s best violinists today and he is the star in the heavenly Largo. The Finale, in Tempo alla Polacca, is delightful and intensely rhythmical in 3/4 time, where conductor Paavo Järvi is full of good humour and jollity (a bit unlike his world-famous but rather austere father Neeme Järvi). The piano part here serves as a connective tissue rather than a leader, but blends in gracefully as played by Nicholas Angelich, the third soloist.

Rounding out the CD, a delicious early Clarinet Trio (Op.11) interestingly includes Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, and that’s no mean credit.

04 Schubert SymNovScoSchubert – Symphony No.3; Orchestral Songs
Andrea Ludwig; Symphony Nova Scotia; Bernhard Gueller
Symphony Nova Scotia SNSM001 (symphonyns.ca)

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 (1815) initially struck me as too slight to be the main work on this Symphony Nova Scotia disc. But an early Romantic sensibility already animated the 18-year-old composer, and I have changed my mind. The light themes of the opening movement undergo minor-key twists in the development, and the Allegretto also contains interesting key digressions. The last movement’s perpetual motion for me anticipates the tremendous energy of Schubert’s finale to the Symphony No. 9 in C Major (featured in William Forsythe’s wonderful ballet The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude). Here, Symphony Nova Scotia conductor Bernhard Gueller brings out comparable energies, including confident, incisive playing from the excellent Symphony Nova Scotia strings. And congratulations to the solo winds for sensitive phrasing in the lyrical middle movements.

Orchestral song came to the fore later in the 19th century. Its early proponent Hector Berlioz’s tremendous orchestration of Schubert’s Der Erlkönig appears here, along with Max Reger’s more subdued version. In all the songs, mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig conveys text and mood movingly and unfailingly – just listen to the Anton Webern-orchestrated Du bist die Ruh! Canadian composers Brian Current (Im Abendrot/At Dusk) and Kati Agócs (Ständchen/Serenade) fulfilled orchestration commissions successfully for this disc. Current’s use of string tremolo harmonics gives an intriguing otherworldly effect to Im Abedrot, while Agócs deploys piquant winds and an orchestral buildup in her moving Ständchen. The disc is a triumph for all involved.

05 Vaughan Williams TSOVaughan Williams – Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade to Music; Flos Campi
Louis Lortie; Sarah Jeffrey; Teng Li; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5201 (chandos.net)

I was present at the TSO concert in which these works were played. At that time a CD release was promised and here it is. It does not disappoint. There are four works on the disc: the Serenade to Music for four singers (performed here by Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan), chorus and orchestra; a concerto for oboe and strings; Flos Campi, a suite for solo viola (beautifully played by Teng Li, the TSO’s principal violist), small choir and small orchestra (based on the Latin translation of the Song of Songs); and a concerto for piano and orchestra. All of these had originally been dedicated to musicians admired by Vaughan Williams: the Serenade to Music to the conductor Sir Henry Wood, the oboe concerto to Leon Goossens, Flos Campi to the violist Lionel Tertis and the piano concerto to Harriet Cohen. That gives these works a semi-private quality.

Of the works on the disc I liked the piano concerto least. It struck me as loud and strident, an impression which even the virtuosity of the pianist (Louis Lortie) could not efface. On the other hand, I loved the oboe concerto. It needs a first class soloist to do it justice and we have such an outstanding player in Sarah Jeffrey, the TSO’s principal oboist.

06 Charke Cormier DuoEx Tempore
Charke - Cormier Duo
Leaf Music LM220 (leaf-music.ca)

Flutist Derek Charke and guitarist Eugene Cormier perform with intelligence and passion in their debut release. Both teach at Acadia University, and are well respected Maritime musical personalities. Here they play, produce, engineer and master terrific, clear, stylistically diverse music.

The track Ex Tempore, composed by Charke, is a composed/improvised work for bass flute and guitar that lives up to its title. Note-bending during lengthy dramatic extended-technique bass flute phrases is heard against the guitar-driven rhythm and tonality, all in a spontaneous yet controlled direction, until the final satisfying guitar tone fades. Turning back the clock, Cormier’s arrangement of four Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas allows the duo’s tight ensemble playing to shine especially in the slow, true-to-Baroque quality, Sonata in F Major, K296, L198. Likewise the Presto of the Sonata in F Major K445, L385 features melodic interchanges between the instruments and well-placed lower guitar detached notes. Cormier arranges Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1980 Farewell to Stromness into a straightforward Scottish folk music-tinged piece with Celtic subtleties.

Nesyba’s arrangement makes for a sensitive performance of Debussy’s piano classic La fille aux cheveux de lin, while Mosoczi’s take on Handel’s four-movement Sonata in A Minor HMV 362, Op.1, No. 4 showcases detached note effects. Machado’s Musiques populaires brésiliennes are six 1980s works for flute and guitar based on traditional Brazilian music encompassing toe-tapping, happy sounds.

This is a fabulous debut!

07 La Patrie Our CanadaLa Patrie/Our Canada – Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943
Symphonova Orchestra; Shelley Katz
Centrediscs CMC CD 25618 (musiccentre.ca)

Bringing unrecorded music to life is exciting, but this disc’s innovative means make it miraculous! Remarkable UK-based Canadian conductor and inventor Shelley Katz leads the Symphonova Orchestra, employing proprietary technologies developed for digital baton control and acoustic design that augment the playing of solo musicians up to the sound of a full orchestra. La Patrie/Our Canada: Canadian Orchestral Music 1874-1943 shows Symphonova making significant and intriguing heritage repertoire available to us for the first time. One example is Ernest MacMillan’s Overture (1924, written for the Toronto Symphony), a substantial post-Romantic work with a Scottish tinge, beautifully harmonized and orchestrated, with sound convincing enough that I was fully drawn into the work.

In the disc’s opener, Calixa Lavallée’s charming concert overture La Patrie (first performed in 1874), it took time to adjust to the string tone: cooler and with less bow presence than that of an orchestra section. But after that, listening went smoothly: Rodolphe Mathieu’s early atonal Trois Préludes (1912-15) are attractive with a hint of mystery; I was ready for the convincing string writing in Georges-Émile Tanguay’s Pavane (1936) and Murray Adaskin’s Serenade for Strings (1934). And now gaps in our knowledge of major Canadian composers are being filled with Violet Archer’s witty, never-played Capriccio for Hand Timpani (1939) and John Weinzweig’s radio suite Our Canada (1943). Seeking out archival-quality orchestral recordings of seldom-heard works I’m used to. But acoustically this CD brings more listening pleasure, and I look forward to listening again.

08 Michael BridgeOverture
Michael Bridge
Independent MB2001 (michaelbridgemusic.com)

Canadian accordionist Michael Bridge triumphs technically and musically in all styles in his debut solo album, a recent CBC Album of the Week.

Bridge plays two different accordions, a Pigini Nova acoustic free bass, and a Roland digital instrument. His acoustic accordion features single tones on the left hand, allowing for wide pitch range/combination possibilities. Both Makkonen’s original Tango-Toccata and Friedrich Lips’ transcription of Khachaturian’s Tokkata are virtuosic accordion repertoire mainstays. Their tricky technical and dynamic challenges are performed with ease. Bridge’s composition Intoxicating features upbeat, tango-flavoured dance qualities. All the other tracks are Bridge arrangements. A solid contrapuntal feel, balance of lines, precise ornamentation and steady rhythms make his transcription of Bach’s French Suite No.5 a contemplative listen. Avetisyan’s Tzaghgatz Baleni is a lush dramatic tune with the same mood transcending into Cohen’s widely covered Hallelujah, as an interesting low-pitched start soars higher for more grounded accordion vocalizations. Mancini’s Moon River drifts from simple line statement to flourishes, left-hand chords and a rubato feel fitting to Bridge’s personal take.

Listeners unfamiliar with the Roland’s synthesizer abilities will be shocked to hear how close to the original full symphonic sound one accordion played by one performer in one take is in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the more laid-back jazz band drums and bass in Garner’s Misty, and the brief self-explanatory Orchestral Tuning.

As an accordionist myself, what I really appreciate and admire in Bridge’s playing is his conviction, tenacity and dedication in all he plays. Bravo!

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01 KorngoldKorngold – Violin Concerto; Much Ado About Nothing; Suite Op.23
Benjamin Schmid; Wiener Philharmoniker; Seiji Ozawa
Oehms Classics OC 537 (oehmsclassics.de)

This is a set of live performances from the Salzburg Festival of 2004 entirely devoted to Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a composer of extraordinary talent, whose music was forbidden in the Nazi era. He escaped Austria in 1937 and settled in the USA and had a successful career in Hollywood writing film scores, but gave it up and continued writing symphonic and chamber music of the highest calibre – as proven by this recording. Korngold was also the last bastion of tonality, continuing the Romantic vein of Richard Strauss and Mahler as opposed to Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, the atonalists.

I came to Korngold via his opera Die Tote Stadt (1920) a post-Romantic masterpiece that haunted my imagination for years, but his Violin Concerto is a later work written in 1947 and I would rate it after the Sibelius as one of the best in the 20th century. It starts off with an enchanting, heavenly melody on the solo violin that makes us fall in love with it immediately. And the love affair lasts through the wonderful first movement and the ensuing extraordinary harmonies of the celestial Romance and exuberant Finale. It was premiered by Jascha Heifetz, but here Benjamin Schmid gives a more subtle interpretation with his “Lady Jeanne” Stradivarius that “sings and pipes, hops and thrills, languishes yearningly and sings dreamily.” Not to mention the Wiener Philharmoniker under Seiji Ozawa’s subdued and brilliantly integrated support in a performance to be cherished through the ages.

In the chamber Suite Op.23, with a left-hand-only piano part, Korngold is playing with traditional forms in an entirely original manner but with “imagination full of powerful imagery” and “sweet melodies that suggest a R. Strauss-Puccini even Lehár connection.” (Gottfried Kraus)

02 Gloria CoatesGloria Coates – Piano Quintet; Symphony No.10 “Drones of Druids on Celtic Ruins”
Kreutzer Quartet; Roderick Chadwick; CalArts Orchestra; Susan Allen
Naxos 8.559848 (naxos.com)

Gloria Coates’ mesmerizing music combines Penderecki’s complex textures from the 1960s – glissandi, clusters and microtones – with the trance-inducing repetitions of age-old ritual music, as adopted by today’s “mystical minimalists.” Coates, who turns 80 this October, was born in Wisconsin but has lived in Munich since 1969. She’s composed prolifically across all genres, including 16 symphonies and ten string quartets, many available on Naxos CDs, her abstract-expressionist paintings reproduced on their covers.

In the four slowish movements of her 22-minute Piano Quintet (2013), the Kreutzer Quartet, half of them tuned a quarter-tone higher than the others, sustain solemn, wordless, monkish chants over sporadic bass chords from pianist Roderick Chadwick, evoking a bell tolling each stanza.

Coates’ 36-minute, three-movement Symphony No.10 (1989), subtitled Drones of Druids on Celtic Ruins, is scored for brass and percussion, the second movement for percussion alone. Coates writes of “reading how the Celts keened and clapped over their dead with wild, trembling voices.” The symphony ends, she says, “with frightening keening and anxious drumming that seem to harbour the screams and crying of the banshees.”

Every movement of the Quintet and the Symphony has a title taken from Emily Dickinson’s poems. Coates describes how they connect to the music, but I couldn’t hear the connections, hearing only her truly enthralling sonorities. Moreover, not being mystically inclined, I found that even these, eventually, became somewhat tedious.

Hear her unique music, judge for yourself.

04 Harbison RugglesJohn Harbison – Symphony No.4; Carl Ruggles – Sun-Treader; Steven Stucky – Second Concerto for Orchestra
National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic; David Alan Miller
Naxos 8.559836 (naxos.com)

The University of Maryland-based National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic brings together outstanding young musicians who, based on this disc, produce exceptional results. Contemporary American music expert David Alan Miller conducts the orchestra in Carl Ruggles’ classic Sun-Treader (1931) followed by two works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers dating from 2004: John Harbison’s five-movement Symphony No.4 and the late Steven Stucky’s three-movement Second Concerto for Orchestra. The highly dissonant Ruggles even now has an abrupt in-your-face quality, though the composer’s road to completion was long. Achieving consistency of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic aspects in a new idiom is difficult, yet Ruggles achieved it. Great brass buildups to a brutal refrain of pounding timpani symbolize the sun’s power in “giant steps,” alternating with briefer moments of repose. Kudos to the excellent brass and percussion players.

I have always enjoyed Harbison’s bracing music and the Symphony No.4 demonstrates his expanded orchestral mastery. After an invigorating Fanfare, the Intermezzo features enticing pitched percussion and harp in dialogue with declamatory strings, leading to paradisiacal wind and string solos. But a jumpy Scherzo interrupts; the following Threnody is the work’s emotional core.

From Harbison to Stucky we arrive at an overtly virtuosic orchestral showcase of first-rate music-making in every sense of the word – Ravel carried much further! In the Second Concerto for Orchestra, the precision and energy of conductor Miller and the orchestra, and the beauty and variety of sound pictures realized, are breathtaking.

03 Antheil violin and pianoSpecter – The Music of George Antheil
Duo Odéon (violin/piano)
Sono Luminus DSL-92222 (sonoluminus.com)

Praised in 1927 by Ezra Pound, who spoke of him in the same glowing terms as he did the painter Pablo Picasso, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and writer Wyndham-Lewis – members of the Vorticists – George Antheil was hailed as revolutionary for his methods of harmonic conception. According to Pound, Antheil was annoyed with the term “architecture” when applied to music; he instead preferred the term “mechanisms” to describe his unique structural style.

Antheil, however, remained on the fringe of French music of the early 20th century and, despite attempts by performers to redress this situation, much of Antheil’s music remains very much in the shadows. This impressive disc might just change the equation if enough commercial muscle is put behind its promotion. Duo Odéon, comprising violinist Hannah Leland and pianist Aimee Fincher, have – first and foremost – selected important repertoire from Antheil’s canon. The dramatic Sonatina for Violin and Piano, together with the diabolically challenging Concerto for Violin and Orchestra – originally written for Pound’s violinist-mistress Olga Rudge – and the lyricism of Valses from Specter of the Rose present Duo Odéon in devastatingly good form throughout.

Every layer of Antheil’s inventive orchestration can be heard in Leland’s fiery double-stops which make the music leap off the page, and with the remarkable physicality of Fincher’s pianism, Duo Odéon brings Antheil’s genius to life again in an utterly memorable performance of his works.

05 John Robertson SymphonyJohn Robertson – Symphony No.1
Janáĉek Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Armoré
Navona Records NV6167 (navonarecords.com)

Judging from this CD, the music of Kingston-based John Robertson has long been unfairly neglected in his adopted country. Arriving in Canada from New Zealand in 1967, Robertson, who turns 75 this October, was a late bloomer, receiving no significant public performances until 1987, when the Nepean Symphony presented his Variations for Small Orchestra, Op.14.

The 18-minute Variations opens with an original theme filled with quirky pauses, syncopations and intervallic leaps. The six variations that follow feature prominent solos for clarinet, trumpet, French horn and timpani. There’s a tango and a waltz leading to a triumphant finale containing reminiscences of earlier variations.

Robertson’s 34-minute Symphony No.1, Op.18 dates from 1988 but was unheard until a 2014 performance in Bulgaria. Two brightly scored, energetic movements bookend a gorgeous slow movement, music that should be welcomed by Canadian orchestras and audiences.

The 25-minute Suite for Orchestra, Op.46, was premiered in 2010 by the London (UK) Gay Symphony Orchestra. The opening Fanfare for brass and percussion is followed by the Waltz, at first wistful as played by woodwinds and strings, becoming raucous when the rest of the orchestra joins in. Elegy, the longest movement, again shows Robertson’s lyrical gift, while the March ends the Suite in celebratory fashion.

In these neo-Romantic works, Robertson displays a sound of his own – colourful and inventive scoring, unpretentious and essentially cheerful. This music deserves to be heard and heard again.

Emergence Trilogy Vol.2: Elegeia
Flicker Ensemble
Flicker Art Collaboratory FAC 201702

Emergence Trilogy Vol.3: Spectral (Golden) Lyric
Flicker Ensemble
Flicker Art Collaboratory FAC 201703
(store.cdbaby.com/Artist/FlickerEnsemble)

06a Ken Newby ElegeiaI first encountered BC composer Kenneth Newby’s ambitious Emergence Trilogy, consisting of three albums of his compositions, online. I reviewed Chambers: Volume 1 in The WholeNote summer 2018 issue. Flicker Art Collaboratory has now released all three albums on CD, prompting me to explore the fascinating, multivalent music on Volumes 2 and 3.

Newby’s discography reaches back to the early 1990s when he co-founded the group Trance Mission. The San Francisco world fusion quartet incorporated elements of fourth world, ethno-ambient, improvisation and jazz, releasing four albums. Faint echoes of some of those elements still reverberate in Newby’s music today. In addition, his compositions make reference to 20th-century modernism, various branches of electronic sound synthesis and acousmatic music, plus his in-depth studies and performance of Balinese and Javanese gamelan music.

Elegeia showcases Newby’s quest for discovering complexity and multicultural identities in his work. It extends to the instrumentation of the five works here. Swarm I is scored for string octet; Snark for muted trumpet and orchestra; Swarm II for string octet and brass; Khôra for Pauline Oliveros for mixed ensembles, and Crépuscule for Barbara for prepared piano and strings. Not unexpectedly, the effect of the works varies tremendously. For example, the asymmetrical melodic motifs – methodically organized via numerical sequences found in English bell ringing – in Symmetries II, movement IV of Khôra for Pauline Oliveros, are performed exclusively on the Semara Dana. A type of Balinese gamelan, it’s the sole work for gamelan on these albums. The sensuously recorded Crépuscule for Barbara directly appropriates the piano preparations from John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48). Newby then cannily adds what sounds like pizzicato and harmonics played on high orchestral strings. The result is an elegant Cagean tribute – with a Newby twist.

06b Ken Newby SpectralThe last album, Spectral (Golden) Lyric, with ten works in total, is even more eclectic in instrumentation than the others. The brief Orchid March, scored for Chinese erhu, guzheng and percussion, is another instrumental cultural outlier. On the other hand, given that these Chinese instruments effectively perform Newby’s personal compositional language, this work exemplifies his 21st-century transcultural musical aesthetic. Adopting a less overt approach, Newby has given several works titles borrowed from Javanese gamelan performance practice. There are four (spectral) pathetan, a palaran, and the last string quartet is titled Toccata and Imbal. Imbal refers to a technique in Javanese gamelan music in which two (or more) players perform interlocking melodies, thereby producing a dense, highly energized musical texture.

Newby’s Toccata and Imbal was for me the particular high point of these three exhilarating albums.

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