01 Lorelei EnsembleImpermanence
Lorelei Ensemble
Sono Luminus DSL-92226 (sonoluminus.nativedsd.com)

Impermanence is an album on a mission. The liner notes offer a lengthy essay by Beth Willer, artistic director of the nine-voice Boston-based women’s vocal group, Lorelei Ensemble. She mentions the migration of peoples, pilgrimage, the essential impermanence of existence, and the function of music “as a container of meaning,” among other topics.

Examining the old-juxtaposed-with-the-new-repertoire approach of this album, it can be grouped into four categories, beginning with the 12th-century song Portum in ultimo. Among the earliest of works in polyphonic notation, it’s preserved in a book meant for pilgrims travelling along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

The much larger second group consists of 15th-century motets by Guillaume Du Fay, the renowned Franco-Flemish composer, plus motets from the contested “anonymous” Turin Codex J.II.9 of Cypriot-French origin. The J.II.9 songs with their polyphonic freedom and piquant resultant harmonies reflect the remarkable fluidity of the people and cultures between the European mainland and the 15th-century French court in Cyprus.

In a third group falls the choral work Tsukimi (Moon Viewing 2013) by American composer Peter Gilbert, eliciting the Japanese celebration of the full moon in ancient Heian era poems. Eight individual songs, evocatively rendered by Gilbert, are interspersed among the motets and two Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) Vocalises. Constituting the fourth group, these songs are from Takemitsu’s larger composition Windhorse, depicting Tibetan nomads.

The album closes with Takemitsu’s Vocalise II. It offers a satisfying tonal closing, the core of which is a quote from a Bantu lullaby, resolving the bracing modernist harmonies heard just beforehand. To my ear Lorelei Ensemble’s ambitious concept album works superbly.

02 QuartomRenaissance
Quartom
ATMA ACD2 2769 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1613)

Recorded at St. Esprit Church in Montreal, this CD celebrates Quartom’s tenth anniversary, bittersweet perhaps, with the replacement of founding tenor Gaétan Sauvageau by the accomplished Antonio Figueroa. I was interested to see that the three other members, baritones Benoit Le Blanc, Julien Patenaude, and bass-baritone Philippe Martel, were all members of children’s choirs in their earlier years, two with Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and the other, an alumnus of La Maitrise des petits chanteurs de Québec. It is clear that something in the musical education of these singers taught them exceptional phrasing technique in performance. For this is exactly what makes this recording of pure Gregorian chant alternating with Palestrina’s polyphonic settings remarkable.

Palestrina composed in what Monteverdi referred to as “prima prattica,” a “stile antico” of pure counterpoint in deference to an earlier era. Palestrina’s elegant curves of sound and long-breathed melody never detract from the original character of Gregorian chant on which his compositions are based. He imbued the melodies with vitality by incorporating rhythmic irregularities and clean sonorities with a few well-prepared dissonances to reflect textual nuance. He was the master of creating polyphonic textures that have distinct clarity. Therefore, his a cappella motets have a similar requirement of singers performing Gregorian chant: precision intonation and sensitivity to textual phrasing throughout – both of which are evident in Quartom’s performance, in addition to their exquisitely beautiful tone.

03 Nicandro e FilinoPaolo Lorenzani – Nicandro e Fileno
Le Nouvel Opéra; Les Boreades; Francis Colpron
ATMA ACD2 2770 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1610)

Le Nouvel Opéra and Les Boréades de Montréal are Montreal-based companies dedicated to musicologically and performatively reviving, remounting and reimagining music of the Baroque era (1600 to 1750). Clearly committed to the authenticity, accuracy and specificity of this intricate music (along with its detailed performance practices), historical musicology and creative performance coalesce here on this 2018 recording to shine a light on music that otherwise would run the risk of being relegated to the footnotes of music history.

Here, the first ever recording of Nicandro e Fileno, Paolo Lorenzani’s (1640-1713) pastoral opera for six singers that was initially performed, in Italian, in 1681 before Louis XIV at the palace of Fontainebleau, is brought to life by an aggregation of thoughtful scholars, practitioners and performers. And while there is no doubt that the ensemble, under the skillful direction of conductor and Boréades founder Francis Colpron, is dedicated to the period piece accuracy of this music, these sides are not fusty and this music is not ossified. Rather, new life has been imbued across all three acts, and the once-forgotten Italian-style opera comes alive on this beautifully captured and rendered ATMA Classique recording. The music, along with its unpacking of the still-relevant and universal themes of love, along with its trials and tribulations, brings escapist joy to general music fans and early music enthusiasts alike in these troubled times. A detailed accompanying booklet capturing extensive historical notes and the opera’s libretto is a welcome addition.

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04 Mahler Das LiedMahler – Das Lied von der Erde
Magdalena Kožená; Stuart Skelton; Bayerischen RSO; Sir Simon Rattle
BR Klassik 900172 (br-klassik.de/orchester-und-chor/br-klassik-cds/symphonieorchester/br-klassik-cd-symphonieorchester-mahler-lied-simon-rattle-100.html)

Gustav Mahler began work on his “Symphony for Tenor, Alto (or Baritone) and Orchestra” in 1907, a year marked by a series of personal and professional tragedies. Around that time he was given an anthology of Chinese Tang dynasty poetry transliterated from French to German by Hans Bethge. Captivated by the melancholy tone of these poems that so well captured his sense of resignation, he sought out early recordings on wax cylinders of authentic Chinese music and, philosophical by nature, also immersed himself in Buddhist literature. Choosing several poems from this volume he created what he covertly regarded as his ninth symphony the following summer.

The present recording is assembled from live performances conducted by Sir Simon Rattle in January of 2018, his second and unquestionably his finest recording of this work. I normally prefer a darker-voiced contralto (or baritone) in this song cycle, however Magdalena Kožená’s beautiful mezzo-soprano upper register and sensitive tonal inflections eventually won me over. Even more impressive to my mind is the heroic tenor of the Australian Stuart Skelton, whose powerful voice rides effortlessly over the massive orchestration of the opening movement, yet is capable of an agile suppleness in the lighter movements that follow. The excellent Bavarian Radio orchestra once again demonstrate their stellar reputation as a Mahler orchestra dating back to the days of Rafael Kubelík’s superb box set of the symphonies from the 1960s.

The recording is clear and close-miked with negligible extraneous noises, and text and translations are included. Of the 60 or so recordings of this work that have seen the light of day this one surely belongs among the top ten.

05 Faure Duruffle RequiemFauré; Duruflé – Requiem
Julie Bouliane; Philippe Sly; Choeur de l’Eglise St. Andrew and St. Paul; Jean-Sebastien Vallée
ATMA ACD2 2779 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1615)

The Requiem Masses by Fauré and Duruflé prove a nice pairing on this CD. Each composed three different versions of the choral Requiem, scored for chamber or full orchestra, or with organ accompaniment as chosen and lovingly performed by Jean-Sébastian Vallée on this recording. Both composers, eschewing the operatic 19th-century Requiem settings of Berlioz and Verdi, chose instead to focus on images of rest and peace. In both masses, the highly dramatic sections of Dies irae are omitted while the uplifting Pie Jesu is retained. Both composed Libera me for baritone soloist, and in this performance, Philippe Sly so beautifully intones the humble plea, never once diminishing the powerful timbre of his voice.

Fauré composed his melodies using the Hellenic principles of clarity, balance and serenity and Duruflé, writing 60 years later, based his on the Gregorian melodies for the Mass of the Dead, imbuing them with rhythmic variation and harmonic enhancement. The pace with which the Choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul is directed on this album allows for a deeply reverent quality throughout. In the Duruflé Pie Jesu, the interweaving of mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne with Elinor Frey’s ad libitum cello results in a beautifully warm and inviting entreaty, while it is interesting to hear Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal sing Fauré’s Pie Jesu in perfect unison, rather than performed by the traditional solo treble.

07 Britten Death in VeniceFrank Martin – Mass for Double Choir
Westminster Choir; Joe Miller
Independent wcc1809 (naxosdirect.com/items/miller-mass-for-double-choir-465897)

Why isn’t the music of Frank Martin better known? Born in 1890 into a fervently Christian family – his father was a Calvinist minister – this Swiss-born composer reached maturity at a time when many composers were experimenting with new means of expression such as serialism and atonality. Nevertheless, while Martin did adopt certain contemporary styles, most of his music remained firmly rooted in the past. This was particularly evident in his works for chorus and never more so than in his great Mass for Double Choir performed here by the Westminster Choir under the direction of Joe Miller.

Written in 1922, the Mass was Martin’s only unaccompanied choral work and today it is regarded as among the greatest a cappella works of the 20th century. An intimately personal creation, Martin kept it under cover for nearly 40 years and it wasn’t until 1963 that it was first published and performed.

Not surprisingly, the Westminster Choir does it full justice. The work opens with simple flowing lines not dissimilar to those of Gregorian chant. Yet very soon, the score leaves medieval Europe and joins the 20th century with lush impressionistic harmonies. Indeed, the five-movement mass is a study in contrasts from the introspective Kryie to the solid Gloria and the mysterious Agnus Dei. Throughout, the choir provides a sensitive and profound performance – music written as a true testament to a composer’s deep Christian faith.

An added bonus on this disc is the inclusion of four short choral pieces by Edward Bairstow, Joel Phillips, Anders Öhrwall and Bernat Vivancos, all of which round out a most satisfying recording. For lovers of choral music this CD is a must – beautiful music exquisitely sung – we can’t ask for more.

02 Czerny TriosCzerny – Piano Trios
Sun-Young Shin; Benjamin Hayek; Samuel Gingher
Naxos 8.573848 (naxosdirect.com/items/czerny-piano-trios-457583)

This disc provides additional recognition for the chamber music of Carl Czerny (1791-1857). The Deux Trios brillants, Op.211 (1830) illustrate my sense that the Beethoven-taught Czerny has a more Romantic side that I prefer, and a more classical side that I do not. My first exposure to the Czerny chamber revival was an energetic, Beethoven-ish recording by Anton Kuerti and St. Lawrence String Quartet members of the composer’s Piano Quartet. In that spirit, on this disc I love the second trio of Op. 211 in A Major, where virtuosity serves expressive ends, harmony demonstrates the advances of the early-Romantic era, and there is the sense of power and growth. The third movement surprises in its Bolero rhythm, adding vitality and contrast. The first trio in C major shows Czerny’s classically precise writing for piano in a high register. But the material I find prim, exhibiting a music-box effect sometimes.

The Trois Sonatines faciles et brillantes, Op.104 (1827) for advanced students, illustrate the older tradition of piano as leader, violin and cello as accompanists, with opportunities for improvisation. Again, my inner Romantic leads me to prefer the final A-Minor Sonatina to those in G and C Major. I respect the articulate pianism throughout of Samuel Gingher, supported by colleagues Sun-Young Shin, violin, and Benjamin Hayek, cello. Playing on modern instruments their style leans Classical or Romantic as appropriate, but is never mechanical.

03 Schubert OctetSchubert – Octet in F Major, D.803
OSM Chamber Soloists
Analekta AN 2 8799 (analekta.com/en/albums/schubert-octet-in-f-major-d-803)

Schubert’s largest chamber work, the Octet, was composed in 1824, during a deeply creative period in his life that also gave birth to two other major chamber works – the string quartets Death and the Maiden and Rosamunde. Although they share similar combinations of splendour and elegance, the Octet seems to be both more ceremonious in form and more optimistic in nature and, as such, a relevant choice for OSM Chamber Soloists’ second album. Having released their recording of Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major in January 2018, the OSM Chamber Soloists chose the work that was inspired by Beethoven’s Septet as their next project. These two classic gems have many parallels, including instrumentation, the number of movements, key relationships and general character. Structured in six strong movements, the Octet features many of Schubert’s signature marks such as prominent dotted rhythms, dramatic momentum and sumptuous melodies. The fourth movement, Andante – variations, is especially captivating with its sublime transitions between the variations.

The OSM Chamber Soloists (comprising members of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal) is a splendid ensemble. Each instrumentalist has a distinct character of their own but the synergy of the ensemble, the osmosis of the musical ideas, is extraordinary. I have been a fan of the violinist Andrew Wan for quite some time and his playing and leadership on this album is exceptionally strong. The rest of the ensemble is just as impressive. Olivier Thouin (violin), Victor Fournelle-Blain (viola), Brian Manker (cello), Ali Kian Yazdanfar (double bass), Todd Cope (clarinet), Stéphane Lévesque (bassoon) and John Zirbel (horn) have collectively created a colourful aural portrait of a unique work.

05 Clarinet QuintetsClarinet Quintets
Mark Lieb; Phoenix Ensemble
Navona Records nv6193 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6193)

Lyricism may not be the first quality one associates with the music of Elliott Carter, yet always amidst his confusion of conflicting rhythms there are long melodically pure lines to be sung. Carter’s Clarinet Quintet (2007), offers plenty of the former, but an especially good amount of the latter as well. The performance on this recent release by members of the Phoenix Ensemble (including founder and clarinetist Mark Lieb) rises to the task of finding the way to sing the lines within the exacting demands of Carter’s rhythms. The more contrapuntal playing is virtuosic and seemingly effortless. Lieb has a ready access to the entire range of his instrument, and his rapid articulation is crisp and sure. The quartet playing is even better, or perhaps it’s safer to say theirs is the more friendly material. Oddly, in this late work, the composer assigned great swatches of sustained notes to the wind player, setting off the more interesting material played by the strings.

The same could not be said of Johannes Brahms’ towering late chamber work, the Quintet Op.115 for Clarinet and Strings. All players share in the glory of this final outpouring of the old man’s soul. This disc’s pairing with the Carter quintet is an odd one, so little do the two works have in common beyond instrumentation. The quartet here is still excellent, all in all; the ensemble is good. Their decision to examine the work with slower than conventional tempi in the outer movements is not a success, but I do love the style of the string playing, which is reminiscent of mid-century movie score melodrama.

An excellent rendering of Carter’s Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux, for flute and clarinet, is included between the larger works.

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07 Mahler 5Mahler – Symphony No.5
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Daniel Harding
Harmonia Mundi HMM902366 (smarturl.it/n1e7kz)

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony has proved itself to be one of his most often performed works, musically challenging yet accessible enough for even student orchestras to perform with aplomb. Scored for a relatively normal-sized orchestra and relatively Apollonian in comparison to his more Dionysian and ofttimes programmatic earlier symphonies, it marks a progression towards an exclusively instrumental and often elaborately contrapuntal approach characteristic of his middle period symphonies.

Daniel Harding, a protégé of eminent Mahlerians Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado, leads a revelatory performance of this work with the superb Swedish Radio Orchestra, an ensemble he has directed since 2007 and to whom he is contracted through 2023. The esprit-de-corps he has established with the ensemble is palpable in this sumptuous and expertly edited recording, captured in all its glory by a crack audio team from Teldex Studio Berlin. It is sadly rare these days to come across a proper studio recording of this quality. No nuance goes unnoticed in this finely wrought and vigorous production.

Harding’s interpretation is eminently idiomatic and the orchestra is quick to respond to his beck and call. As an example among many wonderful moments I was struck by his handling of the exuberant Rondo-Finale, in which the many tempo changes are elegantly transitioned by establishing a long line that drives towards the conclusion, surmounting the sectional stopping and starting that often mars lesser performances. The celebrated Adagietto movement for strings and harp is equally effective; it is languorously timed at 10 minutes and 30 seconds yet never feels overwrought, as the string section’s vibrato is carefully restrained to something resembling a period performance. A truly admirable achievement for all concerned!

01 HosokawaToshio Hosokawa – Orchestral Works 3
Basque National Orchestra; Jun Markl
Naxos 8.573733 (naxosdirect.com/items/toshio-hosokawa-meditation-nach-dem-sturm-klage-448889)

Multiple award-winning Japanese contemporary classical composer Toshio Hosokawa (b.1955) has built an illustrious career rooted in both his Japanese birthplace and in European, particularly German, musical culture. Those bicultural influences, drawing on Schubertian lyricism and Webernian tone colouring, are seamlessly integrated with intrinsically Japanese musical, theatrical, aesthetic and spiritual elements.

Hosokawa has stated his philosophical goal was to give “musical expression to the notion of a beauty that has grown from transience. … We hear the individual notes and appreciate at the same time the process of how the notes are born and die: a sound landscape of continual ‘becoming’ that is animated in itself.”

His orchestral triptych Meditation, Nach dem Sturm, and Klage forms the heart of this album. It is Hosokawa’s personal and theatrical – in some places near cinematic – response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. While Meditation mourns the many victims of that tragedy, Nach dem Sturm invokes oceanic turbulent darkness.

I find Klage the most moving and musically convincing. Based on a poem and fragments of letters by Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887-1914), Klage rages against human life taken by the ocean. Haunting images in the lyrics – a shattered body, lamenting dark voices, a lonely boat sinking in stormy seas under “unblinking stars” – are reflected in the music.

Hosokawa masterfully unleashes the full power of the contemporary symphony orchestra in Klage. It’s underscored by the emotional power of the female voice, here eloquently rendered by mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura, which serves as the work’s consoling mother figure.

02 Global SirensGlobal Sirens
Christina Petrowska Quilico
Fleur de Son FDS58046 (naxosdirect.com/items/global-sirens-473518)

The last Classical & Beyond beat column I wrote for The WholeNote (October 2013 issue) was titled “Let’s Hear It for the Women!” Now, five years later, I am pleased to be reviewing Global Sirens, released last month by the exceptional (and exceptionally busy) Canadian pianist and educator, Christina Petrowska Quilico, and featuring works by 15 women composers, some known, most essentially neglected. Several were born around the turn of the last century; a few are still composing today.

As the title suggests, the 15 composers – I’m about to give them their due and name them all – hail from all over the globe: Germany (Ilse Fromm-Michaels, Else Schmitz-Gohr, Lotte Backes, Barbara Heller, Susanne Erding); France (Lili Boulanger, Cécile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre); Italy (Ada Gentile); Canada (Larysa Kuzmenko); USA (Meredith Monk, Adaline Shepherd); Australia (Peggy Glanville-Hicks); South Africa (Priaulx Rainer); and Russia (Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, who lived in Winnipeg the last 20 years of her life). Some had fathers who forbade or discouraged their musical pursuits; others were expected to give up composing once married. And because her husband was Jewish, the Nazis banned performances of works by Fromm-Michaels.

Petrowska Quilico covers a lot of ground over the CD’s 19 tracks, from Chaminade’s rich and romantic Méditation and Schmitz-Gohr’s lovely Elegie for the Left Hand to Backes’ jazzy, Debussyesque Slow and Kuzmenko’s haunting and evocative Mysterious Summer Night. And then there’s Shepherd’s delightful Wireless Rag, yup, an honest-to-goodness rag.

Let’s hear it for Christina Petrowska Quilico, champion of women composers!

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03 Frank HorvatFrank Horvat – For Those Who Died Trying
Mivos Quartet
ATMA ACD2 2788 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1618)

It is impossible to escape Frank Horvat’s mystical hypothesis that music is somehow part of all human DNA. It is also a testament to the genius of Horvat that he is able to craft this into each segment of this unique 35-movement string quartet so that each so comes poignantly alive with the personality of 35 Thai environmentalists and human rights warriors who died in the act of defending the truth. The magical experience magnifies exponentially as one is struck by the fact that the inspiration for all of this is, further, inspired by a visual essay created by photographer Luke Duggleby titled For Those Who Died Trying.

Both Horvat and Duggleby have been transformed by the senseless murders of the 35 Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). The portraits of the HRDs made by the photographer are starkly unglamorous images of each defender. The musical resurrections are Horvat’s as he melds the story of each life and death, using a unique melodic language in which the poignant sense of humanity and tragic loss is never far from the surface of each piece.

The Mivos Quartet, a unique string ensemble, responds brilliantly to this music. There’s a strong sense, in each of the 35 sections, of the quartet functioning like actors in some powerful tragedy. Each musician, solo and in ensemble, controls his forces with an unfailing sense of the right emphasis and the right moment together to deliver performances of affecting power.

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05 WeinbergWeinberg – Symphony No.13; Serenade for Orchestra
Siberian State Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande
Naxos 8.573879 (naxosdirect.com/items/weinberg-symphony-no.-13-serenade-459920)

Starkly contrasting works by Mieczyslaw Weinberg fill this disc of world-premiere recordings, part of Naxos’ projected 17-CD compilation of Weinberg’s orchestral music conducted by Vladimir Lande.

The 13th of Weinberg’s 22 symphonies, dating from 1976, is dedicated to the memory of his mother, killed in the Holocaust along with his father and sister. (In 1939, after Germany invaded, the 19-year-old Weinberg fled from Poland to live in the USSR.)

Weinberg’s sombre Symphony No.13 begins with a downcast melody for strings that seems to wander, as if lost in a fog, for more than three minutes. Scored for a large orchestra (triple woodwinds, six horns), the one-movement, 38-minute Symphony contains other such long, gloomy, sparsely textured passages, separated by agitated, anguished tutti climaxes. It closes as bleakly as it begins, with a few plucked harp notes quietly fading away. Significantly, Weinberg quotes from the opera he considered his finest creation, The Passenger, set mostly in wartime Auschwitz. This symphony, so similar in mood and intensity to a grief-laden adagio by Shostakovich (Weinberg’s friend and stylistic inspiration), is a truly haunting, powerful statement of personal pain and heartbreaking loss.

Nothing could be more different than the four-movement, 18-minute Serenade (1952) – bright, cheerful, playful, with charming dance-like melodies. The finale is even titled Allegro giocoso – nothing giocoso, of course, in the Symphony.

Conductor Lande is clearly committed to Weinberg’s music, these vibrant performances helping to make this CD utterly unforgettable.

Morton Feldman – For John Cage
Aisha Orazbayeva; Mark Knoop
all that dust ATD 1

Matthew Shlomowitz – Avant Muzak
Asamisimasa; Håkon Stene
all that dust ATD 2

Séverine Ballon – Inconnaissance
Séverine Ballon
all that dust ADT 3

The new label all that dust (allthatdust.com) has been established by the outstanding pedigree of its founders – composers, performers, instrument-builders and forthright musical creators and innovators – who have cut their teeth on the most demanding concert halls across the world of contemporary music. Now from founders, soprano Juliet Fraser, Newton Armstrong and Mark Knoop come these three of the first five releases on their exciting imprint. The tongue-in-cheek title of this label, All That Dust, and the bold statements of the music under review, will probably not be lost on the listener.  

06a all that dust FeldmanMorton Feldman’s For John Cage – literally the premiere release, which also features label co-founder and pianist Mark Knoop, together with brilliant violinist Aisha Orazbayeva – heralds something of a reborn American avant-garde, primarily concerned with the sensual qualities of sounds themselves, rather than the shaping and ordering of those sounds. Always typical of this tendency, Feldman’s sound-world here consists of small, soft and unhurried musical gestures which emphasise the physical detail of instrumental timbre. The work in question seems a conscious attempt at formalizing a disorientation of memory. The effect is of a hallucinatory stasis, not dissimilar to the canvases of Mark Rothko, where little happens – very beautifully.

06b all that dust ShlomowitzMatthew Shlomowitz’s music is characterized by its bizarre theatricality and biting irony couched in subversive and surreal quantum miniatures. The disc begins with four segments titled Popular Contexts 7: Public Domain Music, all of which are almost immediately recognizable since the segments are reminiscent of elevator and mall music upon which they are based. The next five segments feature variations with similar public-music settings, this time featuring the percussionist Håkon Stene who augments Asamisimasa, a kind of Lewis Caroll-like equivalent of a jazz quintet. Avant Muzak – five sketches regarding tempi and locale – brings this entertainingly satirical disc to a close.

06c all that dust BallonThe effect of Séverine Ballon’s musical odyssey Inconnaissance is best elaborated as a masterpiece of music whose microscopic elements of tone, pitch and tempi are conflations of musical ideas miraculously welded together: new, alert and alive. Ballon’s transparent, lyrical cello resides in an opulent sound world.

07 Hands and Lips of WindHands and Lips of Wind
Diagenesis Duo
Independent (diagenesisduo.com)

You know that you’re already in for something special when you read that the Diagenesis Duo comprises a soprano – Heather Barnes – and a cellist – Jennifer Bewerse. That Barnes turns out to be decidedly bel canto with an ability for breathtaking coloratura and that Bewerse draws from her instrument every possible sound short of a human voice is the seductively beckoning cherry on the proverbial cake.

The two settings of Mischa Salkind-Pearl’s profoundly ethereal Hands and Lips of Wind are intensely dramatic. This work, together with con mortuis in lingua mortua, Stephen Lewis’ powerfully elegiac piece, and a fresh arrangement of the constantly shifting Travels by Adam Scott Neal were commissioned by the duo. The album also includes the viscerally sprung Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker, a series of miniatures by Harrison Birtwistle; all of which is music made in the realm of heaven.

Bewerse is not the only one who pushes the envelope, vaulting and diving up and down the registers of the cello – no easy task given its tuning in perfect fifths an octave beneath the viola and an octave above the contrabass – but swathed in the leaping melisma and daring coloratura of Barnes, the duo sculpts this diabolically complex music with impossible precision. It is music seemingly in the twilight of tonality but it is utterly seductive, with the cerebral clarity and the stunning instinctiveness with which both musicians approach the five gems in this repertoire.

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