04 Mendelssons KaleidoscopeFanny and Felix Mendelssohn
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Chandos CHAN 20256 (chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%2020256)

The sting of Richard Wagner’s bitter anti-Semitic missive had a numbing effect on the true appreciation for Felix Mendelssohn’s music. It was probably worse so for Fanny Mendelssohn who had to also deal with the patriarchy of European society, not dissimilar to the lack of recognition for Clara Schumann among other women of the period.       

The repertoire performed by the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective proffers a snapshot of filial Mendelssohn genius. Think then of this recording of chamber works as the most recent delectable musical presentation of Mendelssohnian hors’d’ouevres; the suggestion also being that (hopefully) there is much more to come. 

Kaleidoscope give a touchingly emotional account of Fanny’s String Quartet in A-flat Major H-U 55 whose harmonic richness and subdued melancholy reveal both a debt and contrast to her brother’s exquisite way with form and structure. Her later Trio in D-Minor Op. 11 H-U 465 displays a remarkably wide range of touch and timbre especially magical in the whispered delicacy of its Lied movement.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Sextet in D Major, Op. post. 110 MWV Q 16 came a whole year before his revolutionary String Octet in E-flat Major. Like its worthy successor, what clinches the greatness of this sextet is the buoyant jubilation and tight fugal construction, which gives it a power equalled by few other finales in chamber music. This is beautifully fresh and energetic music-making from a quite extraordinary ensemble.

01 Clark CeccareliLandmarks
Katelyn Clark; Isaiah Ceccarelli
Another Timbre at192 (anothertimbre.com)

After reflecting on some recorded improvisations, Katelyn Clark and Isaiah Ceccarelli release an album of jointly composed works for organ and percussion. The eight tracks on the recording unfold as dreamy sonic apparitions that hypnotize and enrapture. This immersive listening experience begins with the opening track Bells – an ominous ten-minute journey of undulating sonora and distant rumbles, providing a haunting and beautiful sonic mass below relentless mid-range organ fields. 

In tracks such as Landmarks, Landforms and Chaparral, the wonderful patience and restraint in the music urges the listener to remove themselves from the immediate and to allow the sounds to untangle in the mind that hasn’t been examined or confronted. One finds sombre reprieve in Improvisation on Kyrie Eleison and Improvisation on a quarter where blurry polyphonic relics live among the hazy ashes of drone debris. The towering 20-minute Five Distances is arresting in its glacial insistence to live in a space where observable sensation lives more in imagination than in reality. 

With their sensitive and delicate playing, Clark and Ceccarelli carefully unravel a path of feral resonances where listening begins when listening ends. All in all, this release is a deeply meaningful ambient odyssey capturing slowly falling auditory masses strewn in veins of afferent emissions that circle and deliberate in the basin of the most transcendent of listening experiences.  

02 VisionsVisions
Pierre-Laurent Aimard; Tamara Stefanovich
Pentatone PTC5186957 (pentatonemusic.com/product/visions/)

Released on Pentatone, long-time collaborators Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich release Visions, an album of music for two pianos centred around Messiaen’s intoxicating Visions de l’amen. With each work using the sound of bells as thematic material, a sound that often produces a mesmerizing effect, the duo certainly deliver an alluring sonic experience throughout the entirety of the release. 

Messiaen’s masterpiece is accompanied by Enescu’s Carillon Nocturne, Knussen’s Prayer Bell Sketch and a selection from Birtwistle’s massive Harrison’s Clocks. With both soloists captivating audiences around the world, this release is a treat for listeners who appreciate large works with a pianistic virtuosity. While the selected works certainly have their obvious comparisons with respect to towering vertical chords and striking timbre, each piece creates interesting and unexpected contrasts and connections – one work mapping new meaning onto another as filtered through breathtaking pianism. With each work presenting mighty musical edifices often remaining in emotional distress or ecstasy (or both), the high level of performance perfectionism reveals the importance of the overall structures without allowing the heavy emotional content to blur the composers’ poetic intentions. 

If Messiaen’s work is meant to represent hope in dark times, one can certainly use this recording as a temporary respite from the gloomy state of current affairs – the two pianists deliver with extraordinary bravura making even Messiaen’s joyful and ecstatic offerings shine with new light. 

03 Loadbang QuiverQuiver
New Focus Recordings FCR342 (newfocusrecordings.com)

The fourth release by this New York City-based ensemble features an eclectic collection of works commissioned from composers friendly to the group, Quinn Mason, Heather Stebbins, Chaya Czernowin and ZongYun We, and three ensemble members, Jeffrey Gavett, Carlos Cordeiro and Andy Kozar. 

The first track, titled Aging and composed by Mason, is a miniature featuring baritone voice in a decidedly lyrical style – a suitable palate cleanser to begin what unfolds to be an album of dynamic works and pristine performances. Stebbins’ Quiver is clever and punchy. Undulating bass clarinet pulses lurk beneath nocturnal jibs and quirks projected as vocalizations from the ensemble members. This music is highly creative – the bare nature of the orchestration illuminates the highly effective doublings of noise and sustained colour. Distorted honks and rhythmic bloops permeate Disquiet composed by Cordeiro, a work that recalls a Stravinskian sensibility with its lilting and unrelenting vocal part layered over various pattern-play. The dusty soundscapes of ZongYun We’s Flower evoke mysterious sonic corridors through which the listener is taken into dark psychological murkiness. This music lays bare a rugged beauty with highly novel and unusual sonorities. Providing two works for the release, Proverbial and  quis det ut, Gavett offers contrasting moods: grating sonic bursts in the former and meditative sustained expanses in the latter. Set in two movements, Kozar’s To Keep My Loneliness Warm perfectly captures the character of the subtitles: in the first movement the trombone constantly interrupting the text is an unsettling representation of Insomnia, and the manner in which the ensemble parts hover around the text is certainly a place for Odd Behaviour. 

Lastly, Czernowin’s IRRATIONAL produces gestures that eliminate the artifice between the separate parts of the ensemble: this work embodies a brilliant frenetic energy and dazzles the ear with groove-based alchemy, bombastic jerks, a splendid use of silence and hypnotic stasis. loadbang once again shines in their virtuosic ability to make the unusual soar with world-class bravura.

Listen to 'Quiver' Now in the Listening Room

04 John Luther AdamsHouses of the Wind
John Luther Adams
Cold Blue Music CB0063 (coldbluemusic.com)

The eerie vibrations created by Aeolian (wind) harps provide the central source of inspiration and sonic material for John Luther Adams’ latest release, Houses of the Wind. The album is a meditative journey in five wind-swept movements that transfix and bend all sense of the present moment. Using a series of layered field recordings of his own Aeolian harp, Adams creates slowly unfolding and otherworldly shimmerings as if slowly floating through a cave of gypsum. Low rumbles form as glacial resonances that crystalize into mountainous radiant spectra. The gentle ambiance of this sound world is at once distant hopelessness and point blank serenity. 

This duality of despair and transcendence permeates throughout, creating a liminal experience for the listener. As one who advocates for the health of the earth, Adams provides a reminder of nature’s fragile and yet tremendous force. But rather than a didactic offering, Adams invites us to pause and think about the space we inhabit. A convergence of music, emotion and nature, this release provides a sense of longing but also peace.

05 John AdamsJohn Adams
Tonhalle Orchester Zürich; Paavo Järvi
Alpha ALPHA874 (outhere-music.com/en/labels/alpha-classics)

John Adams (b.1947) has long been considered among today’s leading American composers, particularly after the success of his operas Nixon in China (1987) and the controversial The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). This album of four orchestral works was the fruit of his 2021-22 Residency with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich directed by Paavo Järvi.

Having discovered musical minimalism in the 1970s, Adams’ works characteristic of that style include the fanfare-like Tromba Lontana (1985/86). Adams’ compositional style has since continuously evolved, incorporating musical influences including numerous Western classical as well as vernacular American styles: jazz, pop and rock.

In the 1990s Adams produced the brilliantly orchestrated, effervescent Slonimsky’s Earbox, in part drawing on early-period Stravinsky stylistic cues. Adams retroactively observed that the work points “toward a successful integration of the older minimalist techniques (repetitive motifs, steady background pulse and stable harmonic areas) and the more complex, more actively contrapuntal language of the post-Klinghoffer pieces.” Järvi demonstrates a sure command of the work’s web of stylistic allusions. 

The rollicking Lollapalooza was also composed in 1995. Today the American word “lollapalooza” means something oversized and perhaps outlandish, features reflected in Adam’s exuberant music. 

Adams considers his three-part tone poem My father Knew Charles Ives his “Proustian madeleine, although one with a Yankee flavor.” In this complex mature orchestral work,, Adams draws on his New England heritage, specifically reflecting the Connecticut composer Ives’ pervading musical influence.

This outstanding portrait of Adams’ orchestral oeuvre is a fine way to celebrate the composer’s 75th birthday.

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