05 Victoria BondVictoria Bond – Instruments of Revelation
Chicago Pro Musica
Naxos 8.559864 (naxos.com)

Four works dating from 2005 to 2011 display some of the wide expressive range of American Victoria Bond (b.1945). Three figures from tarot cards are portrayed in Instruments of Revelation: The Magician (in Bond’s words “mysterious…dexterous”), The High Priestess (“wisdom…passion”) and The Fool (“comedy…chaos”). Cleverly scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, the first two movements are very engaging and attractively descriptive, while The Fool, in wild confusion, lurches and falls across many slippery glissandi.

In Frescoes and Ash for clarinet/bass clarinet, string quintet, piano and percussion, six artworks from Pompeii are depicted, most strikingly in the raucous Street Musicians (the CD’s cover image) and the languid rippling of Marine Mosaic. The seventh movement, Ash: Awareness of Mortality, is a haunting dirge for the doomed city.

“I’ve been drawn to Ulysses… since high school… because the writing resembles the way I think… in fleeting images and allusions, in a stream of consciousness.” Bond previously set Molly Bloom’s soliloquy and here, in her 20-minute Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming (from Episode 17), tenor Rufus Müller, accompanied by pianist Jenny Lin, speaks the questions and sings Bloom’s answers. However, Joyce’s convoluted text, included in the booklet, renders moot whether the music, lyrical or dramatic, fits the words.

Finally, pianist Olga Vinokur performs Binary, a heavily percussive seven-minute piece whose first movement reminded me of Thelonious Monk, followed by a set of variations on a Brazilian samba, ending a disc of very mixed imagery, pleasures and perplexity.

06 Fuego QuartetMigration
Fuego Quartet
Ravello Records RR8010 (ravellorecords.com)

The Fuego Quartet (Nicki Roman, soprano; Eric Elmgren, alto; Harrison Clarke, tenor, and Gabriel Piqué, baritone) was founded in 2015 at the Eastman School of Music. Their album Migration’s sophistication shows how far the saxophone quartet’s repertoire has moved from predominantly French composers and Scott Joplin rags. For example, David Maslanka’s five-part Recitation Book recomposes Bach chorales. Many of the pieces are quite meditative and the Fuego Quartet blends together seamlessly with little vibrato to create a gentle wall of harmony. The final track, Fanfare/Variations on “Durch Adams Fall,” is a lengthy piece combining the boisterous with the liturgical.

William Albright’s Fantasy Etudes is a six-part work opening with a Prelude which combines elements of the other sections and then moves into A Real Nice Number, an ironic homage to Debussy’s Claire de Lune. Pypes is a lilting piece evoking bagpipes; The Fives for Steve is dedicated to the memory of a composer friend; and the Phantom Galop was inspired by the Lone Ranger. Harmonium, based on childhood memories of the instrument, possesses an incredible and quiet intensity and could be my favourite on the album. The final section, They Only Come Out at Night, is a tribute to 50s and 60s cop shows on TV.

David Clay Mettens’ Ornithology S is a ten-minute tour de force based on Juan Fontanive’s animated sculptures of birds that are a remarkable re-imagining of flip books. It involves complex rhythmic sections, intricate pad clicking, subtle multiphonics and delicate slap tonguing, and demonstrates how impeccably the quartet plays together as they interpret difficult pieces.

07 Liptak Dove SongsDavid Liptak – Dove Songs
Tony Arnold; Alison d’Amato; Renée Jolles; Margaret Kampmeier; Dieter Hennings Yeomans; Steven Doane; Barry Snyder
New Focus Recordings FCR224 (naxosdirect.com)

American composer David Liptak composes texturally rich, colourful and contrasting musical sounds in four compositions here. The title track, Dove Songs, is a six-part song cycle composed for soprano Tony Arnold, who performs it with superb pianist Alison d’Amato. Arnold’s enchanting voice grasps all the contrasting storytelling/musical elements of the work, based on poetry by 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove. Great moments include the dramatic vocal high pitches and piano tinkling like snow and frost in The Snow King, short phrases with subtle humourous undertones emulating domestic life’s ups and downs in Beauty and the Beast, and faster lighter lines with a final high-pitched vocal note and piano flourish in Flirtation.

More intense lyricism and held notes feature in Impromptus, composed for and played by violinist Renée Jolles with pianist Margaret Kampmeier. The duo shines in the contrasting conversational solo lines which shorten until they overlap simultaneously in the second movement, Lyrical. The seven-movement guitar solo suite, The Sighs, explores the melancholy of seven artists. Guitarist Dieter Hennings Yeomans brings out the clever compositional use of Rameau’s Baroque counterpoint in the fluctuating guitar line in the Les Soupirs and Petite Reprise movements. The extremely moving musical sentiment of Beautiful Dreamer, based on the Stephen Foster song of the same name, is unforgettable. Sonata for Cello and Piano has cellist Steven Doane and pianist Barry Synder perform a zippy second-movement race to the finish!

David Liptak’s memorable, lyrical, original compositions are timeless!

Listen to 'David Liptak: Dove Songs' Now in the Listening Room

01 French Flute20th Century French Flute Concertos
Ransom Wilson; BBC Concert Orchestra; Perry So
Nimbus Alliance NI 6375 (naxosdirect.com) 

No nation’s composers have contributed more to the flute repertoire than those of France. From the Baroque era to the present, French composers have excelled as weavers of iridescent, gossamer musical tapestries, employing as a favourite filament the diaphanous sound of the flute. On this CD, American flutist Ransom Wilson, conductor Perry So and the BBC Concert Orchestra present three rarely recorded, captivating works by Jean Françaix (1912-1997), Jean Rivier (1896-1987) and Jean-Michel Damase (1928-2013), plus a repertoire staple by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962).

In the opening Moderato of Françaix’s Impromptu for Flute and Strings (1983), the flute dances sprightly filigrees over the strings’ waltz beat. Two sweetly dreamy movements, Largo and Andante poetica, containing echoes of Poulenc (I’ve always thought of Françaix as “Poulenc-lite”), frame a playful Scherzando. It’s an irresistibly charming piece!  

The Allegro moderato of Rivier’s Concerto for Flute and Strings (1956) alternates wistful and animated passages for the flute, followed by the central Lento sensibile, in which the flute seems to wander in a subterranean labyrinth, before emerging into the light and sprinting to the finish line in the Molto vivace.

The three connected movements of Damase’s Sérénade for Flute and Strings, Op.36 (1956), all marked Très large, encompass mystery, joy, angst-filled disquiet and a pair of hauntingly beautiful melodies. Even with its gentle, non-virtuosic ending, it should have become “standard rep” by now.

A warm-hearted performance of Ibert’s familiar, audience-pleasing Flute Concerto (1933) ends this extremely enjoyable, extremely recommendable CD.

02 Ana SokolovicAna Sokolović – Sirènes
Ensemble contemporain de Montréal; Véronique Lacroix; Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre; Dáirine Ní Mheadhra
ATMA ACD2 2762 (atmaclassique.com)

2019 JUNO Classical Composer of the Year Ana Sokolović composes with her highly identifiable tonal/atonal soundscapes in four works here. Sirènes/Sirens (2000) is performed perfectly by six female voices of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Vocal Ensemble. Inspired by ancient Balkan voices of the Sirens legend, high-pitched female voices, quasi-wobbly, humorous yet haunting vocal effects, shrieks, quieter moments, and driving vocal rhythms are intense. The five-movement Tanzer Lieder (2005) is set to five German, French and English poems by Austrian poet Francisco Tanzer. A slightly more operatic work, soprano Florie Valiquette embraces Sokolović’s trademark loud high pitches and dramatic held notes above such instrumental accompaniment as reflective flute/piccolo, piano and cello plucks. Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó shines especially in her colourful lower pitches in the five-movement/language Pesma (1996-2007) above the ECM+ instrumentalists under the direction of Véronique Lacroix.

The title of the violin concerto Evta (2017) means “seven” in Serbian Roma. Seven joined movements are inspired by chakra colours and associated with each note of the scale as Sokolović now explores her characteristic sounds with only instruments. The ECM+ ensemble, with soloist Andréa Tyniec, performs with technical and musical greatness, executing more rapid ascending lines, held notes, pizzicatos and plucks, touches of Gypsy-flavoured sounds and the occasional more tonal sections in this less intense composition.

One can only imagine how gratifying it must be to successfully perform and compose such complex contemporary works. Yes it is intense, but worth the time to listen to and understand Sokolović!

03 Dawn DaviSweet Apple
Dawn Davi
Independent (dawndavi.com) 

These subtly musical performances are a telling document of pianist Dawn Davi’s compelling, life-affirming compositional gift. The nine pieces on her second album Sweet Apple are also sufficiently exceptional to stand out in what is becoming a rather crowded field of young musicians who feel compelled to express themselves. Certainly the expressive way in which Davi’s music suggests quiet humanity also gives us a fine example of the self-effacing poetry that appears to be the hallmark of her style.

Her use of synthesizer and sustaining pedal give this music a degree of harmonic blurring which in turn – when listened to in consonance with the brass and strings that are added to these songs – also conveys the ethereal effect that she intends us to hear in her music. Davi takes a decidedly elegiac view of life in the expressive music of this disc. In doing so she offers a performance of mellowness and beauty. On Eyes of a Tree (for instance) she coaxes the strings into gentle harmonic enjoinders to her stoic melody which she essentially plays pianissimo, but with exquisite dynamics throughout.

This is typical of Davi’s eloquence and her ability to create a hauntingly beautiful soundscape evocative of a bard contemplating the natural world and the glories that lie within it. With Sweet Apple, clearly Davi has succeeded in celebrating the mysteries of life with music of exceptional stoicism and beauty.

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