04 Sergio CervettiSergio Cervetti – Parallel Realms: XXI Century Works for Orchestra
Moravian Philhjarmonic Orchestra; Petr Vronsky
Navona Records nv6217 (navonarecords.com) 

The Uruguayan-American composer Sergio Cervetti has long enjoyed a celebrated career as composer and educator (a former professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University), and has clearly cultivated an impressive work ethic in his life, creating and releasing challenging and provocative new music at an impressive rate. Realized here by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under the skillful direction of conductor Petr Vronský and captured beautifully in the sonically satisfying Reduta Hall in the Czech Republic, Parallel Realms is comprised of three single-movement symphonic works, Et in Arcadia ego, Consolamentum and Plexus, in which Cervetti uses religious and scientific themes to musically confront childhood memories that have remained with him throughout his life.

The selections contained on this 2019 recording combine new music with a reimaging of a 1970 semi-graphic score (Plexus) that thread together the composer’s desire to bridge the deeply religious and spiritual with the metaphysical. Vacillating between the tumultuous swirl of the orchestra and quiet minimalism, Cervetti uses the ensemble to its fullest, finding beauty in opposite extremes of the group’s dynamic range. Clearly this is modern music, but anchored as it is to the strong narrative of biography and religious themes (as captured in the accompanying liner notes), the recording presents here as timeless, capable of tapping into universal human emotions and feelings.

The eighth Cervetti recording to be released on the Navona Records label, Parallel Realms comes recommended for fans of symphonic music who hope to be challenged in their listening and satisfied in their quest for exciting and beautiful new music.

05 Silent AitakesFrédéric D’Haene – Music with Silent Aitake’s
Reigakusha Gagaku Ensemble; Ensemble Modern; Kasper De Roo
Ravello Records rr8008 (ravellorecords.com) 

Frédéric D’Haene is a Belgian avant-garde composer who studied with several renowned European and American composers. But it was his 1986 discovery of gagaku (court music of Japan) which dramatically changed the direction of his musical worldview. D’Haene’s study of gagaku – a musical genre a world apart from his own – and its incorporation in his scores, ultimately resulted in what the composer calls “paradoxophony” or “paradoxical coexistence.” This transcultural approach has informed his compositions ever since.

Music with Silent Aitake’s – performed by the esteemed Reigakusha ensemble joined by the premier group Ensemble Modern, both conducted by Kasper De Roo – is a banner example of that approach. Scored for gagaku and chamber orchestra, the five-part work exemplifies D’Haene’s ideal of the coexistence of Western and Japanese instrumental worlds. The liner notes underscore the composer’s key aim: pluralism. It’s an aesthetic and social vision of coexistence which does not favour one musical world over another.

D’Haene’s principle of paradoxophony penetrates his combinations of perceived dual opposites in Music with Silent Aitake’s. We hear modality, atonality and spectral music techniques, stasis and dynamism, sound mass and silence, as well as simplicity and complexity coexisting within both random and organized forms.

Deliberately avoiding Eurocentricity, exoticism or easy melody-with-accompaniment tropes D’Haene has indeed fostered a kind of musical common ground between his chosen two groups in this work. That he’s done so maintaining the integrity of their identities and performing traditions, while expressing his own forceful vision, is indeed an impressive achievement.

06 Greek WindsGreek Wind Quintets
Aeolos Woodwind Quintet
Naxos 8.579037 (naxos.com) 

Pop quiz: name three contemporary Greek composers whose names don’t begin with an “X.” I am not the only one who would fail this test. The aptly named Aeolos Woodwind Quintet has undertaken a project to improve their compatriots’ international profile, and so released a CD of nothing but works for that ensemble: small forces to accomplish a large mission; but the effort is to be applauded.

Aeolos has included just over one hour of material by seven composers, some deceased, some fairly advanced in years. No one born after the 1960s is included, leaving one to wonder if younger composers are ignoring the form or if the group chose to focus only on more established names.

The players acquit themselves well, but much of the earlier material sounds a good deal as though the composers all admired Carl Nielsen; the music is folkloric, charming, tuneful and tonally fresh, but not very exploratory. The more recent works, towards the end of the disc, are the most interesting. Giorgos Koumendakis’ A Blackbird in the Cricket’s Gorge (2013) is a lot of title for a brief, tonally fluid bit of sound painting (including bird calls) originally written for three pianos. Theodore Antoniou’s Woodwind Quintet No.2 (2014), dedicated to Aeolos, is in turns mysteriously searching about and madly dancing in place, a challenging piece rhythmically and tonally, played with confident flair. Woodwind Quintet (1995) by Andreas Makris, closes out the disc with the players passing a rhythmic motif back and forth against a lyric counter argument, ideas which play around for an interesting ten minutes (the longest cut on the disc).

06 Beneath the TidesBeneath the Tide – A Collection of Concertos
Soloists; Croatian Chamber Orchestra; Miran Vaupotic
Navona Records nv6216 (navonarecords.com) 

Don’t be misled by the CD’s title or the accompanying notes that liken its contents to “ocean currents… uncovering what was previously hidden.” Rather than exposing murky, below-the-surface secrets, all five pieces, by four Americans and one Taiwanese composer, display immediately accessible clarity of expression. Nor is this disc “a collection of concertos,” as stated on its cover. Although all the works are scored for instrumental soloists and chamber orchestra, only three are genuine concertos and are so titled.

Restless dissonances in the outer movements of Michael G. Cunningham’s 15-minute Clarinet Concerto Op.186 bracket the middle movement’s brooding lyricism. Virtuoso runs from bottom to top of the clarinet’s range help make this a brilliant showpiece for the instrument.

Rain Worthington’s ten-minute In Passages for violin and string orchestra is a sustained, moody beauty, imbued with Middle Eastern melodic melismas and glissandi. It would make a superb slow movement for a full-length violin concerto.

In her 15-minute Guitar Concerto No.1, subtitled Remembrance of Hometown, Ssu-Yu Huang draws upon musical traditions of her Chinese forebears to create an impressionistic series of atmospheric brush paintings in sound.

At just under six minutes, Bruce Reiprich’s Lullaby features a long-lined violin solo, more intense than gently calming. Perhaps it just needs another title.

The CD concludes with Beth Mehocic’s cheerful 18-minute Piano Concerto, music that suggested, to me at least, playful leprechauns, the final Allegretto a rousing Irish jig. An entertaining end to an entertaining disc.

07 Carl VollrathCarl Vollrath – Souls in Transitions
Summa Trio
Navona Records nv6212 (navonarecords.com) 

“When I first wrote these pieces,” says Carl Vollrath (b. New York City, 1931), “I had no set concept of what they ‘meant.’” Vollrath’s titles for the three trios and their umbrella title Souls in Transitions were added only after a colleague at Alabama’s Troy University, where Vollrath taught for 40 years, said that the first trio reminded him of prehistoric cave paintings. Vollrath’s colleague was undoubtedly responding to the sense of primitive mystery created by Vollrath’s use pf pentatonic and modal scales, ostinato piano bass-note “drum-beats” and repeated melodic and rhythmic motifs typical of religious rituals.

Vollrath’s title for the first trio, The Secrets of the Magdalenian Caves, references those prehistoric paintings. Tombs of Ancient Times, writes Vollrath, evokes “traditions surrounding passing in ancient Egypt,” in which “community members would bring food to the tomb” for use by the departed in the afterlife. Finally, Buddha of the Future reflects “how the image of Buddha has changed over time.” While all three trios share many stylistic characteristics, there is a subtle increase in lyrical warmth over the cycle, their titles perhaps suggesting the growing sophistication of their metaphysical world views.

Vollrath’s sure-handed scoring for violin, cello and piano creates effects almost orchestral in nature, ably performed by the Summa Trio, Los Angeles-based contemporary music specialists. The entire disc could easily serve as the soundtrack for a TV documentary about archaeological sacred sites; CD listeners will have to rely on their own imaginations.

08 Phil SalathePhil Salathé – Imaginary Birds
Ling-Fei Kang; Charles Huang
Ravello Records rr8006 (ravellorecords.com) 

To join Phil Salathé on Imaginary Birds, his magical adventure, the listener must allow oneself to be led by the clear and penetrating soprano voice of the oboe and the more covered, tenor timbre of the pear-shaped bell of the cor anglais, into the wonderful imaginary sound world of the composer. Here we are quite easily seduced by the oboe of Ling-Fei Kang and the cor anglais of Charles Huang as we traverse the interior landscape of Salathé’s vivid imagination. Along the way we are also joined by cello, piano, celesta, harp and guitar to explore the mysterious depths and wondrous heights of birds in their wondrous habitat.

We find ourselves coming under the spell of a composer who is a master of mood and atmosphere and who has the ability to coordinate colour and structure to a rare degree. The bird repertoire – Mandarin Ducks and Imaginary Birds of the Frozen North – swirls amid equally atmospheric pieces such as The Heart that Loves But Once and The Wood Between the Worlds as well as Expecting the Spring Breeze (composed by Teng Yu-Hsien and arranged by Salathé).

The sometimes diabolical difficulty of this music is expertly navigated by Kang and Huang as well as by the other musicians. Each piece is given a lively reading and is played with buoyant, aristocratic grace and almost insolent virtuosity. Equally important is the fact that a delightfully spare atmosphere is maintained throughout.

Back to top