03 Stump LinshalmPetra Stump-Linshalm – Fantasy Studies
Various Artists
Orlando Records or 0033 (orlando-records.com)

The technical ability of the players on this new disc is enough to bind the listener to the chase of sounds they produce. A collection of different works for (mostly) winds, and most among them the various sizes of clarinet, the CD is named for its final multi-movement work, written by composer Petra Stump-Linshalm. This piece calls for four players dealing with 11 instruments between them (flutes, clarinets, recorders, cello, some also playing percussion). The performers produce eerily beguiling songs and dances. Tonality is a ghost of its former self, pale-to-vanishing. Stump-Linshalm is more concerned with finding voices to utter her thoughts that no one has heard yet, colours and consonants fresh from a fine-tuned imagination. Movement is mostly ordered but gradual, although some movements pop and spark with sudden furtive gestures. Nowhere is the dance faster than a lively funeral march. Fantastic indeed, and beautiful; and terrifying.

Opening the disc are eight short movements for solo contrabass clarinet, which seems to be having its moment in new music. Uisge Beatha is an exploration in sound of the variety of flavours found in good peated scotch. My unmixed love of single-malt scotch whiskey is not matched by my feelings for the contrabass clarinet. I certainly admire the playing ability of Heinz-Peter Linshalm, who is featured on most of the disc, and his mastery of the double-length bass. There’s a mad take on The Teddy Bears’ Picnic as well; I leave the listener to find it.

04 cqb simon martinSimon Martin – Musique d’art
Quatuor Bozzini; Pierre-Alexandre Maranda
QB CQB 1922 (actuellecd.com)

Simon Martin is a younger Quebecois composer whose work is intimately connected with music’s relationship to materiality. His earlier work Hommage à Leduc, Borduas et Riopelle focused on specific works of three great painters, setting each segment with a small group of like instruments: a saxophone quartet, a trio of classical guitars and the string quartet, Quatuor Bozzini. Here the quartet turns to a more ambitious Martin work. Musique d’art is similarly concerned with meaning, with relationships among music, sound and noise and the philosophical and material status of the musical work, its title a play on the expression “objet d’art.”

It’s a work of substantial scale, over an hour in length, and also great sonic mass. Quatuor Bozzini is extended to a string quintet here with the presence of double bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda. In some of the work’s five movements, his is the central voice. The first part moves from silence to a consonant drone that’s gradually engulfed in a gathering dissonance only to return to silence. Maranda’s role comes to the fore in the second part, his harsh, low-register bowing suggesting grinding tools. At another point, his savage, whipping glissandi feel as much like a side effect of industry as a musical technique.

The final movement alternates groups of sustained harmonics to develop a state that’s simultaneously tense and suspended, gradually creating a sense of timelessness. A kind of stable mystery, Musique d’art can only grow in significance.

05 Samuel AndreyevSamuel Andreyev – Music with no Edges
HANATSUmiroir
Kairos 0015025KAI (kairos-music.com)

Before you even read the booklet notes that speak of a late work of Marcel Duchamp in relation to Samuel Andreyev’s sublime modernist composition, you realize – in the rhythm and stroke of reeds, strings and percussion – that the Canadian composer now living in France is a visualist musician. It is clear from the very first few bars of Vérifications (2012). Then rifling through the booklet as you might be tempted to do, the discovery of his scores reveals more of his method. Of the three scores depicted, only one is on staved paper; another is on a black sheet and the third is on graph paper. The notes are meticulously written, ramrod straight. But clearly Andreyev does not mean for them to sound that way.

This is, after all, Music with no Edges. Fingertips holding bows and mallets are meant to be extensions of paint brushes, perhaps just as pursed lips on piccolos and other reeds become extensions of musicians painting with sound, rather than engaging in some aural activity. So, for instance, on Cinq pièces, Stopping, Passages and, indeed Music with no Edges, and the final Strasbourg Quartet, the steady drip, drip, drip of sound as if wet from a paint brush seems to fall from the ensemble HANATSUmiroir onto blank canvases creating vivid pictures of sound emboldened with emotion. Andreyev seems to write not only with a pencil but with his nerve endings as well.

06 Giya KancheliGiya Kancheli – Sunny Night
Frédéric Bednarz; Jonathan Goldman; Natsuki Hiratsuka
Metis Islands 2019 MI-0009 (metis-islands.com)

I get particular satisfaction from listening to an album rendered stylishly by gifted Canadian musicians. A good example is Sunny Night, a collection of 17 miniatures originally scored for the cinema and theatre by Giya Kancheli (b.1935) recorded at McGill University in Montreal by the duo of Frédéric Bednarz (violin) and Natsuki Hiratsuka (piano).

The well-known Georgian composer Kancheli, currently living in Belgium, is an unabashed romantic when it comes to composing music. “Music, like life itself, is inconceivable without romanticism. Romanticism is a high dream of the past, present, and future – a force of invincible beauty which towers above, and conquers the forces of ignorance, bigotry, violence and evil,” states Kancheli in the liner notes.

The highlights on Sunny Night are the two works for violin, piano and bandoneon (Jonathan Goldman), an instrument closely associated with the tango. Earth, This Is Your Son for the trio is episodic and dramatic, dominated by minor key tonalities. At just over five minutes it is also the most substantial work on the album. It’s more a concert piece than incidental music.

Not only unapologetically melody-driven, romantic and tonal – often gently drawing on early 20th-century vernacular genres such as the tango – the musical language on Sunny Night also seeks to capture a single mood befitting the music’s original theatrical function. In that it succeeds admirably, though sometimes the effect verges on overt sentiment. There are times however when that is just what’s needed.

07 Reiko FutingReiko Füting – Distant Song
Ensemble Vocal & Instrumental
New Focus Recordings FCR216 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Composer Reiko Füting (Germany b.1970), a faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music, offers an intriguing study of a juxtaposition of ancient and modern practice. The first two pieces on Distant Song, performed by AuditiVokal Dresden and Art D’Echo are als ein licht/extensio and in allem Fremden/wie der Tag/wie das Licht, based on works by Heinrich Schütz. The motet Verleih Uns Frieden Gnädiglich is framed by dynamic percussion, spoken word and lush, dissonant vocalizations meant to illustrate, in the composer’s own words, a “continuing compositional interest in time and space.” Meant as an epilogue to the first two pieces, eternal return (Passacaglia) features the Byrne:Kozar:Duo, in an alarmingly engaging duet for soprano and trumpet using text from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Next is mo(nu)ment for C, on the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo in which the ensemble loadbang reiterates “Je suis,” “Ich bin” and “I Am.” Dutch ensemble Oerknal performs Weg, Lied der Schwäne, a “swan song” on the subject of euthanasia based on Arcadelt’s renaissance madrigal, Il bianco e dolce cigno. The same ensemble backs vocal quartet Damask in versinkend, versingend, verklingend which recalls Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie and quotes the 15th-century German folk song Gesegn dich Laub.

In listening to Füting’s compositions, it becomes clear that while focusing on contemporary issues, he brilliantly incorporates musical fragments of memory which bridge present and past.

08 Cage Empty WordsEmpty Words by John Cage
Varispeed
Gold Bolus GBR035 (goldbolus.com/empty)

Long before John Cage created Empty Words, he was already encouraging the performer of his music to “let go of his feelings, his taste, his automatism, his sense of universal, not attaching himself to this or that, leaving by his performance no traces, providing by his actions no interruption to the fluency of nature.” In their recording of this epic vocal piece the quintet Varispeed, together with ten supporting musicians, seem to have absorbed Cage’s radiant words as they plough through the shard-like composition completely absorbing its incandescence into their hearts and minds – as Cage would have it – to create a deeply committed and meticulously prepared performance, produced with magical results.

Cage’s monumentally challenging work calls for invention over and above that precise quality that the composer built into his work. On Empty Words – literally words stripped of meaning – the ensemble uses male and female human voices propelled on a collision course with acoustic (woodwinds, strings, percussion and piano), electronic boards and prepared (glass) instruments. The result turns Cage’s effect of splintering and pointillist sound into an exploitation of a wide range of sonorities, some bright, some bell-like, others more delicate and subdued. Rhythmic motifs and patterns recur, producing an incantory and hypnotic quality.

Varispeed’s experience as improvisers makes their presence felt in this tactile articulation of Cage’s driving rhythms and percussive “ungrooves” with uncommon perfection ranging from the lyrical to the difficult and disturbing.

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