04 KumbosKumbos
Paulo J Ferreira Lopes; Karoline Leblanc
Atrito-Afeito (atrito-afeito.com)

Even if you really, really dislike electroacoustic music, give this release a try because its strength in sound, collaboration and experimentation lead to accessible listening. Montreal-based composer/performer Paulo J Ferreira Lopes utilizes his many, many clever and established electro and percussion skills to create a fascinating musical conversation with his collaborator, acoustic keyboards performer Karoline Leblanc, in this one-track, hand-numbered 200 limited edition sound adventures release.

Kumbos begins with an attention-grabbing recurring percussive opening and dense piano chords. The subsequent soundscape of high pitched squeaks and cymbal washes against piano textures is a pleasing juxtaposition of sound effects. More melodic piano lines provide contrast in the quieter sections. Love the sudden loud electronic crashes. Highly effective are the numerous silences interspersed throughout the work, which are welcome escapes from sound, and music in their own right. These add to the creation of musical intrigue leading to the final climactic conversation of more intense electroacoustic rhythms, large held piano chords and washes of sound colour.

There are touches of field recordings by Leblanc which are a bit of a strain to hear but are colourful musical diversions. Additional melodic piano sections would be welcome, as well as more drum kit against electronic effects. The production is clear and the instrument levels are balanced. Repeated listening adds to a gratifying appreciation of detail in performance and composition.

05 Shadow EtchingsShadow Etchings – New Music for Flute
Orlando Cela
Ravello Records RR7982 (ravellorecords.com)

Orlando Cela’s Shadow Etchings is a nine-track collection of recent compositions for flute using “extended techniques,” whistle tones, harmonics, vocalizing and playing at the same time, blowing air quickly through the flute without making an actual pitch and so on. Having some experience with extended techniques I can say with some conviction that Cela does them very well.

A brief description of each track will provide an idea of what is on this recording: Jean-Patrick Besingrand’s Le soupir du roseau dans le bras du vent, the first track, is derived from Claude Debussy’s Syrinx. Beginning with the first couple of phrases of Syrinx, variations are added using vocalizations, breath tones, throat flutters and other distortions of which the flute is capable. Lou Bunk’s Winter Variations consists of distorted long tones on the flute with percussive discords on the piano. Robert Gross’ Variations on a Schenker Graph of Gesualdo, combines manipulated electronics with harsh multiphonics and vocal punctuations by the flutist. Dana Kaufman’s Hang Down Your Head is a disjointed version of the original Tom Dooley folk melody complete with vocal growls, whistles and shrieks. The three movements of Stratis Minakakis’ Skiagrafies II offer lots of multiphonics, overtones, shimmers, vibes and twitters. A Turning Inwards by Edward Maxwell Dulaney gives us high alternating overtone whistles and Self-Portrait by Ziteng Ye is built on wavering, breathy tones with some voice added.

All in all, this disc offers an intriguing introduction to some of the new sounds available to the contemporary flutist.

Listen to 'Shadow Etchings' Now in the Listening Room

06 Lachenmann clarinetAesthetic Apparatus – Clarinet Chamber Music of Helmut Lachenmann
Gregory Oakes; Matthew Coley; Jonathan Sturm; Mei-suang Huang; George Work
New Focus Recordings FCR196 (gregoryoakes.com)

Utter the name Helmut Lachenmann in a loud stage whisper, being sure to accentuate fully the consonants, exaggerating the different vowel colours, and you’ll have an idea what it is like to perform his music. He asks performers to make varying sounds which require a complete rethinking of one’s technical approach. Lachenmann, Maurizio Kagel and Heinz Holliger have led the way to innovative notations depicting the strange breath effects, kisses, clicks, squeaks and honks they demand from performers.

In Aesthetic Apparatus, clarinetist Gregory Oakes has compiled three substantial chamber works by Lachenmann. The first, Dal Niente, for solo clarinet, is an extension of silence into a variety of soundscapes. Oakes conveys conviction that all the sounds he generates belong in a congruent whole, and with more hearings I’m certain I’d agree. What is unusual in this recording is the extended periods of nearly empty time, where the effects produced might be more easily perceived if one could see them produced. It takes chutzpah to publish this performance on a sound-only recording.

Trio Fluido, for clarinet, viola and percussion, provides a richer soundscape, although the writing is still full of attenuated pauses. Early exchanges between the instruments seem full of repressed violence, which occasionally breaks out into outright hostility. Beyond this, there are delightful moments of simply elegant trialogue, as if three species of creature are employing their various intelligences to match one another’s language.

Allegro Sostenuto, for clarinet, cello and piano, completes this wonderful exploration. I use the term “tonal” modified by “somewhat more” to indicate that in contrast to the first two tracks, this work exploits more interplay between pitches than raw sounds, making it perhaps the most immediately listenable.

07 Daniel CrozierEast of the Sun & West of the Moon – Orchestral Music of Daniel Crozier
Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz; Moravian PO; Stanislav Vavřínek
Navona Records NV6137 (danielcrozier.com)

“These are fairy tale pieces,” writes American composer Daniel Crozier (b.1965), professor of theory and composition at Florida’s Rollins College. Crozier names only one of the stories, saying it’s more entertaining for listeners to use their own imaginations.

The 34-minute Symphony No.1: Triptych for Orchestra begins with Ceremonies, a movement whose sombre sonorities and unstable tonal centres suggest portentous, menacing situations. The second movement, Capriccio, with its sprightly winds, dancing strings and outbursts of brass and percussion, conjures (for me) images of malicious elves cavorting in a dark forest. The final movement, Fairy Tale: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, draws its title from a Norwegian folk tale containing many familiar fairy tale elements. This, the symphony’s slow movement, features a long-lined, otherworldly melody for the violins followed by a solo flute floating over hushed strings. I was quite taken with this music – rather than hearing episodes of a story, I “saw” a beautiful, secluded mountain lake, shimmering under the stars. The symphony ends by recalling its ominous opening before quietly fading away. No happily-ever-after here. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra and conductor Gerard Schwarz provide an energetic, virtuosic performance.

The 11-minute Ballade: A Tale after the Brothers Grimm resembles the symphony’s second movement – animated playfulness bracketing a sinister-sounding, slow middle section. It’s performed by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under Stanislav Vavřínek.

Both of these very colourful works are well worth a listen.

08 Wind BandAlchemize – Music for Wind Band
U of Southern Mississippi Wind Ensemble; Catherine A. Rand
Naxos 8.573587 (naxos.com)

This album from the Naxos Wind Band Series features performances from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Wind Ensemble of two substantial works from a pair of eminent American composers, both born in 1943. Joseph Schwantner’s Luminosity is subtitled “Concerto for Wind Orchestra.” The opening movement, marked spiritoso e energico, pretty well sums up the essence of this composer’s upbeat style. The work brings the percussion section up front (literally) from the get-go, though the introspective middle movement is in effect a clarinet concerto featuring USM clarinet professor Jackie McIlwain. The finale turns the spotlight back on the drum line to mercilessly aggressive effect – are you ready for some football? Not I!

By contrast, the seven movements of David Maslanka’s Hosannas strike an elegiac tone. Writing in an unabashedly tonal language, Maslanka composed over 50 works for wind ensembles before his unexpected demise last year; the album is dedicated to his memory. Chorale tunes and similar simple melodies abound in this kaleidoscopic work. The disc concludes with a tantalizing fragment of a work by Steven Bryant (born 1972), the first movement of his Alchemy in Silent Spaces, which unfolds from an extended introduction for piano and pitched percussion instruments to eventually reveal the full ensemble. It’s a pity we don’t get to hear the full potential of it; at a miserly 54 minutes the disc certainly has room to spare. Marching bands and their more refined cousins, wind ensembles, number in the thousands in the USA. Judging from the evidence of this disc the USM ensemble belongs among the elite of the order.

09 Marcus BluntMarcus Blunt – Orchestral Works
Murray McLachlan; Lesley Wilson; Manchester Camerata; Stephen Threlfall
metier msv 28570 (divineartrecords.com)

This CD presents four works by British composer Marcus Blunt (b.1947), the longest of which is the 27-minute Piano Concerto, ably performed by English pianist Murray McLachlan. Blunt describes the second movement Largo as “tense, mysterious, subdued,” words I’d apply as well to the first and third movements, up until the concerto’s surprisingly upbeat, triumphal final two minutes. Another word I’d use for this work is “ambiguous” – both in tonality and emotion – creating not-unpleasant sensations of disquiet and suspended disequilibrium.

At just under seven minutes, Aspects of Saturn for string orchestra continues the ambiguity, as Blunt observes that in astrology, the planet Saturn somehow represents the contradictory qualities of “self-discipline” and “ambition,” “limitation” and “aspiration.” The music is similarly both disciplined and assertive. The 11-minute, five-movement Concertino for Bassoon and String Orchestra, reshaping material from two of Blunt’s earlier works, was written for and performed here by Lesley Wilson. Here again, constant major-minor shifts and indefinite tonality create emotional ambivalence in what would otherwise have been an innocently playful work. Blunt’s Symphony No.2 lasts nearly 17 minutes, comprising an elegiac Andante, the most emotionally overt music on the disc, plus three gently melodious Allegretto movements.

The pervading elusiveness of Blunt’s music makes for an unusually intriguing listening experience. The Manchester Camerata under Stephen Threlfall provides solid support throughout. 

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