06 TransformationsTransformations
Aaron Tindall, tuba; various ensembles
Bridge Records 9471 (bridgerecords.com)

Review

The convergence on this disc of horn-playing composer Gunther Schuller (1925-2015) and tuba virtuoso Aaron Tindall in Concerto No.2 for Contrabass Tuba and Symphony Orchestra (2008) is highly successful. Professional French horn player Schuller’s orchestration skills and affinity for low-registered instruments are evident; at the opening the solo tuba emerges wonderfully from darkness. With the Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra under Jeffrey Meyer, Tindall gives an adept, eloquent recording of this mostly expressionist concerto. Horn-tuba affinity recurs in Dana Wilson’s (b.1946) Concerto for Tuba and Wind Ensemble (2013). It begins with an offstage horn echoing the tuba, and continues with motifs over a minimalist weave. Tindall’s melodic shaping and building together with the Ithaca Wind Ensemble in the second movement is remarkable, but unfortunately the composer’s turn to a jazz finale is awkward.

Harmonien (2006) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) is played here on tuba, not the original bass clarinet. Including a wealth of sounds and processes, it is a solo tour de force for Tindall. The composer’s claims of colour and time-of-day associations do not resonate with me, though. The bold Are You Experienced? for electric tuba, narrator, and chamber orchestra (1987-89) by David Lang (b.1957) would ideally be best experienced live or on DVD. Its imaginative take on the situation of having received a brain injury breaks new ground, and Tindall’s evocation of Jimmy Hendrix’s fuzz-tone guitar on the electric tuba is truly amazing!

Vyacheslav Artyomov – Symphony Gentle Emanation; Tristia II
Russian National Orchestra; Teodor Currentzis; Vladimir Ponkin
Divine Art dda 25144

Artyomov – Symphony on the Threshold of a Bright World; Ave Atque Vale; Ave, Crux Alba
National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia; Vladimir Ashkenazy
Divine Art dda 25143
(divineartrecords.com)

07a Artyomov AshkenazyVyacheslav Artyomov was preparing for a life in astrophysics, but these two symphonies (parts of a tetralogy) are unlike The Planets, unless you think of them as uber-Holst: they cause a visceral reaction and suggest a metaphysical cri de cœur. My initial reaction to them was that they sounded like the soundtrack of some 1940s film noir or an original-series Star Trek episode – which is apt, since they embody mystery and the unknown. In his essay, Musica Perennis, the composer said “Serious music is created by the spirit for the Spirit,” and these twin-released CDs reflect his view of music as a mediator between God and man, but also as science. While I find the Threshold of a Bright World symphony more arresting than the Gentle Emanation, they are both accessible, and while Artyomov is often compared to Arvo Pärt, I hear a little more of Rautavaara.

07bArtyomov PonkinThe orchestration in Ave Atque Vale and Gentle Emanation is a little jarring due to the highlighting of the percussion parts. But Ave, Crux Alba, a choral (Helikon Theatre Choir) and orchestral setting of the Hymn of the Knights of Malta, returns to the majesty and mystery Artyomov is known for in his musical quest for spirituality. Tristia II, based on the 19th-century poems of Nikolai Gogol and with spoken parts read by Russian actor Mikhail Philippov, carries on the potential-soundtrack feel and allows us non–Russian speakers to hear the cries of the artist to God for inspiration; the suspense in the middle tracks suggests Him mulling the petitions over.

Both CDs are in memoriam of the composer’s friend and colleague, Mstislav Rostropovich, and both have expansive liner notes.

Slow Bend
See Through Two
All-Set! A8007 (all-set.org)

Famous Wildlife Movies
Mike Smith
All-Set! A8006 (all-set.org)

Another Helpful Medicine
Aurochs
All-Set! A8004 (all-set.org)

Margins
See Through 5
All-Set! A8005 (all-set.org)

08a All Set See Through2The All-Set! Imprint is fast becoming a beacon of originality as a fast-growing world of boutique and independent contemporary music labels. Its penchant for featuring artful cover graphics that appear more inclined towards corporate identity than visually describing musical content is unusual, to say the least. But nothing could prepare the listener for what to hear on each of their releases; not even the names of rather well-known experimental musicians whose work lies within each release. A case in point is Slow Bend by the bass duo See Through Two.

08c All Set AurochsOn this masterful performance by Rob Clutton (bass, banjo and fretless Fender bass) and Pete Johnston (bass) we glimpse music from quite another realm of bass violin, with the sound of the banjo providing not just relief, but occasionally elevating the music to the upper layers of this tonal realm. The personality of each piece is characterized by the rhythmic brevity of its title but often takes the dallying conversation between the two bassists to fascinating harmonic spaces. This adventure that takes as its starting point, in place of metric lassitude, a steady beat which is then stretched and moulded with infinite varieties of rubato. As a result, the rather explicitly titled Range that begins the set to Trail, which suggests not the end, perhaps, but the beginning of another journey, the refreshing overall impression is of a great colouristic soundscape that is rather dynamic and rich in possibility.

08b All Set Mike Smith08d All Set See Through5In addition to Slow Bend, but completely different in every aspect of music, recent releases have also included Mike Smith’s Famous Wildlife Movies, a fascinating collection of pieces which emerges as an epic in miniature for large ensemble performed with special authority and élan. Two years after Aurochs’ Rational Animals comes Another Helpful Medicine, which seems to have been created in a crucible ignited by an explosion of collective imagination. Finally the recent collection of releases includes Margins by See Through 5, a quintet whose music is characterized by its gaunt sonority, laser-like projection, finely calibrated articulation and uncanny rhythmic equilibrium.

01 ShostakovichShostakovich – Complete Symphonies and Concertos
Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre; Valery Gergiev
ArtHaus Musik/Mariinsky Theatre 107552
(4 Blu-Ray video discs, 100-page Hardcover book, etc.)

These performances took place in the Salle Pleyel, Paris in 2013 and 2014 where they were recorded in concert by a co-production of the Mariinsky Theatre, Mezzo, Euro Media France and France Télévisions.

It seems to me that music of Shostakovich is more popular now than in past decades. I wonder why. Conductor Arturo Toscanini was asked why he didn’t conduct the music of Bruckner. ”It doesn’t beat with my heart,” was his reported answer. I understand that and I wonder if Shostakovich’s popularity now is the corollary. Perhaps the music of Shostakovich is in tune with us more now than in generations gone by. It really doesn’t matter why, but today more people are attracted to the late composer and want to hear more of his music…symphonies, concertos and sonatas.

The above set was released last year and a couple of weeks ago I relented and got myself a copy. I am more than delighted with the whole production, performances, camera work and audio. One thing about the audio: there is a choice of playback, PCM or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0. The PCM sound is rather disappointingly compressed, clearly for broadcast. The DTS-HD format offers the highest resolution and dynamics, most audible in the percussion. Gergiev prefaces each performance with a short talk on the work. There is also a film A Man of Many Faces, a documentary that explores the composer’s life and work, his triumphs and travails, with much archival footage and an interview with Gergiev.

As for the performances themselves, both symphonies and concertos, there was no “listen to us” impression; they were there for Shostakovich. In the Eighth, my favourite symphony, the earnest perfection of ensemble proves that this orchestra, in this repertoire with this conductor, is probably untouchable. Gergiev was immobilized after the music evaporated. The audience felt it too, as the applause burst out a long 38 seconds after the last note had died away. An extremely moving experience for all. The answer to the usual question about the tempi in the last movement of the Fifth is that he wastes no time.

The exuberant performances of the six concertos are a generous bonus, with Gautier Capuçon and Mario Brunello (cello), Daniil Trifonov and Denis Matsuev (piano), Timur Martynov (trumpet), Vadim Repin and Alena Baeva (violin). The outstanding vocal soloists in the Fourteenth Symphony are Veronika Dzhioeva (soprano) and Mikhail Petrenko (bass).

As a footnote to these performances, there is a synergy between an orchestra working with its resident conductor (unless they hate him or her, as sometimes happens).They are of one mind, so to speak. Audiences try to decode Gergiev’s unusual gestures… the fluttering fingers, for example. The orchestra knows. We have no need to figure it out, although the fluttering fingers is pretty obvious.

02 Casadesus DutillieuxSelected Piano Works by Robert Casadesus and Henri Dutilleux
Cicilia Yudha
Navona Records NV6053 (parmarecordings.com)

On this disc young Indonesian pianist Cicilia Yudha, now based in the United States, spotlights the familiar names of Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) and Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013). Best known as a virtuoso pianist, Casadesus was also a prolific composer represented here by the Sonata No.3 Op.44 and the Toccata Op.40. These deft works are somewhat reminiscent of Ravel and Milhaud. The Sonata’s slow movement is both craftsmanly and touching, but in the outer movements as well as in the sparkly perpetual-motion Toccata there is too much piano-exercise and white-note-only writing. Cicilia Yudha certainly demonstrates fleet fingers, variety of articulation and an ear for clarity suited to the French school of Casadesus.

The early Blackbird and Along the Waves: Six Little Pieces of Dutilleux are also finely rendered. Dutilleux’s great Sonata for Piano (1947/48) is a different case, one of mastery of harmony and large-scale form with expressive ideas realized in depth. It seems to me that Yudha is too careful with tempo and accentuation in the opening Allegro con moto. Anne Queffélec’s more robust, occasionally almost frantic version on Virgin Classics is preferable; it is surprising that even at fast tempos Dutilleux’s complex harmonies sound and proceed well. Things improve greatly in the second movement, where Yudha’s command of sonority comes to the fore and she projects a mysterious sense of unseen presence. In the final variations she rises to the occasion with power and virtuosity.

03 Ginastera 100Ginastera One Hundred
Gil Shaham; Yolanda Kondonassis; Jason Vieaux; Orli Shaham; Oberlin Orchestra; Raphael Jiménez
Oberlin Music OC 16-04
(oberlin.edu/oberlinmusic)

This disc’s high-calibre performances and production make it a fitting tribute to Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis’ introductory notes state that his Harp Concerto (1956, rev. 1968) “pushed the harp out of its box and gave us the kind of indelible, substantive composition that makes or breaks a solo career like mine.” In broken-chord dance rhythms of the first movement, resonant glissandi of the second and tuneful melodies of the third, the Argentinean composer consistently finds striking, effective gestures for the instrument. Soloist Kondonassis plays with confidence: her rhythms have bite and liveliness, her flourishes atmosphere and grandeur, all in effective partnership with the Raphael Jiménez-led Oberlin Orchestra.

Pampeana No.1 (1947) for violin and piano dates from a period when Ginastera was influenced by Aaron Copland to integrate folk and modernist elements. Violinist Gil Shaham plays the opening soliloquy with intensity and virtuosity, in alternation with pianist Orli Shaham’s lower-pitched chords emulating guitar strumming; the whole suggests the Argentinean pampas’ wide open spaces. In later exciting dance sections, ensemble between violin and piano is ideal. Shaham is equally effective in the more familiar Danzas Argentinas (1937) for piano. The Sonata for Guitar (1976), the most advanced work included, comes after the composer’s move to Switzerland. Ginastera allows the guitar to resonate with well-chosen tonal material and a variety of percussive effects. Challenging to play yet mastered convincingly by guitarist Jason Vieaux, I enjoyed this work thoroughly.

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