Attias & Nabatov Are Up to Mischief

BROOKLYN MISCHIEFS / ATTIAS-NABATOV: Glimpses & Tangles. Gowanus By Night. Languid/The Spinning Song/ Glances. Poetic Bug Bite / Michaël Attias, a-sax; Simon Nabatov, pno / Leo Records LR 901 (live: Brooklyn, July 6, 2014)

Of the latest crop of CDs I received from Leo Records to consider for review, this one was, to my ears, clearly the finest. The album title refers to the fact that these two artists first met and performed together in Brooklyn, New York one night and realized the strong affinity they had for each other.

And that affinity is clearly evident on this release. Michaël Attias is an alto sax counterpart to tenor sax legend Ivo Perelman, and on this set his playing is not only explorative and imaginative but also focused. To this extent, I also give credit to Nabatov, who introduces his own ideas for consideration by the saxist but is also happy to follow the latter whither he shall wander. In a sense, Attias and Nabatov have an affinity for each other’s ideas similar to that of Perelman with pianist Matthew Shipp, with whom he has recorded close to a dozen albums (including a couple for Leo Records). The difference is that Shipp tends to create a bit more structure into which Perelman fits his own ideas, whereas Nabatov plays less chords and more single lines; but the instant rapport between them is eerily similar. They listen to each other and try to complement each other’s excursions as best they can, and frankly, that’s all you can ask of any improvising musician.

Despite the slight differences in approach from Perelman-Shipp, Attias-Nabatov also touch base with tonality once in a while. This helps to ground the listener in what is going on and make it sound structured even when it is wholly improvised. As both Lennie Tristano, the grandfather of free jazz, and Charles Mingus, who also dabbled in it occasionally, said, “You can’t improvise on nothing.” Indeed. If there is no substance to the music the results, no matter how interesting, are bound to sound disorganized at best and cacophonous at worst. Even at their most adventurous, neither Attias nor Nabatov sound cacophonous or chaotic, and that is the essence of all good music.

Take, for instance, the opening of Gowanus By Night. Attias plays high, sustained tones on his alto, sounding almost like a harmonium, while Nabatov sprinkles a few notes here and there, occasionally plucking the inside strings of his instrument. They are focused on creating a mood, of course, but a mood that will develop into something more substantial…which they do, slowly but surely. At 2:27 Nabatov plays a surprisingly Tristano-like lick on the piano that he develops, the tempo picks up, and both of them are off to the races. A strong rhythm in 4 suddenly asserts itself and it seems as if no matter what one plays, the other has a complementary idea for it. This is the essence of great jazz, regardless of genre; it’s a tradition that goes back as far as Louis Armstrong with Earl Hines or Ornette Coleman with Charlie Haden.

Since what they are playing is often bitonal or atonal, naturally the music will not appeal to all jazz listeners, and of course there are several moments here, as in Satoko Fujii’s new album Moon on the Lake, where the music actually leans more towards contemporary classical music than to jazz, but that’s the beauty of it. Nothing is played here for ego’s sake, for showing off. At no point in this album do you feel that either artist is trying to outdo the other, in part because they realized early on that no matter what one of them played, the other could come up with a complementary idea, and this is even true of the duo at their wildest, as they are in Languid/the Spinning Song. It would be easy to dismiss what Attias, in particular, is doing here as unstructured noise, but there are notes here and they do coalesce into something phenomenal even if it seems momentarily over-the-top, and both artists are smart enough not to let that mood dominate the proceedings for too long. They pull back into quietude while continuing to create interesting shapes and sounds that have meaning. Indeed, at the 7:55 mark, Nabatov suddenly begins playing an absolutely lovely if evasive tune that could have come from Bill Evans or Jaki Byard, except that he then suddenly begins to double and quadruple the tempo and develop it in ways that Evans only did in his earlier, more experimental days. Attias picks up on this and thus, when he enters, he is fully in the mood, and it surprised even me to hear the two of them suddenly drop the tempo at exactly the same moment and indulge in a duo-improvisation that included both lyrical and rhythmic elements. There is also Glances, in which Nabatov plays the inner strings of his piano, creating a percussive sound much like musique concrete, during which Attias does not simply splatter notes against the wall to see if any of them stick but, rather, creates fascinating lines and melodic fragments over it.

Of course, I could give such details of each and every encounter in this splendid album, but in a way that’s spoiling the fun for first-time listeners. This was a miraculous encounter, and I sincerely hope that Attias and Nabatov follow up on it with more mischief in the future.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Satoko Fujii’s “Moon on the Lake”

FUJII: Hansho. Wait for the Moon to Rise. Aspiration. Keep Running. Moon on the Lake / Satoko Fujii, pno; Takashi Sugawa, bs/cel; Ittesu Takemura, dm / Libra Records 203-065

Satoko Fujii is a jazz pianist whose style can never be pinned down because she is always trying something new; and in this instance, at least in the first track on this CD scheduled for release on May 7, is almost retro for her—a return to a style of jazz redolent of the avant-garde of the late 1950s-early ‘60s.

Which is not a bad thing at all if you can pull it off, and she certainly does so here. Hansho opens with a lick that sounds as if it could have been invented by Horace Silver, but the real surprise comes in Takashi Sugawa’s very lengthy bass solo, which takes one places where one has never been. When Fujii re-enters it is to play underneath Sugawa at first, but eventually she returns to the opening theme, now with the drums behind her—then the drums take over, playing its own remarkable solo, even managing to sound, at certain moments, like Gene Krupa with the Benny Goodman band. During the snare drum press rolls, Fujii re-enters once again, this time spraying notes up and down the keyboard, tying the music into knots but, like Houdini, always managing to extricate herself. Now we’ve taken leave of Horace Silver and entered Cecil Taylor territory.

Wait for the Moon to Rise is played solo by Fujii on piano and prepared piano, a really strange ambient piece in which mood and atmosphere count more than structure and invention, although invention is also clearly present. At about the four-minute mark, Fujii begins a slow, simple melody with a gentle rocking beat, over which Sugawa enters on the cello. This almost has a classical feel to it were it not for the cymbal washes and drum “bombs” tossed in here and there by Takemura. Aspiration begins as a long, slow piano solo, again almost in a classical vein, surprisingly tonal for Fujii except for a brief atonal chord explosion at the four-minute mark. Sugawa’s cello then takes over, also a cappella, for some time, here playing in a dirge-like manner, and then Takemura on drums.

Keep Running opens with a very active drum solo, this one more modern and less like Krupa, before the bass enters at the three-minute mark, playing active single-note lines. Fujii enters at 3:38, scatter-gunning notes up and down the keyboard. Quite an abstract trip!

The final track, Moon on the Lake, begins with soft whines from the extreme top of Sugawa’s cello, followed in turn by Fujii apparently playing the inside piano strings. This eventually coalesces into a slow, dirge-like melody played on the cello, again sounding surprisingly classical, with Fujii filling in with chords. At around 7:25 the tempo and volume increase, the cymbal washes and rumbling bass notes mesh together, yet the cello continues its serene path. The track, and the album, end on a few sprinkled notes in the upper range of the piano.

This is yet another fascinating album from Fujii.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Erwin Schulhoff’s Opera “Flammen”

SCHULHOFF: Flammen / Raymond Very, ten (Don Juan); Iris Vermillion, mezzo (La Morte); Stephanie Friede, sop (A Woman/A Nun/Marguerite/Donna Anna); Salvador Fernández-Castro, bs (Commendatore); Markus Raab, bar (Arlecchino); Gabriela Bone, Nina Bernsteiner, Anna Peshes, sop; Christa Ratzenböck, Hermine Haselböck, Elisabeth Wolfbauer, alto (Shadows); Karl-Michael Ebner (Pulcinella); Arnold Schoenberg Chor; Members of the Vienna United Theaters Band; ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orch.; Bertrand de Billy, cond / Capriccio C5382 (live: Vienna, August 5, 7, 10 & 14, 2006)

From Wikipedia:

Flammen (Flames) is an opera in two acts and ten scenes composed by Erwin Schulhoff, his only opera. The original libretto in Czech was written by Karel Josef Beneš. The opera had its world premiere at the old National Theatre (Národní Divadlo na Veveří) in Brno on 27 January 1932 in Czech under the title Plameny. It was not heard again until the mid-1990s, when it was performed in its German translation by Max Brod as Flammen. Its story is a surrealist retelling of the Don Juan legend with elements from the legend of the Wandering Jew, and heavily influenced by Freudian psychology. Unlike the title character in Mozart’s Don Giovanni based on the same legend, Don Juan is not punished by being dragged down to Hell, but instead is condemned to live forever.

The opera is not a straight narrative, but rather a loosely connected set of ten scenes, each with its own name. Don Juan is in love with Death personified by La Morte, the only woman he has not been able to seduce. The Shadows (six women) function as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action and on Don Juan’s past life.

And herewith the very complicated plot, also courtesy of Wikipedia:

Act 1

Scene 1 Nocturne

The Shadows sing of Don Juan’s sexual exploits and La Morte’s passion for him. To the sound of a solo flute, he enters a dark abandoned house to seduce yet another woman. Her moans of ecstasy are heard.

Scene 2 Fire Song

The Shadows sing of a woman whose desire for Don Juan is so great that she imagines his body to be the colour of fire.

Scene 3 Midnight Mass

Determined to reform his libertine ways, Don Juan enters a church for Midnight Mass but is seduced by a nun. La Morte plays a Gloria on the organ while the sound of foxtrot music is heard outside.

Don Juan climbs a mountain of naked female bodies. At the summit he finds La Morte waiting for him.

Scene 5 Gallery

Don Juan enters a sculpture gallery filled with statues of men. The men are his dead ancestors, who unlike him managed to find happiness.

Scene 6 Dialogue

Don Juan talks to a woman, the same one who had previously appeared as a nun. Their dialogue is interrupted when Don Juan has a vision of another woman whose body is the color of fire.

Scene 7 Tempest and Dialogue with the sea

Marguerite and Don Juan make love during a storm. La Morte appears and kills Marguerite. Don Juan stands before the sea and tells of his longing for death.

Act 2

Scene 8 Carnival Night

It is Carnival Night. Amidst a troupe of commedia dell’arte mimes, Don Juan and Donna Anna dance a foxtrot. Arlecchino foretells scenes of horror which will occur at midnight. Donna Anna rejects Don Juan’s advances telling him “You are the very image of death.” He then murders Donna Anna’s husband, the Commendatore, and she commits suicide.

Scene 9 Banquet

Don Juan tries in vain to revive Donna Anna as a group of naked women begin dancing around him. Unable to stop them, he cries out to La Morte expressing his desire for her. She tells him that he will be closer to her as a living man rather than a dead one. The Commendatore then pronounces a curse on Don Juan, condemning him to live forever. On hearing the curse, Don Juan shoots himself, but instead of dying is turned into an even younger man.

Scene 10 Nocturne

Doomed to desperately repeating the cycle of his life over and over again, Don Juan enters the same darkened house where the opera began, accompanied by the same solo flute, to seduce yet another victim. La Morte and the Shadows lurk in the darkness singing, with the final words of the opera given to La Morte: “Salvation is so distant—again”.

So this is clearly a strange work, which one would expect from Schulhoff, the man who interwove foxtrots, jazz rhythms and complex modern harmonies all together in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Interestingly, the music sounds only slightly like other Schulhoff works. The opening, in which one hears a solo flute playing as the Shades are heard singing, is a very strange one but not outside the realm of what we now accept as “modern music.” Don Juan is the first principal character to sing, and just one syllable (“Ah!”) as the Shades continue. Eventually the rest of the orchestra enters, and this is indeed in Schulhoff’s most complex style, creating an eerie backdrop for the bizarre tale to be told. Unlike other modern operas of the period, in which grateful vocal lines are set to complex modern orchestral accompaniment, Schulhoff shows his singers little mercy. Their music, though not difficult in terms of tessitura, is bitonal and atonal in turn, matching the strange, dark orchestral web that surrounds it. I found it utterly fascinating, though I am sure that the majority of “opera lovers” (and I put quotes around that term because what they really are are voice, high note and tune lovers) will be turned off by it.

Schulhoff does toss a few melodies into his pot of music, but these are brief and almost immediately absorbed into the bitonal web beneath. Yet he keeps his orchestra light and transparent; nothing in it is thick and cluttered. In this respect, he seems to have taken a page from Debussy, whose Pelléas et Mélisande was built along similar but not identical lines.

Since the accompanying libretto in the booklet is in German only, I had some difficulty following the actual dialogue. Sure, I recognized a word or a phrase here and there, but not knowing German I found myself more lost than found. Our lead tenor, Raymond Very, has a bright voice with just a bit of strain and unsteadiness but an attractive timbre. All of the Shades have fine voices, though it was my impression that Schulhoff wanted them to sound as individual strands rather than singing as a chorus (i/e/. the Flower Maidens in Parsifal.) And as it goes along, one notes that the music is developed symphonically, making Flammen a cousin to Berg’s operas but not a copy of him. Schulhoff had his own style and “voice,” and that is what you hear in Flammen. Indeed, there were places in the score where I also heard hints of Bartók and even a whiff of Szymanowski. There is indeed some strong rhythms in Flammen, but they are of the Stravinsky variety, almost like stiff parodies of march rhythm.

Indeed, I’d say that in this opera the orchestra and orchestration is very much the star of the show, yet another thing that would set most “opera lovers” off. What this implies, to me, is that there is some stage action going on during these passages that are unfortunately lost in an audio-only recording, but one can use one’s imagination. Certainly, Schulhoff does not clutter up the opera with continuous or even very frequent singing. The characters only sing when there is a reason to do so.

Which brings us to my biggest complaint with modern opera productions: they are NOT imaginative in the best sense of the word, but generally perverted and aesthetically confused. A DVD I recently reviewed of Prokofiev’s The Burning Angel was just one of dozens I’ve seen that have no relationship to the composer’s or the librettist’s intent—worse, they distract from the librettist and composer by being so weird that one is distracted from the crux of whatever drama is meant to be shown. True, there are some happy exceptions, and maybe this 2006 performance of Flammen was one of them, but alas I have no way of knowing this. There is a performance of Flammen uploaded on YouTube, but it, too, is audio-only, the 1994 Decca recording with Jane Eaglen as Donna Anna/Marguerite/A Nun, Vermillion as La Morte, and Kurt Westi as Don Juan. Both the sung performance and the conducting, by John Mauceri, are equivalent to this one.

It’s probably just my impression, but there seemed to me a certain dream-like quality about Flammen—albeit a bad dream—that permeates the score.

Even giving it all my enthusiasm as a musico-dramatic creation, I don’t see Flammen ever coming close to being a repertoire opera. It’s just too strange and too orchestrally-driven. But I think it should be, at the very least, a concert opera like Berlioz’ La Damnation de Faust (which is sometimes staged) in which the listener uses his powers of imagination which, I am sure, would be a considerable improvement on most directors’ insane stage ideas. As for the present recording, as I mentioned earlier I can’t say that it’s considerably better than the Decca release but it’s clearly equivalent to it. I will say, though, that if you enjoy modern opera and/or Schulhoff, you should definitely add this work to your collection.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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The CODE Quartet Explores Their Genealogy

CODE cover

FRENCH: Tipsy. Genealogy. Beach Community. VEDADY: Watching it All Slip Away. Requiem. TRADITIONAL: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. JENSEN: Wind Up. Day Moon / CODE Quartet: Lex French, tpt; Christine Jensen, a-sax; Adrian Vedady, bs; Jim Doxas, dm / Justin Time Records JTR 8622-2

The CODE Quartet is a Montreal-based group founded four years ago by saxophonist Christine Jensen based on the original Ornette Coleman Quartet (Coleman on alto and occasionally tenor sax, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins, later Ed Blackwell, on drums) to explore a similar sort of collective free jazz. Curiously, this makes the second such CD I’ve had submitted to me for review, the first being Miguel Zénon’s outstanding album, The Law Years.

Interestingly, the first track on this disc, trumpeter Lex French’s Tipsy, sounds almost nothing like an Ornette tune but more like the Blue Note late-‘50s funk-jazz style. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just saying that it’s not an Ornette Coleman kind of tune. I was impressed by Jensen’s deep, rich sound, almost Coltrane-like in its tubular, non-vibrato purity, Her improvisations put me in mind of a few different players of the early ‘60s, Sonny Rollins among them, but not Coleman. Similarly, trumpeter French is a really interesting improviser, but his sound and style remind me more of Clarence “Gene” Shaw, who played on Charles Mingus’ Tijuana Moods album, than of Don Cherry.

Regardless of their direct or indirect influences, however, this is a loose band that actually swings. That is not something to be taken for granted nowadays. Modern jazz does a lot that the older forms didn’t, but swinging is not usually one of them. For whatever reason, many jazz musicians nowadays have forsaken swing almost completely, but here is a band that actually plays it, and I loved hearing it after so many years.

The second number on this disc, Adrian Vedady’s Watching it All Slip Away, is an example of what I mean. It’s interesting jazz; the beat is irregular and a bit elusive; the solos are adventurous and interesting; but it doesn’t swing. Interestingly, this piece is dominated by the playing of French and Vedady; leader Jensen just pops in ti bolster the ensemble.

The title track is very much in the Ornette Coleman style; it, too swings (early Coleman always swung) and Jensen switches to alto, which she plays with a bit more of an edge to her tone than Coleman did. The rhythm section doubles the tempo behind French’s solo and really cooks, but although Vedady is an excellent bassist he doesn’t quite have the ability to follow the harmonic dips and dives of the two horns the way Charlie Haden did…but then again, what Haden did was nearly miraculous and, to my mind. never duplicated by any of Coleman’s later bassists (not even the brilliant Jamaladeen Tecuma). Yet Vedady’s solo is a real gem, given at a point when the quartet eases up on the tempo and lets him swing.

To say that I was somewhat amazed by their choice of an old Protestant hymn, O Sacred Head, Now Wounded for this album would be an understatement. Perhaps they chose it simply to be tongue-in-cheek; neither the melodic line nor the very basic harmony is much conducive to jazz. When the solos come, they “play around” with the harmony, trying to juice it up a little. It works, but—it was still a bizarre choice. Jensen’s solo is very free-form, particularly in the looseness of rhythm and extension of meter.

Wind Up is an extremely complex piece, rhythmically, set to a simple but harmonically-shifting lick, and here the quartet shows their mettle in dealing with such complexity with tight yet individualistic playing. If I had to choose one track that shows off the CODE Quartet’s abilities, this would be it. French manages to incorporate the dicey harmonies into an absolutely brilliant solo and Jensen takes the opposite approach, playing laid-back and with more legato in her phrases. Bass and drums stay busy. Towards the end, trumpet and sax briefly cross paths in a brilliant moment of cross-improvisation.

Requiem is taken at a slow 4/4 with a slight “hump” in the beat (usually at the end of each bar) to help push it along. After trumpet and sax play the theme statement, Vedady steps forward for another fascinating solo. Later on, French practically ties himself up in knots but, like Houdini, manages to get out of it unscathed while Jensen is cool and mellow, picking and choosing her notes much like Paul Desmond did.

Day Moon kicks the group into high gear again; after the brisk trumpet-sax intro, Jensen states the theme sensuously, then French joins her again for a few bars, and back and forth. The rhythm section churns in a sort of circular 6/8 alternating with 4 as Jensen plays another cool solo, followed by French who simply plays all over his horn—up, down, sideways, backwards, whatever strikes his fancy. This track also features a rare drum solo by Doxas.

The finale, Beach Community, is a sort of Caribbean-beat piece along the lines of Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas, and Jensen does include a few Rollins references in her excellent solo. French picks up on the last new notes of her solo to start his own, taking it into a little bit of Clifford Brown territory before playing a series of eighth note triplets, then diving and swooping around the horn. Another outstanding solo for this talented brassman. Then a half-chorus drum solo before the rideout.

This is an interesting and eclectic first album for the CODE Quartet, well worth exploring.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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De Hartmann’s Chamber Music

DE HARTMANN: Sonata for Violin & Piano / Katharina Naomi Paul, vln / La Kobsa. Chanson Sentimentale. Deux pleuruses. Sonata for Cello & Piano / Anneke Janssen, cel / Hommage à Borodine. Feuillet d’un vieil album. Menuet fantasque. 4 Dances from “Esther” / Natalia Gabunia, vln / Fantasie: Concerto for Double Bass & Orch. / Quirijn van Regteren Altena, bs / Koladky / Amstel Sax Quartet / Trio for Flute, Violin & Piano, “Quasi Variation” / Ingrid Geerlings, fl; Joris van Rijn, vln / Elan Sicroff, pno (except for La Kobsa & Koladky) / Nimbus Alliance NI6411

Having already explored Thomas de Hartmann’s piano music and songs, we now turn our attention to his chamber music. As one can see from the above header, pianist and series producer Elan Sicroff used a veritable crazy-quilt of chamber soloists to make these recordings. I should point out that all three de Hartmann releases were actually recorded between 2011 and 2015, so this has been a series some time in the making. I heartily applaud Sicroff for his determination as well as his talent in recording and producing these sets; he and the De Hartmann Project have done the world an immense service in finally presenting a somewhat orderly and in-depth look at this talented composer whose work has been not only vastly underrated but almost wholly ignored by the rest of the classical music world.

All three releases feature cover art by Wassily Kandinsky, the synesthesiac artist whose work is still admired albeit within a more limited circle than that of many of his contemporaries. This particular release features Yellow Red Blue from 1925, The piano music album features Composition VIII from 1923 and the songs Dominant Curve from 1936. Despite his working from a different aesthetic, that of the curves and shapes he heard in his mind when painting (as well as the colors and shapes he saw when listening to music), few have noted the strong resemblance between his paintings and those of the Cubist movement—the principal difference being that the shapes themselves were never his primary inspiration, but the colors and the shapes they made.

Another difference in this release (which is, numerically speaking, Vol. 2 since the assigned CD number falls between the piano music and the songs) is that there are no early, Romantic pieces present. All of the music here comes from the years of his artistic maturity, the earliest being the Hommage à Borodine and Feuillet d’un vieil album from 1929 and the latest coming from 1950, thus in a sense it might be the best CD for a neophyte to start with. With that being said, de Hartmann’s writing for string instruments was, like his vocal writing, more lyrical than his writing for the piano alone, thus the opening Violin Sonata harks back to Debussy or Ravel more than it reflects the more contemporary (1936) music of Stravinsky, Prokofiev or Bartók, and there is nothing here to remind one of his brush with the Second Viennese School composers.

Even so, in the development section of the first movement one hears things that are seldom found in Debussy or Ravel, a way of breaking up rhythm that was entirely his own. Nonetheless, it’s quite possible that his occasional use of “retro” musical forms held de Hartmann back from more universal acceptance just as it held Nikolai Medtner back from achieving the universal success his music so richly deserved. (You could also toss some of the music of British composer York Bowen into this category as well.) Once past the astonishing breakthroughs of the 1910s and ‘20s, the arc of 20th century classical music was always a struggle—and sometimes a very bitter one—between the forces of tonality/lyricism and the forces of bitonality/atonality/asymmetrical rhythms. During the 1950s and ‘60s, especially, the academic classical world was so aggressively modern that any composer who achieved success with tonal or melodic music was looked upon as reactionary and dated, even when the music produced was astonishingly original. This was a period when musical academics seemed to be flying under the banner of the worst “modern” composer of the 20th century, Edgard Varèse, and his famous quote, “The modern-day composer refuses to die!” (A great many people wished that Varèse and his “modern-day” compositions would have died long before he did in 1965. Nowadays, just about his only piece that is occasionally played is Ionisation.)

But to return to de Hartmann and this violin sonata, I can understand why series producer Sicroff placed it first. It isn’t exactly Romantic fluff but it is written in a style that harks back to the composer’s earlier days—until you reach the third and last movement. Here, suddenly, the music is strongly in the vein of Stravinsky’s neo-Classicism albeit with a de Hartmann accent. Harmonically, this movement is also different, relying more heavily on a minor pentatonic mode than on conventional chords.

The cello solo La Kobsa is based on folk music and thus has an earthy, timeless feeling about it. The soloist is asked to bow his instrument roughly to simulate peasant music. The same is true, following two pretty but somewhat inconsequential violin pieces from 1929, with the Fantaisie-Concerto for Double Bass, here played with only piano accompaniment. The impression I received was that de Hartmann, considering the violin a more “singing” instrument, generally gave it more graceful lines to play, saving some of his more advanced ideas for other instruments…and yet, the second-movement “Romance” is again a Romantic-styled piece.

For the next two cello pieces, de Hartmann reverted again to his earlier, more Romantic style. I’m sure that a great many classical listeners will find this music comfortable and comforting, but for me it’s just a bit too sappy.

If there is one thing this chamber music sounds like, it is Russian. In fact, it’s the most consistently Russian-sounding of all his music I’ve heard so far—and this places it, depending on his mood at the time and the style used, close to that of Rachmaninov or Medtner. Of course, Russian-ness is certainly not a factor in its being ignored, as there are a great many less well written pieces by Russian composers that are in the standard repertoire today, but comparing it to the other two releases in this series I’d say that by and large it is not a representative of de Hartmann’s mature style. This even true of the nine-piece suite for unaccompanied saxophone quartet, Koladky, and this is highly unusual in itself. Where else in classical music have you ever heard an unaccompanied sax quartet playing in a strongly distinctive Russian folk style?

The Cello Sonata that opens CD 2 is halfway between his earlier, more Romantic style and his later, more modern one: the first and third movements towards the latter, the slow second movement towards the former. The Menuet Fantasque for violin & piano is also in his more progressive style. There’s a definite Debussy influence in the first of his four dances from Esther. Incidentally, violinist Natalia Gabunia, who gets the lion’s share of the violin pieces on this set, has a somewhat muffled tone that I don’t care for and she is not as emotionally committed to the music as Katharina Naomi Paul.

We end this excursion of de Hartmann’s music with the unusual trio for flute, violin & piano from 1946, and for the most part this is in his more adventurous style albeit with some Russian influences..although, at about the three-minute mark in the second movement (“Quasi Variation”) we suddenly get a slow-drag jazz feel in the piano part before suddenly switching to a waltz. It’s a very imaginative piece; you can never quite predict where the music is going, yet once it arrives there you enjoy the ride and admire his ingenuity.

Although I felt that there were a few more ups and downs in this set than in the other two, it is clearly comprised of well written music with some extraordinary moments here and there. Will there be a fourth volume of de Hartmann’s orchestral music? Only time will tell. Stay tuned.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Kopatchinskaja Speaks & Plays Schoenberg

COVER-ITUNES-DEC.indd

SCHOENBERG: Pierrot Lunaire.1,3 Phantasy for Violin & Piano.2 6 Little Piano Pieces. J. STRAUSS: Emperor’s Waltz (arr. Schoenberg). WEBERN: 4 Pieces for Violin & Piano.2 KREISLER: Little Viennese March.2,3 / Patricia Kopatchinskaja, 1narr/2vln; 3Meesun Hong, vln; Júlia Gállego, fl; Reto Bieri, cl; Marko Milenković, vla; Thomas Kaufmann, cel; Joonas Ahonen, pno / Alpha Classics ALPHA722

This CD has to win some kind of award for most bizarre CD of the year (at least, so far). To begin with, you have someone who looks like an absolute nut (see cover) speaking Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (which is perfect for this piece), but she’s also a violinist who plays on two other works. Normally, Lunaire is filled out on a CD with other works by Schoenberg, and that’s true here too with his Phantasy, on which Kopatchinskaja plays violin, and his 6 Little Piano Pieces. It also makes sense to include a piece by his friend and pupil Anton Webern (4 Pieces for Violin & Piano). But then we also get Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Emperor Waltz because it is an arrangement by Schoenberg (for some strange reason, Schoenberg considered Strauss to be a master composer; but then again, he also collected many of Paul Whiteman’s 1920s recordings to study the orchestrations) and, oddest of all, a piece by Fritz Kreisler, whose music is about as far removed from the Second Viennese School as you can get. And why? Because, believe it or not, Kreisler was not only an early colleague of Schoenberg’s but also a lifelong friend—possibly due to the Johann Strauss connection. (Once, Kreisler heard a Schoneberg piece that he really liked and told Arnold so. The composer’s reaction was to say, “Please, Fritz, don’t tell anyone else you liked it. It would ruin my reputation!”)

The reason why violinist Kopatchinskaja is narrating Pierrot Lunaire is that she hurt her bowing arm at one point and, being unable to play her instrument for a while, begged to be allowed to do Lunaire because she has always thought of herself as being Pierrot. Here is her quote from the booklet:

Pierrot!

I am in your head!

How strange it is in here – quite different from everyone else.

Though you keep silent, your confused thoughts are dangerous – your vocal cords as taut and tense as my violin strings.

Your skull is bored right through, light shines inside it, even though it’s nighttime. Looking through your eyes, I can see the moon.

You come from nowhere, you have no idea who you are: a creature of chance, of unhappy circumstance…

On the fringe of everything, you tumble out of time, tugging the whole world through the eye of a needle just to sew your costume. With the seams on the outside, the arms pulled inwards, we are upside down, floating as in a dream, beyond all logic and reason.

Longing – that is your sound. Let’s disappear.

Wow, man. Whatever she’s on, I want some of it!!!

I have two recordings of Lunaire in my collection, the classic Bethany Beardslee-Robert Craft recording with the Columbia Chamber Ensemble (either late 1950s or early ‘60s) and Schoenberg’s own recording of the work from the early 1940s with Erika Steidry-Wagner. The strange thing about the latter is that, even though Columbia allowed Schoenberg multiple takes to get every piece in it the way he wanted it, the finished approved recording has several words spoken on the wrong pitches. And all this time I thought Schoenberg was a stickler for having his music performed correctly.

LunaireKopatchinskaja’s performance of Lunaire is, quite simply, outstanding, every bit as good as the Beardslee version which I’ve always considered the gold standard. In fact, if anything she sounds even weirder than Beardslee, speak-singing some of the pitches in a cracked voice like a Smurf on cocaine and others in a harsh, guttural voice like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. (and, at other moments, sounding like comedian Judy Tenuta). This isn’t someone you’d want to run across while shopping at Wal-Mart. Or, perhaps especially, while standing on line to buy a gun. Then again, Kopatchinskaja could be a Wal-Martian.

Being a fine musician, her rhythm (as well as her pitch) is spot-on, which I’m sure most people would take as a given, but it’s nice to hear such a precise performance in addition to such a nutty one. I tell ya, you can’t beat the old songs for a good time!

And of course, it helps that Kopatchinskaja has first-rate musicians backing her up. In fact, I think it’s a plus to have top-notch chamber musicians on a performance of Pierrot Lunaire rather than just member of an orchestra because each and every one of them can contribute something to the whole, particularly in a work like this where each and every musical strand is supposed to stand out.

I’m not sure if the chamber group is playing this at the proper tempo or not—I’d have to assume they are—but Schoenberg’s arrangement of the Strauss Emperor Waltz is neither very fast nor a waltz tempo—at least, not until about three minutes into it—but a sort of abstract reduction of what Strauss wrote. It’s really almost an entirely different piece. I wonder if the archives contain any rearrangements he did of Paul Whiteman records like this? If so, I’d be interested in hearing them…particularly Shakin’ the Blues Away.

Kopatchinskaja

Patricia on violin

You may think me odd for saying this, but Kopatchinskaja’s performance of the Schoenberg Phantasy for violin & piano is almost as nutty as her Pierrot Lunaire. She snaps the strings, plays with the edge of the bow, and introduces any number of Lunaire-like effects in this music. Without seeing the score I can’t say whether or not the music bears out this sort of interpretation, but it’s surely miles apart from Yehudi Menuhin’s recording of the piece with Glenn Gould or Janneke van der Meer’s recording on Chandos. And yet I liked it. The Webern 4 Pieces for Violin & Piano were new to me, and here again Kopatchinskaja is playing a lot on the edge of the strings and creating whiplash effects in some of the bowed passages. Yet despite all this, she made the music sound interesting and her emotional involvement is unquestioned.

In the Kreisler piece, Kopatchinskaja also plays with an almost manic energy. I had not previously heard this piece either, and to my ears it sounded more like a Gypsy piece than a Viennese one, yet she seems to combine the two, putting some Gypsy energy into the Viennese schmaltz. Then, finally, home ground once again as the Schoenberg piano pieces are played about as you’d expect them.

Definitely a strange album despite the presence of four well-known composers from the early 20th century and mostly known works. But you’ve got to hear how Kopatchinskaja narrates Pierrot Lunaire.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Chicago Pro Musica Plays Rapchak & Neil

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RAPCHAK: Troika. W. NEIL: Project Phoenix* / *Barbara Ann Martin, sop; *Carl Grapentine, narr; Chicago Pro Musica / Centaur CRC 3860

These are 20-year-old + recordings, the Neil having been taped in 2001 and the Rapchak in 1999, which are being released for the first time. I can say this with some authority because the Chicago Pro Musica’s Facebook page claims that the CD was “twenty years in the making and aged to perfection.”

Lawrence Rapchak’s Troika is not music reminiscent of that jolly Russian conveyance, but a sad, dolorous piece that is essentially tonal but with several modern harmonic shifts. One of the things I liked about the Chicago Pro Musica was its ability to sound like a full orchestra despite their consisting of only 11 instruments, one of them an accordion(!). In the second movement, “Arrival of the Mummers,” the music becomes livelier and more atonal. (Sorry I can’t tell you what the piece is about, but as usual, Naxos provided no booklet for its reviewers.)

The music is indeed interesting but, like so many modern works nowadays, eventually tends to go off on edgy-abrasive tangents, sound and fury without much in the way of substance. Underneath all the noise and hullabaloo one can indeed hear some interesting development going on, but Rapchak has seen fit to trick it up in a maelstrom of purposeless noise. Sort of like an elegant modern building covered with garish day-glo orange and bright green paint, with toilet paper rolls all round it. (I know, don’t give them any ideas.)

I give the Chicago Pro Musica credit for playing this piece with so much commitment and energy, however, and in some of the ensuing movements there are some quite interesting and elegant moments (I particularly liked “Frozen Kingdom”), but then he immediately returns to the edgy-noisy style that, sadly, is all the rage in modern compositions ( predominantly those written by music college professahs, if you know what I mean) even since Thomas Adès came to prominence back in the 1990s. Honestly, I wish they’d stop trying to copy each other and show some actual individuality in their music. Stop trying to sound like everyone else!

Of course, the really sad thing is that this style of composition is really popular with Millennials who were raised on rock music. You know what I mean: if they grow up on loud, headbanging rock, give ‘em loud, headbanging classical and they’ll eat it up. And as I say, it’s a shame because I think Rapchak has something interesting to say, but he’s so wrapped up in the noise factor that he misses the forest for the trees.

So on to William Neil’s Project Phoenix, set to a text by Diana Syder. This music, too, uses some of the edgy-noisy style so much in vogue now, but at least at the outset is a bit more subdued. He also creates some very interesting timbral blends not found in Rapchak’s music. The text, narrated by Carl Grapentine, is your typical garbled, touchy-feely Millennial nonsense, making no sense but sounding interesting (something about the frequency of the hydrogen atom and closing your eyes and listening to snow falling from a wintry sky…alone, or not…that kind of happy horseshit).

Alas, by the third track of this suite, “Colliding Galaxies I” (Millennials are all into space because they all want to escape this Earth Trip and go colonize Mars or something), Neil is all over the noisy-edgy sound, but he does pull back and provide some really lovely sounds from time to time as well as some very interesting and coherent music.

I really hate to sound so negative about this CD. I was really looking forward to it. but I have to be honest, and the truth of the matter is that neither composer here has 1/3 of the imagination and wit of Laura Kaminsky, whose music I raved about in an earlier review, or the now-forgotten Thomas de Hartmann, whose music is being so eloquently revived on Nimbus Alliance. These are or were composers who developed a unique and individual voice when writing music; it would certainly have been easy for them to follow the crowd, but they didn’t. But here’s Rapchak spewing the aural equivalent of metallic junk over his music and Neil/Syder getting wrapped up in galactic meltdowns and backflashes and a rush of horizons becoming the center of our galaxy, yada yada yada. It’s sad, really, because I think that both composers have talent but are afraid to develop their own unique compositional voice.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Oppens Plays Kaminsky

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KAMINSKY: Piano Quintet.1 Fantasy. Reckoning: Five Miniatures for America for Piano 4 Hands.2 Piano Concerto 3 / Ursula Oppens, pno; 1Cassatt String Qrt; 2Jerome Lowenthal, pno; 3Arizona State University Orch., Jeffery Meyer, cond / Çedille CDR 90000 202

This was yet another CD in which I, as a reviewer, was frustrated by the lack of a booklet–not Cedille’s fault, the CD certainly comes with one–but Naxos’ fault (they didn’t have one for download on the reviewer’s website). Had it not been for the “sales sheet” I was able to download, I’d have had no idea who the other performers were on these tracks because they’re not listed on the CD back cover (inlay).

Sadly Laura Kaminsky, like Nancy van de Vate, is an American woman composer whose work has not only fallen through cracks in the façade of the classical world but are rarely if ever performed. Van de Vate has her own label, Vienna Modern Masters, so at least most of her compositions are recorded (a few more than once), but it’s not easy to find these CDs unless you order them from her website. Kaminsky, who is much younger (born in 1956), has to fend for herself.

Without a booklet, I have no idea of the genesis of these works or when they were written, but the opening movement of the Piano Quintet is built around a quirky, irregular ostinato rhythm set up by the cellist, with the other instruments coming in with rhythmic commentary. Occasionally they play together as a unit, only to split apart again, and the music appears to be modal, harmonically built around thirds and open fifths. It develops in a somewhat standard fashion but, retaining its irregular meter, clearly avoids being minimalistic. The second movement, titled “Lamentation Coming Into Light,” is a slow, moody, restless piece that opens with the piano playing a few sub-contra low notes, ruminating a bit in the mid-range of the piano before being joined by the cello and then the other strings in a sad little melody. in D minor. After a while the piano again goes solo, this time playing its own variation of this theme in somewhat complex fashion. Kaminsky clearly has her own way of spacing and pacing music; she holds your interest not by pouring a bucket of notes on you, but rather by using fewer notes and moving them around. The third movement, “Maelstrom,” begins in the same tempo and general key(s) as the second movement, but things become more agitated around the four-minute mark. Yet the movement, and the quintet, ends peacefully—and tonally—in Db major.

The solo piano Fantasy is just that, an imaginative fantasia piece that moves in unexpected directions at Kaminsky’s whim. A few hints of jazz rhythm come and go in it as well as a remarkable passage in which the two hands play completely different and opposing lines against each other. By the 3:55 mark, the pianist is playing other, more atonal lines against each other in the instrument’s high range, slowly but surely moving downwards towards the middle of the keyboard as the excursion continues. Interestingly, this Fantasy is longer than the entire Piano Quintet and only eight seconds shorter than the entire Piano Concerto that ends the disc. More and different permutations follow within that time span, all of them unexpected and interesting. At the 12-minute mark, for instance, Kaminsky actually sets up the pianist’s two hands so that they run counter to each other in both melodic direction and harmony. Later on, she makes these counter-figures faster and even more rhythmically difficult, a feat which Oppens handles adroitly. Later still, she tosses in a few bars of boogie-woogie rhythm, then stops, resets herself, and moves on to sparse, high-lying figures in the right hand.

Reckoning, subtitled “Five Miniatures for America for Piano 4 Hands,” seems to be somewhat based on Shaker hymns and/or old folk tunes with their open fifths, but Kaminsky has so completely rewritten them that they are entirely new pieces—and among the most harmonically daring so far in this recital. The octogenarian pianist Jerome Lowenthal, another champion of modern music, joins Oppens in this work and shows no signs of slowing down with age. the fourth piece, titled “Divided,” is fast and edgy with both pianists playing in a different key.

Oddly, the Piano Concerto also starts with the soloist, alone, playing in two different keys simultaneously before the orchestra stealthily and slowly moves in underneath it (just the basses at first, later quiet high strings, glockenspiel and flute). As things develop—slowly—it almost sounds like a chamber work for a handful of strings and winds with the piano: a stark, forlorn piece with scarcely an upbeat moment in it. As things grow progressively louder, even with the tympani making an appearance, the effect of a chamber orchestra remains. Kaminsky writes clear, transparent textures for this concerto, and maintains this through most of the first movement. After a dramatic moment in which the trumpets suddenly blare out loudly, the orchestra falls away completely as the solo pianist continues its somewhat struggling journey forward. Then the tension relaxes as oboe and bassoon make wry little comments, then the French horns and strings enter as a sort of cushion. Its nearly 21-minute length encompasses but a single movement, yet although there are certainly different moods presented it does not follow the usual formula of alternating slow and fast sections simulating individual movements. In fact, I felt that this work was almost as loosely structured as the solo piano Fantasy. It’s predominantly a very dark piece.

These performances, all first recordings of these works, are all excellent, which helps us to appreciate Kaminsky’s sound world. Highly recommended.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Satoko Fujii’s “Keshin”

FUJII: Busy Day. Dreamer. Keshin. Sparrow Dance. TAMURA: Donten. Three Scenes. Drop / Satoko Fujii, pno; Natsuki Tamura, tpt / Libra Records 102-064

My regular readers know that Satoko Fujii is a free and experimental jazz pianist whose work I sometimes like a lot, sometimes like a little, and in those cases when I don’t review her recordings, don’t like at all. This is because she scatterguns all over the “jazz” spectrum, and I for one completely reject soft, mushy music as jazz and edgy electronics wheezes and magnified scraping sounds as music. But when I like her work, I really like it, and this is one such disc.

I’m a bit baffled, however, by the insistence of jazz artists—sometimes but very rarely, classical artists jump on this bandwagon as well—to become social commentators. All of a sudden over the last few years they seem to have this urge to tell us what to think about just about every topic from politics to social justice, and lately it’s the Coronavirus pandemic that seems to have them in its grip. Perhaps I can alleviate their fears with some actual hard data which I’ve gotten from the CDC (Center for Disease Control), which is the American version of the WHO. Are you ready? Here it is. Only 8.5% of Americans have tested positive for Covid-19, and this includes millions who have no symptoms at all. And only 1.8% of Americans have “died” of Covid-19, a number that includes thousands who actually died from gunshot wounds, being hit by moving vehicles, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. (No, I’m not kidding. Just go to the CDC’s website and pull up their data. They’re claiming that people who die of these things are Covid deaths.) Yes, it’s a really serious virus. Yes, some of those who recover have bad lingering effects for weeks or months. But more people catch, and die from, the regular winter flu than from Covid-19.

There, now. Don’t you feel  better already? I know I do. Let’s put some Bunny Berigan on the ol’ CD player and celebrate life!

Once past the liner notes resonating with fear and depression over Covid, however, you’ll discover (perhaps to your amazement) that the first number is a really fun of spontaneously improvised jazz on which Fujii is joined by trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. Although the compositions listed above are grouped by who composed them, the program actually alternates a Fujii piece with ah Tamura piece throughout the set: Busy Day, Donten, Dreamer, Three Scenes, Keshin, Drop and Sparrow Dance.

Busy Day is surely that, with Fujii playing a strong but irregular meter throughout and Tamura jumping in when and where he wants to. And yes, believe it or not, there’s a certain resemblance between Tamura’s playing and that of Berigan, as both are very dramatic trumpeters just bursting with fresh and interesting ideas. On this record, at least, Tamura’s tone sounds very large and full, but of course I have no idea if he could fill a ballroom with his tone the way Berigan did.

By giving Fujii more solo space than himself, however, Tamura gives the impression that she is the “idea generator” while he is the “reactor,” but even so their give-and-take is utterly remarkable. It’s so good, in fact, that it reminds me of the simpatico that exists between free jazz tenor saxist Ivo Perelman and pianist Matthew Shipp, who have made close to a dozen records together, each one seemingly better than the last. I don’t know if Fujii has any plans to continue this working relationship with Tamura, but I would encourage her to do so. It is extremely fruitful.

Tamura’s composition Donten is a slow piece that opens with the pianist rumbling in her sub-contra range while the trumpeter plays nicely-spaced lyrical notes that almost coalesce into a theme. Here, one notes a difference between Tamura and Berigan in that the former does not play a pure legato on his horn. (Berigan, like Louis Armstrong, was all about legato phrasing even in his busiest and most inventive solos.) Nonetheless, his spontaneous improvisations are excellent, especially the first one which he plays a cappella before Fujii joins him on piano, ruminating in and slightly below the mid-range of her instrument. Interestingly, when Fujii plays her extended improvisation, she too is much more lyrical, even tending towards tonality, tempering her usual tendency towards the edgiest kind of free jazz. This is, quite simply, an exquisite track, one that should be listened to a few times in order to glean the numerous subtleties and interactions within.

Fujii’s Dreamer is also a slow piece, lyrical in tempo but built along bitonal lines. It also seems to be constructed of two different lines, one played by the left hand and the other by the right, that sometimes complement each other and sometimes move in different directions. Tamura enters with a very lyrical melody of his own, and here his legato does seem to be finer than in the previous track. He also employs a bit of lip vibrato (yes, a Berigan trademark) and shows us some rich-sounding lower notes as well. His solo becomes gradually more excited and exciting before falling back to those rich low notes with a few buzzes tossed in for color. The duo then indulges in a remarkable two-way improvised dialogue in which it seemed to me that Fujii was pulling, or encouraging, Tamura to continue more in his lower range because she liked what she heard.

Three Scenes begins as a very experimental piece, with Tamura playing high, tight, congested sounds on his trumpet while Fujii played sporadic single notes to begin with. I didn’t really like this very much until the middle section, where Tamura opens up his tone, playing fast, busy, bop-like lines while Fujii makes tracks on the keyboard, followed by a section in which the duo complemented each other in a medium-slow duet of single note phrases.

Indeed, by this time you’ll realize that most of the pieces on this CD are slow ones, albeit interesting and well-improvised. The title track, Keshin, seemed to me the most abstract piece on the set, although Fujii does ground the music in some tonal chords as Tamura expands the harmonic envelope in his solos. Drop is even slower and, to my mind, a bit of a whining piece that, except for their using the idea of playing phrases that “drop” chromatically, doesn’t really congeal for me.

Happily, things pick up in Fujii’s Sparrow Dance, a piece in which a medium-fast, asymmetric meter is subtly propelled by single-note bass lines from Fujii while Tamura improvises in a very jolly but bitonal manner above her. By the 1:56 mark, the tempo has increased and, in its own way, the piece begins to swing. At this point Tamura really takes off, with Fujii slyly playing subtler lines underneath, and when it is her turn to solo she plays again in the middle of the keyboard, using single notes in both hands to create lines that coordinate and lines that pull away from one another. This is good stuff. It would be a real toe-tapper if you only had three feet to tap with because of the complex rhythmic base.

An interesting album, then, one of Fujii’s best in recent years.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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De Hartmann’s Songs

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DE HARTMANN: 3 Romances, Op. 5: Nos. 1 & 3. Romance: Take a Wreath of My Verses. 4 Melodies, Op. 17: No. 4, Vision of Pushkin. To the Moon. Volga: Cranes. Morning. Bulgarian Songs, Op. 46. 3 Poems by Shelley.* Sonnet de Ronsard. Romance 1830, Op. 55. A Poet’s Love – 9 Songs by Pushkin. 6 Commentaries from “Ulysses” by James Joyce.* Pour chanter à la route d’Assise* / Nina Lejderman, *Claron McFadden, sop; Elan Sicroff, pno / La Traumanta, Op. 80 for Vocal Quartet / Judith Petra, sop; Anjolet Rotteveel, alto; Alan Belk, ten; Daniël Hermán Mostert, bar / Nimbus Alliance NI6413

Having explored Thomas de Hartmann’s piano music, we now turn our attention to his songs. Once again, the music spans a wide range of years, dating from 1900 (the 3 Romances) to 1948, and again the most Romantic music is the earliest. Here, however, the songs from 1915—Vision of Pushkin and To the Moon—are not quite as forward-looking as the solo piano music from the same period, yet we do already sense a change of direction in the harmony, which is more Scriabin-like.

Even as late as 1931, in the Bulgarian Songs, de Hartmann’s writing for voice is still essentially tonal and melodic; it is only in the piano accompaniment that we sense somewhat more modern harmonies and chord positions. Still, one should not confuse more grateful lyric lines for uninteresting songs, for by that time de Hartmann was indeed moving forward. This is especially apparent in “Hymn of Pan” from the 3 Poems by Shelley,  in which the piano accompaniment is astonishingly complex. By the time we reach the 9 Songs by Pushkin (1937), we are clearly in de Hartmann’s more advanced period, particularly in the writing for the piano.

de Hartmann, 1956Yet it is the 6 Commentaries from “Ulysses” by James Joyce  (1943) that is the most modern vocal  music on this set. At times, the asymmetrical meter puts you in mind of the way Virgil Thomson set the words of Gertrude Stein, except that here de Hartmann calls upon his soprano to bend notes and sometimes come in “between pitches.” It’s a superb song cycle; I only wish that I could understand the words better without having to look at the booklet.

We end with the very weird unaccompanied vocal quartet Pour chanter à la route d’Assise from 1949, and here we have music that could pass for mature Honegger or possibly even neoclassic Stravinsky. A very nice piece indeed.

I must give producer-pianist Elan Sicroff a pat on the back for using singers who can actually sing, who have good, firm voices, good musical style and, best of all, clear diction (although soprano Claron McFadden has a heck of a time singing in English. I was stunned to learn that she is American, since I could only make out perhaps one of every six words she sang). These qualities aid us considerably in enjoying de Hartmann’s music for voice.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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