Turkey: Johanna Sandels’ “Väsen”

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Turkey of the Month (November) AND Year (2022)!!

SANDELS: Prelude. Stugubråt. Isgång. Vulkanisk Promenad. Våg / Johanna Sandels, electronic noises & other crap / Arpaviva AV 001CS

I was afraid that I’d completely missed a Turkey of the Month for November until this gem was sent to me by email on the next-to-last day of the month. Never let it be said that there aren’t enough whack jobs out there who think that whatever noises they can fart out into a microphone isn’t great art. From the publicity blurb for this turkey:

Johanna Sandels is a quintessential multimedia artist working with sound, 2D and 3D art, and installations. The artist describes her process as translating her sculptural ideas and their physical textures into relative sonic textures. Sandels, an artist of striking originality, incorporates a visceral sense of time into both her physical and sound work. Born and raised in Lindingö, Sweden, Sandels co-founded the F4entropy collective and the Konst Kollektivet Kontakt. Sandels uses magnetic tape in her sculptures and has created a numbered edition cassette of Väsen to accompany this release.

Well, three cheers for her. If you thought Monica Pearce’s Textile Fantasies was bad—and trust me, it was—then, to quote the late Al Jolson, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” This so-called “music” is REALLY nothing. Just reverberant, ambient sounds produced by electronic tape, the sort of noises that engineers used to use to control electronic feedback. Väsen is nothing BUT electronic feedback. You even get electronic spits and crackles in the midst of the overblown garbage that emanates from your speakers if you have the nerve to listen to this trash. It’s so bad that it makes Textile Fantasies sound like Beethoven.

And how does Sandels justify this utter rubbish? Well, let’s let her explain:

Fascinated by the force of time and the impossibility of capturing the moment between being and becoming, I collect sounds through field recordings transforming and exploring these contrasting soundscapes. I try to sculpt a hybrid form of artificial / natural sounds linked to movement and transformations, later manipulated.

For this album and accompanying cassette, I am experimenting with the idea of traversing steered by a sonic vocabulary made up of contrasting textures, a soundscape where contrasts mark and magnify a fleeting hybrid space in between.

Resonance and the effect of a collectivity is a crucial aspect of my creative process and the ’weaving together’ of textures and different languages to nourish each element. And the way each space in which it is listened to will also impact the piece.


Portrait of the Artist trying to drown herself

I would modestly suggest that the best “space” in which to listen to this stuff is in your bathroom when you’re constipated, sitting on the toilet, and trying to get it out. Even if these “soundscapes” will not unblock you, they will surely divert your attention while straining to poop because they really DO sound like shit. Indeed, the “soundscape” of the third track, Isgång, sounds in the beginning like a toilet flushing. Later on in this track, it sounds like a vacuum cleaner with a mute on so you don’t disturb those who might be sleeping when you decide to suck the dirt out of your head. The next track, Vulkanisk Promenad, sounds like the guys who empty my recycle bin in the back of their truck every two weeks. In fact, later on in this track, you can hear their voices (softly in the background) as they move the recycle bins onto and off their truck. WOW, what genius! I’m simply flabbergasted! Flabbergasted, I tell you!!

Such imagination and brilliance as Sandels exhibits on this album must surely be rewarded with more than a Turkey of the Month award. And so it shall be. I hereby declare this album Turkey of the Year. As bad as all the others were, this one (sorry for the pun) really does go off the deep end. It is, then, more than a mere Turkey. It is turkey served with rotten tomatoes and topped off with a bag of burning dog poop on your front porch.

In sum, this is just sound – without fury – signifying nothing. But hey, the Swedes think she’s a big deal!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Krzysztof Meyer’s String Quartets

MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 1-4 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.573165

MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 5, 6 & 8 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.570776

8.573001 bk Meyer ï 3_EU_8.573001 bk Meyer ï 3_EU

MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 7, 10 & 13 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.573001


MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 9, 11 & 12 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.572656

These recordings were all issued in the early-to-mid 2010s, when I was writing reviews for a noted classical music magazine, but of course I was never invited to review any of them because I was the one they constantly stuck with the piano music of Chopin and Liszt because, after all, that’s what Ladies Like Best. As a result, came to hate both composers. Overexposure will do that to you.

As for Meyer’s quartets, they are as strange, original and fascinating as most of his other music. Even the very first one, written in 1963 when he was only 20 years old,  already has his stamp on it, the same as his mature music from 20 or 40 years later. Atonality, microtonal passages, edgy string tremolos and always that undercurrent of lyricism, mark this music. Over the decades, I’ve come to the realization that those major composer who wrote string quartets often put their finest and most intimate musical ideas in them, whether they wrote only a few like Schubert and Brahms or a great many like Haydn, Beethoven and Shostakovich. After all, using only four “voices,” particularly in the format created in the 18th century where they are voiced like a “little orchestra” yet have far greater clarity and, with that, immediacy of expression, leads the listener into mental and emotional crevices that their rich, larger-formed music does not always do. In Meyer’s case, this is also partially true. He does, at least, bring us a little deeper into his creative mind because the format is much more intimate, but since he often pares down his orchestral works to chamber-sized dimensions, the creative gap isn’t as evident as it is in the case of the other composers I cited above.

Meyer does indeed think of his quartets as “little orchestras,” but since his orchestral works (as mentioned above) do not always include a great many tuttis, the same is true here. Although his personal writing style is different, there is a surprising similarity in working methods to other avant-garde composers like Harry Partch, although Partch was frequently more whimsical and even a bit more outré in expression. The first string quartet also includes a surprisingly large number of moments in which the quartet plays microtonally (i.e., sliding in pitch up and down the strings), and this, too reminds one of Partch as well as of Carillo.

I’ve not yet seen, in print or online, an interview with Meyer, but I would love to pick his brain and discover how he comes up with his motifs and themes and then how it is that he parses them, fragments them, takes them apart and puts them together again in a single movement or an entire composition. There is, however, a good clue to this methods in a quote from him in the liner notes for the first four quartets:

Applying various techniques is for me only a means to composition, and it is by no means an exaggeration … to say that I enter some regions of my inner soundscape using any technical means available [bold print mine] and that I will still arrive at a result that I had aimed at from the start, regardless of the means applied.

As for his affinity for this form, he picked this up as a young boy thanks to the fact that he came from a wealthy family geared to high culture:

When I was a little boy, I had a chance to listen to chamber music concerts that were regularly organized at my home. Probably these first impressions fundamentally shaped my interests and principles … My musical homeland is the chamber music of the Viennese Classic, ex tended by the most splendid of twentieth-century musical worlds –Bartók’s.

In any event, he is clearly so far above the average run of composers nowadays that he might as well be in a universe all by himself, the way Igor Stravinsky was for most of his life. This is not, however, to say that Meyer—like Stravinsky—doesn’t occasionally have weaknesses. In Stravinsky’s case, it was sometimes a matter of trying to be too “cute” in the way he put things together (such as in Pulcinella, La Baiser de la Fée and The Rake’s Progress, although I love the latter). In Meyer’s case, it is sometimes (but happily, not often) a matter of his being too abstract in the way he puts his pieces together…his Fifth Symphony is a good example of what I mean. Yes, he is a musical genius; I don’t question that for a second after hearing his music; but even so, I, as a listener, reserve the right to accept or reject the results of his genius as I hear them.

Being written so close together (1963, 1969, 1971 & 1974), these first four quartets naturally share a great many stylistic and structural similarities. Although the music of No. 2 is clearly different from that of No. 1, and the same with Nos. 3 & 4, the lay listener can very easily hear, for instance, the one-movement Quartet No. 2 almost as an extra movement of Quartet No. 1 etc. In these early years, I think, Meyer had not quite yet developed his other compositional “voices,” thus the similarities are stronger than the differences. But isn’t that true of all composers? After all, the six quartets that make up Beethoven’s Op. 18 all tend to sound of a piece, too. And yes, there are clearly moments in Nos. 2-4, such as the loud, fast passage in No. 2 where the quartet suddenly rise up (unusually for Meyer) en masse to play a loud, fast, emotional passage that almost sounds like a bitonal hoedown, where he does indeed give us something different, not heard in the others.

And of course, the impact that any music, but particularly music of this complexity, makes on you is due in large part to the performers’ approach to it. Thankfully, the Wieniawski String Quartet, consisting of two somewhat older (viola & cello) and two somewhat younger (the violinists) members, seems pretty locked into this music and dedicated to presenting it in its best light. Need I say that, considering the ultra-Romantic composer they are named after, I an very proud of them for this? We clearly need many more modern-day classical performers whose repertoire is at least half modern music, and by modern music I mean anything written since 1960, not before it!

Meyer’s sense of drama was already honed to a fine point by the time of the third quartet (1971); note, for instance, the superb manner in which he builds tension using nothing more than a repeated sequence of string tremolos (at different volume levels) in the last movement of this piece. And the fourth quartet is an entirely different kind of piece, much more fragmented in its use of notes, more atmospheric and less structured. It reminds me of the kind of music that Leif Segerstam was writing at about this same time, but in a sense I think that Meyer’s early music was an influence on Segerstam rather than the other way around.

The problem with this group of CDs as a “set,” even though I realize that each disc was issued separately, is one in common with dozens of such collections of composer’s quartets, sonatas or symphonies, a lack of chronology—in this case, after the sixth quartet, a disc which, you can tell by its catalog number, was actually released first. I really do wonder at the intelligence of those in charge who decide such things, as most of the time these works fit quite easily in chronological order on sequential CDs. In this case they don’t, though—CD 3, containing quartets Nos. 8-10, would have to run over 87 minutes, so in this case I forgive them. Still, you really should listen to the complete set in sequence, as it shows you how Meyer continued to develop and expand his style to incorporate other “voices,” and no leap forward is quite as dramatic as that from the fourth to the fifth quartet.

Here, in 1977, we are in the midst of Meyer’s fully mature style, manipulating the thematic material in such a way that it morphs and grows, each succeeding section feeding off the one previously, creating, in the end, a unified whole. The pace of the fifth quartet also slows down considerably as you progress through the movements. By contrast, the opening movement of the Quartet No. 6 uses a great deal of syncopation, almost but not quite in a jazz-like manner, which the Wieniawski players capture to perfection. In the second movement of this quartet (“Prestissimo”). Meyer sets up fast violin passages that almost simulate a hoedown; the figures they play almost suggest little animals scurrying around in the dark. Yet, in the slow third movement, he reverts to long-held notes with several pauses thrown in to interrupt the flow of the music, once again suggesting a mood rather than a taut structure…and yet, later on in this music, there is more scurrying of a slightly different kind, along with bent notes. Curiouser and curiouser! There is also some very strong syncopation in the second movement (“Furioso”) of the Quartet No. 8.

Despite what he claims is his natural affinity for quartet writing, Meyer has often taken his sweet old time producing several of his later works in this genre. After the flurry of the first four quartets, written within a decade, the others followed in irregular spurts: No. 5 in 1977, No. 6 in 1981 and No. 7 in 1985. The latter reflects his later style, which uses more lyrical (albeit bitonal) melodic lines which in turn leads to a greater unity of the material at hand. This work is indeed very close to Bartók, even though Meyer moves further out of the tonal center in his most complex and dramatic passages. Writing in longer lines, for him, also means writing in a slightly more conventional rhythm, which again makes the music just that more accessible to the average listener. Thus it makes some sense (though not a lot) that Naxos chose to release Vol. 2 (Quartets Nos. 5, 6 & 8) first with Quartets Nos. 9, 11 & 12 second, this one (Nos. 7, 10 & 13) third and the more abstract first four quartets last. Heaven forbid that you should shock listeners into listening to music that doesn’t follow established patterns!

The Tenth Quartet also has strong echoes of Bartók, or even a bit of Shostakovich, but here Meyer is freer with his manipulation of both themes and rhythm in the development sections. At times in the first movement, for instance, quirky little motifs bounce around from instrument to instrument, creating a “sort of” hocket effect but not quite. The “Allegro assai” portion of this quartet becomes quite complex indeed, pushing the players to the limits of their abilities to interact with rapid figures which sometimes are at odds with one another rhythmically. By this time (1994), too, Meyer’s music began to take on the atmospheric quality—quite different from his earlier “atonal ambient” style—that would mark much of his later output. The 13th and (so far) last quartet (I can’t believe that Meyer doesn’t have a 14th quartet up his sleeve, yet to be produced) is the most involved and complex structure of the entire series, very much like some of Beethoven’s last three quartets—and not really all that far removed from Beethoven in its harmonic daring, though of course Ludwig was close to 100 years ahead of his time in that respect. Also like one of Beethoven’s late quartets, Meyer here created a world within a world where every note and gesture combines together to create a unified microcosm of sound and emotion. This is truly a masterpiece that you need to hear and not just read about; the music is so compact that even trying to describe one portion of it as it flies by your ears can’t possibly do justice to the whole movement in which that moment occurs.

The “last” CD, however, backs up a bit, starting with the Ninth Quartet from 1990, a work that looks back a bit to Meyer’s style of 1963-72 as well as incorporating a few (but very few) ideas from Benjamin Britten, particularly the open fifths. But it’s really all his style despite the use of a few ideas from Britten—note the high, whistling violin figures in the vigorous and somewhat ominous-sounding first movement. It is in the second movement that we hear Meyer’s later, more lyrical style coming to the fore, with the viola and one violin playing the melancholy theme in the opening measures. The third movement is nearly all pizzicato figures, some of which run over each other. The 11th Quartet, dating from 2001, seems to combine both of Meyer’s basic styles, the knotty and the lyrical, in a well-crafted series of theme expositions and developments. This is especially evident in the slow section, which passes for a second movement, where Meyer introduces cute little pauses in the music to interrupt its flow when you least expect him to.

The last quartet in the series as presented here is the 12th from 2005, surprisingly (for Meyer) a nine-movement work lasting nearly 40 minutes. Here, as in the 13th Quartet, he creates a work which again bears some resemblance to Beethoven’s late quartets in both mood and structure, i.e. the juxtaposition of contrasting moods, going (for instance) from the pensive first movement to an almost violent second. I won’t spoil the surprises in the rest of the quartet for you, but remember what I said: it’s very much modeled on late Beethoven.

Krzysztof Meyer is clearly one of the greatest of living composers, a man who knows how to construct music that is modern harmonically and rhythmically yet which, more often than not, also touches the heart. It’s a shame that his scores are not nearly as well known as they should be. Hopefully these reviews I’ve written will open the door for you to explore his wide and varied output.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Krzysztof Meyer’s Chamber Music


MEYER: Canzona for Cello & Piano. Imaginary Variations for Violin & Piano. Moment Musical for Solo Cello. Misterioso for Violin & Piano. Piano Trio / Poznań Piano Trio: Laura Kluwak-Sobolewska, pno; Anna Ziółkowska, vln; Monika Baranowska, cel / Naxos 8.573500


MEYER: Piano Quartet. Piano Quintet* / Silesian String Qrt; Szymon Krzeszowiec, vln I; *Arkadiusz Kubica, vln II; Łukasz Surnicki, vla; Piotr Janosik, cel; Piotr Sałajczyk, pno / Naxos 8.573357

Having been impressed by Krzysztof Meyer’s Sixth Symphony and Piano Concerto, I decided to investigate other pieces by him, and boy, have I found a lot! About the only piece I didn’t like was his Fifth Symphony—just too fragmented for me, and it says nothing—but much of his other music has impressed me so I’m going to review it.

Meyer clearly has his own way of writing music, and what impressed me the most was that he does not have but one “voice” as a composer. The Canzona for cello & piano, for instance, opens quite lyrically and tonally, although you can tell from the ominous single bass notes played by the pianist under the cello’s opening statement that this is not a “song” that is all sweetness and light. There is at least a shade of darkness to this canzone, and as we move from the lyrical opening to the quicker, busier middle section, Meyer has the cellist alternate between bowed and pizzicato figures, which adds another shade of uneasiness to the proceedings. Before we even reach the halfway point, in fact, the music becomes even faster and louder, with the cellist playing edgy bowed figures that are quite menacing indeed, being in a minor mode. It’s quite a piece, with Meyer packing quite a bit of emotion and darkness into a mere 10 minutes’ worth of music.

Meyer had this to say in the liner notes about his Imaginary Variations:

this composition is structured in a similar way to Classical variation form, and the audience can hear the constant changes to the musical ideas. In reality, however, the twelve short sections of the work are not true variations, even though they display some connections and similarities.

This work is, on the whole, more atonal than the Canzona but not at all in the 12-tone style; rather, it combines tonal and atonal elements although leaning more towards the latter, and the tempi and rhythms of these “imaginary variations” are different enough from each other to make the piece interesting as well as attractive. In one “variation,” Meyer has the violin play some atonal pizzicato figures against the pointillistic piano part, both in an opposing rhythm to the other. By contract, the next one is quite lyrical; then he changes things once again. By contrast, the Moment Musical for solo cello is primarily edgy with occasional lyric moments. Darkness is again a feature of this piece, almost ferocious at times in its fast bowed passages. Needless to say, Meyer’s Misterioso lives up to its name, with the violin snaking its way through the music like a malevolent spider.

Of course, the Piano Trio is the fullest piece on this CD, and here Meyer combined a number of his trademark sounds and techniques while still respecting the older piano trio form. One strange feature of this piece is its edgy “slow” movement, titled “Andante inquieto,” in which he almost makes the menacing cello tremolos sound like a sort of alien raccoon waiting to attack you in your basement. The “Allegretto capriccioso” consists of soft, bouncing violin pizzicato in minor modes set against occasional piano thumps and sinister held notes by the cello.

Moving on to the piano quartet and quintet, one hears a similar manipulation of the musical material and again the music vacillates between tonal and atonal (sometimes simply bitonal). The quartet is unusual in that it was written as a single movement lasting nearly 25 minutes. The notes tell us that musical unity is given to this work via a process of constant variation, but of course whatever a composer does from a technical standpoint is only of interest to a musician or a musicologist. It’s how the music sounds to you and affects you that counts, and Meyer frequently scores over his colleague and teacher Penderecki because his music is more understandable to lay listeners as well as not always trying to sound ugly all the time. As Rafael Kubelik once said, he was suspicious of any music that was just an intellectual exercise because it didn’t touch the heart. Meyer’s music does both. I also love the way Meyer introduces complex cross-rhythms and syncopations in his music, which sometimes fool the ear.

I was also surprised, in the piano quintet, by his using sliding microtones in one passage of this first movement, which reminded me of Julián Carrillo. Meyer is clearly a versatile composer who thinks outside the box. Being the longest work of those included in this review, it is, of course, a much more complex piece, but again the point is the feeling and emotion he pours into his work and not just the medium which carries it. Meyer is clearly a great composer, and it’s a shame that his work isn’t half as well known as Penderecki’s outside of his native Poland.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Lars Lindvall’s Evolving Jazz Visions


WOOD / LINDVALL: A Walk in the Forest 1 & 2. A Decision 1, 2 & 3. Move With the Energy 1 & 2.* Light Flight 1 & 2. Still 1 & 2. Walking Towards Home / Lars Lindvall Tentet: Lindvall, tpt/Fl-hn; Wege Wüthrich, cl; John Voirol, oboe/sop-sx; Otmar Kramis, bs-cl; Andreas Tschopp, tb; Francis Coletta, gt; Christoph Stiefel, pno/synth; Wolfgang Zwiauer, bs; Thomas Weiss, perc; *add Richard Dobrowski, tpt & Robert Morgenthaler, tb / self-produced CD, available for purchase or streaming HERE on Bandcamp


NOW OR NEVER / CD 1: LINDVALL: Hunting. Wake Up to Beauty and its Nuances. Bigband 44. Inside Joy With Ears. With Joy. Hallelujah. Beyond Hunting. Beyond 1 & 2 / Lars Lindvall, Wolfgang Zumpe, Mike Maurer, Jonas Winterhalter, Christoph Mahnig, tpt; Lukas Wyss, Lukas Briggen, Christoph Huber, Christian Kramer, tb; John Voirol, sop-sax; Natthias Kohler, a-sax; Christian Schütz, t-sax/sop-sax; Wege Wüthrich, t-sax; Otmar Kramis, bar-sax; Franz Hellmüller, gt; Fred Lang, pno; Hagen Neye, bs; Jan Schwinning, dm. / CD 2: LINDVALL: Evolving & Dissolving Modes, 1-4. Beyond 3 / Same as CD 1, but add Lindvall, didgeridoos/nord lead 3/ableton live/trumpet-effect-shapes; Christian Muthspiel, tb; Jay Clayton, voc; Gregor Hilbe, dm; Teerth Gonzales, perc / self-produced CDs, available for purchase or streaming on Bandcamp: CD 1, CD 2 (rec. 2016)

Lars Lindvall is a 60-year-old Swedish jazz trumpeter-composer who looks a lot like Elvis Costello and clearly lives in the world of his own imagination. He contacted me by email (his email only included his first name) and asked if he could mail me some CDs from Sweden. Since I now have highly unreliable mail delivery at my home, thanks to President Trump installing a moron as Postmaster General who took away postal workers’ ability to use electronic sorting and other such things, I asked him if he could simply email me MP# files, cover art and booklets for me to audition and see if I’d like to review them.

I waited a week for him to answer. When he didn’t, I wrote him again. That’s when he told me he wasn’t sure if he had the sound files on his computer but directed me to his Bandcamp pages, where I was able to audition the music.

My regular readers know that I am generally not a fan of “ambient music,” be it jazz or classical, because such pieces generally don’t have anything interesting in them. But much of Lindvall’s music is different. As a trumpeter, he clearly models himself after Miles Davis, playing a few sparse notes rather than rapid streams of them. He is talking to you, not trying to impress you with his chops. Furthermore, his music is…well. weird. It takes its own circuitous routes as it tiptoes through the tulips of your mind. In this respect, it reminds me of some of innovative music of the old “cool school” of the 1950s, for those of you who remember (or have even heard) the music of Tony Scott and Chico Hamilton (or even Miles Davis himself). Thus I decided to review the second and third of the three albums he sent me links to, and here they are.

Neither album is new; in fact, they were released a decade apart. Wood came out in 2006 and Now or Never in 2016. Lindvall’s own description of the Wood music will give you a glimpse into his mind:

In February 2003, I started to write the wood music. My aim was to develop a series of musical pieces reflecting different energies which I have been discovering in my life. To use simple melodies, sound textures & grooves supporting those energies to be felt by the listener…We had the opportunity to perform the “Wood” program at different venues in Switzerland during 2004 and 2005. During that time I recorded all horn tracks, guitar and bass. Piano and percussion were recorded at the Radiostudio in Zurich.

Now you are a part of it! (To) Be taken and moved (by it) is the only way to be part of the journey. the music needs to be dreamt, to be trusted and to be brought to life. Listen, sing, dance and, most importantly, enjoy.

Yes, indeed. Be prepared to ride the Starship Lindvall to the Wood Galaxy.

A Walk in the Forest 1 opens with solo trumpet, very much à la Miles: theme statement, after which the synthesizer comes in behind him with a (very) sustained E-flat major chord. This them moves seamlessly into part 2, when the trumpet and some of the winds come in, still with the synth holding that E-flat chord. It is music that develops slowly, but it does develop, eventually changing harmony beneath the clarinet solo, producing music that is not all that far removed from the French impressionists. Little double-time figures by other winds change it still further as the drone stops, followed by a bit of conga-style drumming and an entirely new theme played in the trumpet’s mid-range by Lindvall. Slow-moving it may well be, but it’s also very creative. By the time we reach the clarinet solo, it has assumed a sort of Middle Eastern belly-dancing beat. Beneath its slow-moving pace and development, this is a real composition: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, always moving in its relaxed way to another way station. Christoph Stiefel contributes an excellent piano solo to the mix as well.

A Decision opens with an 11-second bongo drum solo, tracked separately on the album, before the very spacey theme, set to an irregular meter, moves in. Once again, the music is both fascinating and well structured and here, again, Lindvall uses a Middle Eastern sort of beat. This is really cool stuff! In A Decision Part 2, we hear another change of theme and meter as well as an excellent guitar solo by Francis Coletta…with NO ROCK BEAT!! (Let’s hear a collective cheer or an “Amen”!) Another thing I noticed was that, as the music evolved, little motifs and.or rhythms flowed from one section to the next. The final section of A Decision is an a cappella trumpet solo played through a reverb tunnel with a little drums. Weird but effective.

And yes, these pieces do tend to make up a suite, tied together by some common beats and keys but with each section being somewhat different. I could give further details on all of them but this would spoil the fun of discovery for the new listener. As Lindvall said, you have to come to the party, each in your own way.

Despite his using six brass and wind instruments, Lindvall also keeps his scores uncluttered. The textures are transparent, revealing all the little details inside the music that might otherwise be lost had he scored them more like an orchestra. This, too, enhances one’s enjoyment of the music.

Lindvall goes even further, however, in his enthusiastic promotion for the double-CD Now or Never, calling it “essential music for big band—a document of the times!” Lindvall also defines it as “a culmination of Lars’ musical output.” Well, if course it’s a document of the times…every recording documents the time spent in the studio at that moment in time. But let’s see if it’s essential, shall we?

Hunting clearly has a vibe similar to the Wood music, except that the opening theme is more fragmented, with space in between phrases. The orchestration is also richer, using a bit more brass, and when the music finally gets going, using a simple but attractive riff, it is scored a bit heavier than Wood. The music is still interesting, and Lindvall continues to develop his themes, but it has a more overt quality about it at times and some of the solos are more aggressive. To a certain extent, this music reminded me of the high-quality big band scores written in the 1970s and ‘80s by Toshiko Akiyoshi, still one of the most underrated and neglected jazz composers of all time. Indeed, as the baritone sax solo on this track continues, it increases not only in volume but in tempo until it, and the band, sound very much like the Akiyoshi-Tabackin Big Band.

In Wake Up to Beauty and its Nuances, Lindvall reverts to his spacey side, opening with a soft trumpet solo accompanied only by guitar, and even when a slow rhythm suggests itself, he is underscored by bowed bass and the orchestra’s textures are soft-grained. Yet again the volume increases, falls back, then increases again as the music develops, but these volume swells are less frequent than in Hunting and, by and large, the music is gentler. About two-thirds of the way into it, in fact, we again hear that quasi-Middle Eastern rhythm that permeated the music of Wood, and from that point on the piece is quiet and restful.

But if this piece has the delicacy of a Gil Evans score, Bigband 44 is a jazz samba more reminiscent of the jazz of 20 years later (’64). After an excellent piano solo introduction by Fred Lang, soft brass mixtures (again reminiscent of Gil Evans) move in to introduce the theme, followed by a mellow tenor sax statement against guitar counterpoint. This one is largely interesting ensemble figures interspersed with nice sax solos.

Inside Joy With Ears returns us to some of the spacey music of Wood, opening with sparse trumpet figures played against guitar, bass and drums, all playing discretely and not at all together behind Lindvall. In time, this quiet little melee between these three rhythm instruments becomes a quiet brawl, but Lindvall just calmly keeps interjecting his odd little improvised figures. Eventually, however, the rhythm recedes, all but the guitar drop out, and Lindvall sails along over the guitar (and then later, the bass playing an odd funky little figure underneath) before Lindvall returns, this time with some trumpet growls thrown in. A very strange track!

The other pieces vary somewhat, alternating fast and slow numbers appropriately, sometimes capturing some of the flavor of Wood and at other times creating its own vibe. And once again, I hesitate to spoil the surprise of much of this music for listeners. Just take my word for it, it’s all worth listening to.

Ah, but then there is the second CD in this set, which consists of only five tracks: the very long (almost a half hour) Evolving & Dissolving Modes I, the fairly long (around 13 minutes each) Modes 2-4, and the short conclusion (1:30) of Beyond. This is much more “out there” music, with Lindvall often switching from trumpet to didgeridoo, a female vocalist (Jay Clayton) injecting occasional sung notes or short whoops), and much more amorphic music. In the liner notes, Lindvall explains that he conceived CD 2 as “more of «the never ending story» of nature, with its moods and yearly patterns. Nature has always been my most important inspiration. Especially I had the Swedish grey light in mind, which mostly can be experienced in fall and the early winter season – a thousand of different nuances of grey, without being heavy or depressing.” So there you go.

The music is, for the most part, very slow indeed, and the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern rhythm is also back. Leave it to Lindvall to combine ideas from Aboriginal, Arabic and Swedish culture and pour them into a primarily Western musical mold. After the halfway point, however, the music becomes more and more tonal and Western in concept, which for me, personally, was a mistake. It should have kept probing and changing. After a dead stop, which feels like the finale, we get a fairly long coda, and this is more daring harmonically.

Part 2 is a shade faster, and after a while the drums enter to give the music a little more of a kick. This caravan is a little peppier and more wide awake than the first one. Some of the scoring for the trumpet section also includes a certain amount of bitonal harmony, which also adds piquancy to the proceedings. Part 4 is the swingingest of the entire set as well as the most harmonically adventurous.

But again, I don’t want to give too much away since Lindvall has little (and large) surprises in store for the listener in every track. No, it’s not a towering masterpiece, but it’s certainly creative and absorbing, well worthy of the time you spend listening to it, and it does create an hypnotic sound environment that you can feel comfortable in.

Just remember Lars Lindvall’s motto:

You are not dancing. LIFE IS DANCING YOU!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Krzysztof Meyer’s Orchestral Music


WAP 2022MEYER: Piano Concerto.* Symphony No. 6, “Polish Symphony” / *Pavel Gililov, pianist; Great Polish Radio & Television Symphony Orch. of Katowice; Antoni Wit, conductor / Dux 1898

Here is a recording of works by 79-year-old Krzysztof Meyer conducted by 78-year-old Antoni Wit. I don’t know enough about the Polish classical music scene to know whether or not Wit is the “dean” of Polish conductors, but he’s certainly been around a long while and his recordings of works by Szymanowski, Górecki and other composers are often considered benchmarks in those works.

Meyer writes in a style that uses Eastern modes and modern rhythms. You might almost call him a modern-day Szymanowski except that, with his stronger rhythms and more brilliant orchestration, his scores do not have the exotic Impressionist feeling of his predecessor. After a slow, mysterious opening, the piano concerto’s first movement reels headlong through a number of short-breathed, almost fragmented motifs and themes before receding in both volume and pace for an equally eerie middle section. The piano soloist does not play virtuoso showcase music, but rather fits into the overall fabric of the music as just another part, but this, too is fascinating to hear. It is almost as if the piano were another section of the orchestra for Meyer to play against with the others. There’s a touch of George Antheil about this music that intrigued me, and Meyer varies his music so much that you never lose interest in what’s going on.

The second movement sounds like a play on a short rhythmic theme which starts in the high winds, moves around the orchestra a bit, and then disappears to allow a second, faster, quirkier theme to take hold. Once again, the piano acts as commentator and interlocutor rather than providing musical “answers” to the mysterious goings-on around it. At the three-minute mark, the orchestra plays some “ta-daa!” type chords, signifying that things are wrapping up, but they’re not! On the contrary, the pianist suddenly emerges playing a swinging, jazz-based solo before the movement ends in earnest.

The third movement is the slow one, played mostly by soft strings with, again, a mysterious feeling about it. The last movement begins with loud, sharply-attacked open F chords which launch a scurrying theme which the piano gobbles up and carries on its back for some time. This movement, too, has a whiff of Antheil about it. Eventually, however, it becomes a riot of loud, fast running motifs in minor modes, something like a modern version of Berlioz’ “Witches’ Sabbath” from the Symphonie Fantastique.

Meyer’s Sixth Symphony, which he dedicated to conductor Antoni Wit, was written in 1981 “under the impression of the declaration of martial law in Poland.” He also used “well-known Polish songs in all movements except the second,” but none of these were Polish songs that I heard as a child. (My grandparents came from Poland and my father spoke Polish.) The first movement is almost like a funeral dirge, using slow, sad, broken melodies, later interspersed with fast minor-key flurries from the violins and interjections by muted trumpets. Later on, however, there is a ferocious, almost savage break-out by the orchestra, with sharp flute and piccolo motifs stabbing through the massed sound of the other sections.

The fast and relatively short (7:07) second movement opens with scurrying, out-of-tonality violin figures with interjections by the flutes and other strings, but there is nothing jolly about this music. At about the halfway mark, the volume increases as the trumpets have their say as a section, followed by more scurrying (this time much more aggressively) by the strings, winds and brass, including trombones and tuba. The tone of the slow third movement is set by plodding pizzicato from mid-range violins and violas while a clarinet, backed by percussion (mostly chimes), plays a strange, amorphous theme. This movement, too, eventually explodes in a riot of massed sound, with the snare drum playing a melancholy funeral beat behind it. The final movement opens up as a mad, headlong rush through ungraspable, amorphic themes, but then turns into a “Funebre” section to its conclusion.

What a fascinating CD! For me, this was an introduction to Meyer’s music, and you can bet that I’ll be investigating more of it.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Kellen Gray Conducts Black Composers


DAWSON: Negro Folk Symphony. WALKER: Lyric for Strings. STILL: Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American” / Royal Scottish National Orch.; Kellen Gray, conductor / Linn CKD 699

And here, on the heels of Franz Welser-Most’s traversal of orchestral music by George Walker, is an excellent album of music by black American composers which includes yet another piece by Walker…and, happily, does not include music by Florence B. Price!! (For those who missed my comments on Price, she was a solid, professional writer of late Romantic pieces that have neither originality nor inspiration to commend them.) In fact, I was quite gratified to see a symphony here by William Levi Dawson, too often ignored in the pantheon of black composers, in addition to William Grant Still’s excellent and deeply moving “Afro-American” Symphony.

Since conductor Kellen Gray is an African-American (in addition to his post as Assistant Conductor of the Royal Scottish NO, he is also Associate Conductor of the Charleston Symphony), I expected him to have a firm grasp on how this music should go, and he did not fail me. Moreover, in addition to getting the rhythmic feeling and flow of this music right, he also has a firm grasp of musical structure, thus he is able to pull the diverse sections of these works together to produce a unified whole.

Since Dawson’s is a Negro FOLK Symphony, he used simple themes taken from various work songs, spirituals etc., but in doing so he transformed them through his musical imagination, often using snippets and tying them together. Sad to say, this is exactly the kind of musical imagination that Florence Price did not have. Between Dawson’s musical structure and the way in which Gray conducts it, this symphony emerges for the listener as a close cousin of Antonin Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony (No. 9), and that is a compliment to both composers. (In fact, there’s a short theme in the third movement of the Dawson symphony that sounds very much like a similar theme in the first movement of the Dvořák.) Written in 1934, it was lucky enough to be premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra under its then-music director, Leopold Stokowski, who later recorded it for Decca with his American Symphony Orchestra. Although Stokowski gave it all he had and managed to elicit some wonderfully detailed playing from his orchestra, he (and they) didn’t get the rhythms quite right. Gray and his orchestra do. But the one thing I liked about the Stokie recording was its clear, crisp sonics. Linn Records gave Gray and the Royal Scottish Orchestra s bit too much reverb, which somewhat dulls the impact. But make no mistake, this is a great performance of the work. I .like it even a bit more than the surprisingly good one by Arthur Fagen and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra on Naxos.

Walker’s Lyric for Strings was, like Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, originally the movement of a string quartet. Written in 1946 when Walker was still a graduate student at the Curtis Institute of Music, he later reworked it for a full string orchestra and gave it its present title. Although it is unlike most of Walker’s later music in that it is resolutely tonal in every respect, including the use of a late-Romantic-sounding melodic line, there are elements of sadness and longing in it, too.  In act, I would go so far as to say that it is a much more diverse and interesting work than the Barber Adagio, even though its theme is not as memorable. Once again, Gray invests a great deal of feeling and energy into this piece.

In my profile on Still, I noted—and still maintain—that one of the reasons why he is not better recognized as a great composer or played more often than he is is because most conductors simply don’t have the right “feel” for his music. Still was inspired by the black music he heard around him as a child and an adolescent—church music, the blues, and jazz—all of which had the loose syncopation, the almost “sliding” sort of rhythm which was a part of that music but not part of the mainstream classical experience. Before hearing Gray’s performance of this work, the only one to have the right swagger was a performance by the New Trier High School Symphony conducted by Peter Rosheger. The Scottish National Orchestra comes very close to getting the feeling of the score right; to my ears, it was just a shade too fast. A little more of a “slow drag” feel, and it would have been perfect, but from a technical standpoint, of course, it’s much better played than the Rosheger version. Perhaps someday we’ll get a recording of Still’s magnum opus, Africa, that sounds as it is supposed to from start to finish.

If I have perhaps made a bit too much of Mr. Gray’s heritage, rest assured that I only brought it up because I felt (rightly) that he would have an affinity for this music, just as Czech or Hungarian conductors generally have the right feel for their native composers. I would most assuredly like to hear Gray conduct other works, hopefully some modern ones…but then again, I’m always hoping that conductors nowadays would program more modern music! Still, this is an excellent CD. For those who don’t have at least two of the three works presented here, I would say it’s a must CD to have.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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George Walker’s Orchestral Music

TCO0005D cover

WALKER: Antifonys for String Orchestra. Sinfonia No. 4, “Strands.” Lilacs for Voice & Orchestra.* Sinfonia No. 5, “Visions”# / *Latonia Moore, soprano; #Tony F. Silas, tenor; The Cleveland Orch.; Franz Welser-Most, conductor / The Cleveland Orchestra TCO 0005D, available for purchase HERE.

I almost had a heart attack when I saw this release. The Cleveland Orchestra playing the music of black modernist George Walker??!? Ah, but have no fear! When music director Franz Welser-Most actually programmed one of Walker’s pieces in concert (the Sinfonia No. 5), OF COURSE he had to “balance” it with a piece by Richard Strauss and Erich Korngold’s mawkish Symphony in F#, described (and I’m not kidding or making this up!) as “penned in his best melodic Hollywood style.” Why didn’t they just play Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto or some of Bennett’s Victory at Sea music while they were at it? (Oh, and don’t forget Williams’ Star Wars suite!)

Yeah, God forbid that a piece of modern music should be on a program with other modern music. No one would come to the concert. Except me and a couple of thousand others. Well, at least I give points to Welser-Most for having the guts to record this all-Walker program, the only downside of which is that the playing time (43:31) is, sadly, too short to give listeners the full range of his talent.

As I pointed out in an earlier review of his music, Walker had to fight so many battles in order to be accepted as a black composer who did not generally write tonal music based on spirituals that he became rather acrid in personality during his later years. I reviewed a CD of his music for a major classical music magazine and unfortunately mistook an English horn for an oboe or vice-versa. Despite the fact that I praised his music very highly, he decided to pounce on my error and attack me, telling me via email that I was an idiot and his young granddaughter could tell the difference so why couldn’t I. It seemed to me a very petty thing for him to do, but my editor assuaged by feelings by revealing that he usually attacked every critic who wrote a review of his music, so I shouldn’t feel alone in this. Later on, when I found out how hard he had to struggle for acceptance as a major serious composer, I forgave him for lashing out, at least to a point.

And Welser-Most does not hold back on the thorny side of Walker’s oeuvre. The Antifonys for strings features fairly thick, atonal writing, but what surprised me was how he was able to create extremely rich string blends within this style. Whether using one string section at a time, two or more, or all of them at once, the players move forward en masse and not with the leaner textures one often hears nowadays in such pieces. And although the meter is constantly shifting, Walker keeps the piece moving forward, even in the brief slow sections here and there. It’s an utterly fascinating piece; if the harmony were tonal, I’m sure it would be a popular concert work.

Interestingly, at least the way these works are programmed on the CD, his Sinfonia No. 4 sounds like a continuation of Antifonys, in part because the first piece ends quietly while the second begins quietly and in part because, despite the atonality, the Sinfonia is in a similar key range or pitch range, but as it develops one notes the more colorful orchestration (particularly in his use of winds and high percussion like triangle) and a more aggressive, less flowing musical contour. Since I didn’t have a booklet to read, I’m not entirely certain of the year of composition, but the JW Pepper sheet music site gives a copyright date of 2014, at which point Walker was 92 years old. If this is the case, it is absolutely astounding for a man of his advanced years to come up with such vital and highly imaginative music. I should add that both Welser-Most and the orchestra pour all of their energy into this music; there is no holding back, no sense that their unfamiliarity with this music was in any way a hurdle to be overcome.

This, in turn, is followed by Lilacs for voice and orchestra, although the one outlet I found for a score online only has the piano-vocal version available. Our soprano, Latonia Moore, has a gorgeous voice and completely unintelligible diction, so I can’t tell you what the poems are about. A review of this piece in the Atlanta Constitution described it as “A dense, dark work that penetrates deeply into the soul of Whitman’s response to the assassination of a great leader.” so I figured it had to be from his epic poem, When Lilacs Last in Doorway Bloom’d, written as a response to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and I was right. Although Walker only used the first three stanzas and the thirteenth, “Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird.” I was able to find out what Moore was singing. (As is so often the case, she swallows her consonants too much.) The brilliance with which Walker set these words to music is stunning. This is clearly one of his most emotionally moving works.

The last piece on this short disc is the Sinfonia No. 5, yet although it, too contains a vocal (this time a speaking part), his style is aggressive, the music almost made up of sharply jagged musical gestures which coalesce into an astonishing musical whole. According to a New York Times article, this was Walker’s last work (written in 2016), but you’d never guess it from the vitality and freshness of the score. The opening part of the “vocal” consists of a few shouted words: “Drink! Drink to me!,” the first of several quotes from familiar old songs of the past: Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, I Dream of Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair, Rock of Ages and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Tenor Tony F. Silas has absolutely no trouble with clear diction; you can understand every word. As Thomas May put it in his Times article from April 5, 2019:

The texts are elusive, acquiring disquieting ambiguity when juxtaposed with a video that Mr. Schramm created at Dr. Walker’s request. The video, which begins about midway through “Visions,” contains images of ocean scenes filmed on the Atlantic Coast along with close-ups of photographs documenting the slave trade in Charleston.[1]

If anything, the orchestration in this piece is even more colorful and varied than in the Sinfonia No. 4. Between the tenor’s spoken outbursts of song snippets, the orchestra does indeed skitter about over broken meters, suggesting discord and darkness rather than light.

If you had any doubts as to the brilliance of George Walker’s work, this CD is guaranteed to dispel them. He was clearly one of the most original and emotionally powerful composers of his time. I cannot praise this disc highly enough.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/05/arts/music/george-walker-sinfonia-visions-seattle-symphony.html


Martin Skafte’s Piano Preludes


WAP 2022SKAFTE: 24 Piano Preludes / Jonas Olsson, pianist / Toccata Classics TOCC 0640

Martin who? Skafte, of course! Only kidding. I had no idea who he was, either when I first saw the cover of this CD, but as it turns out he’s a very fine (if somewhat tough-looking) 42-year-old Swedish composer, born in Kungsbacka in 1980. Initially inspired by Chopin, his intention is to write “music that is beautiful: the content dictates the form,” yet thankfully, his music is still modern and not soporific.

Although inspired by Chopin., Skafte’s piano preludes do not resemble the Polish composer’s own in any way. They are, as I say, predominantly tonal but not completely or always obviously tonal. He has learned how to play with both harmony and rhythm in a more modern sense, his music skipping around in both respects but somehow always finding a form. And this music is varied as one moves from piece to piece. In the first prelude Skafte ends with some boogie-woogie figures; in the second, he has the pianist tap the frame of the piano as he plays in the opening section, and here he uses a running figure in the right hand that is both contrapuntal and using a scale with augmented notes in it. Indeed, this seems to be just about the only real connecting tissue between these highly varied preludes is Skafte’s use of augmented notes within his scales and chords, which give the music a feeling of non-rooted tonality. There are moments, such as in the third prelude, where he uses space in the form of rests between notes to occasionally interrupt the musical flow. This, too, is very non-Chopin-like. A bit of boogie feeling also permeates the fifth prelude, “Lines and Timelines,” and here our pianist, Jonas Olsson, also does a good job of syncopating several other figures within its compass.

But every prelude has its own little tale to tell; these are true “character” pieces, not mechanically produced ones, and many of them are different from each other. Would that many other modern composers, who all seem locked into either the “edgy-abrasive” style or the “maudlin-soporific” style of composition, could be as varied in their approach as Skafte is. He even channels Debussy in the twelfth prelude, “Not today,” the subtitle of which is “La cathédrale…” so you don’t miss the reference, yet the musical solution is his and his alone.

Book Two also has its own surprises, and although the opening prelude of this set is also slow and moody like the last one of the first set, bear in mind that Skafte never intended them to be heard back-to-back like this. I should also point out that, although his music is highly virtuosic in places, it is not ostentatiously so. Not a single note or phrase in any of these pieces is wasted or superfluous. Indeed, the second prelude of the second set, “Leaping Lightly,” may be the most innovative of them all, using opposing syncopated figures between the two hands to create a beat that sounds like a Sousa march running backwards! One could almost hear these preludes, in their entirety, as a collection of different solutions to different musical puzzles, even more like a kaleidoscope than a mosaic. For the most part, the first set of preludes seem to be more “active” music while the second set seems more atmospheric and “reflective,” but happily, not in the Romantic-drippy style that seems to be all the rage with Millennials nowadays. Nonetheless, the music of the second set is clearly more fragmented in structure and not nearly as linear (or as extroverted) as the first. Yet he also sneaks in a Debussy reference here in No. 9, “A Time for Everybody,” which is subtitled “General Lavine…” and includes two very sudden and unexpected bars of ragtime.

This is not just very good music. This is great and significant music, heralding the arrival of a man who, in my opinion, has a superior musical mind and high values to match his talent. I hope and pray that he does not, in the future, compromise his principles to write music that is more “accessible” or “audience-friendly” unless it is something that he himself approves of and responds to. Of all the CDs I’ve reviewed this year, this is truly one of the few really indispensable ones.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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“Heyyyyy, Babbittttt!” – Milton’s Vocal Works

FCR349 cover

BABBITT: The Widow’s Lament in Springtime. Sounds and Words. Phonemena (2 vers., w/piano & w/tape). A Solo Requiem.* In His Own Words. The Virginal Book. Pantun. Now Evening After Evening / Nina Berman, soprano; Steve Beck, pianist; *add Eric Huebner, pianist / New Focus Recordings FCR349

Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) was one of the luckiest modern American composer of his time because, despite the fact that he wrote extraordinarily complex modern music based on both the Schoenberg school and mathematical algorithms (he was also a mathematician), he gained such a huge reputation as a genius that women literally knocked his door down to date him, possibly hoping that he would (cough, cough) impart to them a child genius of their own.

And, unlike other very good modern American composers of his time (like Easley Blackwood, who as of this writing is still with us), his works continued to be hailed as products of genius and are still performed to this day. Personally, I’m not crazy about Babbitt’s instrumental works, nor am I generally a fan of any of his (or anyone else’s) electronic music, but he was clearly a brilliant composer and, for me, this comes out most clearly in his vocal works.

But just because Babbitt’s music is somewhat more accessible than his purely instrumental works, that doesn’t mean that they were written to appeal to the masses. They’re still atonal, though not always strictly 12-tone, and challenging for the listener. Thus you need performers who approach it as music and not necessarily as just an intellectual exercise. Babbitt was very lucky during his lifetime to have two excellent sopranos, Bethany Beardslee and Dora Ohrenstein, sing and record his music, and I am here to say that Nina Berman follows in their tradition. Aside from one flaw, and that is her enunciation which is only intermittently clear, she has a wonderful voice, both bright and full (in fact, a fuller tone than Beardslee had) in addition to a superb legato and first-rate musicianship. As to her diction problems, particularly in English, if Berman reads this review I would respectfully recommend that she listen very carefully to the recordings of British soprano Gwen Catley, whose diction was so clear even in her highest register (and Catley could ascend easily to the F or F# above high C) that not a single syllable was ever lost…and she did NOT over-enunciate. Catley’s recordings are, in my humble opinion, the greatest voice lesson for sopranos left to us on records. They should be required listening for every modern-day soprano regardless of fach or repertoire. the flaw that I hear in Berman’s singing is a tendency to “mush” the consonants and somewhat swallow the vowels. Always heed the instructions of the old Italian singing masters of the 18th century:


Thank you. And now, back to our regularly scheduled review.

Since Babbitt’s approach to writing was often the same, working with and around wide-leaping intervals—here mostly in the piano parts—there is a tendency in his music for each piece to sound much like (but not identical to) any other. This was his weakness. Even Berg and Schoenberg himself varied their approach more than Babbitt did. This is one reason why I can take his better music (mostly the vocal music) in small doses but not large ones. Incidentally, the same bad habit afflicted Pierre Boulez’ compositions as well. Babbitt was not alone in this failing. (I would also add that, despite its atonality, most of his music seems to have been written in or around the same basic “key area.”)

Thus I would recommend that the listener pause a couple of minutes between each piece on this CD (not necessarily , however, between individual movements of Du or the Solo Requiem) to let it all sink in before moving on. It will certainly help you appreciate the good things in Babbitt’s music, such as his surprisingly varied approach to rhythm in Phonemana, and in fact the second version with tape is somewhat different from the one with piano. (THIS is the kind of piece I’d like to hear a young soprano sing in an audition: it would immediately reveal not only the entire range of her voice, but also her musicianship, which is just as important.)

Also surprising is that Babbitt was actually able to create a somewhat tonal vocal line in his Solo Requiem which, divorced from the atonal accompaniment, would not sound all that strange to most ears. There’s also a fairly long and difficult piano piece in the third movement which is played very well by our two keyboardists, and the fifth movement bears a strong resemblance to Pierrot Lunaire. In the Requiem, Berman’s diction is a little clearer (but not so clear that you can make out every word), yet her vocal control is not as good, the voice having a slow flutter throughout.

In In His Own Words, Berman’s diction is very clear indeed, but this is not a sung piece but a Sprechstimme, which is entirely different. And a cute piece it is, too.

Taken in toto, this is an extremely good album, not to be missed by modern music aficionados and particularly by Babbitt fans. A shame he never wrote anything for Elvis Costello to sing. One would love to have seen a collaboration between Babbitt and Costello! (Just kidding!!)

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Bolcom’s Horn Trio & Violin Suite


BOLCOM: Trio for Horn, Violin & Piano.* Suite No. 2 for Solo Violin / Philip Ficsor, violinist; *Steven Gross, hornist; *Constantine Finehouse, pianist / Naxos 8.579102

Here is a CD from 2018 that I somehow missed when it was released, featuring two extended works by one of America’s more popular composers. But before going on I have to say that listing a string of awards given to composers and performers, especially a Grammy which is solely a political and often paid-for award (you might as well just buy yourself a loving cup and engrave “World’s Greatest (Whatever)!” on it for all the impact it makes on me), is absolute hubris and makes ZERO impression on me. Many and many a mediocre or poorly-written piece, performance and/or recording has won a Grammy, and there are even more pieces, performances and/or recordings of stupendous worth that have been ignored. So please, save it for the rubes. It doesn’t impress me.

As to the music, Bolcom happily ignored Johannes Brahms’ famous Horn Trio when he wrote his own, instead giving us his own style undiluted. It starts out with a strange, minor-mode opening with a downward motif played by the piano onto which the horn and then the violin add their own figures, eventually coming together in a crescendo before falling away again a gradual diminuendo. One difference with the Brahms Horn Trio is that Bolcom often uses all three instruments discretely whereas Brahms frequently has them play together, particularly the violin and horn. Another is mood. The Brahms trio is, in turn, warm and bucolic in nature, whereas the Bolcom trio has a dark, sinister undertone that is never really dispelled—not even in the fast second movement which is titled “Headlong, brutal.” And brutal it is, with short, slashing motifs played by horn and violin while the piano alternates between menacing low-register runs and chords and upper-range knife-like chords. Near the end of the movement, both tempo and volume are pulled back and Bolcom gives us odd, brief, staccato stabbing notes as a rideout.

The third movement, though not exactly sinister in the way the first two are, is mysterious (in fact, titled “As if from far away; misterioso”) yet still slightly menacing. What we hear from “far away” is not something warm and inviting, but something that suggests a “bad moon rising,”:if you know what I mean. It’s not quite sinister yet, but it’s on the verge. The final movement, “Quick March, very controlled and resolute,” returns us to the uneasy menace of the first two movements. Yet I rush to add that none of this is meant in a negative way. This really is brilliant and fascinating music; I only wish at least half of the modern composers whose work is constantly sent to me for consideration could write one-third as well as William Bolcom. This is a great piece.

Nor should one ignore the Solo Violin Suite. This, too is well crafted, and in mood and feeling completely different from the Horn Trio. Would that other modern composers also have more than “one voice” when writing music! It’s not exactly bucolic, but it is lyrical and quixotic at the same time, alternating between lyrical passages (with moving harmony to hold one’s interest) and others which tend towards the dramatic without really breaking out into completely dramatic passages. It should also be noted that Bolcom requires the violinist to play the entire range of his or her instrument, yet does not overload the soloist with superfluous “flashy” passages. Once again, every note and phrase means something and both follows from what had just transpired and leads into what is to come. As a result, even the most peculiar passages are somehow tied into the whole movement, and there are nine movements in the suite, most with descriptive titles such as “Morning Music,” “Dancing in Place,” “ Lenny in Spats,” Fuga malinconica” and “Finale: Evening Music.” And what an expressive and beautifully played and articulated performance Philip Ficsor gives! Here is someone well-known in the chamber music world as a member of the ensemble American Double, passionate about modern music and educational outreach to others, who in my opinion is a far better musician in both his sense of rhythm and his ability to add a spark to the music he plays than the vastly overrated (and much too musically reactionary) Frank Peter Zimmermann. In the sixth movement, “Barcarolle,” Ficsor even does an impressive Fritz Kreisler imitation, and that’s something that 90% of the violinists who play Kreisler’s music cannot do.

The only detriment to this record is its extremely short playing time, just a little over 40 minutes. Otherwise, this is a fantastic recording!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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