Viardot-Garcia’s Lost Opera Recovered

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VIARDOT-GARCIA: Le Dernier Sorcier / Trudie Styler, narr; Eric Owens, bs-bar (Krakamiche); Jamie Barton, mez (La Reine);Camille Zamora, sop (Stella); Adriana Zabala, mez (Prince Lelio); Michael Slattery, ten (Perlimpinpin); Sara Brailey, sop (Verveine); Manhattan Girls Chorus; Liana Pailodze Harron, Myra Huang, pno / Bridge BCD 9515

As I mentioned in my article on Pauline Viardot’s compositions, she was an exceptional writer of songs in several languages—French, Spanish, German, Russian—and in those songs she was also, miraculously, able to emulate the compositional style of those countries in addition to setting the texts. But songs are not operas, and in the one Viardot-Garcia opera I’ve previously heard (Cendrillon) I found her music lacking in structure despite some fine moments.

In this little chamber opera from 1867, and I stress the word “little,” she certainly makes no pretensions to competing with Berlioz, Meyerbeer or Wagner, all of whom had successes in France during the 1850s and ‘60s. Although the text is based on the work of the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, who she had met in St. Petersburg where he fell passionately in love with her, it is clear from the score that she probably never intended this to be more than a salon entertainment. As the notes indicate, The Last Sorcerer was only performed once, at Turgenev’s villa in Baden-Baden. Viardot played the piano and the roles were sung by her children and students. Thus we can see that this was never really meant to be taken as a “serious” work to be performed by professionals. Since it was held in a private collection for more than a century, it was virtually unknown, but thankfully the manuscript was recently acquired by Harvard University’s Houghton Library, which gave permission to make this world premiere recording.

The story revolves around Krakamiche, an old sorcerer who misses the power he had in his youth. He has since moved from a palace into a small hut with his daughter Stella, and all he uses his magic wand for is to summon his daily meal. His servant is a former giant named Perlimpinpin who is old and tired and apparently lost both height and power. The forest fairies, which once feared Krakamiche and lost their land to his powers, now taunt and annoy him day and night under the leadership of their Queen and their leader, Verveine. But what would an opera be without a love interest? For this, Turgenev invented a Prince Lelio who lives in a nearby kingdom, falls in love with Stella and wants to marry her, though he has no clue she is the sorcerer’s daughter. The fairy queen, hearing Prince Lelio pine for Stella, makes a deal with him: if he obeys her commands she’ll give him a magic flower than will make him invisible by night. Turgenev somehow managed to contrive a nocturnal love duet between Lelio and Stella, though he is not visible. Apparently she is the only one who can see him or she goes by sound and not by sight. Kneeling before Stella, Lelio drops the magic flower, making him visible; Krakamiche sees him, thinking his own sorcery has made Lelio visible. Angry, he summons a monster to destroy Lelio, but his powers are weaker than he thought. Instead of a monster, all that appears is an old goat. Apparently, his magic wand was in dire need of Viagra.

Krakamiche faints from exhaustion; Stella and Lelio rush to help him, and the fairy queen appears. The old geezer comes to, consents to his daughter’s marriage and decides to leave the forest to live with them and mooch off them forever more, The End.

Needless to say, the vocal lines are simple since they were sung by kids and students—even simpler than in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, originally written for and sung by a women’s private boarding school. And yet you can tell that this is written by a good composer. The overture, in particular, sounds remarkable Russian in style, like something written by Glinka or Rimsky-Korsakov, as does Krakamiche’s “Ah, la sotte existence”—yet in Lelio’s first aria, “Dans le bois frais et sombre” and the Fairy Queen’s “Ramasse cette rose,” her style is that of a French composer. All the songs, choruses and ensembles were written a bit “down” to help her unprofessional cast, yet the music is really quite beautiful with an interesting structure. This opera could easily be scored for a small orchestra and presented in an intimate setting (I’d say no bigger than a school auditorium) but even with piano, as long as the cast was good and involved with the music, it could delight an audience of children even today, particularly if done as a marionette or puppet play where you only see the characters as if in a Mister Rogers Land of Make-Believe and not the actual singers.

Soprano Sara Brailey is superb as Verveine, with a bright, perky, well-controlled voice; bass-baritone Eric Owens has a nice dark tone and just a bit of vocal unsteadiness as Krakamiche; mezzo Adriana Zabala has a much-too-ripe vibrato (but again, a nice dark tone) as Prince Lelio; Jamie Barton has an equally rich voice but a much more controlled vibrato as the Fairy Queen; and Michael Slattery has exactly the right kind of character tenor voice for Perplimpinpin. The only really questionable singer is Camille Zamora as Stella. Though listed as a soprano, to my ears she has a mezzo voice and, in fact, comes to grief in every note above the staff (even cracking badly in her first aria). I wish they could have found a soprano similar to Brailey to sing this role.

Yet it is the charm of Viardot-Garcia’s compositional style that wins you over in the end. She was such a good composer than even a work like this, tossed off more for fun than with an eye on posterity, you can’t help but admire her originality and wit. Indeed, her wit permeates this entire score; she obviously enjoyed putting this together and probably loved performing it, albeit only once.

With the few caveats noted above, I really enjoyed this performance, and am happy that they chose to present the narration in English (it helps!). Recommended.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Wolfgang’s New Chamber Music CD

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VIENNA AND THE WEST / WOLFGANG: Road Signs / Judith Farmer, bsn; Nic Gerpe, pno / Passenger to Vienna / Tereza Stanislav, vln; Ben Hong, cel; Joanne Pearce Martin, pno / Route 33 / Gloria Cheng, pno / Windows / Edgar David Lopez, cl; Farmer, bsn; Nadia Shpachenko, pno / Impressions / Lopez, cl; Farmer, bsn; Amy Jo Rhine, Fr-hn; Stanislav, vln; Robert Brophy, vla; Andrew Shulman, cel; Steve Dress, bs / From Vienna With Love / Maia Jasper White, vln; Brophy, vla; Charles Tyler, cel; Robert Thies, pno / Albany TROY1760

I’ve been fascinated by Gernot Wolfgang’s jazz-influenced classical music for some time now, but with rare exceptions I’ve only heard his pieces in potpourri albums containing works by other composers. Here, however, he has teamed up with bassoonist Judith Farmer to produce this album, labeled as Vol. 4, of his “groove-oriented chamber music.”

The opening duo for bassoon and piano, Road Signs, is a typical example. The opening contains rootless chords on the piano while the bassoon ruminates for a while before exploring a modern melodic line. All of this is purely classical in both form and rhythm, despite some syncopations in the piano part, but as the music continues one hears these syncopations becoming more insistent and complex, leading into a slower middle section that begins with a long bassoon solo. Then it’s the piano’s turn to solo, playing sparse notes, again with rootless chords. This leads back into another syncopated section with both instruments, including musical pauses to intrigue the listener. By and large, however, this piece leans more towards Wolfgang’s purely classical side though it is very creative.

Interestingly, the very opening of the piano trio Passenger to Vienna sounds like a continuation of Road Signs, but as soon as the violin and cello enter, the piano begins playing a very jazz-like background figure while the foreground music also leans towards a jazz bias. To be honest, these performers as a whole don’t capture the jazz feel quite as strongly as they should except for pianist Joanne Pearce Martin who definitely “gets the feeling” and helps push the violinist and cellist in the right direction, but the music is so good and so interesting that just having the strings play as syncopated as they do helps feed into what the piano is doing. In several instances, Wolfgang separates the two strings, having them play with the pianist as soloists while at other times—particularly when the piano is playing—he has the strings play together. This vacillation of styles gives the work a feeling of a jazz combo rather than a classical piano trio. At one point, the piano just plays sparse notes and chords while the two strings play edgy bowed figures. It’s a very intriguing piece because you can never tell who is going to solo next or where the music is really going. Eventually, we move into a rapid section in which the piano plays running single-note lines while the strings play pizzicato behind it. The rhythmic pulse here is, however, more classically-oriented, as is the musical development before moving back to a jazz feel. This is yet another way that Wolfgang plays cat-and-mouse with the listener.

Route 33 is a solo piano that is mostly classical in orientation, using atonal chords and numerous pauses, which Wolfgang likens to “an imaginary road trip, interrupted by a series of unrelated dreams.” (Maybe the traveler has also stopped at some of Scott Wollschleger’s psychedelic gas stations in Pennsylvania.) Pianist Gloria Cheng, who commissioned the piece, plays it with a wonderful feeling of whimsy.

Windows for clarinet, bassoon and piano beginning slowly with whimsical if somewhat uneasy-sounding themes played by the two winds. The music then moves into a gentle sort of rocking rhythm, slightly jazz-tinged with the clarinet and bassoon lines more serpentine that jazzy while the pianist plays in a much more syncopated style (and has a solo that almost sounds like an improvisation). Then the piano falls away to allow the two winds to play strange interwoven figures, again in a purely classical vein, and later on there’s an extended piano solo, very slow and uses broken figures before it moves back to an easy-sounding medium tempo with all three instrument interacting. At long last, a bit of a jazz feel comes into the music, again propelled mostly by the keyboard. The pianist then plays a simple rhythm in 4 while the winds take turns in slow swirling figures. A very intriguing piece!

By contrast, Impressions for clarinet, bassoon, piano, French horn and a string quartet consisting of violin, viola, cello and bass swings from the outset. Wolfgang clearly had fun cooking this piece up on commission from Ursula Kimmel for the Los Angeles-based chamber music series Pacific Serenades, and pulls out all the stops in its short multiple movements. The second section, by contrast with the first, begins in a purely classical vein, played by the string quartet without the other instruments, but when the full octet comes back in the music suddenly bursts into a funky jazz beat à la the early-1960s Blue Note style, except with classical development thrown in, as well as various pauses and more classical interludes (including a brief clarinet-bassoon duet). The bass then plays pizzicato like its jazz cousin and the music assumes a halfway stance between jazz and classical. The second movement could be described as a classical slow blues, and is equally creative, including a slow section in which the violin and viola duet a cappella. In the brief final movement, “Country Road,” the music sounds almost like something the Turtle Island String Quartet would have come up with. For me, this was the highlight of the album, the most imaginative and swinging piece in this set.

We finish our musical journey with From Vienna With Love for piano quartet. This is a largely tonal work that begins with a lovely slow passage before moving into a much jazzier theme in an uneven meter that almost sounds like something Dave Brubeck would have thought up. These two moods continue to juxtapose each other, though the middle section really does sound like jazz and very strongly accented jazz at that. Even when the tempo eases up, the jazz feel continues slightly in the piano accompaniment. We end with a few bars of uptempo music.

This is an extremely enjoyable and musically intriguing CD, and I highly recommend it.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Nick Sanders’ Trio Explores “Playtime 2050”

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PLAYTIME 2050 / SANDERS: Live Normal. Manic Maniac. Playtime 2050. Prepared for the Blues. Still Considering. The Number 3. Interlude for S.L.B. Endless. It’s Like This. Hungry Ghost. RPD. Prepared for the Accident. #2 Longfellow Park / Nick Sanders Trio: Sanders, pno; Henry Fraser, bs; Connor Baker, dm / Sunnyside Communications SSC 1537

The bizarre cover for this album, which reflects its title, can be taken two ways: as a somewhat serious projection of what the artists think our world will actually be like in 2050, which is about as far from reality as the presumption that we’ll be colonizing Mars, or as a satirical comment on what others think our world will be like in 2050. Nick Sanders’ own statement that he “found it really interesting and weird, not to mention starkly different from any artwork I’ve seen in the jazz world. I liked its tongue in cheek look at the state of the world today, with the silver lining being that it’s clearly about surviving,” suggests to me that it’s a darkly humorous view of what he, and the artist, think is actually going to happen. (Real science interjection: It’s not. In case you missed it, astronomers have found a monstrous hole in our sun, the size of nine Earths, which is keeping it from spitting out enough solar flares to warm our planet. The bottom line from real climate scientists is that we’re headed for a mini-Ice Age. So take off your gas masks and start warming the planet up a little. We’re going to need it.)

Aside from this, the music contained herein is really excellent and interesting. Like much modern jazz today, the tempi are amorphic and sometimes difficult to follow. Sanders’ compositions are largely tonal, but take interesting harmonic sidesteps. He also uses shifting tempi within each piece, which makes the music sound almost like a suite. Indeed, there are classical references throughout his music; Live Normal suggests a through-composed piece with perhaps improvised passages in the turnarounds but mostly written out.

Manic Maniac also uses shifting rhythms, but the very opening sounds Latin in feeling, which Sanders acknowledges came from his Cuban mother. The Latin feel returns, but only with the tempo broken into shards and shifting like some split-personality piece by Jaki Byard. Sanders even throws in a few Cecil Taylor-isms for good measure, just to stir up the pod a bit. A maniacal piece indeed!

After these first two numbers, Playtime 2050 starts out like a straightahead swing piece. Except for a few measures of relaxed out-of-tempo passages, it stays that way for some time. A few of the passages Sanders plays here reminded me a little of simplified Professor Longhair, the New Orleans Caribbean-influenced jazz-rock legend who played his piano like a set of tuned steel drums. Prepared for the Blues is a slow number, also in a more regular tempo and closer to “regular” blues changes than one might have expected. His talented rhythm section supports him beautifully here as elsewhere.

Still Considering is a slow piece in which Sanders plays a tongue-in-cheek tune that keeps halting as if it wasn’t sure where it was going. Although a more conventionally tonal piece, its ambiguous progression is difficult to describe; you just have to hear it to understand what I mean. In The Number 3, he and the rhythm section play wild, wacky figures that made me think of some of Anthony Braxton’s work (I was happy to see that the publicity sheet for this CD confirmed my impression). Once again, the manic pace is interspersed with slower sections, and at the midway point a really bizarre passage in which the music is deconstructed into little shards of notes, almost like a shorthand version of the already terse opening statement. (From a pianistic standpoint, this also reminded me of some of Paul Bley’s pieces from the mid-1960s.)

Interlude for S.L.B. is a solo piano tribute to Sanders’ Cuban-born mother, though it contains less Latin references than did Manic Maniac. In fact, it is a quiet piece that, in its own way, also hesitates in its melodic progression as if Sanders were thinking things over as he played. Endless is a broken tune that almost sounds like a schizophrenic version of Thelonious Monk, with Connor Baker’s drums quite prominent in the background. The frenetic, broken melody line is interspersed with softer, slower interludes. By contrast, It’s Like This is a gentle tune with a rocking-chair kind of rhythm that develops nicely.

Hungry Ghost is a tune that seems to combine a lot of features from the others: an amorphous melodic line, changing rhythms, and a beat that sounds like a cross between Latin and Professor Longhair. It does, however, also include a really eerie bowed bass solo by Henry Fraser that probably alludes to the “ghost” in the title. RPD is a slow, mysterious piece that opens with soft bass drum and cymbal playing, followed by Sanders’ piano ruminating in sparse, single-note lines. As it progresses, the rhythm seems to be moving backwards or, at least, opposite to the rhythm being played by the pianist.

Prepared for the Accident starts off with some really strange sounds that appear to be Fraser playing very high up on the neck of his bass and Baker playing either the bass or the rims of his drums with his sticks. Indeed, it’s more of a percussion piece until Sanders enters at the 1:45 mark, but even then it stays in percussion mode until 2:23 when the pianist plays some atonal licks against the roiling backdrop. The program ends, however, with a soft, lovely, tonal piano solo on #2 Longfellow Park, at least until bowed bass and delicate cymbal work comes in behind Sanders about halfway through.

A very interesting and creative CD of new music by an evidently gifted pianist-composer and his trio.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Bearthoven & Wollschleger’s “American Dream”

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AMERICAN DREAM / WOLLSCHLEGER: Gas Station Canon Song. American Dream. We See Things That Are Not There / Bearthoven: Karl Larson, pno; Pat Swoboda, bs; Matt Evans, perc/vib/crotales / Cantaloupe Music CA21145

Composer Scott Wollschleger’s music has been described by Alex Ross of The New Yorker as landing “somewhere in the border between Minimalia and Feldmanistan,” a typically Rossian comment that makes no sense except to himself and those who understand his arcane, snobbish references (one reason among several why I started this blog). I would more happily and plainly describe it as a form of quiet American style classical music with a jazz touch.

Wollschleger (b. 1980), who grew up in Pennsylvania, often drives across the state and comments that since “The gas station is a more common object than the Mona Lisa. Where I came from, it would be fake for me to claim the beautiful art history of Europe as my own.” The opening piano piece, Gas Station Canon Song, sets the tone for the album, a brief, calm piece that lasts only two and a half minutes. This leads into the five-movement piece American Dream, in which some unusual metallic sounds interact with the piano trio. The music emerges in fragments, slowly but surely emphasizing strong but broken rhythms, using the crotales and vibes as part of his sound palette. Percussion-crotales-vibes player Matt Evans is a busy player on this, switching between his various instruments with lightning speed, while pianist Karl Larson plays repetitive figures that sound different because of the underlying harmonic shifts from the bass and percussion instruments. The various movements flow into one another with seamless ease, creating a continuous but subliminal undercurrent of sound. In the second part, bassist Pat Swoboda plays pizzicato figures, almost like a jazz bassist, coloring the whole and enhancing the rhythm, which becomes gradually quicker as it progresses.

You really can’t call it minimalist because it develops and change despite using repeated motifs, and its slow movement and development make it easy for the lay listener to pick up on. The third section of American Dream opens with the plucked bass and remains a duet with the piano for a while, sometimes with Swoboda switching to bowed figures. Evans’ vibes enter at about the 1:43 mark, emphasizing a repeated rhythm that almost sounds metallic. Oddly, despite its rather quiet demeanor, the music in this section is oddly disturbing, like hearing an internal conflict between the instruments that is more unsettling than calming. At 3:40 the piano briefly plays a rhythmic figure that comes and goes intermittently. The bass plays edgy figures very high up in its range, upon which the piano answers with a few upper-register notes, then the bass doubles the time and moves the music into a very jazzy series of figures. Part four begins with quiet vibes and intermittent edgy bass figures, at 1:32 returning to some of the opening music of the suite.

In fact, it is the eerie, rather unsettling quality of Wollschleger’s music that captures the listener’s attention and holds it, not the slow pace or the moments of quietude. It’s hot-summer-day-with-bizarre-mirages-in-the-sun kind of music—one might say, the stuff of an American “daymare” rather than a dream. At the 8:50 mark in part four, the piano plays driving rhythms to which the metallic sound of crotales are mixed in. All I can say is, Wollschleger has run across some really weird and freaky gas stations in PA! (Who knows? Maybe he’s on a peyote high when he goes out driving on the interstate?) In part five, the intensity level is ramped up with some really edgy upper-range sounds that almost defy description. Heck, maybe some of Pennsylvania’s gas station attendants are also high.

In We See Things, Wollschleger returns to quiet piano figures, this time accompanied by the vibes. The music ruminates in its quiet, slowly-developed way throughout its length, and the bass is absent on this track.

This is one of those albums best listened to late at night, with the lights out or turned down low, slightly buzzed on a couple of glasses of wine and dreaming of psychedelic gas stations. Bon voyage!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Carol Sudhalter’s Swinging Set

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LIVE AT SAINT PETER’S CHURCH / DAMERON: On a Misty Night. GOLSON: Park Avenue Petite. EVANS: Time Remembered. MOBLEY: Funk in Deep Freeze. SUDHALTER: Colin Blues.* ROLLINS: Vales Hot. POLADIAN: Fun in the Alley. REDMAN-RAZAF: Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You? JOBIM: Luiza / Carol Sudhalter, bar-sax/fl/*voc; Patrick Poladian, pno; Kevin Hailey, bs; Mike Campenni, dm / Alfa Projects AFPCD 194

Carol Sudhalter is a veteran jazz musician who, in addition to the baritone sax and flute she plays on this album, also occasionally plays tenor saxophone. She has made several albums in the past, and this is her latest, playing at a “Saint Peter’s Church” in some undisclosed city (Los Angeles? Waldorf, MD? Woodward, OK?).

After auditioning and being utterly bored by dozens of “soft jazz” CDs over the past two years, it’s an unalloyed pleasure to hear a straightahead set of jazz standards and originals. Sudhalter’s style on the baritone is more laid-back than, say, Pepper Adams or Gerry Mulligan, but still swinging, with a full tone and good musical ideas. I was more than delighted to hear her quartet open up with On a Misty Night by Tadd Dameron, in my view one of the most underrated jazz composers of his time (the 1940s and very early ‘50s…sadly, he burned himself out early on heroin), followed in turn by a Benny Golson piece, Park Avenue Petite. Bassist Kevin Hailey and drummer Mike Campenni make up a fine, loosely swinging rhythm section; the latter’s solo in the first piece is an indication of just how good he is. Pianist Patrick Poladian plays competently.

The sonics are very “roomy,” with lots of natural reverb around the instruments which somewhat dulls their impact, but you still get a “you-are-there” feeling. Sudhalter’s baritone sax is the most clearly-recorded instrument of the four, with Campenni’s bass in second place. On Bill Evans’ Time Remembered, Sudhalter switches to flute. To be honest, however, I found her flute playing somewhat one-dimensional, with little inflection or change in dynamics, though it is a nice performance. Happily, Hank Mobley’s Funk in Deep Freeze returns us to her bari sax and swinging style, and on this track I felt that pianist Poladian was a bit more interesting.

Following this is an original by Sudhalter, Colin Blues, on which she sings a vocal. Sadly, this is so distantly miked that you can barely make out any words, but on this one her flute playing was more interesting. I was again happily surprised to hear her play Sonny Rollins’ Valse Hot, one of the last pieces recorded by the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet before Brownie’s untimely death in a car crash, and although her performance lacks a bit of the drive of the original she has her own things to say in it. Campenni has a nice drum solo on this one.

Poladian’s Fun in the Alley is a real swinger, with everyone sounding good on it and clearly having fun. Another surprise in this set is Don Redman’s old early-1930s tune Gee, Baby. Ain’t I Good to You, here performed as a showcase for Hailey’s bass. The set closes with a performance of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Luiza, which has another good flute performance by Sudhalter (recorded more clearly than her other flute pieces) and nice piano support from Poladian.

A very pleasant set with some excellent playing, mixed with some indifferent solos.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Weird Modern Cello Music by Sæunn Thorsteindóttir

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VERNACULAR / PÁLSSON: Afterquake. JÓNSDÓTTIR: 48 Images of the Moon. SMÁRASON: O. HALLGRIMSSON: Solitaire / Sæunn Thorsteindóttir, cel / Sono Luminus DSL-92229

Sæunn Thorsteindóttir is an Icelandic-American cellist who, though she has spent most of her life outside her native land, dreams in Icelandic. As she states in the booklet,

My native language shows itself in other ways too, as I found out early in my musical development when my teacher pointed out that I am extremely sensitive to the textures and harmonic overtones, prob­ably related to the abundance of unvoiced consonants in Icelandic. It is an old language, preserved by isolation, adapting to a quickly changing world. I see classical contemporary music sharing a similar process, finding new sounds and ways of expression through old means in a dynamic dialogue with our way of life.

The first piece on the album, Afterquake by Páll Ragnar Pálsson, sets the tone for the entire CD. It is an edgy piece seemingly made up of small, jagged shards of music, with the cellist frequently playing on the edge of the strings, not only in sustained notes but also in fast bowed passages. It’s more of an atmospheric piece than a tightly-structured one, though the attentive listener will sense the underlying musical progression of the piece. And yet this is a very slow-moving afterquake, more of an undulating, intermittent yet very scary musical image of the ground moving.

48 Images of the Moon by Þurídur Jónsdóttir is a piece cut from the same musical cloth, except that the taped sounds of insects and amphibians are overlaid on the music. If anything, this piece is even sparser and less structured than its predecessor, but it creates a dark, interesting mood.

Halldór Smárason’s O, written for Thorsteindóttir, is described as “an exploration of light and darkness in three movements.” This, too, resembles the first two works and at the 3:29 mark there’s a passage that sounds as if it is being playing by a violin on the edge of the strings. This is clearly not an album for the musical faint of heart; yet, much to my surprise, in the third movement (titled “Slokkna”) the cellist actually bows most of her music, albeit in a slithering microtonal fashion. Some of this music reminded me of the works of Julián Carillo (see my article on him HERE).

The music of the final work on this disc, Haflidi Hallgrimsson’s Solitaire, also uses more conventional cello playing in the service of its strange atonal structure, and—odder yet for this album—even a more regular rhythm in places. Some of the music sounds more Middle Eastern in its modes than Scandinavian. This is in five moments, titled “Oration,” “Serenade,” “Nocturne,” “Dirge” and “ Jig.” The last-named, though clearly not a jig that an Irishman would play or dance to, has a strong, driving rhythm, the only piece in this recital that does.

This is really one freaky album, not for the faint of heart, but I liked it for its weirdness. I guess this is what you get when you dream in Icelandic. Try playing it at your next Sunday brunch when your “clah-ssical”-loving friends come over, if you dare!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Marcy Rosen Plays Strauss & Grieg

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STRAUSS: Cello Sonata in F. GRIEG: Cello Sonata in A / Marcy Rosen, cel; Susan Walters, pno / Bridge 9512

Normally I’m not a big fan of Romantic music, and although I do like Strauss the cello sonata is a very early work from 1883 when he was only 19 years old, but both cellist Marcy Rosen and pianist Susan Walters play it and the Grieg sonata with a great deal of affection and emotional commitment. Indeed, in a way I felt as if the pianist was the real driving force in this duo, as she continually pushed the beat forward to create a sense of urgency in even the most commonplace passages.

Rosen has a fine tone and plays with suavity, which is a good way to approach these works. One of the flaws of the Strauss sonata is its repetition of what are essentially plain and uninteresting Romantic themes. (My regular readers know that except for the greatest composers of that era, I am pretty much allergic to Romantic music, which I find affecting and stuffy. The second movement of the Strauss sonata is a perfect example of that.) The final Allegro, however, is a bit more interesting. I noted that despite Rosen’s fine tone, she does not play with much brightness, which for me softens the impact of the more energetic passages.

The Grieg sonata is a more mature work, written when the composer was 39, and better developed than the early Strauss work. It is in one of Grieg’s favorite keys, a minor, the same in which his much earlier piano concerto was written, but here the more mature composer does more with his material. This is really an interesting and well-developed work, again played with a soft tone and lyrical effusion by Rosen and more kinetic energy by Walters. The cellist does, however, reveal an excellent depth of tone in the slow movement, and when the last movement finally gets going, Walters pushes Rosen with some incisive playing.

An interesting CD, then, if you enjoy this style of music.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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