Welcome to Classical Music Discoveries' Season 14!
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Continuing in the series of Cuban recorded Ansonica Records projects comes CORO DEL MUNDO – choir of the world. With tracks ranging from sacred to secular, and from delicate to aggressive, the surprising cohesiveness of the composers’ work is astonishingly beautiful and impassioned. Schola Cantorum Coralina and Vocal Luna contribute exquisite vocals to the proceedings.
L Peter Deutsch’s Dance to the Revolution, takes inspiration from the writing of Emma Goldman. Goldman was one of the seminal writers and activists in the development of early-20th-century anarchist thought. The composer explains, “what drew me to her writing was her inclusion of interpersonal relationships, not only political or economic ones, in the vision of ideal society.”
Deutch’s Where Everything is Music transports the listener to Havana. Deutsch notes: “The lyrics for "Where Everything is Music" are excerpted from a poem by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet and mystic, in the classic and well-loved translation by Coleman Barks. As with much of Rumi's writing, the text asks us to recognize the greater reality of the spiritual compared with the physical world. I intend this piece, like some of my other work for voice and a single instrument, to be more of a dialogue between the chorus and the instrument than for "accompanied chorus."
Schola Cantorum Coralina is featured on Canto del Bongó, Qué Rico É, and Gozando En La Habana. Conrado Monier’s Gozando En La Habana received mention in the Choral Music Contest sponsored by the Cuban Agency of Musical Copyright (ACDAM) and the Cuban Music Institute. Monier’s second composition on CORO DEL MUNDO, Gozando En La Habana (Enjoying Havana), is an a capella tour de force effortlessly conjuring up the sights and sounds of the City of Columns.
Cuban composer and conductor Guido López-Gavilán’s Qué Rico É! is a shimmering choral mambo that leaves the listener breathless with the incomparable speed and precision of Schola Cantorum Coralina.
Vocal Luna’s contribution to CORO DEL MUNDO is profound. On Cemento Ladrillo Y Arena, Murmullo, and Silencio their voices range from brassy brilliance to delicate, angelic whispers. Nowhere is this more apparent than their performance of Cynthia Folio’s four-part piece At the Edge of Great Quiet. The emotion they bring to each movement sits right at the surface of this elegiac composition.
J.A. Kawarsky’s Sacred Rights, Sacred Song also shines with Vocal Luna’s participation. Sacred Rights, Sacred Song, a multi-movement piece, envisions Israel as a healthy Jewish democracy in which the spiritual civil rights of all Jews are protected; Judaism is expressed and celebrated freely and equally by men and women and in its myriad forms of observance; and matters of personal status and spirit are governed by a public Jewish Law that welcomes vibrancy and creativity.
Michael Murray’s El Lunar (The Mole), based on a poem by Juan Clemente Zenea, depicts the adoration of a beautiful woman. Caminando (Walking), based Nicolás Guillén’s poem focuses on the extreme poverty and scarcity faced by many Cubans in the 1930’s. The extraordinary desperation and bleakness Guillén depicts is emphasized by the implication of cannibalism toward the end of the piece. Both of Murray’s pieces are lush with solemn, hypnotic tone.
Meira Warshauer’s We Are Dreamers is an adaptation of the Jewish psalm Shir Hamalot (A Song of Ascents). In ancient times, the Shir Hamalot was sung as Jews walked into Jerusalem for festival holidays. Today it is most commonly chanted as part of the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) on Shabbat. Schola Cantorum Coralina takes this ancient psalm and, with Warshauer’s expansive, dreamlike arrangement, creates a wonderous, at times trance-like atmosphere.
With its blend of religious and cultural influences, CORO DEL MUNDO is proof that different faiths and beliefs can sit together comfortably at the same musical table.
David Taddie’s new album FANCY COLORS blurs the spectrum between acoustic and electronic music into an unorthodox wave of sound. In contrast to the primary characteristics of each type of music, Taddie creates sophisticated, complex compositions by blending the sounds of string and woodwind instruments with the influence of computer-generated effects.
Written and recorded over two decades, FANCY COLORS is the result of Taddie’s exploration of timbre and space using the electronic medium. The eight tracks on the album expand the boundaries of the otherwise conventional sounds of instruments like the flute and piano to a grandiose level. The album’s debut track “Wayward Country” fuses together alto and bass saxophone samples as well as interactive electronics to process the sound in real-time to create a spontaneous, improvised sense of time and space.
The composer’s arrangements evoke many emotions, mostly notably the little dramas and anticipations that get the listeners heart racing. Like the emotional “A Rift in Time,” the composition builds tension quickly, only to release it slowly through tender melody through the string section. “Triptych,” which runs over 13 minutes long, builds patiently. The composition buzzes and twinkles with gongs, bells, and anklets, the whispered vocals reciting poetry adding to the production.
FANCY COLORS shows the listener just how far the sound of an instrument can really go when manipulated by electronics. The album offers an expansive palette for listeners who enjoy a little more depth to their art.
MY ANCESTOR'S GIFT
On his Navona Records debut, composer Carlos Simon masterfully combines influences from jazz, gospel, and neoromanticism. MY ANCESTOR’S GIFT incorporates spoken word and historic recordings to craft a multifaceted program of musical works that are inspired as much by the past as they are the present.
Launched by “Our Ancestor’s Legacy,” the composer’s personal introduction to the themes he will musically address throughout, MY ANCESTOR’S GIFT sets out to depict the evolution of black people in America through the lens of the black woman with “Portrait of a Queen.” Dramatic spoken word poetically reveals her thoughts and feelings of throughout various time periods, reflected by musical themes that draw on melodies, textures and rhythms of those eras.
Simon provides breathing room between the intense topics he explores with several brief, often conversational “Interludes” that also serve to offer emotional or explanatory context for his longer compositions, such as the sorrowful and contemplative “Elegy,” dedicated to “those wrongfully murdered by an oppressive power.” He mines his personal family history with “Generations,” which includes audio clips of sermons given by his great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father, with musical elements that feature a processed Fender Rhodes that Simon inherited from his grandfather, and Hammond B3 organ.
The melodic and meditative “Be Still and Know” appears in sharp contrast to “White Only, Colored Only,” which plays George Wallace’s infamous Segregation Now, Segregation Forever speech against free-flowing improvised lines and a consistent rhythm. Hope for change, however, is offered by the interlude “Change the World,” which concludes with a quote from Martin Luther King, and by the smooth R&B-tinged vocal track “I Feel It Somewhere,” before the album concludes with another tribute to his personal history, the whimsical “Lickety Split.”
LIGHT AND SHADOWS, WAVES AND TIME
An exploration of the unique timbral characteristics and technical extensions of wind instruments, Gregory Wanamaker’s LIGHT AND SHADOWS, WAVES AND TIME is comprised of eight compositions that collectively illustrate the composer’s ability to integrate various genre influences into a distinctive whole. His music has been lauded as “pure gold, shot through with tenderness and grace” by the San Francisco Chronicle and “achingly beautiful” by the Palm Beach Daily News.
The album’s first track, “des ondes et les temps,” which translates to “of waves and time,” explores the saxophone’s full range of possibilities. A solo piece performed by Casey Grev, “des ondes et les temps” waxes and wanes and rises and falls, and refers back to the composer’s 1988 work “Two Movements for Solo Flute,” providing what is essentially a more mature third movement of that piece.
Wanamaker expands to a quartet setting for “…unsettled, unphased…,” whose rhythmic roots can be found in genres ranging from Eastern European folk and dance music to jazz and progressive rock. Its animated propulsive motion is halted mid-stream by a vigorous interlude, before reaching a dynamic conclusion. The somber, poignant “Elegy,” written for and performed by the Akropolis Reed Quintet, was originally composed in memory of those who died in the September 11 attacks, while the virtuosic musical fantasy, “Ragahoro Breakdown” intricately weaves elements of North Indian Raga with characteristics of a Bulgarian Horo and subtle hints of American folk music.
The track that represents the second half of the album’s title, “of Light and Shadows,” is a sonata in two very contrasting movements, the first a quiet nocturne, the second its polar opposite, each exploring the extended timbres of the saxophone and extreme ranges of the piano, while the dynamic “Out of Mind, Into Body” travels a similar path, albeit one taken by John Friedrich’s solo bass clarinet. While less than two minutes in length, the spirited “Counterpunch” effectively alternates elements of driving American-style minimalist with a fusion of jazz and funk.
The album concludes with a concrète version of its opening track, transforming it into the form of experimental music in which sound identities – in this case those of the tenor saxophone – are intentionally manipulated to appear unconnected to their source, creating an ambient, layered soundscape.
THE LIFE BEFORE US
Allan Crossman & John G. Bilotta
Bearing musical witness to the versatile talents of two acclaimed northern California-based composers, THE LIFE BEFORE US combines works from John G. Bilotta and Allan Crossman.
Bilotta’s cycle of Yeats Songs, performed by baritone Andrew R. White, highlights five of the poet’s shorter lyrics in predominantly bi-tonal or atonal settings. His collection of Renaissance Songs is based on the work of several Elizabethan poets, including John Donne and Thomas Lodge (whose poem “Rosalynde” was the source of Shakespeare’s As You Like It). They’re brilliantly delivered by tenor Justin Marsh.
Bilotta draws on two American poets, Carl Sandburg and Edna St. Vincent Millay, for “Lost” and “Prayer to Persephone,” two songs united by a single poetic theme and elegantly performed by soprano Cass Panuska accompanied by pianist Hadley McCarroll, who are also featured on The Hippocampus’ Monologue, the closing aria from the first act of Bilotta’s opera Rosetta’s Stone.
Allan Crossman’s ten songs on THE LIFE BEFORE US include four inspired by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca and an international array of others: from Ireland (James Joyce), Germany (Hermann Claudius and Ricarda Huch), Russia (Alexander Scriabin), and America (Louis Phillips), performed by mezzo-soprano Megan Stetson and bass Richard Mix, with the composer himself at the piano.
Crossman’s three-movement Sonata fLux, with pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi, flows from the energetic “Moto Atlantico” through the vibrating “fLight of the Firefly” to the swirling fluidity of “Rondo a Pollock” - inspired, as its title suggests, by Jackson Pollock’s ‘action painting’ technique - and brings the eclectic program to an impressive conclusion.
MOMENTS OF TRUTH
An axiom is a self-evident truth. Everything on this album represents different aspects and shades of truth. On their debut recording, Axiom Quartet probes the soul and delivers a deeply satisfying statement on truth and inner fulfillment.
Each track is a whirlwind journey of soul searching expression. From the bravado of “Insight” into the confounding swirl of “Hindsight,” and on to the profoundly elegant “Pur Ti Miro,” this recording turns tempo and style on a dime leaving the listener exhilarated.
While “Insight” is the exhilarating realization of truth, “Little Lies” bends truth. Axiom Quartet’s arrangement of the Fleetwood Mac classic is a refined, yet provocative update that feels surprisingly at home in a chamber setting. An understated dignity adds depth to country-folk standard “Wagon Wheel,” with a delicate banjo dancing under the Quartet’s strings. In “Everything Means Nothing to Me” an artist painfully expresses the truth in his heart while Billie Holiday begs a lover to not tell her the truth in “Don’t Explain.”
“Axiom” is a work about seeking truth and reason, only to have had the answers present from the beginning. Karl Blench wrote all of the arrangements and original compositions for this album. There are small moments of music, also original compositions of Karl Blench, between each of the longer sections of this album. They blend and blur the ideas of the music that comes before and after them to portray the grayer tones of truth.
The Axiom Quartet includes violinists Dominika Dancewicz and Ingrid Gerling, violist Nina Bledsoe, and cellist Patrick Moore.
Known for creating and performing programs that mix traditional string quartet repertoire and transcriptions of works from a variety of genres (including jazz, electronic, rock, indie, etc.), Axiom Quartet introduces audiences to extraordinary music from different genres and creates new fans of the classical repertoire.
The Axiom Quartet serves as outreach ambassador for Chamber Music Houston, one of the Houston’s top chamber music presenters. The CMH sponsorship allows the group to perform their innovative programs in communities where access to live music is limited.
For her debut album on PARMA recordings SHE, Emily Sternfeld-Dunn serves as the voice of two of history’s strongest female characters. The poetic musings in the lyrics soar with Sternfeld-Dunn’s unmistakable soprano under the current of the tender, delicate melodies performed by pianist Amanda Pfenninger.
Split into two mini-albums, SHE serves as a definitive recording that both showcases Sternfeld abilities as a vocalist and preserves the compositions for educational use. The first collection, titled “Too Few the Mornings Be (Eleven Songs for Soprano and Piano),” is composed by Ricky Ian Gordon. Gordon complimented his compositions with the poems of Emily Dickinson. Despite the relatively short run-times of these tracks, Sternfeld-Dunn takes the poet’s philosophical themes and wraps them in raw emotion as though pleading for answers to life’s biggest questions.
The second half of this album “Eve-Song” features music by Jake Heggie and text by Philip Littell. Here, Heggie creates a moving soundtrack to Littell’s poems about the biblical Eve. The composition is a monodrama. The longer compositions allow time for Pfenninger to It also lets Sternfeld-Dunn truly harness the character of Eve. She employs her vocal melodies like ancient chants exploring moods and feelings of wonderment, yearning, and even humor.
The power of SHE comes from the strength of its female performers. Sternfeld-Dunn and Pfenninger play off each other well to give life to these historically-renowned women, and translate their quests for life and purpose into a grand, new meaning.
Physical Copy (CD):
Mark G. Simon
Composer and Clarinetist Mark G. Simon makes his PARMA debut with his first-ever recorded album, GRECIAN URN. All selections were composed by Simon, and he is the clarinetist on every track.
“Anniversary Sonata” (1998) commemorates the 50th wedding anniversary of the composer’s parents. Movement 1, “With Restrained Energy,” is perhaps mis-named, given its sassy, Latin piano riffs (Aleeza Meir) syncopated against the melodic clarinet. “Angel Music,” is a bright, yet sympathetic Broadway-style ballad with running eighth-note phrases marked by sentimental modulations, inspired by the congeniality of the composer’s parents, his father’s vocation as a minister, and the G.K. Chesterton quote, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” Concluding the sonata is the progressive “Pleasant Hill,” a sweet treasure that could easily be set to words to conclude what is the lounge-style, popular work with innate chamber music tendencies. The composer writes: “‘Pleasant Hill,’ is based on a pop tune that came to me while visiting the quiet retirement community where my parents spent the last years of their lives.” This work is a true love song.
“Un Buen Piola Porteño” (2001) is a tango/fantasia for clarinet and piano and fabulous in every way – from the transformative qualities of the clarinet’s voicing through different octaves to the smooth, indelible, charismatic melody of the tune itself, fleshed out with the glittering harmonies of the piano. Listen for the second of three tango melodies, through which the composer promises an “out of body experience.”
In “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Simon and Meir add soprano Linda Larson to their combo. In this setting of four of the five stanzas of the John Keats poem, in which the poet describes his visits to the British Museum, Simon reincarnates Keats’ experience noting that “The poem’s very existence to the power of art to affect people’s lives.” “Thou Still Unravished Bride,” is reminiscent of an Argento song--delicate and complex, yet unforgiving. “Heard Melodies” is a torrent of surface emotions transpired into a popular folk tune. “Coming to the Sacrifice,” is a haunting but spirited dance concluded with an extended instrumental fugue--in homage to J.S. Bach’s own Musical Sacrifice (BWV 1097). “O Attic Shape,” is an elegy directed to the Grecian Urn itself through which a harrowing soprano outcry lauds the Urn for its beauty.
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The Little Nothings Ballet, K. 299b
Symphony No. 31 in D Major, K. 297
CMD Philharmonic of Paris in Orleans
Dominique Beaulieu, conductor
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