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Thread: “New” Music Log

  1. #61
    Captain of Water Music
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    Until recently I’ve resisted the pull of early music, and in particular a cappella music, since my occasional exposure to it was usually, though not always, less than satisfying. (Of course there are more modern a cappella works, but I tend to associate the form with pre-Baroque works.) Well, last year I sampled a compelling modern a cappella work, and I decided to try something new, or rather something really old. I settled on a new disc of music by Cristóbal de Morales, a composer entirely new to me. This disc offers one of those ear-opening experiences that come along all too infrequently. The last time I stumbled across something similar is when I heard Wozzeck for the first time, and that launched me into a journey of the world of opera that has not yet ended.

    The works on this disc are unfailingly wonderful. The first thing I noticed was the sheer aural beauty of all of the works. All are “small,” in that only a few voices are used, but the sound is ravishing and the music at times spellbinding. All of the singers display what sounds to my ears like mastery of their parts. The individual melodies that one can pick out are all lovely and captivating, and the mastery of polyphony Morales displays is remarkable. I enjoy all of the works on the disc, with the Magnificat and Motets all perfectly scaled, but for some unexplainable reason, it is the three Lamentations that most capture my fancy. They are, in a word, glorious.

    I know essentially nothing about Renaissance music, and have heard very little of it, so perhaps this disc of Morales’ music is a fluke. (Given that I like Dowland as well, I don’t believe that to be the case.) Perhaps I wouldn’t like other music by him, or by other early composers, and maybe this is really the exception in terms of a cappella works. I know I’ll be finding out if that is the case going forward.

    SOTA sound.

    The universe is change, life is opinion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  2. #62
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    I decided to take my current exploration of early music as far back as I plan on going, right to Hildegard von Bingen. Medieval music is quite old enough for me, almost assuredly, as I have no real interest in listening to how people think the Romans may have listened to music. I’ve been aware of Bingen for years of course, but the thought of near-millennium old music didn’t get my blood racing. But my recent positive experiences with Dowland and Morales led me to take the plunge. I’m glad I did.

    The first thing I noticed about the music, particularly on the tracks where women sing, is the beauty of the music. It is somewhat delicate and light, with beautiful and seemingly simple melodies, and the use of only four voices brings a temptingly spare, comforting feel to the music. The female voices nearly float in the acoustic they were recorded in, and the soaring high parts, well, they soar. But not too high. The works performed by male singers fare quite well also, but the music seems better suited to female voices. (Not being an academic, I can’t say whether Bingen intended these to only ever be performed by fellow nuns or not, and frankly I don’t care.) Compared to the more advanced works by Morales, these pieces just don’t seem as compelling. Over 74 minutes of unison chant doesn’t offer the same excitement of the advanced polyphony on the Morales disc, and the melodies aren’t quite as striking. Bingen also seems to have suffered from an early, mild case of Wagneritis, in that her texts are long and rambling and indulgent. I can live with that.

    Jeremy Summerly and his Oxford Camerata do a quite fine job, at least to these ears, of bringing the music to life. Sound is very good, though here the Morales disc also wins. Still, a most enlightening purchase.

    The universe is change, life is opinion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  3. #63
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    Dietrich Buxtehude is another early baroque stalwart I hadn’t yet sampled. I suppose I should have tried (and should try) his organ music, but organ music ain’t my thing, so I opted for some chamber music, namely the seven opus 1 sonatas. As played here they appear to be a precursor to the modern piano trio, with a violin, cello, and harpsichord. Apparently there are divergent performance traditions, and the music can be played with a pair of violins instead, but I think for my purposes the current line up is sufficient.

    The music is nicely varied. There are plenty of nods to dance music, but there’s also more. There’s occasional fugal writing, and some music that practically seems to beg for improvisation, or at least colorful embellishment. There’s a sense of somewhat muted joy at times on this disc; the playing is generally lively, but it’s also quite proper. No one seems to really push any boundaries. That’s more an observation than a criticism, but one must wonder if a more vigorous approach would do these works some good. There’s also quite a bit of polish to the playing. Would a rougher approach make the works even better? Well, these works are quite fine, so it may be worth investigating alternative takes in the future, though I think I’ll absorb these performances a few more times before trying.

    The ensemble Convivium plays quite nicely, with the few “too good” reservations I mentioned, and the sound is generally quite good, with all three instruments generously represented – nothing sounds recessed here.

    The universe is change, life is opinion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  4. #64
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    I believe I’ve seen York Bowen’s name mentioned a time or two in reviews or articles, and what not, but until now I’d never taken the time to listen to his music. Why I’m not sure; he was born in 1884 and there are quite a few great or at least extraordinary composers born within a matter of years either way of that particular one. So when I came across this two-disc set of works for viola and piano I figured I might enjoy what was captured on those little plastic and aluminum discs and took the plunge. What a delightful treat!

    The set opens with the first of two Viola Sonatas, written when Mr Bowen was a lad of 20. It’s a vibrant, energetic, and often just fun piece. It also displays a rich, romantic feel, aided no doubt by the rich sound of the viola. It’s conventional in form, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t fun to listen to. A short Romance in D Flat follows, and it’s quite similar. Next up is a sort of string quartet, though this one is a short Fantasia four violas! I was expecting a monotonous sound, but that’s not what composer and players deliver. The versatility of the instrument is brought out, with rich lower registers supporting some higher than often heard writing for the viola. The next work is a forgettable and somewhat lamentable retake of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique with viola obbligato. Next. The Phantasy in F Major closes the first disc, and this returns to the same sound world and approach of the first two works, though it’s generally slower and more languid. The second disc opens with the second Viola Sonata, and it is stylistically similar to the first, though if anything it’s even happier and brighter. Heck, it’s just plain old good fun. The next four works all offer much the same style of music, either plucky and fun (in the Allegro de Concert) or a bit more languid and overtly “romantic” (the Romance and two Melodies). Only the concluding Rhapsody in G minor from the late date of 1955 offers something a bit mote challenging, dense, and complex, though it never quite sheds the earlier traits. All told, with the exception of the LvB work, all of the pieces work very well.

    Sound is absolutely top-flight, and all artists involved acquit themselves most expertly. Lawrence Power is a heck of a violist, and Simon Crawford-Philips is a fine accompanist. Indeed, his playing shows that the accompaniment isn’t meant to be pushed to the background and that Bowen was a creative and intriguing author for 88 keys. A superb set.

    The universe is change, life is opinion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  5. #65
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso methodistgirl's Avatar
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    Sorry I don't have a picture of the CD I have called Guitarra. If you like
    spanish guitar like I do you would love it. It's full of classic and some
    Spanish music that I adore. I also have a CD called "Relaxing Bach"
    with Air on the G string, Jesus Joy of Man's Desire. Something that
    is classic and soothing at the same time.
    judy tooley

  6. #66
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    Thus far in my listening I’ve only made time for one work by Charles Wuorinen, and that was when I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of his Fourth String Quartet years ago. I enjoyed it and decided I should listen to more of his music, but I just never got around to it. Now I have, and I must say I waited a bit too long.

    This outstanding disc opens with a single movement string sextet that sounds unequivocally “modern,” no doubt unpleasantly so to some, but at the same time it is really rather accessible. Harsh dissonance and jagged rhythmic changes are kept somewhat at bay, and a smooth, appealing, at times attractive, almost traditional sound emerges. I mean this in relative terms; this is modern music, but one can almost hear the tradition of pre-war composers shining through. This isn’t radicalism for the sake of radicalism. It’s almost contemporary Brahms. Anyway the music unfolds nicely, is tightly constructed, and has interesting musical ideas popping out throughout, with some exciting, vigorous, rhythmically catchy portions.

    The Second String Quartet is similar in most ways, though it’s in four movements, labeled movements 1-4, and displays the same traditionally modern sound. The opening movement alternates between fast and slow, and has a nifty ticking sound at the start, and some infectious, vibrant, slashing playing throughout. The second movement is somewhat deceptive. It starts slow, much of the movement is quiet, with tasty tremolos and plucky pizzacatti, but it also continuously evolves. The third movement is more vigorous, and deliciously dissonant. The final movement starts slow but quickly evolves into a more striking, intense, satisfying conclusion.

    Next is the single movement Divertimento for string quartet, and it’s apparently the same music as Wourinen wrote for piano and saxophone. The overall tone and feel of the work is light and fun – a heavy divertimento would seem a bit unusual – but the music is nicely tense and propulsive.

    The disc ends with a Piano Quintet that sounds like a standard “modern” work, by which I mean it displays much of the difficult, knotty goodness of, say, some of Schoenberg’s works. It’s less accessible, perhaps, but it’s no less satisfying. There are some standard elements. The long second movement is the slow movement, and it offers a sonic and (perhaps also) an emotional element not present in the other movements. This first, by contrast, is a somewhat standard, nicely driven opener, the third movement is an intermezzo, and the fourth movement is swift, rapidly changing, and vigorous, with audience-pleasing elements.

    This is extraordinarily fine CD. I enjoy every work on the disc completely and have already played it a couple times and plan on doing so a couple more times in the next couple days. Charles Wuorinen writes some mighty fine music. I really need to investigate his output a bit more.

    Sound is excellent, and all of the players are far more than up to the challenge.

    The universe is change, life is opinion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  7. #67
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    It’s been years since last I bought a disc of music by William Alwyn, so I decided to try his string quartets, a medium I often find composers give their best effort to. Perhaps that’s the case with Alwyn, perhaps not, but one thing’s for sure, this is a nice disc.

    The disc opens with the First String Quartet naturally enough, and it at once seems an anachronism. It was written in the 1950s but it sounds more like a work written a half-century to three-quarters of century earlier. It’s decidedly “romantic,” and it’s lush at times. It also sounds more than faintly Czech, though nowhere near as much as Bax’s First Quartet. There’s a bit more to it. Some of the music is perhaps a bit more acidic than works from the time frame it alludes to, and the more than occasional peppiness keeps one listening closely, as does the overtly old-fashion slow movement.

    The Second Quartet, subtitled Spring Waters, is from the mid-70s, and while it sounds much more modern, it’s still behind the times. That’s quite alright. More astringent, more challenging, it still sounds attractive, as though Alwyn didn’t want to write ugly music. The first movement is constantly changing with some nifty rhythmic changes; the second movement, a scherzo, sounds somewhat like a lighter and less serious Bartok; and the final movement is mostly slow, brooding, and serious. Not having read Turgenev’s novel of the same name, I can’t say that Spring Waters evokes any imagery from the book or even is supposed to.

    Next is the Third Quartet from 1984, and it’s both “modern” and “romantic” at the same time. In its two movements it manages to blend gentleness and contemplation, frisky dances, intensity, abstract harshness, and syrupy sentimentality into a cohesive whole. It seems somewhat personal, if you will, or at least more so than the prior two works, and it’s the most compelling work on the disc. The disc closes with a Novellette that’s fun and brisk and offers a nice contrast to the final string quartet.

    The Maggini play well, as always, and the sound is excellent. I don’t think I can say these are among the great string quartets of the last century, but they are very good and will receive future spins.

    The universe is change, life is opinion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  8. #68
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    I so enjoyed my first disc of Morales’ music that I decided to try another post-haste. Whilst browsing the local classical specialist I came upon this disc, with the Requiem a 5, or Missa Pro Defunctis, along with some shorter motets on the Spanish label Cantus. In short, it’s another stunner.

    The Requiem is the main work, and what a glorious one it is! Once again the melodies are stupefyingly gorgeous, and the polyphony beyond masterful. The entire work unfolds in a most, well, natural way. Everything fits perfectly, and nary an ugly sound or misplaced note can be heard. The liner notes state that the work evokes terror. I don’t really hear that, but mixed in with the astounding beauty is profound sorrow and solemnity. Is this not what a requiem should be? This work does have five voices, allowing for even more interesting interactions than on the Hyperion disc, and the soprano generally leads the melodies. In addition, there is an organ accompaniment. It’s quite effective; sometimes voices and instrument blend together in perfect harmony and produce a larger, more beautiful sound. The three, multi-part motets all occupy a similar sound-world and all depend to an extent on the organ. I’d say the Requiem is my favorite work on this disc, and probably my favorite work so far from the composer, but all of the works are simply marvelous.

    Sound and performance standards are extremely high. I’d probably give a slight edge in both instances to the Hyperion recording, but make no mistake, Raúl Mallavibarrena and the Musica Ficta do exceptionally well. I’ll definitely have to explore more music by Morales, and given my prior antipathy regarding these types of works, that’s quite something.

    The universe is change, life is opinion. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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