September 06, 2012
(+++) MODERNS FOR ENSEMBLES SMALL AND LARGE
Magnus Lindberg: Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano; Santa Fe Project (Konzertstück) for Cello and Piano; Partia for Cello Solo; Dos Coyotes for Cello and Piano. Kari Kriikku, clarinet; Anssi Karttunen, cello; Magnus Lindberg, piano. Ondine. $16.99.
Slices: Music by Reynard Burns, Lionel Sainsbury, Håkan Sundin, Hans Bakker, Alan Beeler, Christina Rusnak and William A. Fletcher. Navona. $14.99.
Kenneth Fuchs: Atlantic Riband; American Rhapsody; Divinum Mysterium; Concerto Grosso; Discover the Wild. Michael Ludwig, violin; Paul Silverthorne, viola; London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Naxos. $9.99.
Deems Taylor: Through the Looking Glass; Charles Tomlinson Griffes: Poem for Flute and Orchestra; The White Peacock; The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan; Three Tone Pictures; Bacchanale. Scott Goff, flute; Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz. Naxos. $9.99.
From small-ensemble pieces of the 21st century to large-orchestra ones of the early 20th, composers have found different ways to express their ideas based on ensemble size and specific approaches to various compositional issues – stylistic and communicative. Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg (born 1958) has been composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic since the 2009-10 season, and much of his early work is orchestral – dating back to a piece called Donor that he wrote at age 16. Recently, though, Lindberg has written a series of compositions for clarinetist Kari Kriikku and cellist Anssi Karttunen, and has explored new expressive areas on this smaller canvas even as he moves further beyond the musique concrète and abstract forms that he favored in earlier works. The most interesting piece on the new Ondine CD of Lindberg’s works is the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano (2008), in which Lindberg himself plays piano – because this work shows just how far Lindberg is now willing to move back from, or past, standard modernistic models such as minimalism and the acerbity of Pierre Boulez. The trio contains reminiscences of Ravel and Brahms, and while it would never be confused with either composer’s works, it has an emotional underpinning and ease of listener access that couple very well with Lindberg’s skillful construction and skillfully even-handed approach to the three instruments. The other three works here have their pleasures as well: the Konzertstück of 2006 and Dos Coyotes of 2002 (revised from a 1993 version) offer effective interplay between the instruments, and the Partia for cello solo (2001) is a real tour de force for the instrument, thoroughly exploring its range and expressive abilities without ever sounding as if it was composed simply for the sake of virtuosity. Lindberg’s recent style, which is neither tonal nor atonal but seems to strive toward a new form of tonality, may grate on some listeners and will appear to inhabit neither a hyper-modern esthetic nor a neo-Romantic one; but it does produce works of some communicative power, and those who are interested in hearing an atypical approach to new chamber music will find this CD intriguing.
A Navona CD called Slices offers music that is less unusual and more of a mixed bag – no surprise on a disc offering eight works by seven composers. In some ways, this CD is a very interesting contrast to the Lindberg one. It contains two solo works: Soliloquy by Lionel Sainsbury, which explores a stringed instrument in a very different and somewhat more self-conscious way than does Lindberg’s Partia, and Christina Rusnak’s Kyripo, a piano piece derived from Bartók with a sidestep into Chopin. There are also works here for two instruments: Håkan Sundin’s Daugava for flute and clarinet and Hans Bakker’s Duo voor Viool en Klarinet for, as the title indicates, violin and clarinet. The intertwining of the instruments in these pieces and the way the two performers play against each other are somewhat typical of modern works, where chamber pieces can be less of a conversation and more of a competition. The sensibilities of Sundin and Bakker are, however, quite different, as their handling of the clarinet indicates. There is also a small-ensemble piece here: Alan Beeler’s Flute, Clarinet, Viola and Piano Quartet No. 2, which is more interesting for the sound of its unusual instrumental combination – especially its use of the viola – than for anything particularly striking in the development of its four short movements. Beeler is also represented by a second work, Cadenzas, which is for the same ensemble and is in some ways more appealing because of Beeler’s exploration of the different sounds these instruments make in various parts of their ranges. The other two musical “slices” here use wind players from the Moravian Philharmonic to good effect: Reynard Burns’ pleasantly upbeat Carnival and William A. Fletcher’s Avalokiteshvara’s Taxi, whose mouthful of a title refers to a manifestation of compassion in Buddhism and somewhat overweights a fairly slight composition. As in any anthology, there are pluses and minuses among the works offered here, and in this case there is no real unifying factor among the pieces except their solo/chamber instrumentation; indeed, the colorful and very clever cover illustration, showing slices of different fruits arranged one atop another, makes it pretty clear that this music, whatever its attractions, does not really fit together. The CD will be of most interest to listeners who simply want to explore some unfamiliar contemporary chamber music.
The works on a new Naxos CD of the music of Kenneth Fuchs, although themselves an assortment, do show Fuchs’ style clearly – and are constructed on a larger scale. The energetic Concerto Grosso, for string quartet and string orchestra, is particularly interesting, using a Baroque form to play two violins (Carmine Lauri and David Alberman), a viola (Paul Silverthorne) and a cello (Timothy Hugh) against a larger string complement – much in the style of the concerto/ripieno design of Baroque concerti grossi. But Fuchs’ piece clearly pays homage to the old style rather than trying to copy it slavishly, creating an intriguing mixture of old and new. Two other works on this disc play single instruments against an ensemble, but in an integrated rather than concerto-like oppositional manner: American Rhapsody for violin and orchestra and Divinum Mysterium for viola and orchestra. Both pieces are lyrical and emotional, with Divinum Mysterium particularly heartfelt. The other two compositions here are colorful orchestral works: Atlantic Riband, which portrays the struggle and eventual triumph of immigrants crossing the ocean for a new life in America, and Discover the Wild, a short and effective concert overture. JoAnn Falletta, a fine conductor and strong proponent of modern American music, conducts all the works quite well, and the London Symphony Orchestra proves itself quite comfortable with Fuchs’ style.
It is the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz that tackles orchestral works by Deems Taylor and Charles Tomlinson Griffes – and very well, too. Calling these works “modern” in the 21st century is a bit of a stretch: Taylor lived from 1885 to 1966 and Griffes from 1884 to 1920, and the pieces offered here were all written between 1912 and 1921. The underlying Romantic sensibility of all the compositions makes them easy and pleasant to listen to despite their infrequent performance, with Taylor’s Through the Looking Glass a particular joy: each of its five sections portrays elements of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and if the music is scarcely as wonderful as the writing, it is nevertheless pleasant and appropriately ebullient. The five Griffes works on the disc all have Impressionistic elements and well-painted orchestral colors. There is particular richness in the Poem for Flute and Orchestra, with Scott Goff floating his notes elegantly above the ensemble. Three Tone Pictures is a set of landscapes, while The White Peacock is lyrical and poetic. Griffes offers some Oriental exoticism in The Pleasure Dome of Kublai Khan, and he combines that with propulsive intensity in the short Bacchanale, which makes a fine encore at the end of the CD. The disc, recorded in 1990 and originally released by Delos, has good sound as well as fine playing, and provides yet another opportunity for today’s listeners to hear music that, if not exactly modern at this point, is certainly unfamiliar – and a welcome change from the standard repertoire that continues to dominate concert halls.