sounds of america
Vaughan Williams and other orchestral folklorists. Collectively, these early works reveal a young composer not terribly concerned with structural purity, his pieces having as much in common with the fantasia as they do the respective forms in their titles.
The Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Strings (1980) bypasses the aggressiveness of Hovhaness’s mature years, harking back to those earlier pieces. As in the symphony, formal development is hard to find; nor is the soloist actually pitted against the orchestra in traditional concerto fashion. Rather, the composer uses his solo instrument to flesh out, and sometimes lead, his orchestral sonorities.
Conductor Gil Rose’s true success here is in rendering these works timeless – not simply linking the composer’s early and late works but in offering superb performances that, for those who mentally follow a stylistic timeline, make this music extremely difficult to place. Ken Smith
Machover ‘…but not simpler…’ Sparkler a . Interludes b – No 1, ‘After Bach’; No 2, After Byrd’. Three Hyper-Dim-Sums c . …but not simpler… c . Jeux Deux d d Michael Chertock Hyperpiano ab Tod Machover elecs c iO Quartet ad Odense Symphony Orchestra / Paul Mann Bridge F BRIDGE9346 (54’ • DDD)
New interfaces explored by the director of the MIT media lab The American composer Tod Machover has expanded the palette of music in copious directions, often using electronics to achieve what humans alone cannot. Among the inventions that take sound to previously unexplored terrain are his Hyperinstruments and Hyperorchestra, which promote sonic variety and boost virtuosity.
Rather than gimmicks, these advances have crucial and winning impacts on the expressive possibilities in Machover’s music, as can be heard on this absorbing disc. Unless you’ve heard this composer’s music before, you’ve never experienced anything like these pieces.
The recording’s title, ‘…but not simpler…’, is a quote by Albert Einstein that Machover adopted for the string quartet he wrote in 2005. The score, minus electronic input, is a cavalcade of contrasting ideas, with each player playing independent material. Lovely themes emerge from seeming disorder and the narrative is a tantalising blend of tranquillity and turmoil.
Three Hyper-Dim-Sums – written with Hyperscore technology Machover and colleagues devised at MIT’s Media Lab – are tangy morsels for string quartet. They are framed by interludes, After Bach and After Byrd,
which combine tidbits of those composers’ music with Machover’s own sonic musings.
The disc begins and ends with blockbusters. Sparkler melds an orchestra with live electronics in a spectrum of colours and explosive sonorities. In Jeux Deux, a wild and disarming tribute to Debussy’s last orchestral work, the soloist plays a Hyperpiano – a Yamaha Disklavier Grand – which outdoes Liszt, thanks to software that takes the solo part beyond the realm of mortal possibility.
Machover would know best, but the performances here by the iO Quartet, pianist Michael Chertock and the Odense Symphony Orchestra under Paul Mann sound like something approaching a composer’s dream come true. Donald Rosenberg
‘Favorites’ Bach Partita No 2 BWV 1004 – Chaconne Britten Nocturnal after John Dowland Ivanov-Kramskoi Gust. Prelude. Melancholy Waltz. Improvisation. Song Without Words Paganini Grand Sonata in A, Op 35 David Leisner gt Azica F 71268 (72’ • DDD)
Solo recital from the Manhattan School’s guitar faculty chair Who would suspect that this recital’s opening salvo, a charming, idiomatically Spanishsounding guitar miniature called Gust, actually was composed by a Russian guitarist Alexander Ivanov-Kramskoi (1912-1973)? Several of his other similarly tuneful and unpretentious pieces provide points of respite between major works. It says a lot that David Leisner’s technically immaculate and musically mindful interpretation of Britten’s Nocturnal can hold its own with Julian Bream’s two reference versions.
In fact, Leisner’s own prowess as a composer reveals itself in his stronger melody/accompaniment textural differentiation in certain variations. His arrangement of the Paganini Grand Sonata stands out for the third variation movement’s march-like swagger, while his arrangement of the Bach Chaconne manages to take full advantage of the guitar’s resources without compromising the original’s formal design and cumulative sweep. One can say that about Leisner’s interpretation, which is characterised by tightly knit tempo relationships and intelligently scaled dynamics. His booklet-notes are both informative and personal. All told, an immensely satisfying and thoughtfully put-together programme that should please all guitar fans. Jed Distler
‘Gulfstream’ ‘American Chamber Music’ Copland Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet a L Larsen Rodeo Queen of Heaven Lieuwen Gulfstream Schickele Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano Enhakē with a Corinne Stillwell vn a Pamela Ryan vn Naxos American Classics F 8 559692 (55’ • DDD)
Florida ensemble take the pulse of US chamber music What the Verdehr Trio has done for the clarinet trio, the Enhake¯ ensemble may one day do for the clarinet quartet. Enhake¯ have a long way to go, of course, but the way in which this recital brings together music of the very highest quality which is rarely encountered in the concert hall, in performances of probing intensity, is encouraging.
Particularly pleasing are the startling sounds and dimensions of Libby Larsen’s rowdy wannabe, Rodeo Queen of Heaven, commissioned by Enhake¯ and premiered at Weill Hall in 2010. The composer was inspired to make all sorts of seriously playful sounds in pursuit of a narrative provided by Arthur Lopez’s paintedwood Madonna and Child in rodeo regalia, a gun slung on the Madonna’s hip, a cowboy hat crowning the Holy Child. Incongruously, Larsen also juxtaposes the solemn chant of a medieval Mass from her childhood in Minneapolis, but it is hardly noticeable.
Peter Lieuwen’s mostly mellifluous Gulfstream (an aural portrait of the Atlantic current, not the American touring caravans) was also dedicated to Enhake¯; in addition to its compelling eco-theme, it celebrated the Messiaen centenary in 2008. The music is entirely noble, and even its few harmonic doubts are washed away by the sheer beauty of the instrumental writing.
In the two better-known works, Peter Schickele’s authentically populist and also beautifully written Quartet (its third recording) and Copland’s Sextet (1937), a pared-down arrangement of the composer’s Second Symphony, Enhake¯ show that they can handle the demanding requirements of 20th-century music with equally great skill and aplomb. Pianist Eun-Hee Park’s fast, light-fingered touch in the Schickele provides numerous moments of purely physical delight.
This recording was sponsored by and recorded at Florida State University College of Music, where Enhake¯ formed in 2007 (their name was taken from the Native American Seminole word for ‘sound’). The recorded sound is crisp, clear and clean, and you hear everything each instrument does without losing the impact or flavour of the whole. Good booklet-notes by Elisa Weber. Laurence Vittes gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE MAY 2012 XIII