Sunday, September 20, 2020

Record Roundup: Fall Classics, Vol. 1

As we enter autumn and the FOURTH QUARTER of 2020 is staring me in the face, I'm attempting to catch up with classical releases stretching back over the last few months. Prepare to be dazzled - and make sure to subscribe so you don't miss Vol. 2...and maybe even Vol. 3! 

Sample each of these albums in this playlist, which will grow with each volume of reviews.

Michi Wiancko - Planetary Candidate I've written in the past about instruments as a form of technology and Wiancko's new collection is a perfect example. Whether combining her violin with her voice or shimmering electronics, the blend is so natural it can be hard to separate the constituent parts. Over eight tracks, including commissions from Christopher Adler, Paula Matthusen, Mark Dancigers, Jessie Montgomery, and William Brittelle, Wiancko deftly navigates a wealth of expressive possibilities. From the mantric minimalism of her own title piece to Matthusen's dense, knotty Songs of Fuel and Insomnia, and on to the exposed single line of Danciger's Skyline, her commitment is absolute. William Brittelle's So Long Art Decade pays homage to the icy and adventurous grandeur of David Bowie's Low, and is just one highlight on an album that represents a new peak of achievement for this protean musician.

Clara Iannotta: Earthing  - JACK Quartet Thank goodness for Spotify, because none of my other sources alerted me to this extraordinary collection of Iannotta's string quartets. Over four pieces composed since 2013, Iannotta turns the awe-inspiring JACK into a psychedelic tone generator that could soundtrack an Italian giallo. Dramatic, startling, and truly consciousness-altering, Iannotta amazes time and time again here. I loved her piece on andPlay's Playlist, but this is the most concentrated dose of her music since her 2016 portrait debut, A Failed Entertainment: Works 2009 - 2014, and I still want more.

Gyða Valtýsdóttir - Epicycle II The sequel to her 2017 album, which featured unique interpretations of music from 2,000 years of history, Epicycle II is almost all world-premiere work, much of it existing in a liminal, luminous space where art rock, ambient music, and contemporary classical not just coexist but cohere. It is also peppered with Icelandic all stars, with contributions from Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Ólöf Arnalds, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir (of my beloved Nordic Affect) and others, to the point where only Björk seems to be missing. But the primary sounds are made by Valtysdottir's cello and voice, and the whole collection is suffused with her dark, sensual personality, creating a world unto itself. Book a trip - you will find her itinerary most enticing.

Tomás Gueglio - Duermevela My introduction to this Argentine-born composer was his piece After L'Addio/Felt on Ben Melsky's marvelous New Music For Harp, which is also included here among a kaleidoscopic array of his other chamber works. JACK Quartet's Austin Wulliman kicks it off with Mil Panaderos for solo violin, a spiky, spicy rush of plucks and scrapes that serves as a tonic for the ears - tart and bracing. Some of the same material is repurposed for a sextet, Apostillas a Mil Panaderos, played with flair and nuance by Latitude 49, before things slow down slightly for 1901: Un Oiseau, a duo for bass flutes with some impish vocalizing. Ending the album is Cancion en Duermevela for four guitars, given an assured performance by the Nuntempe Ensemble, a shimmering piece that seems to turn the quartet into one large instrument, not unlike a harp. Duermevela is a Spanish word that can refer to the line between sleeping and waking and also means "restless sleep" - and there is a restlessness to Gueglio's music, a refusal to take instruments at face value and a need to keep moving. This excellent collection is an invitation to take the pulse of his creativity at a moment in time. When we next check in with Gueglio, he could be somewhere else entirely.

Kaufman Music Center - Transformation These times of social distance and remote learning have engendered much creativity, such as this delightful album created by the 10th grade class of the Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School in collaboration with Nathalie Joachim, their Artist-in-Residence for the 20-21 year. Working together over email and Zoom, these students have created a brief oasis full of bright colors and sonic adventure. Texture is a key element of each piece, whether all electronic, like Digital Tears, or acoustic, like the violins of Singing Summer, which seem to overlap and move apart as you listen. Soon is almost a pop song, with a drum machine groove and some jazzy chords, and its mood of chill melancholy is a place I in which I would like to spend a lot more time. Transformation is a fascinating window into developing musical minds and I hope I hear about it when these young composers make more music. If you're looking for hope about the future of contemporary composition and performance, look no further.

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