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April 25 , 2014

Reviews of the week

An early German reaction to the new recording of Duo Gazzana with music by Schnittke, Poulenc, Silvestrov, Walton, Dallapiccola

Auf ihren CD-Covern keine Spur der üblichen gephotoshopten Portraitaufnahmen. Und auf ein glattpoliertes musikalisches Programm verzichten sie sowieso. Trotzdem ist da ein feines Band, das die fünf Werke der CD inhaltlich zusammen hält. Da gibt es neben Schnittkes Suite im alten Stil etwa William Waltons Toccata für Violine und Klavier und, das aktuellste Stücke auf der Platte, Valentin Silvestrovs Hommage à J.S.B. von 2009. Alles Stücke, die sich auf alte Formen, auf frühere musikalische Stilmittel beziehen, Stücke, die Alt und Neu miteinander verzahnen. […] Zeitgenössische, neue Musik? Alle Stücke sind sehr hörerfreundlich, keines hat die Kraft, das Ohr wirklich zu irritieren. Obwohl es Werke der letzten hundert Jahre sind. Aber, das macht nichts. Denn die Schönklang-Gefühlspalette von Raffaella und Natascia hat vieles in petto: Aus manchen Stücken kitzeln sie hervor, was zerbrechlich, reduziert und atmosphärisch klingt. Bei anderen geht es dann auch mal betont resolut zu. Etwa in Poulencs Sonate für Geige und Klavier aus den 1940er-Jahren. Egal, welche Stimmungen das Duo Gazzana in seinen Stücken aufs Podest hebt: Immer sind es kleine Unterhaltungen zwischen zwei Menschen, die einander sehr nahe stehen. Das hört man. Harmonisch ausgewogen treffen Geige und Klavier aufeinander. Keiner muss dem anderen etwas beweisen oder ihn übertrumpfen.
Kristin Amme, BR-Klassik

English daily The Independent on Harrison Birtwistle’s Chamber Music

Harrison Birtwistle’s first album for ECM comprises small-group pieces of typically intriguing cast, performed by pianist Till Fellner, cellist Adrian Brendel and violinist Lisa Batiashvili. ‘Trio’ employs unsettling changes of musical topography, but congruency is sustained by Birtwistle’s ingenious balancing of the strings with the piano, as the piece tiptoes to a fractured climax and subsequent fall. The other works are settings of verse, with ‘Settings of Lorine Niedecker’ featuring a dozen rarefied pieces with the minimum of elements – an isolated groan or faint pulsing of cello – behind the stark beauty of soprano Amy Freston’s delivery of the modernist verses: words and music distilled into a powerful essence requiring just a few drops to convey the deepest flavour
Andy Gill, The Independent

UK classical music magazine Gramophone reviews Erkki-Sven Tüür’s Piano Concerto and Symphony NO.7 and Helena Tulve's Arboles Iloran por Iluvia

Of all symphonists active in this century, few have impressed me as strongly as the Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür. I say that without having yet encountered his Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Symphonies. But No. 7 (2009) certainly lives up to the standards of No. 4 [...] This is another granite-hewn score, which seizes you by the magnificence of its sound-masses, then holds you by the logic of their mutations. [...] what an extraordinary feat of musical imagination is the work’s 20-minute concluding movement.
Few composers are able to sign themselves in with a single note. But Tüür manages it with the opening of his Piano Concerto (2008), a low C rung out by the piano, coloured by metallophones and prolonged by low strings and brass. To invoke the overtone series straight afterwards may seem like a rather obvious ploy; but it justifies itself in retrospect, thanks to the sheer harmonic and textural resourcefulness that follows.
David Fanning, Gramophone

Estonia continues to produce a wealth of composers out of all proportions to its size and population, and Helena Tulve (b 1972) is clearly one with whom to reckon: Four of the works on this ‘portrait’ disc are vocal, yet this hardly signifies uniformity of expression – hence the sheer timbral allure drawn from an early music consort with the setting of a Yemenite Jewish text in ‘Reyah hadas ‘ala’ (‘The Perfume of the Myrtle Rises’), or expressive acuity conjured from the metaphysical riddles of ‘silences/larmes.’ [...] ‘Extinction de choses’ might seem out of place but both in its conception and realisation follows on naturally from the above. In its evoking the ‘extinction of things seen’, it looks to the earlier orchestral music of Kaija Saariaho in its dense textures that take on greater harmonic focus prior to a morendo ending on the most poetic of dissonances. The orchestra do it justice under Olari Elts, with the remaining works no less finely realised; good to hear the unmistakable voice of Arianna Savall in a context which differs only in relative terms. The recordings are unmistakably ECM in their distanced yet atmospheric ambience.
richard Whitehouse, Gramophone

Neue Zürcher Zeitung on Momo Kodama’s debut recording for ECM La Vallée des Cloches

Wo Debussys Klänge eher fließend und duftig sind, bevorzugt Ravel das geradezu geometrisch Ausgezirkelte, die scharf geschliffenen Kristalle. Genau in diesem Sinne interpretiert die Japanerin Momo Kodama Ravels ‚Miroirs’, den halbstündigen Zyklus mit seinen wunderbar poetischen Titeln und dem ebenso bildkräftigen Klang für die melancholischen Vögel und die einsame Barke auf der See. Wie gemeißelt arbeitet sie die Form heraus; sie verliert sich nicht in Stimmungen, wählt vielmehr einen klaren, nicht durch zu viel Pedal verfälschten Anschlag. So gewinnen die Stücke Leuchtkraft und Kontur, selbst das pianistisch Hochvirtuose wie in ‚Alborada del gracioso’ hält sich in einer Art poetischer Diskretion zurück. Den Landsmann Takemitsu nimmt sie so neuimpressionistisch, wie seine Musik eben ist, und der Überlänge von Messiaens ‚La fauvette des jardins’ gewinnt sie Spannungsbögen und sprechende Pausen ab […] Auch hier aber: erfreulich deutliche Zeichen, rhythmische Präzision, Strenge der Werkdienlichkeit. Empfehlenswert.
Hartmut Lück, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

UK website Marlbank on Ketil Bjørnstads Sunrise, a cantata based on texts by Edvard Munch

The texts deal with weighty subjects including Munch’s trauma as a child when his mother died. Aage Kvalbein’s brooding cello makes its personality felt early on, the gloriously dark sonorities in the solo pouring out in the first piece, one of the most memorable of the whole album, a piece that dwells on inner torment, a metaphorical bird of prey trapped inside the speaker’s very being, Bjørnstad’s accompaniment lapping in and out of the interweaving vocal part. It’s the alto saxophone of Matias Bjørnstad that acts as companion to Kari Bremnes’ vocal solo on ‘Moren’ (‘Mother’) Munch’s poetic recollection of his mother’s death. Moving, it’s not at all mawkish and there’s little sentimentality in Munch’s very modern elemental writing. Nineteen mostly short pieces in all here, some very brief indeed with a few coming in at under a minute although there is plenty of substance throughout. A serene chamber piece that exists beyond genre (with little jazz incidentally), there’s a hymn-like side to parts of it, for instance on the third piece ‘Nothing is Small’, but there are some rhythmic elements too for instance in ‘The Earth Loved the Air’ section while the first recitative is experimental with a free-jazz opening, otherwise ‘The Cliff’ has a latinate touch and a lightness that belies this meditation on suicide. But despite the overwhelming atmosphere of parts of the album there is also a lot of joy, ‘The Dance of Life’ most obviously harnessing the energy of the choir. Yet ‘Open Window’ has that heartbreaking cello again. You come away from the album with an overriding glimpse of the vividness and extremities of Munch’s sheer passion and even terror in his texts. It’s Bjørnstad’s keenness in observing these and channelling them through voices and his small group that is so remarkable.An album that balances huge tensions (‘Recitative II’), natural forces, the sound of the wind even evoked you’d swear, and somehow a coming to terms with it all on a piece such as the enchanting second ‘Intermezzo’. You might think of Munch in a very different way after listening to Sunrise, the sheer elementalism of the words and honesty of the performance striking and immediate.
Stephen Graham, Marlbank

Paul Bley’s new solo recording Play Blue Oslo Concert gets acclaim from the UK

No one can accuse Canadian pianist Paul Bley of lacking individuality – he absorbed many influences as a young player, but he’s always simply sounded like Paul Bley. This new release, from a live performance at the 2008 Oslo Jazz Festival, shows this admirably – the dark atmospheres, the rough edges, the intense passion. It’s a rare solo performance, and an interesting companion to his 1972 ECM recording ‘Open, To Love’. The new recording is aptly titled, for blues and the pentatonic scale run like a thread through the five pieces: his own compositions ‘Far North’, ‘Way Down South Suite’, ‘Flame’, ‘Longer’, and Sonny Rollins’ classic ‘Pent-Up House’. It would be worth buying the CD simply for this latest track – a real tour de force, demonstrating Bley’s command of a broad sweep of historic jazz styles, from stride to bebop to free form. [...] this solo album fascinates from beginning to end.
John Watson, Jazz Camera