Songs for a mad world

5029385997656There’s no shortage of pandemic inspired music out there but I figured I wanted something that more closely evoked the sheer madness of life in Ontario right now.  So, I turned to a 1969 piece by my fellow Manc Peter Maxwell Davies.  It’s his Eight Songs for a Mad King inspired by that nutty old Hanoverian George III.  The genesis of the piece is quite complex.  It involves a music box, once owned by the king but by 1968 in the possession of the historian Steven Runciman.  Once used by the king in an attempt to teach bullfinches to sing, it provides the inspiration for the eight “tunes” that make up the Eight Songs.  The libretto is largely drawn from the king’s own words and other contemporary sources.

Continue reading

Davidsen and Andsnes do Greig

If one is a young Norwegian singer or collaborative pianist Greig’s songs offer a particular challenge.  It’s music that one grows up with and the canonical recordings will be familiar.  It’s a particular challenge too because, in some ways, Grieg’s approach to song is very modern.  In particular, his approach to the piano part is quite different from classical German lieder.  The piano rarely accompanies the singer.  Its role is independent and often seems primary.  Finding an approach that works then for both singer and pianist is non-trivial.  Certainly treating the works as “vocal showpieces” won’t work as it would completely unbalance the music.

Continue reading

how do I find you?

1_SashaCooke_HDIFY_Cover smallAmerican mezzo Sasha Cooke’s reaction to the endless cancellations and disappointments of 2020 was to get seventeen pairs of composers and writers to each create a song that encapsulated 2020 for them.  She recorded the results with pianist Kirill Kuzmin to create the album how do I find you?  As we come to the end of 2021 I find myself reflecting on how we have coped so far and what’s to come.  Other people’s experience expressed in music perhaps helps. Continue reading

Live from Salzburg

00028948619290-CvrLive from Salzburg is a new CD featuring music recorded live at Salzburg during the pandemic.  The performers are Elīna Garanča, The Vienna Philharmonic and Christian Thielemann.  There are two sets of songs; Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder (recorded in 2020) and Mahler’s Rückert Lieder (recorded in 2021).  Both recordings were made during live performances in the Großesfestspielhaus.

I like Garanča a lot in this music.  Sometimes I find her a bit “cold” but here there’s a really nice balance of emotion and clarity.  Her articulation of the text is excellent and she sounds good throughout her range.  The lower and middle ranges have a kind of burnished quality; not really dark but definitely not soprano like , while her upper register is controlled and smooth.  The low end is perhaps best heard in Um Mitternacht where she shows real power and depth of emotion.

Continue reading

Dark Spring

darkspringcoverI came across Hans Thomalla’s 2019 opera Dark Spring when the record label Oehms gave me access to a pre-release of the CD version which is to be released in a couple of days time.  Listening to a couple of scenes and looking at the photos in the accompanying booklet suggested to me that this was really an opera I needed to see to fully appreciate and, indeed, it turns out that there’s a lot going on that isn’t explicit in the libretto.  Fortunately, as it turns out, there’s a full video recording on Vimeo.  It’s not the greatest technical quality of all time but it is drawn from the same live performances at the work in Mannheim in the fall of last year as the CDs.  The CDs are excellent high quality (48kHz, 24 bit) CD quality.  So I think there’s a case for tracking down the video and the CD recording.

1.moritz

Continue reading

Lise Davidsen sings Luonnotar

luonnotarMy main reason for getting my hands on a new CD of mainly orchestral music by Sibelius featuring the Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner was to listen to the couple of tracks that feature soprano Lise Davidsen.  I first saw her with the TSO in 2019 and I thought she was great.

The most substantial piece is Luonnotar which is drawn from the Kalevala and tells the often told story of the universe being created from an egg.  This is big orchestra Sibelius ad Gardner is not afraid to go to the extremes in the contrasts of dark and light and, of curse, volume.  Davidsen sings with great beauty and no sign at all of stress all through her range, even over a sometimes very loud orchestra.  It’s all super smooth and really impressive.

Continue reading

Cathedral City

cathedralcityCathedral City was the (2010) debut album of Missy Mazzoli’s ensemble Victoire.  All the tracks are music composed by Mazzoli and give a pretty good feel for her non-operatic output.  It’s been described as a “distinctive blend of post-rock dreamscapes and quirky minimalism” and that seems as good a description as any.  Virtuosic instrumental playing is mixed with live vocals, electronics and distorted recorded speech fragments.  Often the material is looped and the basic acoustic changed to create a different sound scape.  The music is by turns, drivingly energetic, brutal and gently lyrical.  It’s like the work of no other composer I know and I find it really compelling.

Continue reading

Welcome Party

welcomepartyWelcome Party is a new record of music by British-Armenian composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian.  Much of it is inspired by her residency with the LSO at 575 Wandsworth Road.  That house, now a National Trust property, was the home of Kenyan born polymath and poet Khadambi Asalache, who decorated it with his own wood carvings and murals.  Asalache’s poetry provides the texts for several pieces and others are inspired directly by the house and its contents.  The house is also a factor in the composer’s visual scores which sometimes use visual elements in the house to shape the music and inspire the improvisatory passages.  COVID looms large on the album too; from personal tragedy to the conditions under which many of the recordings were made. Continue reading

Cigarettes and anisette

songfromtheuproarMissy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s opera Song From the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt is based on the journals of Isabelle Eberhardt; a Swiss explorer, mystic and writer who roamed the deserts of North Africa before her untimely death at the age of 27.  It was conceived as a multi-media opera and staged as such at The Kitchen in New York in 2012.  A studio CD recording was made by the original cast soon after.  One can get a s sense for the look and feel of the stage piece from the trailer for the original show which is still available on Youtube.

Continue reading

Transcendent

transcendentTranscendent is a CD from the Asia/America New Music Institute (AANMI).  It features works by six American and Asian composers performed by Davóne Tines, Matthew Aucoin and members of the AANMI Ensemble in various combinations.

The first set is two settings of Walt Whitman by Matthew Aucoin for baritone and piano (.  The poems are The Sleepers and A clear Midnight.  They alternate a sparsely accompanied lyrical vocal line, beautifully sung by Tines, with much denser passages for the piano, played here by the composer.  It’s interesting music and supports the text well.

Continue reading