Posts Tagged ‘Bartok’

New Releases: ‘Almost Truths and Open Deceptions’; ‘Opus 1’

Friday, July 27th, 2012

By Rebecca Schmid

The New York-based composer Annie Gosfield is best known for her synthesis of industrial sounds and other unconventional sampling into rock-inflected, yet often intricately wrought, compositions. As a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin last semester, she researched encrypted radio broadcasts from World War Two—part of a long-standing fascination with archaic technology and its unusual sounds—for a new violin work that will premiere at the Gaudemaus Muziekweek in the Netherlands this September. Satellite transmissions, the clanking of junkyard metal, factory machinery, destroyed pianos, and detuned radios have all been repurposed in Gosfield’s repertory, to often surprisingly lyrical effect. Underlying many of these explorations is a highly personal thread. “Daughters of the Industrial Revolution” (2011), the most recent work on her upcoming album, Almost Truths and Open Deceptions, was inspired by her grandparents’ experience as immigrant workers on the Lower East Side. “I am a third generation daughter of the industrial revolution,” she writes in program notes, “linked to this history, not only genetically and geographically, but as a composer who often uses raw materials and transforms them into something new.”

The assembly-line rhythms, sampled from a factory in Nuremburg, unshackled electric guitar, ringing sampler melody and percussion in the approximately five-minute excerpt from this work create a punk rock-like fare that contrasts sharply with the album’s title work, a chamber concerto with a cello part written for Felix Fan at its center. The title “Almost Truths and Open Deceptions” refers to the movement of the entire ensemble toward “a mass of open D strings,” as Gosfield explains. At the end of the 24-minute work, the instruments settle through wilting glissandos into a decaying unison that fades ghostlike. The concerto opens with brash string attacks, wild circling motives and pulsing forward motion that settles down deceitfully, foreshadowing the piece’s conclusion, before ceding to a cello that implores and groans. Intimate, folky exchanges between the piano, violin, and cello ensue in the course of the work’s impending movement, propelled through variegated rhythms and animated melodic writing, with a percussive interlude that teases the listener as much as it creates suspense.

‘Almost truths’ would also seem to apply to the album’s first track, “Wild Pitch” (2004), with its double-entendre in reference to “a baseball game gone mad” as well as the musical sense of the word. Fan again takes center stage along with the members of his trio “Real Quiet,” scraping out both tuned and quarter-toned figures against eerie piano (Andrew Russo), also played from the inside with a steel guitar slide among other objects, and high strung percussion (David Cossin). The excitability yields intermittently to meditative stasis, given an authentic flair with Chinese cymbals and broken gongs. Gosfield’s ability to foreground and manipulate pure instrumental sounds emerges even more clearly in “Cranks and Cactus Needles” (2000), inspired by the sounds of the now obsolete 78 RPM records and commissioned by the Stockholm-based ensemble The Pearls Before Swine Experience. Ripping, scratchy timbres in the strings evoke a record player on its last legs, while flute and piano play unaffected. Gosfield herself takes the keyboard for “Phantom Shakedown,” composed specifically for the album in 2010, over cosmic whirring, satellite bleeps, detuned piano, and machine rhythms, the piano’s heavy, if at time monotonous, chords moving through the samples as if drifting through a tunnel.

Some subtleties in the frequencies of the samples may not be as palpable on recording as they are live, yet instrumental balance is generally well-struck throughout the album. The first minutes of the title track are excessively loud at first hearing, but upon grasping the music’s structural strains becomes an absorbing listen. The detoned shades of “Cranks and Cactus Needles” manage to carry through effectively, the keyboard deliberately raucous beneath ripping strings. Roger Kleier’s electric guitar grinds organically with the machine riffs in “Daughters of the Revolution,” while the technical and expressive range of Fan’s cello, featured in four of six tracks, provides visceral continuity throughout the spectrum of Gosfield’s endeavors. David Cossin’s percussion provides a full range of timbral variety and rhythmic energy, fueling this music’s appetite for lyrical noise.

‘Almost Truths and Open Deceptions’ is out Aug.28 on Tzadik Records and can be pre-ordered on

Opus 1

At a time when young musicians are grappling with the demands of audience development and changing business models, the Israeli Chamber Project (ICP) has created a flexible format that combines high quality performance and outreach into a single mission. Founded four seasons ago by young musicians based in New York, Berlin and Tel Aviv—most of whom graduated from Juilliard or the Manhattan School of Music—the octet divides its time between the concert hall and educational tours to rural parts of Israel, some of which are mostly Arab, that have little or no exposure to classical music. “It’s a response to a social-economic situation where there’s a kind of brain drain,” explains pianist Assaff Weisman, who also serves as the group’s executive director. “No one is left to teach there.” In turn, the chamber music society hopes to bring something of its native musical culture abroad, championing emerging Israeli composers and including pre-concert demonstrations. The ensemble, with two pianists, a clarinetist, and a harpist alongside a quartet of string players, can expand or shrink to suit a wide range of repertoire and has won praise for its inventive programming. The group’s debut album Opus 1 features an originally-commissioned quartet by the Berlin-based composer Matan Porat alongside duets, trios and a sextet.

The selection gives equal measure to late French Romaticism and Eastern European modernism, providing a fitting stylistic context for Porat’s Night Horses (2007). Dreamy piano arpeggios and rhapsodic lines in the clarinet over nearly imperceptible slides and tremoli in the strings yield to tangled melodies that deliberately evoke Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, as liner notes by Laurie Shulman explain. The work was originally inspired by an eponymous lecture by Jorge Luis Borges about the ‘nightmare’ as a ‘night horse’ that invades the psyche. The second movement features moaning strings and emphatic interlocking melodies that seem desperate to escape as the piano gallops along until a soft, waking clarinet melody resolves the emotional turmoil. Martinu’s Musique de Chambre No.1, scored for clarinet, harp, piano and string trio, provides the ensemble with another outlet for vibrant, free-ranging yet highly idiomatic musicianship. Folk rhythms emerge spontaneously alongside neo-impressionist elements, while the mysterious timbre and meditative stasis of in the inner Andante movement underscores the music’s unusual instrumentation.

Bartok’s Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano, the only chamber work in which the composer involved a wind player, also features a slow-fast rhapsodic structure with a Pihenö (Relaxation) inner movement. The late Bartokian fare can barely contain its energy in the final movement as both violinist and clarinetist respectively alternate between two instruments, a detuned fiddle adding a searing touch of nostalgia. The album is balanced with the soothing mood of duets according special prominence to the harp. ICP harpist Sivan Magen performs in his own arrangement of Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, originally written in the composer’s last years after a spell of paralyzing depression. The harp’s dry, rippling timbre is not so convincing in the accompanying chords of the Prologue or the aggressive plucks that bring the final movement to a close but achieves a more compelling blend in the inner Sérénade. The Fantaisie for Violin and Harp of Saint-Saens, who as the liner notes explain was one of the few pianist-composers to write idiomatically for the harp, demonstrates a more conventional, and ultimately more consistently pleasing, use of texture.

The members of the ICP perform with youthful energy and polished, expressive musicianship throughout the album. Magen reveals his mastery of the instrument in French repertoire and blends skillfully in Martinu’s Chamber Music No.1. Weisman anchors the ensemble sensitively in Porat’s Night Horses, while clarinetist and ICP Artistic Director Tibi Cziger nails the dance motives of the opening Verbunkos movement to Bartok’s Contrasts. The performance of this work stands out for its crisp, lively rhythms and effortless sense of structure. Violinist Itamar Zorman, winner of the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition, also impresses in the thorny harmonics of the final movement. Balance problems between the contrasting timbres of the instruments emerge only in the Porat, where subtle violin timbres in the opening do not come through audibly enough. Such are the perils of recording contemporary music, although audio engineering could perhaps artificially address the problem. All considerations aside, ICP’s fresh approach to chamber music breathes life into an art form whose myriad possibilities often go underappreciated in mainstream classical music life.

Opus 1 is already available for download and will be released on Azica Records July 31.

Dresdener Musikfestspiele pay Tribute to Eastern Europe

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

By Rebecca Schmid

The theme of this year’s Dresdener Musikfestspiele, “Herz Europas” (the Heart of Europe), inventively returns the East German city to its roots as a thriving cultural hub. While today’s united Germany is roiled by the end of the ‘Merkozy’ era and Eurobond controversy, the emphasis of the festival (May 15-June 3) on central European repertoire and the cultural proximity of Dresden to the former Hapsburg Empire in effect harks back to a time when the arts served as a better common currency than any fiscal pact. As the Intendant and cellist Jan Vogler pointed out in a discussion, no other part of the world has produced a more influential body of composers than Eastern Europe. Vogler, who took over the festival in 2009, has turned a once provincial institution into an international attraction boasting a roster of coveted artists and ensembles. At the same time, he strives in his programming to strike a balance between the local love of native tradition and a more outward-looking approach. While last year’s theme, “Stars of Asia,” must have seemed positively exotic for the conservative ‘baroque’ city, Vogler—who spends most of the year in New York—hopes to provide a kind of ‘double-window’ from Dresden into international trends and vice versa.

The city of former East Germany has received a face lift in recent times, from the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche in 2005 (sixty years after the Protestant church was bombed to the ground) to Daniel Liebeskind’s provocative redesign to the Museum of Military History—a wedge of concrete and steel that slices through the traditional architecture—last year. Boxy post-war buildings line the outskirts of the shell-shocked city while fancy new hotels abut the cobblestone streets of the city’s small but opulent center, where the rebuilt Semperoper stands as a monument to the heyday of late German Romanticism (the original 19th-century building premiered works by Strauss and Wagner). The resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, has already cemented its relationship with the incoming Music Director Christian Thielemann—who, according to Vogler, may have filled Karajan’s shoes as a leading conductor for many in Germany, unfortunate political allusions aside.

Thielemann with the Staatskapelle Dresden (c)Matthias Creutziger.

The program notes to a performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, presented as a co-production of the Staatskapelle and the festival, go as far as to compare the collaboration to a fated marriage, with the symphony acting as testimony. While a couple of my colleagues from the Music Critics Association of North America found the performance lacking a sense of arch at the expense of attention to dynamic detail, it is hard to deny the authenticity Thielemann brings to this music, with its triumphant Wagnerian brass and inner torment. Performing a 1939 edition that melds Bruckner’s original score with a modified version he penned between 1887 and 1890, the young Karajan kept the orchestra flowing like a well-oiled machine, with the Staatskapelle’s strings providing a full-bodied sound reminiscent of the Vienna Philharmonic. As a tuba solo hovered over a rising string motive in the final movement Feierlich, nicht schnell (a passage not included in the original score), history seemed to stand still.

To be sure, Dresden cannot as easily rest on its laurels as the long established Salzburg or Bayreuth festivals, yet the former imperial city of Saxony boasts its own lineage of noble interest in the arts. Princess Amalie, daughter of Prince Maximillian and the Princess of Parma, wrote a total of twelve operas based on her own libretti between 1816 and 1835, the last of which—La Casa Disabitata—was retrieved from an archive in Moscow with rights to a single unstaged performance at a 17th-century Lusthaus in Dresden’s Großer Garten this year. The grounds remain largely untended and the salon unrestored, yet the faded glory provided a fitting context for this mock opera buffa involving an orphan, Annetta, who is given shelter in a vacant house owned by the nobleman Don Raimondo where the poor poet Eutichio has secretly taken refuge. In the end, Raimondo and Annetta are finally able to acknowledge a mutual crush, while Eutichio and his wife Sinforosa also overcome their differences.

The plot is somewhat half-baked, and the music can be succinctly described as a rehashed Mozartean farce with shades of Cimarosa and Rossini. Amalie’s attempt to extend the formulaic final coda may reveal a poor grasp of dramatic tension, but at least she had the good taste to resist the lure of courtly indolence by immersing herself in the Mozart-Da Ponte masterpieces. Eutichio even breaks out into a meta-dialogue between Don Giovanni and the Commendatore before Annetta bursts in with her new keys while the poet waves a plastic pistol in his defense. As Eutichio, Matthias Henneberg was a bit of the sore thumb in a cast of otherwise budding young singers as he struggled to tailor his mature bass to the small resonant space. The lyric soprano Anja Zügner gave a stand-out performance as Annetta; Tehila Nini Goldstein (Sinforosa), Allen Boxer (Callisto, the house caretaker) and Ilhun Jung (Raimondo) also displayed fine musicianship to accompaniment by the Dresdner Kapellsolisten under Helmut Branny.

Just around the bend from the grassy promenades of the Großer Garten sits the monumental ‘Gläsener Manufaktur,’ a largely transparent glass and steel complex erected in 2002 that serves not only as a Volkswagon production plant but an event space. On a small stage beneath suspended half-built sedans with their engine parts exposed (call it factory chic), violiniste du jour Patricia Kopatchinskaja joined with both her parents and two other friends for an evening of gypsy-inspired music from Bartok to Ravel. The contrast of her father’s 120-year-old cimbalom with the industrial surroundings and the faint sound of a machine whirring (apparently an air-conditioner to counteract the heat produced in manufacture) was somewhat jarring for this listener, and Kopatchinskaja’s correction to the program notes that this music should not be considered ‘coffee house’ fare despite the fact that she hopes we can all drink coffee through the economic crisis only drove home the irony, but her ensemble’s spirited, authentic musicianship eventually created a world of its own, culminating in an encore of the full quintet performing to the Balkan dance melody “Hora Stacato.”

Back in the center of town a few days earlier, Steven Devine conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and English tenor Ian Bostridge in an all-Bach program at the Frauenkirche. The acoustics of the church were a bit too fractious for the clear textures of the period ensemble—a colleague noted an approximately four-second reverb—yet the musicians increasingly settled into the space with their signature elegance. Bostridge, opening with a dedication to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, gave a tender account of the cantata “Ich habe genug,” although the transcription for tenor did not always flatter his instrument. His timbre found a better match in an aria from the cantata “Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl” in which he also revealed impeccable breath control. As no festival would be complete without educational activities, Kristian Järvi was busy rehearsing his Baltic Youth Orchestra together with the MDR Symphony, where he will take over as music director next season. The young musicians, joined by a few professional members, displayed great potential in a performance of Mahler’s Bach Suite at the city’s event space “Messe Dresden,” followed by the MDR in a clean but sorely rushed interpretation of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

Vogler, upholding his commitment to diverse programming, joined Valery Gergiev and the Marinsky Orchestra for his first performance of Honegger’s Cello Concerto, an approximately 16-minute gem that weaves together expressive neo-Romantic lyricism, shades of Gerschwin, and early twentieth-century angst. Vogler shaped the cantilenas expertly and nailed the fast runs of the final movement. Despite the sharply accented style of the Marinsky, Gergiev provided deferential accompaniment, and the music’s precise architecture emerged gracefully. As an encore, Vogler offered a movement from Bach’s Cello Suite in C-major, the lower range of his instrument singing with particular clarity of expression. The concerto was flanked by a somewhat clunky reading of Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin” (many noted that Gergiev’s nose never left the score) and Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben,” which vacillated between the brash and the serene. The orchestra silenced all criticism in an encore of Lyadov’s “The Enchanted Lake,” creating a pianissimo as rich and placid as is earthly possible.

The Dresdener Musikfestspiele has tapped a wealth of potential with a new festival orchestra joining players from top period ensembles such as the Academy of Ancient Music, Concentus Musicus Wien and Il Giardino Armonico, which premiered under Ivor Bolton just after I’d made my way back to Berlin. Vogler also let on that Britten’s centenary will receive some deserved attention next year (the Semperoper has no plans to the effect), including the “War Requiem” with Andris Nelsons and the Birmingham Symphony. Dresden can of course also boast its share of extra-musical attractions, which will surely continue to work to the festival’s advantage. The Alte Gemälde Galerie boasts striking paintings of an intact city by the Venetian artist Canaletto, a sizeable collection of Dutch masters and just launched an exhibit with Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” at its centerpiece. The local wine industry, despite its northern location, produces a Gold Riesling on par with Alsatian vineyards. As it happens, the Herald Tribune ran a travel story last week about Dresden’s move away from its communist past (always a newsworthy bit) and toward a vibrant cultural life: perhaps the Elbe is indeed bringing in fresh wind again.