TCO Audio Reviews: August/September 2023
Psycho. Julian Bliss, clarinet; Tippett Quartet: John Mills, violin; Jeremy Isaac, violin; Julia O’Riordan, viola; Bozidar Vukotic, cello. B. Herrmann: Echoes; Souvenirs de Voyage; Psycho Suite. Signum Classics, SIGCD234. Total Time: 56:59.
In their 2011 album, Psycho, the Tippett Quartet presents three works by composer Bernard Herrmann. Known for his film scores, Herrmann was incredibly versatile; he also achieved success in conducting and composing concert pieces. Per Neil Sinyard’s liner notes, Herrmann “downplays melody in favour of small musical cells and motifs.”
The album opens with Echoes, a string quartet featuring haunting melodies and intriguing effects, with constant twists and turns keeping the listener on the edge of their seat. Though written for the concert hall, Echoes is cinematic in quality. This piece is, in Herrmann’s words, “a series of nostalgic emotional remembrances,” bound together by the recurring opening theme. The quartet plays expressively and dynamically, highlighting each theme’s distinctive qualities. The album concludes with the thrilling Psycho Suite, encompassing some of Herrmann’s most well-known themes.
Clarinetist Julian Bliss joins the quartet for Souvenirs de Voyage, a clarinet quintet partially inspired by literary works. Throughout the piece, Bliss displays incredible sensitivity and masterful ensemble playing, trading melodic lines with the strings, leading with a sweet tone when required and at other times blending seamlessly into the ensemble. The first movement, Lento (Molto Tranquillo), alternates between serene and tumultuous. Bliss plays the opening clarinet solo with exquisite phrasing and emotion. Later, string swells alternate with clarinet arpeggios, representing gusts of wind across a tranquil pastoral landscape. Andante (Berceuse) evokes the image of an Irish coastal sunset through a lilting string rhythm and rising and falling waves of sound in the clarinet line. Andantino (Canto amoroso) is a love theme, spurred by Herrmann meeting his third wife. Despite moments of turbulence, this movement is the most upbeat. Bliss’s alteration in tone allowing him to impeccably blend with the cello and emerge dynamically from the texture is a highlight.
This album is an engaging, suspenseful adventure through Herrmann’s life and career, bound by short themes, an emphasis on effect rather than melody, and a sense of unease. I highly recommend this album!
– Sarah Korneisel Jaegers
Canto del Paraíso Javier Vinasco, clarinet; Carlos Eduardo Betancur, piano. E. Gamboa: Transparencias; Reminiscencias. V. Romera: Última Luna. M. del Aguila: Milonga; Pacific Serenade. L. Pitombeira: Fantasia Sobre a Miué Rendêra. C. Fariñas: Son Sencillo. Clarinet Mestizo. Total Time: 60:00.
Canto del Paraíso (Song of Paradise) is the latest album from the Colombian duo of Javier Vinasco, clarinet, and Carlos Eduardo Betancur, piano. Thoughtfully programmed, this recording showcases the “wide diversity in musical creation” of Latin American music. While there are common threads across the album—references to songs and dance motives—each work is unique and memorable in its own right. The recording exhibits Vinasco and Betancur’s artistry, particularly in moments of soulful, legato playing.
The standout work is Pacific Serenade by Uruguayan composer Miguel del Aguila. The composer describes the work as a “romantic serenade” reminiscent of nighttime and using influences from folk music including Brazilian choro, blues, and jazz. The piece perfectly demonstrates the strengths of the Vinasco-Betancur duo, with its nostalgic, flowing piano harmonies and transparent clarinet melodies.
The opening work, Transparencias (Reminiscences) is by Mexican composer Eduardo Gamboa, who is best known for soundtracks including The Legend of Zorro. The strongest movements are the gentle and seductive Arrullo, in which a smooth, snake-like clarinet line interacts in alluring counterpoint with the piano; and Rompe, which has an improvisatory character, with a both seductive and virtuosic clarinet melody.
Many of the works are brief, under 5 minutes. Última Luna by Argentinean composer Valeria Romero is dedicated to her late father and features a songlike clarinet line set against piano accompaniment. Milonga, by Miguel del Aguila, is full of catchy rhythmic gestures. Reminiscencias by Eduardo Gamboa is an intermezzo, hinting at a waltz-like dance before glistening away. Fantasia Sobre a miue rendera, by Brazilian composer Liduino Pitombeira, has moments reminiscent of a Broadway musical, drawing inspiration from the folk song Mulher Rendeira. Aún No Se (I Do Not Know Yet) by Hernán Darío Gutiérrez provides a gentle ending to the work.
The final work on the album, Son Sencillo, is a set of six short pieces by Cuban composer Carlos Fariñas and adapted by Vinasco. Each piece is satisfying, brief, and sprinkled with small bursts of rhythmic and harmonic dissonances. Canto del Paraíso is a valuable listen for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of Latin American repertoire, and the seasoned Vinasco-Betancur duo provide excellent interpretations of each work.
– Erin Cameron
Drift Christopher Nichols, clarinet; Christy Banks, bass clarinet; Ball State University Wind Ensemble, NOW ensemble, Southeastern Contemporary Music Ensemble, Western Illinois Singers, ensemble; Carline Hand, Philip Schuessler, James Stegall, conductor; Maria Sampen, violin; Alistair MacRae, cello; Tanya Stambuck, I Chen Yeh, Elizabeth Pridgen, piano; Jeffrey Heisler, baritone saxophone; Elena Hensel, voice; Bianca Pokrzywa, guitar; Isabelle Huang, percussion. C.T. Chan: Falling Stars. B. Blackburn: Chimera. P. Schuessler: Hymn for the Arc Harvester. D. Adams: Reflecting Pool. T. Wang: Dark Blessing. P. Paccione: Saint John Turned to See the Sound. M.C. Miller: Cards. A. Reinkemeyer: Wild Silk. A. McCullough: The Ugly Duckling. J.W. Park: Hungry. NV6318. Total Time: 68:55.
To continue their decades-long mission to promote and disseminate contemporary music, The Society of Composers released DRIFT as the 34th installment of their Composers’ Series. The album features 10 composers whose works represent various styles, muses, and mediums.
Chin Ting Chan explores cultural interpretations of the stars through a wind ensemble, expertly balancing bursts of driving rhythms between powerful dissonances to create the effect of movement through time and space. Bradford Blackburn sets an original poem to music, incorporating pop influences into the traditional concert setting. The basis of the poem and music is a reverse chronology of life’s journey from adulthood back to childhood- I also reflect on the covert possibility that the piece reflects on dementia.
Philip Schuessler blends the idea of indeterminacy and measured movements. Schuessler calls upon the performers to follow a unison stave that notates pitch relationships in addition to the exact rhythm. Each performer is then free to choose the individual notes, allowing each playthrough the potential to produce different harmonics.
Daniel Adams’ work for clarinet and bass clarinet explores modern techniques such as multiphonics and tongue slaps to represent different forms of water. The imitative passages suggest the influence of other improvisatory styles. Clarinetist Christopher Nichols and bass clarinetist Christy Banks perform with masterful attention to clarity and dynamics, strengthening their instruments’ relationship.
In her depiction of a dark rite, Tianyi Wang uses timbral variety with mastery. The ominous atmosphere is dramatized when all voices play in unison. This synergy of voice sparked an emotional reaction in me, and the lack of a resolution played into the drama and left me with the recognition that not everything follows a pattern to closure. Paul Paccione uses a mixed chorus as his medium to delve into minimalism. With uninterrupted droning and resonance, Paccione represents optical illusions through music, challenging the perception of the single line of text Visus per omnes sensus recurrit, or “All the senses are called seeing.”
Mary Claire Miller’s electroacoustic work conjures a location that exists on two juxtaposed planes: indoors and outdoors. The porch atmosphere utilizes nature’s sounds and those fabricated by humankind to accomplish the dual nature of the work. Continuing to explore nature, Andrea Reinkemeyer represents the beautiful-yet-violent life cycle of the luna moth. The rhythmic intensity lends itself to the struggle of the creature as a larva, and the brief playful nature towards the end of the work highlights the moth’s comparatively shorter adult life.
Allen McCullough’s solo piano work is a new musical interpretation of a classic children’s tale, The Ugly Duckling. While the tale allows the protagonist to morph into the classical definition of beauty, McCullough challenges the traditional ideal by using dissonant harmonics throughout the work. At first the work’s dissonance may be perplexing. As the music progresses, the listener becomes accustomed to the clashing harmonies and attuned to their differences. By the end of the work, the dissonance remains but has a familiarity that leads to a feeling of resolution despite the discord in harmonics.
Joo Won Park closes out the album with a guitar-voice duo representing the effects of hunger. Utilizing a provocative dialogue, the voice resembles a performance poet rather than a singer, providing, in my opinion, a level of drama that is more relatable to untrained musicians. The score is untraditional, using boxes with time stamps rather than a full score, allowing for improvisatory decisions as to when and which musical gestures to use.
– David M. Deiter
Synchronies Lucia Bova, harp; Mario Buffa, violin; David Bursack, viola; Paolo Ravaglia, bass clarinet; Daniele Roi, piano; Manuel Zurria, flutes; Manuel Zurria, bass; Paul Hoffman, conductor. HELIX! Rutgers University New Music Ensemble. J. Dashow: First Tangent to the Given Curve; A Sheaf of Times; Messages from Ortigia; Mnemonics; Oro, Argento and Legno; Archimedes Suite. RR8060. Total Time: 1:55:40.
Synchronies is composed by James Dashow, a well-known pioneer in computer and electroacoustic music who has served as a faculty member at MIT, Princeton University, the Centro para la Difusion di Musica Contemporanea in Madrid, and the Musica Viva Festival in Lisbon. In 2021 he released the album Synchronies: Music for Small Ensembles on Ravello Records. This is a double CD set that includes liner notes that give nice insight into the composer’s intentions.
As the title suggests, this album contains several pieces for small ensembles of varied instrumentation, two of which include clarinet. The first work, A Sheaf of Times, is a septet broken into three-movements composed for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, percussion, harp, and piano. The piece is intended to be a sonic representation of many tempos existing simultaneously. The work is skillfully performed by HELIX! New Music Ensemble from Rutgers University, with Paul Hoffmann conducting and Christopher Summer playing both clarinet and bass clarinet. The first movement is a compelling blend of light, atmospheric interjections, and driving percussive lines from each performer. Summer handles the character changes and extended clarinet techniques expertly with a clear, focused tone. The listener can hear each member of the ensemble moving at different tempi in reference to the different times existing. The second movement provides a necessary contrast in energy as the ensemble moves in tandem in a more lyrical, atmospheric style. The ensemble is well balanced with each member coming out of the texture as needed. Finally, the third movement returns to a more frantic energy like the first, but now colored by the grouped chords of the second. This movement is a little more elegant, with instrumentalists playing in small groups, rather than the chaos of seven separate lines.
The second piece on Synchronies that features clarinet is Messages from Ortigia composed for bass flute, bass clarinet, viola, harp, and hexaphonic electronic sounds. The work refers to the small island of Ortigia near the Sicilian city of Syracuse, where it is speculated that Archimedes probably lived. Throughout the work the listener can hear extreme variations in style, texture, and energy. It moves from pointillistic, complex sections with each instrumentalist playing individually to serene, chordal motion made up of duos and trios within the ensemble. This conveys the multifaceted history of this ancient place. The bass clarinetist performing this work is Paulo Ravaglia, who perfectly captures the changes in mode and style all while providing a lovely, low reed sound. His light articulation, and artistic use of phrasing are admirable.
Dashow’s other works on this album all involve computer or electroacoustic sounds combined with other live instruments. Overall, it is a compelling album that demonstrates ways in which electroacoustics can be used in chamber works.
– Madelyn Moore