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2017 IN REVIEW

Danny Zelibor
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2017: Music Recordings

Andrew Anderson, who reviews classical recordings, on some memorable releases from 2017. Or, mostly 2017.



published Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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It's the product of two primes that are themselves Fibonacci numbers, the sum of two powers of two, and its aliquot sum is equal to itself—which is a fancy way of saying it's a perfect number. What am I raving about? Why, the number six, of course.

Six is also the number of recordings that made my "top five" list this year, but that's OK because it's not really a top five list—it's just a means of reminding you of five recordings released in 2017 that stand out in some way or other, plus one that wasn't even released in 2016. To emphasize that the order of the list doesn't reflect any preferences among them, I've come up with a different "judge's discretionary award" for each. And if your CD didn't make the list, don't feel bad—mine didn't either.

The Niche Market Recording By a Mainstream Performer Award goes to Marc-Andre Hamelin's recording of Morton Feldman's For Bunita Marcus (read the review here). I love the concentrated listening that this composition invites but emphatically does not require, and I think the engineering of the recording is perfect: this is supposed to be a quiet work, and it's hard to make it sound loud even if you turn the volume up a lot farther than you ever should for anything.

Danny Zelibor's recording, Alexandre Tansman: Piano Music, Volume 2, receives the Thanks for Keeping Your Promise Award (the complete review is here). There are so many fascinating miniatures on Volume 2 that it's a wonder Mr. Zelibor hasn't exhausted the possibilities for recording Tansman's complete piano works (hint, hint!).

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This year's They'd Better Keep Their Promise Award goes to Ensemble 75 for their album Harmonic Allusions (and here's the review, the whole thing). Each year, this award goes to a group of musicians who commit themselves to at least one more recording by daring to include "Vol. 1" in the title of a disc (there's also a That's OK, Don't Bother Award for a group that you'd rather not hear from again, but that award goes begging this year). I don't think I'll ever tire of Eleanor Dunbar's recording of William Grant Still's Suite for Violin and Piano (1943); after research subsequent to the review from earlier this year, I'm more comfortable declaring this to the best recorded performance of this work there is. And Corrie Donovan's recording of three Cabaret Songs by Arnold Schoenberg becomes more gorgeous (and interesting, which is better than gorgeous!) with every listening.

Jared Schwartz and Mary Dibbern would have received the You'd Think Liszt Wouldn't Have Anything Left To Premiere Award if their disc of songs by Franz Liszt hadn't included Mr. Schwartz's gender-defying performance of "Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher." As it is, theirs is the You Can't Do That, So Please Do Award (where's that review? Here it is). There are literally tons more songs by Liszt (measured in pounds of sheet music) that need to be recorded, and I can think of no one I'd rather hear wade further into them than Schwartz and Dibbern. No promises with this disc (i.e. it's not designated "Vol. 1"), but if they'll record more Liszt, I'm sure we can come up with an award to suit the occasion.

And the Tobias Hume Award goes to Elizabeth Hungerford and Andrew Arceci for Love & Lust (complete review here, already!), an album that not only features more of Captain Tobias Hume's music than any other disc issued this year, but also has a thoroughly compelling performance of Tarquinio Merula's "Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna." The only reason they aren't receiving the Tarquinio Merula Award is because there is no Tarquinio Merula Award (but there is a Tobias Hume Award? Don't blame me—I'm not making this stuff up). Honestly, the Merula work is pretty well-known, or at least probably the composer's most frequently recorded work. It's difficult to say this is the best only because there's such wide variation in interpretation of the work. But it's the only version I want to listen to anymore—so many other recordings downplay the sense of obsession displayed by the accompaniment. Arceci's unique rendition of that obsession, combined with Hungerford's rock-solid technique and wide emotional range, make this track—indeed, the whole album—a total thrill.

I've run out of variations on the "complete review here" gag, so it comes as a great relief (to both of us, I'm sure) that the next CD was not reviewed in the 11 months that this column has been in business.

Any recording that features a composition by Gloria Coates is automatically in the running for the Gloria Coates Award. But since 2017, like so many other years, had exactly none of those (none that I could find, anyway), the Coates Award goes to a 2015 recording by Susan Allen and associates, Postcard From Heaven (available here). Coates, that relentlessly original voice—whose music is unlike anything you'll hear from anyone else—is represented on this album by Perchance To Dream (1992), a work for harp and bowed vibraphone.

But simply naming the instruments tells you nothing. Perchance To Dream features a harp that is tuned so that it essentially has two sets of strings—each in tune with the other members of its set, but seriously out of tune with the notes of the other set. One set—we'll call it one key—is in charge at first, but by the end of the fourth movement, its security has been completely undermined. That progression, combined with the insistent tonal stability of the vibraphone, gives this work its unique profile: dissonance is not experienced as the simultaneous clash of incompatible notes, but between harmonic regions—something I have never experienced with this degree of immediacy.

The recording also includes works by Alexander Tcherepnin, John Cage, and James Tenney. Cage's compositions are the title work (a late piece written "for 1 to 20 harps," performed on this recording by four) and the much earlier In a Landscape. Tenney's Harmonium No. 3 is a work that sounds at first like a simple rhythmic study. Its single line, however, is divided between three harps, each with a different tuning, so it's actually much more than that.

 

Here's the lowdown on the recording:

Postcard From Heaven

Susan Allen, solo harp; with Ellie Choate, Marilu Donovan, Jillian Risigari-Gai, Jaclyn Urlik, harps; & Colton Lytle, bowed vibraphone

New World Records

Released April 6, 2015 

 

The almost criminally negotiable rules for the Gloria Coates Award (especially as to the album's permissible release date) mean that this one might well receive the same award next year. And that's fine by me. Thanks For Reading





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2017: Music Recordings
Andrew Anderson, who reviews classical recordings, on some memorable releases from 2017. Or, mostly 2017.
by Andrew Anderson

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