In Auxiliary Input, Andrew Anderson, a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library, reviews classical and opera recordings, including by local organizations. We hope to tie them to local performances by guest artists with various orchestras and chamber music organizations.
For the June edition, we have a review of an astonishing recording of work by Mozart contemporary Anton Eberl; and the JACK Quartet playing music by John Luther Adams.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at email@example.com.
John Luther Adams, Everything That Rises
Cold Blue Music CB0051
Release date: Feb. 16, 2018
Each new encounter with a work by John Luther Adams constitutes an occasion for disappointment and elation. I'm always disappointed his new piece doesn't recreate the same sound-world of the last one. For Lou Harrison (2003) didn't give me the peaceful expanse of his In the White Silence (1998). The Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean (2013) didn't show up with the intense wallop of For Lou Harrison. And 2013's Canticles of the Holy Wind...well, that's a choral work.
Of course, my disappointments are self-imposed, and, I'm happy to say, short-lived. The elation that comes with these Adams works—and dozens of others, too many to mention here—stays with me, however. By the time of the recent release of Adams' work for string quartet, Everything That Rises on the Cold Blue label (available here), you'd think I'd have outgrown this cycle, that I would start with elation. But, straightaway, disappointment.
"A string quartet? That won't give him enough instruments. And the hyperdeliberate pace at which things occur isn't internally counterbalanced by lots of short notes, as we had in Become Ocean. And Canticles had multiple movements—that was nice." See how shallow I can be?
One of the striking things about J. L. Adams' music is how each work creates its own world. This is a quality that all music aspires to, to some degree, but rarely am I struck as immediately or as thoroughly by musical world-building. Often with extreme deliberation, always with great patience, his music proceeds with a demeanor that could be mistaken for aloofness. It doesn't seem to care whether I follow it or not.
Everything That Rises... has the quartet—the JACK Quartet, here, co-commissioners of the work along with SFJAZZ—playing ascending lines that explore the intonational consequences of a single note, the theoretical fundamental tone C0 (C-zero, or sub-contra C, an octave below the lowest possible C on a piano). It's theoretical in this case because sub-contra C is two octaves below the lowest note available to a traditional string quartet. The other notes we hear are tuned to the overtones produced by that fundamental tone.
Over the course of an hour, the four instruments wind around each other in rising lines that occasionally pause on a trill or tremolo (there are times when I think the two merge into one thing) in what Adams calls "harmonic clouds"; sometimes these lines meet in beautiful dissonances only heard when overtones collide, and sometimes in impossibly dazzling consonances only heard when overtones collide. These clouds reach ever higher until, in the final three minutes—a three minutes like I've never heard anywhere else—the notes, all derived from their inaudibly deep fundamental, reach inaudible heights. I hear bow hair being drawn across strings, and I can appreciate the possibility that the notes are up there somewhere, too high for me to hear (my wife's dog Gustav knows they are). As glorious as the experience of listening to the recording is, I imagine the visual aspect of a live performance would top it.
As I said, the music doesn't seem to care whether I follow it or not. It invites me to do so, it welcomes my attention, but it doesn't insist on it. And I'm speechless with gratitude for its patience with me.
The JACK Quartet has mastered the world of these overtones, a world simultaneously esoteric and universal, diffuse and concentrated. I admire and loudly applaud their dedication in impeccably bringing this one-of-a-kind work into the recording studio. As for Adams' music, well, I'm looking forward to the next disappointment.
Anton Eberl, Three Sonatas for Piano and Violin
Dayeon Hong (Violin) and Heejun Kang (Piano)
Toccata Classics TOCC0390
Release date: Jan. 1, 2018
I'm always happy to devote time to music by composers I've never heard of, or at least those whose music I've never heard. I knew the Anton Eberl name from music history lessons—-lessons about Mozart, though. Eberl (1765-1807), who didn't rate high enough to get his own lesson, was known primarily for having a few of his pieces misattributed to Mozart. Both of them knew about it, apparently, but neither Eberl nor Mozart objected, at least while Mozart was alive. Now I know why.
Toccata Classics, sticking to its strategy of issuing pleasant surprises (to put it mildly), has come out with a disc of violin sonatas by Eberl, his Opp. 35, 49 and 50 (available here), performed by Dayeon Hong and Heejung Kang. Based on this recording, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Mozart paid to have his name put on Eberl's stuff, because...well, I can't say it's as good or better than Mozart, because...well, you don't say stuff like that and keep your column.
Listening to the first track (the first movement of the Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 35), I started to wonder "When's the movement going to run out of steam?" After all, that's what always happens when an unknown composer stumbles on a pretty good idea—she or he either fails to work out the idea adequately or can't figure out when to stop flogging it.
Not this time, though. So maybe the first movement was a fluke. The second movement will surely reveal how shallow Eberl's talent is, right? Wrong. How about the third movement? It's a rondo, a form where second-rate composers always flop ("see how the theme keeps coming back? Why the movement practically writes itself!"). But Eberl refuses to flop, even here; in fact, it's one of the most challenging classical-period rondos I can think of, and its metrically confused theme is a joy to try to figure out.
That's how the entire disc goes. Maybe the first sonata was a fluke. Wrong. Maybe the first two were flukes. Wrong. And there are only three sonatas on the disc. Bet on Eberl's failure and you might lose the farm: three three-movement sonatas full of metrical, temporal, structural, and tonal tricks, and not a weak movement among them.
Of course, underappreciated music is apt to stay underappreciated without performers to do it justice. Violinist Dayeon Hong and pianist Heejun Kang, both working at the University of North Texas, give these sonatas the care and energy we expect to find in performances of acknowledged masterpieces. If we rarely find it in performances of Eberl, it's partly because we rarely find any performances of Eberl. So it's a double thrill to have Ms. Hong, who brings a dazzling range of colors to these works, applying her prodigious talents to music lacking big-name composer appeal.
Similarly, Dr. Heejun Kang is the perfect pianist for these "Sonatas for Piano and Violin," which sounds like someone got something backwards. Actually, though, these are true duo-sonatas, and Dr. Kang's flexibility, combined with her flawless technique, make these performances—first recordings of all three sonatas—more than just a vehicle for the exposure of some neglected works; these are performances to treasure, and they establish an extraordinarily high standard for future renditions.
Finding this recording is like finding a suitcase full of lost Mozart masterworks—which is how some of Eberl's music was marketed, as it turns out. This and a lot more (a whole lot more) we learn from Dr. Timothy Jackson's notes included with the disc, notes that establish their own extraordinarily high standard for writing in a liner-notes context. I would say his essay is like an abbreviated analytical article, but I'm not sure it's abbreviated at all. It is, however, full to overflowing with analytical expertise and fascinating detail, all delivered with the impassive expression characteristic of Jackson's writing.
If this album isn't mentioned in the next edition of 1001 Classical Recordings You Must Hear Before You Die, there's no justice.
» Andrew Anderson is a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. He holds a bachelor's degree in music composition from Baylor University, a Master's degree in music composition, and a Ph. D in music theory from the University of North Texas, and an MLS from Texas Woman's University.
» Auxiliary Input appears on the third Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones.
PREVIOUSLY IN AUXILIARY INPUT
- February: A recording by composer Adam Schoenberg; and a Fort Worth Symphony recording from 2016 of works by Lutoslawski and Brahms, the latter arranged by the other Schoenberg
- March: Two volumes of a set of Wagner music transcribed for solo piano by Peruvian pianist Juan Guillermo Vizcarra; and two albums of songs by Fauré and Flegíer, both featuring bass Jared Schwartz
- April: Releases from pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin
- May: Jaap van Zweden with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and the DVD release of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach
- June: Houston Symphony's March release of works by Dvořák; the Fort Worth Symphony's 2016 recording with pianist Vadym Kholodenko on Prokofiev's Concerto Nos. 2 and 5; and two 2015 recordings of pianist Alessandro Deljavan on works by Chopin
- July: A 2015 recording from Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal featuring a piece by composer Sam Moussa, which the Dallas Symphony will perform in September; the second volume of Alexandre Tansman piano music played by Danny Zelibor; and the much-talked about The Lost Songs of St. Kilda.
- August: Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo; pianist Marc-André Hamelin performing Feldman's For Bunita Marcus; and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
- September: A release by local outfit Ensemble75; a 2015 release of early music called Love & Lust; and a new recording by the North Texas Wind Ensemble of the University of North Texas in Denton.
- October: A recording of Liszt songs featuring Jared Schwartz, bass, and Mary Dibbern, piano; harp music by Emily Levin of the Dallas Symphony; and a Finnish recording of works by Sibelius, featuring conductor Hannu Lintu
- November: A DVD recording of Mark Adamo's Becoming Santa Claus at the Dallas Opera in 2015; Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life at Houston Grand Opera in 2016; and the 2016 performance of Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel's Bone.
- December: A Lithuanian recording of Verdi's Rigoletto featuring the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Nadine Sierra; a stellar recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring; and pianist Peter Froundjian's Christmas Piano Music.
- January: A themed album from pianist Emanuele Arciuli; recordings of Haydn works for the baryton, and the early orchestral works of Bohuslav Martinů
- February: Anderson listens to the live recording from the Dallas Opera's world premiere of Great Scott, a recording of early orchestral works by Martinů, and Morton Feldman's For John Cage (1982).
- March: Menahem Pressler plays works by Debussy, Fauré and Ravel; The Dallas Chamber Choir has a new album out; and Dallas Symphony Principal Bassoon Ted Soluri has recorded transcriptions of opera arias, with help from pianist Valerie M. Trujillo.
- April: No column
- May: The Hong Kong Philharmonic's Siegfried, conducted by Jaap van Zweden; Jacob Nydegger plays Hendrik Andriessen; and Kyle Gann's microtonal compositions.