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.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at email@example.com.
Early 20th Century Jewels (works by Claude Debussy, Albert Roussel, Albert Huybrechts and Erwin Schulhoff)
Nozomi Kanda, flute/piccolo; Daniel Rubenstein, viola; Ingrid Procureur, harp; Didier Poskin, cello; Koenraad Hofman, double bass
Dux Recording Producers DUX 1340
Released Feb. 16, 2018
The recently released Early 20th-Century Jewels (available here) features works by two composers who don't need much introduction, and by two who do. It also takes that characterization and slaps it around a little, or at least encourages us to rethink the two unknowns: the Belgian Albert Huybrechts and the Czech-German Erwin Schulhoff. Wait—REthink? When did we ever give them enough thought to dismiss them in the first place?
Sad, perhaps, but true: the Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp is important, well-known, and as frequently performed and recorded as any flute-viola-harp piece ever will be, and it can make works by unknowns seem like placeholders. Underdog status notwithstanding, it was Schulhoff that furnished the motivation for my initial interest in this album. Last month’s Fort Worth Chamber Music Society concert by the Baumer Quartet featured a performance of selections from Schulhoff's Five Pieces for String Quartet, and that sent me looking for more music by this early 20th th century nut who composed, among other things, a vocal work based on The Communist Manifesto.
Obscure composition though it may be, the idiosyncratic instrumentation of Schulhoff's Concertino for Flute, Viola and Double Bass makes for an insanely entertaining piece. The unearthly sounding combination of flute and double bass (especially when these two instruments play in octaves at the end of the first movement) works better than I ever would have expected. Add to that the darkish timbre of the viola and you have an ensemble that has attracted few composers (although one of that few is Michael Haydn, if we take his “violone” to mean a contrabass instrument).
The first and third movements have some built-in metrical confusion that suits the instrumentation especially well. Double-bassist Koenraad Hofman joins flutist Nozomi Kanda and violist Daniel Rubenstein—the two musicians who perform on all four works on the album—in making the work’s rhythmic challenges seem easy (especially during the scary-fast second movement, a decidedly non-traditional Czech furiant). Thanks to their extraordinary musicianship, what could have been regarded as a random collocation of instruments rather comes off as Schulhoff’s stroke of genius.
Albert Roussel’s 1929 Trio for Flute, Viola and Cello might seem to have very nearly the same instrumental forces as Schulhoff’s Concertino—cello is, of course, short for violoncello, i.e. “small violone,” which itself has an augmentative suffix “–one,” meaning “large”; that’s right, it’s a small large violone. Etymology notwithstanding, there’s so much timbral difference between Didier Poskin's cello and Hofman's double bass, we’re forced to look to the other two instruments for any similarity in sound between the Schulhoff and the Roussel.
We don't find much. Roussel and Schulhoff could hardly be more different. Roussel often constructs musical squares, while Schulhoff delights in asymmetry; Roussel's language is a chromatically-inflected tonality, while Schulhoff's tends toward a chromatic modality. And the similar instrumentation disguises differences that go beyond the two bass instruments: Schulhoff has Kanda playing piccolo in portions of the Concertino, but that work has no analogue to the fragile-sounding harmonics of the Tranquillo section of the Trio's last movement.
Although their compositional languages are similar, Huybrechts' Sonatina strikes me as a work of greater concentration than the Roussel Trio. The latter, with its wide range of instrumental colors, sounds like it was conceived with a full orchestra in mind, perhaps even as a dry run for the composer's contemporaneous Third Symphony (a work of great similarity). The flute/viola Sonatina, however, sounds like its two instruments motivate every note.
In bringing this work into daylight, so to speak, Kanda and Rubenstein are clearly in close communication throughout, blending to perfection (the timbral similarities of flute and viola have never been so clear to me as they are in this recording) and highlighting some otherwise elusive inter-movement musical relationships. In so doing, they manage some moments of almost transcendent beauty, as in the second-movement passage in which the viola's melody is placed above the flute's accompaniment.
This recording's Debussy Sonata features harpist Ingrid Procureur in a brilliant performance of this late masterpiece. Kanda and Rubenstein achieve some astounding effects—flute almost melting into viola and vice versa--and Procureur helps distinguish the performance as the best recording of this work this year; let's just say it's been a good year for recordings of the Debussy Sonatas. I hope someday we can say something similar about any work by Huybrechts or Schulhoff.
Winter Variations: New Music for Electric Guitar
Frisbee Records FRCD005 (originally released 2014)
Release date: Nov. 16, 2018
This is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas album, nor is it a holiday album, even though a couple of track names may lead you to think it is. We are duty bound, however, to call it a seasonal album since it wears its seasonal orientation on its sleeve. Winter Variations: New Music for Electric Guitar (available here and here) by composer/performer David Flynn is a re-release (on Flynn's own Frisbee Records label) of an album that previously received a less than satisfactory release by another label.
Flynn, as you may not know but probably should, is the founder of the Irish Memory Orchestra, an ensemble that combines modern orchestral and ancient Celtic instruments to produce a unique sound. Their website shows that he's the self-effacing sort (in the homepage photo, he's second from the left—hardly the proper placement for the attention-hungry), who is interested in music-making that often crosses some unusual borders.
However, this album features only him—him, that is, along with his improvisatory skills, his guitar, and a few effects added during the recording process. It's not an album full of contrasts, but there are those that say that contrast is the tool of a poor composer (which I hope is not true, but it's not a statement to take lightly). On this album—without urgency—Flynn takes listeners through a project that extracts an astounding wealth of music from minimal resources.
Post-minimal resources might be a better term, though. With few exceptions, every track proceeds with steady pulse, takes a slow-but-steady additive approach to tonality, and departs only rarely from a simple dynamic profile (sometimes the music maintains a single dynamic level, as in track 9, "Winter Fades," and sometimes it follows a simple dynamic curve, as in track 3, "Winter Phase"). Experiencing the whole reminds me of Harrison Birtwistle's comment about one of his own works: it's like "examining a rock or crystal from different viewpoints," except that in Flynn's case, you won't get hurt on the sharp corners.
On first listening, I thought I had discerned the album's sole shortcoming: an obsession with A in the bass register. Whatever happens on each track revolves around a persistent low A, and departures from A major are few and brief. Thus, a weakness: an album that features A for more than an hour needs something else, right?
Not so fast. Reading Flynn's notes to the album reveals that an A major ninth chord is the self-imposed point of departure for each section of this project, so meditation on a single sonority is the music's studied restriction rather than the flaw I presumed it to be. On second listening, it was clearer to me that the seemingly obsessive A was the source of the music rather than its mere bass accessory; we might look at the album as a series of meditations centering on A, and out of that A grow improvised ostinati, accompaniment figures, and melodic material.
Some of the melodies sound almost familiar, and perhaps some are derived from traditional Celtic sources, but despite titles like "St. Cecilia's Day" and "The First Niwel," I'm unable to detect any borrowing, with one exception: the bonus track, "Christmas Eve," is Flynn's setting of Tommy Coen's Reel, a.k.a. The Christmas Eve.
Seasonally appropriate but not Christmas-saturated, consistently beautiful but never cloying, well-designed but not calculating, Dave Flynn's Winter Variations is an album I highly recommend, with one minor caveat: don't buy it hoping to furnish the ideal background music for your next holiday gathering—not unless you want to hear your guests telling each other, "Be quiet! I want to listen to this!"
The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices featuring Lisa Gerrard; Dora Hristova, director
Prophecy Records PRO-228
Release date: May 25, 2018
Along with 3 Mustaphas 3, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (the Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices, or—perhaps better—the Mysterious Bulgarian Voices), helped popularize and genrify, if I may invent a word, World Music in the 1970s and 1980s. They began their career in the 1950s, recording and performing as the "Ensemble for Folk Songs of the Bulgarian Radio." After trying and discarding several other unwieldy handles, they settled on the name Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (the title of their first album) in 1997, with Marcel Cellier's permission.
Cellier was the Franco-Swiss ethnomusicologist who introduced the extra-Bulgarian world to this ensemble. I remember being swept off my feet by their crazy new sounds when WRR-FM played some tracks shortly after their first album's release on the Nonesuch label. I've been continually so swept by this all-female group ever since, whether by re-listening to that first album or to the group's two subsequent albums, 1989's Grammy-winning Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol II, and 1994's Vol. III.
These old albums present the voices with little, if any, adornment. Sometimes indigenous-sounding instruments with indigenous-sounding names (like gadulka) show up, and I welcome them so long as they don't distract me from the unique voices. They sing—not pure Bulgarian folk songs (if there is such a thing) as I originally thought, but—-mostly folk melodies arranged for the choir by modern composers who know how to make those voices kick even harder than they do in the wild, so to speak.
But enough history. The 2018 release of BooCheeMish, the group's first major release in at least 15 years, ushers them into the 21st century, complete with a "[group name here] featuring [guest artist]" subtitle/credit, sort of like "the Wu Tang Clan feat. Tekitha."
Lisa Gerrard, by the way, is one-half of the world music-influenced art rock outfit Dead Can Dance. With Bulgarian Voices’ return, the group may alienate some of their longstanding fans, because their new sound is...well, new.
Domesticated might be a better word. Though they haven't completely forsaken their characteristic timbre, they have tidied it up somewhat and added groove. In their early predominantly a cappella state, the unusually bright voices compelled my attention. Now, backed by an eastern European beatbox, guitar and bass, they sound like they're ready to lend ambience to a restaurant specializing in eastern European fare. In other words, they sound ready to recede into the background, ready for me to ignore them if I wish.
I could never ignore the charming intermittent whoops and arresting shouts of "Wheeeeee!" that punctuate the all-too-brief "The Wind Blows in the Forest" on their first album. On BooCheeMish, those vocalizations show up occasionally, but seem stylized, if not forced. I miss the weird little embellishments and unusually pronounced rhythmic vibrato that lend restless energy to sustained notes on the early recordings. And while their older style was not without polish, they still managed a sound that I could think of as primitive. Now, they sound polished almost to a fault, as well as a little more sophisticated. And a little more generic.
The first track on the new album, "Mome Malenko, is the closest we come to the old-school Mystère singing, as if to lure me into the new album with a promise that it will augment the old repertoire in the style to which I have become accustomed. Instead, it strikes out—in a new direction, I mean.
This is a nice album, and reservations with which I recommend it need not discourage anyone from purchasing, listening to, or enjoying it (especially you restaurant owners). Like the choir, I may not yell "Wheeeeee!" as much as I used to, but that's not to say I don't like it, and it certainly doesn't mean I won't ever listen to it. But maybe I don't want to buy a dozen copies and give them away as gifts.
Back in the day, I did.
» 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 Friday 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.
- June: Two UNT music professors perform Anton Eberl; the JACK Quartet playing John Luther Adams
- July: A new recording of music by North Texas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez, and a look at composers Frank Martin and William Grant Still.
- August: Carl Nielsen works featuring clarinetist David Shifrin; a reissue of Stewart Goodyear's Complete Beethoven Sonatas.
- September: We review recordings of works by composers Ann Southam, Ruth Gipps, and Julie Giroux, the latter by UNT Symphonic band.
- October: A new recording by tenor Stephen Costello; audio and video recordings of two different productions of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini