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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Spirit of the Earth
Daniel Medina de la Rosa, vocals, xaweri; Erasmo Medina Medina, kanari; Philip Glass, piano
Orange Mountain Music OMM0129
Released January 4, 2019
A new recording of music by Philip Glass always gets my attention—film score, symphonic work, opera, anything; it doesn't matter, I'll give it a listen. Sometimes there's a big payoff, as there was with the score for Cassandra's Dream; sometimes a work doesn't do much for me, as with his opera about Walt Disney, The Perfect American. In the former category is his The Spirit of the Earth (available here). Big payoff. Big, unusual payoff.
The album grew out of a concert in 2012 in Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, a collaboration between Glass and some musicians of the Wixarika—a people with longstanding musical traditions in several Mexican states, including Durango and Jalisco. The album, however, is not a recording of that concert. In fact, it's not a live album at all, but a new recording of four Wixarika songs received by their composer, Daniel Medina de la Rosa, especially for the album. Four songs on two discs, that's it. Disc 1 contains the songs "Wise Deer" and "Are You for Real?"; disc 2, "In the Wind" and "Hikuri." That last one is a Wixarika term for “peyote.”
Rather than attempt to model a critical take on the music after a superficial view of peyote ("you might find the album addictive!"), I'll simply say that these songs—each of which lasts over 30 minutes—proceed with similar instrumentation at similar speeds and sustain a similar indifference to the passage of time by means of a similarly unpredictable predictability.
My description of that last characteristic means to refer to each song's growth from a group of similar musical phrases, with their minute differences determined by the song's text, no doubt. The phrases seem to follow one another without predetermined pattern, and the musicians apply ornamentation to these phrases such that sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish one phrase from another. That's a roundabout way of saying that these songs have eluded my attempts to analyze their structure, so far. I get swept along by the current of each song and have to give up and simply let them do their thing.
That sweeping is the work of a singer, a violin, a piano and a ukulele. Well, not exactly a ukulele. It's a kanar, a Wixarika guitar played by Erasmo Medina Medina. Daniel Medina de la Rosa, the composer and singer, plays the raweri, a Wixarika violin. And, on piano? Who else—Philip Glass, mostly adding an unobtrusive continuo element to the ensemble, although he lets himself go in "Hikuri," engaging in accompaniment patterns and harmonic elaboration that some think of as the Glass touch.
The four songs have a distinctly spiritual cast, though they are not ceremonial songs like we might hear in Wixarika worship, as Victor Sanchez notes in the album's accompanying booklet. Rather, they are songs "individually received by the traditional musician-pilgrims like Daniel [Medina de la Rosa]"; they describe visions, conversations, and communion with the poderios, the deified forces of nature.
The booklet also provides translation of the lyrics for the songs, but without the original texts. While originals are always nice—helpful, even—in this case their omission is understandable: there are four stanzas to "Are You gor Real?" for example (of 4, 5, 6 and 7 lines, respectively), so the stanzas are undoubtedly repeated several times, either individually or together. Although Sanchez's notes might have benefited from an editor—his liberal use of the semicolon is hardly Chicago-Manual, but not unintelligible—I'd probably keep my hands off it, especially the sections that introduce the Wixarika and their misunderstood culture.
Four songs, three musicians, two discs, and one of the most exciting Glass recordings in years.
Introducing the Suso/Glass Quartet
Foday Musa Suso, kora and vocals; Philip Glass, piano; Asher Delerme, Cajon, Bongos, Shekere & various percussion; Leo Heiblum, tabla, jarana, vocal on "Aguanieves"
Orange Mountain Music OMM0130
Release date: January 4, 2019
Make that one of the two most exciting. Issued nearly simultaneously with Spirit of the Earth on the Orange Mountain Label is Introducing the Suso/Glass Quartet (available here). It's a single disc with 10 tracks performed by four musicians: Glass on piano, Foday Musa Suso on kora and vocals, Asher Delerme on cajon, bongos, and various percussion, and Leo Heiblum on tabla, jarana, and occasional vocals (Heiblum is also a producer and recording engineer on this album as well as on Spirit).
Suso, a Gambian musician with whom Glass has been collaborating since the 1980s, is a direct descendant of the guy who invented the instrument he plays on this album: the kora, a five-foot-long west African 21-stringed banjo-looking, harp-sounding work of art with 11 strings played by one hand, 10 by the other (and Suso has added some lower-pitched strings of his own). It has adjustable frets, which means you can change which notes you play; but each change has implications for the other strings, so don't change them capriciously.
Glass's piano is more recognizable as Glass's piano on this album, with his characteristic figuration occasionally obtruding in this musical context. Furthermore, some synthesized strings and voices (certainly not an afterthought) occasionally sound as if they belong somewhere else, perhaps on a different album. In general, I think most of the songs would have been better served by the omission of the synthesizer and a more subdued approach at the keyboard. Suso's voice and kora, underpinned by Delerme's and Heiblum's gently rocking percussion (with splashes of bright color from a cymbal here and there), thrive on a light touch of harmonic fill. Unfortunately, on the fourth track ("Badayang") Glass settles into the antithesis of a light touch, a jump-bass pattern that would be more at home in a beer-hall than in this quartet (interestingly, he used a similar pattern in the song "Hikuri" on Spirit of the Earth, where it worked much better).
Touches like that do not ruin the overall effect, not by a longshot: the recording was mixed so as to keep Suso's voice and instrument up front, the piano to the rear and slightly to the left. When the piano takes center stage, as it does in "Night At [actually On] The Balcony," from The Screens, it's entirely welcome to it. It's one of several tracks--others include "Aguanieves" and "Uno Emily," the last of which Suso dedicates at the beginning of the song to some friends—that provide the album with contrasting material.
During my first listening to Spirit of the Earth, I started to wonder if Glass' work with the Wixaritari would influence his composing, say, for orchestra. I stopped wondering when I read Sanchez's notes, which related that their 2012 concert in Mexico prompted Glass's Symphony No. 7, "Toltec." Later I listened to this Suso/Glass album, and again wondered, and again stopped. Suso and Glass began making music together in the 1980s, and I guess I've been hearing the influence ever since.
Rachmaninoff, The Bells, Op. 35, and Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Mariss Janssons conducting the Symphonieorchester und Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Tatiana Pavlovskaya, soprano; Oleg Dolgov, tenor; and Alexey Markov, baritone
BR Klassik 900154
Release date: February 2, 2018
In just under three months, Dallas will see James Gaffigan conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Rachmaninoff's magnificent work, The Bells. In less than one month, the 61st Annual Grammy Awards will commit to one recording out of five nominees for Best Choral Performance, and one of these has Mariss Janssons conducting the Symphonieorchester und Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks (the Orchestra and Chorus of the Bavarian Radio Symphony) in a recording of a live performance of the same work (available here).
That huge choral symphony was one of Rachmaninoff's two favorites of his own compositions, and let's not forget that he knew those piano concertos pretty well (in 2016, his other favorite—the All-Night Vigil—won the Best Choral Performance Grammy for Charles Bruffy and the Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales). The text is Konstantin Balmont's version—I hesitate to say "translation," since it retains only a few structural elements of the original while scuttling or reworking many verbal elements—of Edgar Allen Poe's masterpiece of poetic cumulative effect.
One element retained in the Balmont version, and by0 extension in the Rachmaninoff setting, is the four-part layout of the poem, often understood to represent four stages of life. I see it as recounting four ways that bells show up in our lives: during fun (Silver Sleigh Bells), in proclaiming love (Mellow Wedding Bells), in announcing disaster (Loud Alarum Bells), and in death (Mournful Iron Bells). These four bell-circumstances become are four movements of the symphony: I-Allegro, ma non tanto, II-Lento, III-Presto, and IV-Lento lugubre.
One inescapable result of working with this poem—or any derivative, as here—is the way that even the friendlier bells are unable to fend off a sense of foreboding. Both the first and second movements have moments that say "this will not end well," and on this recording, Janssons does a superb job of bringing those moments into focus, unusually large though the orchestral forces are (six horns instead of four, for example). And although those forces include more percussionists than is usually thought polite, don't expect them to be hitting a lot of bells—most of the bell effects are orchestra-generated, especially effectively rendered on this recording.
The soloists—Tatiana Pavlovskaya, soprano; Oleg Dolgov, tenor; and Alexey Markov, baritone—are ideal. How Dallas's soloists will compare—Mane Galoyan, more or less fresh from her residency with Houston Grand; Sergey Skorokhodov, a criminally versatile tenor who has made a name toggling between Wagner and Donizetti; and Andre Bondarenko, who excels in Russian repertoire (especially Rachmaninoff)—is an open question for now, but even those not given to optimism are probably excited at the prospect. It's difficult to imagine improving on Dolgov's extended pianissimo entrance after the first movement's agonizingly red-herring introduction. I have heard a half-dozen recordings and performances of this work, no two of which take the same approach, and Dolgov's is the most satisfying, in my opinion—even better than Mikhail Dovenman's on the 1996 BMG reissue of the 1993 Melodiya recording of the Moscow Philharmonic conducted by Kiril Kondrashin. April, hurry up.
The chorus and orchestra on this recording are so good that you can even discern some of the words in that manic third movement. To discern any Russian text is a challenge when it's blared at the top of a chorus's lungs in competition with a giant orchestra, all stops pulled out; but in the 2018 Janssons recording, you'll be surprised how much you get, even if your Russian isn't that good. Joshua Haberman and the DSO chorus have their work cut out for them, and I expect they know it.
The Bells is great fun, whether you're reading the Poe original—seriously, go find it and read it out loud; it's amazing and, as I said, great fun—or listening to the Rachmaninoff setting of Balmont's derivative. Also on the Janssons recording is the composer's last completed work, the Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, which is also a lot of fun. It doesn't have anything to do with this disc's Grammy nomination, but it has much in common with The Bells, composed more than a quarter-century earlier. In fact, it has a lot in common with a lot of Rachmaninoff's compositions, from 1909's Isle of the Dead to 1934's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I'll leave it to you to sort that out.
» 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 fourth 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
- November (no column)
- December: An album with works by Huybrechts, Schulhoff, Rousell and Debussy; Dave Flynn's New Music for Electric Guitar; and Bulgarian Voices featuring Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance