LAURA METCALF: FIRST DAY, FIRST SOLO ALBUM

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Laura Metcalf, cello. SONO LUMINUS DSL – 92201

Accompanying pianist: Matei Varga

Engineering: Dan Merceruio and Daniel Shores

Some artists come clad in the vestments of conservatory-trained, classically-schooled, “serious” artists. For some of them to even remotely court the off-beat outer reaches of the repertory that fall outside the canonic Bach to Brahms box would be anathema. Others seek instead those dusty little corners of the unexplored realms of the repertory, where they are likely to discover finds that otherwise go unnoticed by the rank and file of the classical music establishment.

Laura Metcalf is one of those oddballs that rock the boat and make changes happen as they bring concert music kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Look at her short bio within the liner notes of First Day, her Sono Luminus debut album and you will see all of the right bullet points: Concert Artists Guild winner, Zankel Hall, Library of Congress, Lincoln Center. But then look further and listen to the contents of this terrific album and you will surely join us in saluting Laura Metcalf as a visionary maverick and a major talent to be welcomed.

She plays Jose Bragato’s Graciela y Buenos Aires with the firm attack and the fierce double-dotted rhythms of someone born steps from the docks of the River Plate. On track 4 of the CD she tackles Alberto Ginastera’s tricky Pampena No.2, op. 21 and transports us to the wide open spaces of Patagonia, playing with expansive bravura.

She brings to the table both Bohuslav Martinu’s Variation on a Slovakian Theme and George Enescu’s quintessentially Rumanian Sonata in F Minor, both interspersed with pieces by contemporaries Caleb Burnhans, whose Phantasie is delightful, and Dan Visconti, whose Hard-Knock Stomp is serious rhythmic fun.

She travels from Marin Marais’ 17th Century, elegantly playing his Variations on La Follia and then shares an emotionally-charged piece by Francis Poulenc, Les Chemins de l’amour, inflecting into the elegantly Gallic melody her very intimately personal touch,  plaintively singing and playing and bringing her debut album to a poignant close.

Rumanian pianist, Matei Varga contributes greatly to the success of the enterprise, switching musical hats from Baroque to 20th century to you name it with assuredness and energy.

The engineering is signature Sono Luminus, up-closely miked, straightforward, un-embellished by post-production smoke and mirrors. The packaging is nice, with a pull-out sheet with bios and unpretentious commentary.

This CD is one for loving replaying.

Rafael de Acha

www.Rafaelmusicnotes.com

YVES RAMETTE: MUSIC FROM TIMES OF TORMENT

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MUSIC FROM TIMES OF TORMENT

Parma Recordings/Navona Records. YVES RAMETTE IN TIMES OF TORMENT

CHAMBER WORKS 1941-1944. Vit Muzik, violin; Carmine Miranda, cello; Karolina Rojahs, piano; Erik van Heyningen, baritone; Igor Kopt, violin; Dominika Muzikova, viola; Petr Nouzovsky, cello; Vanessa Holroyd, flute; Nancy Russo, harp; Jonathan Roberts, piano; Shaw Pong Liu, violin; Emily Dahl, viola; Leo Eguchi, cello.

String Quartet, op. 20; 3 Poems of Francis Carco; Violin Sonata, no. 1, op. 18; Violin Sonata, no. 2, op. 23; Cello Sonata.

Engineers: Ales Dvorak (op. 20); John Weston (remaining tracks). All recording sessions: 2015.

French composer Yves Ramette (www.yvesramette.com) lived during and survived the Nazi occupation of his beloved Paris, where he remained living and composing, including at least one of the works in this album.

His earlier String Quartet, op. 20 is an uninterrupted work, where movements blend seamlessly one into the other. The composition is at its core a post- Romantic one, with occasional touches of dissonance now here now there. It is an inviting entry into the world of this lesser known artist, beautifully played by Vit Muzik, Igor Kopyt, Dominika Muzikova, and Petr Nouzovsky.

The short cycle of three poems by the French fiction writer and poet Francis Carco, consists of the minimalist Madrigal, the sober Amour, and the final Berceuse. Carco’s unpredictable harmonies underpin in the first and third songs a cantabile vocal line, sensitively handled by baritone Erik van Heyningen in flawless French. The second of the songs, Amour juxtaposes a spoken text over the plain accompaniment.

Ramette’s violin sonatas nos. 1, op. 18 and 2, op. 23 are fiercely brought to life by Vit Muzik and Karolina Rojahs. Both works are early post-Romantic ones, abundant with delicacy and Gallic restraint. Karolina Rojahs provides sterling support on the piano.

The engineering by Ales Dvorak (op. 20) and John Weston (remaining tracks) is  just what we have come to expect from Navona Records and Parma Recordings: uncompromisingly accurate throughout and unforgiving of even the smallest glitch.

The album is energetically brought to a close by cellist Carmine Miranda’s impassioned playing of Ramette’s Cello Sonata. Structured in three movements (Slow/Calm/Slow), the work demands the sort of incisive musicality that the young Venezuelan-American cellist unfailingly brings to his playing of this composition.

A heartfelt cri de coeur by a formidable though lesser known composer, this CD is one to treasure.

Rafael de Acha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APOLLO CHAMBER PLAYERS

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Navona Records (www.navonarecords.com) and its remarkable commitment to new music continues with the release of Blurred Boundaries, a collection of compositions, several influenced by non-western musical traditions and all six impressively played by the protean Apollo Chamber Players (www.apollochamberplayers.org)

The project, enhanced by its neat packaging and the limpid engineering of Navona Records’ team of engineers, Ryan Edwards and Shannon Smith, encompasses music dating from the turn of the 20th century to works of recent vintage.

The results are impressive, due in no small measure to the idiomatic, honest, bold and straightforward playing of the members of Apollo Chamber Players: violinists Matthew J. Detrick and Anabel Ramirez, violist Whitney Bullock, cellist Matthew Dudzik and their guest artists, Ismail Lumanovski, clarinet; Timothy Pitts, bass, and percussionist Matthew McClung.

Apollo Chamber Players’ multi-year commissioning project 20X2020, supported in part by the C. Howard Pieper Foundation made possible the creation of Libby Larsen’s Sorrow Song and Jubilee, Erberk Eryilmaz’s Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan, and Marty Regan’s Splash of Indigo.

The album opens with Sorrow Song and Jubilee, a six-minute, single movement, homage to Antonin Dvorak and Henry Thacker Burleigh by the American composer Libby Larsen. In it we hear Swing Low, Sweet Chariot replicated in a deconstructed manner, as if the melody, mostly assigned to the cello, were struggling to emerge through a densely textured counterpoint played by the violins and viola, only to emerge triumphant half-way through the piece in a Czech dance rhythm.

In each and every one of tracks 2 through 8 of the CD, the members of the string quartet mine for and find musical gold in the songs of rural America, as with Henry Thacker Burleigh’s 1901 Plantation Melodies Old and New introducing us to two lesser known pieces: Negro Lullaby and An Ante-Bellum Sermon.

Florence Beatrice Price’s 1951 Five Folk Songs in Counterpoint is alternatively moving (Calvary, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot), lively (Clementine, Shortnin’ Bread) and melancholy (Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes) and thoroughly enchanting in its unencumbered versions of familiar tunes long part of our musical DNA. The Apollo musicians play with a down-to-earth approach redolent of family evenings of music-making in the front porch of folks up in the Kentucky hills.

Erberk Eryilmaz’s Thracian Airs of Besime Sultan takes the listener into unfamiliar territory, with the string quartet now augmented by a bass, a clarinet and percussion that transform the sound of the ensemble into something altogether exotic and exhilarating, what with the composer and the musicians flirting with flatted intervals, poly-rhythms and woodwind riffs that would not be out of place in a Turkish wedding celebration.

Hajime Komatsu’s Four Japanese Folk Songs is eminently tonal, largely based on pentatonic scales and ranging from dance-like in Yagibushi to song-like in Naribu Oshioi Uta to playful in Otemoyan and exultant in the final Aizu Bandaisari.

Marty Regan’s Splash of Indigo is a musical depiction of the visual aspects of the ancient Japanese craft of Indigo design and dyeing. Replicating in a manner that blends Debussy-like gestures with Japanese scales, the nearly-twelve minute one-movement composition is unpredictable, rhapsodic, quiet and still to the point of stasis at times, precipitated and agitated at others, and altogether intriguingly original.

With this album, the Apollo Chamber Players make their mark as not only an ensemble of quality but as loyal supporters and players of new and innovative music. Kudos to them.

Rafael de Acha

www.rafaelmusicnotes.com

 

ELEGANT PLAYING BY TRIO CELESTE

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Trio Celeste is a California-based ensemble. In residence at UC-Irvine, the trio is made up of violinist Iryna Krechkovsky, cellist Ross Gasworth and pianist Kevin Kwan Loucks. Their 2016 release for Navona Records evidences their elegant playing and imaginative exploration of the repertoire for chamber trio.

The CD has Beethoven’s Piano Trio in G Major, Op 1, No. 2, an early work that seems to reluctantly say farewell to the 18th century even as it moves assuredly into the 1800’s with unabashed sentiment, playfulness and Romantic sweep. The Trio Celeste plays this early Beethoven gem with delicacy and bravura, yet never imposing interpretive excesses on the music.

The next ten tracks of the CD are devoted to Constellations: Variations on a Theme by Beethoven. Commissioned by the trio from ten living composers, the collection of pieces consists of ten variations on the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in G Major, Op 1, No. 2, by Eugene Drucker, Mike Block, Eric Guinivan, Peter Erskine, Paul Dooley, Fred Hersch, Samuel Adler, Jim Scully, Christina Spinei and Pierre Jalbert. The ten miniatures range in length from barely over one minute to slightly over two, and vary in approach from the serious to the whimsical and from the decidedly atonal to the comfortably melodic. It is an altogether bold bit of programming and an eminently successful one.

The Dvorak Dumky Trio takes the lion’s share of the CD’s tracks. A six-movement composition, the piece opens with a haunting Lento redolent of Moravian folk melodies, that soon opens up into a Gypsy-inflected Allegro that gives violinist Krechkovsky an opportunity to display both her technique and the unique sound of her 1689 “Baumgartner” Stradivarius

In the second movement and again later, cellist Ross Gasworth plays with a deep singing tone just perfect for the melancholic moments of the piece. Dvorak structures the six movements in an unpredictable way, seamlessly moving in each one of them but for the fifth one from slow to fast.

Pianist Loucks holds his own in this sterling company, staying in the background when mere accompanying is needed, then moving into prominence at the right moments.

The engineering by Jesse Lewis and Kyle Pyke is impeccable, allowing the trio to stay up front and present throughout with a clean, unadorned sound. The packaging is simple and tasteful, including brief and pertinent notes.

The good people at Navona Records (www.navonarecords.com) continue to make our lives richer with new releases that keep us all busy, pleasantly surprised and musically satisfied.

Trio Celeste (www.trioceleste.com) – Navona Records, 2016.

Beethoven – Piano Trio in G Major, Op 1, No. 2. Constellations: Variations on a Theme by Beethoven – music by Eugene Drucker, Mike Block, Eric Guinivan, Peter Erskine, Paul Dooley, Fred Hersch, Samuel Adler, Jim Scully, Christina Spinei and Pierre Jalbert. Antonín Dvořák– Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90, “Dumky.” Engineers: Jesse Lewis and Kyle Pyke.

 

 

 

 

LETTER FROM NYC

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LETTER FROM NYC

Last week we went up to NYC, with exactly three days to see shows, catch up with old friends, visit at least one museum exhibit and enjoy some of the things NYC has to offer, among those the impressive annual showcase of musical theatre triple-threats that CCM presents for casting agents.

Shuffle Along

We went primarily to see Joshua Henry, a former student of my wife’s. George C. Wolfe directs, Savion Glover choreographs, the design team has Santo Loquasto (set), Anne Roth (costumes) and Jules Fisher (lighting). The production fills up the stage of the intimate Music Box Theatre, and the performances are just what we expected from Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry.

Still in previews, this show is undergoing some major changes, so that it would be unfair to give it any kind of review. My gut feeling is that, once they are done with the changes and once they settle into a run, the star power of the cast and the terrific music will carry the show. Let’s wait and see.          

An American in Paris

In spite of the bad manners of three women who sat in front of us, eating a variety of noisy snacks they had purchased in the lobby of the Palace Theatre, this turned out to be a great theatrical experience. The production is brilliantly directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the set and costumes by Bob Crowley manage to erase memories of the 1951 film, and the cast features an exceptional quartet of dancers capable of more than doing justice to George and Ira Gershwin’s music and lyrics: Leanne Cope, Brandon Uranowitz, Garen Scribner and Max von Esen.

Marilyn Maye

Sunday April 11 was her 88th birthday, and her show felt like a party to which the sizeable audience had been invited to honor a friend. At all times Ms. Maye was fully committed to delivering the message of the lyrics of the songs she sang, from Sondheim’s survival anthem, I’m Still Here to a medley of Johnny Mercer ballads to a wry Guess Who I Saw Today.

I’m providing the You Tube link to Marilyn Maye’s I Love Being Here With You, https://youtu.be/Dx1VD4fee24 which she used to open her cabaret show at Feinstein’s 54 Below, an intimate cabaret spot on West 54th Street.  This grand lady of cabaret will be back in May at 54 Below. If you have a chance to catch her act, may I suggest you go to www.54below.com and book your reservations now, as her shows always sell out…

Other things

We had two great brunches while in NYC. At 75 West 68th, just off Columbus Avenue and a short walk from Lincoln Center, Boite en Bois is one of our favorite places to eat when in NYC. The other is Lincoln restaurant, right next to Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center.

At the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, Beauty is their Triennial exhibit. Featuring innovative work by a number of important designers from around the world, the show will be on view through August. Definitely worth a visit, both for the exhibit and for the pleasure of looking at the former Carnegie Mansion, where it is held…

 

 

DREAM VAPORS

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Dream Vapors, selected works for orchestra is composer Rain Worthington’s first full-length solo CD on Navona Records (Navona 6025). The neatly-packaged CD, complete with press quotes and biographical information on the composer, features seven orchestral pieces ranging in length from little over six minutes to slightly longer than ten.

Evocatively titled, all seven of the compositions demand careful listening, while allowing one’s imagination to evoke images that intensely reflect what the music says.

The composer’s extensive website (www.rainworthington.com) includes read-only digital versions of the scores for several of the compositions included in the CD, something that immensely helps the understanding of her intentions and skills, including her ability to orchestrate both for large and chamber ensembles.

The titles of these compositions, even prior to listening give one an entry into the mind and sensibilities of Ms. Worthington. Shredding Glass, is the earliest piece in the CD, dating back to 2004.

As beautifully played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the composition effectively elicits eerie sonorities from the woodwinds at their highest register in contrast with rumbling statements from  the basses and the timpani.

Rain Worthington offers no clues as to any of her compositional intentions, bathing all seven of these pieces in mysterious moods that range from the meditative and contemplative, as is the case with Reversing Mirrors in the Quiet to the wistful melancholy of Within a Dance, a Tone Poem of Love and the stillness of Yet Still Night, a Nocturne for Orchestra – these last two the only compositions to which she affixes a subtitle and a musical form name (tone poem, nocturne.)

The composer’s creations are inexhaustibly inventive, never at a loss for a surprising harmonic solution or a novel gesture in orchestration. At times one hears the influence of world music in moments of percussion, at other times a given turn of phrase in melody is deliberately repeated for emphasis, mining a bit the world of minimalism. But overall this is the work of an eclectic, sui-generis musical artist who walks to the beat of her own romantic heart and outside the parameters of contemporary music.

The various orchestras and conductors include the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra (Petr Vronsky, conductor), the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra (Ovidiu Martinescu, conductor) and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Robert Ian Winstin, conductor). All three are seasoned European ensembles equally at home in the Romanticism of the great Central European and Russian masters and in 21st century music. The conducting is first-rate and the fidelity and accuracy of the playing remarkable.

As is ever the case with Navona Records, the clarity and the integrity of the sound are faultless, all the more admirable considering that each of the seven tracks was laid down at different times in different parts of the world.

This is, to sum it up, an extraordinary sampler of the original work of an American composer fully deserving of this solo showcase.

We eagerly await more to come from Rain Worthington.

Rafael de Acha