Monday, June 10, 2013

Newly heard: Ghetto Strings, etc.

Pianist Lara Downes's new album on the Steinway & Sons label is called "Exile's Cafe" and features music by 13 composers who were emigrés at some point in their lives. Along with Bartók, Chopin, Prokofiev, Martinu, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Weil, Korngold, and Milhaud we get less well known figures like William Grant Still, Paul Bowles, Michael Sahl, and Mohammed Fairouz. Actually I'm not sure if Still was ever an exile, but the music we hear is an extract from "Africa" so I guess that counts. So the album's a good mix of the familiar and unfamiliar (in my case, almost all of it was unfamiliar). As you might expect given the theme there's a general melancholic atmosphere, though in fact not all of the pieces were composed in exile (Korngold's Piano sonata no.2, for instance, of which we hear the first movement, was written when he was in his early teens). OK, so the concept might not be strictly rock-solid, but the project is definitely a success.

More Martinů in the form of the first volume of Toccata's series of Early orchestral works. The earliest piece is Village Feast from 1907 (he was 16), the latest from 22 years later (Prélude en forme de Scherzo) so I guess this is a fairly wide definition of "early" (all Mozart and Schubert works are "early" in that case!). These are all first recordings, from Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia. I'm no Martinů expert but I'm comfortable with describing these works as "sounds like early Martinů", and there's plenty to enjoy. Indeed, if this were your first introduction to Martinů you'd probably be quite happy to then explore further.

From Le Miroir de Musique and Baptiste Romain comes "The Birth of the Violin" (Ricercar), a selection of music from the 15th and 16th centuries, ranging from Obrecht and Josquin to Willaert and Bassano. Essentially in most of the works the violin shows up as a substitute for a voice in a motet, madrigal or other vocal work, though there's also some dedicated instrumental music. There's an academic intent here, obviously, and the album may very well show up in my History of Classical Music through Recordings, but it's not merely academic, and the journey is a fascinating one.

And onwards to Monteverdi and The Sixteen's third and final disc of excerpts from Selva morale e spirituale. I suppose little needs to be said about this group's reliability in music of the period, and the previous volumes have had good enough reviews that when the dust settles this seems likely to be many people's top choice for the work. My innocent ears have no complaints, anyway, and I guess I'll have to go get the other two volumes now, won't I?

Finally, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet give us four works on their new Innova release, "Thrum". The title piece is a laid-back set of three movements from David Evan Thomas - all four composers on the album were unfamiliar to me. Van Stiefel's Cinema Castenada is intended to evoke a scene of the performers gathered round a campfire, and it does have a meandering, improvisatory feel, with some vocalising for good measure. There are apparently lots of musical references in there that I haven't really picked up on. Gao Hong joins the quartet on pipa for his Guangxi Impressions, so you won't be surprised that it sounds rather Chinese. These are all enjoyable works, though the highlight for me is the opening Ghetto Strings, in which Daniel Bernard Roumain depicts (consecutively) "Harlem", "Liberty City", "Motor City", and "Haiti"; there's plenty of folk/popular music styles in here and all very evocative.

1 comment:

Jon said...

The more Martinů I hear, the more I love his work.

The latest to enthrall me has been Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2 and String Quartet No. Zero (presumably the Aleš Březina reconstruction), played by the Stamic Quartet, on Panton Records. The works span from 1917 - close to the very beginning of his composing - to 1944 - not long after he moved to the US.