Month: January 2022

  • New Experimental Digital-Only Releases

    A host of new releases are making their way to digital platforms in the coming weeks from Navona Records.  Here we are going to check in to three that explore more experimental musical styles.

    First up is a recording of a new chamber opera, Rumpelstiltskin, from Boston-based composer Marti Epstein (Navona 6390).  This familiar folk tale about a little deformed man who wishes to be loved and makes a pact with a young maiden who only has to guess his name to be released from her agreement.  Epstein's work is cast across six distinct scenes.  The smaller instrumental ensemble focuses on a variety of percussion instruments, violin, cello, and saxophone which lends its own distinct sound.  The performance is from Boston's Guerilla Opera company that focuses on bringing challenging new works to audiences.  It would seem that in the case of this work some of the visual aspects would be equally interesting to connect with the intense music and often angular vocal writing.  The approach to the text and story also seeks to chance the vocal range expectations for characters which creates its own edge to the story.  Motivations for character actions also are explored more as each scene moves the story forward.  It can make for a rather intense work that runs just under an hour.

    Composer Adrienne Elisha (1958-2017) is honored with a collection of her chamber music on  Anthelion (Navona 6402).  Elisha was also a noted violinist who championed contemporary music and performed in several ensembles including the Chamber Orchestra of Boston.  Two works written for that ensemble, and recorded by them here, close out this rather intense collection of pieces.  Azure (2014) is a clue to the color and timbre's Elisha explores in this work that uses glissandi as a unifying device to add to the blurred harmonies that occur.  Transcendence (2016) closes off the album with a work that takes inspiration from Arabic melodies and features some rather evocative and colorful writing as well.  The album gets its title from an intense work from 2009 for flute, violin, cello, clarinet, piano, and percussion.  Cast in two movements, the compositional approaches are interesting cerebral constructions about light transcribed into sound ("Sonic") and in "Resonance" more about delay and reverbration.  A short work for solo cello (Inner Voices) and one for an odd trio of viola, cello, and bass (Harrier) provide some examples of Elisha's earlier style in the late 1990s.  More fascinating is a 23-minute work for solo cello written for her brother, who performs it here.  It features a wide array of compositional techniques for the instrument that create a number of demands on the soloist in this intriguing work.

    Fetter and Air (Navona 6400) rounds things out with this highly experimental soundscape for audio clips and voices performed by the Mendelssohn of Chorus Philadelphia with its director Dominick DiOrio who has imagined this piece.  Over 500 different audio components are combined with readings and random texts to create a fascinating collection of sounds and reflections.  The piece was originally a looping sound installation in May 2021 at The Rail Park in Philadelphia.

    Each of these releases are examples of avant-garde approaches to music often using visceral writing with more atonal harmonies to craft unique new works.  These are not for the casual listener to be sure but those interested in developments of contemporary music will want to be sure and check out these releases

  • Reflections for Piano

    A couple of years ago, Navona released a 2-disc set of Australian composer Mark John McEncroe's music on a release titled Reflections and Recollections.  For this fourth volume, Musical Images for Piano (Navona 6391), McEncroe focuses on pieces specifically for piano (the earlier volume were orchestrations of some of his piano pieces).  Pianist Van-Anh Nguyen performs the eight works here.

    This is a relatively laid-back collection of musical meditations often with simple harmony and a Satie-esque like laying out of simple melodic ideas.  Often times the music tends to have a 2-voice contrapuntal style that provides some interest though these ideas tend to shift rather quickly when they do appear.  "For Cecile" is perhaps one of the stronger pieces where the waltz rhythm and structure moves the melodic ideas into interesting harmonic territory.   The pieces are generally cast in a New Age-like classical style that can sometimes be a bit repetitive in its ideas from one work to the other.  Many have a stream-of-conscious feel which can give them a meandering quality that is enhanced when the harmony becomes more interesting.

    Nguyen is quite adept at working her way through these different moments sometimes more impressionistic in sound, other times moving into darker realms.  Harmonic movement can be a bit strange from time to time which leaves some phrases hanging in the air like incomplete, or interrupted thoughts.  The pieces are thus like miniature rhapsodies whose titles provide one possible interpretive window for the listener to engage.

    The current release provides fans of McEncroe's style a good hour of musical backdrops some of which work better than others.