chamber music

  • George Perle's Music for Solo Instruments


    Perle: Solos & Duos
    Alexi Kenney, violin; Curits Macomber, violin;
    Charles Neidich, clarinet; Jay Campbell, cello;
    Edwin Barker, double bass; Steve Dibner, bassoon;
    Horacio Guiterrez, piano; Leon Fleisher, piano; Richard Goode, piano;
    Conor Hanick, piano; Michael Brown, piano; Shirley Perle, piano;
    Bridge 9546 A/B
    Disc One: Total Time:  58:46
    Disc Two: Total Time:  58:59
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    American composer George Perle (1915-2009) is best known for his exploration of a more accessible 12-tone language focused around sets of pitches that in and of themselves created their own “12-tone tonality”.  This focus more on intervallic relationships allowed for an often more expressive style.  One can hear how this develops throughout Perle’s career in this new collection of a cross-section of works for solo instruments on Bridge Records.

    Most of the recordings here come from the last decade, many around the centenary of Perle’s birth.  Performers here are among the best in interpreting 20th-Century repertoire and here perform pieces often written specifically for them.  The music is a sort of overview of Perle’s approach to writing for solo instruments from the earliest set of clarinet sonatas from 1943 (aptly performed by Charles Neidich; who also performs the 1972 Sonata quasi una fantasia) to the more recent Bassoon Music (2004) written for Steven Beck who is featured here (as well as in the earlier 3 Inventions from 1962).  These are the sole wind pieces on the album.

    Perle wrote several works for solo cello that are performed here by Jay Campbell.  A set of Hebrew Melodies (1945) opens disc two which also includes a 1947 solo cello sonata and the Lyric Piece (1946).  These provide an interesting microcosm of approach for the instrument that can me compared to the composer’s 1985 cello sonata with piano that appears on disc one.  That album opens with solo violin sonata (1953) featuring Alexi Kenney.  This is a quite accessible way to invite listener’s into Perle’s musical approach.   Serial composers also tend to find kindred spirits in the Baroque and its forms and one can here this in the aforementioned bassoon inventions as well as in the “Sarabande” from the Solo Partita (1965).  A Monody II (1962) features Edward Barker in a work that allows us to compare the timbre and approaches to the double bass and then hear an equally brief work for solo bassoon thereafter.

    Spread throughout the album are three works for solo piano.  Horacio Gutierrez brings us the 9 Bagatelles (1999), which were composed for him.  Here is a collection of different moods that features interesting exploration of rhythm and harmony while also exploring the range of the keyboard.  Also featured are the Musical Offerings (1998) written for Leon Fleisher’s 70th birthday, who performs it here.  The piece is notable as a sort of protest work that was connected to Fleisher’s departure as Music Director at Tanglewood in 1984.  The piece also has a reflective quality that finds Perle connecting some of the stylistic tonal composers of the early 20th Century (Schoenberg, Scriabin, and Debussy) into subtle references in the writing.  The set closes with Richard Goode’s performance of a work also written for him, Ballade (1981).  In keeping with a trend that was appearing in contemporary music in this period, Perle also shifts away from the more Baroque models and instead flirts with Romanticism with a variety of lush harmonies and a sort of emotional rollerscape ending in a whisper.

    While one might prefer to hear the chronological progression of Perle’s music, the set does a good job of balancing the different solo timbres which allows for some aural comparison across the spectrum of Perle’s development.  The music itself is quite accessible and that is another of the hallmark’s of Perle’s musical language that, as intricately designed as it is, it communicates well.  As a sort of overview of his chamber music, the current collection is an excellent way to enter in to the composer’s sound world with excellent performances that are captured in a fine acoustic.  Many of these recordings come from a wide swath of locations and times but they have been balanced well to provide a smooth transition from one to the other.  Those who come across this release will likely already know what is in store, but there is a great opportunity to discover one of the unique voices of the 20th Century.

  • A Variety of New Digital-Only Releases

    Time for a little quick highlight of some new digital-only releases now available for streaming and download from Navona.

    Those looking for a little bit of contemporary orchestral music from new voices working in this medium will want to locate Woven in Time (Navona 6369).  This eclectic mini-concert of sorts features music from five different composers. A new clarinet concerto by Richard E. Brown opens this collection.  It is a newer revision of one of his first works and has a decidedly modern sensibility with a dense atonal opening movement; a more lyrical and troubled slow movement; and a more energetic and intense finale.  The opening movement of Scott Brickman's Symphony No. 5 tantalizes with what the whole arc of the work might be.  It is filled with folkish dances and melodic hints that come from Latvian culture.  That translates a bit to unusual rhythmic ideas and interesting orchestral colors and syncopations.  A prominent oboe solo graces Marilyn Bliss's Veils, a more abstract and intense orchestral miniature that shifts ideas and lines through subtle shades and sound colors.  A portion of Jay Anthony Gach's Gangsta Noir is a rather delightful essay on 1940's film music styles making it a bit more accessible to modern listeners.  Joseph T. Spaniola's Thomas Jefferson: Life Lines is a multi-movement work for narration and orchestra featuring texts of Jefferson's letters.  The work is not presented in its entirety (just 3 of the 5 movements) and is in that long line of Americana scores with narration that build on a tradition set by Copland.  This work is a sort of modernization of that with a touch of Schwantner perhaps.  Overall an interesting collection of new music.

    Shifting to a few chamber music releases brings us some equally unique music as well.  First is a recital of works for violin solo featuring Chi Young Song (Navona 6387).  The release features the complete work for solo violin by two composers of Korean heritage: Earl Kim (1920-1998) and Isang Yun (1917-1995).  Kim's 12 Caprices (1980) were written for Itzhak Perlman.  The opening caprice is a statement of the tone row which forms the basis for Kim's further exploration around its resulting row matrix.  The music can be rather intense, even so, Kim's harmonic approaches tend to move toward flirtations with pantonality that are not as harsh as some 12-tone music can be as a result.  There are three pieces here by Yun.  His Konigliches Theme (1976) is a set of theme and variations on a tune form Bach's Musical Offering.  His music is within the dodecaphonic approach but certain ornamentations and techniques reference Korean musical gestures.  Li-Na im Garten (1984) is a far more approachable collection of 5 somewhat whimsical pieces.  Written for his granddaughter, the different movements are musical snapshots of interactions between various animals she encounters on this little musical journey.  The final work, Kontraste (1987) further expands upon Yun's Korean roots but now adds a spiritual dimension with musical depictions of Taoist philosophy.  These are committed performances captured in a close, intimate acoustic.

    In Division of Memory (Navona 6373), cellist Thomas Mesa presents a collection of five new works for the instrument by different musical voices.  There are three works for solo cello beginning with Lydia Jane Pugh's Carolina's Jig (ca. 2015) which uses percussive sounds and fiddle techniques for a light-hearted introduction to this collection.  A three-movement suite by Ben Yee-Paulson has some additional interesting techniques that explore harmonics in the first movement, octatonic scale writing in the fun central movement, and an exciting, more virtuosic finale.  Elizabeth Start's Echoes in Life explores the development of musical lines with additional fragmentation and performance techniques that at times have a heartbeat-like reference.  Pianist Yoon Lee joins Mesa for the other two pieces.  George Holloway's Novella (Chapter One) was the composer's attempt to create a dramatic, narrative musical work from a true story he had written out.  This lends the work a slowly evolving quality that has a rhapsodic quality as the musical narrative unfolds.  Jonathan Chenette's Elegy and Affirmation is a blend of musical references, Asian bowing techniques, and an Auden poem that all are blended to inform this work hoping to provide healing and hope.

    Finally, Trio Casals returns for a release of new music for mostly piano trio (A Grand Journey, Navona 6367).  The first work is by the group's cellist Ovidiu Marinescu.  The Journey is a three-movement piece that is takes inspiration from Greco-Roman mythology (though the title of the work and the subtitle of the first movement suggest Joseph Campbell's hero journey essays).  After that sonata-form movement, the central movement creates the effect of time passing with pizzicato against the slow progression of musical ideas that evolves into a lyrical idea.  The final movement is a somewhat playful scherzo with glissandi and other unusual sounds that sometimes diverge into folk music gestures and melodic quotations.  A variety of musical references are also tossed in to this rather engaging trio.  Two trios by Richard E. Brown present different musical aesthetics.  The first trio uses Korean folk songs that form the basis of the musical material across the three movements.  Brown does a bit of further experimentation by the musical forms he attaches to his source material.  A Baroque chaconne opens the work in a unique take on theme and variations.  This is followed by scherzo with two contrasting folk songs, the second being combined in the finale of the movement.  The final movement is a fugue on another folk song.  All of this is rather interesting to hear as Brown takes these somewhat tonal melodic ideas and transforms them with his own harmonic language and melodic technique.  Brown's quotation technique shifts to English music and more specifically to the third symphony of Ralph Vaughan-Williams in the second trio here bearing the subtitle "Pastoral".  Unlike the structure of the first trio, this one tends to have a more stream of conscious feel, not unlike the work it is inspired by.  Again, it is more the motivic ideas that Brown is "borrowing" here to recreate a unique work that pays homage to the earlier composer.  The quite conclusion is a reminder of that earlier work in this more reflective trio.  The trio's pianist Anna Kislitsyna gets to shine in the four-movement Caucasus Sonata by Mark G. Simon.  The music has a modern harmonic approach that puts the soloist through their paces with often quite rapid passagework and virtuosic demands.  The scherzo has a sort of Bernstein-like playfulness and is a bit more accessible which is a nice contrast to the intense opening movement.  This is even  more so in the gorgeous "Romance" with its yearning musical theme.  The final movement is a bit relentless in its energy leaving no real moment to catch one's breath.  At almost a half-hour in length, this is a fairly significant new work in this genre and makes for a thrilling conclusion to the album.