chamber music

  • Chamber Music from Victoria Bond


    Bond: Instruments of Revelation
    Chicago Pro Musica
    Rufus Muller, tenor. Jenny Lin, piano.
    Olga Vinokur,piano.
    Naxos 8.559864
    Total Time:  62:07
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    This new Naxos release allows listeners to explore some of Victoria Bond’s (b. 1945) more intimate works composed in the first decade of the new century.  Bond studied composition with Ingolf Dahl and Roger Sessions and early in her career assisted on some of Paul Glass’s film scores.  Some may know her from her Metropolitan Opera lectures.  There are four pieces on this album which includes two works for chamber ensemble, a work for tenor and piano, and a piano piece.

    The two chamber pieces open the album featuring musicians of Chicago Pro Musica.  Instruments of Revelation (2010), from which the album takes its title, is a musical depiction of three Tarot cards.  “The Magician” opens with a rather appropriately mysterious quality that shifts between some faster slights-of-hand.  The central “The High Priestess” has a fascinating blend of semi-Impressionist ambiguity with repeating lyric lines that have a semi-Eastern quality.  All ends with a blend of intensity and wit for “The Fool”.  The music is a blend of accessible tonal language which may descend into more dissonant ideas and eventually even some more experimental techniques by the final movement.  The ancient city of Pompeii serves as the inspiration for the second chamber work, Frescoes and Ash (2009).  In this equally descriptive work, Bond moves us through a variety of scenes from street musicians, to comedic actors, to a visit to the Sybil, a glance in on Chiron teaching Achilles, and more.  The final movement is a reflection of death casting what has been heard as a calm acceptance of the inevitable.  Throughout, Bond’s ability to craft descriptive musical scenes serves for an engaging work that is equally dramatic with a post-modern classicism.

    Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming (2011) is an exploration of a section from James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Rufus Muller, who premiered the work, performs it here.  The lengthy setting takes us through a variety of factual information as the character faces the death of his infant son.  The seemingly random aspects of the text invite the listener to also make some of the intellectual connections Joyce requires.  Here Bond interprets this as moments of silence which add to the dramatic tension in the music.  The soloist both sings some rather gorgeous lines but there are also straight moments of narration that are spoken to guide the listener.  Texts are provided to help aid the listener who wishes to follow this more closely.  The accompaniment here tends to provide both a melodic support to the voice as well as adding some of the connective tissue to create a sense of foreboding or other dramatic inference.  There are plenty of stunningly beautiful moments as the piece nears its final pages.

    Finally, the album closes with Binary (2005) for piano.  Bond explores how one might interpret this concept more familiar perhaps to those in computer science where “0” and “1” are the underlying components of everything.  The two sections of the work tackle this in unique ways.  In the first movement, Bond sets up large block chords against single melodic lines all based on the interval of a second.  This is a strikingly visceral work that leans more towards a Bartokian dissonance.  The concluding movement then shifts to explore this concept as rhythm using a Brazilian samba as a structural device for a set of variations.  The music tends to be a bit more tonal with the rhythmic component working best to drive it forward.

    The performances here serve the music quite well with some exquisite playing by the Chicago Pro Musica that help Bond’s often beautiful lyricism shine.  Articulation and attention to detail also help set up her crisp rhythmic ideas quite well.  There is good variety in this release which provides some appeal for those interested in chamber music, song cycles, or works for piano.  But really, it lends itself to an exploration of Bond’s more intimate writing for these forces and her sense of dramatic shape to her thematic inspirations for these works.

  • New Chamber Music From Gernot Wolfgang


    Wolfgang: Vienna and the West, Groove-Oriented Chamber Music, vol. 4
    Edgar David Lopez, clarinet. Judith Farmer, bassoon. Amy Jo Rhine, horn.
    Gloria Cheng, Nic Gerpe, Joanne Pearce Martin, Nadia Shpachenko, Robert Thies, piano.
    Tereza Stanislav, Maia Jasper White, violin. Robert Brophy, viola.
    Ben Hong, Andrew Shulman, Charles Tyler, cello.  Steve Dress, double bass.
    Troy 1760
    Total Time:  68:45
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    In 2016, Gernot Wolfgang released a set of new chamber pieces for a variety of solo and mixed ensembles.  Some may be familiar with his work as a guitarist with the Austrian group, “The QUARTet”.  Others might also notice his name as an orchestrator on Hollywood films for composers Henry Jackman, Christopher Lennertz, and Christopher Young. The new release features solo works for bassoon and piano, one trio for strings and piano and one for woodwinds and piano, a three-movement chamber piece, and a work for piano quartet.

    A description Wolfgang applies to his work is “groove-oriented” music.  This refers to the forward motion and distinct rhythmic focus that might lead to a sense of “swing”.  It can often be expressed as a repeated pattern that is laid down while other ideas are then layered over it.  The idea is that this might then create some additional energy within the music as a piece unfolds.

    The opening piece, Road Signs (2017) is a really gorgeous work for bassoon and piano.  The piece features some interesting rhythmic ideas but shines in its lyrical writing for the solo instrument.  The episodic, and sometimes reflective nature makes for a stunning open to the album.  A driving motif is also heard in the solo piano work, Route 33 (2014) commissioned, and performed here by Gloria Cheng.  This single-movement work has an episodic feel as well across several distinct sections that have these more interrupting reflective states.  There is an almost pointillistic feel to the way the chords jump about the keyboard in some sections with small motivic ideas appearing and be somewhat deconstructed as the piece unfolds.  Perhaps this is the most “contemporary”-sounding works on the release.  The harmonic ideas here really help make the work stand out though.  The wind trio for clarinet, bassoon, and piano continues this feel of wandering and stopping to view different scenes.  Windows (2014) has a modernist feel here with the two wind instruments woven through some opening lyrical writing that is again quite beautiful.  Two thematic ideas appear in this extended work that allows for some experimental variation technique.  The contrast comes in a second idea that has a bit more rhythmic punctuation, and an asymmetrical pulse at times with waves of material that are tossed between the winds.  A section also lets the piano soloist explore these ideas before rejoined for a gradual push to the final bars.

    Blends of early 20th Century Austrian masters of the Second Viennese School can be heard in the dissonance and harmonic structures in the piano trio Passage to Vienna (2012).  That component is at the center of the work that opens with a piano thematic statement that then becomes a jaunty violin line with jazz inflections.  The jazzy syncopations that begin to appear in the piano add some great forward drive as the improvisatory sound of the violin soars above it.  The blocks of sound and clusters that begin to pile up at the center are a nod to Wolfgang’s Austrian musical roots, but maintains s sense of extended jazz harmonies which “come back” from their European visit slightly more dissonant than before.  In the piano quartet, From Vienna With Love (2011) Wolfgang takes his inspiration from a theme in a Mahler piano quartet.  Here we also get that sense of the early 20th-Century dissonance coupled with the lyrical style of Mahler’s music with its long line.  Most interesting is the shift into the asymmetrical meters after the introduction which helps propel the music forward quite well.  Jazz inflections also become part of the fabric of this fascinating work that makes for a perfect encore to the preceding pieces and closes off the album

    The three-movement chamber piece, Impressions (2002), features some great ensemble writing that also adds some good dramatic shape.  The addition of double bass with the wind lines punctuates the somewhat jazzy nature of the rhythms which sometimes have a Stravinskian sensibility.  The central movement gets to explore more of Wolfgang’s lyrical style and lets the strings shine a bit more in some deeply-moving music.  The final movement connects with an over-arching theme of the album as it heads off onto a “Country Road” with a delightful, almost Americana feel.

    As with the previous volume, this one features superb performances featuring some of Los Angeles’ finest studio and concert musicians.  The sonic quality of the release is really equally impressive with a warm quality and excellent imaging.  The music is all quite accessible with a good sequencing of chamber groups.  Thematically, the album does have this sense of episodic exploration which is given voice through some really interesting pieces.  This is another highly recommended collection of chamber music.