Liza Lim: “Singing in tongues”
Elision Ensemble (Huddersfield Contemporary Records)
“Sing in tongues”Collects vocal and opera music written by Lim between 1993 and 2008 – all persuasively treated by his longtime collaborators from the Elision ensemble. The first piece here is an abstract interpretation of “The Oresteia”. His airy expansive techniques, snatches of luminous vocal harmony, and overall gnarled sonic explosions give an idea of Lim’s approach to musical drama: it’s more about traveling between timbres than passing from a point. intrigue to another.
This approach has remained remarkably consistent, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t evolved. The most recent track on the album – “The Navigator”, which concludes this ensemble – is a magnum opus of slippery and sinuous invention. Fragments of the work were available on YouTube, directed by Barrie Kosky. But this first full audio recording reveals Lim’s mastery of his style. As the piece progresses from a prologue written for an alto recorder “Ganassi” to the guitar-led overture of the first scene (“The Unwinding”), his pre-dramatist skills guard are fully highlighted.
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The recent wave of archive boxes dedicated to conductors has tended to be a painful reminder of how restricted the repertoire of some major artists was after World War II – with lasting consequences for the field. But these two enticing collections are exceptions to the rule.
Igor Markevich, polyglot and cosmopolitan figure, born in Kiev at the end of the tsarist empire but living in Paris, was a major composer before reaching the podium after the war, to the chagrin of Nadia Boulanger. He trained as a conductor with Pierre Monteux and Hermann Scherchen, sharing liveliness and rhythmic impetus with the first and clarity and incision with the second.
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“My repertoire stretches from Purcell to Dallapiccola,” Markevich said in 1957; for him, “versatility” was crucial for a musician to understand where Stravinsky, one of his favorites, really came from. So with wonderfully dynamic Haydn, engaged Beethoven with not an ounce of heaviness and a Tchaikovsky cycle that has rarely been exceeded since its creation in the 1960s, these boxes find Markevich in mind Victoria, Berwald and Half, as well as exploring lesser-known sites Stravinsky and even the story of Zarzuela. Everything is fresh, alive, essential, he was a real conductor.
Walter Piston: Concerto for orchestra and other works
Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose, conductor (BMOP / son)
In addition to championing living composers, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, led by its founding director, Gil Rose, has been drawing renewed attention to mid-20th-century Americans for 25 years, as in this exceptional recording of works by Walter Piston. (1894-1976).
The biggest find here is Piston’s 1933 Orchestral Concerto, which receives its first recording. Piston is generally grouped with composers who drew inspiration from American neo-classical styles. However, elements of spiky modernism often run through his scores, as in this concerto. It opens with a first moving and vibrating movement, followed by a scherzo driven by perpetual motion sequences for the strings.
The gripping third movement begins ominously, with a seemingly dismal passacaglia, the theme played low and hesitantly by a tuba. The music becomes darker, more elusive and textured, with each variation as the instruments enter, gradually increasing in intensity until a chorale calms things down, leading to an extended allegro animated by an industrious counterpoint. The album includes a Divertimento for Nine Instruments influenced by Stravinsky; a concerto for pointillist and perky clarinet, with Michael Norsworthy as soloist; and the first recording of Variations on a Theme by Edward Burlingame Hill.
Vivaldi: ‘Cantate per Soprano I’
Arianna Vendittelli, soprano; Ensemble Abchordis; Andrea Buccarella, harpsichord and conductor (Naïve)
This is the last installment in the expansive Vivaldi edition on Naïve, which captures a huge treasure trove of the master’s sheet music and is expected to peak in 2027, the year before his 350th birthday. In a monthly column earlier this year, I wrote about an album of early 17th century chamber madrigals by Sigismund of India; these “cantata per soprano” by Vivaldi, dating from about a century later, are an outgrowth of this form. While the subject is always love, in contemporary and old settings, the poetry that Vivaldi puts in his alternations with several recitative voices and arias is more pedestrian; it compensates by the increased vocal dazzle of the High Baroque.
Virtuosity is no problem for soprano Arianna Vendittelli – her timbre floating, but also agile and energetic. Accompanied in an intimate way by Andrea Buccarella and the Ensemble Abchordis, Vendittelli is sensitive to the different moods of these six cantatas: the dreamy melancholy of “Aure, voi più non siete”; the disheveled lightness of “Tra l’erbe i zeffiri” and “La farfalletta s’aggira al lume”; the dash of “Si levi dal pensier”; and the burning grandeur of “Sorge vermiglia in ciel la bella Aurora”, the highlight of the album.
Pamela Z: ‘Echolocation’
(Freedom to spend)
This has been a rewarding year for fans of singer, songwriter, and visual artist Pamela Z. Despite many performance cancellations due to the pandemic, she brought new works to the New York Prototype Festival and German radio. . She also released her second full solo recording, “A Secret Code”, while one of her pieces was included on a compilation album produced by the Resonant Bodies Festival.
And it’s time for another offering from this seasoned experimenter. “EcholocationHis long-out-of-print 1988 cassette recording was reissued under the Freedom to Spend imprint. His tracks include winning first takes of tracks like the chatter “Badagada” and the assemblage of poetry lists “Pop Titles ‘You’” – both of which are mainstays of his repertoire. But the rest of the set offers a rare glance at this less documented period of his practice.
Given his ability to play in a loop and to concert solo, it is a treat to hear him in conductor mode. The track “I Know” features synthesizers performed by Donald Swearingen; these keyboard patterns suggest an affinity for both the 1980s new wave and some 1970s Philip Glass. And during “An In,” Bill Stefanacci’s skeletal drum lineup connects with the progressive pop of the era. Bridging these various points of reference, as always, Z’s own virtuoso vocal technique, which incorporates both his bel canto training as well as his eclectic listening, across genres.
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