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Digital Catch Up: A Few New Releases

A couple digital only releases to bring to everyone's attention this week from the Parma family of labels.

Perhaps the most fascinating is Chinoiserie: Building New Musical Bridges (Navona 6417). The album features music performed on guitar and guzheng by Duo Chinoiserie. The latter is a Chinese stringed instrument which allows for the versatility of a stringed instrument, a relative of the zither, with fixed bridges on the ends and movable ones in the center. The instrument allows for the slight bending of pitches one finds in Asian folk musics. The release is a sort of global music hybrid (a kind of music that the label has continued to explore in many unique ways). Sergio Assad's Mulan kicks things off with a piece of musical storytelling that blends slight Asian inflections and even some of the Brazilian guitar styles from his other work. It is a quite engrossing musical journey to get things started. This is one of several new works on the album. Yusuke Nakanishi explores Japanese folk music from Shinto legends in his three-movement work, Inari. The piece is a bit more contemporary in its harmonic materials but does have a mostly tonal musical direction with thematic development helping to direct the listener well. French composer Mathias Duplessy wrote two pieces that close off the album and take a page from Chinese Mythology. These are also equally stunning blends of the two instruments in engaging musical ideas. Duo Chinoiserie adapted Stephen Goss' Cantigas de Santiago which here explores a more spiritual journey that here blends ancient modes, Iberian rhythms and melodic gestures. The duo then adapted this to their own instrumentation creating music that seems to even further transcend its origins. (It actually at times feel more akin to Indian music at times.) Continuing with this set of adapted classical work, the duo also turns its attention to music from Granados' Danzas Espanolas, Op. 37 ("Oriental"), three selections from De Falla's El Amor Brujo, and two works by Debussy ("The Girl With the Flaxen Hair", and "Golliwogg's Cakewalk"). The result is a sort of mash up of music that intended to suggest, or borrowed from Asian heritages and now finds itself transformed in yet a new way here. This is a really special sort of album that should appeal to fans of guitar repertoire as well as new music for the instrument. It also is a great way to experience beautiful artistry that carefully blends these distant stringed cousins into music that seems to have new life breathed into it in these gorgeously-recorded and stunning performances. Highly recommended!

Piano Spectrums (Navona 6413) features pianist Anna Kislitsyna traversing an eclectic program of music by ten contemporary composers whose other work has occassionally appeared on other Navona compilations. The album has a little bit of something for every listener's taste from ballade-like romanticism to more contemporary styles. Michael Cohen's flitting "Prelude" gets things off nicely with a touching central section framed by more rapid passage work. The two "Mis-en-scene" pieces by Richard Vella provide two windows into his exploration of first melodic fragmentation and development and then more harmonic styles and textures. Tara Guram's delightful Piano Sonata features blues and jazz gestures in its opening movement. It has the feel of a salon or silent film era accompaniment but with plenty of modern touches. It ends on a rather darker place with a closing funeral march. The Etude for Concert by Zhiyi Wang is an interesting work that focuses on a three-note idea that is developed into interesting harmonic support and grows in virtuosic demands with jazzy rhythms. Jacob E. Goodman's Variations of a Theme of Beethoven comes as a bit of a stark harmonic shock at first. It is based on the composer's Andante Favori, WoO 57. Goodman comforts the listener at first with some fairly basic period style variations before things begin to get a bit more modern (there is a little Wagnerian harmonic quote at one point). The piece does have a nice charming, almost Ivesian, wit about it and stands out as a result. Stylistic shifts are part of the four preludes by John Robertson that move us from jazzy inflections to tangos and a nod to Haydn in some delightful little pieces. A bit more dissonance finds its way into the very brief prelude by David Nisbet Stewart which starts with Impressionist flourishes and then gradually gets more intense and ecstatic. Carla Lucerno created two piano works from moments in her opera Wuornos which is about the first female serial killer. The music has a dark quality to it with brief lyrical patches that are great beautiful and poignant before the more intense clusters must overwhelm what innocence there may be. For contrast, the more meditative Place in Landscape by Eric Chapelle invites us to breathe with some gorgeous romantic gestures and suspended sounds that add to the flowing music here. The final work on the album is Bruce Babcock's Time and Again. This is a four movement suite that is in some respects a musical meditation on the pandemic we all have just experienced. There is a flurry of sound and dark dissonance that kicks things off in "Disquietude" before we shift into a scherzo-like movement in "Tarantism" (with tarantella rhythms). "Resolve" is a more personal reflective pause before we return to the more intense hustle and bustle of life in "Post-Haste". It is an interesting little work. Throughout all these pieces Kislitsyna's skills are given a diverse set of virtuosic and technical challenges that she meets quite well. The more lyrical sections provide a chance to hear her melodic shaping while her rhythmic accuracy and crisp articulations aid the faster works on the album. This is a really ample and full recital of some engaging new music worth tracking down to listen to on streaming platforms.

Jan Jarvlepp's music is always a treat to hear and it is too bad that his settings of Hans Christian Andersen stories is only available to stream. These are wonderful settings for narrator and orchestra (narrated here by Rob Dean, a noted audiobook recording artist). There are 3 Andersen stories here ("The Steadfast Tin Soldier"; "The Little Match Girl"; "The Emperor's New Clothes") which feature the story and a sort of filmic underscoring approach that moves underneath the narration (which is very forward in the sound picture). It should be quite fascinating for young listeners to hear these stories with the more modern stylings of this music. The album is filled out with two orchestral works. First is a fun little piece that shifts through the ensemble in Follow the Leader envisioned as a piece for young players who imitate ideas that are tossed about the ensemble in a light piece with rhythmic ideas that provide the interesting link from the percussion to the rest of the group. Another piece of music for student orchestra appears in the Suite for Strings. Jarvlepp's music challenges students with movements that explore meter changes, shifting hand positions, vibrato for low strings and unique bowing techniques, and then music that requires pop music inspired syncopations. All quite delightful pieces on this digital only Navona release (Navona 6394).

Finally from Ravello Records (Ravello 8067) is a sort of modern concept album featuring solo clarinetist Wesley Ferreira. The release features work from seven different composers who pit the solo instrument against a variety of aural landscapes. The electronic textures pit the soloist against a variety of musical styles that include industrial beats or techno-like dreamscapes with often rapid passage work that floats through the variety of textural concepts. The musical styles incorporate bird song and other found sounds to blend or accompany the solo lines. The pieces are primarily tonal though they can move into more unusual territory (the case for Nikola Resanovic's Alt.Music.Ballistix) reminiscent of musique concrete experiments. Along the way there are some folk and global musical influences that also are coming to the forefront and add some nice ethnic flair to the melodic threads that appear from time to time. Throughout one gets a great sense of Ferreira's technical virtuosity as he moves from beautiful lyrical playing to some quite intense virtuosic writing. While Into the Green is not going to grab everyone, it is certainly an intriguing collection of accessible contemporary music that reaches into popular musical culture from time to time for its inspiration.


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