CORIGLIANO, J.: Piano Music (Oppens, Lowenthal) - Winging It / Chiaroscuro / Fantasia on an Ostinato / Kaleidoscope / Etude Fantasy
John Corigliano is such an accomplished orchestrator that you might be surprised at how well his piano music sounds. The truth is, he simply has a gift for finding brilliant sonorities no matter what instrument he happens to be writing for. He uses the full range of the piano, often turning to extremes of register, but always to good musical and expressive purpose. The works here are highly varied in style and conception, but are invariably enjoyable.
Winging It, subtitled "Improvisations for Piano", is exactly what the name implies: three improvisations captured in real time and then subsequently notated. Chiaroscuro requires two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart, but it never sounds gratuitously dissonant--there's that feeling for sonority again. Fantasia on an Ostinato, based on the famous Allegretto of Beethoven's Seventh, is one of Corigliano's best-known pieces. Kaleidoscope, also for two pianos, is an early jeu d'esprit, while the Etude Fantasy never lets the didactic element get in the way of musical enjoyment.
The performances here are pretty stupendous. Ursula Oppens takes all the solos, and she's joined by Jerome Lowenthal in the duo pieces. Her playing is spirited, subtle, colorful, and wholly winning. She conveys the freedom of the improvisations in Winging It and chooses an excellent timing for the optional repetitions in the Fantasia on an Ostinato (it lasts a bit more than 11 minutes). In Chiaroscuro, careful attention to balance and dynamics reveals the wonderful colors of this evocative score. The beautifully calibrated engineering, brilliant but never harsh or brittle, helps immeasurably. A disc to treasure.
David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
VICTORIA, Tomas Luis de: Victoria Collection (The) (The Sixteen, Christophers) (4 CD Box set)
Download of the Month
This new recording, timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the death of Victoria, is a most valuable addition to the box sets of earlier releases from Gimell (The Tallis Scholars) and Coro (The Sixteen – from classicsonline.com) which I reviewed in the March #2 Roundup. I’ve already said that Victoria was probably the greatest export that Spain ever made to Italy in any sphere – I don’t think many would prefer the Borgias as candidates for that title – with music that equals, and occasionally excels that of Palestrina.
Perhaps Organ Morgan in Under Milk Wood should have made those two great renaissance composers joint runners-up to his (and my) all-time favourite Bach. Go for those bargain boxes first – I refuse to choose between The Sixteen or The Tallis Scholars in preference – then you’ll find it hard to resist the lure of this excellent new recording in good mp3 sound and complete with texts.
Brian Wilson, Musicweb-International.com
KOPPEL, A.: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 / Mezzo Saxophone Quintet (Sjaelland String Quartet, B. Koppel)
In the interest of fair-minded listening I did not read any notes to this recording or any press materials: if a modern string quartet can't stand on its own and explain itself with the strength and elegance of its musical argument (the way Mozart's and Haydn's and Beethoven's works did), then no amount of "explanation" can convince a listener of its worth either in time or aesthetic value. And having listened to this recording three times very carefully, I still have no idea what the note-writer said--but I can unreservedly say that this is a first-rate program of eminently listenable, exceptionally well-wrought chamber music, remarkable for its inventive, conventionally sophisticated string quartet writing--no resorting to gimmicks or lazy, non-musical extremes of timbre or technique.
These days I tend to hold my breath in the first few seconds of listening to a new-music recording--it's astonishing what gag-inducing blather today's composers regard as worthy of inflicting on their audiences. But, be not afraid: Anders Koppel is not only an intelligent artist, he also knows how to write really fine music for string quartet--and as a string player, I mean he really knows string writing. The two quartets exemplify the elevation of melody against a fundamentally but harmlessly dissonant background--all the while exploiting the strings' unique timbral character, and the result is exactly what a string quartet should achieve: 15 or 20 minutes of bracing, engaging music that you couldn't hear in any other context.
Best of all--and the primary reason to purchase this disc--is the Quintet for Mezzo Saxophone and String Quartet. Okay, while the "custom-built mezzo saxophone", heard here "for the first time ever on CD", may be an intriguing draw for some listeners, I have to say that to my ears its sound is little different from an alto saxophone. Nevertheless, this makes no difference regarding the work for which it appears here. The Quintet is a luscious, sexy, richly characterful piece firmly rooted in jazz idioms yet holding court in the most sophisticated arenas of classical style. The saxophone is not just a gratuitous addition but stands as an integral part of the work--Anders Koppel has created something not only sensible but laudable and repeatable and demanding of a place in the concert repertoire, an achievement already noted in our review of his saxophone concertos (type Q10526 in Search Reviews). Make this a priority.
David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com, May 20, 2011
FRIEDMAN, J.: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 (Chiara String Quartet, Matmos)
(New Amsterdam: NWAM030)
This new coupling of Jefferson Friedman’s Second and Third String Quartets by the Chiara String Quartet brings to disc for the first time one of the crucial partnerships of New York’s live music scene over the past decade and more.
Both works were commissioned by the Chiara ensemble – the Second in 1999, the Third in 2005 – with Friedman, who describes his string quartets as “abstract diary entries” and the act of writing them as “pure expression,” adroitly pushing his players to the limit of their individual and collective strengths and, occasionally, beyond.
Multi-Grammy Award-winning Judith Sherman’s production is as exemplary as you would expect, perfectly framing incisive, intelligent performances by the Chiara String Quartet while offering eloquent testimony to their mutually beneficial partnership with Friedman.
Michael Quinn, The Classical Review (excerpt), June 01, 2011