Archive for the Music Category

Best of 2009

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Lots to chose from and most of it from living composers who create outside the tedious and ugly world of the conservatory. Proving that the future of music is really in the hands of those who care about originality and beauty rather than residing in the clammy claws of the sterile academics.

CD of the Year

Phil Kline: John the Revelator
Lionheart; Ethel
(Cantaloupe Music)
I can’t say enough about John the Revelator. Phil Kline has created a work whose stark beauty connects on so many levels. You’d have to be made of stone not to feel this one.

John Adams: Dr. Atomic Symphony
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
David Robertson, conductor
A strange and beautiful world of orchestral color and rampaging rhythms.

Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer, conductor
(Channel Classics)
Big-boned, heroic Brahms that rivals my favorite recordings by Otto Klemperer and Istvan Kertesz. Speaking of Kertesz, I wish the corporate troglodytes at Universal would get a clue and reissue his Decca recordings.

Michael Daugherty: Fire and Blood
Ida Kavafian, violin; The Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor
Daugherty’s Fire and Blood concerto has balls and Kavafian delivers a brilliantly muscular performance. Daugherty’s music is disliked by the pasty-faced academics–“it’s glib and filled with cheap effects”–they shriek. All the more reason to love his music. Check out the recording of his Metropolis Symphony too.

Gabriel Jackson: Not No Faceless Angel
Stephen Layton, director
Jackson grabbed some deserved acclaim with “The Christ Child Sat On Mary’s Lap,” the carol commissioned for the 2009 Festival of Lessons and Carols at Kings College, Cambridge. This sublime CD is an ideal introduction to his music.

Rued Langgaard: Messis
Flemming Dreisig, organ
An organ work that clocks in at over 2 hours? Yes please! Langgaard’s music is hyper-Romantic and Dreisig is a superb organist. It’s been quite a Langgaard year with Dacapo releasing a boxed set of the quirky Dane’s complete symphonies.

James Macmillan: St. John Passion
Christopher Maltman, baritone
London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis, conductor
(LSO Live)
A deeply moving and piercingly dramatic telling of the Passion story. A gorgeous performance led by the greatest living conductor.

Mahler Symphony No. 4
Miah Persson, soprano
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer, conductor
(Channel Classics)
Fischer’s excellent Mahler cycle hits a high point.

Felix Mendelssohn: Complete Organ Sonatas
William Whitehead, organ
Church organists love these little gems but they are not especially well-know outside the organ loft. Whitehead plays a marvelous old instrument on this terrific recording.

Olivier Messiaen: Saint Francois d’Assise
Rodney Gilfry, baritione; Camilla Tilling, soprano; Hubert Delamboye, tenor
Netherlands Opera Chorus, Hague Philharmonic Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher, conductor
(Opus Arte)
Pierre Audi’s hypnotic staging is remarkable and Messiaen’s score will probably never be better-served. I think they will be serving frozen margaritas in hell before this opera is ever staged in New York, so grab this DVD and prepare to be overwhelmed.

A video treat

I’m deeply in love with soprano Miah Persson, the soloist on Fischer’s Mahler 4th. Here she is singing “Come scoglio” from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Happy 2010! I hope…

In Walked Bollani

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Bollani Trio color

I’m crazy about Italian jazz. It could be something of an ethnic imperative, since I’m half-Italian (roots in Naples) and a distant grand-cousin to the great Flip Phillips (Joseph Edward Fillippeli, as he was baptized in Brooklyn). My jazz Italiano hunger has been fed by recordings from a trio of spectacular pianists: Stefano Bollani, Riccardo Arrighini and Stefano Battaglia, plus saxophonist Francesco Cafiso and trombonist Gianluca Petrella. That takes care of the musicians with CDs that are currently sitting on my desktop. There are also some elder statesmen, such as trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, about whom I will say more at another time.

ECM 2080

These days a new CD called Stone in the Water on the venerable ECM record label has me breathing heavily. ECM has been good to Italian jazz and has recorded Bollani, Rava, Battaglia and multi-reed player Gianluigi Trovesi over the years. Stone in the Water has Bollani leading his “Danish Trio” with bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morton Lund. The trio has been together for nearly seven years and Stone in the Water isn’t their first CDs, but it may be their finest. (The trio released Mi ritorno in mente and Gleda, two recordings of standards and originals on Stunt Records. These are brilliant CDs that are difficult to find but worth paying the import prices when you do.)

Stone in the Water offers a eclectic selection of tunes, with originals by Bollani and Bodilsen, music by Caetano Veloso and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as 20th century French classical composer Francis Poulenc’s Improvisation No. 13. The trio’s chemistry is evident on every tune. At times Bollani can be as extroverted a player as any on the scene (just check out his mercurial flights of fancy with Rava and on his ECM solo record Piano), but Stone in the Water is a model of elegance, restraint and balance. Here’s a trio without an alpha figure, but rather an ensemble who are communicating in a mesmerizing way. It’s evident in the exchanges between Bollani and Bodilsen that are punctuated by Lund’s silky brushwork on the tune Edith and how all three paint a gorgeous picture in the Poulenc Improvisation. It’s not all gentle pastels though: The quirky opening of Bollani’s Il cervello del pavone leads to a peppery bass solo and some driving, spiky soloing by the pianist, reminding me in some ways of the late Jaki Byard.

Shades of the Bill Evans Trio may certainly hover nearby, but this music must be taken on its own terms—and they are very good terms indeed. This is a masterful recording that’s rich with invention and lyricism and filled with glorious interaction that results in striking textures and tone. It’s a new and thrilling kind of swinging chamber music that demands your attention.

Here’s the trio in action:

Here’s il maestro in a favorite tune:

Look! Up in the sky…

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on October 28, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony defends truth, justice and listenable contemporary music















Michael Daugherty
Metropolis Symphony
The Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
(Naxos of America)

I continue to be blown away by Iowa-born composer Michael Daugherty. His music tells a uniquely American story and that appeals to me very much. Most recently it was a recording of his Fire and Blood, a muscular violin concerto inspired by Diego Rivera that grabbed my attention. This time it’s the antic and frantic Metropolis Symphony, an orchestral extravaganza inspired by the 1938 debut of Superman in comic books. I love the very notion of a giant orchestral work inspired by American pop culture and can almost see the sneers of Euro-snobs and the pasty-faced, self-appointed  American guardians of modern music.


Metropolis Symphony is in five movements, each one inspired by a Superman character or theme. Lex, the opening movement, is a deliriously diabolic romp for solo violin and percussion-laced orchestra that captures the manic evil of arch-baddie Lex Luthor. Here’s the smack-mouth drive that made Fire and Blood so thrilling. The solo part is played with guts by the Nashville Symphony’s Mary Kathryn Van Osdale. More subdued but equally evocative is Krypton, an eerie tone poem that opens with sirens, gongs and disturbing string glissandi. There’s more terrifying solo fiddling, snippets of what sounds like “Silent Night” and an apocalyptic finale that gives the Rite of Spring a run for its money. MXYZPTLK, the nasty imp from the fifth dimension, is a mercurial scherzo-like third movement that showcases the orchestra’s flute section. The fourth movement entitled Oh Lois! evokes the comic’s heroine alongside Clark Kent. Here’s another wildfire rave-up with a tempo marked “faster than a speeding bullet” that plays out as a delicious example of orchestral slapstick. The closing Red Cape Tango is a moving elegy that evolves into a tango-inspired dance of death with Daugherty quoting the Dies irae.


Daugherty’s Deus ex Machina for piano and orchestra, which rounds out the recording, is the composer’s take on the world of trains with each movement focusing on a train or railway. The first movement Fast Forward conjures up images of the avant-garde and displays the rhythmic firestorm that is found in many of Daugherty’s works. The second movement Train of Tears refers to the funeral train that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body through seven states. Here’s Daugherty in an elegiac mood that will remind some of Copland but there is nothing derivative here, Daugherty’s superb orchestration and emotional depth rise to the top throughout. The finale, Night Stream,  is Daugherty’s tribute to the coal-burning locomotives of the Norfolk and Western lines and here’s more of the hard-driving, blues-inflected virtuosity that make his music so thrilling.


The knuckle-busting piano part is played with breath-taking skill by Terence Wilson and the Nashville Symphony, conducted by its new music director Giancarlo Guerrero, proves once again that it is one of America’s finest orchestras. Superbly engineered and nicely packaged this is another gem from one of our finest composers.