Archive for ECM Records

2010’s Best

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

As we wind down 2010, here are some recordings that I think are true standouts. Yes, there’s a lot of contemporary music here, but it’s my list and I could put whatever I want on it. What were some of your 2010 favorites?

Bach on a Steinway
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
(Steinway & Sons)
Biegel adds his own tasteful and very well-conceived ornamentation to these familiar works. His touch is lithe and phrases sing beautifully throughout.

Choral Music by Jonathan Dove
Wells Cathedral Choir; Wells Cathedral Chapel Choir; Jonathan Vaughan, organ
Matthew Owens, conductor
(Hyperion)
Jonathan Dove’s choral music continues to impress and this is a superb sampling of his work. There are a few Christmas pieces and a Missa brevis setting that deserves its place in the repertoire of good church choirs. The Wells Cathedral Choir is building quite an excellent discography on the always superb Hyperion label and this is another winner.

Henri Dutilleux: D’ombre Et De Silence
Robert Levin, piano
(ECM)
This one took me by surprise. I always thought of Levin as the fortepianist who recorded Mozart and Beethoven concertos with the Academy of Ancient Music. Of course, he’s more than that. Dutilleux’s piano music is wonderfully eclectic with its occasional whispers of Debussy, birdsong (not quite à la Messiaen) though) and pungent quality that is marvelous. Levin plays the hell out of all of it and ECM nails the piano sound perfectly.

St. John’s Magnificat – Choral Works by Herbert Howells
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge
Andrew Nethsingha, director
(Chandos)
Howells and St. John’s, how can you go wrong? A Sequence for St. Michael is a dramatic motet with striking choral writing and an extended solo for tenor is a scene-stealer, but there’s plenty more here to love.

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives
Jeremy Denk, piano; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute
(Think Denk Media)
It’s really nice to have both sonatas on one disc. Denk is brilliant and pulls together all the elements of this music that is at times brash, tender, dissonant and sweet. It’s all so American and I love it.

Magnus Lindberg: Graffiti; Seht Die Sonne
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo, conductor
(Ondine)
Ancient Roman graffiti set to music? If anybody can pull it off, Lindberg can. Lindberg weaves some lean but extremely colorful orchestral writing around a rather eclectic vocal style that has some echoes of Britten and, more obviously, Orff. It is brilliant at every turn, as are the performances.

James MacMillan: Visitatio Sepulchri; Sun-Dogs
Netherlands Radio Choir; Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
James MacMillan, conductor
(BIS)
Another deeply moving MacMillan work rooted in his deep Christian faith. Sensitive choral and orchestral writing with flashes of drama make this a very compelling recording. How come his music doesn’t get more performances in the U.S.?

Arvo Pärt: Symphony No. 4; Kanon Pokajanen: Fragments
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Esa-Pekka Salonen; Tönu Kaljuste, conductor
(ECM)
Pärt’s gorgeous meditation is slow-moving, lyrical and powerfully affecting. Truly music to soothe the soul.

Schoenberg/Glass
The Glass Chamber Players
(Orange Mountain Music)
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Glass’s Sextet for Strings sit beside each other very nicely on this recording by the newly formed Glass Chamber Players. The performance has immediacy and fire and makes me want to hear much more from the ensemble.

Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Works
Kiev Chamber Choir
Mykola Hobdych, conductor
(ECM)
I love works that are at core traditional but take little turns that surprise. These a cappella works are rooted in Eastern liturgy but Silvestrov’s gift for introducing fascinating harmonic twists make them anything but conventional. Blend the reverberant acoustic of Kiev’s Cathedral of the Dormition into the mix and you have something otherworldly and piercingly beautiful. Serve this one up with the Pärt disc mentioned above and you will enter some ECM-induced beatified state. I like it there.

In Walked Bollani

Posted in Jazz, Reviews 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: