Monday, February 25, 2008

HurdAudio Rotation: Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts, Thoreau, Love, God, Murder and Scelsi

Henry Brant: The Henry Brant Collection, Volume 7: A Concord Symphony - Charles Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840-60 Orchestrated by Henry Brant. 2007. Innova: 414.

Henry Brant: arrangement
Charles Ives: composition
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Dennis Russell Davies: conductor

Wow! If there is any work than can truly be regarded as "sacred" the Charles Ives Concord Sonata could be that work. Hearing James Tenney performing that thorny, sprawling piano work from memory is one of the most profound experiences of my own music education. It seems fitting that Tenney's former teacher, Henry Brant, would take it upon himself to transcribe that juggernaut for orchestra. Hearing the density of this music smartly laid out along the expanded instrumental pallet coaxes a new, solidly Ives-esque orchestral experience into existence. It is stunning in its scope and incredibly beautiful. I could even pick out the optional flute part in the "Thoreau" movement that is part of the original work. This is a deeply rewarding piece of music cast in a new light and this recording delivers the experience flawlessly.

Johnny Cash: Love, God, Murder. 2000. Sony Music Entertainment: C3K 63809.

Triple CD compilation produced by Johnny Cash, Steve Berkowitz and Al Quaglieri.

The voice of Johnny Cash had a rare quality that pulled poetry from unlikely materials. There's the shock of recognition of the truth of human frailty so accurately and sympathetically expressed. There is the humble, personal expressions of faith that stand in sharp contrast to the intolerance and self-righteousness associated with the Bible belt. And there is the uncanny ability to give voice and sympathy to the downtrodden. All of this holds strong gravity and appreciation for ears willing to chart a wide course to include an unusual genre for this space. But that is the reach and transcendent quality of Johnny Cash's legacy. And with a compilation of tracks hand-selected over a long career, it's a pleasure to hear things that fall outside the "hits." Here the focus is clearly on what Cash had to say and it's a strong argument for why this troubadour will endure.

Giacinto Scelsi: 5 String Quartets/String Trio/Khoom. 2002. WDR/Montaigne: MO 782 156.

The Arditti String Quartet:
Irvine Arditti: violin
Avid Alberman: violin
Levine Andrade: viola
Rohan De Saram: cello

Michiko Hirayama: voice
Maurizio Ben Omar: percussion
Frank Lloyd: horn
Aldo Brizzi: conductor

String Quartet No. 1 (1944)
String Trio (1958)
String Quartet No. 2 (1961)
Khoom (1962)
String Quartet No. 3 (1963)
String Quartet No. 4 (1964)
String Quartet No. 5 (1974/1985)

Somewhere between String Quartet No. 1 in 1944 and the String Trio of 1958 something affected Giacinto Scelsi's sensibilities. In that first quartet we hear an accomplished, expressionist minded composer. From the String Trio onward the distinct and individual voice of Scelsi take form as he turned increasingly inward. The impressive harmonic forms and constructions of that earlier work give way to an obsessive focus on single tones. String Quartet No. 3 becomes a prolonged study in unresolved cadences. String Quartet No. 5 is a brief snapshot from a mind deep in meditation. The transformation that becomes audible through this cycle - and Khoom is a brilliant addition to this cycle - is a compelling narrative of an artist reclaiming his own soul and spiritual sensibility in the wake of personal and creative crisis. In many ways it is a narrative that mirrors the 20th century experience.

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