Sunday, March 07, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Music of Journey and Escape

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Complete Quartets Volume V. Recorded 1986 - 1994. Delos: DE 3035.

Orford String Quartet
Andrew Dawes: violin
Kenneth Perkins: violin
Terence Helmer: viola
Denis Brott: cello

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59 No. 3 ("Razumovsky")
String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 ("Harfen")

Two tasty quartets from Beethoven's middle period. That point of transition where he begins flexing his expressive voice without entirely relaxing his grip upon the formal classical conventions of his time. Each is a four movement work, but the inner workings of these pieces begin to bend and torque under his growing sense of adventurous development. And aurally fascinating bridge between the classical and romantic eras without the excesses of the late Romantic period. It's funny how my ears crave excess in Classical music but resist it in Romantic music. Perhaps these transition pieces hit the desired balance.

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [disc 4]. 2004. Revenant Records: 213.

Albert Ayler Quintet - April 17, 1966 at La Cave, Cleveland, Ohio

Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Don Ayler: trumpet
Frank Wright: tenor saxophone
Michel Samson: violin
Mutawef Shaheed: bass
Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums

An hour long blast from the fire hose of Ayler's expressive talent. Backed up with a great ensemble and unfortunate production techniques in documenting this historically significant set. Michel Samson's free jazz violin sound remains a fascination that begs for more sonic evidence. And Ronald Shannon Jackson's drumming is spot on for this kind of collaborative creation. Hearing these particular twists on Ayler's core tunes adds a great deal to understanding his sonic imprint.

Yuanlin Chen: Away from Xuan. 2009. Innova: 721.

Away from Xuan
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Tan Dun: conductor

Wondering along the J
Melody of China
Yuanlin Chen: conductor
Hannah Addario-Berry: cello
Wanpeng Guo: sheng
Peter Josheff: clarinet
Xian Lu: dizi
Eric Myers: keyboard
Hong Wang: erhu
Shenshen Zhang: pipa
Gangqin Zhao: percussion
Yangqin Zhao: yangqin

Chasing the Sun
The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet
O. Nicholas Raths: guitar
David Crittenden: guitar
Alan Johnston: guitar
Joseph Hagedorn: guitar

The program notes for Chasing the Sun reads:

This music was inspired by an ancient Chinese legend about a man who craved to embrace the sun. He noticed that the sun always moves from east to west and he believed that the place behind the mountain in the west must therefore be the home of the sun. He started to chase it to the west. He believed that once he climbed up the mountain, he would reach the home of the sun, and then could embrace it and enjoy sunlight forever. The man ran resolutely towards the west. H jumped over streams, swam rivers, crossed through jungle and climbed up the mountain. The sun, however, was found behind another mountain far away. The brave man did not give up. He persisted in his belief and continued chasing the sun. He crossed rivers, forests, jungles , and climbed mountains. The poor man finally died of thirst and loneliness in a desert. He had never reached the home of the sun.

Instead of emphasizing the aspects of the suffering and martyrdom for a steady belief, I interpret the sun-chaser to be a happy man. He was always full of hop; he appreciated the world around him; he enjoyed every moment and all his experiences during his rough journey. Although he died of thirst before reaching his destination, he had no regret for his life.

The music depicts the spirit and the mood of the sun-chaser, as well as the landscape of this story. Both tonal and atonal music are used to describe the hardship of the journey. Special playing techniques were used to interpret the natural elements such as wind, forest, jungle, mountain, river, and desert. At the end, the music reaches a climax and then the man's spirit is transfigured. The music becomes pure, quiet, and fades out in the air.

As a piece of program music Chasing the Sun is impressive. The beauty of the story and the interpretation afforded to it is reflected throughout the music as it unfolds. All three of these wildly different compositions are impressive. Away from Xuan ripples with color, intense orchestration and rich dynamic contrast while Wondering along the Journey mines textures built out of a mixture of traditional Chinese and Western instruments. Each worthy of multiple listenings and wonderings.

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