Sunday, October 30, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: The People, Yes!

Johanna Beyer: Sticky Melodies. 2008. New World Records: 80678-2.

John McCaughey: musical director

Suite for Clarinet I
Daniel Goode: clarinet

String Quartet No. 1
Miwako Abe: violin 1
Aaron Barnden: violin 2

Three Songs for Soprano and Clarinet
Merlyn Quaife: soprano

Craig Hill
: clarinet

The Federal Music Project
John McCaughey: conductor

Movement for Two Pianos
Peter Dumsday, Kim Bastin: piano

Suite for Clarinet Ib
Craig Hill: clarinet

String Quartet 2
Miwako Abe: violin 1
Aaron Bernden: violin 2

Erkki Veltheim: viola
Rosanne Hunt: cello

Ballad of the Star-Eater
Merlyn Quaife: soprano
Craig Hill: clarinet

Movement for Double Bass and Piano
Nicholas Synot: double bass
Kim Bastin: piano

Three Pieces for Choir
-The Main Deep
The Astra Choir, John McCaughey: conductor
-The Composers Forum Laboratory
The Astra Choir with Kim Bastin: piano
John McCaughey: conductor

The Astra Choir, John McCaughey: conductor-The People, Yes!

Sonatina in C
Peter Dumsday: piano

The music on this double-CD collection is a shock. Hearing this amazing music, this fully formed aesthetic from a relatively unknown (but clearly significant) composer from the enormously fertile creative period of the early twentieth century American music is a reminder that there is so much music waiting to be more fully experienced and appreciated from every period. The comparisons to Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Henry Cowell and Charles Ives are easily made. Johanna Beyer is clearly in good company in that regard. But this music stands well on its own. Her string quartets are amazing. String Quartet No. 1 in particular gives several hints at avant garde directions that would come later in the century as well as original ideas that have yet to be taken up. Especially in the textures of its tantalizing and brief presto movement. The choral writing is equally grand as are her pieces for clarinet solo and clarinet with soprano. This is compelling music all around. Music that deserves to be programmed more frequently in chamber music settings.

This slice of music from Johanna Beyer also hints at the kind of impact the Great Depression had on composers during this era. The musical response is strikingly similar to the changes found in Ruth Crawford-Seeger and Charles Seeger's music at this time. A pulling away from the complexity and abstraction that marked the early works of these composers (qualities that make them so attractive to my contemporary ears) in favor of a simplicity and affirmation of the greater good. Changes that carry a particular resonance during this current period of upheaval and grass-roots protests against economic injustice. My ears find less gravity in these later works, but the emotional qualities that fuel these works are undeniable.

Leon Berben: harpsichord

The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II BWV 871-893.

Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C major
Prelude & Fugue No. 2 in C minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 3 in C sharp major

Prelude & Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 5 in D major
Prelude & Fugue No. 6 in D minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 7 in E flat major
Prelude & Fugue No. 8 in E flat minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 9 in E major
Prelude & Fugue No. 10 in E minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 11 in F major
Prelude & Fugue No. 12 in F minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier is a substantial war horse in the canon of keyboard works. An iconic achievement of both Baroque style and tonal harmonic sensibility. Hearing these pieces performed on the harpsichord immerses the ears in both the antiquity and the vitality of this music.

The thing that strikes me in this particular listening is the joy. Striking in that this kind of faith oriented expression of joy is so conspicuously absent from my direct experiences with contemporary religious expression. It comes with the feeling that the connection to divinity that Bach was immersed in was somehow lost in the New World as the cultural baggage of the Puritans has persisted. One listens to the politically motivated expressions of faith in this age and hears no sense of joy. The admittedly limited exposure to church services that I've experienced is an equally joyless thing. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is a reminder that the substance of faith is both timeless and multi-faceted in ways that have been subverted by current culture.

The George Lernis Jazz Quartet: Shapes of Nature. 2011. George Lernis: 84501-56166.

George Lernis: drums
Mark Zaleski: upright bass
Scott Boni: alto saxophone

Upon hearing Shapes of Nature one would not suspect that the compositional source for this music comes from the drummer. Percussion rarely comes to the foreground in a quartet that deftly shifts attention democratically with soloists adding fleeting layers to an ensemble sound. It is the compositions and the sound world that they explore that are at the forefront of this set. And here one can detect the aesthetic sound world that George Lernis is carving out within the creative space of these pieces. This quartet is steeped in the jazz tradition, particularly be-bop, and that is the branch that they've extended outward from. Finding new avenues through impressive alterations upon the sounds that this tradition has handed down. New scales, melodies with notes subtracted, and frequently altered meters and time changes. This elastic approach to time being the only hint that the drummer is behind the compositional scenes in this music. All of it executed with a well practiced sense of precision and musicianship. There is enough promise here that one hopes Lernis will continue to explore on this track and push this music a little farther toward unfamiliar frontiers.

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