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August 1 , 2011

Reviews of the Week

As previously noted, Heinz Holliger’s New Series account of Bach’s oboe concertos on “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” is collecting many excellent notices from the press. In Britain’s The Independent, Michael Church greets it as “a big surprise from ECM, but a beautiful one: Switzerland’s most cutting-edge modernist composer returns to the instrument of which he is master, to give us some of Bach’s most transcendent works for it.” Simultaneously, critics are also enjoying the rigorous challenges of “Induuchlen”, in which Holliger sets poetry of Anna Maria Bacher and Albert Streich, as well as fierce music for ensemble. In the Sunday Times, Stephen Pettitt writes: “In ‘Puneiga’ Holliger’s hyperactive, explosive music ensures an immediate and lasting impact. Sylvia Nopper (soprano) and the Swiss Chamber Soloists are fine, sure-footed performers. Scored for a countertenor (the excellent Kai Wessel) and a natural horn player (Olivier Darbellay), who also has to sing, ‘Induuchlen’ is an evocative, haunting exercise in studied virtuosity and expanded sound fields.”

Holliger appears in a third guise - in unfamiliar role as pianist - on the Jörg Widmann album “Elegie”, playing duets with the German composer/clarinettist on “Fünf Bruchstücke”: “These short movements explore new techniques while imbuing them with unquestionable expressive strength”, writes Hubert Culot at Music Web International. “All three works [“Messe”, “Fünf Bruchstücke”, “Elegie”] receive authoritative performances … Paul Griffiths’s excellent notes also deserve special mention. This superb release is clearly up to ECM’s best standards. It is also the best introduction possible to Widmann’s sound-world, and the one to begin with if you are still unfamiliar with his music.”

Singer Amina Alaoui is making waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Her new album “Arco Iris” is currently in the World Music Top 10 of US trade magazine Billboard, and is a ‘Top-of-the-World” selection in UK magazine Songlines. In the Financial Times David Honigmann suggests that “The Moroccan singer’s new album could not be more on-trend, with its mix of medieval mysticism from multiple traditions (Saint Teresa and the al-Andalus poets) and Convivencian sound in which oud meets fado. Alaoui’s voice, effortlessly tracing arabesque after arabesque, finds its echo in Saïfallah Ben Abderrazak’s violin.” In the Daily Telegraph Mark Hudson says that “Amina Alaoui gives the interaction of Jewish, Arab and flamenco elements a new freshness on this exquisitely rarefied recording. Backed by almost painfully understated touches of guitar, fiddle and lute, her luminous voice fills the cavernous spaces of Manfred Eicher’s typically stark production for ECM.”

And the reviews for Konitz, Mehldau, Haden and Motian at Birdland keep on coming. Here is Kenny Mathieson in The Scotsman: “This gathering of four musicians well versed in the intricacies of understatement and the challenges of loosening up form and structure into something much freer will not be to everyone’s taste, but it is a masterly display of the art of instantaneous musical communication. We are told that the musicians did not even have a set list for these recordings at the New York Club, far less anything prepared in advance, and the resulting spontaneity and sense of exploration as they dissect and re-mould six familiar standards keeps the music fresh and on-the-edge in a gentle kind of way. All four players relish the space and disciplined creative freedom, and the result is a connoisseur’s delight, packed with lovely details.”