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August 8 , 2011

Reviews of the Week

Gramophone finds Meredith Monk’s “Songs of Ascension” an elevating experience: “Meredith Monk has for over four decades been transcending distinctions between the archaic and the avant-garde in music whose spiritual intensity eschews religious connotations”, writes Richard Whitehouse. “Logistically, ‘Songs of Ascension’ is her most ambitious undertaking yet. Taking its cue from from the Psalms and Paul Celan, the work is imbued with the notion of ascent as a metaphysical as well as a physical journey... The musical association is less one of motivic evolution than of timbres and textures recalled in subtly altered contexts – culminating in ‘Fathom’, an extemporized cadenza for voice and shruti box, then ‘Ascent’ , in which all the assembled performers head upwards toward an enveloping and celestial calm.”

In The Guardian, John Fordham basks in the clear air of Michael Mantler’s “For Two” with pianist Per Salo and guitarist Bjarne Roupé: “There are brisk and pristine piano melodies punctuated by echoing guitar chords, sprawling, low-end phrases echoed or challenged by Rioupé’s wavering ascents, whimsical treble themes with humming electric undercurrents … It’s contemporary chamber music with improv input rather than jazz, but Mantler is a composer of pungent melodies who welcomes their manipulation at the hands of improvisers.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed enjoys Heinz Holliger’s Bach on “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” : “Holliger is mostly heard these days as a composer and an inspiration to other composers, particularly Elliott Carter. Here he has gone back to Bach in performances bracing as a dip in the pure cool water of a lake in the Alps.” Meanwhile, in Scotland’s Sunday Herald Michael Tumelty notes that “Swiss oboist Holliger is for many simply the greatest living exponent of his instrument…He turns his extraordinary musicianship and intellectual prowess on all four of Bach’s Sinfonias from cantatas as well as the D minor Concerto with amazing interplay between oboe and violin, and the A major concerto lusciously played on oboe d’amore. An outstanding disc, with beautifully-balanced sound and meticulous production.”

Felix Meyer, in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, appreciates both Gidon Kremer’s account of Tchaikovsky and the Victor Kissine piece that partners it on the ECM New Series release: “Instead of the grand gesture Kremer and his two younger colleagues put importance especially on the tonal and articulatory differentiation, so that the melancholy strength of the work is conveyed more clearly. A most fitting addition to this tonally-lean and autumnally-shaded interpretation of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio is ‘Zerkalo’ (Mirror) by Russian-born composer Victor Kissine, who emigrated to Belgium in 1990. The piece is devoted to the subtle scanning of delicate, fragile sounds, their reflection and metamorphosis. It meets the interpretive strengths of the trio in a special way, leading to a most congenial realization.”