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July 25 , 2014

Reviews of the week

More British reactions to Harrison Birtwistle’s Chamber Music

Lyrical, sensitive, restrained: they’re hardly adjectives you’d use to describe much of Harrison Birtwistle’s uncompromising output, but they ably sum up the recent chamber works on this remarkable new disc, given beautifully nuanced performances by a starry line-up of soloists. […] Brendel makes sure that everyone of Birtwistle’s scattering of notes has a story to tell, subtly adapting his tone, vibrato or attack to respond to the voice, and never sounding like a mere accompanist […] the disc’s true star is pianist Till Fellner, whose breathtakingly balanced, sensitive playing throughout the recording seems at one with Birtwistle’s understated, conserved aesthetic. The warm, generous, close recorded sound only enhances the disc’s highly expressive performances.
David Kettle, The Strad

Whatever the medium and the accretions of tradition you might expect a composer of Birtwistle’s independence of mind to react against - in composing a piano trio, for example – he finds something fresh to say and an accommodation for his intensely personal vision of the world. […] Roderick Williams is very fine in ‘Bogenstrich’ and the three instrumentalists, quite closely recorded, are in a class any composer would die for.
Stephen Plaistow, Gramophone

German public radio HR2 Kultur recommends Myung Whun Chung’s Piano

‚Piano‘, so lautet der schlichte Titel des Albums, und schlicht – im Sinne von ‚zurückgenommen‘ und ‚allürenfrei‘ - ist auch die ganze CD. Ein Album für die stillen Stunden. Und - das ist jetzt keine Floskel, denn wo wenn nicht hier träfe die Formulierung zu -: Die CD ist einfach ‚traumhaft schön‘.
Niels Kaiser, HR 2 Kultur

The new recording by Italian Duo Gazzana with music by Schnittke, Poulenc, Silvestrov, Walton, Dallapiccola is reviewed on All About Jazz

The unifying theme of Italian sisters, violinist Natascia Gazzana and pianist Raffaella Gazzana's second release is a celebration of neoclassicism in modern music. The Duo Gazzana performs five 20th and 21st century compositions that, in one manner or another, draw inspiration from mostly the Baroque era. […] This stimulating and captivating program opens with Alfred Schnittke's 1971 ‘Suite In The Old Style.’ From the first, energetic prancing piano notes followed by violin's honeyed, lilting tone a lush and sensuous atmosphere is established. The Gazzanas' performance expresses every nuance in warm, pastel colors. The music glides gracefully from a whimsical dance on ‘Ballet’ to the darkly hued, heady ‘Menuett’ to the vibrant and organic ‘Fuge’ and finally closing with the subtle theatricality of ‘Pantomime’.
Duo Gazzana's sophomore session for ECM is every bit as engaging and delightful as their first and it is a superb addition to the label's uniformly excellent New Music series.
Hrayr Attarian, All About Jazz

US web magazine Memeteria on Heinz Holliger’s Aschenmusik

It’s always intesting to see which composers turn out to be soul mates – especially when the affinity crosses barriers of time and cultural expectations. The extraordinary Swiss musician Heinz Holliger – oboist supreme, composer, and conductor – has followed the traces of Robert Schumann throughout his life, always with revealing and sometimes surprising results. This new release from ECM weaves together music by Schumann (viewed, so to speak, from an oboist’s perspective) and one of Holliger’s own Schumann homages, Romancendres (2003) – an attempt to rescue his predecessor’s burned Romances for Cello and Piano ‘from the ashes’ (hence the current album title, Aschenmusik). […] listening to the whole program gives the impression of a very personal encounter with Schumann, an encounter that seeks to go beyond the myths.
Thomas May, Memeteria

US magazine Fanfare on Eleni Karaindrou’s Medea

Using only eight musicians, three of them clarinetists and three of them playing Eastern instruments that sound very exotic to Western ears, Karaindrou has created a score that blends an ambient classical sound with modes and feelings of Ancient Greek music. It is as if the musicians of Euripides’s day slept for 2,500 years, woke up, and began blending their aesthetic with some of the more modern sounds they hear around them. In addition to the musicians, Karaindrou uses a women’s chorus and herself as a solo vocalist […] Perhaps much of the music’s effectiveness is due to the recorded sound, which has an extraordinary depth to is so that all the lower notes played by the various instruments (but particularly by the cello) reverberate in an unusual way. […] this is music that speaks to something very deep inside of us, strange music that is (for lack of a better term) very strongly feminine, and perhaps because of this, music that summarizes the psyche and feelings of Medea better than any other I’ve ever heard.
Lynn Renée Bayley, Fanfare

More acclaim for Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden's duo recording Last Dance

Jarrett and Haden stretch out without feeling long-winded. They take their time through a setlist that feels driven by an open-ended feeling of ‘Well, how about…?’ The album is poignant and romantic, drifting along in no particular rush […] There are some recording line-ups that are simply impossible to imagine and then there are records like this. Anyone with a cursory familiarity with these two older elder statesmen will not be surprised by these performances, but they will be completely satisfied.
Sean J. O’Connell. Downbeat

The emphasis on this wonderful music is strongly on the lyrical content of the material and the shared empathy between Jarrett and Haden. The duo are totally at the service of the music and Kurt Weill’s ‘My Ship’ has rarely sounded better than here, whilst Richard Rodger’s and Oscar Hammerstein’s ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ is just about a perfect one as one could wish for, and is totally absorbing from start to finish. If you already have ‘Jasmine’ in your collection, then you will wish to add this; if you are yet to acquire either of these discs, then be prepared to want both.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views

An American reviewer on Karen Mantler’s Business Is Bad

‘Business’ strips the accompaniment down to herself on piano and harmonica, Kato Hideki on acoustic bass and Doug Wieselman on guitar and bass clarinet, and Mantler isn’t singing about domesticated animals anymore. But nothing else has changed about her, she is still a master at spinning first-person narratives about little situations and getting straight to the emotional heart of them without getting overly emotional about them. Mantler is no crooner, but crooning would ruin her songs. Her dispassionate delivery brings authenticity to the lyrics by not trying too hard to be convincing. […] As a collection of children’s songs for grown-ups, ‘Business Is Bad’ would be terribly silly if it wasn’t so damned inconspicuously clever. Thankfully, it is clever, and marks the return of Karen Mantler after nearly a decade and a half off without skipping a beat.
S. Victor Aron, Something Else