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New Classical Recordings on Bridge Records

John McMurtery and Ashlee Mack
Georgine Resick, Warren Jones, and Andrew Willis - Visions Interieures - The Developing Song Cycle
Soprano Georgine Resick explores neglected song repertoire on this double CD. The first disc is devoted to early German song cycles, written by lesser known contemporaries of great 19th Century lieder composers such as Schubert and Schumann. Resick is accompanied here by Andrew Willis, who performs on various fortepianos -- instruments that were smaller and more delicate predecessors of the modern grand piano. Many of the pieces included on the disc seem especially undeserving of neglect: Brautlieder, composed between 1856 and 1859 by Peter Cornelius, is a charming group of songs, while Adolf Jensen's lieder are admirably well crafted. Resick is flexible in her approach, performing the Wander Lieder by Conradin Kreutzer with warmly elegant phrasing and, in turn, making the most of the comedic characters found in Carl Maria von Weber's Die Temperamente bei dem Verluste der Geliebten.

The second disc is titled The Wanderer: The Song Cycle in Migration. Resick is joined by pianist Warren Jones for a selection of songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The soprano shows off her considerable talent for languages, singing in French, Russian, Swedish, Italian and Polish. A diverse array of musical styles are also surveyed. Some composers, like Jean Cras and Gian Francesco Malipiero, compose in an Impressionist vein, while Karol Szymanowski emulates late German romanticism. Most impressive is Hafvets sommar, a powerful song cycle written by the Swedish composer Ture Rangstrom; both Resick and Jones perform these demanding pieces with particular passion. Another standout is a witty, dazzling and all too brief group of songs by Arthur Honegger, written as incidental music for a marionette play version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. This recording is not only entertaining listening -- it also champions several fine composers who merit much more attention than they've recently received.

Patrick Mason and Joanne Polk -- Songs of Amy Beach
Amy Beach (1867-1944) was one of the first American women to have a significant professional career as a composer and concert pianist. She wrote a wide range of music; her catalogue includes symphonies, concerti and chamber music. Twenty-two of her songs, spanning the years 1887-1932, are presented here by baritone Patrick Mason and pianist Joanne Polk. While Beach remained a composer in the Romantic tradition throughout her career, it's fascinating to hear the subtle evolution of her musical language and style. Early songs like "Twilight" and "Empress of Night, settings of her husband's poetry, are strongly influenced by the lieder of Brahms and Strauss. Mason excels in her Op. 44, settings of Robert Browning. He declaims ardently in "The Year's at the Spring", soaring to its top note in the final phrase. He also keenly conveys the wide emotional range of "Ah Love but a Day", from passion to tender lyricism. Later songs, such as "In the Twilight" and "Dark Garden", show Beach experimenting with a broader harmonic palette and Impressionist textures. Mason and Polk are sympathetic interpreters of Beach's music, providing detailed and sensitive interpretations of her lovely songs.

Henryk Szeryng and Gary Graffman at the Library of Congress
Violinist Henryk Szeryng and pianist Gary Graffman only gave about ten concerts together. This second live recording, as its title suggests, was culled from their performances at the Library of Congress. Included here are selections by Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven from their December 3, 1971 concert, and a movement from a Mozart sonata played as an encore on their December 11, 1970 concert. The duo's performance of Brahms's Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Opus 78, is marvelous. The soaring violin lines of the first movement sing sweetly, while Graffman plays with buoyant clarity. The middle movement contains just the right balance of lyricism and grandeur, while the last movement is given a quick paced, flowing reading. On the Schumann Sonata No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 105, Szeryng digs in, playing the first movement with warmth and gusto. The middle movement shows Graffman at his most sensitive, making numerous subtle shifts in tempo and dynamics. The finale, taken at a gallop, is thrilling to hear. The Mozart encore sparkles as well, featuring fleet-fingered playing from both Graffman and Szeryng. The Beethoven selection is the slow movement from the Op. 12, no. 2 Sonata; an encore in a more lyrical vein, it includes plenty of sehnsucht-filled, goosebump-inducing moments. Highly recommended.

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Live Event
Society for Chromatic Art
John McMurtery, Flute, Ashlee Mack, Piano
November 22, 2005, Christ and St. Stephen's Church, New York

Brian Ferneyhough - Carceri d'invenzione IIb
Edward Taylor - Second Piano Sonata
Milton Babbitt - None but the Lonely Flute
James Romig - Piano Sonata

On their last program, McMurtery and Mack included several duos, but this concert consisted entirely of solo works. McMurtery tackled two very challenging pieces from the modern repertoire, while Mack presented the New York premieres of two works, composed by James Romig and Edward Taylor, respectively.

Carceri d'Invenzione IIb, written by English composer Brian Ferneyhough, is an excellent example of the New Complexity school of composition. A casual glance at the score reveals a minimum of "white space" on the page; the piece is a labyrinth of fast-moving gestures, intricate rhythms and breathlessly long phrases. To McMurtery's credit, he not only tackled the piece from a technical standpoint but also played it expressively, revealing intriguing details within its sprawling shape and demonstrating consummate musicality.

Babbitt's None but the Lonely Flute is a finger-buster in its own right. Still, for all of the press about Babbitt's music being "complex", which it often is, there's also a compelling linear clarity in much of it, as well as a witty, often jocular character. None but the Lonely Flute possesses both of these attributes. Despite being a primarily monophonic instrument, the flute gets to explore a great deal of contrapuntal activity in this piece. Throughout the work, registrally distinct melodies engage in an intertwining, evolving and sometimes playful dialogue.

Taylor's Second Piano Sonata is a formidable composition, rich and multifaceted in language and ambitious in scope. Many passages are filled with brisk angular runs, succeeded by sections of slowly transforming arpeggiated verticals. Taylor creates an intricate pitch language, strongly steeped in post-tonal procedures but filled with moments that strongly suggest centricity. A startling extended passage occurs near the work's conclusion, where Taylor puts on the brakes and veers off in another direction. After a strong and vigorous setup, the language is reduced to a spare, slow ostinato that heightens the already suspense-filled environment. Mack played the sonata with assurance, dramatic flair and impressive technique.

Romig's Piano Sonata contrasts nicely with the Taylor piece. Spacious harmonies are offset by brilliant runs in its opening, culminating in a series of widely dispersed rolled verticals. A contrasting section engages in an angular, dissonant linear flurry, which thereafter seems to vie for attention with the stately chords, jabbing away from the sidelines. The music unfolds slowly, deliberately, but with an appealing delicacy. Mack's pacing was exquisite, clearly delineating the long phrases within the sonata's intricate structure.

SCA will be presenting their next concert on June 6, 2006, once again at Christ and St. Stephen's Church. This time, the program will feature percussionist Tony Oliver, who will be performing works chosen from SCA's Second Annual Call for Scores.

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File Under ... Farewell
As Splendid is ceasing publication in a few days, I want to take this opportunity to thank the magazine, and its editor George Zahora, for hosting the column for nearly three years. Thanks also to readers of File Under ?, particularly those who sent valuable feedback; I hope that you keep in touch. While the column is coming to an end (Possibly more of a hiatus -- Ed.), I will still be writing about all sorts of music for other publications -- Copper Press, Signal to Noise, Musicworks, All About Jazz, and more.

-- Christian Carey



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