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No. 56 - March, 2006

Jason Victor Serinus


SÍLVIA PÉREZ CRUZ & RAVID GOLDSCHMIDT: LLAMA • MA RECORDINGS M070A

MAMADOU DIABATE: BEHMANKA • WORLD VILLAGE 468039

RASA: TEMPLE OF LOVE • NEW EARTH NE 2506

JONATHAN GOLDMAN: THE LOST CHORD • SPIRIT MUSIC JSG1144

OMARA PORTUONDO: SENTIMENTO • CUBAN ESSENTIALS ESC 6516-2

ROLFE LISLEVAND: NUOVE MUSICHE • ECM NEW SERIES B0005070-02

LEONTYNE PRICE: VERDI/PUCCINI ARIAS • RCA LIVING STEREO HYBIRD SACD 82876-61395-RE1

DEAN EVENSON & WALTER MAKICHEN: GOLDEN SPA TONES • SOUNDINGS OF THE PLANET SP-2704

JON IVERSON: ALTERNESIA (MA RECORDINGS M3)

HANS WERNER HENZE: MEMOIRS OF AN OUTSIDER • ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 361

HENZE: ODE TO THE WEST WIND • ARTE NOVA ANO 894040.

HENZE: COMPLETE VIOLIN CONCERTOS • MDG 601 1242-2.

H.W. HENZE: ROYAL WINTER MUSIC, SONATAS ON SHAKESPEAREAN CHARACTERS • STRADIVARIUS STR 33670

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SÍLVIA PÉREZ CRUZ & RAVID GOLDSCHMIDT: LLAMA • MA RECORDINGS M070A

 

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You can always count of Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings to track down unusual, extremely creative musicians whom he captures in extraordinary sound. His latest coup, recorded in the remarkably spacious, clear acoustic of Capella de la Mare de Déu de l’Esperanca in Barcelona, pairs Hang player Ravid Goldschmidt with the curious vocalism of Sílvia Pérez Cruz.

The Hang is a large, resonant stainless steel pie which Garfinkle describes as UFO-like. Designed and manufactured by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer of Bern, Switzerland, and inspired by the steel pan drums of Trinidad and Topago, it sounds like a far mellower cousin, with an ability to both mimic the bongos lower in the register and ring like a cross between a steel drum and a finger piano. The only way to understand its range and versatility is to hear it in the hands of a master such as Ravid Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt, 25, who divides his time between concerts in Spain and Europe and street performances that allow him direct contact with his audiences, was born and raised on an Israeli kibbutz. Originally a drummer, he converted to Hang after hearing it played it at a music festival in Israel.

Pérez Cruz, who is both a vocalist and jazz saxophone player, has a unique voice with more than a hint of the spoiled child in it. Her improvisations are one-of-a-kind, fusing everything from fado and African styles with jazz. (She currently performs in an all-female flamenco quartet). Together, the two create less a fusion of styles than a music all its own. Their sole jazz-tinged excursion into English, “I’m All Smiles,” featuring arresting Hang accompaniment, could become a major hit if it falls into the right hands.

Thanks to Garfinkle, Goldschmidt gives us an Aeolian Hang Suite interlude of five song-like compositions. His contemplative music, abetted by the acoustic of the small church, is tinged with sadness and nostalgia, as though it were a longing for another time and place. Frankly, I can’t get enough of it. This wonderful recording deserves the widest possible audience.

 

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MAMADOU DIABATE: BEHMANKA • WORLD VILLAGE 468039

 

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Mamadou Diabate was born in Mali in 1975 to family of griots – or jelis – performers who consider it an ancestral duty to preserve memories of the past through music, song and oratory. With a father who played kora – the long-necked, 21-string Mande harp of West Africa – in the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali, Mamadou began performing on the instrument at a very early age.

After performing in the U.S. with the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali, Mamadou emigrated to this country. He currently resides in Durham, North Carolina with his wife and son, not only accompanying star musicians from Mali such as Angelique Kidjo, but also collaborating with first-class jazz and blues musicians including Eric Bibb.

Mamadou Diabate’s second solo album, the Grammy-nominated Behmanka, is titled for a song his blind grandfather taught him. The CD features Mamadou’s unique modern take on traditional melodies. Favoring the silaba major tuning to the modal tuning used by many kora players, he performs in the unusual key of D major. The songs are repetitive, hypnotic in a manner that bring to mind the sitar playing of Indian masters. Equally mesmerizing is the sound of the instrument, with its somewhat muted, silvery top and resonant body. Mamadou Diabete’s fluency is a thing of wonder.

 

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RASA: TEMPLE OF LOVE • NEW EARTH NE 2506

 

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The duo of vocalist Kim Waters and instrumentalist Hans Christian continue their prayerful explorations of the sensual in Indian music with this mellow, irresistible album. Waters has dedicated her exceedingly captivating, viscerally satisfying voice to honoring the Gods and Goddesses of Indian mythology. When she sings traditional songs of love and devotion, the line between worshipping God and making love to the beloved vanishes. Equal credit goes to her partner Christian, whose mastery of computer programming, cello, sitara, harmonium, keyboards, bass, nyckelharpa, udu, and a host of other instruments from the East is matched only by his ability as an orchestrator. Together, these two have created a host of haunting albums dedicated to his Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I don’t know the Swami, but I doubt the Gods ever had it this good. Also check out New Earth’s recent reissue of Rasa’s Shelter, whose renditions of devotional songs from the Vaishnava tradition that invoke Krishna and his latest incarnation, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, feature more danceable, popish orchestrations.

 

 

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JONATHAN GOLDMAN: THE LOST CHORD • SPIRIT MUSIC JSG1144

 

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Jonathan Goldman is a spiritual musician whose work is based on the ancient wisdom of various esoteric traditions. These include the Tree of Life found within the Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Judaism, and the charkas or spiritual energy portals of the body described in Eastern religions. Goldman created The Lord Chord as a tool for chakra resonance, meditation, relaxation, and creating a sonic environment conducive to subtle energy work and bodywork, as well as background for chanting. The fourteen tracks, which comprise 60 minutes in length, basically create a single sonic tapestry, in which everything from voices, Tibetan overtone chanting, drums, and space effects resonate to a certain narrow frequency. As composition, it is highly repetitive, to these ears more a collection of sounds than music per se. Auditioned without a critical ear, however, its vibrations may very well induce states of deep relaxation, meditation, and consciousness expansion. The recording attracted quite a following during its initial release, and may draw you in.

 

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OMARA PORTUONDO: SENTIMENTO • CUBAN ESSENTIALS ESC 6516-2

 

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One of Cuba’s great vocalists, Havana-born Omara Portuondo has been singing before the public since 1948. Curiously, her initial outing was in a vocal ensemble that specialized in English repertoire. Although Portuondo traveled to the United States to perform for six months in Orlando de la Rosa’s quartet, her fame grew when she returned to her homeland. In 1952, she joined Las D’Aida quartet along with her sister Haydeé. For the next 15 years, according to the CD’s liner notes, the group was known as “the best vocal ensemble in the history of Cuban music.” After the group’s demise, Portuondo continued working as a soloist, remaining in Havana where she is known to everyone.

The sometimes brassy tracks on Sentimento, recorded between 1973 and 1996, demonstrate that Portuondo may have very well possessed one of the strongest set of pipes on the island. To accompaniment that is Cuban to the core, she explores a wide variety of styles, even jazz. Some of the songs are laden with sentiment, with Portuondo sobbing, crying, and indulging in feelings that some would prefer to keep behind closed doors. (To these anglo ears, “Te Quería” is pretty over the top in a soap opera sort of way). On other tracks she dances, swings, croons, and serenades. As one might surmise from doing the math, she sounds best in the early recordings, with those from 1996 revealing the inevitable effects of age. Regardless, the voice and interpretations are inimitable, as authentic as those of 88-year old Graciela on the Chesky album Candido and Graciela that won a Grammy in 2005.

 

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ROLFE LISLEVAND: NUOVE MUSICHE • ECM NEW SERIES B0005070-02

 

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Norwegian-born lutenist and guitarist Rolfe Lislevand has committed what amounts to heresy. The professor of lute and historical performance practice at Trossingen Musikhochschule has, in a sense, reinvented orthodoxy. Taking his lead from the improvisatory spirit that was central to baroque musicianship in the 1600s, Lislevand and his supporting musicians have brought a modern spirit to his arrangements of baroque melodies. Instead of trying to play Kapsberger, Pellegrini, and Piccinini as one might have played them in the 1700s, the musicians treat these men as if they were still living, composing, and anticipating improvisation in the present days. The results are most unusual: period instruments played according to knowledge gleaned from period sources, but with a distinctly modern sensibility.

Rolfe Lislevand plays archlute, baroque guitar, and theorbo on this recording. In his hands, baroque music swings as much as it sighs. Anything but ossified, these renditions live and breathe in present moment. Recorded in a studio using multi-tracking techniques and reverb, improvisation occurred spontaneously, with musicians wearing headphones to enable them to better hear each other. Balances were fine-tuned electronically during mixing sessions, allowing the performers maximum freedom to explore without fear of drowning someone out.

Lislevand’s collaborators, some of whom also perform with his Kapsberger Ensemble, include two musicians closely associated with Jordi Savall: his daughter Arianna Savall (triple harp, voice) and the miraculous Pedro Estevan (percussion). He in fact joins both of them in concerts with Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XXI in New York City (March 16) and Baltimore (March 19). Bjorn Kjellemyr (colascione, double-bass), Guido Morini (organ, clavichord), Marco Ambrosini (nyckelharpa), and Thor Harald Johnsen (chitarra batttente) complete the ensemble. These are all crack players, giving their considerable all to delightful performances that bridge centuries with their freshness.

 

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LEONTYNE PRICE: VERDI/PUCCINI ARIAS • RCA LIVING STEREO HYBIRD SACD 82876-61395-RE1

 

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RCA/BMG has just released ten more RCA Living Stereo recordings in hybrid SACD format. All are drawn from master tapes, without introduction of any equalization, processing, or any other gimmicking.

As with all prior Living Stereo SACDs release, recordings are released in two-channel if they were recorded as such, or three-channel if that is how the masters were made. These SACDs thus give those equipped with SACD surround systems the opportunity to hear all three channels of these historic recordings as they were heard in the engineering booth at the time they were recorded close to 50 years ago. BMG has taken advantage of the superior playback capabilities of modern machines to provide as much information from the original masters as possible.

This album reproduces Price’s famed “Blue Album,” her first solo operatic recital for RCA. Accompanied throughout by the Rome Opera Orchestra, tracks from Aida, Madama Butterfly, La Rondine, Tosca, and Turandot were conducted by Oliviero de Fabriiis in 1960 and recorded in three-channel. The mikes are a bit distant, offering maximum air and resonance around the voice while sacrificing a bit of directness. Occasionally the orchestra threatens to drown out the soloist, just as it does in live performance. Then again, these tracks give us Leontyne Price in priceless first bloom.

The two tracks from Il Trovatore, taken from the complete 1959 recording of the opera conducted by Arturo Basile, are a different story. Not only is the acoustic different, but the original three-three track tape for Leonora’s Act I scena (“Che più t’arresti…Tacea la notte placida…Di tale amor che dirsi”) could not be located, and a two-track replacement (presumably not the master) was used. The difference in sound quality is vast, the sound flatter, with less air.

Occasionally one can detect tape over-saturation and clipping at the time of recording, as well as recent deterioration from over 46 years of storage. What remains intact, however, sounds glorious. Price had one of the most thrilling, sensual voices ever recorded, and it is heard here with everything working just as she wished.

Price did refine her interpretations as time progressed. She recorded Aida complete twice, for example, and Il Trovatore three times. Later versions are more subtle and nuanced. A case in point is her interpretation of “D’amor sull’ali rosee,” which later benefited from work with Von Karajan and Mehta. The 1969 recording, her best of the three, shows Price less attached to pushing out her sound for all its worth, instead floating high notes in ravishing fashion. But what she gives us on this recording, in true Diva fashion, remains unsurpassed for sheer tonal beauty.

 

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DEAN EVENSON & WALTER MAKICHEN: GOLDEN SPA TONES • SOUNDINGS OF THE PLANET SP-2704

 

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Dean Evenson, one of New Age music’s venerable pioneers, has released countless recordings since he came on the scene in 1979. While not all are equally fresh and inventive, this CD that blends Walter Makichen’s Tibetan Singing Bowls with Evenson’s flute & pre-recorded ocean sounds is impressively atmospheric and emotionally expansive. Makichen brings his 28-year history of playing and collection of over 60 singing bowls, bells and gongs to the project, striving to create patterns of sound that, in his own words, “both focus and expand an individual’s energy system.” Although his tunings are not based on the traditional Western diatonic scale, Evenson balances them with harmonic interpretations on silver flute and alto flute that create an environment conducive to relaxation, consciousness-expansion and healing.

Some of the well-recorded bowls make dramatically deep, resonant sounds, while others vibrate in the higher octaves. Though the sonics would have been better and more transparent had Evenson re-recorded his ocean with modern digital techniques – Steven Halpern’s audiophile quality recording of Tibetan singing bowls wins the audiophile-quality prize hands down - the beauty of the musicianship and uncommon deep resonance of the biggest bowls leave me grateful for the experience. Highly recommended.

 

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JON IVERSON: ALTERNESIA (MA RECORDINGS M3)

 

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This fabulous disc of gamelans and assorted instruments will give your subwoofer/bass response and your amplifier a run for the money. Recorded direct to analog tape one instrument at a time, it lacks only in the ultimate transparency that more up-to-date digital transfer and equipment would provide. If your system is slow to the draw, you’ll hear it immediately in a lack of crispness.

In his brief introduction, Wes Phillips is quick to point out that, as much as my San Luis Obispo fellow audiophile critic Jon Iverson may play instruments that compose a Balinese gamelan, he performs them as an outsider. In fact, what we have here is a bona fide New Music recording, somewhat in the spirit of works by Lou Harrison that mix traditional gamelan instruments and rhythms with a host of others to construct a new, harmonically simple yet paradoxically rich sonic universe.

In additional to many types of guitars, and instruments from Turkey, Peru, Japan, China, Mexico, US (Hammered and lap dulcimers and trumpet), Thailand, Bali, the recording occasionally utilizes keyboards, piano, the bamboo flute of Robert Rich, and all sorts of percussion and found objects. I imagine kids will love it as much as the audiophile. Rhythmically irresistible and sonically compelling, I recommend it highly.

 

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FEATURE:

COMPOSER HANS WERNER HENZE AT 80

Hans Werner Henze’s challenging music has never pandered to popular tastes. Rather, his uniquely beautiful compositions often express a haunted sense of a cold world filled with suffering and oppression.

Let us first turn to . . .

 

HANS WERNER HENZE: MEMOIRS OF AN OUTSIDER • ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 361

 

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Composers of Our Times DVDs from Arthaus Musik, conductor Sir Simon Rattle relates how, at the age of 11, he was “knocked sideways” by Henze’s Symphony No. 2 (1949). Attempting to explain how one might best approach Henze’s music, he states, “as a gay man, as a refugee from the Third Reich,” Henze will always essentially come across as an outsider who always seems to be somewhere else.”

The composer himself follows suit: “I have developed a concept of music based on experiences both terrible and beautiful. Uncertainty has always been one of my strongest conclusions.”

The DVD portrait carefully chooses musical examples that illustrate these points. As they weave in and out of the narrative, one cannot help but be moved and enthralled by the beauty that Henze manages to extract from unusual instrumental combinations. Heard in their entirety, however, the darkness and dread of many of his compositions can have a sobering effect.

Born in Westphalia in 1926, Henze has spent the last 40 years living outside Rome. During World War II, he learned to live in a world of his own devising. Amidst the darkness, he began to compose multi-layered works that express an “anti-doctrinal democracy” in which many musical events, sometimes seemingly unrelated, go on at once.

Although he was influenced by 12-tone techniques, the obstinate survivor in him refused to follow suit. The results, according to Henze’s good friend, composer/conductor Oliver Knussen, create a music all of its own, dramatically immediate if not always immediately comprehensible.

In the DVD, Henze reveals that his compositional process involves learning to wait until the answer comes. Sometimes passages come to him as in a dream, beyond the understanding of waking consciousness. To these ears, it is as if voices hover around him, whirling through his music.

 

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HENZE: ODE TO THE WEST WIND • ANO 894040.

 

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Featuring three poetic works written in the ‘50s and recorded between 1979 and 1999 by the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra under different conductors, their beauty is riveting. Especially recommended is the title work, Ode an den Westwind (1953), a five-movement cello concerto performed by Gustav Rininius with orchestra conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. The music, inspired by Shelley’s poem, “O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,” moves from passages of quiet, shimmering beauty to arresting near-cataclysmic outbursts.

The first notes of Five Neopolitan Songs (1956), sung by baritone Roland Hermann on the same disc, was harsh enough to cause our dog Baci Brown to perk up and take notice. Without in any way mimicking the Neopolitan songs of an earlier period, Henze records the spirit of his adopted homeland, southern Italy.

One of Henze’s compositional periods, not illustrated in the recent releases of his work that have passed my doorstop, was that of the political rebel. I recall reading of the outrage he caused when a red flag was unfurled onstage during a performance of one of his works. It’s somewhat ironic to realize that, at this juncture in history, unfurling an American flag on many of the world’s stages would spark a far more violent reaction.

To the everlasting credit of San Francisco Opera, Henze’s 1990 operatic masterpiece, Das verratene Meer (The man who fell from the sea), after a novel by Yukio Mishima, was performed in the city in 1991. Whether its constant noise was meant to reflect the noise within the protagonist’s skull or Henze’s own, the music is riveting. For a sense of Henze’s strength as an operatic composer, check out the 1966 world premiere Salzburg Festival recording of Henze’s earlier opera, Die Bassariden, (Orfeo D’Or), with Christoph von Dohnányi conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra.

 

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HENZE: COMPLETE VIOLIN CONCERTOS • MDG 601 1242-2.

 

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Given that the violinist, Torsten Janicke, is shown posing with Henze in the liner notes, one can assume that the renditions are faithful to the composer’s intentions.

Henze’s three violin concertos, which span the years 1948-1997, illustrate changes in his style and emphasis. The Concerto No. 2 (1971), for example, calls for solo violinist, recorded tape, bass-baritone, and 33 instrumentalists. All serve to illustrate Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poem, “Hommage à Gödel,” which reflects on the theorem of mathematician and logician Kurt Gödel. A music-theater work that requires the baritone, dressed in a flowing black tailcoat lined in red, to stride back and forth, it defies simple commentary.

 

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H.W. HENZE: ROYAL WINTER MUSIC, SONATAS ON SHAKESPEAREAN CHARACTERS • STRADIVARIUS STR 33670

 

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The disc contains two sonatas. The First, composed 1975-1976 at the request of Julian Bream, was edited and amended by Henze in collaboration with the guitarist. Before Bream recorded it some years later, he asked for another piece for the second side of the projected LP. Henze responded with the Second Sonata on Shakespearean Characters (1978-1979). Bream neither played nor recorded it, considering “Mad Lady Macbeth” unplayable. Henze subsequently turned to new music specialist Reinbert Evers, who edited and premiered the Second Sonata.

In 1980, while David Tannenbaum was on tour performing Henze’s evening length work for guitar, El Cimarron, he drew the attention of New Yorker critic Andrew Porter, who recommended him to Henze. Later, when Tannenbaum encountered the manuscript of Royal Winter Music, he discovered so many differences between Bream’s recording of the First Sonata and what was written on paper that he determined to contact Henze and get the score corrected.

The opportunity came in 1983, when Henze traveled to a California festival and, remembering Porter’s favorable comments about Tannenbaum’s musicianship, agreed to meet with him. After hearing Tannenbaum play the first movement of the First Sonata, Henze declared that Tannenbaum understood the music perfectly, and immediately offered to write him a concerto. That concerto, An Eine Aölsharfe, was played by Tannenbaum and Henze throughout Europe and subsequently recorded.

Tannenbaum first recorded the entire Royal Winter Music cycle in 1985. This Stradivarius CD, his second recording, benefits from his 20 years of experience with the work, which culminated in a performance at Henze’s house in the year 2000 that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the First Sonata’s birth.

On the DVD, which concludes with Ingo Metzmacher conducting a performance of Henze’s Requiem (1990-1992), Henze’s partner, Fausto Moroni, reveals that the two men follow separate paths much of the time. Moroni works quietly in the garden while Henze composes; the two often do not see each other for much of the day.

An equal sense of separation arises in Henze’s liner notes for Sir Simon Rattle’s recording of his Symphony No. 7 (1982). The composer describes its second section “as a kind of funeral ode, a song of lamentation, a monologue.” The final movement, an orchestral setting of a poem by Hölderlin, “contrasts positive and negative images and depicts a final apocalyptic vision of a cold and speechless world devoid of human life.” Hans Werner Henze maybe 80 years old, but his vision is very much of our time.

- Jason Victor Serinus -

© Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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