A History of Classical Music through Recordings: Part 4
“Rosa de las Rosas: Cantigas de Santa Maria”. Música Antigua/Eduardo Paniagua. Pneuma (link)
Troubadours fleeing Provence in the aftermath of the Albigensian crusade would have found welcome at the court of King Alfonso X of Castile and Léon in northwestern Iberia. Alfonso, known as El Sabio or ‘the Wise’, gathered together Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars and artists during his reign from 1252 to 1284. He introduced various social and legal reforms and encouraged the work of astronomers and astrologers, but his great contribution to music was his commissioning – and possible co-authoring – of a vast collection of songs called the Cantigas de Santa Maria. Compiled over three decades and now surviving in four manuscripts, the Cantigas comprises some 420 poems pertaining to the Virgin Mary; the songs are grouped in tens, nine of each group being narratives describing miracles attributed to Mary (one song recounts how Alfonso himself was healed), with the tenth being a hymn of praise. The poems are in Galician-Portuguese, the forerunner of modern Portuguese, and the music is related to popular songs of the day as well as troubadour and trouvère melodies. The Cantigas manuscripts come with numerous miniatures depicting musicians playing more than 40 different kinds of instruments, a boon to modern academics and performers seeking inspiration for how the music might have been performed. Given the presence of Arabs and Moors at Alfonso’s court, not to mention some Moorish instruments shown in the miniatures, musicologists have been tempted to speculate on an Arabic influence on the music.
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These are the best-reviewed discs in the latest issues of the three U.K.-based classical review magazines – Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, and International Record Review.
International Record Review Outstanding Recordings, March 2012
Nørgård: Helle Nacht; Borderlines; Spaces in Time. Peter Herresthal (vn); Ida Mo (p); Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Rolf Gupta. BIS CD1872
“Both of the violin concertos [Helle Nacht and Borderlines] have been recorded previously, but to have them performed by the same musician is an ideal way to get to know two works, which, written 15 years apart, shed revealing light on the evolution of a composer whose determination not to repeat himself with each major work has helped make him one of the most significant figures in contemporary music.” – Richard Whitehouse
Ó Riada: Orchestral works. Cathal Breslin (p); RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ Concert Orchestra/Robert Houlihan. RTÉ lyric fm CD136
“the music on this CD dates from a mere five years, 1955-59, and its sheer quality rubs lemon juice in the wound left by Ó’Riada’s ridiculously early death… I urge you to investigate this splended release with uncommon haste.” – Martin Anderson
Ruders: Symphony no.4; Trio Transcendentale; Songs and Rhapsodies. Frode Andersen (accordion); Flemming Dreisig (org); Nicholas Wearne (org); Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen; Odense Symphony Orchestra/Robert Minczuk. Bridge 9375
“It contains an exhilarating range of emotions, from whimsical humour to barnstorming grandeur, and the sheer craftsmanship of Ruders’s writing is a joy in its own right… Bridge has managed to release this CD while much of the music is still damp on the page, and the sense of freshness attends also the performances and the works themselves.” – Martin Anderson
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The music of multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick should be much busier. Bouncing from guitar to strings to keyboards to horns (to name a few), and shifting from folk to classical to indie pop to ambient drone (to name a few), the expectation is that the end result would be music with so many moving parts that its main appeal would be as a spectacle of incomprehension. But the thing of it is, he finds a way to fuse all of these disparate elements into a cohesive cloud of serenity. And those disparate elements? They’re all there, but masked in subtlety and hinted at just enough for the ear to pick up on them without ever feeling overwhelmed. This is beautiful music, with a densely packed emotional center.
Let’s talk about that music.
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A popular act with the MiG staff, Makunouchi Bento is an experimental electronic duo out of Romania that has been active since 2001. Made up of Felix Petrescu, a/k/a Waka X, and Valentin Toma, a/k/a Qewza, Makunouchi Bento create soundscape stories using organic sounds that are processed, filtered, dubbed and overdubbed until they form a cohesive whole. When exploring the world of Makunouchi Bento it becomes clear very early on that not only does their sound not fit into any single genre, but that it is music which must be heard to be understood. While one can discuss the group’s IDM influence, point out that the use of space feels descended from minimalist composers, or note the range of emotions they are able to create in a beatless environment, these words would still fail to adequately describe Makunouchi Bento’s work. In fact, the above illustration of Makunouchi Bento is probably the best written description of their music I have seen.
In anticipation of the release of Makunouchi Bento’s new EP, Rinbo, we spoke with the group via e-mail and discussed the new album, the group’s influences, both musical and otherwise, and their desire to collaborate with other artists of various mediums. We also learned how a couple 30-somethings from Romania imagine King Tubby would react to their work.
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Pjusk - Tele
Like a whole swathe of ambient music, Pjusk‘s work relies on a scaffold of cues for the imagination to add a representational dimension to the raw sounds. Once one has learned that Pjusk are Rune Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik from the west coast of Norway, that their music is composed in a small cabin high in the mountains, and that their characteristic one-word track titles translate as “twilight”, “fog”, “hollow”, and the like, it is nigh impossible not to hear the murky atmospheres and dank rhythms of their music as evoking contemplation of a lonely landscape wreathed in mist and locked in a stasis measured in geological time. These associations are woven more literally than ever on their newest release, Tele. The album is released on the Glacial Movements label, a label that is single-mindedly dedicated to “glacial and isolationist ambient” and offers a growing series of releases that set out to evoke “places that man has forgotten…icy landscapes…fields of flowers covered eternally with ice… The cold and silent night that falls upon the glacial valleys…” The album’s title, Tele, is a Norwegian word for frozen underground water, and the track titles this time have also moved down into the cold earth, invoking gneiss, flint, slate, granite, crystal. It is thus not too big a surprise that the album’s opening is the most darkly monolithic of the Pjusk catalog to date; the surprise is that it ends with one of their brightest moments.
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Marking Anders Koppel’s first solo Hammond organ release, Everything Is Subject to Change is an intriguing mix of atmospherics and organics. Pianist Kenny Werner and saxophonist Benjamin Koppel imbue the music with an austere elegance, whereas Anders Koppel’s organ and Jacob Andersen’s percussion brings an earthy element to the music. The balance between the two makes for an album that equally engages head and heart.
Your album personnel: Anders Koppel (organ), Benjamin Koppel (saxophones), Kenny Werner (piano & Fender Rhodes), and Jacob Andersen (drums & percussion).
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When country/folk-roots singer songwriter Kate Campbell opens her mouth to sing, you definitely know she’s from the Deep South – telltale signs ooze from her every syllable. But this southern bred artist from Mississippi is no country bumpkin. Her inherited country twang is tempered by a polished refinement and beautiful expression that adds irresistible charm to her voice, captivating audiences and drawing them into her southern world which is the birthplace of such notable writers as Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. Kate’s formative years were spent in Sledge, Mississipi during the height of the civil rights movement and much of her music is inspired by her coming-of-age experiences as a young middle-class white girl during those tumultuous times. As the daughter of a Baptist minister, she was exposed to a heavy dose of spiritual singing, having grown up singing hymns out of the Baptist Hymnal that proclaimed a love for God and fellow man at a time and locale where paradoxical community attitudes abounded. She also grew up listening to a melting pot of music on the radio, including country, folk, pop, R&B and southern rock – all played on the same radio station. Her songwriting is a hodge-podge of all these diverse influences. Many of her compositions are autobiographical yet presented in a way that reveals the bigger picture of universal humanity, and her talent for singing her stories is every bit as evident as the talents of the authors previously mentioned whose works she admires and to whom she is often compared. Her CD booklets frequently include some of her favorite quotes from these literary giants and others.
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Sebastian Plano (Picture by May Xiong)
Have you ever been moved by the yearning blends of classical motifs with electronic atmospheres composed by the likes of Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nils Frahm, and Peter Broderick? Does the thought of what their aesthetic might sound like if relocated to warmer climes and infused with the passion and counterpoint of the tango sound intriguing? If so, then you need to listen to Sebastian Plano’s debut album.
The Arrhythmical Parts of Heart was released last year with little fanfare, but is an album that should not be allowed to slip quietly by. Across seven short tracks Plano, a young San Francisco-based composer and multi-instrumentalist who plays everything on the album himself, weaves together an array of sounds including cello, keyboards, bandoneón, wordless vocals, and electronic effects and percussion into a compelling and emotive suite of compositions charged with tantalizing twists and turns.
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