Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April 2015 - Featured Playlist: Old Made New

So many developments in music are forward-looking, with composers searching for new outlets for expression, or unique techniques that will help them stand out. Yet other times composers will turn to the distant past for inspiration, taking instruments or forms from bygone eras and giving them new voice in the present. Whether creating modern music for the harpsichord or lute, or providing fresh facelifts for centuries-old church traditions, composers continue to mine the past for revelation relevant today, a sort of resurrection that reveals the Old Made New.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Caroline Shaw - Partita for 8 Singers: II. Sarabande - Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Singers claimed the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music, instantly elevating this lesser-known composer to exclusive company. The work takes a Baroque form and adapts it for a small a capella ensemble, then incorporates a little bit of everything from “improper” vowel diction to Tuvan throat singing, creating something stunningly original.

2. Ned Rorem - Spiders - Jory Vinikour picked up a Grammy nomination in 2014 for his album Toccatas, an enjoyable collection of contemporary American harpsichord works. One piece sure to elicit a reaction is Ned Rorem’s Spiders; arachnophobes beware—it will make you shiver, its skittery depiction is so palpable.

3. Philip Glass - Harpsichord Concerto: III. – - Welsh harpsichordist Christopher D. Lewis released his first album for Naxos Records in 2013, featuring works by Philip Glass, John Rutter, and Jean Françaix. Glass’s minimalist leanings find a natural residence in the harpsichord, though as he says himself, “Concertos always are a tricky affair… The best result is always when the soloist and the orchestra both have had the chance to shine.” In this recording, both surely do.

4. Jocelyn Pook – Desh: VI. Ave Maria – You’ve heard many works based on or inspired by the traditional Catholic Ave Maria text, but probably not one quite this out-of-the-box. Composed for dancer/choreographer Akram Khan, Jocelyn Pook’s version combines these words with a small string ensemble and a sample from a classical Persian song to create a striking blend of two very different cultures.

5. Osvaldo Golijov – St Mark Passion: XI. Judas, XII. El Cordero Pascual – Here’s another tremendous example of classical tradition expanding to include folk elements not often integrated into the Western art music paradigm. Purists might recoil, but Golijov’s version of the St Mark Passion welcomes South American vocal styles and percussion into the concert hall, creating an astonishing work of cultural breadth and emotional depth.

6. John Tavener – The Protecting Veil: V. Christ Is Risen! – Tavener’s Russian Orthodox faith informed much of his work, and the church’s ancient music was a prominent influence on his style. The Protecting Veil was composed as a musical ikon to commemorate a vision of Mary, the Mother of God, in the early 10th century, an event celebrated by the Orthodox Church as the Feast of the Protecting Veil.

7. Richard Einhorn – Voices of Light: Pater Noster – Voices of Light is based on Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc and features a libretto based on ancient writings mostly from medieval female mystics. Throughout this gorgeous work, vocal group Anonymous 4 and a viola da gamba represent Joan of Arc herself with music based on medieval plainchant and polyphony, while the larger ensemble and choir utilize more modern elements to portray her inquisitors.

8. Ronn McFarlane – Cathedral Cave – While the lute is primarily seen as a medieval or Renaissance instrument, it enjoyed a revival of interest in the 20th century. Lutenist Ronn McFarlane’s solo album Indigo Road picked up a Grammy nomination in 2009, and featured here is the opening track “Cathedral Cave”, composed for lute, flute, bass, and percussion.

9. Howard Skempton – Lamentations: IV. For oughtest thou, O Lord – The theorbo is a larger, lower-pitched variation of the lute, and one nicely suited to accompany a vocalist. Here Howard Skempton sets lyrics taken from John Donne’s translation of the Lamentations of Jeremiah to a moving melody for baritone soloist.

10. Peter Croton – Searching for Dalza – Here’s modern music for the lute from a different perspective, an example of how well the lute can paint a different color to pair with a guitar. This piece is an attractive canon composed and performed by lutenist Peter Croton.

11. Wojciech Kilar – König der letzten Tage (King of the Last Days): Gloria – While he did compose much “traditional” classical music, Wojciech Kilar is best known for his film scores, including that for Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Fresh off that success, he scored the German miniseries König der letzten Tage. The series told of 16th-century Anabaptist leader John of Leiden, so Kilar incorporated elements of chant, medieval music, and the mass into his dramatic score.

12. John Rutter – Magnificat: I. Magnificat anima mea – The Magnificat is one of the most ancient Christian hymns, and its text is taken from the words of the Virgin Mary in the Gospel of Luke. John Rutter used this traditional canticle as the inspiration for his 1990 work of the same name, opting to incorporate elements of Latin music in recognition of the Spanish-speaking world’s special regard for Mary.

13. Henryk Górecki – Harpsichord Concerto: II. Vivace marcatissimo – Górecki’s Harpsichord Concerto, composed in 1980, is a representation of his efforts to embrace a more minimalist style in his work, what he called a “new simplicity”. As is typical of the minimalist style, the piece is quite repetitive, and its clangor unfolds gradually through to the end.

14. Avner Dorman – Concerto Grosso: I. Adagio – Allegro dramatico – Adagio – Israeli composer Avner Dorman burst quickly out the gate in his career, winning a number of prestigious awards before reaching the age of 30. His Concerto Grosso employs a string quartet and harpsichordist as the counterpart to the orchestra, and it blends Baroque influence with minimalist techniques.

15. Sofia Gubaidulina – St John Easter: Christ’s Third Appearance to His Disciples – Gubaidulina composed St John Easter in 2002 as a sequel to her St John Passion, written two years previously. The two works together she considered her “opus summum”, with the Easter portion naturally carrying a more jubilant tone than the bleak Passion setting.

16. Arvo Pärt – Collage uber B-A-C-H: I. Toccata: Preciso – Collage uber B-A-C-H was composed at a time when Pärt was moving away from more avant-garde techniques like serialism and pointillism to incorporate elements of Renaissance and Baroque music. This piece, as the name suggests, is built around the B-A-C-H motif, and is an important moment in his development as a composer.

17. David Loeb – Utagumi: IV. Matsuri – Composer David Loeb is noted for his works for both older instruments and traditional Asian instruments. His work Utagumi, composed for solo viola da gamba, combines Baroque, Japanese, and contemporary elements to expert effect.

18. Sten Sandell – Gods and Men III – Swedish composer Sten Sandell has drawn much of his influence from free improvisation, contemporary composers like Cage and Xenakis, world music, and Scandinavian folk music. This selection, taken from music composed for a stage play, is performed by a lute over an organ drone.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!