A little night music, please. Actually, there's a lot of it to enjoy on this beautifully conceived and performed two-disc set dedicated to the art of the piano nocturne. The French word means "nocturnal" or "of the night." Though far from being lullabies, these single movement miniatures typically do begin and end softly and reflectively. But like an evening’s sleep interrupted by a bad dream or bout of insomnia, there is often much restlessness and turmoil within.
The spirit of Halloween hovers over Now Is the Time, Sunday, October 27th at 10 pm. Strings, bells, melodicas softly accompany waning desert sunlight: such is Drift of Rainbows by Dan Visconti. William Moylan's setting of the Yeats poem The Stolen Child tells an Erlkönig-like story: "Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."
Benjamin Broening processes out-takes of recordings over and over until they sound hardly electronic anymore, but more, perhaps, like ghosts, in Traces (ii). Acoustically to Shake the Tree is Robert Carl's business at hand—for piano four-hands—and the fruit from the overtone series brilliantly litters his landscape. And William Bolcom wraps the program with one of his fortes in the Graceful Ghost Rag.
J. S. Bach continues to illuminate us, on Now Is the Time, Sunday, October 20th at 10 pm. The Cello Suite 2 of Mark Hagerty does not ape the suites of the great master, but rather is lit from within by the spirit of Bach. It's a large-breathed, optimistic suite, given a luminous reading by Douglas McNames.
The third Quintet for Winds by David Maslanka is so dedicated to the spirit of Bach, that even a chorale confidently unfurling in its midst is caught up in the spirit—though it's an original tune. Still, quotes and feints abound, and the deft handling of these chamber forces not only warmly counterpoises Hagerty's solo cello suite, it introduces us to an appreciation for Maslanka, for Bach, and for the never-dying muse illuminating all music of good will.
There are journeys and rumors of journeys on Now Is the Time, Sunday, October 13th at 10 pm. Harold Meltzer's Rumors is for one flutist and four flutes: piccolo, C flute, alto, and bass. He envisions a drum set, the breathing of conspiracies (con spirare, to breathe together), and an old man on a bench in Italy trying to remember a children's song.
Sergio Cervetti pictures Peru's desert drawings in Nazca for string orchestra. Seen from the air, they could be monkeys, spiders, hummingbirds, or extraterrestrials, but whatever they are, the music is rich and inviting. As is Elegant Journey with Stopping Points of Interest, using the drawn, or graphic, notation that Robert Moran was employing in the ’60s. He revised this for solo organ, and we hear the European premiere from 2009.
There's the unlikeliest motion on Now Is the Time, Sunday, October 6th at 10 pm. Kristjan Järvi conducts a live, rip-snortin' Roadrunner, a movement from the Chamber Symphony of John Adams. Singer-songwriter Gillian Welch's dark-edged Americana is on beautiful display in My Morphine, especially in this atomized arrangement by William Anderson of the Anderson-Fader guitar duo.
That leads nicely into the saxophone-and-piano Sleep Without Dreams, a lyrical work of Michael Jon Fink, and Dmitri Tymoczko's early string quartet This Picture Seems to Move. Andy Teirstein somehow combines into a piano trio Old West saloonery and the ecstatic mysticism of the dancing Rebbe, Baal Shem Tov, in Turn Me Loose.
Finally, for solo piano, is Terry Riley's answer to Sarah Cahill's request for music about either war or peace. He was "noodling around" on the piano one night, and his grandchildren asked him to keep playing this one bit. He did; it became Be Kind to One Another (Rag).
From the opening moments of its recent CD Thrum, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet throws its cards on the table. Attitude and refined sound are the driving forces here. Even the first percussive beats that herald the strut through Harlem—the first movement of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Ghetto Strings—are nuanced, a combination of tap, stroke, and pound. This is delicious playing.
We move beyond autumnal blues, should we have them, on Now Is the Time, Sunday, September 29th at 10 pm. Saxophone, clarinet, and piano turn up the heat in Robert Aldridge's Sound Moves Blues, while Patrick Beckman honors blues tradition on the piano in Blues. Laos, Greece, Bolivia, Bulgaria, and the Tuskegee Institute's Gospel sound all inform Matthew Davidson's wide-ranging Etudes for Piano, Book 1.
Lisa Bielawa calls forth text of Jeremiah in her elegiac Lamentations for a city, a muted but compelling work for chorus and English horn. And then Philadelphia's Paul Epstein works through Isolation, Rapport, and Threnody in Three Sonnets, on words sent to him by a poet who heard his music. How lovely for that to happen, and what warm and tender songs these are, on this cusp of autumn.
We travel far and wide on Now Is the Time, Sunday, September 8th at 10 pm, starting with Another Fantastic Voyage, a piano concerto by Dmitri Tymoczko. With tongue in cheek, Tymoczko skillfully performs pop exegesis on generic myths—knights on a king’s mission, for instance, or a campy Night on Bald Mountain—where everything turns out horribly wrong.
David Toub wrote mf originally for brass, but then arranged it for string quartet, a far but convincing leap for this homage to Morton Feldman (mf), all played at mezzo-forte (mf). Insistent, Playful, and Doleful are the movements in Richard Wilson’s limber Affirmations, a colorful jaunt for a mixed chamber ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano.
You might call these fantastic lullabies on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 25th at 10 pm. The birth of a friend's daughter inspired Rick Sowash's Lullabye for Kara for cello and piano. Steven Gerber's Violin Concerto is a rocking to sleep, of sorts, of a work he began as a student at Haverford College but never finished. One part of it, however, was born anew as this concerto's first movement.
From solo strings to more—but synthesized—is Carl Berky's The Synthelating Mariachi String Band. In Secret Geometry, James Primosch uses electronic tape with piano, and between explosive Variations and a brilliant Toccata is a Nocturne in the true spirit of night-music: the other side of a lullaby, perhaps. Phillip Lasser focuses on the singer of the lullaby rather more than the song itself, in Berceuse fantasque for violin and piano.