Michael Gordon, one of the three New York composers who founded Bang on a Can in 1987, describes this as a “family album”. Still, the material is often emotionally challenging. In The Sad Park he samples extracts of children’s voices describing what they saw on 9/11. With a sentence such as “Two evil planes broke in little pieces and fire came”, he gradually breaks the sample down into pure sound, mingling it with the jagged chugging and yowling of the string quartet into eerie, distorted buzzes and groans.Exalted is a welcome contrast: a driven but heart-warming piece with youth coir based on part of the Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead), in memory of Gordon’s father. Clouded Yellow is more carefree, named after a variety of butterfly; here and in Potassium, Gordon toys with the magnificent technical possibilities the Kronos Quartet offers for miaowing violins, chunky blocks of sound and galvanising post-minimalist energy. There’s a powerful voice here, its darkness offsetting its light.
2. Les pecheurs de perles
Bizet’s opera Les pêcheurs de perles is famous for a ubiquitous duet, so it is good to hear the rest – especially in this recording, which gets as close as possible to the original 1863 version. It transforms potentially kitschy material into something genuine, delicate and cherishably charming. Bizet’s melodic gifts never fail in this story of two friends in love with the same temple girl, and the orchestration exploits the 1860s fashion for ‘exoticism’.The cast presents a refreshing lack of molto con belto, relying on appealingly varied, soft colours. Nadir is sung by Cyrille Dubois, one of those special light, high tenors favoured in French romantic opera: through focused tone and beautifully lyrical phrasing, he infuses the role with real emotion. As Leila, Julie Fuchs is a fine match: a light voice, but with real zing. Orchestra, chorus and conductor Alexander Bloch are all magnificent, and the recorded sound is clear and detailed.
3. Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber & The Four Temperaments & Mathi
Paul Hindemith sometimes gets a bad press – most unfairly. His music can soar to startling peaks of inspiration, conjuring the film music of his contemporaries, the deep, detailed orchestration of a Strauss, and a genuinely individual wellspring of inspiration.The symphony Mathis der Maler (1934) was fashioned alongside Hindemith’s eponymous opera about a painter who pursued his art irrespective of politics – making the composer persona non grata with the Third Reich. Its grand sweep and heady idealism can leave one mystified as to its neglect. And The Four Temperaments, a ballet score commissioned by George Balanchine in 1940, transfers effortlessly into a quirky concert work: the supple, sympathetic pianism of Emanuel Ax brings it bounding to life.
Jessica Duchen’s music journalism has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is the author of a number of novels (most recently Ghost Variations, published in 2016), biographies and plays. A recent project included an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004.
"If you are going to play Schubert sonata in the evening you are not supposed to fly in the morning from one hemisphere to another. You are supposed to stay one year in one city, walk in the forest and think about it for twenty minutes every day." Read more...