Some recent CDs, briefly reviewed

Vicious Circus are Elo Masing (violin, cello, electric guitar, whistle), and Dave Maric (analogue synth and electronics). The 20 short tracks on Troglodytes Troglodytes (squib-box) are all improvised, and on some the duo are joined by David Turay on alto sax and Matthew Lee Knowles on voice. The sound is oddly gothic, the howls and scratches of of Masing’s strings rubbing strangely along with Maric’s synth. I rather like it; I hear something of both Radulescu and 80s synth-pop in it (among much else), a combination of avant garde and trash that brings to mind the narrow streets of East London, appropriately enough where Vicious Circle do most of their performing.

Pianist Philip Thomas has been busy, with two solo recordings out in the last few weeks (there’s also a new disc of Feldman multiple piano music on another timbre). First music by Christopher Fox (Hat [now]ART 192) – L’ascenseur, at the edge of time, Thermogenesis and Republican Bagatelles. Fox’s music has always been pleasingly hard to categorise; has any other composer been labelled both a minimalist and a new complexist? Of course he’s neither, and thank goodness. Besides this completely original, unpindownable quality, what I also like about Fox’s music is how it doesn’t take itself too seriously, while being deep down very serious indeed. By way of example, at the edge of time is a 15-minute study in a single pitch and its harmonics that never once sounds like a chore; Thermogenesis is a quasi-theatrical gesture that requires the pianist to begin playing in mittens, removing those to reveal gloves, and only in the final third to play with bare hands. I’ve seen Thomas play this piece, and while it has its undoubted silly side it also works as ‘proper’ music. Those who know Fox’s piano music only from Ian Pace’s Metier recordings of a few years back should relish the complimentary robustness that comes out here.

Thomas has a long-standing relationship with Fox’s music, but I suspect it’s the 3-CD set of music by Christian Wolff (sub rosa SR389) that has been the real labour of love. Thomas is a Wolff specialist, and I understand there are more discs like this to come. For now, we have one CD of works from the 1950s, and two of music composed between 2001 and 2010 (Thomas notes that a full third of Wolff’s output for solo piano has been composed since 2001). It’s a beautiful thing – like sub rosa releases usually are. There’s much more music here than I can possibly cover in a short review like this. CD1 includes all of Wolff’s solo piano music from the 1950s, including two performances of For Pianist (1959). CD2 is devoted to Long Piano (Peace March 11) (2004–5), and CD3 features works composed since 2001. Three of the latter are first recordings (Pianist Pieces, 2001; Nocturnes 1–6, 2008; Small Preludes, 2010), but Thomas’s authoritative interpretations make all three discs worth owning.

Peter Söderberg is a very rare thing – a contemporary music lutenist. I met him briefly in Stockholm recently, and he passed me a copy of his recording of American experimental music, On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon (Alice ALCD028). The title comes from Lucier’s piece for koto and pure wave oscillator, here arranged for oud. Of the other three pieces – Tenney’s Chromatic Canon, Cage’s One7 and Reich’s Violin Phase – the Tenney and Reich have required arrangement, and on all three Söderberg enlists the help of Erik Peters on electronics. The Tenney (originally two pianos) and Reich have both been set for lute and live electronics; the Cage is for unspecified instrument anyway, and Söderberg here plays an amalgam of guitar and electronics. All four pieces work very well: the mechanistic loops of the Tenney and Reich pieces sit particularly well with plucked strings (some of Reich’s phrases have been written to be more idiomatic), and the Lucier and Cage pieces are pretty faithful to their originals anyway. Söderberg’s playing is beautifully precise throughout, giving all the pieces the necessary transparency of tone and feel. If I have a reservation, it is that Peters’ addition of electronic resonances to the Tenney makes it too sweet for my taste, but this is nevertheless a very lovely record.

The debut album by the Vocal Constructivists, Walking Still (innova 898), has really grown on me. But I’m reviewing that in a forthcoming issue of Tempo so I won’t say any more here.

3 thoughts on “Some recent CDs, briefly reviewed

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