Switched On – Jimi Tenor: Deep Sound Learning (1993 – 2000) (Bureau B)

jimi-tenor-deep

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Bureau B have already had an extended look at Jimi Tenor’s legacy from the 1990s in last year’s NY, Hel, Barca – a fruitful foray into his impressively consistent archive. Deep Sound Learning visits a similar era, casting its eye over unreleased tracks from DATs sent by the Finnish artist to Warp Records, his label at the time. Warp preserved the tracks they didn’t use on his albums of that era, so this is a set of previously unheard music from the Tenor vaults.

What’s the music like?

Once again the music of Jimi Tenor is notable for its bold exploration and freedom, and the 19 tracks here cover all sorts of stylistic terrain. The saxophone often features, pulling some of the tracks towards deeper jazz, while many of these pieces of work venture into house and funk.

Colour is an important ingredient of the music, which is never dull, and never coasts. Exotic House Of The Beloved starts off by showing its age in a good way, with a chunky profile and funky beats. Dub de Pablo by contrast is a low slower, with a nocturnal air. Another Space Travel indulges Tenor’s love of a wobbly synth line, while Travellers Cape has an appealing bounce to its rhythm.

The Tenor saxophone blesses a few tracks with its presence, not least the evocative Sambakontu, or setting the scene on Downtown.

Does it all work?

More often than not. Sometimes the music is easily dated, which can be a good thing, but the standard is high. Only a track like O-Sex, with some familiar clichés, sounds like an offcut from the 1990s.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Deep Sound Learning is an ideal companion to last year’s exploration of Jimi Tenor’s early works, and shows just how consistent he could be – and how much fun he had while doing so. There will be something for everyone in this set, that’s for sure.

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On Record: STR4TA: Aspects (Brownswood)

str4ta

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

In all honesty it is surprising that more has not been heard of this new project, the first alliance in ten years between Gilles Peterson and the driving force of Incognito, Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick. The two point their music squarely towards the 1980s, bearing in mind Light of the World and Freeez, bands Maunick used to be in. They channel funk as Britain heard it then, but with a strong emphasis on improvisation. That is where STR4TA has its roots, but listeners will hear the tracks incorporate songwriting hooks too.

What’s the music like?

Summery! This is real good-time music, and it takes less than a minute to make that point. There is some seriously funky attitude on tracks like Aspects, We Like It and Steppers Crusade, with the sort of elastic bass lines that power the very best Incognito tracks. Each has a subtle but well-executed vocal and rich, ever-changing harmonies.

Rhythm In Your Mind is breezy like Sunday morning, hitting exactly the right spot, while the dappled textures of After The Rain have a rather neat parallel with emerging from lockdown in our current situation.

Dance Desire and Kinshasa FC are good instrumentals, painting a nocturnal party scene, while Give In To What Is Real is a vocal winner, dressed with bright, brassy offcuts.

Does it all work?

It does. With a relaxed approach, the music of STR4TA comfortably equals that of its 1980s peers, bringing instinctive good vibes and large, much-needed, doses of sunshine through funk. A few jazzy flavours round the edges are the icing on the cake.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. Two friends sharing a mutual love of funk bring their own take on it to the world, with no pretence – simply the need to make good music and get it out there. Good vibes prevail the whole way through!

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On record – Michael Gielen conducts Mahler: Das klagende Lied (Orfeo)

mahler-gielen

Brigitte Poschner-Klebel (soprano), Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo-soprano), David Rendall (tenor), Manfred Hemm (baritone), Wiener Singakademie, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Michael Gielen

Mahler
Das klagende Lied (1878-80, rev. 1899)

Orfeo C210021 [62’10”] German text and English translation included. 

Remastering Erich Hofmann

Live performance at Konzerthaus, Vienna, 8 June 1990

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Orfeo has put Michael Gielen admirers in its debt with this live performance of Das klagende Lied, a work which this conductor did not tackle with the SWR Symphony Orchestra and so could not be featured in the sixth volume devoted to Mahler of SWR Music’s Gielen Edition.

What’s the music like?

The almost total dearth of music composed prior to Das klagende Lied makes its appearance the more remarkable, Mahler drawing on a lineage from Schubert, via Schumann and Liszt, to Wagner in a dramatic cantata – to his own text – whose themes of fratricide and vengeance beyond the grave struck a resonance. Its failure to secure the Beethoven Prize in 1881 likely condemned Mahler to years in provincial opera houses; major revision leading to its premiere in 1901 and publication the following year – the first of its three parts having been jettisoned.

Yet it is Waldmärchen, broadcast on Czech radio in 1934 but otherwise unheard until 1970, that most clearly denotes the nature of Mahler’s achievement. The lengthy orchestral prelude resounds with horn-calls and images of nature, and if the initial stages of the narrative reflect the schematic confines of its ballad form, the depiction of the younger brother’s triumph then his death at the hands of the elder brother summons a response of starkest intensity; with that desolate closing section seldom (perhaps never?) equalled for its depiction of innocence lost.

The remaining parts are more concentrated in their unfolding, while no less focussed in their emotional acuity. Der Spielmann relates said minstrel’s unwitting discovery of the murder through a tense intermezzo that more nearly touches on Mahler’s future symphonic thinking, while Hochzeitstück affords the greatest emotional contrasts as it moves from evoking the wedding festivities, via the stealthy revelation of the elder brother’s guilt, to a violent climax then postlude that renders such events from a vantage no less tragic for its otherworldly calm.

At the time of the present performance, Das klagende Lied was only performable in a hybrid of the first part with the revised second and third parts. Publication of the original scores of these latter two in 1997 should have made for a straight choice between the 1880 original or the 1899 revision, but most subsequent hearings have still opted for the earlier compromise – regrettable, given Mahler amended the latter parts so these could be heard without reference to what had once gone before. Not that this should inhibit appreciation of what is heard here.

Does it all work?

It does, thanks to Gielen’s intent in endowing those narrative and – latent – symphonic facets of this score with an unforced equilibrium. Of the vocalists only the soprano’s rather fluttery tone affords reservations, the Wiener Singakademie despatches Mahler’s resourceful choral writing with relish, and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra sounds fully attuned to an orchestration whose keen originality doubtless unnerved his elders at its time of completion. Immediate yet sympathetically balanced sound faithfully conveys the ambience of the Konzerthaus acoustic.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Those wanting the piece as Mahler conceived it should acquire Kent Nagano’s account (Erato), or head to Pierre Boulez’s remake (DG) for the two-part revision. Otherwise, Gielen’s amalgam could well be considered the first choice for this so often astounding work.

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You can get more information on the disc at the Orfeo website, or purchase from Presto

On record – Christopher Ward conducts Rott: Orchestral Works Vol.2 (Capriccio)

rott-ward-2

Gürzenich Orchester Köln / Christopher Ward

Rott
Symphony (no.1) in E major (1878-80)
Symphony for Strings (1874-5)
Symphonic movement in E major (1878)

Capriccio C5414 [77’02”]

Producers Thomas Bössl, Johannes Kernmayer
Engineer Sebastian Nattkemper

Recorded 27, 28 & 31 January 2020 at Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio releases its second volume devoted to orchestral music by the Viennese composer Hans Rott (1858-84), including a further recorded outing for the Symphony that was destined to remain his only fully realized mature work and on which his posthumous reputation rests.

What’s the music like?

Much is well known about the circumstances of Rott’s only completed symphony – namely its failure to secure a performance in his lifetime, being lauded by his younger contemporary Mahler (who alluded to it in at least four of his own symphonies) and its premiere 105 years after his death. That other composers in and around Vienna studied the score – elements are audible in Bruckner’s Seventh of 1883, even Franz Schmidt’s First of 1899 – is testament to its formal and expressive acuity in attempting to define a symphonic concept for the future.

Rott had produced a preliminary version of the opening movement which, recorded here for the first time, features the same themes in a relatively stolid entity that became more fluid in revision. The trumpet melody proves totemic for the whole work, as does Rott’s pervasive use of triangle as an ambient rather than merely textural device. Its preludial nature is reinforced by the emotional raptness of the adagio, twice building to intense climaxes that are eloquently rendered here, while leaving no doubt as to the composer’s harmonic and polyphonic mastery.

The highlight, though, is surely the scherzo – its elaborate design exuding rhythmic flair and a contrapuntal dexterity to the fore in this performance, with a frisson of excitement when the music threatens to career out of control in the closing pages. The finale’s ambition might not quite be equalled by its execution, but it does not prevent this heady amalgam of ruminative introduction that leads to a majestic prelude and fugue, then on to a fervent peroration, from aspiring to a transcendence it very nearly grasps. What might Rott have achieved forthwith?

By contrast, the Symphony for Strings is very much the product of a gifted student happy to emulate the string serenades of now little-heard minor masters such as Volkmann and Fuchs. That said, its trenchant opening Allegro then elegant slow movement are ably conceived in their writing for solo and ensemble strings, and if what follows equivocates between scherzo and finale (a fourth movement being summarily abandoned), it rounds off in lively fashion a piece that gives notice of Rott’s proficiency if little indication of a trailblazer in the making.

Does it all work?

Yes, inasmuch the Symphony requires a considerable level of intervention by the conductor to make it cohere as an integral entity. This it duly receives from Christopher Ward – cannily underlining thematic continuity across the whole, so that Rott is vindicated in what can seem reckless attempts to secure cohesion in the face of some disjunctive episodes. The Symphony for Strings presents few problems, with Ward bringing out various textural and phrasal points of interest. In both pieces, the Cologne Gürzenich musicians play to their collective strengths.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, those new to the Symphony should make it their choice of eight recordings. Vivid if rather airless sound, and detailed notes by Christian Heindl. Until more emerges of a putative ‘Second Symphony’, these discs would seem to be the last word on Rott’s orchestral output.

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You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on Hans Rott, you can head to a dedicated website

On record – Simon Bainbridge: Chamber Music (Kreutzer Quartet, Linda Merrick) (Toccata Classics)

TOCC_0573

Simon Bainbridge
String Quartet no.1 (1972)
String Quartet no.2 (2014-16)
Clarinet Quintet (1993)
Cheltenham Fragments (2004)

Linda Merrick (clarinet), Kreutzer Quartet [Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Mihailo Trandafilovski (violins), Clifton Harrison (viola), Neil Heyde (cello)

Toccata Classics TOCC0573 [56’14”]

Producer Peter Sheppard Skaerved
Engineer Jonathan Haskell

Recorded 5 July, 30 October 2019, 3 March 2020 at St. Michael’s, Highgate, London

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics issues only the third release to be devoted to the music of Simon Banbridge (1952-2021), whose recent and untimely death at the age of 68 has made this an unintended if pertinent memorial to one of the more underestimated British composers of his generation.

What’s the music like?

Bainbridge’s two string quartets effectively frame his output. Commissioned by André Previn for the South Bank Summer Music, the First Quartet finds a composer barely into his twenties taking on board then recent innovations emanating from Eastern Europe (notably the Second Quartet by Ligeti) and fashioning these into a tense single movement whose juxtaposition of timbre and texture are integrated so that the music feels inevitable in its unfolding. What was heard ‘in passing’ proves to have had a decisive implication when encountered in retrospect.

By the time of his Clarinet Quintet, Bainbridge was creating music as distinctive in idiom as it was virtuosic in its technical demands. Analogies with the ‘classic’ works for this medium by Mozart, Brahms and Reger may be elusive, but the piece likewise evinces an introspection (whether – or not – ‘autumnal’) that offsets an inner world teeming with formal subtleties and expressive nuances. Once again, it is the slightest gestures and pithiest motifs which prove to be crucial in the elaboration of what is one of the composer’s most seamless overall concepts.

In contrast, Cheltenham Fragments proceeds as a sequence of ideas such as takes in various combinations of the ensemble as it assembles a design certain to be perceived differently by each listener, if not the element of high-flown lyricism which comes momentarily to the fore.

Moving to the Second Quartet is to find Bainbridge engaged in a distillation of compositional practice, underpinned by the direct influence of visual art – namely Ethopian-born American artist Julie Mehretu, images of whose canvasses were projected to the rear of the ensemble at the first performance. Not that a visual component should be necessary for appreciating what, unlike the preceding pieces, is music whose rapidity of gesture is abetted by that of tempo in this audibly fast-moving work – any passing sense of slowness occasioned by context rather than actuality. Moments of intense eloquence do emerge over the course of these 21 minutes, their short-lived repose acting as points of orientation during what is otherwise a propulsive journey toward a conclusion which, if it indeed brings oblivion, does so with exquisite poise.

Does it all work?

It does, not least through the commitment of the Kreutzer Quartet and, in the Clarinet Quintet, Linda Merrick in teasing out cohesion and imagination from music that possesses both these qualities in abundance, but which might easily be overlooked given its underlying reticence or unwillingness to ‘force the issue’. Along with its contribution to Toccata’s disc of Jeremy Dale Roberts (TOCC0487), this finds the Kreuzer at its considerable best – aided by commendably natural sound and thoughtful annotations by Peter Shepperd Skaerved and David Wordsworth.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, and listeners are encouraged to investigate two NMC releases devoted to Bainbridge – one with his breakthrough work, the Viola Concerto (NMCD126), the other his Grawemeyer Award-winning song-cycle Ad ora incerta (NMCD059). More recordings will surely follow.

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You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording.