Clas­si­cal CDs

You ei­ther love US trail­blazer Lou Har­ri­son’s mu­sic or you haven’t heard it.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - By EL­IZ­A­BETH KERR

Al­bums by Lou Har­ri­son, Jen­nifer Hig­don and Emil Jona­son

Com­poser Lou Har­ri­son fits into that splen­didly Amer­i­can artis­tic tra­di­tion of ec­cen­tric trail­blaz­ers; it in­cludes his col­lab­o­ra­tor John Cage, his teacher Henry Cow­ell and pi­o­neers Harry Partch and Charles Ives, out­siders who dis­cov­ered re­mark­ably orig­i­nal ways of mak­ing mu­sic.

Har­ri­son’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo sub­sti­tutes “found” per­cus­sion and In­done­sian in­stru­ments for an orches­tra. This and the Grand Duo for Vi­o­lin and Pi­ano show his usual light touch – a hint of jazz in the rhythm, hyp­notic rep­e­ti­tion and a sub­tly folk-in­flu­enced ap­proach to the vi­o­lin. Like his friend, New Zealand com­poser Jack Body, Har­ri­son loved the sounds of the In­done­sian game­lan; he vis­ited New Zealand in the 1980s, at Body’s in­vi­ta­tion, and com­posed for the game­lan orches­tra at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity.

Most fas­ci­nat­ing here is a 20th­cen­tury land­mark, the Dou­ble Mu­sic Har­ri­son com­posed with Cage. They fa­mously mounted per­cus­sion con­certs in San Fran­cisco in the 1940s, buy­ing gongs from “ori­en­tal” stores and pick­ing up res­o­nant ve­hi­cle brake drums at wreck­ers’ yards. For Dou­ble Mu­sic the pair agreed on a few rules, then com­posed two sep­a­rate works and played them si­mul­ta­ne­ously, an early ex­am­ple of Cage’s in­flu­en­tial “in­de­ter­mi­nacy”.

Chore­og­ra­pher Mark Mor­ris, who has a Har­ri­son trib­ute at the Tan­gle­wood Fes­ti­val of Con­tem­po­rary Mu­sic this year, de­clared “you ei­ther love Lou’s mu­sic or you haven’t heard it yet”. This cen­te­nary re­lease is bound to move many peo­ple from the se­cond group to the first.

LOU HAR­RI­SON, Vi­o­lin Con­certo, Grand Duo, Dou­ble Mu­sic (with John Cage) (Naxos Amer­i­can Clas­sics)

Pulitzer Prize-win­ner Jen­nifer Hig­don writes mu­sic that lives out­side – on horse­back, on the trail, over the prairie – oc­ca­sion­ally nip­ping in­doors for some toe-tap­ping hoe­down fid­dling. Her world view is much more na­tion­ally fo­cused than Har­ri­son’s and her lan­guage is the tonal id­iom of post­mod­ernism, with a touch of Amer­i­cana.

These vi­ola and oboe con­cer­tos have the unashamed beauty of neo-Ro­man­ti­cism. The soar­ing melodies may be a lit­tle sen­ti­men­tal, but the or­ches­tra­tion is that of a com­poser in full com­mand of her craft.

The four move­ments of or­ches­tral suite All Things Ma­jes­tic evoke moun­tains, lakes, rivers and the “cathe­drals” un­der the tall trees of Amer­ica’s na­tional parks. Film mu­sic cliché lurks at times, but Hig­don doesn’t suc­cumb; she is very pop­u­lar in her own coun­try and the grandeur of this mu­sic ex­plains why.

JEN­NIFER HIG­DON, All Things Ma­jes­tic, Nashville Sym­phony (Naxos Amer­i­can Clas­sics)

This re­lease from Swedish clar­inet­tist Emil Jona­son re­veals the quirky Nordic flam­boy­ance of Chris­tian Lind­berg’s en­ter­tain­ing clar­inet con­certo, The Er­ratic Dreams of Mr Grön­st­edt. Fast-run­ning lines, jazz-band in­ter­ludes and a few rude multi-phon­ics con­jure a char­ac­ter­ful Mr Grön­st­edt, named for the co­gnac the com­poser im­bibed be­fore dream­ing of his charm­ing anti-hero. Com­poser and soloist col­lab­o­rated in the cre­ation of the work.

The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the

Blind by Ar­gen­tinian Os­valdo Goli­jov has the clar­inet­tist in more se­ri­ous mood. Writ­ing for klezmer clar­inet and string quar­tet, the com­poser draws on his Jewish back­ground with dev­as­tat­ing im­pact. The so­phis­ti­cated piece is emo­tion­ally raw, with an­cient his­tory and the pain of ex­ile; no lis­tener could be un­moved by the heartrend­ing skirl of the klezmer melodies. The piece is dif­fi­cult, but the Vam­lingbo Quar­tet is im­mersed in the klezmer id­iom and mar­vel­lously in­ter­twined with Jona­son, whose clar­inet sobs, sings, howls, prays and dances. Breath­tak­ing.

Game­lan fan Lou Har­ri­son. Be­low, “breath­tak­ing” Emil Jona­son.

EMIL JONA­SON, Lind­berg & Goli­jov (BIS)

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