Category: Tracks

Drumming, Part Four

So Percussion

Drumming is a piece that audiences never had to learn to like. At its premiere in 1971, after a hypnotically rhythmic performance delivered by a crew of 13 musicians, the audience was on its feet. The work remains a defining pinnacle in Western composition to this day. On this fresh recording of the minimalist classic, So Percussion maintains their reputation for performances of striking depth and precision that takes the concept of drumming way beyond keeping the beat.


The Song of Songs

Chamber Chorus of UC Berkeley with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, conducted by Marika Kuzma

Do you think music with complex harmonies can never sound happy? Think again! Jorge Liderman’s setting of the Old Testament Song of Songs is exuberant and its exuberance is infectious.


Variations for Orchestra

Something of a premonition of James Levine’s headline-grabbing tenure at the Boston Symphony, these live recordings with the Munich Phil show off how completely at home he can make musicians feel as they navigate through thorny atonal and serial waters. Carter’s Variations for Orchestra, his first orchestral composition after developing his mature modernist idiom, comes across as downright lyrical. But, if you buy the CD, make sure to go straight to track 2, or be subjected to the 21 seconds of applause which bizarrely open this disc as a stand-alone track.



After the one-two punch of his 2003 releases Blood Sutra and In What Language?, Vijay Iyer continues to push his own playing and his collaborators in compelling ways. Recently signed to Savoy Jazz, the label drops the first in a multi-album deal today. Iyer has a fresh set of original tunes on offer here, opening with dizzying speed and gymnastic aplomb on the aptly christened “Revolutions.”


Valen Lagoon

I have come to trust discs put out on the Pogus label as if they arrive bearing a Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and their latest release, a collaboration between Ellen Band and David Lee Myers, is no let down. Myer’s synthetic sound world meets the more organic sonic stylings (was that a kettle whistle mixed in there?) that fascinates Band, and together the two have come up with some striking ambient soundscapes. Valen Lagoon, a glassy, tinkling, Pied-Piper of a piece, is a disc highlight, leading the listener down into a hypnotic netherworld.


Impression of the St. Gaudens in Boston Common

Donald Berman, piano

Who can say how many little gems of works (and many probably not so little, too) penned by composers famous and unknown alike are hidden away in boxes, libraries, and attics, left undiscovered, unplayed? Charles Ives’s Impression of the “St. Gaudens” in Boston Common (1915), which would later evolve into the first movement of Three Places in New England, is one of many fragments and experiments being brought to the attention of the general public via pianist Donald Berman’s ongoing Unknown series. It’s surprisingly compelling listening—as revealing as examining an artist’s sketches in light of a completed painting, though such a parallel opportunity as this is rare in musical life.


Elegy for Anne Frank

Kevin McCutcheon (piano), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Christopher Wilkins, conductor

The horrors of World War II created so much great music both then and now, everything from Reich’s Different Trains and Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima back to Strauss’s Metamorphosen (written to mourn the wrong side) and Yizkor {In Memoriam} by Odeon Partos, who fled Nazi-ravaged Hungary to become one of the first major Israeli composers. Now, thanks to the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music on Naxos American Classics, add to that list two more great works I hadn’t encountered until now by Lukas Foss: one from then and one from recent times. Song of Anguish for baritone and orchestra, composed in 1945 (at which point Foss was 23 years old), takes as its point of departure Isaiah’s prophesies about “cities being wasted without inhabitant.” The more personal Elegy for Anne Frank for piano and orchestra from 1989 which can be performed with or without a narrator reciting from Anne Frank’s famous Diary is even more poignant in the wordless version recorded here. Foss was just honored with our Letter of Distinction last week. Here are two more reasons why this refugee from Nazi Germany (another one of their losses) is one of our greatest composers!


Factotum Pole

The New Haven-based Persinger defines his solo guitar music as “Modern/Primitive”; his is an outsider music that is equal parts folk, classical, DIY rock, jazz, and in this case, bossa nova.



Though truly a man-meets-machine piece of music—a sensor “listens” to the solo performer and relays information to a computer which has been programmed to respond—the result feels as organic and inspired as any human duet. Here, Jon Gibson takes part in the moody, subtle meditation in sax, guitar, and electronic sounds.


Six Pianos

For some reason hearing this less-than-perfect-sounding archival recording of Steve Reich’s 1973 Six Pianos from a live performance at The Kitchen makes the piece even more tactile than the original Deutsche Grammophone studio recording; it’s like learning secrets about an old friend many years later. And, if that’s not enough, this CD—released on a label run by Philip Glass!?!—also includes the bizarre Reich-goes-Lucier Pendulum Music which sounds less ferocious than Sonic Youth’s version on Goodbye 20th Century. Perhaps there’s room for interpretation in this music after all.