AMN Reviews: Wendy Richman: vox/viola [Tundra tun008]

For vox/viola, her debut solo album featuring recent work for viola and voice, violist/vocalist Wendy Richman has chosen a most appropriate duet partner: herself. Richman, a founding member of the International Chamber Ensemble who specializes in new performance techniques, is an accomplished performer on voice as well as viola, as she amply demonstrates on this collection of engaging works engagingly performed.

The works appearing on the album were commissioned by Richman as part of an ongoing effort to build a substantial contemporary repertoire for vocalist/violist. Modern work for singing violist traces back to Giacinto Scelsi’s Manto III of 1957, an inventive composition that joined extended string performance techniques to a sung text drawn from the Delphic oracles. Composer Lou Bunk’s (b. 1972) Scelsi Frammenti (2010) self-awarely carries Scelsi’s work forward by setting a text of broken consonants and vowels over a viola part based on Bunk’s improvisations on a homemade bowed instrument made of Styrofoam and cardboard. The piece captures and refracts the radicalism of Scelsi’s vocabulary with a series of scratches, creaks, and harmonics on the one side, and sustained vowels and stuttering consonants on the other.

Also inspired by Manto III is “to be held…” by Jason Eckardt (b. 1971) a work composed in 2012 for viola, voice, and prerecorded media. The title is taken from poet Charles Olson’s manifesto Projective Verse, which articulated a notion of measuring the poetic line by the length of a breath; the sung text derives from poet Robert Creeley’s The Language. The piece comprises a slow, microtonal counterpoint made up of elongated sung, played and played-back tones that approach, meet and diverge in slowly moving sound masses that build and sustain tension before culminating in an extreme upper register fadeout. The first part of Extraordinary Rendition (2010) by David Smooke (b. 1969) also uses long-period microtonal movements, but then turns dramatically to staccato phrasing for bow and hard consonants. José-Luis Hurtado’s Palabras en alto exploits changes in dynamic range as a way to frame and throw into sharp relief the color contrasts and expressive force inherent in a mobile series of extended gestures for strings and voice.

The above works represent just some of the highlights of the album; the other compositions, by Christian Carey, Stephen Gorbos, Arlene Sierra, Everette Minchew, and Ken Ueno, exhibit a wide and stimulating range of creative approaches to having voice and viola interact through a single performer. All are certainly worth hearing.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Orlando Cela – Shadow Etchings [Ravello RR7982]

In the burst of musical creativity that characterized the postwar period, the flute was at the forefront. A new generation of instrumentalists helped redefine its voice and attracted the attention of avant-garde and experimental composers: in fact, the very first Sequenza Luciano Berio composed was for the flute virtuoso Severino Gazzeloni. Similarly, the second volume published in the celebrated mid-1970s New Instrumentation series of monographs was The Avant-Garde Flute. Shadow Etchings, a solo recording by Orlando Cela, is firmly within this tradition.

Cela, born in Venezuela but currently based in Boston, is a flutist conversant with the historical literature but specializing in contemporary performance practices. Thus it’s no surprise that the pieces on Shadow Etchings highlight the flute’s expansive range of sounds and techniques. Cela is a consummately musical player, though, and one who consistently turns technical challenges toward expressive ends.

The first piece, Jean-Patrick Besingrand’s Le soupir du Roseau dans les bras du vent, represents a witty bit of historical revisionism. Starting with the opening phrase of Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute, the piece gradually dismantles Debussy’s melody through a set of variations based on timbral or technical effects. These include voiced notes, air notes, overblowing, flutter-tonguing and more. The formal structure of Debussy’s phrasing is somehow retained in a series of allusions, even as these allusions stray farther and farther from direct reference. Robert Gross’ Variations on a Schenker Graph of Gesualdo for flute and electronics, written for Cela, also recasts an earlier work, in this case a madrigal by Carlo Gesualdo as interpreted through Felix Salzer’s Schenker graph. Source material aside, the real substance of the work consists in the interaction of Cela’s performance with its electronic capture, manipulation, and playback. Greek-American composer Statis Minakakis’ Skagrafies II—the disc’s title track in the original Greek—was also written for Cela. This three-movement work for flute and piano resonance lays bare, often in an understated way, the complex interactions of dynamics, pitch and timbre as all three depend on, and take their particular shape from, the volume and force of breath. Lou Bunk’s Winter Variations, a duration-based, graphically-notated work for any pitched instrument, calls as well for an extended palette of sounds with a focus on microtones and multiphonics. Its realization here as a duet for flute and piccolo and piano (played by Sivan Etedgee) brings out the sometimes stark contrasts in color and temperament between wind and percussion.

Other works included in this fine collection are Dana Kaufman’s Hang Down Your Head, a set of variations on the folk song Tom Dooley, Edward Maxwell Dulaney’s A turning inwards, and Ziteng Ye’s program piece Self-Portrait.

Daniel Barbiero