Howard Skempton – Piano Concerto (World Première)

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Another interesting première from 2016, also performed at the Tectonics festival, also for piano and orchestra, also featuring John Tilbury as soloist, is Howard Skempton‘s Piano Concerto. This is a work that i’ve been more than usually interested to hear. In conversations throughout the last couple of years, Howard has talked about this piece with me on numerous occasions, though his marvellously inscrutable way of describing it meant that, beyond knowing there was a Stravinsky connection, and that 12-note ideas were not unimportant, the piece remained pretty much a mystery. In fact, it turns out the link to Stravinsky is a big one, organisationally: Skempton has modelled his concerto on Stravinsky’s Movements for Piano and Orchestra, both by structuring the work in five short movements and also by utilising virtually the same instrumentation (substituting a second bassoon for Stravinsky’s clarinet, adding a pair of horns and ditching the harp and celesta). Read more

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Michael Pisaro – fields have ears (10) (constellation, monarch, canyon) (World Première)

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i’ve been spending time with assorted premières from last year, and among the more striking is the most recent—and, in fact, the final—addition to American composer Michael Pisaro‘s ongoing fields have ears series of works. Pisaro’s notion of the ‘field’ comprises a grid arrangement, the vertical rows corresponding to the players and the horizontal columns to divisions of time. Subtitled ‘constellation, monarch, canyon’, fields have ears (10) is a work for piano and orchestra, and Pisaro treats each of the 63 orchestral players as an independent sound source (forming an instrumental parallel to the field recordings and noise that accompanied the solo piano in the first fields have ears work, dating from 2008), with just a single type of sound at their disposal, not necessarily anything to do with their nominal instrument: flute 1, for example, is instructed “shaking paper lightly” while the bass clarinet has “plastic bag, light movements”, and so on. Each player makes three sounds throughout the work’s duration, only one of which is allowed to develop—the emphasis at the individual level is for the most part simply on the sound itself, which is either switched ‘on’ or ‘off’. Read more

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Ravaging, torrential, ravishing, triumphant: Köhnen Pandí Duo – Darkness Comes in Two’s

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There’s a a time to get excited about music, and there’s a time to leap around with irresistible, exuberant elation. 2017 is less than two weeks old, and already I have no doubt whatsoever that I’ve heard what will prove to be one of its very best albums. Looking back over the last decade, one of its most epic recurring zeniths—running through it like a range of mountains towering over almost everything else—has been the output from two sibling projects of Dutch musician Jason KöhnenThe Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation. They’ve appeared on 5:4 on numerous occasions—TMFDC’s Anthropomorphic was my best album of 2011, Roadburn was almost my best of 2013, and both groups have been featured on several of my mix tapes—and what draws me in so inexorably every time is its astoundingly complex amalgam of breathless improvisational play with doom-laden but paean-like (post-)apocalyptic melancholy. That’s slightly more true of TMFDC than TKDE (the former being the live improvisation version of the latter’s more rigorous compositional approach), and it’s equally the case with Köhnen’s latest project, Köhnen Pandí Duo, a collaboration with Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandí, best known in the last five or six years for his work with Merzbow. The duo’s first album, Darkness Comes in Two’s (sic), was digitally released a couple of days ago, and it’s not just something special, it’s incredible. Read more

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Mix Tape #37 : Best Albums of 2016

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

i’m starting 2017 in the usual way, with a mix tape bringing together one track from each of the forty albums on my best of 2016 list. i’m sure posterity will come to regard last year as something of a trough in human history, but this mix tape does at least testify to the fact that it also contained some truly marvellous wonders. i hope you find these three hours of music a nice distillation of the aural magic that was made in 2016; links to buy each of the albums can be found in the last two days’ articles.

The mix tape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud; here’s the tracklistening in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2016 (Part 2)

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Here they are, then: the best of the best of 2016, each and every one of them packed full of the rarest imagination, invention and ingenuity. i can’t recommend them highly enough.
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Best Albums of 2016 (Part 1)

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i’ve long wondered whether there’s any justification—or, indeed, any point—in making end of year lists, particularly when, as usual, there’s a pile of as yet unplayed discs staring down at me from the shelf above my desk. But, for all its provisionality, the following list will serve as a good starting point for anyone wanting an eclectic, considered, non-partisan take on the best of this year’s albums. Besides, lists are cool. So to begin with, here’s the first part of my current favourite forty albums of 2016, counting down from 40 to 21. i’ve included links for the albums, each of which is the lowest price currently available; most are streamable or can at least be previewed, so if you like what you hear do please support these fine artists.
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Michael Finnissy at 70: A Metier Retrospective – Part 2. Chamber music

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As with his vocal works, Michael Finnissy‘s chamber music is represented on four Metier discs, comprising around twenty pieces composed across three decades, from 1977 to 2007. This is only a miniscule proportion of Finnissy’s vast quantity of chamber music, but it nonetheless provides a valuable demonstration of various aspects of his compositional language. Above all, his omnipresent engagement with existing musical materials, which while often manifested in Finnissy’s music to varying degrees of convolution and obfuscation, could hardly be more overwhelmingly obvious in Metier’s 2013 CD featuring two works for piano quintet. Read more

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