In March last year I was pleased to review a disc of piano works by Italian-American composer Michael Vincent Waller http://michaelvincentwaller.com which I found to be subtle, finely honed compositions that hold the attention in a strongly magnetic way.
I was pleased, therefore, to have the opportunity to hear this composer’s new album of chamber works for XI Records http://xirecords.org, entitled The South Shore.
Michael Vincent Waller lives and works in New York City. His work incorporates avant-garde sound worlds, connecting them back to a more traditional, classical beauty. He has also studied world music, specifically raga, and focused on modal analysis. Waller's chamber works have been commissioned and performed by the S.E.M. Ensemble, FLUX Quartet, Ensemble Epomeo, Ensemble Dedalus, Eric Huebner, Jenny Q. Chai, String Noise, Hilo String Duo, Zentripedal Duo, Project SiS, Cadillac Moon Ensemble and many more. Waller has studied with La Monte Young, Bunita Marcus, Petr Kotik, and Elizabeth Hoffman as a graduate of New York University.
This new release brings together a number of works that range from solo piano to a piece for flute, alto sax, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone. Written between 2012 and 2014 these works employ the use of modal scales.
The first disc of this two CD set opens with Anthems for cello and piano (2014) a work that perhaps suggest the anthem of a country that has been lost in time. Performed here by Christine Kim (cello) and Yael Manor (piano) it is a thoughtful piece built around a fine melody with lovely rich cello textures. It later increases in tempo rhythmically, briefly before a quiet coda.
Atmosfera di Tempo for string quartet (2013) features Conrad Harris (violin), Pauline Kim-Harris (violin), Daniel Panner (viola) and Christine Kim (cello). Here the quartet weave some fine textures around another lovely melody, showing some fine string writing from Waller, subtly increasing in emotional intensity as it progresses. There is a degree of minimalism but such are the subtle variations this proves to be a particularly attractive work.
Profondo Rosso for piano trio (2013) was written as a Valentine piece. It has a gentle opening by the trio before the piano picks out a theme, joined by the cello then violin to develop the theme. Soon the strings bring little variations over a repeated piano accompaniment before weaving their themes around each other over the piano line. It is performed here by Project SiS: Charity Wicks (piano), Pauline Kim-Harris (violin) and Christine Kim (cello) www.facebook.com/pages/Project-SiS/209974142347970?sk=info#!/pages/Project-SiS/209974142347970?sk=info&tab=page_info
Pauline Kim-Harris (violin), Daniel Panner (viola) and Christine Kim (cello) join for Per La Madre e La Nonna for string trio (2012) written for the composer’s mother and grandmother. A slow and gentle yet rather passionate, searching theme opens the work before leading through many variations with attractive details from the players. They provide a beautiful weaving of strings textures before rising in emotion. Waller packs much feeling into this relatively short work.
Pasticcio per meno ê più for piano (2014) is a gentle slowly evolving piece, exquisitely crafted, subtly developing with just a hint of Debussy in the more limpid piano lines. The music rises a little towards the end but soon returns to its more tranquil nature. It is beautifully played by Nicholas Horvath.
Esther Noh (violin) and Christine Kim (cello) come together for La Rugiada del Mattino for violin and cello (2013) (The Morning Dew) where the two instrumentalists weave a melody, often repeated and insistent before developing the theme through some lovely passages.
Tre Pezzi per Trio di Pianoforte (Piano Trio) (2014) is in three movements with the piano opening with Pezzo I before being joined in a lovely flowing theme by the strings. It soon adopts a slow gentle rhythmic gait, before returning to the opening metre. A gentle piano theme introduces Pezzo II soon joined by the string players as the melody is slowly developed with a somewhat melancholy feel. A more passionate central section arrives and, when the music returns to the slower theme, this more passionate feel is carried through to the coda where there is a lovely little piano flourish. Pezzo III continues the weightier passionate feel with the players Yael Manor (piano), Esther Noh (violin) and Christine Kim (cello) bringing out some fine textures.
Christine Kim (cello) teams up with Carson Cooman (organ) for Nel Nome di Gesù for cello and organ (2013). Cello and organ slowly open Part I with another of Waller’s fine melodies. The cello brings rich tones against which the organ adds lighter textures as well as pedal support. As the music is developed these two players weave some fine sonorities in this fine theme. In Part II the organ gently follows a richer cello melody with these players bringing such fine control, following every nuance.
Carson Cooman brings us Organum – organ solo (2014) that quickly and gently, rises up in a fine theme that is subtly developed before gaining in tempo and rhythm as it develops, this fine organist bringing many lovely colours and textures.
Christine Kim returns for Tacca Prima for cello (2013) a terrific little work that develops some fine textures as the melody is taken through many attractive variations.
Il Mento Tenuto Alto for violin (2014) (Keep your chin held high) opens with some lovely harmonics from the violinist Esther Noh, soon moving the music along with a hint of the baroque. It broadens as the endlessly inventive variations are developed. The music becomes faster and more intricate before easing into a slower melody. It receives a marvellous performance.
The second disc opens with a sextet for an interesting combination of instruments. Ritratto for flute, alto sax, electric guitar, viola, cello and trombone (2013) features the Dedalus Ensemble: Amélie Berson (flute), Pierre Stéphane Meugé (alto sax). Didier Aschour (electric guitar, Cyprien Busolini (viola), Deborah Walker (cello) and Thierry Madiot (trombone) www.dedalus-ensemble.fr . It is an immensely striking piece where some memorable tones and textures are produced as the simple little melody progresses. When the electric guitar enters it is used very subtly as indeed are all the individual instruments when they take the lead. This is a particularly fine work.
Daniel Pannier (viola) and Marija Ilic (piano) are the instrumentalists in La Riva Sud for piano and viola (2014), a work that, in the composer’s words ‘…translates to the South Shore – of Staten Island…close to my birthplace, where I returned to live.’ A flowing lyrical piano theme opens the work, soon joined by the viola with many thoughtful little moments beautifully realised by these players before gaining in expressiveness midway and weaving some fine passages.
Christine Kim is the soloist for Pupazzo di Neve Partitas for cello (2013), a reimagining of dances from the Baroque era. Allemande brings some fine textures and colours to the little theme that is developed most effectively using the fullest scope of the cello’s range. Courante brings some particularly fine playing as the intricately written theme is developed before Sarabande is slowly and broadly developed as more textures are laid and the theme expanded. Finally we have a lively rhythmic Gigue that has a lovely rhythmic sway to end.
This is a work that deserves a place in the solo cello repertoire.
20/21 Ensemble: Itay Lantner (flute), Yael Manor (piano), Jessica Park (violin), Erin Wight (viola) and Clara Kennedy (cello). www.20-21music.org bring us Variations for Quintet for flute, string trio and piano (2014). In two sections Variations I is a beautifully quixotic piece with more fine textures and colours that develop through some delightful passages. Variations II has a lovely gentle flow maintained by the piano over which the others bring a fine melody.
Marija Ilic returns for Return from The Fork from Miniatures for piano solo (2014), a folksy little melody, distinctively American that rises more insistently in the middle.
The four movement Y for Henry Flynt for cello (2012) features again cellist Christine Kim and opens with Fuguey Prelude that has a slowly developed theme, somewhat repetitive in nature that rises higher, centrally, before falling to some beautifully rich passages. Post-Sonata continues the theme slowly before picking up the tempo and developing through some passionate moments with some lovely double stopped textures and much fine passion toward the end. Quarter-Tone Rondo builds on the same material with a constantly undulating theme that eventually progresses through some extraordinary textures as the ¼ tones appear just before the end. Slow Scherzo has a repeated rising motif that is subjected to a variety of subtle variations before tailing off to a quiet coda.
Again Christine Kim is an excellent soloist.
Daniel Pannier and Marija Ilic are the duo again for Capo Finale for viola and piano (2012) where the viola leads a melody over a simple piano accompaniment, an exquisitely beautiful theme that soon picks up in tempo in an insistent version of the opening. Soon there is another variation, rhythmically flowing and insistent before the piano leads in another motif that has rhythmic buoyancy yet retaining the same insistency. There is a lovely coda.
Vocalise for flute (2014) brings flautist Luna Cholang Kang in this lovely work that develops through some very fine passages as the theme is developed, full of variety and invention with some finely played timbres.
Arbitrage Deux for clarinet (2013) has similar attractive qualities with clarinettist Katie Porter drawing some lovely textures from her instrument. This is a work that surely deserves a place in any clarinettist’s repertoire.
For Arbitrage for bass clarinet and gong percussion (2011) Katie Porter is joined by Devin Maxwell (gong percussion). She makes the most of her instrument’s deep rich timbres as Devin Maxwell adds subtle, controlled gong textures with fine subtle dissonances as the music slowly weaves ahead. This is a terrific piece.
There are some attractive works here, many reflective in mood, often very beautiful. Michael Vincent Waller has brought together a fine array of musicians who are nicely recorded. My download was provided with interesting notes.