Los Angeles Times

Sunday, August 12, 2002

Performing Arts
Adams and Golichov CDs show what all the fuss is about

Grand in scope, inspiring in ambition, thrilling in execution, it suggests momentous metaphors. Nonesuch chose photographs of the Sierra and redwoods in its atmospheric packaging. Marshall writes about an epic journey.
"Naive and Sentimental Music" does not, in fact, follow the traditional symphonic procedure of dramatically working through contrasts and conflict to find resolution.
Instead, an innocent tune takes a trip and gets a life, naive and sentimental being, for Adams, preconditions of profundity and even enlightenment.
In the first movement, a pop-like song takes off and just keeps going, the road twisting and turning, a new experience around every corner. The gorgeous solo guitar melody (elegantly played by David Tanenbaum) that haunts the central slow movement, "Mother of Man," has the potential to turn saccharine but chooses a more serious and sustaining path. The last movement, "Chain to the Rhythm," is the hair-raising symphonic ride of your life.
The extraordinary command of this rich score that Salonen and the L.A. Philharmonic demonstrated at the premiere is captured in all its glory by Nonesuch.
Todd Palmer, clarinet;
St. Lawrence String Quartet
Everyone is talking about Osvaldo Golijov. He is unquestionably the hottest new voice on the scene, and his "St. Mark" Passion, which will find its way to the Eclectic Orange Festival in the fall, positively sizzles. (A live recording of its premiere is available from Hanssler, and a studio recording is in the works from Nonesuch.) Golijov, who is from Argentina, is also featured on the Kronos' exceptional recent CD, "Nuevo." But the most substantial overview of Golijov thus far is this marvelous new disc by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which includes several pieces that were performed by the Philharmonic or ensembles of its players last season when Golijov was in residence here.
The highlight is "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind," for klezmer clarinet and string quartet. There is an excellent recording by the Kronos Quartet and David Krakauer, but this is music so personal and of such personality as it moves from cabalistic mystery to earthy ecstasy that it takes on new qualities with new performers. The Kronos emphasized its beguiling strangeness; the St. Lawrence is after sheer passion, enhanced by Todd Palmer's virtuosity.
The St. Lawrence is joined by the Ying Quartet and bassist Mark Dresser for "Last Round," a winning tribute to new tango (the Philharmonic performed a string orchestra version). "Lullaby and Doina" is haunting music adapted from Golijov's score to Sally Potter's film "The Man Who Cried." The 10-year-old "Yiddishbbuk," the earliest work on this disc, contains short, emotional, harder- edged commemorations of children interned in the Terezin concentration camp, Yiddish writer I.B.Singer and Leonard Bernstein. All performances are gripping. If you want to know what all the fuss over Golijov is about, here is an excellent one-stop place to find out.
*** 1/2
MAGNUS LINDBERG "Cantigas," Cello Concerto, "Parada," "Fresco"
Anssi Karttunen, cello;
Philharmonia, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Sony Classical
As Esa-Pekka Salonen's countryman, school chum and closest musical friend, Magnus Lindberg is a familiar figure in Los Angeles. Last season, Salonen led a festival of Lindberg's works in London and toured Europe with them. When Leon Kirchner did not finish his violin concerto in time for its scheduled premiere by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in March, Salonen substituted two recent Lindbergscores, the Cello Concerto and "Parada."
This new CD, which contains first recordings of both pieces, comes from the London festival. It also includes the first recording of "Fresco," which was a Los Angeles Philharmonic commission in 1998.
Lindberg's music may not be quite so immediately accessible as Adams' or Golijov's, but it is so sonically strong and so full of gritty invention it manages to make a big first impression. The Cello Concerto is the standout, in part for the unbelievably facile finger work of Anssi Karttunen. But given a chance, all of Lindberg's music grows on a listener. Its harmonic richness draws you deeper and deeper into a sound world that might be likened to a cave that at first seems dark and foreboding, but soon starts to sparkle with unimagined colors and textures.
I find a greater beauty in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's playing, but Salonen gets the Philharmonia to sound very good here, and the recording does an impressive job in capturing the sonic breadth of this music.
California EAR Unit
"Chamber Music
for the Inner Ear"
California EAR Unit and others
Indefatigable and unpredictable, the California EAR Unit surprises season after season in its series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as at other appearances here and there. Little of this is documented by recording engineers. Granted, many of its performances have an admirably ephemeral nature--as music to be experienced in the moment--but occasionally something is worth living with. With this new disc, self-produced for a tiny, independent label in Santa Monica, the EAR Unit has given posterity a helping hand with five works that have proved to have lasting value.
The biggest news about the release is that it contains the first recording of John Adams' "Road Movies," which was given its world premiere by EAR Unit violinist Robin Lorenz and pianist Vicki Ray seven years ago. Although not a major work (Adams is a reluctant composer of chamber music), the three-movement Minimalist violin sonata has lately been catching on--Leila Josefowicz played it last weekend at the opening concert of the SummerFest in La Jolla; Nonesuch has a recording of it by Gidon Kremer and Grant Gershon in the can--and this hard-edged, dynamic performance is a good indication of why.
But everything else on the disc is of interest as well. There are two EAR Unit favorites. Frederic Rzewski's intense "Coming Together" (1971), with its spoken text taken from a prisoner's account of the Attica uprising, is still a striking and relevant musical polemic. John Bergamo's "Foreign Objects" is happy-go-lucky percussion music from 1984 that always brings the house down.
Julia Wolfe's stunning, disturbing "Girlfriend," written for the EAR Unit in 1998, is the largest work on the CD, with environmental crunching and crashing sounds upsetting the balance of the atmospheric, lyrical instrumental writing for the six-member ensemble. James Sellars' "Go," for which the album is titled, is quirky, jerky, sharp-witted music on the go.
The EAR Unit also makes an appearance on the first CD devoted to the brainy, boisterous and quintessentially downtown Kitty Brazelton, with her "Sonata for the Inner Ear," which received its first performance at LACMA in 1999. A composer equally fond of punk, plainchant and bebop, she has had one sort of pop band or another (such as the art-rock Dadadah) for the past two decades, but she also knows her compositional way around the music academy. "Sonata for the Inner Ear" is an actual sonata with plenty of attitude. It starts with an insinuating flute tune that bops around before exploding. A central movement includes improvisation and samples from EAR Unit outtakes over the years. You never know where this piece will go next, yet it all feels organic.
The other works on the disc--including looming and talkative jazz brass, goofy song and menacing dark electronics--fill in a portrait of an original, compelling voice.

Mark Swed is The Times' music critic.
At the premiere of John Adams' "Naive and Sentimental Music" in 1999, it was clear to many in the cheering audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that the Los Angeles Philharmonic had commissioned a masterpiece and that Esa-Pekka Salonen and the orchestra had done it justice. Adams' most ambitious symphonic work to date, this 45- minute score begged to be heard again and again. Nonesuch quickly arranged for studio time and made a recording, and I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me, or I've queried Nonesuch, about a release date.
In the age of Internet instant gratification, three years is a very long time. It's even a bit long by the snail-mail gait of classical record companies (Nonesuch bumped the release a couple of times, issuing other Adams' discs--"Century Rolls" and "El Nino"). But it is heartening that a company can so believe in a work's prospects that it feels no pressure to exploit its newness, that it paces the release of a composer's major works to give us time to fully absorb them.
It is also heartening that important new pieces do get made and recorded. Some of the most significant new music heard this season and in recent seasons by the Philharmonic and the California EAR Unit are now available. Happily for Angelenos, they heard it here first.
"Naive and Sentimental Music"
Los Angeles Philharmonic,
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
The title has a highfalutin source--a 1795 essay by the Romantic German poet Heinrich Schiller--and an excellent CD booklet note by composer Ingram Marshall investigates why Adams didn't just call this work a symphony and be done with it. But forget the title for a moment, and what you have is no less than a great American symphony in three movements.

related links:

"Chamber Music for the Inner Ear"

Other CDs by Kitty Brazelton

CRI (Composers Recordings Inc.)

Kitty Brazelton, composer

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