AGP Agency New York Presents Kristóf Baráti, Bence Szepesi, and Éva Polgár, in Review
New York Concert Review Inc.
“Ms. Polgár was exemplary in her handling of the piano part. She established a hypnotic tone for the first movement, maintained a solid framework for the highly rhapsodic writing, was precise in what were sometimes torrents of passagework, and skillfully effected decisive tempo changes … Ms. Polgár gets kudos for the restraint needed to play such arrangements without diving into the original – she supported the clarinet in perfect balance.”
Sunday November 24th was quite a day for the clarinet in New York, as this musician found herself assigned to review two excellent clarinet concerts within hours of each other. The first concert of the afternoon, at Zankel Hall, was actually a chamber program featuring Hungarian clarinetist Bence Szepesi, whom I had had the pleasure of hearing and reviewing favorably for New York Concert Review last September, as he kicked off a year of touring with a Weill Hall recital (Bence Szepesi in Review). Mr. Szepesi’s Zankel appearance Sunday marked the end of his touring year with a program of Khachaturian, Schumann, Brahms, and Bartók, duos and trios that corralled the talents of two compatriots, violinist Kristóf Baráti and pianist Éva Polgár. All three have fine credentials, awards, international performances, and recordings, and under the aegis of the AGP Agency they gave us a remarkable afternoon of music.
Starting with strength is usually a good idea, and this trio did just that with the Trio in G minor for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (1932), an early masterpiece of Aram Khachaturian. One simply doesn’t hear this trio every day, so it was a treat to reacquaint oneself with it in the capable hands of these three musicians. They showed a strong affinity for its emotional power and seemed to revel in the exotic atmosphere and winding ornamented phrases that reflect the composer’s own Armenia, along with Uzbek and other folk influences.
Mr. Szepesi sustained his long, luscious lines with effortless fluidity, as one could expect from the last recital, but the pleasant surprise here was the violinist Mr. Baráti, whom this listener had never heard, despite his very active performing life. Mr. Baráti’s tone has a sweetness that surely owes a partial debt to his very special instrument, the 1703 “Lady Harmsworth” Stradivarius (an instrument so inspiring to him that he in fact named his 2016 disc of encores “The Soul of Lady Harmsworth”). No violin plays itself, of course, and Mr. Baráti showed musicianly instincts at every turn. He and Mr. Szepesi melded beautifully, and the Khachaturian, with its intertwining lines was the perfect match for them. Ms. Polgár was exemplary in her handling of the piano part. She established a hypnotic tone for the first movement, maintained a solid framework for the highly rhapsodic writing, was precise in what were sometimes torrents of passagework, and skillfully effected decisive tempo changes for the three (as in the last movement). One could hardly imagine performers better suited to this work than these three.
Following the Khachaturian came Schumann, his Drei Fantasiestücke (Op. 73), for clarinet and piano. These were well performed overall, though this listener sensed that the comfort level was not as great here as in the Khachaturian. From the opening, which Schumann marks Zart und mit Ausdruck (Tender and with expression), the measured tempo seemed to convey reticence rather than intimacy. Such reactions are of course personal, but one wondered whether the duo of Polgár and Szepesi had yet reached a true meeting of the minds. The second piece, Lebhaft, leicht (Lively, light) achieved just the right breeziness – with the pianist even approximating a reedy sound herself – but the third piece, Rasch und mit Feuer (Quick and with fire) found doubts returning. What one usually thinks of as impulsiveness in this movement verged on skittishness here, and sure enough (as technical ease does often match interpretive decisiveness) there were glitches. All ended with brio, though, even if – to this listener – the final moments had a bit too much dispatch and almost a Mozartean lightness.
This listener, though always hoping to enjoy all performances, was braced to dislike the next work on the program, as one read that it was to be a clarinet-piano arrangement (by Bence Szepesi) of the eternally loved Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118, No. 2 for piano by Brahms, a work that stands in perfection with no adornment or adaptation; to my great surprise, however, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Mr. Szepesi’s arrangement showed good fidelity to the score, with the added virtue that all of Brahms’s singing phrases had the penetrating and sustained sound for which pianists strive. The duo played it with great sensitivity. Ms. Polgár gets kudos for the restraint needed to play such arrangements without diving into the original – she supported the clarinet in perfect balance.
A strong finish was in store at this point, as the trio took on Bartók’s exciting Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano (1938-40). The three gave it an energetic ride, each player making child’s play out of the wild ranges, runs, cadenzas, and brilliant passagework. The first movement, Verbunkos (Recruiting Dance), found Mr. Szepesi in especially fine form with its virtuoso demands. The second movement, Pihenő (strangely: Relaxation) found all three united in a conception of mysterious simmering, as the music invites with its eerie trills and sense foreboding. The third and final movement Sebes (Fast Dance) was stunningly played by all three in impressive synchronization through lightning fast runs and imitative patterns. Mr. Baráti’s technique was stellar in the cadenza.
The Contrasts are always a revelation to hear, with many jazzy elements, including an opening movement that Bartók himself admitted owes a debt to the Blues movement of Ravel’s Sonata No. 2. Its history is fascinating as well. It was composed in response to a letter from the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, though ultimately commissioned by legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman. Goodman and Szigeti gave it the premiere with Bartók at the piano in Carnegie Hall in 1940 (before there was a Zankel Hall), As one listened to this Sunday’s trio (which perhaps deserves a name if they wish to continue as a group), one couldn’t help thinking that they should give the work a repeat performance on its 80th anniversary in 2020. Bravi tutti!
The Trio of Bence Szepesi, Kristóf Baráti, and Éva Polgár made history in New York City
Papageno via New York Concert Review
December 9, 2019
English Translation: Éva Polgár
“The sold out concert held at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, did not only raise an exceptional public interest, but it was also praised by the New York press … one could hardly imagine performers better suited to this work than these three.”
After its 1939 world premiere by Benny Goodman, József Szigeti, and Endre Petri, the public could hear Béla Bartók’s Contrasts for the first in the interpretation of a Hungarian piano trio at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
The trio concert of Bence Szepesi (clarinet), Kristóf Baráti (violin), and Éva Polgár (piano) ended with an enormous success in the world renown concert hall on November 24. The sold out concert held at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, did not only raise an exceptional public interest, but it was also praised by the New York press.
The opening piece of the concert was Khachaturian’s G minor trio for clarinet, violin, and piano played by the three Hungarian artists. Rorianne Schrade from New York Concert Review wrote “one could hardly imagine performers better suited to this work than these three.”
Schumann’s composition for clarinet and piano, Drei Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, had a warm audience reception and was followed by Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major. The critic from New York Concert Review complimented on Bence Szepesi’s arrangement of the piece originally composed for piano. She especially appreciated the arranger’s expressive interpretation, his singing phrases, and penetrating and sustained sound. These qualities did not surprise those who already heard the Hungarian clarinetist’s debut the previous year.
The three artists, who formed a trio for this special occasion, made history after the two clarinet-piano duos. To conclude the concert with Béla Bartók’s Contrasts, BB. 116, was especially significant, as the piece composed for clarinet, violin, and piano commissioned by Benny Goodman was premiered at Carnegie Hall. After his performance in Chicago and Washington, D.C., Bence Szepesi could proudly follow Benny Goodman’s footsteps on New York’s historic concert stage. The New York concert review raved about the clarinetist’s virtuosic and energetic appearance for the second time after his last year’s debut at Carnegie Hall. The article elaborated on the violinist’s brilliant cadenza (“stellar cadenza”), and on Éva Polgár’s sensitive piano playing (“she established a hypnotic tone”). The review’s author also gave voice to her hope of hearing the incomparably well matched Hungarian trio in the future again. The artistic director of the New York based AGP Agency, Ádám György, gave an opening speech at the concert.
Through the Lens
J. Robin Coffelt
January 20, 2019
“The most novel use of household devices award for this concert, though, goes to Elizabeth Baker’s Command Voices 1919TX-MA for piano, here performed by Éva Polgár. This piece uses several vibrators … placed on the strings of the piano to produce an astonishing array of overtones … I found this piece both conceptually and musically fascinating.“
Review: Broken Dolls | Sounds Modern | Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Sounds Modern uses music by women composers, and dance, to complement the Laurie Simmons exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Fort Worth — The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is staging an exhibit of photographer Laurie Simmons’ work, Big Camera/Little Camera through Jan. 27. On Saturday afternoon, chamber ensemble Sounds Modern performed a concert of contemporary works by women composers to complement the Simmons exhibit.
Laurie Simmons’ work primarily features dolls, mannequins, and ventriloquists’ dummies in sometimes mundane, often disturbing settings and poses. Her work comments on traditional gender roles and society’s expectations for women.
To that end, Sounds Modern Artistic Director Elizabeth McNutt designed a program that included a premiere of Sungji Hong’s Agonia for flute and prepared piano, as well as a dance choreographed to Hong’s music, by choreographer Ilana Morgan, with dancers Sharon Barnhill and Linda Wallace. According to the choreographer, the dancers represented the concept of resistance. As older women, too, they represented a demographic rarely seen on dance stages. Musicians Elizabeth McNutt, flute, and Anatolia Ioannides, piano, made much of Hong’s requests for extended techniques. This was listenable, accessible contemporary music.
Sounds Modern is known for its whimsical approach to music and musicianship, and this concert was no exception. Both Elizabeth Brown’s Brown, Party of Two for flute (McNutt) and viola (Mike Capone) and The Pie Is Done, written and performed by the Texas Feminist Improvising Group, used unconventional “instruments” such as kitchen bowls, a coffee grinder, hair dryers, and assorted other implements of traditional femininity. Both the written piece and the improvisatory one raise questions about gender roles and expectations. (Can a person play the cello and vacuum at the same time? Yes, apparently, cellist Kourtney Newman can. But can she do them simultaneously and well? Not really, unless all you want to hear are open strings—perhaps reinforcing that we can do it all, sure, but maybe not all at once.)
The most novel use of household devices award for this concert, though, goes to Elizabeth Baker’s Command Voices 1919TX-MA for piano, here performed by Éva Polgár. This piece uses several vibrators (yes, the sexy kind) placed on the strings of the piano to produce an astonishing array of overtones. While I found this piece both conceptually and musically fascinating, that was clearly not a universal experience. A helpful romance tip to the gentleman behind me, who was snoring gently throughout Baker’s piece: when a lady produces not one but three vibrators in your presence, going immediately to sleep is unlikely to make anything good happen for anyone.
The best-known composer on the program was probably Missy Mazzoli, who composed music for Mozart in the Jungle and won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America Award for Best New Opera for Breaking the Waves. Her Lies You Can Believe In, for string trio (violin, viola, and cello), sounds minimalist, although Mazzoli says that it owes debts to eastern European folk music, punk, and electronica. Similarly, Eve Belgarian’s Did He Promise You Tomorrow? for string quartet, piccolo, and bassoon, is minimalistic and hypnotically rhythmic, and rather better played than the Mazzoli.
The most interesting work on the program, though, was Alex Temple’s “Willingly,” for flute (McNutt), piano (Polgár) and recording. The recording is created from the voices of Temple’s friends and family. Mostly, they make statements beginning “If you’d told me ten years ago that I would willingly [listen to country music, visit an abortion clinic, sign up for a dating service called Senior People Meet…SENIOR??]” with flute and piano overlaying the recording. The only issue here is that the live instruments overbalanced the tape—if we were expected always to hear the words on the tape. But overall, it was an interesting, bold, and thoughtful use of electronics.
Sounds Modern concerts, which are free, are a wonderful accompaniment to the Modern’s exhibits. Do what I did and make a day of it—see the special exhibit, have lunch in the Modern’s café, with its glorious view, and take in the matinee concert. It was a fantastic way to spend a cold, windy Saturday.
J. Robin Coffelt
September 14, 2018
“Éva Polgár is an adept musician not only as a collaborator, as elsewhere on the program, but also here, as a soloist mastering the considerable difficulties of the piece.“
Review: Sounds from the Strange Forest (soft control) | Sounds Modern | Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
Sounds Modern celebrates the exhibit The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg with work by contemporary Japanese composers.
Fort Worth — Saturday afternoon’s Sounds Modern concert at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was a tie-in with the eye-popping Takashi Murakami exhibit “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” which closes on Sept. 15. Featuring contemporary Japanese chamber music, the program included a wide variety of pieces from the whimsical to the serious.
The group is a collaborative effort among several University of North Texas faculty and other area musicians, led by Music Director Elizabeth McNutt. She and her colleagues opened Saturday’s program with Toshi Ichiyanagi’s Pratyahara Event from 1973. Pratyahara is Sanskrit for “withdrawal of the senses” and is one of the Eight Limbs of traditional yoga practice. The piece, rather than being written with usual notated rhythms, or even timed rhythms, is timed by the number of the performer’s breaths, meaning that note durations may be different for various musicians. It was not only music, but also performance art. The nine musicians (strings, percussion, electronic keyboard, accordion, and bassoon) donned masks, walked around their chairs, and played imaginary instruments, among other activities, as well as producing musical sounds. It was certainly absorbing, which is where the title becomes significant: pratyahara is the meditative experience of being so focused that one isn’t easily distracted, similar to what is sometimes called “flow.”
Ken Ueno’s That I May Time Transcend, That a Universe My Heart May Unfold was the only piece on the program with a direct connection to the Murakami exhibit, since its title is borrowed from that of a Murakami work. This work, for amplified string quartet (Mia Detwiler and Andrew May, violins, Mike Capone, viola, and Kourtney Newman, cello), accordion (Elaine DiFalco), and electronic keyboard (Stephen Lucas), uses extended techniques to create otherworldly sounds. The amplification seemed largely superfluous, however.
Koji Nakano’s Spring Breathes VI, for flute and piano, was performed by the Calliope Duo of Elizabeth McNutt, flute, and Éva Polgár, piano. Nakano’s short piece, expressive of his discovery of a little flower in an otherwise dry landscape, contrasts minimalist rhythmic patterns in the piano with more lyrical lines in the flute, elegantly played by McNutt.
The most overtly technical piece on the program, and the only one by a woman composer, was Karen Tanaka’s brief Techno Etude No. 2 for solo piano. Éva Polgár is an adept musician not only as a collaborator, as elsewhere on the program, but also here, as a soloist mastering the considerable difficulties of the piece.
Joji Yuasa’s Inter-posi-play-tion, like Ichiyanagi’s Pratyahara Event, asks musicians to make decisions about note duration and other activities during the performance. The piece, for flute doubling alto (McNutt), piano (Polgár), and two percussionists (Nick Bolchoz and Colton Lytle), is conceptually and musically interesting. It features lunging entrances and chaotic ensemble, as well as various extended techniques in piano including striking the strings with a mallet and a tuning fork, and in flute with flutter tonguing, overblowing, and some impressive note bending from McNutt. It’s 21 minutes long, though, and doesn’t have enough ideas to sustain the audience’s interest for that time.
The program concluded with another piece by Ken Ueno, Remembering Animal Sendai, which is an homage to the devastation of the 2011 Japanese tsunami. This work, beginning with solo flute (McNutt), adds an unexpected element of electronic tape, which eventually takes over with distortion and other electronic sounds, while McNutt’s playing falls silent even as she mimes continuing to play.
In many respects, the most compelling piece on the program was the final one. Dai Fujikura’s Scion Stems, for string trio of violin, viola, and cello, offers a theme and set of variations—a traditional form, to be sure, except that here, the variations are textural rather than melodic. Legato, glissando, pizzicato, producing sound only with fingers on the fingerboard, and other techniques created a novel and fascinating close to a largely engaging afternoon of music.
InterSpheres Trio Concert Review – FUGA, Budapest
Translation: Éva Polgár
“The embellishing sound particles and little acoustic motions provided a distinct unity of soundscape. I found the overall softness, and how this softness draws the listener’s attention, especially exciting.”
InterSpheres Trio, consisting of Éva Polgár (piano), Lisa Bost-Sandberg (flute), and Jacob Harpster (percussion), arrived to FUGA at Sándor Petőfi Street from the United States of America. The newly formed ensemble’s concert program in Budapest revealed the performers commitment to the most recently written chamber music repertoire. Beyond duo formations and solo works, the trio members performed in two compositions all together. Harpster proved his instrumental mastery on a spectacular piece for solo marimba, Joseph Schwanter: Velocities (2009). Éva gave a colorful performance of Joelle Wallach’s romantic poem for piano, Voices of the Iron Harp (1986), with faith and great convincing power.
Out of the three musicians, Lisa Bost-Sandberg received the most opportunities. We could hear superb instrumental presentation from the young artist, who is active as a composer and professor as well. She started Judith Shatin’s composition for flute and piano, Gabriel’s Wing (1989), with an ethereal and pure sound, without “rustle.” I found it a bit unfortunate that the piece requires not only sensitivity from the musician, but sentimentalism as well, unlike the compact masterpiece of David Lang, lend/lease (2008) for woodblocks and piccolo. The rhythm-unison between the flutist and percussionist merged into a melody-unison over the course of the piece. The melody in the piccolo with its large intervallic leaps made us “believe,” that the home-fabricated instrument, made of ten approximately evenly proportioned woodblocks, is capable to produce relatively large melodic leaps. One can find four different interpretations on a popular music website of Lang’s composition, each of them played on a different construction of instrument. However, none of the recordings convey the “natural-raw” kind of sound but Jacob Harpster’s blocks and interpretation, that I like a lot, and that does not resemble the sound of a “real” instrument. Thanks to the creativity of the composer, the sonority of the woodblock-piccolo duet holds the listener’s attention throughout the work.
Two newly commissioned pieces for the ensemble framed the pleasantly short early evening concert. The evening started with Balázs Horváth’s trio, Dualith. The most differently generated piano and percussion sonorities joined the long sustained notes of the glissando head-joint flute. Horváth’s techniques extending the sounds of the two percussive instruments, designed for characteristically short attacks, were very ingenious. Besides stretching out the percussive, quickly fading sounds, the composer created reflections of the various flute performance techniques on the piano and percussion instruments in a very innovative way. Approaching the central section of the piece, these musical reflections grew richer and started covering the flute part. The embellishing sound particles and little acoustic motions provided a distinct unity of soundscape. The original balance of participating instruments was restored in the second half of the piece. I found the composition’s overall softness, and how this softness draws the listener’s attention, especially exciting. This was one of the features that helped me diminish my disappointment in the extrovert advancement of the gently embarking piece of Shatin, which almost appeared to be boisterous after Horváth’s trio.
In closing, the ensemble performed its featured composer’s trio. Like some other pieces on the program, Dan Tramte’s work, i/o, is also centered around the flute with particular emphasis on the special gliding effects produced with the glissando head-joint. Tramte used traditional scale segments as part of his compositional method. The physical direction of scales was asynchronous with the sounding glissando on the flute, and nearly became a pedal-point over the piece. The flute part created the center of a sound palette. The piano, prepared in some registers, and the marimba outlined the high and low edges of this sound palette. Although dealing with similar problematics, and perhaps going for answer in similar directions, Tramte’s and Horváth’s works still sound very distinct from each other. The latter created a more concentrated form, the former one a more extreme form.
Andrássy Street Music Promenade – Éva Polgár Piano Recital
September 7, 2010
“The temptation to simply use this difficult music as a vehicle to show off a virtuoso technique must be very real but it does not do justice to the music. Ms. Polgár did not fall into this trap. Rather, she thought the music through and gave measured and intelligent interpretations. Certainly we were treated to moments of sheer virtuosity but not at the expense of the deeper meaning.”
It is nearly a year since we first reviewed a recital by this exciting young Hungarian pianist. At the time, we saw her as a promising talent. In the time that has passed since, she has blossomed into a fine artist.
Street music is a wonderful idea in bringing classical music to a wider public and we should all be grateful for a ‘freebie’ when the opportunity arises. For the artist, it can be more challenging. Simply trying to keep the hands warm and flexible in the chilly autumn breeze can be a problem and the odd lapse is understandable and forgivable. Actually there were very few of these and recovery so good that one hardly noticed.
Far more important is the musicality of the artist, her vision and interpretation of the music. An all Liszt programme (with a little help from Tchaikovsky and Paganini) is technically difficult in any circumstances and even more so in that environment. Ms. Polgár’s approach to this music was both mature and thoughtful. The temptation to simply use this difficult music as a vehicle to show off a virtuoso technique must be very real but it does not do justice to the music. Ms. Polgár did not fall into this trap. Rather, she thought the music through and gave measured and intelligent interpretations. Certainly we were treated to moments of sheer virtuosity but not at the expense of the deeper meaning. If the Csárdás obstiné and the Polonaise after Tchaikovsky’s Onegin are to be enjoyed at face value, the pieces from Années de Pélerinage require mature reflection which they certainly received as did the second (St. Francis) Legend. Her measured tempo for ‘La Campanella’ was a refreshing change from performances that milk this piece for its showpiece potential and the closing work, the 6th Hungarian Rhapsody capped a memorable recital with a fine performance.
In the coming weeks and months, Ms. Polgár will be pursuing her career in the United States. We wish her well and are glad to note that she will be returning often to Hungary so her undeniable talents will not be entirely lost to us.
Éva Polgár & Sándor Vály: Gilgamesh
The Grim Tower
April 15, 2014
“These two extremely talented musicians have created an avant-garde musical tribute to the world’s oldest epic … It’s quite thrilling and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
These two extremely talented musicians have created an avant-garde musical tribute to the world’s oldest epic (as far as we know) that predates even the Bible, (and also contains stories and figures that were copied and reconfigured into that latter text) known to us as The Epic Of Gilgamesh. Using several different types of instruments and styles, they’ve attempted to portray some of the events and characters from this tale. Since this is a rather diverse and odd collection of music, let me walk you through this listening experience.
The album begins with a spoken word introduction, read directly from the text itself. And yeah, you really should sit down and read it. I still haven’t gotten a chance to read it myself yet, but I certainly would like to go through it to compare/contrast the stories that were later taken by both the Egyptians and the Jews and added into their holy books. The music really begins with “Gilgamesh – The City 10:22” which also doubles as the longest song on the disc. It’s essentially piano with some shaking effects and a later added section of springy percussion. Other elements are added as the piece continues, including triumphant horns and atmospheric synths. Indeed a tribal sort of atmosphere is created, one that seems almost befitting of our hero. (Yes, Gilgamesh is the story of a great hero, who like Heracles of later fame; accomplished many great feats.) “Enkidu 4:54” comes next with a piano start, but later becomes apparent as a sort of repeated synth piece, which echoes a sort of light flute and includes some other elements later in the piece. It’s very much in the same style of “Gilgamesh” as it builds up in the same way. “Shamhat 4:21” begins with percussion and adds what sounds like the soft whisper of a woman in constant repetition. This album is definitely built of constant repetition. More percussion continues, as the repeated sounds of orgasmic hollers escape from the percussionary piece. It’s quite interesting. Then clanging cymbals come into place as more shouts in orgasm continue. Afterwards, piano serves as a great post-climax section. Piano opens “The Fight Of Gilgamesh and Enkidu 6:31” and it sounds rather threatening, extremely deep and ominous. Creepy piano drives the entire piece, Choirs escape as the battle escalates. This piece seems to serve as a soundtrack to a film that plays in your head. You can almost see the characters dueling each other as this music illustrates their battle. “Humbaba 3:57” comes next, rolling in the piano again – but just until some percussion and a few moments of flute come back into the mix. Things really get good when the sax comes in. “Ishtar 4:50” is next, (Ishtar = Easter) and it comes in lightly with piano. Out of all the pieces, this is the most subtle and romantic of them all. It does however build suspense towards the end. “The Bull 1:49” features frantic drumming as would be native to metal, but then it employs angry saxophones and light piano. Very interesting! “Death Of Enkidu 4:32” features light piano, ominous synths and some vocalization. A tribal feeling takes over the piece (yet the piano still continues) as something truly mysterious envelops from what begins to sound like a ritual. Next we have “Umnapishtim 5:47” (who was later changed to Utnapishtim when Ra wanted to flood the world and then Noah when YHWH wanted to flood the world again.) It’s a percussion piece with still a bit of piano, flute and some tribal shouts, as trumpets later come into play. Piano closes the piece. “Close To Immortality 5:32” is another very subtle track which seems almost melancholic in its funerary piano playing, but it gets a bit ethereal later when synths are added. I’m reminded of a great moment in a role-playing game when I hear this track, as it feels like something really special has happened. Something eye opening and quite provoking. And almost, it sounds like the stars in twilight. This piece actually flows right into the electronic-laden “Back To The City 2:56” which serves as our closer. Though I don’t think this was truly necessary, (the electronics here seem to dirty the piece a little with fuzz) I guess this is how the two musicians thought it would be best to end the tale.
The Epic Of Gilgamesh is told in many different forms and styles throughout Gilgamesh, but these pieces do seem to be relevant to the source material. Each piece seems to fit its namesake and that’s important with a concept album, be it a vocal or an instrumental concept. Trust me, I’m writing one myself! At any rate, if the source material and observation that I’ve given for the piece interests you, then please go pick up the album. It’s quite thrilling and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Highlights: Shamhat, The Fight Of Gilgamesh And Enkidu, The Bull, Death Of Enkidu, Close To Immortality (12 Tracks, 56:00
Éva Polgár and Sándor Vály: Mondrian Variations – piano and sampler works
Aquarius Records, San Francisco
July 13, 2012
“Conceptual composers Eve Polgar and Sandor Valy … turn the nonrepresentational paintings of Dutch modernist Piet Mondrian into beautifully vibrant minimalist scores … The music feels somehow different as if Polgar and Valy were reaching the same place through a completely different approach. Regardless of the process, the music is engaging and a delight to listen to. An extraordinary release on Circle’s Ektro label that comes highly recommended!”
Using visual artworks as a means of musical composition often sounds better in theory than in practice. Take the recent book and cd of Baudouin de Jaer’s solo violin interpretations of the musical motifs in Adolf Wolfli’s cosmological drawings where the audible results were less dazzling than the images would suggest. But not so in this latest experiment from conceptual composers Eve Polgar and Sandor Valy who turn the nonrepresentational paintings of Dutch modernist Piet Mondrian into beautifully vibrant minimalist scores. Mondrian, who started out as a representational painter, became increasingly interested in a process of reduction from nature into essential forms that soon evolved away from any overt natural reference. Most famous for his painting of bold black lines on white grounds and geometric forms in primary colors, and their perhaps musically influenced titles (Broadway Boogie Woogie!), it’s not hard to see a correlation of sound and vision in his work.
There is an interesting booklet that comes in the slipcase with this, detailing the process of how the pieces were composed to which paintings, where we also learned that this is not the first time the composers have worked in this manner. They previously worked out scores based on paintings by Breugel and there are cool pictures of how they designed scores based on how the orientation of the heads of peasants in Breugel’s paintings followed a kind of musical order. Would like to see how that turned out musically, but getting back to the Mondrian Variations, the music starts out with repetitive solo piano figures that have a simple but idiosyncratic repetitive quality with sudden pauses that seem to follow a precise structure. With each composition, we’re introduced to something new sonically through computer programs and samplers: an organ, pitched string modulations, then some minimal percussive rhythms until the pieces grow more epic in scope with choral like sounds, vocal counting of the odd tempos and blocks of interweaving rhythms. Of course, the musical corollary of this is Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but the music feels somehow different as if Polgar and Valy were reaching the same place through a completely different approach. Regardless of the process, the music is engaging and a delight to listen to. An extraordinary release on Circle’s Ektro label that comes highly recommended!
Éva Polgár and Sándor Vály: Mondrian Variations – piano and sampler works
Soundi, June-July edition, 2012
Translation: Éva Polgár
“The music so created is enriched with the sampler. During the working process, the composer-interpreters massage not only the music, but their methodology as well. It is as if their music goes through a fine evolution, much as Mondrian’s expression progressed up to the 1940’s.”
This CD was created by visual artist Sándor Vály – who lives in Finland – and pianist Éva Polgár, and is based on the paintings of Piet Mondrian. In similar situations the question is usually about musical interpretation of a painting or another artistic subject, such as in the case of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition.
However, Vály and Polgár are approaching the process in a somewhat more objective way. Mondrian Variations aims to translate the content of the paintings into music. In other words, the painting is broken down into more abstract pieces of data, from which music notes and other musical elements were deduced. The black and white paintings of the 1915 to 1917 period are directly drafted into the music sheet, and the distances between the lines are approximated by the length of the notes in time. In the colour works of Mondrian, the colours get pitches; in this way, the colour blue becomes Ges (enharmonic As) in music.
The music so created is enriched with the sampler. During the working process, the composer-interpreters massage not only the music, but their methodology as well. It is as if their music goes through a fine evolution, much as Mondrian’s expression progressed up to the 1940’s.
A nice and smart structure faces us. What is even better, it has produced a great music that fits well together with its source material, in both its form and atmosphere. American minimalists who started their careers in the 1950’s – such as Morton Feldman and John Cage – much admired Mondrian, and in these pieces the echo of their “children”, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, is easily recognizable.
The entire texture opens up to the reader in the booklet attached to the CD. One can also find there the paintings of Mondrian, and pictures from the extracts born during the compositional process. The whole package deserves credit. A great work.
Joelle Wallach: The Nightwatch
Accessed on July 19, 2015
“Polgár traces the piece’s gestures (largely derived from those of the late 19th-century piano literature, but the music of the French Impressionists is there too) with expertise.”
The present disc commemorates Wallach’s time as visiting professor of composition at the University of North Texas at Denton. This is the second recording of The Nightwatch to have come my way. I was positive about Stephen Alexander Carroll’s reading (with pianist Stephen Harlos) on another disc of Wallach’s vocal music on 4TAY records ( Fanfare 36:4). Tenor Sam McKelton is marginally less convincing in the first song of The Nightwatch , his voice rather lacking body. The second song (“Assurance”) is more impressive, its bare textures and wide registral gaps capturing the ear. This latter is a tremendous song and forms the perfect introduction to Wallach’s art. One can hear her expert ear, the way she can achieve with economy of means exactly what she wants to achieve. It also acts as a reminder that the art of the Lied is far from dead.
The cat of the title of Alleycat Love Song is the composer’s own “magical cat and mini-muse.” Here, a light touch enables a beautifully drawn little miniature. Soprano Marie Therese Mattingly is most appealingly light herself and concludes with a most cute “meow.” If only it lasted longer than three minutes. Still, as the old adage goes, leave ’em wanting more…
More cattery emerges later in the disc, with the same performers tackling PAX , which uses words by D. H. Lawrence to “celebrate the spiritual life of Wallach’s cat,” as the booklet puts it. It is tender and lovely, shot through with innocence. Mattingly’s pure soprano is perfect for this song.
The longer (17 minute) Sin mañanas (Three Spanish Songs) is marvelously evocative, with guitar imitations on the piano and a pervasive sense of that melancholy that is so indigenous to the region. Christopher Vassiliades’s accompaniments are certainly worthy of mention here. The first song, “La guitarra,” is almost a concert aria in itself at some nine minutes duration. The vocal slides and elisions of “Soñando Sueños de Tango” are most appealingly performed by Isabelle Ganz, who acts as a reliable guide throughout. The all-encompassing sadness of “Los Ojos” is portrayed by textures of the utmost fragility. Bare lines make maximal impact, with Spanish infused gestures sounding as if from a dream.
This disc mixes vocal and instrumental music. The Làgrimas y locuras (Mapping the Mind of a madwoman, 2011) is, as the composer herself states in the booklet notes, a piece of Lisztian scope that attempts to construct the thoughts of a disturbed woman as she walks forever. Éva Polgár is a superb pianist who does the piece full justice, fully entering into the spirit of narrating a story while painting a distraught emotional state. The anguished, dissonant climax is powerful, although perhaps the recording could have demonstrated just a little more depth and bass. The other solo piano piece on the disc is Voices of the Iron Harp , a 1986 love song. The “iron harp” refers to the insides of the piano, a nice idea. This is Wallach in elusive mood. Polgár traces the piece’s gestures (largely derived from those of the late 19th-century piano literature, but the music of the French Impressionists is there too) with expertise.
The song The Firefighter’s Prayer (a setting of just that) was inspired by the events of 9/11. It injects a much needed simplicity into the recital at just the right spot, and here McKelton’s slightly reedy tenor seems more suited to the folkloric warmth of Wallach’s writing. Finally, a piece for the unlikely combination of vibraphone and bassoon. Original Voices , which references the Dies irae, is a fascinating specter of a piece, ghostly and elusive as a wisp of smoke. Fascinating.
WALLACH The Nightwatch 1. Alleycat Love Song 2. Sin mañanas 3. Lágrimas y locuras 4. PAX 2. Voices of the Iron Harp 4. The Firefighter’s Prayer 1. Original Voices 5 • Read more 1 Sam McKelton (ten); 2 Maria Therese Mattingly (sop); 3 Isabelle Ganz (mez); 5 William Trigg (vib); 5 Gines Didier-Cano (bn); 1 Elizabeth Rogers, 2 Chie Watanabe, 3 Christopher Vassiliades, 4 Éva Polgár (pns) • 4TAY 4035 (58:10)