Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Giving pattern to the spectacle


I was so impressed when I listened to this music the first time, so I went looking for more music by Cristina Spinei. She hasn't been composing too long, so there's not a whole lot out there. Then I came across this clever bit, one of the Variations on a Theme by Beethoven (the opening theme of the Largo movement of the piano trio op. 1 no. 2) called Constellations, played by the Trio Celeste in their recently released CD. It's subtitled "If Beethoven danced Merengue":



Now this is a witty response to Beethoven's music, and it fits well with the light gala potpourri flavour of the rest of the variations. Though it's a short piece and the penultimate of the 10 variations, it has as much panache and drive as any of the Constellations variations, which is impressive considering the stature of some of the other composers included in this fun project.

It's instructive that Spinei has Beethoven get up and dance. I learned this as well about Spinei, in a recent profile piece from Nashville Scene:
Spinei has always loved dance. As a child growing up in Stamford, Conn., Spinei dreamed of one day becoming a ballerina. "Unfortunately, I didn't have the body for ballet, so I focused on music instead."
Later Spinei says "Movement has always been central to my thinking about music, which is why I hate going to concerts where people just sit stiffly in their chairs." There isn't much stiff sitting in Spinei's music, for Beethoven or anyone else. In spite of her obvious connection with minimalism, one doesn't slowly drift into a motionless trance here.

In his book Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner talks about the tenor aria "Ach, mein Sinn", from Bach's St. John Passion:
One bonus of using a French-style dance as the basis of this aria was the licence it gave Bach to vary the internal shaping of the dotted rhythms – here smoothly ‘swung’ in conjunct motion for lyrical passages (as in Blues singing), there sharply over-dotted for outbursts of fiery arpeggios (wo willt du endlich hin), the vocal phrases constantly varied in consequence, now reinforcing the characteristic second beat of the chaconne, now contradicting it by means of hemiolas bestriding the bar-line. Here, then, he has assembled all the ingredients to make an impassioned statement.
Similar impassioned statements are evident in such works as Synched, written in 2012 and included in José Serebrier's Adagio, released the same year. 



Spinei's music is about the dance inside her recorded loops as they line up differently each time, and as the musicians interact with those loops. Like a choreographer, she creates a plan that in execution needn't necessarily involve improvisation, but which requires an improvisational feel to keep it from from sounding too machine-like. Check out the Blind Ear real-time composer collective that Spinei co-founded with Jakub Ciupinski for more about the theory, practice and software behind the music Spinei is writing along with her colleagues in the collective. 

Part of the cleverness of Synched is that, of course, the music isn't synched, but always just out of sync. Like each of the pieces on Music for Dance, Synched has a characteristic feeling, it makes a statement. Though there's some Steve Reich or Terry Reilly to be heard here, there's also a strong lyrical streak in this music, and an open, folk-like feeling that makes one think of Copland, Villa-Lobos or Piazzolla. Mixed with a good dollop of pop music, which of course the last three composers all included in their own music, Spinei's music comes out sounding like Spinei. And that's the sign of a composer to watch out for in the future.

Spinei's new disc won't be released on Amazon until July 1, 2016, but you can listen at the Toccata website here.

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