Thursday, January 11, 2007

CDs in Brief

I finally got a hold of a legitimate CD of Joanna Newsom's recent album, which is titled, for no evident reason, Ys (pronounced to rhyme with "bees"). Still as deft and bittersweet as the live show, even with a separately recorded orchestral underscore tacked onto it. I kind of wish the CD presentation wasn't as overdone as it is, though. Rule of thumb: if the cover art includes a painting of you posing in medieval-style garb, you've probably gone too far.

Modern-classical aficionados should learn the name Erkki-Sven Tüür, which belongs to a 47-year old Estonian composer of brusque and kaleidoscopic orchestral pieces. His Violin Concerto (1998) is extremely good: swirling violin riffs going round and round like polished stainless steel blades while the orchestra storms luminously forward. Dramatic stuff; Paavo Järvi conducts & Isabelle van Keulen plays violin. (I haven't heard of van Keulen before, but she & Järvi are teaming up on Berg's Violin Concerto in Cincinnati this very weekend, the internet reveals; I'm gonna wish I was there, now.)

Meanwhile, Tüür's string orchestra piece Action-Passion-Illusion ('93) features two darting movements of neo-baroque rough-and-tumble surrounding one of the best modern slow movements I think I've heard, a transfixing meld of layered melodies that search upwards and dissolve at their climax into a disconcerting atonal cloud. (Think Gorecki's Third Symphony condensed to the length of Barber's Adagio for Strings and invested with a profound existential crisis.) This is good stuff, and there's a lot more Tüür on disk that I haven't heard yet, too.

And lastly, if I'm going to listen to the Tarantella from John Corigliano's Gazebo Dances once, I'm going to have to listen to it four or five times in a row. That's just the way it is: dangerously catchy undertow to that piece.


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