The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
Folk Music of China, Vol. 2
Like the similarly estimable Folk Music of China, Vol. 1 (subtitle: Folk Songs of Qinghai and Gansu), this multi-vocalist collection presents recent a cappella recordings of songs from the Chinese public domain (subtitle: Folk Songs of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang). But whereas the keys to appreciating Vol. 1 were the hilarious routines of Guo Jianming and Guo Changhai, this volume’s Rosetta Stone is Nei Shumei’s yearningly soulful “In Retrospect.” You won’t understand the lyrics, but play it a dozen times and you’ll know exactly what it means.
This 13-member Berlin ensemble won’t convince everyone of its latest album’s thesis—that the music of the 20th-century avant-gardists Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Cage, Meredith Monk, and Wim Mertens has roots in the predominantly sacred music of the 15th-century composer Guillaume Dufay. But give the company’s director, Wolfgang Katschner, this much: He has chosen pieces that serve as mutual and uncommonly euphonious foils and sequenced them for maximum flow. One would never guess that in other contexts minimalism sometimes comes across as dull.
The TENG Ensemble
According to the TENG Company’s director Samuel Wong, one of the purposes of these pieces and the Forefathers Project of which they’re a part is to “put a fresh spin on” Singaporean folk melodies. How fresh, you ask? A bona fide trance-music throb runs throughout the aptly named “Contemporary.” Mainly, though, it’s traditional instruments or their descendants making the past-present connections. “Hang Gai” moves with playful, feline grace. The florescent “Remembering” begins and ends in evanescence. Would requesting a follow-up be asking too much?
Morton Feldman: Piano
One way to get at the otherness of Feldman’s radically unconventional piano music as replicated on these five-hour-plus discs is to think of it as the “note music” analogue of “language poetry.” Another way: Using your favorite audio-editing software, chop the 90-minute “Triadic Memories” into five 15-minute segments, layer them atop each other, export them as a single file, and hit “play.” Vistas unthinkable in Feldman’s lifetime, and quite possibly at odds with anything that Feldman himself would have ever approved, unfold.
Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, critics began singling out the compositions of the Georgia-born composer Giya Kancheli as prime examples of the musical riches that the Iron Curtain had been keeping from the free world. “Now comes a man,” wrote Michael Walsh in Time magazine, “who may well be the most important composer to emerge from the old Soviet Union since Dmitri Shostakovich.” Kancheli, 59 at the time (and, according to Walsh, a “devout Orthodox Christian”), would still have a quarter century to go.
Kancheli died in October. And, ironically, given his reputation for large-scale compositions characterized by only partially resolved internal conflicts, the latest recordings of his works focus on his sweet, nostalgic violin-and-piano miniatures: Mariya Nesterovska and Nenad Lečić’s 18 Miniatures for Violin and Piano (Cioccapri) and Frédéric Bednarz, Jonathan Goldman, and Natsuki Hiratsuka’s Sunny Night (Metis Island). Their considerable overlap notwithstanding, they complement each other and eulogize Kancheli simultaneously. —A.O.