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Culture Music

Playful projects


Playful projects

Noteworthy new or recent releases

Mysterious Spaceship Moon by Richard F. Adams: Adams calls this assemblage of twinkling pianos and shimmering synthesizers a “soundtrack to an imaginary 1960s British sci-fi film about imaginary moon people in their imaginary spaceship moon” and a “love letter to post-war, British, cinematic soundtrack music.” But it’s also what Philip Glass might’ve come up with if sometime between Glassworks and Mishima he’d sequestered himself in a studio with Isao Tomita and Edgar Froese and said, “Forget art, fellas. Let’s have fun!” Not that there aren’t ominously eerie passages—what would a sci-fi soundtrack be without those?—but the overriding sensation is one of playful discovery. And speaking of old school, it sounds great emerging from big speakers.

James Joyce’s Favourite Songs by Martyn Hill, Meriel Dickinson, Peter Dickinson: Maybe because his fiction looms so precipitously over the cultural landscape (a “panel of scholars and writers” did declare Ulysses the best novel of the 20th century), James Joyce’s poetry has gotten comparatively little attention. Based on these newly compiled 1980s BBC recordings of arrangements of that poetry for solo voice and piano, it deserves more. The soprano Meriel Dickinson’s operatic diction (replete with rolled Rs) doesn’t do it many favors, but tenor Martyn Hill’s lyrical renditions of G. Molyneux Palmer’s Chamber Music settings are, like the poems themselves (and unlike much of Joyce’s fiction), easy to understand. And to like.

Margaret Rizza: Ave Generosa—A Musical Journey With the Mystics by Gaudete Ensemble, Eamonn Dougan: Convivium Records’ website calls this recording of (mostly) ancient Christian texts set to beautiful, original, and reverently sung melodies the “concluding part of Margaret Rizza’s acclaimed trilogy.” It does not, however, identify that trilogy’s other two parts. If one of them is 2012’s Margaret Rizza: Mysterium Amoris, also recorded with Eamon Dougan’s Gaudete Ensemble, be forewarned: Nine of this 13-track album’s selections also appear there. So even if these are new recordings (it’s hard to tell), and even if this “Veni Jesu” (unlike the 2012 version) is presented a cappella, the redundancy factor does, if ever so gently, kick in. 

Paul Pankert: Connected—Compositions With Live Electronics by KL-EX-Ensemble: The violinist and electronics maven Paul Pankert is both a member of the KL-EX-Ensemble and the composer of these five pieces (three on vinyl). And at times, the resulting subjectivity makes the pieces not rooted in Baroque compositions seem unfinished or, in the case of “Quasi Rondo” (imagine a violinist tuning for 11 minutes), barely begun. But in the harpsichord-centric “Toccata” (rooted in Frescobaldi), the recorder-centric “Pavane” (rooted in Van Eyck), and the sax-centric “Connected II” (Tchaikovsky and Ornette Coleman?), Pankert experiments his way into something rich and strange enough to suggest that, even at his weirdest, he really is onto something.


Listeners who find their appetites for ancient sacred song whetted by Margaret Rizza’s Ave Generosa will be glad to know that Hildegard von Bingen: Vespers from Her Abbey has just been given a digital-only rerelease (and remastering) by Alto Records. Originally released in 1997, when “chant” recordings were all the rage, it features a dozen of Hildegard’s many compositions as sung in hauntingly authentic monophony by the Benedictine Nuns of the Abbey of St. Hildegard in Eibingen, Germany.

They’re also sung in authentic Latin, the consonants of which tend to get lost in the softening effects of abbey acoustics on voices that are soft to begin with. The accompanying PDF contains neither lyrics nor translations. But the internet does, and they’re illuminating. But not essential. From melodies that were uncommonly expressive for the 12th century to an elevating purity uncommon in any age, the peace of God, which also surpasseth all understanding, comes through. —A.O.