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Modern Classical: John Luther Adams, Aranis, Ken Elkinson, Mico Nonet

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JOHN LUTHER ADAMS: Red Arc/Blue Veil (CD on Cold Blue Music)

This release from 2007 offers 52 minutes of modern classical music of a generally soloist nature.

While the music is composed by Adams, the performances are executed by: Stephen Drury and Yukiko Takago on pianos, and Scott Deal and Stuart Gerber on percussion. Electronics are featured too. One track was recorded live at the University of Alaska in March 2004.

The first track features two pianos whose outputs phase with each other to generate a lavish sense of cascading waves, rising in volume until the unification separates into twinkling individualism. While one keyboard maintains the growling surf, the other describes sharper notes that produce a sparkling melody riding the bestial wave.

The next track is restricted to a single piano. After a period of classical chaos, strident punctuations (achieved by emotional poundings on the keys) command attention while the performer's other hand slides into auxiliary chords that prance around the resonant nucleus like fireflies romancing a glaring light.

The third piece (the live one) features Deal and Gerber on bass drums. Fluid rhythms generate a luxuriant thunder with steady, rapid beats that literally flow into an undulant stream of rumbles. Soon, the beats segregate into separate entities that commence feeding off each other, building a hesitant tension that eventually loses stamina and sinks into an exhausted tempo...before resurging with revitalized verve to shake the walls with an authoritative puissance.

In the final composition, there is a single piano, a vibraphone and crotales. Here, the keys generate lazy chords that trickle like a country creek, while the vibraphone provides pastoral embellishment that dresses the banks with colorful autumnal leaves. While the piano increases its watery expressions, the vibraphone creates a whirling breeze that lifts those leaves into the air for a fanciful aerial ballet. Denuded of arboreal droppings, the piano finishes its seaward journey alone, sedate and solemn.

Intelligent and evocative, this music goes far beyond classical expectations, delving into experimental territory with satisfying results.

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ARANIS: Aranis (CD on Anticlock Records)

This release from 2005 offers 63 minutes of modern chamber music.

Belgian ensemble Aranis is: Linde De Groof (on violin and vocals), Liesbeth Lambrecht (on violin), Marjolein Cools (on accordion), Axelle Kennes (on piano), Stijn Denys (on guitar), Jana Arns (on flute and vocals), and Joris Vanvinckenroye (on double bass), with Edwin Vanvinckenroye (on guest violin and vocals on one track), and Dick van der Harst (on guest selmer guitar on another track).

Sprightly modern classical music, this tuneage has major bounce while maintaining a cerebral character.

Strings saw away with gentle reserve, establishing a birdlike quality that hovers throughout the music. A degree of tension is often demonstrated by the violins, injecting the melodies with an overpowering sense of auspicious momentum.

The piano is a strong contributor here, generating lavish sweeps and complex melodies. Some passages display extreme emotion with fingers coaxing eager expectation from the ivories.

Pastoral flutes bolster the music’s vitality, lending a energetic flair at the same time as impressing an airy quality. Frequently, the woodwinds season the other instruments with a vital urgency.

Peppy accordion provides a renegade romantic edge. Guitar strains lurk in the mix. Basstones influence the tunes with a subliminal rumble.

Vocal choirs are featured in some tracks, strengthening those piece’s classical disposition.

One piece clocks in at 15 minutes long, allowing the music to build and recede several times, achieving grand pinnacles and settling into pensive bridges for the next ascension.

These compositions exhibit remarkable verve for “classical music”. The tunes frolic and cavort with the dynamic of an enthusiastic dancer. The idyllic tunes seethe with a soft undercurrent of drama that can be quite enthralling.

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KEN ELKINSON: Cue (CD on August Son Productions)

This release from 2007 offers 50 minutes of solo piano music.

One piano, two hands, a plethora of keys, an inventive mind--combine these and you get pleasant tunes that stir the soul. And the songs engage the psyche as well, peppering the listener’s memory with fond memories evoked by the soothing melodies.

Nimble notes cascade forth, describing endearing tunes that float with a fanciful buoyancy. While one hand conjures a lively riff, the remaining digits are busy establishing lavish backdrop chords to support the main melody.

While the general tone is pacific and easygoing, some tracks tickle the edge of increased vitality with passages that strive to sensitively rouse the audience to alert perception.

A bouncy sensibility pervades these tunes, elevating them from dry simplicity into artistic illumination.

The last track features brooding vocals.

These compositions are delicate and heartfelt. Emotional content flows with ease, triggering a variety of moods in the audience. This recital will evaporate routine stress and deliver you to a realm of gentle breezes and lilting sunlight, where piano melodies waft along the temperate beach, carrying understated passion with each note.

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MICO NONET: The Marmalade Balloon (CD on Mico Nonet Records)

This CD from 2007 features 37 minutes of ambient classical music.

Mico Nonet is: Carrie Dennis (on viola), Efe Baltacigil (on cello), Joshua Lee Kramer (on synthesizers), Paul Lafollette (on french horn), and Katherine Needleman (on oboe).

This release blends ambient electronics with classical instruments in the hands of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. The result is a pleasant excursion into modern chamber music with a futuristic undercurrent.

The electronics occupy a very subliminal position in this tuneage. Delicate tonalities establish airy textures that act like a foggy stage for the somber resonance of the other instruments.

The viola’s soft cadence generates a serious thread of melancholic delineation that wafts on woodwind breezes.

The cello provides a baritone bottom that often mimics the synthesizer’s elusive presence, fleshing out the drones with a bur-like disposition.

The oboe is particularly vaporous, creating zephyrs of pacific demeanor which augment the music’s overall luxurious character.

French horn lends an earthy edge to the melodies, ascertaining a grounding element for the atmospheric songs.

The compositions are soft and fragile, intended to act as background music for contemplative pursuits. Meticulous in structure, these dreamy melodies drift like frail creatures of feathery beauty. The tracks are all short, compacting each composition into to-the-point expressions of flourishing appeal.

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