MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Jupiter Quartet’s Alchemy

At the end of this week, the Jupiter String Quartet (now in its 16th year together) releases Alchemy (Marquis Classics), an album of four works commissioned by Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. Three of these receive their world premiere recordings here: Pierre Jalbert’s Piano Quintet (2017); Steven Stucky’s Piano Quartet (2005); and Carl Vine’s Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013). Also included is Jalbert’s Secret Alchemy for violin, viola, cello, and piano (2012).

All of the premieres occurred at the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. Australian pianist Bernadette Harvey joins the Jupiters (violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough). Harvey also performed in the world premieres of Secret Alchemy and Vine’s Piano Quintet.

From the press release:

Pierre Jalbert’s Piano Quintet consists of four separate, contrasting movements: ‘Mannheim Rocket,’ a modern take on the 18th-century musical technique in which a rising figure speeds up and grows louder; ‘Kyrie,’ a chromatically transformed chant-like motive; a scherzo in which the strings and piano sometimes alternate and imitate each other, reacting to each other’s gestures, and at other times combine and synchronize to produce a more blended sound; and ‘Pulse,’ made up of perpetually moving 8th notes, but always pushing forward.

As one who loved nothing more than to play the piano quartets of Mozart, Brahms, Fauré, during his youth as a violist, Steven Stucky was inspired by these works his entire career, and later by 20th-century piano quartets of Copland, Palmer, Hartke, and Weir. Stucky noted that, “Attempting my own first work in this medium at the comparatively late age of 55, has stirred conflicting emotions—intimidation at the idea of ‘competing’ against the masters, but also a feeling of coming home to familiar, much loved surroundings.”

Stucky’s Piano Quartet is in one continuous movement, but flows in and out of many distinct sections: A short allegro (Risoluto) presents the theme and introduces bell-like sonorities that will recur throughout the piece. In the next, slow section (Lento, molto cantabile), the piano continues to imitate bells. A fast interlude (Allegro) reverses the roles—strings take on the bell sounds and leads quickly to a scherzo (Scherzando e molto leggero) conjuring the composer’s memories of pop music. The trio (Comodo, non affrettato) makes way to a second slow movement, with the piano now cast as soloist, and a brisk coda recalling the clangorous bell sounds of the opening.
Carl Vine (b.1954): Fantasia for Piano Quintet

Carl Vine writes about his Fantasia: “I call this single-movement piano quintet Fantasia because it doesn’t follow a strict formal structure and contains little structural repetition or recapitulation. The central section is generally slower than the rest and is followed by a presto finale, but otherwise related motifs tend to flow one from the other organically through the course of the work. It is ‘pure’ music that uses no external imagery, allusion, narrative, or poetry.”

Pierre Jalbert’s Secret Alchemy for for violin, viola, cello, and piano:
“With any new composition, there is a sense of discovery and mystery during the creative process,” says Jalbert, and of the title, explains, “Though this piece is not programmatic, imagining the air of secrecy and mysticism surrounding a medieval alchemist at work provided a starting point for the piece.”

Composed in four separate and contrasting movements, Jalbert notes, “The first movement begins with this sense of mystery. String harmonics are used to create the rhythmic backdrop for melodic lines played by the cello and later, the viola. The second movement is a relentless scherzo characterized by pizzicato strings, turbulent piano writing, and quickly alternating rhythmic patterns. The third movement is influenced by medieval music with its use of open 5ths, chant-like lines played non-vibrato by the strings, and reverberant piano harmonies, simulating the sound and reverberation in a large cathedral. The fourth movement concludes the work with an energetic music characterized by strings playing fast measured tremolo figures (rapid movement of the bow back and forth on the string). These alternate with the piano’s massive chords and occasional rapid melodic figures, along with muted tones emanating from inside the piano.”

Track listing:
[1-4] Pierre Jalbert: Piano Quintet (2017) 18:08

I. Mannheim Rocket 3:03

II. Kyrie 6:57

III. Scherzo 3:33

IV. Pulse 4:35

[5] Steven Stucky: Piano Quartet (2005) 17:26

[6] Carl Vine: Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013) 15:46

[7-10] Pierre Jalbert: Secret Alchemy for violin, viola, cello, and piano
(2012) 16:46

I. Mystical 4:00

II. Agitated, relentless 3:15

III. Timeless, mysterious, reverberant 5:28

IV. With great energy 4:03

Pierre Jalbert (b. 1967): Piano Quintet
(premiered by Jupiter Quartet and Bernadette Harvey on March 19, 2017)

Filed under: chamber music, recommended listening

Now Playing: He(a)r by Nordic Affect

Nordic Affect, an ensemble from Iceland that was formed in 2005 by period instrument musicians, has released a new album on the Sono Luminus label. He(a)r is “an ode to hear, here, hér [the Icelandic word for “here”], and her,” writes Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, Nordic Affect’s artistic director and composer of the title piece, which is interspersed as seven tracks between the six other compositions on the album. “It springs from treasured collaborations that allowed us to ‘send sound and receive sound’ (Pauline Oliveros)” an offers a “meditation on embodiment, acoustics, and ecology. An album which rides on the wave of questions that rise and rise — Whose sounds? Whose bodies? Whose voices?”
Violinist Stefánsdóttir is joined by her colleagues Guðrún Hrund Harðardóttir (viola), Hanna Loftsdóttir (cello), and Guðrún Óskarsdóttir (harpsichord) — all of them contributing vocals as well. A total of five women composers are represented here, all in world premiere recordings about space, time, illuminating contrasts, and the auras projected by sound.
They build sonic environments that beckon and alarm, lull and awaken. Especially powerful is Warm life at the foot of the iceberg by Mirjam Tally. She found her title in the work of Estonian poet Kristiina Ehin, explaining, “I think this title describes well the character and technique of this work: contrasts between ‘cold’ airy colors in high register plus rustle, and rhythmic ‘rocky’ sections, sometimes performed with extra pressure; and gliding between these two contrasting worlds, Like a melting iceberg, unstable on the ground, rapidly vanishing.”
I’m also keenly drawn to the music of Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, represented here by two works: the exquisite violin-viola-cello trio Reflections and Impressions, which opens the ears to an entire new universe of sonorities using prepared harpsichord.
Along with Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Point of Departure, which explores the “delicate relationship between a person and her instrument, with the addition of the tuning together with other musicians and their voices,” there are also two pieces by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir: Loom and Spirals (the YouTube track linked above), which is the last in a trilogy she has written for Nordic Affect. Its predecessor, Clockworking, became an international breakthrough for the ensemble and similarly ruminates on the meaning of time. The composer says: “In Spirals, dense chords, a lost cadence, sounding through an old piano, and fragmented sounds from old music boxes are the original departure points that the piece revolves around. These spirals are not precise or mathematical, they refer to time and musical motion.”

Filed under: recommended listening

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR