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Ben Abraham "B.A." RSS Feed (New York, New York)

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Messiaen: Garden of Love's Sleep
Messiaen: Garden of Love's Sleep
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5.0 out of 5 stars Was Messiaen the First Mystical Minimalist?, May 22, 2014
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I'm of the mind that there are two Oliver Messiaens.
One is angular, dissonant, and prone to violent outbursts.
The other is tranquil and heavenly.
Within a single piece of music, Messiaen would often alternate between these two styles, seemingly in an attempt to create a sort of balance between yin and yang.

This CD is a compilation of only the heavenly.
It consists, basically, of slow, peaceful movements extracted from larger works.
There are no violent outbursts here.
This heavenly music does contain some dissonances, but even the dissonances are surprisingly gentle and soothing.
(How did Messiaen manage to do this?)

This CD does not feel like a compilation. It feels like it was cut whole from a complete cloth... a singular album to which you will want to listen repeatedly from beginning to end, and perhaps drift off into dreams.

Lovers of contemporary composers such as Arvo Part and Alexander Knaifel are likely to take refuge in the quiet stillness of this beautiful compilation.

Knaifel: Amicta Sole
Knaifel: Amicta Sole
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4.0 out of 5 stars Drift-Off Spiritualism, March 27, 2014
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This review is from: Knaifel: Amicta Sole (MP3 Music)
Like the album Blazhensitva -- another one of ECM's albums dedicated to the music of Knaifel -- the current album features a solo cello piece followed by a piece for orchestra and choir.

On the current album, the solo cello piece is monophonic, simple, and chant-like. There's not a lot going on in the piece -- its rather harmless -- but it has a certain amount of relaxing appeal, despite its dull nature.

The piece for orchestra and choir, on the other hand, seems to be reaching for someplace high, reaching in a pleasant, quiet, and very slow way. The piece isn't as interesting as the piece for orchestra and voice that's on the album Blazhensitva, but rather enjoy it. It's very slow and quiet, and, though it clearly relates to chant, it creates a sound-world all its own. Peaceful.

Oveall, the album is pleasant, though the solo cello piece is bland.
It's a good CD to drift off to sleep.

I recommend the album Blazhenstva intead. (Buy it for the piece for voice and orchestra, not for the awful solo cello piece.) If you already have Blazhenstva, you might want to give Amicta Sole a chance. The piece for orchestra and choir is tranquil.

One star for the solo cello piece.
4-1/2 stars for the piece for orchestra and choir.

Knaifel: Svete Tikhiy
Knaifel: Svete Tikhiy
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4.0 out of 5 stars One Good, One Bad, March 27, 2014
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This review is from: Knaifel: Svete Tikhiy (MP3 Music)
What's with Manfred Eicher?

The mastermind of ECM Records released three CD's of Knaifel's music, each of which contain two compositions. The problem is, on each of the three CDs, one composition is an interesting, quiet, solemn, peaceful piece, and the other is something you'll never want to hear again.

On this CD, the good and peaceful piece is In Air Clean and Unseen, for piano and string quartet. It's quiet, static, sometimes arbitrary sounding, sometimes sounding like mere ambience. Sometimes it reminds me of Morton Feldman, but it has an intensity and a European mornfulness that I don't associate with Feldman.

The piece you'll never want to hear again is Svete Tikhiy. This piece sounds less like a musical composition and more like a soprano monkeying around late at night with a sequencer and multi-tracker.

I wonder; did Knaifel write more good pieces? If he did, why didn't Manfred Eicher give us two good pieces on each CD instead of one good and one bad? I know, I know... de gustibus non est distputandum (there's no disputing taste)... but... come on, Manfred!

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5.0 out of 5 stars One Student Work and One Masterpiece, March 12, 2014
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This review is from: Blazhenstva (Audio CD)
This CD contains two very disparate pieces.
They do not compliment each other.

The first piece is for solo cello. It's mostly loud, harsh, messy, and abrasive. It sounds like a student work which, in fact, it is. Like most student works, it's not very good. But if loud, harsh, dissonant, and abrasive music is your thing, then you might disagree.

The second piece is for orchestra and choir. It's quiet, extremely slow, even-keeled, spacious, consonant, and pleasant. To enjoy this piece, you must be patient. Or, it makes good background music, if that's what you want to use it for. It sounds great on headphones. Sometimes it seems to have more in common with "new age" music or "ambient" music, but it's much more interesting than that. It's really a lovely piece of music; quite interesting if you have the patience for the slow tempo and the extremely quiet dynamics. Personally, I love it. It fits into the "holy minimalism" school of composition, but I've never heard anything quite like it. It's a very special piece.

One star for the solo cello piece.
Ten stars for the piece for orchestra and choir.

Arvo Pärt: Da pacem
Arvo Pärt: Da pacem
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Part Vocal Album, February 19, 2014
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This review is from: Arvo Pärt: Da pacem (Audio CD)
Much of Part's vocal music is long and meandering, and sometimes seems like merely a quick sketch.
That's why I generally prefer Part's instrumental music over his vocal music.
Nevertheless, this album of vocal music -- Da Pacem -- is perhaps my second favorite Part album of all time.*
(And I own a lot of Part albums.)
Nine slow tracks of vocal other-wordliness.
Not one wasted note.
An easy slide up to heaven.
As tight as a pop album.

P.S. If you like this album, you might also like I Am the True Vine, which is wonderful, though not as amazing as Da Pacem.

*(My favorite Part album is, of course, Tabula Rasa, on ECM records.)

Silvestrov: Requiem For Larissa
Silvestrov: Requiem For Larissa
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5.0 out of 5 stars Is Death Like This?, February 18, 2014
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A dark, black cloud envelopes you, with only scattered rays of light occasionally shining through.

This was surely Silvestrov's intention, and it's very effective.

This is not Silvestrov's best work (his Postludium, for piano and orchestra, I think, is probably his best).
But Requiem For Larissa is a wonderful piece of music.

Leggiero, Pesante
Leggiero, Pesante
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4.0 out of 5 stars Seeking Direction, February 18, 2014
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This review is from: Leggiero, Pesante (Audio CD)
In some of these compositions, Silvestrov sounds confused.
It's as if he's saying "I'm not sure why I'm writing music."

Confusion, I guess, is a legitimate thing to express, but it usually doesn't make for compelling listening.

The String Quartet suffers the most from this confusion.
The Cello Sonata fares somewhat better, though the sometimes harsh dynamic shifts compete against a sense of calm that the piece seems to attempt to create. Nevertheless, it's an interesting sonata.
Both of these works -- the String Quartet and the Cello Sonata -- are more harsh and dissonant than Silvestrov's more popular fare, though they both have many moments of calm beauty. They're also less tidy than Silvestrov's more popular fare.

The three Postludes, on the other hand, sound more focused.
These are very nice little pieces.

The last track is a piano piece played by the composer himself. It's called Hymn 2001, and it sounds almost as if Silvestrov is sitting at the piano just noodling around, semi-improvisitorily, relying on cheesy chords, on a suprisingly poorly recorded piano.

In sum, the Cello Sonata (about 22 minutes of music) and, especially, the three Postludes (about 30 minutes) are very rewarding. The String Quartet has its moments but, overall, it's a frustrating piece. The Hymn 2001 is for Sylvestrov completests only.

As for my favorite Silvestrov compositions, I highly recommend the piece Postludium (Symphonic Poem for Piano and Orchestra). That work is probably his masterpiece.
His CD Silent Songs (for baritone and piano), too, is exceptional.
And his Requim for Larissa is an effective piece of music.

As for the CD at hand -- Leggiero, Pesante -- it's a mixed bag, but a worthy and often rewarding record.

Golijov: Ayre / Berio: Folk Songs
Golijov: Ayre / Berio: Folk Songs
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3.0 out of 5 stars The winner is Berio, January 16, 2014
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This album is two halves.

The first half consists of songs in a style of traditional middle eastern music. These sessions were led by the composer Osvaldo Golijov, who, inexplicably, is given credit for composing the suite even though he wrote none of the songs and the arrangements seem improvised by the musicians. In fact, this suite sometimes sounds like a middle eastern jam session. Of the eleven songs, four of them are nicely performed and enjoyable. The other seven tracks are, to my ears, weak. To create good cross-over music, it takes more than simply throwing together a bunch of first class musicians in a studio together with some song charts. The musicians need to spend time with the music, spend time together, and develop the music. This isn't jazz, and Dawn Upshaw isn't Billie Holiday.

The second half of the album is a suite composed by Luciano Berio in 1964. I always thought of Berio as being an abstract and harsh composer. This suite, however, uses folk songs, and is quite accessible. It's very pleasant, actually. Regardless of what you might think of Dawn Upshaw's voice, overall, the performance is excellent. And the suite is wonderfully composed; interesting, carefully imagined, meticulously thought-out, and vibrant.

Golijov could stand to learn some things from Berio.

Final Score:
Golijov - 3
Berio - 21

The Unknown Kurt Weill
The Unknown Kurt Weill
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5.0 out of 5 stars On Fire, Darkly, October 17, 2013
This review is from: The Unknown Kurt Weill (Audio CD)
I've always felt that Weill's songs deserve better than Lenya could deliver. (Is this blasphamous?) Lemper, too, leaves me shrugging my shoulders. Stratas gives these songs what they deserve. An amazingly intense experience. Dark, beautiful, personal, and virtuosic. But if you think Lotte Lenya is the pinnacle for Weill, then you probably won't like how Stratas sets his songs ablaze.

An Artist of the Floating World
An Artist of the Floating World
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, September 20, 2013
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What does it mean to be an artist? Does being an artist carry social responsibilities? These very big questions are hinted at throughout this delicate and interesting story. Moreover, these very big questions are framed in the context of a very big time in Japan, as it tries to come to terms with its regrets regarding its behavior during WWII, and as it observes its self-image changing.

Such big issues had me expecting big ideas. By the end of this very enjoyable book, however, I was disappointed. While the author poses some very big questions -- and paints some excellent images -- he seems content to suggest small-minded answers. While the very attractive writing is wonderful, the modesty of the ideas seems at odds with the grandeur of the issues. It's a lovely novel, nevertheless.

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