Dowland: Fancyes, Dreams & Spirits - Lute Music 1 Nigel North - Lute 8.557586
Guridi: El Caserio Bilbao Choral Society, Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Juan Jose Mena 8.557632
Flagello: Piano Concerto #1 Tatjana Rankovich,NRSO of Ukraine, John McLaughlin Williams , Dante's Farewell Susan Gonzalez, NRSO of Ukraine, John McLaughlin Williams, Cincerto Sinfonica New Hudson Saxophone Quartet, Rutgers SO, Kynan Johns 8.559296
Crumb: Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death, Quest Ensemble New Art, Fuat Kent 8.559290
Let's start with the straightforward. John Dowland's 16-17th Centrury lute music is Elizabethan music of the first order. It is pleasant in the best sense of the word, thoughtful, relaxing and easy to listen to. Brilliant ambient music - good background or equally good listening - Dowland was centuries ahead of Brian Eno. Every home should have some music from an exact contemporary of William Shakespeare - this will do nicely.
My dictionary tells me that a zarzuela is a traditional Spanish comic opera. If you want to know what such a thing sounds like then look no further than Jesus Guridi's El Caserio (The Homestead). Unless you're a fluent Spanish speaker and familiar with early 20th century basque culture the plot will be difficult to follow but the feel is clearly pastoral with elements of Gilbert & Sullivan thrown in to provide the 'comic' element.The sleeve notes inform us that the story is a typical rigmarole of love, tragedy and misunderstanding in a Basque village. All pretty straightforward. One can well imagine the great spectacle of a stage performance of this picturesque music. Basque Country, Steppe or Wild West the truths are universal and thus fairly obvious. Stirring stuff!
My first impressions of Nicholas Flagello - a new name to me - lead me to believe he must have been a follower of those highly dramatic forties film tragedies with soaring pastoral piano scores - Dream of Olwyn, Warsaw Concerto etc - for this is just what his Piano Concerto No 1 is like. One can just visualise those towering cliffs, the tragic heroine peering over wondering whether to cast herself into the ocean as the storm force winds do their best to help her along. You know what I'm talking about. Exciting, nervous stuff. Smashing! Dante's Farewell, described as a dramatic monologue for soprano and orchestra is equally stirring and worrying.It might provide the soundtrack to an horrific dream scene in a Bela Lugosi movie. Need I say more? Similarly Concerto Sinfonica could provide the setting for a Film Noir mystery - jazzy Harlem rhythms giving way to sinister goings on in shadowy alleyways and heroic efforts to overcome adversity. Gershwinesque city streets bustling with traffic and sidwalks full of happy shoppers mask the hidden underworld of low life which creeps in and out of one's peripheral vision - get the picture? Sure you do. Brilliant. Flagello is certainly a composer who cries out for further investigation!
Lastly we come to George Crumb. Rather like Charles Ives and perhaps Miles Davis, Crumb seems to have dipped his sticky fingers into every musical pie on the record shop's shelf. So one can't easily say one doesn't like his style because although one might be able to identify a piece of music as Crumb, it would be very difficult to describe it as typical. Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death is based on Lorca poetry and utilises voice, electric instruments and percussion. It is both startling and exciting. If you want a ball park to put it in - think Schwitters meets Stockhausen . Quest is a collection of light and dark expressive pieces for guitar and percussion producing a series of sensationally atmospheric soundscapes. If you're looking for an adventure in musical exploration, this one could be just what you need.