Mental Mastication

It’s not often that I listen to a new CD and not five minutes into it think, “Wow!” The music, the performance, the sonics, each gives Brobdingnagian chunks of aural nuggets to chew on, crunchy, crispy, crackly, gooey, sticky, creamy. There’s mind bending crumples all through this music. Imagine a nearly extinct instrument that’s been solidly replaced by the pianoforte, used ages ago for archaic music (Baroque period and earlier, over three hundred years past), getting renewed attention and being taken in directions that Bach, Telemann, or Scarlatti could never have imagined. Whether it’s the unique sound of the harpsichord and its association with early music, or the innuendos of Baroque/Renaissance styles in many of the compositions and the twisted selections Vinikour chose to perform, there’s something quite advanced and mind boggling here. Think : Back on magic mushrooms, Scarlatti on psilocybin, Telemann on peyote, and you might get an inkling of what to expect. But not all the works harken back to the harpsichord’s roots, some are through and through contemporary, and perhaps a bit harder to swallow. Nonetheless, it’s worth gnawing on, especially with a second or third listening. Patterns, colors, textures, and flickering contrasts will tingle your tongue.

I could hear a piece or two on this CD making a crossover to some contemporary pop genre in a DJ’s mix. There’s gotta be some ravers out there who could really chow down on this stuff. The sound of the Wolf harpsichord alone, modeled after a Dumont instrument, built in 1707, with its full, brash, bold sound, is enough to fill your ears with glorious sonorities. Add in the lush harmonies, winding modulations, and abrupt syncopation the composers inject into their musical recipes and you’ve got a rich stew that shouldn’t be limited to music school recital halls. Although, I must admit, sixty plus minutes is filling, too filling. It’s best split in half.

The music gets an A+ for creativity and raw power, but downgraded to a minus for, at times, taking itself too seriously, and heavy handed modernism trying too hard to be progressive, but ending up only sounding irate. My favorite pieces are the three earliest; “Recitative and Toccata Percossa,” by Mel Powell, written 1953; “Ostinato,” by Henry Cowell, 1960; and “Spiders,” by Ned Rorem, 1968, also coincidentally the first three cuts on the CD. Actually, there are only two exceptions to the chronological order of the all the works. (Coincidental?) Don’t take this as meaning it’s all downhill after the third cut—no. There are more treats on the table with Thomas Benjamin’s “Three Movements – ‘Semi-Suite’,” 1988, its abstract Prelude, bittersweet Cantilena, and spicy Toccata; and the foamy “Tourbillon Galaxy” by Patricia Morehead, 2012.

To give you a taste, here are a few nibbles.

from Powell’s Toccata :

Cowell’s Ostinato :

Prelude from Benjamin’s “Semi-Suite” :

This two disc set, one Blu-ray audio recorded in multi-channel DTS 24/192, and one standard CD, includes a welcomed comprehensive booklet with brief bios on Jory Vinikour and the composers, along with notes on the compositions and the revival of the harpsichord. The multi-channel version is well done. The surround channels are in proper balance to give you concert hall immersion without it being conspicuous or distracting—no multi-channel game playing—you’ll almost forget you’re at home. I now have six Sono Luminus Blu-ray/DTS recordings, each one is a prime example of multi-channel mixing and mastering done right.

(||) Rating — Music : A- ║ Performance : A+ ║ Recording : A ║
 Jory Vinikour, Toccatas:Modern American Music for Harpsichord, Sono Luminus, 2013

 

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