ACL 2017 ~ Top Ten Modern Composition

Modern Composition was our hottest genre this year, with 28 albums nominated for only ten spots.  From solo piano to full orchestra, consonance to dissonance, giving up to going on, these picks represent a grand variety of composed sound.  Their main characteristic:  emotion.  Some artists seek to console, others to uplift, but all are concerned with the feelings of their listeners.  For the most part, dark subjects are turned into light, grief into beauty, chaos into peace ~ but not always.  Like the best independent filmmakers, a couple of these composers choose to end on melancholic notes.  Their acknowledgement of human struggle offers empathy instead of encouragement, conversation instead of answers.  When faced with the great silence, they answer with music.

And now, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Modern Composition Albums of 2017!

Dmitry Evgrafov ~ Comprehension of Light (FatCat/130701)
Best known for his piano pieces which are accessible enough to have tallied up a million plays on Spotify, Dmitry Evgrafov puts his main instrument to one side for much of Comprehension Of Light. Instead he expands his palette considerably, utilising drones, woodwind, the Iskra String Quartet, and several guest artists. In stark contrast to the anonymity of a Spotify ‘Piano Chillout’ playlist, this is a compelling album that demands complete attention and it is a quantum leap for Evgrafov for whom Comprehension Of Light is a singularly impressive statement of intent. Stunning. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

From the Mouth of the Sun ~ Hymn Binding (Lost Tribe Sound)
Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist’s third record together confirms our already high opinion of this project, while demonstrating continued growth and composers and collaborators. Rich acoustic timbres coaxed from a textural foundation of cello, piano, electric guitar, banjo, pump organ, and lap steel are intricately intertwined into a compelling whole. The duo are at their most nuanced, giving space to each individual instrument and balance to the overall sound. While far from minimal, this approach makes the quiet segments more soothing and the crescendos all the more powerful.   (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Hammock ~ Mysterium (Hammockmusic)
How does one respond to the death of a loved one, especially one so young?  In this case, by pulling out all the stops to make the best possible album.  Not only does Mysterium contain some of the duo’s best compositions, it also involves luminaries like the Budapest Art Choir.  “This is not enough,” as we hear in the epilogue.  And yet, it is still something important and beautiful, made from love, keeping a memory alive, drawing a line from earth to heaven.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

haruka nakamura PIANO ENSEMBLE ~ Hikari (Kitchen)
It’s been a while since there was a truly interesting ‘neo-classical’ album, and Nakamura’s last production with the whole ensemble has come to fill a particular niche in which easy-going melodies do not immediately translate into ‘easy-listening’. On the contrary, this is a passionate listen, a joyful celebration of years of concerts and of playing together, carried by a delightfully bright tone that flows from meditative to triumphant seamlessly. Simplicity is here not the result of unimaginative composition – the interplay of the different parts of the ensemble, which sometimes dips into very slight dissonance, reveal a restraint that does justice to the ‘neo-classical’ tag: beauty in rules, beauty in symmetry, always in consideration of a flexibility that does not break the rule as much as it gracefully extends its reach. (David Murrieta)

Original Review

Leah Kardos ~ Rococochet (Bigo & Twigetti)
The smooth opener of polyrhythmic keys and percussion is a mere title page to a heady tale of Parisian artistry, pastel shades and a childlike imagination. Australian composer Leah Kardos offers her hand and leads us up through the clouds, where the discipline of percussion evaporates, replaced by a mellotron that evokes the sights and sounds of a vivid, surreal dream. From sombre synth soliloquies to full-band jazz undulations, Rococochet presents a beguiling twist with each page turn – an enchanting blend of the compositional, the historical and the whimsical. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Max Richter ~ Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works (Deutsche Grammophon)
Last time we visited Max Richter was for a soundtrack to a full night’s sleep; Three Worlds keeps us wide-eyed with a score to a ballet chronicling the life of Virginia Woolf, through three acts based on three of her novels. The set is lengthy, weighty and disarming – sweeping changes of mood mirror the author’s battle with depression, while voice recordings chart her deterioration over the course of that lost battle. But liveliness is offered as well. “Orlando” experiments with short forms and digital instrumentation to compelling and bold effect, in mimicry of the innovative streams of consciousness for which Woolf was renowned. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Páll Ragnar Pálsson ~ Nostalgia (Smekkleysa)
This is a dramatic debut LP from a bold new composer born on a tiny island whose musicians, like their footballing brethren, can’t stop punching above their weight. Title notwithstanding, Nostalgia is fresh and explosive, its orchestral and chamber pieces riddled with dissonant drama and suffocating swells, while its ensemble closer sweeps us from near-silent depths to a terrifying, shrill crescendo. But there are more strings to Pállson’s (violin) bow, as the six-part “Náttúruljóð” for string quartet and soprano presents a calmer take on the avant scene, inspired by the surrealism of a fellow Icelandic poet. Breathtaking and intoxicating. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Sophie Hutchings ~ Yonder (Hobbledehoy Record Co./1631 Recordings)
Dream-like piano melodies, evocative of a Summer trip along the tip of Australia’s beautiful coast, filled Yonder with a kind heart and a spirited sense of adventure. The scintillating scenery gifted the listener a deep serenity while the sun glinted off the metallic chrome of the car; ripened fruit delivered in Sophie’s stunning style.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review

Valgeir Sigurðsson ~ Dissonance (Bedroom Community)
Another album born from personal struggle, the Icelandic composer’s latest opus begins in dissonance yet ends in consonance, traveling from darkness to light like the solitary figure on the cover.  For those who purchase the LP, it’s a tale of two sides.  Liam Byrne’s Viola de Gamba takes precedence on Side A, the Reykjavik Sinfonia on Side B.  Together, they form a masterful study in contrasts, acknowledging despair yet emphasizing hope.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

William Ryan Fritch ~ The Old Believers (Extended Edition) (Lost Tribe Sound)
The Old Believers was yet another fine record from composer and multi-instrumentalist William Ryan Fritch. While his music has always had a high level of maturity, these heart-tugging pieces elevated his musicianship. Patience was mixed with urgency. Tentative smiles were mixed with a flow of tears.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review


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