I've been discovering a lot of fabulous new music by female composers this year (including an orchestral collection, American Discoveries, and another of string quartets, Contemporary Voices, both reviewed elsewhere on this blog). And what I have found so endlessly fascinating is not only how enjoyable and rewarding all this new music is, but how different each composer's music is from the others'. This latest find, the talented Yuko Uebayashi, is certainly among the best.
I began listening to this CD before reading the liner notes. I kept hearing a wonderful combination of French Impressionism/late Romanticism along with the wide open spaces typical of American compositions. Wanting to explore further, I then read that composer Yuko Uebayashi was born in Japan and has lived and worked in France since 1998. That explains the French flavor, but not the touch of Americana. But it doesn't matter, her music is unique and absolutely glorious. And it's beautifully scored too.
The primary work, Misericordia, for solo flute and string quartet, was written for Carol Wincenc. According to the CD notes, it was composed with the legends from an old almanac in mind, which suggests "life began in March and consisted of ten months". Thus the work contains 10 separate, descriptive movements (or moments in time), with sub-titles such as Awakening, Bursting with Life, etc. The variety is endless, the music very descriptive and musical imagination wonderous. It is so brilliantly written for this combination, and so marvelously played here, I found it seductively alluring and thoroughly captivating.
Au-dela du Temps and Town Lights are for two flutes and piano. The former is a substantial work comprised of 4 descriptive movements. What makes them so remarkable is how utterly orchestral they sound! Uebayashi's scoring for just three players is so masterfully skilled and colorful, it sounds for all the world like a chamber orchestra. Full of charm, graciousness and richness, the work comes to life in a way I would never have expected from just 2 flutes and a piano.
Finally, I must praise Carol Wincenc's lovely flute playing on this album. At last, she proves she really can vary/modify her distinctive "whooey" tone and mega-vibrato for the right music and in the right circumstances (a rather rare event for this flutist). For these works, her sound is as varied and interesting - and utterly beguiling - as I have ever heard it. That is a significant contributing factor as to why this program is so colorfully descriptive - the endless variety of flute tone and colors.
Carol's friends play a large role in bringing this album to life as well. The playing of the Escher String Quartet in the main work is beautifully done. And flutist Tanya Dusevic is a marvelous duet companion. (I found it amazing how both flutists not only blend so perfectly with each other, but yet each plays with dazzling variety of expression and color.) Pianist Stephen Gosling is especially remarkable in his absolutely gorgeous, colorful playing in Au-dela du Temps.
This is the 4th CD I've encountered recently on the absolutely superlative Azica label. (Other discoveries include the Dover Quartet playing Schumann, and two terrific programs of string quartet music played by the fantastic Attacca Quartet - one of music by another fabulously talented contemporary composer, Michael Ippolito, and the other by that of John Adams.) All have been simply outstanding, in quality of playing, quality of production and especially in recorded sound. This latest one is no exception.
Azika's presentation is as impressive and professional as I've come to expect from this great label. It is a 4-part cardboard fold-out affair, with useful information on every surface, amounting to 5 full pages of information, plus high quality pictures. Everything is covered, from the composer, to the works and the musicians, and recording details. And the sound is as good as it gets.
All in all, I heartily recommend this album to any lover of flute music. Or to any music lover who is drawn to contemporary music with a twist - a unique blend of the Modern, Impressionistic and Romantic eras, with a strong French flavor, combined with hints of Americana. It's all here. It's all an interesting combination. And it is all absolutely wonderful.