Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

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diegobueno
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Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by diegobueno » Mon Jul 23, 2018 6:58 pm

The following review to my CD Grecian Urn will be appearing in the Sept./Oct. 2018 issue of Fanfare Magazine.

David DeBoor Canfield,
Fanfare Magazine (Sept/Oct. 2018)

Mark G. Simon is one of no fewer than 10 composers included in this month’s batch of reviews that is completely new to me, despite the fact that I estimate that I have heard the music of around 20,000 of them. And yet, this composer—new also to the pages of Fanfare—has a good pedigree, having studied with Karel Husa, Steven Stuckey, and Robert Palmer at Cornell University. Beyond that, he has talent: His music resonated with me and proved richly satisfying. As long as I continue to review for this magazine, I’m confident that the supply of worthwhile composers to discover will not be exhausted.

Simon is not only an accomplished composer but, as is abundantly clear on the CD in hand, is equally adept as a performer on the clarinet. And, if that’s not enough, he is also currently conductor of the Montrose Ensemble, an amateur wind octet making its home in Maryland. The present program was drawn from live recitals given by Simon performed in Ithaca, NY between 1998 and 2002.

The disc opens with Simon’s Anniversary Sonata, written in 1998 for the occasion of the golden wedding anniversary of his parents. The easy-going nature of the work was intended to reflect their personality, and in this the composer succeeds as well on musical grounds as he does in descriptive ones. The long flowing lines radiate peace and joy, characteristics that his father undoubtedly sought to foster as a Congregational pastor. The piece is tonally focused in certain key regions, and any dissonances are mild and gentle upon the ear. I sometimes use the adjective “ingratiating” to describe this sort of piece, and it certainly is apt here, too. The theme of second movement sounds vaguely reminiscent to me, but I cannot put my finger on where I might have heard it previously. The notes cite Simon’s use of pop music themes as reference points in his music, but if this particular tune is drawn from the pop culture of our country, I cannot identify it. Nevertheless, certain chord sequences and rhythmic gestures are strongly reminiscent of the popular song culture all around us. Simon’s divergence into new tonal regions, and his addition of non-diatonic sonorities, prevents the piece from descending into banality. I do feel that the florid figuration in the clarinet at the end of the movement went on just a little bit too long, however. The final movement is also pop-influenced, and more highly syncopated than either of the previous two. It, too, has an air of familiarity, and constitutes a delightful piece in lighter style, including occasional hints of humor.

Un Buen Piola Porteño: Tango/Fantasia immediately proves to be a work that lives up to its name, at least the tango part, as it is cast in classic tango style from the outset. Its tune is catchy enough that there is danger that it might become an earwig for the auditor, so be warned! There is actually a sequence of three tangos, whose order is reversed in their reiteration at the end. Beginning around the four-minute mark, the simple tunes are elaborated a good bit, so that the Fantasia part of the name is also germane. Knowing but minimal Spanish, I also tried to see if the first four words reflected the style of the piece, but all Google translate could come up with was “A Good Piola Porteño,” which was no help at all. In any case, the composer’s stated goal to “learn the Argentine tango” well enough to compose one is amply met in this work.

The rather brief program ends with Ode on a Grecian Urn, a song-cycle for soprano, clarinet and piano composed in 1994, making it Simon’s earliest work heard here. The poem by John Keats was inspired by his visit to the British Museum and the Elgin Marbles displayed there. After several returns to see one particular piece decorated with scenes of Greek life, he wrote this meditation on the nature of beauty and truth. The piece vacillates between quiet and introspective sections and dramatic outbursts, with the former predominating. Keats’s poem isn’t included in the booklet, but should be easy to find online. Simon has set four of the five stanzas, using gorgeous melodies and exquisite harmonies to support them. The use of popular elements is a good bit less pronounced in this work than it is in the first two.

Soprano Linda Larson is most impressive when she’s higher and louder in her range of vocal production. In her lower and softer notes, she occasionally has a bit of a wobble, but not enough to be distracting. I actually consider that she brings off the piece very well overall. The clarinet playing by the composer throughout the CD is fluid and expressive, and pianist Aleeza Meir provides consistent good support and stylistic breadth. Accordingly, I can give a firm recommendation of this disc to anyone who appreciates contemporary tonal music cast a lighter style. David DeBoor Canfield

http://www.navonarecords.com/catalog/nv ... simon.html

jbuck919
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:01 pm

Congratulations, Mark, though I am reminded of a "dance" episode in The Music Man. ;)

Beauty is truth, truth beauty.
That's all ye on Earth know, and all ye need to know.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

diegobueno
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by diegobueno » Tue Jul 24, 2018 4:54 am

I'll have to follow it up with settings of Rabelais, Chaucer and Balzac.

jbuck919
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jul 24, 2018 6:03 am

diegobueno wrote:
Tue Jul 24, 2018 4:54 am
I'll have to follow it up with settings of Rabelais, Chaucer and Balzac.
:lol:

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

maestrob
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by maestrob » Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:52 am

Congratulations, Mark! A fine CD, I'm sure, and an even finer review. Now, where can we buy a copy?

diegobueno
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by diegobueno » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:17 am

maestrob wrote:
Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:52 am
Congratulations, Mark! A fine CD, I'm sure, and an even finer review. Now, where can we buy a copy?
Thank you. If you click on the link at the bottom of my first post, it will take you to the Navona Records site, and you'll see a number of options. To purchase the CD, click on the Amazon link, if you want it through iTunes, click on that link.

maestrob
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by maestrob » Tue Jul 24, 2018 12:16 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:17 am
maestrob wrote:
Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:52 am
Congratulations, Mark! A fine CD, I'm sure, and an even finer review. Now, where can we buy a copy?
Thank you. If you click on the link at the bottom of my first post, it will take you to the Navona Records site, and you'll see a number of options. To purchase the CD, click on the Amazon link, if you want it through iTunes, click on that link.
Yikes! I should have done that, of course. :oops: Thanks and congratulations again!

diegobueno
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by diegobueno » Sat Jul 28, 2018 9:42 am

Currently, there are two reviews running for this CD at Fanfare.
Here is the other one:

Grecian Urn
Colin Clarke
Fanfare

There is a heady mix here of popular music taken into a contemporary vernacular, itself inspired by Stravinsky and Bartók and—by the composer’s own admission—the “charm” of Forte’s set 5:29 (and that is the first time I have ever seen a Forteian pitch-class set juxtaposed with the word “charm”). The Anniversary Sonata of 1998 encapsulates the charm offensive: The anniversary in question is the 50th wedding anniversary of the composer’s parents. The dedicatees’ character traits are here enshrined forever. Bonhomie, generosity, congeniality, and wit all conspire for the majority of the sonata to provide a warm glow. Sadly, while composing the final movement, Simon received news that his mother had suffered a heart attack. He mirrors the dramatic event, and even provides a musical depiction of the cardiac monitor, in a significant interruption to the music’s flow (the lady in question happily recovered and was present at the anniversary celebration). The performance here is eloquent in the extreme. The composer himself is the soloist, so a direct congruence with the music is unsurprising; his partner, Aleeza Meir, works beautifully with Simon. The first part of the finale (“Pleasant Hill”) is wonderfully laid-back, and both players capture the swing perfectly. Some extra depth to the piano recording would have sealed the deal.

Described as a “tango/fantasia,” Un buen piola porteño (2001) leaves little doubt as to its geographical referand. This is the Argentine tango, inspired by the music of the likes of Piazzolla and Gustavino. The central partition is labeled “out of body experience,” reflecting the moment when physicality is transcended. There are some truly lovely floating, quiet moments here; slinky, sexy, and appealing.

The Ode of a Grecian Urn of 1994, for soprano, clarinet, and piano, balances out the Anniversary Sonata (they are broadly equidurational). Setting four of Keats’s five stanzas, the music puts the narrator in two positions: external observer (for the external, or outer, movements) and participant (the two central movements). Soprano Linda Larson is a tremendously sensitive singer, shining particularly in the final, tender “O Attic Shape”; Simon’s clarinet contribution is similarly sensitive. This is a lovely, poignant way to end a disc of music that is, throughout its various manifestations and styles here, always from the heart. Colin Clarke

http://www.fanfarearchive.com/articles/ ... nata.html?

diegobueno
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Re: Grecian Urn CD -- Mark G. Simon

Post by diegobueno » Sat Jul 28, 2018 9:59 am

About the title Un Buen Piola Porteño, which one reviewer found puzzling. I got this phrase from an Argentine poster on a different classical music board, one which no longer exists. The poster liked to talk about various contemporary music concerts he'd gone to in Buenos Aires, and other things non-music related. He talked about someone whom he described as "un buen piola porteño". As I found out, "piola" is a slang word peculiar to Argentina that describes a person with an overinflated sense of his own knowledge, someone who always knows the answer to any situation, whether he does or not. And the word "porteño" refers to anything in and about Buenos Aires, the major port city in Argentina. So my title loosely means "a proper know-it-all from Buenos Aires".

I mentioned the title of this piece to a musician I know from Argentina and he remarked, "Yeah, that's why the economy of Argentina is the way it is: too many piolas".

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