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Home listening: a wealth of new music, plus Alma Mahler in person… | Music


Mixing different musical styles used to be called crossover. No one much liked the word. The Civitas Ensemble – three top players from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the head of piano at Chicago College of Performing Arts – describes itself as cross-disciplinary: a happier and more transparent term. On Jin Yin (Çedille), the ensemble has brought together five world premiere recordings with a Chinese thread running through. Lu Pei’s Scenes Through a Window forges Chinese folk music and American rap. Zhou Long’s Five Elements – metal, wood, water, fire and earth – draws on the components held by the ancients to form the physical universe. In Emanations of Tara, a substantial, rhapsodic work inspired by the composer’s visit to Tibet, Yao Chen gives prominence to the pipa and prayer bowl. The results are subtle and rewardingly unfamiliar.

The Riot Ensemble unites stylistically divergent composers, all but one in their 30s, on Song Offerings: British Song Cycles (Deutschlandfunk). The title comes from a work by Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012), four settings of texts by Rabindranath Tagore full of longing, joy and the embrace of death, sung with vivid expression by soprano Sarah Dacey. Harvey’s benign spirit hovers elsewhere: Aaron Holloway-Nahum’s Plane Sailing (from a poem by Sasha Dugdale), delicate and detailed, was written shortly before Harvey’s death, and is dedicated to him: a sorrowful lament about a fading life “frail as a cloud”. Laurence Osborn’s Micrographia, in which Dacey is joined by soprano April Frederick, delights in the wondrous microscopic world of the 17th-century natural philosopher Robert Hooke (text by poet Joseph Minden). Three songs by Samantha Fernando complete this well-balanced disc.

Another British song cycle, set in the context of music by Gustav Mahler, Alma Mahler and Wagner, is Kokoschka’s Doll (Champs Hill Records) by John Casken (b1949), performed by the ensemble Counterpoise and the bass/narrator John Tomlinson, for whom it was written. This melodrama, impassioned and painful, explores the relationship between Alma and the painter Oskar Kokoschka.





Alma Mahler, 1909.



Alma Mahler, 1909. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

Recorded in 1960, Jeremy Noble’s interview with Alma Mahler (BBC Sounds) is short but revealing: she sounds crisp and somewhat impatient, maybe because the interviewer only asks her about her husband’s music. He’d never get away with it now.

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