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P h o t o g r a P h y women composers. She opens with Diane Thome’s Spiral Journey, a rather rhapsodic piece that owes more than a little to Aaron Copland and John Adams. Unfortunately, the piano’s funky timbral make‑up gets in the way of Molly Joyce’s sustained mood‑painting in Medium Piano, a work that might be described as Berg and Debussy’s secret love‑child.

Emma Lou Diemer’s fireball of a toccata features percussive muted‑string effects that are truly integral to the music’s plot‑line. The concision, idiomatic layout and expressive reserve distinguishing Marion Bauer’s inspired Six Preludes ought to spearhead a fully fledged revival of her chamber, orchestral, choral and other piano works. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Lament (written in memory of Carnegie Hall’s late executive and artistic director Judith Arron) is a masterpiece of brooding, lyrical intensity. Billock’s shapely performances of four Amy Beach pieces do this marvellous composer’s impassioned and harmonically rich idiom justice; in fact, I prefer her animated sculpting of Dreaming’s melodic lines and dynamic contrasts to Alan Feinberg’s introspective, slower, more disembodied Argo traversal.

Libby Larsen’s inventive Mephisto Rag is a kind of ragtime fantasy that seems to be working its way into the contemporary keyboard repertoire. Billock plays it well but I’ve heard edgier, more incisive live performances. However, the booming bass‑ lines and gospel‑tinged syncopations of Margaret Bonds’s Troubled Water ring out with joyful flair in Billock’s hands. Notwithstanding sonic caveats, this is a well‑curated and worthwhile programme. Jed Distler

‘Seven Steps’ Beethoven String Quartet No 14, Op 131 Brooklyn Rider Seven Steps Tignor Together into this Unknowable Night a

Brooklyn Rider with a Christopher Tignor perc/elecs In a Circle F ICR005 (63’ • DDD)

Brooklyn Rider with Beethoven and their own four-way creation Brooklyn Rider is a string quartet on a mission. The New York ensemble explores the newest ideas in the genre while also acknowledging history. Even the group’s name has a significant meaning, referring to Der Blaue Reiter (‘The Blue Rider’), an artistic collective in pre‑First World War Munich that included audacious figures from many artistic disciplines.

On its newest recording, ‘Seven Steps’, the intrepid Brooklyn musicians show their versatility in music of myriad sonic stripes. Their own collective composition, which gives the disc its name, comprises seven sections abounding in colourful material and varied

Brooklyn Rider mid-performance at the Angel Orensanz Institute, Manhattan styles. Hints of jazz are woven into a fabric of explosive and tranquil appeal.

The group delves into more layered sonorities in Christopher Tignor’s Together into this Unknowable Night, a tone‑poem that adds drums and electronics (including an AM radio) to the narrative mix. The interactions are mesmerising, with all sorts of sustained gestures shaded by deft punctuations and subtle effects.

These 21st‑century creations lead to one of the foundations of 19th‑century repertoire, Beethoven’s String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op 131. The performance eschews any suggestion of Romantic excess, instead making its points through artistry of lean and vibrant persuasion. It would have been even more involving without certain distractions, especially the first violin’s tendency to slide slowly between notes at too many points. Such mannerisms aside, Brooklyn Rider bring to the score the same spirit of freshness and adventure that audiences of Beethoven’s time must have experienced. Donald Rosenberg

‘A Wind Blows from the East’ ‘Four German Medieval Tales’ Wolfram von Eschenbach Titurel Fragments – excs Neidhart von Reuenthal Lied, ‘Blozen wir den anger ligen sahen’ Sachs Gesangweise to the Tune of ‘Our Lady’ Wolkenstein Tagelied, ‘Es seusst dorther von Orient’ Drew Minter counterten/bar/hps Bridge F BRIDGE9372 (64’ • DDD • T/t)

Washington countertenor in medieval attire Although Drew Minter on this seductively imaginative CD excels in every facet of the singer and harpist’s art, it is the enormous personalities of the four featured medieval singers, their music and their tales that predominate. They lived for love and danger – and art, of course. Their work inflamed passions among the wealthy and powerful.

Neidhart von Reuenthal, who claimed noble blood, and Oswald von Wolkenstein, who had the blood himself but was a litigious royal pain, construct narratives from arresting silken melodies about the pleasures and realities of true love. Hans Sachs sets down in solid pre‑Wagnerian measures a gripping medieval murder tale. Wolfram von Eschenbach, alone among the four, aims for and accomplishes something higher. The 25 minutes of excerpts from his Titurel fragments, concerning two lovers caught in the crosshairs of seekers of the Holy Grail, has an almost tangible emotional texture. We know from history books that the troubadour’s art was highly prized and sophisticated. It is another thing to hear it performed so convincingly. In bringing back these men and their times, Minter’s extraordinary self‑accompanied performances, as either countertenor or baritone, reveal just how potent and vital the art form itself was and can still be to modern listeners, and how effective the use of the harp was, both as accompaniment and in an occasional telling riff.

The clear sound, recorded at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Stone Ridge, has just the right touch of ambience. Minter’s excellent booklet‑notes are just the right length and complexity for such abstruse material and the poems receive excellent, readable translations. Laurence Vittes gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE JUNE 2012 XIII