Contemporary Composition (Lowell Liebermann, Thomas Adès, Matthew Aucoin, Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Scott Wollschleger)

(The streamed record release of Wollschleger/Larson Dark Days is tonight. Timo Andres plays a solo recital at Bargemusic on May 21.)

Lowell Liebermann has a new record out: Personal Demons, a true surprise, a meaty double CD of piano repertoire, including by composers other than Liebermann. What? I’ve long admired Liebermann’s attractive music but had no idea that he was such an amazing pianist.

Gargoyles is Liebermann’s most popular piano piece, played by superstars like Stephen Hough and Yuja Wang. I love Apparitions even more, a mysterious set of pianistic puzzle boxes graced with a thrilling harmonic sensibility.

The recital ends with one of Liebermann’s gorgeous Nocturnes.

Interspersed between the original works are servings of comparatively unfamiliar pieces by Liszt, Schubert, Miloslav Kabeláč, and Busoni’s epic Fantasia contrappuntistica. The thoughtful liner notes explain Liebermann’s relationship to these “personal demons” and even offer valuable editorial insight dealing with the very manuscripts from Schubert and Busoni.

Fantasia contrappuntistica requires virtuoso technique and utter belief in the music’s rather strange message, where blocky triads and chain thirds introduce pages and pages of counterpoint that starts “like Bach” before going slowly off the rails…although unfortunately it never gets that abstract, either. I’m a big Busoni fan but don’t automatically rank Fantasia contrappuntistica as his best piece. Still, the simple fact that someone as worthy as Liebermann is making a passionate case for Fantasia contrappuntistica is very intriguing. I’ll keep listening!

One possible record to pair with Personal Demons is Piano by Thomas Adès, which (like Liebermann’s recital) includes some exceptionally rare pieces alongside something by Busoni. (In what is surely a heretical view, I’d argue that the instantly charismatic Sonatina No. 3, “ad usum infantis” makes a better case for Busoni than Fantasia contrappuntistica.)

Matthew Aucoin (born 1990) is following in the pianist/opera composer line of Adès a bit. Not too much of Aucoin’s output can be heard on record yet, but I’m very impressed with the substantial middle movement of Its Own Accord, with Keir GoGwilt on violin and the composer on piano. Yeah. More of this, please.

Aucoin is also writing about music at the New York Review of Books, including the major essay A Dance to the Music of Death on the topic of recent work of Adès, including The Exterminating Angel and Totentanz. An illuminating read. Later this year, Aucoin’s book The Impossible Art: Adventures in Opera will be published by Macmillian.

Then there’s Timo Andres, a true polymath, a man whose profound excellence in diverse fields — composer, pianist, home studio tech, engraver of scores — is almost upsetting. His latest YouTube marvel is Honest Labor.

Most DTM readers are jazz people, so be sure to check out Honest Labor, which is as if Keith Jarrett could compose a mathematical process piece in real time, with sonorities ranging from the most basic to the most esoteric.

The Andres solo recital at Bargemusic on May 21 will include repertoire by SouthamRoremDebussy, Ellington, and Schumann.

I was at Andres’s house the other day, learning more about Dorico, my recently-purchased music notation program. (Asking Andres about Dorico is like asking Coltrane about Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns.)

Compared to the kind of composers I’m discussing on this page, my own music is fairly simple to write and play. Still, I may have to check out Andres’s book recommendation Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide To Music Notation by Elaine Gould. If Timo Andres swears by this book, it must be good.

Andres is a featured performer on Christopher Cerrone’s new record, The Arching Path. Cerrone’s disc is notably well-produced, and the amount of sonic detail to be heard on the title suite is stunning. The aesthetic is pure, almost child-like. I need to check my expectations at the door and go on the journey. The rewards are considerable if I am patient enough.

These sounds are already cinematic; when there is percussion and computer added, as on Double Happiness, it becomes even more like exquisitely superior soundtrack music. Funny to think that something like Double Happiness and Mario Davidovsky’s various Synchronisms are more or less in the same electroacoustic “family.” Too bad those older thorny composers like Davidovsky rarely had producers that focused on recorded sound in the manner of The Arching Path

Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, and Scott Wollschleger are friends, and reportedly go out to epic Italian dinners together and argue about music for hours. I know Wollschleger’s music best; I immediately loved those unpretentious but unpredictable harmonies, something of Thelonious Monk meets Morton Feldman.

Wollschleger’s pianist is Karl Larson, and they have a new album out together, Dark Days. It’s really an amazing listen. The title track is short, subtle, grim and weird. It’s almost “not music,” but it is music. The record release concert is being live-streamed tonight from Roulette.