Editor's Corner - April 2014

01 editor 01 brandenburg freiburgQuite a few years ago, frankly almost half a century if I care to do the math, I built my classical record collection by scouring the bargain bins on Yonge St. at Sam the Record Man and A&A Records. At the time it was possible to find some superb recordings for 99 cents to $1.99, including as I recall, my first exposure to Schubert lieder as sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Boulez conducting the Domaine Musical Ensemble in works of Gilbert Amy and Anton Webern, Honegger symphonies performed by Ansermet and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Bartok Quartets with the Fine Arts Quartet (well, that 3-LP set may have been $3.99) to name just a few highlights. What takes me back to those memories is a new recording of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos featuring the Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi HMC 902176.77). My first recording of these iconic works came from those same bargain bins and inadvertently introduced me to the world of period performance practice in, as far as I know, one of its earliest incarnations. Featuring the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis on two Heliodor LPs this was an ear-opening, if not quite life-changing, event for me. I’d never heard anything like it before and I was hooked, although it would be a good many years before I figured out what it was that made it so special. Of course period performance is almost de rigueur these days, thanks in large part to the influence of the Schola which Paul Sacher founded in Basel in 1933, but back in the 70s it was quite a new idea to most of the musical world. Since that time as I say, historically informed performances abound and Toronto’s own Tafelmusik has played a major role in establishing this as the norm. Their own 1995 Juno award-winning recording of the Brandenburgs, recently re-released on their own Tafelmusik Media label (TMK1004CD2), is itself a benchmark against which others are to be measured. I’m glad to have the luxury of not having to choose between an embarrassment of riches and am simply able to enjoy them all. I’m happy to have had an excuse to revisit my favourite recordings – including the thrilling modern-instrument performance featuring the CBC Vancouver Orchestra under Mario Bernardi with soloists including Robert Aitken – thanks to this new release from Freiburg, which incidentally is just across the border from Basel. I particularly enjoyed the crisp attacks and well-balanced recording throughout the two discs, the wonderful (and wondrously in tune!) natural horns in the First Concerto and of special note, the harpsichord cadenza by Sebastian Wienand in the Fifth. This is a welcome addition to my collection.

01 editor 02 morlock cobaltThe Canadian Music Centre’s Centrediscs label is busier than ever it seems, and this month has three new releases featured in these pages. The one I have chosen for myself, Cobalt (CMCCD 20014), is an eclectic offering featuring mostly large-scale music by the chameleon-like Jocelyn Morlock performed by five different orchestras. The exception is a dark and brooding piano trio written for Duo Concertante (Nancy Dahn, violin and Timothy Steeves, piano) with guest cellist Vernon Regehr, Asylum, a tribute to and meditation on Schumann’s life and music. The opening track, Music of the Romantic Era, written for and performed by the Windsor Symphony, is a pastiche whose inspiration was the concern that classical music is disappearing from our lives. It would be fun to hold a contest to see how many sources of the familiar and almost-familiar phrases found therein can be identified. The title track is a sort of concerto grosso for two violins and orchestra, a lyrical reflection on the luminous cobalt blue of the night sky, the properties of cobalt the element (poisonous, magnetic and radioactive), and kobold, the mischievous goblin that inspired its name. Jonathan Crow and Karl Stobbe are the soloists with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Alain Trudel. Disquiet is a short homage to Shostakovich which explores “a sense of oppression and urgency, such that I imagine would have been the perpetual emotional state of Shostakovich and his contemporaries.” The haunting work is performed by the CBC Symphony Orchestra, again under Trudel’s direction. Bramwell Tovey leads the Vancouver Symphony in the nature-inspired Oiseaux bleus et sauvages, a nod to Messiaen with some moments reminiscent of John Adams.

Perhaps the most curious work on the disc is Golden, written in memory of Morlock’s teacher Nikolai Korndorf and performed by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and oboist Philippe Magnan. The piece starts with quiet percussive sounds and disjointed whispered phrases and gradually grows into dirge-like, quasi-medieval textures in the strings and solo oboe. The final piece Solace also found it’s inspiration in early music, Josquin’s Missa L’homme armé. The orchestra, the strings of the Vancouver Symphony, is divided into subgroups: an “early music” ensemble playing music based on Josquin’s mass; a group of “ethereal” violins playing long harmonies over top the tutti; and a concertante violin and cello. It is the soloists that are most prominent and while the background is based in medieval music, the soaring melody of the violin, echoed effectively by the cello, is to my ear quite reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending in its quiet grandeur. All in all this is a wonderfully lyrical disc and a great reminder that we do have an important body of orchestral work in this country. Now, if we could just get our orchestras to play it more often… (I know I always say that, but that doesn’t make it any less true!)

01 editor 03 petits nouveauxAnother disc that took me back to the early days of building my record collection, specifically the discovery of Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, is a delightful eponymous disc by Les Petits Nouveaux (lespetitsnouveaux.bandcamp.com). There’s not much information included with the self-produced CD but surfing the web I have gleaned that this gypsy jazz group was formed in 2009 when Swedish guitarist Mikko Hildén was studying the manouche stylings of Django Reinhardt under the tutelage of Drew Jurecka at Humber College. Les Petits Nouveaux is currently a trio with another original member, Montreal violinist Aline Homzy and, since 2011, Toronto guitarist Andy Mac. The disc is mix of gypsy jazz standards (including Reinhardt’s gently swinging Douce Ambiance on which the group is joined by mentor Jurecka on bass clarinet) and original compositions, one from each member: Hildén’s El Cafecito, Homzy’s Siva Macka and Mac’s particularly idiomatic Ville Belle. At just a half an hour in length this disc falls somewhere between EP and full-length offering (and is priced online accordingly at just $7), but it serves as a satisfying introduction to the group, and to the idiom if you’re not familiar with it. A very effective treatment of Gene de Paul’s classic I’ll Remember April brings this little gem to a close.

01 editor 04 song of grassesThe final disc that has been in rotation on my system this month is a meditative project which is based in the song of Chassidic niggunim and Sephardic Jewish traditions. Song of the Grasses features Siach HaSadeh, a clarinet and double bass duo (Yoni Kaston and Joel Kerr) complemented with violin (Daniel Fuchs), cello (Gaël Huard), harmonica (Jason Rosenblatt) and oud (Ishmail Fencioglu) as the repertoire requires. The quiet flowing clarinet over the subtle supportive bass lines is a constant delight throughout the 15 tracks, but for my ears it is the percussive melodies plucked on the oudand the extremely lyrical harmonica playing (it’s hard to imagine this as the same instrument known as the “blues harp” in Rosenblatt’s hands – the iconic Toots Thielemans comes to mind) that really makes this music special. In the program notes (only available on the website siachhasadeh.com), it states that “the songs […] were created as vehicles to reach the depths of spiritual space. Many of them have passed through fire and water to reach us, and are not known outside of the communities where they are still sung. While they are distinctly Jewish, they express something deeply universal, something that can only be expressed in wordless melody, and that could be obscured by text. Here, they become platforms for improvisation and musical conversations.” The spirituality is achieved without any New Age trappings and the resulting contemplative journey is one well worth undertaking. It has given me a much appreciated sense of calm and some quiet stimulation over that past few weeks.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
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Schubert – Winterreise

02 vocal 01b winterreise kaufmann02 vocal 01a winterreise finleySchubert – Winterreise
Gerald Finley; Julius Drake
Hyperion CDA68034

Schubert – Winterreise
Jonas Kaufmann; Helmut Deutsch
Sony 88883795652

Only one of these two new versions of Winterreise seems to be able to take seriously one of Schubert’s most harrowing delineations of despair.

Finley and Drake provide an object lesson in rendering these pieces as more than mere entertainment, whereas Kaufmann and Deutsch seem content with simply providing a well-sung song cycle. Both singers are consummate operatic artists and their pianists are both good but Drake is by far the better at conveying subtle nuances. Kaufmann is certainly an expressive singer but does not yet really have those skills that can project the psychological internalization of drama and tragedy. It is Finley and Drake who have all the essential extra skills in the strategies of lieder singing. These qualities are omnipresent throughout the entire cycle. In the final song, “Der Leiermann,” Kaufmann certainly gives an engaging rendition, carefully projecting to his audience a muted picture of aimlessness. But listening to Finley and Drake we learn how bereft and suicidal the subject really is, making it painfully clear that he has lost all hope and is looking for his death. Mention must be made of the appropriate salon acoustic that crowns the Finley, versus a much larger venue in which Kaufmann appears.

Winterreise is Schubert’s most trenchant metaphor of his own life and tragedy. It is a difficult piece and it is rare to hear such an unflinching probing of this sad masterpiece as Finley’s, which may indeed be the best version ever.


Wagner – Parsifal

02 vocal 02 wagner parsifal kaufmannWagner – Parsifal
Jonas Kaufmann; René Pape; Peter Mattei; Katarina Dalayman; Evgeny Nikitin; Metropolitain Opera; Daniele Gatti
Sony 88883725589

The Met is certainly back on the right track following their dubious and very costly Ring adventure with this stunning, awe-inspiring, memorable and by far more economical production of Parsifal, created to kick off the composer’s 200th birthday festivities. Why? Three reasons:

To begin, acclaimed film director, French-Canadian François Girard, already known in Toronto for his Siegfried for the COC, here envisages a “pervasively gloomy” apocalyptic vision with dark clouds and swirling mists (no doubt inspired by Goya’s frescos), barren grounds bisected with a river of blood and atavistic symbolism thoroughly in keeping with the harrowing story of the Knights of the Holy Grail’s inner doubt and hopelessness.

Next, the choice of Italian conductor extraordinaire Daniele Gatti, a wonderfully talented musical mind who truly presides over this incredibly complex score and conducts it entirely from memory! To my recollection only Toscanini could do that, mainly because he was vain and refused to wear glasses. My experience with Gatti so far has been his memorable Verdi performances, but here he is on an altogether different level. With broad tempi and long melodic lines he sustains a glowing intensity rarely achieved by even the very best.

Thirdly, in the title role, German heroic tenor Jonas Kaufmann is an inspired choice, with a wonderful stage presence and voice of immense sensitivity he becomes a thoroughly committed personification of Parsifal for our age. The distinguished cast is superb: René Pape is synonymous with Gurnemanz, Peter Mattei is simply heartbreaking as the suffering Amfortas and Evgeny Nikitin is terrifying as the evil bloodthirsty Klingsor. As Kundry, an almost insanely difficult female role, Katarina Dalayman is maternally seductive with spectacular vocal power.

This is an immortal production that will resound through the ages.


Franck – Stradella

02 vocal 03 franck stradellaFranck – Stradella
Isabelle Kabatu; Marc Laho; Philippe Rouillon; Opera Royal de Wallonie; Paolo Arrivabeni             
Dynamic 37692

A child prodigy, a brilliant piano player and composer already in his teens, with a career tightly controlled by his father – until he emancipated himself. No, I am not talking about W.A. Mozart. This unusual career path was also followed by César Franck. The Belgian composer is remembered for his organ compositions that constitute a goodly part of every organist’s repertoire. However, he was just as skilled as a composer of instrumental music with sonatas, a celebrated piano quintet, the Symphony in D Minor and the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra plus several operas.

Rarely, if at all staged, Franck’s operas nevertheless deserve our attention. Stradella, his first, was never fully orchestrated and the current recording represents its first public performance.

Alessandro Stradella, the 17th century composer murdered in Genoa, is only nominally connected to the libretto – as this is a work of fiction. Stradella seeks to woo Leonor with his beautiful singing, but not for himself – for the Duke of Pesaro. Of course, he falls in (reciprocated) love and the lovers elope to Rome, pursued by the vengeful Duke. The Duke hires assassins and instructs them to kill Stradella. Here is where this production by Jaco Van Dormael diverges from the original story: the opera actually has a happy ending, as the Duke is so moved by Stradella’s singing, he forgives the betrayal and blesses the union of Leonor and her love. Alas, Van Dormael has decided to reference the murder of the real-life Stradella and has Leonor dying of grief. Stradella then joins her in heaven, as joyous music, hardly appropriate for this tragic ending, plays on.

The staging is beautiful, though at times puzzling – a giant wading pool is the perfect setting for Venice flooded during the Carnival, but it makes less sense as the action moves to a church in Rome. Regardless of the dramatic choices in this production, the music of Franck and beautiful singing by Marc Laho as Stradella make this disc a keeper.


Poulenc – Stabat Mater; Sept Répons de Ténèbres

02 vocal 04 poulenc stabatPoulenc – Stabat Mater; Sept Répons de Ténèbres
Carolyn Sampson; Cappella Amsterdam; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Daniel Reuss
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902149

In the 1930s Francis Poulenc started to display a more introspective character in his compositions. A period of soul-searching after the deaths of two close to him, his lover Raymonde Linossier and composer Pierre-Octave Ferroud, Poulenc began to explore the religion he had once set aside, undertaking a pilgrimage and adding sacred music to his oeuvre. Highly personalized, the subsequent works seem to vacillate between two sides of the composer’s life, embodying both sublime reverence and worldly excess. His settings of Stabat Mater and Sept Répons de Ténèbres were composed two decades later and represent the mature expression of this dichotomy, breaking character from the solemnity with expressions of extreme emotional, sensual and even dancelike diversions. This is a challenging drama for an ensemble to undertake, to tackle Poulenc’s personification of the sacred and express it in all its complexity. The flawless voicings of Capella Amsterdam and the Estonian Chamber Choir and superb musicianship of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra led by Daniel Reuss produce a truly affective interweaving of these seemingly diverse elements while the dulcet renderings of soprano Carolyn Sampson perfectly embody the Marion essence.


Harrison Birtwistle – The Moth Requiem

02 vocal 05 birtwistleHarrison Birtwistle – The Moth Requiem
Roderick Williams; BBC Singers; Nash Ensemble; Nicholas Kok
Signum Classics SIGCD368

This fourth of Signum’s series of composer-led releases with exquisite performances by the BBC Singers is perfectly timed to coincide with Harrison Birtwistle’s 80th year. Though a mixture of recent and older compositions, this is a premiere recording for all works on the disc.

The title piece is the most recent. The Moth Requiem is composed for 12 female voices, alto flute and 3 harps. The beauty and tenuous life of the moth is explored through a text based on The Moth Poem by Robin Blaser, with the names of moth species, both common and close to extinct, intertwined throughout. An eerie, shimmering fragility is perfectly evoked by the women’s voices while the music is crafted to portray a moth trapped inside a piano, touching the strings and bumping on the lid in its efforts to escape.

This tenuous hold on life is mirrored through similar effect in Three Latin Motets employed as interludes for Birtwistle’s opera The Last Supper. In The Ring Dance of the Nazarene, Christ is alternately represented by the superb baritone Roderick Williams and the chorus while an Iranian darbuka drum is employed to evoke the dance that Christ performs for his disciples. On the Sheer Threshold of the Night, is taken from his opera The Mask of Orpheus, a setting of Boethius’ early Christian interpretation of the Orpheus myth, set underneath the motif of Orpheus and Eurydice calling out to each other over the great divide between life and afterlife.


Doulce Mémoire - Margaret Little; Sylvain Bergeron

03 early 01 doulce memoireDoulce Mémoire
Margaret Little; Sylvain Bergeron
ATMA ACD2 2685

This CD explores the variation technique known as “diminutions,” a concept more commonly known as “divisions.” It is explained in the accompanying booklet: “Diminutions were made by dividing long notes of the melody into a series of shorter notes either surrounding the melody note or filling up the interval between it and the next melody note.” Many of these were based on madrigals, most famously Cipriano de Rore’s Ancor che col partire. Here the artists have chosen one set of variations, that by Ricardo Rogniono. The title of the CD refers to a different madrigal, Doulce Mémoire, by Pierre Sandrin. Here three sets of variations are played: by François de Layolle, Diego Ortiz and Vincenzo Bonizzi.

Although there are only two players, the recital gives us many different textures: of the 17 tracks, seven are for treble viol and archlute, six for bass viol and archlute, two for solo treble viol and two for solo archlute. The material is largely based on variations on 16th century madrigals, but it is complemented by selections from John Playford’s 1684 collection The Division Viol with its variations on popular English songs. No selection of variations would be even half complete without that most popular of songs, La Folia. Fittingly the CD ends with an anonymous set of variations based on that song.

Throughout the CD viol player Margaret Little and lutenist Sylvain Bergeron, are superb. I am always careful not to use superlatives too easily but these performances are truly out of this world.


Meine Seele – German Sacred Music

03 early 02 meine seeleMeine Seele – German Sacred Music
Matthew White; Tempo Rubato; Alexander Weimann
ATMA ACD2 2668

As the CD’s booklet reminds us, music was very important to Martin Luther. It was “a gift of God,” he wrote in 1530. It should be central to education: “A teacher must be able to sing; if not, I don’t think he’s any use.” Luther’s views account, at least in part, for the centrality of music in the Lutheran tradition. The tradition culminated with Johann Sebastian Bach, but he was able to build on at least a century of earlier music.

This recording begins with an early cantata by Bach (Widerstehe doch der Sünde) but then moves back into the 17th century (Heinrich Schütz, Franz Tunder, Johann Rosenmüller, Johann Michael Bach, Christoph Bernhard). It then returns to the early 18th century with the final work, a cantata by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach. The vocal works are complemented by instrumental pieces: a sinfonia by Tunder, extracts from a suite by Erlebach, a passacaglia for organ by Georg Muffat and a set of dances by Rosenmüller.

J.S. Bach, Schütz and Rosenmüller are the only composers here who are at all well known today. It is good to hear the religious music of other German composers of the Early Baroque, especially when sung by the countertenor Matthew White, who is a fine interpreter of this music. We used to hear him often in Toronto, with Tafelmusik or the Toronto Consort. Now his work centres on Montreal and Vancouver. I hope he will come back soon.


Mozart – Piano Concertos

04 classical 01b mozart fialkowska04 classical 01a mozart naganoMozart – Piano Concertos 12 & 13
Karin Kei Nagano; Cecilia String Quartet
Analekta AN 2 8765

Mozart – Piano Concertos 13 & 14
Janina Fialkowska; Chamber Players of Canada
ATMA ACD2 2532

The piano concertos featured on these two recordings may not be largely known to most audiences. After all, Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos and many later ones appear to be more dazzling and exciting. However, concertos Nos.12, 13 and 14 were written at the time when Mozart himself entered a very prosperous and exciting stage in his life; he had just moved to Vienna, thus acquiring more independence from his father, married Constanze Weber, and began developing entrepreneurial spirit by generating revenue from public performances and sales of his new compositions. These piano concertos, written in 1782 (Nos.12 and 13) and in 1784 (No.14), reflect the forward momentum of Mozart’s life as well as some nostalgic elements and a subtle homage to Johann Christian Bach and Joseph Haydn in the middle movements. In an attempt to promote his work, Mozart wrote two versions of these concertos: the orchestral version (strings and woodwinds), meant for concert halls, and the chamber one, making them more accessible to amateur musicians.

It is the more intimate, “a quattro” version that is presented on both recordings. The absence of the horns is arguably bothersome to some but it is my opinion that the chamber rendition offers nuance and clarity in phrasing that otherwise may not be heard and works just as well. Pianist Karin Kei Nagano and the Cecilia String Quartet dive into the intimate textures and colours by emphasizing the simplicity of Mozart’s music. Cecilia Quartet uses vibrato with the clear intention of enhancing the sound, making the phrasing appear fresh and exciting at times. Karin Kei Nagano brings youthfulness and certain sweetness to her interpretation – her notes are light, spirited and virtuosic in a very natural way.

The Chamber Players of Canada and Janina Fialkowska included the double bass in the string ensemble thus achieving a warmer overall sound. Fialkowska’s playing is fierce at times yet wonderfully lyrical. She does not shy away from darker piano colours in the concertos but emphasizes innocence and brightness in Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman. The string ensemble playing is intense and elegant. Eine kleine Nachtmusik has a reputation of being the party piece in the classical music world – the Chamber Players of Canada clearly enjoyed playing it and they did so with a high degree of stylishness.


Beethoven – Symphonies 1 & 7 - Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal; Kent Nagano

04 classical 02 beethoven naganoBeethoven – Symphonies 1 & 7
Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal; Kent Nagano
Analekta AN 2 9887

Conductor Kent Nagano leads the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) in energetic and technically tight live performances of Beethoven Symphonies Nos.1 and 7 in this thought-provoking release.

Symphony No.1 is an early work where the compositional influences of late Haydn are combined with Beethoven’s precise and contrasting dynamics. In contrast, the later Symphony No. 7 is a robust rhythmic composition, as the liner notes state, “the theme of Joy in conjunction with that of Dance and dance rhythms arising from physical impulses consistently predominates.”

Both works are given thorough and invigorating interpretations. The musical and ensemble mastery of OSM is most evident in the faster sections, where Nagano’s appropriate choices of tempo create a sense of urgency without a feeling of rushing the beat. The orchestra shines in these sections, and it is a joy to listen to such crisp performances.

But it is the contrasts in dynamics that makes these performances stand out from the crowd. Nagano and the OSM seem to trust each other’s musical choices, as the louds, softs and in between volumes are succinct, colourful and result in energetically focused performances that are never exaggerated for effect.

Each performance ends with justifiable rousing applause from the audience. Combined with clear production, this is a recording to listen to, contemplate and appreciate as Nagano and the OSM offer a fresh and modern take on two Beethoven symphonic chestnuts!


Resolve – Hindemith masterworks for clarinet

05 modern 01 hindemith clarinetResolve – Hindemith masterworks for clarinet
Richard Stoltzman; Various artists
Navona Records NV5934

One has to thank Richard Stoltzman, dean of the clarinet in North America, for this latest addition to a long list of recordings, in this instance a celebration of Paul Hindemith’s clarinet music. Missing only the Quartet (1938), this disc features the Concerto (1947), the Sonata (1939) and the Quintet with strings (1923, revised in 1954). The last is the most curious of the lot, at times starkly modern and strange, reflecting the composer’s early experiments with form and tonality, at others oddly restrained. No clue if this is on account of the later revisions. Recorded two and a half decades ago, it’s certainly fun to hear a younger Richard Stoltzman strut about with the E-flat (piccolo) instrument in the middle movement.

It can be lonely work sticking up for Hindemith among colleagues who champion the work of more adventurous composers. I love his music, its assured quality, its exploration of the instruments’ possibilities, and okay yes, his adherence to a form of TONALITY! His writing for strings in the quintet is masterful, recalling somewhat the character of his ballet: The Four Temperaments. Tashi, the chamber group co-founded by Stoltzman and Peter Serkin, plays with mad commitment. This is the earliest recording of the set, dating from 1988. He recorded the Concerto with the Slovak Radio Orchestra in 2003.

Now in his early 70s, Mr. Stoltzman seems not ready to pack up his horn. The sonata was recorded just last year, with Yehudi Wyner on piano. If Stoltzman has lost some of his beautiful tonal focus over time, his ability to form la phrase juste has not diminished.

This disc bears a dedication to the late great Keith Wilson, his (and my) one-time professor at Yale. It’s a fitting tribute to both men.


A Concert for New York - Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; William Eddins

05 modern 02 edmonton symphonyA Concert for New York
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; William Eddins
ESO Live 2012-05-1 (edmontonsymphony.com)

This two-disc live recording (from the Windspear Centre) of the program from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall debut concert is an impressive package. It demonstrates the ESO’s remarkable growth and features works by its three composers-in-residence to date, John Estacio, Allan Gilliland and Robert Rival, along with a rarely heard symphony by Bohuslav Martinů. I recommend Estacio’s Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano (1997) with first-rate soloists Juliette Kang, Denise Djokic and Angela Cheng. In brief, this might be described as neo-romanticism with mystical tendencies. Wonderful music.

In his Symphony No.1 (1942) Bohuslav Martinů melds elements of modernism, jazz, and Czech folk melody into his distinctive neoclassical style. The large orchestra and prominent piano part add resonance, helping avoid the spiky dryness of some neoclassical works. Strange ascending chromatic passages seem to steam up from a chemist’s vat, and there are premonitions of minimalism! William Eddins keeps everything balanced in an exciting performance.

Robert Rival’s tender, slightly Ravelian Lullaby (2012) uses changing metres, rather than the triple time of cradle-rocking, to evoke walking and rocking his first child. Dreaming of the Masters III (2010) continues Allan Gilliland’s concerto series referencing older jazz styles. With Jens Lindeman as soloist on trumpet and flugelhorn, potential for virtuosity is realized and all involved have a great time. Ditto in the concert encore -- theMambo” from Bernstein’s West Side Story – where the ESO percussion add a “Wow!” factor.

(Note: On my copy the recording’s volume needed to be cranked up considerably to reach normal listening levels.)


Glistening Pianos – Music by Alice Ping Yee Ho

05 modern 03 ho glistening pianosGlistening Pianos – Music by Alice Ping Yee Ho
Duo Piano 2X10
Centrediscs CMCCD 19714

There is a plethora of exquisite aural delights in this new release featuring the music of Hong Kong-born Canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho.

As to be expected from the Canadian Music Centre Centrediscs label, the usual high production qualities, first class performance, musicianship and strong compositions create a great listening experience. The five very distinct and contrasting pieces offer a superb cross section of styles, tonal sensibilities and musical forays, making Glistening Pianos the perfect calling card for the composer. Each work features the core piano duo 2X10 – pianists Midori Koga and Lydia Wong are powerhouse technicians who both easily jump through demanding technical and musical hoops. Their expertise glistens, sparkles and glitters when they sound like one piano in the more tonal opening title track while their keyboard conversations in An Eastern Apparition reveal two distinct yin and yang musical beings. The closing track Heart to Heart features a calmer ethereal mood reminiscent of 19th century romantic piano repertoire. Flutist Susan Hoeppner joins the duo in the emotive Chain of Being. There is just too much fun taking place in War!, a funky LOUD frolic, inspired by Ho’s daughter Bo Wen Chan’s spoken lyrics, featuring percussionist Adam Campbell, electronics.

Only the omission of composition dates beside the titles keeps the listener from fully appreciating the development of Ho’s firm grasp of writing for piano, from florid fast ascending and descending lines to rhythmic marching backdrops and glistening piano timbres.


Kitchen Party - Derek Charke; Mark Adam

05 modern 04 kitchen partyKitchen Party
Derek Charke; Mark Adam
Centrediscs CMCCD 19814

The idea behind this CD is simple: give a theme to seven East Coast composers and ask them to write something four to ten minutes long for flute and percussion and premiere the outcomes at a traditional Nova Scotia kitchen party for 70 guests. The flute-percussion duo comprises “extended techniques” specialist flutist Derek Charke and “veteran of virtually every percussion genre,” Mark Adam, now both music professors at Acadia University in Wolfville. The composers may all be from Nova Scotia but their music is from all over the map (in a good way!).

Redundancy is out and originality is in; everyone has something different and interesting to say.

There is, as one would hope, lots of extended flute technique – whistles, harmonics, multiphonics, pops and buzzes, as in some of the variations in Charke’s contribution, ‘Reel’ Variations on a Jig and Jim O’Leary’s Music for Amplified Bass Flute and Drum Set.

There is also lots of very contemporary melodic writing as in John Plant’s Capriccio, in which the forward momentum of the marimba’s arpeggiated ostinato is matched by the flute’s equally dynamic melody line, and even a toe-tapping jig in Charke’s piece. And then there are the fascinating rhythms, as in Anthony Genge’s Third Duo, Jeff Hennessy’s Balor’s Flute and Robert Bauer’s Café Antiqua. Yes, there is even some Japanese-inspired music in Charke’s improvisation, recorded live at the kitchen party.

So you don’t think you like contemporary music? Think again!


The Big Picture - David Krakauer

06 jazz 01 big pictureThe Big Picture
David Krakauer
Table Pounding TDR 002 davidkrakauer.com

Anti-Semitism or approval is behind the oft-repeated canard that “Jews run Hollywood,“ but certainly no one can deny the influence producers, directors, writers and composers of Jewish background have had on the history of cinema. Clarinetist David Krakauer pays tribute to Hollywood’s Semitic tinge on The Big Picture performing a dozen songs from films whose actors, director, composer or themes reflect Jewish topics. Considering that the movies range from Sophie’s Choice to The Producers it’s fortunate that Krakauer’s equally varied musical affiliations have encompassed John Zorn, the Klezmatics, Itzhak Perlman and symphony orchestras.

Krakauer’s usual strategy is to retain the jaunty theme to songs like “Tradition“ from Fiddler on the Roof, as slippery clarinet trills; Jenny Scheinman’s see-sawing violin strings and pedal reverb from Adam Rogers’ guitars contrast a parallel musical identity for the tune. These novel arrangments work whether the psychedelic guitar excess on “Honeycomb“ from Lenny is over-emphasized, or whether on “Si Tu Vois Ma Mére“ used in Midnight in Paris, Krakauer subverts the rote two-beat Dixieland from Jim Black’s drums with roadhouse boogie bumps from bass and rhythm guitar as well as disco-era sound loops. At the same time while skittering fiddle modulations, accordion slurs and strumming guitar lines may give a piece like “Love Theme“ from Sophie’s Choice an interface that sounds more Palm Springs than Poland, Krakauer’s own tone, complete with heartfelt trills and spectro-fluctuation never mocks the music’s underlying melancholy.

More to the point Krakauer’s reed skill is such that he makes you hear some songs in new ways. Playing bass clarinet on Funny Girl’s middle-of-road staple “People“ for instance, his intense vibrato joined with cascading piano chords and violin runs strengthens the melody’s poignancy without letting it fall into sentimentality. Overall The Big Picture is an outstanding salute to movies, music and movie music, whatever their origins.


The Musical Voyages of Marco Polo

07 pot pourri 01 marco poloThe Musical Voyages of Marco Polo
Maria Farantouri; En Chordais; Ensemble Constantinople; Kyriakos Kalaitzidis
World Village WVF 479092

Italy to China in Marco Polo’s footsteps, interpreted stage by stage by local music, inspired Kyriakos Kalaitzidis to coordinate and to compose a virtual journey along the Silk Road.

Early music enthusiasts will get their eye (or ear) drawn in with the well-known Lamento di Tristano which weaves its sedate course by bringing together Western European and Middle-Eastern instruments. This same combination forms Kalaitzidis’ choice for one of his own compositions, the equally sedate Marco’s Dream. What a contrast then with his second composition, Gallop, which conjures up Marco Polo confidently and swiftly crossing the Silk Road on his mission.

As Marco Polo moves eastward the music escorts him, as its style changes. In Migrants Circles lyrics by the 14th century Iranian poet Hafez are inspired by a Chinese melody. Kiya Tabassian (sitar and voice) brilliantly conveys the winding and demanding nature of Marco Polo’s journeyings.

 Then the traveller reaches Uzbekistan for perhaps the most impassioned song on the CD: Ey Dilbari Jonomin (Oh, my heart-stealing beauty) where the voices of Kalaitzidis and Nodira Permatova are allowed to express the song’s haunting quality, accompanied only by oud, viola and violin. All too soon we are back on the road east with Five steps, a piece played on Nepalese sarangi to guide us to Mongolia, where Chandmani nutag evokes the latter’s grasslands and streams.

Finally, China. Yi Zu Wu Qu (dance of the Yi nation) is a thoughtful piece for solo pipa, contrasting with the complex seven-part Musical Voyages of Marco Polo. And then a final inspiration. Greek legend Maria Farantouri sings Xenos (the stranger), conveying Marco Polo’s feelings of being a stranger in a new life. Farantouri, long considered one of the foremost interpreters of Greek music, has lost none of her touch. Enjoy this expressive journey.


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