Material for this month’s column began with an email in early April from a young man in Hawaii saying he was sending me copies of two CDs featuring his music for baritone ukulele. I don’t think I ever responded to the email, but my curiosity was whetted – I was not familiar with the baritone member of that instrumental family – and when the discs arrived I was pleased to find them both interesting. The young man’s name is Ryan Choi (ryanckchoi.com) and the two discs present different sides of his compositional activity.

01a Choi WhenmillThe first, Whenmill (Off ODG049 off-recordlabel.blogspot.ca), presents four pieces for solo baritone ukulele in a fairly traditional contemporary classical guitar idiom. The rich tones of the instrument and the way Choi makes full contrapuntal use of its limited range makes it easy to forget that he is dealing with two fewer strings than on a guitar. Set 1 is comprised of three pieces, Quixano and Inn Blue, both from 2012, and Whenmill, composed the following year. I wish there were some program notes for the pieces, but even web searches turn up little information. The opening piece’s title, also the honorific of “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” makes me wonder if Inn Blue refers to the Don’s infamous adventure at a country inn and whether Whenmill, a word I cannot find mention of except in connection with Choi, has something to with tilting at windmills…but that is mere speculation on my part. Regardless of intent or inspiration, the “set” is a satisfying and intriguing exploration of the potential of this lesser-known instrument. At 12 minutes, the final track, South Aleksandr, composed in 2011, is longer than the other three combined and its virtuosic flamenco-like passages showcase Choi’s considerable abilities.

01b Choi DancersChoi’s other disc Three Dancers (Accretions ALP-060 accretions.com) is quite a different offering including works for “prepared” baritone ukulele, percussion and electronics, all performed by the composer. The title of the 20-minute EP, again about 20 minutes in all (and of the third track,) refers to Picasso’s painting Les Trois Danseuses and the cover art is a line drawing by Choi. The brief opening track Preparations I and IV is percussive in its approach, seemingly achieved with preparations on the ukulele similar to those which John Cage developed for piano, rather than through the use of traditional percussion instruments. It is very rhythmic and pointillistic, but relatively tame compared to the dynamic second track, Apollon at Eros, which combines hand drumming and stilted string plucking which jumps erratically, although not randomly, around the fret board. The electronic treatments are subtly present in Three Dancers, with, as far as I can tell, textures produced by reversing recorded sounds which actually seem almost as if they could be created live in real time by this accomplished player. These two releases present a remarkable portrait of an instrument not previously known for its art music potential, and of an adventurous new voice on the contemporary scene.

02 William BeauvaisI was pleased, but not surprised, by the beautiful sounds on Old Wood – New Seeds, the latest from Toronto classical guitarist/composer William Beauvais (musiccentre.ca/node/138158). The disc opens with the suite, Appalachian Colours – Gold; Red; Green; Blue, evidently inspired not by Copland’s Appalachian Spring, but rather by that iconic American composer’s orchestral suite Rodeo. From the contemplative opening movement through the lilting second and the lullaby-like third, our attention is held by the lush colours Beauvais draws from his instrument. The gently ebullient final movement, glistening like sunlight off the surface of a rippling lake, held me wrapped in its thrall from start to finish nearly seven minutes later.

Shakespeare has arguably provided inspiration for more composers than any other literary figure throughout history. Beauvais has followed this time-honoured path with a pair of works, Fallstaffe’s Lament and Fallstaffe’s Charade, the first being a suitably mournful theme and variations and the second in the form of an English jig. No explanation is given for the aberrant spelling of the character’s name (nor for a different spelling, one “l” but still the “e,” in the program note), perhaps just to evoke the Elizabethan era before spellings were standardized. Certainly the music does so effectively. We’ll return to Shakespeare later in this column but Beauvais next takes us to Eastern Europe in The Ancient Waters suite which uses two Bulgarian songs and a rhythmic Balkan folk dance.

Beauvais incorporates Renaissance-style “divisions” in the warm and luscious Open Moonflower which is paired with the cascading Shoveling Clouds. Carré St. Anne, the final track on this very satisfying disc, begins quietly but gradually builds to a driving conclusion based on a Brazilian dance form. Throughout, the recorded sound is rich, but natural, and surprisingly free of extraneous finger and string noise.

03 Pete SeegerOne thing I did not mention in the Beauvais review was that several of the tracks put me in mind of the Paul Winter Consort and how classical guitarist Ralph Towner was integrated into the fabric of that seminal crossover band in the 1970s. I mention this now because another package that found my attention this past month was a reissue of the 1996 CD Pete (LMUS 0032) along with the DVD Living Music Festival 1982 (LMU-45) featuring Pete Seeger and the Paul Winter Consort, on Winter’s Living Music label (paulwinter.com). Released 20 years ago when Seeger was 77, PetePete Seeger and Friends brings together Joanie Madden (pennywhistle), Howard Levy (harmonica), Paul Winter (soprano sax), Paul Preston (banjo, mandolin) and three different choirs, Gaudeamus, the Union Baptist Church Singers and the Cathedral Singers, in 18 songs showing the breadth of Seeger’s interest and experience. From straightforward folk songs like Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, through protest, pro-environment and pro-humanity offerings, Garbage, To My Old Brown Earth and My Rainbow Race, and to storytelling, Huddie Ledbetter Was a Hell of a Man, and traditional songs like The Water is Wide, we are presented with many facets of one of the most influential folk singers of the 20th century, someone who brought so many people together over the course of a career that spanned almost eight decades.

The DVD is a bit of a time capsule. Recorded at the Living Music Festival in 1982 when Seeger was a sprightly 63, the footage never saw the light of day until after his death in 2014 when Paul Winter sought out filmmaker Phil Garvin who fortunately still had the raw footage. The festival, organized by Winter in the Lichtfield Hills of northwest Connecticut, featured the Paul Winter Consort in selections from their album Common Ground, singer Susan Osborn and the Brazilian Pe de Boi Samba Band. Seeger performs an extended solo set singing in English, Yiddish, French and Spanish, accompanying himself on banjo, 12-string guitar and block flute. He also collaborates with the other performers and as you would expect there is lots of audience participation. It is vintage Seeger and a wonderfully nostalgic look at peace festivals of days gone by. There are bonus tracks recorded at the “Pete-nic” at Winter’s farm in 1997 and a five minute solo performance by Seeger for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society in 2005 on the 40th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” Pettus Bridge March in Selma, Alabama. Although his voice had almost disappeared by that time, his energy and conviction had not flagged. It is a moving performance.

The CD/DVD set was supported by Music for the Earth, a non-profit foundation dedicated to “exploring ways that music can be used to enrich the lives of human beings and awaken a spirit of involvement in the preservation of wildlife and the natural environment of the Earth” – things to which Pete Seeger devoted his life and his art.

04 Chaim TannenbaumChaim Tannenbaum is another who has been involved in the folk music scene for more than half a century, albeit in a peripheral role. Peripheral that is if you’re not part of the Wainwright/McGarrigle musical dynasty. The erstwhile professor of the philosophy of mathematics and logic has been an integral part of that extended family throughout the decades, managing to stay as friend and collaborator with both Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle in spite of their breakup, frequently performing with Wainwright and with Kate and Anna McGarrigle and mentoring Loudon and Kate’s precocious offspring Rufus and Martha. Tannenbaum is a multi-instrumentalist with a distinctive voice who can be heard on many of the recordings of this family compact; his production credits include the album Therapy which marked Wainwright’s return to recording after a three-year hiatus in 1989.


Evidently happy in the shadows, it took much persuasion from Tannenbaum’s friends to embark on this voyage to centre stage. His belated debut album includes a number of traditional pieces – Coal Man Blues, Moonshiner, Mama’s Angel Child – and the gospel song Farther Along and Harburg/Rose/Arlen’s It’s Only a Paper Moon. But it’s not all old-timey fare and Tannenbaum turns out to be a fine storytelling songwriter too – the CD opens out to a double panel with four paragraphs of prose I initially took to be a memoir, but which turn out to be the lyrics for his song Brooklyn 1995. The booklet includes extended encomiums by Wainwright (heard in harmony vocals on several tracks) and by record producer (not this record) Joe Boyd. Chaim Tannenbaum was produced by Dick Connette and released on StorySound Records (storysoundrecords.com). This disc is not just for aficionados of the Wainwright-McGarrigles, but it will be of particular interest to them. Highly recommended.

Concert note: Chaim Tannenbaum launches his eponymous CD at Toronto’s Tranzac Club on Sunday June 12.

05 Rufus Wainwright

I told you that Shakespeare would reappear later and here he comes. April 23, 1616 is the assumed date of the death of the Bard and to mark the 400th anniversary Deutsche Grammophon has released Take All My Loves (4795508), a setting of nine Shakespeare Sonnets by the above-mentioned scion of the Wainwright-McGarrigle dynasty, Rufus Wainwright. It is an eclectic offering, further exploring the singer-songwriter’s interest in blending the worlds of pop and high-art culture. There are readings by Siân Phillips, Frally Hynes, Peter Eyre, Carrie Fisher, William Shatner and Inge Keller, while the vocals are primarily shared by Austrian soprano Anna Prohaska and Wainwright himself, with the participation of Florence Welsh, Martha Wainwright, Fiora Cutler, Christopher Nell and Jürgen Holtz.

The project grew out of an invitation from director Robert Wilson back in 2009 – the 400th anniversary of the publication of the sonnets – to set some of them for a production of the Berliner Ensemble, a theatre company founded by Bertold Brecht in 1949. Although Wainwright’s interest in the poems dates back to his youth when he was encouraged to read them by his mother, they have been of ongoing interest in recent years. Following the cabaret style production in Berlin replete with garish costumes, the San Francisco Symphony commissioned Wainwright to orchestrate five of the sonnets for the concert hall, three of which appeared on his 2010 album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.

The current production is kind of a mixed bag, with lush full orchestral accompaniments featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra, smaller settings with the Berlin String Section and a number of tracks with pop band instrumentation. All of the sung sonnets are introduced by a dramatic reading of the text, with the exception of Wainwright’s performance of Take All My Loves (Sonnet 40) which incorporates Marius de Vries’ recitation into the body of the song. Prohaska’s voice, celebrated across a repertoire that spans three centuries, is a highlight, especially in the gentle A Woman’s Face (Sonnet 20) and the wickedly dramatic Th’Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame (Sonnet 129). Wainwright’s distinctive voice is particularly effective in the title track, but his reprise of A Woman’s Face is something of a letdown with its straightforward pop arrangement and sensibility.

The extensive booklet includes an introduction by British actor Peter Eyre, full texts, translations and production credits. What is missing is an explanation of why two of the sonnets are presented in German necessitating the translations, or more properly the English originals, of All Dessen Müd (Sonnet 66) in a cabaret-like arrangement and Farewell (Sonnet 87) sung beautifully by Prohaska. I assume this has to do with the Berliner Ensemble origins of the settings, but it would have been nice if Eyre, whose English performance of Farewell with Wainwright can be found on YouTube, would have explained.

Concert note: Toronto audiences can catch Rufus Wainwright’s acclaimed recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall show “Rufus Does Judy” June 23 and 24 at the Hearn Generating Station as part of this year’s Luminato Festival.

06 Stravinsky Soldier

Concert note: On June 18 another Luminato performance at the Hearn features soloists of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with concertmaster Jonathan Crow and narrator Derek Boyes in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Naxos recently released a new recording of that work, Stavinsky – The Soldier’s Tale (Complete) featuring the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players with violinist Tianwa Yang, narrator Fred Child and actors Jared McGuire (The Soldier) and Jeff Biehl (The Devil) under the direction of JoAnn Falletta (8.573537).

I have always liked this pocket drama – an hour-long Faustian story of a young man who sells his soul – or in this case his violin – to the devil and in so doing loses the things and people he loves. Composed in 1917 while Stravinsky was living in Switzerland during the First World War, it is scored for a modest orchestra of seven players reflecting the ravaged ranks of musicians who survived that conflict. Of principal interest is the violin, so dear to the soldier – its themes will reappear in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto some 14 years later. It is a different take on the story because it is not the soldier’s greed which leads him to his fateful error. He is actually perfectly content with his modest life and his fiddle but is tricked by the devil into making the trade. Although granted fortune through the book he trades for, which foretells the future, it was never his idea and he is never comfortable in the role. Eventually he finds a way to beat the devil – by letting him win at cards – and regain his life. Spoiler Alert: all does not end well when you play with the devil and in a scene reminiscent of Orpheus’ glance back at Eurydice, the devil regains the upper hand and the violin.

The story is narrated effectively and Yang’s violin playing is flawless and convincing in this new performance. It is a welcome addition to my collection.

07 Stravinsky SacreAnd a quick final note. The Story of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps with Valery Gergiev (ArtHaus Music 109210) is a very effective documentary film by Peter Rump. Gergiev leads the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra through a rehearsal during which he analyzes and explains his approach to the iconic work. This is intercut with commentary and piano examples by Gergiev and historic footage of Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez and Alexander Toradze. Gergiev makes a very strong case for his interpretation – rough and rhythmic, rather than romantic – and provides an insightful introduction that shows how this 100-year-old masterwork is still fresh and vibrant.

Shameless self-promotion II: I am hosting a fundraiser on behalf of New Music Concerts at “Coffee House 345” (aka Gallery 345 on Sorauren) on Wednesday June 15. I will be bringing my eclectic repertoire, 6- and 12-string guitars and a few musical friends along for the ride. Thanks to NMC’s board of directors there will be complimentary snacks and libations. For reservations call 416-961-9594.

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
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
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01a Shostakovich Danel beginning of first reviewMy first thought when I opened a package from Naxos and found Shostakovich – The Complete String Quartets with Quatuor Danel (Alpha 226) was, here’s something for Terry Robbins’ Strings Attached column. Although I love them dearly, I already have half a dozen sets of the quartets and after all, how many is enough? But then I made the mistake of opening the (Pandora’s) box. So, sorry Terry! I was immediately immersed in the sound world that has captivated me time and again, since my first exposure almost 50 years ago with the Borodin Quartet’s Melodiya-Seraphim vinyl set of the then complete quartets Nos.1 through 13 (now available in a digitally remastered four-CD set from Chandos). I also remember being deeply moved by the Beethoven Quartet rendition of the 13th in a pairing with the late Violin Sonata performed by David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter. That one-movement Adagio quartet, written in 1970, seemed at the time to be the epitome of darkness and quiet despair. As had been the case earlier in the cycle, Shostakovich followed this morose work with the almost playful String Quartet No.14 in F-Sharp Major, Op.142 in 1973. But as we know, especially in his final years, playfulness was at a premium and the final work in the mammoth cycle returns to doom and gloom, if perhaps with quiet resignation. The String Quartet No.15 in E-Flat Major, Op.144 (1974) is in six movements – Elegy, Serenade, Intermezzo, Nocturne, Funeral March and Epilogue – every one of which is adagio in tempo with the single exception of the Funeral March marked adagio molto (very slow). As I mentioned, there is much gentle resolve in this work with only occasional abrasive interjections reminding us that Shostakovich was not entirely willing, in the words of Dylan Thomas, to “go gentle into that good night.”

When I started to write this I did not know what form my words would take. Having spent most of the past month revisiting these great works I have had various responses to this particular set. I initially assumed it was a new recording, but careful examination of the booklet – annoyingly printed in white text on a pale green background – reveals that it was actually recorded from 2001 to 2005 by the Bayerischen Rundfunk, and a search on the internet turned up that it was initially released on the Fuga Libera label a decade ago. Although there are extensive program notes – thankfully printed in legible black text – including an encomium by Frans C. Lemaire and a 16-page essay about the quartets themselves by David Fanning, nowhere in the 50-page bilingual booklet is there a word about the ensemble itself. Fortunately they have a comprehensive and up-to-date website (quatuordanel.eu) from which I was able to glean that one of the two Danel brothers, cellist Guy, and the violist Tony Nys, have since left the quartet. The violinists Marc Danel and Gilles Millet remain and their commitment to Shostakovich is ongoing with live performances of the quartet cycle in Manchester and Lyon in recent months. The group was founded in 1991, is based in Belgium and has a particular interest in modern and contemporary repertoire – Rihm, Lachenmann, Gubaidulina, Dusapin Jörg Widmann and Bruno Mantovani – although their upcoming recording projects focus on Tchaikovsky, Franck and late Beethoven.

01b Shostakovich Emerson end of first reviewRegarding the Shostakovich set itself, I found the performances nuanced, idiomatic and convincing and at about $35 the Alpha reissue is excellent value. I have mixed feelings about the order in which the quartets are presented however. Rather than a chronological presentation, each of the five discs presents three quartets from more or less different periods. I found this most satisfying on the final disc where Quartet No.1 is followed by Quartet No.10 and then the ultimate Quartet No.15, effectively giving an overview of the composer’s oeuvre in 77 minutes. Less effective was the opening disc on which we find Quartets Nos. 2, 7 and 5. Certainly for shorter listening sessions, one disc at a time, this is a well-balanced approach. But for binge listening, as I am prone to, I prefer to experience them in the order they were written. For this sort of total immersion I recommend spending just a few dollars more for the Decca reissue of the 1999 Deutsche Grammophon recording Shostakovich – The String Quartets by the Emerson String Quartet (475 7407).

02 Ted ParkinsonThe next entry doesn’t go back quite as far as my discovery of the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, but I have known multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter Ted Parkinson for about 35 years. He is a dear friend, so unlike my usual “professional conflict of interest disclaimer,” I must say outright that this relationship goes much deeper than that. A frequent participant in my backyard and house party jams, Ted always has something to add to the mix, whether it’s his jazz-inspired hollow-body guitar complements to the songs of others or his own quirky compositions which run the gamut from basic blues, to pop rock and alternative ballad stylings. I have known that Ted has been working on his debut solo CD for the past four years and I’ve heard various mixes during that time. I am pleased to say, as are Ted and his long-suffering (no, let’s just say very patient) wife Joan, that the finished product My Neighbourhood (tedparkinson.com) is now available. Like many first releases it is a compendium of many decades of creativity and, not surprisingly, many stylistic variations. Although Ted is adept at guitar, keyboards, reeds and drums, he has enlisted “professional help” for this project. His main collaborator is producer/engineer Fred Smith who suggested supplementary players to fill out the mix. Smith himself adds a couple of instruments dear to my own heart, tenor banjo and mandola.

Ted, a native of Whitehorse, came to Toronto, and later Hamilton and now Kitchener, via Victoria, B.C. The songs reflect various aspects of his geographic and emotional development. I can only assume that February Spring is a remnant of his days in Victoria. And speaking of his time on the West Coast, while doing some spring cleaning a couple of days ago I unearthed a relic of Ted’s years at the University of Victoria in the form of An exciting, new, four song E.P. by The Tumours released in 1980. This punk-edged, new wave band with heavy-metal lead guitar featured my old buddy on saxophone and backing vocals. After moving to Toronto in the mid-80s Ted was for a while a member of the proto-punk band Violence and the Sacred. Not much of his “angry young man” roots remain in the songs collected on My Neighbourhood, but it was a fun trip down memory lane to listen to the long lost tracks which took me back to my own time at CKLN-FM in its heyday. Highlights of the new album include the title track, My Brother’s a Mormon, Discovery and University Town. You can watch a live performance of this last on Ted’s website.

03 Fawn FritzenI mentioned that Ted Parkinson is a frequent flyer at my backyard music parties and last summer he brought a friend, well a Facebook friend anyway. It seems that in the ever-shrinking world of social media Ted came across another Whitehorse native, jazz singer Fawn Fritzen, and when it turned out that she was spending a few months of professional development in Toronto, he decided my backyard would be a good place to meet in person. So on a couple of occasions last season we were graced with her strong, warm voice and our folky ramblings expanded to encompass some jazz standards and torch songs.

I was pleasantly surprised when Fritzen’s CD Pairings (fawnfritzen.com) appeared on my desk a couple of weeks ago. Recorded in Whitehorse and at Toronto’s Canterbury Sound, the disc was produced with her longtime collaborator Daniel Janke. As the title suggests, Pairings is primarily made up of duets and features a number of iconic figures including George Koller, Reg Schwager, David Restivo, Steve Amirault, a trio comprised of Richard Underhill, Kelly Jefferson and Shirantha Beddage, and of course, producer Janke. Fritzen shows herself adept in languages with lyrics in English, German and French and a comfort zone that embraces standards (Gershwin, Caesar and Youmans, Berlin and Porter), bluesy originals, a swinging arrangement of Burton Cummings’ Straighten Out and a growly Please Send Me Someone to Love. This is quite a brave project: accompanied in most instances by only one instrument (double bass, piano, jazz guitar or percussion), and occasionally in sung duet with the accompanists, Fritzen’s voice benefits from this exposure and rises to every occasion.

Concert Note: Fawn Fritzen will launch Pairings with intimate performances in Toronto at Jazz Bistro on May 8, St. Catharines at the Mahtay Café on May 9, Waterloo at the Jazz Room May 10 (where accompanists will include Ted Parkinson) and Ottawa at the Steinway Piano Gallery May 11.

Shameless self-promotion: In one final note I would like to tell you about a performance coming up on Wednesday, June 15. I have often mentioned my administrative association with New Music Concerts and also the music parties in my backyard (and elsewhere). In a surprising act of bravado I will be donning my folky duds to host a fundraiser on behalf of New Music Concerts at “Coffee House 345” (aka Gallery 345 on Sorauren). I will be bringing my eclectic repertoire, 6- and 12-string guitars and a few musical friends along for the ride. Thanks to NMC’s board of directors, there will be complimentary snacks and libations. More details will follow in the June edition of The WholeNote, but for advance reservations you can call 416-961-9594.

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
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

01 RadulescuAs I have had occasion to mention before, my day job is general manager at New Music Concerts, an occupation with brings me into contact with some of the finest musicians and composers from across Canada and around the world. So in the spirit of full disclosure I will say that I have had professional dealings with the artists involved in the project Horațiu Rădulescu – Piano Sonatas and String Quartets. Pianist Stephen Clarke has been a frequent performer on our series over the years and in January we had the great pleasure of presenting JACK Quartet in conjunction with Music Toronto. Rădulescu (1942-2008) was a Romanian composer active in the French school of spectral composition. He wrote six piano sonatas and six string quartets during a career which saw him based in France, Germany and later Switzerland, after leaving his homeland in 1969. Volume One of this series (Mode Records 290), which will ultimately include all of the sonatas and quartets, presents us with three very contrasting works, Piano Sonata No.2 Op.82 (1991), String Quartet No.5 Op.89 (1990-95) and Piano Sonata No.5 Op.106 (2003). As this is my first exposure to Rădulescu’s music it is hard to know whether the difference in approach between the keyboard and string writing has more to do with the nature of the instruments themselves or if it is simply a matter of different concerns in the different works.

Each of the pieces has a subtitle taken from the Tao te Ching of the sixth-century BC Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. The Second Piano Sonata “being and non-being create each other” is in three movements: Immanence, Byzantine Bells and Joy, in decreasing durations of Fibonacci proportions (we are told in the excellent notes by Bob Gilmore). The overall feel of the piece is contemplative, with even the “Joy” of the third movement seeming contained rather than exuberant. We are even treated to echoes of Beethoven’s “fate-knocking” theme from the Fifth Symphony in the closing moments of the sonata. While in his earlier years Rădulescu had treated the piano in a number of unconventional ways – turning it on its side and bowing the strings with rosined cords; retuning the piano spectrally to free the natural harmonics hampered by tempered tuning – with the Second Sonata he seems to have reconciled his language to the use of a conventional concert instrument.

This is not the case with the Fifth String Quartet “before the universe was born,” which uses a number of extended techniques to expand the palette of the strings in some unimaginable ways, which is to say that there are some sounds produced that I can’t begin to understand the origins of. The 29-minute work is in 29 brief sections, each with a quote from Lao Tzu beginning with “The unnamable is eternally real (darkness, the gateway to all understanding)” and ending “The world is sacred (it can’t be improved).” Again contemplation is the mood of the piece, with clouds of quiet sounds, but just past the halfway point things get more aggressive and there is an extended section of quite abrasive sound. Although there are moments of respite along the way, the work ends with insect-like buzzing and gnashing.

The Fifth Sonata “settle your dust, this is the primal identity” returns to modal melodic material. It is based on Romanian folk music and its drone- and bell-like passages are a genuine relief after the dark journey of the Fifth Quartet. Perhaps the subtitle of the third movement tells it all: “Use your own light /and return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity.”

Stephen Clarke, who we know is comfortable in many modern idioms from the gentle, sparse music of Linda Catlin Smith to the aggressive complexity of Pierre Boulez, seems well at home in this largely unknown repertoire. And with their extensive work with Helmut Lachenmann I can’t think of another group better suited to the extended demands of Rădulescu’s string writing than JACK.

02 Reich RainIn keeping with the full disclosure of my opening paragraph, it was New Music Concerts who first brought Steve Reich to Toronto back in 1976 and was responsible for my initial exposure to his music. In recent years it has been our colleagues at Soundstreams who have been Reich’s premier sponsors in the city and this month they will pay tribute to “Steve Reich at 80” with a performance of, in my opinion, the jewel in the crown of his oeuvre, Music for 18 Musicians.

In October 2014 the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris presented choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rain (BelAir Classics BAC126), a setting of Music for 18 Musicians as performed by Ensemble Ictus and Synergy Vocals under Georges-Elie Octors’ direction. I admit to being out of my zone of comfort here, not being well versed, or even particularly interested, in modern dance. But the ten athletic dancers running gazelle-like (or is it Giselle-like?) around the stage in patterns reminiscent of a Samuel Beckett play on speed proved to be almost as hypnotic as the music. The focus of the film is understandably on the dancers, with only occasional tantalizing glimpses of the musicians, but the 5.1 Dolby digital sound is immaculate and the performance is compelling.

Concert Note: On April 14, Soundstreams presents a very ambitious program at Massey Hall, including Reich’s iconic Clapping Music, the large choral work Tehillim and Music for 18 Musicians.

03 Claire ChaseSteve Reich provides the bridge to the next disc, Density, featuring flutist Claire Chase (clairechase.net) which has been waiting patiently on my desk for the past year. It opens with Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint for 11 flutes (piccolos, flutes and alto flutes), conceived as a work for flute “choir” or to be overdubbed by one player (as first performed and recorded by Ransom Wilson). As with all the works on this disc, Chase plays all of the parts in studio recordings in which the layers blend seamlessly. All are by living composers with the exception of the title piece Density 21.5 which Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) composed for a solo platinum flute in 1936 (21.5 grams being the approximate density of a cubic centimeter of platinum). The other works all involve multiple flutes and/or electronics.

Of particular note for its rich sonorities is Marcos Balter’s Pessoa for six bass flutes. Alvin Lucier’s Almost New York for piccolo, flute, alto, bass and contrabass flutes, and pure wave oscillators, takes some getting used to. The pure electronic sounds are quite harsh in comparison with the warmth of the natural flutes, but eventually our ears adjust and the contrast is quite effective. That being said, Philip Glass’ homage to Erik Satie, Piece in the Shape of a Square for two flutes, comes as breath of fresh air after 25 minutes of the sterile sounds produced by Lucier’s oscillators.

Luciform for flute and electronics by Mario Diaz de León presents a very different electronic soundscape: synthetic layerings and contrapuntal accompaniments to the rich sounds of the flute in its lower register. Again, to my ears, the purely acoustic sounds produced by the platinum flute in Varèse’s Density 21.5 are more interesting by far. Nevertheless, Chase is to be congratulated not only for her dexterity throughout the full range of flute family but also for her diverse choice of repertoire, producing a 75-minute homophonic program that holds our interest from start to finish.

Concert Note: To hear all the members of the conventional flute family (contrabass to piccolo) combined in a live flute orchestra I recommend (conflict of interest duly noted) “Flutes Galore,” a concert of contemporary music for 24 flutes presented by New Music Concerts on April 24 at Saint Luke’s United Church.

04 Mike HerriottIf Claire Chase has shown mastery in combining all the members of one instrumental family through “the magic of the studio,” what is to be said of Mike Herriott? On Isn’t Life Grand (mikeherriott.com) this consummate musician is responsible for not only the entire horn section (piccolo trumpet, trumpets, flugelhorns, French horns and trombones), but also basses and piano. He is joined by frequent collaborator Richard Moore on drums and percussion throughout, with a (very) few other guests on several tracks. The overall sound is rich and warm and takes me back to the great horn arrangements I heard in my formative years from the likes of Chicago, Lighthouse and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Herriott penned all the tunes and, with the exception of the extended Free at Last arranged by the late, great Canadian flugelhorn icon, Kenny Wheeler, did all the arranging too. Fittingly, Herriott provides a lush flugelhorn solo on Free at Last and is joined by Dave Reid for a bass trombone solo. The style is quite mainstream, and I am left thinking that with some lyrics and a singer like David Clayton Thomas this music could have been top of the charts back in the day. I mean that in the nicest possible way though and am in awe of this one-man big band that is Mike Herriott.

05 Taylor CookAnother disc that spans mainstream jazz and pop sensibilities is Taylor Cook’s The Cook Book (taylorcook.com). In this instance though, the composer/leader has some fine Toronto players contributing to his ensemble. This is not to say that Cook is a one-trick pony by any means. The basic tracks see him on alto sax, flute and clarinet, with bandmates Jack Bodkin, keyboards, Brandon Wall, guitar, Justin Gray, acoustic and electric bass, and Robin Claxton, drums. This is complemented by a host of horns and woodwinds on such tracks as the rollicking Biker’s Dozen and the sultry Lilia which also includes string quartet. Another track where the ranks swell is Cook’s effective arrangement of On the Sunny Side of the Street which features a horn sextet. All of the other tracks are composed and arranged by Cook, including Splainin’ with lyrics by Neil Surkan and plaintive vocals by Alex Samaras, with the exception of the closing, soulful Testifyin’ by Fender Rhodes-playing Bodkin. In all, The Cook Book provides some tasty recipes, prepared to perfection.

06 Alain BedardAs noted with modern dance above, I confess to being somewhat out of my comfort zone in the world of serious modern jazz. In my formative years however, I did spend quite a bit of time combing the shelves of John Norris’ Jazz and Blues Centre down on King St. West and building a collection of the standards of the time: Monk, Coltrane, Hawkins, Rollins, Davis, Parker, Coleman, MJQ, Brubeck and, as mentioned in last month’s column, even the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Montreal bassist Alain Bédard and his acoustic Auguste Quartet take me back to those exciting years of discovery. Circum Continuum (Effendi Records FND 144) features Félix Stussi on piano, Samuel Blais on saxophones, Bédard on contrabass and Michel Lambert on drums. The music is old fashioned in the sense that is reminiscent of the music I was listening to in the 70s and 80s from the pioneers of post-bop jazz: uncompromising yet cohesive, melodic without being tuneful. Often busy in its undercurrents, but overlaid with long lines, and with nothing extraneous – all four members of the machine integral to the process. Bédard composed nine of the 13 tracks with the other members each contributing one of their own. The only “outside job” is Oelo by Gilles Bernard, inspired by Sonny Rollins’ Oleo. Lambert’s Blue Mitch begins with an enervated extended drum and saxophone duet, eventually tamed by the bass and piano before reestablishing their dominance in a harmolodic-style ending. Blais’ Noirceur Passagère features a haunting saxophone melody that gives way to a pizzicato bass solo that segues into Stussi’s Garissa evoking a Night in Tunisia sensibility. Bédard’s Le Gras Mollet with its block chord melody in the sax, piano and bass over a walking drum and cymbal line brings this excellent disc to a very satisfying conclusion.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
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