Gabriel Prokofiev – Selected Classical Works 2003-2012

05 Modern 01 Gabriel ProkofievGabriel Prokofiev – Selected Classical Works 2003-2012
Various Artists
Nonclassical NONCLSS017

In this release by composer Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei Prokofiev) we get a clear sense of the composer’s predilection for displacing his various musical influences (electronica for example) into traditional classical contexts. This disc, released on Prokofiev’s own label, is a collection of works ranging from 2003-2012 that signal Prokofiev’s return to notated compositions.

In his first and second string quartets, a series of dance grooves constantly devolve into mysterious textures. Punchy double-stops and gritty gestures remind one of Bartók or Janáček.  Rhythmic plucks and scratches lie below lyrical folk inspired melodic elements. In the second quartet, Prokofiev does away with any lyrical commitment and relies on clear rhythmic processes akin to dissonant minimalism. Both quartets possess a satisfying yet frigid mood, much like the dreariness of the CD cover image.

Next, in the Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra the turntablist creates various electronic sounds cleverly blended with the orchestra with confident rhythmic inventiveness. Imagine Stravinsky’s Rite fused with the pounding rhythms of a nightclub beneath a haunting lyricism. The second movement evokes a deranged carnival as the turntable sounds mesh with the orchestra in a bizarre and warped sound environment.

Piano Book No. 1 provides an array of moods for the performer to explore without relying on unnecessary virtuosity. Next, the Cello Multitracks for solo cello allows the performer to stack dense layers of recorded cello sounds through electronic manipulation. The result is a rich sound world moving to and from ethereal and light moments, to thick and intense passages.

The disc is an impressive culmination of confident works that span a decade of the composer’s output. Each piece shows Prokofiev’s ability to create a successful reaction to the influences of pop and electronica through a traditional application.

Editor’s Note: Gabriel Prokofiev was the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition and composer-in-residence at the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival in January 2014. There were a number of performances of his works including the Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra (with DJ Madhatter and the U of T Symphony) and Cello Multitracks and Remixes performed by Shauna Rolston. 


Madison Avenue - Wesley Ferreira

05 Modern 02 Wesley FerreiraMadison Avenue
Wesley Ferreira
Potenza Music PM1035 (wesleyferreira.com)

Canadian clarinetist Wesley Ferreira, now based in the U.S., has a solo release of mostly American music. The textures range from intimate and unaccompanied to wind-ensemble backing at hurricane-force. He includes nothing substantial in terms of duration, but consistently demonstrates a fine fluid technique and flexible tone. The longest work, clocking in at 13 minutes, is a tribute to the automobile called Auto ’66. This selection wheels along in spite of poor engineering (sound, not mechanical): Ferreira and the band seem to have been separated by a firewall. High rev. brassy moments are reduced to a sub-compact size, and the clarinet colour is dulled, losing the waxy lustre it displays on other tracks. Composer James M. David has a thing for cars and for Holst’s The Planets. Mercury is a source for the second movement (Mini Cooper S), which is appropriate, but what Mars has to do with a Lamborghini escapes me.

Elsewhere Ferreira knocks off blistering passagework and a great array of multiphonic effects, most notably in Mikro-Sonata by Aleksandar Obradović. The title track, by Nick DiBerardino, opens the CD with a brief and cheeky tribute to New York. Pianist Gail Novak types furiously in the background (the composer’s own suggestion, from the very useful liner notes), while the clarinet scales the skyscrapers and swings on looping Spidey-webs between them. Canadian Alasdair MacLean’s Without Further Ado II for two clarinets which immediately follows sounds like it could be a second movement to the previous track. In this as elsewhere, Ferreira is joined by his spouse Copper Ferreira. She holds her end of the bargain up well in the MacLean, but not so well as the bass clarinetist in Rotazione tre by Roberto Cognazzo, which derives much of its material from music of Nino Rota, a less instantly recognizable source than Holst.

My pick for best cut is the Sonata for B-flat Clarinet and Piano by Nikola Resanovic. At just over ten minutes, it wastes no time doing anything but providing a showcase for Ferreira and fun for the listener, especially in the Balkan-influenced finale.


Edward Gregson – Dream Song; Aztec Dances; Horn Concerto; Concerto for Orchestra

05 Modern 03 GreggsonEdward Gregson – Dream Song; Aztec Dances; Horn Concerto; Concerto for Orchestra
Wissam Boustany; Richard Watkins; BBC Philharmonic; Bramwell Tovey
Chandos CHAN 10822

Bramwell Tovey, conductor of many premieres with the Vancouver and Winnipeg Symphonies as well as abroad, guides the BBC Symphony in stunning performances of compositions by English composer Edward Gregson (b.1945). Gregson’s music speaks in a cosmopolitan 20th-century vernacular. He acknowledges influences of Shostakovich and Berg (both Mahler admirers), advantageous in Dream Song (2010) since the work is a “dream” of Mahler’s sixth symphony. From the opening complex chord “clap” Gregson demonstrates mastery of harmony and orchestration. Though abounding with Mahlerian references, the work sets up a contemporary sound world. My reservation is this: after Berio, Foss, Colgrass, Rochberg and others, neither quotation nor dream frame remain as intriguing.

The ritualistic Aztec Dances evolved from earlier versions, reaching ensemble proportions in its 2013 incarnation for flute and 14 instruments. In a brilliant performance, flutist Wissam Boustany’s tone quality is commanding, his articulation sharp and his effects palette eerie. Gregson composed his Horn Concerto (1971) for the distinguished Ifor Jones and his Besses o’ th’ BarnBbrass Band. The strings and winds on this disc’s 2012 orchestrated version provide additional contrast in support of Richard Watkins’ virtuosic yet sensitive horn. Concerto for Orchestra (2001) also achieved its current form after revisions; I found myself no longer worrying about influences, revisions, the breaking-or-not of new ground, etc., but simply sitting back to listen and admire a significant composer and a passionate conductor with a wonderful orchestra and soloists.


Music for Alfred Hitchcock - Danish National Symphony Orchestra; John Mauceri

05 Modern 04 HitchcockMusic for Alfred Hitchcock
Danish National Symphony Orchestra; John Mauceri
Toccata Classics TOCC 0241

The eerie atmospheres created by the films of Alfred Hitchcock were the result of stunning cinematography and even more stunning musical backdrops. The Danish National Symphony Orchestra under the direction John Mauceri (who edited six of the works) here performs music from Hitchcock films with grace, splenduor, colour, well-placed angst and appropriate creepiness, transforming “background soundscapes” to first class orchestral works that need no visuals.

Bernard Herrmann worked closely with Hitchcock on many films. The music from Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, and the in-your-face Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra are so familiar that they need no musical critique or introduction. The performances are astounding in clarity and tension. Herrmann then made an interesting arrangement of Arthur Benjamin’s The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Storm Clouds – Cantata. The work, with its Vaughan Williams flavoured choral and vocal solo sections, seems somewhat out of place without the visuals. Herrmann’s compositional influences can also be heard in Danny Elfman’s work from the 2012 biopic Hitchcock.

The symphony musicians prove themselves to be gifted interpreters in the jazz-flavoured sections of the “Prelude” from Franz Waxman’s Rear Window: Suite. Dimitri Tiomkin’s waltzes, bells and grounded writing technique drive the music from Strangers on a Train and Dial M for Murder.

Superb liner notes and production quality complete the package. Music for Alfred Hitchcock deserves a spot on every listener’s bucket list.


John Burke – Mysterium - Ensemble Vivant

04 Modern 01 Burke MysteriumJohn Burke – Mysterium
Ensemble Vivant
Independent (ensemblevivant.com)

John Burke is a distinguished Canadian composer whose work has for two decades moved beyond the concert hall to engage with contemplative practices of several cultural traditions. This disc includes pieces from the composer’s repertoire of works based on walking a labyrinth. The informative program notes describe Burke’s music as: “Neither concert nor ritual, it accesses a third type of experience, surpassing the sum of its parts.” In my own experience, both one’s own passage and the presence of other labyrinth walkers can become uncanny. Burke’s finely wrought writing takes labyrinth music to a new level that will be especially rewarding to those interested in this work, with precisions of sonority, dynamics and rhythm that Ensemble Vivant, led by pianist Catherine Wilson, fully deliver.

Mysterium, the opener, encompasses the sequence of 12 harmonies upon which all the pieces are based. Expressive long tones played by Erica Beston, violin, and Sharon Prater, cello, over a repetitive broken-chord piano accompaniment remind me of passages in Messiaen and in minimalism; the mood is sombre. Wilson’s playing of Lungta, an improvisatory piano solo with tone clusters and flourishes, is evocative. Longest is the multi-sectional Hieratikos, with intricate ensemble writing performed magnificently by Wilson, Joseph Peleg, violin, and Sybil Shanahan, cello. Norman Hathaway, violin and David Young, bass, join in a closing variant of Mysterium, rounding off a moving experience.

Olivier Messiaen – Turangalîla Symphonie.

04 Modern 02 Messiaen TurangalilaOlivier Messiaen – Turangalîla Symphonie.
Angela Hewitt; Valérie Hartmann-Claverie; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1251-5

I remember well a performance of this stunning 1948 work in the mid-1960s during Seiji Ozawa’s time at the helm of the Toronto Symphony (1965-1969). Ozawa later recorded this modern classic with the TSO for RCA to great international acclaim with the composer’s wife and sister-in-law, Yvonne and Jeanne Loriod, as soloists. This new recording also has a Toronto connection because it was here in 1985 that Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt came to the world’s attention by winning the Toronto International Bach Piano Competition, of which Olivier Messiaen was one of the adjudicators. As we know, she has since gone on to a stellar career.

Turangalîla is taken from two Sanskrit words – turanga, time and lîla, love – and this about sums up the essence of this work, perhaps the most inventive, original and forward-looking piece since Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. The ten movements increase in complexity as the work proceeds. The odd numbers deal with serious issues, like life and death, the “tragic plane” as the great Arthur Koestler would say. The even-numbered ones like the fourth represent love with a playful scherzo that moves towards the sentimental with Janáček-like harmonies embellished lovingly by the piano solo. Hewitt conjures up marvellous sounds with the extended bird-calls in the sixth movement; this is certainly an apex of the composition, where one simply melts into the heavenly harmonies back and forth between Lintu’s virtuoso orchestra and the pianist.

For extra orchestral brilliance Messiaen added a curious electronic instrument, called ondes Martinot (played by Valérie Hartmann-Claverie ), with shivers of glissandos glistening in the love music and some weird barking shouts of joy amidst the overwhelming jollity and magnificent cacophony of the finale, a triumphant movement of total mayhem that somehow reminded me of Strauss’ Symphonia Domestica. This is a gorgeous disc, in the four-star category.

 


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