01_Israelievitch.jpgFancies and Interludes
Jacques Israelievitch; Christina Petrowska Quilico
Centrediscs CMCCD 21315

Fancies and Interludes is both a labour of love and musical declaration, intuited and played by two ingenious and accomplished musicians – former Toronto Symphony concertmaster Jacques Israelievitch and pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico. Recorded live at York University’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall, it has the immediacy and the vigour of a live performance (background sounds of pages being turned included), which makes the music come alive with the splendour of the excitement (or the sorrow) of each precious phrase as it was played in the moment.

Fancies and Interludes includes four duos for violin and piano by contemporary Canadian composers. The title track belongs to the last piece on the album, the lengthy and rich Fancies and Interludes VI by Raymond Luedeke, a prolific composer and former TSO clarinetist who wrote this composition especially for Jacques Israelievitch. Five Fancies are framed by Six Interludes, starting as a somewhat fragmented conversation between two vastly different voices and resolving in a harmonious ending.

On the other hand, the album opens with the strong momentum of Oskar Morawetz’s Duo for violin and piano. This piece grabs the listener right away, taking them on the journey from the rhythmical flow of the beginning to the deep lament in a Phrygian D-minor in the last section. Nestled in between are Drop by James Rolfe, my personal favourite on this recording, a fascinating musical travel from earth to heaven and back, and ...and dark time flowed by her like a river, by another composer with a TSO connection, composer-adviser Gary Kulesha. The work is a play between tonal and atonal, reflecting a search for the meaning of a moment in time.

The programming on this CD is exquisite – the compositions flow one after another as if they were meant to be. Israelievitch and Petrowska Quilico allow the impulse, the urge to soar and expand in their playing while granting the listener a breathing space – the true embodiment of Fancies and Interludes.

Editor’s Note: Jacques Israelievitch, who enjoyed an international career as a soloist, conductor and teacher, died September 5. He was 67 years old. He was diagnosed with aggressive, metastatic lung cancer in late February this year. Israelievitch had the distinction of being the longest-serving concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Retiring in 2008 after 20 years, he joined the faculty of York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, as professor of violin and viola. On August 14, in a special ceremony at his home, Israelievitch was presented with the Order of Canada, one of this country’s highest civilian orders, recognizing outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation for nearly three decades. Although Fancies and Interludes was the last CD released during his lifetime, Isrealievitch and Christina Petrowska Quilico completed recording Mozart’s 28 violin sonatas last May. The CDs will be released in 2016.

03_Keillor_Poetic_Sketches.jpgPoetic Sketches
Elaine Keillor
Centrediscs CMCCD 21615

Pianist Elaine Keillor appears on an extensive discography of 28 solo and chamber albums. Her newest solo release Poetic Sketches takes its title from Oskar Morawetz’s 1991 composition that includes the rhythmically energetic Prelude to a Drama, Raindrops, Storm, a haunting Prayer in Distress and the lively perpetual motion Olympic Sprinter.

Through a Narrow Window is an intense and convincing work by Estonian-Canadian composer Elma Miller that imparts the composer’s concern for the devastation of the environment and our “narrow window” of understanding regarding the ecological destruction of the planet.

John Weinzweig’s Netscapes is constructed from repeating motivic fragments that, according to the composer’s program notes, require “no further elaboration.” Having recorded the work on my own CD released last year, I am still intrigued, now as a listener, by the innovative structure of the piece and the integration of jazz-inflected interludes. Although entirely different in compositional technique and style, Alexina Louie’s In a Flash also incorporates jazz-like influences as Keillor’s interpretation brings verve to the composer’s performance direction of “energetically sassy.”

From John Milton’s pastoral poem L’Allegro, Patrick Cardy’s humorous Quips and Cranks: Five Bagatelles for piano (2004) was the composer’s last piece written before his untimely death at age 52. Keillor’s clarity of articulation creates vitality as she conveys the charm of these delightful works.

Kelly-Marie Murphy’s virtuoso Let Hands Speak (2003) was written for the Honens International Piano Competition and Keillor meets the technical challenges head-on in a spirited driving interpretation as the CD ends with an exciting climax.

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

04_John_Burge.jpgChamber Music of John Burge
Ensemble Made in Canada
Centrediscs CMCCD 21715

John Burge (b.1961) has produced a large body of instrumental and vocal works, while teaching at Queen’s University since 1987 and serving as president of the Canadian League of Composers (1998 to 2006). His Flanders Fields Reflections for string orchestra won the 2009 JUNO for best Canadian composition. The three works on this disc display Burge’s characteristic neo-romantic coupling of melodiousness with strong rhythmic drive.

Ensemble Made in Canada, formed in 2006 and winner of the CBC Galaxie Rising Stars award, is currently ensemble-in-residence at Western University. The ensemble commissioned this CD’s major work, the 34-minute Piano Quartet (2012), in which two highly propulsive movements, the first employing minimalist elements, bracket an elegiac Adagietto containing a scherzo (Presto misterioso). All three movements are dramatic attention-holders.

The disc opens with Pas de Deux (2010), performed by the Ensemble’s violinist Elissa Lee and cellist Rachel Mercer. Its structure mirrors that of the balletic duo and the music’s warm lyricism and rocking rhythm could easily be choreographed for a real, danced love-duet.

The ensemble’s other pair, violist Sharon Wei and pianist Angela Park, perform String Theory (2011), composed as the test piece for the 2012 Eckhardt-Gramatté competition. It’s “a compendium of string effects,” writes Burge, designed to challenge the competitors’ techniques, yet it’s no hodge-podge of mere “effects,” thanks to its constant melodic and rhythmic forward motion.

Three very engaging pieces, very engagingly performed.

05_Tim_Brady.jpgTim Brady – The How and The Why of Memory
Symphony Nova Scotia
Centrediscs CMCCD 21515

Montrealer Tim Brady is a fertilizing force on the Canadian new music scene. A composer, electric guitarist, improvising musician, concert and record producer, his active administrative engagement with the Canadian concert music community over the past few decades has been multifaceted and deep. On this album, as distinct from previous Brady albums I have reviewed in these pages, we hear his composer chops applied to orchestral forces: a symphony bookended by two string concertos, one for violin and one for viola. They are admirably rendered by Symphony Nova Scotia, conducted by Bernhard Gueller.

Listening to The How and the Why of Memory: Symphony #4, (2010-2013), cast in a single continuously unfolding movement, I was repeatedly reminded of textures and rhythmic and harmonic ideas of composers active in the early- to mid-20th century. Perhaps those allusions are implied by the title. Brady however never allows such superficial affiliations to get in the way of musical momentum or dramatic gesture, characteristics embedded in his musical voice which engage listeners on an emotional level.

Brady’s very confident Viola Concerto (2012-2013) is dominated by its violist Jutta Puchhammer-Sédillot’s cocoa-coloured sound and brilliantly lyrical playing. It is also imbued with a heart-on-sleeve expressiveness, counterpointed by poised classicist melodic phrases and minimalist sequences. The multi-hued orchestration is endowed with plenty of rhythmic excitement and harmonic movement, relieved by mysterious moments of elegiac repose. The last section, marked “groove,” is particularly effective and texturally surprising. The Viola Concerto is my favourite work on the album and it makes a very valuable new addition to the international viola concerto repertoire.

06_Stefan_Wolpe.jpgStefan Wolpe Vol.7 – Music for Violin and Piano
Movses Pogossian; Susan Grace; Varty Manouelian
Bridge Records 9452 (bridgerecords.com)

Armenian-born Movses Pogossian, first-prize winner of the 1985 USSR National Violin Competition and now based in California, is the featured soloist in the latest of Bridge Records’ landmark series devoted to German-Jewish/American composer Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972).

Wolpe’s four-movement, half-hour-long Violin Sonata (1949) is among his most enduring works, spanning an emotional gamut from playful and joyous to melancholy and anguished, and all the way back again. Pogossian and pianist Susan Grace provide all the intensity and flexibility required for its varied moods.

Pogossian is joined by his wife, Varty Manouelian, in two pieces, Duo for Two Violins (1924), with motoric echoes of Bartók, and the short Two Studies for Two Violins and Piano (1933).

The CD opens and closes with unaccompanied works, Second Piece for Violin Alone (1966), a three-minute quirky charmer that would make an effective recital encore, and the 15-minute Piece in Two Parts (1964), a thoughtful, thought-provoking series of brief, pithy phrases, influenced perhaps by Wolpe’s interest in Oriental meditation. The disc also includes a 29-bar fragment from an unfinished Second Violin Sonata (1959).

The detailed booklet notes are by Toronto musicologist Austin Clarkson, who studied with Wolpe and became, in 1981, the first board chairman and general editor of the Stefan Wolpe Society.

This is intriguing repertoire that deserves to be heard.

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

07_Cage_Bozzini.jpgJohn Cage: Four
Quatuor Bozzini
Quatuor Bozzini CQB1414 (actuellecd.com)

Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini has been together for 16 years and has recorded 15 CDs of the kind of challenging contemporary music that they specialize in, including works by Canadians Malcolm Goldstein, Tim Brady and Jean Derome and international figures like Steve Reich and James Tenney. The experience tells as they take on John Cage’s three works for string quartet, realizing distinctive versions in the process.

The earliest of the compositions, String Quartet in Four Parts (1949-50), is a work descriptive of the four seasons with the composer’s notes encouraging light string contact and no vibrato. The work’s structure and minimal harmonies create an unlikely resemblance to the melodic purity of medieval music. Leaping ahead to 1983, Thirty Pieces for String Quartet presents the musicians with both demands and choices: each piece lasts about a minute, with each musician given a sequence of notes to be fitted into the “time bracket.” The musicians individually choose between microtonal, tonal and chromatic options, but the parts are not directly related to one another except for the coordination of segment lengths. The music that emerges within these configurations is rich in complexity and convergence, a kind of collaboration between composer, performer and listener.

The final work, Four, from 1989, is the most radically reductive of these works, still employing time brackets but offering choices from its sparse materials to all the performers. The result is spacious but continuous with tonal structures that may gently evolve or appear transient. The cumulative work is a serene landscape in which mysterious elements emerge and disappear.

Quatuor Bozzini assumes the substantial demand that this music makes on its performers: to at once realize the work in shaping its form while allowing the components to maintain their distinct, non-structural identities. If the Arditti Quartet’s recordings of these works (on Muse from the early 1990s) have long stood as masterful readings (they worked closely with Cage on Four), Quatuor Bozzini does a fine job of traversing this music, inevitably creating new works in the process.

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

Back to top