Shostakovich – Cello Concertos

04 modern 01 shostakovich celloShostakovich – Cello Concertos
Truls Mørk; Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko
Ondine ODE 1218-2

These concertos, particularly the first, are on my short list of favourite cello works. The Concerto No.1 in E-flat Major, Op.107 has been recorded by almost every prominent solo cellist and is a regular on the programs of symphony orchestras everywhere. Since Rostropovich premiered and recorded the first concerto in 1959 and the second in 1967 we have heard them recorded by, to name a few, Heinrich Schiff, Mischa Maisky, Natalia Gutman and an earlier recording by Truls Mørk himself with Jansons and the LPO from 1995.

My first impression of this recording was that while it is energetic, forward moving, heartfelt and entertaining, it is also light and happy in approach from both soloist and orchestra.

Shostakovich was such a genius that even with completely different approaches his music speaks to the listener effectively. An alternative take in this music is the digging-in with acidic and sarcastic statements. Shostakovich could be great as the “war-correspondent” or the smiling composer of dance music. Shostakovich devotees explore both interpretations and in between.

This new version enjoys remarkable solo playing wrapped in beautiful and warm sound. Under Petrenko, who has as of this writing completed all but one of his Shostakovich symphonies cycle, Mørk has precise and crisp orchestral support including excellent contributions from the solo winds. In addition, the wide-range recorded sound is superb, well balanced and transparent. While I still appreciate the acerbic Shostakovich of Rostropovich (the versions on Supraphon SU 4101), Messrs Mørk and Petrenko provide a very convincing second opinion.


Glass Houses Vol.2 – Music of Ann Southam

04 modern 02 glass houses 2Glass Houses Vol.2 – Music of Ann Southam
Christina Petrowska Quilico
Centrediscs CMCCD 20114

Glass Houses Vol. 2 is an outstanding solo piano recording that showcases the artistry of concert pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico and her depth of insight derived from the 30-year collaboration and friendshipthat she shared with composer Ann Southam (1937-2010).

Petrowska Quilico has previously recorded Southam’s Glass Houses Revisited (Centrediscs, CMCCD 16511), Rivers on the three-CD set Canadian Composers Portraits: Ann Southam (CMCCD 10505), a two-CD set Pond Life (CMCCD 14109), and multiple individual works on compilation albums. This stunning new release from Centrediscs presents six of the composition’s fifteen movements composed in 1981 and later revised for the pianist in 2009.

Inspired by the American minimalist composer Philip Glass, Southam’s Glass Houses features highly complex passagework delivered at lightning speed, with lengthy repeating figures in the left hand interacting with varying lines in the right hand. The dynamics, articulations and pedalling are left entirely to the performer’s discretion and this is where Petrowska Quilico’s interpretive powers are most impressive.

The pianist and production team have given careful thought to the order that the pieces appear on the album. From a shimmering opening to intense, driving movements, there are also playful moments with unexpected jazz riffs. Petrowska Quilico’s recording exemplifies the artistry and physical endurance that are required to create this seamless musical vision for one of Ann Southam’s masterpieces.


Sins & Fantasies - Mark Takeshi McGregor

04 modern 03 macgregor sins fantasiesSins & Fantasies
Mark Takeshi McGregor
Redshift Records TK430

What a brilliant conceit – seven pieces, each by a different living Canadian composer, and inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins. Beginning in 2010, Vancouver-based flute virtuoso Mark Takeshi McGregor gave life to this project, and the results are gloriously presented here. The disc begins with Dorothy Chang’s Wrath, a hissing, spitting and raging exploration of tone, breath and vocal sound, followed by Gregory Lee Newsome’s Avarice and Owen Underhill’s Three Reflections on Pride which employ flute, piccolo and alto flute. Jocelyn Morlock’s take on lust makes exquisitely erotic use of the alto flute, McGregor’s voice, and words from a 20th-century icon which completely spooked me out. James Beckwith Maxwell’s Invidere (envy) wanders into the far reaches of extended techniques, and Benton Roark’s Untitled gives a meditative and melancholy spin to sloth.

In all these, McGregor’s remarkable gifts as a player are mesmerizing. Besides his extraordinary technical mastery, his is playing of the most imaginative and creative kind. And to top it off, the disc closes with McGregor’s own Le dernier repas de M. Creosote, inspired by the infamous Monty Python character and an absolute tour de force any way you slice it. Three of Telemann’s Fantasias are also included as foils to the new pieces; for me, McGregor’s sense of musical adventure here pales in comparison. But no matter: as Chaucer says in The Parson’s Tale, the deadly sins “all run on one Leash, but in diverse manners,” and here their diversity is astonishing, inspiring, and only dangerous in the best possible way.


Canadian Flute Duos - Jennifer Brimson Cooper; Amy Hamilton

04 modern 04 canadian flute duosCanadian Flute Duos
Jennifer Brimson Cooper; Amy Hamilton
Independent (

Rich tone, extraordinarily precise ensemble playing and lyrical musical phrases highlight this new release, Canadian Flute Duos, performed by Jennifer Brimson Cooper and Amy Hamilton. Both flutists are distinguished professors at the university level, respected soloists and chamber performers. They have chosen seven contrasting Canadian works featuring varied stylistic sensibilities which illuminate the tremendous gifts of both the composers and the performers.

 Imant Raminsh’s Butterflies (Papillons) is a Romantic-like work with rapid moving flute lines and trills emulating the sound of fluttering wings against a shifting chordal piano backdrop (performed by Beth Ann De Sousa). Jim Hiscott’s Quatrain for two flutes is a four-movement work with minimalist qualities, contrapuntal lines and harmonic two-part runs. Especially beautiful is the composer’s use of lengthy held single notes which are reminiscent of his accordion works and performances. Composer/flutist Robert Aitken’s expressive Wedding Song is based on an American Sioux Indian song. The haunting melody, dynamic harmonics and swells and precise whistle tones make this track the highlight of the disc. Works by John Beckwith, R. Murray Schafer, François Morel and Tibor Polgar are also included.

 I continually forgot that I was listening to two flutes as the performers share a close musical relationship to both their instruments and each other. The precision, care, understanding and respect for the music by Brimson Cooper and Hamilton make this recording an artistic keeper.


Christos Hatzis – Flute Concertos

04 modern 05 hatzis fluteChristos Hatzis – Flute Concertos
Patrick Gallois; Thessaloniki State Symphony; Alexandre Myra
Naxos 8.573091

Released by Naxos on its Canadian Classics series, this CD offers the recorded premieres of two flute concertos by Christos Hatzis, one of Canada’s best-known living composers, as played by the celebrated French flutist Patrick Gallois and the Thessaloniki State Symphony. The first, Departures, is a memorial piece written in 2011, a time of personal loss for Hatzis and the year of Japan’s devastating tsunami and nuclear disasters. Hatzis is known for his use of multiple and eclectic influences, and here there are whiffs of Japanese melody, blues patterns, French impressionism and much more. In the first movement, the flute flutters deftly between traditional and extended sound worlds, with seamlessly woven interplay between soloist and orchestra. The orchestral playing in the third movement brings robust rhythms incisively to life.

Overscript, written in 1993 and revised in 2012, is described in the notes as a commentary on Bach’s Concerto in G Minor BWV 1056/1 for flute, strings and basso continuo. Bachophiles will know the root piece better either as the concerto for harpsichord in F minor or as the G minor violin concerto. Here we have a very different kind of piece, a kind of palimpset in which Hatzis superimposes his own music over Bach’s in fragmented format, making for some intriguing comparisons which the listener is invited to make. Under Alexandre Meyrat’s first-rate direction, the orchestra plays in lively and expressive fashion throughout, and Gallois is his usual elegant, musically effervescent and technically brilliant self.


American Art - Amy Porter; Christopher Harding

04 modern 06 amy porter american artAmerican Art
Amy Porter; Christopher Harding
Equilibrium EQ 114 (

This CD’s title, American Art, is a good fit for the hour or so of music it presents. The three long compositions on it, Eldin Burton’s Sonatina, Robert Beaser’s Variations, Christopher Caliendo’s Flute Sonata No.3 and the one short piece, Michael Daugherty’s Crystal, are all creations of highly accomplished composers, and have an unmistakably American sound. They could not have been written anywhere else. As a matter of interest, they are also all tonal; not in a way that is slavishly imitative of the great ones of the past, but in a way that brings to life a broad palette of human experience, singing, dancing, weeping and rejoicing its way into the souls of performers and listeners alike, in a uniquely contemporary way.

Above all, the performances are a flawless collaboration between flutist Amy Porter’s confident and authoritative artistry and Christopher Harding’s superb work on the piano. He caresses the keys, bringing fluidity and lyricism that you don’t always hear from pianists; and Porter, with her incomparable technique, incisive articulation and varied dynamics, is a match for everything the composers throw at her.

The duo’s sparkling teamwork as well as the virtuosity of both players is particularly evident in the short final movement of Caliendo’s Sonata, “Bronco Buster.” In the second movement of Beaser’s Variations Porter’s effortless and gradual movement from primordial stillness to breathtaking excitement and intensity is a good example of her artistry.

This recording opens a window on the possibilities of contemporary music and a side of life south of the border that you will never hear about on the news!


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