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 (

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!


Britten to America: Music for Radio and Theatre

05 modern 01 britten to americaBritten to America: Music for Radio and Theatre
é; Sir Mark Elder; Andrew Kennedy; Jean Rigby; Mary Carewe; Ex Cathedra; Jeffrey Skidmore

This disc could be called “an entertainment,” being a collection of short compositions disbursed with spoken passages. Some are satirical or humorous or quite serious but none is long enough to ebb the listener’s interest. Britten collaborated with his good friends (at the time) W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. The most productive and closest collaboration between Auden and Britten was between 1936 and about 1941 and by 1947 they rarely even spoke. Subsequently Britten had a succession of librettists and Auden went on to write the libretto for Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. The Britten-Auden collaboration produced, among other works, the operetta Paul Bunyan (1941, revised 1971) and the two main items on this recording; The Ascent of F6 in 1936 and On the Frontier (1938).

The Ascent of F6, written by Auden and Isherwood is set around the climbing of F6, a mountain in Sudoland, a British colony of indeterminate location and the anti-hero Michael Ransom, a Renaissance man, who wants to climb the mountain because it is there. Essentially it is a didactic drama on social responsibility. The authors were enthusiastic about Britten and his little pieces, some robust, some irreverent and brash but all arresting, including a blues number! On the Frontier was a metaphorical play concerned with the rise of Fascism in the 30s. An American in England recreates some of the Edward R. Murrow broadcasts from the early 1940s with narrator Samuel West.

These stylized 2013 performances emulate the 1930s in this delightful and unusual recording revealing the young composer’s diversity of styles. The vocal octet Ex Cathedra is heard in the potpourri of styles from chant to brash ensemble numbers, all in state-of-the-art sound.


Kara Karayev – The Seven Beauties; The Path of Thunder

05 modern 02 karayevKara Karayev – The Seven Beauties; The Path of Thunder
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Dmitry Yablonsky
Naxos 8.573122

For listeners unfamiliar with Azerbaijani composer Kara Karayev (1918-1982), these ballet suites are an attractive introduction. Karayev studied with Shostakovich, and his rhythmic, tuneful music is well-suited to the ballet. The two works’ stories lend themselves to Karayev’s incorporation, respectively, of Azerbaijani folk song and dance, and of African and African-American musical traditions.

Karayev remained acceptable in the Soviet musical establishment at a time when the government criticized other composers severely for “formalism.” The story and folk elements in The Seven Beauties(1949) no doubt helped, as did his conventional and conservative musical style. His melodic gift is notable, as in the “Adagio”’s horn solo, and he sets the mood in each of The Seven Portraits with a few deft, colourful strokes. The solo winds of the Royal Philharmonic excel here. Yablonsky paces the orchestra well, leading to a climax just before the final Procession.

The Path of Thunder (1958) dates from the Khrushchev years, with a tragic story from South Africa involving lovers of different races. The music is now more hard-edged and spiky, with influences of Stravinsky and of Ravel`s Bolero. Syncopations and irregular metres are effective, as in the “Finale”’s 7/4 ostinato. The “Scene and Duet” of the lovers is particularly attractive, with violin and cello solos that are played beautifully by Royal Philharmonic principals. The passionate and idiomatic performances on this disc led by Dmitry Yablonsky make it a significant addition to the recorded repertoire.


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