01 Hatzis Going Home StarGoing Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation (music by Christos Hatzis)
Tanya Tagaq; Steve Wood and The Northern Cree Singers; Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra; Tadeusz Biernacki
Centrediscs CMCCD 22015

The richly textured, eclectic cinematic score by veteran Toronto composer Christos Hatzis furnished for the ballet Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was premiered in October 2014 to considerable audience and critical acclaim. This impressive work is a superimposition of at least three culturally defined layers.

Hatzis directly quotes and echoes sections of iconic 20th-century European ballets Rite of Spring, Swan Lake and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. In addition Christian liturgical chorales, medieval chant and dance music by Jean-Baptiste Lully are all skillfully reworked in Hatzis’ characteristic tonal-centric style. To this he adds elements in multiple vernacular music genres, as well as acoustic and electronic soundscapes, diffused from the studio-produced digital audio track.

Another significant layer of this 2-CD musical journey is the contribution of North American indigenous voices. They are essential texts in this narrative centred on the suffering imposed on children in Canada’s infamous Indian residential schools – with musical detours into the early contact between Europeans and First Nation peoples – ending with the possibility of personal and intercultural redemption and reconciliation.

Based on a story by Joseph Boyden, the ballet score is given a human voice by the extraordinary Polaris Prize-winning Inuk singer Tanya Tagaq, in the last scene’s Morning Song eloquently performed by the Cree singer Steve Wood and through the pow-wow energy of the Northern Cree Singers infusing a visceral power into several scenes.

Is Going Home Star “the most important dance mounted by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in its illustrious 75 year history,” as described by one CBC TV commentator? Hatzis’ cumulatively moving, highly eclectic score compels me to see Mark Godden’s choreography and to find out how this important national story plays out on stage. I invite my fellow Canadians to join me on this journey during the RWB’s upcoming 2016 national tour.

Author: Andrew Timar
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02 Allison CameronAllison Cameron – A Gossamer Bit
Contact Contemporary Music
Redshift Records TK445 (redshiftmusic.org)

This distinctive 2015 CD with four new pieces by the ever-wonderful contemporary composer Allison Cameron is sure to garner her much positive attention among the cognoscenti. A Gossamer Bit, produced as what is rightfully described as a palimpsest, is a stimulating though very different programme. Here Cameron presents pieces that represent myriad aspects not only of music – as in 3rds, 4ths & 5ths – but also great flights of the imagination – as in the song, Gossamer Bit, which is a dazzling overlay on Charles Ives and which, in turn is an eloquent sojourn across manipulated pitches and dramatic quarter-tones. In Memoriam Robert Ashley shapes the relentless octaves of Ashley’s music (overlapping the directions to that composer’s In Memoriam Esteban Gomez with great melodic cogency. D.I.Y. Fly combines written and improvised sections and finds a wider dynamic and colouristic scope using just this composerly device.

Allison Cameron is, of course, the Alberta-born, Toronto-based musician and composer who has built a sizeable reputation in contemporary composition but remains relatively little-known even in her native Canada. It is hoped that this attractive and well-recorded program, which hints at impressionistic antecedents, will greatly enhance her reputation. Look out, of course for the balletic leaps across her work especially in this repertoire. Cameron also has an acute sense of humour and this is delightfully hinted at in this music which is also rendered with a telling sensuous reserve.

Author: Raul da Gama
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03 SoundsNature

SOUNDSNATURE – Works for Cello and Electronics
Madeleine Shapiro
Albany Records TROY 1577 (albanyrecords.com)


SOUNDSNATURE is a series of pieces performed by cello innovator Madeleine Shapiro combining the sounds of the cello with electronic sources to bridge the gap between the listener and the heart of the natural world. The disc includes compositions by Morton Subotnick, Judith Shatin, Matthew Burtner, Tom Williams and Gayle Young.

Although it may seem an oxymoron to use electronic means to bring us into a closer relationship with nature, it is precisely through using the microphone that we can enhance our experience with the soundscape. This is particularly evident in the works by Judith Shatin, Matthew Burtner and Gayle Young. Shatin’s For the Birds consists of four movements, each one using recordings of different types of birds found in the Yellowstone region. These visceral and intimate recordings are heard in both their original and digitally transformed states. Burtner’s Fragments from Cold takes us into the parallel terrains of outer snow and inner breath, creating the silent stillness of a skier gliding along the snow.

Young’s Avalon Shores features soundscape recordings of waves along the stony shorelines of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. Shapiro becomes improviser in this work, following the course of the waves, highlighting patterns and responding through timbral variations. I found this an evocative partnership, returning to listen several times. Shapiro is a dynamic performer, and her passion for the environment is evident in this recording as she brings to life her deep reverence for the nonhuman worlds.

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04 Duo LisusDiálogos
Dúo Lisus (Lidia Muñoz; Jesús Núñez)
FonoSax FONOSAX001 (duolisus.wix.com/duolisus)

Though France is still the European Mecca of the classical saxophone, a contender for Medina might be Spain; the country has recently seen hothouse growth in its classical saxophone community. The result has been a lot of excellent saxophone recordings from south of the Pyrenees. One such disc is Dúo Lisus' Diálogos, released this year on the FonoSax label.

Five of the seven pieces on the disc are by Spanish composers and every single composition is recorded here for the first time. With music, the duo and even the record label making their debuts on this disc, the unified impression, especially combined with composer José de Valle's opening maelstrom, is a kind of ex nihilo new music big bang. The momentum of this first burst carries through to American Eliza Brown's Apart Together, an entropic canon which seems to disintegrate under the energy received from the previous piece – a narrative arc which accurately describes the entirety of the disc as the saxophones are subsumed by electronics.

The other inclusion to break from the all-Spanish theme is Canadian composer Robert Lemay's Deuce. These heterogenizing selections were carefully chosen, and it's clear why Lemay made the cut: his extended techniques here always complement and never overshadow his finely wrought spectral and contrapuntal textures.

Leonard Feather may have called Spain a “jazz desert,” but the saxophone, a hardy plant, still finds a home there in spite of it; both Dúo Lisus and FonoSax are worth watching.

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05 Capitol QuartetBalance
Capitol Quartet
Blue Griffin Records BGR367 (bluegriffin.com)

As a result of the orchestral works of composers such as Bartók, Prokofiev, Berg – and many others – the saxophone has become a standard instrument of classical pedagogy and taught in many highly regarded conservatories. These classically trained saxophonists naturally began to seek out performance opportunities outside the jazz scene. Thus, the 20th century saw the birth of a new ensemble: the saxophone quartet. Like its predecessor, the string quartet, the saxophone quartet has been a place composers turn to for experimentation and exploration. The Capitol Quartet, is certainly no exception when it comes to celebrating and commissioning new works from today’s leading composers. In their release balance, Capitol has recorded four impressive works, three of which are commissions from the group. Carter Pann’s The Mechanics is a dizzying array of driving rhythms and clever gestures providing a playful and charming opening to the disc. American minimalism meets postmodern lyricism in John Anthony Lennon’s Elysian Bridges. A somber mood permeates Stacy Garrop’s Flight of Icarus, throughout which beautifully contoured chorales evoke the sadness of loss, a mood inspired by the Greek legend of Icarus. This piece is more about Daedalus’ loss of his son than the thrilling flight itself.

Last on the disc is a piece by French composer Alfred Desenclos (1912-1971). As the history of the saxophone quartet continues to grow, there inevitably will be pieces that remain to comprise a body of standard repertoire. Desenclos’ Quatuor will undoubtedly have a place in this canon. Wonderfully orchestrated themes and rich harmonic colours reminiscent of Debussy will surely provoke future quartets to embrace this work as a significant contribution to the genre.

06 Berg Wellesz

Berg; Wellesz
Renée Fleming; Emerson String Quartet
Decca 478 8399


In 1977, composer George Perle examined the annotated printed score of the Lyric Suite that Alban Berg presented to Hannah Fuchs-Robettin. Berg’s adulterous affair with her had provided the Suite’s encoded program. Berg had appended Stefan George’s translation of Baudelaire’s De profundis clamavi to the final movement in her score. Nothing suggests that Berg ever intended this text to be sung, yet it has since been incorporated, musically, into several performances and recordings, notably by Dawn Upshaw (Nonesuch 79696-2) and Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Naive V 5240).

In her own brief contribution to this “alternative” movement, superstar soprano Renée Fleming adds some emotional warmth following the Emerson’s robust traversal of the Lyric Suite’s erotically charged music.

Even more satisfying is their performance of Sonette der Elisabeth Barrett-Browning by Egon Wellesz who, like Berg, was born in 1885 and studied with Schoenberg. Wellesz’s rarely heard, expressive and expressionistic settings of five sonnets in translations by Rainer Maria Rilke, draw plenty of passion and intensity from Fleming and the Emerson.

Closing the CD is Eric Zeisl’s pleasant but unmemorable setting of Komm süsser Tod, enhanced by Fleming’s lush, lustrous voice. Zeisl (1905-1959), a Jew, fled his native Austria in 1938, and wound up composing film scores and concert works in Hollywood.

This CD will appeal to those interested in little-known but rewarding 20th-century repertoire (the Wellesz) and, of course, to Renée Fleming’s justifiably innumerable fans (including me).

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