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!


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.


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.


05 modern 03 ryan muncyHot
Ryan Muncy; Various Artists
New Focus Recordings NFR130

Chicago-based saxophonist Ryan Muncy has become a champion of new music, both as a soloist and as executive director of the fine new music ensemble, Dal Niente – if you have yet to hear this group deservedly dubbed “super-musicians” by the Chicago Tribune, check it out.

Muncy’s debut recording is bookended with works by two composers that few performers tackle: Georges Aperghis and Franco Donatoni. The craft and wit of these composers are the highlights of the CD. Aperghis’ Rasch for soprano saxophone and viola is almost conceptual in its difficulty; Muncy and violist Nadia Sirota give a meticulous reading, although I wish the gestures and pauses were more erratic. Donatoni’s Hot has become the most popular chamber concerto for saxophone and “jazz” ensemble. Muncy and Dal Niente perform this difficult score with ease, although the saxophone could be more present and wild in this concertante work.

Throughout the recording, Muncy shows his sensitivity and skill in works featuring instruments that the saxophone would normally overpower. In Refrain from Riffing by Anthony Cheung, the alto saxophone sweeps and quivers microtonally in tandem with the harp. Marcos Balter’s Strohbass, in which the bass flute acts as resonance for the subtle key clicks of the baritone saxophone, is so skillful and almost electroacoustic.

It would be wrong not to mention The Last Leaf, the commission from established Israeli-born Harvard Professor, Chaya Czernowin, for sopranino (!) saxophone, highlighting the plethora of extended saxophone techniques that Muncy executes effortlessly.


05 modern 04 rebekah heller100 names
Rebekah Heller
Tundra Records 001

American bassoonist Rebekah Heller is a respected performer in both classical and contemporary music styles, and a core member of the U.S.-based International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). In her debut solo release on ICE’s own Tundra label, Heller performs with a sweet tone, precise attack and colourful phrases in six recent compositions written for her.

She is especially original in her witty musical repartees to the electroacoustic tapes, feedback effects and live processing. The gut-wrenching distortion and percussive bassoon make the opening track by Edgar Guzman loud and in-your-face memorable. Though more tape effects provide colourful backdrops to the bassoon in works by Marcelo Toledo and the bonus track by Du Yun, these are no match for the superb composition On speaking a hundred names by Nathan Davis. This strong composition for bassoon and live processing is a showpiece for Heller’s sensitive interpretation and enviable breath control. The bassoon solo Calling by Dai Fujikura is a microtonal outing that demonstrates her strength as a soloist. Not only can Heller play the bassoon, she can fearlessly speak the text of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and play percussion too in the moving work …and also a fountain by Marcos Balter.

100 names features a wide breadth of extended bassoon techniques, all performed beautifully, and sure to be enjoyed by new music lovers. Rebekah Heller needs to be congratulated for her dedication to the bassoon, and her ability to inspire composers.


05 modern 05 tiresius duoTrade Winds
Tiresias Duo (Mark Takeshi McGregor; Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa)
Redshift Records TK428 (redshiftmusic.org)

Having reviewed Mark Takeshi McGregor’s CD of flute ensemble music, Different Stones back in November 2009, and now his most recent 2CD set, Trade Winds, I can say with conviction that I think he is a national treasure! It is not only that he is a great flutist and a truly engaging performer. I heard his recital at the Canadian Flute Association convention in June – it was truly memorable, not only because of his rapport with contemporary repertoire but also because he has a nose for that je ne sais quoi that makes a work a good piece of music. His choice of repertoire, and there is a lot of it – close to two hours – is unerringly good. The fact that the field was narrowed by limiting it to composers with some sort of connection with Japan makes his accomplishment even more remarkable.

There are discoveries here such as Kara Gibbs, whose Untitled Scenes covers the gamut from playful to meditative and serene; the flute sonata by Vancouver composer, Christopher Kovarik, reveals a unique compositional voice, forged through the study of Bach, Prokofiev and Shostakovich; and I was taken completely by surprise by the three works for solo flute by Paul Douglas, a flutist as well as a composer, and McGregor’s teacher at UBC. Elliot Weisgarber was another Canadian composer I had never heard of. A clarinetist in the late 1960s, he spent three years in Japan, where he learned to play the shakuhachi. His Miyako Sketches, to me anyway, reveals a thorough absorption of the Japanese musical tradition convincingly transferred to the western tradition.

I would be remiss not to mention Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, whose superb ease and sensitivity as McGregor’s collaborator on the piano contribute substantially to the project. Canadian flutists, get this CD and then get the music performed on it and make it part of your repertoire! Everyone else, get it and start marvelling at the quality of the music of our composers.


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