01a Shostakovich Danel beginning of first reviewMy first thought when I opened a package from Naxos and found Shostakovich – The Complete String Quartets with Quatuor Danel (Alpha 226) was, here’s something for Terry Robbins’ Strings Attached column. Although I love them dearly, I already have half a dozen sets of the quartets and after all, how many is enough? But then I made the mistake of opening the (Pandora’s) box. So, sorry Terry! I was immediately immersed in the sound world that has captivated me time and again, since my first exposure almost 50 years ago with the Borodin Quartet’s Melodiya-Seraphim vinyl set of the then complete quartets Nos.1 through 13 (now available in a digitally remastered four-CD set from Chandos). I also remember being deeply moved by the Beethoven Quartet rendition of the 13th in a pairing with the late Violin Sonata performed by David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter. That one-movement Adagio quartet, written in 1970, seemed at the time to be the epitome of darkness and quiet despair. As had been the case earlier in the cycle, Shostakovich followed this morose work with the almost playful String Quartet No.14 in F-Sharp Major, Op.142 in 1973. But as we know, especially in his final years, playfulness was at a premium and the final work in the mammoth cycle returns to doom and gloom, if perhaps with quiet resignation. The String Quartet No.15 in E-Flat Major, Op.144 (1974) is in six movements – Elegy, Serenade, Intermezzo, Nocturne, Funeral March and Epilogue – every one of which is adagio in tempo with the single exception of the Funeral March marked adagio molto (very slow). As I mentioned, there is much gentle resolve in this work with only occasional abrasive interjections reminding us that Shostakovich was not entirely willing, in the words of Dylan Thomas, to “go gentle into that good night.”

When I started to write this I did not know what form my words would take. Having spent most of the past month revisiting these great works I have had various responses to this particular set. I initially assumed it was a new recording, but careful examination of the booklet – annoyingly printed in white text on a pale green background – reveals that it was actually recorded from 2001 to 2005 by the Bayerischen Rundfunk, and a search on the internet turned up that it was initially released on the Fuga Libera label a decade ago. Although there are extensive program notes – thankfully printed in legible black text – including an encomium by Frans C. Lemaire and a 16-page essay about the quartets themselves by David Fanning, nowhere in the 50-page bilingual booklet is there a word about the ensemble itself. Fortunately they have a comprehensive and up-to-date website (quatuordanel.eu) from which I was able to glean that one of the two Danel brothers, cellist Guy, and the violist Tony Nys, have since left the quartet. The violinists Marc Danel and Gilles Millet remain and their commitment to Shostakovich is ongoing with live performances of the quartet cycle in Manchester and Lyon in recent months. The group was founded in 1991, is based in Belgium and has a particular interest in modern and contemporary repertoire – Rihm, Lachenmann, Gubaidulina, Dusapin Jörg Widmann and Bruno Mantovani – although their upcoming recording projects focus on Tchaikovsky, Franck and late Beethoven.

01b Shostakovich Emerson end of first reviewRegarding the Shostakovich set itself, I found the performances nuanced, idiomatic and convincing and at about $35 the Alpha reissue is excellent value. I have mixed feelings about the order in which the quartets are presented however. Rather than a chronological presentation, each of the five discs presents three quartets from more or less different periods. I found this most satisfying on the final disc where Quartet No.1 is followed by Quartet No.10 and then the ultimate Quartet No.15, effectively giving an overview of the composer’s oeuvre in 77 minutes. Less effective was the opening disc on which we find Quartets Nos. 2, 7 and 5. Certainly for shorter listening sessions, one disc at a time, this is a well-balanced approach. But for binge listening, as I am prone to, I prefer to experience them in the order they were written. For this sort of total immersion I recommend spending just a few dollars more for the Decca reissue of the 1999 Deutsche Grammophon recording Shostakovich – The String Quartets by the Emerson String Quartet (475 7407).

02 Ted ParkinsonThe next entry doesn’t go back quite as far as my discovery of the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, but I have known multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter Ted Parkinson for about 35 years. He is a dear friend, so unlike my usual “professional conflict of interest disclaimer,” I must say outright that this relationship goes much deeper than that. A frequent participant in my backyard and house party jams, Ted always has something to add to the mix, whether it’s his jazz-inspired hollow-body guitar complements to the songs of others or his own quirky compositions which run the gamut from basic blues, to pop rock and alternative ballad stylings. I have known that Ted has been working on his debut solo CD for the past four years and I’ve heard various mixes during that time. I am pleased to say, as are Ted and his long-suffering (no, let’s just say very patient) wife Joan, that the finished product My Neighbourhood (tedparkinson.com) is now available. Like many first releases it is a compendium of many decades of creativity and, not surprisingly, many stylistic variations. Although Ted is adept at guitar, keyboards, reeds and drums, he has enlisted “professional help” for this project. His main collaborator is producer/engineer Fred Smith who suggested supplementary players to fill out the mix. Smith himself adds a couple of instruments dear to my own heart, tenor banjo and mandola.

Ted, a native of Whitehorse, came to Toronto, and later Hamilton and now Kitchener, via Victoria, B.C. The songs reflect various aspects of his geographic and emotional development. I can only assume that February Spring is a remnant of his days in Victoria. And speaking of his time on the West Coast, while doing some spring cleaning a couple of days ago I unearthed a relic of Ted’s years at the University of Victoria in the form of An exciting, new, four song E.P. by The Tumours released in 1980. This punk-edged, new wave band with heavy-metal lead guitar featured my old buddy on saxophone and backing vocals. After moving to Toronto in the mid-80s Ted was for a while a member of the proto-punk band Violence and the Sacred. Not much of his “angry young man” roots remain in the songs collected on My Neighbourhood, but it was a fun trip down memory lane to listen to the long lost tracks which took me back to my own time at CKLN-FM in its heyday. Highlights of the new album include the title track, My Brother’s a Mormon, Discovery and University Town. You can watch a live performance of this last on Ted’s website.

03 Fawn FritzenI mentioned that Ted Parkinson is a frequent flyer at my backyard music parties and last summer he brought a friend, well a Facebook friend anyway. It seems that in the ever-shrinking world of social media Ted came across another Whitehorse native, jazz singer Fawn Fritzen, and when it turned out that she was spending a few months of professional development in Toronto, he decided my backyard would be a good place to meet in person. So on a couple of occasions last season we were graced with her strong, warm voice and our folky ramblings expanded to encompass some jazz standards and torch songs.

I was pleasantly surprised when Fritzen’s CD Pairings (fawnfritzen.com) appeared on my desk a couple of weeks ago. Recorded in Whitehorse and at Toronto’s Canterbury Sound, the disc was produced with her longtime collaborator Daniel Janke. As the title suggests, Pairings is primarily made up of duets and features a number of iconic figures including George Koller, Reg Schwager, David Restivo, Steve Amirault, a trio comprised of Richard Underhill, Kelly Jefferson and Shirantha Beddage, and of course, producer Janke. Fritzen shows herself adept in languages with lyrics in English, German and French and a comfort zone that embraces standards (Gershwin, Caesar and Youmans, Berlin and Porter), bluesy originals, a swinging arrangement of Burton Cummings’ Straighten Out and a growly Please Send Me Someone to Love. This is quite a brave project: accompanied in most instances by only one instrument (double bass, piano, jazz guitar or percussion), and occasionally in sung duet with the accompanists, Fritzen’s voice benefits from this exposure and rises to every occasion.

Concert Note: Fawn Fritzen will launch Pairings with intimate performances in Toronto at Jazz Bistro on May 8, St. Catharines at the Mahtay Café on May 9, Waterloo at the Jazz Room May 10 (where accompanists will include Ted Parkinson) and Ottawa at the Steinway Piano Gallery May 11.

Shameless self-promotion: In one final note I would like to tell you about a performance coming up on Wednesday, June 15. I have often mentioned my administrative association with New Music Concerts and also the music parties in my backyard (and elsewhere). In a surprising act of bravado I will be donning my folky duds to host a fundraiser on behalf of New Music Concerts at “Coffee House 345” (aka Gallery 345 on Sorauren). I will be bringing my eclectic repertoire, 6- and 12-string guitars and a few musical friends along for the ride. Thanks to NMC’s board of directors, there will be complimentary snacks and libations. More details will follow in the June edition of The WholeNote, but for advance reservations you can call 416-961-9594.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
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01 RadulescuAs I have had occasion to mention before, my day job is general manager at New Music Concerts, an occupation with brings me into contact with some of the finest musicians and composers from across Canada and around the world. So in the spirit of full disclosure I will say that I have had professional dealings with the artists involved in the project Horațiu Rădulescu – Piano Sonatas and String Quartets. Pianist Stephen Clarke has been a frequent performer on our series over the years and in January we had the great pleasure of presenting JACK Quartet in conjunction with Music Toronto. Rădulescu (1942-2008) was a Romanian composer active in the French school of spectral composition. He wrote six piano sonatas and six string quartets during a career which saw him based in France, Germany and later Switzerland, after leaving his homeland in 1969. Volume One of this series (Mode Records 290), which will ultimately include all of the sonatas and quartets, presents us with three very contrasting works, Piano Sonata No.2 Op.82 (1991), String Quartet No.5 Op.89 (1990-95) and Piano Sonata No.5 Op.106 (2003). As this is my first exposure to Rădulescu’s music it is hard to know whether the difference in approach between the keyboard and string writing has more to do with the nature of the instruments themselves or if it is simply a matter of different concerns in the different works.

Each of the pieces has a subtitle taken from the Tao te Ching of the sixth-century BC Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. The Second Piano Sonata “being and non-being create each other” is in three movements: Immanence, Byzantine Bells and Joy, in decreasing durations of Fibonacci proportions (we are told in the excellent notes by Bob Gilmore). The overall feel of the piece is contemplative, with even the “Joy” of the third movement seeming contained rather than exuberant. We are even treated to echoes of Beethoven’s “fate-knocking” theme from the Fifth Symphony in the closing moments of the sonata. While in his earlier years Rădulescu had treated the piano in a number of unconventional ways – turning it on its side and bowing the strings with rosined cords; retuning the piano spectrally to free the natural harmonics hampered by tempered tuning – with the Second Sonata he seems to have reconciled his language to the use of a conventional concert instrument.

This is not the case with the Fifth String Quartet “before the universe was born,” which uses a number of extended techniques to expand the palette of the strings in some unimaginable ways, which is to say that there are some sounds produced that I can’t begin to understand the origins of. The 29-minute work is in 29 brief sections, each with a quote from Lao Tzu beginning with “The unnamable is eternally real (darkness, the gateway to all understanding)” and ending “The world is sacred (it can’t be improved).” Again contemplation is the mood of the piece, with clouds of quiet sounds, but just past the halfway point things get more aggressive and there is an extended section of quite abrasive sound. Although there are moments of respite along the way, the work ends with insect-like buzzing and gnashing.

The Fifth Sonata “settle your dust, this is the primal identity” returns to modal melodic material. It is based on Romanian folk music and its drone- and bell-like passages are a genuine relief after the dark journey of the Fifth Quartet. Perhaps the subtitle of the third movement tells it all: “Use your own light /and return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity.”

Stephen Clarke, who we know is comfortable in many modern idioms from the gentle, sparse music of Linda Catlin Smith to the aggressive complexity of Pierre Boulez, seems well at home in this largely unknown repertoire. And with their extensive work with Helmut Lachenmann I can’t think of another group better suited to the extended demands of Rădulescu’s string writing than JACK.

02 Reich RainIn keeping with the full disclosure of my opening paragraph, it was New Music Concerts who first brought Steve Reich to Toronto back in 1976 and was responsible for my initial exposure to his music. In recent years it has been our colleagues at Soundstreams who have been Reich’s premier sponsors in the city and this month they will pay tribute to “Steve Reich at 80” with a performance of, in my opinion, the jewel in the crown of his oeuvre, Music for 18 Musicians.

In October 2014 the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris presented choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rain (BelAir Classics BAC126), a setting of Music for 18 Musicians as performed by Ensemble Ictus and Synergy Vocals under Georges-Elie Octors’ direction. I admit to being out of my zone of comfort here, not being well versed, or even particularly interested, in modern dance. But the ten athletic dancers running gazelle-like (or is it Giselle-like?) around the stage in patterns reminiscent of a Samuel Beckett play on speed proved to be almost as hypnotic as the music. The focus of the film is understandably on the dancers, with only occasional tantalizing glimpses of the musicians, but the 5.1 Dolby digital sound is immaculate and the performance is compelling.

Concert Note: On April 14, Soundstreams presents a very ambitious program at Massey Hall, including Reich’s iconic Clapping Music, the large choral work Tehillim and Music for 18 Musicians.

03 Claire ChaseSteve Reich provides the bridge to the next disc, Density, featuring flutist Claire Chase (clairechase.net) which has been waiting patiently on my desk for the past year. It opens with Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint for 11 flutes (piccolos, flutes and alto flutes), conceived as a work for flute “choir” or to be overdubbed by one player (as first performed and recorded by Ransom Wilson). As with all the works on this disc, Chase plays all of the parts in studio recordings in which the layers blend seamlessly. All are by living composers with the exception of the title piece Density 21.5 which Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) composed for a solo platinum flute in 1936 (21.5 grams being the approximate density of a cubic centimeter of platinum). The other works all involve multiple flutes and/or electronics.

Of particular note for its rich sonorities is Marcos Balter’s Pessoa for six bass flutes. Alvin Lucier’s Almost New York for piccolo, flute, alto, bass and contrabass flutes, and pure wave oscillators, takes some getting used to. The pure electronic sounds are quite harsh in comparison with the warmth of the natural flutes, but eventually our ears adjust and the contrast is quite effective. That being said, Philip Glass’ homage to Erik Satie, Piece in the Shape of a Square for two flutes, comes as breath of fresh air after 25 minutes of the sterile sounds produced by Lucier’s oscillators.

Luciform for flute and electronics by Mario Diaz de León presents a very different electronic soundscape: synthetic layerings and contrapuntal accompaniments to the rich sounds of the flute in its lower register. Again, to my ears, the purely acoustic sounds produced by the platinum flute in Varèse’s Density 21.5 are more interesting by far. Nevertheless, Chase is to be congratulated not only for her dexterity throughout the full range of flute family but also for her diverse choice of repertoire, producing a 75-minute homophonic program that holds our interest from start to finish.

Concert Note: To hear all the members of the conventional flute family (contrabass to piccolo) combined in a live flute orchestra I recommend (conflict of interest duly noted) “Flutes Galore,” a concert of contemporary music for 24 flutes presented by New Music Concerts on April 24 at Saint Luke’s United Church.

04 Mike HerriottIf Claire Chase has shown mastery in combining all the members of one instrumental family through “the magic of the studio,” what is to be said of Mike Herriott? On Isn’t Life Grand (mikeherriott.com) this consummate musician is responsible for not only the entire horn section (piccolo trumpet, trumpets, flugelhorns, French horns and trombones), but also basses and piano. He is joined by frequent collaborator Richard Moore on drums and percussion throughout, with a (very) few other guests on several tracks. The overall sound is rich and warm and takes me back to the great horn arrangements I heard in my formative years from the likes of Chicago, Lighthouse and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Herriott penned all the tunes and, with the exception of the extended Free at Last arranged by the late, great Canadian flugelhorn icon, Kenny Wheeler, did all the arranging too. Fittingly, Herriott provides a lush flugelhorn solo on Free at Last and is joined by Dave Reid for a bass trombone solo. The style is quite mainstream, and I am left thinking that with some lyrics and a singer like David Clayton Thomas this music could have been top of the charts back in the day. I mean that in the nicest possible way though and am in awe of this one-man big band that is Mike Herriott.

05 Taylor CookAnother disc that spans mainstream jazz and pop sensibilities is Taylor Cook’s The Cook Book (taylorcook.com). In this instance though, the composer/leader has some fine Toronto players contributing to his ensemble. This is not to say that Cook is a one-trick pony by any means. The basic tracks see him on alto sax, flute and clarinet, with bandmates Jack Bodkin, keyboards, Brandon Wall, guitar, Justin Gray, acoustic and electric bass, and Robin Claxton, drums. This is complemented by a host of horns and woodwinds on such tracks as the rollicking Biker’s Dozen and the sultry Lilia which also includes string quartet. Another track where the ranks swell is Cook’s effective arrangement of On the Sunny Side of the Street which features a horn sextet. All of the other tracks are composed and arranged by Cook, including Splainin’ with lyrics by Neil Surkan and plaintive vocals by Alex Samaras, with the exception of the closing, soulful Testifyin’ by Fender Rhodes-playing Bodkin. In all, The Cook Book provides some tasty recipes, prepared to perfection.

06 Alain BedardAs noted with modern dance above, I confess to being somewhat out of my comfort zone in the world of serious modern jazz. In my formative years however, I did spend quite a bit of time combing the shelves of John Norris’ Jazz and Blues Centre down on King St. West and building a collection of the standards of the time: Monk, Coltrane, Hawkins, Rollins, Davis, Parker, Coleman, MJQ, Brubeck and, as mentioned in last month’s column, even the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Montreal bassist Alain Bédard and his acoustic Auguste Quartet take me back to those exciting years of discovery. Circum Continuum (Effendi Records FND 144) features Félix Stussi on piano, Samuel Blais on saxophones, Bédard on contrabass and Michel Lambert on drums. The music is old fashioned in the sense that is reminiscent of the music I was listening to in the 70s and 80s from the pioneers of post-bop jazz: uncompromising yet cohesive, melodic without being tuneful. Often busy in its undercurrents, but overlaid with long lines, and with nothing extraneous – all four members of the machine integral to the process. Bédard composed nine of the 13 tracks with the other members each contributing one of their own. The only “outside job” is Oelo by Gilles Bernard, inspired by Sonny Rollins’ Oleo. Lambert’s Blue Mitch begins with an enervated extended drum and saxophone duet, eventually tamed by the bass and piano before reestablishing their dominance in a harmolodic-style ending. Blais’ Noirceur Passagère features a haunting saxophone melody that gives way to a pizzicato bass solo that segues into Stussi’s Garissa evoking a Night in Tunisia sensibility. Bédard’s Le Gras Mollet with its block chord melody in the sax, piano and bass over a walking drum and cymbal line brings this excellent disc to a very satisfying conclusion.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
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It was my mother’s record collection that whetted my appetite for a broad spectrum of music at a young age, from the warhorses of the classical repertoire on her Reader’s Digest boxed set of LPs, to such “modern fare” as Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, through the New Orleans jazz of Louis Armstrong and Pete Fountain (my introduction to St. James Infirmary Blues), and a gamut of what we now call roots music. Of particular note were albums by Carl Sandburg (including the memorable My name is Yon Yonson), Burl Ives (Goober Peas), Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (Rock Island Line), Pete Seeger with and without the Weavers (too numerous to mention), Woody Guthrie (ditto) and Lead Belly (Pick a Bale of Cotton). Mom is now well into her ninth decade and still an active concertgoer and “record” collector, as well as a devotee of public television.

01 Eric BibbIt was this latter that provided her introduction to the late Leon Bibb and his son Eric some years ago. She spoke so enthusiastically of this blues duo that when I realized Eric Bibb was coming to Hugh’s Room in January, accompanied by Michael Jerome Browne (whose CD Sliding Delta I discussed in this column last March), I knew it was time for a family outing. Now as I mentioned, mother is getting on in years and mostly prefers matinee performances, but that evening she happily stayed for both sets. Bibb is a storyteller-singer-songwriter who picks a mean guitar – fingerstyle, no actual picks – and has a powerful and gruff, yet melodic voice. His own compositions span a variety of styles but his repertoire also encompasses acoustic blues and roots standards of the last century from field calls to gospel (and he does a mean James Brown).

Bibb’s most recent project focuses on the seminal work of Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly. On Lead Belly’s Gold (Stony Plain Records SPCD 1387 stonyplainrecords.com) Bibb is joined by French harmonica wizard JJ Milteau whose credits include work with Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour but whose main focus is the Blues, an idiom in which he is very well versed. What strikes me most about his playing is the way he incorporates a world of styles into these classic tunes, from the blue note-bending that we’ve come to expect in the genre to sounds that mimic Zydeco accordion produced on his tremolo harmonica.

There are a few Bibb original tunes dedicated to Lead Belly in the mix, but mostly we are presented with songs written by or associated with Lead Belly, including Grey Goose, Midnight Special, Pick a Bale of Cotton, Rock Island Line, Goodnight Irene and House of the Rising Sun. The CD features both live (at the Sunset) and studio recordings, with Bibb and Milteau joined on some tracks by drummer Larry Crockett and bassist Gilles Michel with backing vocals by Big Daddy Wilson and Michael Robinson. If you didn’t have the opportunity to hear these songs thanks to your mother in your formative years – thanks, Mom! – or even if you did, this tribute to one of the true originals of roots music is a great introduction/reminder of where it all began.

02 Duane AndrewsOne of the discs to cross my desk over the holiday season was the latest from Newfoundland jazz and swing guitarist Duane Andrews entitled Conception Bay (duaneandrews.ca). The shadow of Django Reinhardt looms large, as it always does in Andrews’ repertoire, both in the form of Reinhardt covers and original compositions in the Hot Club style. I was delighted to find Reinhardt’s Swing 39, which I first heard on a Quintet of the Hot Club of France LP some 40 years ago, in a lively and convincing rendition which sees Andrews in duet with fellow Newfoundlander, violinist Mark Fewer. As a matter of fact all four members of the string quartet who make up the band here are originally from Newfoundland: Lynn Kuo, violin; Angela Pickett, viola and Amahl Arulanamdam, cello.

Not all of the music is in the swing style and fittingly there are some Newfoundland-inspired tunes including Andrews’ Gigues plus traditional Reels and Otto Kelland’s Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s. The quartet members all have strong careers in classical music (although not to the exclusion of other musical forms – they are remarkably eclectic) and we find nods to the world of composed music in the form of the Lullaby from Stravinsky’s Firebird and a suite of Improvisations on Chopin’s Op.64, No.2. The darkly impressionistic title track, another Andrews original, is a stark portrayal of the landform, presumably in the dead of winter. But we are not left out in the cold – the disc ends with a sunny, breakneck version of Sweet Georgia Brown. Highly recommended!

Review

03 Valerie MilotQuebec harp virtuoso Valérie Milot’s latest CD Orbis (Analekta AN 2 9880) is an eclectic release of 20th century fare. Minimalist offerings by Marjan Mozetich and Steve Reich are featured along with works of John Cage and Antoine Bareil plus Bareil’s arrangements of music by Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa. Mozetich’s El Dorado for harp and strings opens the disc in a dramatic performance with Les Violons du Roy under Mathieu Lussier’s direction. The quiet, almost ominous, opening gradually builds like an ancient steam locomotive coming into town – you can almost see the smoke chuffing into the sky on the horizon – but over the 15 minutes of the work the textures gradually lighten and change into what Mozetich describes as a dreamscape. Commissioned by New Music Concerts for Erica Goodman back in 1981, El Dorado has become something of a modern classic and this is the third recording that I’m aware of. Goodman’s performance with the Amadeus Ensemble and Caroline Léonardelli’s with the Penderecki String Quartet are available from the Canadian Music Centre (musiccentre.ca).

The locomotive relentlessness of the opening of the Mozetich is mirrored in a gentler way in Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. Originally written for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, the work is scored for solo guitar, 12 guitars and two bass guitars. As in many works by Reich it can be played by an ensemble or by a single musician overdubbing the multiple parts. In her arrangement for harps, it is this latter approach taken by Milot, giving her an opportunity to showcase “the distinctive colours of the harp’s different registers and its exceptional resonance.” The result is very effective and the hypnotic rhythms are tantalizing in this performance.

John Cage’s In a Landscape is hypnotic in a different way, with dreamlike arpeggiated melodies spiralling gently and only occasionally punctuated by belling chords in the bass. Composed in 1948 for the choreography of Louise Lippold it was conceived for performance on either piano or harp. Milot’s depiction of the meditative landscape is exquisite.

Composer/violinist Antoine Bareil’s Castille 1382 continues the mood with a meditation on Jacob de Senleches’ fourteenth-century virelai La harpe de mélodie. Bareil’s title recalls the year of the death of Eleanor of Aragon, Queen of Castile. It is in two sections, an extended harp solo in which the medieval melody is presented unadorned and then in a harmonized rendition; and in the final minutes the haunting soprano voice of Marianne Lambert joins the harp in canon. It’s otherworldly.

At this point the disc takes a hard left turn and we are immersed in the world of pop music. But the transition is seamless as the solo harp introduction of Bareil’s arrangement of the Gentle Giant song As Old as You’re Young is in a lilting folk idiom. Harp is soon joined by an edgier violin statement of the melody (played by Bareil) and as the piece develops it gets harder and harder with the addition of marimba and raunchy bowed double bass. This sets us up for the culminating storm, Frank Zappa’s iconic G-Spot Tornado. Zappa initially conceived it as an electronic piece for his album Jazz from Hell because he felt that live musicians could simply not perform its complexities at the desired tempo. He was later proved wrong and there is YouTube video of an athletically choreographed performance with modern dancers and the Ensemble Modern conducted by Zappa in 1992. Since that time G-Spot Tornado has received myriad live performances and here it is vigorously and very effectively played by Milot and Bareil with Jocelyne Roy, flute, François Vallières, viola, and Raphaël Dubé, cello, providing a tornadic finale to a very fine disc.

Concert Note: Valérie Milo and Antoine Bareil can be heard in recital on March 18 at Convocation Hall, McMaster University in Hamilton. On March 19 at 5pm they will give a free performance at the Consulate of the Republic of Poland, 2603 Lake Shore Blvd W. here in Toronto (limited seating, first come first served). Soundstreams will present a performance of Electric Counterpoint and other works by Steve Reich on March 19 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W.

04 Southam Glass HousesGlass Houses Volumes 1 & 2 (Centrediscs CMCCD 22215) is a simple repackaging of two previous releases featuring Christina Petrowska Quilico. As I said in my original review in 2011,Glass Houses Revisited is a reworking of Ann Southam’s ‘fiendishly difficult etudes’ the pianist was working on with the composer at the time of her death in November 2010. Originally composed in 1981, the title Glass Houses refers to minimalist composer Philip Glass, the best-known proponent of this style at the time of writing, and to choreographer Christopher House with whom Southam worked extensively. The mostly ebullient, busily joyful pieces were revised in 2009 for Petrowska Quilico and further edited by her with the composer’s permission for this recording in 2010. The disc features nine ‘favourite’ selections from the set, arranged with four lively pieces on either side of the solitary ‘broody and moody’ track, Glass House No.13. Overall they are a weaving and embroidering of various melodic motifs that, in Ann Southam’s words ‘reflect the nature of traditional women’s work – repetitive, life-sustaining, requiring time and patience.’ One can only imagine the patience and diligence required of Petrowska Quilico to master these complex and exhilarating gems, and master them she has.”

While the first disc purports to comprise Petrowska Quilico’s “favourite” selections, no less care or enthusiasm is given to the remaining six etudes on Glass Houses Volume 2. Here’s what Dr. Réa Beaumont had to say in her review in June 2014: “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.

If you didn’t take our word for it first time round, this new edition is a cost effective ($20 at musiccentre.ca) way to rectify that and to get the whole collection.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for online shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
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The column this month has been, even more than usual, a personal journey for me. A week ago when I should have begun, I found myself wondering what there was to write about. I had assigned the discs that were of most interest to me to other writers for a full treatment rather than glossing over them here. Of particular note were the Dutilleux recordings, and I must say that Elliot Wright’s appreciation of them later in these pages confirms that to have been the right decision. But it left me nearly empty-handed and I warned publisher David Perlman at The WholeNote’s early January gathering that there might not be an Editor’s Corner this month. So much has happened since then that it is hard to imagine that just one week has passed.

The first event was a kitchen party at my friends Michael and Mary’s house, an annual affair to welcome in the New Year with a wealth of pickin’ and grinnin’. In addition to the usual plethora of guitars in various tunings, fiddles, mandolins and octave mandolins, there were hand drums, harmonicas, a keyboard, an accordion and more than a dozen voices lifted joyously in song. It was a magical evening, as so often these gatherings can be. I took particular delight in the opportunity to play with the accordionist, who was adding myriad colours and rhythms to the mix. As I was leaving – earlier than was my wont due to the tail end, or so I thought, of a lingering chest cold – I mentioned my pleasure to Mary who told me to hang on and went to grab me a copy of the accordionist’s new CD, “hot off the press.” It seems she was the graphic designer of the package (altdesign.ca) and had a box of discs on hand, and so I left the party knowing my journey had begun.

01 Tom LeightonLeighton Life is a wonderfully eclectic recording that showcases the writing skills and musical dexterity (piano, synths, accordion, organ, jaw harp, whistle, trombone, percussion, bouzouki and bodhrán) of Tom Leighton (tomleighton.ca). Not content to rest on his own laurels (and the mixing skills of producer Paul Mills), Leighton surrounds himself with a marvellous array of musical friends too plentiful to name, to create horn sections, string arrangements, cello solos and string band accompaniments as required. The opening track All Thumbs is a playful Penguin Café Orchestra-style minimalist moto perpetuo with the ostinato provided by the ticking of a mechanical clock and a triangle (at least that’s my guess). A Summer Jig features the accordion in the lead role of a warm, lush instrumentation. A Letter Found is a haunting ballad with violin and cello in unison and harmony on the memorable melody over piano and accordion accompaniment. Hank Dances is a rhythmically propulsive swing tune with horns, extrapolated from music Leighton wrote for a production of Hank Williams, The Show He Never Gave by Maynard Collins. The 12 tracks included here – all instrumental – run the gamut from old timey, to R&B, Scottish traditional to The Hurdy-Gurdy which Leighton says was “written for the hurdy-gurdy … by a non-player. Alas, it doesn’t play well on a hurdy-gurdy but conjures my image of the player.” Quite convincingly I might add. The album comes with a “Warning! Listening to instrumental music activates emotional, motor and creative areas of the brain!” It also includes the notice that all compositions are available as sheet music from the composer, so as spontaneous as much of the music feels, it is obviously conceived in its entirety by this wonderful musician. I look forward to having the opportunity to play with him again.

02 Bela FleckThe next steps on the journey began just a block from Michael and Mary’s house, at the Dufferin bus stop at Davenport. A few minutes after I arrived at the stop another man carrying a guitar case came to wait alongside me. I asked if he was going out to play, or like me, coming home from doing so. He said he was coming from a friend’s house where they had been playing bluegrass music all evening. Long time readers of this column will know that I am enamoured of the “new grass” band Joy Kills Sorrow that was active from 2005 to 2014. I asked this guitarist if he was familiar with the band and he said no, but that he knew “the song.” Not knowing the song myself, I said “Oh?” “Yes,” he said, “it’s a great song by Béla Fleck.” And so my next quest began. It turns out that When Joy Kills Sorrow appeared on the 1999 CD The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Volume 2 (Warner Bros. 9 47332-2), where Fleck’s cronies from the 1987 album Drive reunite and are joined by legends Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clements and John Hartford and contemporary stars Vince Gill, Tim O’Brien and Ricky Skaggs, for a number of Fleck originals and several traditional and classic tunes. Since this CD is old news and only new to me I won’t dwell on it other than to say it’s been in heavy rotation on my player since it arrived last Wednesday from Amazon (HMV couldn’t locate the one copy their superstore’s computer said they had). Highlights of the disc are the above-mentioned Joy Kills Sorrow, an old Flatt & Scruggs tune Polka on the Banjo and a two-banjo arrangement of the Clarinet Polka by Fleck and Hartford. Having grown up with the George Barnes solo guitar take on the latter as the theme to the Max Ferguson Show and now hearing this banjo version, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t ever heard it played on the clarinet. Hats off to YouTube, I didn’t have to look far ….

One disc that crossed my desk this month, an arrangement of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music performed by Toronto’s Contact ensemble, turned out to be a timely release, but not for the reasons one would hope. The news of David Bowie’s death last week brought many memories and realizations. Bowie’s chameleon-like career affected audiences and artists across the spectrum, me among them. I was not much aware of the glam rock era, but became drawn to Bowie at the time he started collaborating with Eno. Already a fan of Eno’s ambient approach to composition and sound, I was curious to see how he would interact with the “space oddity” that was Bowie.

04a David Bowie LowIn Francis Whatley’s 2013 film David Bowie: Five Years, Eno says that Bowie was drawn to his “longest, slowest, quietest” work, Discreet Music, and that their projects grew out of this interest. This was at a time when Bowie was tired of the rock-star lifestyle that had brought him perilously close to death by overdose and misadventure in L.A. His subsequent move to Paris and then Berlin, where he undertook a Spartan low-profile existence, ultimately resulted in a trilogy of Bowie-Eno albums beginning with the 1977 Low (RCA LP CPL1-2030). In 1991 Rykodisc would reissue Low on compact disc (RCD 10142) with bonus tracks. Not being in the habit of replacing my vinyl collection with CDs, I was unaware of the extra material until I revisited the Low Symphony by Philip Glass (POINT Music 438 150-2), which was inspired by two tracks by Bowie and Eno and one by Bowie alone. I was confused when I was unable to find Some Are, one of the duo compositions, on my LP and eventually ended up downloading the missing title from iTunes last week …. Three music platforms later I now have the full picture!

05 Erickson These DreamsBut that picture was further enhanced by These Dreams of You (Europa Editions ISBN 978-1-60945-063-2), a 2012 novel by Steve Erickson, which I found myself reading for the third time over the past few days (which may have set a record for frequency of rereading for me). Erickson, whose eight previous novels number among my favourites – a shout out to Jowi Taylor for turning me on to Arc d’X all those years ago! – frequently incorporates pop culture, particularly music and film, into his novels. Although These Dreams of You is nominally speculative and surreal, as are most of his books, the narrative strands are fairly linear, albeit many layered. The protagonists are a family of four in contemporary L.A. in danger of losing their house as a result of the economic crisis and the nefarious machinations of the banks. The father, Zan, has recently been let go from his position as professor of literature at the local university and is the sole DJ on a low-wattage radio station broadcasting without a license from a local Mexican restaurant in the Valley. His wife, Viv, is a freelance photographer whose work is drying up and whose one claim to fame, stained glass butterfly art, has been co-opted by an infamous commercial artist. Their children are Parker, a 12-year-old whose namesake is Charlie Parker but whose musical interests favour gangsta rap, and Sheba, a precocious four-year-old orphan adopted from Ethiopia, who is seeming wired internally to a certain unnamed “red-headed British alien who wears dresses.” The not-so-veiled references to David Bowie continue as he permeates the story, in particular with tales of his time in Berlin with roommates The Professor (Eno?) and Jim (Iggy Pop?), which lead to the album Low. Erickson cleverly weaves his tales – another one including presidential hopeful Bobby Kennedy in the months leading up to his assassination, and a third, an aspiring 1970s author, who after being beaten and left for dead by German skinheads, wakes to find himself in 1919 Berlin with a paperback copy of a novel that will shape the literature of the coming century but won’t be published until 1922 – through three eras and three continents. The convolutions are eventually resolved, and although there are no particularly happy endings, it does make for a very compelling read. Part of the fun is identifying the myriad historical characters that are never actually named. A great read indeed, and a great tribute to David Bowie.

06 Contact Discreet MusicBut back to Contact’s rendition of Discreet Music (Cantaloupe Music CA21114 cantaloupemusic.com). Eno’s original LP side was an electronic intertwining of some very simple melodic material according to some basic programming in Eno’s synthesizers. Four decades later Toronto percussionist and founding member of Contact Contemporary Music, Jerry Pergolesi, set out to make a live performance version of the iconic work. In the booklet notes he says: “In keeping with the spirit of the original, my ‘arrangement’ consists of seven mutually compatible melodies (the result of Eno’s original two melodies being occasionally altered) and instructions that render the band itself into the looping apparatus that Eno describes as the ‘score’ for the original. The ‘arrangement’ sets parameters for the musicians to follow, while giving them some leeway to make decisions with regard to what they play and when. Once the performance starts, however, the resulting sound is out of anyone’s hands.” The members of Contact – Mary-Katherine Finch, cello; Sarah Fraser Raff, violin; Wallace Halladay, soprano sax; Rob MacDonald, guitar; Peter Pavlovsky, bass; Jerry Pergolesi, vibraphone; Allison Wiebe Benstead, piano; complemented here by Emma Zoe Elkinson, flute and Dean Kurtis-Pomeroy, gongs – perform with real conviction – tone and intonation are warm and consistent – and they manage to hold our attention throughout the hour-long take in which “nothing happens.” I can’t imagine what it is like to take part in such a static performance, but congratulations are due to all concerned for realizing a viable live presentation of an electronic classic.

07 Bowie Black StarIt has been a month of losses in the musical arts. Canadian-born jazz icon, Paul Bley, and French father of avant-garde concert music, Pierre Boulez, are honoured elsewhere in these pages, although their passing garnered little attention in Toronto’s mainstream media. In contrast, much has been said about the death of David Bowie across all media and all platforms – including 24 continuous hours of programming on Much Music as I write this column – so I will not say much more here. He was a unique artist who constantly reinvented himself and touched more lives than most. His final offering Blackstar (ISO Records 88875173862) was released on his 69th birthday, two days before his death, and once again we are presented with a new man, seemingly from beyond the grave. Indeed one of the songs and videos is called Lazarus. I was lucky enough to purchase a copy of Blackstar before they all disappeared from the shelves (and online catalogues) but it will take me some time before I’m able to assimilate it. It’s a journey I am convinced is worth undertaking.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
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You might think that the upcoming holiday hiatus would result in a backlog of new material after the fact, and generally speaking that is indeed what happens. But this month I find my desk already agog (sorry, that’s a misuse of the word, but one I woke up to this morning as I faced the mounting pile of CDs – perhaps it is I who am agog) with a wealth of offerings all worthy of note. I will endeavour to be brief…

01 PubliQaurtetAtop the pile is a recent arrival that reminds me why I was drawn to contemporary music, string quartets in particular, in my formative years. PubliQuartet’s eponymous debut release on Concert Artists Guild Records (CAG115 publiquartet.com) grabbed me right from its percussive opening chords. Howie Kenty is not a composer I was previously aware of, but his brief An Impetuous Old Friend seemed just that – rambunctious and familiar, without seeming derivative. As a matter of fact I don’t know any of the composers whose work is included here, although I do find touchstones in their music. Jessie Montgomery is a NYC violinist, composer and music educator. I find many of the extended techniques she uses in Break Away reminiscent of the aboriginal sounds that Peter Sculthorpe incorporated into his string quartet writing. The program note however cites hip-hop and electronica as influences. Eugene Birman’s String Quartet, a 12-minute single movement “experiment in voicing and containing energy” comes across as a meditation, perhaps with echoes of George Crumb’s darker moments. In contrast David Biedenbender’s Surface Tension is all rhythmic drive and percussion.

One of PQ’s initiatives is a series titled Mind The Gap in which the group tries “to generate an interest in new music and keep traditional classical music relevant to modern audiences…[and] to blur the lines between performer and composer; intertwining compositions from seemingly disparate genres.” Two examples of this technique are included, Bird in Paris, juxtaposing Debussy with Charlie Parker and Epistrophy in which Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet are very effectively overlaid with themes by iconic jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. While I am not usually a fan of such hybrids I found this a convincing exception to the rule and found myself smiling as the two worlds collided and coalesced.

02 Reflections Gordon WolfeToronto Symphony principal trombonist Gordon Wolfe (gordwolfe.com) has just released his debut solo CD Reflections, with pianist Vanessa May-lok Lee, and it is a dandy. Wolfe presents a nicely balanced program of lyrical and idiomatic compositions, drawing on international repertoire – by Jacques Castérède, Paul Hindemith and Stjepan Šulek interspersed with Canadian works – that has influenced his own development:. Gary Kulesha says: “I made a deliberate attempt to write music that played against the perceived traditional role of the solo instrument, with the Trombone Sonata (2013) being aerial and lyrical. The trombone’s music soars and sings, and never becomes march-like or stentorian.” Elizabeth Raum’s Fantasy, written as a Christmas present for her husband Richard in 1981, is a delightful, gentle and melodious offering. The penultimate piece – Concertino for Trombone and Piano “Devil or Angel” – was written expressly for this project by Wolfe’s mentor Ian McDougall whom he calls “my favourite trombonist on the planet.” The (mostly) playful piece is in three descriptively titled movements – Cherub vs Imp; Guardian; Old Nick – which as you might expect gives Wolfe a chance to show off the contrasting aspects of his instrument and his mastery of it.

On Reflections, Wolfe makes a compelling case for the trombone as versatile tenor voice. Without venturing into extended techniques or bizarre effects we are presented with a lyrical portrait of a classical instrument that is all too often treated as a buffoon. Lee’s sensitive and well-balanced support adds to the success of the argument. Recorded in the Royal Conservatory’s Mazzoleni Hall, the sound is everything you would hope for, intimate yet full.

03 Jeremy Bell GriegSpeaking of maiden voyages, Jeremy Bell who has shared violin duties with Jerzy Kaplanek in Kitchener-Waterloo’s Penderecki String Quartet since 1999, has just released his own first solo disc, Edvard Grieg – Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Chestnut Hall Music chestnuthallmusic.com). Of course when I say solo I do not mean unaccompanied and for this project Bell is in fine company with pianist Shoshana Telner who is an equal partner in this virtuosic romantic repertoire. Of course Grieg is known as a nationalist composer and there are a lot of Norwegian folk influences evident in the music. As Bell tells us in his lucid program note, the Sonata No.1 in F Major, where violin and piano imitate Hardanger fiddling, was the first time that the composer introduced a purely national element. The second sonata, written two years later in 1867 takes the nationalism further and then there is a gap of 20 years before the Sonata No.3 in C Minor. This latter, with in Grieg’s words, “it’s wider horizons,” is the one most often heard in the concert hall, but it is the charming and “naïve” first sonata that is my favourite. In all three, presented here in the order 2, 3, 1 – for me saving the best for last – Bell and Telner are obviously in their element, capturing the contrasting moods and meeting the various technical demands with aplomb.

This is an outstanding first release and my only question is what took Bell so long? Some two decades ago he was a prizewinner in the Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition and since then has appeared in a variety of solo roles. I suppose participating in 25 recordings under other auspices, being a member of an internationally renowned fulltime quartet, his teaching duties at Wilfrid Laurier University and seven seasons as director of NUMUS are reasons enough. At any rate this is a very welcome debut. Oh, and in the note he sent along with the disc Bell assured me that this does not presage a separation from the Penderecki Quartet to which he remains devoted.

Once upon a time some musical friend or another, well versed in 17th to 19th century repertoire, challenged me to name an Italian composer whose surname did not end in the letter “i”. My interest in 20th-century music gave me perhaps an unfair advantage as I immediately came up with Berio, Nono, Dallapiccola, Malipiero and Maderna. As it turns out, this latter could have counted twice because his family name was Grossato and it was only later that he adopted his mother’s maiden name.

Bruno Maderna (1920-1973), who participated in the 1949 international congress on dodecaphony in Milan, is best known as one of the forces behind the summer music courses at Darmstadt, that hot bed of post-war, post-serial composition. Only recently has an earlier and very significant work come to light. Maderna’s Requiem was written after his release from Dachau, having being taken prisoner by the SS for his activities as an Italian partisan. “At that moment it was only possible to write a requiem and then to die,” he later said. By July 1946 he had accomplished the former and avoided the latter. The hour-long work for four vocal soloists, choir and orchestra was championed by American composer and critic Virgil Thomson but ultimately never performed in Maderna’s lifetime. Shortly after completing the work Maderna lost interest in his earlier style as he got more and more engaged with contemporary trends. The score ended up lost on a shelf in the New York State’s Purchase College Library and was only rediscovered and published in 2009.

04 Maderna RequiemCapriccio (C5231) has just released the world premiere recording of Requiem using a broadcast performance by Deutschlandradio Kultur from 2013 featuring the MDR-Rundfunkchor, Leipzig and the Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie directed by Frank Beermann. The vocal soloists are Diana Tomsche, Kathrin Göring, Bernhard Berchtold and Renatus Mészár. Composed in Maderna’s early 20s it shows obvious influences of the iconic works in the genre by Berlioz and Verdi, but more interesting to my ears are the shadows of Bartók, Hindemith and Stravinsky. The use of three pianos in the huge orchestral forces adds to the percussive effect and is also reminiscent of Carmina Burana which Carl Orff had composed a decade earlier. All of these influences aside, it is a strikingly original work and a great testament to the importance of this remarkable prodigy.

05 NYOCIf the CD set 2015 is any indication, under the direction of Michael Francis this year’s edition of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (nyoc.org) lived up to the very high reputation developed over its 55-year history. And it’s no wonder, considering the incredibly talented faculty which nurtures the finest young players drawn from across Canada. There are some 40 top-rank, performing musicians/teachers involved, many of whom hold principal positions in professional orchestras, including such luminaries as Marie Bérard (concertmaster Canadian Opera Company), Sarah Jeffrey (principal oboe Toronto Symphony), both alumni of NYO Canada, Stephen Sitarski (concertmaster Hamilton Philharmonic and Esprit Orchestra) and renowned chamber musicians like Mark Fewer and the Gryphon Trio to name just a few. Auditioned from 500 applicants, 90 to 100 musicians between the ages of 16 and 28 receive tuition-free instruction (plus a stipend) which includes a two-week chamber program, three to four weeks of orchestral training, plus a wealth of career development, repertoire analysis and injury prevention information. This is followed by a national or international tour – 2016 will see them perform in Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Montreal and Lisbon, Portugal – and a recording.

2015, recorded at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, includes two staples – I’m tempted to say stables since these are war horses – of the orchestral repertoire, Holst’s The Planets and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Both receive fully inspired and polished performances which bodes well for the health of orchestral institutions in Canada’s future. But more important, for the overall health of Canadian music, is the fact that the young musicians get to work with living composers who have crafted works especially for them. Emilie Cecilia LeBel (b.1979), whose position with the orchestra is funded jointly by RBC and the SOCAN Foundation, composed a very atmospheric work, monograph on bird’s eye views, giving them experience with music that is not melodically based but rather concerned with colours and textures. Alfredo Santa Ana (b.1980), commissioned with the assistance of the Canada Council, created Ocaso (dusk), a more traditional orchestral essay full of rich harmonies and dramatic turns. All in all, a very satisfying release.

06a ThorvaldsdottirIt was the realization of a lifelong dream to spend ten nearly night-less days in Iceland several summers ago, and so I was intrigued when two very different Icelandic projects came my way this past month. As with Emilie LeBel’s piece mentioned above, composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir created a very atmospheric work for ICE, the International Contemporary Ensemble which is active in both Chicago and New York. In the Light of Air (DSL-92192 sonoluminus.com) is an extended suite with evocative movement titles Luminance, Serenity, Existence and Remembrance which are connected by Transitions to form a seamless flow for the nearly 40-minute duration of the work. (Somewhat confusingly the CD also contains a piece entitled Transitions for cello and electronics which seems to be a separate work altogether.) Scored for viola, cello, harp, percussion and electronics, In the Light of Air gradually unfolds as we journey through unfamiliar sounds and textures, both instrumental, with many extended techniques, and electronic. There is a visceral low rumbling throughout much of the piece and although there are many “events” along the way, nothing ever really seems to happen. But this is not meant as a criticism. Much like the stark and seemingly barren landscape of Iceland, the closer you look the more you see, or in this case hear. There is wealth of detail for the patient listener.

06b MidgardThe other project is a vision of what the music of the Vikings – settlers of Iceland – might have sounded like. Midgard (BR8939 bigroundrecords.com), the latest release from Quebec’s medieval and world music band La Mandragore, “imagines the music of the Vikings had they had the time and leisure to notate it. Playing folk instruments from the Mediterranean and Scandinavian regions, and singing songs and tales in Swedish, Norwegian, Old Norse and French,” the ensemble presents what it calls “an authentic and eclectic collection of Viking-inspired music.” The title is the Norse word for Middle Earth and although I’m not convinced that this is what the music of that time and place would have sounded like, I must say I have enjoyed the conceit, and the music.

07 Erin Cooper GaySpeaking of eclectic, I’m not sure anything better suits that description than Black Market featuring Erin Cooper Gay and Contraband (erincoopergay.com). It is a stunning release on which Cooper Gay’s pure, crystalline soprano voice is featured in convincing renditions of Renaissance settings by John Dowland, José Marin, Tarquinio Merula and Claudio Monteverdi accompanied by period instruments, juxtaposed with clever arrangements by Drew Jurecka of contemporary songs by Jill Barber, Radiohead, Kishi Bashi and Punch Brothers. Somehow Cooper Gay and her cohorts – whose instruments range from harpsichord and lute and all manner of violin family instruments, French horn and clarinets, to qanun (Middle Eastern zither) and Juno (Roland synthesizer) – make what might have seemed like oil and water, into a very palatable mixture indeed. Compelling listening!

08 Panton Little ThingsThe next disc came in a couple of months ago, but I decided to save it for December as I felt it would make a perfect stocking stuffer for the little ones. I Believe in Little Things is the latest from jazz singer Diana Panton (dianapanton.com) who in this instance presents her own take on some great songs written for young people. The spare and gentle arrangements feature Reg Schwager on guitar, Don Thompson on bass, piano and vibes and some memorable cello solos by Coenraad Bloemendal. Sesame Street’s Joe Raposo is amply represented – although I’m sorry Bein’ Green is not found here – including the title track, Imagination, Sing and Everybody Sleeps among others. Another Sesame Street standard, The Rainbow Connection, and the Disney classic, When You Wish Upon a Star, are among the most familiar tunes and highlights for me. Panton’s own Sleep is a Precious Thing leads to Richard and Robert Sherman’s Hushabye Mountain with an extended cello intro. The disc concludes with Stephen Foster’s Slumber My Darling. A perfect good night!

09 Andre GagnonLast issue I talked about symphonic works with organ recorded in the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’s new home and mentioned that the current resident organist is Jean-Willy Kunz. This month I find him in another capacity as harpsichordist on André Gagnon Baroque (ATMA ACD2 2719). Gagnon, the popular Québec pianist and composer, wrote a couple of quasi-baroque suites for piano and orchestra – Mes quatre saisons and Les Turluteries – back in 1969 and 1972 respectively that were great successes when released by Columbia Records. Some four decades later Gagnon has revisited the clever works and given the solo duties to the harpsichord. Kunz shines in these playfully convincing pastiches and the Orchestre symphonique de la Vallée-du-Haut-Saint-Laurent under Daniel Constantineau’s direction embraces the project with enthusiasm. Although producing a larger sound than period orchestras, they capture the spirit of the music and play with surprising lightness.

The latter-day Four Seasons takes iconic music from Québec by Pierre Ferland, Félix Leclerc, Claude Léveillée and Gilles Vigneault – you guessed, Winter begins with the classic Mon Pays – all reworked à la Vivaldi. Les Turluteries takes inspiration from songs written or sung by Mary Travers – better known as La Bolduc – in two suites in the style of Bach and Handel. Tongue in cheek, or respectful homage – more likely a bit of both – the project comes off in flying colours. It really is a hoot!

10a Tafelmusik GermanOf course for the real thing it’s hard to beat Toronto’s own Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. They have just released two sampler CDs on Tafelmusik Media which combine recent recordings from Humbercrest United and the Banff Centre with previously released material from CBC Records. Best of German Baroque (TMK1028CD) is actually comprised only of music by JS Bach, but I guess it does indeed not get any better than that. We are presented with various instrumental movements in new arrangements by Alison Mackay along with the full Brandenburg Concerto No.3 with a new cadenza by Julia Wedman. Jeanne Lamon and Aisslinn Nosky are the featured soloists in movements from a sonata and a concerto for two violins, and Ivars Taurins lead the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir in the Gloria in Excelsis Deo BWV191

10b Tafelmusik French

Best of French Baroque (TMK 1029CD) takes a different approach, presenting suites by Marin Marais (from Alcyone), Rameau (Dardanus) and Lully (Phaëton). Once again the Chamber Choir is featured in an extended work, Grand Motet “Dominus regnavit” by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville. Great music, great performances, great sound – great stocking stuffers!

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website thewholenote.com where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

Author: David Olds
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