Ten days ago I thought I knew what I would write about in this month’s column, but so much has happened since then: the death of Leonard Cohen on the heels of the release of his final work You Want It Darker – darker indeed!; the change in the weather from beautiful, colourful days of unseasonably high temperatures to high winds, sub-zero thermometer readings, bare trees and the first sight of snow as I sit down to write this; and the last-minute arrival of a number of particularly interesting discs (most of which will have to wait until February).

01 MessiahIt is literally a case of “this just in” – couriered to me the afternoon before my deadline – with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s new recording Handel Messiah (Chandos CHSA 5176(2)), with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Erin Wall, Elizabeth DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea. TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis not only conducts but is responsible for the new arrangement for full modern orchestral forces. In his booklet notes, Davis tells us that this labour of love, dedicated to the memory of his parents, took ten months to prepare in advance of 2010 performances with the TSO. I first became aware of the mammoth scope of this version when Davis and the TSO revisited it for the 2015 Messiah performances last December. At that time I needed to hire a contrabassoonist for New Music Concerts’ “Portrait of Philippe Leroux” and approached Fraser Jackson, the TSO musician who is our usual go-to guy for contra. Fraser said that although Messiah doesn’t usually require quadruple winds and brass, for Davis’ version it was all hands on deck as full orchestral resources, and then some, are called for.

This recording was prepared from those live performances at Roy Thomson Hall last year so I knew not to expect a lean, historically informed approach and in fact was a little concerned about just how bombastic it would turn out to be. I am pleased to report that Davis achieves a nice balance between restraint in the accompaniment to the arias and larger forces in the choruses. Especially effective is the power of the Hallelujah Chorus toward the end of which Davis added sleigh bells “because this passage has always brought to my mind the picture of proudly rearing horses!” This is contrasted with the opening aria of Part Three where the soprano is accompanied only by clarinet and solo strings. The final chorus which begins in full voice is reined in for the “Amen” fugue which begins with organ accompaniment and gradually builds to a magnificent and triumphant finale that threatens to bring down the house.

Producer Blanton Alspaugh and the engineers of Soundmirror Inc. have done an impressive job of capturing the TSO and Mendelssohn Choir in glorious full spectrum sound. The vocal soloists are in top form, although I must say that personally I find soprano Wall’s wide vibrato a little hard to take – it’s simply not a taste I have acquired. A highlight for me is the alto aria “But who may abide…” and the bass’ “The people who walked….” Personal tastes aside, this new recording does the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and, indeed, Toronto itself proud.

Concert notes: There are some two dozen opportunities to hear full performances of Messiah listed elsewhere in these pages, plus a number of concerts featuring excerpts from the iconic work. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra promises a somewhat different approach this year with famed early music expert Nicholas McGegan at the helm. The TSO offers five performances with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and soloists Yulia Van Doren, Abigail Lewis, Isaiah Bell and Daniel Okulitch at Roy Thomson Hall December 18 (matinee), 19 through 21 and 23 at 8pm.

If there was any doubt that the flute is a going concern in our fair city, activities in the last six months have certainly laid that to rest. My association with Robert Aitken has given me an insider’s view of some of these, including New Music Concerts’ “Flutes Galore” last April with an orchestra of 24 members of the flute family – piccolo to contrabass – featuring (many of) this city’s finest players. This came just days after the Canadian Flute Association’s Latin American Flute Festival which had involved some of the same musicians along with international guests. Since then, Soundstreams’ “Magic Flutes” included Aitken and fellow Torontonian Leslie Newman, with international stars Marina Piccinini, Claire Chase and Patrick Gallois. This was followed by “Flute Day” at the University of Toronto with workshops, masterclasses and a flute choir concert with Aitken, Newman, Nora Shulman, Stephen Tam, Camille Watts and faculty students, and the following week Esprit Orchestra’s presentation of R. Murray Schafer’s Flute Concerto with Aitken as soloist. Interspersed with this has been a series of flute showcases, demonstrations and concerts by internationally renowned flutists sponsored by Long & McQuade, hosted by Gallery 345. And this is all just in the realm of the classical flute tradition. Bill McBurnie’s Extreme Flute, Jamie Thompson’s Junction Trio and Jane Bunnett’s myriad activities are just a few examples of how diverse the local flute scene is.

02 Sue HoeppnerOne of the other late arrival discs features another star in Toronto’s flute firmament, Susan Hoeppner. Following on their JUNO award-winning 2012 Marquis release American Flute Masterpieces, Hoeppner and pianist Lydia Wong have just released Canadian Flute Masterpieces, this time on the Centrediscs label (CMCCD 23116). The disc begins with Gary Kulesha’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, which is dedicated to Hoeppner who premiered it with the composer in 2014. The effective work is in three contrasting movements, a bright Allegro molto, a brooding Slowly, freely and the toccata-like Moderately fast finale. It is freely tonal but among the effects used are microtonal bending of notes, unpitched breath sounds and whistle tones in the flute line and small cluster chords in the piano part. This is followed by Michael Conway Baker’s moving Elegy in an arrangement for flute and piano.

As in many of Srul Irving Glick’s works, Sonata for Flute and Piano is a tuneful secular piece which incorporates a traditional Hebrew melody, in this case a chant for the Jewish New Year. Oskar Morawetz wrote his Sonata for Flute and Piano in 1980 for another towering figure in the flute world, Jeanne Baxtresser, who served as principal flute for both the Montreal and Toronto Symphony Orchestras before accepting the position of solo flutist with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Meta. Morawetz was a self-avowed traditionalist and this sonata is a good example of that with its charming melodic turns and the rhythmic intensity of its outer movements.

An arrangement for flute and piano of Larysa Kuzmenko’s Melancholy Waltz from Suite of Dances provides a haunting contrast to both the preceding track and the final work, Arctic Dreams I, by Christos Hatzis, written for Hoeppner and percussionist Beverley Johnston. Hatzis explains that Arctic Dreams is a palimpsest of sorts, a piece written overtop material that was originally recorded for Footprints in New Snow, the third movement of the radio documentary Voices of the Land, about the Inuit and their culture, created with CBC producer Keith Horner. The work’s soundtrack opens with Inuit throat singing and the Arctic landscape of the title is effectively superimposed with melodic flute and vibraphone textures.

I first met Hoeppner in my capacity as a concert recording producer at CJRT-FM and I can vouch for her dedication and concern that only first-rank performances be recorded for posterity. She and Wong have risen to the occasion on this project and both the performances and the production values of this Mazzoleni Hall recording are outstanding. While I might have called them Canadian “gems” rather than “masterpieces,” I have no qualms about recommending this fine recording.

Concert note: On December 12 at 5:30pm Susan Hoeppner launches Canadian Flute Masterpieces at the Canadian Music Centre.

Review

03 Papineau CoutureI grew up understanding that John Weinzweig was the “Dean of Canadian Composers” but in my formative years came to the realization that, as with so many things Canadian, there are Two Solitudes and that Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000) was “The Dean” in La Belle Province. He was born into one of the most distinguished Quebec families and his forebears include the statesman Louis-Joseph Papineau and the composer Guillaume Couture, who was his paternal grandfather. As a matter of fact Papineau-Couture was named in honour of his grandfather’s masterwork, the oratorio Jean le Précurseur, John the Baptist.

There are many parallels between the two “deans.” After studies at home in Toronto, Weinzweig went to the USA to study at the Eastman School and Papineau-Couture left his native Montreal to attend the New England Conservatory and later studied with the iconic Nadia Boulanger who spent the war years in America. Both moved back to Canada to establish careers as composers and university professors. They were founding members of the Canadian League of Composers (CLC) and the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) and enjoyed a friendly rivalry over the decades. I had the pleasure of meeting Papineau-Couture on several occasions and the privilege of interviewing him for my program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM in the 1980s. He was a charming man and a generous soul, a fierce champion of the rights of artists and staunch defender of serious culture. He was also an active administrator serving as the president of the CLC, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec and the Canadian Music Council, dean of the music faculty at the Université de Montréal and the director of the Montreal office of the CMC.

I was delighted when I heard that Quatuor Molinari was recording his complete music for string quartet along with the string trio Slanó (ATMA ACD2 2751). And even more delighted to find that in addition to the String Quartets 1 and 2 with which I was familiar, there was a third from 1996 and an incomplete fourth recently found among his papers. So we are effectively presented with works spanning nearly half a century and all the periods of his mature career. String Quartet No.1 dates from 1953 and shows the influence of French composers of the early 20th century. By the centennial year when he composed String Quartet No.2, although eschewing the serial school of composition, he was exploring an expanded tonality using all 12 tones. It is the string trio from 1975 that is the most experimental, with its elaborate use of extended techniques and layering of timbres. Quartet No.3 is a one-movement work which presents a sense of stylistic transition, moving away from the somewhat abrasive world of the string trio, embracing a certain lushness while at the same time approaching the sparse lyricism with which we are presented in the posthumous final work. Although unfinished, I must say that it does not give the impression of being incomplete.

This is a wonderful retrospective of one of our most important composers on the occasion of his centennial and it includes two world premiere recordings. Kudos to founding first violinist Olga Ranzenhofer and the members of the Molinari Quartet for their ongoing commitment to the music of our time through recordings of some of the most significant works of the last half century and their efforts to develop new repertoire with the Molinari International Composition Competition, the sixth of which took place in 2015. Praise is also due to the designers of the attractive and informative package which includes some wonderful photos of Papineau-Couture throughout his life, from an adolescent in a sailor suit through to the pensive, but ever-smiling, grand old man.

04 Cohen You Want It DarkerThis month we say goodbye to another grand old man and icon of the Canadian music scene, Leonard Cohen. Much like David Bowie’s final offering Black Star, Cohen’s You Want It Darker (Columbia/Sony) seems a precursor, with such lyrics as “I’m ready my Lord,” “I’m leaving the table; I’m out of the game” and “I’m traveling light, it’s au revoir” recurring throughout the nine-song release. Produced by Adam Cohen, the disc features lyrics by his father set to music co-written with Patrick Leonard, Sharon Robinson and Adam himself. There is an overall consistent feel, mostly mellow and melancholy with Cohen’s haunting sprechstimme vocals, but with occasional upbeat respites such as Steer Your Way, with rhythmic fiddling from David Davidson and background vocals by Dana Glover and Alison Kraus. The orchestration is quite varied, from the title track with drums, two B3 organs and keyboard, cantor Gideon Y. Zelermyer and the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, to a quintet of accompanists in Leaving the Table who play between them drums, bass, nylon-string guitar, guitar, mellotron, celeste, keys, piano, electric and pedal steel guitars. One very effective juxtaposition is Treaty – “I wish there was a treaty we could sign; It’s over now, the water and the wine; We were broken then, but now we’re borderline; I wish there was a treaty; I wish there was a treaty; Between your love and mine” – with the final track, which is a revisiting entitled String Reprise/Treaty. This features an extended string prelude by Patrick Leonard which is somewhat reminiscent of another contextual anomaly, producer Jack Nitzsche’s String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill on Neil Young’s eponymous album back in 1968.

On the credits page of the booklet, Cohen includes an extended tribute to his son, saying, in part “I want to acknowledge, with deep gratitude, the role my son Adam Cohen played in the making of You Want it Darker. Without his contribution there would be no record. At a certain point, after over a year of intense labour…the project was abandoned. Adam took over…and brought these unfinished songs to completion, preserving of course, many of Pat [Leonard]’s haunting musical themes. It is because of my son’s loving encouragement and skillful administration, that these songs exist in their present form. I cannot thank him enough.” We should all be thankful for this moving memento mori.

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


01 Weilerstein ShostakovichI don’t quite know where to begin. I can only imagine Bruce Surtees’ feelings over the past month as he approached the formidable task of assessing the 200 discs and wealth of literature in the Mozart 225 set. And then to realize that he also immersed himself in the complete symphonies and concertos of Shostakovich…the mind just boggles. But it did give me a good excuse to hold back a disc that I would normally have sent to him: Shostakovich – Cello Concertos 1 + 2 featuring Alisa Weilerstein and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Pablo Heras-Casado (Decca 483 0835). “A young cellist whose emotionally resonant performances of both traditional and contemporary music have earned her international recognition…Weilerstein is a consummate performer, combining technical precision with impassioned musicianship.” So stated the MacArthur Foundation when awarding Weilerstein a 2011 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship.

With four previous Decca titles (ranging from solo suites by Kodály and Golijov to concertos of Dvořák, Elgar and Carter) and a host of collaborative recordings to her credit, Weilerstein maintains the high bar she has set for herself by tackling two of the most iconic works in the 20th-century canon. It must have been a daunting undertaking, especially considering that both concertos were written for that towering figure Mstislav Rostropovich. However, as was the case of the Carter concerto where she had the privilege of working with the 103-year-old composer prior to her recording, we are told in the liner notes that Weilerstein had the opportunity to gain some firsthand knowledge from the dedicatee. “I played the First for Rostropovich when I was 22. He was a titanic presence, sitting very close, his feet almost touching mine. I played the entire concerto for him without stopping. He then gave me a piece of advice that I will never forget: he said that the emotions that the performer conveys while playing Shostakovich’s music should never be ‘direct’ or ‘heart on sleeve’ in a Romantic sense. That is not to say that the music is unemotional, but rather that it presents a unique challenge to the performer, who must convey a kind of duality – conveying intense emotion that has somehow to be concealed at the same time.” Now, a dozen years later, I would say that Weilerstein has accomplished just that.

Of course this new release drove me back to my archives to find the recordings I cut my teeth on, Rostropovich with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (No.1) and with Ozawa and the Boston Symphony (No.2) – thank goodness my vinyl collection is still intact – and I was struck by two things. First was just how good the DG LP with Ozawa recorded in 1967 still sounded (clicks and pops notwithstanding) – especially the explosive power of the big bass drum punctuating the extended cello cadenza of the opening Largo and the clarity of the contrabassoon lines. The second was how well Weilerstein’s performances stood up to the comparison. In my mind’s ear Rostropovich had a god-like power and intensity beside which I thought any mere mortal would pale. But Weilerstein’s command of her instrument, and her understanding of the music as detailed in her insightful comments in the notes, prove her more than equal to the task. (Of course I will not be trading in my vinyl anytime soon.)

The recordings took place in the Herkulessaal in Munich in September 2015 and are both impeccable. The First was captured in a closed session under studio conditions while the Second was recorded during a concert later the same week. Try as I might I can’t hear any evidence of the audience, but there is certainly the dynamic sense of excitement of a live performance. I’m very happy to add this new offering to my collection.

02 Roma AeternaThe next disc provided a very different listening experience. Roma Aeterna – Rome the Eternal City – features the outstanding vocal quartet New York Polyphony in works by Palestrina and Victoria (BIS 2203 SACD). The first thing that struck me was the gorgeous acoustic space of the recording, gloriously captured by engineer Jens Braun in Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral in August 2015. The core members of the group – Geoffrey Williams, countertenor; Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor; Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone; and Craig Phillips, bass – are joined by countertenor Tim Keeler, tenor Andrew Fuchs and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody as required by the repertoire which ranges from four to six voice settings. But it is hard to realize that all this glorious sound is emanating from such small ensembles. The one voice per part does assure clarity however, complemented by precise diction and impeccable intonation.

Part of this clarity is actually built into the compositions. In Ivan Moody’s excellent program notes we are told that Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli for six voices was for a time thought to have been written around 1565 in response to the injunctions of the Council of Trent (1562), which stipulated that music must allow the texts of the Mass and Offices to be heard as clearly as possible. This mass was even believed by some – Agostino Agazzari is cited – as having single-handedly saved ecclesiastical polyphony from being banned in the wake of the changes brought about by the Counter-Reformation. The notes go on to say however that it may have been composed as early as 1555, independent of the edicts, to celebrate the election of Pope Marcellus II. Be that as it may, Missa Papae Marcelli does exemplify the concerns of the Council of Trent in its simplicity and beauty, which have kept it in the repertoire for nearly five centuries. In this presentation it is sung with plainchant Propers for Easter Day interspersed.

The other major work on the disc is Missa O Quam Gloriosum for four voices by Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria who succeeded Palestrina as chapel master at the Roman Seminary in 1571. He was ordained in 1575 and enjoyed a very successful career in Rome until returning to Spain as chaplain to the dowager Empress Maria in 1587. The mass presented here is one of 15 “parody Masses” he wrote, this one based on his own joyful All Saints’ Day motet O Quam Gloriosum. Rather than plainchant, in this performance the motets Gaudent in coelis by Victoria and by Palestrina are interspersed between the movements of the mass.

The disc opens with one of the four Marian antiphons, the brief Regina Caeli in a setting for four voices by Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) that beautifully sets the stage for what is to come. The two main works are separated by Palestrina’s six-voice Tu es Petrus (You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church…) and the recital ends with his quiet Sicut cervus, a psalm text describing the soul’s yearning for God.

Concert Note: New York Polyphony will present its Christmas program “Sing Thee Nowell” in a matinee for Fondation Arte Musica in Montreal on December 4 at Salle de concert Bourgie.

03 Robert DickOne of the most intriguing discs to come my way this month is a solo project from flutist Robert Dick. Many of you may have been curious about that bizarrely shaped instrument pictured in the hands of Claire Chase on the cover of October’s The WholeNote. The contrabass flute, about four metres of tubing bent into something resembling the number four, stands on the floor with its vertical shaft towering above the flutist’s head before bending in a triangle with a horizontal extension that includes an oversized mouthpiece. If you didn’t get to Chase’s “Density 2035” last month and want to hear just what this “gentle giant” is capable of, I suggest you pick up Dick’s Our Cells Knowon John Zorn’s Tzadik label (TZ 4015 tzadik.com). The disc is a series of six improvisations that really explore and exploit the surprising sound world of this distinctive instrument.

Dick is a virtuoso performer on all the members of the flute family, known for his interest in contemporary forms and his encyclopedic knowledge and command of extended performance techniques, many of which he himself developed and has documented in his book The Other Flute: A Performance Manual of Contemporary Techniques. At Zorn’s suggestion this disc focuses solely on the contrabass flute. At first listen it was often hard to realize that the myriad percussive sounds were actually being produced on a flute. As with John Cage’s prepared piano, which turned that familiar instrument into a percussion orchestra, we are presented with sounds that just don’t seem to come from the instrument we are seeing. Thanks to the resonant properties of the contrabass – it looks to be about four times the diameter of a regular flute – the physical sounds of the instrument itself are amplified as if under a microscope. From the opening notes of Mitochondrial Ballet I found myself disoriented, wondering how this “electronic” music was being produced acoustically. The multiphonics sounding simultaneously with an underlying rhythm track provided by the sound of the fingers on the keys, all sustained by Dick’s circular breathing, is almost surreal.

The six tracks, averaging about eight minutes each, all focus on different aspects of the instrument or playing techniques. Aura Aurora is primarily melodic, weaving harmonic overtones with some truly beautiful pure low tones. Afterimage, Before for Ginger Baker, as you might expect, is reminiscent of the iconic drummer’s extended solos achieved here almost entirely with fingers tapping on the instrument’s keys and breath sounds that somehow resemble cymbal strikes and tom-tom beats. Efflorescence returns to the lowest register of the instrument in a very calm, melodic treatment which eventually leads to eerie whistling and humming in counterpoint with the low resonance. On the Restless Seas of Time combines percussive finger work with a variety of breath techniques and flutterings. The title track, a memorial to Dick’s friend Stephanie Stone, closes the disc in an extended meditative state.

While I feared that an entire disc of solo contrabass flute might prove to be a bit “much of a muchness,” I must say that Dick kept my attention throughout his journey and I have found myself returning to the disc time and again over the past few weeks.

04 AlixLike everyone I suppose, I am always gratified to find out that someone is actually reading these things I write and even paying attention. I received a note from Alex Rodger (alex.rodger@yahoo.ca) recently saying that he remembered I mentioned in passing some months ago that I played 12-string guitar and he thought I might be interested to hear his own creations for that instrument. He included a disc of his “Greatest Hits” titled Alix – 12-String Guitar Dream Series, solo instrumental pieces couched in the lush resonance of his Takemine guitar. Rhythmic and modal, his playing, as he himself points out, is reminiscent of the guitarists of those iconic 70s bands Yes and Genesis. Using a combination of strumming and clever fingerpicking, the Dreams are mostly a wash of harmony with some subtle internal melodies, all quite accomplished. Thanks for sending them along, Alex.

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 


My first exposure to local mandolin maestro Andrew Collins was through my activities here at The WholeNote – discs by his groups the Foggy Hogtown Boys and Creaking Tree String Quartet. But it was through New Music Concerts that I first had the pleasure of meeting him in 2008. We had been asked to mount a performance of Chris Paul Harman’s Postludio a rovescio for the presentation of the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, and the piece called for mixed ensemble, including both guitar and mandolin. Although we already had an excellent guitarist lined up for the concert, it proved to be quite a challenge to find a mandolin player well-versed in the contemporary techniques and notational complexities of Harman’s score. On a recommendation from trumpeter Stuart Laughton, who had taken mandolin lessons from him, we approached Collins. A very accomplished musician in his own field – bluegrass and any number of roots-based musics – the world of hardcore contemporary composition was definitely outside his comfort zone. But what a trooper! Throughout the rehearsal process, he worked tirelessly and rose admirably to the challenge, to everyone’s satisfaction including his own.

01 Andrew CollinsI don’t know if that experience sparked an interest in composition per se, but on his latest project, The Andrew Collins Trio – And It Was Good (andrewcollinstrio.com), we are presented with an eight-part suite by Collins depicting a secular version of the Biblical creation story. The work is scored for the multi-instrumentalists of the trio itself – Collins on mandolin, mandola, mandocello and fiddle, Mike Mezzatesta, mandolin, guitar and fiddle, and James McEleney, double bass and mandocello – plus a traditional string quartet formation provided by the Phantasmagoria String Quartet (John Showman, Trent Freeman, Ben Plotnick and Eric Wright). The suite opens ethereally with Light from the Darkness, gradually moving from plucked harmonics to busy mandolin passages over static colours in the quartet, and then on to a gently lilting melody over shifting, cloudlike accompaniment. Firmaments features high mandolin lines soaring above ostinati from the bass and guitar. The quartet returns in Seed of Its Own Kind accompanying an arpeggiated contrapuntal melody from two mandolins. The suite proceeds through Stars, Sun and Moon, Fish and Fowl (featuring a fiddle duet with quartet accompaniment) and Everything That Creeps (with a pizzicato double stop opening from the bass) before coming to Rest, described as an “open, slow, ballad.” The seven-day creation story does not end there however and, with the eighth track, And It Was Good, culminates in an upbeat, bluegrass celebration with a good time had by all, especially me.

This just in: The Andrew Collins Trio is one of five ensembles nominated in the Instrumental Group of the Year category at the Canadian Folk Music Awards for And It Was Good.

Concert note: The Andrew Collins Trio launches And It Was Good at Hugh’s Room on Friday October 21. I know where I will be that night!

02 Dutilleux 3With Dutilleux – Sur le même accord; Les citations; Mystère de l’instant; Timbres, espace, mouvement (SSM1012 seattlesymphony.org), Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony complete the third volume in a survey of orchestral works in a centennial tribute to Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013). Sur le même accord – on the same chord – was written at the request of Anne-Sophie Mutter and first performed in 2002. Described as a nocturne for violin and orchestra, it is in one movement and begins with a statement of the six-note phrase that dominates the work played pizzicato by the soloist accompanied by dark timpani strokes. Although the colour remains dark throughout its ten-minute duration, there are moments of busy excitement with shrill violin glissandi. The young Italian violinist Augustin Hadelich, who has made his home in New York City for the past dozen years, shines as the soloist.

Dutilleux was not a prolific composer, working slowly and meticulously, with less than a dozen orchestral works, four chamber pieces and a smattering of piano works and songs in his oeuvre. Les citations for oboe, harpsichord, contrabass and percussion had a long gestation. Originally a one-movement work that did not include the bass, it was composed for the Aldeburgh Festival in 1985 and uses an extended quotation – citation – from festival founder Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. Dutilleux added a second movement in 1991 at which point the bass was incorporated – reminding us of an early music continuo – as were quotes from French composers Janequin (1485-1558) and Jehan Alain (1911-1940), two Renaissance composers. Whereas the first movement begins with an extended mournful oboe melody, the second opens with a virtuosic harpsichord solo. Dutilleux returned to the work two decades later to make a final version just three years before his death in 2013.

Swiss conductor Paul Sacher commissioned some of the most significant works of the 20th century including pieces by Stravinsky, Martinů, Elliott Carter and significantly Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. One of the last works that Sacher commissioned was Dutilleux’s Mystère de l’instant, which in tribute to Bartók is scored for strings, percussion and the Hungarian cimbalom. The one-movement work is in ten connected sections, the penultimate of which is Metamorphosis (sur le nom SACHER) thus providing a double tribute.

The disc ends with the earliest composition on offer, Timbres, espace, mouvement (ou “La nuit étoilée”) from 1977, inspired by van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night. Drawing on the full orchestral palette in the first and third movements – Nébuleuse and Constellations – the intervening Interlude begins in the growly depths of the contrabass section and only gradually ascends into the firmament.

Concert note: “Henri Dutilleux – A Portrait from the Piano” presents another side of this iconic French composer performed by Katherine Dowling at Gallery 345 on October 28.

03 Weathered StoneThe weathered stone (ER26 ergodos.ie) is a mostly meditative suite by Irish composer Benedict Schlepper-Connolly. Its gentle, pointillist minimalism is something like the music of Morton Feldman or perhaps Linda Catlin Smith, but in double time. The overall sensibility and careful placement of notes is familiar but in this case there is a repetitive trance-like effect that gives the impression of very slow development while the notes are actually moving quite quickly. The press release describes it aptly as a “many-hued musical statement that is at once minimal and teeming with matter.” It is said to be “inspired by the secret histories of landscapes, old maps and memory” and it is certainly filled with a haunting beauty. The eponymous extended first movement is scored for piano, violin and cello, although quite a bit of time passes before we become aware of the cello in the texture, which is dominated by slow-yet-ebullient piano and sparse violin repeating a two-note theme. As it develops over its 20-minute duration, roles are reversed with the rolling strings punctuated by gentle but persistent piano interpolations which in turn are replaced by placid clouds of sound from all three. There is eventually a percussive pizzicato section, but this soon passes back into a calm arpeggiated progression cleverly passed between the three musicians.

The second movement, A View from Above, features the Robinson Panoramic Quartet – one each of violin, viola, cello and bass – and opens with an extended pizzicato introduction which eventually gives way to a rollicking, wave-like arco barcarolle. This is gradually replaced by sparse solo melodies replete with harmonics in the high strings which continue to the piece’s end. Beekeepers is a gentle – that word keeps coming up throughout this journey – song featuring the soft and vulnerable voice of the composer. The instrumentation includes Saskia Lankhoorn’s piano, chalumeau – a rarely heard precursor of the clarinet played by Seán Mac Erlaine – and the quartet, which in this instance creates a texture reminiscent of a harmonium drone.

Schlepper-Connolly is (barely) heard on synthesizer in the last track, Field, on which piano and quartet return while Mac Erlaine switches to bass clarinet. While this closer does build to mezzo-forte with a brief dance interlude, the overall feel of the track, and the suite, is gentle (again!) beauty spun gracefully over its 45-minute development. A wonderful experience for anyone in a quiet mood.

04 Teresa SuenAnother disc perfect for a quiet mood is Teresa Suen’s debut CD Longing (teresasuen.com). Suen has the distinction of being the first Chinese harpist to obtain a Doctor of Music degree, which she acquired after studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois with Elizabeth Cifani. The Hong Kong-born harpist has recently made Toronto her home after a three-year appointment at Carleton University in Ottawa. Longing was recorded in 2010 and features turn-of-the- and mid-20th-century works for solo harp. While the music is more or less modern – including works by Paul Hindemith and John Cage – it is surprising how mellow the overall feel of the disc is. It begins and ends with Préludes intimes by the important pioneer of harp technique and development, Carlos Salzedo. The subtitles tenderly emoted and profoundly peaceful are apt descriptions, but his Chanson dans la nuit includes a variety of moods.

Hindemith, in his quest to write “music for use,” composed solo sonatas for every instrument. The Sonata for Harp was written in 1939 in Switzerland just before he emigrated to America. The three-movement work is inherently melodic with moments of playfulness and exuberance, although its finale is moody and slow. Cage’s In a Landscape is the most recent work on the disc, dating from 1948. Originally a piano piece, it is often played by harpists, its slow and mournful arpeggios being well-suited to the instrument. Other works included are by Saint-Saëns, Pierné and Granados. Suen has chosen a well-balanced program focusing on calmness and warmth, beautifully played. She will be a welcome addition to the local music scene.

Concert note: Toronto’s reigning harp diva Judy Loman is celebrated on October 30 in “Mazzoleni Masters: Judy Loman 80th Birthday Celebration,” where she will perform works by Salzedo among others, at Mazzoleni Hall. The concert celebrates her illustrious career and the launch of Ariadne’s Legacy, the complete works for harp by R. Murray Schafer which is being released on the Centrediscs label and will soon be reviewed in these pages.

And just couple of quick jazz notes lest you think I have joined the Lotus-eaters and spent the last month in a state of mellow musical bliss…

05 St LaurentGuitarist Eric St-Laurent and his quartet will launch Planet (ericst-laurent.com) at Hugh’s Room on October 6. This jazz/funk offering features Jordan O’Connor on bass, Attila Fias on piano and the Latin-nuanced percussion of Michel DeQuevedo in a set of five St-Laurent originals and intriguing arrangements of Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee, Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe and in a moment of relaxation, the second movement theme from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.8 convincingly rendered on acoustic guitar with double bass in unison. The driving rhythms and clever interactions of the quartet were just the wake-up call I needed after my extended immersion in the discs mentioned above.

06 Andrew McAnshAfter a busy summer in Toronto, trumpeter and flugelhornist Andrew McAnsh has returned to his studies at the Berklee School in Boston. Although there are no local performances on the immediate horizon, McAnsh has left us with Illustrations (andrewmcansh.bandcamp.com) on which he is joined by Jeff Larochelle (tenor sax), PJ Andersson (trombone), Geoff Young (guitar), Wes Allen and Soren Nissen (bass), Chris Pruden (piano) and Ian Wright (drums). Wordless vocals by Mjaa Danielson and Mara Nesrallah (who also provides compelling narration on Confabulation) in unison with horn lines add to a very intriguing big band texture. All the tracks were composed by McAnsh with the exception of the opening Utopia Suite which was co-written with the trombonist. Of particular note are McAnsh’s arrangements which convey the impression of a large brass section using only three horns. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to hear him live again next summer.

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 


01a Music LiteratureI have mentioned before that one of my great joys is when my two passions, music and literature, come together. The most recent example of this was occasioned by an email from someone I consider an old friend even though I only met him in person a year and a half ago. I’m speaking of music critic, librettist and novelist Paul Griffiths, who dropped me a modest note mentioning that the latest edition of the journal Music & Literature (No.7, ISBN 978-0-9888799-6-6) had devoted more than a 100 pages to his creative writings. I began reading Griffiths on contemporary music some 40 years ago when I was first getting interested in “the music of our time” and found in him a welcome guiding hand through the oft-times murky waters of modern and post-modern fare. Some years later I encountered his novels Myself and Marco Polo and The Lay of Sir Tristram and was intrigued by how well he captured the voice and the spirit of distant times in a contemporary way. I was aware of his collaboration with Elliott Carter as the librettist of that American icon’s one-act comic opera What Next? in 1999 and most recently that his novel let me tell you had been the source of the text for Hans Abrahamsen’s orchestral song cycle of the same name. It was this latter work which brought about our meeting.

In March 2015 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra brought Abrahamsen, Griffiths and soprano Barbara Hannigan, who had been instrumental in commissioning the work, to participate in the New Creations Festival. During his time here, Griffiths gave a lecture at the University of Toronto and graciously agreed to participate in “An Evening with Paul Griffiths,” a fundraising event at Gallery 345 to benefit New Music Concerts, at which portions of Carter’s opera were screened. It was through my position as general manager of New Music Concerts that I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Paul and his wife Anne West Griffiths. Anne is one of the contributors to Music & Literature No.7 in the form of a series of email exchanges with Hannigan documenting the gestation of the let me tell you project. It grew from the idea of a set of songs with piano accompaniment to commemorate Griffiths’ 64th birthday, to ultimately become a half-hour-long orchestral cycle commissioned jointly by the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation and the Danish Arts Fund. The journal also includes a number of articles about that work and the texts for the three movements which Griffiths extracted from his novel.

01b Let me tell youThe premise of the book, and the songs, is the telling of Ophelia’s backstory in her own words, using only the 483-word vocabulary which Shakespeare gives her in Hamlet. It is a sparkling achievement, but more to the point, it is moving, poetic and compelling, as I was reminded when I re-read let me tell you (ISBN: 978-1-874400-43-1) upon finishing the journal. Having been at the Toronto performance I can vouch for the haunting beauty of Abrahamsen’s lush setting and I was pleased to find that there is a recording with Hannigan and the Bavarian RSO under Andris Nelsons which I have ordered from Amazon (I could not find a local source). I had hoped it would have been delivered by the time of writing this article but for now I must content myself with a YouTube excerpt from the Berlin Philharmonic. (The whole concert is available on their Digital Concert Hall.)

The scope of Music & Literature No.7 is much broader than this one work however, with several of Griffiths’ unpublished fictions and writings about such musical subjects as Bach’s solo violin pieces, in memoriam György Ligeti, Hearing György Kurtág reading Samuel Beckett and a (thus far) unproduced opera based on Gulliver’s Travels utilizing invented languages, with composer James Wood. As is the usual format of the Music & Literature series, there are three subjects included in this volume, with extensive treatments of British avant-garde novelist Ann Quin (1936-1973) and Russian composer/pianist/poet/artist Lera Auerbach (b.1973). Well worth exploring!

Other old friends I re-visited this summer were more in the folky vein. Allan Fraser and Daisy DeBolt were a duo of adventurous singer-songwriters who performed together from 1969 until 1974 and produced two albums which were very influential in my formative years. Evidently I was far from the only one impacted by their quirky style and Fraser’s Them Dance Hall Girls has become something of a cult classic still frequently heard from myriad performers on folk festival stages around the continent. 

02 Fraser and DeboltDeBolt died in 2011 and over the past five years Fraser has been compiling and cleaning up the available archival material from their time together. The result is the double LP set Fraser & DeBolt – This Song Was Borne (Roaratorio roar39 roaratorio.com) which includes 19 previously unreleased original songs and a cover of Bob Dylan’s I Threw It All Away. The collection is a mix of studio recordings, live performances and radio broadcasts and the audio quality is varied but generally quite presentable. Although perhaps of most interest to existing fans of the duo, this new release paints an intriguing picture of a seminal time in the development of the Canadian folk scene. Their music included strange transitions and surprising chord progressions, atonal interludes – especially those featuring violinist Ian Guenther – and strident harmonies combined with sweet melodies and country rhythms. Highlights for me, and recently added to my own repertoire, are The Snowdrift Song and Dandelion Wine – with Calypso Joe and Doors Will Appear (…And Swing Open) soon to be added.

03 Theodore BikelThe final old friend who “stopped by” this summer was singer/actor/storyteller Theodore Bikel (1924-2015). He feels like family because Bikel is one of my mom’s favourites and I grew up listening to his albums. It nearly broke her heart when she was unable to get tickets to a tribute show in conjunction with the Jewish Film Festival earlier this year. While I’m Here (Red House Records RHR CD 286 redhouserecords.com) is a marvellous 2-CD set which is being released in conjunction with the Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront where there will be two events honouring Bikel on September 4 (ashkenaz.ca). Disc One features a surprisingly strong-voiced 90-year-old Bikel telling stories of his life’s journey from pre-war Austria to Palestine, England and ultimately the U.S.A.; warm and funny and serious and inspiring all at the same time. Disc Two is a compilation of live performances in several languages, often with witty introductions, and studio recordings spanning four decades. The highlight for me is Come Away, Melinda (Before the War), the song for which my youngest sister was named. Also worthy of note is Phil Ochs’ poignant anthem When I’m Gone and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Edelweiss which they penned especially for Bikel and the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music with Mary Martin. This is a set my mother (and I) will treasure.

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 


Material for this month’s column began with an email in early April from a young man in Hawaii saying he was sending me copies of two CDs featuring his music for baritone ukulele. I don’t think I ever responded to the email, but my curiosity was whetted – I was not familiar with the baritone member of that instrumental family – and when the discs arrived I was pleased to find them both interesting. The young man’s name is Ryan Choi (ryanckchoi.com) and the two discs present different sides of his compositional activity.

01a Choi WhenmillThe first, Whenmill (Off ODG049 off-recordlabel.blogspot.ca), presents four pieces for solo baritone ukulele in a fairly traditional contemporary classical guitar idiom. The rich tones of the instrument and the way Choi makes full contrapuntal use of its limited range makes it easy to forget that he is dealing with two fewer strings than on a guitar. Set 1 is comprised of three pieces, Quixano and Inn Blue, both from 2012, and Whenmill, composed the following year. I wish there were some program notes for the pieces, but even web searches turn up little information. The opening piece’s title, also the honorific of “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” makes me wonder if Inn Blue refers to the Don’s infamous adventure at a country inn and whether Whenmill, a word I cannot find mention of except in connection with Choi, has something to with tilting at windmills…but that is mere speculation on my part. Regardless of intent or inspiration, the “set” is a satisfying and intriguing exploration of the potential of this lesser-known instrument. At 12 minutes, the final track, South Aleksandr, composed in 2011, is longer than the other three combined and its virtuosic flamenco-like passages showcase Choi’s considerable abilities.

Review

RyanChoi IMAGE Three DancersChoi’s other disc Three Dancers (Accretions ALP-060 accretions.com) is quite a different offering including works for “prepared” baritone ukulele, percussion and electronics, all performed by the composer. The title of the 20-minute EP, again about 20 minutes in all (and of the third track,) refers to Picasso’s painting Les Trois Danseuses and the cover art is a line drawing by Choi. The brief opening track Preparations I and IV is percussive in its approach, seemingly achieved with preparations on the ukulele similar to those which John Cage developed for piano, rather than through the use of traditional percussion instruments. It is very rhythmic and pointillistic, but relatively tame compared to the dynamic second track, Apollon at Eros, which combines hand drumming and stilted string plucking which jumps erratically, although not randomly, around the fret board. The electronic treatments are subtly present in Three Dancers, with, as far as I can tell, textures produced by reversing recorded sounds which actually seem almost as if they could be created live in real time by this accomplished player. These two releases present a remarkable portrait of an instrument not previously known for its art music potential, and of an adventurous new voice on the contemporary scene.

02 William BeauvaisI was pleased, but not surprised, by the beautiful sounds on Old Wood – New Seeds, the latest from Toronto classical guitarist/composer William Beauvais (musiccentre.ca/node/138158). The disc opens with the suite, Appalachian Colours – Gold; Red; Green; Blue, evidently inspired not by Copland’s Appalachian Spring, but rather by that iconic American composer’s orchestral suite Rodeo. From the contemplative opening movement through the lilting second and the lullaby-like third, our attention is held by the lush colours Beauvais draws from his instrument. The gently ebullient final movement, glistening like sunlight off the surface of a rippling lake, held me wrapped in its thrall from start to finish nearly seven minutes later.

Shakespeare has arguably provided inspiration for more composers than any other literary figure throughout history. Beauvais has followed this time-honoured path with a pair of works, Fallstaffe’s Lament and Fallstaffe’s Charade, the first being a suitably mournful theme and variations and the second in the form of an English jig. No explanation is given for the aberrant spelling of the character’s name (nor for a different spelling, one “l” but still the “e,” in the program note), perhaps just to evoke the Elizabethan era before spellings were standardized. Certainly the music does so effectively. We’ll return to Shakespeare later in this column but Beauvais next takes us to Eastern Europe in The Ancient Waters suite which uses two Bulgarian songs and a rhythmic Balkan folk dance.

Beauvais incorporates Renaissance-style “divisions” in the warm and luscious Open Moonflower which is paired with the cascading Shoveling Clouds. Carré St. Anne, the final track on this very satisfying disc, begins quietly but gradually builds to a driving conclusion based on a Brazilian dance form. Throughout, the recorded sound is rich, but natural, and surprisingly free of extraneous finger and string noise.

Review

03 Pete SeegerOne thing I did not mention in the Beauvais review was that several of the tracks put me in mind of the Paul Winter Consort and how classical guitarist Ralph Towner was integrated into the fabric of that seminal crossover band in the 1970s. I mention this now because another package that found my attention this past month was a reissue of the 1996 CD Pete (LMUS 0032) along with the DVD Living Music Festival 1982 (LMU-45) featuring Pete Seeger and the Paul Winter Consort, on Winter’s Living Music label (paulwinter.com). Released 20 years ago when Seeger was 77, PetePete Seeger and Friends brings together Joanie Madden (pennywhistle), Howard Levy (harmonica), Paul Winter (soprano sax), Paul Preston (banjo, mandolin) and three different choirs, Gaudeamus, the Union Baptist Church Singers and the Cathedral Singers, in 18 songs showing the breadth of Seeger’s interest and experience. From straightforward folk songs like Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, through protest, pro-environment and pro-humanity offerings, Garbage, To My Old Brown Earth and My Rainbow Race, and to storytelling, Huddie Ledbetter Was a Hell of a Man, and traditional songs like The Water is Wide, we are presented with many facets of one of the most influential folk singers of the 20th century, someone who brought so many people together over the course of a career that spanned almost eight decades.

The DVD is a bit of a time capsule. Recorded at the Living Music Festival in 1982 when Seeger was a sprightly 63, the footage never saw the light of day until after his death in 2014 when Paul Winter sought out filmmaker Phil Garvin who fortunately still had the raw footage. The festival, organized by Winter in the Lichtfield Hills of northwest Connecticut, featured the Paul Winter Consort in selections from their album Common Ground, singer Susan Osborn and the Brazilian Pe de Boi Samba Band. Seeger performs an extended solo set singing in English, Yiddish, French and Spanish, accompanying himself on banjo, 12-string guitar and block flute. He also collaborates with the other performers and as you would expect there is lots of audience participation. It is vintage Seeger and a wonderfully nostalgic look at peace festivals of days gone by. There are bonus tracks recorded at the “Pete-nic” at Winter’s farm in 1997 and a five minute solo performance by Seeger for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society in 2005 on the 40th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” Pettus Bridge March in Selma, Alabama. Although his voice had almost disappeared by that time, his energy and conviction had not flagged. It is a moving performance.

The CD/DVD set was supported by Music for the Earth, a non-profit foundation dedicated to “exploring ways that music can be used to enrich the lives of human beings and awaken a spirit of involvement in the preservation of wildlife and the natural environment of the Earth” – things to which Pete Seeger devoted his life and his art.

04 Chaim TannenbaumChaim Tannenbaum is another who has been involved in the folk music scene for more than half a century, albeit in a peripheral role. Peripheral that is if you’re not part of the Wainwright/McGarrigle musical dynasty. The erstwhile professor of the philosophy of mathematics and logic has been an integral part of that extended family throughout the decades, managing to stay as friend and collaborator with both Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle in spite of their breakup, frequently performing with Wainwright and with Kate and Anna McGarrigle and mentoring Loudon and Kate’s precocious offspring Rufus and Martha. Tannenbaum is a multi-instrumentalist with a distinctive voice who can be heard on many of the recordings of this family compact; his production credits include the album Therapy which marked Wainwright’s return to recording after a three-year hiatus in 1989.


Evidently happy in the shadows, it took much persuasion from Tannenbaum’s friends to embark on this voyage to centre stage. His belated debut album includes a number of traditional pieces – Coal Man Blues, Moonshiner, Mama’s Angel Child – and the gospel song Farther Along and Harburg/Rose/Arlen’s It’s Only a Paper Moon. But it’s not all old-timey fare and Tannenbaum turns out to be a fine storytelling songwriter too – the CD opens out to a double panel with four paragraphs of prose I initially took to be a memoir, but which turn out to be the lyrics for his song Brooklyn 1955. The booklet includes extended encomiums by Wainwright (heard in harmony vocals on several tracks) and by record producer (not this record) Joe Boyd. Chaim Tannenbaum was produced by Dick Connette and released on StorySound Records (storysoundrecords.com). This disc is not just for aficionados of the Wainwright-McGarrigles, but it will be of particular interest to them. Highly recommended.

Concert note: Chaim Tannenbaum launches his eponymous CD at Toronto’s Tranzac Club on Sunday June 12.

Review

05 Rufus Wainwright

I told you that Shakespeare would reappear later and here he comes. April 23, 1616 is the assumed date of the death of the Bard and to mark the 400th anniversary Deutsche Grammophon has released Take All My Loves (4795508), a setting of nine Shakespeare Sonnets by the above-mentioned scion of the Wainwright-McGarrigle dynasty, Rufus Wainwright. It is an eclectic offering, further exploring the singer-songwriter’s interest in blending the worlds of pop and high-art culture. There are readings by Siân Phillips, Frally Hynes, Peter Eyre, Carrie Fisher, William Shatner and Inge Keller, while the vocals are primarily shared by Austrian soprano Anna Prohaska and Wainwright himself, with the participation of Florence Welsh, Martha Wainwright, Fiora Cutler, Christopher Nell and Jürgen Holtz.

The project grew out of an invitation from director Robert Wilson back in 2009 – the 400th anniversary of the publication of the sonnets – to set some of them for a production of the Berliner Ensemble, a theatre company founded by Bertold Brecht in 1949. Although Wainwright’s interest in the poems dates back to his youth when he was encouraged to read them by his mother, they have been of ongoing interest in recent years. Following the cabaret style production in Berlin replete with garish costumes, the San Francisco Symphony commissioned Wainwright to orchestrate five of the sonnets for the concert hall, three of which appeared on his 2010 album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.

The current production is kind of a mixed bag, with lush full orchestral accompaniments featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra, smaller settings with the Berlin String Section and a number of tracks with pop band instrumentation. All of the sung sonnets are introduced by a dramatic reading of the text, with the exception of Wainwright’s performance of Take All My Loves (Sonnet 40) which incorporates Marius de Vries’ recitation into the body of the song. Prohaska’s voice, celebrated across a repertoire that spans three centuries, is a highlight, especially in the gentle A Woman’s Face (Sonnet 20) and the wickedly dramatic Th’Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame (Sonnet 129). Wainwright’s distinctive voice is particularly effective in the title track, but his reprise of A Woman’s Face is something of a letdown with its straightforward pop arrangement and sensibility.

The extensive booklet includes an introduction by British actor Peter Eyre, full texts, translations and production credits. What is missing is an explanation of why two of the sonnets are presented in German necessitating the translations, or more properly the English originals, of All Dessen Müd (Sonnet 66) in a cabaret-like arrangement and Farewell (Sonnet 87) sung beautifully by Prohaska. I assume this has to do with the Berliner Ensemble origins of the settings, but it would have been nice if Eyre, whose English performance of Farewell with Wainwright can be found on YouTube, would have explained.

Concert note: Toronto audiences can catch Rufus Wainwright’s acclaimed recreation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall show “Rufus Does Judy” June 23 and 24 at the Hearn Generating Station as part of this year’s Luminato Festival.

Review

06 Stravinsky Soldier

Concert note: On June 18 another Luminato performance at the Hearn features soloists of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with concertmaster Jonathan Crow and narrator Derek Boyes in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Naxos recently released a new recording of that work, Stavinsky – The Soldier’s Tale (Complete) featuring the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players with violinist Tianwa Yang, narrator Fred Child and actors Jared McGuire (The Soldier) and Jeff Biehl (The Devil) under the direction of JoAnn Falletta (8.573537).

I have always liked this pocket drama – an hour-long Faustian story of a young man who sells his soul – or in this case his violin – to the devil and in so doing loses the things and people he loves. Composed in 1917 while Stravinsky was living in Switzerland during the First World War, it is scored for a modest orchestra of seven players reflecting the ravaged ranks of musicians who survived that conflict. Of principal interest is the violin, so dear to the soldier – its themes will reappear in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto some 14 years later. It is a different take on the story because it is not the soldier’s greed which leads him to his fateful error. He is actually perfectly content with his modest life and his fiddle but is tricked by the devil into making the trade. Although granted fortune through the book he trades for, which foretells the future, it was never his idea and he is never comfortable in the role. Eventually he finds a way to beat the devil – by letting him win at cards – and regain his life. Spoiler Alert: all does not end well when you play with the devil and in a scene reminiscent of Orpheus’ glance back at Eurydice, the devil regains the upper hand and the violin.

The story is narrated effectively and Yang’s violin playing is flawless and convincing in this new performance. It is a welcome addition to my collection.

07 Stravinsky SacreAnd a quick final note. The Story of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps with Valery Gergiev (ArtHaus Music 109210) is a very effective documentary film by Peter Rump. Gergiev leads the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra through a rehearsal during which he analyzes and explains his approach to the iconic work. This is intercut with commentary and piano examples by Gergiev and historic footage of Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez and Alexander Toradze. Gergiev makes a very strong case for his interpretation – rough and rhythmic, rather than romantic – and provides an insightful introduction that shows how this 100-year-old masterwork is still fresh and vibrant.

Shameless self-promotion II: I am hosting a fundraiser on behalf of New Music Concerts at “Coffee House 345” (aka Gallery 345 on Sorauren) on Wednesday June 15. 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. For reservations 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

 

 


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