04 Claude ChampagneAs I write this in the early days of January it is fitting that I speak about my New Year’s resolution to be a better friend to my cello this year. With this in mind I’m getting together with my friends Anne (violin) and Adam (piano) for trio sessions after a lengthy hiatus. Having previously played music by Mendelssohn and Mozart, this year we have embarked upon Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op.1, No.2. It’s a piece that I worked on extensively some 20 years ago and have been inspired to revisit by a new release, Beethoven Complete Piano Trios performed by the Weiss Kaplan Stumpf Trio (Bridge Records 9505A/C bridgerecords.com). Yael Weiss (piano), Mark Kaplan (violin) and Peter Stumpf (cello) all have notable solo careers and have been playing together as a trio for more than two decades. What I particularly like about this 3CD package – in addition to the fabulous performances – is that in lieu of program notes for the familiar trios, the booklet includes essays by each of the three performers about their own connections to the music. In the case of Weiss, this involves a lineage of teachers reaching all the way back to Beethoven via her mentor Leon Fleisher, a student of Schnabel, who worked with Leschetizky, a student of Liszt, who studied with Czerny, a student of the great master himself. Kaplan and Stumpf each share their personal takes on the trios, and the occasion of the recording. 

Although not as frequently heard as the string quartets which span Beethoven’s entire career (some of which are among the last works he would compose), the piano trios represent his early and middle periods very well, from his earliest published works, to the mammoth “Archduke” Trio Op.97 of 1811 (my own introduction to the genre some 50 years ago in a recording featuring Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan and Mstislav Rostropovich). This current recording reminds us however that Beethoven returned to the trio form in 1824 when he published the charming “Kakadu Variations” Op.121a, here paired with the very first trio from 1795. The eight trios therefore spanning three decades of Beethoven’s creativity, all in splendidly dynamic and idiomatic performances which kept me captivated for many hours over the course of the holiday season. 

02 Joan TowerIt seems Beethoven also provided inspiration to composer Joan Tower whose 1985 Piano Concerto – Homage to Beethoven is the title track on a new portrait CD from Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP Sound 1093 bmop.org/audio-recordings). Soloist Marc-André Hamelin is in stellar form in the dramatic and often percussive work from 1985. Although there are no obvious quotations from Beethoven, Tower says “he had a huge influence on me in terms of how to try to create and motivate a strong dramatic structure.” She also says she included fragments from three Beethoven sonatas which are imbedded in the cadenzas. The most recent work is Red Maple, a bassoon concerto from 2013. Right from the extended solo opening, bassoonist Adrian Morejon establishes command, leading BMOP through the haunting quarter-hour virtuosic showpiece. There are two flute concertos bookending Red Maple, Rising for flute and string orchestra (2010, originally for flute and string quartet) and the 1989 Flute Concerto, both premiered by the outstanding Carol Wincenc who is the soloist here. This CD is a fitting tribute to Tower, the now 85-year-old American treasure whose successful career has spanned six decades. 

03 Dello JoioJoan Tower’s piano concerto put me in mind of one of my first exposures to modern (at the time contemporary) concertante works, more than half a century ago. I bought an LP of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G featuring Lorin Hollander with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf that also included the premiere recording of Norman Dello Joio’s 1961 Fantasy and Variations for Piano and Orchestra. I fell in love with the Ravel, especially Hollander’s tender performance of the slow movement, but it was the Dello Joio that really caught my attention. Although that recording has recently been remastered, it is a piano concerto by his son Justin Dello Joio that I want to write about here. Oceans Apart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra features Garrick Ohlsson with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Alan Gilbert (Bridge Records 9583 bridgerecords.com). Composed in 2022, the title of the work refers, in part, to the “…the immensity, the oceanic vastness, of the polarization of our time. People seem to be moving irreparably apart. The waves of misinformation spreading relentlessly over the web, the belief that such a thing as ‘alternate facts’ can exist, and the swell of unharnessed power this has caused – these were in my thoughts.” Captured in a live performance, the work opens with “an unresolved tritone in the low register in the piano and the highest sounds, beyond any specific pitch, whispering incomprehensively and at the edge of audibility in the strings” which extends into a 20-minute dramatic contest between piano and orchestra. Ohlsson, for whom it was written, holds his own in a brilliant performance which, to paraphrase the composer, pits him like a surfer on a 100-foot wave against the daunting force of a large symphony orchestra. As the applause dies away we are treated to Due Per Due, two movements for cello and piano (Carter Brey and Christopher O’Riley), Elegia: To an Old Musician and Moto in Perpetuo. Written in 2011, three years after his father’s death, the first pays homage to Norman’s Prelude: To a Young Musician which Justin learned to play at the age of six. The second is as rambunctious and flamboyant as the title implies. This fine disc is completed by Blue and Gold Music written for the tricentennial of the Trinity School, in a sparkling performance by organist Colin Fowler and the American Brass Quintet. 

04 Claude ChampagneMy first exposure to the music of Claude Champagne (1891-1965) was an educational LP on the Canadian Music Enrichment label, one side of which was an uninterrupted performance of Symphonie Gaspésienne and on the other the same work with cues for a slideshow depicting the landscape of the Gaspé peninsula that inspired the work. Although not much attention was given to him in English Canada, where his contemporaries included Healy Willan and Sir Ernest MacMillan, Champagne was an important figure in the annals of classical music in Quebec, where his students included Violet Archer, Roger Matton, Pierre Mercure, Serge Garant and Gilles Tremblay among other notables. I was very pleased to see a new recording of Champagne’s brilliant tone poem featuring L’Orchestre symphonique de Laval under Alain Trudel (ATMA ACD2 4053 atmaclassique.com/en). Starting eerily in near silence, Trudel leads his orchestra through the gradually building portrait of the fabled peninsula with dramatic turns and climaxes along the 20-minute journey. Although the program notes mention Debussy and the Russian school as influences, I also hear echoes of Delius and Vaughan Williams in this marvelous one movement work. You can access the digital-only recording for free on the ATMA website. 

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05 China TownChinatown (Leaf-Music LM281 leaf-music.ca) is a striking new opera featuring the words of Giller Prize laureate Madeleine Thien and music by multiple-award-winner Alice Ping Yee Ho. The project was initiated by City Opera Vancouver back in 2017 and developed over the next five years through a myriad of workshops and public consultations with Vancouver’s Chinese community. During that process the importance of the Hoisan language to the history of Vancouver’s Chinatown became evident as that was the province of China where many of the original immigrants came from. Writer Paul Yee was engaged to translate portions of the opera into the Hoisan dialect. The result is the first opera to depict a Canadian Chinatown, and the first libretto to combine Hoisanese, Cantonese and English. The orchestration features traditional Chinese and Western classical instruments. It tells the story of two families and a chorus of ghosts, beginning with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad through to our own times. It deals with “violence and despair, the Head Tax, the Exclusion Act, paper sons, and paper promises.” The opera was staged in 2022 under the direction of Mary Chun and this is the original cast recording of the groundbreaking milestone of the musical stage. The booklet includes a synopsis for each of the 12 scenes of the two-act opera, program notes and biographies in English, French and Chinese pictograms. 

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06 Vivian FungEdmonton-born, Juno Award-winning composer Vivian Fung first studied with Violet Archer, went on to receive her doctorate from the Juilliard School and is currently based in California. Insects & Machines – Quartets of Vivian Fung (Sono Luminus DSL-92270 sonoluminus.com) features the Jasper String Quartet – who have admired Fung since first performing one of her quartets in 2019 – being “immediately captivated by the visceral energy and impeccable craft of her writing.” The four works included span 18 years of her chamber output. Fung, whose family survived Cambodian genocide, has travelled extensively in the Far East and drew on folk music of certain parts of Asia, including China and Indonesia, for her String Quartet No.1. It began as a short movement written on assignment at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in 2001 for performance by the American String Quartet. The success of that reading inspired her to add three more movements, also drawing on Eastern themes, to complete the quartet in 2004. To my ear is it reminiscent of the “night music” style of Béla Bartók, especially in the original pizzicato movement. (What young composer would not be influenced by Bartók’s incredible contribution to the string quartet genre? And, having spoken of musical lineage earlier in this column, I will mention that Fung’s teacher Archer was herself a student of that Hungarian master.) Fung states that “issues of my Asian identity underscore much of my work.” String Quartet No.2 (2009), also uses a Chinese folksong for its base, and String Quartet No.3 (2013) evokes “a non-Western song […] highly ornamented, powerful, and tuned to suggest the microtonal tendencies found in many non-Western scales.” String Quartet No.4: Insects & Machines is likewise inspired by travels to the Orient, this time Cambodia, where “I was especially attuned to the persistent noises of buzzing insects that accompanied my walk through the thick jungle.” The subtitle aptly describes the divisions of this one-movement work: Buzzing… whirring… glitching… ringing… thumping…. The members of the Jasper String Quartet – named after Canada’s Jasper National Park, although I cannot find another Canadian connection to the group – rise to the multiple challenges posed by Fung throughout these works, but especially in the unrelenting and virtuosic tour de force of this final quartet. But final is not the right word: Fung has recently completed a fifth for Victoria’s Lafayette String Quartet. 

07 Philip Glass DubeauSpeaking of string quartets, later on in these pages you will find Terry Robbins’ take on Quatuor Molinari’s latest installment of the quartets of Philip Glass. The Molinari is not the only Montreal-based ensemble to have an ongoing interest in the American minimalist master, and Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà have just released a follow-up to their 2008 Philip Glass: Portrait album. Signature: Philip Glass (Analekta AN 2 8755 outhere-music.com/en/labels/analekta) is comprised of 16 short movements drawn from a dozen “signature” works spanning most of four decades. Dubeau says that for many years she has found Glass’ music “nourishing intellectually and musically” and for this, her 48th album, she chose works she finds “significant and compelling” from his vast oeuvre. Opening (appropriately) with Opening from 1981’s Glassworks, the earliest work on the disc, we journey through the years with stops at such classics as Symphony No.3, Koyaanisqatsi, The Somnambulist, A Brief History of Time, Candyman Suite and several movements from Bent. New to me, and of particular interest, is the extended movement from the 2018 Piano Quintet and two Duos for Violin and Cello from 2010 (featuring Dubeau and Julie Trudeau). The arrangements and adaptations are by Dubeau and François Vallières and they are compelling indeed. 

08 Eno PianoAround the same time that I was discovering the music of Philip Glass in the late 1970s I was also intrigued by the ambient compositions of Brian Eno such as Music for Airports. Glass had a seminal influence on Eno who, in 1971 along with David Bowie, heard Glass perform at the Royal College of Art in London. Glass would later acknowledge a reciprocal influence, composing three symphonies based on Eno and Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy of albums. In 2015 Bruce Brubaker released Glass Piano and with his latest, Eno Piano (infiné iF1088 infine-music.com) the connections continue. Whereas Eno used a variety of techniques and tape loops to create the drones and sustained notes of his ambient creations, in effect making the studio his instrument, with aid of new technologies such as the EBow (an electromagnetic device used to make long notes on the strings of a guitar or piano) and the latest spatialization techniques from IRCAM, Brubaker has effectively turned the grand piano into a studio to be played in real time. It’s quite a stunning achievement. The tracks on offer are the three parts of Music for Airports along with three shorter works, The Chill Air (from Ambient 2 with Harold Budd, 1980), By This River (Before and After Science, 1977) and Emerald and Stone (Small Craft on a Milk Sea, 2010). 

09 SkjalftiAnother contemporary take on the ambient genre, Skjálfti (Quake) by composers Páll Ragnar Pálsson and Eðvarð Egilsson (sonoluminus-com/store/skjalf) extrapolates a 15-part suite from their soundtrack to the 2021 Icelandic film of the same name. Written and directed by Tinna Hrafnsdóttir, the film tells the story of Saga, an author and mother who, after an epileptic seizure, experiences memory loss at the same time as hidden memories of family secrets begin to resurface. The psychological drama the film explores is hauntingly realized in this effective expansion of the original soundtrack that comprised 40 very brief segments, developing them into a strikingly atmospheric stand-alone work. 

10 Poul Ruders Piano TrioHaving begun this column with Beethoven’s impressive cycle of piano trios, I will close with the world premiere recording of one of the latest contributions to that time-honoured genre. Renowned Danish composer Poul Ruders (b.1949) had written some two dozen orchestral works (including five symphonies), as many concertante works, and countless chamber pieces (including four string quartets), before embarking on his first Piano Trio in 2020. Written for the Trio Con Brio Copenhagen, featured here in a performance that lives up to the group’s name, the composer describes it as a Kantian “thing in itself” with no hidden agenda. As per the accompanying press release, “The outer movements zip by in a flurry of heightened virtuosity that verges on the ecstatic (or hysterical, depending on your mood).” The contemplative central movement, Slow Motion, provides some much-needed respite from the at times abrasive opening, and a chance to catch your breath before the whirlwind finale. This is a fine example of how older forms can serve contemporary purposes. Cudos to all involved in this exceptional project (Our Recordings 9.70892 ourrecordings.com)

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01 Cotik Bach SuitesViolinist Tomás Cotik adds to his 2020 release of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and 2022 release of Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for Violin Solo with another outstanding solo disc on Bach The Six Suites, his own transcriptions for violin of the Six Cello Suites BWV1007-1012 (Centaur CRC4030/4031 tomascotik.com).

Cotik transposes the first five suites up a fifth to keep the relations between the violin strings (G-D-A-E) the same as on the cello (C-G-D-A); they are also an octave higher. Suite No.6 was written for a five-string instrument with an added high E string, so it is played here in the original key, with notes from the unavailable C string moved to a higher register. If there’s a downside, it’s the loss of the deep warmth of the cello’s lower register.

A Baroque bow is used, with resonant synthetic strings that are slightly softer than those Cotik regularly uses. Vibrato is employed effectively “as an ornament to the sound but not a continuous addition.” Cotik’s customary detailed and insightful booklet essay adds to a fascinating release.

02 GraupnerThe Akoya duo of violinist Naomi Dumas and harpsichordist Caitlyn Koester makes its label debut with an album of sonatas by Christoph Graupner on Graupner Intégrale des sonates pour violon et clavecin, aided by Amanda Keesmaat on Baroque cello (ATMA Classique ACD2 4038 atmaclassique.com/en).

Dumas and Koester formed the duo when studying in the Historical Performance program at Juilliard and specialize in the interpretation of early repertoire. An exact contemporary of J. S. Bach, Graupner (1683-1760) was virtually forgotten after his death, but recent groundbreaking work on his autograph sources at the University of Darmstadt has led to a revival of interest.

This CD marks the world premiere recording of Graupner’s complete sonatas for violin and harpsichord GWV707-711; two are in G major and three in G minor. They are absolutely charming works, given beautifully articulated performances in a richly resonant recording.

03 Paul Huang KaleidoscopeEvery now and then a CD of such outstanding quality comes along that it leaves you struggling for words. Such is the case with Kaleidoscope, a CD featuring brilliant playing by violinist Paul Huang and pianist (and no relation) Helen Huang in works by Respighi, Saint-Saëns, Paganini and Chopin (naïve V 8088 paulhuangviolin.com/recordings).

Paul Huang draws a sumptuous tone from the 1742 “Ex-Wieniawski” Guarneri del Gesù violin, but it’s the power and expressiveness of his playing that takes your breath away. Helen Huang’s piano work is no less fine. 

The seldom-heard Respighi Sonata in B Minor p.110 is a real gem, with a gorgeous opening movement, and the Saint-Saëns Sonata No.1 in D Minor Op.75 is a dazzling work with a hair-raising Allegro molto fourth movement.

Paganini’s Cantabile in D Major Op.17 – which really does sing here – comes between the two sonatas, and Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major Op.9 No.2, in the transcription by Sarasate ends one of the most captivating albums I’ve heard in a long time.

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04 Closing StatementsClosing Statements, the new CD from violinist Sophie Rosa and pianist Ian Buckle, is described as exploring the ways in which composers end their creative lives (Rubicon Classics RCD1119 rubiconclassics.com/artist/sophie-rosa-ian-buckle).

Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.3 WoO2 was created when he added two new movements to the Intermezzo and Finale that he had contributed to the F-A-E sonata with Brahms and Dietrich. Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim played through it in February 1854, just days after Schumann’s attempted drowning in the Rhine, and decided to suppress it, the sonata not being published until the 1956 centenary of the composer’s death.

Two Phantasies, while differing greatly in sound, both look back to classical models: Schoenberg’s Phantasy Op.47 and Schumann’s Fantasie in C Op.131, written for Joachim in 1853.

Both draw particularly fine playing from the duo. The hauntingly beautiful 1991 “Post scriptum” Sonata by Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov (b.1937) rounds out an excellent disc.

05 Joseph BologneJoseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Three Sonatas for Violin & Fortepiano, Op.1b, featuring violinist Andrew McIntosh and fortepianist Steven Vanhauwaert is another COVID lockdown product (Olde Focus Recordings FCR923 newfocusrecordings.com).

In 2020 McIntosh and Vanhauwaert read through the violin sonatas of Bologne to pick one to film and became so enamoured of them that they decided to record all three for an album. Published in 1781 at the height of Bologne’s career they are charming and not insubstantial works, full of late 18th-century elegance. 

Each of the sonatas – No.1 in B-flat Major, No.2 in A Major and No.3 in G Minor – has two movements, with an opening Allegro and a gentler second movement. Dynamics and articulations in the printed edition are minimal and often inconsistent, with the duo here consequently employing ornamentation consistent with the style of the period in excellent performances.

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06 1883Cellist Christoph Croisé and pianist Oxana Shevchenko have been playing together since 2014, and on 1883 they celebrate a year marked by two major cello sonatas plus the publication of a significant single movement (Avie AV2632 avie-records.com). 

The first version of Richard Strauss’ Cello Sonata in F Major Op.6, TrV 115 dates from 1881, but Strauss – still only 19 years old – revised it in 1883 by replacing the original third movement with a completely new finale. It’s a work of youthful exuberance with a profound middle Andante.   

A profound middle movement Andante is also a feature of Grieg’s Cello Sonata in A Minor Op.36, a mature work, the slow movement of which recycles material from an earlier funeral march. Fauré’s Élégie Op.24, possibly intended as the slow movement for a projected sonata, was written in 1880 and published in 1883; it mirrors the previous slow movements in mood.

Croisé plays with a full, warm tone, and Shevchenko’s playing is sensitive and unfailingly musical. The two say that they thought the three pieces would make a wonderful program. They were right.

07 LigetiThe Verona Quartet is in superb form on György Ligeti Complete String Quartets, an album celebrating the centenary of the Hungarian avant-garde composer (Dynamic CDS8010 veronaquartet.com/discography).

Ligeti’s String Quartet No.1 Métamorphoses nocturnes, a continuous single movement of 12 sections was written in 1953-54 during the era of Soviet censorship; it was not premiered until May 1958, after the composer had fled Hungary for Vienna. It’s a fascinating work in its range of sound and style, with Bartók’s influence clearly audible.

String Quartet No.2 was written in 1968 for the LaSalle Quartet, and unlike its predecessor, immediately became part of the string quartet repertoire. The five movements differ widely in pacing, with the fifth unexpectedly fully tonal and melodic.

Ligeti wrote nothing further for string quartet, although there were advanced plans for two additional quartets commissioned by the Arditti and Kronos ensembles. However, he did release Andante and Allegro from 1950, an attempt at accessible music within the Socialist Realism constraints; it ends a terrific CD.

08 Philip Glass MolinariThe ongoing Quatuor Molinari set of Philip Glass Complete String Quartets continues with Volume 2 String Quartets Nos. 5-7, a digital-only release. Volume 3 is planned for 2024, at which point a box set will be issued (ATMA Classique ACD2 4072 atmaclassique.com/en).

The works mark a move away from Glass’searly repetitive patterns to a broader post-minimalist approach, although minimalist influences are never far away. String Quartet No.5 exhibits a more sophisticated musical development, and String Quartet No.6 reflects the composer’s pursuit of a more classical approach. String Quartet No.7, an extensive single movement, was initially presented as a choreographed dance piece. All three quartets were premiered by the Kronos Quartet, in 1992, 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Performances and recording quality are top-notch throughout.

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09 Sacconi QuartetThe Sacconi Quartet, Britain’s longest-established string quartet celebrates 21 years with the original membership on an outstanding CD of quartets by Schubert and Beethoven (Orchid Classics ORC100265 sacconi.com/recordings).

Schubert’s String Quartet No.14 in D Minor D810, “Death and the Maiden

 from 1824, when the composer was facing his own mortality, is paired with Beethoven’s String Quartet No.14 in C-sharp Minor Op.131 from 1826, the year before his death. The Op.131 was the last music Schubert heard, days before he died – in 1828.

The quartet members say that they “wanted to make an album of some of the music that means the very most to us, and these two quartets were obvious choices. We have literally lived with them for most of our career.” The Beethoven in particular has been performed from memory in various artistic and theatrical settings, including their “Beethoven in the Dark” immersive performance.

Their familiarity with the works is obvious in quite striking performances, the resonant recording capturing the emotional depth and sensitivity of the playing.

10 Ulysses QuartetThe premise behind Shades of Romani Folklore – works connected by a Romani influence – seems a bit tenuous at first glance, but spirited performances by the Ulysses Quartet certainly justify it (Navona NV6567 navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6567).

The finale of Beethoven’s String Quartet No.4 in C Minor, Op.18 No.4 is described as “rip-roaring,” with a distinct Romani flavour to its rondo theme. The link continues with the world-premiere recording of Paul Frucht’s Rhapsody, a work inspired by the Tzigane Ravel wrote for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi that evoked the Romani style.

The most powerful work here is Janáček’s String Quartet No.2, “Intimate Letters”, reflecting his passionate but unrequited feelings for the much younger Kamila Stösslová. In one of his over 700 letters to her, revealed that in his song cycle Diary of One Who Disappeared he had cast her as Zefka, the Roma girl whose forbidden love affair with a young Czech man is the basis of the work. The obsessive passion and raw emotion are beautifully captured by the performers.

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11 Brahms Double Concerto Viotti Violin Concerto No. 22 Dvorák Silent Woods frontcoverWhen violinist Christian Tetzlaff and his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, decided to record an album in memory of their long-time artistic partner pianist Lars Vogt, who died in September 2022 one particular work was “immediately the right piece” for all concerned: the Double Concerto in A Minor Op.102 by Brahms, one of Vogt’s favourite composers. A superb performance is at the heart of the resulting CD Brahms | Viotti with the Deutsche-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Paavo Järvi (Ondine ODE 1423-2 naxos.com/CatalogueDetail/?id=ODE1423-2).

All concerned found the experience incredibly moving, with Vogt foremost in their minds throughout the recording, and the emotional intensity together with the superb playing makes this a performance for the ages. Brahms wrote the concerto to mend his broken friendship with Joseph Joachim, and the Tetzlaffs’ profound understanding of how the individual movements may relate to what Brahms was trying to say and achieve clearly adds depth to their interpretation. 

In the concerto Brahms quotes from Viotti’s Violin Concerto No.22 in A Minor, a work with early significance in Brahms’ and Joachim’s friendship, and it’s the other major work on the disc. A lovely performance of Dvořák’s Silent Woods Op.68 No.5 for cello and orchestra completes an outstanding CD. 

12 Vivaldi Anna MariaThe Vivaldi Edition, the ambitious project to record all of the music in Vivaldi’s personal collection of autograph manuscripts now in the Italian National Library in Turin reaches volume 71 and volume 11 of the violin series with Vivaldi Concerti per violino XI ‘Per Anna Maria’ with soloist Fabio Bondi leading Europa Galante (naïve OP 7368 vivaldiedition.net).

Anna Maria (1696-1782) was the most famous instrumentalist at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice during Vivaldi’s time there; her own personal repertory manuscript volume contains the solo violin line for 24 Vivaldi concertos, including five otherwise unknown, with alternative reliable sources needed for the complete parts. Of the six concertos here three – in D Major RV207, D Major R229 and E-flat Major RV261 – are preserved in Turin, and two – in E-flat Major RV260 and B-flat Major RV363 “Il corneto da posta” – in Dresden. The Concerto in C Major RV179a is reconstructed from Anna Maria’s volume.

Performances are beautifully judged throughout the disc.

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13 MorriconiThe idea for the CD Ennio Morricone: Cinema Rarities for violin and string orchestra with Marco Serino as soloist and leader of the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto came about during the recording of its predecessor Cinema Suites, when the Morricone family sent Serino, the composer’s chosen violinist several rarities they hoped could also be recorded. These works, along with others that Serino rediscovered in his own archives make up the program here (Arcana A554 outhere-music.com/en).

Space restrictions preclude my listing full details of the directors, film titles and years and individual track titles, but the music ranges from Sergio Leone’s 1968 Once Upon a Time in the West to Silvano Agosti’s 2001 The Sleeping Wife. There are three suites named for directors – Agosti, Mauro Bolognini and the Taviani Brothers – plus Four Adagios, chosen by the composer and dedicated to Serino. Arrangements are by Morricone (the majority) or Serino.

The overall mood changes little, but it’s enchanting music, quite beautifully played.

14 Destins TragiquesElvira Misbakhova is the principal viola with the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal and a member of I Musici de Montréal. It’s this latter group under Jean-François Rivest that accompanies her on Destins Tragiques, a CD featuring new versions of music from the 1930s by Prokofiev and Shostakovich (ATMA Classique ACD2 2862 atmaclassique.com/en).

With the composer’s permission, the violist Vadim Borisovsky made 13 arrangements for viola and piano from scenes in Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet Op.64. The Montreal violist and arranger François Vallières has taken seven of these arrangements and composed a new orchestration for strings from the piano part. It’s nicely done but lacks the bite of the original Prokofiev. The viola is not always prominent – by design – and even in the several virtuosic passages tends to be absorbed into the string sound.

Much more effective is the 2006 Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra on Themes from the Opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” by Shostakovich, Op.12 by the Montreal composer Airat Ichmouratov, heard here in Ichmouratov’s own reduction for string orchestra.

15 NocturneLes 9 de Montréal is an ensemble of eight cellos and a double bass founded by cellist and artistic director Vincent Bélanger; their third album, Nocturne is a new digital release (GFN Productions www.les9.ca).

The program is mostly arrangements of classical favourites, with Saint-Saëns’ The Swan, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata theme, Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, Debussy’s Clair de lune (particularly effective), Fauré’s Après un rêve, Rameau’s Hymne à la nuit and a Chopin Nocturne. Soprano Lyne Fortin joins the group for Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise and La veuve et la lune, a work by Montréal composer Christian Thomas.

As the title suggests, there’s not a great deal of mood change, just a constant flow of mellow cello ensemble playing, nicely arranged, sensitively played and beautifully recorded. All in all, an excellent and appropriate choice for late-night listening. 

01 Monteverdi VespersMonteverdi – Vespers of 1610
The Thirteen; Children’s Chorus of Washingon; Dark Horse Consort; Matthew Robertson
Acis APL53837 (acisproductions.com)

As we are reminded in the informative liner notes of this new recording of Claudio Monteverdi’s sacred masterpiece, Vespers is an early evening prayer service, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, fulfilling Jesus’ command to “pray always.” Replete with psalm texts, a hymn and the Magnificat (the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary) Vespers is designed to be contemplative and Monteverdi’s setting is miraculous in its variety of textures, virtuosity and hypnotic harmonies. In addition, it marries Renaissance and Baroque musical styles with staggering beauty and uniformity, featuring a wide array of vocal and instrumental writing. 

The Thirteen was founded in 2012 in Washington, D.C. by Matthew Robertson and the group has a wide mandate, performing music from all eras, specializing in early and contemporary choral works and educational outreach. Their recording of Vespers – in collaboration with the Children’s Chorus of Washington and the early winds of the Dark Horse Consort – took place in the reverberant acoustic of Washington’s Franciscan Monastery. 

The solo and small ensemble singing is uniformly excellent, including a radiant Nigra Sum sung by soprano Michele Kennedy, a sumptuous Pulchra es sung by sopranos Molly Quinn and Katelyn Jackson and a tour de force Duo Seraphim from tenors Aaron Sheehan, Stephen Soph and Oliver Mercer. The chorus and instrumental ensemble bring a suitable glory and grandeur to the performance: 90 minutes of life-affirming, provocative “new” music, written over 400 years ago.

02 Scarlatti La SposaAlessandro Scarlatti – La Sposa Dei Cantici
Meghan Lindsay; John Holiday; Jay Carter; Ryland Angel; Ars Lyrica Houston; Matthew Dirst
Acis APL53721 (acisproductions.com)

The Scarlattis were a tremendously gifted and prolific musical family, with Domenico composing over 500 keyboard sonatas and his father Alessandro writing over 100 operas, 600 cantatas and 30 oratorios. Even in comparison to their impressively productive contemporaries such as Bach, Handel and Telemann, their output remains staggeringly high and defined Italian musical style for decades.

This recording, performed by Ars Lyrica Houston and directed by Matthew Dirst, features Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Sposa Dei Cantici (The Bride of Songs), which is scored for strings, continuo and four soloists: three countertenors and one soprano. As with many early works, this music’s journey from composition to 21 st century performance is characteristically complex, its material existing in numerous reworkings, adaptations and even different libretti set to the same music for performance in different locations at different times of year. Long story short, this recording is essentially a snapshot of the music’s state in 1710 in Naples, as indicated through manuscripts in the Stanford University Library and Paris’ Bibliotheque National.

As with almost all Italian Baroque oratorios, La Sposa Dei Cantici consists mostly of recitatives and da-capo arias, with a brief orchestral Sinfonia and the occasional dramatic interjection. Despite this formulaic nature, Scarlatti was able to craft a large-scale work of striking beauty, using both vocal and instrumental soloists to achieve ranges of expression that are both delightful and captivating.

Built on a libretto far less dramatic and aggressive than Italian opera, Ars Lyrica brings out the best of Scarlatti’s La Sposa Dei Cantici, keeping a sense of momentum and expression that ensures a smooth flow from recitative to aria and back again. This is a wonderful recording that deserves to be heard by all, whether familiar with the Scarlatti family or discovering them for the first time.

03 Smyth Der WaldEthel Smyth – Der Wald
Soloists; BBC Singers; BBC Symphony Orchestra; John Andrews
Resonus RES10324 (resonusclassics.com/products/smyth-der-wald-the-forest)

No paragon of “proper” English womanhood, the openly bisexual, cigar-smoking feminist who composed the suffragette anthem, The March of the Women, spent two months in jail for stoning and shattering an anti-suffrage politician’s office windows. Nevertheless, Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) achieved success at a time when women composers were routinely ignored, becoming in 1922 Britain’s first female composer honoured as a “Dame.”

In 1902, Smyth’s 66-minute, one-act opera Der Wald premiered in Berlin and in 1903 became the first and only opera by a woman produced at the Metropolitan Opera until 2016 (!). The libretto, by Smyth and Henry Brewster, originally in German, is sung here in Smyth’s English translation (included).

The peasant maiden Röschen (soprano Natalya Romaniw) and her fiancé, woodcutter Heinrich (tenor Robert Murray), are beset by the malevolent Iolanthe (mezzo Claire Barnett-Jones), who lusts for Heinrich. Of the five other soloists, baritones Andrew Shore (Pedlar) and Morgan Pearse (Count Rudolf) play important parts in the unfolding of the tragic drama.

Smyth’s admiration for two composers often considered opposites – Brahms and Wagner – is manifested in the lush, warm, Brahmsian choruses of forest spirits and the Wagner-enriched arias of Röschen, Heinrich and Iolanthe. Other highlights are the Röschen-Heinrich love-duet, the ebullient peasant dance and chorus, and the stirring, defiant, dying declamations of Heinrich and Röschen.

Conductor John Andrews, the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra energetically provide rich colours and powerful climaxes in this premiere recording of Smyth’s landmark opera.

04 Village StoriesStravinsky, Janáček, Bartók: Village Stories
Prague Philharmonic Choir; Lukáš Vasilek
Supraphon SU4333-2 (supraphon.com/album/763075-stravinsky-janacek-bartok-village-stories)

Village Stories brings together the worlds of ethnomusicology and nationalism in one compelling package. The featured composers were all profoundly influenced by their interest in indigenous musical materials to varying degrees. Bartók roamed far and wide scientifically recording and transcribing source materials on Edison cylinders; Janáček did much the same, though more modestly, while also probing deeply into the melodies concealed in everyday human speech. Stravinsky took a more leisurely approach, shamelessly stealing his materials from pre-existing publications. (The eerie opening bassoon solo of his Rite of Spring, for example, is cribbed from a volume of Lithuanian folk songs.) 

The apogee of Stravinsky’s magpie-mania culminated in his explosive and highly influential ballet Les Noces (The Wedding) for chorus, four pianos and percussion ensemble, completed after many false starts in 1923.

Janáček’s whimsical Říkadla (Nursery Rhymes, 1926) is a late work based on humorous doggerel culled from the funny pages of his daily newspaper. Scored for ten instruments (including a toy drum and an ocarina!) and a small choir, it is a patently absurd and highly enjoyable treasure trove of good clean fun. He considered these Czech verses as “frolicsome, witty, cheerful – that’s what I like about them. They’re rhymes after all!” This delightful set of 18 choral miniatures is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Bartók’s Three Village Scenes, also composed in 1926, is scored for female choir and chamber orchestra. It is considered by some to be his response to Stravinsky’s Les Noces, but with a twist. The opening movement likewise depicts a wedding scene, though the agitated, asymmetric orchestral outbursts and minor key setting hint at a dim future; a line of the text reads, “I’m a rose, a rose, but only when I’m single. When I have a husband, Petals drop and shrivel.” The subsequent Lullaby touchingly laments an uncertain future for a mother’s child. A rollicking Lad’s Dance concludes the work on a more positive note.

Full English translations of the Russian, Czech and Hungarian texts are included with the physical product; unusually, the Stravinsky libretto is also provided in the Cyrillic alphabet. The perfoóóórmances are uniformly excellent and the audio production first class. Not to be missed.

05 Dean Burry HighwaymanDean Burry’s The Highwayman
Kristina Szabó; Sarah Moon; Kornel Wolak; Gisèle Dalbec-Szczesniak; Wolf Tormann; Younggun Kim; Darrell Christie
Centrediscs CMCCD 32123 (cmccanada.org/product-category/recordings/centrediscs)

The Highwayman – a romantic and gory extended poem written in 1906 by the English poet Alfred Noyes – has been given a splendidly vivid and evocative musical setting by the Kingston-based composer Dean Burry. Burry takes as his model Arnold Schoenberg’s expressionist masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire, writing for the same forces: flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello, piano and mezzo soprano. While the two works share moon imagery and certain ensemble colours, Burry’s work has a bolder, more cinematic quality that complements the epic sweep of Noyes’ poem in contrast to Schoenberg’s spooky transparency. Indeed, it would be a treat to hear the two pieces together in concert. 

A powerful instrumental prologue sets the scene for a tour-de-force performance by the celebrated Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabó who brilliantly dramatizes the story and offers up a varied and gorgeous sound throughout her extended vocal range. Her brilliant diction and operatic sensibility coupled with Burry’s clear and attractive writing keep the interest and intensity throughout the 17-movement work. The five instrumentalists contribute strong and confident playing under the sensitive direction of Darrell Christie, with violinist Gisèle Dalbec-Szczesniak being a particular standout. 

The project was recorded at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Kingston with Burry producing. The sound is first-rate. There’s an informative short documentary A Torrent of Darkness: The Making of Dean Burry’s The Highwayman available on YouTube.

06 Bramwell Tovey InventorBramwell Tovey; John Murrell – The Inventor (an opera in two acts)
Soloists; UBC Opera Ensemble; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Bramwell Tovey
Centrediscs CMCCD 31723 (cmccanada.org/product-category/recordings/centrediscs)

Although the conductor and composer Bramwell Tovey was born and educated in the United Kingdom, many Canadian classical music enthusiasts associate him principally with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, for whom he worked as music director from 2000 until 2018. Tovey died in 2022 but his name lives on in Vancouver, as his significant contributions to that city’s musical culture and community is reflected in the renaming of the Tovey Centre for Music that now houses the VSO’s School of Music. How fitting then, that the Canadian Music Centre should put out a new release of a 2012 recording of Tovey’s first opera, The Inventor with a libretto by John Murrell, that in sound and script tells the story, heretofore unknown to me, of Alexander “Sandy” Keith.

Although the narrative and back story is indeed compelling – Keith was a scoundrel, con artist and murderer, who attempted to take down a transatlantic steamship with a bomb – knowledge of this tragic and decidedly Canadian story is not a prerequisite to enjoying this fine new release. Recorded at Vancouver’s beautiful Orpheum Theatre and featuring the VSO with Tovey at the helm, The Inventor is a sprawling two-disc double-act modern opera that clocks in at over two hours of music. Capable of inspiring a thesaurus worth of musical descriptors (modern, dissonant, lush, romantic, cinematic, declamatory), this ambitious project both deserves and needs to be heard to appreciate the magnitude of its creativity and breadth. Although the closest analogue to my ears is Alva Henderson’s work with Nosferatu, I suggest that this 2023 release would be enjoyed by opera and modern classical music enthusiasts alike.

07 IspiciwinIspiciwin
Luminous Voices; Andrew Balfour
Leaf Music LM267 (leaf-music.ca)

Having had the good fortune to review both a CD (Nagamo) and a live performance of Andrew Balfour, the Toronto-based Cree composer and member of Fisher River First Nation, I looked forward to exploring Ispiciwin (Journey), a project on which Balfour serves as composer and creative lead. Once again, I was tremendously impressed. Impressed by both the ambition of the conceit of the project, as well as the resulting beautiful sonic capture from either the Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University in Calgary, or the Chapel at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus Camrose, both fitting venues for this haunting and engaging set of new music.

A meaningful attempt in sound to explore the concept of artistic reconciliation, Ispiciwin pairs Balfour’s immense talent, creativity and insatiable desire to push musical borders with the vocal group Luminous Voices, Timothy Shantz artistic director, along with Jessica McMann on bass flute and Walter MacDonald White Bear on Native American courting flute. The result is an expansive set of new choral music sung in Cree that derives from, explores and celebrates various histories, backgrounds and extractions (from Sherryl Sewepagaham to Sofia Samatar to John Dowland). 

Although this recording most certainly does not prioritize a political agenda over the music, there is indeed something inherently political about the fact that, as Balfour acknowledges in the album’s liner notes, such a recording would have been virtually unthinkable some 30 years ago when he was coming up as a young choir boy and lover of Renaissance vocal music. The result writes important new voices into the canon of choral music and is recommended listening indeed. 

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08 James RolfeWound Turned to Light – New Songs by James Rolfe
Alex Samaris; Jeremy Dutcher; Andrew Adridge; Lara Dodds-Eden
Redshift Records TK540 (redshiftmusicsociety.bandcamp.com)

We ought to have been done with COVID-19, but the effects of “The Pandemic of the Century,” has had a lasting, profound psychological and sociological effect on humanity, even as the health of the species bounces back. Happily, we have been rescued (again) by poets, the very tribe that Plato – who disparaged them for relying on imagery at some distance from reality – would rather have nothing to do with in his Republic of Grecian times. But oh… how times have changed!

Former Poet Laureate of both the City of Toronto and the Canadian Parliament, George Elliott Clarke commissioned 15 Canadian members of this very (disparaged) tribe to lift our sinking hearts. The result is some edifying poems – including two of his own – the eloquence of which James Rolfe has turned to exquisite music. And so, our existential angst has been briefly assuaged, and Rolfe lifts our hearts with his Lieder. 

Wound Turned to Light dwells not in some forgotten utopia or impending dystopia, but in nature, dreams – broken and fulfilled – and in the mysticism of life and death asking, as Schiller once asked in Die Götter Griechenlands: “Schöne Welt, wo bist du?” (Beautiful world, where are you?). 

Alex Samaras does much of the lifting of Rolfe’s music with a combination of rich and lofty vocals in his singular, delicious tenor sound (cue Marigold). His mature insights into the lyrics are utterly convincing, all but eclipsing the celebrated Jeremy Dutcher who shines on Set me as a seal. Andrew Adridge is elegant on Bombastic. Pianist Lara Dodds-Eden is the uber-sensitive accompanist.

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09 Frank Horvat FracturesFrank Horvat – Fractures
Meredith Hall; Brahm Goldhamer
I Am Who I Am Records (iam-records.com)

Canadian composer and environmental activist Frank Horvat’s most recent album, Fractures, is a cycle of 13 songs performed by soprano Meredith Hall and pianist Brahm Goldhamer. Inspired by the 2016 anthology Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America, this work explores the controversial practice of fracking, a method used to extract natural gas and oil from deep rock formations known as shale. With lyrics curated from several Canadian and American writers who have been directly affected by fracking, the song cycle explores various viewpoints that surround the procedure. 

Horvat’s song cycle speaks to the ramifications of fracking, from the resources required to the impact on both the land and surrounding communities. Each song has an independent theme and musical structure and the cycle is unified by recurring motifs of fire and water. Although Hall and Goldhamer, both seasoned performers, demonstrate great commitment to the text and the music, listening to Fractures is, at times, difficult, for it requires a certain window into the knowledge of fracking to better understand the ironies and or musical choices that accompany certain texts. To the uninitiated, a more relatable song can be found in Lullaby in Fracktown, where a mother sings to her young child against the backdrop of her husband’s employment insecurity. 

Notwithstanding, it is a gift when living composers take time to explain their work and thought processes, which is what Horvat does in the generous liner notes of Fractures. His explanations enhance our ability to reflect more deeply on fracking and our environment. Horvat’s activism and dedication to this project (and others) are reminiscent of R. Murray Schafer’s soundscape work and that’s a very good place to be.

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10 MouvanceJérôme Blais – Mouvance
Suzie LeBlanc; Jérôme Blais
Centrediscs CMCCD 31223 (cmccanada.org/product-category/recordings/centrediscs)

It is on notes to this disc Mouvance that Jérôme Blais – a Québécois – alludes to the “…sense of uprootedness despite our migrations within the same expansive and culturally diverse country, Canada.” Meanwhile, in music of uncommon beauty, Blais gives wing to the poignant lyrics by Acadian poet Gerald Leblanc. His poem, parts of which appear four times during the recording, not only makes for the theme of the album but also sets the tone for Blais’ music, voiced with featherlight expressiveness by Suzie LeBlanc, a Vancouverite of Acadian descent. 

Blais has also set the exquisite elegiac work of nine other poets all of whom explore bluesy emotions – of otherness and unbelonging – so deeply felt in the proverbial “mouvance” of migration. Eileen Walsh’s woody, eloquently dolorous clarinets, Jeff Torbert’s lonesome twangy guitars, Norman Adams’ soaring cello and Doug Cameron’s often rumbling hand drums and hissing and swishing percussion heighten the atmosphere and bring experience and technique to these pieces. 

All this is just as well, given the varied types of text setting involved. LeBlanc is exquisite in her many contributions, her creamy soprano soaring in the four iterations of Mouvance, and in the finale Tu me mouves, deftly supported by the instrumentalists playing Blais’ distinctive music. 

The close, slightly resonant recording is never uncomfortable and weaves voice and instruments into a kind of damask musical fabric. Discerning lovers of song – particularly Francophonie Canadians – will enjoy investigating these charming works.

11 Sumptuous PlanetDavid Shapiro – Sumptuous Planet: A Secular Mass
The Crossing; Donald Nally
New Focus Recordings FCR389 (newfocusrecordings.com)

What is a secular Mass? What does it sound like? What is it about? These are just a few of the questions your reviewer had upon receiving this recording, as its apparent juxtaposition of secularism with one of the most apparent expressions of religiosity is inherently counterintuitive. Indeed, the relationship between a secular Mass and the humanist movement, which places prime importance on human rather than divine matters, is the nearest analogy that came to mind and, as it turns out, was not entirely incorrect.

Philadelphia-based composer David Shapiro has composed solo, chamber, vocal and instrumental works including commissions for several prominent American choirs, among them The Crossing, a professional choir dedicated to exploring and recording new music. For Sumptuous Planet, Shapiro uses the musical form of a Christian Mass to advance a scientific, atheistic vision of the world. Drawing on texts by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, physicist Richard Feynman and 17th-century Dutch microbiologist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Shapiro builds on the venerated tradition of the musical mass, adapting it for contemporary ideas about science and nature.

The Introit opens with towering harmonies setting a quote from Feynman: “Is no one inspired by the present picture of the universe?”, while Death sets Dawkins’ text of gratitude celebrating the improbability of our existence with luminous, soaring melodies. Despite his subversive premise of positing an atheist perspective within the structure of a Christian Mass, Sumptuous Planet largely exists in the same aesthetic space as its religious predecessors, drawing on a contemporary musical palette that is, perhaps rather ironically, quite divine.

In addition to being thought-provoking, this recording is also musically superb, with The Crossing and conductor Donald Nally providing a flawless interpretation of Shapiro’s harrowing, transparent score. Any error in pitch, rhythm or intonation would be dreadfully and immediately apparent. The Crossing tackles this score’s challenges in a way that approaches perfection.

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12 George Lewis AfterwordGeorge Lewis – Afterword, An Opera in Two Acts
International Contemporary Ensemble
Tundra TUN014 (newfocusrecordings.com)

In 1971, George Lewis joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) as a precocious 19-year-old trombone player. Today he is celebrated as a performer, composer, scholar, developer of groundbreaking interactive improvising software and longtime chronicler of the AACM. In 2008 he produced a monumental history of the now-legendary collective of experimental African-American musicians, A Power Stronger Than Itself. This brilliant opera came eight years later. 

Afterword is based on the book. It draws on Lewis’ extensive interviews, plus recordings of early meetings made by AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams. The delightful scene which opens the second act comes from a poetic journal by Claudine Myers. We’re given a colourful glimpse into an afternoon at the AACM’s center in Chicago. The playful camaraderie among such luminaries of experimental music as Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell, along with Myers and Abrams (“Man your hair is nappier than mine!”) and the warm encouragement they offer one other (“Get your own thing, you don’t need someone else’s”) are reflected with powerful immediacy in a vibrant tapestry of sound.

 Transcending the constraints of straightforward narrative, Afterword directly confronts the elemental connections music has with originality, freedom, identity… and life itself. Lewis adds layers of resonant nuance by having each solo voice represent a variety of characters. This allows the singers, in different guises, to reflect a sweeping range of struggles, dreams and accomplishments. 

The three terrific vocalists, soprano Joelle Lamarre, contralto Gwendolyn Brown and tenor Julian Terrell Otis, bring dramatic energy to the ever-shifting perspectives. Under conductor David Fulmer, the intrepid musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble realize Lewis’ intense, unruly orchestrations with precision and passion. 

This recording was made at the 2016 premiere in Chicago during celebrations for the AACM’s 50th anniversary. I can’t imagine a more inspiring way to celebrate. 

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01 Souper du RoyLes Soupers du Roy
Arion Orchestre Baroque; Mathieu Lussier
ATMA ACD2 2828 (atmaclassique.com/en)

It was in 1683 that the French composer Michel-Richard Delalande was appointed superintendent of music of the Chapel Royal at the court of Louis XIV. As a result, most of his output was devoted to sacred music, but he also produced secular cantatas and a significant number of instrumental suites intended to accompany the royal dinners. Suites were a product of several French composers of the period and in light of their length (as were the gastronomic repasts themselves) excerpts from works by five composers are presented on this fine ATMA recording appropriately title Les Soupers du Roy, performed by the Arion Orchestre Baroque under the direction of Mathieu Lussier.

The disc opens with five movements from Delalande’s Cinquieme Suite with the ensemble delivering a stylish performance, clearly demonstrating an innate feeling for the repertoire. More fanciful is Destouches’ Le Carnaval et la Folie, the movements taken from the first comédie-ballet in France premiering at Fontainebleau in 1703. François Colin de Blamont was a pupil of Delalande and the three thoughtfully chosen excerpts from his ballet héroïque Fêtes grecques et romaines are performed here with a particular refinement and precision, the phrasing always carefully nuanced. 

Jean-Philippe Rameau and François Francoeur are the most recent composers on the disc. The suite by Rameau was taken from his ballet héroïque Les fêtes de Polymnie from 1745, while Francoeur’s Fourth Suite “with trumpet, timpani and horns” is particularly jubilant, in keeping with the occasion of a royal marriage, thus rounding out a most compelling program.

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02 Bach Clavier UbungBach – Clavier Übung III | The Pedal Settings
Renée Anne Louprette
Acis APL41745 (acisproductions.com)

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Clavier Übung III is a masterwork of the organ repertoire, consisting of diverse and complex chorale preludes bookended by a grandiose prelude and fugue, commonly known as the “St. Anne,” BWV 552. Divided into several theological categories, the chorale preludes explore a range of musical styles and textures, from dense five-and six-part counterpoint with pedal to two-part textures which resemble Bach’s earlier keyboard inventions. 

This recording omits the two-part preludes, including only the chorale settings that incorporate the pedals. While the smaller-scale preludes are delightful works, this decision condenses the Clavier Übung into a non-stop journey through some of Bach’s most difficult and demanding organ music. Performed on the Craighead-Saunders Organ at Christ Church Episcopal in Rochester, New York which is modeled after a 1776 Lithuanian instrument by Adam Gottlieb Casparini, this organ is a wonderful vehicle for Bach’s music, containing a superb mix of brightness, boldness and blend.

A renowned international performer, American organist Renée Anne Louprette provides a splendid rendition of these challenging, inspiring works. It is no small feat to make such complex music sound apparent and simple, but Louprette rises to the task with technical facility, straightforward interpretations and a choice of registrations that emphasize form and clarity. Bach’s genius is such that his music rarely benefits from over-interpretation, and Louprette’s great success lies in the dedication shown to the music itself, without introducing unnecessary complexities. The Clavier Übung III is some of the purest and most profound instrumental music Bach wrote, and this recording provides a glimpse into the mind of the master through his music.

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