As a fairly accomplished amateur cellist and former classical radio programmer, I consider myself well-versed in the traditional cello repertoire. Imagine then my surprise to receive not one, but two, discs this month featuring works from 19 th- and early 20th-century France of which I was previously unaware. Even three of the five composers were unfamiliar to me, although they were each celebrated in their lifetime. 

01 Lalo LacombeÉdouard Lalo | Paul Lacombe | Fernand de La Tombelle – Sonates pour piano et violoncelle (ATMA Classique ACD2 2873 atmaclassique.com/en) features two highly regarded Quebecois performers, cellist Paul Marleyn and pianist Stéphane Lemelin. Of course I was familiar with the Cello Concerto in D Minor of Lalo (1825-1892) which has graced the standard repertoire since 1877, but his Sonata for Piano and Cello in A Minor from two decades earlier has languished in relative obscurity. Listening to the dynamic work, it is hard to understand why. It is a substantial offering with contrasting movements, lyrical and dramatic by turns, with memorable melodies and virtuosic flare. The same is true of the other works included here and it is surprising they, and their composers, are not better known. Although Lacombe was born only a dozen years after Lalo his Sonata for Piano and Cello Op.100 was written about 50 years after Lalo’s, in the early years of the 20th century. For all that, it shares a sensibility and language with Lalo, not reflecting the turbulent aesthetic changes happening around him, although there is Debussy-like melody in the opening movement un peu animé. This is followed by a lyrical Largo and concludes with an ebullient Allegro con fuoco. Baron de La Tombelle (1854-1928), numbered among his mentors Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns and he himself went on to count revered organist Marcel Dupré and composer/pedagogue Nadia Boulanger among his own pupils. Not only an accomplished musician and teacher, La Tombelle was also a distinguished poet, painter, sculptor and astronomer. His Cello Sonata in D Minor Sonata (1905) opens with an exuberant Allegro, followed by a gentle lullaby-like Lentement movement before its rousing Allegro vivace finale. Here, as throughout the disc, Marleyn and Lemelin’s playing is nuanced, articulate and totally convincing as it meets all the demands of this lovely music. 

Listen to 'Lalo; Lacombe; La Tombelle - piano and cello sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

02 Ropartz MagnardFrom the strident opening notes of the Sonata for Cello and Piano No.2 in A Minor (1919) by Guy Ropartz (1864-1955) the new Le Palais des Dégustateurs release Guy Ropartz | Albéric Magnard (PDD029 lepalaisdesdegustateurs.com) commands the listener’s attention. As with the previous disc, little known gems are presented in stunning performances by Alain Meunier and Anne le Bozec. To say the Ropartz opens stridently is not to suggest that the work is abrasive however, and the subsequent movements – Lent et calme and Très lent – Assez animé – are warm and lush.  Ropartz and Magnard were neighbours and friends, both proud of their Breton heritage. Magnard (1865-1914) died defending his home from invading Germans in the early days of the First World War. In the attack his house was burned and several manuscripts destroyed but fortunately Ropartz was able to reconstitute from memory the orchestration of Magnard’s opera Guercoeur. The Sonata for Cello and Piano Op.20 in A Major from 1910 is in four movements, opening traditionally with a fast movement Sans lenteur – Alla zingarese followed by a brief Scherzo lasting less than three minutes. The Funèbre third movement is followed by a boisterous finale bringing a wonderful disc to a rollicking close. 

I was surprised to hear from the Dégustateurs label founder and renowned vintner Èric Rouyer, that he finds it hard to produce recordings of French music, presumably due to market pressures, although further on in these pages you will see another of his recordings featuring the piano music of contemporary Frenchman Guy Sacre, with soloist Billy Eidi. I commend Rouyer for his efforts to unearth neglected repertory pieces and, with such outstanding performers as here, he is to be congratulated and encouraged to continue his exploration of “the road less travelled.”

03 David EagleFull disclosure, my days at Thornlea Secondary School half a century ago briefly overlapped with those of composer David Eagle and more recently I was the general manager of New Music Concerts when he was invited to curate a concert in 2013 and commissioned to compose one of the works on the next recording. As mountain winds (Centrediscs CMCCD 30722 centrediscs.ca) features four compositions spanning 2011-2019 for ensembles of varying sizes. All include live computer processing and diffusion of the sounds of acoustic instruments, and, in the case of Unremembered Tongues the work mentioned above, soprano soloist (Xin Wang in the original Toronto performance). This 2021 recording features the powerful voice of Robyn Driedger-Klassen with the Turning Point Ensemble under the direction of founder Owen Underhill. It is in this complex work that we are most aware of the computer’s presence as the soloist’s voice is replicated, distorted, layered and distributed throughout space via an eight-speaker sound system (effective even in this stereo mix). Eagle tells us the initial inspiration came from thinking about the “many forgotten and endangered languages that are disappearing in our relentlessly modernizing society and monoculture. Sonic evocation of these lost modes of expression is a main focus of the work.” The languages he draws on are Iwaidja and Kayardild from northern Australia, Latin, Blackfoot, Basque, Cree and Hawaiian. The resulting “Tower of Babel” is very effective indeed. This is followed by Altered States and, such is the density of the computer manipulations, it takes careful listening to discern that the only instruments involved are those of the traditional piano trio, although at times the textures thin out and the violin, cello and piano of the Land’s End Ensemble become more easily discernable. The title track, which opens the disc, is an interactive composition for octet and computer, again with surround-sound projection. Instrumental phrases are processed in Eagle’s signature style to create “fluctuating and volatile sonic textures through filtering, granulating, delays, and transposing and harmonizing with just and microtonal intonation.” A Kinect motion sensor tracks the composer/interpreter’s hand movements to expressively transform and extend the ensemble, here Aventa under Bill Linwood. The disc closes with the earliest work, Two Forms of Intuition, an orchestral work (with computer) taking its inspiration and title from Immanuel Kant’s proposition of the same name that says we always perceive the world as phenomena in time and space. Commissioned by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 2012, it was subsequently performed and later recorded for this CD by Turning Point Ensemble. They have certainly made it their own. Kudos to all involved in this excellent portrait of one of Canada’s most adventurous composers, one who has embraced technology and successfully and creatively integrated it into live instrumental performance. 

Listen to 'As mountain winds' Now in the Listening Room

04 Monica PearceAs far as I can tell, it was Béla Bartók who first wrote for the combination of piano and percussion in his Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion of 1937, later enlarged to include those soloists with orchestra in his concerto transcription of 1940. More about Bartók later, but he certainly started a significant trend for that combination, with such notables as George Crumb, Luciano Berio, Dieter Mack and, most recently, Canadian Monica Pearce contributing to the genre. Centrediscs has just released Textile Fantasies (CMCCD 30322 centrediscs.ca) comprising a cycle of chamber works for keyboards (harpsichord, piano, toy pianos) and percussion (a plethora of mallet instruments, plus tabla with tambura drone) in various combinations. Each piece is inspired by the particular texture of a specific fabric or pattern such as silks, velvet and houndstooth. My late father used to complain that Baroque music sounded to him like just so many sewing machines, referring to the ostinatos of the continuo. While I don’t agree, I do understand what he was getting at. I thought of him fondly while listening to the first of the Textile Fantasies, toile de jouy for solo harpsichord, exuberantly performed by Toronto keyboardist Wesley Shen. I know Dad would have found it disturbing (as does my wife), but not so his number one son. I find its relentless mechanical pounding, and I mean that in a respectful and musical way, quite fortifying in its journey towards an eventual vanishing point. This is followed by leather for piano and percussion performed by Ottawa’s SHHH!! Ensemble in which the piano is mostly used as a percussive instrument though various extended techniques, dampening the strings and such. I find it wonderfully reminiscent of Bartók’s seminal work. There are two pieces for multiple percussionists featuring Toronto’s TorQ Percussion Quartet; two contrasting works for solo piano, one aggressive and percussive played by Barbara Pritchard and the other, contemplative, featuring Cheryl Duval; another, Damask, for tabla (Shawn Mativetsky) and piano (Shen) which hints at the Middle Eastern origins of that fabric; and the concluding denim for two percussionists and two toy pianos. Did I mention that Pearce was a co-founder of the Toy Piano Composers collective? She has also penned works for Bicycle Opera (who toured extensively by pedal power across Ontario) and New Fangled Opera; pieces for new music specialists Thin Edge New Music Collective, junctQín, Array, New Music Detroit and the International Contemporary Ensemble among many others; but also for such mainstream organizations as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. This disc provides an intriguing introduction to her smaller works and if you’re not familiar with Pearce it would be a great place to start. Concert note: There will be performances and a reception to launch Textile Fantasies at the Canadian Music Centre, 20 St. Joseph St., Toronto on November 10 at 4pm. 

05 Bartok Music for StringsGetting back to Béla Bartók (1881-1945) for my final selection, a new recording by the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie under Pietari Inkinen (SWR Classic SWR19110CD naxos.com/CatalogueDetail/?id=SWR19110CD) features two fairly late large works, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and the Divertimento for Strings (1939). The final two of Bartók’s six string quartets, a cycle renowned for its craggy complexity, were composed around this same time – 1934 and 1939 respectively – but in spite of their proximity, these larger works are much more listener friendly than the quartets. This is not to say that they don’t have their moments of angularity and darkness, but unlike the quartets in which the four instruments often seem to go their own way, here there is more of a sense of unity and homogeneity. In these new recordings, made in Saarbrücken in 2020 and 2021, the orchestra captures all the nuances of the two works’ contrasting moods, especially in the spooky passages featuring the celesta. But more interesting to me in the context of this article are three transcriptions of Bartók solo piano pieces for percussion ensemble performed by members of the orchestra. These effective new adaptions were done by Bernhard Wulff, professor of percussion at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg and long-time associate of Toronto’s legendary flute soloist and pedagogue Robert Aitken. Wulff is the founder and artistic director of a number of international music festivals, including Two Days and Two Nights of New Music in Odessa (Ukraine), Roaring Hooves in Mongolia, Silk Sound Road in Kyrgyzstan, Caspian Fires in Azerbaijan and Cracking Bamboo in Vietnam, many of which included Aitken in the roster of performers. The works here make a striking bridge between large ensemble pieces, beginning with the dynamic second of Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm from the final volume of Mikrokosmos, published the same year as the Divertimento. This is followed by the calm and quiet, almost pastoral, The Night’s Music from Out of Doors (1926), incidentally the year the first volume of Mikrokosmos was published. I was amused to hear a toy piano among the instruments. The percussion suite ends with a rambunctious rendition of the bombastic Allegro Barbaro, the first work to bring Bartók to international attention back in 1911. All in all the entire disc is a treat for the ears! 

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12 ZwilichThe Montreal-based cellist Elinor Frey is back with a second volume of premiere recordings of works by the cellist-composer Giuseppe Clemente Dall’Abaco (1710-1805!) on The Cello According to Dall’Abaco, accompanied by Catherine Jones (cello), Federica Bianchi (harpsichord) and Michele Pasotti (theorbo) (Passacaille PAS 1122 elinorfrey.com).

Frey’s critical edition of the 35 accompanied cello sonatas of Dall’Abaco is published by Walhall Editions; five sonatas were featured on the first CD (PAS 1069) and a further three – in G Major ABV28, E-flat Major ABV37 and D Minor ABV45 – are heard here, together with all three of Dall’Abaco’s cello duets: the Duetto in G Major ABV47, the Duo in F Major ABV48 and the Duo in A Minor ABV49. No composition dates are known, but the music is probably from the 1730-1750 period.

The second cello adds depth to the continuo in the sonatas, while in the quite lovely duos the roles of melody and accompaniment are continually exchanged between the two performers.

02 Brahms Berg ViolinViolinist Christian Tetzlaff cites “reasons of substance” to justify pairing the Brahms & Berg Violin Concertos on his latest CD, with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Robin Ticciati, both works searching the depths of the soul and having a lot to say about pain (Ondine ODE-1410-2 ondine.net).

Tetzlaff has been playing both concertos for 40 years for a combined total of over 300 performances, and it shows. The Brahms is immensely satisfying, but the real joy here is the Berg, long recognized not only as a requiem for the 18-year-old Manon Gropius but also for Berg himself, the composer dying just four months after finishing the work. Moreover, the concerto is a deeply personal autobiography, full of intimate details of Berg’s life – tellingly, Tetzlaff’s detailed booklet essay is almost entirely about the Berg and its inner references. This is a performance by someone who knows this work inside out, and who finds the Bach chorale ending “incredibly beautiful whenever I play it.” And so it is.

03 Batiashvili Secret Love lettersSecret Love Letters, the latest CD from violinist Lisa Batiashvili celebrates the concealment of the message of love in music, noting that so much of the message is secret and intimate (Deutsche Grammophon 00028948604623 lisabatiashvili.com/). 

Pianist Giorgi Gigashvili joins the violinist in an electrifying performance of the Franck Sonata in A Major. Batiashvili’s shimmering tone and strength in the highest register are fully evident in Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No.1 Op.35 with its gorgeous and heart-rending main theme, the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin providing the accompaniment here and in Chausson’s Poème Op.25, originally called Le Chant d’amour triumphant.

Nézet-Séguin is the pianist for the Heifetz arrangement of Debussy’s Beau soir which ends a CD that adds to Batiashvili’s already impressive discography. 

04 Janoska TheBigBsThe Big B’s, the third CD from the fabulous Janoska Ensemble of Bratislava-born Janoska brothers Ondrej and Roman on violin and pianist František, with brother-in-law Julius Darvas on bass, features music by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bartók, Bernstein and Brubeck, all delivered in the inimitable virtuosic and semi-improvisational Janoska style (Deutsche Grammophon 00602445962075 deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/the-big-bs-janoska-ensemble-12750).

The Bach Double Violin Concerto in D Minor BWV1043 sees the second violin take an improvised jazz approach. Two violins intertwine beautifully in the slow movement from Beethoven’s Pathétique Piano Sonata, and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.1 is a blast, as are Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances. There’s great piano in the Brubeck Blue Rondo à la Turk and superb ensemble in Bernstein’s Candide Overture.

There are four original pieces inspired by the brothers’ children, and the CD ends with František’s riotous Beethoven paraphrase of Nine Symphonies in Nine Minutes. Wonderful violin playing and terrific piano anchor a dazzling CD which is a pure delight from start to finish.

05 Talich DvorakIt’s hard to imagine more appropriate performers for a Dvořák string quartet recital than a top Czech ensemble, feelings more than borne out by listening to the Talich Quartet, originally formed in 1964 on their latest CD Dvořák American Quartet & Waltzes, their first recording with their new lineup (La Dolce Vita LDV101 ladolcevolta.com/?lang=en).

The Eight Waltzes for Piano Op.54 B101 date from 1879-80; two were transcribed for string quartet by the composer himself, with the remaining six being transcribed for the Talich Quartet in 2020 by violist Jiří Kabát. They are an absolute delight.

The Quartet Movement in F Major B120 from October 1880 was intended as the first movement of a new quartet but abandoned; not premiered until 1945, it was published in 1951.

A beautifully warm performance of the String Quartet in F Major Op.96 B179 “American” that simply bursts with life and spontaneity closes an outstanding CD.

06 Isserlis ShihThe wonderful Steven Isserlis is back with another engrossing CD, this time celebrating a period which saw a huge expansion in the cello and piano repertoire on A Golden Cello Decade 1878-1888 with Canadian pianist Connie Shih (Hyperion CDA68394 hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68394).

Bruch’s Kol Nidrei Op.47 from 1881 opens the disc, the sumptuous richness of Isserlis’ 1726 “Marquis de Corberon” Strad heard to full effect. Olivia Jageurs adds the harp part.

The 15-year-old Richard Strauss and the 30-year-old German composer Luise Adolpha Le Beau both submitted cello sonatas to an 1881 competition, but neither won. At least Le Beau had her Sonata in D Major Op.17 published, but Strauss withdrew his Sonata in F Major Op.6 and rewrote it in 1883; the original sonata heard here was finally published in 2020. Le Beau’s 1878 sonata is a rarely heard gem, and deserves to be much better known.

Dvořák’s 4 Romantic Pieces Op.75 from 1887 are heard in an arrangement by Isserlis, and two Footnotes close the disc: Ernst David Wagner’s Kol Nidrei and Isaac Nathan’s Oh! weep for these, the melody used in the second part of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei.

07 ShadowsShadows, the new CD from cellist Lorenzo Meseguer and pianist Mario Mora features works by Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann and Gustav Jenner, the connection apparently being “people living in the shadow of other composers” (Eudora EUD-SACD-2204 eudorarecords.com).

 Certainly Fanny and Clara were overshadowed by their brother and husband respectively, and Jenner, Brahms’ only compositional student clearly qualifies, but it’s an extremely tenuous link to Felix, who seems to be regarded here as under-appreciated more than overshadowed.

No matter, for there’s so much to enjoy and admire on this disc, from Fanny’s lovely but infrequently performed Fantasia in G Minor through Felix’s Sonata No.2 in D Major Op.58 – its really tricky passage-work in the Molto Allegro e vivace finale handled superbly – to Clara’s Drei Romanzen Op.22 (originally for violin and piano and transcribed here by the duo) and Jenner’s unsurprisingly quite Brahmsian Sonata in D Major.

Fine, rich playing and a beautifully full, clean and resonant recording make for a quite outstanding CD.

08 Britten BridgeOn Bridge/Britten: Viola Works the violist Hélène Clément plays the 1843 Francesco Giussani viola, on loan from Britten Pears Arts that was owned by Frank Bridge and gifted by him to Benjamin Britten in 1939, calling the CD “a testament to both composers and the instrument that binds them all together.” She is accompanied by pianist Alasdair Beatson (Chandos CHAN 20247 chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%2020247).

Bridge’s Cello Sonata in D Minor from 1913-17 is heard here in Clément’s arrangement for viola. There is a Willow Grows aslant a Brook: Impression for Small Orchestra from 1927 was arranged for viola and piano by Britten in 1932. Mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly is the soloist in the Three Songs for Medium Voice, Viola and Piano from 1906-07, not published until 1982.

The two Britten works are the 1930 Elegy for Solo Viola and the Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of Dowland Op.48 from 1950, revised in 1970.

The knowledge that both composers played this instrument and would have had its sound in mind when writing for viola certainly adds to the impact of an excellent CD.

09 OndulationThe CD Ondulation: Bach & Kurtág features outstanding playing by guitarist Pedro Mateo González (Eudora EUD-SACD-2202 eudorarecords.com).

The three Bach works are the Lute Suite in C Minor BWV997, the Cello Suite in G Major BWV1007 and the Violin Partita No.2 in D Minor BWV1004. The Lute Suite is rhythmically bright, with crystal-clear ornamentation; the Cello Suite is sensitive and quite beautiful. There are some added bass notes and the occasional filling out of chords in the Partita, and brilliant clarity in the rapid runs in the challenging Chaconne.

First recordings of four extremely brief pieces from the Darabok a Gitáriskolának by the Hungarian composer György Kurtág (b.1926) act as interludes between the Bach works. González is technically flawless, with a superb sense of line and phrase. With its beautifully clean playing and recording it’s as fine a guitar CD as I’ve heard lately.

10 Yuri Liberzon Guitar Works Vol. 1Yuri Liberzon is the guitarist on Konstantin Vassiliev Guitar Works 1, a recital of works by the Russian-born German composer that merge jazz, Russian folk music and contemporary Western trends in beautifully-crafted and entertaining short pieces (Naxos 8.574315 naxos.com/Search/KeywordSearchResults/?q=8.574315).

One piece here – Fatum – is from 1996, with the remaining 11 composed between 2005 and 2019; three were written specifically for Liberzon. There are some fascinating and innovative percussive effects in the bossa nova-inspired Hommage à Tom Jobim, and some lovely melodic writing in numbers like Cavatina and Rose in the Snow. Patrick O’Connell, Liberzon’s partner in the Duo Equilibrium is the second guitarist on Obrío and on the Two Russian Pieces that close the disc.

Recording quality, produced and edited by Norbert Kraft at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Newmarket, Ontario is of the usual top-notch Naxos level.

11 Trio Arriaga ElegieTwo elegiac piano trios honouring the memory of a close friend are featured on Elegie, the new CD from Trio Arriaga (Eudora EUD-SACD-2201 eudorarecords.com).

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor Op.50 was composed in late 1881, the March 1882 premiere marking the first anniversary of the death of pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, founder of the Moscow Conservatory. It’s a large work with an interesting structure – a lengthy and rhapsodic opening Pezzo Elegiaco followed by an even longer Tema con variazioni, with virtuosic piano writing throughout.

Shostakovich’s 1944 Piano Trio No.2 in E Minor Op.67 was in memory of the death of Ivan Sollertinsky, artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic. More than a lament for a lost friend, the work also reflects the growing awareness of the Nazi wartime atrocities.

There’s outstanding playing and ensemble work throughout an excellent CD.

12 ZwilichDuring the pandemic lockdown the Santa Rosa Symphony under Francesco Lecce-Chong presented a series of live concerts recorded for a virtual audience, with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich the featured composer. The new CD Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Cello Concerto & Other Works is devoted to works that were performed during those concerts (Delos DE 3596 delosmusic.com).

The Cello Concerto from 2019-20 is performed by Zuill Bailey, for whom it was commissioned. The third of its three fairly short movements in particular exploits the singing, lyrical nature of the instrument.

Elizabeth Dorman is the soloist in Peanuts® Gallery for Piano and Orchestra, six short pieces written in 1996 on commission for a Carnegie Hall children’s concert and featuring characters from the Charles Schulz cartoon strip.

Violinist Joseph Edelberg brings a warm, rich tone to the quite lovely 1993 Romance for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, and the Prologue and Variations for String Orchestra closes an entertaining disc.

01 Lionel DaunaisLionel Daunais – Melodies/Songs
Jacqueline Woodley; Annina Haug; Pierre Rancourt; Marc Bourdeau; Michel Bellavance
Centrediscs CMCCD 30122 (cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-30122)

Lionel Daunais (1901-1982) was a French-Canadian baritone and a prolific composer. As a founding member of notable ensembles such as the Trio lyrique and the Variétés lyriques, and via his other numerous musical activities and roles such as artistic and stage director, Daunais had a lengthy career and a meaningful influence on Quebec’s musical scene of the mid-20th century.

With Mélodies, pianist Marc Bourdeau pays homage to Daunais’ legacy with a carefully considered curation of a large repertoire (over 250 songs). The final selection includes 27 songs that mix the diverse writing styles of art songs and popular songs with more traditional Quebec folklore songs. Bourdeau’s impeccable research and care of Daunais’ musical intentions, guided both by his appreciation for Daunais and the time he spent in the archives of the Lionel Daunais Fonds, allow for an authentic (re)discovery of this formidable artist. The detailed CD booklet is augmented by a website (LionelDaunais.com) with considerable documentation, useful material on Daunais’ career for possible further research, behind-the-scenes details, as well as videos of recordings and rehearsals. 

Bourdeau’s collaborators are soprano Jacqueline Woodley, mezzo-soprano Annina Haug, baritone Pierre Rancourt and flutist Michel Bellavance. In a variety of ensembles, duets and trios, they excel at recreating the gentle humour, and sometimes sarcasm, the depth and subtle meanings of texts, as well as the appropriate tones for themes of earlier times. Mélodies is not only a significant addition to the life, times and music of Lionel Daunais, it is also an important contribution to Quebec’s musical heritage.

02 Respighi SongsOttorino Respighi – Crepuscolo
Timothy Fallon; Ammiel Bushakevitz
BIS BIS-2632 SACD (bis.se)

Respighi’s remarkably wide-ranging stylistic eclecticism in these 26 songs turns this CD into a bountiful sonic buffet offering a delectable array of variegated flavourful delicacies.

The neo-Renaissance Cinque canti all’antiqua (Five Songs in Ancient Style) includes an aria from his opera Re Enzo and four plaintive love songs, three with texts by Boccaccio. The five extravagantly expressive songs of Deità Silvane (Woodland Deities) recall music by Debussy and Ravel, who also evoked sylvan myths, here replete with fauns and nymphs, cymbals and pipes, and mysterious dances. In the fifth song, Crepuscolo (Twilight), “Pan falls asleep… a joyful song quivers.” Inspired by a visit to Scotland, Respighi arranged his beguiling Quattro arie scozzeti (Four Scottish Songs) – the nostalgic When the Kye Come Home, Within a Mile of Edinburgh and My Heart’s in the Highlands, ending with the jaunty The Piper of Dundee, all sung in Scottish English.

There are many beauties to be found within the other 12 songs, each steeped in the hyper emotionality of Late Romanticism, whether expressing sweet tenderness, passionate yearning or agonized desperation. American tenor Timothy Fallon invigorates these unfairly neglected, fervent songs with operatic ardour and a firm, shining tone, while Ammiel Bushakevitz sparkles and surges at the piano. One caveat – due to the very over-reverberant acoustic, the bass response must be minimized in order to maximize the enjoyment of this most enjoyable CD. Texts and translations are included.

03 Silvestrov RequiemSilvestrov – Requiem für Larissa
Solists; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Münchner Rundfunkorcheste; Andres Mustonen
BR Klassik BRK900344 (naxos.com/CatalogueDetail/?id=900344)

Valentin Silvestrov, Ukraine’s best-known living composer, wrote Requiem for Larissa in 1999 in response to the sudden death of his wife, Larissa Bondarenko. It’s a work of devastating beauty. 

Musical references to Silvestrov’s life with Bondarenko, a musicologist, reveal how deeply personal this work is. Yet it pulls us into the sweep of historical events. This new release, still just its second recording, was made in 2011. Today, with the attacks on the 85-year-old composer’s beloved homeland by Russia, Silvestrov’s Requiem resonates even more deeply. And the significance of this recording grows.

The searing fourth movement, Goodbye, O World, O Earth, Farewell directly recalls the fifth song from Silvestrov’s mesmerizing cycle for baritone and piano, Silent Songs. Here it’s a tenor who sings the poignant lament, set to an excerpt from The Dream by Ukraine’s national bard, 19th-century poet Taras Shevchenko. Andreas Hirtreiter communicates the composer’s pain and longing while heeding his constraints on interpretive flourishes.

The remaining six movements are set to sacred texts from the Latin Mass for the Dead. But Silvestrov has extracted fragments and jumbled them up. In the Agnus Dei, he revisits one of his strangest and most wonderful piano pieces, The Messenger. Invoking Mozart in style and spirit, it arrives mysteriously, an enigmatic dispatch bringing consolations from another world.  

A stirring performance by the Bavarian Radio Choir and the Munich Radio Orchestra under the adventurous Estonian conductor Andres Mustonen puts Silvestrov’s evocative harmonic shifts and uncanny colours into urgent focus.

04 BornEdie Hill; Michael Gilbertson – Born
The Crossing; Donald Nally
Navona Records nv6449 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6449)

When classical radio stations seem agog with a cappella choral music who can fault them? After all, listening to human voices singing in multi-layered harmony sans instrūmentum is, indeed, irresistible. But when you are led to believe that the world of a cappella music is Voces 8 and, seemingly, no one else, surely something is amiss? I mean what about The Crossing directed by the masterful Donald Nally? What indeed…! 

Consider the album titled Born featuring the work of the same name bookended by Returning – both by Michael Gilbertson – with a revenant interpretation of Edie Hill’s Spectral Spirits nestling in between. The two latter works have been commissioned specially for The Crossing, who return the favour with a magical performance from start to finish.

Gilbertson’s work is a mystical and transcendent fit for this mighty vocal ensemble. Nally and the singers navigate both works with absolute mastery. Born is an appropriately meditative unravelling of the evanescence of life. The gossamer-like Returning weaves epic narratives inspired by David and Jonathan. Hill’s Spectral Spirits dwell in light and dark. Perhaps they even summon the spectral shadow of Gérard Grisey.

Nally lets this music unfold with sumptuous expansiveness throughout. The polyphonic lines gracefully reveal themselves in this opulent recording. The singers of The Crossing produce a rich and wonderfully balanced sound, marvellous depth in the basses and a delectable fluidity in the sopranos. Truly this is a choir of great distinction.

05 Between WorldsBetween Worlds
Donna Brown; Margaret Maria
Centrediscs CMCCD 30522 (cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-30522)

Between Worlds is a collaboration between composer-cellist Margaret Maria and soprano-poet Donna Brown. With poems set specifically to music and others adapted into music to fit a theme, the creators tell us that this project “uses words and music to explore the tension between Thanatos and Eros via a symbolic journey from Sunset to Sunrise.” 

In a series of eight movements set for soprano and cello orchestra, Sunrise, Fall, Lady Moon, Snakes and Demons, Caught Between Worlds, To Grasp Time, Sunset and One, aim to awaken listeners to their inner and higher states of consciousness, make sense of the world, and, ultimately, search for light and peace with an open heart. 

The movements each display styles and techniques that vary greatly, the voice moves from spoken (Sunset) and declamatory to complex extended vocals, while the cello(s) are at times thin, scattered and sparse (Sunrise, Sunset) or veer into more complex extended instrumental techniques (Snakes and Demons) and playing ponticello (Fall). The cello orchestra is created by Maria who overdubs the different cello parts.

Donna Brown teaches voice at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal and her recordings have won several awards. Margaret Maria is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and has played on numerous Canadian and international stages. Between Worlds received its world premiere in 2019 by the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra with a full complement of strings.

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06 Romances InciertoRomances Inciertos – Un autre Orlando
Nino Laisné; François Chaignaud
Alborada editions ALB002 (alborada-editions.com)

In 2020, choreographer/dancer/singer François Chaignaud and stage/musical director/arranger Nino Laisné, along with their four virtuoso instrumentalists, recorded this high-quality in-studio release based on their show Romances inciertos, which they have toured internationally since 2017. The three-act dance stage show has Chaignaud and instrumentalists perform on stage together. Un autre Orlando is in three Acts, each featuring a popular traditional Spanish figure respectively – warrior maiden, archangel, and gypsy – set to centuries spanning Spanish musical traditions.  

The band is a tight musical unit. Opening Act I is Laisné’s arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s tango/pasacalle Tristeza de un doble A (1973) featuring bandoneonist Jean-Baptiste Henry’s calm rendition leading to intensity building of fast virtuosic lyrical lines above the other instruments. Act II’s Nana de Sevilla is a popular cradle song, with Romantic-flavoured instrumental improvisations using rubatos, held strings and fast lines, followed by the popular Baroque Folias, an improvisation driven by Pere Olivé’s percussion beats. Chaignaud also sings falsetto, and normal voice, in select songs like his well-placed lower-pitched vocals-to-strings backdrop by Daniel Zapico (guitar and theorbo) and François Joubert-Caillet (viola da gamba) in the Act III opening 1936 zambra, La farsa monea. Laisné’s arrangement of the popular coplas, La Tarara, closes the show featuring Chaignaud’s emotional higher-pitched vocals.

Other Spanish musical styles on display include processional marches to Sephardic laments, folk music to zarzuela, all arranged and performed to perfection. This is a successful, timeless leap from theatre stage to a 16-track audio recording!

01 Being GoldenBeing Golden
Suzanne Shulman; Erica Goodman
Wolftone (shulmangoodman.bandcamp.com/album/being-golden)

Leading Canadian musicians on their respective instruments, flutist Suzanne Shulman and harpist Erica Goodman first played together in 1972. They’ve since enjoyed illustrious careers, performing with several generations of musicians. To commemorate their abiding musical friendship they commissioned Canadian-Scottish composer Eric N. Robertson to write The Rings to serve as an eight-movement centrepiece of Being Golden, their latest joint flute and harp album.

Robertson’s The Rings not only celebrates Shulman and Goodman’s 50th anniversary, but also the golden wedding anniversary of Shulman and her husband Peter. Robertson’s music features colourful arrangements of Scottish rhythms and dances such as reels and strathspeys arranged in a straightforward manner. Geometry of Love (Bells), the title of the final movement, takes an entirely different tack. The strikingly effective interpretation of change ringing (the practice of ringing a set of tuned bells in a sequence) is an outstanding track.  

The balance of the record is devoted to French repertoire for the two instruments. Eloquently composed short works by “impressionist” composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel follow the retro-sounding and peppy 20th-century works by neoclassicists Jacques Bondon and Jean Françaix.
Four pensive works by Ravel defiantly alter the album’s mood, particularly the concluding Deux mélodies hébraïques. Shulman shines in a melismatic near-vocalise in Kaddisch, while the all-too-brief L’énigme éternelle questions the puzzle of existence with bi-tonal passages and a repetitive accompaniment. Is Ravel suggesting that pursuing the topic is futile? Whatever the answer, there’s much to listen to, think about and enjoy here.

02 Bach ConcertosBach Concertos
L’Harmonie des saisons; Eric Milnes
ATMA ACD2 2853 (atmaclassique.com/en)

The talented combination of Quebec-born viola da gambist Mélisande Corriveau and American harpsichordist and conductor Eric Milnes is a truly fortuitous one, which 12 years ago resulted in the formation of the Baroque ensemble L’Harmonie des saisons. Founded in Granby, Québec the group has since earned considerable critical acclaim and has appeared at festivals throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and South America, and has been the recipient of two Juno and two Opus awards. This newest recording presenting an all-Bach program is further evidence of the group’s merit.

The Concerto for Two Violins BWV1043 and that for solo violin BWV1041 were probably written for a concert series Bach organized as the director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. Soloists Julia Wedman (from Toronto’s Tafelmusik) and Jessy Dubé (with Wedman in the solo concerto) deliver stylish and spirited performances, the phrasing always thoughtfully articulated, while the ensemble provides a solid partnership.

The Concerto BWV1055 is most often performed on a keyboard instrument, but scholars indicate that it was probably originally scored for oboe d’amore as is heard here. There is much to admire in oboist Matthew Jennejohn’s bright and clear tone both in this concerto and in BWV1060 where he’s joined by Wedman.

Milnes takes his place at the harpsichord for the Concerto in D Major BWV1054, the third of seven Bach wrote for solo keyboard. Here, soloist and ensemble are a formidable pairing with Milnes playing with a solid assurance and the slow movement particularly well rendered.

Fine sound quality further enhances a fine performance of some familiar repertoire. Bien fait, one and all – let’s hear from you again.

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03 Mozart ShahamMozart – Complete Piano Sonatas Vol.2 & 3
Orli Shaham
Canary Classics CC21 (canaryclassics.com)

For trumpeters studying and performing Western Art Music, at a certain point the extant literature of canonic repertoire gets somewhat thin. “How many times,” a classical trumpeter may ask themselves somewhat frustratedly, “do I need to perform the Brandenburg?” This is not so for pianists who have what seems like a bottomless pit of challenging, crowd-pleasing and technically instructive repertoire to mine as part of their studies or professional concertizing. As such, it is inspiring when you encounter a pianist, such as the talented and newly minted Juilliard faculty member Orli Shaham, who has taken on the yeoman’s task of releasing multiple-disc Mozart recordings in order to put her own stamp on this well-known and beloved music, and establish herself, as The Chicago Tribune noted, as a “first-rate Mozartean.” 

With her latest double-disc release, Complete Piano Sonatas Volume 2 & 3 on the Canary Classics label, listeners find the gifted musician in fine form, picking up from where she left off with volume one and setting the stage for the remaining recordings to be released next year. Exhibiting a deft touch and the sort of keen eye for specific nuance and detail that these piano sonatas require, fans of top-shelf-piano performance and solo classical repertoire will find much to enjoy here. Particular mention should be made to the beautiful sound, acoustic purity and recorded 24-bit capture of Shaham’s Steinway at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. 

04 Mendelssons KaleidoscopeFanny and Felix Mendelssohn
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Chandos CHAN 20256 (chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%2020256)

The sting of Richard Wagner’s bitter anti-Semitic missive had a numbing effect on the true appreciation for Felix Mendelssohn’s music. It was probably worse so for Fanny Mendelssohn who had to also deal with the patriarchy of European society, not dissimilar to the lack of recognition for Clara Schumann among other women of the period.       

The repertoire performed by the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective proffers a snapshot of filial Mendelssohn genius. Think then of this recording of chamber works as the most recent delectable musical presentation of Mendelssohnian hors’d’ouevres; the suggestion also being that (hopefully) there is much more to come. 

Kaleidoscope give a touchingly emotional account of Fanny’s String Quartet in A-flat Major H-U 55 whose harmonic richness and subdued melancholy reveal both a debt and contrast to her brother’s exquisite way with form and structure. Her later Trio in D-Minor Op. 11 H-U 465 displays a remarkably wide range of touch and timbre especially magical in the whispered delicacy of its Lied movement.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Sextet in D Major, Op. post. 110 MWV Q 16 came a whole year before his revolutionary String Octet in E-flat Major. Like its worthy successor, what clinches the greatness of this sextet is the buoyant jubilation and tight fugal construction, which gives it a power equalled by few other finales in chamber music. This is beautifully fresh and energetic music-making from a quite extraordinary ensemble.

05 Notebook Chopin JanacekNotebook – Chopin & Janáček
Domenico Codispoti
Eudora Records EUD-SACD-2203 (eudorarecords.com)

As a teenager, when I was doing my best to convince myself that I liked to smoke clove cigarettes, wear vintage secondhand clothing and watch the “artsiest” of art films at the Revue, Fox or Carlton Cinemas, I remember liking Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being with Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche. Upon initial viewing, I subsequently rushed out to get my hands on Czech beer and a well-thumbed copy of the original Milan Kundera novel, released a few years before the film. And while much was memorable about that movie, I remember being particularly struck by how effectively the film used music (almost exclusively Leoš Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path). Accordingly, it is nice to rediscover Janáček’s haunting cycle of piano pieces, paired here with the 24 Preludes of Frederic Chopin, for a satisfying new release on Eudora records. 

Although their lives almost overlapped briefly – Chopin died in 1849 while Janáček was born in 1854 – they did not. That said, the extraordinary compositions and musical talents of the more famous Polish composer and those of the Czech composer and theorist are united here in the capable hands of Italian pianist Dominico Codispoti. If, as the liner notes to this terrific new recording suggest, Codispoti views himself as a kind of earthly vessel through which the music and composer intentions flow while guided by Chopin’s ghosts and demons, as well as, one supposes, Janáček’s spirit leading him down a silent street in Moravia, 2022 auditors are encouraged to listen in on these two master composers presented in this most excellent translated form.

06 Liszt AgranovichFranz Liszt – Rhapsodies, Etudes and Transcriptions
Sophia Agranovich
Centaur Records CRC 3955 (centaurrecords.com)

Now here is a disc I would listen to over and over again, never wanting it to end. An award-winning very talented Ukrainian-American pianist, Sophia Agranovich plays Liszt as it should be played, totally imbued in Romantic spirit and with “interpretation daring to be different” and “superior musicianship” (American Record Guide). Funny, I remember British critics around the 50s who poo-pooed Liszt, held him second rate and overtly emotional. They should eat their words when they hear this performance.

This is her tenth release and entirely devoted to Liszt showing the many sides of the composer’s genius and all devilishly difficult pieces. Imagine a Budapest cafe with an ever present gypsy (Roma) band and the lead violinist coming to your table and playing his heart out for your wife or girlfriend. This is what we hear when Agranovich plays the slow middle section of Hungarian Rhapsody No.6. The style is unmistakeably Hungarian with the rubatos, hesitations, sudden eruptive accelerandos and syncopations and we even hear the tremolo of the cimbalom in the background. It’s interesting that then she chooses the slow, quiet, melodic No.13, seldom performed but in her hands probably the most beautiful of all the Hungarian Rhapsodies

This is followed by three Schubert Transcriptions, (Ständchen, Erlkönig and Die Forelle); when I was listening to the famous Ständchen (Serenade) I was so transported that I felt like exclaiming “wow, this is soo beautiful!”

Agranovich’s astounding technique is further evident in the dramatic and exciting Mazeppa of the Transcendental Etudes based on the story of a Ukrainian nobleman punished by being dragged by a wild horse across the steppes. We hear the lightning flashes of the whip and the syncopated galloping rhythm in this immensely difficult piece, which provides a fitting end to this unique, opulent and rewarding new issue.

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07 Ravel ConcertosMaurice Ravel – Concertos pour piano; Mélodies
Cédric Tiberghien, Stéphane Degout, Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth
Harmonia Mundi HMM902612 (store.harmoniamundi.com/release/305358)

This interesting new recording of Ravel’s piano music has already earned Gramophone magazine’s Recording of the Month. It includes Ravel’s two piano concertos as well as that composer’s rarely heard songs showing his all-encompassing genius. Not only a composer for orchestra, opera, ballets and the piano, he was also a brilliant orchestrator, pianist and even a songwriter par excellence.

The journey begins with the “marvellous” Piano Concerto in G Major (so described by Francis Poulenc, who actually played the orchestral part when the concerto was first performed on two pianos at a private salon), one of the first truly modern 20th-century concertos. Sparkling and buoyant with jazzy elements, it is superbly performed by pianist Cédric Tiberghien who is already having a brilliant career here and in Europe. The conductor is the very busy Francois-Xavier Roth, by now a very important musical figure in charge of two orchestras and guest conductor of several others. Noteworthy is the fact that the piano is an authentic Pleyel from 1892!

In the dark-hued Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major, it’s amazing how much bravura and complexity a single hand can accomplish. Its single movement begins in a mysterious atmosphere, moving from darkness into light (à la Liszt), with one incisive and versatile theme that develops with a strong rhythmic drive, literally exploding triumphantly at the end.

The two concertos serve as bookends for three song cycles, including one which I find as a curiosity, Deux mélodies hébraīques. The Kaddisch with its emotionally charged Hebrew text, but music entirely by Ravel, is a prayer of mourning usually heard in the synagogue; the other, in Yiddish, L’énigme éternelle, posits the question of existence (!), an enigma for which there is no answer, that finds beautiful expression in baritone Stéphane Degout’s moving interpretation.

08 Mahler Les SieclesMahler – Symphony No.4
Sabine Devieilhe; Les Siecles; Francois-Xavier Roth
Harmonia Mundi HMM905357 (store.harmoniamundi.com)

The French conductor François-Xavier Roth is in great demand these days, and for good reason. Recently appointed music director of the peerless Gürzenich-Orchester in Cologne and principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, among his notable accomplishments was his founding of the Les Siècles orchestra in 2003, featuring instruments appropriate to the period of composition of a given era. Their 2013 rendition of the original version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring garnered immense praise. 

They now turn their attention for the second time to the music of Mahler. The excellent program notes include an interview with Roth, an overview of the work, and a scrupulous listing of the exact models of the wind instruments employed. The piercing sound of the wind instruments and the beefy sound of the period Viennese horns are particularly impressive, much more assertive and biting than our homogenized contemporary models. The string section employs gut strings and plays without vibrato, bringing an unaccustomed serenity to the slow third movement. Combined with Roth’s Apollonian interpretation, the complex counterpoint of the work benefits greatly. The mixing of the album is superb and Sabine Devieilhe’s interpretation of the vocal finale is admirable. 

My only reservation about this performance concerns an occasional lack of nuance, noticeably so in the uncanny second movement scherzo, which struck me as more of a generic waltz as opposed to the idiomatic micro-adjustments of the authentic Ländler tempo George Szell imparts in his classic 1967 recording. This symphony is the most compact and classical in Mahler’s oeuvre and remains the most accessible entry point for Mahler neophytes. Not to be missed!

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