01 Adams Chamber ConcertosThis month’s adventure began with a hybrid, a melding of two honoured institutions in the new music world: WQXR-FM’s Q2 podcast Meet the Composer and New York’s renowned ensemble Alarm Will Sound. The two have come together to produce a CD entitled Splitting Adams (Cantaloupe Music CA21128 cantaloupemusic.com) which presents two works by John Adams Chamber Symphony and Son of Chamber Symphony – prefaced by extended interviews with the composer, host (and Alarm Will Sound violist) Nadia Sirota, artistic director Alan Pierson and members of the ensemble.

Alarm Will Sound (AWS) was established in 2001. It is a large ensemble comprising the instrumentation required for Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony Op.9 (1906), full winds and brass, percussion, piano and string quintet, which Adams also chose for his own foray into the genre in 1992. The podcast discusses the importance of Schoenberg in the history of contemporary music and his move to Los Angeles after the rise of Nazism in his native Austria. Regarding the relationship between Schoenberg’s influential Chamber Symphony and Adams’ own somewhat larger than life and at times parodic work, the composer states “I enjoy that kind of delicious irony of crass American commercialism cheek by jowl with very profound serious European high culture.” The 17-minute documentary is skillfully produced and cleverly edited with audio clips of historical examples and previews, establishing a context for the recorded performance that follows.

Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony was written specifically for AWS in 2007. The extreme difficulty of the work is explored in the podcast, as are some of the musical references, including the distinctive rhythms of the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The musicians discuss the pit- and pratfalls of having the composer present from the first day of rehearsal. My own experience with New Music Concerts has ingrained in me the importance of the input of the composer, but members of AWS talk of how daunting it is when the composer is there before they have had a chance to familiarize themselves properly with the music. In this instance Adams wanted to conduct the first rehearsal, just a few days after the music had been delivered, and commenced to make changes to the score based on the musicians’ first stumbling attempts with some extreme passages. While one might think this would be a relief to the musicians, in a sense they felt cheated by not having the opportunity to master the more difficult original score. In one instance, with the composer’s permission, in subsequent performances the flutist has reverted to the initial version rather than switching to piccolo for an extremely high passage as suggested in Adams’ revision. Again, from my experience with New Music Concerts I know just how much effort is involved in preparing a new work for performance, especially when faced with the complexity of serious contemporary music. It has been a decade since AWS premiered Son of Chamber Symphony and only now after dozens of performances have they felt comfortable enough with the music to record it for posterity. It is a stunning work, made more memorable by the “Illuminating Introduction” (to borrow a phrase from New Music Concerts) provided in this excellent collaboration. While I will not be listening to the podcast as a preamble each time I put on the disc, I’m very pleased to have been exposed to the insights it provided.

02b Raging Against the MachineVancouver’s Redshift Music Society, like Alarm Will Sound, was founded in 2001, with “a focus on bringing the music of contemporary Canadian composers to the general public through unique musical events, mostly in public venues.” In 2007 Redshift Records (redshiftrecords.org) was established and for the past decade has been producing some of the most significant recordings of contemporary music in the country. Two such titles arrived at my desk recently: New Wave (TK448) featuring one of Vancouver’s senior ensembles Standing Wave (founded 1991) and Raging Against the Machine (TK449), a collaborative project between Montreal’s Ensemble Paramirabo (founded 2008) and Toronto’s relative newcomer Thin Edge New Music Collective (founded 2011). Both releases are diverse in their offerings, with New Wave featuring five Canadian works composed (or revised) in past four years and Raging Against the Machine with three recent works by young Canadians bookended by established words by senior international composers.

02a Standing WaveNew Wave begins with Nicole Lizée’s Sculptress, a tribute to Delia Derbyshire that incorporates sounds of her pioneering electronic compositions from the ’60s and ’70s with live ensemble performance and modern technology. Marcus Goddard’s Raven Tales is based on the work of Indigenous artist Mike Dangeli, with rhythmic marimba passages and sprightly flute and clarinet melodies giving way to a sombre second movement called Ancestral Voice before returning to a lively and playful finale. Goddard is a composer I had not previously heard of, as are Justin Christensen and Edward Top, who are also represented on this disc. As an aside, I will note here I find it frustrating that although the tripartite cardboard CD case includes program notes by the composers (not a very helpful one in the case of Christensen, I’m afraid) there is no information about the composers, the ensemble or its members. Googling Goddard took me to several long-out-of-date biographies (including one at the Canadian Music Centre) before I found the composer’s own website, and it took four or five searches to confirm that the Dutch-born Siemen Edward Top, sometime composer-in-residence with the Vancouver Symphony it seems, was indeed the Top included here. Michael Oesterle, however, is a composer whose work I have known for almost two decades. The Quebec-based, German-born (1968) composer is among the stronger voices of his generation and his music has been performed in Toronto with some regularity. Emmy Noether pays tribute to the author of Noether’s (first) theorem which states that every differentiable symmetry of the action of a physical system has a corresponding conservation law. The theorem was proven by mathematician Emmy Noether in 1915 and published in 1918. According to Oesterle’s program note this “leant proof to Einstein’s theory of general relativity and remains a cornerstone in the equations of physicists today.” I must confess that I don’t get the correlation between the theory and his composition, but I’m willing to take his word that “symmetry, conservation of energy [and] momentum” play their part. It’s a charming work at any rate with bell-like sounds from the piano and vibraphone overlaid with pointillist flute and motivic string lines.

Unlike New Wave, Raging Against the Machine comes with a bilingual booklet replete with program notes, composer biographies (although I am tired of being told that Steve Reich is “America’s greatest living composer”) and ensemble blurbs. The recording was made in the Glenn Gould Studio in January 2016, as a follow-up to a cross country tour by Paramirabo and Thin Edge the previous spring. It begins with Reich’s dynamic, if somewhat predictable, Double Sextet (2007), a work which provided the context for the project with its scoring for two ensembles of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion. Patrick Giguère’s Le sel de la terre (2015) was commissioned and is performed by Thin Edge. In his note Giguère explains his identification of the “machine” in the context of the project as consumer-oriented society and dedicates his thoughtful and somewhat lyrical piece to those individuals who choose to rage against it through their life choices. Toronto composer Brian Harman was commissioned to create a work for the double ensemble and he says Hum presents “two different types of materials – machine sounds (from gently undulating to brash) and music associated with human rituals (from harvest songs to intimate shower singing). I am interested in the inherent physicality of these two musical worlds, and finding similarities between them.” The result is mostly contemplative, with occasional ventures into dense textures and a gradual building of intensity, but nothing I would identify as rage. Anna Höstman, also currently based in Toronto, created Fog at the request of Paramirabo with the support of both the Canada and Toronto Arts Councils. “Some of the most beautiful and haunting landscapes are those enshrouded in fog, a natural phenomenon where mystery is made visible.” Her sparse and somewhat blurry landscape is indeed a beauty to behold. The disc ends as it began, in a flurry of activity, with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s iconic Workers Union. Once again the forces of both ensembles are employed to realize a work that is scored for “any loud-sounding group of instruments.” While the rhythms are strictly notated, pitches are only approximately specified. Andriessen states that “it is difficult to play in an ensemble and to remain in step, similar to organizing and carrying out political actions.” This is an exuberant performance in which a good time is obviously had by all, in spite of the built-in challenges.

Review

03 CartographyRaging Against the Machine may be the title of the last CD discussed, but the phrase could apply equally, or perhaps even more appropriately, to Eric Wubbels’ composition gretchen am spinnrade which opens Mariel Roberts’ latest CD Cartography (New Focus Recordings fcr185 marielroberts.com). As a matter of fact I had to go online to watch a video of a live performance (at icareifyoulisten.com) to see whether or not any machine-like technology was in use. With the composer at the piano and Roberts on cello it is amazing to realize that the excruciating intensity is being generated in real time by two mere mortals. It is truly a sight, and sound, to behold, with what Wubbels describes as “alternating relentless motoric circuits with plateaus of regular ‘idling’ motion.” After repeated listening and viewing it is still not clear to me whether the microtonality in the piano part as the piece progresses is a result of the frantic banging on the keys, or if some of the notes have been specially (de)tuned in advance. Whatever the case, Gretchen is definitely pictured at a particularly post-industrial spinning wheel in this reinterpretation of Schubert’s original.

By way of respite, Aman by Cenk Ergün is a much quieter offering, but one that does involve live electronics by the composer along with Roberts’ solo cello. While it was the intensity and sheer volume of Wubbels’ scoring that made the sounds seem mechanical in gretchen, here it is the sparseness that makes them unfamiliar and somewhat otherworldly. It is as if we are “listening” through a microscope to the very structure of the sounds. It’s often hard to distinguish between the manufactured sounds and those created by extended techniques on the cello. I look forward to seeing a video of this one or, better yet, the chance to see Roberts in live performance.

George Lewis’ Spinner for solo cello veritably bursts forth after the quietude of Aman. Lewis, Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, is also a renowned trombonist who has worked with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music for more than four and a half decades. Spinner is set in a more traditional mode for a virtuosic solo instrumental work, at least in the sense of the post-war avant-garde. It is a compendium of sounds available to the cellist using bow and fingers on the strings of the instrument, without venturing into the various extra-musical extensions sometimes called for in the context. It is a thoroughly musical work, which effectively integrates some aspects of modern jazz without compromising its status as a concert piece.

The disc concludes with The Cartography of Time by New York-based composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson. The program note includes a definition of cartography (map-making) and time (the indefinite continued progress of existence…) and a quotation from Wittgenstein, none of which sheds much light on the piece, but I do find its progress glacial and textures reminiscent of an Icelandic landscape or, in my wife’s ears, Northern Lights, perhaps linked to the composer’s birthplace, Akureyri, on the north coast of Iceland just south of the Arctic Circle.

All in all, Roberts’ disc is an incredible journey. Fasten your seatbelt and pack your parka, but be forewarned, although it begins with a bang!, it ends with a whisper…

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

03 CartographyCartography
Mariel Roberts
New Focus Recordings fcr185
marielroberts.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (June 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Raging Against the Machine may be the title of the last CD discussed, but the phrase could apply equally, or perhaps even more appropriately, to Eric Wubbels’ composition gretchen am spinnrade which opens Mariel Roberts’ latest CD Cartography (New Focus Recordings fcr185 marielroberts.com). As a matter of fact I had to go online to watch a video of a live performance (at icareifyoulisten.com) to see whether or not any machine-like technology was in use. With the composer at the piano and Roberts on cello it is amazing to realize that the excruciating intensity is being generated in real time by two mere mortals. It is truly a sight, and sound, to behold, with what Wubbels describes as “alternating relentless motoric circuits with plateaus of regular ‘idling’ motion.” After repeated listening and viewing it is still not clear to me whether the microtonality in the piano part as the piece progresses is a result of the frantic banging on the keys, or if some of the notes have been specially (de)tuned in advance. Whatever the case, Gretchen is definitely pictured at a particularly post-industrial spinning wheel in this reinterpretation of Schubert’s original.

By way of respite, Aman by Cenk Ergün is a much quieter offering, but one that does involve live electronics by the composer along with Roberts’ solo cello. While it was the intensity and sheer volume of Wubbels’ scoring that made the sounds seem mechanical in gretchen, here it is the sparseness that makes them unfamiliar and somewhat otherworldly. It is as if we are “listening” through a microscope to the very structure of the sounds. It’s often hard to distinguish between the manufactured sounds and those created by extended techniques on the cello. I look forward to seeing a video of this one or, better yet, the chance to see Roberts in live performance.

George Lewis’ Spinner for solo cello veritably bursts forth after the quietude of Aman. Lewis, Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, is also a renowned trombonist who has worked with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music for more than four and a half decades. Spinner is set in a more traditional mode for a virtuosic solo instrumental work, at least in the sense of the post-war avant-garde. It is a compendium of sounds available to the cellist using bow and fingers on the strings of the instrument, without venturing into the various extra-musical extensions sometimes called for in the context. It is a thoroughly musical work, which effectively integrates some aspects of modern jazz without compromising its status as a concert piece.

The disc concludes with The Cartography of Time by New York-based composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson. The program note includes a definition of cartography (map-making) and time (the indefinite continued progress of existence…) and a quotation from Wittgenstein, none of which sheds much light on the piece, but I do find its progress glacial and textures reminiscent of an Icelandic landscape or, in my wife’s ears, Northern Lights, perhaps linked to the composer’s birthplace, Akureyri, on the north coast of Iceland just south of the Arctic Circle.

All in all, Roberts’ disc is an incredible journey. Fasten your seatbelt and pack your parka, but be forewarned, although it begins with a bang!, it ends with a whisper…

01 Duo ConcertanteIncarnation (Marquis MAR 81479) is the new CD from Duo Concertante, the husband-and-wife team of violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves. It features new music by Canadian composers Andrew Staniland, Denis Gougeon, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Jocelyn Morlock and Chan Ka Nin.

On their website (duoconcertante.com) Dahn says that as a student she was fascinated by the connections between some of her favourite composers and the players who inspired and first performed their works. By commissioning new works from Canadian composers it was the duo’s hope that they could share a similar devotion to the music of our time.

Staniland’s The River Is Within Us is a highly lyrical piece with decided undercurrents. Gougeon’s Chants du cœur is a two-movement work with a predominantly slow and melodic first part and a livelier, more dynamic second. Ho’s Cœur à cœur is described by the composer as an imaginary conversation between two voices: it’s a lyrical, animated emotional piece with a rhapsodic middle section and an ethereal ending.

Morlock’s Petrichor (the scent of rain on dry earth) is described as exploring an emotional landscape of anticipation, joy and release; its contrasting moods form an arc from a restrained opening through an ecstatic middle to a serene ending.

Chan’s Incarnation was commissioned as a companion piece to the Schubert works for violin and piano, attempting to revive the composer “…as if Schubert’s spirit were travelling through modern times.” Dahn plays electric violin to underline the contemporary aspect, although there is only the occasional distortion before a real “shredding” section over the opening piano figure from Schubert’s Erlkönig song. It provides a fascinating conclusion to another rich and deeply satisfying CD from this duo.

02 Beethoven 2 4 6A few years ago Duo Concertante issued a quite outstanding and very sensitive recording of the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas. The performances on Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano 2, 4, 6 by South African violinist Zanta Hofmeyr and Bulgarian pianist Ilia Radoslavov (Blue Griffin BGR415) are very similar in style, tempo and tone – which is saying a lot. The sonatas here are those in A Major Op.12 No.2, A Minor Op.23 and A Major Op.30 No.1.

Hofmeyr is another former Juilliard student who studied with the legendary Dorothy DeLay; she has a soft, warm tone and a fairly wide vibrato which is always used judiciously. Radoslavov is terrific in the always busy piano part – remember that these sonatas, like Mozart’s, were published as being for piano and violin and not the other way around – and while the violin clearly is no longer optional, the piano still carries a bigger workload in the early sonatas.

Hofmeyr apparently features the complete Beethoven cycle in her concert recitals, but there is no indication that this CD is the start of a complete recording. Given the lovely playing here, such a project would be a welcome addition to the catalogue.

03 Mendelssohn SonatasFelix Mendelssohn – Sonatas from Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood is an outstanding CD from the Karr-Yang Duo of violinist Abigail Karr and pianist Yi-heng Yang (Olde Focus FCR910).

Great care has been taken to make these historically idiomatic performances. The piano is a contemporary Conrad Graf from about 1827 (a maker held in the highest regard by Mendelssohn), and the violin is appropriately fitted for the period. The piano is actually very strong, lacking the resonance of a modern grand but not at all dry or unsatisfying; the tonal colour and dynamic range are quite lovely. Karr’s playing is sensitive, never overtly Romantic but always exhibiting controlled emotion, with the gut strings and a spare and sensitive use of vibrato adding to the effect.

The works themselves are glorious examples of Mendelssohn’s astonishing talents. The Sonata No.1 in F Major, written in 1820 when he was just 11 years old, is a lovely work with a simply dazzling Presto finale. Sonata No.2 in F Minor Op.4 came three years later, and the short, unfinished Sonata Fragment in D two years after that. Only the Sonata No.3 in F Major is an adult work, written when the composer was 29; left unfinished with three mostly complete but heavily revised movements, it is presented here in a performing version prepared by the Karr-Yang Duo.

There is a wonderful feel to these performances, which are virtuosic but always sensitive to Mendelssohn’s style. Excellent booklet notes by the performers on the works and performance practice enhance a terrific CD.

04 Steinberg DuoThree fascinating but rarely heard Violin Sonatas by Franz Reizenstein, Geoffrey Bush and John Ireland form the program on the new CD from the Steinberg Duo, the English husband and wife team of violinist Louisa Stonehill and pianist Nicholas Burns (Lyrita SRCD 360).

Reizenstein was a German composer forced to flee the country by the growing Nazi threat, moving to England in 1934. His 1945 Violin Sonata is in the key of G-sharp – not major or minor, but exploring the tension between both modalities. It’s a strong, challenging work that amply demonstrates Reizenstein’s ability to build chromatic and dissonant music around a strong tonal centre.

The Bush Violin Sonata also dates from 1945 and is a lyrical single-movement work with a constantly shifting tonal centre; it is rarely performed and has never been recorded before. Ireland’s Violin Sonata No.2 in A Minor was written between late 1915 and early 1917 and caused a sensation on its London premiere, when it was felt to have perfectly captured the mood of the period. The elegiac slow movement may well represent an elegy for the war dead as well as a requiem for the pre-war society that had vanished forever.

Stonehill and Burns are in fine form throughout the CD. The duo migrated to Keene, New Hampshire, last year, and the CD was recorded in the beautiful acoustics of the Françoys-Bernier Concert Hall at Domaine Forget in Quebec.

05 ToquadeThe Quebec violist Marina Thibeault is joined by Vancouver-born pianist Janelle Fung on Toquade, a recital of works for solo viola, and viola and piano (ATMA Classique ACD2 2759).

Tchaikovsky’s Valse sentimentale, a transcription of the last of his Six Morceaux for Piano Op.51, is a fine opening track, followed by the first movement of Glinka’s Sonata in D Minor. The heart of the CD, though, is the excellent performances of four works for solo viola, including three by contemporary Canadian composers: Hindemith’s Sonata Op.31 No.4; Ana Sokolovic’s Prélude (2006); Jean Lesage’s Toquade (2016); and Milan Kymlička’s Rubato & Agitato (2008). The latter work, written shortly before the composer’s death, was dedicated to Thibeault and premiered by her in Prague the same year.

A lovely performance of the Sonata for Viola and Piano Op.31 H335 by Bohuslav Martinů rounds out the CD. Written in 1955 when Martinů was nearing the end of his life and becoming increasingly unhappy in the United States, its lyrical, rhapsodic nature allows both performers to shine.

06 Martinu Small StormsThe Czech composer has a whole CD to himself in Small Storms – A Collection of Short Pieces by Bohuslav Martinů featuring American cellist Meredith Blecha-Wells and South Korean pianist Sun Min Kim (Navona Records NV6092). The CD’s title is well-chosen: 20 of the 31 combined tracks from the six works are under two minutes in length and only two are longer than three minutes.

Martinů wrote three sonatas and seven shorter works for cello and piano, with only the Pastorals from 1931 missing from the latter on this disc. The works are Variations on a Theme of Rossini H290 from 1942 (the theme being the same Prayer from Moses used in Paganini’s violin Variations on the G-String); Ariette H188B from 1930; Seven Arabesques H201, the seven-movement Suite Miniature H192 and the four Nocturnes H189, all from 1931; and Variations on a Slovakian Theme H378 from 1959, the year of his death.

Blecha-Wells is technically dazzling in the Rossini variations, and the sweeping phrasing, passion and fine dynamic range together with a great balance with the piano continue throughout the disc. The final Variations on a Slovakian Theme provide an equally dazzling conclusion to an excellent CD.

07 Spanish CelloAmerican cellist Andrew Smith met the Spanish pianist Alfredo Oyágüez Montero in 1999, performing Manuel de Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagñole in recital with him the following year. That eventually led to an all-Spanish recital program that the duo has performed around the world, and Spanish Music for Cello and Piano is the resulting CD (Delos DE 3492).

The Falla suite (an adaptation of the Siete Canciones Populares Españolas for voice and piano) is here, along with works by Enrique Granados, Gaspar Cassadó, Xavier Montsalvatge and Joaquin Turina. Cassadó is represented not only by his Sonata Nello Stile Antico Spagnuolo, the Danse du Diable Vert and Requiebros but also by his arrangement of the Granados Intermezzo from Goyescas; in addition, Turina’s own transcription of his piano piece El Jueves Santo a Medianoche was made at Cassadó’s request and dedicated to him. Montsalvatge’s Cinco Canciones Negras is Smith’s own transcription of the composer’s song cycle for mezzo-soprano. The Pablo Casals arrangement of the traditional Catalan song El Cant dels Ocells completes the disc.

There is beautiful playing and a lovely balance throughout the CD, with Montero not surprisingly providing a perfectly judged accompaniment for Smith’s warm and sensitive interpretations.

08 Dress CodeDress Code (Navona Records NV6078) is the fascinating new CD by the American Altius Quartet, and features the four movements of Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major Op.74 No.1 interspersed with Three Rags by William Bolcom and arrangements by the group’s cellist Zachary Reaves of pieces by Dave Brubeck, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin, Ben E. King’s Stand by Me and the Norwegian band a-ha’s Take on Me.

The claim that the CD is a survey of popular music “throughout the ages” is a bit of a stretch, given the gap of almost 200 years between the Haydn and the other selections, but the startling thing is how well Haydn fits in. The Andantino grazioso sounds decidedly modern following Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven arrangement, and the Menuetto fits quite naturally between Bolcom’s own brilliant arrangements of his Poltergeist and Incineratorag, almost making it sound like an integrated work.

The Haydn is played in a warm, rich style, which perhaps helps to bridge the stylistic gap between the centuries. Oddly, the disc continues to run for a full three minutes after the final track, at which point a blues-tinged bonus suggestive of Ride Sally Ride appears. There’s no mention of it anywhere in the CD package.

09 Prokofiev KoelmanThe Dutch violinist Rudolf Koelman is the outstanding soloist in Sergei Prokofiev – Violin Concertos Nos.1 & 2, recorded live with the Swiss orchestra Musikkollegium Winterthur conducted by Douglas Boyd (Challenge Classics CC72736).

The Concerto No.1 in D Major Op.19 was completed in 1917, although not premiered until 1923. Despite being written in the year of the Russian Revolution during the Great War it is a predominantly lyrical work, with Prokofiev apparently finding his inspiration during walks in the countryside. The Concerto No.2 in G Minor Op.63 from 1935, on the other hand, reflects the composer’s intention to write a concerto that differed markedly from the first one in form and content. The predominantly slow-fast-slow movement structure of the first concerto is reversed, the second concerto having a decided folk influence and a lengthy, lyrical middle movement.

Koelman, who was a pupil of Jascha Heifetz in the late 1970s and concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam in the 1990s, has a bright, strong tone and lovely phrasing, and receives excellent support from the orchestra. These are beautifully recorded performances of two really lovely concertos.

10 Adams Korngold coverIlya Gringolts is the soloist in the Korngold and Adams Violin Concertos with the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra under Julien Salenkour (in the Korngold concerto) and Santtu-Matias Rouvali (in the Adams) (Orchid Classics ORC100066).

When Adams wrote his concerto in 1993 he realised that he would have to “solve the issue of melody.” While he describes the work as “almost implacably melodic” it’s not always melodic in the traditional sense; rather than engaging in dialogue the violin plays almost continually against the orchestral background, and there are lengthy passages of strong rhythmic patterns, especially in the nonstop Toccare third movement. Regardless, Gringolts gives a commanding performance.

The Korngold Concerto in D Major Op.35 is a glorious work from 1945, built for the most part on themes from the composer’s Hollywood film scores and displaying the same lyrical, lush Romanticism. Again, Gringolts is superb, his passionate performance capturing the essence of the work without ever risking letting it sound excessively sentimental.

Glorious recorded sound and tremendous orchestral playing add to a superb CD.

01 Fialkowska Chopin 3Janina Fialkowska continues her Chopin recording project with Chopin Recital 3 (ATMA Classique ACD2 2728). Fialkowska’s discs have proven consistently excellent. Her performances are marked by the welcome maturity that artists of her stature need as a hallmark of their career. Finding the “sweet spot” in a performance is what the creative quest is about. What seasoned performers know is that the “spot” is not where you last found it. It lies at the intersection of the performer’s awareness of self and their deepest awareness of the composer’s voice. This is the place we reliably find Fialkowska in her performances. What alters and enriches her playing is the desire to speak more clearly, more profoundly and more simply. Take, for example, the persistent pulse of the “raindrops” in Prelude in D-flat Major Op.28 No.15. Fialkowska treats this device as if it had true thematic significance. While only a simple rhythmic figure, she turns it into Chopin’s hypnotic, swinging watch while she moves through both turbulence and repose, all the while holding the experience together with a simple pulse.

It may, in fact, be Fialkowska’s command of the distance between the great heights to which Chopin so often rises and the nearly out of reach places to which he retreats that imbues her playing with such power. The disc’s opening track, Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major Op.61 is an eloquent example of this ability. It’s present in everything she plays and makes this a very collectible series.

03 Tania StavrevaThe title of Tania Stavreva's first CD makes it clear what the recording is all about. Rhythmic Movement – Piano Works by Ginastera, Bates, Kapustin, P & A. Vladigerov, Stavreva is a high-energy performance of works driven predominantly by rhythmic impulse.

The Danzas Argentinas Op.2 by Ginastera are a challenging set with the middle of the three dances far more introspective than its rousing companions. But the off-beat and frequently odd-numbered rhythms are characteristic of much of the recording. Another Ginastera work, Ritmico y Distorsionado uses percussion to create a big and very effective finish to the disc. A few of the works on the CD are the performer’s own compositions. One in particular stands out for its exclusive use of the piano’s strings without any resort to the keyboard. The Dark Side of the Sun is a rich and atmospheric piece unlike anything else on the disc, using plucked strings and harp-like glissandos to colourful effect. Jazz Concert Etudes by Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin are intriguing for their American feel. It’s why Stavreva calls Kapustin the Russian Gershwin.

Stavreva makes her CD available only online – autographed if you request it (taniastavreva.com).

04 Julia SicilianoJulia Siciliano makes her recording debut with a 2-disc set Dream Catchers: Masters in Miniature (Blue Griffin Recordings BGR 381). This program is meant to demonstrate how a wide range of emotional content can be conveyed through the use of piano miniatures alone.

Siciliano chooses well-known miniatures, opening with Beethoven’s Bagatelles Op.126, and within the confines of these small works shows us the surprising power of his language where we least expect it. Schumann’s Carnaval Op.9, too, is a collection of brief thoughts, some less than a minute. But here the end points of the spectrum move even further apart. The delicate and understated character of Aveu contrasts dramatically with the virtuosity of Papillons and the grandness of the closing Marche des “Davidsbündler.”

Siciliano moves into Schubert’s Impromptus Op.142 with a very different mindset. Here she is intimately engaged with the composer’s personal and wistful sense of longing, nowhere more beautifully expressed than in the Impromptu No.2 in A-flat Major.

The stylistic change to Ravel and Debussy is a demanding one, but Siciliano comes to this with natural ease. The Debussy in particular is remarkable for her playing of the impressionistic swirls of motion in Poissons d’or.

06 Wanderer Jamina GertJamina Gerl builds the program of her first solo CD on the profound and enduring loneliness of Der Wanderer, Georg Lübeck’s early-19th-century poem. Gerl’s debut recording Wanderer (Tyxart TXA16082) includes Liszt’s setting of Schubert’s Lied Der Wanderer for solo piano as well as Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasie in C Major Op.15 D760. To this she adds a careful selection of works by Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, Chabrier and Debussy that captures varying shades of the loneliness in Lübeck’s archetypal poem.

Gerl may be new to the world of recordings but her talent is impressive, her repertoire substantial and diverse. Her presence at the keyboard is powerful and her technique is flawless. Her interpretive decisions are thoughtful and consistent. She plays Mendelssohn’s Venetian Gondola Songs with a light, airy wistfulness. Her brilliant performance of Debussy’s L’Isle joyeuse moves instantly into its ethereal world with ease. Her command of the nuances required in the Shostakovich Drei phantastische Tänze Op.5 is unsurpassed.

Gerl’s recording debut makes a memorable impact with an outstanding program designed around a challenging theme. Seeing her name on a major label soon will come as no surprise.

07 OsorioMexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, now in his mid-60s, has an impressive discography of nearly three dozen recordings. Curiously, he has recorded nothing by Schubert, until now. This gap in his repertoire will have to remain a mystery. But we can be grateful he has begun to fill it.

In a new 2-disc set, Final Thoughts – The Last Piano Works of Schubert & Brahms (Cedille CDR 90000 171), Osorio performs the Schubert Sonatas in A Major D959 and B-flat Major D960. These works are substantial in both content and length, demanding a wide range of expression and technique. Osorio performs them undaunted by any of their challenges. His approach to the thematic material of their opening movements reveals the depth of his connection to Schubert’s intent. His playing is deeply moving and memorable.

While Brahms’ life was markedly unlike Schubert’s in every way, the kinship shared by their final works is perhaps only a posture, an attitude. This is what Osorio sets out to capture in these discs. The fire and passion of a work like Brahms’ Romanze in F Major Op.118 is a companion to any of Schubert’s most turbulent passages. Likewise, the most tender of the Brahms Intermezzos, especially from Op.118, capture the same posture of the heart that Schubert adopts in the opening ideas of both his sonatas.

Final Thoughts is an ambitious project for its focus on the last musical utterances of two revered composers. Osorio speaks with honesty and conviction about what he finds in them.

08 Mozart KuijkensSisters Marie and Veronica Kuijken have joined their father Sigiswald Kuijken in a new recording Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Piano Concertos K413, K414 & K415 (Challenge Classics CC72752) that offers a new twist on period performance.

Mozart wrote these three concertos for harpsichord or fortepiano, with full orchestra. He also wrote them in such a way that the wind parts might be omitted, and the traditional four string quartet instruments used to create a chamber version of the work. Clearly, this called for very careful string writing and attention to balance. Colour, too, will have been a consideration for Mozart as he wrote for winds to enrich the orchestral texture.

This recording uses fortepiano with the quartet version but makes one important change. Conductor and, in this instance, first violinist Sigiswald Kuijken has replaced the cello with a double bass. His argument for this is that Mozart would likely have assumed that most private buyers of his published score owned harpsichords and would have chosen the chamber version, where the harpsichord was better balanced with the four string instruments. In choosing to record with the more robust fortepiano, the louder, richer bass was an equally robust alternative to the cello. Additionally, switching to double bass moves that pitch an octave lower, creating a fuller, more orchestral effect for the small ensemble.

The choice is a calculated but clever and effective one. It places a larger scale work in an intimate setting for a very satisfying and engaging performance.

10 ImpromtuIn his liner notes, Shai Wosner writes about the unique experience of improvisation. He describes the thrill of finding yourself suddenly in possession of something that’s actually working and sometimes watching the whole effort amount to very little. In Impromptu – Dvořák, Schubert, Ives, Liszt, Chopin, Gershwin, Beethoven (Onyx 4172), Wosner gathers 13 impromptus from some very dissimilar composers. He imbues each piece with immediacy and freedom, creating the original sense of how these impromptus might have been born as true improvisations.

While Wosner has every muscle necessary to rattle a concert grand, his real power lies in being small. He’s able to execute the softest hammer strike to the strings for a sound that is only describable as velvet. Once you’re drawn into this world of intimate playing, even a moderate crescendo can seem like a roll of thunder. Overall it’s this intimacy which makes for such a convincing argument that these impromptus could originally have been improvisations. Wosner makes them powerfully introspective and somewhat mystical. His playing is subtly hesitant and exploratory, creating the feeling that he’s never been here before, that this is in fact the moment of birth.

The Schubert Impromptus, in particular, are astonishing; the pair by Charles Ives, equally so for their daring modernity. But the truly free soul dancing on this keyboard is George Gershwin with his Impromptu in Two Keys. This is a slow Broadway Blues at its very best.

Review

11 Honens BurattoLuca Buratto is the 2015 Honens Prize Laureate. An assured performer, he plays with impeccable technique. His approach to the music of Schumann on this Honens-sponsored disc Schumann – Davidsbündlertänze, Humoreske, Blumenstück (Hyperion / Honens CDA 68186) reveals an uncommon gift for fresh thinking. Buratto has captured Schumann’s Romantic urgings and compellingly channeled them through the keyboard. He has cut loose the classical moorings that many pianists respect and instead allows his interpretations to drift freely into currents where forms become more fluid. It’s here that we feel the deep pull of Brahms, Chopin and Liszt.

Humoreske in B-flat Major Op.20 demonstrates Buratto’s ability to transcend the composer’s signature melancholy that is too often the extent of a performer’s achievement. Buratto moves beyond this by creating an ethos of mysticism rarely experienced in this music. The Davidsbündlertänze Op.6, too, reveal new possibilities for understanding how far Schumann wanted to propel the music of his time from its conservative shelter. Buratto exploits every opportunity to do this by stretching inner tempos and even pulling them apart a little, as if to experiment with left and right hand being out of sync.

None of this happens at the expense of the music because Buratto plays with such conviction that you immediately know he is certain he has revealed Robert Schumann’s true voice. It’s a deep connection that he sustains effortlessly through the entire recording. Hear him live if you can.

11 Honens BurattoSchumann – Davidsbündlertänze, Humoreske, Blumenstück
Luca Buratto
Hyperion / Honens CDA 68186

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (June 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Luca Buratto is the 2015 Honens Prize Laureate. An assured performer, he plays with impeccable technique. His approach to the music of Schumann on this Honens-sponsored disc Schumann – Davidsbündlertänze, Humoreske, Blumenstück (Hyperion / Honens CDA 68186) reveals an uncommon gift for fresh thinking. Buratto has captured Schumann’s Romantic urgings and compellingly channeled them through the keyboard. He has cut loose the classical moorings that many pianists respect and instead allows his interpretations to drift freely into currents where forms become more fluid. It’s here that we feel the deep pull of Brahms, Chopin and Liszt.

Humoreske in B-flat Major Op.20 demonstrates Buratto’s ability to transcend the composer’s signature melancholy that is too often the extent of a performer’s achievement. Buratto moves beyond this by creating an ethos of mysticism rarely experienced in this music. The Davidsbündlertänze Op.6, too, reveal new possibilities for understanding how far Schumann wanted to propel the music of his time from its conservative shelter. Buratto exploits every opportunity to do this by stretching inner tempos and even pulling them apart a little, as if to experiment with left and right hand being out of sync.

None of this happens at the expense of the music because Buratto plays with such conviction that you immediately know he is certain he has revealed Robert Schumann’s true voice. It’s a deep connection that he sustains effortlessly through the entire recording. Hear him live if you can.

02 Verdi BalloVerdi – Un Ballo in Maschera
Soloists; Bayerisches Staatsorchester; Zubin Mehta
Cmajor 739408 

Munich has been at the cutting edge of bringing opera into the 21st century with highly original productions by the best directors and designers as well as streaming them live through the internet and onto your TV screen, worldwide and free of charge. A few of these have been released on DVD such as this Ballo from 2016, Johannes Erath’s “musically super-sensitive” gorgeous, highly acclaimed production many people travelled to Munich for.

Verdi’s opera of illicit love, betrayal, conspiracy, revenge and murder has been a special favourite of mine, with its heavenly music throbbing with emotion and ecstasy, reminding me of Tristan. Erath created a dreamlike, surrealistic show in dominant blue and black with projections of shadows and in semi-darkness, suggesting the ever-present power of black magic and the subconscious. There is a single set throughout, a bedroom that with effective light changes can transform in one’s imagination into many different settings.

The Staatsoper selected a dream cast as this opera requires the highest order of singers. Young Polish tenor Piotr Beczała, in love with his best friend’s wife but also guilt-ridden, is vocally and visually radiant in the role of Governor Riccardo. Amelia, the wife, tormented and in a conflict that threatens to tear her apart, is German soprano Anja Harteros, her dark-hued voice full of intensity. The wronged husband Renato, one of Verdi’s most inspired creations, is George Petean who perhaps lacks the expected aristocratic bearing but his strong, heroic and heart-rending baritone completes this exemplary trio of principals. Even the lesser roles: Sofia Fomina (Oscar) and Okka von der Damerau (Ulrica) store wonderful surprises and, to top it all, Zubin Mehta’s masterly handling of the score makes this production truly memorable.

03 Elina GarancaRevive
Elīna Garanča; Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana; Roberto Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5937

Elīna Garanča from Latvia is unquestionably the greatest mezzo of our time, already a legend. The mention of her name fills up opera houses and concert halls instantly worldwide. Her debut at the Met in Carmen was a world sensation, redefining the role and making us forget any Carmen heard before or ever after. Wherever she goes, she conquers. This is her fifth solo disc for DG, the previous four all award-winning runaway bestsellers and each showing different sides of her talent and development towards more and more complex roles.

“Strong women in moments of weakness” is how she defines this new release, and that means conflicting strong emotions but also a breakaway from her earlier bel canto repertoire into French and Italian verismo and, of course, Verdi. The point of departure is the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana (her next project) with the gut-wrenching aria Voi lo sapete, o Mamma of human misery and despair, with Garanča rising to the occasion in a voice of tremendous range of vocal colour, intensity, passion and, above all, power.

Challenging and beautiful arias by Cilea, Massenet, Thomas and Saint-Saëns and more each give us a tantalizing glimpse into mezzo territory. And then comes Verdi: one huge role, Eboli in Don Carlo, which she hasn’t done yet and which everyone is waiting for. If this thrilling showstopper, Song of the Veil with its fiery Spanish rhythms and exuberance, is any indication, it will be another triumph. Roberto Abbado’s intense and passionate conducting adds to the success of this remarkable collection.

05 LucyJohn Glover – Lucy
Andrew Wilkowske; Christopher Zemliauskas; REDSHIFT Ensemble
New Focus Recordings FCR 183 (newfocusrecordings.com)

In 1964, Maurice and Jane Temerlin “adopted” the just-born Lucy as part of a series of cross-fostering experiments in which chimpanzees were raised as if they were human, with mostly tragic outcomes for the chimps. Lucy lived with them until 1977, when they could no longer deal with her. She was finally set free in The Gambia, where her mutilated body was found in 1987.

Kelley Rourke’s libretto (included in the booklet) imagines Maurice Temerlin learning of Lucy’s death and recalling episodes from their years together, drawn from his memoir, Lucy: Growing Up Human. John Glover’s hour-long opera (2014) features baritone Andrew Wilkowske (Temerlin), speaker Sarah Sokolovic (Researcher), pianist Christopher Zemliauskas and the four-member REDSHIFT Ensemble, with Glover conducting.

The hearty-voiced Wilkowske sings with energy and expression, but his music is less engrossing than his words, recounting many humorous, sometimes frightening, scenes of his “daughter” Lucy running around with unrolled toilet paper, getting drunk, carrying a kitten on her back, learning American Sign Language, dialling a telephone, attacking and biting a visitor. Most of Lucy’s musical pleasures are provided by the varied colours and bubbling rhythms of the instrumental accompaniment.

Bonus tracks include comments by Glover, Rourke, Wilkowske, stage director Erik Pearson and, most eloquently, Robert Ingersoll, who worked on the cross-fostering project but now advocates for chimps to be treated as chimps. “We stole their lives from them,” he laments. Lucy helps explain Ingersoll’s anguish.

06 Jane EyreJohn Joubert – Jane Eyre
April Fredrick; David Stout; Gwion Thomas; Mark Milhofer; English Symphony Orchestra; Kenneth Woods
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 263-2

British composer John Joubert and his librettist (and former student) Kenneth Birkin worked on his opera Jane Eyre from 1987 through 1997. Incorporating cuts made for the world-premiere concert performance in October 2016 in Birmingham, this live recording is a tribute for the composer’s 90th birthday and an exceptional permanent record of a great work.

Charlotte Brontë’s novel surprisingly suits this operatic venture. As Joubert explains in the detailed liner notes, the two acts of three scenes each are not an exact retelling of the lengthy story, but a selective take on Jane’s adult life. The libretto captures all the important storyline components while the composition is amazing. The music is so original, with touches of such influences as Wagner and Strauss surfacing throughout. The vocal music captures the story but it really is the brilliant orchestration that rules – it almost sounds like equal duets between the vocals and instruments. The Act One argument between Jane and Brocklehurst is driven by rhythmic orchestral shots, low-pitched mysterious crescendos and countermelodies in the strings. The closing joy in Jane and Rochester’s reunion is reinforced by the sweet string lines.

The soloists perform with passion and expertise. The orchestra members play with astounding musical force, driving the operatic score to out of this world artistic heights. There is so much musical detail here that only repeated listening can illuminate. Though at times musically too melodramatic, this is an opera that should stand the test of time.

01 Maddelana del GobboHenriette, The Princess of the Viol
Maddalena Del Gobbo; Michele Carreca; Ewald Donhoffer; Christoph Prendl
Deutsche Grammophon 481 4523

All too often reviews published in The WholeNote evaluate works by artists who die tragically young. Princess Anne Henriette de Bourbon was one such. Princess? If she had lived beyond 24, she might have become a queen: she was Louis XV of France’s second daughter.

In this CD, Maddalena Del Gobbo evokes the legendary genius of Henriette’s viola da gamba playing. Del Gobbo – who is quite taken with her subject – includes music by Marin Marais, as might be expected, but also arrangements of country dance music which disprove the idea that the viola da gamba was some highly formal, sombre instrument, along with other music of the time for viola da gamba.

Jean-Baptiste Forqueray became Henriette’s tutor. How fitting that two pieces by him feature on the CD. One is a slightly subdued composition, played compassionately by Del Gobbo. In contrast, the other is more lively and demanding, particularly with the divisions that conclude this piece with such a flourish.

The dance pieces by Marin Marais from Suite in A Minor are indeed rustic and vigorous, even the Allemande, but special mention must be made of Del Gobbo’s performances of Muzettes throughout the CD. She brings out the original meaning of Muzette, namely bagpipes, and it is her expertise that brings home the drone effect of the bagpipe.

Add to this Del Gobbo’s vigorous interpretations of movements by a contemporary of Henriette, Louis de Caix d’Hervelois, and you understand the versatility of both princess and modern performer.

02 RosenmuellerJohann Rosenmüller in Exile
Jesse Blumberg; ACRONYM
Olde Focus Recordings FCR909 (newfocusrecordings.com)

I first heard the music of Johann Rosenmüller in a Tafelmusik concert some years ago. I knew the music of Schütz and Biber, and I was delighted to find that here was a third major 17th-century composer. In the early part of his career he worked in Leipzig and he was apparently assured that he would be the next Thomaskantor, a prestigious post that would later be held by J.S. Bach. Nothing came of this. Instead he became involved in a homosexual scandal and spent time in prison. He escaped and made his way to Venice. That would have been important for his musical evolution as he got to know Italian music, in particular the work of Carissimi. Eventually he was able to return to Germany by becoming the Kapellmeister at the Ducal court at Wolfenbüttel.

This CD contains seven items: four Latin cantatas for solo voice and strings, and three five-part sonatas for strings. The singer is the baritone Jesse Blumberg. The works receive fine performances from singer and instrumentalists alike. An attractive recording of relatively unfamiliar material.

03 Bach sonatas partitasJ.S. Bach – Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Movses Pogossian
New Focus Recordings FCR178 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Review

On the back cover of the booklet inserted in the album sleeve is the handwritten note: “in memory of our common research of g minor. a minor sonata / Budapest 6.9.2015 / Márta-György Kurtág.” Before recording the Sonatas and Partitas Movses Pogossian journeyed from Los Angeles to Budapest to work with the 89-year-old Kurtág and his wife Márta. Pogossian had collaborated with the composer before, but on Kurtág’s music, notably the Kafka Fragments, which he performed with soprano Tony Arnold in Toronto this past March. It was then that I asked Movses about his “research” with the Kurtágs. He said that Kurtág was very particular about harmony, structure and tempo and had an allergy to anything that did not feel right. Capturing the character of the piece was the most important thing. For instance, Kurtág said the subject of the A Minor Fugue should be “without emotion,” suggesting the link between key and Affektenlehre.

Their “research” resulted in transforming the Sonatas and Partitas into something in the nature of six Baroque altarpieces, where each movement is a panel depicting a tableau that illustrates some aspect of the key in question. Pogossian remains faithful to the affect of each set, even in the Double of the Corrente of the B Minor Partita, where he frames the torrential stream of notes within the penitential mood of that key. Phrasing is free, as though allowing singers to breathe and dancers to pause between phrases. Pogossian’s approach is far from those who treat this repertoire as though an extreme sport.

The G Minor Adagio, dark timbre, grieving harmonies, each phrase rising from stillness, the fioriture parsed for motivic shapes, the last chord held 12 seconds a niente for a running time of nearly six minutes; the grave Fugue (Kurtág wished it slower); the lilting Siciliana danced with sad restraint; the grimly brilliant Presto. The desolate A Minor Sonata, the Andante, an aria of loss (compare Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben). Pogossian plays the D Minor Partita with noble restraint, and takes the cosmic Chaconne at a stately quarter = 46. He treats the Adagio of the C Major Sonata as though the Creator is breathing on the waters (eighth = 40), while the Olympian Fugue follows as the fully formed world. The pastoral Largo in F major is all smiles, and the final Allegro could be titled Tutto nel mondo è burla. The E Major Partita radiates uttermost joy.

The three CDs are a panoply, but they give only a hint of when one sees Pogossian in person, for he enacts the affects of the Sonatas and Partitas with his whole body and breath. Such intense identification of body, mind and spirit with sound is a rare gift. I am also grateful for the notes by Paul Griffiths, who wrote virtually short poems on each of the types of movements. They end with words on the Ciacconia: “Finally the voices spiral into the keynote. This was the lesson that had to be taught and learned. How to end.”

04 Vanhaul EyblerJohann Baptist Vanhal – Six Quartets, Op.6
Eybler Quartet
Gallery Players of Niagara GPN 17003 (eyblerquartet.com)

Review

Johann Baptist Vanhal was a Bohemian composer active in Vienna. In his autobiography the Irish tenor Michael Kelly (who sang in the first performance of The Marriage of Figaro) records that he attended a concert of a string quartet which consisted of Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal and Ditters von Dittersdorf. It is a quartet one would have liked to have heard! Vanhal was also a prolific and successful composer.

The Eybler Quartet is an ensemble of distinguished Toronto musicians well-versed in 18th-century performance practice: Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, violin, Patrick Jordan, viola, and Margaret Gay, cello. It was founded in 2004 with the aim of exploring the first century and a half of string quartet repertoire. The quartet’s concerts have featured the work of Haydn and Mozart, but its main emphasis has been on bringing back the work of composers now rarely heard, such as Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler (after whom the quartet is named) and now Johann Baptist Vanhal. These are attractive works, and they are beautifully played. They are also unremittingly cheerful (they are all in major keys) and that constitutes both an asset and a limitation. It was well worth unearthing this music, but a comparison with, say, Mozart’s G Minor Quintet or any of the mature quartets by Haydn brings out that limitation.

06 NYOCLisboa 2016 – Excerpts from the 2016 TD Tour to Portugal
National Youth Orchestra of Canada; Perry So
Independent NYOC2016CD (nyoc.org)

The National Youth Orchestra of Canada is an idea as much as it is an ensemble, a very grand idea whose premise is to bring together the finest students of orchestral performance from across the country and give them the invaluable experience of hearing themselves and one another perform the magic that is symphonic music. Hogwarts indeed. Full disclosure: I am a former member of the NYOC.

Lisboa celebrates a tour the band made in summer 2016 to Portugal, and it serves as an example embedded in time of what the idea generates on a yearly basis. The players on this disc likely will be or currently are members of the professional musical community and, while concert reviewers consistently sum up their achievements with qualifications like “they make up in enthusiasm what they lack in polish,” reviewing an artifact like this prevents one from falling back on hackneyed faint praise. What the band lacks in terms of professional polish is entirely consistent with more mundane realities like string instruments that might not be acceptable in a truly professional ensemble, and newness to one another, much like any other all-star national team.

The Overture to Tannhauser opens the collection. It is beautifully played, sculpted, committed to. Even if you avoid Wagner, as I do, stay and hear him out in this instance. Imagine how this piece drew these players together. Then prepare to get up and dance as they move on to Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony Op.100.  If the Scherzo doesn’t knock you on your ass it’s because you weren’t standing. The Adagio movement is the only weak link: there are ensemble lapses towards the end. In the manner of any seasoned orchestral player, I blame the (clearly able) conductor, Perry So. The task of uniting the voices of this group when uniform phrasing is called for is on the conductor’s to-do list, daunting though it may be.

The rest of the double disc presents two brief new pieces: Spacious Euphony, by Christopher Goddard (the NYO/RBC Composer in Residence), and Hope – The Gift of Youth by Chris Meyer (an NYO commission through the Canada Council). The former zigzags in and out of tonality. The latter develops from amorphous clouds of sound to anthem, with a lovely woodwind choir and a stormy tutti ruckus encountered on the journey. Fittingly, both composers are relative tyros with great chops.

07 Holst ChamberGustav Holst – Kammermusik
Ensemble Arabesques
Farao Records B 108098 (farao-classics.de)

Gustav Holst composed lots of orchestral and vocal music besides The Planets, but hardly any chamber music or solo piano pieces. This CD presents the bulk of Holst’s chamber music, ably performed by Hamburg’s Ensemble Arabesques.

In the Quintet in A Minor, Op.3 for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon (1896), the wind players are joined by pianist SooJin Anjou. This student composition boasts a lovely chorale melody for the horn in its first movement, and a striking, solemn, processional Adagio. The Sextet in E Minor for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola and cello (1900), only recently discovered in the British Library Archives, here receives its first recording. It comprises a sweetly sentimental Moderato, a graceful Scherzo, a mournful Adagio and a final set of variations in which Holst cleverly mixed and matched the six instruments, while giving each its turn in the spotlight.

Both the Woodwind Quintet Op.14 (1903 but unpublished until 1983) and Three Pieces for oboe and string quartet (1910) reflect Holst’s fondness for Renaissance and Baroque dance forms, coloured by touches of English folksong. The two-movement Terzetto for flute, oboe and viola (1925), here played by flute, oboe and clarinet, is the most modern-sounding of these works, with a melancholy Allegretto and sprightly Un poco vivace finale.

These “vivace” performances of very ingratiating music showcase a seldom-heard but rewarding side of a composer still known mainly for his single “greatest hit.”

08 Neurodegenerative musicMind Music – Music related to neurodegenerative conditions
Northern Chamber Orchestra; Stephen Barlow
Divine Art dda25138 (divineartrecords.com)

Mind Music: Music related to neurodegenerative conditions began as a fundraiser for Parkinson’s UK. It honours musicians or relatives touched by brain diseases: Felix Mendelssohn (stroke); Richard Strauss (late-life depression following influenza); John Adams and Kevin Malone (fathers with Alzheimer’s); clarinetists Elizabeth Jordan and Lynsey Marsh (project initiators, who lost parents to Parkinson’s Disease). Yet these readings of clarinet music are upbeat, featuring Jordan, Marsh and conductor Stephen Barlow with the Manchester-based Northern Chamber Orchestra. In Richard Strauss’s Sonatina No.1: From an Invalid’s Workshop (1943), the wonderfully rich, well-tuned sound of 16 wind players suits the work’s melodic lyricism and harmonic suavity perfectly. Mendelssohn composed his short Concert Piece No.1 (1833) for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra in exchange for his clarinetist guests’ cooking of Bavarian dumplings and strudel. Here, Marsh and Jordan meld the solo instruments with orchestra into a cheerful, satisfying whole.

Digital delay evokes memory in Kevin Malone’s The Last Memory (1996) for clarinet, the composer exploring events and feelings around his father’s illness. Composer John Adams honours his clarinetist father’s tutelage, American musical roots and final years in the intriguing Gnarly Buttons (clarinet and small orchestra). Agile solos by Jordan, and Stephen Barlow’s precise conducting, are complemented by jazz timbres, sampled sounds, and pert banjo or mandolin interjections. Amidst this bundle of surprises, the peaceful opening of the finale, Put Your Loving Arms Around Me, is extraordinally calming.

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