04a Mariposa BookI recently read The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History by current artistic director Michael Hill, and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. The first brought back memories of my own visits to the iconic festival in the Toronto Island years of the early 1970s. One of the lasting memories I have from that time is seeing Taj Mahal performing with his acoustic resonator guitar and a quartet of tubas (!) that included the iconic Howard Johnson. I believe that was the first time I heard Fishin’ Blues, which remains one of my favourite songs of the genre. Or a tuba at a folk festival for that matter.

04b Taj MahalIt seemed fortuitous then when one of the last discs that found its way to me before I sat down to write this column was TajMo, the latest from Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’ (Concord Records CRE00431). It’s a little over-produced for my taste, but there is a great horn section (no tubas though) and a host of fine musicians including a cameo guitar solo by Joe Walsh. Highlights for me are the one all-acoustic track, John Estes’ Diving Duck Blues with just the two headliners trading verses and licks, and Pete Townsend’s Squeeze Box with a rockin’ band that includes both lead and rhythm accordions. It’s also nice to hear Toronto get a shout-out in the rollcall of TajMo’s calypso-flavoured anthem Soul.

Concert note: The 57th annual Mariposa Folk Festival runs from July 7 through 9 at Tudhope Park in Orillia. Although Mahal will not be there this year I see that the calypso band Kobo Town, whose album Where the Galleon Sank was reviewed in the Pot Pourri section of June’s The WholeNote, will be (July 8 at 11:45 AM at the 150+ Stage and July 9 at 4:45 at the Mariposa Pub Stage).

04c Thien Do Not SayI often re-read books that have spoken to me in a special way, but rarely just a few months after my first exposure. An exception to this practice will be this summer when I return to Thien’s multiple award-winning novel depicting life in pre- and post- Cultural Revolution China and the days surrounding the Tiananmen Square protest and massacre. Much of the book is concerned with two generations of musicians involved with the Central Conservatory of Music and I was surprised by the music that was mentioned throughout the book. Upon next reading I plan to take the time to revisit these masterpieces which are so important to the storyline, including Bach’s Violin Sonatas, Partitas and Double Concerto, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Pastoral Symphony, Handel’s Xerxes Overture, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata, Ravel’s Tzigane and Shostakovich’s Symphonies Four, Five and Ten. Seems like a good use of my summer!

As always, 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

09 transhumanThe piano four-hands duo of Paola Savvidou and Jonathan Kuuskoski have led a recording project Transhuman – New Muse Piano Duo (Blue Griffin Recording BGR407) that celebrates the work of contemporary composers who treat the piano in its fullest capacity as a percussion and stringed instrument in addition to being just a keyboard. Repertoire for the project was selected from more than 100 submissions and includes a few works commissioned especially for the recording.

The works are wonderfully varied and present an entertaining array of subjects. Transhuman Etudes by Gabriel Prokofiev looks to the computer age and expresses its mechanistic logic through layered voices and complex polyrhythms. Rambunction by Stacey Barelos reflects the American entrepreneurial spirit using recognizable melodic shapes and rhythms. The inside of the piano, its harp of strings, becomes an important textural resource for Amy Williams’ Switch. Haley Myers calls for the performers to bow the strings with rosin-coated fishing line in her atmospheric work Festina Lente. Composer Oleg Bezborodko is perhaps the most adventurous in his use of the piano strings as a cembalom or even a balalaika. His Mignonettes et poèmettes de notre temps recalls the flavours of Eastern European life from a century ago. Henrik Ajax adds knocking on the piano case to the list of effects he uses in Valse déconstruite.

Transhuman is a creative and highly entertaining recording that will stimulate your imagination about what a piano can really do.

05 Quatro ManiDuo pianists Steven Beck and Susan Grace have been performing together since 2013 and have developed a sterling reputation for performance of contemporary works. Their latest collaboration, Quattro Mani – Lounge Lizards (Bridge 9486) opens with Fred Lerdahl’s Quiet Music. Originally scored for orchestra, the composer’s two-piano version is an immediately engaging piece played almost entirely pianissimo and using texture as the main building block to advance the work. A constant stream of sixteenth notes pulses throughout the music while the pianists build density toward a climax from which they then gently retreat.

Two works really stand out on this disc: Charles Ives’ Three Quarter-tone Pieces and Lounge Lizards by Michael Daugherty. The Ives work is a study in the possibilities of quarter-tone tuning as first proposed by a German builder in 1925 who created a quarter-tone piano with two keyboards. For this performance, one of the instruments is tuned to the quarter-tone difference while the other is left at concert pitch.

Lounge Lizards is composer Michael Daugherty’s recollection of his student years when he supported his studies by playing in bars and night clubs in Europe and the U.S. It too was originally scored for orchestra and percussion but has been subsequently arranged by the composer for two pianos and two percussion.

02 Tournemire BoucherWalking into Montreal’s St. Joseph’s oratory for the first time is a memorable experience. The sheer size of the space under the massive dome and the starkly modern concrete columns are enough to shrink any ego. Perched in the rear gallery like some colossal beast sits the 1960 instrument by Rudolf von Beckerath. Organist Vincent Boucher has the regular task of sitting like an ant at the console in these gargantuan surroundings and filling the oratory with glorious music. His recent disc Charles Tournemire – Mariae Virginis (ATMA Classique ACD2 2473) is a splendid example of musicianship and sound engineering at their best. Capturing the right amount of direct sound from the instrument and balancing it with the building’s natural reverberation are always the key to successful organ recordings. This one gets it right.

The language of late-19th-century repertoire can be dense and Charles Tournemire wrote carefully to achieve those heavy textures while cognizant of the challenges organs would have in large spaces like St. Joseph’s in Montreal. Clarity of colour and harmony are vital to the writing of that period. Tournemire achieved this by writing sparsely wherever this was needed.

The works on this disc are sets of service music from a year-long collection of such compositions. They include Introits, Offertories, music for the Communion and also Postludes. The repertoire on the recording is specially focused on feasts of the Virgin from the liturgical calendar.

11 TorobaPepe Romero and his student Vicente Coves are the soloists on Torroba Guitar Concertos Vol.2 with Spain’s Extremadura Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manuel Coves, the brother of Vicente (Naxos 8.573503).

Although not a guitarist himself Torroba wrote close to 100 works for the classical guitar, thanks initially to a close working relationship with Andrés Segovia that started in the early 1920s. Despite some early attempts at a concerto there were no significant results until the 1960s, when Torroba concentrated less on his zarzuelas, the Spanish light-opera form at which he was so successful, and more on his writing for guitar. He ended up writing ten guitar concertos, all of which – like his zarzuelas – are richly lyrical and deeply melodic as well as being grounded in the Spanish folk idiom so prevalent in Spanish guitar music.

The three concertos here are Homenaje a la seguidilla from 1962 (but revised in 1975 and 1981), Tonada concertante from 1975-80 and Concierto de Castilla from 1960, with Vicente Coves the soloist in the latter. Superb playing and idiomatic orchestral support mark all three performances, my only complaint being the ludicrously short CD break – four seconds! – between the concertos.

12 Viva SegoviaNot only did Andrés Segovia almost single-handedly establish the guitar as a concert instrument, he was also responsible for a significant increase in its repertoire. A great number of works commissioned by him or dedicated to him – many never actually performed – were discovered among his private papers in May 2001; the works were later published as The Segovia Archive Series by Edizione Musicale Bèrben. ¡Viva Segovia! (Reference Recordings FR-723) is the third CD from Spanish guitarist Roberto Moronn Pérez in his Andrés Segovia Archive series, following volumes of works by Spanish and French composers.

There are two “new” English works here: Cyril Scott’s Sonatina and Lennox Berkeley’s Quatre Pièces pour la guitare, both described by Pérez as gems. Three Swiss composers – Aloÿs Fornerod, Fernande Peyrot and Hans Haug – are represented, Fornerod and Peyrot by Prélude and Thème et variations respectively, while Haug’s Étude opens the CD and his Passacaglia closes it. The Sonata in mi by the Italian composer Ettore Desderi completes the program.

Pérez displays an outstanding technique in this fascinating collection of works that were lost for so long, all of which deserve to become a part of the regular repertoire.

Monteverdi – Vespro Della Beata Vergine
Various Soloists; Monteverdi Choir; London Oratory Junior Choir; His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts; English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner
Archiv Produktion 479 7176

The Beauty of Monteverdi
Various Artists
Deutsche Grammophon 479 7193

01a Monteverdi VespersJohn Eliot Gardiner first heard the Monteverdi Vespers when still a schoolboy: over the radio in a performance from York Minster conducted by Walter Goehr. When Gardiner was an undergraduate at Cambridge, he himself conducted the work, in 1964, in the great Gothic chapel of King’s College. It must have seemed to him that here was a great work comparable in scope to Bach’s B Minor Mass, yet totally different. Gardiner was also concerned with moving away from what he saw as the bland English choral tradition which sacrificed dramatic vitality to blend and purity of sound. His first recording of the work came in 1974 and is still available. It uses singers like Jill Gomez and Philip Langridge who were in no way connected with the emerging Early Music Movement. Gardiner’s second recording, now under review, followed in 1989. The third recording, available as a DVD only, was released in 2016. It was recorded in the Chapelle Royale in Versailles. (I reviewed it in the April 2016 issue of The WholeNote.)

The 1989 recording, now reissued both as CDs and a DVD, was recorded in the spectacular space provided by St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The DVD fully explores the basilica’s architecture, its mosaics and its sculpture. There is no clear record that the music was originally performed there or anywhere else in Monteverdi’s lifetime. There is now a critical consensus that its first publication (in 1610) does not represent a proposal for an actual liturgical performance but instead constitutes material on which Monteverdi wished to be judged. It may well be on the strength of the 1610 publication that Monteverdi was offered the prestigious post of Maestro di Cappella at St. Mark’s three years later.

The performance is spectacular with rhythmic vitality and precision and with great dramatic emphases. The singers include soprano Ann Monoyios (who has given us so much pleasure in the past in Toronto), tenor Nigel Rogers and, surprisingly, a very young bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. For vitality it will be hard to beat this reissue, but there are now a number of fine recordings. If you prize what has been called “lyric intimacy” over dramatic vitality, you might explore the versions conducted by Savall or Christie, Parrott or Alessandrini.

01b Monteverdi BeautyThe other CDs reviewed here constitute an anthology of parts of Vespers, several of the operas and a selection of the Madrigals, the Scherzi musicali and the Selva morale e spirituale compiled to honour the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth. Much of the singing is very fine, and the solos by Anne Sofie von Otter and Magdalena Kožená alone are worth the price of admission. This kind of anthology clearly offers limitations, and I would hope that hearing these would spur a listener to explore the works from which they are taken.

07 Room 29Room 29
Jarvis Cocker; Chilly Gonzales
Deutsche Grammophon 28947970101

In this age of streaming, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, randomized playlists and self-publishing, do we still need record labels? All these electronic access modes are merely measures of popularity, not quality. Sure, an occasional gem will have 10 million views on YouTube, but so will a cat dancing to a laser pointer. The role of record labels is to “curate” (goodness help me for using this word) the listener’s experience.

Enter Room 29, a collaboration that would have been drowned out by the latest Kardashian selfies. Deutsche Grammophon championed this unlikely coming together of two very different musicians. Jarvis Cocker is the former frontman of Pulp, the very definition of Britpop of the 1990s. Gifted with an Elvis Costello-like voice and sensibilities, nowadays, he is an actor, director and radio personality who draws comparisons to Jools Holland and John Peel. Chilly Gonzales, a Jewish Hungarian-Canadian, despite having worked with Feist, Drake and Daft Punk, became truly known for Solo Piano, an album of original music that made some critics compare him to Erik Satie. Here, Cocker and Gonzales team up to sing and play about Room 29 in the iconic Hollywood hotel Chateau Marmont (where Billy Wilder met his inspiration for Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard fame). If all this sounds contrived, consider that the inspiration for Room 29 was none other than Ryuichi Sakamoto – known among other things as a composer for film. The biggest surprise, it works very well! Gonzales is a phenomenal pianist, Cocker an engaging balladeer and the album bears a third and fourth listening. Will wonders never cease!!

05 Beethoven 4 7Beethoven – Symphonies 4 & 7
Beethoven Orchester Bonn; Stefan Blunier
Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG 937 1995-6

This just-released combination of Beethoven’s Fourth and Seventh Symphonies, presented by the Beethoven Orchester Bonn under Stefan Blunier, arrives with muscular assuredness. They seem to celebrate all that is earnest and serious in their patron composer. Utter precision is called for in these works, from the pizzicatti that punctuate the chords at the bleak opening of the Fourth, to the hell-bent careering Scherzo of the Seventh. There is a pure and raw quality to these renderings, allowing for delicacy but more concerned with something like honesty. Just hearing the hair of the bow grab the string at the opening of the Adagio of the Fourth scratches the itch just so. The reproduction is limpid, the playing excellent. I have to believe Beethoven would nod approval.

These pieces frame or bookmark what’s known as Beethoven’s “middle period.” The Seventh is a monumental symphony, one he followed with a quasi-chamber work in the Eighth. The Fourth, like the Eighth, seems a lighter response to the massive Eroica. The Seventh Symphony is so well-known and well-loved, it’d be churlish to critique in this performance the exact problem so many other ensembles fail to resolve: the hop-skip rhythm that emerges as the overriding motif in the first movement. As time and the increase in volume generate fatigue, the dance grows heavy. I’m not the only one who calls that rhythm the hardest to play correctly; a catalogue of performances that get it right consistently is needed.

01 Hommaga a BoulezHommage à Boulez
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim
Deutsche Grammophon 479 7160

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is named after an anthology of poems by Goethe, inspired by a translation of the Persian poet Hafez. Goethe’s late work was a symbol of reciprocity between Occident and Orient, between Latin and Persian, Christian and Muslim, and German and Middle Eastern cultures. Co-founder Daniel Barenboim approached the 1999 formation of the Seville-based youth orchestra with similar intentions, bringing together musicians from Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Spain, to promote principles of coexistence and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2006, filmmaker Paul Smaczny made a documentary about the group entitled Knowledge Is the Beginning.

Having performed with Boulez since their 1964 concert of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.1, (when Barenboim was 21) he chose to honour their working relationship with the 2-CD Hommage à Boulez, released in March 2017, a year after the composer’s death. The release of the recording coincided with the opening of the Pierre Boulez Saal, a Frank Gehry-designed chamber music hall in the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin, which included the first concert of the newly formed Boulez Ensemble. The first CD contains live performances of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra playing at the 2012 Proms in London, and the second includes their performances of pieces from Boulez’ 85th birthday celebration at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 2010.

Although Boulez conducts the live recording of Le marteau sans maître (at least his fifth recording of the piece, and second with contralto Hilary Summers (check out her website!)), I was most interested to hear a recent recording of Boulez’ music that wasn’t conducted by him, since the composer controlled the majority of recordings of his music. Considering the performances alone, this is a fantastic recording. Add to it that this is an orchestra made up of young musicians in an ensemble with admirable intent, and the recording is that much more impressive.

Barenboim conducts an energetically perambulant performance of the 49-minute Dérive 2, for 11 instruments. Jussef Eisa’s virtuosity is immediately evident in his live recording of Dialogue de l’ombre double, for clarinet, live electronics and pre-recorded tape, with off-stage piano providing resonance of the live clarinet sound projected from a speaker into the soundboard of the piano and redirected to the loudspeakers in the hall. The IRCAM live electronics team handles the computational side of this performance, as well as Anthèmes 2, demonstrating the most sophisticated instrument/computer interactions produced at IRCAM’s Paris research and creation facility. Hassan Moataz El Molla contributes a clear and elegant reading of Messagesquisse, for cello solo and six cellos. In their entirety, the flexible and colourful interpretations presented on this hommage support Stravinsky’s anecdote that Boulez is “Webern’s music sounding like Debussy.”

05 Prepared PianoWhat Are They Doing To That Piano?
Kate Boyd; Karolina Rojahn; J. Bradley Baker; Robert A. Baker; Stephen Gosling
Navona Records NV6100 navonarecords.com

Compiling this boxed set to document the history of post-20th-century piano must have been somewhat of a challenge for producer Bob Lord and Navona Records. But vexed they were not, judging by the results of What Are They Doing to That Piano? This boxed set of works for prepared piano shows how far ahead of the contemporary classical music game Lord and his label really are. It is only fitting then that this compilation begins at the beginning, with a stellar recording of the music that began it all: John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes. This cycle of pieces was written between 1946 and 1948, and together represents one of Cage’s major contributions to the music of the 20th century. This “prepared piano” cycle was created for an instrument invented out of necessity: unable to fit a percussion ensemble onstage to accompany a dance performance, Cage modified a piano to produce “a percussion ensemble controllable by one player.” Among modern pianists, Kate Boyd’s performance of Sonatas and Interludes remains a benchmark one, just as Greta Sultan’s recording of John Cage’s Études was before that.

In Sonatas and Interludes, Cage exploits a wide array of sonorities, some bright and bell-like, others more delicate and subdued. Rhythmic motifs and patterns recur, producing an incantatory and hypnotic quality close to that produced by the gamelan, the percussion orchestras of Java and Bali. As Cage himself suggested, “control” was key. And Kate Boyd appears to have mastered the markings on Cage’s vertical score with cultured musicality and fastidious pianism. This performance replaces brute power with pellucid textures and a kaleidoscope of brilliant colours. Grinding motoric rhythms are superseded by an infinitely calibrated kinaesthetic sense of terrifying intensity. Transitions of tempo occur with the natural inevitability of a living, breathing organism. The precise dimensions and shapes of Cage’s structures appear in sharp focus. Such wizardry continues unabated into In a Landscape as Cage’s musical narratives, for all their wealth of detail, unfold with undistracted purpose. In all of this, Boyd’s dazzling virtuosity is never an end in itself but the servant of her vivid imagination.

If Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes is the anthemic torchlight of the prepared piano, then Stephen Scott’s Ice & Fire is one of the most significant pieces in this ongoing relay of Olympian proportions. It is almost impossible to imagine the true extent of how tight a fit it must have been to accommodate ten players around the well of even a 9-foot grand piano. However, fit they not only did but also have brilliantly executed Scott’s music to a nicety. Afternoon of a Fire and Vocalise on “In a Silent Way” sit at opposite ends of the Scott-spectrum. The former work is framed around American Indigenous, music and the latter conjures the ghost of Miles Davis’ repertoire from the 1970s; a veritable Mecca for moderns. In these and the eight other pieces, the Bowed Piano Ensemble takes a leap, intellectually, musically and instinctually, as they match Stephen Scott’s invention and originality throughout.

Sidney Bailin’s pieces 16-2-60-N-5 develop from beguiling, elegant threads, which are sewn together by his electronic manipulations with Karolina Rojahn’s arresting pianism, evoking stimulating mental pictures of mysterious narratives. And while Rojahn reappears with J. Bradley and Robert A. Baker to deploy an astonishing array of colours on Felt, Stephen Gosling breathes luminosity into Gheorghe Costinescu’s music on An Evolving Cycle to complete this glorious 5-disc set. More than that, though, these “new” works themselves deserve wider performance lives beyond this beautiful beginning provided them by Lord and Navona Records.

09 682 681682/681
Lisa Cay Miller
Trytone Records TT559-07 (trytone.org)

682/681 puts a whole new spin on speed-dating, and what it means for Lisa Cay Miller to go Dutch in the process. The recording is made up duo – and in more licentious encounters with ten Amsterdam-based musicians – trio recordings as well. Each piece is the equivalent of tightly bound sticks of dynamite that explode with visceral energy right out of the gates. One would fully expect that some of the encounters would be risqué and at times even a tad unresolved in terms of dénouement, as Miller appears to have set “time” to activate the revolving door.

“Every hour,” she states, the Dutch musicians would arrive, and would be instructed expressly to improvise on the fly. It’s hardly any surprise that one would never know what to expect. At its best the music is – despite that time constraint – unexpected and brilliant.

Musicians were not held to brevity. Musical phrases might end up long and meandering, and even jagged. The focus is on tonal colour, texture and (with the multiplicity of instrumentation) on timbre as well. Lisa Cay Miller does not always lead the charge. She does not need to because, every time the focus is on the piano, Miller draws on zealous countenance to put the myriad aspects of her pianism front and centre. Depending on who goes first, that instrumentalist might blaze a trail, inviting the other to run the gauntlet or clear quite another path and beckon the other to follow.

12 MEVCD0011Symphony No.106
Musica Elettronica Viva
Victo cd 129 (victo.qc.ca)

A milestone itself, Symphony No.106 captures one of the infrequent regroupings of Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV), almost 40 years after its three founders – Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum – organized it in Rome. Recorded at last year’s Festival International du Musique Actuelle du Victoriaville in Quebec, the 62-minute piece is scarcely anyone’s idea of a twilight leave-taking. Pioneers of electronic interface and non-jazz-sourced improvisation, the three sophisticatedly adapt computer processing and patches plus multi-keyboard crackles and jiggles to their own ends. Like modernist printers who also use precision hand presses for certain projects, the single track’s narration at one point is given mournful fillip by blasts from the furthest reaches of Curran’s shofar, while connecting motifs are produced by processional melodies from Rzewski’s piano.

Moving at points from stately to squiggly to swift, processing allows this symphony to include sonorous amplifications and contrapuntal interruptions. These sequences sprinkle references to accordion-like slurs, percussion-power and aviary-twittering projectile-like explosions, as well as interpolated, but distant, pre-recorded male and female voices of different ages speaking a variety of languages. Like elders impressing children by knowing the latest dance steps, MEV adds some electronic funk-like samples before a climactic piano part that’s half-anthemic and half Born Free. While sampled timbres of Galician davening blend with processed drones, Rzewski recounts a story of how Cossacks unexpectedly attacked his grandfather in 1914, linking the act to the present time. Point made, waveform synthesis and a Broadway-like melody alongside thick piano chording relax into a distanced finale.

04 Ukranian CD coverFor You, O Ukraine
Ukrainian Youth Ensembles
Independent (ukrainianyouthensembles.com)

The Ukrainian Youth Ensembles are a Toronto-based group consisting of the Levada Women’s Choir, the Orion Men’s Choir and the Vanguard Concert/Marching Band. Music director Roman Yasinsky is ably assisted by choral conductor Zhanna Zinchenko. The majority of the 100 plus members trace their ancestry back to Ukraine.

This CD is a compilation of 25 selections all of Ukrainian origin, opening with the rousing Our Unseverable Kozak Ancestry with combined choirs and band accompaniment. And then there is a broad spectrum of combinations. The choirs are heard individually or combined with band accompaniment, piano accompaniment or a cappella. Seven of the selections are from the Songs of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, who were instrumental in recapturing Kiev from the Red Army in 1918.

Instrumentation of the band is somewhat different from what we normally find in a full concert band. There are no oboes, bassoons or bass clarinets, but the brass sections are augmented by instruments usually confined to brass bands. There are E-flat alto horns in addition to the French horns, and there are twice as many cornets as trumpets. Overall, the performances are excellent, as is the recording quality.

At first sight the cover of this CD might be intimidating for anyone who is not fluent with the language. However, it comes with a 24-page booklet, in both Ukrainian and English, containing photographs of the ensembles in addition to notes on the music.

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.

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