13 Jimmie GiuffreBremen & Stuttgart 1961
Jimmy Giuffre 3
Emanem 5208 (emanemdisc.com)

Arguably one of improvised music’s most underappreciated pioneer groups, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s trio of the early 1960s with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, toured infrequently, made poorly selling LPs and finally called it quits when a door gig yielded the members 35 cents each. Yet more than a half-century later the foundations of sophisticated chamber jazz characterized by Keith Jarrett and the dissemination of now-classic Carla Bley compositions can be traced back to the trio.

Mostly cleanly recorded by German radio during a 1961 tour, this two-and-a-half hour, 26-track, 2-CD set collects material previously released on separate discs, plus six unreleased tracks and two bagatelles from a New York date earlier in the year. New tracks, including Thelonious Monk’s Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues and Ornette Coleman’s Compassion for P.B. are piano-bass duets with Bley’s nimble interpretations the equivalent of putting these advanced concepts into a blender ending up with sonic smoothies that are low calorie even as they preserve motion and cunning. Giuffre’s almost exclusively contralto- and higher-pitched clarinet make compositions like his own Cry, Want seem excessively piercing. But Swallow’s solid thumping and Bley’s sprightly chording, as well as the reedist’s innate sense of swing, mitigate most musical alienation.

Two versions of C. Bley’s Jesús Maria, P. Bley’s Carla and Giuffre’s Cry, Want, Venture and Whirrrr confirm how the trio’s cohesive timbre-mingling allows the members to create radical variants on those then brand-new pieces, the last of which is performed hard and heavy in one city, fleet and ambulatory in the other. Meanwhile Venture is an unpretentious instance of two-part invention in a jazz context with each player balancing entrances and exits around a steadying continuum. Tellingly both renditions of the clarinetist’s Suite for Germany skip through variables of speed and near stasis, with piano-string plucks and elongated reed tones confirming the stillness and strength of an improvisational concept more than slightly ahead of its time.

Review

01 Plante Tango borealLet me start with a disclaimer: I don’t get opera; I don’t like tango; and cabaret is not my cup of tea. That being said, imagine my surprise to find that the disc which has been getting the most play on my system this month is a cabaret-style “tango opera” by Denis Plante. La Bibliothèque-Interdite (ATMA ACD2 2752) features actor-singer Sébastian Ricard and Plante’s ensemble Tango Boréal in a tale set in the dark days of mid-20th-century Argentina.

“The odyssey began,” Plante tells us, “with a concert […] by Les Violons du Roy, the Tango Boréal Trio and actor Sébastian Ricard. Its theme: Jorge Luis Borges. I had been commissioned to write tangos to accompany the poetry of Argentina’s great literary figure for the production. Sébastian Ricard captivated the audience as, pacing like a caged tiger, he played several roles […] One year later I suggested to Sébastian that we continue the experiment in musical theater by creating an original show, La Bibliothèque-Interdite [The Forbidden Library]. I wanted to present an impressionistic portrait of tango at the end of that Infamous Decade [which began in 1930 with the military coup that overthrew President Hipólito Yrigoyen and lasted until 1943 when another coup resulted in the rise of Juan Perón]. I have long been fascinated by this period – and by the fact that, sometimes risking their lives, it was the gaucho minstrels and tango enthusiasts, the payadores and the tangueros, who first denounced the rise of the fascists…”

Plante has created a libretto that is “a confession, a life story and ideological speech” sung by a fictional poet. Although this character sprung from the composer’s imagination, it is also based on stories told by his father-in-law Alfredo Monetta, “an Argentinian exile who barely escaped the genocide of the dirty war of 1976.” He goes on to say “Other memories are my own. I discovered the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in dramatic and violent circumstances: blinded by tear gas during the crisis of the pot-banging protests of December 2001.”

So what does this all sound like? It begins with Eden, a languidly nostalgic song – I often dreamed of a library with secret doors…it was my childhood and my destiny: I became a poet – that gives way to Inspecteur Barracuda, a harder-edged portrait of the prince of the renegades, the nabob of tango. [Translations mine.] There are 16 contrasting movements, each with their own story from Icarus’ Descent and a Bestiary to ruminations on departures, memory, silence and life. The instrumentation is simple and clean, featuring bandonéon (Plante), nylon-string guitar and charango (David Jacques) and acoustic bass (Ian Simpson), with occasional added percussion and small chorus. Stylistically it is a pastiche, as freely admitted by Plante, with moods that vary from ballad to narrative to dance-like, including of course more than a fair share of tango.

What struck me most however was the clarity of Ricard’s vocals. I studied French throughout public and high school plus several post-secondary summer immersions, and although I cannot carry on a fluid conversation in la belle langue, I am able to read fairly sophisticated texts en français (my summers always include reading a least one French novel in the original). But listening to art songs or popular music in French I often have trouble following the lyrics. So I was immediately hooked when I realized that I could understand la plupart of what Ricard was singing, thanks to his clear diction and to Plante’s careful setting of the texts. I was reminded of the vocal writing of John Weinzweig, oh not in the musical language, but in the careful selection of words that could be clearly understood when sung.

The booklet notes include a dedication paragraph and, as quoted in part above, a “Diary of Creation” by Denis Plante, a foreword by Sébastien Ricard, a poem by Brigitte Haentjens and artists’ biographies, all in both official languages. Strangely the libretto only appears in French, leaving me glad of all those years I put in building my vocabulaire. Highly recommended.

02 All Over the MapMy next selection takes us All Over the Map with Steve Kirby’s Oceanic Jazz Orchestra (stevekirbymusic.com). Winnipeg-based composer and bassist Kirby has himself been “all over the map” having worked with such luminaries as Elvin Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut, Abbey Lincoln and Joe Lovano, to name but a few, before re-locating from New York City in 2003. He currently serves as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Manitoba, director of the U of M Summer Jazz Camp, artistic director of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances and editor of dig! magazine. The disc’s production is also a well-travelled affair, having been recorded at Toronto’s Canterbury Sound and Winnipeg’s Paintbox and Musirex studios, and mixed in New York.

The ten tracks, all penned by Kirby, explore a plethora of styles and geographies but never stray from jazz’s mainstream. Assiniboine traverses the complexity of Manitoba’s famous winding river using a relatively small but lively sampling of the orchestra’s instrumentation, just eight players, with Curtis Nowosad’s drums, Warren Wolf’s vibraphone and Jon Gordon’s soprano saxophone particularly prominent. Boissevain, another Manitoba landmark, is a ballad with alto flute (Shannon Kristjanson) added to the mix and Mike Eckert’s pedal steel and Will Bonness’ piano featured in the “celestial” finale. Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster Gwen Hoebig exercises her fiddle chops in Duende’s Dance, a lively swing with high vocalise from Anna-Lisa Kirby and Heitha Forsyth.

Each of the tracks has full musician credits and a program note by Kirby, but I don’t know what to make of the title Health Sciences Hypertension Clinic which he says is part of his Winnipeg Suite. Although busy with what could perhaps be construed as hyperactivity, I don’t hear the “frenzied pressure” mentioned in the note. Be that as it may, A Change of Plans adds a mellow change of pace, nylon-string guitar and gentle lyric by Anna-Lisa Kirby over a bossa-nova rhythm. Electronic textures provided by Örjan Sandred with pedal steel, violin, soprano sax and piccolo contribute to the glacial timbres featured in Qallupilluit, which depicts an Inuit tale “in which parents terrify their children with threats of mystical sea creatures that live under the ice..” Peter Lutek’s bassoon intro to Dance of the Carapace sets the stage for a lilting rollick that includes an extended vibraphone solo and a star turn for trumpeter Derrick Gardner.

The most strident piece is the one that provides social commentary and protest, both timely and historical. Tulsa is a collage of black voices decrying the abuses and atrocities committed against African-Americans throughout history. I don’t feel it is my place to comment, but the power of the piece speaks for itself. There is a good clip on YouTube where Kirby discusses the background and context of Tusla; well worth viewing.

The disc does not end in anger, but rather with an optimistic anthem. A Speck of Dust “was inspired by Carl Sagan, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and my dream of a peace festival” says Kirby. With its lyric A speck of dust out in space/became the home for this whole human race/ […] On the surface we are different there are many of us/Deep within our hearts we are all the same “it’s an invitation to lose imaginary boundaries.” A valuable message indeed.

03 Joe Sullivan Big BandI have the one sheet (press release) and program notes for Unfamiliar Surroundings by the Joe Sullivan Big Band (Perry Lake Records joesullivan.ca) but I can’t figure out why it’s called that. Trumpeter/composer/arranger Sullivan is obviously totally at home in the context of both the band and the music, and titles of the three original suites that comprise the 2-CD set don’t suggest anything exotic. This is mainstream jazz in top form, and the dozen and a half players involved, including such journeymen as Rémi Bolduc, Al McLean, André Leroux, André White and Lorne Lofsky, all seem totally comfortable in their ensemble and solo roles.

Sullivan, a Franco-Ontarian who hails from Timmins, studied classical trumpet at the University of Ottawa before pursuing jazz studies at Berklee and the New England Conservatory. Since then (1987) he has made his home in Montreal where he teaches jazz composition, arranging and trumpet at McGill University and directs the McGill Jazz Orchestra. In addition to his own activities (which include seven previous CDs) he has served as conductor and arranger with the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, has been a member of the Vic Vogel Big Band for some 25 years and has appeared as a trumpet soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

October Suite, which opens the first disc, begins with a Prelude that starts quietly before a rousing chorus from the whole ensemble that leads to extended solos by pianist White and guitarist Lofsky. Off Kilter begins with unison brass figures giving way to a tenor solo from McLean and bass solo from Alec Walkington. In Let’s Go, drummer Dave Laing gets his turn to come to the fore in a solo that swells and breaks like waves upon the shore eventually ebbing behind ebullient brass that in turn give way to the trombone of Jean-Nicolas Trottier in a virtuoso display of dexterity. After more rousing tutti choruses the trombone eventually returns to gradually calm things down and bring the suite full circle to a peaceful end.

Suite Laurentides is another three-movement work: The Grackle, featuring a delightful flugelhorn solo from Sullivan, surprisingly lyrical for a bird that is known mostly for its croak, followed by a growly tenor outing from Mclean; Nightfall, expectedly dark with musing baritone from Jean Fréchette and contemplative piano from White; and the concluding movement which gives the album its title and I suppose answers my initial question, although the upbeat closer still doesn’t break new ground. In Sullivan’s defense I will concede that “unfamiliar surroundings” does not necessarily imply uncharted territory.

The second disc contains the five movement Suite Montage: The Waiting Game; A Lullaby; Montage #3; The Captain’s Log; and Refuge. This latter features another solo by Sullivan and Lofsky’s mellow guitar over a sparse rhythm section before the orchestra enters for the quiet conclusion of a gorgeous set. I just wish there were some descriptive notes to give a clue to the intriguing titles.

04 DuffmusiqThe final disc this month sounds like vintage guitar-based R&B, although Duffmusiq’s Soulleash (duffmusiq.com) consists of 11 original tracks of (presumably) recent vintage. Damir Demirovic, a.k.a. Duffmusiq, was born and educated (classical violin, piano and theory, and later guitar and saxophone) in Serbia before moving to Toronto in 2002 to study music production and studio engineering at the Harris Institute. Since that time he has worked as a producer and studio musician and has developed a successful career composing for film and television.

Soulleash is his first solo album and on it he displays a multitude of talents, composing both the music and lyrics, producing and mixing the recording and playing a host of instruments. Most prominent is his distinctively smooth guitar style, reminiscent of George Benson and Wes Montgomery. He is joined by some fine musicians including Alexis Baro (trumpet), Anthony Brancati (keyboards), Alex Sekulovski (drums) and Sam Heineman (Hammond organ). Of special note however are the vocalists who are featured on several tracks, a vocalise by Vania Margani on the opening Interlude Solitude, Christine Hamilton on After Midnight, Wade O. Brown on My Only Love and Party People where he is joined by Quisha Wint and Gyles, Lisa Michelle on the title track, plus Jeff Eagar and rapper Jin Brown on Solace. It’s kind of a retro offering, but I mean that in a good way. It takes me back to my clubbing days in the 1970s grooving to Billy Reed and the Street People, Dollars (Mary Margaret O’Hara’s band) and Rough Trade. Nice memories. Thanks Duffmusiq!

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

01 Plante Tango borealLa Bibliothèque-Interdite – Denis Plante
Sébastian Ricard & Tango Boréal
ATMA ACD2 2752

Review

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

Let me start with a disclaimer: I don’t get opera; I don’t like tango; and cabaret is not my cup of tea. That being said, imagine my surprise to find that the disc which has been getting the most play on my system this month is a cabaret-style “tango opera” by Denis PlanteLa Bibliothèque-Interdite (ATMA ACD2 2752) features actor-singer Sébastian Ricard and Plante’s ensemble Tango Boréal in a tale set in the dark days of mid-20th-century Argentina.

“The odyssey began,” Plante tells us, “with a concert […] by Les Violons du Roy, the Tango Boréal Trio and actor Sébastian Ricard. Its theme: Jorge Luis Borges. I had been commissioned to write tangos to accompany the poetry of Argentina’s great literary figure for the production. Sébastian Ricard captivated the audience as, pacing like a caged tiger, he played several roles […] One year later I suggested to Sébastian that we continue the experiment in musical theater by creating an original show, La Bibliothèque-Interdite [The Forbidden Library]. I wanted to present an impressionistic portrait of tango at the end of that Infamous Decade [which began in 1930 with the military coup that overthrew President Hipólito Yrigoyen and lasted until 1943 when another coup resulted in the rise of Juan Perón]. I have long been fascinated by this period – and by the fact that, sometimes risking their lives, it was the gaucho minstrels and tango enthusiasts, the payadores and the tangueros, who first denounced the rise of the fascists…”

Plante has created a libretto that is “a confession, a life story and ideological speech” sung by a fictional poet. Although this character sprung from the composer’s imagination, it is also based on stories told by his father-in-law Alfredo Monetta, “an Argentinian exile who barely escaped the genocide of the dirty war of 1976.” He goes on to say “Other memories are my own. I discovered the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in dramatic and violent circumstances: blinded by tear gas during the crisis of the pot-banging protests of December 2001.”

So what does this all sound like? It begins with Eden, a languidly nostalgic song – I often dreamed of a library with secret doors…it was my childhood and my destiny: I became a poet – that gives way to Inspecteur Barracuda, a harder-edged portrait of the prince of the renegades, the nabob of tango. [Translations mine.] There are 16 contrasting movements, each with their own story from Icarus’ Descent and a Bestiary to ruminations on departures, memory, silence and life. The instrumentation is simple and clean, featuring bandonéon (Plante), nylon-string guitar and charango (David Jacques) and acoustic bass (Ian Simpson), with occasional added percussion and small chorus. Stylistically it is a pastiche, as freely admitted by Plante, with moods that vary from ballad to narrative to dance-like, including of course more than a fair share of tango.

What struck me most however was the clarity of Ricard’s vocals. I studied French throughout public and high school plus several post-secondary summer immersions, and although I cannot carry on a fluid conversation in la belle langue, I am able to read fairly sophisticated texts en français (my summers always include reading a least one French novel in the original). But listening to art songs or popular music in French I often have trouble following the lyrics. So I was immediately hooked when I realized that I could understand la plupart of what Ricard was singing, thanks to his clear diction and to Plante’s careful setting of the texts. I was reminded of the vocal writing of John Weinzweig, oh not in the musical language, but in the careful selection of words that could be clearly understood when sung.

The booklet notes include a dedication paragraph and, as quoted in part above, a “Diary of Creation” by Denis Plante, a foreword by Sébastien Ricard, a poem by Brigitte Haentjens and artists’ biographies, all in both official languages. Strangely the libretto only appears in French, leaving me glad of all those years I put in building my vocabulaire. Highly recommended.

Review

01 Hope SeasonsFor Seasons is the new CD from violinist Daniel Hope with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and 11 individual collaborators (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6922). The album’s title is carefully chosen, as the disc contains not only Hope’s first recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but also 12 short pieces linked to the months of the year, a concept Hope came up with 20 years ago and which he calls a very personal celebration of the seasons.

It’s fascinating to see how the Vivaldi concertos retain their freshness despite what seems like a neverending series of new recordings. The performances here are simply lovely – crisp, clean and warm, with some brilliant playing from Hope and an excellent continuo sound from the harpsichord, theorbo and baroque guitar. It’s another terrific interpretation to add to the already extensive list.

The rest of the CD is an absolute delight, although the connections with the months of the year – if they exist at all – are somewhat tenuous. Only Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, Tchaikovsky’s June, Chilly Gonzales’ Les doutes d’août and Kurt Weill’s September Song are specifically linked to the appropriate month, with the remainder of the brief tracks apparently intended to convey the feelings and emotions associated with the changing seasons.

No matter, for they’re all real winners, with the January of Nils Frahm’s beautiful Ambre and the December of Chilly Gonzales’ Wintermezzo framing music by Rameau, Max Richter, Robert Schumann, Bach and his contemporary Johann Molter, and a particularly striking improvisation on Amazing Grace with Dom Bouffard on electric guitar. The Zurich Chamber Orchestra provides the accompaniment on four of the tracks. Hope’s lovely solo violin arrangement of Brahms’ Lullaby, Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht, provides a beautiful close to an outstanding CD.

The CD booklet, incidentally, includes the accompanying artwork produced by 12 visual artists in response “to the music and to the seasons” in Hope’s For Seasons project.

Review

02 Rachmaninov TriosAnother terrific Deutsche Grammophon CD, PREGHIERA Rachmaninov: Piano Trios features outstanding playing by violinist Gidon Kremer (celebrating his 70th birthday with this release), cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė and pianist Daniil Trifonov (479 6979).

The CD’s title is taken from the opening track, Fritz Kreisler’s Preghiera, a violin and piano collaboration between Kreisler and Rachmaninoff that reworked the Adagio sostenuto from the composer’s Piano Concerto No.2. It’s a short but beautiful work that serves as an effective curtain-raiser to the two piano trio works.

Dedicated to “the memory of a great artist,” the Trio élégiaque No.2 in D Minor was Rachmaninoff’s response to the death of Tchaikovsky, whom he revered; it was started on the very day of Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893. Rachmaninoff said that all his thoughts, feelings and powers were devoted to it, that he tormented himself the entire time and was “ill in spirit.” Those sentiments are certainly reflected in the music, for this is a large-scale work written in what the booklet notes call “a musical idiom of almost unbridled emotionality.” The performance here is outstanding, perfectly capturing the melancholy and passion of the work and with a particularly ravishing piano sound.

The Trio élégiaque No.1 in G Minor is a short, one-movement student work that again features a prominent role for the piano and that offers more than a hint of Rachmaninoff’s mature elegiac style. Another fine performance rounds out a top-notch CD.

03 Rachmaninoff violin pianoThe Kreisler Preghiera turns up again in Rachmaninoff Complete Works & Transcriptions for Violin & Piano, a simply stunning CD from the American violinist Annelle K. Gregory and the Russian pianist Alexander Sinchuk (Bridge 9481).

From the opening bars of the Romance in A Minor, a very early student work when the composer was scarcely into his teens, it’s clear that this is going to be a very special album. Gregory has a quite gorgeous tone, is absolutely secure technically and plays with power, richness and assurance. Sinchuk matches her every step of the way.

And what music this is to display such deeply glowing and emotional playing! Given that 17 of the 20 tracks are arrangements or transcriptions it feels like Rachmaninoff’s Greatest Bits at times, but with performances like these, who cares? Rachmaninoff wrote only three pieces for violin and piano – the opening unpublished track, which remained unknown until 1951, and the Deux Morceaux de Salon Op.6; of the transcriptions here from other sources six are by Jascha Heifetz and five are by Fritz Kreisler.

The Preghiera is perhaps a bit more rhapsodic than Kremer’s version, the latter’s feeling more like the prayer suggested by the title, but both are simply beautiful interpretations. There’s a lovely Vocalise in an arrangement by the early-20th-century Russian-American violinist Mikhail Press, whose students included the legendary Dorothy DeLay, and Kreisler’s transcription of the 18th Variation from the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini brings a dazzling CD to an end.

04 Miller PorfirrisThere is more superb string playing on Divertimenti, the new CD from the Miller-Porfiris Duo (millerporfirisduo.org) of violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris featuring duos by Robert Fuchs, Ernst Toch and Bohuslav Martinů. The players, who met at Juilliard over 20 years ago, have been playing together since 2005, and you would have to go a long way to hear better duet playing than this.

Fuchs died in 1927, and consequently did not experience the growing Nazi influence in Austria in the 1930s. His students included Erich Korngold and Alexander Zemlinsky (both of whom fled Nazi Europe for the United States) and Gustav Mahler. His 12 Duette Op.60 date from 1898, when Fuchs was on the faculty of the Vienna Conservatory, and are beautifully crafted short pieces redolent of Vienna in the years before the Great War.

Toch was born in Vienna and entered Fuchs’ composition classes at the Conservatory in 1900 at the age of 12. He emigrated to the United States in 1934, settling in Los Angeles and writing numerous film scores. His Divertimento Op.37 No.2 for Violin and Viola is a short (under ten minutes) three-movement work with a brilliant Vivace molto that packs a real punch. Porfiris quite rightly notes the work’s “expressive dissonance and frenetic energy.”

Martinů also emigrated to the United States, in his case in 1941 after being blacklisted by the Nazis in France. He was successful in America, but never really felt happy or settled, finally returning to Europe in 1956. His Duo No.2 for Violin and Viola H.331 was written in 1950, and is a bright, melodic three-movement work with decided Czech rhythms.

Miller and Porfiris are in great form throughout the CD, both playing with a warm, rich tone and with a clarity, spirit and brightness that serves these delightful works perfectly.

05 Russian GiantsThe husband and wife team of violist Yuri Gandelsman and pianist Janna Gandelsman are the performers on Russian Giants, a CD of works by Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Mieczysław Weinberg and Igor Stravinsky (Blue Griffin BGR 413).

Prokofiev’s Suite from Romeo and Juliet is a selection of six short pieces from the composer’s Ten Pieces from “Romeo and Juliet” Op.75 for solo piano, which was extracted from the ballet score between its composition in 1935 and its premiere in 1938; the transcriptions for viola and piano were made by Prokofiev’s contemporary Vadim Borisovsky, the founding violist of the famed Beethoven Quartet.

Shostakovich’s Sonata for Viola and Piano Op.147 was the last work the composer completed, mostly written in his hospital bed as he lay dying of lung cancer in the summer of 1975. Replete with references to the composer’s own works as well as to those of other composers, the music belies Shostakovich’s weakened physical condition, its harmonic ambiguity finally resolving with a quiet C-Major ending that the composer called “radiance.”

Weinberg was a close friend of Shostakovich and much influenced by him; indeed, his 1945 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano Op.28, heard here in its official viola version, makes specific references to the latter’s music in the opening movement. Weinberg’s Jewish heritage is clearly felt in the middle movement.

Stravinsky’s brief Elegy for Solo Viola was written in 1944 on a commission from the Pro Arte Quartet violist Germain Prévost in memory of the group’s founding first violinist Alphonse Onnou, who had died earlier that year.

There is fine playing throughout the CD from both players, although the tone of Gandelsman’s1748 Paolo Testore viola doesn’t seem to have quite the dynamic range that it did on his 2012 Hindemith CD. Balance and recorded sound are excellent.

06 Offenbach DuosLagniappe! (the Louisiana Cajun French word for a bonus gift or something extra) is the seventh volume in the series of Offenbach Cello Duets from Human Metronome (humanmetronome.com), this one featuring the Duets Op.19 Nos.1-3 and Op.20 Nos.1-3 in performances by Paul Christopher and his student Milovan Paz (HMP 107-2016).

Offenbach was a virtuoso cellist who earned his living as a performer before establishing himself as a composer. He produced three sets of cello duets, usually of increasing technical difficulty: Op.19-21 and 34 (École de Violoncelle); Op.49-54 (Cours méthodique); and Op.78. The complete Op.49-54 was covered in five of the first six CDs – the final volume was reviewed in this column last September – with Op.21 being included on a separate volume. Christopher notes that they haven’t yet found all of the music for Op.34, so there may well be an eighth CD in the future. I can’t find any mention of a recording of Op.78 anywhere.

Don’t be misled or discouraged by the use of titles like School and Method: these works may have had pedagogical intent behind their composition, but they are full of the melodic invention and beauty that made Offenbach’s operettas such a success, and can – and should – stand alone as concert recital pieces.

Christopher and Paz play as superbly and have as much fun as they did on the previous volume, where Christopher said that he felt the duets “transcend their original purpose and are the high water mark for the cello duets genre.” Everything here continues to support that view.

This whole series adds up to a pure delight for cellists of all ages and abilities.

01 Hope SeasonsFor Seasons
Daniel Hope; Zurich Chamber Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6922

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

For Seasons is the new CD from violinist Daniel Hope with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and 11 individual collaborators (Deutsche Grammophon 479 6922). The album’s title is carefully chosen, as the disc contains not only Hope’s first recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but also 12 short pieces linked to the months of the year, a concept Hope came up with 20 years ago and which he calls a very personal celebration of the seasons.

It’s fascinating to see how the Vivaldi concertos retain their freshness despite what seems like a neverending series of new recordings. The performances here are simply lovely – crisp, clean and warm, with some brilliant playing from Hope and an excellent continuo sound from the harpsichord, theorbo and baroque guitar. It’s another terrific interpretation to add to the already extensive list.

The rest of the CD is an absolute delight, although the connections with the months of the year – if they exist at all – are somewhat tenuous. Only Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, Tchaikovsky’s June, Chilly Gonzales’ Les doutes d’août and Kurt Weill’s September Song are specifically linked to the appropriate month, with the remainder of the brief tracks apparently intended to convey the feelings and emotions associated with the changing seasons.

No matter, for they’re all real winners, with the January of Nils Frahm’s beautiful Ambre and the December of Chilly Gonzales’ Wintermezzo framing music by Rameau, Max Richter, Robert Schumann, Bach and his contemporary Johann Molter, and a particularly striking improvisation on Amazing Grace with Dom Bouffard on electric guitar. The Zurich Chamber Orchestra provides the accompaniment on four of the tracks. Hope’s lovely solo violin arrangement of Brahms’ Lullaby, Guten Abend, gut’ Nacht, provides a beautiful close to an outstanding CD.

The CD booklet, incidentally, includes the accompanying artwork produced by 12 visual artists in response “to the music and to the seasons” in Hope’s For Seasons project.

02 Rachmaninov TriosPREGHIERA Rachmaninov: Piano Trios
Gidon Kremer, Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Daniil Trifonov
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6979

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (May 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Another terrific Deutsche Grammophon CD, PREGHIERA Rachmaninov: Piano Trios features outstanding playing by violinist Gidon Kremer (celebrating his 70th birthday with this release), cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė and pianist Daniil Trifonov (479 6979).

The CD’s title is taken from the opening track, Fritz Kreisler’s Preghiera, a violin and piano collaboration between Kreisler and Rachmaninoff that reworked the Adagio sostenuto from the composer’s Piano Concerto No.2. It’s a short but beautiful work that serves as an effective curtain-raiser to the two piano trio works.

Dedicated to “the memory of a great artist,” the Trio élégiaque No.2 in D Minor was Rachmaninoff’s response to the death of Tchaikovsky, whom he revered; it was started on the very day of Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893. Rachmaninoff said that all his thoughts, feelings and powers were devoted to it, that he tormented himself the entire time and was “ill in spirit.” Those sentiments are certainly reflected in the music, for this is a large-scale work written in what the booklet notes call “a musical idiom of almost unbridled emotionality.” The performance here is outstanding, perfectly capturing the melancholy and passion of the work and with a particularly ravishing piano sound.

The Trio élégiaque No.1 in G Minor is a short, one-movement student work that again features a prominent role for the piano and that offers more than a hint of Rachmaninoff’s mature elegiac style. Another fine performance rounds out a top-notch CD.

Review

01 Chopin LisieskiOne of Canada’s brightest young talents is Jan Lisiecki. The Calgary-born pianist has been astonishing audiences since his orchestral debut at age 9. Now 22, his list of international performances with major orchestras and conductors grows yearly. His newest recording Chopin: Works for Piano & Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Krzysztof Urbanski (DG 479 6824) is his fourth for Deutsche Grammophon.

Lisiecki’s playing is unerringly precise with a lightness of touch that gives him astonishing tonal control, speed and clarity. He approaches Chopin with calm introspective depth unusual for an artist so young. The Nocturne in C-sharp Minor Op.Posth. demonstrates this with its mellow left-hand accompaniment of a brighter line in the right. Lisiecki’s finish is astonishing in its balanced perfection.

Every track on this CD is extraordinary. But what really emerges as the showpiece is the set of Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Op.2. Speed, technique, astonishing rapid octaves and other devilish Chopinesque devices make this performance an example of genius running joyously amok.

Lisiecki plays beautifully with orchestra. A natural ease keeps him in step with the ensemble through the Rondo à la Krakowiak in F Major Op.14 and the Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22.

Almost all of this disc also appears as part of DG’s 20-CD set The Complete Chopin, featuring Lisiecki along with other performers.

Review

02 SokolovGrigory Sokolov is legendary for his rejection of celebrity. He gives no interviews and for some years now has stopped performing with orchestras. He also dislikes and avoids recording studios. It’s something of an achievement therefore, for Deutsche Grammophon to have obtained Sokolov’s agreement to reissue two live performances from 2005 and 1995 in Mozart, Rachmaninov Concertos & “A Conversation That Never Was” A Film by Nadia Zhdanova (DG CD/DVD479 7015). The addition of the film (on DVD) makes this set unusual. Zhdanova interviews Sokolov’s friends and colleagues and adds newly found archival material to create a portrait of this very private and sometimes reclusive artist.

The Mozart Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major K488 is the more recent performance. Recorded in 2005 in Salzburg with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Trevor Pinnock, it’s an intimate reading with Sokolov’s characteristic crisp, clear staccatos punctuating the opening of the final movement.

The other performance is with the BBC Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995. The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.3 in D Minor Op.30 is loved by audiences and equally feared by pianists for its technical challenges. The speed at which Sokolov takes the opening of the final movement is scarcely believable. The same rapid repeats of chordal passages appear in the first movement, where Sokolov gives the piano such a pounding that some notes in the upper register begin slipping out of tune and make for a few interesting effects as the performance proceeds without a pause to correct the matter. Still, the scale of Sokolov’s interpretive conception is awesome and often startling.

03 Ives ConcordThomas Hell has tackled a work with a stormy critical past, in his new recording Ives Concord Sonata (Piano Classics PCL 0112). Subtitled Concord, Mass. 1840-1860, Ives wanted to reflect the changing tide of American literary and philosophical thought in the mid-19th century. Each of the four movements carries the name of a significant figure of the period: Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts, Thoreau. The work is quite large requiring nearly 50 minutes to perform.

Hell provides some useful thoughts on his approach to this piece. Given Elliott Carter’s early criticism of its lack of form, Hell describes the sonata’s components and how its disparate elements actually hold it together. This intellectual commitment to the work is what sustains Hell’s performance through the daunting challenge of the first two movements. The technical demands are considerable. Hell even claims a few of the pages could be the most difficult in all the piano literature.

Ives enjoyed making musical references in this sonata, alluding to material from Beethoven to Stephen Foster along with a little ragtime. It’s a rich work and a challenge to deliver. Hell has a very solid understanding of what Ives is doing, and the benefit of having spent a good deal of time considering it. His real task, however, is to make much of it accessible to the listener at first hearing. On that count he exceeds expectations. Hell plays with dexterity, intention and focus. His grasp of the material is obvious and his ability to convey it is compelling.

04 Andrew TysonAndrew Tyson takes on an enormous task in his latest disc, Ravel, Scriabin – Miroirs, (Alpha Classics Alpha 277). His objective is to give voice to composers wandering through the universe of free-flowing impressionism in search of transcendence over their instrument and its musical forms.

Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No.3 is the first challenge with its daunting stream of keyboard consciousness. The writing is replete with countless inner voices and Tyson masterfully brings them each to the surface for their brief appearance. It’s an amazing technique and quite magical in its effect. Tyson is never completely bound by any rhythmic strictures. He’s clearly at ease with the ebb and flow of Scriabin’s language, even in the second and fourth movements, where stronger tempos dominate.

Ravel’s Miroirs calls for more containment and Tyson senses this innately. His restraint is subtle yet his playing as seductive as ever. His command of colour is remarkable. The Bechstein used in the recording surrenders harp-like glissandos throughout his playing of Noctuelles. La vallée des cloches, similarly, is exquisite for its distant, mellow echoes and brighter tolls.

Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No.10 Op.70 concludes the disc’s program. It’s Scriabin’s final published work in the form. Tyson recaptures the mysticism of the earlier work on the recording and takes it even further. His execution is fluid and unbroken. His playing is passionate and ethereal. He’s a truly gifted artist with an extraordinary bond to this repertoire.

05 Beth LevinBeth Levin has a distinctive and unmistakable presence at the keyboard. Her newest recording, Bright Circle – Schubert, Brahms, Del Tredici (Navona Records NV 6074) demonstrates how her nearly pedal-less playing can open new perspectives on standard repertoire. Her performance of Schubert’s Piano Sonata No.20 D959 is a good example of how a drier sound benefits the musical material by reducing sustained background harmonies. The resulting clarity emphasizes the core elements of Schubert’s ideas as well as allowing other nuances to emerge unimpeded. The third movement Scherzo is a terrific example of how Levin is able to reset our expectations of familiar material using a relaxed tempo and crisp articulation. This may well have been how early pianos sounded, with their lower string tension and shorter resonance times.

Levin is, nevertheless, a deeply expressive player who never misses an opportunity for dynamic contrast and tonal shading. In the Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel Op.24, Levin uses her light pedalling to great effect in keeping the inner voices of the closing fugue wonderfully accessible. Other variations, No.2 and No.4 in particular, are perfectly supported by an economical and tasteful application of sustained legato playing.

The CD concludes with David Del Tredici’s Ode to Music. Schubert’s often sung An die Musik is the thematic kernel of this work. Del Tredici apparently offered to transcribe a favourite piece for the Dorian Wind Quintet, who responded with the choice of the Schubert Lied. Once completed, the transcription was further transcribed for keyboard by one of Del Tredici’s friends who was so impressed that he wanted his own version for piano performance. While it begins conventionally, the work evolves quickly into its contemporary iteration but does so without ever letting go of its strong Romantic impulse.

Review

06 Benelli Mosell RachmaninovWith a handful of recordings already in her discography, 30-year-old Italian pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell has now added her orchestral debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Corelli Variations (Decca 481 393). The concerto is a staple in the repertoire. The sheer beauty of Rachmaninoff’s writing makes it a good choice for a young performer breaking into the market. The real test of this work is, however, the second movement and it’s here that Mosell truly proves herself as a musician. This movement is much less dense than the outer ones and leaves the performer quite exposed with sparse lines and slow tempos. What holds this movement together for Mosell is the honesty of her playing. Nothing’s contrived. Her phrasings are straightforward but clearly the product of much thought. She and Rachmaninoff are the perfect match.

The disc also includes Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op.42. The 20 variations are an extremely demanding set to perform. Mosell plays through them with impressive ease, meeting every demand for big powerful sound as well as the deepest introspection. It’s obvious she has invested a great deal in her interpretation and the impact is even more profound than her performance of the Concerto No.2. It’s quite surprising that the small filler piece on the recording’s program steals the show so convincingly.

07 Willscher OrganOrganist Carson Cooman brings another hi-tech pipe organ recording to the market with his new release Andreas Willscher, Organ Symphony No.5 (Divine Art dda 25150). This CD is another performance using the Hauptwerk system whereby digital samples of entire pipe organs and their acoustics are played back from stored memory in live performance at a location other than the original site. In other words, not in the church where the organ resides.

The authenticity of the sound produced through this method is indistinguishable from a recording made in the church, in this case, the Laurenskerk, Rotterdam, Netherlands. The instrument recorded is a Danish build of 1973 by Marcussen & Son.

Cooman has chosen to record the 12-movement Organ Symphony No.5 by German organist and composer Andreas Willscher. It’s a substantial work of 73 minutes and rich with colourful registrations and dynamic effect. Its mildly programmatic subject is “Of Francis’ Preaching about Holy Poverty.” The four movements marked Allegro are each brilliant and thrilling, with bold pedal lines that need durable speakers to deliver them without distortion. The quietest movements are equally impressive for the reverberant space around their sounds. The symphony’s longest movement is half silence, set between long held chords. A meditative injunction comes with this movement and listeners should be prepared.

These Hauptwerk projects are important for the access they offer to instruments whose onsite recording costs would otherwise leave them unheard. Cooman has made an excellent choice of combining instrument and repertoire.

01 Chopin LisieskiChopin: Works for Piano & Orchestra
Jan Lisiecki; NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Krzysztof Urbanski
DG 479 6824

Review

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

One of Canada’s brightest young talents is Jan Lisiecki. The Calgary-born pianist has been astonishing audiences since his orchestral debut at age 9. Now 22, his list of international performances with major orchestras and conductors grows yearly. His newest recording Chopin: Works for Piano & Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Krzysztof Urbanski (DG 479 6824) is his fourth for Deutsche Grammophon.

Lisiecki’s playing is unerringly precise with a lightness of touch that gives him astonishing tonal control, speed and clarity. He approaches Chopin with calm introspective depth unusual for an artist so young. The Nocturne in C-sharp Minor Op.Posth. demonstrates this with its mellow left-hand accompaniment of a brighter line in the right. Lisiecki’s finish is astonishing in its balanced perfection.

Every track on this CD is extraordinary. But what really emerges as the showpiece is the set of Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Op.2. Speed, technique, astonishing rapid octaves and other devilish Chopinesque devices make this performance an example of genius running joyously amok.

Lisiecki plays beautifully with orchestra. A natural ease keeps him in step with the ensemble through the Rondo à la Krakowiak in F Major Op.14 and the Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise Brillante Op.22.

Almost all of this disc also appears as part of DG’s 20-CD set The Complete Chopin, featuring Lisiecki along with other performers.

02 SokolovMozart, Rachmaninov Concertos & “A Conversation That Never Was” A Film by Nadia Zhdanova
Grigory Sokolov
DG CD/DVD479 7015

Review

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

Grigory Sokolov is legendary for his rejection of celebrity. He gives no interviews and for some years now has stopped performing with orchestras. He also dislikes and avoids recording studios. It’s something of an achievement therefore, for Deutsche Grammophon to have obtained Sokolov’s agreement to reissue two live performances from 2005 and 1995 in Mozart, Rachmaninov Concertos & “A Conversation That Never Was” A Film by Nadia Zhdanova (DG CD/DVD479 7015). The addition of the film (on DVD) makes this set unusual. Zhdanova interviews Sokolov’s friends and colleagues and adds newly found archival material to create a portrait of this very private and sometimes reclusive artist.

The Mozart Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major K488 is the more recent performance. Recorded in 2005 in Salzburg with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Trevor Pinnock, it’s an intimate reading with Sokolov’s characteristic crisp, clear staccatos punctuating the opening of the final movement.

The other performance is with the BBC Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995. The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.3 in D Minor Op.30 is loved by audiences and equally feared by pianists for its technical challenges. The speed at which Sokolov takes the opening of the final movement is scarcely believable. The same rapid repeats of chordal passages appear in the first movement, where Sokolov gives the piano such a pounding that some notes in the upper register begin slipping out of tune and make for a few interesting effects as the performance proceeds without a pause to correct the matter. Still, the scale of Sokolov’s interpretive conception is awesome and often startling.

06 Benelli Mosell RachmaninovRachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Corelli Variations
Vanessa Benelli Mosell, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Decca 481 393

Review

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

With a handful of recordings already in her discography, 30-year-old Italian pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell has now added her orchestral debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Corelli Variations (Decca 481 393). The concerto is a staple in the repertoire. The sheer beauty of Rachmaninoff’s writing makes it a good choice for a young performer breaking into the market. The real test of this work is, however, the second movement and it’s here that Mosell truly proves herself as a musician. This movement is much less dense than the outer ones and leaves the performer quite exposed with sparse lines and slow tempos. What holds this movement together for Mosell is the honesty of her playing. Nothing’s contrived. Her phrasings are straightforward but clearly the product of much thought. She and Rachmaninoff are the perfect match.

The disc also includes Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli Op.42. The 20 variations are an extremely demanding set to perform. Mosell plays through them with impressive ease, meeting every demand for big powerful sound as well as the deepest introspection. It’s obvious she has invested a great deal in her interpretation and the impact is even more profound than her performance of the Concerto No.2. It’s quite surprising that the small filler piece on the recording’s program steals the show so convincingly.

01 Orlando di LassoOrlando di Lasso – Laudate Dominum
Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal; Andrew McAnerney
ATMA ACD2 2748

Review

Orlando di Lasso is generally considered to be one of the last and one of the finest composers of the Franco-Flemish school, a school (if that is the right word) that begins with Dufay and includes several great composers: Ockeghem and Josquin, de la Rue and Isaac. The forms that di Lasso’s motets take are often complex. Of the 13 on this disc none are in the standard four parts: six are for double choir (with eight, nine or ten voices), one is 12-part, one ten-part, one eight-part, one seven-part and one six-part. The organization within these parts also tends to be complex. In the six-part Te Deum the odd-numbered parts are plainchant and the even-numbered polyphonic. Omnia tempus habent sets the presentation of youth against old age by having a high voice choir of four sing the former and another four-voice choir, of low voices, sing the latter.

The Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal was founded in 1974 by Christopher Jackson and has, since Jackson’s recent death, been directed by Andrew McAnerney. On this record the choir consists of 13 singers who perform a cappella. This is challenging music, for the listener and the performer alike. The singing is glorious and the disc is strongly recommended.

02 Amabile ChoirsSing Your Song – Music by Matthew Emery
Amabile Choirs of London
Centrediscs CMCCD 23617

Sixteen unique choral works by Canadian composer Matthew Emery are performed here with passion. An alumnus of London’s Amabile Boys & Men’s Choirs, Emery uses his experience with choirs’ abilities to create soundscapes of shifting harmonies and glorious colours. One of CBC Music’s 30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30 for 2016, Emery is a musical individualist in his tonal yet offbeat harmonies, word settings and phrasings.

A number of the songs deal with death and parting. In the opening track Sweetest Love, John Donne’s words are set to tonal harmonies with the occasional atonal note sneaking in. Especially moving are the high notes on the word sleep. Likewise in Still Colors (Velvet Shoes), the astounding tight ensemble performance with low and high harmonies drives the reflective mystery of this parting song.

All is not sadness. Let Your Voice Be Heard is a rousing song with a nod to minimalism as the line “let your voice be heard” is repeated as a reminder to be yourself. The Newfoundland folk song Haul on the Bowline has men’s voices working hard to get a boat to shore, while percussion and fiddle add a traditional flavour. The closing title track Sing Your Song is an upbeat work with driving percussion and piano adding to the pop music and sing-along qualities.

All the Amabile Choirs of London give first-class enthusiastic performances. Matthew Emery composes choral music at its very, very best.

03 WinterreiseSchubert – Winterreise
Matthias Goerne; Markus Hinterhäuser
Cmajor 738008

It is fascinating to observe how new pressures from audiences and technology constantly induce change in the way we consume art. Vinyl and tape having been first supplanted by CD, DVD and Blu-ray, quickly gave way to live streaming and playing hi-fi music on definitively low-fi smartphones. None of this has ever happened without controversy – remember the brouhaha accompanying the introduction of surtitles in most opera houses of the world?

Here is a recording of a conventional voice and piano performance augmented, or diminished (choose your side), by visual projections designed by William Kentridge. Only vaguely related to the music, these graphic designs and animated images seek to appease the multisensory needs of modern audiences. Or are they designed to stop them from checking their Twitter feed or Facebook updates during the concert? Whatever their purpose, they surely did not work for me, detracting from the performance, rather than enhancing it. And what a performance! Goerne, who is surely one of the world’s leading singers of Lieder, especially by Schubert and Mahler, is in fine voice here. Compared to previous recordings, his voice sounds rounder, more velvety and supported across the tessitura, while developing a darker, more intriguing timbre. So, this is a great performance, whether you close your eyes (me) or keep them wide open (some of my ADHD, millennial, image-hungry colleagues).

04 Krassima StoyanovaPuccini – Complete Songs for Soprano and Piano
Krassimira Stoyanova; Maria Prinz
Naxos 8.573051

In the booklet that accompanies this CD Robert Ignatius Letellier writes that these simple song settings “could hardly be more different from [Puccini’s] operas.” Perhaps so; yet it seems to me that an unsuspecting listener, when confronted with any one of the songs here, would immediately cry out: “Puccini!” While the writing of songs must always have been a by-product of his main work, it is remarkable that they date from so much of his creative life. The two oldest are from 1875, when Puccini was in his 17th year; the last is a pompous proto-fascist song which hymns Rome and Victory and which dates from 1919. Of the songs presented 17 are solos, the remaining two are soprano-mezzo duets. Here modern technology allows the soprano to sing both parts.

Krassimira Stoyanova is a Bulgarian soprano, who has sung in many of the world’s leading opera houses. Her repertoire includes Dvořák’s Rusalka as well as the Marschallin in Strauss’ Rosenkavalier and the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos, but the centre of that repertoire is clearly the music of Verdi (and definitely not Puccini). On this recording her voice comes across as full and warm. She does justice to the demands of these songs. Even if Puccini’s songs can never be seen as holding the centre of his work, it would be a pity to be without this recording. Many of the songs are attractive. They would often lead Puccini to further explorations in his operas as the essay in the booklet suggests and documents.

05 Buxton OrrBuxton Orr – Songs
Nicky Spence; Iain Burnside; Jordan Black; Edinburgh Quartet; Nikita Naumov
Delphian DCD34175

The works of the Scottish composer Buxton Orr (1924-1997) were not previously known to me. That is clearly my loss as the songs on this recording are attractive and show an interesting range. The disc opens with a lush setting of a lush poem by James Elroy Flecker. It then progresses to settings of early Scottish poems by Blind Harry, Dunbar, King James I, Robert Burns and John Skinner before turning to the comic worlds of Edward Lear and the Cornish poet Charles Causley. The record then ends with a group of six songs, Songs of a Childhood, again set to Scottish texts. There is an informative essay in the accompanying booklet (by Gary Higginson) but the reference to Burns is misleading. Higginson writes that the words of Tibby Fowler were collected by Burns but it is the tune that is traditional and Burns wrote the words himself (though they may incorporate some traditional elements).

These are all tenor songs and the singer, Nicky Spence, has an attractive lyric voice. He is also sensitive to the different demands of the various songs. There are small accompanying ensembles; the pianist (Iain Burnside) and the clarinetist (Jordan Black) are especially good.

06 Michele LosierTemps Nouveau
Michèle Losier; Olivier Godin
ATMA ACD2 2720

Review

Recognizing the versatility and musical quality of French poetry – and inspired by the German Lied – French composers of the 19th and 20th century made the lodie immensely popular. The rich and resonant qualities of Michèle Losier’s voice along with the impeccable technique of pianist Olivier Godin suit this repertoire beautifully. The mezzo-soprano’s “deep affection for the works of Massenet, Gounod and Bizet” is clearly evident in her mature and evocative delivery. Deep emotion tempered by tenderness and sensitivity is brilliantly executed in Massenet’s Dors, ami and Élégie.

Remarkable in French art song is the manner in which composers treat the flow and contour of the language, freeing themselves from the strophic and emphasizing subtleties of phrasing and rhythmic patterns that only a native French speaker like Losier can master. And, with experience performing Mercedes in Carmen, she implicitly understands the dramatic qualities of Bizet’s Absence and the playful humour of his La Coccinelle. In the title track by Saint-Saëns, Temps Nouveau, the New Brunswick-born singer conveys her absolute delight in nature and its ever-changing seasons. The interpretations are both warm and highly intelligent.

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