01 Lutoslawski DutilleuxI must confess that German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser was more or less unknown to me until the arrival of his recording of the Lutosławski and Dutilleux Cello Concertos with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Thomas Søndergård (Pentatone PTC 5186 689 pentatonemusic.com). That’s the trouble with having someone like Terry Robbins as delegate for most of the string recordings that cross my desk. Checking my archive I was surprised to note that Terry has reviewed two of Moser’s discs since we instigated the Strings Attached column back in 2011. Fortunately for me, he has such a backlog of titles at the moment that I have no qualms about cherry picking for my own purposes – two months in a row – a few discs that would otherwise have gone to him.

You may recall from my column last month that Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) is one of my favourite composers. I had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting that fine gentleman in October 1993 when he conducted the New Music Concerts Ensemble with soloists Fujiko Imajishi, violin, and soprano Valdine Anderson. We did not know it at the time, but that concert would turn out to be the last he ever gave; he died of cancer less than four months later. The recording of that concert was released independently and later reissued by Naxos (naxos.com).

By the way, the photo of Lutosławski that graces that album cover is by André Leduc, who you may remember from last month’s issue. André and I also had the opportunity to meet Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) when he was the guest of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the University of Toronto back in May 1998. The TSO performance of three of Dutilleux’s large orchestral works under the direction of Jukka-Pekka Saraste was released the following year (Finlandia Records 3984-23524-2).

I sometimes wonder why it takes me so long to write this column. Often it is because of side trips such as this down memory lane, revisiting treasured recordings that slow me down.

So, back to Johannes Moser: it was an easy decision to keep this fabulous new CD for myself. His biography makes a point of saying that he was born into a musical family in 1979 with dual German and Canadian citizenship. I was not able to find anything more about his Canadian heritage initially, but Tourism Saskatoon provides the information that “Moser is the son of Saskatchewan musical royalty; [his] mother is Saskatchewan-born soprano Edith Wiens.” He began playing the cello at eight. Ten years later, he was studying with the renowned Lithuanian cellist David Geringas, a pupil of Rostropovich, who won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970. In 2002, Moser himself received that same honour. He is enjoying an electrifying international career, performing with top orchestras around the world – the Berlin, Vienna, New York, Los Angeles and Israel Philharmonics to name a few – and has recently formed a trio with violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Yevgeny Sudbin.

Moser’s performance on this new disc is superb. The Lutosławski concerto begins quietly, with an opening motive like a heartbeat that is intermittently interrupted by scurrying sounds above and below the pitch of the pulse. The interruptions gradually become more insistent and intense, all created by the cello alone. It is only after four and a half minutes, and a return to the heartbeat, that other members of the orchestra join in, with brazen fanfares from individual brass instruments. This pattern is developed throughout the Four Episodes of the second movement and the Cantilena third, with the solo cello as protagonist facing off with various orchestral disturbances, but also holding its own. And always returning to the heartbeat. It is only in the final movement that the full orchestra explodes in seeming fury. But the cello is not daunted and rises against the din with a repeated shrieking pulse, now more reminiscent of a heart attack than a heartbeat.

Dutilleux’s concerto Tout un monde lointain was written in the same year as Lutosławski’s – 1970 – and once again it is a dramatic work that starts in near silence. Its title and the epigrams for the five movements are taken from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de mal. If you are not familiar with this work, or the Lutosławski, I urge you to rectify the situation with this very fine recording. Søndergård leads the Berlin RSO in what, for me, are definitive performances; and the sound is impeccable. I’ve never heard these concertos live and don’t know whether it would be possible to achieve such a perfect balance between cello and orchestra in a concert setting. I hope someday to have the opportunity to find out, ideally with Johannes Moser as the soloist.

02 Salonen SaariajoSticking with a theme, the next disc also involves solo cello, but in this instance without an orchestra or any accompaniment whatsoever. Esa-Pekka Salonen; Kaija Saariaho – Works for Solo Cello (Ondine ODE 1294-2 naxosdirect.com) features American cellist Wilhelmina Smith in repertoire that pushes the extreme limits of the instrument. It begins with Salonen’s YTA III, one of a series of works for solo instruments. Yta is the Swedish word for surface, and in this piece the pitch C, in any of five octaves, surfaces and resurfaces in what the composer describes as “a vision of the death of an organism”; in music this vision is “violent and ugly.” Much of the disc gives this same impression and at times I found myself wondering where such anger was coming from. Even Saariaho’s Sept papillons (Seven Butterflies) more often resembles the buzzing of angry bees than the floating grace of its namesakes. For all that, there is a compelling power to this music that drew me in and held my attention. And there are moments of respite, for instance in the middle movement of Salonen’s knock, breathe, shine, where for an instant I thought the eerie sound coming from the cello was actually a theremin. But even with that I found that I could not listen to the whole disc at one sitting, despite the inclusion of a “palette cleanser” in the form of what may well be the first piece ever written for solo cello, Chiacona by Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694).

Mystery Variations was a set of 31 pieces that were commissioned on behalf of Finnish cellist Annsi Karttunen, in which each composer would take as a foundation the above-mentioned Chiacona. Both the composers featured here contributed to the series; on this disc the original is bookended by Salonen’s Sarabande per un coyote and Saariaho’s Dreaming Chaconne. The first, after a stately opening, leads “the coyote into rough terrain, up rugged peaks of harmony and over precarious ridges of dissonance.” In the second Saariaho “maintains the fundamental pitch structure of the Colombi, which is, however, in disguise behind the veil of shades traversed by the instrument and the performer.” On first listening, without having read the program notes, I must confess that I did not hear the relationship of either to the original, which appeared as a wonderful aberration (apparition) in the midst of a very difficult listening session. But there is much here to be enjoyed, or at least marvelled at, including the vast technical acumen of Smith and the range of ethereal sounds she is able to coax, or wrestle, from her instrument.

03 ZimmermannBernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) was already dead by his own hand when I first discovered his music in my formative years, but what a revelation that music was. From a piece for solo cello, to electronic compositions, works for large orchestra and the thought-to-be “un-performable opera” (due to its complexity and the sheer size of the resources required) Die Soldaten, I was blown away by everything I heard. Other than the early Sonata for Viola Solo performed by Rivka Golani and the late Four Short Studies for solo cello performed by Siegfried Palm, both under the auspices of New Music Concerts, I don’t believe I have ever heard Zimmermann’s music live. I take heart from a new Ondine release which confirms that his oeuvre is still in favour, at least in some parts of the world. Recent recordings of the Violin Concerto (1950), Photoptosis (1968) and Die Soldaten Vocal Symphony (1957-1963) are here performed by violinist Leila Josefowicz, vocal soloists, and the Finnish RSO under the direction of Hannu Lintu (ODE 1325-2 naxosdirect.com). It is the middle of these works that I would suggest as an introduction to this extremely forward-looking German composer. From the opening bars of Photoptosis (Incidence of Light) for large orchestra, which seem to emerge from some primordial ooze, the music grows in intensity through richer and richer textures. Out of this dense stew arise quotations from familiar iconic works – Beethoven’s Ninth, Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker – and the tension recedes, only to build relentlessly again to an explosive finale.

During the years Zimmermann was working on his opera, he was also preparing a concert version roughly one third the length of the two-hour original. Calling for soprano, alto, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass soloists, and interspersing instrumental sections among the operatic scenes, the Vocal Symphony provides a precis of the extravagantly dramatic work. The opera was originally broadcast on radio in 1963 and received its first full staging in 1965 by the Cologne Opera under Michael Gielen. Since that time it has enjoyed several productions in each of the subsequent decades, most often in Europe, but also Britain, the USA and in 2016, Buenos Aires. In Zimmermann’s centenary year, Die Soldaten enjoyed productions in Nuremberg, Madrid and Cologne. I have a feeling that recordings are as close as Toronto audiences are likely to get to the opera in the foreseeable future.

And to bring it full circle, I will mention one more of my “brushes with greatness,” this time not in my formative years, but in those of the artist. During my time as a music programmer at CJRT-FM in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to meet Leila Josefowicz as a child prodigy on her first press junket. I’m not sure if that was before or after her Carnegie Hall debut in 1994, but I expect it was in conjunction with the Philips release of her Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concertos the following year. She was born in Mississauga in 1977; her parents relocated to Los Angeles when she was three, and then moved to Philadelphia a decade later so that she could attend the Curtis Institute of Music. And the rest, as they say, is history. She is enjoying a significant international career, with well over a dozen recordings on such labels as Warner, Nonesuch, DG and Hyperion, with repertoire from Beethoven and Brahms to John Adams, and now Zimmermann. The craggy Violin Concerto is the earliest work on this disc, but its intensity, postmodernism, and its extremes of tonality, belie its origins. Josefowicz rises to all of the challenges and is obviously not daunted by “difficult music.” When I was doing my program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM in the 1980s, I used to present a Difficult Listening Hour – sit bolt upright in that straight-backed chair (with a nod to Laurie Anderson) – and any of these pieces would have (and likely did) find a home there. Not for the faint of heart.

David Olds. Photo by Daniel FoleyShameless self-promotion: After 20 years as general manager of New Music Concerts I will be stepping down at the end of this season. As a parting gift to the organization, I am hosting a fundraiser on behalf of NMC, “Coffee House 345 Revisited” (aka Gallery 345 on Sorauren), on Thursday May 30. I will be bringing my eclectic repertoire, 6- and 12-string guitars and a few musical friends along for the ride. It’s a benefit so the tickets are a little pricey – $60 each or two for $100 – but that includes complimentary snacks and drinks, and a charitable receipt for the CRA allowable portion. I hope you will join me. For reservations call 416-961-9594.

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Tasmin LittleOn her latest Chandos CD Tasmin Little plays Clara Schumann, Dame Ethel Smyth & Amy Beach (CHAN 20030 chandos.net), the outstanding English violinist is accompanied by her longtime recital partner John Lenehan. All three women composers were encouraged by their families in their early musical endeavours but experienced far less support, if not outright opposition, when it came to pursuing professional careers.

Beach’s Violin Sonata Op.34 from 1896 is a full-blooded work with sweeping melodies and rich harmonies in the German Romantic tradition; music critics in Berlin noted its indebtedness to Robert Schumann and Brahms. It draws big, strong playing from both performers.

Clara Schumann’s compositional activity declined – by choice – after her marriage to Robert, and the Drei Romanzen Op.22 from 1853 was her final chamber work. Originally described as being for piano and violin these lovely pieces again feature flowing melodies for the violin over quite demanding passage work for the pianist.

Ethel Smyth’s Violin Sonata Op.7 from 1887 also shows a strong Germanic influence, hardly surprising given that ten years earlier the then-19-year-old composer had moved to Leipzig to study and had spent the subsequent decade on the continent, being encouraged by both Clara Schumann and Brahms.

Two lovely short pieces by Beach – Romance Op.23 and Invocation Op.55 – complete a terrific CD. Little has announced her decision to retire from the concert stage in 2020 when she turns 55. Presumably – and hopefully – it won’t include an end to her outstanding series of superb CDs.

02 EllesClara Schumann’s Three Romances Op.22 appear again on another recital of works by women composers, this time as the opening tracks on ELLES, featuring the Canadian duo of violist Marina Thibeault and pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone (ATMA Classique ACD2 2772 atmaclassique.com/En). There’s no word on the transcription source (a viola version was published in 2010) for this or the following work on the CD, the Trois pièces pour violoncelle et piano by Nadia Boulanger. Written in Boulanger’s mid-20s, some seven years before she gave up composition to concentrate on teaching, the piano again features prominently in three brief movements, two of which were transcriptions of organ improvisations.

A very brief setting of a Goethe poem by Fanny Hensel, Mendelssohn’s highly talented sister, precedes the two major works on the disc: Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano from 1919; and the Sonate Pastorale for solo viola by the American violist Lillian Fuchs. A professional violist, Clarke left a wealth of viola works that finally seem to be attracting the amount of recording attention they richly deserve. Written in New York, her sonata is redolent of contemporary French music.

In all the viola and piano works, Thibeault plays with a pure tone and a smooth melodic line, ably supported by Scarfone; there are times, perhaps, when a stronger attack could be used. That, however, is exactly what we get in the two unaccompanied works that follow. Fuchs wrote little in a long life (both she and Clarke made it into their 90s) but the three-movement Sonate is a simply terrific work that brings the best playing on the CD from Thibeault.

Another solo work that began as a piece for cello, young Canadian composer Anna Pidgorna’s The Child, Bringer of Light from 2012, ends the CD. Its eight continuous sections use a variety of techniques to great effect and once again show just how talented a player Thibeault is.

Listen to 'ELLES' Now in the Listening Room

03 Brahms Wen lei GuThere’s a really lovely set of the Brahms Three Sonatas for Violin and Piano featuring the duo of violinist Wen-Lei Gu and pianist Catherine Kautsky (Centaur CRC 3684 naxosdirect.com). Both performers are on the music faculty at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The opening bars of the Sonata No.1 in G Major Op.78 always seem to set the tone for all three works, and it’s clear from the outset here that we are in excellent hands. From the autumnal feel of the first sonata through the warmth of the Sonata No.2 in A Major Op.100 to the passion and restlessness of the Sonata No.3 in D Minor Op.108 the playing here is all you could ask for, with warmth, sensitivity, passion when needed and an ever-present sense of innate musicality.

If you collect different performances of these lovely sonatas then this will make a strong and welcome addition to your CDs; if you’re just looking for one set then this one has a great deal to offer and will certainly not disappoint you.

04 Schubert Grand DuoThe Australian violinist Elizabeth Holowell studied Viennese string performance practice during the 1780 to 1820s in her postgraduate work – studies which had a major influence on The Grand Duo, her recording of the Schubert Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano with Erin Helyard at the fortepiano (Centaur CRC 3665 naxosdirect.com).

The result is an attempt to recreate as far as possible what a contemporary performance of the music would have sounded like. The violin here is without modern fittings and has gut strings; the bow is described as a pre-Tourte transitional model. More significantly, the fortepiano is a new copy of a contemporary Viennese model by Conrad Graf that has six pedals that provide a variety of special tonal effects, including one for Turkish or janissary bells and drums.

Holowell says that interpretation of the notation of these works led to reassessments of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, bowing and articulation. The recording levels also reflect the fact that the three 1816 sonatas – in D Major D384, A Minor D385 and G Minor D408 – were published as sonatas “with violin accompaniment.” The Sonata in A Major D574, known as The Grand Duo completes the CD.

The results are, at times, quite startling. It’s part Historically Informed Performance, part early Romantic in style: vibrato comes and goes; there’s portamento and elasticity in tempo and phrasing; and very occasional pitch issues with the gut strings. Above all, the fortepiano sound varies a good deal, including adding crashing bells and drums to the occasional chord. It’s intriguing and always more than merely interesting, but it will probably come down to a matter of personal taste as to whether you feel that this approach really enhances the music and your understanding of it, or merely serves as a historical demonstration.

Either way, it’s not your standard Schubert recital!

There are two quite superb guitar CDs from Naxos this month, both beautifully recorded at St. Paul’s Church in Newmarket, Ontario with the ever-reliable Norbert Kraft as producer, engineer and editor. At the Naxos retail price they are both simply must-buys for any lover of the classical guitar.

05 Vojin KocicThe debut CD by Serbian guitarist Vojin Kocić (born 1990) follows his win at the 2017 Heinsberg International Guitar Competition in Germany – and what a debut it is, with music ranging from the Baroque to the present day (8.573906 naxos.com).

Kocić’s own arrangement of the Bach Partita No.2 in D Minor BWV1004 for solo violin works beautifully. It’s essentially the violin score note for note, with a crystal-clear line, superb articulation in the numerous fast runs, a lovely sense of pulse and a warm resonance that allows the implied harmonies to sound through. In particular, the guitar’s chording ability means that the multiple stopping – always a stumbling block for violinists – ceases to be a problem. It makes the Sarabande and, in particular, the monumental Chaconne (with its quadruple stops) smoother, calmer and – appropriately – more stately. Add beautifully shaped phrasing that displays musicianship to match the impeccable technique and you have a performance that will stand comparison with any.

The standard never drops in the other three works on the CD. The Introduction et Caprice Op.23 is a dazzling work by Giulio Regondi, the 19th-century prodigy whose music fell into oblivion before being republished in 1981. Manuel Ponce wrote his Diferencias sobre la folía de España y Fuga for Segovia in 1930; it’s one of the more challenging works in the standard repertoire.

Marek Pasieczny’s Phosphenes (After Sylvius Leopold Weiss) was commissioned by the International Guitar Festival as a set piece for their Guitar Masters 2016 competition in Warsaw. It’s a fairly short but tough work that shows Kocić equally comfortable in the contemporary field.

06 de la MazaThe Chilean guitarist José Antonio Escobar (born 1973) is the soloist on the second CD, Guitar Music of Eduardo Sáinz de la Maza (8.573456 naxos.com). The composer’s life spanned most of the 20th century, and the works here are mostly from the period 1961 to 1973.

The main work on the CD is the lovely Platero y yo (Platero and I), a suite of eight scenes from the 138 prose-poems of the same name by the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez that illustrate tales of the donkey Platero and his owner. It’s a work full of tenderness and colour. Ten shorter works that still serve to illustrate the composer’s technical and expressive breadth fill out the CD, including a delightful Habanera that involves tuning down the two lower strings and three Homenajes – homages to Haydn, Toulouse-Lautrec and the guitar itself.

Again, the playing here is clean, warm, resonant and full of colour, and with impeccable technique, the fast tremolo in the Campanas del Alba (The Bells of Dawn) being particularly brilliant. 

07 TwardowskiThe music of Lithuanian composer Romuald Twardowski (b.1930) is presented on Violin Concerto, featuring the New York-based Polish violinist Kinga Augustyn with Poland’s Toruń Symphony Orchestra under Mariusz Smolij (Naxos 8.579031 naxos.com). Twardowski’s music is described as blending tradition and modernity with what the composer calls “a clarity of expression,” and the works here are all highly accessible and finely crafted.

Three pieces – the brilliant Spanish Fantasia from 1984, Niggunim “Melodies of the Hasidim” from 1991 and Capriccio in Blue “George Gershwin in memoriam” from 1979 – were originally for violin and piano and later orchestrated by the composer. The respective influences – Andalusian music, Polish/Ukrainian Jewish melodies, and jazz – are captured effectively and give the soloist ample opportunity to display a range of styles.

The major work is the quite lovely 2006 Violin Concerto, a mainstream work with a challenging cadenza. The Serenade for string orchestra from 2003, another lovely work with a lush Andante movement, completes the CD. Augustyn’s playing is clear, warm and assured, untroubled in the technically challenging passages and with a flowing line in the many melodic sections. Orchestral support and recorded sound are both excellent.

08 Russian CelloLi-Wei Qin is the cello soloist on Russian Cello Concertos with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Michael Halász (Naxos 8.573860 naxos.com). It’s a somewhat misleading title, given that of the seven works on the CD only one – Glazunov’s Concerto ballata in C Major Op.108, written in 1931 after he had left Russia – is anything like a true concerto, although admittedly Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme in A Major Op.33, heard here in the usual revised and rearranged version by the composer’s colleague Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, does come close.

Qin draws a lovely sound from his 1780 Guadagnini cello in the two major works as well as in the shorter recital pieces: Glazunov’s Deux Morceaux Op.20 and the Chant du ménestrel in F-sharp Minor Op.71; Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso in B Minor Op.62 and the Andante Cantabile from his String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11; and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Serenade Op.37. 

01 Gerstein BusoniKirill Gerstein’s new recording of the Busoni Piano Concerto (Myrios Classics, MYR024, naxosdirect.com) is a mammoth production in every way. The Piano Concerto in C Major Op.39 is a five-movement work that takes more than 70 minutes to perform and calls for a large male chorus that sings extensively through the final movement. Premiered in late 1904, it displays a breadth of conception and orchestration stylistically similar to later Mahler symphonies and Rachmaninoff piano concertos. And while it predates the modern cinema by many decades, the music has a grand sweep of musical ideas for both the piano and the orchestra that conjures up epic films on big screens.

Busoni has made the piano very much an equal partner with the orchestra in this work rather than having the two engage in a contest of wills. Some of the critical writing about the concerto sees the work as the final iteration of this late-Romantic form, the end of one era rather than the beginning of a new one. But there is so much forward-looking writing in the concerto that grounds for the counter argument are very strong. Busoni’s own personal evolution toward modernism and experiments with keyboard tonality are further evidence of his contribution to music in a time of profound transition.

This disc was recorded live at Symphony Hall in Boston. Gerstein’s output of sheer pianistic energy for the duration of this enormous work is amazing. For many, this Busoni concerto will be new material, and because of its superb performance, should be eagerly acquired.

02 Busoni Late WorksSvetlana Belsky has an enduring fascination with Busoni whose life as a pianist figures centrally in her doctoral dissertation. Her new release Ferruccio Busoni – The Late Works (Ravello RR8007, ravellorecords.com) reveals Busoni’s emerging modernist views on tonality and eventual rejection of late-Romantic performance practices.

Busoni was renowned for his technique, as any who have played his transcriptions of Bach organ works will know. Massive chords, dense harmonies and seemingly impossible reaches speak to his mastery of both composition and performance. These familiar baroque transcriptions make it all the more intriguing to hear Busoni writing in a voice so firmly early 20th century.

Belsky opens the disc with Sonatina Seconda, a striking example of the composer’s inclination to challenge conventional tonality. The Nine Variations on a Chopin Prelude follow with their increasing degree of technical difficulty. The last work is the set of six Elegies, each dedicated by Busoni to one of his piano students. A curious feature of this set is the appearance of some material from his Turandot Suite. Busoni mistakenly thought the tune Greensleeves was a Chinese folk melody and used it as such in this setting (apologies still owing to Henry Tudor or an anonymous contemporary).

This disc is an important document. With it, Belsky reveals a little-known side of this composer whose original works are refreshingly innovative for their time. 

03 Boris GIltburgBoris Giltburg’s new Naxos release Liszt Études d’exécution transcendante (8.573981, naxos.com) expands his impressive and growing discography for the label.

A good many musical scribes have opined on the way that Liszt’s work, in the hands of the finest performers, forges a powerful single expression in which the components are indistinguishable. Composer, performer and instrument become a unified artistic force. Giltburg plays Liszt? Or Liszt plays Giltburg? Such ambiguity can only arise because of the brilliance of this performance. There is both total surrender and total control. Ambiguity and contradiction, the powerful drivers of the highest artistic experience, are everywhere in this recording. Any one of the Études could serve as an example of peerless performance but No.4, “Mazeppa” stands out for its captivating rhythm as well as the three harmonic suspensions in the middle section that add a brief contemplative moment to the maelstrom.

The Études alone would be enough to fill a disc but Giltburg also adds Liszt’s Paraphrase de concert sur Rigoletto and the second of the 3 Études de concert, S144/R2b. The Verdi Paraphrase is an example of the distance that any of Liszt’s paraphrases lie from their original material. With only the melody intact, Giltburg wraps the composer’s harmonic and ornamental creation around the operatic excerpt in a way that reimagines it as wholly new.

04 Andrey GugninAndrey Gugnin has also recorded the Liszt Études d’exécution transcendante (Piano Classics, PCL10158, naxosdirect.com). This award-winning, festival-conquering young pianist plays with a towering technique. More poignant, however, is the affinity he displays for Liszt’s writing. From the very outset of the Études he plays with the single-minded conviction that the piano is no longer just a piano. Gugnin, like Liszt, is seemingly unburdened by any limitations that he or the instrument might have. Herein lies the transcendental nature of this music. The pianist’s extraordinary technique moves the music beyond conventional levels of comprehension to a richer understanding of what the sounds can actually convey. Having transcended the physical challenges of the music, Gugnin brings a mysticism to his playing that matches the composer’s, note for note. It’s the perfect pairing of master and disciple with the tantalizing promise that the student may even surpass his mentor.

Gugnin’s entire performance blazes with energy – yet his ability to retreat into the quiet moments of Paysage and Harmonies du soir is as impressive as his explosive eruptions of Lisztian genius. Feux follets displays a beautifully sustained and controlled line that runs through the piece, with unassuming determination providing the backdrop for Liszt’s main ideas.

This performance is the rare combination of youthful athleticism and an unnatural early maturity.

05 Buchor GoldbergAnne-Catherine Bucher is among the latest to record the Johann Sebastian Bach Goldberg Variations (Naxos 8.551405, naxos.com). The peculiar challenges of the Variations seem to place them among the peaks that many keyboard artists want to conquer at least once in their performance lifetime. Considering the illustrious performance history of the work and the height at which that bar has been set, the undertaking can be a career risk. In this recording, however, there is no such hazard.

Bucher, an organist and harpsichordist, performs on a modern instrument by builder Matthias Griewisch. The two-manual harpsichord (cembalo) is a replica of a 1745 instrument from the workshop of Flemish builder Johann Daniel Dulcken. With three choirs of strings and at least one buff stop, the instrument offers a variety of individual and combined sounds along with opportunities to solo a voice on a separate manual with a different sound. This is something Bucher does first in Variation 7 and many times subsequently with wonderful effect. Bucher also has a profound grasp of the larger progressive structure Bach uses through the 30 variations. She makes this obvious both in her playing and in her concise liner notes.

The Goldberg Variations are, like any piece of music, a window into the soul of the performer. Choice of instrument, tempi, phrasings, etc. all say something about the player sitting at the keyboard. While Bucher’s recording is scholarly and informed, it rises quickly to gratifying levels of inspired creativity that have a lasting emotional impact. It’s a performance of thought and substance.

06 Mendelsson Piano ConcertosRonald Brautigam has a new recording of the Mendelssohn Piano Concertos (BIS, BIS-2264, naxosdirect.com) in which he performs on a modern fortepiano, a copy of Pleyel Op.1555 from 1830 which is still preserved in the Paris Museum of Music. The instrument’s sound is an immediate clue to the period project in which Die Kölner Akademie also performs with period orchestral instruments, historical seating plan and critical editions of scores.

Brautigam’s instrument is remarkable. While it has the characteristically short resonance of all fortepianos, it is 244cm (8 ft.) long and offers plenty of power against the volume of the orchestra. Equally impressive is the quick keyboard response to the extremely fast passages. The Presto movement of the Concerto No.1 is an example of this amazing key action technology from 1830. It’s unlikely that Pleyel had yet developed his own double escapement action to match his competitor Érard who’d invented it just a decade earlier. But Pleyel’s hammers and actions were known to be lighter and very responsive to the need for speed and repetition. Additionally, Brautigam’s modern copy also holds its tuning remarkably well for all the rigour that Mendelssohn’s score imposes on it. The upper register in particular is beautifully pitched and voiced.

In addition to the two Mendelssohn concertos, the disc also includes his Rondo Brillant in E-flat Major, Op.29, Capriccio Brillant in B Minor, Op.22 and Serenade and Allegro Giojoso, Op.43.

07 Leininger fortepianoThomas Leininger – Fortepiano, Mozart, Beethoven (Talbot Records, TR 1901, talbotrecords.net) is a new disc recorded at Von Kuster Hall, University of Western Ontario. Leininger plays a modern fortepiano built in Freeport, Maine after an instrument by Anton Walter, a German-born builder who ran a successful business in Vienna for nearly 50 years.

Leininger is a trained organist and harpsichordist. His recognized specialization in early music has attracted invitations for him to compose missing passages, many of them extensive, in fragmentary works by Handel and Vivaldi. On this disc, his performance of Mozart’s Sonatas K331 and 332, and Beethoven’s Sonata Op.2, No.1 demonstrates not only how such works could have sounded to their composers and audiences, but how differently phrasings, speeds and dynamics must have been understood. These period instruments respond differently to touch, produce different colours and offer a musical experience unlike what we know today.

Leininger knows his instrument extremely well. He uses the lighter, simpler mechanical action to shape the tone of his notes with great effect. His playing style uses the well-documented freedoms of tempo and ornamentation that are common for the repertoire period. An intriguing feature of this recording is the brief prelude that Leininger improvises before each of the sonatas. The production is well informed, and intelligently and beautifully played.

08 Schiff Schubert ECMIn 2010 Andras Schiff acquired a stunning walnut Brodman fortepiano built in Vienna ca. 1820. Brodman was one of Vienna’s finest builders whose instruments were, not surprisingly, owned by the Austrian Royal Family. The last Austrian Emperor took this one into Swiss exile with him in 1919. One of Brodman’s young apprentices named Bösendorfer in time took over the business and made it the familiar name we know today. This instrument underwent some restoration in 1965 and has been on loan to the Beethoven Haus in Bonn since Schiff took ownership. Schiff brought the instrument to London for a recital at Wigmore Hall in early 2015 where he performed a program of three Schubert Sonatas. The following year he used it to record this disc Franz Schubert Sonatas and Impromptus, (ECM, ECM 2535/36, ecmrecords.com) in the Kammermusiksaal at the Beethoven Haus back in Bonn.

Schiff’s fortepiano exhibits all the mechanical and tonal characteristics of its period: very brief open resonance, comparatively little overall power, and a unique tonal colouring that makes this recording a real gem. Each of the high, middle and low registers has its own quality. Additional mechanisms create a gentle bassoon-like buzz in the bass and a general dampening of the strings in play. But the most striking feature is the intense intimacy, the true smallness of sound that Schiff is able to create from the keyboard. Whether for historical reasons or out of pure curiosity, this recording is a must-have. 

01 Renmen LamentsRenmen Laments
Renaissance Men; Eric Christopher Perry
Navona Records nv6210 (navonarecords.com) 

RenMen, short for the Renaissance Men, have teamed with Navona Records to release Renmen Laments, a beautiful reimagining of the music of such composers as Pablo Casals and Darius Milhaud, along with the ensemble’s continued relationship with the great contemporary American choral composer Daniel E. Gawthrop, that easily evokes an otherworldly ethereal beauty in celebration of the adult male voice. Beautifully recorded at the Westminster Presbyterian church in Buffalo, New York the ten-piece vocal group, formed in 2014, offers up another fine collection of music that demonstrates why they are a welcome addition to the already busy choral music scene in Boston, and a satisfying collection of new work for choral music fans worldwide.

On Laments, the group is authentically and expertly able to bring a Renaissance vocal approach and sensibility to the wide swath of music presented here, leaping countries of origin, historical timelines and style. Finding artistic simpatico with American composers Gawthrop and the fellow Massachusetts-based musician Patricia Van Ness, the Renmen have worked, and succeeded, at bringing what some may view as a historically antiquated music into cultural relevance for 21st-century audiences. With this victory, coupled with what I hope is the widespread dissemination power of a new record company and a busy calendar of public concert engagements in 2019, the group holds the promise to help Renaissance music have its own renaissance in the foreseeable future. Laments is a highly recommended recording for enthusiasts of vocal music, choral work and the Renaissance more generally.

02 Dernier SorcierPauline García Viardot – Le Dernier Sorcier
Soloists; Manhattan Girls Chorus; Trudie Styler
Bridge Records 9515 (bridgerecords.com)

The French/Spanish mezzo-soprano, composer, and pedagogue Pauline García Viardot composed Le Dernier Sorcier (The Last Sorcerer) in collaboration with her partner, Russian novelist/librettist Ivan Turgenev. After its 1867 premiere, the original manuscript of this two-act chamber opera, scored for solo voices, treble chorus and piano, was held in a private collection until the Harvard University Houghton Library recently acquired it and allowed this world premiere recording.

The libretto tells the story of Krakamiche, (bass-baritone Eric Owens), a once powerful sorcerer who has fallen on hard times after upsetting the lives of the fairies, (sung brightly by the Manhattan Girls Chorus), who live in the forest. The love story is between his daughter Stella (soprano Camille Zamora) and the lovelorn Prince Lelio (mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala). Other characters round out the story. The great thing is that though sung in French (with liner notes both in French and English translation), actress Trudie Styler as the narrator recites in English between sung moments.

This entertaining, funny, toe-tapping, quasi-cliché opera merits dancing and singing along. The music is so very in the style of the operas of the day, with such classic sounds as alternating loud and soft volumes, piano accompaniment marching, waltz and lyrical lines, vocals soaring high and low. Pianist Myra Huang supports all the superb singers with clear playing.

Totally unexpected fun makes this a recording to lift one’s spirits!

03 Benjamin LessonsGeorge Benjamin – Lessons in Love and Violence
Stéphane Degout; Barbara Hannigan; Gyula Orendt; Peter Hoare; Samuel Boden; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; George Benjamin
Opus Arte OA 1221 D (naxosdirect.com)

It’s been four years since the Toronto Symphony gave an unforgettable concert performance of British composer George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin. It featured the dynamic Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, who subsequently premiered Benjamin’s gripping new opera, Lessons in Love and Violence in this production from the Royal Opera House two years ago.

Playwright Martin Crimp uses Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan play Edward II, along with historic records, to recount the messy downfall of the 14th-century British King, who ruled neither wisely nor well. Director Katie Mitchell pulls off some innovative moves to shape an exciting drama from Benjamin’s gorgeous, evocative music, Crimp’s poetic text and Vicki Mortimer’s stylish modern sets and costumes. The resourceful but unobtrusive camerawork from video director Margaret Williams ensures a sense of immediacy, especially in the use of imaginative overhead shots, soft focus, and close-ups.

As riveting an actor as singer, Hannigan provides the opera’s most chilling moments as Isabel, the alluring, raging Queen. There are vivid performances from Peter Hoare as Mortimer, Isabel’s lover and the King’s nemesis, Samuel Boden as the son, Ocean Barrington-Cook as the daughter (extraordinary in a non-singing role), and Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabó, who also sang in that TSO performance, as a courtier. But the most moving passages belong to the two splendid baritones, Stéphane Degout as the King and Gyula Orendt as his lover Gaveston, especially in their impassioned duets.

This is a timely work – and all the more eloquently rich for that. While it’s the King’s blind infatuation that brings him down, the problem isn’t that he is gay. It isn’t even that he is having an affair. The problem is that he has abused his power by neglecting his family and his people, lavishing all his attention and resources on Gaveston. Yet it’s only after the King rejects Isabel that she turns on him. By the time their children, who have been forced to witness the violent power plays that ensue, manage to seize the power for themselves, they are able to show that they have learned their lessons only too well.

04 Richard ThompsonRichard Thompson – The Mask in the Mirror, A Chamber Opera
SANAA Opera Project; Stephen Tucker
Navona Records nv6209 (navonarecords.com) 

Richard Thompson’s haunting opera in three acts The Mask in the Mirror tells the story of the ill-fated marriage between the African-American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar and the lighter-skinned Alice Ruth Moore. Thompson tells the story of the lovers with minute and tragic detail, allowing his singers plenty of space to explore the tension of this extraordinary relationship, which unfolds in the context of racism in 19th-century America as well as in terms of the psychological drama surrounding two lovers ill-equipped to distinguish between sexual desire and the loftier ideals of their fraught relationship.

Cameo Humes’ Dunbar is truly inspired and the character unfolds through his sonorous tenor which is wielded with enormous power to unlock the vivid metaphor of the mask in the mirror. Angela Owens’ Moore is equally spectacular. She describes Moore’s less successful but nevertheless equally strong character with dramatic thrust. Together with other incidental characters – all exceptionally developed by Thompson – and the superbly moody orchestral performance, The Mask in the Mirror is powerful and heady, as well as appropriately literary.

The score remains relatively spare throughout yet provides enough detail to tell the complex story. Thompson demonstrates a masterly control of dramatic pace, ratcheting up tension slowly but surely so that the final dénouement reaches a devastating climax, aided by performances – led by the dark-hued timbre of Humes’ Dunbar – which vividly project the complicated nature of the drama.

05 Perpetual TwilightPerpetual Twilight
Choral Scholars of University College Dublin; Desmond Earley
Signum Classics SIGCD558 (signumrecords.com) 

While Ireland has long been renowned for its outstanding literary tradition, it is perhaps less well known for its contributions to choral music. Nevertheless, if this CD Perpetual Twilight, featuring the Choral Scholars of University College Dublin under the direction of Desmond Earley, is any indication, it would appear that the current Irish choral scene is a very vibrant one indeed.

The 28-member chamber choir was founded by Earley in 1999, and since then, numerous tours to various parts of Europe and the United States have earned the ensemble international acclaim. From the opening track Dúlamán, a lively traditional working song from Northern Ireland, it’s evident that the disc is infused with a strong Irish flavour – and what a warm and mellow sound the ensemble produces! Tenors – rares aves in many vocal ensembles – appear to be a major component of the Choral Scholars, resulting in a well-balanced blend of vocal ranges.

The thoughtfully chosen program – an attractive mix of traditional folk songs with newly commissioned pieces – includes the well-known My Love is like a Red Red Rose and Danny Boy in addition to the less familiar Maid of Culmore and Bó na Leathadhairce, the latter arranged by the conductor. Earley is also a composer, and works such as the uplifting Body of the Moon and Strings in the Earth and Air, are testament to his creative talents.

Throughout, the 13-member instrumental ensemble – including a bodhrán, a tin whistle and a harp – provide a solid and sensitive accompaniment. For lovers of the Irish folk tradition, Perpetual Twilight is a delight – joyful singing from the land of Joyce and Beckett – comhghairdeas!

01 Hummel FluteJohann Nepomuk Hummel – Flute Sonatas
Dorothea Seel; Christoph Hammer
Hanssler Classics HC18103 (naxosdirect.com) 

Dorothea Seel is both a flutist and a musicologist, whose area of research is the playing techniques and sound aesthetics of 19th-century flutes. She has presented her research in her dissertation, Der Diskurs um den Klang der Flöte im 19. Jahrhundert (The Discourse about the Sound of the Flute in the 19th Century), published earlier this year by Kunstuniversität Graz, for which she has received the Award of Excellence from the Austrian government.

Her collaborator on this recording, Christoph Hammer, also a specialist in the music and instruments of the 19th century is, according to the liner notes, “also committed to the revival of less-well-known composers and the research and editing of their works.”

What I heard listening to this recording was something of a shock; it revealed an entirely different sound aesthetic from that with which I am familiar and, I would say, have come to expect, listening to recordings of music for the flute. As the liner notes explain, Seel’s research led her to “forgotten playing techniques... many of which would meet with the disapproval of modern-day exponents.” When I left behind my expectations, however, Hummel’s music took on an almost exotic quality, revealing the forgotten zeitgeist of a world long gone.

So, while I am not about to abandon my Boehm flute for an early 19th-century Viennese Ziegler instrument of the type played by Seel on this recording, I am extremely grateful for her work and her ability to translate her research into practice.

02 Mendelsson Piano Concerto 2 and Symphony 1Mendelssohn: Symphony No.1; Piano Concerto No.2
Kristian Bezuidenhout; Freiburger Barockorchester; Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia mundi HMM 902369 (smarturl.it/xs369d)

This brand new issue belongs to a series initiated by young conductor Pablo Heras-Casado’s Diving into German Romanticism and what better way to start than Mendelssohn? Mendelssohn was probably one of the most gifted musicians that ever lived and was capable of composing a symphony for full orchestra at the age of 12!

Perhaps due to the superiority of his later mature works, Symphony No.1 has been unjustifiably neglected but it’s certainly worth hearing as it is performed here. Typically sturm und drang and written in the sombre key of C Minor, the first movement is full of sound and fury at a frantic speed of Allegro di molto with strings rushing like a whirlwind demonstrating this orchestra’s amazing virtuosity. Peace and solace relieve the storm in the beautiful second movement that sings like one of Mendelssohn’s Lieder Ohne Worte where the interplay of woodwinds is a pure delight. The dominating C Minor stormy mood returns Allegro con fuoco piu stretto in the fourth movement with interesting contrapuntal episodes but ending the symphony triumphantly in a major key.

The Piano Concerto No.2 in D Minor was regrettably completely overshadowed by Mendelssohn’s popular, irresistible first foray into the genre. However, South African Kristian Bezuidenhout’s agile brilliance yet gentle touch on the Fortepiano Érard (Paris 1837) plus a highly precise and exciting period instrument accompaniment, makes this concerto truly shine.

As the recording progressed I found myself falling in love with Mendelssohn over and over again. And that energetically driven, passionate rendition of the Fair Melusina Overture tops it all. I haven’t heard it played as beautifully since Sir Thomas Beecham.

03 RossiniThe Rossini Project Volume 1 – The Young Rossini
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana; Markus Poschner
Concerto Classics CD 2112 (naxosdirect.com)

Rossini was a wunderkind who came on the musical scene like a comet and music just poured out of him, much like Mozart. His creative genius never diminished and his greatest works came near the end of his long life. Last year was the 150th anniversary of his death and this ongoing ambitious project, which includes some first recordings, has been created with the Lugano-based Swiss orchestra to explore and record much of his lesser-known and hitherto unedited works. It certainly starts off splendidly with a wonderfully pointed, sparkling rendition of the Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri. Though not at all unknown, it immediately demonstrates the gifted young German conductor Markus Poschner’s obvious affinity to Rossini. The overtures that follow are youthful attempts but already showing the lion’s teeth of the master emerging, as in the alternate version of L’equivoco stravagante (1811) with its beautiful horn solo and subsequent brilliant use of woodwinds, and the first manifestations of the Rossini crescendo in Tancredi Overture.

The period covered (1808-14) is mostly from Venice, young Rossini’s first major stop, just up the Adriatic coast from his birthplace Pesaro where he ran away as a teenager to become the toast of the town in a few years. The Venetian sojourn produced a dozen operas, two of them masterpieces: L’Italiana in Algeri and Tancredi , the latter duly represented here by excerpts and sung by virtuoso, strong Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak, who proves to be very much at home in Rossini’s murderous tessituras.

Highly recommended – a most enjoyable inaugural release in a series worthy of Rossini.

04 Rachmaninov Symph. 1Rachmaninoff – The Isle of the Dead; Symphony No.1
London Philharmonic Orchestra. Vladimir Jurowsky-cond.
LPO Live LPO 0111 (lpo.org.uk/recordings-and-gifts)

Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony hasn’t had an easy time. Conductor Glazunov was drunk and made it a dismal failure at its premiere in 1897 and the discouraged young composer locked the score away vowing never to perform it again. The original score was never found, but miraculously the orchestral parts were discovered in 1944 and it was performed once more in 1945 in Moscow.

This new performance comes from a recent concert in London conducted by Vladimir Jurowsky and what a concert it must have been! The audience went wild and the critics were raving and I imagine Rachmaninoff must have been very pleased and the symphony vindicated. Royal Philharmonic Society 2018 award winner Jurowsky’s name may not be too familiar, but he is one of the most sought after conductors and has a tremendous worldwide reputation that’s well proven here.

None of this music will come to you easily, in fact it requires several hearings and total concentration to appreciate Jurowsky’s “hypnotic drive,” especially in The Isle of the Dead’s sinister 5/8 ostinato undulating motion representing Charon the oarsman rowing a boat towards the other shore. It brought an “eerie chill” to the Festival Hall, one critic remarked.

The Symphony itself was a triumph. Rachmaninoff is the connecting tissue in Russian music between Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and here you can see why. It has youthful excitement, intense passion and a tremendous emotional depth Jurowsky brings out to the utmost. The last movement Allegro con fuoco is where it all comes together; it’s both “frightening and triumphant” and one could feel the intensity and frisson of the live performance.

05 Symphonic DancesSymphonic Dances – Copland; Ravel; Stravinsky
Park Avenue Chamber Symphony; David Bernard
Recursive Classics (naxosdirect.com)

Pity the ballet orchestra musician; so much great music gets borne away from their pit by the changing tides of dance fashion. The 20th century is littered with scores from the early moderns that were introduced as dance accompaniment and became, instead, great works for the symphony stage. Hardly anyone stages Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring anymore, and almost all of Ravel’s works are similarly banished from the standard ballet repertoire.

The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, under conductor David Bernard, has recorded three modern masterworks: Aaron Copland’s Appalachain Spring Suite, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No.2, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. With time and space, one could discuss the ways ballet scenarios changed from the mythic to the mundane as reflected in the selected works, but better to leave that to dance critics. These are, above all, wondrous works that orchestral players love to sink their chops into, and symphonic audience members love them as much.

All three are now period pieces of early- to mid-20th-century French and American music. Don’t tell me Stravinsky was neither; he wrote for the tastes of his audience, and The Firebird often sounds a lot like Ravel. And of course, Copland was deeply influenced by Nadia Boulanger.

The recordings took place in three different locations, the orchestra may well have had a few interchangeable players, and the 1919 Kalmus version of the Firebird score was edited, possibly to suit the size of the orchestra. The playing is uneven, especially as regards intonation, and microphone placement brings the wind soloists uncomfortably close, but the performances are careful and loving; in fact it’s just nice to hear a scrappy, not-quite-perfect recording of any of this material, which might make it more period-authentic than anything else.

06 AntheilGeorge Antheil – Symphonies 3 & 6
BBC Philharmonic; John Storgårds
Chandos CHAN 10982 (naxosdirect.com)

The 1940s was an especially busy decade for the prolific American composer, pianist, author and inventor George Antheil (1900-1959). With the spectre of WWII looming in the USA, in 1941 he and the actress Hedy Lamarr set out to develop a code-based radio guidance system for torpedoes. He also continued to turn out scores for Hollywood features (his catalogue lists 30), while his 1945 autobiography Bad Boy of Music – referring to the international avant-garde reputation he attracted in the 1920s – became a best-seller. As well, Antheil continued to compose for the concert stage, completing several symphonies, a violin concerto and other works in the 1940s.

This second Chandos album of his symphonic output by the BBC Philharmonic and its chief guest conductor, John Storgårds, delights listeners with outstanding performances of two of those symphonies plus three shorter orchestral works. Symphony No.3 “American” (completed 1946) is cinematic in its conservative harmonic language and highly episodic block treatment of themes. In parts, an Aaron Copland-esque American populism is jump-cut with syncopated jazzy sections and a marked stylistic eclecticism: Antheil leans strongly on the musical legacies of Sibelius, Mahler and Prokofiev. The work concludes with a triumphalist finale.

Symphony No.6 (completed 1949-50) is overall a more sombre and artistically ambitious work. The influences of Shostakovich, and in parts Ives, permeate Antheil’s patriotic portrait of American life in music in a manner both touching in its heart-on-sleeve Romantic lyricism, and evocative of the vernacular regionalisms and dynamism of post-war USA.

01 French Flute20th Century French Flute Concertos
Ransom Wilson; BBC Concert Orchestra; Perry So
Nimbus Alliance NI 6375 (naxosdirect.com) 

No nation’s composers have contributed more to the flute repertoire than those of France. From the Baroque era to the present, French composers have excelled as weavers of iridescent, gossamer musical tapestries, employing as a favourite filament the diaphanous sound of the flute. On this CD, American flutist Ransom Wilson, conductor Perry So and the BBC Concert Orchestra present three rarely recorded, captivating works by Jean Françaix (1912-1997), Jean Rivier (1896-1987) and Jean-Michel Damase (1928-2013), plus a repertoire staple by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962).

In the opening Moderato of Françaix’s Impromptu for Flute and Strings (1983), the flute dances sprightly filigrees over the strings’ waltz beat. Two sweetly dreamy movements, Largo and Andante poetica, containing echoes of Poulenc (I’ve always thought of Françaix as “Poulenc-lite”), frame a playful Scherzando. It’s an irresistibly charming piece!  

The Allegro moderato of Rivier’s Concerto for Flute and Strings (1956) alternates wistful and animated passages for the flute, followed by the central Lento sensibile, in which the flute seems to wander in a subterranean labyrinth, before emerging into the light and sprinting to the finish line in the Molto vivace.

The three connected movements of Damase’s Sérénade for Flute and Strings, Op.36 (1956), all marked Très large, encompass mystery, joy, angst-filled disquiet and a pair of hauntingly beautiful melodies. Even with its gentle, non-virtuosic ending, it should have become “standard rep” by now.

A warm-hearted performance of Ibert’s familiar, audience-pleasing Flute Concerto (1933) ends this extremely enjoyable, extremely recommendable CD.

02 Ana SokolovicAna Sokolović – Sirènes
Ensemble contemporain de Montréal; Véronique Lacroix; Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre; Dáirine Ní Mheadhra
ATMA ACD2 2762 (atmaclassique.com)

2019 JUNO Classical Composer of the Year Ana Sokolović composes with her highly identifiable tonal/atonal soundscapes in four works here. Sirènes/Sirens (2000) is performed perfectly by six female voices of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Vocal Ensemble. Inspired by ancient Balkan voices of the Sirens legend, high-pitched female voices, quasi-wobbly, humorous yet haunting vocal effects, shrieks, quieter moments, and driving vocal rhythms are intense. The five-movement Tanzer Lieder (2005) is set to five German, French and English poems by Austrian poet Francisco Tanzer. A slightly more operatic work, soprano Florie Valiquette embraces Sokolović’s trademark loud high pitches and dramatic held notes above such instrumental accompaniment as reflective flute/piccolo, piano and cello plucks. Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó shines especially in her colourful lower pitches in the five-movement/language Pesma (1996-2007) above the ECM+ instrumentalists under the direction of Véronique Lacroix.

The title of the violin concerto Evta (2017) means “seven” in Serbian Roma. Seven joined movements are inspired by chakra colours and associated with each note of the scale as Sokolović now explores her characteristic sounds with only instruments. The ECM+ ensemble, with soloist Andréa Tyniec, performs with technical and musical greatness, executing more rapid ascending lines, held notes, pizzicatos and plucks, touches of Gypsy-flavoured sounds and the occasional more tonal sections in this less intense composition.

One can only imagine how gratifying it must be to successfully perform and compose such complex contemporary works. Yes it is intense, but worth the time to listen to and understand Sokolović!

Listen to 'Ana Sokolović: Sirènes' Now in the Listening Room

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