01 Harry FreedmanI was thrilled to receive the latest shipment of Centrediscs from the Canadian Music Centre (CMC) shortly after filing my February column and several days before that month’s issue hit the streets. I knew exactly what would take pride of place in my March column: Harry Freedman – The Concert Recordings (CMCCD 23517). I was therefore a little dismayed when I did see the February WholeNote and found that David Jaeger had stolen my thunder. His excellent and extended article about Freedman’s orchestral music and the particular pieces included on the disc, from his perspective as producer of a number of those recordings, would seemingly make anything I had to say redundant. But perhaps not irrelevant. In my own years as a broadcaster (at CKLN and CJRT) I met Freedman on a number of occasions and got to know him fairly well, but it is his music that made a real impression on me. In my formative years this was the music, particularly Freedman’s orchestral works, that I grew up understanding to define what made Canadian music Canadian: aural landscapes reminiscent of the North, stark and angular, crisp and rugged, but at the same time lush and evocative.

All of the tracks are exceptional, but there are two real standouts for me. Borealis for orchestra (TSO) and a (heavenly) host of choirs (Danish National Radio Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Swedish Radio Choir and Toronto Children’s Chorus) was written for and performed in the towering Barbara Frum Atrium in the CBC Broadcast Centre as part of Soundstreams’ Northern Encounters Festival of the Arts in 1997 with the orchestra and choirs surrounding the ground floor audience from the balconies above. Images predates Borealis by almost four decades (1960) and is heard here in a 1979 performance with Sir Andrew Davis at the helm of the TSO. It is a three-movement work inspired by Canadian artists Lawren Harris, Kazuo Nakamura and Jean-Pierre Riopelle which in the words of the composer is “not so much concerned with the content of the paintings as with their design…in effect, a translation into musical terms of the artists’ styles.”

As a reflection of that aspect of the CMC’s mandate to preserve and promote the history of our musical heritage, I feel this is one of the most significant releases from Centrediscs’ in recent years and as we enter Canada’s sesquicentennial an important reminder of our artistic heritage.

02 RavensThe other disc in the shipment from the CMC has left me scratching my head. I understand that an important part of the CMC’s mandate is to promote the music of our emerging composers and to reflect changing concerns and aesthetics, but I would still expect that to be done within the context of art music. Ravens (CMCCD 23217) features the music of Yellowknife-based composer Carmen Braden and it is a truly eclectic recording that would, I feel, be most at home in The WholeNote’s Pot Pourri section. Please don’t get me wrong, I like the disc very much and there are indeed some “classical” compositions included – a brief excerpt from Candle Ice for piano trio and field recordings of melting ice; Magnetic North for violin and piano; and Waltz of Wing and Claw “a string quartet of ravens playing in the wind” which turns out to be another excerpt from a larger work The Raven Conspiracy – but the bulk of the album consists of quirky and clever pop songs with occasional nods to jazz (à la Joni Mitchell) and even a twangy ode – Small Town Song – explained in the composer’s notes with the statement “The banjo is wonderful, but it scares me a little.” Braden seems to have overcome her fear of this predominantly southern instrument and this rousing sing-along brings an intriguing northern journey to a satisfying end. I just wish we could have heard the instrumental compositions in their entirety.

03 Another truly eclectic disc has come to my attention in the context of an upcoming Toronto performance. Vocalist and songwriter Simrit was born in Athens, Greece, but adopted and brought up in South Carolina by Greek immigrants. Her music draws on the Greek Orthodox chants of her heritage and on the pulse and melodic sensibilities of West African traditions which she has studied intensely. Add to this such influences as Mazzy Star, Jeff Buckley, Loreena McKennitt, roots reggae and world music from the Mediterranean to the Subcontinent and I’m not sure quite what you get, but I’ve been captivated by its compelling ambience for several weeks now.

As well as her haunting vocals, on Songs of Resilience (simritkaurmusic.com) Simrit plays harmonium and mellotron and is accompanied by a septet who between them play kora, pueblo log drums, congas, cello, electronics, electric and acoustic guitars, drum kit and miscellaneous percussion. Simrit says “This music changes consciousness, and that is where we can start. For the world to shift into a potentially peaceful place, we must start with ourselves first.” But as the press release assures us “the central message is not sappy or facile. It’s about finding the sounds to aid change, to expand what you can see and embrace.”

Concert note: You can find out what Simrit’s music and message is all about at St. George’s Lutheran Church at 410 College St. in Toronto on March 29 at 7:30.

Sticking with my Pot Pourri theme, I had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend from my early childhood at Winterfolk on the Family Day Weekend. David Storey and I knew each other back in our pre-school days, attending the same Anglican church and each other’s birthday parties. Somewhere around our teenage years we lost track of each other as he went off to choir school and I attended York County’s experiment with open plan education in the early years of Thornlea Secondary School. Evidently Storey spent some years as a singer-songwriter before taking a 25-year hiatus to direct television and film productions, including the iconic Corner Gas. When this last had run its course, Storey returned to his first love, playing the guitar and turning some wonderful stories into song.

04 David StoreyHe recently released his first full-length CD Coming Home (davidstoreymusic.com) and the name is particularly apt. The songs tell tales (tall and otherwise) of his life and adventures and although they are complete in themselves it was a treat to hear some of their background in intros and asides during his performance at the Black Swan on the Danforth, the central venue of Winterfolk. Performing with Lawrie Ingles (keyboard), Henry Lees (harmony vocals) and Bob Cohen (bass and something that seemed to be an eight-string ukulele, a new one on me) Storey was able to recreate a bare-bones version of the arrangements from the album, with Ingles providing some convincing fiddle lines on his electronic keyboard and adding a third voice to some tight harmonies. Cohen shone with fluid solos on two cover tunes, Little Feat’s Willin’ and Van Morrison’s Crazy Love but the rest of the hour-long set was devoted to original material from the CD.

All in all it was a lovely outing with my mother, who was once Storey’s Sunday-school teacher, and if you missed it – there was a good crowd, but I didn’t see you there – you should check out the album. Highlights for me include Saint Adelaide (Who knew there was a Catholic saint of abuse victims; brides; empresses; exiles; in-law problems; parenthood; parents of large families; princesses; prisoners; second marriages; step-parents; and widows? She must be very busy!); the cancer survivor’s anthem Crusty – “I’m crusty and I’m chuff [look it up if you need to, this is a great word!], and I refuse to die, I’m gonna stare this crazy world straight in the eye…” and Last Loon on the Lake where Storey is joined by the bluegrass band Traditionally Wound. You really owe it to yourself to visit the website to hear this track (and then buy the CD or download).

Lest it seem that I have spent most of my time this month awash in Pot Pourri, I’ll mention that I have been practising my cello diligently for the upcoming term-end recital at University Settlement Music and Arts School (March 3 at 7pm at the Church of St. George the Martyr). This time around I am playing in two string trios and immersing myself in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. My regular group will play selected movements of Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of the Goldberg Variations and I managed to talk my way into another which will be doing a trio arrangement of the Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor BWV1043. So it’s been quite a challenging couple of months preparing and “I’m playing as fast as I can!” An initial frustration as I sought out recordings to study was that current day period orchestras tune substantially lower than the modern concert pitch of A440 making playing along impractical unless I want to retune my cello each time. Fortunately I found that my old trusty Columbia LP recording with Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman and the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta was indeed at modern pitch and so all I had to do was aspire to their tempos…

05 OistrakhsElsewhere in these pages you can read Bruce Surtees’ impressions of The David Oistrakh Edition which includes among a host of other recordings David and son Igor playing works for two violins by Bach and Vivaldi. It was a great pleasure to find in my inbox just two days before I sat down to write this, a new Berlin Classics reissue of the Bach Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043 and the Vivaldi Concerto Grosso Op.3 No.8 with David and Igor Oistrach [sic] (010084BC) remastered from 1957 Eterna mono recordings. So now I have two fabulous models to work from (both at A440) and the Berlin Classics recording comes with the added bonus of one of my very favourite violin pieces, the Franck Violin Sonata in A Major featuring David Oistrakh and Anton Ginsburg (piano) from 1958. I must admit that it was a relief to find that without losing any of the bright and lively feel of the outer movements, the Oistrakhs take slightly more relaxed tempos than Stern and Perlman, leaving me with the hope that in the next two weeks I can actually get up to speed after all. On both recordings the gorgeous Largo middle movement is to die for.

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David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

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Review

01 Montreal Guitar Trio

If you’re a regular listener to Tom Allen’s Shift program on CBC Radio then you’ve probably already heard two of the tracks from DANZAS, the new CD of Spanish guitar music from MG3, the Montréal Guitare Trio of Glenn Lévesque, Sébastien Dufour and Marc Morin (Analekta AN 2 8791).

By pure coincidence the CD arrived in the mail the same afternoon that Allen played a movement from Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s La Catedral, so I knew how good the CD was going to be before even opening it. And “good” is putting it mildly. From the dazzling flamenco runs and rhythms of the opening track of Al Di Meola’s Mediterranean Sundance and Paco De Lucía’s Rio Ancho, the MG3 return to the Spanish roots of their student days with a program of terrific arrangements of mostly standard works.

In addition to the Mangoré Catedral there are six tracks of dances and songs by Manuel De Falla, De Lucia’s Canción de amor and finally Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song. All arrangements are by the guitarists, either together or as individual efforts by Dufour or Lévesque. The outstanding playing is beautifully captured in a resonant recording made last October in the St-Benoît-de-Mirabel Church in Québec.

Review

02 Canadian Guitar QuartetThere’s more terrific guitar playing on Mappa Mundi, the new CD with a mixture of old and new works from the Canadian Guitar Quartet of Julien Bisaillon, Renaud Côté-Giguère, Bruno Roussel and Louis Trépanier (ATMA Classique ACD2 2750).

Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos RV531 works extremely well in Roussel’s arrangement, with all four guitarists sharing the two solo lines at some point in the three movements.

The other four works on the CD are all comparatively recent compositions. Fille de cuivre (Copper Girl) by quartet member Côté-Giguère explores the conflicting emotions when outward persona is not matched by inner self; it was inspired by the metal-welding works of Québecois sculptor Jean-Louis Émond, whose sculptures include a woman with a perfectly polished front but an open back revealing the rough inner welds.

Concierto Tradicionuevo by Patrick Roux (b.1962) is a terrific homage to the Argentinian tango, with particular nods to the 1930s singer Carlos Gardel and – in a particularly dazzling movement – Astor Piazzolla.

Octopus, by the German composer Hans Brüderl (b.1959) was originally a work for eight guitars (hence the title pun: Oct-Opus) written for the Canadian Guitar Quartet and the Salzburg Guitar Quartet; the former enjoyed it so much that Brüderl adapted it for four guitars. It’s a delightful piece with a real “Wow!” factor.

The CD’s title work Mappa Mundi was written by the Canadian composer Christine Donkin (b.1976) and is a portrayal of four of the images on the 14th-century world map held at Hereford Cathedral in England. Cellist Rachel Mercer joins the quartet in the Tower of Babel movement, the cello representing the voice of God!

These are all substantial, captivating works, beautifully played and recorded.

03 Butterfly LabyrinthButterflies in the Labyrinth of Silence features the guitar music of the Swiss composer Georges Raillard (b.1957) in performances by the American guitarist David William Ross (Navona Records NV6071). Raillard studied classical guitar and composition in the mid-1970s, and his guitar compositions are available for download through his website at georges-raillard.com.

The works here date from 1999 to 2008 and, with titles like Shells on the Beach, Summer Evening at the Rhine, Butterfly and Measuring Clouds, are clearly essentially light classical pieces. Although somewhat limited in technical range in comparison to many contemporary works – often with the feel of classical guitar études – they are consistently pleasant, well-written and competent pieces by someone who clearly loves and understands the instrument. There is lovely clean playing from Ross throughout a thoroughly enjoyable CD.

04 Brahms SextetsThe Cypress String Quartet celebrated its 20th anniversary and its final season in 2016, and for its final recording in April chose the two String Sextets by Brahms, asking longtime friends and collaborators violist Barry Shiffman and cellist Zuill Bailey to join them (Avie Records AV2294). The performers also opted to make the recordings in front of a live studio audience, although there is no hint of audience presence on the CD.

The Sextets No.1 in B-flat Major Op.18 and No.2 in G Major Op.36 are given simply beautiful performances. Brahms always seems to have that quality of wistfulness and yearning, but the G Major work is particularly appropriate here, Brahms having learned from Robert Schumann the device of using musical notation to denote the names of people in one’s life and consequently turning this work into an emotional farewell to his lost love Agathe von Siebold.

It is hardly surprising then that this work should make such a fitting conclusion to the Cypress Quartet’s career. As the quartet members note, the works were an obvious choice for this final CD: “these monumental String Sextets . . . with their warmth and reflective qualities, are perfectly suited to saying farewell.”

The Cypress Quartet will be greatly missed, but this CD is a wonderful tribute to their talents.

05 Saint Saens Cello coverThe outstanding French cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand is back with another excellent CD, this time featuring the Cello Concerto No.1 in A Minor Op.33 by Camille Saint-Saëns with the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester under James Gaffigan and also the Cello Sonatas Nos.2 & 3 with Bertrand’s partner, pianist Pascal Amoyel (harmonia mundi HMM 902210).

Saint-Saëns clearly had a great love for the cello, and it shows throughout these works. Bertrand gives a passionate and convincing performance of the concerto, with excellent orchestral support. Bertrand and Amoyel are, as usual, as one voice in beautifully judged readings of the two sonatas. All of the usual outstanding Bertrand qualities – tone, phrasing, sensitivity and musical intelligence – are here in abundance.

The Sonata No.3 is a late work that occupied the composer from 1913 to 1919, but unfortunately the final two movements have been lost, and the first two exist only in manuscript. This lovely performance is the first recording of the work and leaves us wondering just what we are missing in the two lost movements.

06 Cello StoriesI could easily use an entire column to review Cello Stories – The Cello in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the quite remarkable hardcover book and 5-CD set featuring the French cellist Bruno Cocset and his group Les Basses Réunies, with text by the Baroque cellist and musicologist Marc Vanscheeuwijck (Alpha Classics ALPHA 890).

Cocset says that the intention is to show how an instrument and its repertoire have taken shape, and he has selected the musical program from his recordings for Alpha – some of them previously unreleased – made between 1998 and 2013. The five discs are: The Origins, with music by Ortiz, Bonizzi, Frescobaldi, Vitali, Galli and Degli Antonii; Italy-France, with music by Marcello, Vivaldi and Barrière; Johann Sebastian Bach, two CDs of cello sonatas, choral preludes, movements from the Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2 and 4 and the complete Suites 3, 5 and 6; and From Geminiani to Boccherini, including a short sonata by Giovanni Cirri.

The book is in English and French, with full track listings and recording details, and there are 15 pages of full-colour contemporary illustrations. The astonishingly detailed and researched text portion on the history and development of the instrument and its playing techniques runs to about 50 pages and has 386 footnotes.

The playing throughout is quite superb. It’s a simply astonishing project, completed in quite brilliant fashion.

07 Melia Watras 26Melia Watras: 26 (Sono Luminus SLE-70007) is a fascinating CD inspired by the concept of violists performing and sharing their own compositions. Violists Watras, Atar Arad and Garth Knox (here playing viola d’amore) are joined by violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim in five works by Watras, two by Arad, one by Knox and a duo by American composer Richard Karpen.

All the players have extensive chamber music experience, Arad with the Cleveland Quartet, Knox with the Arditti Quartet and Watras and Lim as co-founders of the Corigliano Quartet. The playing is of the highest standard throughout.

All of the nine works – there are three duos for two violas and two for violin and viola, three solo viola works and a solo violin piece – are world premiere recordings, and each one is a real gem. It’s a terrific CD, and one which should appeal to a much wider audience than just lovers of the viola.

The CD title, incidentally, represents the combined number of strings on the four instruments used.

07 Claremont TrioSPHERES – Music of Robert Paterson is the new CD from the Claremont Trio – violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin and pianist Andrea Lam (American Modern Recordings AMR 1046).

The two major works by this American composer are quite different but form a pair, the shorter and sweeter 2015 Moon Trio, commissioned by the Claremont Trio, being a sister piece for the much longer and more strident Sun Trio, a 1995 work revised in 2008; Donna Kwong, who was a founding member and pianist of the Trio for 12 years from its foundation at the Juilliard School in 1999, is the pianist in the latter work.

The Toronto-born cellist Karen Ouzounian joins Andrea Lam and Julia Bruskin in the Elegy for Two Cellos and Piano, a 2006 work originally written for two bassoons in memory of a well-known New York cellist, and transcribed for two cellos in 2007-08. Quoting liberally from the Bach cello works, it’s a simply lovely piece.

08 Mozart Violin ConcertosAnd finally, Henning Kraggerud is the brilliant soloist leading the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra on MOZART Violin Concertos Nos.3, 4 and 5 and the Adagio in E, K.261, a Naxos Music in Motion DVD (2.110368).

Filmed before a small audience in the intimate but resonant Akershus Castle Church in Oslo in January 2015, the camera work is understandably a bit limited, with cameras in front on the left, right and centre providing close-ups and occasional tracking. The picture quality could perhaps be a little sharper, but colour and sound are fine.

It’s the playing we’re here for, though, and it’s simply sublime. Kraggerud’s 1744 Guarneri Del Gesù has surely never sounded warmer or brighter, and the joy, exuberance and perfect communication between soloist and orchestral players is a delight to see. The performances throughout are superb, with brilliant outer movements and beautifully judged slow movements.

Kraggerud, who provides his own cadenzas, gives introductions to each work (in Norwegian with English subtitles) with fascinating insight and stories, including what may well be the historical source of all viola jokes; and there is a brief Behind the Scenes bonus track showing preparations for the concert.

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01 Montreal Guitar TrioDANZAS
MG3, the Montréal Guitare Trio
Analekta AN 2 8791 

Review

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

If you’re a regular listener to Tom Allen’s Shift program on CBC Radio then you’ve probably already heard two of the tracks from DANZAS, the new CD of Spanish guitar music from MG3, the Montréal Guitare Trio of Glenn Lévesque, Sébastien Dufour and Marc Morin (Analekta AN 2 8791).

By pure coincidence the CD arrived in the mail the same afternoon that Allen played a movement from Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s La Catedral, so I knew how good the CD was going to be before even opening it. And “good” is putting it mildly. From the dazzling flamenco runs and rhythms of the opening track of Al Di Meola’s Mediterranean Sundance and Paco De Lucía’s Rio Ancho, the MG3 return to the Spanish roots of their student days with a program of terrific arrangements of mostly standard works.

In addition to the Mangoré Catedral there are six tracks of dances and songs by Manuel De Falla, De Lucia’s Canción de amor and finally Charlie Haden’s Our Spanish Love Song. All arrangements are by the guitarists, either together or as individual efforts by Dufour or Lévesque. The outstanding playing is beautifully captured in a resonant recording made last October in the St-Benoît-de-Mirabel Church in Québec.

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02 Canadian Guitar QuartetMappa Mundi
Canadian Guitar Quartet
ATMA Classique ACD2 2750

Review

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

There’s more terrific guitar playing on Mappa Mundi, the new CD with a mixture of old and new works from the Canadian Guitar Quartet of Julien Bisaillon, Renaud Côté-Giguère, Bruno Roussel and Louis Trépanier (ATMA Classique ACD2 2750).

Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos RV531 works extremely well in Roussel’s arrangement, with all four guitarists sharing the two solo lines at some point in the three movements.

The other four works on the CD are all comparatively recent compositions. Fille de cuivre (Copper Girl) by quartet member Côté-Giguère explores the conflicting emotions when outward persona is not matched by inner self; it was inspired by the metal-welding works of Québecois sculptor Jean-Louis Émond, whose sculptures include a woman with a perfectly polished front but an open back revealing the rough inner welds.

Concierto Tradicionuevo by Patrick Roux (b.1962) is a terrific homage to the Argentinian tango, with particular nods to the 1930s singer Carlos Gardel and – in a particularly dazzling movement – Astor Piazzolla.

Octopus, by the German composer Hans Brüderl (b.1959) was originally a work for eight guitars (hence the title pun: Oct-Opus) written for the Canadian Guitar Quartet and the Salzburg Guitar Quartet; the former enjoyed it so much that Brüderl adapted it for four guitars. It’s a delightful piece with a real “Wow!” factor.

The CD’s title work Mappa Mundi was written by the Canadian composer Christine Donkin (b.1976) and is a portrayal of four of the images on the 14th-century world map held at Hereford Cathedral in England. Cellist Rachel Mercer joins the quartet in the Tower of Babel movement, the cello representing the voice of God!

These are all substantial, captivating works, beautifully played and recorded.

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01 SerockiAdam Kośmieja plays a remarkable contemporary program in his recording Serocki – Complete works for solo piano (Dux 1284). The music of Kazimierz Serocki (1922-1981) is regrettably unfamiliar to most North American audiences. Its uniqueness lies in his 12-tone style. Serocki demonstrates a strong affinity for rhythm and texture as the key drivers in his music. Whether he’s drawing out a languorous elegy or spinning a feverish virtuosic passage, he writes for clarity using very little pedal and favouring generous application of staccato. On rare occasions he will seem impressionistic and reveal the French influences he absorbed as a student in Paris. More curious and delightful is the unmistakable, if subtle, flavour of something that is teasingly Broadway and flirts with jazz.

Pianist Adam Kośmieja does an extraordinary job of playing this music. He obviously has a deep understanding of what Serocki is saying and how he means it to be said. Kośmieja’s ability to meet the widely different interpretive demands of the music is impressive. He lists, among his teachers, names like Gary Grafman, Paul Badura-Skoda, Ivan Moravec, Lang Lang and numerous others.

The Sonata for Piano has two wonderfully maniacal movements, veloce and barbaro, that contrast sharply with the other two inquietamente and elegiaco. It’s a substantial work, rich in variety and it’s exceptionally well-played.

The Gnomes: Childrens’ Miniatures is fascinating for its simplicity as repertoire for children yet intriguing for the way it introduces them to the 12-tone system through the strategic placement of gentle dissonances. The disc is a wonderful issue from Polish Radio.

02 VersusUkrainian-born pianist Irena Portenko has conceived a yin-yang study of contrasting concertos that may have more in common with each other than meets the ear. Her new release Versus: Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.2; Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1; Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra; Volodymyr Sirenko (Blue Griffin Recording BGR417) opens with an intense performance of the Prokofiev Concerto No.2. Actually, there’s no other way to play it. It’s dramatic, dark and relentless.

Prokofiev’s first few performances met with uneven success. He cites generally better public acceptance with each performance, but it was a rocky start. The work was, for 1913, a challenging audience experience. Dense and replete with rhythmic and melodic complexities, it left first-time listeners dealing mainly with the heavy emotional experience. Stravinsky, however, was impressed. Diaghilev, too, was complimentary and reportedly invited Prokofiev to play it as a stage production while dancers moved around him on the stage. Curiously the third movement has the feel of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet with the strong bass pulse that drives the dance, Montagues and Capulets.

The writing is undeniably brilliant and is matched by the performance. Portenko is satisfyingly at home with this music, meeting its technical and interpretive challenges with confidence and style. She brings the same energy to the Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor Op.23. It too, is grand and relentless. Although she is very clear in her notes that she sees this as the counterbalance of light and positive energy to the Prokofiev. Noteworthy in this performance is the way some of the inner wind voices are brought forward in the second movement, creating the impression of familiar music never heard before.

A very impressive recording.

Review

03 Chopin ChoSeong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, the first Korean to do so. His latest recording Chopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda (Deutsche Grammophon 4795941) shows how his focus on the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas won him that coveted prize. Cho’s treatment of the principal melodic ideas in the opening movement is fluid and lyrical. Even his ornaments come across more as small eddies in a current than clusters of notes on a page. The second movement Romance is exquisite. Cho manages to retain a fragility about his playing, even through the slightly more assertive middle section. His technical display in the final movement is flawlessly clear.

The Ballades too, reveal Cho’s fascination with the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas. Much of the Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23 is remarkably understated, making for a starker contrast with the outburst of the middle section as well as the closing measures. The Ballade No.2 follows in a similar vein. The effectiveness of Cho’s playing lies as much in his virtuosity as in his ability to fall into Chopin’s moments of repose with a delicacy that transcends the pianissimo markings. He’s a tall young man whose interviews reveal a shyness, a non-star-like simplicity that seems to suit him perfectly for this music.

04 Scriabin OhlssonGarrick Ohlsson won the Chopin International Piano Competition more than 45 years ago and has, since then, been a recognized and respected interpreter of Chopin’s music. The way in which Chopin expanded musical boundaries in his own time, is very much echoed in the evolution of Alexander Scriabin’s piano music. So it seems a natural choice for Ohlsson to make a recording of Scriabin – The Ten Piano Sonatas; Fantasy Op.28 (Bridge 9468A/B).

The ten sonatas chart a dramatic course of evolution in both form and tonality with the Sonata No.5 in F-sharp Major Op.53 being the significant turning point. The 1907 work is the first to break free of individual movements, and Scriabin himself referred to it as a “large poem for piano.” Perhaps more importantly, it moves fearlessly and convincingly in the direction of atonality. Ohlsson captures this new freedom from tonal centre and form with breathtaking virtuosic energy. The Sonata No.6 Op.62 is different again. While still a single movement, it’s a work that Scriabin never played in public, despite his habit of premiering his own compositions. He is said to have feared the darkness inherent in the writing. Ohlsson explores this without reservation and reveals something of what may have perturbed the composer so much about his own creation. The 2-disc set is a welcome and revealing document that sheds valuable light on the development of a composer who saw himself as something of a mystic whose music might change the world.

05 Erik SimmonsOrgan recordings appear infrequently in this column. It’s of special interest therefore, that organist Erik Simmons’ latest release, Hymnus – Music for Organ by Carson Cooman, Divine Art (dda 25147) demonstrates how new technology and contemporary music can be a winning formula for an older genre.

Producers of organ recordings have always wrestled with microphone placement in the quest for the right balance of acoustic space and the instrument’s presence. The problem becomes more complex when organ pipes are located in different places throughout a building. Enter digital technology.

Anyone can now purchase a digitally sampled pipe organ, recorded as individual notes from an optimal acoustic location, and play that library of samples through a midi system from a compatible keyboard. That’s exactly how this 1787 organ in Weissenau, Germany, appears in this recording. Every actual sound from the initial speaking attack of a pipe to its final decay and slight pitch drop is captured faithfully with every note. The authenticity of the performance location sounds so complete, it makes the likelihood of the recording being done in the comfort of his living room, even more astounding.

American composer Carson Cooman, in his mid-30s, has a body of works that numbers well over a thousand. Most are short pieces, three to six minutes, and designed as music for church services where preludes, postludes and interludes on that scale are best suited. His style is fairly traditional, and contemporary in the lightest sense, engaging only occasionally with atonality. The variety of his writing is impressive and he’s capable of evoking greatly contrasting moods. This is especially effective as Erik Simmons uses the Weissenau organ to maximum colouristic effect, whether drawing a single flute rank or the full organ registration.

It’s a terrific recording for three reasons: superb playing, fine composition and technological astonishment.

06 Shostakovich GiltbergPianist Boris Giltburg’s discography expands yet again with Shostakovich – Piano Concertos; String Quartet No.8 (transcribed for piano) Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Vasily Petrenko (Naxos 8.573666). As he often does, Giltburg writes his own notes for the recording, exploring the circumstances around the creation of these works by a composer admittedly close to his own heart. Giltburg relates the historical events with academic precision and links them to the subtlest aspects of Shostakovich’s music with the knowing intimacy of a soulmate. His exceptional performances of the Piano Concertos No.1 in C Minor and No.2 in F Major reflect this deep understanding. In the case of the Concerto No.2, Giltburg brings ebullience to the music that captures the paternal joy of its dedication to his son Maxim on his birthday in 1957. The earlier concerto predates it by more than two decades and is more formal, but Giltburg finds the positive energy that Shostakovich was soon to have repressed under the attack of the Soviet party establishment.

The transcription for piano of the string quartet material is a fascinating and ambitious undertaking. Wanting to have a larger-scale Shostakovich work for solo piano available to him, Giltburg has transcribed the String Quartet in C Minor Op.110. Being as thorough as he is, he sought and received permission of the Shostakovich family for special access to resource materials for this project. The result is a new iteration of a work from a dark and discouraging period in the composer’s life. In a curious way, Shostakovich never surrendered the skill of his craft to the hopelessness of his present condition. Giltburg has inexplicably and beautifully captured this moment of genius slipping into despair.

07 Andreeva PreludesAnother recording of comparisons is on the shelves this month in Natalia Andreeva plays Preludes and Fugues; Bach, Liszt, Franck and Shostakovich (Divine Art dda 25139). This Russian pianist has given considerable thought to her program and liner notes, and lays out a wonderful rationale for the enjoyment of a series of preludes and fugues that includes some form of shared material.

She begins, logically, with Bach, giving the Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Minor BWV 849 a disciplined and sensitive reading. Proceeding through Liszt’s transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor S462 No.1 she arrives at Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue in B Minor Op 21. By now it’s clear that Andreeva is making serious connections. She concludes with Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor Op.87 No.20 leaving the impression that 350 years have not diminished the appeal of fugal form, especially when paired with the Prelude. Altogether a very worthwhile artistic and intellectual exercise.

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03 Chopin ChoChopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda
Seong-Jin Cho
Deutsche Grammophon 4795941

Review

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

Seong-Jin Cho won the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, the first Korean to do so. His latest recording Chopin – Piano Concerto No.1; Ballades; London Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda (Deutsche Grammophon 4795941) shows how his focus on the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas won him that coveted prize. Cho’s treatment of the principal melodic ideas in the opening movement is fluid and lyrical. Even his ornaments come across more as small eddies in a current than clusters of notes on a page. The second movement Romance is exquisite. Cho manages to retain a fragility about his playing, even through the slightly more assertive middle section. His technical display in the final movement is flawlessly clear.

The Ballades too, reveal Cho’s fascination with the singing qualities of Chopin’s ideas. Much of the Ballade No. 1 in G Minor Op.23 is remarkably understated, making for a starker contrast with the outburst of the middle section as well as the closing measures. The Ballade No.2 follows in a similar vein. The effectiveness of Cho’s playing lies as much in his virtuosity as in his ability to fall into Chopin’s moments of repose with a delicacy that transcends the pianissimo markings. He’s a tall young man whose interviews reveal a shyness, a non-star-like simplicity that seems to suit him perfectly for this music.

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01 Ensemble ScholasticaArs elaboratio
Ensemble Scholastica
ATMA ACD2 2755

These days, the kids call them remixes, but in the hands of musicologist Rebecca Bain, the music on Ars elaboratio is the product of taking plainchant and adding tropes from other sources to create new versions. This was not unheard of in the millennium that was not litigious about intellectual property and it was common because of a more flexible and oral, rather than notated, tradition of handing music down. Think of this as more serious Mediæval Babes repertoire with scholastically informed liberties, which in that era were called elaborations.

The result is litanies, antiphons, poetry and scripture that are often mesmerizing and calming, especially with the addition of symphonia or, in the instrumental version of Claris vocibus, of organetto, a portable precursor to the pipe organ, played with one hand on the keyboard and the other working the bellows. The medieval pronunciation charmed this Latinist, although I may have heard some elision, as in spoken Latin poetry recitation, which may throw some listeners. And there are spots in the CD booklet that omit the original liturgical text that is discussed (e.g. the melisma on “mulierum” in Velox impulit) so that only the tropes can be followed, if that is your wont.

The fascinating background to some of the elaborations contains some ballsy feminist stuff (praise of the chastity of innocent virgins aside), such as the one in Dilexisti iustitiam, in which St. Catherine of Alexandria kicks some male philosophical-debate butt. The approachable narrative in Sancti baptiste of “amice Christi Johannes” ([O] John, friend of Christ) reflects the presumed (relative) egalitarianism of the coeducational abbey of St. Martial de Limoges in the 1100s.

The acoustics of the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours in Old Montreal lend themselves to a lovely presentation of the organic nine-voice Ensemble Scholastica. Hildegard of Bingen must be pumping her fist in coelis.

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02 Opus 8Melancholy & Mirth
Opus 8
Independent OPUS001 (opus8choir.com)

Review

Opus 8 is a new Toronto ensemble. This is their first disc. The ensemble consists of eight singers and it is directed by Robert Busiakiewicz, who also sings tenor. Busiakiewicz is the director of the choir of St. James Cathedral in Toronto and a number of the singers in Opus 8 are members of the cathedral choir.

Great care has been taken on this disc to provide songs from different periods. The oldest is Josquin des Prez’s great elegy on the death of Johannes Ockeghem; the most recent is a folk-song arrangement by Keith Roberts, who was born in 1971 (when I myself was in my early 30s). In between we have Renaissance madrigals (Thomas Weelkes and John Ward), part-songs by Delius and Parry and 20th-century works by Ravel and Schoenberg, Stockhausen and Maconchy. There is also variation in the number of singers employed: the three Ravel songs take the form of a duet between mezzo and tenor; the Stockhausen sets a soprano soloist against the choir.

Different listeners will like different things. I myself could do without the Martinů with which the disc opens. On the other hand, I was very moved by How are the mighty fallen by Robert Ramsey, an early 17th-century work, perhaps an elegy written on the death of Prince Henry, the British Crown Prince. I was also much taken by Elizabeth Maconchy’s piece on the burial of a dead cat, sad and skittish at the same time.

The performances are very fine in terms of rhythmic precision and purity of intonation. I look forward to the group’s next concert and their next CD.

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03 Julie BoulianneAlma Oppressa – Vivaldi; Handel – Arias
Julie Boulianne; Clavecin en Concert; Luc Beauséjour
Analekta AN 2 8780

Review

There are on this recital disc six arias by Handel and three by Vivaldi; there are also several instrumental interludes by both. Care has been taken to pair the very well-known Lascia ch’io pianga from Handel’s Rinaldo as well as the relatively well-known arias from his Giulio Cesare and Ariodante with the less familiar arias from Imeneo and from Arianna in Creta. Of the Vivaldi arias I was especially moved by the extract from Andromeda liberata. This serenata was apparently composed by a number of composers but Luc Beauséjour assures us that Vivaldi “almost certainly” wrote this particular aria. What I think this means is that there is no real evidence who wrote it but that it is so fine that it has to be Vivaldi. I don’t think that argument would stand up in a court of law but the aria is indeed so good that it would be hard to contradict it.

Julie Boulianne, the mezzo-soprano soloist, is moving in the slow arias and very impressive in the technically demanding fast items. Clavecin en Concert is a crack ensemble of 13 players. There is especially fine work from the cellist Amanda Keesmaat and the lutenist Sylvain Bergeron.

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04 PaderewskiPaderewski – Piesni/Songs
Anna Radziejewska; Karol Kozlowski; Agnieszka Hoszowska-Jablonska
Dux 1246 (dux.pl)

Not many composers can honestly say that they have changed the world. Ignacy Jan Paderewski has that distinction. Not through his music, but rather through his political and diplomatic activities. He was instrumental in persuading President Wilson to take up the cause of an independent Poland at the Versailles Conference. Quick historical recap: the once-mighty Poland fell to the surrounding empires of Russia, Germany and Austro-Hungary and disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795. No small feat, then, was the recreation of the Republic of Poland after the Great War. Paderewski was also well-known and regarded in the United States as a virtuoso pianist and his lobbying efforts paid off. He also served briefly as the Polish prime minister, before returning for good to North America in 1922.

It is small wonder that in this larger context, his compositional output has been overlooked. This disc is a part of a series attempting to correct that oversight by publishing all of his music. He was not a groundbreaking musician. Rather, he worked happily within an established idiom, adding to the catalogue of Polish songs so monumentally established by Chopin and Szymanowski. Here, the settings of poems by the “Polish Bard” Adam Mickiewicz, and the works of Théophile Gautier and of his son-in-law, Catulle Mendès, are rendered brilliantly (emphasis mine!) by the tremendous tenor Karol Kozlowski and equally formidable mezzo, Anna Radziejewska. A long-overdue tribute to the “Father of modern Poland.”

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05 GurreliederSchoenberg – Gurre-lieder
Soloists; choirs; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5172

This is an astonishingly fine performance of this mighty work composed in the early part of the 20th-century. Along with Verklärte Nacht, Gurre-lieder gave little hint of the path Schoenberg was soon to follow through almost half a century, producing works that many think of at the mere mention of his name.

A few months ago I was very enthusiastic about the recent version conducted by Markus Stenz with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln and now, so soon as Gurre-lieders go, here is another new performance to be considered. Stenz has the measure of the work, as does Gardner, but Gardner’s expertise developed during his years in Glyndebourne and the English National Opera serves the entire work perfectly. He builds a more atmospheric, larger-scaled and, to my ears, a better-balanced performance. The mood-setting orchestral interludes demonstrate this perfectly, particularly the important opening prelude evoking the serene lake beside the Gurre castle at twilight and the set-up for the Wood Dove. Without going into comparisons, Gardner’s cast are all very convincing including the now deservedly ubiquitous heroic tenor, Stuart Skelton as King Waldemar whose mistress Tove (soprano Alwyn Mellor) is murdered by the jealous Queen Helwig. The news of Tove’s death is brought to Waldemar in the tragic narrative delivered by the Wood Dove sung by mezzo Anna Larsson.

Heard in Part Three are Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke singing Klaus-Narr, the Fool, and James Creswell as Bauer, the Peasant. The speaker is Sir Thomas Allen. There were 350 performers on stage in the orchestra’s home, the Grieghallen in Bergen over four days of performances in December 2015 comprising, in addition to the soloists, the Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Choir of Collegium Musicum, the Edvard Grieg Choir, the Orphei Dränger, students from The Royal Northern College of Music, musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and, of course, conductor Edward Gardner. This recording is based on live recordings made of these concerts.

In this performance, as the sequence of events unfolds, there is palpable tension, holding the listener’s rapt attention through to the awe-inspiring radiance of the colossal choral sunrise. The sound is brilliant. Chandos’ multi-channel SACD recording, heard in two channels in my case, effortlessly captures every nuance of the huge augmented orchestra including four harps, multiple sets of timpani, extra brass, etc. All are heard in their natural perspective, as are the massed voices of the choirs. A spectacular work, a spectacular performance, accorded spectacular sound!

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06 Eotvos ParadisePeter Eötvös – Paradise Reloaded (Lilith)
Annette Schoenmueller; Rebecca Nelsen; Eric Stoklossa; Hungarian RSO; Gregory Vajda
BMC Records CD 226 (bmcrecords.hu)

In the newly emboldened theocracy, also known as the United States of America, the phrase “God created Adam and Eve” is bandied about to score specific political points. The majority of Bible-thumpers forget, however, that at first it was actually Adam and Lilith. Not created from Adam’s rib, rather, his equal and a powerful being. This is Lilith, who we are pressured to forget in favour of the more feminine, easily yielding Eve. Here we have a major revision of Eötvös’ 2010 opera The Tragedy of the Devil and, in effect, it is an entirely new work.

The axis is the conflict between Lilith and Eve and an exploration of what might have happened, if the first wife of Adam was not thwarted in her efforts to reconcile with him. Lilith, the exiled demon-mother attempts to reload Paradise, and yet loses again. Eötvös, a composer as highly regarded, as he is at times controversial, in this, one of his 12 operas, draws equally on the Viennese tradition of Schoenberg and Berg and on post-war serialism. The fascinating libretto is the work of the Munich-based writer, Albert Ostermaier. The three protagonists and a cast of other characters are accompanied by the Hungarian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, guest-conducted here by Gregory Vajda. This same podium was shared in the past by such titans, as John Barbirolli, Antal Doráti, István Kertész, Otto Klemperer, Neville Mariner and Leopold Stokowski. Biblical proportions, indeed!

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01 Ensemble la CigaleUp in the Morning Early – Baroque Music from Celtic Countries
Ensemble La Cigale
Leaf Music LM 211 (leaf-music.ca)

Review

Quebec-based early music ensemble La Cigale has a hit on its hands with this collection of Baroque instrumental music from Celtic countries. The tight ensemble playing, sensitivity to style and musical moods, and clear production values, showcase a range of performances from the witty to the danceable to thoughtful to florid.

The large number of works featured is mind-boggling and educational for any Celtic music fan. The opening track is the ensemble’s arrangement of the Scottish song John Come Kiss Me Now. Complete with the lilt and bounce of the faster sections, and lyrical recorder in the slower sections, it is a successful combination of classical with Celtic folk traditions, and foreshadows the flavourful music to follow. Scottish music is the big feature, with works by James Oswald, William McGibbon and General John Reid. Five short Scottish lute works from the Rowallan and Straloch Lute Books circa early 1600s are given a breathless rendition by artistic director Madeleine Owen, especially in the waltzing songbird tune The Canaries. Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan’s Carolan’s Concerto is a curious mix of Irish folk and serious Italian art music.

The touching closing track is the group’s very loyal, respectful arrangement of the Canadian fiddler Oliver Schroer’s (1956-2008) modern day lyrical Celtic work A Thousand Thank-yous.

And more than a thousand thank yous to director Madeline Owen (lute, theorbo, Baroque guitar), Sara Lackie (harp), Vincent Lauzer (recorders), Marie-Laurence Primeau (viola da gamba) and Sari Tsuji (violin) for this joyous music!

 

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02 Galliano MozartRichard Galliano Mozart
Richard Galliano; Bertrand Cervera; Stephane Henoch; J-P Minale-Bella; Raphael Perraud; Syvain Le Provost
Deutsche Grammophon 4812662

French accordionist Richard Galliano is world renowned for his jazz stylings. He goes back again to his classical music roots with this all-Mozart release, the third in a series of performing select classical masters on accordion. Supported by a superb string quintet, Galliano explores new sounds in some familiar works.

The strongest performance by far is Mozart’s Rondo alla Turka (Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major K.331). The Turkish Rondo lends itself well to an accordion arrangement – a Palmer Hughes Accordion Course version of it is on the RCM Grade 6 accordion exam repertoire list. Galliano’s version showcases his effortless florid technique and musical nuances. There is nice dialogue between him and the strings, with a solid, never-rushed, low-end support from the double bass. Another appealing dialogue can be heard on the Adagio from Flute Quartet in D Major K.285 where the long tones created by steady bellows pressure are in stark contrast to the strings’ pizzicato parts. More exploration of breaths between phrases would elevate the musicality dramatically. Not too keen on the unison playing of accordion and strings in Eine kleine Nachmusik as the work’s inherent colours are lost by too many instruments playing the same thing. Nice decision to use bandoneon in Laudate Dominum as Mozart is thrust into the 20th century with Galliano’s nod to Astor Piazzolla.

Galliano’s Mozart CD is an interesting and satisfying listen to some of Mozart’s compositions from unique instrumentation and arrangement standpoints.

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03 Freedom of the City Royal RegimentFreedom of the City
The Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada
RRC009 (band.rregtc.ca)

In 1962 the City of Toronto granted the Freedom of the City to the Royal Regiment of Canada to honour the regiment for their 100 years of service. On May 15, 2016, the city reaffirmed this Freedom. As part of that ceremony the band and regiment marched through the streets of Toronto. Production of this recording, with the Pipes and Drums of the 48th Highlanders and vocalist Danielle Bourré, is part of their thanks to the city for a century and a half of support.

This CD has a wealth of variety from such works as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Military March No.2 and Sibelius’ Finlandia to film classics such as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. The Pipes and Drums of the 48th Highlanders blend in with the band on The Magnificent Seven so well that one could well think that this was the original arrangement. Similarly, Bourré’s rendition of the English folk song O’er the Hills and Far Away is enhanced with blending of the pipes. Among the lesser-known works, I have two personal favourites on this CD. They are The Two Imps, a novelty xylophone duet by Kenneth Alford of Colonel Bogey fame, and Serenade for Wind Band by British composer Derek Bourgeois. This number, written for guests at his own wedding to walk out of the church by, has a very tricky rhythm. In the composer’s words he was “[n]ot wishing to allow them the luxury of proceeding in an orderly 2/4.”

All in all this is a fine combination of familiar classics and entertaining music which we rarely have an opportunity to hear. It is well-performed, well-recorded and comes with clearly written program notes for all numbers.

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04 Vegh SchubertVégh conducts Schubert
Camerata Salzberg; Sándor Végh
BMC Records CD 201 (bmcrecords.hu)

Best known as violinist leader of string quartets, Sándor Végh (1912-1997) in later life conducted the chamber orchestra now known as Camerata Salzburg; it attained a high standard as is evidenced by these discs. The opening introduction of Symphony No.1 in D Major (1813) leads into the Allegro through an attractive chain of suspended notes, a feature that recurs as the Allegro theme returns. Végh shapes the lyrical second theme beautifully. The lilting Andante and the Trio of the Menuetto movement are also fine examples of the lyrical style, with strings and winds equally integrated. Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major (1814-15) opens more promisingly with woodwinds in dialogue, followed by an Allegro energetic and melodic in turn. Clarity in the strings is matched even by the cellos and bass; the winds are flawless.

In Symphony No. 3 (1815) Schubert returned to the key of D Major with more formal assurance and ability to develop first-movement themes. The charming Allegretto that follows is the highlight of the work for me. Symphony No. 4 in C MinorTragic” (1816) reinforces our astonishment at Schubert’s rapid progress before he reached the age of 20! The Introduction of this minor-key work is moving indeed and Végh communicates the changed mood convincingly throughout. Good intonation, excellent ensemble and orchestral balance prevail. Idiomatic and elegant performances have raised my estimation of all these works and of Végh as conductor; they will receive many hearings.

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