epbanner3Volume 3 of The WholeNote EP Review covers OKAN’s Laberinto, and saxophonist Matt Woroshyl’s Forward.

(For details on what this series covers, and how to submit an EP for consideration for review, read an introduction to this project here.)

a1623416057 10OKAN – Laberinto

Released in October 2018, Laberinto is OKAN’s debut recording on Lulaworld Records. OKAN is a duo, co-led by violinist/vocalist Elizabeth Rodriguez and percussionist/vocalist Magdelys Savigne. While both musicians are originally from Cuba – Rodriguez is from Havana and Savigne is from Santiago de Cuba – they have been based in Toronto for the past few years, and have played in a variety of groups, including The Battle of Santiago and saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett’s Maqueque. Rodriguez and Savigne are joined on this release by bassist Roberto Riveron, pianists Danae Olano, Bill King, and Jeremy Ledbetter, drummer Anthony Szczachor, quinto player Reimundo Sosa, trumpeter Alexis Baro, and tres guitarist Pablosky Rosales.

OKAN’s EP begins with the title track, “Laberinto.” Starting with a patient, classical-infused piano introduction, the track settles into a comfortable tempo as the vocals begin. Quickly, however, the groove shifts dramatically, becoming more urgent, more percussive, and more rhythmically complex; when the original melody does come back in, near the end of the song, it is in a minor key, rather than the original major key. “Desnudando El Alma,” the second track, is the closest the EP comes to a ballad, with a piano/voice intro that gives way to a relaxed, bass- and percussion-driven time feel, with solos from King and Riveron; “Last Day,” the only song to be sung entirely in English, features some of Laberinto’s most powerful vocals, with a strong piano performance from Ledbetter and an energetic breakdown at the end of the tune. “Quick Stop,” an exciting, 5/8 instrumental duet between Rodriguez and Savigne, is one of the EP’s highlights.

The willingness to commit to risk – and a resistance to predictable, formulaic arrangements – is a major component of Laberinto, and is an important part of what makes OKAN’s overall sound distinctive. Laberinto has ample elements of pop, jazz, and Afro-Cuban music, but at no point does it feel like a typical fusion or “world music” outing. Instead, Rodriguez and Savigne sound as though they are in the process of crafting a unique musical model in their own image – one that draws on multiple influences in order to create something new.

Laberinto was released on October 19, 2018, and can be purchased at www.okanmusica.bandcamp.com/releases. To learn more about OKAN, visit www.okanmusica.com.

45726964 1304070526418357 344198932504510464 nMatt Woroshyl – Forward

Although still in his twenties, saxophonist Matt Woroshyl has been a significant presence on the Toronto jazz scene for the past ten years, playing live regularly and appearing on a number of different recording projects (including Mark Godfrey’s Prologue EP, recently reviewed in the September edition of the EP Review). An alumnus of the University of Toronto’s Jazz Studies Program, Woroshyl received the William and Phyllis Waters Graduating Award – the largest scholarship awarded by U of T’s Faculty of Music – upon completion of his BMus, and moved to New York to attend the MMus program at Manhattan School of Music. Now back in Toronto, Forward is Woroshyl’s debut album. Recorded at The Canterbury Music Company, it features guitarist Alexei Orechin, pianist Billy Test, bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes, and drummer Ian Wright.

Forward’s first track, the medium, odd-metre “Sunshine, Silence, And a Hope Beyond Vanity,” begins simply but builds quickly, with large textural shifts and communicative, melodic solos from Test and Woroshyl. “Forward,” the album’s title track, starts with a brief duet between Woroshyl and Anderson-Bowes before moving into the head and blowing sections, with more excellent soloing from Test and Woroshyl and a climactic ending; “Forward, Pt. 2” begins at the opposite end of the intensity spectrum, as beautiful, ethereal guitar chords played by Orechin give way to a recapitulation of the bass line from “Forward” and atmospheric improvising from the rhythm section. “Proletariat” is one of Forward’s most hard-driving tracks, with a distinct rock influence in the rhythm section, and an explosive solo from Woroshyl before a dramatic transition into a spacious swing feel for Orechin’s inventive solo. The final song on Forward is “I.C.,” a burning, high-energy song with some of the most compelling playing on the whole album, including solos from Woroshyl, Test, and a brief drum solo from Wright that closes out the tune.

Forward is a remarkably accomplished debut album, with interesting, thoughtful playing from all involved. Woroshyl is a technically skilled improviser, but his great gift is his ability to imbue his playing with a sense of purposeful calm, even during a solo’s wildest moments. With the help of Test, Orechin, Anderson-Bowes, and Wright, he has succeeded in translating that ethos into a fully-fledged band sound with a high degree of musical integrity and wide artistic appeal.

Forward was released on November 5, 2018, and can be purchased on iTunes, Apple Music, or Spotify. To learn more about Matt Woroshyl, visit https://www.instagram.com/matworo or https://www.facebook.com/mattworoshylmusic.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter. For EP-related pitches, email him at epreview@thewholenote.com.

01 Wan Beethoven ViolinViolinist Andrew Wan was named concertmaster of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal in 2008. A Juilliard graduate, he is currently assistant professor of violin at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. He is paired with Quebec pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin in Beethoven Violin Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 & 8 (Analekta AN 2 8794 analekta.com/en/albums/beethoven-violin-sonatas-6-7-8)

There’s a lovely warmth and sensitivity to the opening of the Sonata in A Major Op.30 No.1, with Wan’s beautifully clear tone immediately making you feel that this is the start of something special – and so it proves to be. Richard-Hamelin is an outstanding partner, especially in the turbulent opening of the tempestuous Sonata in C Minor Op.30 No.2, a work in which Beethoven’s growing use of increasingly intense textures is evident.

A dazzling performance of the Sonata in G Major Op.31 No.3 completes a terrific CD that is the first volume in a projected series of the complete Beethoven violin sonatas. It promises to be a set to treasure and one – if this first volume is anything to go by – that will hold its own against any competition.

02 Hemsing DvorakThe Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing is the soloist in three Czech works on Dvořák: Violin Concerto; Suk: Fantasy with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra under Alan Buribayev (BIS-2246 bis.se naxosdirect.com/items/dvorák-suk-works-for-violin-orchestra-465767).

Hemsing displays brilliance of tone in a performance of the Dvořák Violin Concerto in A Minor Op.53 that is bright, energetic, rhythmic and full of life. It’s a work that still doesn’t have quite the prominence it deserves.

The violinist and composer Josef Suk was Dvořák’s son-in-law. His Fantasy in G Minor Op.24 is the only concert work he wrote for his own instrument, and while quite different than the Dvořák in its episodic form is still clearly Czech through and through. Suk’s Liebeslied Op.7 No.1 is one of his best-known single pieces; the first of a suite of six piano pieces, it is heard here in a very effective transcription for violin and orchestra by Stephan Koncz.

Buribayev draws really strong support from the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra players on a highly enjoyable CD.

03 Suite ItalienneThe Italian-American violinist Francesca Dego follows her hugely successful CD of violin concertos by Paganini and Wolf-Ferrari with Suite Italienne, a recital with her longtime collaborator the Italian pianist Francesca Leonardi of works by Ottorino Respighi, Igor Stravinsky and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Deutsche Grammophon DG481 7297 universalmusic.it/musica-classica/news/suite-italienne-il-nuovo-album-di-francesca-dego-e-francesca-leonardi_12077).

Respighi was himself a fine violinist, and his Sonata in B Minor Op.110 from 1917 is a striking work, written when he was struggling to overcome the depression brought on by the loss of his mother the previous year. A strong opening movement is followed by a particularly lovely and melodic Andante espressivo middle movement. And what a tone Dego possesses! It’s lustrous, warm, rich and strong, and is more than balanced here by a lovely piano sound.

Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne from his ballet Pulcinella is the central work on the disc, with the dance elements nicely realized, the Tarantella Vivace in particular.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco is represented by four works. His Ballade Op.107 was written for Tossy Spivakovsky and premiered by him at Carnegie Hall in 1940, after which it seems to have been overlooked and forgotten until Dego recovered it for this recording earlier this year with the help of the composer’s granddaughter Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco. It’s a lovely work that hopefully will stay in the repertoire. Three of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s short operatic transcriptions complete the recital: the rather-Paganini-like Rosina and the playful and virtuosic Figaro from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia; and Violetta from Verdi’s La Traviata. All but the latter of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco works are world premiere recordings.

04 Telemann violinGeorg Philipp Telemann was not only one of the most prolific composers in musical history but also one of the most cosmopolitan. Some idea of the wide range of national styles and idioms he incorporated in his music can be discerned from Telemann Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, a new CD featuring Baroque violinist Dorian Komanoff Bandy and harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa (Whaling City Sound WCS 108 whalingcitysound.com).

The six sonatas from 1715 were written specifically for violin and harpsichord – no cello continuo here, as in some recordings – and although they all have the same slow/fast/slow/fast four-movement format they are wide-ranging in idiom and expression. In addition there is a world premiere recording of the unpublished Sonata in F-sharp Minor, a fascinating piece described by Bandy as “a strange convention-defying work” that “seems more an unfinished experiment than a polished piece of music.” His excellent and insightful booklet notes refer to these sonatas as truly distinct, each one unique, daring and extraordinary in its own way.

Bandy plays with a minimum of vibrato, which allows his excellent definition, clarity and agility to be displayed to best advantage. Cienniwa’s playing provides a stylish accompaniment, the harpsichord never too percussive or prominent.

05 American SouvenirsAmerican Souvenirs is the debut recording by the Chicago-based Blue Violet Duo of American violinist Kate Carter and Canadian pianist Louise Chan. Described as an album of jazz, blues and dance-influenced classical works from the mid-to-late 20th century, it features works by Norman Dello Joio, William Bolcom, John Adams and Paul Schoenfeld (bluevioletduo.com).

Dello Joio’s Variations and Capriccio from 1948 and Bolcom’s four-movement 1978 Second Sonata for Violin and Piano are really attractive works, the Bolcom offering a dreamy and surprisingly atonal violin line over a slow blues piano in the opening movement, a “Brutal, Fast” second movement and a finale In Memory of Joe Venuti.

Adams’ three-movement Road Movies from 1995 is in his minimalist style but highly entertaining, with a Relaxed Groove opening movement and a terrific third movement. Schoenfeld’s 1990 Four Souvenirs for Violin and Piano are titled Samba, Tango, Tin Pan Alley and Square Dance, with Carter supplying some simply gorgeous violin playing in the Tango. Some virtuosic playing from both performers in the final Square Dance makes for a great ending to an immensely enjoyable CD.

The duo says that they love performing lesser-known works that are fun and playful yet virtuosic, and that those here are among their favourites by American composers. It’s abundantly clear that they are in their element here, fully at ease and seamlessly blending classical performing standards with the freer popular styles.

06a Beethoven CelloThere are two excellent cello and piano recital CDs this month: Beethoven Sonatas Op.102 with cellist Natasha Brofsky and pianist Seth Knopp (independent store.cdbaby.com/cd/natashabrofskyandsethknopp); and Brahms Cello Sonatas with the husband-and-wife Fischer Duo of cellist Norman Fischer and pianist Jeanne Kierman (Centaur CRC 3648 arkivmusic.com).

Brofsky and Knopp were both members of the Peabody Trio for nearly two decades and clearly have an innate understanding of these sonatas, having played and taught them for many years. Brofsky, currently on the cello faculty at Juilliard, plays with assured technique and a warm, even tone in the two works, the Sonatas Op.102 No.1 in C Major and Op.102 No.2 in D Major. These sonatas, the duo says, have challenged them to use their utmost imagination in colour and expression. At 36 minutes it’s a fairly brief CD, but none the less satisfying for that.

06b Fischer BrahmsThe Fischer Duo CD features the two cello sonatas by Brahms – the E-Minor Sonata Op.38 and the F-Major Sonata Op.99, works the performers have been playing for nearly five decades. Again, the understanding and familiarity with both the works and each other make for truly satisfying performances. Fischer says that the exemplary recorded sound made the performances sound “exactly the way I imagine the music.” Two Songs for Alto, Cello and Piano Op.91 complete the disc, the duo being joined by their daughter, the mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer in sensitive performances.

Listen to 'Brahms Cello Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

07 Lipinsky string triosThe Polish composer and violin virtuoso Karol Józef Lipiński was a direct contemporary of Paganini, and good enough to not only play with the great Italian but also to be bequeathed one of his eight violins – an Amati – when Paganini died. In his compositions, however, while incorporating the technical innovations of Paganini and the other 19th-century virtuosi, his musical philosophy showed a preference for the less purely virtuosic approach of Spohr and the French school exemplified by Viotti.

Lipiński String Trios Op.8 and Op.12 (Naxos 8.573776 naxosdirect.com/items/lipinski-trios-for-2-violins-cello-opp.-8-12-457581) features Voytek Proniewicz (primo violin), Adam Roszkowski (violin) and Jan Roszkowski (cello) in first-class performances of two works that, according to Lipiński’s biographer, were possibly written for home performance and consequently lack the virtuosic element. Not that you would know it. The G-Minor Trio Op.8 features fast runs, octaves and chromatic runs, including one in octaves. Don’t try this at home. The A-Major Trio Op.12 doesn’t sound that much easier, either.

There’s great playing here – lively, passionate, skillful, committed and always entertaining in charming works that are light but never facile or frivolous.

08 Doric MendelssohnMendelssohn String Quartets Vol.1, presumably the start of a projected complete series, features Britain’s Doric String Quartet in superb performances of the quartets No.1 in E-flat Major Op.12, No.5 in E-flat Major Op.44 No.3 and No.6 in F Minor Op.80 (Chandos CHAN 20122(2) chandos.net). The playing is always clear and balanced, with dazzling agility in the numerous typically Mendelssohnian scherzo-like passages, and with terrific dynamics. The bustling dramatic start to the grief- and despair-ridden Op.80 quartet sets the tone for the whole work.

It’s an outstanding start to the series, and the remaining quartets should be well worth waiting for.

09 Minguet MendelssohnThe Op.12 quartet is also included on Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy String Quartets Vol.2, the latest release in the ongoing complete series by Germany’s Minguet Quartett (cpo 777 931-2 arkivmusic.com). Also included are the early String Quartet in E-flat Major, the 14-year-old composer’s first attempt in the genre, and the Four Pieces for String Quartet Op.81, published posthumously as String Quartet No.7 but actually four movements ranging from 1827 to 1847 that are not connected, although two of them may possibly have been intended for an eighth quartet.

There’s fine playing here too, with tempos in the String Quartet No.1, Op.12 very close to those on the Doric CD, but the recording seems to have been made in a livelier acoustic space. Some listeners may well prefer this, but I found the Doric discs to have a cleaner and clearer sound, with the dynamic range more clearly nuanced and effective.

10 Brian Buch quartetsOn From the River Flow the Stars the Daedalus Quartet plays string quartets by the American composer Brian Buch (MSR Classics MS 1681 msrcd.com/catalog/cd/MS1681). Buch says that he often composes music in collections or books comprised of individual pieces, and extracts from five such books are included here. From the River Flow the Stars No.6, Acanthus Leaves No.6 and Landscapes No.1 are all three-movement works; Maze of Infinite Forms No.1 is in two movements, and Life and Opinions No.7, the central work on the CD, in five.

They are all interesting and inventive pieces that create contrasting atmospheres, although their relative brevity – 12 of the 16 movements are under four minutes in length – may perhaps contribute to their not always leaving a strong impression.

The Daedalus Quartet is known for its work with and support of contemporary American composers, and it’s difficult to imagine these works receiving more sympathetic performances.

Listen to 'From the River Flow the Stars' Now in the Listening Room

01 Saint Saens LortieLouis Lortie brings another stellar recording to his lengthy discography with this new CD Saint-Saëns – Piano Concertos 1, 2 & 4; BBC Philharmonic; Edward Gardner (Chandos CHAN 20031 chandos.net). The three concertos are separated by roughly a decade each. Despite the accumulation of experience and artistic growth, the inherent genius in Saint-Saëns’ writing is undeniable in all of them. But in the Concerto No.4, premiered in 1875 with the composer at the keyboard, the music is replete with richly complex ideas spread over an orchestral canvas barely capable of containing them. Lortie revels in conquering every technical challenge the composer sets, and soars with the orchestra in each moment of climax. This recording is powerfully inspired and Lortie’s performance is the kind that makes you run out into the street, grab the first person you see and drag them back in to experience it.

02 BozhanovTo his current handful of recordings Evgeni Bozhanov adds his latest CD, Shostakovich; Mozart – Piano Concertos, Kammerorchester des Bayerischen RSO; Radoslaw Szulc (Profil Edition Hänssler haensslerprofil.de). The two concertos are completely unlike each other, and hearing the young Bulgarian pianist confirms the impression that he has a remarkable gift for complete and authentic engagement in his repertoire. Bozhanov’s performance of Mozart’s Concerto No.17 in G Major KV453 is in every way a perfection of achievement. His sense of balance, clarity and partnership with the orchestral ensemble are all flawless. He never claims more than the moderate role that Mozart gave the piano part in the work.

The Shostakovich Concerto No.1 in C Minor Op.35 is, by contrast, a riot of brilliant ideas from the fertile mind of a 26-year-old composer. The 1933 composition has humour, pathos, melancholy, satire and all the energetic hope of youth. Bozhanov performs it as if it were written specifically for him, and every member of the audience at the live performance seems to believe that as well. Noteworthy is the depth of his playing in the second movement (Lento). There is no doubt about the depth of the sadness that underlies the simple ideas in this movement. It provides a stunning contrast to the outer ones that open and close the work.

03 Goldberg HarpsichordWolfgang Rübsam has made his reputation chiefly as an organist but is also widely recognized as a fine pianist and harpsichordist. In his new recording Bach – Goldberg Variations (Naxos 8.573921 naxosdirect.com/items/bach-goldberg-variations-bwv-988-457587) he plays a lute-harpsichord. It’s a Baroque keyboard instrument built like a harpsichord, using its mechanical action principles, but strung with gut rather than metal strings. This modern copy, however, uses a set of unplucked brass strings to sound sympathetic vibrations somewhat like a viola d’amore. The resonating body of the instrument looks like a giant lute or lady bug on its back. The overall effect of all this is a soft and very mellow sound.

Rübsam excels at ornamentation in this work and takes every tasteful opportunity to inject turns and grace notes. But the most distinguishing feature of this performance is its extraordinarily slow speed. Hearing the variations at a fraction of the tempo most other interpreters take is an exercise in patience that is rewarded with new insights into this very familiar material. The nature of the instrument may have a great deal to do with Rübsam’s tempo choice but whatever the reason, this unique Goldberg deserves attention. 

04 ClementiStefan Chaplikov’s new CD Clementi – Keyboard Sonatas (Naxos 8.573712 naxosdirect.com/items/clementi-keyboard-sonatas-opp.-25-33-46-457580) samples the work of this 18th/19th-century composer with five sonatas from Op.25 to Op.46 that span a period of 30 years. Clementi’s writing is a good example of a composer reluctant to emerge from the structured discipline of the late Baroque and early Classical into a style where the invitation for emotional display was open to all but held suspect by some. Ever careful, Clementi used his left-hand keyboard-writing to provide both harmonic foundation and rhythmic drive to his works. It’s a part of his vocabulary that changed very little over his lifetime. In the right hand, however, there is a subtle evolution that’s heard in the length and shape of melodic phrases. Chaplikov exploits these and guides the ear to suggestions of bolder passing notes and freer rubato.

Despite his conservatism, Clementi’s writing is masterful for its precision and technical requirements. Chaplikov’s keyboard technique is utter perfection and delivers clear articulation of Clementi’s rapid-fire melodies as they tear across the keyboard.

05 Sylvestre MathieuJean-Philippe Sylvestre appears as soloist on a new recording with Orchestre Métropolitain under Alain Trudel: André Mathieu – Piano Concerto 4; Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (ATMA ADC2 2768 atmaclassique.com/Fr/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1614). The Mathieu concerto has a fascinating history that rivals the story behind his Concerto No.3 (Concerto de Québec) also recently recorded by Sylvestre. The Concerto No.4 was virtually unknown and deemed lost owing to the composer’s rather relaxed approach to keeping his own scores. While the original score used in a 1950 Montreal performance has never been found, a recording of that concert made on 78 rpm discs found its way into Sylvestre’s hands in 2005. He and composer/conductor Gilles Bellemare have reconstructed it based on the 1950 recorded performance. In its reconstructed form it stands as a large-scale work built along formal lines and expresses Mathieu’s strong modern Romantic language. The purely aural process of transcription from the old recording is hard to imagine but the result has been breathtaking.

Sylvestre also performs the Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43, delivering a performance with the orchestra that is as highly charged as the maniacal violinist himself.

06 Minju ChoiMinju Choi, born in South Korea and raised in America, has lived for many years in Europe and admits to a strong cosmopolitan outlook that shapes her life and music. Her new CD Boundless – American Works for Solo Piano (Navona Records NV6192 navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6192) features the work of three American composers. Among them, Gabriela Lena Frank most closely reflects this cosmopolitan view with her piece Sonata Andina No.1. It incorporates Andean folk music and is dedicated to the idea that different cultures can coexist without one subjugating the other.

Philip Lasser’s sonata for piano Les hiboux blancs (The White Owls) is only as programmatic as its title. Lasser has strong convictions about the absolutism of music and allowing it to speak for itself. While he writes about his structure and technical approach, he remains silent on meaning.

Ching-Chu Hu presents a vivid contrast with his piece Pulse that deals with issues of the heart and a range of human emotions.

The three composers share a language that is largely tonal and combines a wonderfully creative inclination for rhythmic interest with clever tune-smithing.

07 Lisztomania 1Hando Nahkur’s fifth solo album is his first completely devoted to the piano music of Franz Liszt Lisztomania Vol.1 (HN Productions handonahkur.com/discography/). This recording promises further volumes of Liszt but begins by offering a couple of transcriptions of Schubert lieder, Erlkönig and Auf dem Waser zu singen, in addition to larger works. Nahkur is consistently amazing in his ability to blend both the technical and interpretive demands of this repertoire. Après une lecture du Dante is perhaps the most difficult piece in the program but it comes across with an unencumbered directness and a conceptual maturity required by the subject matter. The contrasting thematic ideas of heaven/hell are as demanding as the work’s closing passages of rapid chromatic octaves. The way he embraces all this shows how secure Nahkur is with Liszt – one of his favourite composers – and it bodes well for future volumes.

It’s unusual to find a brilliantly gifted performer of Nahkur’s calibre still producing on his own independent label. How long before a major label signs him?

Listen to 'Lisztomania Vol.1' Now in the Listening Room

08 Vitaud DebussyJonas Vitaud’s third major recording is an impressive double disc set Debussy – Jeunes années (Mirare MIR 392 mirare.fr/album/debussy-jeunes-annees). It’s mostly piano solo but includes some songs for soprano and tenor, as well as a gorgeous performance of Debussy’s Fantaisie pour piano et orchestra.

Vitaud, in his late 30s, has impressive credentials and artistic pedigree. His playing is flawless and obviously informed by a deep intellectual inquiry that searches for meaningful content in every note he plays. He’s a thinker and a very effective communicator. He lifts Debussy out of the purely impressionist mould and interprets him in broader terms. While there’s lots of requisite legato playing of beautiful long lines, there’s also an unmistakable new sharpness to staccatos, lifts and phrase separations. Vitaud somehow manages to harness a rhythmic energy in Debusy’s music that is often missed in other performances. Listen for this throughout the Suite Bergamasque, Mazurka and Images oubliées. The 2-CD set is an impressive early addition to a very promising discography.

09 Adcock transcriptionsMichael Adcock has released a new disc Keyboard Transcriptions (Centaur CRC3534 arkivmusic.com) presenting works by Prokofiev, Gershwin/Wild, Bizet/Horowitz, Schumann/Liszt and Saint-Saëns/Godowsky. It’s a rich program with plenty of drama and brilliance.

Prokofiev’s own piano version of his Romeo and Juliet Op.75 ballet is one of the two major pieces on the recording. It’s big, bold and unapologetic. The piano Adcock uses for the performance is a Steingraeber concert grand with a powerful bright sound ideally suited for Prokofiev’s angular music. Adcock performs the suite splendidly with all the energy you’d expect from a full orchestra. The beautifully sinister Montagues and Capulets is especially effective with its evil bass line and foreboding melody.

The other major work on the CD is Earl Wild’s Seven Virtuoso Etudes on tunes by George Gershwin. These are the real highlight of this recording. Wild was an extraordinary performer and gifted composer/arranger, and the Etudes demonstrate his genius for invention and virtuosity. Adcock plays these with an easy conviction that makes them seem like a natural fit for his impressive ability and fluid style. While each one is memorable, I Got Rhythm stands out for its intelligence and complexity.

10 Hubert Rutkowski PleyelHubert Rutkowski is a Chopin specialist and his latest disc Chopin on Pleyel 1847 (Piano Classics PCL 10129 piano-classics.com/articles/c/chopin-hubert-rutkowski-on-pleyel) adds to the growing number of performances using period instruments to capture the sound and feel that composers associated with their work. Chopin owned a Pleyel and regularly performed on one in public. The Pleyel that Rutkowski uses in this recording dates from 1847 and while it was built just a couple of years before Chopin died, there’s no suggestion that he ever played this particular instrument.

Modern pianos have evolved dramatically from their early forms, based on the development of technology and materials, as well as an artistic imperative for richness of sound and simple raw power. Rutkowksi’s playing is wonderfully light and song-like. He takes advantage of the Pleyel’s slightly delayed dampening system and the more direct feel of keyboard contact with the strings. The piano’s voice is a softer one owing to the lower tension of the strings that are supported by a composite frame using iron cross bars.

Rutkowski quickly captures the sound of Chopin’s era but more importantly, revives the music with an authentic voice that is intriguingly fresh.

01 Lorelei EnsembleImpermanence
Lorelei Ensemble
Sono Luminus DSL-92226 (sonoluminus.nativedsd.com)

Impermanence is an album on a mission. The liner notes offer a lengthy essay by Beth Willer, artistic director of the nine-voice Boston-based women’s vocal group, Lorelei Ensemble. She mentions the migration of peoples, pilgrimage, the essential impermanence of existence, and the function of music “as a container of meaning,” among other topics.

Examining the old-juxtaposed-with-the-new-repertoire approach of this album, it can be grouped into four categories, beginning with the 12th-century song Portum in ultimo. Among the earliest of works in polyphonic notation, it’s preserved in a book meant for pilgrims travelling along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

The much larger second group consists of 15th-century motets by Guillaume Du Fay, the renowned Franco-Flemish composer, plus motets from the contested “anonymous” Turin Codex J.II.9 of Cypriot-French origin. The J.II.9 songs with their polyphonic freedom and piquant resultant harmonies reflect the remarkable fluidity of the people and cultures between the European mainland and the 15th-century French court in Cyprus.

In a third group falls the choral work Tsukimi (Moon Viewing 2013) by American composer Peter Gilbert, eliciting the Japanese celebration of the full moon in ancient Heian era poems. Eight individual songs, evocatively rendered by Gilbert, are interspersed among the motets and two Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) Vocalises. Constituting the fourth group, these songs are from Takemitsu’s larger composition Windhorse, depicting Tibetan nomads.

The album closes with Takemitsu’s Vocalise II. It offers a satisfying tonal closing, the core of which is a quote from a Bantu lullaby, resolving the bracing modernist harmonies heard just beforehand. To my ear Lorelei Ensemble’s ambitious concept album works superbly.

02 QuartomRenaissance
Quartom
ATMA ACD2 2769 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1613)

Recorded at St. Esprit Church in Montreal, this CD celebrates Quartom’s tenth anniversary, bittersweet perhaps, with the replacement of founding tenor Gaétan Sauvageau by the accomplished Antonio Figueroa. I was interested to see that the three other members, baritones Benoit Le Blanc, Julien Patenaude, and bass-baritone Philippe Martel, were all members of children’s choirs in their earlier years, two with Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal and the other, an alumnus of La Maitrise des petits chanteurs de Québec. It is clear that something in the musical education of these singers taught them exceptional phrasing technique in performance. For this is exactly what makes this recording of pure Gregorian chant alternating with Palestrina’s polyphonic settings remarkable.

Palestrina composed in what Monteverdi referred to as “prima prattica,” a “stile antico” of pure counterpoint in deference to an earlier era. Palestrina’s elegant curves of sound and long-breathed melody never detract from the original character of Gregorian chant on which his compositions are based. He imbued the melodies with vitality by incorporating rhythmic irregularities and clean sonorities with a few well-prepared dissonances to reflect textual nuance. He was the master of creating polyphonic textures that have distinct clarity. Therefore, his a cappella motets have a similar requirement of singers performing Gregorian chant: precision intonation and sensitivity to textual phrasing throughout – both of which are evident in Quartom’s performance, in addition to their exquisitely beautiful tone.

03 Nicandro e FilinoPaolo Lorenzani – Nicandro e Fileno
Le Nouvel Opéra; Les Boreades; Francis Colpron
ATMA ACD2 2770 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1610)

Le Nouvel Opéra and Les Boréades de Montréal are Montreal-based companies dedicated to musicologically and performatively reviving, remounting and reimagining music of the Baroque era (1600 to 1750). Clearly committed to the authenticity, accuracy and specificity of this intricate music (along with its detailed performance practices), historical musicology and creative performance coalesce here on this 2018 recording to shine a light on music that otherwise would run the risk of being relegated to the footnotes of music history.

Here, the first ever recording of Nicandro e Fileno, Paolo Lorenzani’s (1640-1713) pastoral opera for six singers that was initially performed, in Italian, in 1681 before Louis XIV at the palace of Fontainebleau, is brought to life by an aggregation of thoughtful scholars, practitioners and performers. And while there is no doubt that the ensemble, under the skillful direction of conductor and Boréades founder Francis Colpron, is dedicated to the period piece accuracy of this music, these sides are not fusty and this music is not ossified. Rather, new life has been imbued across all three acts, and the once-forgotten Italian-style opera comes alive on this beautifully captured and rendered ATMA Classique recording. The music, along with its unpacking of the still-relevant and universal themes of love, along with its trials and tribulations, brings escapist joy to general music fans and early music enthusiasts alike in these troubled times. A detailed accompanying booklet capturing extensive historical notes and the opera’s libretto is a welcome addition.

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04 Mahler Das LiedMahler – Das Lied von der Erde
Magdalena Kožená; Stuart Skelton; Bayerischen RSO; Sir Simon Rattle
BR Klassik 900172 (br-klassik.de/orchester-und-chor/br-klassik-cds/symphonieorchester/br-klassik-cd-symphonieorchester-mahler-lied-simon-rattle-100.html)

Gustav Mahler began work on his “Symphony for Tenor, Alto (or Baritone) and Orchestra” in 1907, a year marked by a series of personal and professional tragedies. Around that time he was given an anthology of Chinese Tang dynasty poetry transliterated from French to German by Hans Bethge. Captivated by the melancholy tone of these poems that so well captured his sense of resignation, he sought out early recordings on wax cylinders of authentic Chinese music and, philosophical by nature, also immersed himself in Buddhist literature. Choosing several poems from this volume he created what he covertly regarded as his ninth symphony the following summer.

The present recording is assembled from live performances conducted by Sir Simon Rattle in January of 2018, his second and unquestionably his finest recording of this work. I normally prefer a darker-voiced contralto (or baritone) in this song cycle, however Magdalena Kožená’s beautiful mezzo-soprano upper register and sensitive tonal inflections eventually won me over. Even more impressive to my mind is the heroic tenor of the Australian Stuart Skelton, whose powerful voice rides effortlessly over the massive orchestration of the opening movement, yet is capable of an agile suppleness in the lighter movements that follow. The excellent Bavarian Radio orchestra once again demonstrate their stellar reputation as a Mahler orchestra dating back to the days of Rafael Kubelík’s superb box set of the symphonies from the 1960s.

The recording is clear and close-miked with negligible extraneous noises, and text and translations are included. Of the 60 or so recordings of this work that have seen the light of day this one surely belongs among the top ten.

05 Faure Duruffle RequiemFauré; Duruflé – Requiem
Julie Bouliane; Philippe Sly; Choeur de l’Eglise St. Andrew and St. Paul; Jean-Sebastien Vallée
ATMA ACD2 2779 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1615)

The Requiem Masses by Fauré and Duruflé prove a nice pairing on this CD. Each composed three different versions of the choral Requiem, scored for chamber or full orchestra, or with organ accompaniment as chosen and lovingly performed by Jean-Sébastian Vallée on this recording. Both composers, eschewing the operatic 19th-century Requiem settings of Berlioz and Verdi, chose instead to focus on images of rest and peace. In both masses, the highly dramatic sections of Dies irae are omitted while the uplifting Pie Jesu is retained. Both composed Libera me for baritone soloist, and in this performance, Philippe Sly so beautifully intones the humble plea, never once diminishing the powerful timbre of his voice.

Fauré composed his melodies using the Hellenic principles of clarity, balance and serenity and Duruflé, writing 60 years later, based his on the Gregorian melodies for the Mass of the Dead, imbuing them with rhythmic variation and harmonic enhancement. The pace with which the Choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul is directed on this album allows for a deeply reverent quality throughout. In the Duruflé Pie Jesu, the interweaving of mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne with Elinor Frey’s ad libitum cello results in a beautifully warm and inviting entreaty, while it is interesting to hear Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal sing Fauré’s Pie Jesu in perfect unison, rather than performed by the traditional solo treble.

07 Britten Death in VeniceFrank Martin – Mass for Double Choir
Westminster Choir; Joe Miller
Independent wcc1809 (naxosdirect.com/items/miller-mass-for-double-choir-465897)

Why isn’t the music of Frank Martin better known? Born in 1890 into a fervently Christian family – his father was a Calvinist minister – this Swiss-born composer reached maturity at a time when many composers were experimenting with new means of expression such as serialism and atonality. Nevertheless, while Martin did adopt certain contemporary styles, most of his music remained firmly rooted in the past. This was particularly evident in his works for chorus and never more so than in his great Mass for Double Choir performed here by the Westminster Choir under the direction of Joe Miller.

Written in 1922, the Mass was Martin’s only unaccompanied choral work and today it is regarded as among the greatest a cappella works of the 20th century. An intimately personal creation, Martin kept it under cover for nearly 40 years and it wasn’t until 1963 that it was first published and performed.

Not surprisingly, the Westminster Choir does it full justice. The work opens with simple flowing lines not dissimilar to those of Gregorian chant. Yet very soon, the score leaves medieval Europe and joins the 20th century with lush impressionistic harmonies. Indeed, the five-movement mass is a study in contrasts from the introspective Kryie to the solid Gloria and the mysterious Agnus Dei. Throughout, the choir provides a sensitive and profound performance – music written as a true testament to a composer’s deep Christian faith.

An added bonus on this disc is the inclusion of four short choral pieces by Edward Bairstow, Joel Phillips, Anders Öhrwall and Bernat Vivancos, all of which round out a most satisfying recording. For lovers of choral music this CD is a must – beautiful music exquisitely sung – we can’t ask for more.

02 Czerny TriosCzerny – Piano Trios
Sun-Young Shin; Benjamin Hayek; Samuel Gingher
Naxos 8.573848 (naxosdirect.com/items/czerny-piano-trios-457583)

This disc provides additional recognition for the chamber music of Carl Czerny (1791-1857). The Deux Trios brillants, Op.211 (1830) illustrate my sense that the Beethoven-taught Czerny has a more Romantic side that I prefer, and a more classical side that I do not. My first exposure to the Czerny chamber revival was an energetic, Beethoven-ish recording by Anton Kuerti and St. Lawrence String Quartet members of the composer’s Piano Quartet. In that spirit, on this disc I love the second trio of Op. 211 in A Major, where virtuosity serves expressive ends, harmony demonstrates the advances of the early-Romantic era, and there is the sense of power and growth. The third movement surprises in its Bolero rhythm, adding vitality and contrast. The first trio in C major shows Czerny’s classically precise writing for piano in a high register. But the material I find prim, exhibiting a music-box effect sometimes.

The Trois Sonatines faciles et brillantes, Op.104 (1827) for advanced students, illustrate the older tradition of piano as leader, violin and cello as accompanists, with opportunities for improvisation. Again, my inner Romantic leads me to prefer the final A-Minor Sonatina to those in G and C Major. I respect the articulate pianism throughout of Samuel Gingher, supported by colleagues Sun-Young Shin, violin, and Benjamin Hayek, cello. Playing on modern instruments their style leans Classical or Romantic as appropriate, but is never mechanical.

03 Schubert OctetSchubert – Octet in F Major, D.803
OSM Chamber Soloists
Analekta AN 2 8799 (analekta.com/en/albums/schubert-octet-in-f-major-d-803)

Schubert’s largest chamber work, the Octet, was composed in 1824, during a deeply creative period in his life that also gave birth to two other major chamber works – the string quartets Death and the Maiden and Rosamunde. Although they share similar combinations of splendour and elegance, the Octet seems to be both more ceremonious in form and more optimistic in nature and, as such, a relevant choice for OSM Chamber Soloists’ second album. Having released their recording of Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major in January 2018, the OSM Chamber Soloists chose the work that was inspired by Beethoven’s Septet as their next project. These two classic gems have many parallels, including instrumentation, the number of movements, key relationships and general character. Structured in six strong movements, the Octet features many of Schubert’s signature marks such as prominent dotted rhythms, dramatic momentum and sumptuous melodies. The fourth movement, Andante – variations, is especially captivating with its sublime transitions between the variations.

The OSM Chamber Soloists (comprising members of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal) is a splendid ensemble. Each instrumentalist has a distinct character of their own but the synergy of the ensemble, the osmosis of the musical ideas, is extraordinary. I have been a fan of the violinist Andrew Wan for quite some time and his playing and leadership on this album is exceptionally strong. The rest of the ensemble is just as impressive. Olivier Thouin (violin), Victor Fournelle-Blain (viola), Brian Manker (cello), Ali Kian Yazdanfar (double bass), Todd Cope (clarinet), Stéphane Lévesque (bassoon) and John Zirbel (horn) have collectively created a colourful aural portrait of a unique work.

05 Clarinet QuintetsClarinet Quintets
Mark Lieb; Phoenix Ensemble
Navona Records nv6193 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6193)

Lyricism may not be the first quality one associates with the music of Elliott Carter, yet always amidst his confusion of conflicting rhythms there are long melodically pure lines to be sung. Carter’s Clarinet Quintet (2007), offers plenty of the former, but an especially good amount of the latter as well. The performance on this recent release by members of the Phoenix Ensemble (including founder and clarinetist Mark Lieb) rises to the task of finding the way to sing the lines within the exacting demands of Carter’s rhythms. The more contrapuntal playing is virtuosic and seemingly effortless. Lieb has a ready access to the entire range of his instrument, and his rapid articulation is crisp and sure. The quartet playing is even better, or perhaps it’s safer to say theirs is the more friendly material. Oddly, in this late work, the composer assigned great swatches of sustained notes to the wind player, setting off the more interesting material played by the strings.

The same could not be said of Johannes Brahms’ towering late chamber work, the Quintet Op.115 for Clarinet and Strings. All players share in the glory of this final outpouring of the old man’s soul. This disc’s pairing with the Carter quintet is an odd one, so little do the two works have in common beyond instrumentation. The quartet here is still excellent, all in all; the ensemble is good. Their decision to examine the work with slower than conventional tempi in the outer movements is not a success, but I do love the style of the string playing, which is reminiscent of mid-century movie score melodrama.

An excellent rendering of Carter’s Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux, for flute and clarinet, is included between the larger works.

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07 Mahler 5Mahler – Symphony No.5
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Daniel Harding
Harmonia Mundi HMM902366 (smarturl.it/n1e7kz)

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony has proved itself to be one of his most often performed works, musically challenging yet accessible enough for even student orchestras to perform with aplomb. Scored for a relatively normal-sized orchestra and relatively Apollonian in comparison to his more Dionysian and ofttimes programmatic earlier symphonies, it marks a progression towards an exclusively instrumental and often elaborately contrapuntal approach characteristic of his middle period symphonies.

Daniel Harding, a protégé of eminent Mahlerians Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado, leads a revelatory performance of this work with the superb Swedish Radio Orchestra, an ensemble he has directed since 2007 and to whom he is contracted through 2023. The esprit-de-corps he has established with the ensemble is palpable in this sumptuous and expertly edited recording, captured in all its glory by a crack audio team from Teldex Studio Berlin. It is sadly rare these days to come across a proper studio recording of this quality. No nuance goes unnoticed in this finely wrought and vigorous production.

Harding’s interpretation is eminently idiomatic and the orchestra is quick to respond to his beck and call. As an example among many wonderful moments I was struck by his handling of the exuberant Rondo-Finale, in which the many tempo changes are elegantly transitioned by establishing a long line that drives towards the conclusion, surmounting the sectional stopping and starting that often mars lesser performances. The celebrated Adagietto movement for strings and harp is equally effective; it is languorously timed at 10 minutes and 30 seconds yet never feels overwrought, as the string section’s vibrato is carefully restrained to something resembling a period performance. A truly admirable achievement for all concerned!

01 HosokawaToshio Hosokawa – Orchestral Works 3
Basque National Orchestra; Jun Markl
Naxos 8.573733 (naxosdirect.com/items/toshio-hosokawa-meditation-nach-dem-sturm-klage-448889)

Multiple award-winning Japanese contemporary classical composer Toshio Hosokawa (b.1955) has built an illustrious career rooted in both his Japanese birthplace and in European, particularly German, musical culture. Those bicultural influences, drawing on Schubertian lyricism and Webernian tone colouring, are seamlessly integrated with intrinsically Japanese musical, theatrical, aesthetic and spiritual elements.

Hosokawa has stated his philosophical goal was to give “musical expression to the notion of a beauty that has grown from transience. … We hear the individual notes and appreciate at the same time the process of how the notes are born and die: a sound landscape of continual ‘becoming’ that is animated in itself.”

His orchestral triptych Meditation, Nach dem Sturm, and Klage forms the heart of this album. It is Hosokawa’s personal and theatrical – in some places near cinematic – response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. While Meditation mourns the many victims of that tragedy, Nach dem Sturm invokes oceanic turbulent darkness.

I find Klage the most moving and musically convincing. Based on a poem and fragments of letters by Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887-1914), Klage rages against human life taken by the ocean. Haunting images in the lyrics – a shattered body, lamenting dark voices, a lonely boat sinking in stormy seas under “unblinking stars” – are reflected in the music.

Hosokawa masterfully unleashes the full power of the contemporary symphony orchestra in Klage. It’s underscored by the emotional power of the female voice, here eloquently rendered by mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura, which serves as the work’s consoling mother figure.

02 Global SirensGlobal Sirens
Christina Petrowska Quilico
Fleur de Son FDS58046 (naxosdirect.com/items/global-sirens-473518)

The last Classical & Beyond beat column I wrote for The WholeNote (October 2013 issue) was titled “Let’s Hear It for the Women!” Now, five years later, I am pleased to be reviewing Global Sirens, released last month by the exceptional (and exceptionally busy) Canadian pianist and educator, Christina Petrowska Quilico, and featuring works by 15 women composers, some known, most essentially neglected. Several were born around the turn of the last century; a few are still composing today.

As the title suggests, the 15 composers – I’m about to give them their due and name them all – hail from all over the globe: Germany (Ilse Fromm-Michaels, Else Schmitz-Gohr, Lotte Backes, Barbara Heller, Susanne Erding); France (Lili Boulanger, Cécile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre); Italy (Ada Gentile); Canada (Larysa Kuzmenko); USA (Meredith Monk, Adaline Shepherd); Australia (Peggy Glanville-Hicks); South Africa (Priaulx Rainer); and Russia (Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, who lived in Winnipeg the last 20 years of her life). Some had fathers who forbade or discouraged their musical pursuits; others were expected to give up composing once married. And because her husband was Jewish, the Nazis banned performances of works by Fromm-Michaels.

Petrowska Quilico covers a lot of ground over the CD’s 19 tracks, from Chaminade’s rich and romantic Méditation and Schmitz-Gohr’s lovely Elegie for the Left Hand to Backes’ jazzy, Debussyesque Slow and Kuzmenko’s haunting and evocative Mysterious Summer Night. And then there’s Shepherd’s delightful Wireless Rag, yup, an honest-to-goodness rag.

Let’s hear it for Christina Petrowska Quilico, champion of women composers!

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03 Frank HorvatFrank Horvat – For Those Who Died Trying
Mivos Quartet
ATMA ACD2 2788 (atmaclassique.com/En/Albums/AlbumInfo.aspx?AlbumID=1618)

It is impossible to escape Frank Horvat’s mystical hypothesis that music is somehow part of all human DNA. It is also a testament to the genius of Horvat that he is able to craft this into each segment of this unique 35-movement string quartet so that each so comes poignantly alive with the personality of 35 Thai environmentalists and human rights warriors who died in the act of defending the truth. The magical experience magnifies exponentially as one is struck by the fact that the inspiration for all of this is, further, inspired by a visual essay created by photographer Luke Duggleby titled For Those Who Died Trying.

Both Horvat and Duggleby have been transformed by the senseless murders of the 35 Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). The portraits of the HRDs made by the photographer are starkly unglamorous images of each defender. The musical resurrections are Horvat’s as he melds the story of each life and death, using a unique melodic language in which the poignant sense of humanity and tragic loss is never far from the surface of each piece.

The Mivos Quartet, a unique string ensemble, responds brilliantly to this music. There’s a strong sense, in each of the 35 sections, of the quartet functioning like actors in some powerful tragedy. Each musician, solo and in ensemble, controls his forces with an unfailing sense of the right emphasis and the right moment together to deliver performances of affecting power.

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