01 SHHHYou may have read Max Christie’s article “John Beckwith Musician” two issues ago (The WholeNote Volume 28/1) about the launch of Beckwith’s latest book Music Annals: Research and Critical Writings by a Canada Composer 1973-2014, and Christie’s sequel “Meanwhile back at Chalmers House” in the following issue. The evening of the launch at the Canadian Music Centre included a live performance by SHHH!! Ensemble and provided my first exposure to this duo from Ottawa: Zac Pulak (percussion) and Edana Higham (piano). Dedicated to performing and commissioning new works, their debut CD Meanwhile has recently been released by Analekta (AN 2 9139 analekta.com/en). Comprising works by five mid-career Canadian composers including Monica Pearce (whose leather was also included on that composer’s portrait disc Textile Fantasies reviewed in this column last month), Jocelyn Morlock, Kelly-Marie Murphy, Micheline Roi and John Gordon Armstrong, plus one relative newcomer on the scene, Iranian-Canadian Noora Nakhaie, and the current grand old man of Canadian music, Beckwith himself. All of the works were written for the pair, with the exception of Murphy’s Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine which was Pulak’s first commission back in 2016 “fresh out of school and out of my depth.” Murphy, who had never written for solo percussion, eagerly took on the project and created a dynamic and almost relentless work for unpitched drums with only a brief respite in metal and bell sounds. This is followed by Roi’s Grieving the Doubts of Angels, a motoric, minimal and mostly melodic work which ends dramatically with a pounding pulse. 

A highlight for me is Nakhaie’s Echoes of the Past, inspired by Sister Language, a moving book by Martha and Christina Baillie. This testament to the triumphs and struggles experienced by a family dealing with profound mental illness and to the bond between siblings is sensitively interpreted by the composer. Meanwhile concludes with the title piece, the duo’s first commission, a 2018 work for marimba and piano (both inside and out) by Beckwith in which the then 91-year-old shows no signs of compromise in his approach. There are echoes of earlier works – Keyboard Practice comes to mind – yet we are left with the impression that the composer is looking forward as much as back. Forward is definitely the direction of SHHH!! Ensemble and we’re glad to be along for the ride. 

02 Andara QuartetKelly-Marie Murphy reappears on the next disc, de mille feux (a million lights) featuring the Andara Quartet (leaf music LM262 leaf-music.ca). Murphy’s Dark Energy was commissioned by the Banff Centre and the CBC as the required work in the 2007 Banff International String Quartet Competition, won that year by Australia’s Tinalley String Quartet although the prize for best performance of the Canadian commission was awarded to the Koryo String Quartet (USA). The Andara Quartet would not be formed until seven years later when the members met at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. They have subsequently gone on to residencies at the Banff Centre, the Ottawa Chamberfest and the University of Montreal. The quartet’s debut disc opens with Benjamin Britten’s all too rarely heard String Quartet No.1 with its angelic opening high-string chorale over pizzicato cello before transitioning into a caccia-like Allegro vivo. The extended Andante calmo third movement eventually leads to a playful finale in which the strings seem to be playing tag. This is contrasted with Samuel Barber’s gorgeous Molto Adagio extracted from his String Quartet in B Minor Op.11. Of course we are familiar with this “Adagio for Strings” in its standalone string orchestra and a cappella choral versions, but I must admit to have mixed feelings about having it cherry-picked in the context of a string quartet recording. Generous as the disc’s 65-minute duration is, there was ample space available to have included the quartet’s outer movements as well (less than ten minutes between them), but that is a minor quibble. Murphy’s single-movement work is next up, opening forebodingly, as many of her works do, before changing mood abruptly to a rhythmic and roiling second half featuring abrasive chordal passages and Doppler-like effects. The final work, producer James K. Wright’s String Quartet No.1 “Ellen at Scattergood” is in four somewhat anachronistic movements. It could have been written a century ago, but is none the worse for that. A pastoral depiction of life at the cottage of a couple of friends, it was commissioned by the husband as a gift for wife Ellen. 

This maiden voyage for the Andara Quartet with its warm and convincing performances bodes well for their future, and for chamber music in this country. I also note that the triennial Banff Competition is still going strong 30 years after its inauguration – the first prize winner in 2022 was the Isidore Quartet (USA) and the Canadian Commission Prize went to Quatuor Agate (France). This year’s required work was by Dinuk Wijeratne and it’s great to realize that all nine of the competing quartets from around the world have taken that new Canadian work into their repertoires. Even more exciting is when a young quartet like the Andara takes on an earlier competition’s work and gives it new life as they have done with Dark Energy. 

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03 Blue and GreenBlue and Green Music features two string quartets by American composer Victoria Bond performed by the Cassatt String Quartet along with the song cycle From an Antique Land and the standalone song Art and Science, both featuring baritone Michael Kelly with Bradley Moore, piano (Albany Music TROY1905 albanyrecords.com). The title work takes its inspiration from a painting of the same name by Georgia O’Keeffe, in the words of the composer an “abstract study in motion, color and form, with the interplay of those two colors that dance with each other in graceful, sensuous patterns.” The four movements endeavour to represent that interplay, and to these ears succeed gracefully and gleefully in the final movement Dancing Colors. Art and Science takes its text from a letter which Albert Einstein wrote to the editor of a German magazine that the composer says “even though it was written as a letter, the organization of thoughts was startling. There was such logic […] and such a sense of form that it was as though Einstein had composed a poem….” More traditionally, From an Antique Land does use poetry, with Recuerdo and On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven by Edna St. Vincent Millay bookending poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The accompaniment in the final song cleverly incorporates echoes of the third movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Although texts are not provided in the booklet, there are synopses, and frankly, Kelly’s lyric baritone voicing is so well articulated that the words are clearly understandable. 

Dreams of Flying was commissioned by the Audubon Quartet and Bond took the name of the ensemble as inspiration to create a piece about birds. The opening movements, Resisting Gravity and Floating are as their titles describe and set the stage for the playful and boisterous The Caged Bird Dreams of the Jungle, which, after a gentle opening becomes truly joyous, replete with chirps, whistles and cries as the birds of the jungle awake. The work and the CD end exuberantly with Flight, featuring rising motifs, high glissandi and repeating rhythmic patterns. Here, as throughout this entertaining disc, all the performers shine. 

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04 Jennifer GrimAfter 20 years working alongside Robert Aitken you might be forgiven for thinking I’d have heard enough flute music to last a lifetime and indeed there are times when I have said that a little flute goes a long way. That sentiment notwithstanding I encountered a lovely disc this month that put the lie to that. Through Broken Time features Jennifer Grim in contemporary works for solo and multiple flutes, some with piano accompaniment provided by Michael Sheppard (New Focus Recordings FCR346 newfocusrecordings.com). I had put the disc on while cataloguing recent arrivals without paying undo attention until the bird-like sounds and Latin rhythms of Tania León’s Alma leapt out at me. I had just finished listening to Victoria Bond’s disc, and it was as if I were back in the jungle dreamed of by the caged bird mentioned above.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would find Julia Wolfe’s Oxygen for 12 flutes (2021) reminiscent of Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint for flute and tape or 11 flutes, which I first heard in Ransom Wilson’s multi-tracked recording some four decades ago I don’t mean to say that Wolfe’s work is derivative of that classic, but that the orchestra of flutes, in this case involving all the regular members of the flute family rather than Reich’s piccolos, C and alto flutes, and especially the consistency of sound from part to part as a result of them all being played by one flutist, has a familiarity, especially in the context of Wolfe’s post-minimalist style. The addition of bass flute to the mix fills out the wall of sound, the density of which can at times be mistaken for a pipe organ. The liner notes also liken the piece to Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments but whatever the forebears, Wolfe has made this flute choir her own and Grim rises to the occasion in spades. 

David Sanford is represented by two jazz inspired works, Klatka Still from 2007, and Offertory (2021), the first a homage to trumpeters Tony Klatka and Tomasz Stanko, and the second inspired by the extended improvisations of John Coltrane and Dave Liebman. The disc also includes solo works by Alvin Singleton and Allison Loggins-Hull – this latter a haunting work that meditates on the devastation wreaked by hurricane Maria, social, political and racial turmoil in the United States, and the Syrian civil war – and Wish Sonatine by Valerie Coleman, a dramatic work that conveys brutality and resistance and which incorporates djembe rhythms symbolizing enslaved Africans. Grim proves herself not only comfortable but fluent in all the diverse idioms and the result is a very satisfying disc. 

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05 Lucie HorschIf Jennifer Grim’s CD can be considered diverse within the context of contemporary composition, Origins, featuring rising super-star recorder virtuoso Lucie Horsch, takes musical diversity to a whole ‘nother level (Decca 485 3192 luciehorsch.com). Most of the works are arrangements, opening with Coltrane’s classic Ornithology followed by Piazzolla’s Libertango. The accompaniments vary, ranging from orchestra and chamber ensemble to bandoneon, guitar, kora and, in Horsch’s own arrangement of Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances Sz.56, cimbalom (Dani Luca). There is an effective interpretation of Debussy’s solo flute masterpiece Syrinx and more Horsch arrangements of works by Stravinsky. Traditional material includes Simple Gifts and the Irish tunes She Moved Through the Fair and Londonderry Air. Like Grim with flutes, Horsch plays all the members of the recorder family and although I don’t see a bass there, she is pictured with five different instruments in the extensive booklet. At home in seemingly all forms of music, including such unexpected treats as improvisations on traditional Senegalese songs (with kora master Bao Sissoko) and one of contemporary composer Isang Yun’s demanding unaccompanied works, Horsch is definitely a young artist to watch. 

06 Water Hollows StoneThe final disc I will mention is the EP Water Hollows Stone, a compelling work for two pianos by American composer Alex Weiser (Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0176 brightshiny.ninja), which takes its title from a quotation by Ovid that the composer saw inscribed in Latin on the wall of a subway station in NYC. Performed by Hocket (pianists Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff) the three movements are Waves, a quietly roiling texture from which “phrase, melody and harmony” eventually emerge, Cascade, a series of rising and falling arpeggios based on “a misquotation” of one of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and Mist, which uses “an evocative keyboard technique borrowed from Helmut Lachenmann “where the notes of a chord are released individually so that the decay is as important as the initial sounds.” It is a very effective technique, a kind of juxtaposition of positive and negative space, and it is further developed in Fade, a standalone piece for solo piano conceived as a postlude to the 18-minute Water Hollows Stone, performed here by Gibson. A very immersive disc. 

07 Claude GauvreauI began this article with a mention of John Beckwith’s Music Annals and I’d like to turn now to another book that documents an important moment in the cultural annals of Quebec. When Paul-Émile Borduas published his manifesto Refus Global in 1948 it was a harbinger of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution and the changes that would come in the following decades. The 16 signatories included artists, dancers and actors who were associated with the Automatiste movement, previously known as the Montreal Surrealists. Among them was the writer Claude Gauvreau (1925-1971) whose arcane and often invented language used “[s]craps of known abstract words, shaped into a bold unconscious jumble.” 

Toronto’s One Little Goat theatre company, in association with Nouvelles Éditions de Feu-Antonin, has just published the libretto of Gauvreau’s 1949 opera Le vampire et la nymphomane/The Vampire and the Nymphomaniac in a bilingual edition brilliantly translated by Automatiste scholar Ray Ellenwood (onelittlegoat.org/publications). Although Gauvreau originally planned to work with Pierre Mercure on the opera, that composer withdrew from the project and it was never realized during Gauvreau’s lifetime. The absurdist libretto – “A new concrete reality where music and meaning meet” – makes for difficult comprehension – “Gauvreau is marshalling his creative powers to explode the profundities of human consciousness…”  – but simply put, in the words of the translator, it is “[a] love story. Star-crossed lovers kept apart by the forces of patriarchy: church, husband, police, psychiatry.” 

“Gauvreau’s opera opens the possibility of a renewed push towards the purely sonic dimension of language.” In his own words “This work is vocal, purely auditory. […] It’s an opera exclusively for the ear […] not conceived with anything else in mind but music.” It was only after Serge Provost became interested in Le vampire et la nymphomane two decades after Gauvreau’s death – he first composed L’adorable verrotière using fragments from it in 1992 – that the opera began to take shape. In 1996 Montreal’s Chantes Libres presented the first production with baritone Doug MacNaughton and soprano Pauline Vaillancourt in the title roles and a supporting cast that included, among others, mezzo Fides Krucker and actors Albert Millaire and Monique Mercure, under the stage direction of Lorraine Pintal. Provost’s score was performed by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne with founder Lorraine Vaillancourt at the helm. It is a striking production and thankfully it is available in its two-hour entirety on the Chants Libres website (chantslibres.org/en/videos). It is a perfect complement to this important new testament to the creative powers of Gauvreau, his unique voice in both the cultural history of Quebec and Canadian literature.

[Quotations are taken from the informative essays by Ray Ellenwood, Adam Seelig and Thierry Bissonnette which provide useful contextual information for Gauvreau’s opera in the One Little Goat publication.]

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

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Hilary HahnViolinist Hilary Hahn was planning to record the Dvořák Violin Concerto in A Minor Op.53 with Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, pairing it with Alberto Ginastera’s Violin Concerto Op.30, which she had yet to learn, and Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, which she loved but had never played, when the COVID outbreak put plans on hold. In the booklet notes to Eclipse, the resulting album, Hahn discusses the emotional journey through lockdowns and personal doubts that finally bore fruit (Deutsche Grammophon 486 2383 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/hilaryhahn/hilary-hahn-eclipse-2225).

The Dvořák concerto was live streamed from the orchestra’s hall at the radio station in March 2021, with no audience. It’s a beautifully expansive and committed performance; “Our playing,” says Hahn ”was vivid and palpably redemptive.”

The June concert at the Alte Oper hall’s reopening also marked Orozco-Estrada’s farewell as music director as well as Hahn’s personal premiere of the other two works. The challenging Ginastera concerto, which Hahn calls “nearly unplayable” is a fascinating and unusually structured work that draws an exceptional performance from all involved; the Carmen Fantasy is played with suitable brilliance.

02 Brahms Double MutterA new CD of music by Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann presents a quite outstanding performance of the Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor Op.102 featuring violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and cellist Pablo Ferrández in a live January 2022 Prague concert recording with the Czech Philharmonic under Manfred Honeck. It’s paired with a studio recording of Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio in G Minor Op.17, where Lambert Orkis is the pianist (Sony Classical 196587411022 sonyclassical.com/news/news-details/anne-sophie-mutter-and-pablo-ferrandez-1).

Mutter’s playing in the Brahms is a revelation, her tone, phrasing and dynamics in the opening movement in particular all contributing to one of the most beautiful renditions I’ve heard. Ferrández, who incidentally plays two Stradivarius cellos on the disc is an equal partner throughout. 

Orkis adds his own special talents to a captivating performance of the Schumann trio to round out a superb CD. Concert note: Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Mutter Virtuosi perform on Tuesday, February 7 at Roy Thomson Hall.

03 Rachmaninov BrahmsPianist Yuja Wang is joined by cellist Gautier Capuçon and clarinettist Andreas Ottensamer on a CD of Works by Sergei Rachmaninoff & Johannes Brahms (Deutsche Grammophon 486 2388 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/yujawang).

Wang and Capuçon have been playing together since the 2013 Verbier Festival, and Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor Op.19 was part of that debut recital. The quality of their playing and ensemble work here is of the highest order.

There are two works by Brahms. Capuçon brings a warm, deep tone to the Cello Sonata in E Minor Op.38, with Wang’s empathetic accompaniment a real joy. Ottensamer, the principal clarinet with the Berlin Philharmonic joins for the Clarinet Trio in A Minor Op.114 – not as frequently heard as the Clarinet Quintet Op.115, perhaps, but a real gem.

04 Vivaldi Concerti per violino XThe Vivaldi Edition, the ongoing project to record some 450 works by Vivaldi in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin, reaches its 69th volume with Vivaldi Concerti per violino X ‘Intorno a Pisendel’, with Julien Chauvin as soloist and director of Le Concert de la Loge (Naive OP 7546 bfan.link/vivaldi-concerti-per-violino-x-intorno-a-pisendel)

The six works here are all linked to the virtuoso violinist Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), a major figure at the Dresden court who met Vivaldi in Venice on a court visit in 1716-17 and became a friend and pupil. Pisendel copied many of Vivaldi’s works and also received several dedicated manuscripts.

Three of the concertos – RV237 in D Minor, RV314 in G Major and RV340 in A Major – are from the dedicated manuscripts, and three – RV225 in D Major, RV226 in D Major and RV369 in B-flat Major – are from Pisendel’s hand-written copies. All are three-movement works with Allegro outer movements and Largo or Andante middle movements.

Chauvin is outstanding, his bright, clear tone, faultless intonation and virtuosic agility perfectly backed by the resonance and effective dynamics of the orchestra, all beautifully recorded. And yes, a lot sounds like The Four Seasons, but there’s a continual freshness to the music that makes each concerto a real delight.

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05 Black Violin ConcertoesIn 1997 violinist Rachel Barton Pine recorded four Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries with conductor Daniel Hege and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Encore Chamber Orchestra. To mark the 25th anniversary of its release Cedille has reissued three of the original recordings on Violin Concertos by Black Composers Through the Centuries (Cedille CDR 9000 214 cedillerecords.org).

Included are the Violin Concerto in A Major Op.5 No.2 (c.1775) by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the Violin Concerto in F-sharp Minor (1864) by George Enescu’s teacher José White Lafitte (1836-1918) and the 1899 Romance in G Major by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose violin concerto wouldn’t fit on the original album. The original fourth work has been replaced by a new recording of Florence Price’s 1952 Violin Concerto No.2, with Jonathon Heyward conducting the Royal National Scottish Orchestra.

The Saint-Georges is an absolute gem with a glorious slow movement, the Lafitte a standard mid-19th century virtuosic Romantic concerto very much in the Max Bruch Germanic mould, but none-the-less effective for that. The Coleridge-Taylor is a lush melodic piece, again very much of its time.

Price’s music has been getting a great deal of attention recently. The concerto here is a rather uneven single-movement work with a truly lovely recurring hymn-tune melody but contrasting material that occasionally approaches the banal. Her orchestration can seem somewhat amateurish at times, probably more reflective of a personal sound and style than any lack of craft.

Performances throughout are top notch.

06 Schubert JubileeThe UK-based Jubilee Quartet is in superb form on Schubert String Quartets, with outstanding performances of quartets from each end of the composer’s career (Rubicon Classics RCD1082 rubiconclassics.com).

The String Quartet in E-flat Major D87 was written when Schubert was only 16, but was already his tenth quartet. It’s light and joyful, with an all-to-be-expected song-like quality, beautifully captured here.

The String Quartet in G Major D887 from 1826, Schubert’s 15th and final quartet is a large-scale, groundbreaking masterpiece, the equal of the late Beethoven quartets. Words used in the booklet notes to describe its extreme emotions include dramatic, violent, painful, menacing, introverted and innocent. There’s a terrific range of dynamics and of touch and sensitivity in a quite remarkable performance of a quite remarkable work.

A warm, crystal-clear recorded sound captures every nuance.

07 Dudok QuartetAnother really impressive quartet disc is Reflections, on which the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam presents works by Dmitri Shostakovich and Grażyna Bacewicz, two composers who often masked their true feelings in their music (Rubicon Classics RCD1099 rubiconclassics.com).

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.5 in B-flat Major, Op.92 was written in 1952, four years after the composer’s second denunciation in the infamous 1948 Zhdanov decree; it’s given a deeply perceptive and emotional reading here. Five of his 24 Preludes Op.34 for piano from 1933 are heard in really effective arrangements for string quartet.

The String Quartet No.4 by Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz was written in 1951, with the booklet notes suggesting the influence of the oppression of the Polish people by the Soviet regime in the late 1940s; its frequent folk music references, however, made it acceptable to the authorities. It’s another deeply felt reading of a very strong work.

08 TelemannThere’s another CD of the Telemann: Fantasias for Solo Violin, this time by the outstanding Alina Ibragimova (Hyperion CDA68384 hyperion-records.co.uk/a.asp?a=A1677).

The 12 short works, described here as amply justifying the high repute in which Telemann was held, are deceptively easy-looking on the printed page, but don’t be fooled. The 1968 Bärenreiter edition stated that they were intended “for the amateur or the instrumental student” but also noted that “the double-stopping and chordal work can naturally only be tackled by a competent player.” Well, there’s an Understatement of the Year winner for you. 

The 12 Fantasias, in 11 different keys, display a variety of different moods, never deeply emotional but never facile or shallow either; even the shortest sections – some only a few bars in length – display taste and craft.

Always in complete technical control, Ibragimova simply dances through them, seemingly enjoying every minute to the fullest.

09 LAuroreL’Aurore is the first solo album by German violinist Carolin Widmann for the ECM New Series label ECM 2709 ecmrecords.com/catalogue/1647418055).

Hildegard von Bingen’s Spiritus sanctus vivificans opens the CD and also reappears later in a slightly different take. George Enescu’s brilliant Fantaisie concertante from 1932, which should surely be better known, is followed by the Three Miniatures from 2002 by George Benjamin (b.1960) and a really striking performance of Ysaÿe’s Sonata No.5 in G Major Op.27.

A contemplative performance of Bach’s Partita No.2 in D Minor BWV1004 ends an excellent disc. Nothing is rushed, and Widmann is never too strict rhythmically, the intelligent use of slight stresses and stretched phrasing injecting life into every movement.

10 MozartPleyeViolinist Emmanuele Baldini and violist Claudio Cruz are the performers on Mozart and Pleyel Duos for Violin and Viola (Azul Music AMDA1781 azulmusic.com.br).

The two Mozart pieces, both of three movements, are the Duos for Violin & Viola in G Major K423 and in B-flat Major K424. The work by Pleyel, a student of Haydn and a direct contemporary of Mozart (he was born a year later but outlived Mozart by 40 years) is his Three Grand Duets for Violin and Viola Op.69 Nos.1-3. The first two duets have two movements and the third three.

There’s nothing earth-shattering here, just some beautifully competent music given stylish and sympathetic performances by two excellent players.

11 Ben LahringDriftwood is the second album released by the Calgary-based guitarist Ben Lahring, with six of the 11 tracks his own compositions (Alliance Entertainment 198004147064 benlahring.com).

Liona Boyd’s really nice Lullaby for My Love opens the disc, with short pieces by William Beauvais, Seymour Bernstein, Graeme Koehne and a Miguel Llobet arrangement of a traditional Catalan melody balancing the original Lahring compositions – the three-movement Firstborn of the Dead, Over the Pacific, Fair Winds and Following Seas and the title track.

There’s clean playing with lovely tone and colour in an attractive and fairly low-key program that doesn’t vary much in style, sound or mood. 

Finally, two updates on previously-reviewed Beethoven series:

12 Beethoven DyachkovMy May review of the digital release of the first volume of the complete music for cello and piano by the Montreal-based duo of cellist Yegor Dyachkov and pianist Jean Saulnier noted that a 3CD physical set was to be released in October, and it’s here: Beethoven Intégrale des Sonates et variations pour violoncelle et piano (ATMA Classique ACD2 2431 atmaclassique.com/en).

I previously described the playing as “intelligent and beautifully nuanced, promising great things for the works still to be released,” and the complete set more than fulfills that promise. Outstanding playing and a superb recorded sound quality make this set hard to equal, let alone surpass.

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13 Beethoven DoverThe Dover Quartet completes its set of Beethoven Complete String Quartets with Volume 3 The Late Quartets (Cedille CDR 90000 215 cedillerecords.org).

This final 3CD issue features the String Quartets No.12 in E-flat Major Op.127, No.13 in B-flat Major Op.130, No.14 in C-sharp Minor Op.131, No.15 in A Minor Op.132, No.16 in F Major Op.135 and the Grosse Fugue in B-flat Major Op.133. My previous reviews noted performances of conviction and depth, and the standard has clearly been upheld to the end of an outstanding addition to the quartet’s discography.

02 Maestrino MozartMaestrino Mozart – Airs d’opera d’un jeune genie
Marie-Eva Munger; Les Boreades de Montreal
ATMA ACD2 2815 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Canadian soprano Marie-Eve Munger presents Maestrino Mozart, a program dedicated exclusively to the arias of a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Accompanied by the equally accomplished ensemble Les Boréades de Montréal and conductor Philippe Bourque, the album includes rarely heard works composed by Mozart between the ages of 12 and 16 years old. 

Munger, already known as a skilled and musical Mozart interpreter, continues to impress, especially in the three arias from Mitridate and in Lucio Silla’s In Un Istante Oh Come – Parto m’affretto. Throughout Maestrino Mozart, Munger’s voice is warm, her technique is flawless and the coloratura light and agile. Her attentive musicological research is shown in the intelligent and careful consideration with which she brings Mozart’s various characters and stories to life. Munger’s accomplishments reach beyond the music presented; Maestrino Mozart shows that Mozart’s early arias, often considered immature and discarded, are in fact rich works encompassing many of the beloved musical elements Mozart develops further in his later works. Maestrino Mozart should not only please Mozart enthusiasts, it is worthy of both discovery and further performances.

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03 AriasArias
Jonathan Tetelman; Orquestra Filarmónica de Gran Canaria; Karel Mark Chichon
Deutsche Grammophon 486 2927 (deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/arias-jonathan-tetelman-12721)

Remember in 1990 the famous Three Tenors concert from Rome? An historic occasion that suddenly turned the world’s attention towards opera, especially the tenor voice, the star of just about every opera. Since then there were countless open air concerts with audiences in the thousands cheering wildly in many countries. I just watched one from Sweden, the star being Jonathan Tetelman a rising new tenor. He sang that wonderful love duet from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera with joy and passionate abandon, a beautifully shaded voice with tenderness and power in all registers.

Tetelman is an American of Chilean origin. Interestingly he was a disc jockey in New York before he found his voice and now, after rigorous training, is a dedicated versatile artist in great demand. This is his debut album – on DG no less! – and we look forward to many more.

The scene is exotic. A gorgeous space-age auditorium with fabulous acousticsin the Canary Islands  with a well-respected figure in the operatic world, British conductor Karel Mark Chrichon, as music director. The 16 arias are well selected to show a cross section of the many sided versatility of Tetelman from gentle lyricism (the flower aria from Bizet’s Carmen) to powerful dramatic outbursts (Puorquoi me reveiller from Massenet’s Werther) of the Italian and French repertoire. This would include Verdi and his followers, Ponchielli, Giordano and Cilea, the Italian Verismo of Mascagni and Puccini and the French Romanticism of Massenet and Bizet as mentioned above. The journey ends suitably with the famous stretta, Di quella pira from Il Trovatore with a glorious high C at the end, every tenor’s dream.

04 Joan BeckowThe Joan Beckow Legacy Project
Various Artists
Independent (joanbeckowlegacy.com)

The Joan Beckow Legacy Project commemorates the musical works of composer Joan Beckow who passed away at 88 in January 2021. The album was conceived and musically directed by one of Beckow’s close and longtime friends, Wendy Bross Stuart and her daughter Jessica Stuart. With the composer’s blessing, Bross Stuart, also a pianist on the album, and Jessica Stuart, both a vocalist and producer for the project, recorded and orchestrated 22 of Beckow’s songs. 

Born in Chicago, Beckow was a prolific composer, pianist and singer. She relocated to Canada in her 30s, where she worked with many theatres as a composer and music director. Beckow’s compositions have been performed on stage countless times, but this posthumous album marks the first time her music was professionally recorded. Her legacy includes both liturgical and musical theatre works, and the double disc is divided as such; one focusing on materials more closely related to musical theatre and the other on classical and spiritual songs which include several pieces set to text from the Jewish liturgy. 

The Joan Beckow Legacy Project is a premium offering. Both discs are carefully crafted, from the chosen repertoire and the orchestration to the order of presentation and the combination of singers and instrumentalists. Beckow’s considerable gifts as a composer and lyricist are revealed via numerous songs on the album, notably The Woman I’ll Be, Dwelling Places, Oseh Shalom, A Christmas Wish, Once There Was a Tailor and On the Other Side of Nowhere.

More information on The Joan Beckow Legacy Project, which includes a 25-minute documentary, can be found on the project’s website.

05 Alice Ho A Womans VoiceAlice Ping Yee Ho – A Woman’s Voice
Jialiang Zhu; Vania Chan; Katy Clark; Maeve Palmer; Ariadne Lih; Alex Hetherington; Tong Wang; Andrew Ascenzo
Leaf Music LM254 (leaf-music.ca)

One of the most acclaimed composers writing in Canada today, Hong Kong-born Alice Ping Yee Ho continues to write in many musical genres, and her compositions for voice, known for stretching the skills of the most accomplished singers, are complex and colourful. Having enjoyed her Venom of Love Ballet in 2020, Ho’s recent work A Woman’s Voice – Songs and Duets for Voice and Piano is a beautiful and timely addition to the repertoire of contemporary vocal works. Based on texts including ancient Chinese poems from the Tang Dynasty, a war poem by English poet Charlotte Mew, as well as Ho’s collaborations with seven Canadian writers from across the country, the 18 songs are a very full listen. 

Reflecting the multicultural fabric of Canadian women, Ho writes in multi-lingual lyrics of English, French and Mandarin reflecting a wide variety of historical styles, using an all-Canadian cast of pianist/vocalist Jialiang Zhu and singers Vania Chan, Katy Clark, Maeve Palmer, Ariadne Lih and Alex Hetherington, with support from pianist Tong Wang and cellist Andrew Ascenzo. Celebrating the “female spirit,” this album enjoys a concert feel, highlighting the varied relationships between women, with song titles ranging from Self-abandonment and Chit-Chat Café to The Madness of Queen Charlotte. A Woman’s Voice is exquisitely delivered, ripe with history and humour.

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06 Mark AbelMark Abel – Spectrum
Hila Plitmann; Isabel Baayrakdarian; Various Artists
Delos DE 3592 (delosmusic.com)

Even before you begin to listen to Mark Abel’s Spectrum – a generously packaged double disc of vocal works – you know you’re in for a rare treat. Not only do we meet Isabel Bayrakdarian, a haunting soprano singing emotionally in praise of three women artists we might never have known if Abel had not set their lives to song, but we find ourselves in the thrall of the Jewish heroine Esther, whose strength and cunning prevented the extermination of a fifth-century Jewish community by Haman, the powerful vizier of the Persian King Xerxes.

As if modern Lieder on disc one and the operetta Two Scenes from The Book of Esther aren’t enough, Abel also puts his considerable compositional prowess to work on instrumental music performed with immense integrity and authority by Trio Barclay, and other strings, horn and woodwinds, musicians of the highest order, on each of the two discs. 

Spectrum is spotlighted by Bayrakdarian and pianist Carol Rosenberger who celebrate the lives of Anne Wiazemsky (1947-2017), Pina Pellicer (1934-1964) and Larisa Shepitko (1938-1979), three icons of modern film on Trois Femmes du Cinema. Abel’s work tells of their courage in holding their own against the power of patriarchal misogyny in the film industry. Meanwhile, soprano Hila Plitmann and mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich glorify the story of Queen Esther. Scharich returns to partner pianist Jeffery LaDeur in the soul-stirring song cycle 1966 to close out the absolutely unimpeachable Spectrum of music by Abel.

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07 MysteriumMysterium
Anne Akiko Meyers; Los Angeles Master Chorale; Grant Gershon
Avie AV2585 (avie-records.com/releases/mysterium-anne-akiko-meyers)

A four-track release featuring arrangements of seasonal favourites, Mysterium shines a spotlight on two of America’s finest performers, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, in works by J.S. Bach and Morten Lauridsen.

The first three tracks are arrangements of chorales from Bach’s church cantatas: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Sheep May Safely Graze and Wachet Auf. These are not faithful transcriptions of the original works, but rather adaptations that allow both the choir and soloist to be front and centre, which can occasionally come across as rather heavy-handed when compared to the relative simplicity of Bach’s original material.

The highlight of this release is undoubtedly Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, in a new arrangement by Lauridsen himself. Recorded in Walt Disney Concert Hall, this version incorporates Meyers through a soaring and lyrical descant which, when combined with the Master Chorale, provides a robust and voluminous sound that accentuates the depth of Lauridsen’s writing.

Although a smaller-scale release than most, these 18 minutes of music are full of beauty and affect. From Advent chorales to manger-side musings, Mysterium is both a delightful way to begin ushering in the Christmas season and a fine introduction to Meyers, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and conductor Grant Gershon.

08 Lhomme armeUġis Prauliņš – L’homme Armé
Ars Antiqua Riga; Péteris Vaickovskis; Jānis Pelše
LMIC SKANI 142 (skani.lv)

One of the most frequently quoted melodies in Renaissance history, L’homme armé is a secular song from the Late Middle Ages used in over 40 separate settings of the Ordinary of the Mass. Two masses by Josquin, as well as compositions by Pierre de la Rue, Guillaume Du Fay, Palestrina and other luminaries of the time, have ensured that L’homme armé continues to be remembered and recognized by audiences and aficionados even today.

Rather than simply being an artifact from the past, composers still use this melody in their works, as demonstrated in Ars Antiqua Riga’s recent release of Uģis Prauliņš’ L’homme armé, a time-bending journey through plainchant, Renaissance-style polyphony and modernism. Instead of trying to simply reimagine the historical sounds and styles of previous composers, Prauliņš integrates this immediately recognizable tune into his own inimitable style, incorporating organ, sackbut and electronic instruments to great effect.

To say that Prauliņš’ L’homme armé is a revelation is an understatement, especially when one considers that this work is structured around the Ordinary of the Mass. Unlike Renaissance settings which were restrained by the required inclusion of certain movements, Prauliņš expands the standard structure of the Mass, incorporating additional texts to overcome both the dramatic and temporal limitations of the traditional form. 

While much of Prauliņš’ music is “atmospheric,” the aural impact of L’homme armé is stunningly indescribable, and there is not enough space in this review to include a suitable number of superlatives. Ars Antiqua Riga and its director Pēteris Vaickovskis give an extraordinary performance; a treasure for all who appreciate choral music executed at the highest level.

09 Anthony Davis Malcolm XAnthony Davis – X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X
Davóne Tynes; Whitney Morrison; Boston Modern Orchestra Project
BMOP Sound (bmop.org/audio-recordings/anthony-davis-x-life-and-times-malcolm-x)

The story of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X is eerily similar to the life of its lead protagonist. Before he became “Malcolm X” he was a controversial figure who preached racism and violence, until he embraced the civil rights movement after his pilgrimage to Mecca. Largely a forgotten American, Malcolm X reclaimed some of the spotlight when he collaborated with Alex Haley on his autobiography. This brings us to the history of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X – the opera, which was premiered at the American Music Theatre Festival in September 1986.  

Did Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones performed by the Metropolitan Opera provide the much-needed breakthrough for Christopher Davis’ story and Thulani Davis’ libretto after lying dormant for 36 years? Possibly, but it also certainly took a particularly finely wrought score by pianist/composer, Anthony Davis, writing his eighth opera, to celebrate X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X again, entirely justifying the Pulitzer Prize for Music that he earned in 2020.

Davis’ score is a mighty one; its heft is brilliantly carried by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) under the baton of Gil Rose who makes full use of dark symphonic sounds to enhance a grim and tragic period atmosphere. Kenneth Griffith brings uncommon skill in marshalling the chorus for the epic narrative. 

The transformation of a frightened Malcolm Little who comes to terms with his father’s death in the recitative Reverend Little is Dead from Act I Scene 1 through Malcolm’s Aria, “You want the story, but you don’t want to know” in Act I Scene 3, another recitative We Are a Nation in Act II Scene 4, Betty’s aria When a Man is Lost in Act III Scene 2, to the tragic dénouement in the Audubon Ballroom. The achingly pure soprano of Whitney Morrison is stoic and utterly convincing as Betty Shabazz, and best of all, Davóne Tines’ velvet-toned bass-baritone brings power and nobility to the role of Malcolm X.

BMOP’s 2022 revival of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X is to be followed by productions by Opera Omaha, Seattle Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera (to be presented in 2023-24 season), marking it as one of the most significant American operas of the 20th century,

10 No Choice but LoveNo Choice but Love – Songs of the LGBTQ+ Community
Eric Ferring; Madeline Slettedahl
Lexicon Classics LC2206 (lexiconclassics.com/catalogue)

In this rather breathtaking, two-disc recording, noted American tenor Eric Ferring – in a made-in-the-stars collaboration with pianist Madeline Slettedahl – has created a significant piece of work that highlights many diverse LGBTQIA voices and perspectives. Included in the project is the world premiere of composer Ben Moore’s Love Remained (in a new arrangement for tenor voice) and his commissioned title work, No Choice But Love. Ferring has expressed “As members of this community, Madeline and I wanted to pay homage to the beautiful, difficult history of the LGBT+ community within the classical world… we, as artists must use our gifts to be catalysts for change…” The talented producers of this artful collection are Gillian Riesen and Rebecca Folsom.

Also included in the recording are illuminating and eclectic works by Manuel de Falla, Jake Heggie, Francis Poulenc, Ethel Smyth, Jennifer Higdon, Willie Alexander III, Mari Esabel Valverde, Benjamin Britten and Ricky Ian Gordon. First up is Moore’s four-movement work, Love Remained. Ferring and Slettedahl shine here, expressing Moore’s message of hope and eventual acceptance throughout. On Hold On, Ferring sings with such emotion, imbuing each word with meaning and hope. Valverde’s two-piece song cycle, To Digte af Tove Ditlevsen is a work of shimmering beauty, rendered with sumptuous dynamics, pianistic skill and Ferring’s magical voice; and de Falla’s Oración de las madres que tienen a sus hijos en brazos is moving beyond measure.  

A true standout is Gordon’s Prayer. Ferring and Slettedahl move as one being through this luminous, deeply spiritual composition and Britten’s Canticle I is an inspired inclusion. The magnificently rendered title track was debuted on this year’s National Coming Out Day and nothing could be more appropriate. This performance and the entire recording is a clear hope for understanding, love and acceptance. Bravo!

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11 Odeya NiniOde
Odeya Nini
populist records (odeyanini.com)

LA-based interdisciplinary vocalist and composer Odeya Nini has created an album displaying the limitless bounds of her voice in a solo vocal chamber work. Holding both a BFA from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and an MFA in composition from California Institute of the Arts, Nini is known for her vocal sound baths, workshops and retreats, where she explores the transformative and healing qualities of the body through voice.

With Ode, Nini explores a wide collection of style, harmonic range and influences. Creating a work of almost entirely multi-tracked acoustic voice, Nini’s sound poems imagine landscapes of tonal and textural shifts that develop and melt beneath your feet, creating experiences with resonances and vibrations of both the body and the surrounding landscape, extending her voice to expressions of breath, growls and stratospheric lyricism. At times modal and melodic and at other times mining the depths of microsounds, each of the six tracks is constructed of compositional and improvised collages. 

An album well suited to those who are interested in listening experiences over melodic content, Ode is a work of vocal prowess from this sonic artist.

12 Departure DuoImmensity Of
Departure Duo
New Focus Recordings FCR329 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Cheekily tagging itself “a high-low duo” the virtuoso Departure Duo is an unlikely combo. Boston-based soprano Nina Guo and double bassist Edward Kass are committed to commissioning, performing and touring repertoire composed for their unusual combination, music that explores the full range of styles and sounds they can produce. They frequently collaborate with sonic artists to create new music, including three of the works on Immensity Of by younger generation American composers Katherine Balch, John Aylward and Emily Praetorius. 

Balch’s Phrases dramatically grapples with meaning, gesture and sound, while Aylward mines the poetry of Rilke for inspiration in Tiergarten (Zoo). The time-stretching Immensity Of by Praetorius is quite different from anything else here, featuring delicate, long glissandi for both voice and bass. Its beautiful lonely spaciousness is relieved only by soft whistling, birdsong, mouth clucks and knocking bass pizzicati.

Kurtág’s Einige Sätze aus den Sudelbüchern Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs forms the album’s centerpiece. Drawing from 18th-century German polymath Lichtenberg’s collection of often humorous aphorisms, the composer selected texts to form the lyrical and aesthetic backbone of his collection of 18 succinct individual sections, a veritable song cycle.

Kurtág’s pleasure in the texts’ wry humour is evident in Die Kuh (The Cow) and in several other places. In Die Kartoffeln (The Potatoes) for example, he appears to depict root vegetables in storage in atonal first-species counterpoint. Surely that’s a first! Departure Duo’s masterful performance makes a strong case for this 21-minute work, as well as for their high-low partnership.

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01 Bach ViolinBach – Violin & Harpsichord Sonatas
Andoni Mercero; Alfonso Sebastian
Eudora Records EUD-SACD-2025 (eudorarecords.com)

Recorded in the later part of 2020 at St. Miguel Church in Zaragoza, Spain, this splendid and affecting recording captures the remarkable variety, innovation and intimacy of these great sonatas. Written in the early 1720s, they feature both instruments as equals and, as with many of Bach’s “sets of six” (Brandenburg concerti, cello suites, English and French suites for keyboard, violin sonatas and partitas), each stands alone in mood, spirit and thematic development. From the wistful and distant B Minor, the tragic C Minor (with its echoes of Erbarme dich in its first movement), the nostalgic and poignant F Minor to the majestic A Major, the towering E Major and the final exuberant G Major, this recording offers generous and beautiful performances, full of intelligence and heart.

Both players are leading performers and educators in Spain, with Mercero equally at home as a soloist, leading orchestras from the violin (both Baroque and modern) and playing more intimate chamber music (he coaches string quartets at Musikene in San Sebastián in Spain) and Sebastián collaborating with many Spanish early music ensembles, as well as teaching harpsichord at the Salamanca Conservatory.
The handsome 2CD set is accompanied by an informative booklet, featuring a lengthy and well-written essay on the provenance of these fascinating pieces and personal reflections on the 30-year musical partnership of these two brilliant musicians.

02 Beethoven Pianos CtiBeethoven – The Five Piano Concertos
Haochen Zhang; Philadelphia Orchestra; Nathalie Stutzmann
BIS BIS-2581 SACD (bis.se/performers/zhang-haochen)

Having taken the classical piano world by storm when he first burst upon the scene in 2009 as the youngest pianist to ever receive a gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Haochen Zhang, now 32 with three releases under his belt, offers a fine follow-up recording here to his earlier Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev piano concertos. Once again recording for Naxos, Zhang performs Beethoven alongside the well-regarded Philadelphia Orchestra, the city in which the Chinese-born Zhang is currently based, under the direction of guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann.

For any pianist, even one as accomplished as Zhang, to take on a complete program (spanning three discs) of Beethoven’s five piano concertos is yeoman’s work indeed. First there is the work of performing the pieces themselves (the study, nuance, technical challenge, among literally thousands of additional artistic decisions), plus the “work” of situating oneself into the canon of Beethoven interpreters (of which there are many and they are great), adding one’s name and vision onto the ever-growing corpus of versions and canonic contributions.

Nicholas Cook, writing in Music: A Very Short Introduction coins the phrase: “The Beethoven Effect” referring principally to the fact that Beethoven, freed from the obligation of compositional servitude to a church, a noble patron, or a feudal landlord was perhaps the first true musical “artist,” (differing here from trades or crafts person) who enjoyed a kind of self-awareness of his own greatness that not only traversed geography but the “boundaries of time and space.” Beethoven’s music was, as Cook suggests, “for the ages,” and, although difficult to know for certain, Beethoven knew it. Unlike Bach, who would use his own handwritten etudes as parchment paper to wrap lunches while taking a break from his teaching obligations at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Beethoven did not view his music so ephemerally. As a result, offers Cook, composing after Beethoven was an exercise in hearing his historical and giant footsteps from behind.

With such grandiosity of intent and purpose came the grand compositional gestures that we now associate as hallmarks of Beethoven specifically, and the Romantic era more generally. And it is in these expansive signifiers, hugely encompassing of human emotion and offering a kind of bordered frame that tests the limits of any performer brave enough to tackle his repertoire, that Zhang excels. Where, for example, a less competent interpreter would use virtuosity as a proxy for expressiveness, Zhang’s performance here sounds as if there is another dimension in play where we do not just hear, as Hans Von Bulow established, the pianist abdicating one’s agency so audiences hear only the composer and not the performer, but rather a satisfying fusion that is equal parts Beethoven and Zhang.

Lastly, when we look at classical music history through the eyes of today, we often see an artificial bifurcation between composers and performers/improvisers. But Beethoven, in addition to being a composer, was apparently an extremely fine pianist, and, like the aforementioned Bach, improviser. And it is here as well where we hear Zhang contributing to the continuum of the pianist Beethoven, wrestling with, accepting and ultimately transcending this music with this fine recording that is sure to add much lustre to his impressive but still developing legacy. 

03 Schubert GaudetSchubert – Vol.7 The Wanderer
Mathieu Gaudet
Analekta AN28929 (analekta.com/en)

Has it really been more than three years since Quebec-born pianist and emergency room physician Mathieu Gaudet completed his ambitious series of 12 recitals presenting the complete piano sonatas of Franz Schubert which launched the equally ambitious project by Analekta to tailor them into a 12CD collection? Since then, Gaudet has proven without a doubt that he is among the foremost interpreters of Schubert’s piano repertoire, and this seventh addition to the collection is indeed further evidence. Titled The Wanderer, it features the sonatas D157 and D784, and, appropriately, the renowned Wanderer Fantasy D760.

Dating from 1815, the Sonata in E Major D157 was Schubert’s first essay in the form, while the Sonata D784 was completed five years later. As expected, Gaudet’s performance in both is a delight, demonstrating a particularly beautiful tone combined with an impeccable technique.

The famed Wanderer Fantasy from 1823 is reputed to be one of Schubert’s most difficult compositions, not only technically but also in nuance. While it comprises four movements, each one transitions into the next instead of ending with a definitive cadence, and each starts with a variation of the opening phrase of his lied Der Wanderer D489. The piece conveys a vast array of moods, but Gaudet draws them all together into a cohesive whole and the piece – like the disc itself – flows with incredible spontaneity.

Altogether this is an exemplary addition to this ongoing project and we can look forward to the remaining five in the series.

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