From 1984 until 1991 I was the host of Transfigured Night on CKLN-FM, a weekly contemporary music program that originally aired in the overnight slot from 2am, but eventually moved to a more civilized 10pm start. During that period I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing many of the important practitioners in the field brought to town by the likes of the Music Gallery, New Music Concerts, Esprit Orchestra and Arraymusic. One of the most memorable characters was the pianist and erstwhile ballroom dancer Yvar Mikhashoff, whose International Tango Project resulted in some 127 commissions. I met Yvar when he was in Toronto performing selections from the project at the Music Gallery in 1987, and again when he was the featured soloist with New Music Concerts at the Premiere Dance Theatre in 1990, performing works by Henry Brant, Alvin Curran and Nils Vigeland. As an aside I would mention that this latter concert was the occasion of the now internationally renowned soprano Barbara Hannigan’s first professional engagement, an obbligato role in Brant’s Inside Track, for two mixed ensembles and piano. 

01 Tangos for YvarMikhashoff, who died at 52 in 1993, left a legacy that has been taken up by American pianist Hanna Shybayeva on Tangos for Yvar (Grand Piano GP794 naxosdirect.com). Shybayeva has constructed a varied and compelling program of 18 selections, mostly written for Mikhashoff, but concluding with her own arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s classic Libertango. Strangely, and without explanation that I can find, she also includes Stefan Wolpe’s 1927 Tango. While this is a good match for the rest of the project in its interpretation of the iconic dance form, and at three and a half minutes falling midway in the duration range of the commissions, its composition more than half a century before the project began surely deserves some note. There is a vast stylistic range presented here, from Chester Biscardi’s evocative Incitation to Desire, one of the earliest commissions and one of the least overtly reminiscent of the tango’s distinctive rhythm, to the serial approach of Milton Babbitt’s It Takes Twelve to Tango, the minimalism of Tom Johnson’s Tango, the moto perpetuo of Scott Pender’s Tango: Ms. Jackson Dances for the People (referencing Janet Jackson’s What Have You Done For Me Lately) and Frederic Rzewski’s rhythmic, lilting, Steptangle. Of local note is Douglas Finch’s Tango, one of four Canadian works commissioned for the marathon Music Gallery performance mentioned above, a five-part affair including 50 tangos and a slide show of Mikhashoff in full splendour from his bygone ballroom days.

As satisfying as this collection is, it leaves me wanting more. I’m very curious about what some of the composers mentioned, but not included here, came up with in response to Mikhashoff’s challenge. For instance, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Oliver Knussen and Canadian icon John Weinzweig (also commissioned by the Music Gallery for the marathon). Dare I hope for a Volume Two?

02 DinaridesThe tango’s most familiar feature is the use of accordion, or more accurately, the South American variant the bandoneon, so it is surprising to find such an extensive collection as mentioned above without that distinctive instrument. We make up for that here with a disc of transcriptions for accordion, violin and clarinet of mostly familiar music from Eastern Europe, including such staples as two Hungarian Dances by Brahms, a Chopin Mazurka and Smetana’s Die Moldau in a very effective trio reduction. Tales from the Dinarides features Michael Bridge, Guillaume Tardif and Kornel Wolak and was released by the University of Alberta’s Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies (WIR06 michaelbridgemusic.com/store). Recipient of the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta’s Emerging Artist Award, Bridge is currently in the Doctor of Musical Arts with Performance Emphasis on Accordion program at the University of Toronto, where for the second year in a row he has won the Joseph and Frances Macerollo Accordion Scholarship. He is no stranger to these pages where reviews of his group, Ladom, have appeared previously. At time of writing, the Bridge/Tardif/Wolak trio is on tour in Europe, having just finished concerts in Ukraine and Poland.

The title of the disc is taken from a 2016 work by prolific Tartar-Canadian composer Airat Ichmouratov which is the centrepiece of the album and the only piece written specifically for this instrumental combination. As with much of his work, the inspiration comes from the Jewish folk traditions of Central Europe, in this case the traditional singing and dancing styles of the Dinaric Alps region (Dinarides). The notes tell us that “Using a water whistle, the composer first introduces a bird in a call-and-answer episode with stunning ganga singing from Croatia. The bird then flies over mountains and valleys, observing neighbouring communities […] field songs and […] village dances [from] Bosnia, Slovenia, Serbia and Albania, until the athletic klezmer style animates everyone in a fast dance punctuated with a cheering ‘Hey!’”

The disc also includes Bridge’s striking adaptation of Brahms’ Rondo alla Zingarese and the trio’s transcription of Lutosławski’s Five Dance Preludes based on Polish folk rhythms, originally scored for clarinet and piano. The playing is animated throughout, although there is room for a bit more nuance from the clarinet.

Listen to 'Tales from the Dinarides' Now in the Listening Room

03 WajnbergThree composers seemingly unfamiliar to me populate the next disc. Produced by the Polish Ministry of Culture, Wajnberg/Tansman/Czajkowski (Accord ACD 247-2 naxosdirect.com) features the Wajnberg Trio performing music by three Polish-born composers active in the mid-20th century. I said the composers were unfamiliar to me, but in the case of the first, Mieczysław Wajnberg, it is actually just the spelling that threw me. AKA Vaynberg and Vainberg, it seems that the composer Weinberg (1919-1996) who escaped the Nazis in 1939 and spent the rest of his life in Russia, becoming a close friend of Shostakovich, was Wajnberg in his homeland. His music has been recorded with increasing frequency in recent years and has appeared here in review on numerous occasions. Wajnberg is represented by the 1945 Piano Trio, Op.24, which like much of his music is quite reminiscent of Shostakovich, especially in its more boisterous moments. For anyone who enjoys this – as I do – there is nothing here to disappoint.

Aleksander Tansman is actually a name I know as a result of my New Music Concerts colleague Robert Aitken serving on an Aleksander Tansman Festival competition jury in the Polish city of Łódź one year when flute was the instrument in focus, but his music was not familiar to me. Tansman (1897-1986) was born and raised in Łódź during the era when Poland did not exist as an independent state, being part of Tsarist Russia. After completing his studies, he moved to France in 1919 and fell under the spell of Stravinsky, Ravel and members of Les Six, embracing the modernist styles of Paris as a welcome change from the conservative scene in his homeland. Evidently the young Polish virtuoso pianist and composer made quite an impression and forged a career in the neo-Classical style. The trio here, in its premiere recording, dates from 1938, the year before Tansman fled Europe to escape the Nazi invasion. He spent the war years in Los Angeles where he scored a number of Hollywood films and in 1946 he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, for Paris Underground. He returned to France after the war, and although some of his later works reflect his Polish and Jewish roots, he never moved back to his homeland.

Andrzej Czajkowski (André Tchaikovsky) was born Robert Andrzej Krauthammer in 1935. He adopted his later name after escaping the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 with his grandmother and remained in hiding for the remainder of the war. After completing piano studies in Łódź, Warsaw and Brussels, in 1957 he gave a series of successful recitals in Paris and later went on to record with some of the who’s who of conductors of the day, including Böhm, Doráti, Giulini, Mitropoulos and Reiner. He also had some composition lessons with Nadia Boulanger and wrote a number of works that have begun to be acknowledged in the current century, including the opera The Merchant of Venice which was not produced until 2013, some three decades after his death. This is the world premiere of the two-movement Trio Notturno, Op.6 which dates from 1978. Also first performed posthumously, it is reminiscent of Viennese Expressionism, particularly the music of Alban Berg.

The members of the Wajnberg Trio – Piotr Sałajczyk, piano, Szymon Kreszowiec, violin and Arkadiusz Dobrowolski, cello – share a passion for the life and music of their namesake and draw their repertoire primarily from 20th-century Polish composers. The trio made its debut at the 2016 edition of the Tansman Festival. This is their first recording and a very welcome addition to my understanding of the modern piano trio repertoire. 

04 Shank HagedornThe Shank-Hagedorn Duo – Leslie Shank, violin and viola; Joseph Hagedorn, guitar – is a Minneapolis-based wife-and-husband team for whom much of the music on At Home and Abroad (innova 021 innova.mu) was composed. Although innova is the label of the American Composers Forum, not all the composers represented on this disc are American. Among the most intriguing works presented are Three Pieces by Finnish free-bass accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, arranged by Hagerdorn. The first, Slingerdansin, is jig-like with many characteristic “hookings” in the violin part which does a convincing Hardanger fiddle impersonation. Tähdet Taivahalla is a mournful ballad. I enjoyed watching Kalaniemi perform the original version on YouTube, and I find this string transcription quite convincing. Sofias Flykt returns to the world of quirky fiddle rhythms. I was dancing in my seat until I was confounded by its complexity.

American David Lang composed gift as a belated wedding present to “one of his oldest friends, Leslie.” It’s a lovely, gentle and contemplative tribute. Alf Houkom says there is “no program for Serenade, neither narrative, emotional or theoretical. Serenade is simply acknowledgement of the pleasure evinced by Leslie and Joe when making music together.” Born in 1935, David Hahn is a generation older than the rest of the composers here. His playful W Is for Weasel dates from 2003 and is in four movements, including an Estampie in alternating seven-eight and five-eight time inspired by the early medieval dance form, and a set of variations on Pop! Goes the Weasel. Chilean guitarist/composer Javier Contreras contributes Suite for Violin and Guitar in six movements, each embodying a different Latin American dance rhythm. For the opening track, Music in Four Sharps by Ian Krouse, the guitar and violin are joined by Stephanie Arado, violin, Tom Turner, viola, and Laura Sewell, cello, to complete the string quartet required for an extended exploration of John Dowland’s Frog Galliard. Like in the original, Krouse uses no accidentals, sticking with the seven notes of the E-Major scale; hence the title. Personally I found the 15-minute duration longer than I wanted to devote to those seven notes, but I must commend him for staying in the character of the piece.

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 Innovators scanThe UK’s Benyounes Quartet members celebrate ten years of performing together with Innovators: Bartók-Beethoven-Debussy, a CD featuring three quartets that they feel were both innovative and influential (Champs Hill Records CHRCD147
champshillrecords.co.uk).

Bartók’s String Quartet No.2 was written between 1915 and 1917 and clearly shows the direction in which his folk music studies were leading him. In this case it was not only his research in Hungary but in particular a 1913 visit to North Africa to record Arab and Berber music that was clearly a major influence.

Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 in F Minor Op.95 “Serioso” is from 1810; the shortest of his quartets, the sense of struggle and drama is enhanced by the unusually condensed and tense nature of the musical argument.

Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor Op.10 is from 1893 when he was first starting to become known in Paris, and already serves notice on how his harmonic colouring would transform French music and set a new path for the 20th century.

There’s impassioned playing throughout, with electrifying pacing, outstanding dynamics and superb individual and ensemble playing.

02 Bartok ArcadiaAll six Bartók quartets are available on Bartók Complete String Quartets in performances by the Romanian Arcadia Quartet (Chandos CHAN 10992(2)
naxosdirect.com).

The quartet members, who live in Transylvania, a region that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the Great War and proved a fertile ground in Bartók’s folk music research, feel that the folk music influence goes beyond merely providing compositional material here, citing even the most abstract moments in the quartets as ones when the listener is “carried away into a world of mysticism, magic and philosophical reflection.”

Their playing is consequently more contemplative and perhaps less abrasive than that of the Benyounes, but is no less committed for that. It’s clearly music that has a deep significance for this ensemble.

03 WirenThe four extant string quartets of the Swedish composer Dag Wirén (No.1 was withdrawn) are presented on Wirén String Quartets Nos.2-5 in performances by the Wirén Quartet (Naxos 8.573588 naxos.com).

String Quartets No.2, Op.9 from 1935 and No.3, Op.18, completed in 1945, both support the composer’s stated aim to write music “which appealed directly to rather than challenging the listener,” although No.3 reflects Wirén’s extensive revision of his compositional technique.

String Quartet No.4, Op.28 from 1953 is a darker work with shades of Shostakovich and Sibelius, while No.5, Op.41 from 1970 was written only a few years before Wirén’s retirement as a composer, its three short movements ending with an air more of resignation than celebration.

04 Hartmann scanThe German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann was 28 when Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 but, unlike many artists, stayed in Germany, refusing all cooperation with the Nazis and virtually guaranteeing his exclusion from official German musical life. The two string quartets which bookended his life in this period, String Quartet No.1 “Carillon” from 1933 and String Quartet No.2 from 1945-48 are featured on Hartmann with Poland’s Airis String Quartet (Accord ACD 245-2 naxosdirect.com).

Replete with allusions to a variety of influences (jazz elements, Jewish melodies and Hungarian folk music, especially that of Bartók) the music is essentially tonal but so strongly chromatic that a key centre rarely seems established. They’re quite different and strikingly individual works, redolent of stress and anxiety in time of conflict.

In 1942 Hartmann studied with Anton Webern, and the latter’s quite lovely Langsamer Satz from 1905 completes the CD.

05 ShostakovichIn 1938 Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the first page of what turned into his String Quartet No.1 in C Major Op.49 as an exercise with no intention of finishing it. Captivated by the process, however, he completed the full quartet in less than two months. It’s included on Shostakovich String Quartets Nos.1, 2 & 7, the latest CD from the UK-based Carducci String Quartet (Signum Classics SIGCD559 naxosdirect.com).

The String Quartet No.2 in A Major Op.68 from 1944 is a much larger and more ambitious work, but it’s the terse String Quartet No.7 in F-sharp Minor Op.108 from 1960 that despite its brevity (just over 12 minutes) has the most typical Shostakovich quartet sound.

The Carducci Quartet has performed complete cycles of the Shostakovich quartets and has previously recorded quartets numbers 4, 8 and 11 for Signum Classics. It’s not clear if this new release is part of an ongoing complete recording of the cycle, but such a set would be warmly welcomed.

06 GoreckiIf you only know the music of Henryk Górecki from the astonishingly successful Dawn Upshaw recording of his Symphony No.3: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs then the music on Górecki Complete String Quartets 1 (Naxos 8.573919 naxos.com) may come as something of a shock. 

Górecki wrote three quartets for the Kronos Quartet: No.1 Op.62 “Already it is Dusk” in 1988; No.2 Op.64 “Quasi una fantasia” in 1991 and No.3 Op.67 . . . songs to be sung in the mid-1990s. The first two, along with the early string trio Genesis I: Elementi Op.19, No.1 from 1962 are performed with full-blooded commitment by the UK’s Tippett Quartet. The single-movement first quartet and – in particular – the string trio are a tough listen, the booklet notes referencing extended playing techniques, assaultive gestures, note clusters, chord sequences of real vehemence and writing that exploits the timbral extremes of the ensemble.

The four-movement Quartet No.2 is more accessible, with clear influences of Beethoven and Shostakovich, but the familiar juxtaposition of consonance and dissonance is still present.

07 GudmenssenscanThe Nordic String Quartet is the ensemble in Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen Complete String Quartets Vol.1 (Dacapo 8.226217 naxosdirect.com), world premiere recordings of the first six of the Danish composer’s 14 quartets written between 1959 and 2013.

The works are predominantly quite brief. The first three are all from 1959: String Quartet No.1 is a single-movement Andante of less than nine minutes; the four movements of No.2 “Quartetto Facile” total less than 12 minutes; No.3 “Five Small Studies” doesn’t reach five minutes – small studies indeed!

String Quartets No.4 (1967), No.5 “Step by Step” (1982-86 revised 2003) and No.6 “Parting” (1983) are all single movements ranging from six to 19 minutes in length.

The music is difficult to describe, but touches on a wide range of influences – Bartók, Stravinsky, serialism, minimalism, Ligeti – while always maintaining an individual character. It will be interesting to hear what the later quartets are like.

08 Mozart Alexander scanVolume 2 of Apotheosis: Mozart, the Alexander String Quartet series of the late chamber works and featuring the Piano Quartets, was reviewed here last October, but Volume 1 The Final Quartets has only just been released (Foghorn Classics FCL2016 foghornclassics.com). The four works on the two-CD set are the String Quartet in D Major K499 “Hoffmeister” and the three Prussian Quartets in D Major K575, B-flat Major K589 and F Major K590. 

The quartet’s violist Paul Yarbrough describes the works as having “beauty, clarity, communication of the highest order, and – above all – balance.” It’s also an excellent description of the simply lovely playing here. Volume 3 – the Clarinet Quintet and the String Quintets – promises to be a terrific conclusion to an outstanding series.

09 Mozart QuintetsIn the meantime, Germany’s Klenke Quartett is joined by violist Harald Schoneweg on Mozart The String Quintets, a quite beautiful three-CD issue that sets a very high standard (Accentus Music ACC80467 accentus.com). Having already recorded the complete Mozart string quartets, the Klenke Quartett saw the recording of the six quintets – No.1 in B-flat Major K174, No.2 in C Minor K406, No.3 in C Major K515, No.4 in G Minor K516, No.5 in D Major K593 and No.6 in E-flat Major K614 – as a logical continuation. 

Phrasing, the use of vibrato, and articulation are based on historically informed performance techniques, and contribute to the ensemble’s superb clarity, sensitivity and an innate understanding of the richness and wide-ranging emotional moods of these wonderful works.

10 Brahms scanThe New Zealand String Quartet is joined by violist Maria Lambros in Brahms String Quintets Nos.1 and 2, a recording that completes their three albums of Brahms chamber music for Naxos (8.573455 naxos.com).

The quintets, No.1 in F Major Op.88 from 1882 and No.2 in G major Op.111 from 1890, are relatively late works, with the choice of viola as the additional instrument bringing a warmth and richness to the inner texture that creates a perfect soundscape for Brahms’ characteristic feel of autumnal reflection and nostalgic yearning.

The CD was recorded in the resonant acoustics of St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto by the ever-reliable team of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver.

11 OnslowThere’s more string quintet playing – this time with a double bass instead of a second viola – on Georges Onslow String Quintets Vol.3, with the Elan Quintet playing String Quintets No.28 in G Minor Op.72 and No.29 in E-flat Major Op.73 (Naxos 8.573887 naxos.com).

Onslow, born in France in 1784 to a French mother and English father, wrote 36 string quartets and 34 string quintets, music that was stylistically more German than French. Published in 1849 towards the end of Onslow’s life, the two quintets here are early Romantic works with clear hints of Schubert and Mendelssohn. The addition of the double bass to the string quartet produces a chamber orchestra feel, adding depth without ever being too prominent.

It’s really lovely music – warm, inventive, humorous and extremely well-written – by a musician who clearly knew his craft. The Elan Quartet’s performances of these charming works are highly enjoyable.

12 Mendelsson Concert and String SymphoniesHenry Raudales is the soloist and conductor of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester on Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Concerto for Violin & Strings in D Minor and String Symphonies Nos.I-VI (BR Klassik 900324 naxosdirect.com). 

Written when the composer was only 13, the concerto remained virtually unknown until Yehudi Menuhin revived it in 1951. It’s a lovely work, full of the lightness and agility so typical of Mendelssohn’s later works, and performed here with equal lightness, agility and dynamic nuance by all concerned.

The six String Symphonies from 1821 (when the composer was only 12 years old!) are the first half of the 12 that Mendelssohn wrote between 1821 and 1823. Thanks to his studying composition with Carl Friedrich Zelter, the symphonies are modelled on those of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, whose Hamburg Symphonies had created the three-movement form for string orchestra. Again, the works remained in manuscript form until being rediscovered in 1950. 

Stylish performances complete a delightful CD.

13 Rubert BoydThe Guitar is the third solo album from the Australian guitarist Rupert Boyd, and pays homage to the instrument’s ability to embrace a truly wide range of repertoire (Sono Luminus DSL-92231
sonoluminus.com).

Only two works on the CD – Fernando Sor’s Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart and Leo Brouwer’s ten brief Estudios Sencillos I-X – were originally written for the guitar, although the Suite in E Major BWV1006a was Bach’s own reworking of his Partita No.3 for Solo Violin, and A Closed World of Fine Feelings is Australian composer Graeme Koehne’s reworking of his own solo piano piece.

Arrangements of two pieces by Antônio Carlos Jobim – Felicidade and Estrada Branca – open the disc, and arrangements of Astor Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel and La Muerte del Angel followed by Boyd’s own lovely arrangement of John Lennon’s Julia close it.

It’s a nicely balanced program that always holds your interest and has much to offer, with clean, resonant and idiomatic playing throughout. 

01 GoodyearStewart Goodyear’s performance on his new recording Gershwin/Goodyear (Orchid Classics, ORC100100, orchidclassics.com) sizzles with high energy from start to finish. The disc presents two compositions by Goodyear in addition to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Half of Goodyear’s family has roots in Trinidad where he describes experiencing his first Carnival and being spellbound by its diverse rhythms and music. The five-movement suite for piano and orchestra, titled Callaloo, is a brilliant and impressive example of Goodyear’s composing and orchestration skills. 

The Piano Sonata is an early work from Goodyear’s late teens. And although he admits it reflects some teenage hubris, the Sonata nevertheless carries Goodyear’s virtuosic stamp on both its writing and performance. He’s an inspired artist with a great deal to say.

The Chineke! Orchestra, led by Wayne Marshall, collaborates beautifully with Goodyear. Extraordinary playing, superb recording and engineering make this one of the most exciting discs released this year. Definitely a must-have!

02 BernsteinMichele Tozzetti’s new disc Bernstein – Complete Solo Piano Music (Piano Classics, PCL10174, naxosdirect.com) joins the few others who have taken on the challenge of this repertoire. There’s just enough solo piano material by Bernstein to fill a CD, so the project has tempted a handful of brave artists. All have discovered, however, that the composer, pianist, conductor was a complex individual and access to his music has been challenging. 

Tozzetti understands that Bernstein’s language marked him as a staunch modernist and populist. He was edgy and evolutionary but not revolutionary. His writing is never entirely without reference to some core principle of music as a contemporary individual would understand it. And Tozzetti consistently seeks out the melodic and rhythmic element to confirm this. Many of these short pieces bear the names of those to whom the works are dedicated or at least those whose impressions they reflect. Occasional ones like Aaron Copland seem to have content that makes reference to their work, but much of that remains for Tozzetti to decide.

This is quite possibly the most thoughtful and well played conception of this music to date.

03 Luke WelchLuke Welch’s third recording The Return (lukewelch.ca) presents the Beethoven Sonata in A-flat Major Op.26 and Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op.26. Welch is no stranger to the Schumann repertoire having recorded Kinderszenen on one of his earlier discs. There’s a strong and natural fit for him with this composer’s language whose harmonies he seems to understand profoundly. He’s especially persuasive in the Romanze where he moves carefully with the gentleness of Schumann’s melodic line before leaping into the Scherzino with a perfectly balletic lightness. 

The Beethoven tracks, that include a couple of Rondos Op.51 in addition to the sonata, demonstrate Welch’s affinity for the core of the classical repertoire, the discipline and balanced expression that these composers need to be convincingly played.

04 SustainSustain (Navona Records, NV6207, navonarecords.com) is a multi-composer and multi-performer recording project featuring piano, marimbas, vibraphone and some percussion. Five composers, two pianists and numerous other musicians present a rich and intriguing exploration of music bound together by the shared ability to initiate, shape and sustain sound from a keyboard, or keyboard-like instrument.

Sixteen Lines Circling a Square by Robert E. Thomas is a sonically fascinating piece in its performance by Matt Sharrock who plays both marimba and vibraphone. Solstice Introspect by Daniel Adams is written for three vibraphones and percussion, and portrays some of the mystique surrounding the annual winter event. John A. Carollo’s Piano Suite No.9 – Memories of Liszt is equally clever for its emotional and occasional musical references to Liszt.

It’s an ambitious project with a very rich program and well worth the listen.

05 Goldstone and ClemmovOh to have been a fly on the wall in that New York room in 1928 when George Gershwin played his Rhapsody in Blue for Maurice Ravel. The evening encounter is rich with anecdotes but Ravel’s brush with American music and Harlem jazz made a lasting impression that emerged repeatedly in his writing of that period. Gershwin, Ravel (Divine Art, DDA25055, divineartrecords.com) is a tribute to the works of these two composers for piano duet and two pianos. Piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow recorded these tracks over the decade 1997-2007 and their re-release in this repertoire compilation is a reminder of how their performances will be missed since the death of Anthony Goldstone two years ago.

There is such full engagement and energy in all this playing. The Rhapsody in Blue is the original version for two pianos and seems in no way diminished from its orchestral scoring. The same is true of I Got Rhythm, also in its original two-piano version. As in all their recordings, Goldstone and Clemmow never falter. They breathe and play as a single mind, whether at one keyboard or two. The disc’s closing track is perhaps both the most novel and amazing. Ravel’s version of Bolero for piano duet (that’s four hands at one very crowded keyboard) is simply impossible to imagine as it unfolds. 

06 ScarlattiIt’s always great fun to hear how Scarlatti is going to emerge from under the fingers of a newly recorded pianist. Soyeon Kate Lee’s recording Scarlatti – Complete Keyboard Sonatas Vol.21 (Naxos 8.573795, naxos.com) makes the unhurried point that there may be more to consider in these sonatas than traditionally meets the ear. Scarlatti wrote 555 sonatas in single movements, of which Lee has chosen 17 for this recording.

Taking time to explore ideas and never saying anything twice in the same way are key elements of Lee’s fresh voice in these works. She also takes a comfortably light Romantic touch to potential dance-like rhythms, giving the bass line a chance to lead rhythmically. Lee is especially adept at using the colour and dynamic potential of the piano to make more of these than Scarlatti might have imagined at the harpsichord. She plays with great care and consideration for the disciplined way in which Scarlatti crafted these pieces but applies her playful imagination to each one, polishing it into a unique gem.

07 Federico ColliFederico Colli’s latest recording J.S. Bach Italian Concerto, Partita IV, Bach/Busoni Chaconne (Chandos CHAN 20079, naxosdirect.com) explores new depths of introspection in Bach’s keyboard writing. Colli plays with all the requisite technical articulation and dynamic sensitivity that modern tastes expect in this repertoire. But he adds something strikingly unique: Colli has mastered the craft of small-voice playing. This is a keyboard utterance far below conventional pianissimo, using the gentlest of key touch, barely bringing the hammers against the strings and thereby creating a remarkable tone. Moreover, Colli seems to have the quantum ability to slow the passage of time when he does this. It’s altogether remarkable. Used strategically throughout the Partita No.4 and the slow movement of the Italian Concerto, it enhances his midrange voice and gives his fortissimos overwhelming presence. 

The combined effect of this playing style is most concentrated in the Busoni transcription of the Chaconne from Partita No.2 BWV1004 where Colli forms Bach’s most beautiful ideas slowly and minutely in time and space before letting them supernova into the immensity of Busoni’s towering chords. An unforgettable experience.

08 ChaminadeMark Viner’s recording Cécile Chaminade – Piano Music (Piano Classics PCL10164, naxosdirect.com) is a beautiful and exquisitely performed addition to his discography. Chaminade’s music is now more widely performed and admired than it was in her day. The late 19th and early 20th centuries afforded little opportunity for women to pursue careers as composers and concert performers. Still, Chaminade persevered and achieved some recognition throughout her native France. Her music is rich with textures and ideas and Viner embraces these with a remarkable fluency as if her language were his own. The opening Pierrette air de ballet Op.41 is instantly captivating and Viner brings the same impish energy to successive works in the program. The highlight of the disc may, however, be the unassuming Méditation from the 6 Romances sans paroles, Op.76. Here Viner lingers on critical phrases and gently emphasizes lush harmonies that offer a glimpse into Chaminade’s world.

09 Chun WangInternational piano competitions often award winners recording opportunities to help advance their careers. A new release, Chun Wang – 2017 Winner Jaén Prize International Piano Competition, Laureate Series (Naxos 8.573945 naxos.com) presents the winning piano recital of this Spanish competition. The concert recording quickly demonstrates why Wang won the 20,000 euro prize. His performance is spectacular. It reveals an inherent artistic intelligence that comes across as a natural affinity for whatever repertoire he plays. 

The recital program opens with Ravel’s Jeux d’eau in which Wang’s legato playing ideally captures the fluid character of the work. Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major closes the recital and provides astonishing musical and technical contrast to the earlier work. Between these two, Wang plays two of Bolcom’s 12 New Etudes, Bartók’s Out of Doors, and Fantasia, a required contemporary piece by a Spanish composer, Josué Bonnín de Góngora. 

There’s an edge-of-the-seat excitement that builds throughout this recital. Stakes are high, as are the audience expectations, and the pressure is palpable. Chun Wang delivers with confidence and flawless playing. A winner.

10 Roberto Loreggian BachRoberto Loreggian has released a three-disc set of Bach Violin Sonatas & Partitas, Cello Suites – Transcribed for harpsichord by Gustav Leonhardt (Brilliant Classics 95757, naxosdirect.com). Among the items are many that are as familiar for Bach’s own keyboard transcriptions of them as they are for their original solo forms. Bach himself realized keyboard versions of his numerous solo instrumental compositions and freely cross-pollinated his works with borrowed ideas. The documented instances of this practice led Leonhardt to devote a decade to writing his transcriptions for harpsichord based on considerable research and study. His obvious grasp of Bach’s keyboard language, harmony and counterpoint informed his approach to transcribing this repertoire.

The project may, at first hearing, seem tidy and academic, but encountering the familiar in a new voice has a subtle, arresting effect and compels fresh thinking about new discoveries. Harpsichordist Roberto Loreggian plays a modern Italian copy of an early 17th-century Flemish instrument.

11 French Suite KitCraig Swanson presents a persuasive argument for an imaginative experiment in his new recording The French Suite Kit (thefrenchsuitekit.com). Citing others like Glenn Gould, who have mused about the role of the listener and the how technology affects the way listeners participate in music, Swanson has recorded a “Kit” from which listeners can build their own performance through a mix-and-match process.

Most of the movements in the Bach French Suite No.4 in E-flat Major BWV815 appear in three or four different versions. Speed is the most obvious variable, but Swanson also alters the amount of ornamentation, shifts between two major published editions, and observes some repeats while omitting others. The objective is to offer a collection of component parts for a listener to custom build a performance that suits the preference of the moment. Moreover, Swanson’s experiment posits that there cannot ever be a definitive performance of anything. Too many things can change in the performer’s mind and the listener’s perception to make any music universally right forever.

Swanson’s intriguing ideas offer a lot to play with both musically and intellectually. 

01 Winterreise SlySchubert – Winterreise
Philippe Sly; Le Chimera Project
Analekta AN 2 9138 (analekta.com/en)

In the course of Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey), a stranger wanders out of a hostile town in nasty weather. His heart has been broken, and he’s desperately miserable. While this landmark song cycle represents the spirit of Romanticism, it does feel achingly modern.

These 24 songs have long inspired various arrangements. But why a klezmer Winterreise? Both Wilhelm Müller’s poems and Schubert’s music, like klezmer, have roots in folk song. And the cultural connections between Schubert’s wanderer and the wanderer of Eastern European Jewish-Romani traditions run deep.

Though Le Chimera Project’s adaption is far tamer than, say, Hans Zender’s radical revision, it goes further than Normand Forget’s sensitive transcription. The voice part remains untouched, but the piano accompaniment, now arranged for a typical klezmer ensemble – clarinet, violin, trombone and accordion – takes a step outside the classical tradition. The spirited musicians of Le Chimera Project pull off the plaintive tremolos and trills, jazzy syncopations and bent notes, and stylish interpolations, with seamless vitality.

Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly is enthralling, right through to the harrowing final song, Der Leiermann (The Hurdy-gurdy Man), when the wanderer, with Sly accompanying himself on a hurdy-gurdy, contemplates going off to join an itinerant hurdy-gurdy player. When Schubert’s opening song Gute Nacht (Good Night) is revisited at the very end of this daring – and rewarding (even without texts and translations being included) – recording, it gains new meaning here, especially with the shattering impact of Sly’s now hollowed-out, desperate voice.

02 Puccini ToscaPuccini – Tosca
Harteros; Antonenko; Tézier; Mastroni; Staatskapelle Dresden; Christian Thielemann
Cmajor 748308 (naxosdirect.com)

In addition to considering voices, now with video versions available, we may, and usually do, evaluate the sets and the general stage business. Sometimes the staging pleases, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it amuses. I remember a video of a CBC black and white production of the second act with Renata Tebaldi and Louis Quilico. It was credible until Tosca snatches an untapered, round-nosed kitchen knife to do the deed. It was patently obvious to all of us that this knife certainly was not made to penetrate anything. That was the part we each remembered.

This new production is different from all the others that I have seen in some significant ways, all without modifying or interfering with the existing texts, spoken or sung. But actions, it seems, speak louder than words! In the second act as the beautifully performed scene closes and Tosca has left the room, we see Scarpia, who should be lying dead, stir and drag himself across the floor. In the third act we see a group of teenage boys awakening and dressing and then, instead of a military firing squad, five of these blue-shirted boys shoot Cavaradossi with revolvers. More stage business and when Tosca would traditionally run and jump, the wounded, lurching Scarpia arrives with his men; Tosca shoots him and he, now dying, shoots her dead.  

The lead singers are perfectly matched. Soprano Anja Harteros is an impressive Tosca with her glorious voice and glowing characterization. She is matched in every respect by Aleksandrs Antonenko as Cavaradossi. Ludovic Tézier is suaver than the usual merciless Scarpia making him even more dangerous. Under Thielemann, the orchestra is right there supporting the singers and heightening the action. The costume and set designers for this 2018 Salzburg Easter Festival performance deserve a lot of credit for putting the cast in the right place. Kudos down the line for the other cast members of this self-recommending performance.

03 Rossini OryRossini – Le Comte Ory
Talbot; Fuchs; Arquez; Hubeaux; Les éléments; Orchestre des Champs-Élysées; Louis Langrée
Cmajor 747408 (naxosdirect.com)

Rossini’s two-act Le Comte Ory was inspired by a medieval ballad in which knights end up seducing nuns. In the one-act version offered to Rossini by librettist Eugène Scribe, the knight dresses as a nun to seduce a countess. Rossini is known to have requested that another (first) act be added for which he composed delightful arias, ensembles and choruses, making his last comic opera an immense success.

In this version of the opera, Denis Podalydès’ staging combines period settings with contemporary mise-en-scène. The DVD of the staging, directed by Vincent Massip, captures the ambitious production with great clarity and dramatic effect. The cinematography is highly evocative; in keeping with Rossini’s vaunted arias which are voiced with uncommon mastery by – among others – the tenor Philippe Talbot, playing the rakish Le Comte Ory, soprano Julie Fuchs (as La Comtesse), mezzo-soprano Gaëlle Arquez (as the count’s page Isolier), Jean-Sébastian Bou (as Raimbaud, the count’s friend).

The lead singers generate a strong sense of ensemble with Talbot’s Le Comte and Fuchs’ La Comtesse making the most of their comic opportunities. It is Fuchs who charms with a heady coloratura, more honeyed tones and a dramatic weight, tempered by comic timing. The quality of the singing is matched in every way with the acting. The staging is enormously accomplished and the excellent production values show that nothing was spared in an effort to bring this elaborate production to fruition.

02 Vivaldi String Concertos 3Vivaldi – Concerti per archi III; Concerti per viola d’amore
Accademia Bizantina; Ottavio Dantone; Alessandro Tampieri
Naïve OP 30570 (vivaldiedition.com)

When the Italian National Library in Turin purchased the collection of autograph manuscripts by Antonio Vivaldi in 1930, they acquired nearly 450 works by the great Venetian composer. The creation of the Italian musicologist Alberto Basso, the Vivaldi Edition project, then set out to record the works in their entirety. This beautiful and touching recording is part of that rich project. It contains 13 concertos for string orchestra and five concertos for viola d’amore, relatively unexplored repertoire but one very much worth the attention.

Vivaldi was a master of concertos for string orchestra without soloist and the ones on this recording are exciting and incredibly engaging miniatures. Each one contains a whole array of characters and emotions and is presented with flair and style. But the hidden gems are the viola d’amore concertos. Here we have the exuberant display of the full magnificence of this instrument – 12 strings, unusual timbres, resonant sound, chordal passages and tuning variations depending on the style and the key. Alessandro Tampieri is undeniably the master of his instrument. His playing is virtuosic, his sound heavenly and his execution perfectly precise. I have especially enjoyed the wild rustic cadenza of the third movement of Concerto RV 394 and the sublime Largo of the Concerto RV 393. Led by a fantastic harpsichordist, Ottavio Dantone, Accademia Bizantina’s performance is energetic and passionate, making this recording one of my favourites.

04 Schubert Early SymphoniesSchubert – Early Symphonies and Stage Music
Copenhagen Phil; Lawrence Foster
Pentatone PTC 5186 655 (naxosdirect.com)

In today’s busy society and fragmented music business, it is a true privilege to have the opportunity to listen through a two-disc set of large-scale ambitious symphonic work, particularly when it is performed, recorded and released as expertly and beautifully as has been done so by Pentatone Records on their recent Franz Schubert release: Early Symphonies and Stage Music. Comprised of some of Schubert’s lesser-known work, the Copenhagen Philharmonic, under the watchful direction of longtime Pentatone artist, conductor Lawrence Foster, wrings expressive beauty from Schubert’s masterful classical works, written when the Austrian composer was but a teenager. With the clear time, effort and degree of musical specificity that has gone into the performance and presentation of this music, this is truly a recording worth attention and will be time well spent when immersing yourself in these documented sounds.

Symphonic work truly has the ability to inspire and, to paraphrase a well-known adage, to wash away the banality of everyday life and move the needle forward to something more otherworldly and profound. While such lofty platitudes are most often reserved for the more famous symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, Schubert’s music can be equally inspiring, as evidenced here. Presented alongside his Romantic Italian Overture in D Major and captured in 2017 at the Concert Hall of the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, this 2019 release is a welcome addition to the collections of Schubert fans everywhere wanting to expand their knowledge of his music beyond lieder.

05 DopplerDoppler Discoveries – Flute Compositions by Franz and Carl Doppler
András Adorán; Emmanuel Pahud; Jan Philip Schulze; Arcis Hornquartett
Farao Classics B 108104 (farao-classics.de)

Brothers Franz (1821-1883) and Carl Doppler (1825-1900), their era’s leading flute virtuosi, worked chiefly in the urban centres of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both were engaged as flutists in major orchestras, toured Europe as soloists, and were successful conductors and composers of recital repertoire, opera and ballet (mostly in Budapest). They hobnobbed with music celebrities of the day like Liszt and Brahms.

Then, sadly, they were all but forgotten. Until well past the mid-20th century the Doppler name was virtually unknown save for classical flute players. Due to research begun in the 1970s by the Hungarian flutist András Adorján however, that neglect has begun to be remedied.

Adorján’s discoveries challenged the long-held misconception that a Doppler flute composition consisted of hackneyed paraphrases and facile variations. But when he found Franz Doppler’s unpublished Double Concerto for two flutes, the work proved so attractive that it immediately became part of the standard repertoire. Seven such Doppler compositions, featuring one or two flutes, played by renowned flutists Adorján and Emmanuel Pahud, grace the Doppler Discoveries album. The works are delightful and the playing aptly brilliant.

The biggest revelation for me is how convincing the three Hungarian-themed works are, reflecting the Dopplers’ deep engagement with Hungarian vernacular music and society of the mid-19th century.

I typically choose a favourite track or two in my CD reviews. On this album that isn’t possible: they’re all terrific. Just try not to smile while listening to two of today’s crack flutists revive long-lost scores by those fascinating Dopplers.

Listen to 'Doppler Discoveries: Flute Compositions by Franz and Carl Doppler' Now in the Listening Room

07 SerenadesTchaikovsky; Dvořák – Serenades
Archi di Santa Cecilia; Luigi Piovano
Arcana A 457 (naxosdirect.com)

Nice surprise, hearing again my two favourite Serenades for strings back to back on a single disc, the Dvořák E Major and the Tchaikovsky C Major. These two are probably the most beautiful of the genre that began with Mozart and later, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Serenades are light symphonies, with less complex structures, written for entertainment like divertimentos with the emphasis on melody.

I first heard the Dvořák at a concert with a very young István Kertész conducting in Budapest around 1954, but not even once ever since, so it comes back as an old friend, opening with a heavenly melody one hears and never forgets. The five movements vary in mood, tempo and dynamics, each bursting with gorgeous, fresh melodies and even a Czech folk tune in the presto Finale, ending in a festive spirit. The Tchaikovsky is a masterwork of the first order with an all-pervasive melancholy and one of Tchaikovsky’s best-loved waltzes as its second movement. The virtuoso strings amazed me particularly in the first movement’s polyphonic intricacy and the third movement Elegy, so heartrending one could cry. The boisterous Russian dance Finale bounces along with energy and excitement.

This superb new recording by Archi di Santa Cecilia, formed from the best string players of Rome’s famous Santa Cecilia Orchestra and led by an equally talented conductor, Luigi Piovano – and how! He delves into the music with body and soul and I imagine the orchestra moves with him and his every gesture. A tremendous rapport, like hypnosis, that only a Gergiev, Ozawa, Solti or the great Karajan could muster. Highly recommended.

08 Bruckner 4Bruckner – Symphony No.4 “Romantic”
Philharmonia Zurich; Fabio Luisi
Philharmonia Records PHR 0110 (opernhaus.ch)

Great Bruckner conductor Sergiu Celibidache once put a question to his conducting class: “Why is the second scherzo different from the first scherzo?” Only one student knew the answer: “Because we already heard the first scherzo.” Well, Fabio Luisi certainly kept this in mind in his new recording of Bruckner’s Fourth as the scherzo repeat brings many surprising, previously unheard details like birdcalls, strange little chirpings on the woodwinds and other bells and whistles.The famous “Hunt” Scherzo, rarely sounded better. The Zurich brass is gorgeous, the Ländler Trio graciously shaped. A real auditory adventure.

I first came across Fabio Luisi as principal conductor of the Met when he bravely took over their revolutionary Ring project in 2011 after James Levine became ill. So it’s not surprising, being also an outstanding interpreter of Italian opera, that his approach to Bruckner is essentially melodic. This becomes immediately apparent in the secondary theme of the first movement which is lovingly handled and sings so beautifully. Right at the outset the emerging horn theme from the near inaudible tremolo of strings creates a mystical atmosphere, and the crescendo at the end of the movement is carefully paced to a resounding Brucknerian brass peroration.

This is a very relaxed reading; the tempo is slow, which helps to uncover all the wonderful details the conductor brings to attention, such as after the tremendous climax in the second movement when everything calms down, all is quiet with only the tympani pounding softly like a heartbeat and the horn quietly answering. It’s pure magic.

Beautifully detailed, gorgeous modern sound, eloquent and gracious Bruckner.

11 Saint SaensCamille Saint-Saëns – Symphony No.2; Danse macabre; Symphony in F
Utah Symphony; Thierry Fischer
Hyperion CDA68212 (hyperion-records.co.uk)

Is Camille Saint-Saëns an undervalued or unjustifiably obscure composer? An answer is proposed in the recording and accompanying liner notes released by the Utah Symphony under Thierry Fischer. The argument presented suggests both are true, with the second being attributed to the fact that his later compatriots such as Fauré (student of the master) and Debussy gathered more attention while his own material was overlooked by conductors and thus by the musical public. His elder, Berlioz, famously summed up the young composer thus: “He knows everything, he lacks inexperience.”

Two symphonies form substantial brackets to a rousing rendition of Danse macabre (with violin soloist Madeline Adkins). Symphony No.2 in A Minor, Op.55 opens the disc. At just under 23 minutes, the work is modest, beautifully structured and completely delightful. The scherzo movement is what Saint-Saëns should be known for, wit and agility.

Saint-Saëns no doubt felt that seriousness and long-windedness were the province of the Germans, or maybe he was atoning for the heavy-handedness of his previous effort: Symphony in F Major “Urbs Roma” (the subtitle was the pseudonym required by the terms of the competition in which it was entered). This is a more ponderous work, nearly double the length of Symphony No.2 and lacking the inspired brevity of the latter. One almost hears the composer ticking the boxes beside all the elements he knew would sway a jury on Bordeaux, and he was right; the piece took the prize, but remains on the shelf today.

12 Sibelius 1Sibelius 1
Orchestre Metropolitain; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA ACD2 2452 (atmaclassique.com/En)

Jean Sibelius was still under the influence of Tchaikovsky when he wrote his Symphony No.1 in E Minor Op.39, but these Russian overtones coexist with assuredly individualistic orchestral textures and themes. At the very opening, for example, in a highly original stroke, a clarinet over a gentle timpani roll introduces the main theme, which achieves its apotheosis at the climax of the finale.

In the second movement the debt to Tchaikovsky is clearly revealed in the way the languidly mournful opening theme is developed prior to the stormy climax. An emphatically rhythmic Scherzo reveals another influence: Bruckner, a composer whose music Sibelius had first encountered in Vienna in 1890. The finale, marked quasi una fantasia, veers between frenzied agitation and a grandly refulgent big tune in which the strings predominate.

As this disc reveals, in the right hands the First Symphony can be an extremely exciting work. Yannick Nézet-Séguin seems to give notice that he is one of the great Sibelians of the contemporary era, as he finds just the right level of energy. His control of the mood and poetics of the work – its gradations of bleakness and majesty – is affecting. As the symphony unfolds the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, for its part, responds with a brilliance that is never forced.

Listen to 'Sibelius 1' Now in the Listening Room

13 SzymanowskiSzymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1; Zemlinsky: Lyric Symphony
Elina Vähälä; Johanna Winkel; Michael Nagy; Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Liebreich
Accentus Music ACC 30470 (accentus.com)

Many recordings that include the Violin Concerto No.1 by Karel Szymanowski (1882-1937) or the Lyric Symphony by Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) are now available. This Polish CD features idiomatic orchestral playing of the Szymanowski; also, its particular pairing points up what the two composers have in common. French-Impressionism-influenced exoticism, romance and fantasy figure in their works, and both set Rabindranath Tagore poems from the same translation (Szymanowski in Four Songs, op. 41). Violinist Pawel Kochański’s 1915-16 collaboration gave Szymanowski great confidence; here, the resulting concerto’s fiery virtuosity and sensual melodies receive nuanced, secure treament from Elina Vähälä. By contrast, Anne Akiko Meyers’ 2017 Avie recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra features more assertive bowing and tone, with a broader sweep to lyrical passages and the cadenza.

Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony (1923) includes seven Tagore settings, presenting a love affair’s successive moods. In the central fourth movement (“Speak to me...”), Johanna Winkel’s soprano is magical, its long tones suspended over a soft ostinato plus harp and celeste glissandi. Michael Nagy brings a powerful, attractive baritone to the following riposte, “Free me ...,” whose swagger fails to mask underlying despair. I find the Polish National RSO orchestra led by Alexander Liebreich excellent; the recorded sound, however, needs more instrumental definition, as in the Orchestra de Paris version (Capriccio, 2007) conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Still, for those whose collection lacks these two works, this Accentus disc would be a valuable addition.

01 PoulencFrancis Poulenc – Kammermusik
Ensemble Arabesques; Paul Rivinius
Farao Classics B 108103 (farao-classics.de)

Certain composers of the 20th century were determined to complete cycles of works for all of the orchestral wind instruments. Paul Hindemith largely succeeded, Carl Nielsen fell short of his intention to write a concerto for each member of the Danish Winds, and Francis Poulenc gave the world a wealth of pieces for all of them. His contributions are given a representative sampling on this disc featuring the wind quintet Ensemble Arabesques, joined by the excellent Paul Rivinius on piano.

The largest work (from 1932, revised 1939) is the Sextet for Winds and Piano. In it you’ll hear echoes and precursors of material Poulenc used in all of his smaller ensembles, notably of his final three wind sonatas: for Flute (1956), Clarinet (1962), and Oboe (1962). He intended to add a sonata for bassoon, but died shortly after completing the oboe work. The sextet is full of fun, played with sparkle and élan, but also with the disguised melancholy found in the three later works. Like Matisse’s paper cutouts, Poulenc’s pieces can seem like collages of recurrent musical gestures and tropes, and his forms repeat through most of these pieces. For my money, naturally, the clarinet sonata is the most beautiful, played here by Gaspare Buonomano. The second movement is heartbreaking and so simple. Buonomano’s rendition is understated, elegant and respectful of the music, though sadly not without the clarinet’s most vexing pitch peccadilloes. Eva Marie Thiébaud’s flute sonata is utterly fine; likewise Nicolas Thiébaud on oboe.

02 Instruments of HappinessThe Happiness Handbook
Instruments of Happiness
Starkland ST-232 (starkland.com)

Tim Brady is internationally recognized as a leading experimental guitarist and a prolific composer of chamber, orchestral and music theatre works. He writes, “For over 30 years I have been exploring a new approach to the electric guitar, a vision as both a composer and a guitarist. Instruments of Happiness [IOH] is … the next step in this evolution.” Leader of IOH groups, Brady considers the guitar an “instrument of happiness,” and he gave that title to the electric guitar ensembles he formed as a platform for his wide-ranging music projects.

IOH performs in three formats: as a 100-piece electric guitar orchestra rendering site-specific new works; as a 20-piece ensemble; and as a quartet performing new compositions. It’s the last configuration we hear on The Happiness Handbook in premiere recordings of works by six Canadian composers: Brady, Jordan Nobles, Scott Godin, Maxime McKinley, Gordon Fitzell and Emily Hall. The music on the album reflects many of Brady’s own musical interests. These include contemporary classical, experimental and musique actuelle, but also embrace guitar-based vernacular genres such as blues, progressive rock, flamenco and the electric guitar sounds popularized by 20th-century innovators Duane Eddy and Link Wray.

If you enjoy virtuoso electric guitar shredding, edgy minimalism, jaggedly incisive rhythms, noisy textures and rock’s propulsive energy paired with the guitar’s gentler voice – soft harmonics, cantabile slide guitar and sustained tones – then this is an album to savour and add to your collection.

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