01 Gillian SmithInto the Stone (Leaf Music LM228 leaf-music.ca) is a particularly interesting and timely disc of “Music for Solo Violin by Canadian Women” featuring Gillian Smith, a dynamic East Coast performer who serves as instructor of violin and viola at Acadia University in Wolfville and is head of the upper strings department at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts in Halifax. I suppose it is the adage “never ask a woman her age” that explains the lack of birth years given for the composers in the liner notes. I will not give away any secrets further than saying the five composers involved were born in places as far flung as Hong Kong, Australia, Serbia, Ontario and Quebec in the two decades between 1956 and 1975. The pieces themselves span 1997 (the title track) through 2010 (the opening selection, Alice Ho’s Caprice). The latter is a playful work that, in the words of the composer, is “a fancy, a virtuosic piece… [in which the] performer is asked to show both technical skill and musicality.” Smith’s performance abounds with both. This is followed by Ana Sokolović’s Cinque danze per violino solo. The five dances are rooted in the angular and often dissonant folk music of her native Balkan region, although Sokolović says there is no direct quotation involved. Each movement is distinct, although distinctly related, ranging from the somewhat abrasive first to the contemplative, although at times somewhat enervated, finale. “I try to create different climates while keeping material and gesture strongly related.” Both the composer and performer succeed in conveying this effectively.

The quiet ending of Sokolović’s last dance is a perfect set up for Veronika Krausas’ piece that gives the disc its title. It begins gently in the lower register but gradually rises in both pitch and intensity. Krausas says: “The piece is inspired by a line from Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen: ‘What lives inside the stone? Miracles, strange light.’” Kati Agócs’ Versprechen (Promise) is based on Bach’s harmonization of the Lutheran chorale Ist Gott mein Schild und Helfersmann (God is my Shield and Helper). “The piece casts the soloist as the hero in a musical peregrination… [that] traces spiritual yearning, supplication, and redemption, with the chorale melody always present, although at times ‘refracted’ as if heard through an auditory prism.” With this uniting theme there is a continuity to the development, but the refractions are diverse enough that it is a sonic relief when the original melody is revealed toward the end of the eight-minute piece. For Le ciel doit être proche by Chantale Laplante from 1999, no translation is given for the title and neither is there a context in the program note. This makes it unclear whether “ciel” refers to sky or to heaven, but as the piece is built on “the use of intervals slowly introduced in widening order, keeping the perfect fifth as the final step to some serenity” I’m going to translate it as Heaven must be near. This serenity provides a very satisfying end to a stunning debut album by a rising star from the East (coast). Congratulations to Smith and all concerned.

Growing up in northern Etobicoke the Richview library, 20 minutes down the road on the Islington bus route, became a major resource and influence on my musical development. It was there that I discovered such diverse artists as Thelonious Monk, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Terry Riley. I remember bringing home a recording of Riley’s seminal modular piece In C – where the musicians are instructed to repeat each of the 53 short phrases as long as they (individually) want before moving on to the next – and putting it on the record player (I don’t think we had a “stereo” in those days) in the living room. After about five minutes my mother called out from the kitchen “Your record is skipping.” That was my introduction to minimalism and I was hooked, quickly moving on to the music of Philip Glass, who I saw perform with his ensemble for New Music Concerts in 1980 at Walter Hall. It was also through NMC that I first heard Steve Reich’s music live, in 1976, when Robert Aitken was able to convince Reich that rather than just his own Steve Reich and Musicians, he should let others play his music, in this case the NMC ensemble, if he wanted it to live on in posterity. 1976 was also the year that I first encountered Kronos Quartet, although that was through a recording of music by Dane Rudhyar rather than a live performance. (They would not perform in Toronto for another seven years when NMC invited them to perform the premiere of Morton Feldman’s almost-four-hour long String Quartet No.2.) So you see, even though I have retired from my position as general manager of NMC, it remains an integral part of my musical history.

02 Kronos RileyBut back to Kronos Quartet. I think it might surprise many people that the Kronos Quartet was active as early as 1976, and also that Rudhyar, a pioneer of modern transpersonal astrology considered by some to be among the most important thinkers of the 20th century, was also a composer of serious modernist works, but I have the vinyl to prove it. Kronos and Terry Riley have collaborated frequently over the decades since their first commission Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector back in 1980. Their most recent release, on the Nonesuch label, is titled Sun Rings (nonesuch.com). Twenty years after Sunrise Kronos received a call “out of the blue” from NASA, which had a small budget for commissioning space-based artwork to mark the 25th anniversary of the launching of Voyager 1. NASA also had access to recordings made possible by the engineering feats of scientist Donald Gurrett, who designed special microphones to record in the so-called vacuum of outer space. Riley, with his own interest in astrophysics, agreed to the project, but the 9/11 terrorist attack occurred while composing the new quartet and Riley says his “original, gee-whiz enthusiasm for Sun Rings suddenly felt too much like kid’s stuff, shooting rockets into space at an unsettlingly sabre-rattling time.” It was only after hearing poet and novelist Alice Walker recite her September 11 mantra, “One Earth, one people, one love,” that he realized that “pondering the universe put the problems on Earth into a needed, interplanetary perspective.” The 80-minute multimedia work that Riley eventually completed incorporates recordings from both in and out of space crafts – most presented as ambience with a “music of the spheres” feel, but some including words spoken by astronauts and ground controllers – string quartet, the vocal group Volti (in two movements), the voice of Alice Walker repeating her mantra, and visual design by Willie Williams. The result, even as just an audio recording without the visual aspects, is truly stunning.

I could go on and on about how, as a young(ish) cellist I was moved and inspired by the Bach Solo Suites and Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, but suffice it to say that they did, and have continued to, influence my understanding of the instrument. I have spent, literally, countless hours playing the first three Bach suites and movements of the remaining ones, and although I have not yet managed to achieve any measure of success with the Beethoven sonatas themselves other than my favourite movement, the opening of the A Major Sonata, Op.69, I have managed to get one of his three non-sonata offerings, the Variations on “See, The Conquering Hero” from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus – the original being one of my mother’s favourites – to performance level. So it was with great pleasure that I received new recordings of both complete cycles this month.

03 Ornamented BachI must admit I was a little wary when I first heard about Going Off Script – The Ornamented Suites for Cello, JS Bach (King Street Records KING001) from Baroque cellist Juliana Soltis (julianasoltismusic.com). My general feeling is that masterworks don’t need any improving or personalizing; that it is incumbent on the performer to do their best to realize the composer’s intent as written on the page. I learned during my many years at New Music Concerts just how important it is to bring the composer to work with the musicians, to ensure that those intentions are being respected. Of course that is not possible in the case of composers no longer with us, but there is a long history of interpretation and scholarship that tells us what those marks on the page mean and how they should be treated. Soltis addresses this in her very personal notes to the recording. “As musicians, we spend years learning to decipher and interpret these instructions, and as with any good recipe, we trust that everything we need to know is there. But what if we’re missing something?” She goes on to say “…those instructions – the pitches and rhythms, the harmonies and articulations – are but a starting point, a simple framework crowning Bach’s instruction.” The booklet includes some graphic illustrations using fragments of the score of the first suite, with which Soltis makes a case for the “spaces,” created by tied or dotted notes, actually being an invitation to “improvise here.” Realizing that Bach was a renowned improviser – think of the spontaneous origins of The Musical Offering – I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I am pleased to report that I was not disappointed. Her interpolations are unobtrusive and, as far as I can tell, idiomatically sound and consistent with the spirit of the pieces. Much closer to that spirit than, for instance, the larger-than-life flourish with which Misha Maisky ended the first suite on his 1985 recording of the cycle. To quote Soltis again, “…whenever I thought about the incredible chorus of voices and versions that is the Recorded Bach Cello Suites, I knew that I didn’t want to join in that particular conversation unless I had something important to say. And for the longest time I wasn’t sure that I did.” We can be thankful that she changed her mind and has given us the chance to appreciate her thoughtful interpretation.

Listen to 'Going Off Script – The Ornamented Suites for Cello, JS Bach' Now in the Listening Room

04 Beethoven Nancy GreenAlthough not as extensive as with the Bach Suites, there is a wealth of recordings of Beethoven Cello Sonatas, with most “name brand” cellists having contributed to the discography from Casals, through Navarra, Fournier and Rostropovich, to Ma, Harrell, Schiff, Harnoy and Queyras, to name but a few. The latest to enter the ring, Beethoven Complete Works for Cello and Piano (JDI Recordings J143 jdirecordings.com) featuring Nancy Green with pianist Frederick Moyer, is certainly a contender for high honours. Green, who is known for her recordings of both obscure repertoire and staples of the standard canon, enjoyed an outstanding concert career that took her throughout the USA, Europe and the Far East. In 2015 she formally withdrew from the concert stage to devote herself exclusively to recording.

One of the most important aspects of Beethoven’s cello sonatas is the way he makes the cello and piano equal partners, as pointed out in the excellent and comprehensive program notes by R. Larry Todd. Before Beethoven, the cello served as either simply part of the continuo “rhythm section” or was the featured voice with accompaniment. Green appears here in a truly balanced partnership with Moyer, himself a renowned soloist who has performed in 43 countries and with such orchestras as Boston, Cleveland and Philadelphia, etc. Together they bring an unmistakable verve to these works which span Beethoven’s early, middle and late periods. Green’s powerful sound is matched but never overwhelmed by the piano. Her tone is immaculate; light and lyrical in the delicate passages, yet full, rich and meaty as required. It is no wonder that she has been compared to such greats as Rostropovich, Yo-Yo Ma, Leonard Rose and Jacqueline du Pré. The production values are outstanding. This is a very welcome addition to my library.

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 Martha MastersHow I’ve managed to miss the playing of guitarist Martha Masters is beyond me; she won the 2000 International Competition of the Guitar Foundation of America (of which she is currently president) and has issued five CDs. Her latest, Baroque Mindset (marthamasters.com) is an absolutely faultless and quite stunning recital of transcriptions of original violin and lute solo compositions by four exact contemporaries of the Baroque era: Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); J. S. Bach (1685-1750); David Kellner (1670-1748); and Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750).

Telemann is represented by Fantasias I & III from his 12 Fantasias for solo violin; Bach by the Sonata No.3 in C Major BWV1005 for solo violin; Kellner by three pieces selected by Masters; and Weiss by the Fantasia and Passacaglia for lute. Everything here, from both a technical and artistic viewpoint is of the highest level – clarity, articulation, tonal warmth and colour, phrasing, dynamics and sense of line; are all superb.

It’s a simply outstanding CD.

Concert Note: October 19 the Guitar Society of Toronto presents Martha Masters at St. Andrew's Church, 73 Simcoe St., Toronto.

02 DanceThe guitar is just one of five instruments on Dance, a CD of chamber music featuring guitarist Jason Vieaux with the Escher Quartet (Azica ACD-71328 azica.com).

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Quintet Op.143 from 1951 was a result of his long collaboration with Andrés Segovia. It’s a gloriously warm work that enthralls you from the opening bars and never lets go. It would be worth the price of the CD on its own, but the other two works here are anything but fillers.

100 Greatest Dance Hits from 1993, with its sounds of the 1970s, certainly shows the lighter side of Aaron Jay Kernis. Its percussive first movement is a bit jarring after the Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but the work soon establishes a delightful mood.

Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No.4 in D Major, with the famous Fandango finale ends a terrific CD. Vieaux and the Escher Quartet have been playing these works together for the best part of ten years, and their delight and sheer enjoyment in recording three of their favourite quintets is clear for all to hear.

Listen to 'Dance' Now in the Listening Room

03 LeshnoffJason Vieaux is also the soloist on a CD of works by American composer Jonathan Leshnoff (b.1973), this time the Guitar Concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra under Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos 8.559809 naxos.com). It’s a really strong and attractive work, idiomatic and much in the style of the great Spanish concertos.

The concerto is the centrepiece on a CD of world premiere recordings, the two-part Symphony No.4 “Heichalos” from 2017 opening the disc and the dazzling orchestral tour-de-force Starburst from 2010 closing it, both works strongly tonal and with more than a hint of Samuel Barber in their sound.

Really top-notch performances and recording quality make for a compelling CD.

04 ZalkindThe American cellist Matthew Zalkind makes an outstanding solo CD debut with Music for Solo Cello (Avie AV2406 naxosdirect.com), featuring Bach’s Suite No.6 in D Major BWV1012, the Suite for Solo Cello by New York composer Michael Brown (born 1987) and the monumental Sonata for Solo Cello Op.8 by Zoltán Kodály.

The Bach Suite is believed to have been written for a five-string piccolo cello, but Zalkind uses a conventional modern four-string instrument and set-up. The awkward challenges this presents never impact on Zalkind’s warmth and fine sense of dance rhythm.

The Brown Suite is relatively short and, having apparently been influenced by both other works, makes a fitting bridge to a stunning performance of Kodály’s magnificent Sonata. 

05 Gruebler scanSwiss cellist Cécile Grüebler’s first CD – one on which she wanted to tell a story and not simply play pieces – sprang from a chance meeting in New York in 2017 with the Manhattan-based American composer Walter Skolnik (born 1934). When the two played music together, Grüebler learned that Skolnik’s principal teacher, the German-American Bernhard Heiden (1910-2000) had in turn studied with Hindemith. The result is Hindemith. Heiden. Skolnik, an intriguing CD of works by all three composers, with Grüebler accompanied by her longtime duo partner, pianist Tamara Chitadze (Cybele SACD 361804 cybele.de).

The Hindemith works are Drei Stücke Op.8 (1917) and A frog he went a-courting – Variations on an old English Nursery Song (1941). Heiden, who was born in Frankfurt and immigrated to the United States in 1938 is represented by his Cello Sonata (1958) and the short Siena (1961), while the works by Skolnik, who studied with Heiden at Indiana University, are the Cello Sonata (2004) and Four Bagatelles (1998). Grüebler’s commitment to the project results in excellent performances of some little-known works.

06 Bion TsangBion Tsang is the excellent soloist in the interesting pairing of Dvořák & Enescu Cello Concertos with Scott Yoo conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Sony Classical S80459C biontsang.com).

There’s no booklet and a complete lack of bio or program notes, but the infrequently heard two-movement Symphonie Concertante Op.8 by Georges Enescu is an appropriate partner for the more famous Dvořák Concerto in B Minor Op.104 – it’s in the same key and was written in 1901, a mere six years after the Dvořák, when Enescu was just 20. Both works are given lovely performances.

Listen to 'Dvořák & Enescu Cello Concertos' Now in the Listening Room

07 Vieuxtemps Saint SaensSouth-African cellist Peter Martens is the soloist in Vieuxtemps & Saint-Saëns Cello Concertos, with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under Bernhard Gueller (Cello Classics CC1033 celloclassics.com).

Connections abound in this recording project. Both concertos are No.1 in A Minor – Op.46 for Vieuxtemps and Op.33 for Saint-Saëns; both composers also wrote a second, less successful cello concerto. The Saint-Saëns was the first concerto Martens played with an orchestra – the Cape Town Philharmonic in its previous incarnation as the Cape Town Symphony. Conductor Gueller was a front-desk cellist in the celebrated recording of the Vieuxtemps concertos by Heinrich Schiff, with whom Martens had a masterclass while a student in Salzburg.

Marten’s decision to pair the concertos instead of recording two by Vieuxtemps feels absolutely right, as does his choice of the three fillers on the disc: two by Saint-Saëns – his Allegro appassionato Op.43 and, in Paul Vidal’s arrangement, The Swan; and Fauré’s Elégie Op.24 in the composer’s own orchestration.

Martens is terrific in the two extremely virtuosic and difficult concertos, handling the technical challenges with deceptive ease and displaying a fine sense of line and phrase.

08 Strauss Muller SchottRichard Strauss left only three works for cello, and two of them are performed by the German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott on Richard Strauss Don Quixote (Orfeo C 968 191 naxos.com). Herbert Schuch is the pianist in the early Cello Sonata in F major Op.6 and in two songs transcribed by Müller-Schott specifically for this recording – Zueignung Op.10 No.1 and Ich trage meine Minne Op.32 No.1.

The sonata elicits some truly lovely playing, but the main interest here is the quasi-tone poem Don Quixote – Fantastic variations on a Knightly Theme Op.35 from 1897 when Strauss was 33 and leading the way from Romanticism to the modern era. Inspired by the Cervantes novel and recorded in live performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis in June 2017, it’s a richly textured work lasting over 40 minutes, drawing great playing from all concerned.

09 Popper scanDavid Popper was one of the 18th century’s most important cellists and a more than merely competent composer, as well as virtuoso and teacher. His four seldom-heard Cello Concertos are performed by Austrian cellist Martin Rummel with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Tecwyn Evans (Naxos 8.573930 naxos.com). Mari Kato is the accompanist in the Cello Concerto No.4 in B Minor Op.72, heard here in the version for cello and piano.

The three concertos No.1 in D Minor Op.8, No.2 in E Minor Op.24 and the single-movement No.3 in G major Op.59 are all delightful works, stylistically exactly what you would expect from a Romantic composer who was primarily a great cellist and pedagogue. Rummel provides really lovely playing, with a singing tone and a smoothness that belies the undoubted technical difficulties.

10 Reinecke scanMartin Rummel is also the soloist, this time with pianist Roland Krüger, on another excellent Naxos disc, the Complete Works for Cello and Piano by Popper’s exact contemporary, the German Carl Reinecke (Naxos 8.573727 naxos.com).

Rummel brings the same idiomatic Romantic styling to the three Cello Sonatas – No.1 in A Minor Op.42 (1855), No.2 in D Major Op.89 (1866) and No.3 in G major Op.238 (1897) and the Three Pieces Op.146 from 1893. Tully Potter’s booklet essay notes the “technical skill and easy flow of melody” in Reinecke’s cello music, with the cello and piano clearly on an equal footing.

Outstanding playing coupled with the usual top-notch Naxos production standards make for a terrific CD.

11 Mario scanAnother Naxos CD explores Works for Cello and Piano by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with the Italian duo of cellist Enrico Dindo and pianist Alessandro Marangoni (Naxos 8.573881 naxos.com).

The selected pieces cover the period 1927-1946, the main works being the Cello Sonata Op.50 (1928), I nottmbuli (Variazioni fantastiche) Op.47 (1927), the Toccata Op.83 (1935) and, in a world-premiere recording, the Sonatina Op.130 from 1946. Four short pieces, including the unpublished Kol Nidre “Meditation” (1941) complete the CD.

There’s fine playing throughout a beautifully recorded disc, with the virtuoso piano part reflecting the composer’s own pianistic skills.

12 Schumann ThorntonCleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton is the cellist and Spencer Myer the pianist on Robert Schumann Works for Cello & Piano on the Steinway & Sons label which was founded in 2010 (Steinway 30117 steinway.com).

Thornton has a deep, warm and velvety tone in the Adagio and Allegro Op.70, the Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op.102 and the Fantasiestücke Op.73, ably partnered by Myer.

Schubert’s Ave Maria D839 is a simply lovely, if somewhat unexpected, closing track.

13 Schumann Murail YthierThere’s more Schumann cello on Une rencontre, a CD of works by Robert Schumann and the French composer Tristan Murail (born 1947), who explains his encounters with both Schumann and cellist Marie Ythier in the extensive booklet notes (Métier msv 28590 divineartrecords.com). There’s a lighter and cleaner balance between Ythier and pianist Marie Vermeulin in the Fünf Stücke im Volkston Op.102 and the Fantasiestücke Op.73 than on the Steinway disc, with perhaps a touch more tonal nuance.

Attracteurs étranges (1992) and C’est un jardin secret, ma sœur, ma fiancée, une fontaine close, une source scellée from 1976 are both solo cello works by Murail; flutist Samuel Bricault joins Ythier in Murail’s Une letter de Vincent (2018).

The final encounter is Murail’s recent instrumental re-interpretation of Schumann’s piano work Scènes d’enfants (Kinderszenen) Op.15, subtitled Une Relecture pour violoncelle, flûte et piano, Murail using a range of instrumental techniques to make the orchestration sound larger than a trio.

Listen to 'Une rencontre' Now in the Listening Room

14 Mozart Cello DuetsThe sheet music publishing company Opus Cello was formed by Boston Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Blaise Déjardin in 2013 with the aim of bringing new, quality additions to the cello ensemble repertoire. Three works arranged by Déjardin are on Mozart New Cello Duos, the first CD release from Opus Cello (opuscello.com) and featuring Blaise Déjardin and the Parker String Quartet’s cellist Kee-Hyun Kim.

The 12 Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je Maman” K265/300e provide plenty of virtuosic fireworks as an introduction to the two Duos for Violin and Viola in G Major K423 and B-flat Major K424. There’s a lovely feel to the duo transcriptions, although the lower voicings make for a slightly thicker texture at times. Still, there’s really fine playing on a nicely recorded and highly enjoyable disc.

01 Jane CoopThree Keyboard Masters – Bach; Beethoven; Rachmaninoff
Jane Coop
Skylark Music Sky1901 (skylark-music.com)

Veteran pianist Jane Coop brings three composers into focus on her new fall release: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Bach. While the aggregate of the music on disc is indeed a favourable one, the record as a whole tends to play more as a recital program than as an album. Coop’s musical conviction and integrity merits discussion of each component, singly: 

Her choice to record the seven jejune Bagatelles Op.33 of Beethoven is a fruitful one. Coop brings a childlike exuberance to this music, augmented by just the right dash of buffoonery. She achieves an essentially scherzando quality, from which the personal side of Beethoven’s art can gleam. Coop has a zeal for these pieces, expert in the Canadian tradition of Beethoven pianism inherited from her teacher, the great Anton Kuerti.

In drastic juxtaposition, a set by Sergei Rachmaninoff plunges in next. Despite the extreme textural disparity between Rachmaninoff’s preludes and Beethoven’s bagatelles, Coop seems easily at home in the vaulting halls of Russian Romanticism. One hears an icy, almost Gouldian austerity. Punctuating the preludes are lesser-known transcriptions by Rachmaninoff, penned late in the composer’s life and intended for his own concert tours.

Finally, Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue brings a sense of homecoming. One has the suspicion that each of these pieces has been well-worn and well-loved by Coop; this is music she’s held dear for a long time. How generous of her then, to share it with us.

Adam Sherkin

Listen to 'Three Keyboard Masters – Bach; Beethoven; Rachmaninoff' Now in the Listening Room

02 Mozart VogtMozart – Piano Sonatas Nos.2, 3, 8 & 13
Lars Vogt
Ondine ODE 1318-2 (naxos.com)

The newest disc from the 40-something pianist, conductor and educator, Lars Vogt, delivers refined and compelling readings of four Mozart piano sonatas. The range of curation here is admirable, as is the enticing (and thoroughly considered) nature of Vogt’s interpretation. We meet an accomplished and intellectually curious artist at the height of mid-career prowess.

To open such an album with Mozart’s early Sonata in F major, K280 is an unusual choice, yet a convincing one. Where Vogt overrides status quo classical sensibilities with modern expressive concepts (cf. the A minor Sonata, K310), he manages to steer us aptly to the brink and then back again with just enough mastery to re-charm us under his pianistic spell. It takes some level of courage to play Mozart like this. Notwithstanding, it seems more acceptable today for a performer to stretch such boundaries and take small yet consequential risks, finding novel paths through well-trodden music.

Among the disc’s notable attributes are its polish and poise. Vogt renders Mozart’s familiar notes with both a wide-eyed curiosity, (as if hearing it all for the first time) and a learned interpretive command that is exceedingly well informed (the second movement of the Sonata in B-flat Major, K333, Andante cantabile, is one such example.)

If anything is amiss, it is a reluctance to take these convictions and whims even further: to pilot the listener beyond the brink, as it were, to the very heart of Mozartian spontaneity.

Adam Sherkin

03 Schumann DownesClara and Robert Schumann – For the Love of You
Lara Downes; San Francisco Ballet Orchesra; Martin West
Flipside Music (laradownes.com)

American pianist Lara Downes offers a new release honouring the 200th anniversary of Clara Wieck Schumann’s birth on September 13, 2019. For the occasion, Downes allies with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, opening the disc with Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op.54.  The proceeding tracks feature pieces for solo piano – Op.11 by Clara and Op.12 by Robert, dating from “the last three tumultuous and decisive years of courtship, before their marriage.”

Known for her lush and generous playing, Downes brings her customary warmth to bear as concerto soloist. Equally rivalling the orchestra’s might, she appears to revel in the quintessentially Romantic currents, inspired as they ebb and flow through the only concerto Schumann ever finished for the instrument. At times, Downes’ tonal command borders on a pianistic muscularity – an attractive commingling of classical training with a popularized understanding of music’s communicative shtick in the 21st century. She urges the listener to feel at ease: to embrace the brand of hospitality issued from her keyboard.

Aside from the utterly standard repertoire selections (Schumann’s Opp.54 and 12), the Three Romances, Op.11 by Clara bring a fresh and personal stamp to the record. It sounds as if Downes is just getting started with Clara’s catalogue. Surely, in 2019, this music can now stand alone, apart from Robert, and declare itself? Many accomplished proponents of Clara’s Wieck Schumann’s music are active today; Downes should consider joining this consortium, full time!

Adam Sherkin

04 Ivan Ilic 1Haydn Symphonies transcribed by Carl David Stegmann
Ivan Ilić
Chandos 2020142 (chandos.net)

Here we are in for a treat. Noted Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić, who has already made a reputation for adventurous repertoire and has never shied away from detective work, is now unearthing century-old music found in a dusty box in someone’s attic in Cologne, Germany: actually the discovery of three Haydn symphonies transcribed for the piano dating back to 1811 by Carl David Stegmann, a musician and contemporary of Beethoven. These things can happen: after all, Schubert’s Great C Major Symphony was also found in an attic by a certain Felix Mendelssohn!

Well, Ilić immediately tried them out and they sounded terrific on the piano, so he subsequently recorded them. First and foremost is the famous Oxford Symphony No.92, one of the late ones written just prior to the London Symphonies and it is a wonderful mature work. Right at the outset we are struck by the pianist’s enthusiastic and joyful approach, a feeling of discovery, grasping the essence of Haydn and his sense of humour. With immaculate, highly precise pianism he emphasizes the clear melodic line and delves fearlessly with his strong left hand into the complex architecture of the contrapuntal middle part. By this time the piano literally sings, and how charming that little closing subject sounds!

I was also delighted by the horn imitation in the trio part of the third movement Menuetto and the terrific freewheeling bravura of the complex yet irresistibly melodic last movement. Symphony No.75 is notable for its second movement’s interesting set of variations showing Italian influences while Symphony No.44 (Mourning) has an astounding last movement Presto, a hot-headed and determinedly monothematic score” Ilić even features in a video on YouTube.

Janos Gardonyi

05 Beethoven Guembes BuchananLate Beethoven
Luisa Guembes-Buchanan
Del Aguila Records DA 55313(luisagbuchanan.com)

Late Beethoven such as the Bagatelles, Op.119 and the Diabelli Variations Op.120 appear to have arrived in music’s world not in a dimming of the light that comes at the end of life, but like an immeasurable future; an unimaginable time beyond time. Certainly the immortal Variations, all 33 of them, coming as they did on the heels of the great Goldberg Variations of J.S. Bach, heralded a Beethoven whose creative urge seemed to have swelled like a kind of historical floodwater, bearing Anton Diabelli’s prosaic waltz upon its crest.

Luisa Guembes-Buchanan’s recording of the Diabelli is a classic, as free flowing as Beethoven’s approach to the variation form. Her playing is muscular, yet supple, accentuating the integrity of each variation without sacrificing the sense of overall structure. That all-important final chord is like a goal reached at the end of a long, long journey.

The pianist’s approach to the Bagatelles – among the best-known of Beethoven’s shorter pieces – is a refreshingly matter-of-fact manner, bringing out the vigour and the fluidity of the pieces but not at the expense of their poetry. Her Fifth Bagatelle is pointedly unsentimental, but most exquisitely and artfully shaped.

Theodor Adorno saw late Beethoven works as profound meditations – partly conscious, perhaps – on death. But he admits that “death is imposed only on created beings, not on works of art…” which might explain the immortal nature of these late works, living fragments of life’s beauty.

Raul da Gama

06 Julia SigovaRussian Piano Music
Julia Sigova
Classica Dalvivo CDL-0518 (juliasigova.com)

As surprising as it may seem, collections of Russian solo piano music on CD are not all that common and when they do appear, they are likely to feature the works of only one or two composers with a similar compositional style. As a result, this recording by pianist Julia Sigova on the Classica Dalvivo label is a welcome addition to the catalogue. Not only did this Minsk-born artist choose four different composers, but ones spanning an 80-year time period – from the Romanticism of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff to the more austere modernism of Prokofiev and Shchedrin.

Today, Tchaikovsky is scarcely remembered for his contribution to the piano repertoire, but his keyboard compositions are still not without their charm as evidenced in the opening track Dumka Op.59 from the set titled Scenes from a Russian Village written in 1886. Sigova’s approach is elegant and self-assured, with just the right touch of melancholia that characterizes much of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Rachmaninov’s first set of Études-Tableaux Op.33 were supposedly written as “musical evocations of external stimuli” although he never really divulged their true inspiration. These are a remarkable study in contrasts – from the pensive seriousness of the Second to the bombastic fervour of the Seventh. In all, they require a formidable technique, and Sigova rises to the demands with much bravado.

Compared to the lush romanticism of Rachmaninoff, the Sarcasmes Op.17 of Sergei Prokofiev and two pieces – Humoresque and A la Albeniz – by Rodion Shchedrin are very much products of the later 20th century. Here, Prokofiev almost seemed to be thumbing his nose at the more conservative musical conventions of the time while the two miniatures by Shchedrin – with their jaunty rhythms and progressive harmonies – round out an eclectic and very satisfying program.

Richard Haskell

01 Verdi AttilaVerdi – Attila
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo; Simone Piazzola; Mari José Siri; Fabio Sartori; Teatro Comunale di Bologna; Michele Mariotti
Cmajor 748708B (naxosdirect.com)

Attila is actually the ninth opera of the 26 by Verdi and it premiered in Venice, 1846. The opera is about Attila’s fifth-century campaign devastating Northern Italy and his failure to capture Rome, as if by divine intervention. Interestingly, Verdi skilfully worked in the founding of Venice by refugees from the Roman city of Aquileia in the marshlands of the Adriatic where they hid out from the wrath of the Huns – a city that will rise as a phoenix from the ashes alluding to the name of the opera house La Fenice in Venice and this no doubt pleased the Venetians.

The score itself is irresistibly energetic, chock full of soaring melodies, cavatinas, rousing cabalettas, duets, trios, quartets plus young Verdi honing his skills in ensemble writing like the first and second act finales which are already masterful. The soprano’s lament, pining for her homeland, and the subsequent love duet, point towards the Nile scene in Aida. My favourite part is the amazingly mature, picturesque orchestral writing of the Intermezzo in the Prologue, a raging sea storm followed by a magnificent sunrise over the cross raised by the pilgrims.

The singers are without exception superlative. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, today’s leading base baritone is a complex, tormented Attila with a voice of stentorian power; Odabella is Maria José Siri, a young powerful Verdi soprano, strong in all registers; and Fabio Sartori, her lover with an “intensely brilliant” voice, one of the great tenors of which Italy seems to have a big supply. And the chorus – each singer could be a soloist! Young, very talented Michele Mariotti (of Tutto Verdi fame) conducts with verve and tremendous emotional involvement, ensuring a truly memorable production.

03 KorngoldKorngold – Das Wunder der Heliane
Sara Jakubiak; Brian Jagde; Josef Wagner; Deutsche Oper Berlin; Mark Albrecht
Naxos 2.110584-85 (naxosdirect.com)

The longest, most voluptuously scored of Korngold’s five operas makes its overdue DVD debut. Korngold considered it his masterpiece, brimming with radiant, rapturous melodies in the distinctive style that would later sustain him during the Nazi years in his new home – and career – in Hollywood.

In Hans Müller-Einigen’s allegorical libretto, the brutal Ruler of a mythical realm, scorned by his wife Heliane, condemns a charismatic Stranger to death. Heliane visits the imprisoned Stranger, offering solace and, at his pleading, baring her body. The Ruler, intruding, accuses her of adultery. At her trial, the Stranger commits suicide, but before Heliane can be executed, he miraculously comes back to life (the “Wunder” of the title). The Ruler kills Heliane, but she and the Stranger enter heaven together.

The superb cast, led by soprano Sara Jakubiak (Heliane), tenor Brian Jagde (Stranger) and bass-baritone Josef Wagner (Ruler), receives full-blooded support from conductor Marc Albrecht, who unhurriedly spins out Korngold’s long lyrical lines while eliciting, when needed, ferocious bite from the orchestra and chorus. Heliane’s great aria, Ich ging zu ihm, gorgeously sung by Jakubiak, seemingly takes forever to unfold and ascend, Liebestod-like, to its ecstatic, goose pimple-inducing climax.

Regrettably, this 2018 Deutsche Oper Berlin production disdains Müller-Einigen’s stage directions: “no trace of realism…timeless garments.” Instead, the cast wears drab, modern business attire within a drab, modern courtroom set, subverting much of the opera’s magical fantasy. Nevertheless, Korngold’s ravishingly beautiful music, beautifully performed, emerges gloriously triumphant.

04 KozenaIl giardino dei sospiri
Magdalena Kožená; Collegium 1704; Václav Luks
Pentatone PTC 5186 725 (naxosdirect.com)

This collaboration by celebrated mezzo-soprano Magdelena Kožená with the Václav Luks-led Collegium 1704 realizes the passionate spirit of the recording’s title. Based on music from early 18th-century cantatas, Il giardino dei sospiri (The Garden of Sighs) was intended as a stage production. Instead, circumstances led to concert presentation and a CD with fine results. Italian secular cantatas were mainly intended for private performance where intimacy and musical imagination could flower. The cantata scenes selected here are by major composers associated with leading Italian musical centres, and include dramatic, emotional moments for the heroine.

Handel’s early Qual ti riveggio, oh Dio, HMV 150 (1707) shows training in the full, north-German instrumental sound that he brought to Rome; Kožená displays ample power for dramatic recitatives and range for expression in the despairing aria Si muora, si muora. Neapolitan Leonardo Leo’s cantata Or ch’é dal sol difesa (also named Angelica e Medoro; after 1730) is surprising in being so adventurous harmonically, yet Kožena’s vocalism meets the closing aria’s demands for speed and lightness, evenness of timbre and chromatic accuracy. Both singer and instrumentalists together with leader Luks rise brilliantly to the challenges of Venetian Benedetto Marcello’s Arianna Abbandonata. After a movingly rendered recitative, Kožená sings the cantata’s great aria Come mai puoi with fine control of ornamentation and vibrato over spare orchestration of ticking violins (heartbeats?) and fleeting instrumental riffs – gems of composition and performance. A garden of sighs indeed.

05 St James CathedralGate of Heaven
The Choir of St. James Cathedral, Toronto; Robert Busiakiewicz
Independent (stjamescathedral.ca/gate-of-heaven)

Imagine if someone gave you only 13 sentences to summarize an entire calendar year; how would you represent the happenings of 365 days in a hundred-or-so words? This is the challenge that Robert Busiakiewicz and the Choir of St. James Cathedral undertake with Gate of Heaven, which distills the liturgical year into 13 distinct musical offerings. Gate of Heaven follows and summarizes the trajectory of the church calendar, using an extensive range of landmark works for choir and organ to identify and commemorate feast days, including Christmas, Epiphany and Easter.

Even before the disc begins, one is struck by the emphasis Busiakiewicz and his ensemble place on works from the 20th and 21st centuries: Rautavaara, Vivancos, Kodály, Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Willan, Gareth Wilson and Stephanie Martin are all represented here, comprising ten of the disc’s 13 selections. In a context where conservatism is only slightly less than a rule of law, such exploratory programming is a laudable movement in a satisfying direction.

The Cathedral Choir’s musical and interpretive execution of this significantly challenging material is commendable for its flexibility and range. The approach taken towards Willan’s The Three Kings is so unlike that of the Kodály Gloria, itself strikingly different from Gombert’s Agnus Dei, that the listener is transported through the centuries with minimal disruption. While all works are clearly performed by the Cathedral Choir, they vary their approach and stylistic techniques to fit the composer and time period, rather than painting dissimilar works with the same brush. In short, this disc is a noteworthy achievement by a noteworthy ensemble, and we are fortunate to have such gifted performers at the corner of King and Church streets every week of the year.

02 Clarinet ClassicsClarinet Classics at Riversdale
Robert DiLutis; Mellifera Quartet
Delos DE 3561 (delosmusic.com)

What’s not to love about Carl Maria von Weber? If you’re a clarinet player, only that by the time you’re an undergrad, you’ve been trying to play his various pieces for too long and with too little success. On Clarinet Classics at Riversdale, Robert DiLutis opens with Weber’s Quintet in B-flat Major Op.34. Accompanied by the very fine Mellifera Quartet, DiLutis gives a very able rendition. The piece gets dusted off much less often than the Mozart or Brahms works for the grouping, possibly because in the Weber the clarinet is more protagonist than chamber partner: it’s never easy convincing a quartet to work with one; then tell them it’s Weber and watch the reaction. BUT, Weber is really terrific, and in spite of the odd string writing (the attempted fugue in the finale is… valiant) the work merits a listen. DiLutis can bring the full arsenal of technical tools to the piece. His tone is more on the bright side here than in other tracks, which doesn’t please all ears, including this pair.

More sonically pleasing are the following cuts, and I appreciate his inclusion of three lesser-known unaccompanied works (“Classics” is an aspirational title for this collection). Monologue 3 by Erland von Koch should be required reading for clarinet students everywhere, as the Willson Osborne Rhapsody (originally for bassoon) is for my students. I feel the disc has no need of the inclusion of the bit of treacle by Heinrich Baermann, his Adagio for Clarinet and Strings.

03 Bela BartokBéla Bartók – The Wooden Prince; The Miraculous Mandarin Suite
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; Susanna Mälkki
Bis BIS-2328 SACD (bis.se)

Who knows how Bartók would have fared had his ballet music been introduced in Paris around the time Stravinsky’s star was rising? This disc brings together his two most notable works in the category: The Wooden Prince dating from 1917, and more celebrated, The Miraculous Mandarin from1924 (revised final version 1927). One can’t help thinking sadly of how different the two men’s lives were following the end of the WWII, and how a penniless genius like Bartók deserved better.

The earlier work follows the plot of a fairy tale of love triumphing over various obstructive enchantments. Its music alternates between melodrama, ferocity and cheeky sprightliness. By contrast, the second work on the disc is anything but a fairy tale. It is a story of seduction and violence, and a supernatural character who is impervious to the latter as long as he resists the former. Where the music of the earlier work is folk-infused and tuneful, the latter is a glimpse of the modernist Bartók. As a suite, The Miraculous Mandarin clocks in at barely 20 minutes. The Wooden Prince is presented in its entirety, lasting just under an hour.

The wonderful Helsinki Philharmonic under Susanna Mälkki explores the score with flair and finesse. For my money, the more interesting piece is the darker later work, and not only because of the iconic clarinet duets that depict the three seduction scenes, although these are brilliantly performed. For those unsure they can bear the mysteries of Bartók, the first offering is an excellent warmup.

04 Havergal BrianHavergal Brian – Symphonies 7 and 16
New Russia State Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Walker
Naxos 8.573959 (naxosdirect.com)

This CD, part of Naxos’s ongoing traversal of Havergal Brian’s 32 symphonies, begins with the brightly coloured, perky overture, The Tinker’s Wedding, based on the comedy of that name by John Millington Synge. The upbeat mood continues with the fanfare for trumpets and percussion that opens Brian’s 38-minute, four-movement Symphony No.7, also from 1948.

The first movement’s jaunty character, with processional echoes of Brian’s much-admired Elgar, is sustained into the second movement, during which raucous dissonances mark the shift in the symphony’s emotional trajectory from light to dark. In the third and longest movement, an adagio filled with skittish, elusive melodies and sonorities brackets an angry, violent scherzo. The final Epilogue, a grim, almost relentless march, resolves harmoniously, but only after two savage climaxes.

The Seventh was the last of Brian’s large-scale symphonies. The remaining 25, all composed during the final two decades of Brian’s long life (1876-1972), are far more concise. The single movement of the Symphony No.16 (1960) by the 84-year-old Brian lasts only 15 minutes, but its orchestration is anything but miniaturized: quadruple woodwinds, six horns, ten (!) percussionists. Brian wrote that while composing it, he was reading about the Battle of Thermopylae, and the music is martially explosive, prevented from disintegrating by continuous, forward-marching pulsations, even during brief lulls in the mayhem. Brian could create beauty within discord, and a startling sequence of blaring, dissonant chords brings this symphony to a beautiful conclusion.

05 New York ConcertThe New York Concert
Evgeny Kissin; Emerson String Quartet
Deutsche Grammophon 483 6574 (deutschegrammophon.com)

The coming together of the inimitable Evgeny Kissin with the Emerson String Quartet represents the high watermark of the 2018 edition of Carnegie Hall’s annual programming, reminiscent of the great performances by Martha Argerich with cellist Mischa Maisky, and her chamber-work performances with percussionists Peter Sadlo and Edgar Guggeis, and with pianists Nelson Freire or Nicolas Economou, all documented on Deutsche Grammophon.

Kissin’s virtuosity and powerful key touch is without parallel. His dazzling skills are well matched by the electrifying Emerson String Quartet. And the musicians play here with palpable vigour and depth of emotion. Kissin appears to be an outstanding Mozartian, his commanding technique making for the spritely energy of his attack and the radiant manner in the Piano Quartet in G Minor K478. Meanwhile, the Emerson Quartet plays with zeal and focused sensitivity.

Both Kissin and the Emerson also respond warmly and with imagination to Fauré’s Piano Quartet No.1 in C Minor, Op.15. The composer invested much in this music which is evident from the harmonic adventurousness and unexpected modulations. Kissin and the Emerson create an appropriate restlessness reflecting the elusive quality of this music.

Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No.2 in A Minor, Op.81 is arguably his greatest chamber piece – which Kissin and the quartet play with virtuoso drive and urgency. Dimitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57 ends this double disc. It is approached with interpretive intelligence, and features gorgeous tone and expressive power.

06 Winged CreaturesWinged Creatures and other works for Flute, Clarinet and Orchestra
Demarre & Anthony McGill; Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra; Allen Tinkham
Cedille CDR 90000 187 (cedillerecords.org)

Throughout the classical music world there are the superstars and those aspiring to become one. The latter group often find themselves playing together in youth orchestras, where the synergy of working with others at the top of their game is a fantastic way to accelerate one’s progress towards that goal. Winged Creatures brings successful alumni Demarre (flute) and Anthony (clarinet) McGill together with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. As one would expect, the standard of playing in a city with such a strong musical tradition is excellent; the brothers share a beautiful limpid tone quality to match their technical mastery.

The title track, by Michael Abels, makes terrific use of the orchestral forces while highlighting the soloists’ strengths: phrasing of one mind, clear pitch and virtuostic ease. Behind them, the orchestra is led by Allen Tinkham, who might have had some help with the balance from the booth, but nevertheless manages the ensemble with utter aplomb. This is a professional band by another name, never mind the “youth” designation.

For those who feel the late 18th century is still interesting there is a Sinfonia Concertante by Franz Danzi, a charming 20 minutes where the orchestra ably demonstrates proper period style; a much more fun Tarantelle from a young Camille Saint-Saëns follows with sassy vigour. Closing the disc is Concerto Duo, by Joel Puckett. Like the music of the title track, this piece was commissioned by the brothers McGill. It’s a slice of bold beautiful Americana. Excellent liner notes come with the disc.

01 Istvan AnhaltIstvan Anhalt – …the timber of those times…
SALT Festival Orchestra; Hungarian RSO; Ajtony Csaba
Centrediscs CMCCD 26419 (musiccentre.ca)

Right from the portentous opening chords to the ghostly final drumbeats, this recording of Istvan Anhalt’s monumental ...the timber of those times... (...a theogony...) works a spell. It’s is an adventurous, colourful work, depicting the gods who ruled the world of the ancient Greeks and continue to fascinate today. The terrific performance by the Hungarian RSO includes a fiery galvanizing violin cadenza from soloist Vilmos Oláh. Conductor Ajtony Csaba deftly sustains the momentum throughout.

In Four Portraits from Memory, chant-like textures suffuse evocations of loved ones whose recent deaths Anhalt is grieving. I found it deeply beautiful, and profoundly heart-wrenching, the serene atmosphere enriched by rhapsodic passages featuring pianist Tzenka Dianova. The SALT Festival Orchestra brings a level of polish and precision which allows the lines to shimmer and breath, suggesting layers of sounds yet to be discovered.

Anhalt, who was born in 1919, wrote some of his finest works at the very end of his career – he died in 2012. These are his last orchestral works, both from 2006. They differ in striking ways from each other, a testament to his remarkable versatility. But whether focusing inward to contemplate his own experiences, or reaching out to distant times to interpret those experiences, both works are deeply personal – and all the more moving for that.

This significant recording makes a fitting way to honour the centenary of the birth of a matchless trailblazer in Canadian music.

02 JACKFiligree – Music of Hannah Lash
JACK Quartet
New Focus Recordings FCR228 (newfocusrecordings.com)

Experimental, electrifying, a wonderland of colours – Filigree is a laboratory of sounds, impermanent yet consistent. With this recording the JACK Quartet delivers select pieces by American composer and harpist Hannah Lash and does it with their typical commitment and conviction. Every note, every phrase, is placed and nuanced with clarity of musical expression and clear understanding of Lash’s compositional language. JACK plays with an abundant energy that is beaming with emotional fluency.

Although encompassing a period of five years, chamber music pieces on this recording share a similar contemporary approach to multi-layered string technique(s) and a unique balance of intellectual and visceral elements. The album opens with Frayed, my favourite piece on this recording. The opening chords resemble a series of breaths, tense and unadorned, giving the impression of bringing out intimate mementos. That is, however, interrupted with a dynamic and powerfully unsettling section that slowly takes over, and it is the interlacing of different worlds that gives a tangible intensity to this piece.

Suite: Remembered and Imagined, stands in contrast with its playfulness and showcases a variety of textures. The album concludes with Filigree in Textile for harp and string quartet, inspired by the tapestry arts of the Middle Ages. The lush mood of the first movement, titled Gold, is followed with the rhythmically uniform Silver. The harp threads brilliant lines and brings everyone together in Silk.

This album is notable and well worth your attention.

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The Machine is Broken
Terry Rusling (1931-1974)
Spool Spurn 3 (spoolmusic.com)

Shed Metal
equivalent insecurity (dk & Dan Lander)
Spool Spurn 1 (spoolmusic.com)

Car Dew Treat Us (pages from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise randomly selected)
dk & the perfectly ordinary
Spool Spurn 2 (spoolmusic.com)

Uxbridge, Ontario-based label Spool’s new Spurn series is titled irreverent. The brainchild of musician Daniel Kernohan, there are currently three releases in this group of possibly difficult-to-classify, yet ear-opening, enjoyable music. Spool also has other series with numerous eclectic releases available.

05a Spool UTEMSAn intriguing cross section of electronic works by Canadian composer Terry Rusling (1931-1974) are featured in the 2019 third Spurn release, The Machine is Broken. Rusling’s experience as an engineer for CBC understandably gave him the necessary technical grounding to create his unique sound. At composer Morris Surdin’s suggestion, Rusling worked at the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio (UTEMS), which lead to further international studies/work, and tape collaborations with such artists as Earle Birney, Gwendolyn MacEwen and public tape performances at Yorkville’s Bohemian Embassy. Rusling’s short life resulted in an immense creative output that is only touched on here. Producers David Porter and Daniel Kernohan have selected 17 tracks, arranged in a listener-friendly order to maintain interest. The almost two minute opening Reel 1H sets the stage with sound effects, quiet spaces, and brief moments of tonalism. Creaky effects, crackling sounds, loud volumes, slides and glisses highlight Reel 2A’s early electro sound. The spoken male/female statements at the start of Title add a human dimension to the electronic effects. Rusling’s use of silent spaces between electronic sections in his works builds subsequent musical interest, such as Reel 2B where the silences set up such intense effects as the classic electronic sounds of that time, like washes, repeated notes, feedback and for lack of a better description, loud crashing about. Rusling’s early electronic music holds current sound appeal while also, at its very best, foreshadowing future sounds.

05b Spool Shed MetalThe earlier two Spurn releases also feature contemporary sounds. Shed Metal stars Equivalent Insecurity in performance. Kernohan, (named dk on the sleeve), and colleague Dan Lander play 22 tracks on their self-described “instruments, toys, stuff, sound.” Recorded in Toronto in 1987-89, their sound brings back wonderful memories of the Toronto improvisational scene of the time. The clear recording opens with a march-like feel and an almost sing-along melody interspersed with electronic effects. Too much fun being had by the two performers, as the music includes washes, electronic shrieking effects, occasional almost pop groves, pulses, horns, vocalizations, moments of anxiety, etc. Especially love the water sounds in track three. It is a gift to the listener that their music was even recorded, and later released.

05c Spool Car DewCar Dew Treat Us features Kernohan and the perfectly ordinary (Allison Cameron, Rod Dubey and Lawrence Joseph) with different guest artists reciting intermittent text fragments from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise against an electronic soundscape featuring clicks, held tones, wavering dynamics, wobbling tones, bell sounds, atonalities and percussive effects in a challenging soundscape. Some may find it difficult to listen to but worth the effort to experience.

Bravo to Spool’s Spurn series for these three contrasting releases showcasing amazing Canadian experimental talent.

06 Jupiter QuartetAlchemy – Music by Jalbert; Stucky; Vine
Jupiter String Quartet; Bernadette Harvey
Marquis Classics MAR 81491 (marquisclassics.com)

Being a devotee of the piano quartet and quintet I’m gratified to hear four fine 21st-century examples originally commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. The American-based Jupiter String Quartet and Australian pianist Bernadette Harvey play these demanding works vividly and expressively, their virtuosity suited to the brilliant motions that American composer Pierre Jalbert induces in his Piano Quintet (2017) and Secret Alchemy for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano (2012). The players also excel in reflective passages and evocative sonorities, such as the “outer space” part of the Quintet’s Mannheim Rocket movement. In Secret Alchemy’s movement, Timeless, mysterious, reverberant, Jalbert’s miraculous mood creation suggests a medieval cathedral in modern terms. For me it brought to mind, uncannily, the Notre Dame Cathedral fire earlier this year.

Australian Carl Vine’s Fantasia for Piano Quintet (2013) is in a lighter vein which the composer describes as “quasi-improvisational.” Featuring plenty of idiomatic virtuosity, I found the work’s style more conventional with recurring four-bar phrases in the last two movements that could have stood a few metric surprises. Finally, I can only offer the highest possible praise for the late, Steven Stucky’s outstanding one-movement Piano Quartet (2005). A long, sorrowful melody begins shortly after the opening, broken into motifs yet somehow finding the strength to go on. This work is too rich to describe in words; I hope readers will find their way to hearing it.

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