07 Court de Louis XIVDe La Cour de Louis XIV à Shippagan – Chants traditionnels acadiens et airs de cour du XVIIieme sièècle
Suzie Leblanc; Marie Nadeau-Tremblay; Vincent Lauzer; Sylvain Bergeron
ATMA ACD2 2837 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Louis XIV made his France a hub for culture which attracted composers such as Michel Lambert and Robert de Visée. French settlers in what is now Eastern Canada – for instance in Shippagan, an overwhelmingly French-speaking town in northeastern New Brunswick – brought music from France. The contents of this CD reflect a selection of these treasures performed by some of ATMA Classique’s most talented artists. It does not take long for recorder player Vincent Lauzer to make his presence felt; with his trilled notes he admirably captures the atmosphere of Pourquoi doux rossignol? 

Then there is the aunting quality of Rossignolet sauvage, with its theme of a finished love affair (il faut se délaisser, we must move on.) Listen to the combination of soprano Suzie LeBlanc (accompanying herself on dulcimer!) and the instrumentalists as they interpret the lines of this traditional song.

The instrumental tracks should not be disregarded. De Visée’s Prélude, sarabande et gigue, played with dignity on archlute by Sylvain Bergeron, is very typical of exactly the contemporary lute music Louis XIV encouraged with his cultural offensive.    

Overall perhaps, and despite the courtly – and supposedly superior – origin of many of these tracks, it is the traditional pieces that are the most effective. Le berger features LeBlanc declaiming her love for her shepherd in the yearning manner reminiscent of bygone troubadours.

A CD with a new angle on musical history – and well worthy of attention.

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08 Iberi SupraSupra
Iberi Choir
Naxos World NXW76162-2 (naxosdirect.com/search/nxw76162-2)

Buba Murgulia, leader of the Georgian male-voice choir Iberi, is described in the Supra liner notes as “growing up surrounded by singing,” like many Georgians. Unlike most however, he formed a choir with other passionate countrymen. They’ve taken Georgian song to international audiences since 2012, touring Europe, USA, Asia and Australia.

Recognizing the significance of Georgian vocal polyphony, in 2008 it was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Iberi’s broad repertoire includes a variety of regional Georgian styles, drawing on the rich history of Georgian polyphonic song.

Simplifying to great degree, Georgian choral singing most often has three voices. And regional genres range from soft, moving liturgical songs, lullabies and guitar-accompanied urban songs, to loud and rugged songs meant for work, recounting history – and very importantly, for feasting. 

The word supra is commonly translated as “feast.” Integral to Georgian society, this ancient, frequently multi-day tradition, features wine, food, singing and ritualized toasting which reaffirms the essential values of life, the importance of the ancestors and the motherland.

Iberi’s new album Supra is a selection of 13 songs that you might well hear at such a celebration. I was stirred by feast songs like Mravalzhamieri (May You Live Long), soothed by the medieval Georgian hymn Shen Khar Venakhi (Thou Art a Vineyard) and charmed by the urban love song Mkholod Shen Erts.

My only regret? I didn’t have a bottle of Georgian wine at hand to join in the supra.

09 HorojoSet the Record
Horojo Trio
Stony Plain SPCD 1446 (stonyplainrecords.com)

This recording roars to life right out of the gate with the rollicking, bluesy song: Man of Steel. This music instantly tells you that Horojo Trio has an instinctive feel for the musical tension of the blues line; they infuse and temper the narrative of each song with elemental despair and the soaring exhilaration of hopefulness.    

In terms of wail and sinewy tone, Jeff Rogers seems cut from the same cloth as musicians like Greg Allman. His evocative vocals also profit from the gutsy guitar lines of JW-Jones. A unique tension between the harmonically loaded melody and the astonishing fireworks of Rogers’ piano collides with Jones’ guitar. Meanwhile Jamie Holmes unleashes the rolling thunder of his drumming that propels each song with visceral energy. Together the three artists create music that has an emotional power which is truly affecting. Songs such as Man of Steel and A Little Goes a Long Way are fiercely driven and typical of this wonderfully stormy repertoire. The piece Stay Crazy is nuanced and exquisitely soulful. 

The music is beautifully written, which must certainly make it easier to sing and play. All three members of the trio come across as rugged musical adventurers and it is this sort of abandon that makes for the unique and vivid nature of the music – appropriately raw, yet never strident; this makes the music of Set The Record not to be missed.

10 Way NorthNew Dreams, Old Stories
Way North
Roots2Boot Recordings R2B22-01 (waynorthband.com)

New Dreams, Old Stories is the third album from Way North, a group founded in Brooklyn with three Canadians (Rebecca Hennessy, trumpet, Petr Cancura, tenor saxophone and Michael Herring, bass) and their American drummer, Richie Barshay. Ten of the 12 pieces are originals by Hennessy, Cancura and Herring while Barshay provides two arrangements. All the tunes are lively and melodic and infused with the energy of good friends making music together. 

The opener, Play, is an up-tempo song they use to open their concerts. I›m Here to Stay is an off-kilter blues with a stuttering melody. Cancura’s tenor solo is funky, funny and occasionally aggressive while Hennessy’s trumpet solo is contrastingly melodic, quoting from the song’s theme and infusing other snippets as it builds. Herring’s If Charlie Haden couldn’t write a song to bring world peace, what hope is there for me? has a mournful Mingus quality, with its lengthy melody played by the trumpet and saxophone, and includes an intriguing bass solo. 

New Dreams, Old Stories is an album full of catchy songs that reveal more complexity with repeated listening. The solos are varied and intriguing and the rhythm work by Herring and Barshay is both solid and inventive.

11 Emigre and ExileEmigre and Exile
Arcomusical
Panoramic Recordings PAN25 (arcomusical.com)

Led by American percussionist/composer/scholar Gregory Beyer, the Arcomusical ensemble features the berimbau, the Afro-Brazilian musical bow instrument. Its lyrical strings make a beautiful sound all its own, difficult to describe in words yet easy to listen to! Arcomusical has been expanding the berimbau’s traditional sounds by commissioning and performing contemporary chamber works for solo/ensemble berimbau and other instruments. This, their third release, was recorded safely through multi-tracking in the pre-vaccine summer of 2020.

Jeremy Muller’s Singularity (2020) is a storytelling berimbau ensemble work introducing the listener to such beautiful sounds as melodic wide-pitch patterns, strums and volume changes from traditional to new music tonalities. Beyer plays all instruments spectacularly in his three compositions that showcase his extensive berimbau expertise. Fios e linhas (2020) for berimbau and percussion instruments has an upbeat colourful vibe pulse and high-pitched berimbau sounds above mallet instruments. Berimbau Duo No.3 “for Adam and Jess” (2007/2018) resonates with berimbau repeated notes and ringing low notes, performed by Beyer and Anthony Cable. Berimbau Solo No.4 “Sakura Park” (2006/2019) is two-part, from rhythmic to atmospheric. The six-movement title track Emigre and Exile (2019) features its composer Matt Ulery on acoustic bass with berimbau sextet in repeated figures, ringing strings and high-pitched melodies from classical to jazz to pop sounds and more. Alexandre Lunsqui’s berimbau sextet  Repercussio (2006/2014) adds percussive scrapes and bangs to this instrument’s timbres.

All performers and compositions are perfect. I am so pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy these enlightening berimbau musical sounds!

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Despite its infrequent celebration in a few pop songs and prominence as a funk band groove maker, the double bass in both acoustic and electric configurations doesn’t get much respect. Usually relegated to brief solos, its movement to the forefront has only been accepted and confirmed with the loosening of rules in creative music. Also, because free music has no instrumental hierarchy, the shibboleth as to which instruments constitute a duo is jettisoned, as the following bass-affiliated sessions demonstrate.

01 ConduitsWorking up from the expected lower parts of the scale on Conduits (Relative Pitch Records RPR 1135 relativepitchrecords.com) are baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts and double bassist Olie Brice from the United Kingdom. Although capable of projecting the subterranean textures associated with their instruments as they do at times during the three extended tracks here, wide-ranging timbral preference is also on tap. Screechy timbres, spetrofluctuation, tongue slapping, reed bites and thick vibrations from the saxophonist are complemented, confronted or stabilized by the bassist playing arco or pizzicato. Peering is the most realized instance of this. Opening with Roberts propelling harsh shakes down the scale to wallowing lows, Brice’s arco concordance switches to harsh col legno slaps as a sweeping response to her sudden leaps to altissimo peeping. Additional reed snarls and snorts are shaped with spiccato string pressure, culminating in responsive duo sequences as the finale. Brice’s echoing string plucks, alternating with arco asides, are more prominent elsewhere. Yet whether the sequences evolve lento or presto, high-pitched or low, with multiphonics or in carefully thought-out single notes, warm bass strums confirm the partnership and each tune’s linear movement. Although it isn’t apparent, because of COVID restrictions, the disc was created during one session in real time over the Internet. Despite being confined in different places, each player responds adroitly to the other’s improvisations. 

02 Satoko FujiiA variation of that inventive COVID-created situation with a more common bass duo configuration is Thread of Light (Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 02/2022 fsrecords.net). Pianist Satoko Fujii recorded melodies and improvisations at home in Kobe then forwarded ten sound files to bassist Joe Fonda in New York. After studying them during several weeks of careful listening, Fonda ingeniously improvised the bass parts. Rather than decoration however, they come across as unified and purposeful, like a carefully conceived addition to an already existing edifice. If you didn’t know the scenario, there are tracks which suggest Fujii is following Fonda’s lead. This occurs on tunes such as My Song and the concluding Between Blue Sky and Cold Water. The former is introduced by bass reverberations that echo down the scale and end with distinct string thumps as distant tones are shaken from the piano’s sound board. Fujii’s piano-key stopping and string rattles evolve beneath the bassist’s elaboration of a straight-ahead melody on the final track, culminating in a Romantic-styled duet with guitar-like strokes from Fonda and keyboard dusting from Fujii. When she moves to the bass clef the connection is cemented. Playing flute on Wind Sound, Fonda again states the theme, while his double-tongued arabesques lean into the pianist’s high-pitched soundboard vibrations. Finale is a dual atmospheric drone. All through the disc the two project faultless dialogues, with lightning quick interaction as if they were playing side by side. Fujii’s hesitant comping or swirling glissandi bring forth the appropriate plucks and strokes from Fonda’s string set, whether culminating in processional near-stasis or sparkling motif jumps. So close is their processed interaction that it’s never clear whether the string echoes which begin the lengthy Reflection are from bass or piano. Fonda’s dark-power plucks and Fujii’s keyboard clicks make identities clearer during subsequent horizontal variations on the theme until woody piano pressure and arco bass buzzes bring the two together again.

03 Blind Mans BandAlthough also created during a COVID lockdown, Side Effects (Nische NIS 221 blindmansband.bandcamp.com/album/side-effects) was recorded in a Copenhagen studio by Blind Man’s Band’s members electric bassist Claus Poulsen and pianist Christian Rønn both on site. Committed to sound turbulence as well as spatial improvisations, many of the 11 brief tracks resemble a traffic jam during rush hour, with droning engine-like conveyance from Poulsen while Rønn crams multiple notes into the exposition as he jockeys from one position to another. When the bassist adds Dictaphone crackles and string thumps to What curve?, his vibrations fill the between-the-keys spaces left by the pianist. Not that there are many, since Rønn sounds clank from the keyboard at the same time as he presses the pedals to expose the instrument’s lowest tonal range. Other tracks such as Chocolate machinegun evolve with measured bass rumbles joining widening dynamic patterning from the pianist, while those like Pink fairies use rapid fingering from both players to suggest the bouncy airiness of those mythical creatures. Still, dynamic concordance is the preferred musical output. This ability to project unexpected improvisation tropes, while not letting pressurized counterpoint degenerate into density for its own sake, is demonstrated on the connected Follow and Free fall. Evolving at first lento and warm with the pianist’s open chording emphasizing high- and low-pitched fills, Poulsen’s chunky string slaps on the second selection move from tandem comping to create a secondary theme that develops in double counterpoint complementing the first one.

04 EscapeMoving slightly eastward to Stockholm, The Great Escape Plan (Tilting Converter tiltingconverter.bandcamp.com) offers two matched improvisations by bassist Joe Williamson, a Vancouverite relocated to Sweden, and local drummer Dennis Egberth. Together and singly, both are members of various groups. Bass and drums make up a standard rhythm section for most bands, but on their own Williamson and Egberth transform the configuration so that the emphasis is on narratives and reaction to reductionist sounds, not cadences. As bass string thrusts and swells and percussion clanks and strokes personify the program, both players convey dissonant and melodic concepts, rather than concentrated pulses. Often there’s role reversal as when the bassist’s col legno string crashes are more percussive than the drummer’s slim paradiddles. Throughout both tracks a thin squeezed tone is frequently upfront. But whether it results from Egberth’s rapid scratch across a cymbal or Williamson using his bow to lacerate the strings at the bass’ highest point is never made clear. On the concluding Plan B – the first track is also prosaically titled Plan A – as interaction becomes more intense as the tempo shifts from andante to presto, the bass part becomes a multi-string drone and drum-top claps turn to an unvarying shuffle. Attaining a variant of the phrasing that began the disc, the two typify bass-drum timbral extensions and rhythmic consistency at the same time. 

05 DervicheA modification of this configuration is expressed on Murs Absurdes (Ayler AylCD-172  ayler.com), by the French duo Derviche. But with Eric Brochard pushing his electric bass parts more aggressively than other users of the same instrument like Blind Man’s Band’s Poulsen, and Fabrice Favriou pummeling his drum kit, echoes of Black Metal infuse the sound layers which make up the six-track suite. Creating the sonic equivalent of brutalist architecture, the two drag out each sequence. The combination of the bassist’s thickened-down strokes and the drummer’s repetitive patterns constructs narratives, so thick and concentrated that they’re almost opaque. Still, as the sounds segue from largo to andante and finally  to prestissimo tempos, the bass string masonry that makes up this wall of sound can be sensed as pedal movement slightly alters Brochard’s output. By the penultimate Sequence IX, despite perceived heaviness, the two break up the exposition with more graduated sounds that mix improvisational motifs within the theme based around Favriou’s foot-pounding ruffs and rebounds. Interrupting the concluding Sequence X with a space-making buzz, Derviche returns to hearty percussion smacks and rugged string drones at the finale, while referencing improvisational movements.

Despite these sessions’ common denominator of including the double bass in its acoustic or electric form, varied textures and techniques expressed by these inventive players mean that no one duo sounds remotely like another.

01 Salome BeySalome Bey
Salome Bey
Independent (li.sten.to/salomebey)

The commemorative stamp recently issued by Canada Post is indicative of the cultural, societal, musical and artistic contributions that Salome Bey (1933-2020) made to Canada – and to the entire Globe, for that matter. An American-born, Canadian singer-songwriter and actress, Bey first emerged on the international scene as part of Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters along with her sister Geraldine and brother Andy. With the trio, Bey embarked on a long recording and performing career and soon became known as “Canada’s First Lady of the Blues.” It was 52 years ago that this stunning, eponymous recording was released under the auspices of the Canadian Talent Library. Now in re-issue, everyone can finally experience the thrillingly wide range of Bey’s musical and interpretive talent, which embraces material as far flung as Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust and Gilles Vigneault’s Mon Pays. Also included in the collection is original material from Rick Wilkins and Russ Little.

02 Salome Bey stampThe ten choice selections include Rick Kardonne’s Hit the Nail Right on the Head, which is a delightful pop/jazz tune, firmly rooted in the early 1970s tradition, replete with a beautiful arrangement involving a complete orchestra. Bey swings, bobs and sails throughout this thoroughly delightful number. One of the absolute stunners here is Bey’s intimate rendition of Stardust, enhanced with a sumptuous, string-laden arrangement and gorgeous piano and guitar work. Also, the soulful Underground Railroad Station is a bluesy tribute to the fathers and mothers of abolition, who led so many to freedom in Canada. 

Other highlights include the sunny, swinging, upbeat love song, Muy Caliente No! (Love Our Lives Away),  the clever, stirring medley of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s Once in a Lifetime and Dory Previn’s You’re Gonna Hear from Me. Additionally, Gershwin’s But Not For Me boasts a magnificent guitar accompaniment, and Bey’s voice at her most lyrical, moving and sumptuous.

01 Matangi OutcastJust as Terry Robbins’ column is named “Strings Attached,” this month mine could be called “Strings Galore.” First up is Matangi: Outcast – Schnittke | Silvestrov | Shostakovich (Matangi Music MTM04 matangi.nl), an album devoted to “musical troublemakers and outsiders, three Soviet-Russian composers who wrote music that went dangerously against the tastes of the regime under which they lived.” 

The Matangi string quartet has been at the forefront of contemporary music in the Netherlands since its founding at the turn of the current century. In their own annual (Un)heard Music Festival in The Hague they present works that are rarely if ever heard in Dutch concert venues, venturing beyond the realm of traditional concert music to include jazz, dance and pop while still embracing the classical canon. A recent guest at the festival was the reclusive Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937), a polystylist whose early works ranged from serialist to pointillist, resulting in him being branded avant-garde and refused entry to the Union of Soviet Composers. He has said of his early contrarian works “composing radical music was like working with a mountain of salt that you used up completely. Now I take a handful of salt, just for the taste.” Silvestrov’s delicate, indeed at times barely audible, 1974 extended one-movement String Quartet No.1 provides a gentle bridge between the more familiar works by Schnittke and Shostakovich on this disc, which opens with the former’s String Quartet No.3. Schnittke was also influenced by a plethora of styles, often rooted in Western culture, and likewise deemed unacceptable by the Soviet powers that be. He often incorporated what he called “forgeries” of other compositions and his quartet opens with quotes from Orlando di Lasso, Beethoven and Shostakovich which reappear throughout the quartet. Of particular note is the Agitato second movement that layers a ghostly hint of Lasso’s Stabat Mater into an angular waltz often interrupted by strident echoes of Shostakovich’s eighth string quartet. It is this latter work that concludes the disc. The Quartet in C Minor, Op.110 was sketched in three days in 1960 in Dresden where the composer was deeply affected by the ruins left by the Allies’ firebombing of the city during the late days of the Second World War. It is one of Shostakovich’s darkest works, opening with a Largo movement although, as mentioned, it also has strident moments in the Allegro molto second, and features a lilting waltz third movement, before returning to the glacial pace of the first in the final two Largo movements. The Matangi give outstanding performances of all three works on this particularly timely release.

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02 Olga KernRussian/American pianist Olga Kern is featured with the Dalí Quartet on Brahms & Shostakovich Piano Quintets (Delos DE 3587 delosmusic.com). In an impassioned statement accompanying the release Moscow-born Kern, whose grandfather was Ukrainian and great-grandmother an opera singer in Kharkiv, says “I defy war. It’s heartbreaking to witness the tragedy that is unfolding before our very eyes in Ukraine. It’s ugly and brutal beyond words and it also brings us together in the face of injustice. […] Please stop this madness! Please say NO to war!”

Unlike the later string quartet discussed above, Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57, is a sunny work. It was composed in 1940, before Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, “a time of deceptive optimism among the Russian people [when] even the despair-prone Shostakovich was hopeful that he could maintain his [newfound] status as [a] favoured composer.” This work did indeed prove popular with the public and even won Shostakovich the inaugural Stalin Prize. In homage to Bach, the quintet opens with a Prelude introduced by the piano, followed by a second movement Fugue in which the strings intertwine until about the two-minute mark when the piano joins in. The contemplative spirit of the opening movements is interrupted by a truly joyous, ebullient Scherzo lasting a brief three minutes. A languorous Intermezzo follows before a playful and melodious Finale brings this beloved half-hour work to an end. 

It seems to have been Robert Schumann who first combined solo piano with string quartet, giving birth to the genre of piano quintet in 1842. Some 20 years later Brahms, by then a familiar member of the Schumann household, composed his own Piano Quintet in F Minor but in this instance opting for two cellos. The work was not well received and he went on to make a two-piano version that was equally unsuccessful before finally settling on the more usual arrangement of piano, two violins, viola and cello, which became the lush and lyrical work we now know as Op.34

Known for its championing of Latin American repertoire – the quartet members hail from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the United States and the group received the Atlanta Symphony’s Aspire Award for accomplished African American and Latino musicians – the Dalí Quartet shows itself here to be just as thoroughly at home with European repertoire in these sparkling performances. Kern, among whose awards is a Gold Medal from the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, shines throughout. 

03 MetamorphosenSpeaking of lush, a work Glenn Gould once called “the most moving piece of the 20th century” gives the title to the next disc: Metamorphosen – Strauss | Korngold | Schreker featuring Sinfonia of London under John Wilson (Chandos CHSA 5292 naxosdirect.com/search/chsa5292). Of course Gould also referred to Metamorphosen as “23 wayward strings in search of a cadence” or some such pithy phrase, but he does seem to have had great admiration for Richard Strauss’ 1945 study for 23 solo strings. Wilson leads his ensemble flawlessly through the meandering journey which lasts 28 minutes, negotiating the waves of sturm und drang – at times reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night – without ever losing the thread or floundering into troubled waters. It’s a truly transcendent voyage. 

Hans Schreker’s brief and lyrical Intermezzo, Op.8 from 1900 lightens the mood and sets the stage for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphonic Serenade for String Orchestra Op.39 (1947-48). If we thought that the 23 strings of the Strauss were sufficient, Korngold disagreed. He scored his serenade for 16 each of first and second violins, 12 violas, 12 cellos and 8 double basses. Somehow Wilson manages to keep these 64 string instruments from turning into an indecipherable wash of sound, even in the densest passages. The sprightly pizzicato second movement provides welcome contrast to the lyrical opening and the languorous third, but it is the hold-on-to-your hats rollercoaster finale that is the icing on the cake; a flourishing finish to a thoroughly satisfying disc.

04 Elinor FreyAfter immersing myself in the dense, lush – I keep wanting to say “at times lugubrious,” but that’s not right, they are simply thick, rich and gorgeous – textures of Brahms and Strauss, I found I needed a palette cleanser. A new Analekta release, Early Italian Cello Concertos featuring Elinor Frey and Rosa Barocca under Claude Lapalme (AN2 9163 analekta.com/en), proved just the thing. In her extensive and informative booklet notes Frey discusses the development of the violoncello, describing it as actually a family of instruments originating with the violone, a small type of bass violin current in the 17th century. “Only beginning in the 1720s did a sort of ideal compromise instrument, of a size halfway between the smallish Baroque violoncello and the larger violone, establish itself as our current standard cello. The term violoncello piccolo, often used today to denote the typical Baroque violoncello, is in part a modern invention – an anachronistic misnomer […which] only makes sense when used in comparison with our larger modern instrument.” She also discusses the differences between four- and five-string versions of the cello.

For this recording – which includes works by Sammartini (1700-1775), Vivaldi (1678-1741), Tartini (1692-1770) and Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) – Frey uses two different instruments, the smaller Baroque size in the Sammartini and Tartini, and the modern size for Vivaldi and Leo. These latter she says “have inspired quite a few modern-day cellists to perform on a five-string instrument, in part because of the fiendishly difficult passagework that ascends into the upper register. […] Over time I came to view these works as demanding and thrillingly virtuosic concertos that belonged to the larger four-string cello repertoire.” Thrilling virtuosity is especially true of Leo’s Concerto No.2 in D Major, which I first encountered in Anner Bylsma’s recording with Tafelmusik back in my days at CJRT-FM; it became a favourite and I programmed it frequently, both on Music Before 1800 with Peter Keigh and during regular morning broadcasts with Alex Baran. As seminal as that recording was in my developing an interest in Baroque music, I must say that Frey and Rosa Barocca, a Montreal ensemble of which I was not previously aware, surpass this forerunner in terms of crispness, energy and articulation. From start to finish this disc is enthralling; my only quibble is the choice to end the recital with a minor key Andante cantabile movement from a violin sonata by Tartini, one of two Frey transcriptions to grace the disc. I would have preferred it to end with a bang, not a whimper, lovely though it is. 

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05 Salonen RavelPalette cleansed, I returned to our current century with Nicolas Altstaedt’s performance of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Dima Slobodeniouk (Alpha ALPHA627 naxosdirect.com/search/alpha627). This riveting 2017 work was co-commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Barbican Centre (London) and the Elbphilharmonie (Hamburg) for cellist Yo-Yo Ma to whom it is dedicated. Altstaedt, who was in London at the time of the British premiere, attended the rehearsal and performance by Yo-Yo Ma and was later invited to give the Finnish premiere under the composer’s direction at the Helsinki Festival. He says “Performing with the composer himself is always a special moment. Burning full of questions you have always wanted to ask, there is also a magic space of nonverbal communication that needs to take place. Not to mention I was a bit starstruck in this situation, Esa-Pekka made it extremely easy for me; the week of rehearsals and the performance were pure joy. Joking about his quotation of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony’s Scherzo ‘I should [only] compose when I am sober,’ gave me a glimpse into a composer’s life as well as his description of the beginning of the piece: ‘I always wanted to compose something like the opening of Alban Berg’s Altenberg Lieder.’” 

In his own notes, Salonen tells us “Some of the ideas for my Cello Concerto can be traced back at least three decades, but the actual material for the piece was mostly developed in the summer of 2015 when I decided to spend a few months researching for new kinds of textures without a concrete plan how to use them. I decided to use some phrases from my 2010 solo cello work ...knock, breathe, shine... in the second and third movements as I always felt that the music of the solo piece was almost orchestral in its scope and character, and would function well within an orchestral environment. […] I happen to like the concept of a virtuoso operating at the very limits of what is physically (and sometimes mentally) possible. I have learnt, however, that virtuosity doesn’t limit itself to the mechanics of playing an instrument. A true virtuoso can also capture the beauty and expression in the quietest moments, to fill near-stasis with life through a musician’s imagination and ability to communicate.” Altstaedt rises to all the challenges thrown at him throughout the 36-minute work, holding his own against incredibly dense orchestral textures, sensitively realizing the most quiet passages, which include seagull-like glissandi, and a flamboyant extended cadenza shared with bongo drums and woodblocks. The result is exhilarating.

The recording includes a striking performance of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello with Pekka Kuusisto. I spoke earlier about the denseness of the string writing in Brahms and Strauss. Ravel’s Duo (its original name) is so dense it would be easy to think you were hearing a string quartet. So dense in fact that Roland Manuel once joked about making a “reduced version for orchestra.” Altstaedt states “Working with [Kuusisto] on this piece felt like coming home, although differently — it felt like a place that I knew but never visited before. […] Pekka had fresh ideas each time we picked up the piece, connecting every gesture in the music to an experience from real life. He never repeated himself; rehearsing with him was not only infinitely inspiring but also very entertaining. ‘Let’s create the sound of a vacuum cleaner’ might sound criminal to some musicians, but Ravel’s own description of the theme of the last movement as ‘like a mechanical rabbit’ or ‘clowneske improvisation’ in the second movement, puts other ideas firmly in their place. Random accidents became virtues, (at least from our perspective) and led us to discover the character that we had actually sought.” Evidently Ravel expressed fears of “being assassinated by amateurs.” He need not have worried in this instance. Altstaedt and Kuusisto are consummate professionals, fearless of risk taking, who ask us to open our ears to a new approach to this familiar music, one which Ravel would have evidently approved.

06 LamentAnd this just in: As I was up against the deadline writing this column, I found in my inbox a very timely release from recorder virtuoso Michala Petri that I simply must share with you: Galina Grigorjeva – Lament (Our Recordings 9.70894 ourrecordings.com). I will let the press release speak for itself. 

“As we all know the world has changed since February the 24th. What is going on with Putin’s atrocities against the free people of an independent nation is beyond our imagination. War is the antithesis of art and music and anathema to everything we represent and hold sacred – and it is difficult to find a way to respond to such a disaster. Everyone involved suffers on both sides – and the consequences affect the whole world – especially the most vulnerable. Since that tragic day Michala Petri has featured a very special work on all her concerts, Lament for recorder solo by the Ukrainian-born composer Galina Grigorjeva – and for the duration of this atrocity, she will continue to do so!

“Born in Crimea, Ukraine, Grigorjeva (b.1962) is one of the most original composers on the contemporary soundscape, creating timeless, ethereal music whose roots lay deep within Slavonic and Western sacred music traditions. Lament, for solo tenor recorder (2000), is a remarkable work, wonderfully engaging with a definite Slavic quality evoking the sounds of the Ukrainian overtone flute, the kalyuka. Beginning with an octave-and-a-half cry of anguish, wisps of melody become increasingly passionate and frantic [...] before retreating in resignation and acceptance.”

I encourage you to seek out this stunning work, and to support artistic contributions to Ukraine’s struggle wherever you encounter them. All involved in the recording worked for free; no expenses were incurred producing this moving digital release and all proceeds from the sale of Lament will be donated to the Kyiv Contemporary Music Days Foundation. 

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 Viola BorealisOn Viola Borealis the outstanding violist Marina Thibeault explores musical links between several northern cultures. Nicolas Ellis conducts Montreal’s Orchestre de l’Agora (ATMA Classique ACD2 2811 atmaclassique.com/en).

The main work here is the striking 2016 Viola Concerto by Lithuanian composer Pēteris Vasks. Thibeault gave the North American premiere in 2019, Vasks calling her playing “truly excellent – she has captured my message.” High praise indeed, and fully warranted.

Reckoning was originally a series of six improvisations for violin with pedal effects by the Anishinaabe composer Melody McKiver. Two brief sections from a transcription for solo viola are included here, with harmonics and bowing techniques replacing the electronic effects.

A spirited performance of Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G Major, generally considered to be the first ever written for the instrument, completes a fine CD.

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02 Ramjattan InspirationsOn Inspirations: New Music for Solo Guitar the Toronto-based classical guitarist Daniel Ramjattan presents a recital of works by composers based in Canada, played on a seven-string left-handed guitar (danielramjattan.bandcamp.com).

Patrick Roux’s lovely Valse Vertigo is from 1994, but the other five works were all written between 2012 and 2020. John Gordon Armstrong’s Five Inspirations from 2018 opens the disc, and is one of three premiere recordings here, the others being Stephanie Orlando’s Soon (2020) and Luis Ramirez’s Singularity (for guitar and audio) from 2019. The Gamelan Suite was written by Ramjattan’s wife Naoko Tsujita in 2019; the CD closes with the really attractive four-movement Catharsis, written by cellist/composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne in 2012. 

There’s beautifully clean playing from Ramjattan, perfectly captured at The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, by guitarist Drew Henderson, whose recording, mixing and mastering is, as always, simply as good as it gets.

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03 Boyd meets girlboyd meets girl: Songs of Love & Despair is the second duo album from the husband-and-wife team of American cellist Laura Metcalf and Australian guitarist Rupert Boyd; the first was reviewed here in September 2017 (Sono Luminus DSL-92255 sonoluminus.com).

It’s another project born in the COVID-19 lockdown, and includes five of their own arrangements: Debussy’s Arabesque No.1; Florence Price’s The Deserted Garden; Beyoncé’s Pray You Catch Me (with vocalise); Radiohead’s Daydreaming (with extended techniques); and Paul McCartney’s Blackbird. Eleanor Rigby is here too, as are Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade (with lovely guitar work) and Boccherini’s Sonata in A Major.

Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs features four of his set of eight Appalachian folk tunes, and there are world-premiere recordings of two terrific new works – Marián Budoš’ A New York Minute and Paul Brantley’s Filles de l’Élysée. Messiaen’s Praise to the Eternity of Jesus, from his Quatuor de la fin du temps, completes another delightful disc, full of warmth and top-notch playing.

04 Ibragimova MendelssohnThe electrifying duo of violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien is back with another superb recital on Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas (Hyperion CDA68322 hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68322).

While only the Beethoven-influenced Sonata in F Minor Op.4 from 1823 was published, three others remained in manuscript: the Sonata in F Major MWV Q7 from 1820; the single-movement fragment Sonata in D MWV Q18 from the late 1820s; and the substantial Sonata in F Major MWV Q26 from 1838, intended for Ferdinand David. Mendelssohn left an unfinished revision of the first movement of the latter work, with the 2009 bicentenary published edition containing both versions; the original is used here.

Mendelssohn was an excellent violinist, so it is no surprise that these are much more than merely competent works. Ibragimova and Tiberghien are as good as ever, with terrific ensemble playing and technical brilliance, especially in the typically dazzling scherzo-like finales.

05 Yevgeny KutikOn The Death of Juliet and Other Tales: Music of Prokofiev violinist Yevgeny Kutik presents a recital inspired by his teacher Roman Totenberg’s story of a chance encounter with Prokofiev in a Paris nightclub, and reflecting Kutik’s belief that Russian folklore imbues all of Prokofiev’s music. The pianist is Anna Polonsky (Marquis MAR623 marquisclassics.com/index.html).

Arrangements of five Russian folk melodies commissioned specifically for the album – three for solo violin (including Kalinka) and two with piano (including Song of the Volga Boatmen) – are built around two Prokofiev works: the exquisite Parting Scene and Death of Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and the Sonata in D Major for Solo Violin Op.115, the latter given a fascinating reading with a much freer opening Moderato than you normally hear. The Violin Sonata No.2 in D Major Op.94bis closes the disc.

Kutik has a gorgeous tone and a great feel for line and phrase, and is ably supported by Polonsky.

06 Bach GoltzGottfried van der Goltz is the violinist on Johann Sebastian Bach Sonatas for Violin and Continuo, with excellent support from cellist Annekatrin Beller and harpsichordist Torsten Johann (Aparte AP276 apartemusic.com/?lang=en).

Note: these are not the six sonatas for violin and keyboard, but works from what Goltz calls the “grey area” of Bach’s catalogue – compositions, sometimes difficult to authenticate, that were described in vague terms and mostly scattered after Bach’s death.

Four works here are presented as authentic, although it looks as if the Gavotte in G Minor should also have been: the Sonata in G Major BWV1021, preserved in a score written by Bach and his wife Anna Magdalena; the Sonata in E Minor BWV1023; the Sonata in C Minor BWV1024 (although the attribution is disputed); and the Fugue in G Minor BWV1026. The Sonata in A Major BWV Anh.II 153 is almost certainly by Georg Philipp Telemann, and the Sonata in C Minor from around 1720 is listed as “Anonymous.”

The question of authenticity, however, never detracts from a quite superb and beautifully recorded recital of terrific Baroque music.

07 Daniel Hope America jpegOn Daniel Hope – America the violinist explores America’s musical heritage in new arrangements by Paul Bateman (Deutsche Grammophon140049 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/danielhope).

Most of the tracks are for violin and string orchestra, featuring the Zürcher Kammerorchester in the five-piece Gershwin Song Suite, selections from Bernstein’s West Side Story, Florence Price’s Adoration, Copland’s Long Time Ago, At the River and Hoedown, Kurt Weill’s September Song, My Ship, Speak Low and Mack the Knife, Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday and Samuel Ward’s America the Beautiful. The Marcus Roberts jazz piano trio joins Hope for the Gershwin, and jazz singer Joy Denalone and pianist Sylvia Thereza are the collaborators on Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

The effectiveness of the arrangements varies, but as usual Hope is in great form and perfectly at ease in this style of music.

08 Sibelius NielsenThe young Norwegian violinist Johan Dalene, winner of the 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition follows up last year’s first recital disc with an outstanding concerto CD with Sibelius Nielsen Violin Concertos, with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under John Storgårds (BIS-2620 bis.se).

The composers were both born in 1865 and were excellent violinists, but their concertos, while written within seven years of each other, are markedly different in style. The Sibelius Concerto in D Minor Op.47 from 1904 is in the traditional three-movement form, while Nielsen’s Concerto Op.33 from 1911 is in two movements, each with slow and fast sections.

Dalene has a bright but not huge tone and technique to burn, and puts a quite individual stamp on both works, always sensitive in the Nielsen and simply dancing through the upper register challenges in the Sibelius.

09 Rautavaara Lost LandscapesThe final four orchestral works of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) are presented on Lost Landscapes: Works for Violin and Orchestra, a really sumptuous CD featuring violinist Simone Lamsma and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra under Robert Trevino (Ondine ODE 1405-2 naxosdirect.com/search/ode+1405-2).

The beautiful Fantasia from 2015 was written for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Deux Sérénades was written in 2016 at the request of Hilary Hahn; the second movement was left unfinished at the composer’s death, with the orchestration completed by Rautavaara’s 1970s student Kalevi Aho in 2018.

The four-movement Lost Landscapes, a revisiting of locations that were important to the composer in his youth was originally a 2005 violin and piano work for Midori, adapted by Rautavaara for violin and string orchestra in 2013-14. Simone Lamsma was the soloist at the full premiere in Malmö in 2021. Lost Landscapes is a world-premiere recording, as is the short orchestral piece In the Beginning from 2015.

10 Magdalena HoffmannThe modern concert harp weighs about 40 kilos, has 47 strings and seven pedals used to raise their pitch, and requires foot as well as manual dexterity, all of which makes the beautifully nuanced and virtuosic performances by Magdalena Hoffmann on Nightscapes for Harp, her debut album on the DG label, all the more remarkable (Deutsche Grammophon 4861724 deutschegrammophon.com/en/artists/magdalena-hoffmann).

Both original works and piano pieces transcribed by Hoffmann are featured in a delightful recital. Britten’s Suite in C Major Op.83 with its Notturno middle movement is the central work in a program that includes Notturno movements by Respighi and Clara Schumann, two Nocturnes by John Field, a Nocturne and three Waltzes by Chopin, Pizzetti’s Sogno and the Nocturne for Left Hand Alone by the American jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

For pure wow factor, though, the Danse des Lutins by the French harpist Henriette Renié, Marcel Tournier’s La danse du Moujik and Jean-Michel Damase’s Fantaisie on Tales of Hoffmann are simply stunning.

11 Schubert ModiglianiSchubert wrote string quartets for almost his entire life, with 15 surviving works composed between 1810 or 1811, when he was 13 or 14, and 1826, less than two years before his death; at least another four or five are lost. The complete canon is available in a new 5CD box set of Schubert – The String Quartets in immensely satisfying performances by the Quatuor Modigliani (Mirare MIR588 mirare.fr/catalogue).

The quartets are creatively grouped in threes with a common thread, the five volumes being labelled Harmony, The Art of Song, The Classical Spirit, Sentiments of the Soul and Light and Shadow. Melissa Khong’s excellent booklet essay and the generous spacing between the tracks add to an excellent release.

12 Ruperto Chapi String Quartets 3 4The Spanish composer Ruperto Chapí (1851-1909), known essentially as a composer of zarzuelas, only became interested in chamber music late in life, starting his four string quartets in 1903. The last two of them are featured in performances by the Cuarteto Latinoamericano on Ruperto Chapí String Quartets 3 & 4 (Sono Luminus DSL-92254 sonoluminus.com).

There had been virtually no Spanish string quartet music, ensembles or societies in the 75 years preceding 1901, when the Sociédad Filarmónica and the Cuarteto Francés were both founded in Madrid. Chapí’s third and fourth quartets were premiered by the Cuarteto Francés in 1905 and 1907 respectively.

Described as brilliantly funnelling the colour of the zarzuela into the string quartet genre, they are attractive, substantial and well-written works that present frequent technical challenges to the performers. The Cuarteto Latinoamericano, founded in Mexico in 1982, is in its element here in full-blooded performances.

13 20C CelloOn his second volume of 20th Century Music for Cello cellist Benjamin Whitcomb gives solid performances of four works for the solo instrument (MSR Classics MA 1798 msrcd.com).

The works are Hindemith’s 1922 Cello Sonata Op.25 No.3, Ernest Bloch’s 1956 Suite No.1, Gaspar Cassadó’s 1926 Suite for Solo Cello and Britten’s Suite No.2 Op.80 from 1967.

Whitcomb has a broad, rather strident tone that tends to lack warmth at times in these competent readings, although there’s the occasional moment – especially in the Cassadó – where the intonation seems somewhat less than secure.

01 Schutz David et SalomonHeinrich Schütz – David & Salomon
Les Cris de Paris; Geoffroy Jourdain
Harmonia Mundi HMM905346 (store.harmoniamundi.com) 

One of the great German Baroque composers, Heinrich Schütz’s output of sacred music is remarkable for both its quantity and quality. By incorporating Italian techniques and methods and applying them to German-language religious texts, Schütz influenced the future of German music in the sacred and secular realms and is often regarded as the most important German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach.

Schütz lived until the age of 87 and, with over 500 surviving works, any recording of his material needs a specific focus or organizing principle. For the program featured on David & Salomon, Schütz’s two trips to Italy – taken 16 years apart from each other – serve as bookends, with every piece of music on this disc composed between 1612 and 1628. 

From 1609 to1612 Schütz studied with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice, and it is this influence that is most clearly apparent on David & Salomon, as the tremendously vital and energetic nature of Italianate polychoral writing is synthesized so effectively with Luther-translated scriptural excerpts throughout. With the first notes of Alleluja! Lobet den Herren, we quickly understand that both the composer and performers are masters of their craft, as the rhythmically demanding score is executed with precision, thoughtfulness and joy.

Not everything on this disc is unending exaltation, but Schütz’s expressions of grief, angst and solemnity are as successfully executed, if not more so, than their exuberant counterparts. Vulnerasti cor meum, a setting of text from the Song of Solomon, is a masterful display of chromatic part-writing, while An den Wassern zu Babel uses polychoral techniques to great effect, made even more so through the antiphonal panning present in the audio itself.

A magnificent ensemble with an equally gifted director, Les Cris de Paris and Geoffroy Jourdain are in fine form on David & Salomon, which is highly recommended to Schütz aficionados everywhere.

02 ResurrexiResurrexi! – Easter in Vienna with Mozart and the Haydn Brothers
The Choir of Keble College Oxford; Instruments of Time & Truth; Paul Brough
CRD Records CR 3539 (keble.ox.ac.uk/about/music) 

It has been suggested that Mozart may have written sacred music to remain in favour with his patrons. This is unlikely, but even if it is true it makes no difference to the meaning of the music, for the music of Resurrexi – the Easter mass – expresses a deep, childlike and unquestioning faith, while being quintessentially Mozart: questing and pious, yet at the same time, irresistibly joyful. Director Paul Brough has added two additional pieces to this full mass: a Sequenza by Michael Haydn celebrating the paschal lamb which includes the plainchant; and the heartfelt and passionate Te Deum by the great Joseph Haydn that is, in every measure, as celebratory and full of nervous energy as the Mozart.

Brough espouses that this recording is an object lesson in the music of liturgy. Indeed there is a profound depth and beauty in the exemplary declamation of chants such as Vidi aquam and the Pater Noster, and fervent and thrilling singing through the Sequenza to the Te Deum, by the Choir of Keble College, Oxford. 

The choir has mastered sustained, seamless legato singing; complemented with sensitive accompaniments by the Instruments of Time and Truth, the music is revelatory and rewarding. Voices, brass and reeds, timpani and strings inhabit this Latin liturgy with unaffected brilliance striking gold from the opening Regina Cœli by Mozart to the fervent account of Haydn’s Te Deum at closing.

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03 Zandonai FrancescaRiccardo Zandonai – Francesca da Rimini
Sara Jakubiak; Jonathan Tetelman; Ivan Inverardi; Charles Workman; Deutsche Oper Berlin; Carlo Rizzi
Naxos 2.110711 (naxosdirect.com/search/2110711)

In The Divine Comedy’s circle of Hell reserved for “carnal sinners,” Dante encounters Francesca and Paolo, historical 13th-century lovers murdered by Francesca’s husband, Paolo’s brother Gianciotto. Their story, which left Dante “overcome with pity,” has inspired numerous composers, including Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, none more persuasively than Riccardo Zandonai, whose melody-soaked, intensely dramatic 1914 opera deserves much greater renown. (In 1984 the Metropolitan Opera, with stars Renata Scotto and Plácido Domingo, brought it to Toronto’s International Festival; the DVD of this vocally and visually resplendent production is still available.)

Unlike the Met’s historically appropriate medieval splendour, this 2021 Deutsche Oper Berlin production is senselessly updated to the early 20th century, with Guelfs and Ghibellines somehow still at war, absurdly still fighting with crossbows. Silent actors wander around without apparent function or purpose; the chorus, due to COVID restrictions, sings offstage.

In contrast to the misconceived staging, this production’s musical values are superlative. Soprano Sara Jakubiak, the radiant Heliane in the Deutsche Oper DVD of Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane, is electrifying as the tormented Francesca. Jonathan Tetelman’s gleaming, clarion tenor and tall-dark-and-handsome looks make him an ideal Paolo, known as “Il Bello” (the Handsome). Heavy-set baritone Ivan Inverandi’s Gianciotto is suitably coarse in voice and appearance, though neither “crippled” nor “demonic” as described in the libretto. They and the other 12 fine soloists, together with Carlo Rizzi’s urgent, surging conducting of Zandonai’s impassioned score, deliver immensely rewarding operatic pleasures.

05 Stanley GrillStanley Grill – Und das Lied bleibt schön
Lisa Rombach; Nicholas Spanos; Pandolfis Consort
Gramola 90254 (stangrillcomposer.com) 

“I sometimes feel I was born 500 years too late,“ says New York native Stanley Grill (b.1953), alluding to his “passion” for the medieval and Renaissance music that imbues his melodies and the sonorities of the Vienna-based Pandolfis Consort’s four period instruments – viola d’amore, viola, cello and theorbo.

Predominantly slow, melancholy songs, composed between 2009 and 2020, traverse memory, mysticism, love, suffering and death. Viennese soprano Lisa Rombach brings poignant, expressive vibrato to settings of eight poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and three poems by Jewish women – Rose Ausländer (1901-1988), who survived the Holocaust and Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger (1924-1942), who didn’t (note her dates).

Greek countertenor Nicholas Spanos hauntingly evokes a medieval troubadour in Les Fugitifs (Rilke) while projecting a more Romantic sensibility in settings of Heinrich Heine’s Mit deinen blauen Augen and Ich wandle unter Blumen.

I most enjoyed seven songs in which Grill favours more contemporary melodic contours over early-music modality: Eingang and Klage (Rilke), Schnee and In jenen Jahren (Ausländer), the two Heine songs and Ein Schlaflied für dich (Meerbaum-Einsinger).

Grill channels Renaissance vibes in his three-movement instrumental Lieder ohne Worte (2009), its central Moderato providing one of the CD’s rare bits of energy. The prevailing moodiness makes this a disc best suited for dipping into. I would have welcomed some more up-tempo music and a clearer acoustic; perhaps the heavy reverb was intended to simulate the ambience of a medieval cathedral. Texts and translations are included.

06 Reves EnclosRêves Enclos – Mélodies de Louis Dominique Roy
Olivier Laquerre; Louis Dominique Roy
ATMA ACD2 2817 (atmaclassique.com/en) 

Cégep de Saint-Laurent piano professor/pianist/composer Louis Dominique Roy set the poetry of numerous Quebec poets to create an accessible outstanding repertoire of vocal works from Quebec. As he writes in the liner notes, after realizing its need as a university vocal coach and accompanist, he composed over 60 works for all voices over nearly 25 years. Here, baritone Olivier Laquerre sings a number of these Québécois melodies to Roy’s piano accompaniment, with special guests cellist Sébastien Lépine and horn-player Louis-Philippe Marsolais on select tracks. Roy’s musical settings of poems by Émile Nelligan, Éloi de Grandmont, Alfred Desrochers, Arthur de Bussières, Hector de Saint-Denys-Garneau and Gilles Vigneault, as well as three Scandinavian poems about death translated into French, are included.

Roy respectfully sets the texts with masterful musical vocal lines and varying piano accompaniments. Nelligan’s Amour immaculé is Romantic flavoured, featuring a build to louder fuller piano chords under lower pitched quasi operatic vocals. Roy set three Grandmont poems for all four musicians especially for this recording. Held horn and vocal notes blend perfectly above detached piano chords, with closing movement adding cello plucks in L’âge des rêves. Lépine composed his own cello part to Roy’s setting of five Vigneault poems. Aubes is uplifting with lower vocals/piano contrasted by higher cello sounds. Great to hear Roy perform two of his solo piano works, especially the pianistic imagery of moving sea waves in Vol des oiseaux au-dessus de la mer.

All performances and compositions shine with literary and musical excitement.

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01 SopraSopra La Spagna
La Spagna; Alejandro Marías
Lukos Records 5451CRE201665 (laspagna.es)

Ambitious is perhaps the best word to describe this CD. The mass Agnus Dei was set to many tunes. One of them was the already very well-known Basse Danse La Spagna which subsequently became a setting for Agnus Dei throughout Europe. The ensemble on this CD has even taken La Spagna as its own name. In addition, it has sought to record here as many versions of La Spagna as it can find.

Sometimes the settings are complex. It needs a composer of the calibre of Francesco Canova da Milano to write a complex lute variant, and yet sometimes there is a lively – very lively – simplicity, as in Francisco de la Torre’s version. In the latter all but one of La Spagna’s seven musicians perform, accompanied not least by the pronounced percussion-playing of Daniel Garay.

This contrast between the intense and the spirited is borne out in the suite of six Recercadas sobre la Spagna by Diego Ortiz. Alejandro Marías digs deep into his command of the viola da gamba to interpret these demanding settings. 

La Spagna have been painstaking in their research. They have even uncovered A Spanish Humour, set by Tobias Hume. Hume must have been highly skillful in his talents; he had to be in one of them as he served as a mercenary! Which might account for the explosive introductory bars of his variation... 

It is very difficult to decide which setting of La Spagna is the most thoughtful or the most uplifting. If I had to choose, it would be that by de la Torre, with its loyalty to the intense quality of this sacred composition.

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02 Handel Francesco Corti Handel – Winged Hands, The Eight Great Suites and Overtures
Francesco Corti
Arcana A499 (naxosdirect.com/search/a499) 

Interpretations of Handel’s Eight Great Suites have long been popular – and frequently recorded on either piano or harpsichord. The choice of instrument was made for Francesco Corti as his whole career has been with the latter. And it is his virtuoso playing which is showcased on this CD.

Note from the beginning of the Gigue in the first Great Suite; a gigue may be written off as a whimsical moment casually tacked onto a supposedly more serious set of movements but in this case Corti breathes dedication and meaning into his performance.  

There are 39 movements to the Great Suites. Selecting those that most bring out Corti’s mastery of the harpsichord is difficult. I thoroughly enjoyed his interpretation of No 6. There is a real dignity to his Presto, contrasted by the concluding Gigue

Corti’s demonstrated mastery is not confined to the suites however. The Ouverture [largo] to Rodelinda commences – and ends – with his imparting a glissando flourish which bookends Handel’s Presto and Adagio, themselves played with real spirit. 

Finally, Babell’s First Set in F Major gives an all-too-tantalizing glimpse into those all-too-many composers who flourished in Handel’s time but were overshadowed by him.

This is the third recording of the Great Suites I have reviewed for The WholeNote. Conti’s interpretation exemplifies why I will never tire of this Handel masterpiece.

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