01 Tafelmusik VivaldiVivaldi con amore
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Elisa Citterio
Tafelmusik Media TMK 1039CD (tafelmusik.org)

Vivaldi con amore, Tafelmusik’s first recording under new music director Elisa Citterio, is a vivid and engaging reflection of both Vivaldi’s ebullient musical style and Citterio’s approach to working with her orchestra. Rather than releasing a disc that shines a spotlight squarely on her artistic leadership through conspicuously demanding orchestral virtuosity or by recording unexpected material, Vivaldi con amore maintains the integrity of the Tafelmusik ensemble, while putting the music first.

One of the most striking features of this recording is how, although there is a new leader at the orchestra’s helm, the “Tafelmusik sound” is maintained, such that these recordings are immediately identifiable as Tafelmusik’s own. Citterio’s respect for the ensemble is apparent in the content of the disc, which features seven separate concerti in which the orchestra’s musicians are given centre stage.

Containing over 75 minutes of the Italian master’s works, the title says it all: Vivaldi con amore; but, as the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” No detail is overlooked in the interpretation of these works, with beautifully tapered phrasing throughout and thoughtful attention given to the contrasts present in Vivaldi’s pieces, making each come alive in its own way.

The appointment of a new music director is a tumultuous experience for any group, especially for one as established as Tafelmusik. Vivaldi con amore shows us that we need not look to the future to expect great results from this orchestra’s newest chapter; they are already here, and present on this disc.

02 Ofra HarnoyBack to Bach
Ofra Harnoy; Mike Herriott
Analekta ACD 2 8907 (analekta.com)

With the release of her much anticipated new recording, luminous, gifted and transplendant Israeli/Canadian cellist, Ofra Harnoy, and her brilliant collaborator and husband, Mike Herriott, have not only brought forth a project of breathtaking beauty, but they have done the near impossible – through the use of contemporary technology, Herriott’s multi-instrumental/arranging/producing skills, Harnoy’s exquisite cello work (including large cello ensembles performed entirely by her), as well as a united, inspired vision – Harnoy and Herriett have manifested a fresh, innovative and genuine way of presenting this Baroque music in a way that is both exciting and accessible.

Not since the late Jacqueline du Pré (with whom Harnoy studied) has the world heard a cellist of Harnoy’s technical calibre and almost telepathic communicative skills. The well-chosen selections here include some material previously recorded by Harnoy from her 40-plus albums, as well as favourites such as Bach’s Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 and Bist du bei mir, with the addition of more obscure, but stirring repertoire from Corelli and Allegri… and the sound of Harnoy’s breathtaking musicianship, multiplied by nine on Allegri’s Miserere is almost too beautiful to bear.

In bringing her vision to life, Harnoy also wanted to experiment with using brass instruments instead of the traditional string (or pipe organ, etc.) accompaniments, so Herriott created complex brass arrangements, and performed all of the parts himself: piccolo trumpet, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn and trombone. There are literally only a handful of individuals in the world who could have accomplished what Herriott has so deftly done on this remarkable project. This recording is a triumph, and a must-have for any serious collector.

03 Berlioz FantastiqueBerlioz – Symphonie fantastique
Lucile Richardot; L’Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique; John Eliot Gardiner
Chateau de Versailles CVS011 (naxosdirect.com)

There is no shortage of recordings of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique but here is yet another one of special interest. A hinged package contains two video discs and trilingual booklet. Presented is a video of an all-Berlioz concert given by Sir John Eliot Gardiner directing his orchestra, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in the opulent Opera Royal, Chateau de Versailles on October 17, 2018. The participating guest artist is mezzo-soprano Lucile Richardot. The program begins with the Overture to Le Corsaire, followed by a longtime favourite, the heartfelt, La mort de Cléopâtre, passionately delivered by the totally involved Richardot. From Les Troyens the orchestra plays The Royal Hunt and Storm and the impressive Richardot returns with a deeply felt realization of the Monologue et air de Didon, “Ah, je vais mourir… Adieu, fière cité.” Richardot is a French mezzo-soprano who is highly respected as a soloist in Baroque music and a lot more. You can readily appreciate her voice and versatility on any of her countless videos on YouTube.

As the arguments pro and con original instruments, i.e. the instruments of the composer’s day, have all been stated and debated there is no point in carrying them on here. However, here at least, these unique, previously unheard sonorities and textures of the instruments that Berlioz knew are eloquently articulate and a revelation for listener and viewer alike. Berlioz would be elated.

Footnote: “The Secret of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” with Gardiner and his orchestra on YouTube is a must-watch.

04 Mahler 1 MinnesotaMahler – Symphony No.1 in D Major
Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä
BIS BIS-2346 (bis.se)

This is the fourth entry from the Minnesota Orchestra in a projected Mahler symphony cycle, following releases of the Second, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies under the direction of Osmo Vänskä, the well-regarded Finnish conductor who has devoted himself to bringing this ensemble to international renown since 2003. Mahler’s First Symphony, composed in his 24th year, reveals at a single stroke a unique and compelling voice; it remains one of his most-often-performed works. Vänskä’s solid and unaffected interpretation of the work, though structurally very well-paced, strikes me at times as a wee bit circumspect, particularly so in the funereal third movement, the opening of which is normally played as a mournful string bass solo but is contentiously (alas, not for the first time) assigned here to the entire bass section, robbing this introduction of its essentially grotesque quality; the underplaying of the intentionally vulgar interruptions of klezmer music that follows is yet another ironic opportunity missed. That being said, the strong bond between this orchestra and their leader provides in the end a highly compelling performance. I was tremendously impressed by the excellence and enthusiasm of the Minnesota musicians – I’ve rarely heard such a fierce viola section cut their way through the tumult of the finale of the work. Props as well to the recording team lead by Robert Suff; the low-floor recording level and resultant extended dynamic range lend an other-worldly aura to the liminal string harmonics that slowly reveal the magic of this work and conclude with a sonorous account of the glorious brass passages of the finale. While it’s admittedly not the definitive performance of this popular work in a very crowded field of contenders, it is certainly a substantially satisfying one.

01 Michael ColgrassMichael Colgrass – Side by Side; Letter from Mozart; The Schubert Birds
Joanne Kong; Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose
BMOP Sound 1064 (bmop.org)

You receive a letter from “your favourite composer” signed “Your friend, Mozart,” requesting a 20th-century take on his style using extra percussion which “in my day wasn’t dignified.” The resulting 15-minute Letter from Mozart (1976) is a wonky, percussion-heavy series of dreamlike, stream-of-unconsciousness episodes, a drug-induced merging of the 20th and 18th centuries, requiring two conductors to avoid complete chaos. It’s great fun!

Side by Side (2007) presents Joanne Kong playing both piano and harpsichord, set 90 degrees to each other. To balance the disparate instruments, Colgrass first muted the piano strings, then amplified both to compete with the orchestra. Colgrass never severed his roots as a jazz drummer, so the 24-minute concerto exploits the percussive qualities of both keyboards and orchestra.

Colgrass wrote that The Schubert Birds (1989) is “a crazy quilt of theme and variations… based on Franz Schubert’s Kupelweiser Waltz, a little-known piano piece.” The title refers to “Schubert as a bird who spent his life singing, surrounded by a circle of others who… sang with him.” Like the CD’s other two works, the 19-minute piece revels in kaleidoscopic fragmentation and glittering sonorities.

The prolific, always-inventive Colgrass, the 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winner who died at 87 this past July, is less well-represented on disc than he should be. A Chicago native, he’d lived in Toronto since 1974, yet titled his 2010 memoir Adventures of an American Composer. Please, record companies, give us more CDs of the adventurous Michael Colgrass!

02 Lands End EnsembleKickin’ It 2.0
Land’s End
Centrediscs CMCCD 26819 (musiccentre.ca)

Two works by Vincent Ho, artistic director of Calgary’s Land’s End Ensemble, bookend this CD that spotlights as soloists the ensemble’s three musicians. First, cellist Beth Root Sandvoss performs Morning Sun, a lyrical, somewhat melancholy piece, just under four minutes long, that Ho composed while watching a sunrise in California.

In Derek Charke’s Tree Rings, violinist John Lowry and Ben Reimer on marimba depict a tree’s life under ever-changing weather conditions. The music’s moods and energies keep changing, too; it’s compelling listening throughout its own 11-minute “life.” Stelco is Omar Daniel’s “homage” to industrial machines and the Canadians “who risk life and limb” operating them. Pianist Susanne Ruberg-Gordon and Reimer on vibraphone manufacture ten minutes of metallic percussion, ranging from near-subsonic vibrations to pile-driver pounding, with clanging piano bass notes. The trio reunites in Analía Llugdar’s seven-minute Don Liborio Avila, based on a portrait of an old man in a small Argentinian town. “But,” says Llugdar, “violence haunts the picture.” The music is violent, too, the ensemble simulating angry electronic bursts, buzzes and squeaks.

Ho writes that Kickin’ It 2.0, performed by the ensemble plus Reimer on drum kit, was inspired by “Squarepusher, jazz, gamelan music, Chinese folk music and the crime novels of James Ellroy.” Ellroy’s novels notwithstanding, Ho’s 20-minute, four-movement work offers jazzy aggression, gentle gamelan-like tinkles, a drum-dominated cadenza and a powerful, sustained motoric finale, ending a fascinating disc that gathers steam (and steam engines!) from start to propulsive finish.

03 Carmen BradenCarmen Braden – Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 27119 (musiccentre.ca)

The idea of north is central to Canadian composer Carmen Braden’s latest release, titled Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars. The imagery of shimmering icy planes at dusk – an impression imbedded within all Canadians whether physically experienced or not – is ever present in Braden’s writing for various chamber ensembles. But this imagery is not obvious, nor is it obfuscated through artistic trickery. Braden’s music is clear, and it is bright. It drifts, lingers, dances, and breathes at rest. It is at once far and near – a personal representation of a liminal landscape that is at once distant and comforting. One true gift (among many) on the release is the second movement from a piece titled Raven Conspiracy. Braden gives this movement the subtitle of Waltz of Wing and Claw. This music, written for strings, paints the density and impossible geometry of the dream cloud of birds – that dark unbroken remoulding of the sky against sun, ice and smoke. This recording is captured psychogeography – a process that asks us to embrace the playfulness of our surroundings, and to drift among those places without cause. It is clear that Braden is trying to provide a portrait – but also a release – between life and surroundings. With a wide range of instrumentations, colours, and ambiences, the sounds on this recording will haunt and comfort – much like the strange beauty of the northern terrain.

04 McGregor Lutalica CD CoverLutalica
Mark Takeshi McGregor
Redshift Records (redshiftrecords.org)

Vancouver flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor is an internationally recognized interpreter of classical flute music, particularly of the experimental kind. As he writes in the liner notes, the motivation for his new album came from an exploration of his identities. “Lutalica [the word invented by John Koenig] meaning ‘the part of one’s identity that doesn’t fit into categories’ is a solo flute project that grew out of an identity crisis.”

McGregor has been performing music of predominantly European composers on the metal concert flute, even though he was “anything but Western European. I am half-Japanese, half-Australian, born and raised on the West Coast of Canada: a true product of the Pacific Rim.” His geographically informed search culminated in Lutalica, an album of nine recent widely varied solo flute works by composers hailing from Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and the USA.

Bookending the album are works by two composers with strong Canadian connections. Hope Lee’s moving requiem for her father, forever after (2000), alternates moments of lyrical grief with percussive anger. Emilie LeBel’s 2017 Hiraeth (Welsh for homesickness, nostalgia, grief for lost places of the past) explores at length the “traveller’s desire to be free… all the while longing for a home to which they cannot return… which maybe never was.” The final alternating long low tones make a beautiful and satisfying ending to this album’s musical journey around the Pacific rim.

Should you consider listening to an entire album of contemporary solo flute music? When it’s so well composed, thoughtfully curated, and impressively performed as Lutalica is, my answer is a resounding yes.

05 What Goes Around Front CoverFrank Horvat – What Goes Around
Various Artists
Centrediscs CMCCD 27419 (musiccentre.ca)

I once developed a liking for a pricey mosaic backsplash tile with sharp colours featuring tiny images reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art icons. If minimalist music has an analogy in the visual arts it is with mosaics. Frank Horvat’s minimalism is attractive, bright-coloured and poppy. Also surprising. Also, somewhat formulaic. This last is not a criticism of the quality or value of his writing; I’m no judge in that regard, but it does strike me that five of the six cuts on the newly released What Goes Around clock in at roughly ten minutes, suggesting a pattern of construction he consistently follows.

Breaking with this pattern, at nearly 15 minutes, is the most powerful piece, 7 Pianos, recorded on several tracks and performed by the composer. A concentration exercise for the listener, it’s almost a game of recognizing the extremely gradual variations away from the initial minute of a repeated gesture. Maybe it’s me being jaded, but this one challenges me to truly listen and not let the patterning lull my attention. Fatigue for the performer is sometimes a cherished aesthetic of the composer (those guys burn me up), and if it is so for Horvat, he has at least chosen a willing victim: this is intensity from start to finish.

A curiously titled piece referencing the late Rob Ford is similarly a multi-track recording with Peter Stoll ably accompanying himself on multiple clarinets in melancholy tunefulness; apparently Horvat felt more compassion than outrage regarding the misguided mayor. Other performers include the redoubtable Bev Johnston on mallets, and the disc ends with a strangely offensive (to me, I have issues) voice loop on the repeated phrase “I Love You.”

06 HartenbergerRussell Hartenberger – Requiem for Percussion and Voices
Nexus; TorQ; Lindsay Kesselman; Cory Knight
Nexus 11031 (nexuspercussion.com)

The requiem mass has provided composers with inspiration for centuries, from which has come some of Western music’s greatest works, including the Requiems of Verdi and Mozart, Fauré and Duruflé, as well as those incorporating external texts, such as Britten’s War Requiem.

Russell Hartenberger’s Requiem for Percussion and Voices is a work in the latter form, eschewing the traditional requiem texts in favour of an eight-movement reflection on death and nature. Incorporating tolling bells, funeral drum beatings, a Bach chorale, bird songs and bugle calls, this requiem is an eclectic and wide-ranging synthesis of musical style that suggests a broad, universal outlook.

The disc’s liner notes, written by Hartenberger (who is also a member of Nexus), are exceedingly insightful and highly recommended to anyone who listens to this piece, for within them one will find a personal story behind each movement, from Hartenberger’s days in the United States Air Force Band to his study of West African drum music. In a work with such wide-ranging and globally sourced material as this Requiem, such commentary serves as a road map, guiding the listener in an invaluable way.

In an area of the arts so often committed to reviving the works of the past, it is vitally important to explore new material in addition to the old standards. This recording provides a splendid example of why this is: tuneful, contemporary (in its truest sense), and a fine display of vocal and instrumental ability, Requiem is worthwhile listening for all.

07 Suite NostalgiqueSuite Nostalgique – Musical Impressions from Ukraine
Izabella Budai; Matthew Christakos; Maria Dolnycky; Alex McLeod; Peter Stoll
Independent n/a (store.cdbaby.com/cd)

Pianist Maria Dolnycky originally brought together the five local musicians on this recording to perform the stylistically diverse music of these seven Ukrainian composers in 2016 at Toronto’s Gallery 345 as a fundraiser for modern prosthetic limbs for Ukraine.

Dolnycky performs with passion and detail in all the works. Mykola Lysenko’s traditional Romantic-flavoured Sorrow (Elegy), Op. 39 opens with cellist Matthew Christakos playing a mournful solo line leading to singable melodies above tonal piano chords. Anatoly Kos-Anatolsky’s Waltz for cello and piano is upbeat with dramatic touches of swing and big band styles. Now it’s violist Alex McLeod’s turn to perform expressively in Vasyl Barvinsky’s Three Romances, a three-movement work highlighted by the happy closing It’s Spring Again! movement. Levko Kolodub’s Moldovan Sketch for viola and piano showcases the composer’s and two performers’ musical talents ranging from classic high tinkles to rhythmic Moldovan-flavoured folk music. Title track Suite Nostalgique for clarinet and piano is the strongest composition here, as clarinetist Peter Stoll joins Dolnycky in playing composer Taras Yashchenko’s four-movement exploration of two-step Foxtrot, slower Aria and intense rhythmic party Samba. Flutist Izabella Budai also traverses musical styles with piano from the sweet to atonal in nine short tasty selections from Boris Kosak’s Petit Fours (bite-sized treats), and the expressive Théodore Akimenko’s Idylle, Op.14 for flute and piano.

Let’s applaud Dolnycky for making these fascinating lesser-known Ukrainian works available for wider audiences to hear and contemplate.

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08 Come Closer bassoonCome Closer
Michael Harley; Phillip Bush
New Focus Recordings FCR240 (newfocusrecordings.com)

If you play clarinet in an orchestra, the bassoon is your best friend. That rich and deeply grained sonority forgives a multitude of pitch variances; a well-supported bassoon sound is a perfect colour complement to the whingeing voice of its single-reed neighbour. So immediately I must declare a bias in this commentary on Come Closer, featuring American bassoonist Michael Harley playing the music of several of his colleagues from the University of South Carolina and beyond.

Listen to this album. Just go out and buy it and put it on and marvel at the title track by John Fitz Rogers. A quartet performed in multi-track by Harley, with definite echoes of Reich, Adams and Glass, it nourishes the ear, never tiresome, always delightful. Precision marries beauty. In the following piece, Miphadventures by Stefan Freund, we’re treated to a blues-infused dialogue between bassoon and piano (played with sympathy and guts by Phillip Bush). An introductory arioso sets the stage for a swinging dance in a stylish syncopated four to a bar. This is Americanism, not Americana. It’s never hackneyed, simply enjoyable. Harley allows just the barest hint of jazz inflection, which is good. Too many bends induce nausea.

If you begin to think this all sounds too like easy listening, stay tuned. The third track will satisfy your wish for tonal exploration. Alarums and Excursions by Carl Schimmel bills itself as a Puzzle-Burlesque, but really leave off the brain work and just gloat that here’s something very grabby that also avoids major and minor sonorities.

I could go on. You don’t need me to. You need to get this disc.

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09 TupleDarker Things
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0179 (brightshiny.ninja)

Here’s certainly something different, a bassoon duo playing contemporary concert music. Music scored for two bassoons apparently only reaches back a few decades, yet undeterred, bassoonists Rachael Elliott and Lynn Hileman formed their duo Tuple in 2006. They have played their unusual repertoire widely at American experimental art and music venues ever since. Darker Things, their debut album, displays their admirable technique and musicality, as well as the surprising tonal, timbral and emotional range possible on just two bassoons.

The earliest work here is by the celebrated Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. Her masterfully crafted, impassioned Duo Sonata (1977) is characterized by one of her extra-musical themes: reaching for the divine in music. Frequent glissandi, intense chromatic motives, the use of micro-chromaticism (i.e. quarter tones) and multiphonics illustrate what Gubaidulina characterizes as striving for a “transition to another plane of existence.”

Lacrimosa (1991), by the idiosyncratic Dutch master composer Louis Andriessen, is a slow and deliberate work employing close atonal harmonies to create the keening quality suggested by its title. On the other hand multiple Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Daugherty’s Bounce (1988) explores a series of dramatic moments in various moods, tempi, dynamics and bassoon ranges. Black (2008) by American post-minimalist Marc Mellits stays light of heart throughout. Echoes of Steve Reich at his most ebullient permeate the work, however Mellits’ complex cross-rhythms and syncopations also reference rock’s straightforward tonality and forward-propelling energy.

Darker Things is a fun and thought-provoking album suitable for double reed players – as well as the rest of us.

10 PatternsPatterns – Chamber Works
Various Artists
Navona Records nv6243 (navonarecords.com)

A musical pattern may be a repeating or recurring rhythm, pitch, dynamic, instrumentation etc. A repeating pattern of surprisingly fascinating, contrasting music by seven composers for diverse small ensembles, including two solo guitar works, makes this an unexpected listening joy.

James William Stamm’s Asymmetry for guitar duet is upbeat with alternating broken chord figures and short melodic sections. Georges Raillard’s guitar solo Disintegration opens with tonal intervals which then change to contrasting strums and atonal intervals. Composer/guitarist Santiago Kodela’s three-movement/pattern solo-guitar work, Two Lords, opens with Of Textures, a rhythmic toe-tapping work with low tones and moving melody. The slower, edgier Of Colours has ringing contemplative guitar tones. The faster Of Mechanics features driving guitar grooves, pitches and repeated note patterns.

Now for percussion patterns. Daniel Adams’ two-marimba work Road Traversed and Reversed opens with attention-grabbing marimba rolls, then lots of exciting repeated notes, tight duet contrapuntal playing and grooves. David Arbury’s Four Snares has four snare drummers performing constantly on the move – snare rolls, effects, taps and dynamic variations.

Bunny Beck’s tango-flavoured expressive Suite for Sarro for string trio encompasses contemporary and Romantic sounds. Fun abounds in Jan Järvlepp’s Bassoon Quartet. The four bassoons emulate car sounds like short beeps in Cadillac. The slower Reaching showcases the instrument’s low pitch abilities. Danceable Jig is rewarding at the low pitch with twirling melodic patterns.

The pattern is completed with impeccable production and performances. Great, great, great!

Kaija Saariaho – True Fire; Trans; Ciel d’hiver
Gerald Finley; Xavier de Maistre; Finnish RSO; Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1309-2 (naxosdirect.com)

Ensemble Musikfabrik
Wergo Edition Musikfabrik 15 (musikfabrik.eu/en)

11a SaariahoKaija Saariaho appears to engage all the senses at full throttle when she is writing music. This tactility is channelled in such a manner that one might conceivably hear the creeping of the shadow of a tree elongating at dusk or a flower weeping in the rain in long inventions and subtly sculpted lines for a cello. All of this appears to make for works that comprise highly complex sound masses, created out of microscopic tangles of intertwined instrumental lines – a kind of musical spider’s web woven with micropolyphony. Through it all she remains completely focused on melody, counterpoint and harmony, with rhythm also surfacing in dramatic outbursts. Saariaho appears to push form to its limit, creating a compelling musical world at once eerie and beautiful.

The music on this disc is made up of three exquisite orchestral works and is beyond tonality, atonality and post-modernization. On Trans, a work in three movements for harp and orchestra, Saariaho creates a vivid storyline and invites the listener to follow her principal character – personified by the harp – as it evolves in the music’s narrative. Harpist Xavier de Maistre’s performance is lustrous and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is outstanding as they make the work seem visionary, highlighting Saariaho’s gift for creating hauntingly memorable sounds.

Saariaho also reveals her heightened sense of the dramatic in Ciel d’hiver, a retelling of part of the journey of the son of Poseidon, re-orchestrated from her larger piece, Orion. The appropriately smaller symphony orchestra still manages to deliver the work’s supple textures with consummate musicality, allowing for the beauty of the mythic narrative to emerge with compelling force. On True Fire, Saariaho turns to perhaps her greatest strength – the setting of poetry to music. This work is performed by the great Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, who weathers the enormous difficulty of the vocal writing with glorious ease. His vocal outpourings, together with masterful orchestral direction by Hannu Lintu, help the poetry leap off the page. 

11b SturmSaariaho’s music reappears on a second disc also featuring works by two other contemporary composers, Steffen Schleiermacher and Michael Wertmüller. The disc is titled Sturm (or Storm) as the music is evocative of – poetically or otherwise – atmospheric agitation appropriately conjured up by the extraordinary contemporary collective, Ensemble Musikfabrik, joined throughout by soloing guest musicians.

In the case of Saariaho’s contribution, the music translates parts of Shakespeare (The Tempest) reincarnated in a cycle of songs titled The Tempest Songbook and brought to life by the lustrous soprano of Olivia Vermeulen and the ink-dark baritone of Peter Schöne. Schleiermacher’s Das Tosen Des Staunenden Echos (The roar of the amazed echo) captures an agitated journey, its turbulent repeated gestures revolving theatrically, breaking in waves and sounding like fluid birth pangs in the very act of the enigmatic composition itself. Wertmüller’s Antagonisme Contrôlé is a fiery piece that roars between the freewheeling worlds of jazz and avant-garde-music styles as soloists, including the inimitable saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, take the music to dizzying heights.

12 David BowlinBird as Prophet
David Bowlin; various artists
New Focus Recordings FCR237 (newfocusrecordings.com)

This is one disc that achieves so much more than it sets out to do. Bird as Prophet (the composition) is an amalgam of Robert Schumann, a Romantic with a deep and abiding knowledge of literature and philosophy, and Charlie Parker, the iconic bebop genius who revolutionized jazz – and, it may be argued, all contemporary music. But it is the fingers – and bow – of David Bowlin that drives the music of the entire disc much further.

Bowlin brings so much more to the music than mere virtuosity. Combining his absolute mastery of the violin with inspired interpretations, he lifts the black dots off the page in an utterly beguiling performance evocative of the very nature of human endeavour and the mercurial vicissitudes that go with it.

Bowlin’s instrument lives and breathes and takes us to another world. It’s full of glinting illuminations, mysterious depths, expectations, frustrations, hopes and doubts, like the lights and shadows of a quasi-Schumann scherzo glimpsed by moonlight in a forest. Using taped effects and partnered by four other musicians (on three other tracks), Bowlin creates passage upon passage of notes that are at once perfectly transparent yet gorgeously coloured. There’s also a sense of tightly disciplined improvisation everywhere in the music.

Finally, on the mesmerising Under a Tree, an Udātta, an almost-nine minute musical exploration of Sanskrit phonetics (Udātta is the pitch accent of Vedic Sanskrit), he bows out with buoyant, aristocratic grace.

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