Handel – Agrippina
Theater an der Wien; Patricia Bardon; Jake Arditti; Danielle de Niese; Filippo Mineccia; Balthasar Neumann Ensemble; Thomas Hengel Brock
Naxos 2.110579-80 (naxosdirect.com)

Handel – Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day
Bach Choir of Bethlehem; Greg Funfgeld
Analekta AN 2 9541 (analekta.com/en) 

These two recordings take very different approaches to two key works in Handel’s life, including choices between period and modern instrumentation.

02a Handel AgrippinaIn 1709, in the early phase of Handel’s operatic career, he was approached in Venice by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani to set Grimani’s satirical libretto based on Agrippina’s machinations to have her son Nero named emperor of Rome. Generally regarded as Handel’s first great opera – there’s a treasure trove of arias – its ribald text has been inspiring radically contemporary stagings for the past 20 years, most notably by David McVicar. Theater an der Wien’s production is a highly entertaining combination of musical purity and Robert Carsen’s provocative staging. The Balthasar Neumann Ensemble plays period instruments and three of the eight roles are sung by countertenors. Meanwhile, there’s a steely sheen to the furnishings, an iMac adorns a desk, and the fine mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon, who has sung many of Handel’s principal females, plays the title role, stalking the halls of power in a leather skirt; at other times, the scatterbrained Nero, sung by countertenor Jake Arditti, frolics poolside with bikini-clad maidens. There’s some quickie desktop sex, a conspicuous issue of Vogue, onstage cameras and projections, staged news stories, a Mussolini-esque Claudio and, following the traditional happy ending, a gratuitous grand guignol bloodbath led by a mad Nero. Filmed in March 2016, staging that might have seemed over the top just three years ago approaches verisimilitude as our political culture increasingly resembles ancient Rome in decline.

02b Handel St CeciliaWith a 30-year leap in Handel’s career, we come to his 1739 setting of John Dryden’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, here performed by the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and issued in commemoration of the choir’s 120th anniversary and Greg Funfgeld’s 35th as its conductor. The 88-voice choir is a Pennsylvania institution along with its annual Bach Festival and Bach Festival Orchestra. It’s Handel on a relatively moderated but still grand scale, harkening back to 19th- and early 20th-century traditions. The orchestra is playing modern instruments, but there are only 27 of them, and that large choir provides depth and an impressive richness. Two fine Canadian singers appear as soloists, lending distinguished skills to the arias. Halifax-native, tenor Benjamin Butterfield, brings a brassy bravado to the drum and horn effusion of The trumpet’s loud clangor, while Edmonton-born Cassandra Lemoine’s refined soprano dovetails beautifully with Robin Kani’s flute on The soft complaining flute. Lemoine’s grace and clarity also highlight the full force of choir and orchestra in the sustained conclusion of As from the pow’r of sacred lays.

03 Mahler Alexander QuartetIn Meinem Himmel – The Mahler Song Cycles
Kindra Scharich; Alexander String Quartet
Foghorn Classics FCL 2019 (foghornclassics.com) 

This project comes from San Francisco and it is an experiment by the renowned Alexander String Quartet to transcribe three of Mahler’s orchestral song cycles, Songs of a Wayfarer, Rückert-Lieder and Kindertotenlieder for string quartet in order to experience this repertoire in an intimate chamber music setting and perhaps enrich and enhance its emotional world. I had some misgivings, because nowadays there is a definite trend to different versions of the great works, by ambitious musicians, that could harm and distort the composer’s original intent.

To my mind, these are definitely orchestral songs and require the power and the colours of the full contingent of a symphony orchestra with Mahler’s unique orchestration for their musical and emotional impact. The sound of a string quartet is entirely different and hasn’t the pungent quality the wind instruments provide and it cannot possibly duplicate what Mahler had in mind, although the transcriber violinist Zakarias Grafilo, gave much thought and effort to preserve some of the aural colours and even the emotional innigkeit of the original, yet es ist kein Mahler as I imagine Leonard Bernstein would say.

Nevertheless it’s a labour of love. Idiomatic and virtuoso string playing and the singing is simply gorgeous. Young American mezzo Kindra Scharich has a beautiful voice, total emotional commitment and musical imagination that certainly makes worthwhile listening. Her soulful, anguished tone when the rejected lover sings about the two beautiful blue eyes of his lost sweetheart (Die zwei blauen Augen) is simply heartbreaking and I just loved her voice so full of joy in exclaiming Heia! in Ging heut morgen. An interesting experiment, but not quite Mahler.

04 Harbison RequiemJohn Harbison – Requiem
Soloists; Nashville Symphony Chorus and Orchestra; Giancarlo Guerrer
Naxos 8.559841 (naxosdirect.com) 

John Harbison’s Requiem captures the nature of death with both metaphysical and aesthetic sophistication, firstly because of the authentic use of the Latin text in its scriptural context and secondly because of the utterly existential prescience of this choral performance. Despite the fact that the music eventually soars with the apposite release of Libera me, the shadowy solemnity of the preceding sequences makes the work both profoundly melancholic and breathtakingly beautiful. It is a monumental work – Harbison’s pièce de résistance – appropriate to the events of 9/11 which inspired it. Consequently the use of the Latin in the setting of a traditional requiem might commemorate a divine passion – such as in the Introit – yet the work commemorates abject human suffering.

The musicians of the Nashville Symphony and Chorus convey the gravitas of Harbison’s epic work with a powerful sense of both sorrow and spontaneity. Chorus director Tucker Biddlecombe’s inspired choices of male and female voices – the powerful and incisive (solo) singing of Jessica Rivera (soprano), Michaela Martens (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor) and Kelly Markgraf (baritone) – and the ensemble performances, bring a passionate, soaring intensity to the antiphons, responsories and sequences, to produce an absorbing and inexorable service. Giancarlo Guerrero fixes his sights on the sheer drama of the proverbial solemn high mass and shepherds a program that swirls with sinewy energy heavy with the atmosphere of foreboding before its ultimate – even joyful – release of the final In paradisum.

05 Kira BraunDamask Roses – Art Songs by Mozart; Dvorak and Quilter
Kira Braun; Peter Krochak
Independent (kirabraunsoprano.com)

With Valentine’s Day approaching I enjoyed this love-themed CD, the latest in a series of varied art-song programs by Canadian duo Kira Braun and Peter Krochak. A relative (niece/first cousin) of famed Canadian father-and-son baritones Victor and Russell Braun, soprano Kira demonstrates her own high standard. Here there are three song groups by different composers: Mozart (18th century, in German), Dvořák (19th century, in Czech), and Roger Quilter (early 20th century, in English). The opening three Mozart songs demonstrate the duo’s fine ensemble and Braun’s excellent diction and tone, though I would have liked to have heard even more charm and colour in both voice and piano. By contrast, the interpretations of four selections from Quilter’s Seven Elizabethan Lyrics, Op.12 are especially appealing, including the title song, Damask Roses. Braun’s pure soprano is attractive and she brings both restraint and conviction to Weep You No More and also to Quilter’s earlier Love’s Philosophy from Three Songs, Op.3.

In both the Quilter lyrics and Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs, Op.55 there are songs in a higher range, that she is quite equal to, adopting a fiery demeanor in Set the Fiddle Scraping that Krochak matches with lively piano accompaniment. Their version of the well-known Songs My Mother Taught Me is appropriately affectionate; they bring out Dvořák’s contrasts and distinctive touches in this set, making it one I’m pleased to be able to return to.

Listen to 'Damask Roses: Art Songs by Mozart; Dvorak and Quilter' Now in the Listening Room

Roger Knox

06 I Carry Your HeartI Carry Your Heart
University of South Dakota Chamber Singers; David Holdhusen
Navona Records nv6203 (navonarecords.com) 

South Dakota? Isn’t this midwestern state most famous for its beautifully rugged landscape, including Mount Rushmore? Nevertheless, in light of this fine recording titled I Carry Your Heart, featuring the University of South Dakota Chamber Singers under the direction of David Holdhusen, it seems that South Dakota also has a vibrant choral scene.

The USD Chamber Singers is the institution’s premier vocal ensemble, having earned a reputation for high performance standards with a focus on a cappella repertoire. The ensemble presents formal concerts on campus each semester and its annual tours have taken the group to various parts of the United States and to Europe.

From the opening track of the CD – the rousing South African folk-tune, Tshotsholoza – it’s clearly evident that the ensemble loves what it’s doing – what a jubilant and joyful sound! Yet it is not only the exemplary performing throughout the disc that makes I Carry Your Heart so attractive, but the carefully-chosen program – indeed, there’ s something for everyone. In addition to the uplifting spirituals such as Sit Down Servant and Ain’t That A-Rockin’ are compositions of a more serene nature such as Jonny Priano’s motet Sicut Cervus and Kenneth Lampl’s Dirshu Adonai, the latter a sensitive meditation with layered harmonies and rich tonal clusters. It is in pieces such as these that the choir’s fine melding of vocal ranges comes across so clearly. Several numbers also make use of vocal and instrumental soloists, thereby showcasing the high musical standards even further.

My only disappointment is the absence of program notes – it would have been nice to have the texts, or at least some background material on the pieces. Yet this is a minor quibble and in no way mars a splendid performance. For lovers of a cappella choral music, I Carry your Heart is a delight.

01 Gryphon TrioImmortal and Beloved
Gryphon Trio
Analekta AN 2 9522 (analekta.com/en) 

Shortly after Beethoven’s death, three letters to “meine unsterbliche Geliebte” (my immortal beloved), dated July 6/7 (1812), were discovered among his effects. Speculation about her identity has since abounded, with numerous suggested candidates. A 1994 British movie, Immortal Beloved, even portrayed her, absurdly, as his sister-in-law! Recent attention has focused on Countess Josephine von Brunswick, the secret dedicatee of Beethoven’s piano piece Andante favori.

Carleton University professor James Wright (b.1959) has rearranged excerpts from the letters to compose a moving, memorable 15-minute cycle of three songs, Briefe an die unsterbliche Geliebte (Letters to the Immortal Beloved) (2012), quoting the opening of the Andante favori near the end of the third song. Canadian baritone David John Pike, accompanied by the Gryphon Trio, effectively expresses the hyper-emotional words of Beethoven’s desperate longing. These beautiful, heartfelt songs should be welcomed into the lieder repertoire, perhaps in a version for voice and piano alone.

Pike, accompanied by Gryphon pianist Jamie Parker, also contributes a sensitive performance of Beethoven’s song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved), another outpouring of longing for an absent lover.

Filling 40 of this CD’s 70 minutes is the Gryphon Trio’s exuberant 2008 recording of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, needlessly reissued while still available on Analekta AN 2 9858. Surely, music not yet in the discographies of Wright, Pike or the Gryphon Trio would have been preferable.

Nonetheless, Wright’s fervent song cycle definitely deserves repeated hearings. Texts and translations are included.

02 Schubert BRockSchubert – Symphonies 1 & 6
B’Rock Orchestra; René Jacobs
Pentatone PCT 5185 707 (naxosdirect.com) 

This new recording of Schubert’s First and Sixth Symphonies is René Jacobs’ first foray into the music of this composer and it certainly promises to be an exciting new adventure. Thus far I have been acquainted with the Belgian maestro as a distinguished interpreter of Baroque repertoire, but as is usually the case with extraordinary musical minds, they soon branch into the classics or even the Romantics.

Schubert was the first love of my life and I grew up with the lush and graceful interpretations of German conductors, beautifully rendered with modern instrument orchestras. Little did I know that Schubert’s original scores were augmented by Brahms, so Jacobs’ principal aim is to restore authenticity with the original, leaner orchestrations with period instruments using the B’Rock Orchestra, a group of young enthusiastic and energetic players famous for their original approach to the classics.

Notwithstanding some critics’ complaints about harsh sounds, extreme dynamics and sonorities of period instruments, we are amply compensated with how even the First Symphony, written by a mere teenager, dashes forth with such verve, fire, joie de vivre, brilliance and humour at the hands of these young players. The fourth movement especially, is a delight.

The Sixth, my favourite from the early period, referred to as the Little C Major (as opposed to the Great C Major) is definitely a masterpiece and comes off even better. Everything makes sense, the extremely fast tempo at the ritornello of the Scherzo and its heavenly Trio, that marvellous second movement with its sudden outbursts of sadness and anger, the delightful fourth that dances along like a ballet with its interesting modulations, and that surprising sudden visionary reference to the great Ninth at the very end. A vigorous, original and highly inspired performance!

Complete set to be completed by 2021, can’t wait!

03 Brahms DvorakBrahms – Symphony No.4; Dvořák - Symphony No.9
Bamberger Symphoniker; Jakub Hrůša
Tudor Recording AGSACD 1744 (naxosdirect.com) 

As I learned from the informative liner notes contained within this highly enjoyable and beautifully captured double CD – containing, what is no doubt, some of the finest and certainly best loved music of Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvořák – both men, at different junctures in their lives, performed the role of torchbearer for one another. Dvořák, literally, was torchbearer at the funeral of the more senior Brahms, who had famously encouraged, mentored and recommended to publishers the compositions of Dvořák, who was then living and composing in Prague, anxious to be heard and appreciated on a more international level. Brahms, more famously, was stylistic torchbearer for a future generation of composers that include Dvořák, all whom found inspiration in the late German composer’s broad Romantic themes and melodic beauty.

The relationship between the two men is programmed here, with two of their most famous symphonies (Brahms’s Symphony No.4 and Dvořák’s Symphony No.9), presented under the masterful direction of Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, working with the dynamic German Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the shared appreciation that the composers had for one another, these two symphonies share key, aesthetic beauty and a grandness of gesture that Hrůša and orchestra develop fully, while simultaneously teasing out the subtle differences and exploring the individual intricacies of these two masterworks, which represent the last symphonies of the two composers.

The CD is bold in its programming and beautiful in its presentation of these popular symphonic works, offering another important telling and capture of these compositions for lovers of bold Western art music.

04 NYOCMigrations
National Youth Orchestra of Canada; Jonathan Darlington
Independent NYOC2018CD (nyoc.org)

Richard Strauss commented at least once on how unusually polyphonic (many-voiced) his musical brain was. Indeed, in preparing Strauss’ extraordinary work Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) the 2018 National Youth Orchestra of Canada’s nearly 100 advanced musical brains have been suitably challenged! Expertly conducted by Jonathan Darlington, the tone poem’s long-range progression through myriad orchestral details is engrossing. Part way through the third of the composition’s six sections I realized that the performers were on a heroic path of their own with this confident performance. So, kudos to last summer’s conductor, faculty and young instrumentalists who brought this excellent recording, plus an ensuing performance tour of Germany and Scotland, to fruition.

Four works by accomplished Canadian composers follow on the disc. Evoking the natural world, Moontides by the well-recognized John Estacio is about to be connected to a forthcoming film about lunar tides. From the beginning, sweeping and brilliant orchestral colours and textures create a mysterious mood within the tonal, harmonic framework. Nature also is suggested in River Memory, a 2018 NYOC commission from emerging composer Alison Yun-Fei Jiang that is likewise imaginatively orchestrated with metamorphoses of timbre and expert percussion scoring. Here the pitch basis includes long pedal notes and intervallic patterns rather than chords. The NYOC program traditionally includes choral singing; brief and effective a cappella choruses Lead Us Home (by Matthew Emery) and Terre-Neuve (by Marie-Claire Saindon) round off this remarkable disc.

01 RihmWolfgang Rihm – Music for Violin and Orchestra Volume 1
Tianwa Yang; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Christoph-Mathias Mueller
Naxos 8.573812 (naxosdirect.com)

Impressively prolific by any measure, the celebrated German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952 ) has amassed an immense catalogue of over 400 substantial works. Rihm’s early 1970s compositions employ elements of Schoenberg’s and Berg’s expressionist compositional language while also incorporating techniques of the subsequent composer generations. Despite being associated with the 1980s concert music movement dubbed New Simplicity and New Romanticism, Rihm’s musical aesthetic never seems to have strayed far from late Austro-German Romanticism and its expressionist love child. The three works on this CD for violin and orchestra – in essence violin concerti – spread over almost four decades, clearly reflect all those influences. Nevertheless, Rihm’s idiosyncratic voice emerges collectively from these works with introspective intensity.

Rihm was in his mid-20s when he made a splash in 1977 with the premiere of his brilliantly orchestrated first violin concerto Lichtzwang (Light-duress), titled and perhaps also thematically modelled after a book of poetry by the 20th-century German author Paul Celan. It’s Rihm’s latest and most lyrical violin concerto, Gedicht des Malers (Poem of the Painter 2012–14), however, that speaks most directly to me. Rihm explains the intended narrative: “the soloist virtually embodies the painter’s brush as it moves over the canvas sometimes faster and sometimes in more deliberate ways.” In all three works, violinist Tianwa Yang brilliantly imbues her virtuoso passages with passion and intimations of inner angst and emotion, effectively supported by the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic under Christoph-Mathias Mueller.

03 The Privacy of Domestic Life Cover ArtThe Privacy of Domestic Life
Architek Percussion
Centrediscs (LP) CMCV 10418 (musiccentre.ca)

Founded in 2012, the “quirky, virtuosic and thoroughly engaging” (Bachtrack.com) Montreal-based quartet Architek Percussion has performed across Canada specializing in percussive experimental, multi-disciplinary, minimalist music, sometimes embellished with electroacoustic elements. It has commissioned over 40 works by Canadian and international composers, and appears on five albums.

On the LP The Privacy of Domestic Life Architek performs scores of three Canadian concert music composers in their 30s who are well on the way to establishing international careers: Adam Basanta, Taylor Brook and Beavan Flanagan. All three of their works were commissioned by the group.

Brook’s Incantation transforms the metallic sounds of cymbals and bells and what sounds like clay pots into finely tuned microtonal textures and sonorities, drawing on both his Western composition and Hindustani classical music performance studies and practice.

The title cut is the most substantial work here at 19 minutes. It “is a reflection on the domestic life, delivered in three interconnected movements,” writes Montreal-based Basanta. “I imagined a daily universe in expansion, with unique sounds that come to life: discreet noises amplified, amalgamated rhythms, and unwanted sounds,” such as repeated cellphone interruptions. Furthermore, Basanta effectively exploits the interaction between human musicians, on percussion instruments, and enigmatic electronic sounds.

On one hand the music on this album sets out to explore thresholds between temporal stability – in terms of regular pulse, rhythmic continuity, metre and groove – and instability. For the listener, the sonic journey here is equally full of the thrill of discovery and the mystery of the unknown.

Listen to 'The Privacy of Domestic Life' Now in the Listening Room

02 Stas NaminStas Namin – Centuria S-Quark Symphony
London Symphony Orchestra; Lee Reynolds
Navona Records nv6200 (navonarecords.com) 

In his liner notes, Stas Namin refers to “clashes between individuals, societies, countries, ethnic groups – and ultimately the crash of civilization… the concept of my symphony came to me… as a kind of prophecy… reflecting the discord present in each person and consequently in each society.”

Namin (b. Anastas Mikoyan, 1951) is a Russian arts icon, a superstar rock band leader, songwriter, film and theatre producer-director, photographer, painter (including the CD’s cover image) and classical composer.

Despite Namin’s comments, there’s hardly any conflict or dissonance in his 47-minute, one-movement Symphony (2016). Instead, I counted more than a dozen brief episodes expressing ever-changing moods including nostalgia, playfulness, celebration, uncertainty and brash assertiveness, each colourfully scored, highlighting different instrumental combinations. One episode suggested to me a rustic square dance, another a comical circus procession. In fact, the entire symphony, highly theatrical and rhythmically energized, is essentially a brilliant ballet score begging to be choreographed, with episodes appropriate for solos, duos and ensembles.

Rather than illustrating current or futuristic discord, Namin’s engaging melodic mix of late-Romanticism and neo-classicism recalls music of the 1920s and 30s. Namin never sounds like anyone else, though – not until the final three minutes, the first truly dissonant section, a crescendo of pounding percussion reminiscent of Mosolov’s Iron Foundry and the finale of Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps. The apocalyptic climax is followed by a plaintive solo violin, described by Namin as “a new thread of life.”

Highly enjoyable throughout!

04 Kuniko ReichSteve Reich – Drumming
Kuniko
Linn Records KD 582 (linnrecords.com) 

The celebrated mallet percussionist Kuniko is equally comfortable in sound worlds as diverse as Baroque, electronic and minimalist. Having performed Bach with as much ease as Xenakis she approached 2018 with a startling interpretation of Steve Reich’s Drumming, a work inspired by Ghanaian Ewe drummers. While Kuniko might have taken her mallets to vibraphone and marimba in the course of other musical challenges, this recording comes with particularly vexing challenges: how to overcome challenges of tone (relating to the metallic sound of the glockenspiels) and the fact that she overdubs the parts of up to nine percussionists that Reich had in mind?

The obvious answer was to use her hyper-virtuosity on anything that can be struck with a mallet. And thus we are treated to music that develops from the stuttering first notes to a veritable cascade of melodic sounds redolent of a kind of tintinnabulation that virtually transforms a typically Afro-centric drumming into an extraordinary world of melodicism. Reich’s composition, Drumming, is divided into four (unequal) Parts and Kuniko embellishes each with her percussive arsenal that also includes marimba, glockenspiels, piccolo and voices.

The result transforms what minimalist refuseniks might toss aside here as repetitive into a piece that Kuniko builds as if into a moving soundscape of broodingly percussive tumbling grooves that begin to ripple and glitter as she adds cascades of notes from the marimbas and piccolo, topped up by high-sprung pristine vocals towards the work’s conclusion.

05 BaobabPhill Niblock: Baobab
Quatuor Bozzini
QB CQB 1924 (actuellecd.com)

Montreal-based Quatuor Bozzini has released 28 CDs of contemporary music since their founding in 1999, covering disparate international composers from Aldo Clementi to John Cage along with a host of Canadians, and in the process becoming a preeminent string quartet in contemporary music circles. This recording of two works by American minimalist Phill Niblock testifies to their willingness to take on challenges to find new musical ground.

They play two similar pieces here, each recast from earlier orchestral versions, Disseminate (1998) and Baobab (2011). Niblock has reconceived them as works for five string quartets, the founding Bozzinis (cellist Isabelle and violist Stéphanie) along with violinists Clemens Merkel and Alissa Cheung overdubbing themselves to 20 instruments. They’re precisely notated, microtonal works, with long, even bow strokes themselves influencing the exact pitch. The result in each piece is a hive of sound, bow strokes determinedly disappearing until the massed quartets approach the constancy of a bank of oscillators.

It’s an orchestra constructed in the recording process, creating works that are literally our experience of them. Each piece is both constantly changing and never changing; each achieves timelessness in a remarkably brief time, 22:18 for Disseminate, 23:11 for Baobab. Here our experience of pitch confounds notions of unison and dissonance, as if the pieces are constantly between them, simultaneously moving towards and away. It’s like listening to long and failed orchestral tune-ups that are also a new kind of bliss, experiences to cherish.

06 Tim BradyTim Brady – Music for Large Ensemble
Bradyworks Large Ensemble; Tim Brady
Starkland ST-230 (starkland.com) 

With strident chords and single note triplets and arpeggios, Tim Brady’s guitar becomes a razor-edged ignition into the elegant rolling atmospherics of reeds, woodwinds, strings and rhythm section of his Bradyworks Large Ensemble. Somehow the loud and amplified intrusion is smoothed over and the respective instruments are no longer strange bedfellows, even as the music veers from the utterly thrilling turbulence of ideas – a glittering introduction, dark passagework, triumphant fanfares by guitar, piano and electric piano, all of whom trade gigantic-sounding chords in the dark and foreboding Désir, the first part of the Concerto for electric guitar and large chamber ensemble.

Darkness and foreboding are familiar tone colours and atmospheric soundscapes throughout Eight Songs about: Symphony #7, re-inking the palimpsests of Shostakovich’s work with all the glory and tension of the turbulent Soviet era, complete with principal players in the form of music sketched in the proverbial image and likeness of Josef Stalin (Bells), Shostakovich and his wife Nina Varzar (Exhaustion) the conductor Karl Eliasberg (August Ninth) and a number of incidental characters in the erstwhile Soviet landscape.

In his works Brady recasts intensely Sovietized themes of tension, fearfulness and bitterness, tempering these with the sound of soaring hope via heraldic, ascending motifs and bright harmonics. The result is a work of brilliant impetuosity. Played on the knife edge of the guitar, Brady combines a disturbing history with Douglas Smith’s poignant text through recitation and arias and instrumentation to great effect.

07 Palardy RogerCannibale
Danielle Palardy Roger
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 241CD (actuellecd.com)

Few compositions can more fully embody the enduring spirit of Québécois musique actuelle – playful, anarchic, witty, frequently barbed – than composer/percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger’s Cannibale. The 11-movement work calls on a special kind of musician: here the performers sing as well as play, improvise as well as interpret; four even compose individual movements. Palardy Roger’s frequent musical partner Joane Hétu, also a distinguished composer, provides focused dramatic narration as well as voice and alto saxophone.

The work’s special character is apparent from the beginning as Hétu intones “cannibale” repeatedly, a prayer, an invocation, a lover’s whisper. Each position is explored in depth as the work unfolds, Palardy Roger’s sustained text and frame highlighting special episodes. Le sacrifice rituel, composed by percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, suggests the symbolic cannibalism of the mass with isolated percussion and Gregorian chant. Electric guitarist André Duchesne contributes the rocking La victoire du guerrier, while Alexandre St-Onge’s electronics drive his Sauvage, le côté party de la nécrophilie cannibale. Electronic musician Michel F Côté contributes Le gourmand épicurien, Palardy Roger’s ecstatic text animated by the voice, chewing sounds and clarinet of Elizabeth Lima, who elsewhere sounds the elegiac depths of Pitié Navire. At times, the brutalist roar of Ida Toninato’s baritone saxophone may represent the title character.

Cannibale is a rich allegory in which genres from hard rock to free jazz to synth-pop and “traditional” electronic music are cannibalized with the same glee that the texts explore the modes of “Cannibale capitale brutal.”

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