07 Liptak Dove SongsDavid Liptak – Dove Songs
Tony Arnold; Alison d’Amato; Renée Jolles; Margaret Kampmeier; Dieter Hennings Yeomans; Steven Doane; Barry Snyder
New Focus Recordings FCR224 (naxosdirect.com)

American composer David Liptak composes texturally rich, colourful and contrasting musical sounds in four compositions here. The title track, Dove Songs, is a six-part song cycle composed for soprano Tony Arnold, who performs it with superb pianist Alison d’Amato. Arnold’s enchanting voice grasps all the contrasting storytelling/musical elements of the work, based on poetry by 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove. Great moments include the dramatic vocal high pitches and piano tinkling like snow and frost in The Snow King, short phrases with subtle humourous undertones emulating domestic life’s ups and downs in Beauty and the Beast, and faster lighter lines with a final high-pitched vocal note and piano flourish in Flirtation.

More intense lyricism and held notes feature in Impromptus, composed for and played by violinist Renée Jolles with pianist Margaret Kampmeier. The duo shines in the contrasting conversational solo lines which shorten until they overlap simultaneously in the second movement, Lyrical. The seven-movement guitar solo suite, The Sighs, explores the melancholy of seven artists. Guitarist Dieter Hennings Yeomans brings out the clever compositional use of Rameau’s Baroque counterpoint in the fluctuating guitar line in the Les Soupirs and Petite Reprise movements. The extremely moving musical sentiment of Beautiful Dreamer, based on the Stephen Foster song of the same name, is unforgettable. Sonata for Cello and Piano has cellist Steven Doane and pianist Barry Synder perform a zippy second-movement race to the finish!

David Liptak’s memorable, lyrical, original compositions are timeless!

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02 Brodie WestKick It ’Till You Flip It
Eucalyptus
Lorna 10/ HAVN 054 (brodiewest.com)

Alto saxophonist/composer Brodie West makes music that’s both exploratory and engaging, growing from varied experiences playing jazz and its transmutations in Toronto and further afield, including stints with Dutch drummer Han Bennink and Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria. West’s groups typically emphasize rhythm (his eponymous quintet has two drummers), but his octet, Eucalyptus, takes it further. Drummers Nick Fraser, Evan Cartwright and Blake Howard feed data to West and trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud as they bounce around the multi-directional polyrhythms and ostinatos.

West’s compositions can suggest African pop music, but they also have affinities with a broad swath of work, from Terry Riley to Ornette Coleman. Something Sparkly is perfectly dreamlike, its slow theme weaving through bright electric guitar and exotic overlapping rhythms. It suggests Sun Ra’s stately early music, a resemblance heightened by Ryan Driver’s trebly clavinet, a keyboard Sun Ra called a “solar sound instrument.” West’s solo seems suspended between melody and birdcall. The title track develops with the horns playing a short, taut figure, then gradually moving out of synch with one another amidst the various rhythmic paths at hand. The entire LP testifies to West’s artful concision, but his compressed, expressionist solo here is a miracle of improvisational economy.

The final track, Triller, is another beautiful floating mystery, its minimalist components ultimately weaving a complex whole; it’s enhanced by Alex Lukashevsky’s bending guitar tones, until parts drop away and only electric bassist Mike Smith’s pulsing ostinato remains.

03 One Night in KarlsruheOne Night In Karlsruhe
Michel Petrucciani; Gary Peacock; Roy Haynes
SWR Jazzhaus JAH-476 (naxosdirect.com)

Michel Petrucciani, who once said, “I think someone upstairs saved me from being ordinary,” followed up his proclamation with a vast discography of truly extraordinary music. He had the virtuosity of an Oscar Peterson and the fluttering lyricism of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. However, his playing is characterized by a singular voice driven by an almost primal energy and an edgy emotionality. Although he was marked, throughout his short life, with monumental pain from osteogenesis imperfecta, his music expressed unfettered feelings of joy.

One Night in Karlsruhe, made at a live performance in July 1988, captures him at the height of his pianistic powers and he appears to be made completely of music. Petrucciani always had an infectious way with dancing rhythms and the program is rich in expressive contrasts and diverse song forms in which dance and variation occupy a position of importance throughout. His playing – on 13th, In a Sentimental Mood, Embraceable You and a signature bravura version of Giant Steps – has a particularly magical touch to it and he responds to the diabolical changes on the latter with spontaneity – while at the same time communicating the music’s sense of colour and of pageant.

Petrucciani also approaches the music’s harmonic boldness and astringency with a kind of vivid bas-relief. He is accompanied, on this sojourn, by bassist Gary Peacock and living legend, drummer Roy Haynes. The intensity of this power trio is magnificently captured on this recording.

04 Kayla RamuLiving in a Dream
Kalya Ramu
Independent (kalyaramu.ca)

One of my favourite songs to request is You Go To My Head – a gorgeous ballad that, admittedly, is not all that easy to pull off if you haven’t done your homework. So when a singer nails it, I am won over, as I was upon hearing Toronto-based jazz vocalist Kalya Ramu’s sultry and soulful version, one of 11 beautifully rendered tracks featured on her debut album, Living in a Dream, which includes four of her original compositions. Ramu’s voice has a warmth, depth and maturity to it that belies her 25 years. As a young girl, she fell under the spell of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, and it shows; I also hear hints of Helen Merrill and Doris Day.

Like her jazz vocalist heroines, Ramu understands the importance of phrasing (something often lacking in younger singers), allowing time for the natural arc of a line to wend its way to the next one, as is evident in her sensuous rendition of What’s New, as well as in her lovely ballad, Find in Me, and her torchy/sexy She Drinks Alone.

The woman can also swing! With stellar assistance from tenor saxophonist and clarinettist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, pianist Ewen Farncombe, bassist Connor Walsh and drummer Ian Wright (and assorted special guests), Ramu serves up spirited takes on Just You Just Me, Four or Five Times and It’s A Good Day. A singer warranting your attention, Kalya Ramu’s debut CD is dreamy, indeed.

05 Jean DeromeSomebody Special
Jean Derome
Ambiances Magnetiques AM 249 (actuellecd.com)

Saxophonist/composer Jean Derome’s work ranges from explorations of modernist masters like Monk and Mingus to his own conceptual epics like Résistances, his orchestral homage to the North American electrical grid. Here he explores the work of Steve Lacy (1934-2004), a key influence on Derome who advocated strongly for Thelonious Monk’s compositions and developed the foundations of free jazz with Cecil Taylor. Lacy also created a large body of art songs unique in modern jazz. Derome explores the range of them here, including settings of works from ancient China to the Beat Generation.

Derome brings his regular trio partners to the project, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay, masters of propulsive and varied grooves. They’re joined by pianist Alexandre Grogg and the singer Karen Young, whose eclectic background matches the varied demands of Lacy’s music. The text settings include surprising authors like Lao Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough and Herman Melville; the latter’s Art initiates the program with a minimalist setting that suggests Japanese court music.

While those lyricists are as famous as they are unlikely, several of the highlights here come from Lacy’s association with the relatively little-known Canadian expatriate Brion Gysin, a literary collaborator with William S. Burroughs. Gysin’s playful, vibrant, hipster verses fall naturally on modern jazz inflections: when Derome joins his voice with Young’s on Blue Baboon, the group creates a witty update on the scat vocal group of the 1950s who rarely found lyrics this germane.

07 VoyageCoco Swirl
Ratchet Orchestra
Ambiances Magnetiques AM 248 (actuellecd.com)

From Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six to Vancouver’s NOW Orchestra, despite the economics, Canadians have somehow produced highly creative big bands. Montreal’s Ratchet Orchestra was a quintet in 1993; today its founder-composer-bassist-conductor Nic Caloia leads a 19-member ensemble with the breadth and force of Sun Ra’s Arkestra or a Charles Mingus big band. Like them, it invokes Duke Ellington’s legacy of rich textures and intense turbulence while emphasizing distinctive solo voices. It has a traditional big band’s power, with five reeds and five brass, but expands its palette with violin, two violas and the eerie profundity of bass reeds and tuba.

Caloia’s compositions range from the traditionally modernist to the avant-garde, with a band composed of individuals who define Montreal’s free-jazz community. The opening Tub features the brilliant alto saxophonist Yves Charuest, as abstractly evasive as Lee Konitz. The rousing Raise Static Backstage, fuelled by Isaiah Ciccarelli’s rampaging drum solo, might appeal to any fan of Dizzy Gillespie’s legendary bebop big band, while Blood, an atmospheric setting for Sam Shalabi’s distorted guitar, touches on the later works of Gil Evans.

Caloia’s most personal and ambitious work is saved for the conclusion, the six-part Before Is After, a weave of compound rhythms and evasive fragments knit together with unlikely matchings of instruments and forceful soloists, including violinist Joshua Zubot and bass saxophonist Jason Sharp. Ratchet Orchestra is both a distinctive Montreal institution and national standard bearer for a creative tradition

08a ClockwiseClockwise
Anna Webber
Pi Recordings P179 (pirecordings.com)

Reaching an elevated trajectory following her last CD, BC-born, New York-based tenor saxophone/flutist Anna Webber aided by a seasoned septet, re-conceptualizes impressions of 20th-century composers’ percussion works into new compostions.

Percussiveness not percussion is the major focus, even though her studio reassembling of Ches Smith’s echoing tympani on the Feldmanesque King of Denmark II is suitably staggering. Mostly though Smith sticks to drums and vibraphone to provide the precise clamour and ringing clatter that swing alongside Jacob Garchik’s emotional trombone flow; place-marking stops or sweeping glissandi from Christopher Hoffman’s cello and Chris Tordini’s bass; pulsing chromatics from pianist Matt Mitchell; and stylistic chirps or snarls from Webber and tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Jeremy Viner.

Oddly separated on opposite ends of the disc, three variations on King of Denmark and two of Korē are equally striking. Sparkling piano chords mixed with squirming saxophone riffs build up to a heraldic crescendo in the first part of King of Denmark. Meanwhile Mitchell’s intermittent comping, percussion breaks and audacious plunger vocalizing from Garchik’s trombone bring passion to the Xenakis-inspired Korē I. Webber even manages to extract a melodic groove from Array, a homage to Babbitt. Her delicate flute whistles are challenged by precision trombone glides and clarinet swells, until the piece becomes harder edged with Mitchell’s keyboard cadenzas, but still maintains unexpected warmth.

Overall the performances, which also touch on Cage, Varèse and Stockhausen influences, aren’t merely turned clockwise, but highly original creations directed by Webber.

01 Amanda MartinezLibre
Amanda Martinez
Sola Records (amandamartinez.ca)

Singer-songwriter Amanda Martinez delves deeper into her background with the release of Libre. The daughter of a Mexican father and South African mother, Martinez has been exploring her Latin roots for years now, so it’s the African side that’s new here. Produced by her longtime collaborator, guitarist Kevin Laliberté, Martinez has enlisted a handful of singers and songwriters – such as Canadian jazz singer Kellylee Evans and Cuban-born Pablosky Rosales – for the ten original songs on Libre. Kevin Laliberté's distinctive guitar playing and Donné Roberts’ beautiful warm vocals blend perfectly with Martinez’s light pretty voice. Bassist (and Martinez’s husband) Drew Birston and percussionist Rosendo “Chendy” Leon round out the core band. Standout tracks include Begin and En La Distancia.

The album has a predominantly Latin sound to it (Mexican and a little flamenco here and there) and I found the African touches to be quite subtle. This is partly due to the fact that most of the lyrics are in Spanish. For those of us who don’t understand that language, translations are available on Martinez’s website. The poetic lyrics’ main themes are love and longing in its many forms – for a land, a lover or a child. Or you could not worry about what the lyrics say and just let the music wash over you and carry you away. The album has a sweet, old-fashioned feel to it that gives us a welcome escape to gentler times and idyllic places.

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02 Gloaming3
The Gloaming
Justin Time JTR 8617-2 (justin-time.com)

For their third salvo, contemporary Irish fusion quintet, The Gloaming, has released an intriguing piece of work that not only embraces traditional Irish motifs, but seeps into the modalities of contemporary and neo-classical, piano-driven musics. This is authentic, indigenous, world music enfolded sumptuously into a thought-provoking new music setting. Pianist (and producer) Thomas Bartlett is the spine of the ensemble, fearlessly injecting skilled, rhythmic elements into the music. The haunting, sibilant vocals of Iarla Ó Lionáird inform much of the material, and transport the listener back into the mists of time. With three Irish and two Irish-American members, the music also speaks to the inter-generational scars of the near genocide of the Irish people, and the resulting painful, global diaspora.

The splendid, passionate and skilled work of generational fiddler, Martin Hayes, gauges the intensity of the music and Hardanger d’Amore player Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh consistently elicits a warm, substantive sound from his viola-like instrument (with sympathetic strings). Along with guitarist Dennis Cahill they establish the musical pulse, the very heartbeat of the goddess Danu herself.

Highlights of this expertly recorded CD include Meachán Rudaí and Amhrán na nGleannI. The former is a setting of a poem by Liam Ó Muirthile (about a son remembering his late mother), and the latter is an ancient tune lamenting the death of a chieftain, and also a song that Lionáird has been performing since he was a small boy. Also of special note is Reo, written by the ensemble, and featuring lyrics drawn from a poem by the iconic mid-20th-century Irish poet, Seán Ó Ríordáin.

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03 Norah Jones Begin AgainBegin Again
Norah Jones
Blue Note Records B002978602 (bluenote.com)

Begin Again is the reflection of an artist who’s continuing to develop and evolve. Norah Jones first came on the scene in 2002 with Come Away With Me, which introduced a fresh, gorgeous voice with a jazz sensibility that was a shift from the prevailing pop music of the time. That release turned Jones into a global phenomenon and over the years, she’s continued to release successful, Grammy-winning records and collaborate with a diverse range of artists like Herbie Hancock, Outkast and Foo Fighters.

Begin Again is an eclectic collection of original tunes co-produced by Jones and recorded at various studios with a handful of collaborators such as guitarist Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame and drummer-extraordinaire, Brian Blade. The tone is set with the powerful opening track My Heart is Full and many of the songs, such as Uh Oh and Just a Little Bit, continue in that experimental vein, with the musicians laying down a meditative bed and Jones layering vocals over top. The album is keyboard dominant, courtesy of Thomas Bartlett, Pete Remm and Jones herself. Although calling Remm’s sublime Hammond B3 work “dominant” isn’t capturing the subtle textures he lends to the songs.

Missing from Begin Again are some of those exquisite, soulful ballads that Jones does so well – though Wintertime comes close. So while the album is a good listen and full of fine musicianship, it won’t break your heart.

04 Andy MilneThe Seasons of Being
Andy Milne & Dapp Theory
Sunnyside SSC 1482 (andymilne.com)

Following his battle with prostate cancer, gifted composer and pianist, Andy Milne determined to channel the concepts of homeopathy (which he had utilized in his recovery) into a new kind of musical synthesis. This manifested into a fascinating, largely improvisational project for his long-running ensemble, Dapp Theory. During Milne’s recovery, his illuminations surrounding the relationship of musical “one-ness” and physical healing, morphed into a Chamber Music America commission, presented here as Seasons of Being. One aspect of Milne’s intent was to compose for the individual musicians in his ensemble, in non-restrictive ways that would allow them to grow, explore and also function as an integrated creative organism.

Joining Milne on this recording are his venerable bandmates, Christopher Tordini on bass, Kenny Grohowski on drums, Aaron Kruziki on woodwinds and John Moon on vocals. Also taking part is an array of talented guests, including Ben Monder on guitar, Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Christopher Hoffman, cello.

The CD kicks off with Surge and Splendor – a rhythmic and spoken word foray (perfectly attenuated by Grohowski’s drums) which fearlessly probes the rich embroidery of life’s components, finally segueing into a woodwind bubble from Kruziki that surrounds the entire ensemble – like a healthy, plump cell – bursting with creativity and life force, exemplified by Mondor’s vibrant guitar solo, and lovely, diaphanous cello work by Hoffman. Also of special profundity is The Guardian, featuring Alessi’s gorgeous trumpet.

One need not subscribe to the practice of homeopathy to resonate with this heady recording, because no one can dispute the healing power and collaborative magic of music.

05 kamancelloKamancello II: Voyage
Shahriyar Jamshidi; Raphael Weinroth-Browne
Independent (kamancello.bandcamp.com)

The invented portmanteau word Kamancello serves as the name of the Toronto-based duo of Kurdish Iranian kamanche player and composer Shahriyar Jamshidi and classically trained Canadian cellist and composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne. Joining forces around four years ago they’ve taken audiences into transcultural musical territories as yet unexplored. They describe their music as “East-meets-West,” rendering “improvised performances [that] transcend genres and cultural boundaries.” But that’s a modest appraisal of the rich journey they take us on in Kamancello II: Voyage, their second album.

Improvisation is undoubtedly present in abundance here, but there are also well-developed modal frameworks and formal structures at work too. There are four extended pieces titled Emergent, Tenebrous, Voyage and Threnody, each with a well-defined shape. They begin quietly without pulse, exploring ornamented melodies, slowly developing a polyphonic texture trough sensitive interplay between the musicians. The duo’s seamless exchange of lyrical melodies is influenced both by the Kurdish and Iranian modal world as well as by the pre-modern classical cello repertoire. Each performance then segues to a dance-like section with Weinroth-Browne’s virtuoso cello often providing the forceful accompaniment, performing fast-moving bowed climaxes accented by fortissimo bass notes. In places we’re reminded of his progressive metal and neo-folk affiliations. That dense energy propels the music forward, providing welcome contrast to the stillness of other sections, a kind of a narrative arch.

Throughout, Jamshidi and Weinroth-Browne give each other a generous amount of breathing room to express the wide range of human experiences suggested by the track titles. On re-listening, it struck me how this music also gifts listeners the space to venture on our own inner journeys too.

Accomplished and profound music – especially when including a hearty slab of improvisation – can call on many inspirations and be played on an infinite number of soundmakers. Proof of these statements is discernible on these notable discs, featuring a range of traditional, novel, electric and acoustic instruments and with influences encompassing mainstream composition, wave form experimentations, and even legumes.

01 BartokThe most conventional of these unconventional sessions is Bartók Impressions (BMC CD 254 bmcrecords.hu) since the tracks are based on works by Béla Bartók (1881-1945). The most notable feature on this Budapest-recorded disc is that besides the double bass of Hungarian-in-France Mátyás Szandai and the violin of Paris-based Mathias Lévy, one prominent sound here is from the traditional hammered zither called the cimbalom played by Hungarian Miklós Lukács. Perhaps the program is also notable since, with two-thirds of the band Magyar and Bartóks themes sometimes based on Eastern European folk melodies, familiarity is paramount. At the same time, Lukács’ dexterous skill gives the 13 improvisations a unique quality. When struck, the cimbalom takes on vibraphone and percussion qualities; when plucked, harp or guitar-like tones. A defining instance of this is on Romanian Folk Dances No.4, where Levy’s elaboration of the melancholy theme is soon toughened by seemingly simultaneous harp-like twangs and rhythmic mallet string stabs from the cimbalom. This virtuosic versatility is expressed from the first track onwards. On that one, Reflections on New Year’s Greeting No.4, for instance, boiling double bass plucks cement the pulse as mallet lopes create a bouncy countermelody to the gorgeous tones of the fiddle’s airy narrative. The jittery, jazzy Improvisations on Romanian Folk Dances No.4 finds Lukács comping like a pianist, Szandai with well-modulated plucks and with Levy’s staccato stopping in the highest register suggesting both Transylvanian wedding music and tavern revelry. In contrast, a few other tracks are recital-like formal, at least in the expositions. They include a mellow showcase of balanced cello-like tones from the bassist on Improvisations on Romanian Christmas Carols No.7, completed by foot-tapping glissandi with klezmer overtones. The most accomplished, intricate transformation, which highlights another aspect of Lukács’ adaptability, occurs on Reflections on Six Bulgarian Rhythms. The cimbalom’s mallet reverberations turn him into a Magyar Milt Jackson, at the same time as fiddle squeaks at dog-whistle pitches amplify the pulse, and double bass plucks intensify the rhythms. Staying true to the composer’s initial vision though, the piece ends with a wide connective interlude of warm romantic timbres.

02 FullmanEven though another modern composer is involved, there are no warm romantic timbres heard during the The Air around Her (Skivbolaget 1703-3 edition-festival.com), since American composer Ellen Fullman and Korean-American cellist Okkyung Lee are concerned with the dynamic contrasts or blends produced by exposing the latter’s string techniques, with the possibilities engendered by plucking Fullman’s self-created Long String Instrument (LSI). The LSI is tuned in just intonation, and in this instance, stretched 26 metres across a room in Stockholm’s Performing Art Museum. During the performance the LSI creates a droning continuum, plus almost imperceptible timbre shifts throughout the two tracks of about 20 minutes each, subtly redefining the relentless drone with multiple layers of speed, volume and pitch. Eventually variegated cello definitions move forward to challenge the LSI’s unhurried horizontal interface with col legno-created percussive raps on wood and strings, plus stropping and slicing sul ponticello vibrations. Part II finds LSI’s organ-like tremolo grinds subsiding from taking up the entire room’s aural space so that palimpsest-like cello’s nuanced narratives are more obvious. These serrated bow jiggles and cello expansions reach a crescendo of almost identical inflated tones from both instruments before dissolving into microtones. In retrospect the recital has been enthralling without being deadening or frightening.

03 LORDespite the presence of veteran British tabletop-guitarist Keith Rowe on L’Or (Mikroton Recordings CD 68 mikroton.net), the defining sonic patterns are focused on his use of electronics, blended with the programmed patches of French computer-coder Julien Ottavi plus the modular synthesizer and cracked everyday and homemade electronics of Russian Kurt Liedwart. While faint allusions to conventional tones sporadically pierce the churning miasma produced by the trio, sound emphasis moves among voltage charges, supple thwacks and synthesized sound envelopes, underscored by waveform buzzing. Especially on the extended and defining Aurum, blurry loops of constantly pulsating whooshes and signal processing melded into a undulating drone, include few compositional transitions. When they do arrive, these textural lacerations only minimally alter volume or pitch, taking the form of thickened flanges, watery pops, windy squalls, wiggling tone fluctuations and fan-belt-like flapping. As these clips and pops harden into a sold mass followed by silence, one must accept the group’s continuously repeated drones as creating a nearly inert entity, where appreciation comes from noting the reflected sound tinctures and angles rather than an ambulatory program.

04 SnipettesWhile electronics are now accepted as instruments, some musicians have accelerated the search for innovative sounds further, creating programs from collages of already existing material. For instance, Martin Tétreault’s Plus de Snipettes!! (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 245 CD actuellecd.com), is a sprawling 77-minute program in which the Montrealer constructs a wholly original recital from audio cassettes, tape reels, short-wave static, radio soundchecks and excerpts of untouched or cut-up vinyl. With each of the 31 [!] tracks lasting from about seven seconds to around seven minutes, the collages captivate with sheer audacity. Entertaining while sometimes making sardonic comments, this homage and burlesque of recorded sound is satire mixed with love. Not adverse to snipping French or English narrations from educational or instructional discs to foreshadow subsequent noises, Tétreault’s mashups are free of cant. Snippets of a Verèse or Boulez composition are slotted next to a flute improvisation, a snatch of disco sounds or a piano picking out Polly Wolly Doodle. Crunching noises created by train movement can fuse into a drum instruction record and then the flanges of backwards-running tape. At point his manipulations make succinct inferences, as when Dave Holland’s bass solo on Emerald Tears is juxtaposed with the sounds of a man crying. Other times connection leads to spoof, as when a ponderous lecturer’s voice outlining a complex phrase with the word “basis” in it is cut to become “bass” and later “mace” and repeated numerous times, becoming an electronic-dance rhythm in the process. Manipulations in speed and pitch turn juxtaposition of Sidney Bechet’s soprano saxophone and a Dixieland drum solo into frantic microtones. And if that isn’t enough, Tétreault creates abstract sound collages by cutting several LPs into many sections, gluing together the parts and recording the results so that a chorus of Soviet military singers fades into jazz piano chording and unknown speechifying, with the entire exercise surmounted by the crackles from divided and sutured vinyl.

05 VegetableShould Tétreault’s experiments not be organic enough, then an established Viennese ensemble can provide the antidote. On Green Album (Transacoustic Research tres 009 transacoustic-research.com), the ten-piece Vegetable Orchestra performs music on instruments that are made entirely from vegetable parts. On highly rhythmic tracks such as Fasern and Beet-L for instance, the funk arises from the beats of calabash bass and celery bongos with the vamping melody courtesy of a carrot marimba. Or multiphonic whistles from the carrot recorder evolve alongside the beanbag shaker and calabash bass on Bamako. While elastic sound animation is maintained throughout the 14 tracks, that doesn’t mean there aren’t serious sounds in this vegetable stew. The hissing counterpoint that enlivens tracks such as Schwarzmooskogel, for example, could be part of the recipe for any advanced music program, even if the horizontal swirls are from a leek violin, the high-pitched peeps from a radish horn and the beat propelled by a pumpkin bass drum.

While only the final disc could in some circumstances provide nourishment for the stomach as well as the mind, each of these CDs captures a way of using unusual instruments to create profound sounds.

Italian conductor Carlo Maria Giulini was born in 1914, attended the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome as a violinist and later studied conducting with Alfredo Casella in Siena. In 1946 he joined the Italian Radio (RIA) and in 1950 became the conductor of the orchestra of Radio Milan. He made his debut at La Scala in the 1951/52 season and became its music director from 1953-56 succeeding Victor de Sabata. He was a familiar figure in Milan in both orchestral concerts and the opera. Giulini made his American debut in 1955 as guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, later becoming principal guest conductor after Solti was appointed its permanent conductor. British audiences were introduced to Giulini’s artistry in 1955 when he conducted Falstaff at Glyndebourne leading to appearances at Covent Garden and the Edinburgh Festival and with London orchestras, including the London Symphony and the New Philharmonia with which he recorded Mozart’s 40th and 41st Symphonies for Decca (included in this box).

Giulini began an association with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and served as their music director from 1978-84. There, in 1982 the LA Philharmonic mounted a fully staged production of Falstaff, marking his return to opera after a 14-year absence. That production travelled to Covent Garden and the Teatro Communale in Florence. In 1983/84 he did not renew his contract in Los Angeles citing his own failing health and that of his wife. Throughout his active career he declined to enter into longterm contracts as music director due to the ancillary duties involved. He did, however, continue to guest conduct orchestras in Europe. Any new Giulini recording was greeted with the best reviews. Upon his death in 2005, aged 91, in his New York Times obituary Anthony Tommasini wrote, in part: “Far from being an autocratic conductor or a kinetic dynamo of the podium, Mr. Giulini was a probing musician who achieved results by projecting serene authority and providing a model of selfless devotion to the score. His symphonic performances were at once magisterial and urgent, full of surprise yet utterly natural. He brought breadth and telling detail to the operas of Mozart and Verdi.”

01 GiuliniIt came as a revelation that the newly released box set Carlo Maria Giulini: complete recordings on Deutsche Grammophon (DG 4836224, 42-CDs deutschegrammophon.com) contains so many performances that are new to my ears. Packaged in the now familiar cube are stunning versions of familiar and unfamiliar works played by these orchestras: Vienna Philharmonic; Berlin Philharmonic; Chicago Symphony; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Orchestra dell’ Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala; Philharmonia; New Philharmonia; and Vienna Symphony. Soloists are pianists Berman, Horowitz, Michelangeli and Zimerman. Also, many, many singers as listed below.

Most impressive are all the performances and recordings made with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during his directorship there from 1978. It is acknowledged that under his baton the sound of the orchestra changed but only, says Simon Rattle, when Giulini himself stood before them. Included in this box are Beethoven’s Symphonies Three, Five and Six; Schumann’s Manfred Overture and Brahms’ First and Second Symphonies. These First and Second Symphony performances from 1981 eclipse his later versions with the Vienna Philharmonic from 1991, also included. From Los Angeles 1978/79 there are the two Chopin concertos with Zimerman. No-holds-barred performances of Debussy’s La mer and Ravel’s Mother Goose and Rapsodie espagnole also come from 1979 and Schumann’s Third comes from 1980. Finally, the last two entries from the Los Angeles Philharmonic are a complete Verdi’s Falstaff in a live performance recorded in the Los Angeles Music Centre in April 1982 and a program of opera arias. The cast for Falstaff includes Renato Bruson, Leo Nucci, Dalmacio Gonzales, Katia Ricciarelli, Barbara Hendricks, Brenda Boozer and others, plus the Los Angeles Master Chorale (Roger Wagner). On the 42nd CD Plácido Domingo joins the Roger Wagner Chorale and the orchestra in an attractive 1980 collection of the most memorable tenor arias from ten operas. The operas are L’elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Ernani, Il Trovatore, Aida, La Juive, L’Africaine, Les Pěcheurs de perles, Carmen and Martha.

Equally persuasive are the Chicago Symphony recordings that predate the LA performances: The Dvořák Eighth and Ninth Symphonies; Pictures at an Exhibition, the Mahler Ninth and the Schubert Fourth, Eighth and Ninth and the Prokofiev First. Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings Op.31 sung by Robert Tear is coupled with Britten’s Les Illuminations Op.18 for tenor and strings to the text by Arthur Rimbaud, sung in French by Tear with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. A perfect mix and match as they say in the fashion trade. Also, with the Philharmonia are the Fauré Requiem with Kathleen Battle and Andreas Schmidt and Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte and Rossini’s Stabat Mater with Katia Ricciarelli, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, Dalmacio Gonzales and Ruggero Raimondi.

DG had begun recording Giulini in Europe in his days with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. In 1975 they recorded Gottfried von Einem’s cantata An die Nachgeborenen (To Posterity) Op.42 in honour of the 30th anniversary of the United Nations. The soloists are Julia Hamari and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau plus the Vienna Choral Society. During 1979 in the Musikverein, Michelangeli and Giulini recorded, in concert, three Beethoven concertos, the First, Third and Fifth. Coupled with the Fifth is the Mozart 23rd Concerto played by Horowitz with the La Scala orchestra eight years later. There are the two Liszt concertos with Lazar Berman.

Guilini’s Vienna Philharmonic recordings are Brahms’ Four Symphonies, his Haydn Variations, the Tragic Overture and the Deutsches Requiem. Also Bruckner Symphonies Seven, Eight and Nine and a complete Rigoletto with Domingo, Cappuccilli, Cotrubas, Obraztsova and others. There is a complete 1984 Il Trovatore from Rome with Chorus and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with Zancanaro, Plowright, Domingo and Nesterenko. With the Berlin Philharmonic there are: the Beethoven Ninth with Julia Varady, Jard van Nes, Keith Lewis and Simon Estes; César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor and Psyché. Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde is sung by Brigitte Fassbaender and Francisco Araiza. The Verdi Requiem features Sharon Sweet, Florence Quivar, Vinson Cole and Simon Estes.

All the above add up to an expansive, beautifully performed collection of classic performances in the finest sound.

Igor Markevitch was a favourite of mine and his recordings still are. He was an eclectic and was highly esteemed by his peers. Briefly, he was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1912. His great-grandfather was a Secretary of State under Alexander II and his father was pianist Boris Markevitch. The family moved to Paris in 1914, then to Switzerland in 1916. On the advice of Alfred Cortot, he moved to Paris where he studied at the Ecole Normale with Cortot and composition with Nadia Boulanger. He debuted as a conductor aged 18 with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. From 1957 to 1961 he was permanent conductor of the Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris. He appeared regularly before the world’s finest orchestras worldwide, including the USSR and the Montreal Symphony (1956-60). He died in France in 1983. 

02 MarkevitchMany of his recordings are still available on CD and DVD, mostly from Philips, DG and EMI. Some live performances are available on other labels. Doremi has released a two-CD set for collectors containing rare performances missing from the catalogue: Igor Markevitch Vol.1 (DHR-8077/8
naxosdirect.com)
, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Beethoven’s First Symphony, Haydn Symphonies 103 and 104, and Nielsen’s Fourth, “The Inextinguishable.” This repertoire reaffirms his interpretive genius and conducting skills. As an example, the opening pages of the first movement and elsewhere in Scheherazade with the LSO demonstrates the greater emotional impact of power rather than mere volume. There is a low-level hum throughout derived from the originals, overridden by these splendid, Illuminating performances on a wide soundstage. 

03 OlofSince acquiring the unique complete Bach Edition on DG (4798000, 223discs, books) discussed in my column of February 2019, I have been somewhat preoccupied with the works for solo violin. As it happens, a recent two-CD set, Bach – 6 Sonatas and Partitas has just appeared, also on Doremi (DHR-8065/6 naxosdirect.com), with heavenly playing by Theo Olof.

Olof was born in Bonn in 1924. Aged 11, he was a soloist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter. He was a prizewinner in the 1951 International Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition in Brussels and became assistant concertmaster of the Hague Philharmonic. Later, from 1974 until 1985, he was the concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. These personal performances from c.1974 are heard in perfect, full-bodied sound. Listening to Olof’s playing you have the impression that Bach is imparting a wordless simple truth. Certainly, infinitely more here than playing the right notes in the right order. A treasure.

01 Lutoslawski DutilleuxI must confess that German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser was more or less unknown to me until the arrival of his recording of the Lutosławski and Dutilleux Cello Concertos with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Thomas Søndergård (Pentatone PTC 5186 689 pentatonemusic.com). That’s the trouble with having someone like Terry Robbins as delegate for most of the string recordings that cross my desk. Checking my archive I was surprised to note that Terry has reviewed two of Moser’s discs since we instigated the Strings Attached column back in 2011. Fortunately for me, he has such a backlog of titles at the moment that I have no qualms about cherry picking for my own purposes – two months in a row – a few discs that would otherwise have gone to him.

You may recall from my column last month that Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) is one of my favourite composers. I had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting that fine gentleman in October 1993 when he conducted the New Music Concerts Ensemble with soloists Fujiko Imajishi, violin, and soprano Valdine Anderson. We did not know it at the time, but that concert would turn out to be the last he ever gave; he died of cancer less than four months later. The recording of that concert was released independently and later reissued by Naxos (naxos.com).

By the way, the photo of Lutosławski that graces that album cover is by André Leduc, who you may remember from last month’s issue. André and I also had the opportunity to meet Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) when he was the guest of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the University of Toronto back in May 1998. The TSO performance of three of Dutilleux’s large orchestral works under the direction of Jukka-Pekka Saraste was released the following year (Finlandia Records 3984-23524-2).

I sometimes wonder why it takes me so long to write this column. Often it is because of side trips such as this down memory lane, revisiting treasured recordings that slow me down.

So, back to Johannes Moser: it was an easy decision to keep this fabulous new CD for myself. His biography makes a point of saying that he was born into a musical family in 1979 with dual German and Canadian citizenship. I was not able to find anything more about his Canadian heritage initially, but Tourism Saskatoon provides the information that “Moser is the son of Saskatchewan musical royalty; [his] mother is Saskatchewan-born soprano Edith Wiens.” He began playing the cello at eight. Ten years later, he was studying with the renowned Lithuanian cellist David Geringas, a pupil of Rostropovich, who won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970. In 2002, Moser himself received that same honour. He is enjoying an electrifying international career, performing with top orchestras around the world – the Berlin, Vienna, New York, Los Angeles and Israel Philharmonics to name a few – and has recently formed a trio with violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Yevgeny Sudbin.

Moser’s performance on this new disc is superb. The Lutosławski concerto begins quietly, with an opening motive like a heartbeat that is intermittently interrupted by scurrying sounds above and below the pitch of the pulse. The interruptions gradually become more insistent and intense, all created by the cello alone. It is only after four and a half minutes, and a return to the heartbeat, that other members of the orchestra join in, with brazen fanfares from individual brass instruments. This pattern is developed throughout the Four Episodes of the second movement and the Cantilena third, with the solo cello as protagonist facing off with various orchestral disturbances, but also holding its own. And always returning to the heartbeat. It is only in the final movement that the full orchestra explodes in seeming fury. But the cello is not daunted and rises against the din with a repeated shrieking pulse, now more reminiscent of a heart attack than a heartbeat.

Dutilleux’s concerto Tout un monde lointain was written in the same year as Lutosławski’s – 1970 – and once again it is a dramatic work that starts in near silence. Its title and the epigrams for the five movements are taken from Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de mal. If you are not familiar with this work, or the Lutosławski, I urge you to rectify the situation with this very fine recording. Søndergård leads the Berlin RSO in what, for me, are definitive performances; and the sound is impeccable. I’ve never heard these concertos live and don’t know whether it would be possible to achieve such a perfect balance between cello and orchestra in a concert setting. I hope someday to have the opportunity to find out, ideally with Johannes Moser as the soloist.

02 Salonen SaariajoSticking with a theme, the next disc also involves solo cello, but in this instance without an orchestra or any accompaniment whatsoever. Esa-Pekka Salonen; Kaija Saariaho – Works for Solo Cello (Ondine ODE 1294-2 naxosdirect.com) features American cellist Wilhelmina Smith in repertoire that pushes the extreme limits of the instrument. It begins with Salonen’s YTA III, one of a series of works for solo instruments. Yta is the Swedish word for surface, and in this piece the pitch C, in any of five octaves, surfaces and resurfaces in what the composer describes as “a vision of the death of an organism”; in music this vision is “violent and ugly.” Much of the disc gives this same impression and at times I found myself wondering where such anger was coming from. Even Saariaho’s Sept papillons (Seven Butterflies) more often resembles the buzzing of angry bees than the floating grace of its namesakes. For all that, there is a compelling power to this music that drew me in and held my attention. And there are moments of respite, for instance in the middle movement of Salonen’s knock, breathe, shine, where for an instant I thought the eerie sound coming from the cello was actually a theremin. But even with that I found that I could not listen to the whole disc at one sitting, despite the inclusion of a “palette cleanser” in the form of what may well be the first piece ever written for solo cello, Chiacona by Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694).

Mystery Variations was a set of 31 pieces that were commissioned on behalf of Finnish cellist Annsi Karttunen, in which each composer would take as a foundation the above-mentioned Chiacona. Both the composers featured here contributed to the series; on this disc the original is bookended by Salonen’s Sarabande per un coyote and Saariaho’s Dreaming Chaconne. The first, after a stately opening, leads “the coyote into rough terrain, up rugged peaks of harmony and over precarious ridges of dissonance.” In the second Saariaho “maintains the fundamental pitch structure of the Colombi, which is, however, in disguise behind the veil of shades traversed by the instrument and the performer.” On first listening, without having read the program notes, I must confess that I did not hear the relationship of either to the original, which appeared as a wonderful aberration (apparition) in the midst of a very difficult listening session. But there is much here to be enjoyed, or at least marvelled at, including the vast technical acumen of Smith and the range of ethereal sounds she is able to coax, or wrestle, from her instrument.

03 ZimmermannBernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) was already dead by his own hand when I first discovered his music in my formative years, but what a revelation that music was. From a piece for solo cello, to electronic compositions, works for large orchestra and the thought-to-be “un-performable opera” (due to its complexity and the sheer size of the resources required) Die Soldaten, I was blown away by everything I heard. Other than the early Sonata for Viola Solo performed by Rivka Golani and the late Four Short Studies for solo cello performed by Siegfried Palm, both under the auspices of New Music Concerts, I don’t believe I have ever heard Zimmermann’s music live. I take heart from a new Ondine release which confirms that his oeuvre is still in favour, at least in some parts of the world. Recent recordings of the Violin Concerto (1950), Photoptosis (1968) and Die Soldaten Vocal Symphony (1957-1963) are here performed by violinist Leila Josefowicz, vocal soloists, and the Finnish RSO under the direction of Hannu Lintu (ODE 1325-2 naxosdirect.com). It is the middle of these works that I would suggest as an introduction to this extremely forward-looking German composer. From the opening bars of Photoptosis (Incidence of Light) for large orchestra, which seem to emerge from some primordial ooze, the music grows in intensity through richer and richer textures. Out of this dense stew arise quotations from familiar iconic works – Beethoven’s Ninth, Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker – and the tension recedes, only to build relentlessly again to an explosive finale.

During the years Zimmermann was working on his opera, he was also preparing a concert version roughly one third the length of the two-hour original. Calling for soprano, alto, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass soloists, and interspersing instrumental sections among the operatic scenes, the Vocal Symphony provides a precis of the extravagantly dramatic work. The opera was originally broadcast on radio in 1963 and received its first full staging in 1965 by the Cologne Opera under Michael Gielen. Since that time it has enjoyed several productions in each of the subsequent decades, most often in Europe, but also Britain, the USA and in 2016, Buenos Aires. In Zimmermann’s centenary year, Die Soldaten enjoyed productions in Nuremberg, Madrid and Cologne. I have a feeling that recordings are as close as Toronto audiences are likely to get to the opera in the foreseeable future.

And to bring it full circle, I will mention one more of my “brushes with greatness,” this time not in my formative years, but in those of the artist. During my time as a music programmer at CJRT-FM in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to meet Leila Josefowicz as a child prodigy on her first press junket. I’m not sure if that was before or after her Carnegie Hall debut in 1994, but I expect it was in conjunction with the Philips release of her Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concertos the following year. She was born in Mississauga in 1977; her parents relocated to Los Angeles when she was three, and then moved to Philadelphia a decade later so that she could attend the Curtis Institute of Music. And the rest, as they say, is history. She is enjoying a significant international career, with well over a dozen recordings on such labels as Warner, Nonesuch, DG and Hyperion, with repertoire from Beethoven and Brahms to John Adams, and now Zimmermann. The craggy Violin Concerto is the earliest work on this disc, but its intensity, postmodernism, and its extremes of tonality, belie its origins. Josefowicz rises to all of the challenges and is obviously not daunted by “difficult music.” When I was doing my program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM in the 1980s, I used to present a Difficult Listening Hour – sit bolt upright in that straight-backed chair (with a nod to Laurie Anderson) – and any of these pieces would have (and likely did) find a home there. Not for the faint of heart.

David Olds. Photo by Daniel FoleyShameless self-promotion: After 20 years as general manager of New Music Concerts I will be stepping down at the end of this season. As a parting gift to the organization, I am hosting a fundraiser on behalf of NMC, “Coffee House 345 Revisited” (aka Gallery 345 on Sorauren), on Thursday May 30. I will be bringing my eclectic repertoire, 6- and 12-string guitars and a few musical friends along for the ride. It’s a benefit so the tickets are a little pricey – $60 each or two for $100 – but that includes complimentary snacks and drinks, and a charitable receipt for the CRA allowable portion. I hope you will join me. For reservations call 416-961-9594.

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 Tasmin LittleOn her latest Chandos CD Tasmin Little plays Clara Schumann, Dame Ethel Smyth & Amy Beach (CHAN 20030 chandos.net), the outstanding English violinist is accompanied by her longtime recital partner John Lenehan. All three women composers were encouraged by their families in their early musical endeavours but experienced far less support, if not outright opposition, when it came to pursuing professional careers.

Beach’s Violin Sonata Op.34 from 1896 is a full-blooded work with sweeping melodies and rich harmonies in the German Romantic tradition; music critics in Berlin noted its indebtedness to Robert Schumann and Brahms. It draws big, strong playing from both performers.

Clara Schumann’s compositional activity declined – by choice – after her marriage to Robert, and the Drei Romanzen Op.22 from 1853 was her final chamber work. Originally described as being for piano and violin these lovely pieces again feature flowing melodies for the violin over quite demanding passage work for the pianist.

Ethel Smyth’s Violin Sonata Op.7 from 1887 also shows a strong Germanic influence, hardly surprising given that ten years earlier the then-19-year-old composer had moved to Leipzig to study and had spent the subsequent decade on the continent, being encouraged by both Clara Schumann and Brahms.

Two lovely short pieces by Beach – Romance Op.23 and Invocation Op.55 – complete a terrific CD. Little has announced her decision to retire from the concert stage in 2020 when she turns 55. Presumably – and hopefully – it won’t include an end to her outstanding series of superb CDs.

02 EllesClara Schumann’s Three Romances Op.22 appear again on another recital of works by women composers, this time as the opening tracks on ELLES, featuring the Canadian duo of violist Marina Thibeault and pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone (ATMA Classique ACD2 2772 atmaclassique.com/En). There’s no word on the transcription source (a viola version was published in 2010) for this or the following work on the CD, the Trois pièces pour violoncelle et piano by Nadia Boulanger. Written in Boulanger’s mid-20s, some seven years before she gave up composition to concentrate on teaching, the piano again features prominently in three brief movements, two of which were transcriptions of organ improvisations.

A very brief setting of a Goethe poem by Fanny Hensel, Mendelssohn’s highly talented sister, precedes the two major works on the disc: Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano from 1919; and the Sonate Pastorale for solo viola by the American violist Lillian Fuchs. A professional violist, Clarke left a wealth of viola works that finally seem to be attracting the amount of recording attention they richly deserve. Written in New York, her sonata is redolent of contemporary French music.

In all the viola and piano works, Thibeault plays with a pure tone and a smooth melodic line, ably supported by Scarfone; there are times, perhaps, when a stronger attack could be used. That, however, is exactly what we get in the two unaccompanied works that follow. Fuchs wrote little in a long life (both she and Clarke made it into their 90s) but the three-movement Sonate is a simply terrific work that brings the best playing on the CD from Thibeault.

Another solo work that began as a piece for cello, young Canadian composer Anna Pidgorna’s The Child, Bringer of Light from 2012, ends the CD. Its eight continuous sections use a variety of techniques to great effect and once again show just how talented a player Thibeault is.

03 Brahms Wen lei GuThere’s a really lovely set of the Brahms Three Sonatas for Violin and Piano featuring the duo of violinist Wen-Lei Gu and pianist Catherine Kautsky (Centaur CRC 3684 naxosdirect.com). Both performers are on the music faculty at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The opening bars of the Sonata No.1 in G Major Op.78 always seem to set the tone for all three works, and it’s clear from the outset here that we are in excellent hands. From the autumnal feel of the first sonata through the warmth of the Sonata No.2 in A Major Op.100 to the passion and restlessness of the Sonata No.3 in D Minor Op.108 the playing here is all you could ask for, with warmth, sensitivity, passion when needed and an ever-present sense of innate musicality.

If you collect different performances of these lovely sonatas then this will make a strong and welcome addition to your CDs; if you’re just looking for one set then this one has a great deal to offer and will certainly not disappoint you.

04 Schubert Grand DuoThe Australian violinist Elizabeth Holowell studied Viennese string performance practice during the 1780 to 1820s in her postgraduate work – studies which had a major influence on The Grand Duo, her recording of the Schubert Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano with Erin Helyard at the fortepiano (Centaur CRC 3665 naxosdirect.com).

The result is an attempt to recreate as far as possible what a contemporary performance of the music would have sounded like. The violin here is without modern fittings and has gut strings; the bow is described as a pre-Tourte transitional model. More significantly, the fortepiano is a new copy of a contemporary Viennese model by Conrad Graf that has six pedals that provide a variety of special tonal effects, including one for Turkish or janissary bells and drums.

Holowell says that interpretation of the notation of these works led to reassessments of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, bowing and articulation. The recording levels also reflect the fact that the three 1816 sonatas – in D Major D384, A Minor D385 and G Minor D408 – were published as sonatas “with violin accompaniment.” The Sonata in A Major D574, known as The Grand Duo completes the CD.

The results are, at times, quite startling. It’s part Historically Informed Performance, part early Romantic in style: vibrato comes and goes; there’s portamento and elasticity in tempo and phrasing; and very occasional pitch issues with the gut strings. Above all, the fortepiano sound varies a good deal, including adding crashing bells and drums to the occasional chord. It’s intriguing and always more than merely interesting, but it will probably come down to a matter of personal taste as to whether you feel that this approach really enhances the music and your understanding of it, or merely serves as a historical demonstration.

Either way, it’s not your standard Schubert recital!

There are two quite superb guitar CDs from Naxos this month, both beautifully recorded at St. Paul’s Church in Newmarket, Ontario with the ever-reliable Norbert Kraft as producer, engineer and editor. At the Naxos retail price they are both simply must-buys for any lover of the classical guitar.

05 Vojin KocicThe debut CD by Serbian guitarist Vojin Kocić (born 1990) follows his win at the 2017 Heinsberg International Guitar Competition in Germany – and what a debut it is, with music ranging from the Baroque to the present day (8.573906 naxos.com).

Kocić’s own arrangement of the Bach Partita No.2 in D Minor BWV1004 for solo violin works beautifully. It’s essentially the violin score note for note, with a crystal-clear line, superb articulation in the numerous fast runs, a lovely sense of pulse and a warm resonance that allows the implied harmonies to sound through. In particular, the guitar’s chording ability means that the multiple stopping – always a stumbling block for violinists – ceases to be a problem. It makes the Sarabande and, in particular, the monumental Chaconne (with its quadruple stops) smoother, calmer and – appropriately – more stately. Add beautifully shaped phrasing that displays musicianship to match the impeccable technique and you have a performance that will stand comparison with any.

The standard never drops in the other three works on the CD. The Introduction et Caprice Op.23 is a dazzling work by Giulio Regondi, the 19th-century prodigy whose music fell into oblivion before being republished in 1981. Manuel Ponce wrote his Diferencias sobre la folía de España y Fuga for Segovia in 1930; it’s one of the more challenging works in the standard repertoire.

Marek Pasieczny’s Phosphenes (After Sylvius Leopold Weiss) was commissioned by the International Guitar Festival as a set piece for their Guitar Masters 2016 competition in Warsaw. It’s a fairly short but tough work that shows Kocić equally comfortable in the contemporary field.

06 de la MazaThe Chilean guitarist José Antonio Escobar (born 1973) is the soloist on the second CD, Guitar Music of Eduardo Sáinz de la Maza (8.573456 naxos.com). The composer’s life spanned most of the 20th century, and the works here are mostly from the period 1961 to 1973.

The main work on the CD is the lovely Platero y yo (Platero and I), a suite of eight scenes from the 138 prose-poems of the same name by the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez that illustrate tales of the donkey Platero and his owner. It’s a work full of tenderness and colour. Ten shorter works that still serve to illustrate the composer’s technical and expressive breadth fill out the CD, including a delightful Habanera that involves tuning down the two lower strings and three Homenajes – homages to Haydn, Toulouse-Lautrec and the guitar itself.

Again, the playing here is clean, warm, resonant and full of colour, and with impeccable technique, the fast tremolo in the Campanas del Alba (The Bells of Dawn) being particularly brilliant. 

07 TwardowskiThe music of Lithuanian composer Romuald Twardowski (b.1930) is presented on Violin Concerto, featuring the New York-based Polish violinist Kinga Augustyn with Poland’s Toruń Symphony Orchestra under Mariusz Smolij (Naxos 8.579031 naxos.com). Twardowski’s music is described as blending tradition and modernity with what the composer calls “a clarity of expression,” and the works here are all highly accessible and finely crafted.

Three pieces – the brilliant Spanish Fantasia from 1984, Niggunim “Melodies of the Hasidim” from 1991 and Capriccio in Blue “George Gershwin in memoriam” from 1979 – were originally for violin and piano and later orchestrated by the composer. The respective influences – Andalusian music, Polish/Ukrainian Jewish melodies, and jazz – are captured effectively and give the soloist ample opportunity to display a range of styles.

The major work is the quite lovely 2006 Violin Concerto, a mainstream work with a challenging cadenza. The Serenade for string orchestra from 2003, another lovely work with a lush Andante movement, completes the CD. Augustyn’s playing is clear, warm and assured, untroubled in the technically challenging passages and with a flowing line in the many melodic sections. Orchestral support and recorded sound are both excellent.

08 Russian CelloLi-Wei Qin is the cello soloist on Russian Cello Concertos with the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Michael Halász (Naxos 8.573860 naxos.com). It’s a somewhat misleading title, given that of the seven works on the CD only one – Glazunov’s Concerto ballata in C Major Op.108, written in 1931 after he had left Russia – is anything like a true concerto, although admittedly Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme in A Major Op.33, heard here in the usual revised and rearranged version by the composer’s colleague Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, does come close.

Qin draws a lovely sound from his 1780 Guadagnini cello in the two major works as well as in the shorter recital pieces: Glazunov’s Deux Morceaux Op.20 and the Chant du ménestrel in F-sharp Minor Op.71; Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso in B Minor Op.62 and the Andante Cantabile from his String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11; and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Serenade Op.37. 

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