09 Kathleen GormanI Can See Clearly Now
Kathleen Gorman
Independent (kathleengorman.bandcamp.com)

Kathleen Gorman is already an accomplished pedagogue, adjudicator and clinician. Add to these a light and high-sprung rhythmic pianism, and this recording adds yet another prismatic facet to her multi-dimensional musical personality.

Gorman’s three compositions reflect the evolution of a pianist deeply immersed in the forms and performance of classical music, with the touch-sensitive music of Arabesque and Mysterioso, redolent of dazzling runs and parabolic arpeggios. Influence, played in a dark, minor mode, is wonderfully arranged to capture the characteristic mystique of what has come to be called the Blue Note sound, one that recalls not just early iconic Herbie Hancock but also Freddy Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. And in all songs Gorman reveals a singular virtuosity that eschews showmanship and accentuates a phrasing style pregnant with emotion.

Other works reflect a composer-like skill in re-harmonization of original melodies to reflect a new angular perspective on the songs. Gorman does this by turning the original tonal colours of a piece into black and white before recolouring it in her own unique new way and guiding her wonderful ensemble into performing each new piece memorably. Both Sides Now, which also features her seductive voice, is a poignant example, as is the instrumental Over The Rainbow. The entire repertoire makes this a disc to die for.

Listen to 'I Can See Clearly Now' Now in the Listening Room

10 Phoenix JazzAmparo
Phoenix Jazz Group
Independent (phoenixjazzgroup.ca)

The Phoenix Jazz Group may not be a prominent blip on everyone’s radar but among cognoscenti and musicians alike, keyboards player John McLelland, saxophonist and clarinetist Andy Klaehn, bassist Greg Prior, and drummer and percussionist John Goddard are held in high esteem. Their third album, Amparo, reflects the myriad styles in which the members of the ensemble are fluent. This stretches in a wide swathe from New Orleans and the ebullience of second-line marching rhythms to the swinging momentum of early jazz, fused with broad hints of 1970s’ and contemporary rock.

It is in the fusion of these myriad styles that the group’s music speaks best. The vivid and fierce imagery created by the cover on the CD package not only relates to the song Falcon (Revisited) but strikes at the very heart of the group’s virtuoso artistry that is heard on songs such as Sojourn, with its questing melody, and Tribute, where the individuals’ technical facility may be heard at its best – from the short arco burst of Prior’s bass to McLelland’s gracious arpeggios, Goddard’s percussion colouring and Klaehn’s startling glissandos.

The title of the recording suggests that music is a “refuge,” or safe place. This can be felt throughout the short album, but nowhere more strongly than in the profound beauty of Amparo, the title track itself.

11 Have You HeardHave You Heard?
David Mott; Vinny Golia
Pet Mantis Records PMR011 (2baris.com)

Low reeds and woodwinds equate to musical gravitas, and when combined with the pronounced erudition of musicians such as David Mott and Vinny Golia, magical things happen. From the suggestive disc title Have You Heard? and the ethereal mystery of each track name to the questing music itself, this disc seems to contain echoes of another universe, as well as a yearning for the profound melodic intellect of the music to be reflected in our own planet.

Lest this seem like the description of something resembling science fiction, it is important to clear the air immediately – for it is anything but that. Music such as that contained in Power of Serenity, Serendipitous Ruminations and Urban Pastorale is an example of how loaded with meaning this album is. It is, however, in the dark and delicious rumble of two baritone saxophones locked in an interminable melodic double helix – often with magical counterpoint – that the music’s vivid and changing colours most resemble the rich didacticism that ensues from deep philosophical discourse.

Although they are two distinct musical voices, Mott and Golia are so attuned to each other’s artistry that they had to be separated into two audio channels. But it’s not hard to tell who’s who aurally. David Mott’s tone is sharp, a reflection of the ululating voices in Eastern music that so fascinate him, while Golia’s fat, rounded notes line up in sap-like, viscous phrases. Together they make dark, beautiful music.

12 Jean DeromeRésistances
Jean Derome
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 235 (actuellecd.com)

In 2015 at the annual Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, Jean Derome launched a year-long series of performances to mark his 60th year with Résistances, a singular composition inspired by the 60 cycles per second (Hz) frequency to which all North American electricity is tuned. This has rich metaphoric content for Derome, who imagines the constant tuning process of a continent, as well as Quebec’s houses grounded through the plumbing to the St. Lawrence River. The orchestra here is tuned to 60Hz (including Jew’s harp and kalimba).

The piece, exactly 60 minutes long, has 16 wildly varied segments, from the abstract Tableau with its de-tuned piano to the speaking-in-tongues boogaloo of Vamp, to the strange dislocations of Trois orchestres and the frantic trills and free expression of Turbine, virgule. In the process, the concept of “résistances” extends from electrical resistance to social and political resistance through wit, humour, manic juxtaposition, sheer lyricism and enthusiastic chaos – a work that extends beyond the concert hall to engage the environment and the power grid.

Derome eschews his usual saxophone and flutes for the conductor’s role and such incidentals as a trumpet mouthpiece and an iPad. However, he has the 19-member Ensemble SuperMusique, an orchestra of fluent interpreters and improvisers playing traditional strings, analogue synthesizer, turntables, electric guitars and winds, with multiple drummers and bassists. Touching on virtually any sound available in contemporary music, Résistances is a bracing experience.

13 Michael AdkinsFlaneur
Michael Adkins Quartet
hatOLOGY 745 (hathut.com)

This CD presents two mysterious figures. One is the titular “flaneur,” the wanderer in the city as an ideal of the artist, proposed by Charles Baudelaire in the 1860s as “reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.” The second is Michael Adkins himself, a tenor saxophonist of stunning lyric gifts who left Ontario for New York City two decades ago, has recorded little and last toured Canada in 2013.

With little backstory, Adkins released Rotator on the Swiss label hatOLOGY in 2009 (full disclosure: I wrote the liner note). The CD achieved critical acclaim, but since then nothing has appeared until this release, a brilliant companion to Rotator, similarly recorded in 2008 with Adkins’ compositions and the stellar support of pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Larry Grenadier and the late drummer Paul Motian, with whom Adkins sometimes performed.

As the title suggests, it’s a stroll through the city, at medium-slow to medium tempos. There’s a constant sense of edgy motion, but much of it is sideways rather than forward. The pulse is constant, but there’s a subtle shuffle, as if no one has to address it directly. Adkins’ sound is mobile, throatier than John Coltrane’s with some of the upper frequencies shaved off. Further, Flaneur has a reflective depth and wisdom that resembles Coltrane’s Crescent. Adkins’ lines are consistently imaginative trails, at once focused and nuanced. It’s work as profoundly elegiac as any a Canadian musician has produced. 

14 Parker TrioLMusic for David Mossman
Evan Parker; Barry Guy; Paul Lytton
Intakt Records CD 296 (intaktrec.ch)

If musical publicity ran even with musical quality, there would be no need to introduce the trio of saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist Barry Guy and drummer Paul Lytton, a group with individual ties running back to the late 1960s that were formalized in this trio in 1980. It might be convenient to think of them as one of the signal groups of European improvised music, British chapter, but their roots and ties run further back and further afield, to post-bop and free jazz and the stunning tenor-bass-drums trios led by Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler.

The music may be tender or explosive (it would be easier to detect if it were slowed down), but its dominant texture is that of philosophical dialogue, a rapid conversation in which participants discourse while responding to the simultaneous intrusions of partners in the fray, who may quibble or launch counter-offensives, sending the first speaker to submit background material or new support for his previous theses. Contrarily, it’s like a romantic Paris street fight among kickboxers and ballet dancers, or the sound of Tibetan throat singers polyphonically amused at a genuinely cosmic joke.

Are there individual highlights? Everywhere, including the first segment which begins with Lytton throwing down all the Latin and African drum patterns you might imagine at once, or the middle zone of the long third segment in which Guy sounds like a bass duet and Parker introduces a circular-breathing reverie.

01 Kate McGarryThe Subject Tonight is Love
Kate McGarry; Keith Ganz; Gary Versace
Binxtown Records (katemcgarry.com)

With their debut trio recording, vocalist/composer Kate McGarry, guitarist/bassist Keith Ganz and pianist/accordionist Gary Versace have realized a project that has been in preparation for more than a decade. Friendship, love and creativity propel this ensemble. McGarry and Ganz are life partners, and Versace has been a close friend and musical collaborator to both. The trio act as producers/arrangers here, exploring the many facets of love with both original and venerable material, perfectly synthesized through McGarry’s uniquely cinematic musical perspective.

The CD opens with the title track, which features a brief poem from the 14th-century Persian poet and mystic Hafiz, underscoring McGarry’s belief that “love is the sub-stratum of all things.” The music for the brief, stark, spacey piece was actually improvised over the theme of Ganz’ arrangement of the standard Rodgers and Hart classic, My Funny Valentine (which is gorgeously rendered in full on the CD by McGarry).

A delightful inclusion is Sammy Fain’s Secret Love, positioned here as the polar opposite of the familiar Doris Day version – capturing an innocence and purity of first love, and featuring a sumptuous and agile guitar solo as well as seamless transitions from straight ahead, to a lilting bossa and back again. Equally wonderful is the trio’s take on the rarely performed Benny Golson/Kenny Durham tune Fair Weather. McGarry’s effortless, pitch-perfect and thoroughly gorgeous voice belongs in the rarified company of Julie London and Irene Kral. The ideal bookend to this skillfully crafted, uplifting CD is the Lennon and McCartney hit, All You Need is Love – delivered with a fresh, second-line feel.

02 Lemon Bucket OrchestraIf I Had the Strength
Lemon Bucket Orkestra
Independent (lemonbucket.com)

Following up on its 2015 JUNO Award-nominated album Moorka, Toronto’s “Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk” Lemon Bucket Orkestra weaves a narrative that runs throughout its new record’s 11 titles. The through line is based on an old Slavic prison ballad about a rebel returning home.

Covering a wide emotional range, the theatrically presented songs and instrumentals – several infused with the 12-musician band’s furiously fast dance-friendly energy – also reflect the musicians’ personal experiences on the ground during the recent Ukraine-Russia conflict. LBO leader Mark Marczyk explained in a recent press release, “If I Had the Strength is … about coming home, about never being the same, about the parts of ourselves we lose, the parts we gain, and about the prisons we inhabit or that inhabit us.”

The album also echoes aspects of LBO’s immersive musical theatre work Counting Sheep. In 2016 The Guardian reviewer Mark Fisher dubbed it as “the polyphonic protest show that puts you inside Kiev’s Maidan. Using folk singing, found footage and a revolutionary interactive staging, Marichka Kudriavtseva and Mark Marczyk’s ‘guerrilla folk opera’ throws Edinburgh audiences into the heart of the Ukrainian struggles.”

LBO once again draws inspiration from the deep well of Eastern European folklore for If I Had the Strength, primarily from Ukrainian traditions. Guest soloists include Canadian diva Measha Brueggergosman, Montreal-based rapper Boogat, and on the moving concluding track Peace, Toronto’s Choir! Choir! Choir!. They effectively broaden the aesthetic range and audience appeal of this gripping new album.

04 Yuz YuzeYüz Yüze
Independent (ihtimanska.com)

World music fans (and the rest of us too) are in for a big treat as saxophonist Ariane Morin and accordionist/pianist Yoni Kaston perform duets based on Bulgarian and Turkish folk and urban music. Both are superstar instrumentalists who together make unique, colourful, uplifting sounds.

The Montreal-based Ihtimanska duet clearly understands the music they are interpreting, making their arrangements so exciting. Morin plays her virtuosic lines clearly while constantly listening and reacting to Kaston’s shifting rhythms, long accordion drones and lead lines. Bourgasko horo is a traditional Bulgarian tune from the Black Sea. The fast toe-tapping opening leads to a slower section, closing with a faster accordion and saxophone interchange with touches of jazz sounds sneaking in with the held accordion notes and sax flourishes. Thracian Bulgarian choral piece Brala Moma Rhuza Cvete is given a Baroque-flavoured rendition, as Kaston’s well-suited accordion harmonic progressions and melodies are performed with great phrasing and supported by sax embellishments. A highlight is the traditional Bulgarian Thracian Racenitsa with its shifting rhythms, breathtaking rapid sax lines, and great dialogue between accordion and sax. Kaston’s piano stylings on three tracks add almost popular flavours, while vocalist Brenna MacCrimmon is a welcome guest with her clear lyrical voice and intonation on two tracks.

So much work, effort, understanding, respect and fun has gone into this captivating, uplifting release. Great work by great musicians!

05 So Long SevenKala Kalo
So Long Seven
Independent SLS02 (solongseven.com)

Formed a few years ago, So Long Seven is a Toronto music collective comprised of Neil Hendry (guitars), Tim Posgate (banjo, bass guitar), William Lamoureux (violin, other strings) and Ravi Naimpally (tabla, other percussion). Individually they’re among Canada’s leading instrumentalists on their respective instruments and chosen music genres. As a group they share a common mission. “We all love music. We often play and compose for each other with great mutual respect, trying to challenge, push and inspire each other,” reflects Posgate. He also makes a point of pointing to the diverse influences on group members spanning not only cultures, “but generation too – they cover four decades in age, with a member in each (20s, 30s, 40s and 50s).”

Their sophomore album Kala Kalo reflects that democratic spirit of sharing. Each musician has contributed two or more compositions – plus they leave each other plenty of room to stretch out in fluent, expressive solos. The album’s 11 tracks feature numerous influences from many worlds of music. There is an overlying feeling, however, of collective music-making throughout the album, underscored by loose a cappella choruses on several tracks.

By the way, the invented phrase Kala Kalo translates as “black” in both Hindi and Romani respectively; the album is dedicated to those black sheep who have been marginalized and ostracized personally or politically. Whether you self-identify as a black sheep or not, my bet is that you will feel a warm welcome in the imaginative musical world presented on this disc.

06 Mi MundoMi Mundo
Brenda Navarrete
Alma Records ACD92972 (almarecords.com)

The auspicious opening salvo from classically trained, Cuban-born vocalist, composer and percussionist Brenda Navarrete is a scintillating, sweeping journey into Afro-Cuban music and mysticism (inseparable in Afro-Cuban culture). The fine CD was produced by first-call bassist Peter Cardinali (founder of Toronto’s Alma Records) and expertly recorded in Havana, Cuba by noted, multiple award-winning engineer, John “Beetle” Bailey. Navarrete’s stellar lineup includes Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Rodney Barreto and Jose Carlos on drums; Roberto Carcasses, Rolando Luna and Leonardo Ledesman on piano; Alain Pérez on bass; Adonis Panter on quinto and Eduardo Sandoval on trombone.

Navarrete first garnered international attention as a vocalist in the red-hot, global Cuban sensation Interactivo. As well as creating and performing the CD’s complex vocals, Navarrete also composed the majority of the material, and performs masterfully on bata and congas (for which she describes her training as more of a “street classroom”). Every track is a gem, but of particular luminescence is Baba Elegguá, on which ancient vocal call and response and intricate percussion invoke the world’s first music – enhanced by multi-layered, perfect vocals, this song generates a trancelike state, which is also imbued with generational reverence.

Also wonderful are Rumbero Como Yo, a fantastic, elemental web of Rhumba rhythms, targeting a place of awareness that is both deeply sensual and spiritual, and the enchanting Drume Negrita, which features exquisite harmonica work from Josué Borges Maresma. Navarette (who listened and absorbed everything from Ella to Billie) also gives us her take on Cachita by Rafael Hernández Marin, a joyous celebration of classic Cuban musical form, in the tradition of the immortal Celia Cruz.

01 BraxtonAlthough there were isolated experiments dating back to the 1940s, the watershed recording of saxophone solos was Anthony Braxton’s double LP For Alto in 1969. Comparably innovative sets by Evan Parker and Steve Lacy followed soon afterwards. Since then, many exploratory reedists have added their own challenging chapters to the solo saxophone literature.

One of them is Braxton himself, whose most recently recorded alto foray is Solo – Victoriaville 2017 (Victo cd 130 victo.qc.ca), nine tracks from a concert at last year’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec. Nearly a half-century after For Alto, Braxton is still showcasing novel approaches. Interestingly enough, while all the tunes except for the standard Body and Soul have abstract titles, at this juncture hints of melodies and inferences to tunes as unanticipated as Everything Happens to Me, It’s Now or Never, Strike Up the Band and even The Anniversary Song insinuate themselves into the improvisations. This is no game of Name that Tune however, for Braxton’s talents are communicated through the technical alchemy obvious on each track. For instance, No 394c elongates the narrative line until it’s suddenly shaped into a balladic melody. The same sort of tunefulness informs the introductory No 392a; here, shaky cadenzas turn moderato when Braxton emphasizes the chalumeau register. At the same time no one would mistake Braxton for a member of Guy Lombardo’s sax section. Sophisticated funk works its way into the circular breathing and overblowing on No 392c, while its tremolo exposition showcases pauses and timbre extensions. More characteristically, No 394a consists of near-stifled reed screams, tongue slapping and pressurized action, culminating in terminal growling. Plus No 392b evolves with Flight of the Bumblebee-like buzzing swiftness, with multiple slurred and staccato notes tried on for size. As the balladic inferences slide by in nanoseconds, the improvisation’s finale is packed with innumerable pitches and tones. Yet, when Braxton tackles Body and Soul in tremolo double time, the distinctive theme is present along with a traditional final recapping of the head.

02 LatticeThree decades Braxton’s junior, Chicago’s Dave Rempis follows an analogous but distinct route on Lattice (Aerophonic 015 aerophonicrecords.com) by bookending his improvisations with two jazz standards. Although Rempis plays alto, tenor and baritone saxophone, his strategy is similar on each horn – using its distinctive properties to better describe the improvisations. Billy Strayhorn’s A Flower is a Lovesome Thing and Eric Dolphy’s Serene are treated no differently than the abstract improvisations. Playing baritone on the former, he digs deep, shaking textures from the instrument’s body tube that accelerate from snorts to screams before creating variations on a mellow version of the theme. Dolphy’s avant-garde credentials are emphasized with stratospheric whistles, duck quacks and chicken cackles in the middle of Serene following a near inchoate theme elaboration by the alto saxophone. However the piece climaxes with rhapsodic mellowness and the head recapped. The most impressive instance of Rempis’ solo musicianship is on If You Get Lost in Santa Paula, where he inveigles a collection of tongue slaps and pops into captivating textures that are almost danceable and certainly rhythmic, then maintains this mouth percussion until the end. A track like Horse Court demonstrates how he can output enough bites and beeps for two saxophonists in counterpoint while using spatial dimensions to bounce back the sound; meanwhile Loose Snus proves that split tones and spetrofluctuation can be vibrated into satisfying storytelling.

03 KutchenSwedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen is also involved with spatial properties since Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben (SOFA Music 60 sofamusic.no) was recorded in the crypt of the cathedral in Lund, Sweden and utilizes field recording, an iPod, speakers and electronics plus overdubbed saxophone lines. An idea of how this works is Ruf Zu Mer Bezprizorni…, where the distant sounds of piano students rehearsing Baroque classics cause Küchen to retaliate with mocking squeaks and puffs, plus percussive slaps that emphasize the saxophone’s metal body. Music To Silence Music in contrast makes the ancient crypt walls another instrument, as they vibrate and echo back the initial saxophone lowing and air-piercing extensions, the equivalent of overdubbed reed parts. Real overdubbing to a multiple of six is used on Amen Choir, but when coupled with low-pitched electronic drones and the outdoor noises leaking into the space, the results not only almost replicate scrubs and sawing on double bass strings, but also suggest a near visual picture of reed breaths floating across the sound field. Far-off pealing church bells make the perfect coda. Küchen’s solo design has non-Western precedents as well, as on Purcell in the Eternal Deir Yassin. Traces of the 17th-century composer’s music drift though an open window via a bel canto soprano’s vocalizing; more prominent are Indian influences, with an electronic tambura providing an appropriately sub-continental drone, while voluminous reed tones side-slip into various keys and pitches. 

04 HydroThis sort of solo contemplation is actually connected to an instrument’s technical versatility, rather than its nationalism. It’s the same way that Lithuanian soprano and tenor saxophonist Liudas Mockŭnas’ improvisations on Hydro (NoBusiness NBLP 110 nobusinessrecords.com) lack any overt Baltic musical inferences. But considering the titles of the seven-part Hydration Suite, three-part Rehydration Suite, and the final extended Dehydration, his relationship with the sea is highlighted. Conspicuously by utilizing “water-prepared” (sic) saxophones, the Hydration Suite includes liquid-related sounds, while denser echoes from vibrations of potential coastal and submerged objects share space with the saxophonist’s moist hiccups and puffs, plus seabird-like wails that expand or recede in degrees of pitch and volume. Oddly enough, Hydration Suite part 5, the most abstract outpouring, with dot-dash, kazoo-like treble textures, seemingly only using the sax mouthpiece, precedes the suite’s final sequences, which are delicate and almost vibrato-less. Melodic and expressive, the gentle curlicues could come from a so-called “legit” player. Wolf-like snarls and staccato peeping characterize the Rehydration Suite, but the track also emphasizes Mockŭnas’ reed fluidity, encompassing circular breathing, emphatic screams and gut-propelled emotional sweeps. A compendium of the preceding techniques, the multi-tempo Dehydration showcases the saxophone’s farthest reaches, including pressurized vibratos, whinnying cries falling up instead of down, and gusts that appear to be blowing any remaining water from his instrument, with pure air and key jiggling.

05 Parzen JohnsonAn individual adaptation of the equipment used by the likes of Küchen and Mockŭnas is offered by New York’s Jonah Parzen-Johnson, who plays baritone saxophone tones alongside an analog synthesizer’s textures. I Try To Remember Where I Come From (Clean Feed CF 430 CD cleanfeed-records.com) contains seven instances where his overblowing and split tones play catch-as-catch-can with the electronics. Avoiding loops, overdubbing or sampling, gutty textures either arise from mouth-propelled blowing or live processing. Since his preference is for simple, song-based material, the result is unlike any other CD here. Parzen-Johnson sparingly utilizes multiphonic screams or thickened vibrating quavering tones. On tracks such as Too Many Dreams, he comes across as if he were a folk or country balladeer, with the synthesizer taking the place of a backing combo. The machine can also deflect his sax’s tones back at him, doubling his exposition, but here and elsewhere he manages to overcome the dangers of reed overpowering with skill. While the title tune sets up distinctive contrasts between unaccented puffs and burbles from the baritone and the synthesizer’s pipe-organ-like cascades, What Do I Do with Sorry is the most notable track, since the split-second transformations come from man as well as machine. With his output shaped as if he were playing a bagpipe chanter and the synthesizer responding as if it were the bagpipe’s reservoir bag, Parzen-Johnson’s improvising takes on buzzing, triple-tongued aspects while the synthesizer’s echoing pulsations suggest both Celtic airs and the beats from a club DJ.

There may be as many ways to play solo saxophone as there are saxophonists, and these are a few instances of how it is done.

In the 1930s and into the 40s, two high profile conductors shared the attention of the record-buying public in the United States: Arturo Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski. Both men and their orchestras, the NBC Symphony in New York and the Philadelphia, were then under contract to RCA Victor, which profited either way. Both men had their disciples and a free-bowing performance by the rapturous Stokowski could not be mistaken for the taut Toscanini. For Stokowski, the printed score was a point of departure. His recordings were in demand around the world, as were Toscanini’s. The Disney 1940 avant-garde film Fantasia with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recording (most of) the soundtrack widened his reputation and certainly attracted newcomers to the classics.

01a StokowskiAs it had been quite some time since I listened to a Stokowski performance, the arrival of a new compilation was unexpected and welcome. Leopold Stokowski: Complete Decca Recordings (4832504, 23 CDs) contains the recordings made in Europe from 1962 to 1973. Orchestras are The New Symphony Orchestra of London, the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the New Philharmonia, the Royal Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, the Hilversum Radio Philharmonic and l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. It was said that Bruno Walter could make any orchestra sound like the Vienna Philharmonic and similarly, a performance from anywhere conducted by Stokowski usually feels like a performance conducted by Stokowski. His performances of absolute music, symphonies, concertos, etc. were straightforward with variations of tempi and expression. In program music his interpretations could be and usually were flamboyant and hyperbolic. CD9 in this set contains three perfect examples: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain in Stokowski’s own mighty orchestration, in over-the-top performances heard in Decca’s best Phase 4 sound. Phase 4 technology basically employed more than a score of microphones over the orchestra, enabling the recording engineer to spotlight instruments and re-balance the performance to suit his own taste, presenting an obvious dichotomy. It was the ultimate in multi-miking. The raison d’être for this collection is Stokowski plus the repertoire plus Decca’s Phase 4 sound. A partial list is in the set mentioned below but check amazon.co.uk for the complete track listing.

The 23rd disc is Leopold Stokowski A Memoir with voices of Stokowski, John Georgiadis, Hugh Maguire, Gervase de Peyer and other colleagues, plus excerpts of the recordings. An interesting section is Leopold Stokowski Remembers Gustav Mahler. Thomas Martin Recalls Auditioning for Leopold Stokowski has the double bass player recounting his audition for the Houston Symphony when Stokowski was their music director. An unusual and nice way to conclude the collection.

01b phase 4 260In 2014 Decca issued a 41CD set, Phase 4 Stereo Concert Series (4786769), that contained a broad collection of singular performances of some familiar standard repertoire and more, featuring international artists such as Sean Connery, Ivan Davis, Eileen Farrell, Ruggiero Ricci, Marilyn Horne and Robert Merrill. Conductors include Bernard Herrmann, Stanley Black, Edward Downes, Antal Doráti, Arthur Fiedler, Anatole Fistoulari, Jean Fournet, Henry Lewis, Lorin Maazel, Erich Leinsdorf, Charles Munch, Eric Rogers, Miklós Rózsa and Leopold Stokowski. There are nine Stokowski CDs that also appear in the above collection; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, Pictures at an Exhibition, Scheherazade, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth and the 1812 Overture, Glazunov’s Violin Concerto with Silvia Marcovici, a collection of Bach transcriptions, excerpts from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and suites from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty ballets.

Well, this collection is certainly a curate’s egg, “Good in Parts.” Purists will certainly abhor most of it but others may simply revel in it.

02 BohnKarl Böhm was one of the very last great conductors in the German tradition that had been omnipresent in the music world. No longer with us are the likes of Clemens Krauss, Erich Kleiber, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Felix Weingartner and Bruno Walter. DG has assembled a collection of his recordings under the title Karl Böhm The Operas with the subtitle Complete Vocal Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon (4798358, 70 CDs boxed with a 144-page 190mm-square book). The enormity of this collection of incomparable music-making is overwhelming and one might wonder what Karl Böhm was all about.

He was born in Graz, Austria on August 28, 1894 and after receiving a degree in law he attended the conservatory there, later enrolling at the conservatory in Vienna. He became an assistant repetiteur at Graz in 1917 and by 1920 he was the senior director of music there. In 1921 he was engaged by Bruno Walter at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. In 1927 he was appointed chief music director in Darmstadt. A few more appointments later and in 1933 he conducted Tristan und Isolde in Vienna. He became director of the Semper Opera in Dresden succeeding Fritz Busch in 1934, remaining in there until 1942. He conducted the first performances of two Richard Strauss operas, Die schweigsame Frau in 1935 and in 1938 Daphne, of which he is the dedicatee. In 1938 he premiered in the Salzburg Festival with Don Giovanni, becoming a permanent guest conductor there.

After 1948 he conducted Don Giovanni at La Scala and from 1950 to 1953 directed the German season in Buenos Aires. In 1957 he made his debut at the Met in New York with Don Giovanni and became a favorite of Rudolph Bing. At the Met he directed 262 performances, including many premieres. He leaned towards Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Verdi, and certainly had a special connection to the music by his close friend, Richard Strauss. Böhm made his debut in Bayreuth in 1962 with Tristan und Isolde and directed performances there until 1970, and from 1965 to 1967 he conducted Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wieland Wagner’s last production. Böhm continued conducting and recording and in his last years he was associated with the London Symphony, with which he had an affectionate relationship and which had named him LSO president. He was still recording with them in June 1980 about one year before his death on August 14, 1981 in Salzburg.

Included in this edition are operas by Beethoven, Berg, Mozart, Richard Strauss and Wagner, plus two and a half CDs of Böhm speaking in German about his life, etc.

Soloists in top voice include Martti Talvela, Peter Schreier, Anton Dermota, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Fritz Wunderlich, Evelyn Lear, Gundula Janowitz, Birgit Nilsson, Sherrill Milnes, Hans Hotter, Gwyneth Jones, Christa Ludwig, Hilde Güden… and the list goes on.

Yes, it is an expensive set but the ROI (return on investment) is very high.

03 Friscay 260The Berlin of 1946 was a war-ravaged city divided into four sectors according to the nationality of the occupying force. The American, the Russian, the British and the French sectors each had their own restrictions and protocols. The situation was the setting for countless successful novels and films then and since. In the midst of the poverty and homeless refugees, Berliners turned to music and the performing arts. “Every shed and every garage might serve as a little temple of the Muses,” ex-POW Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recalled. “The plentiful supply reflected the demand. Every evening queues formed outside the box offices (where people had to queue in spite of everything).” The American radio station, the RIAS, formed a new symphony orchestra, the RIAS Symphony Orchestra. They gave their first concert on December 12, 1948. On the podium was a young Hungarian conductor, Ferenc Fricsay. In 1956 the orchestra renamed themselves the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and in 1993, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, Berlin. Ferenc Fricsay: The Mozart Radio Broadcasts (DG 4798275, 4 CDs in a hardcover book) includes recordings from Deutschlandradio (1951-52).

The repertoire: Symphonies 1, 4-9, 23 and 27, the Bassoon Concerto K191, Sinfonia Concertante K297b, Cassation K63, Serenade K375, Ein Musikalischer Spass K522, Serenata Notturna K239 and Divertimenti K247 and 334. Also Sull’aria from Le Nozze di Figaro (with Suzanne Danco and Rita Streich) and In quali accessi, o Numi … Mi trade quell’alma ingrate  from Don Giovanni (Suzanne Danco).

From the very first bars I knew this was something special and during the afternoon played through all four discs. It barely matters that the pristine sound is mono. These are performances not for critiquing but for simple joy.

01 de Raaff Jaap van ZwedenIn recent months I’ve written about Elliott Carter and George Crumb, two giants of 20th-century composition whom I had the opportunity to meet through my position as general manager of New Music Concerts and my association with founding director Robert Aitken. Over the past two decades, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet innumerable outstanding mid-career and emerging composers. Further on in these pages you will find Michael Schulman’s review of two new releases by a Dutch composer recently featured by New Music Concerts, Robin de Raaff, who celebrated his 49th birthday while in Toronto. De Raaff’s star is definitely on the rise, with numerous significant commissions in recent years in both Europe and North America, including the upcoming premiere of a chamber version of his Second Violin Concerto “North Atlantic Light” at Carnegie Hall in June. It is rare enough for any composer to have two recordings released in a single year, but in fact de Raaff has had three. The one I kept for myself is the latest of four etcetera discs devoted to orchestral and operatic works of this outstanding composer. Jaap van Zweden conducts Robin de Raaff (KTC 1593 etcetera-records.com) – includes his Violin Concerto and Symphony No.1 “Tanglewood Tales” performed by the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest. The violin soloist is Tasmin Little, for whom the concerto was intended.

Reclassified as Violin Concerto No.1 “Angelic Echoes” to reflect the fact that de Raaff is currently at work on a second concerto, I am actually pleased that this recording did not include the subtitle because I like my first listenings to be unencumbered by programmatic references or musicological explanations. So I was listening blind, so to speak, when I first encountered this work. Right from its opening notes I had the distinct impression that I was hearing an homage to one of the great concertos of the past century, and one of my favourite works, Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto – “To the Memory of an Angel.” Reading the comprehensive notes (from two different recordings) later confirmed this for me, and further explained how de Raaff had accomplished this by mirroring Berg’s composition without directly referencing his melodic material. Where Berg had used a Bach chorale, de Raaff composed one of his own and then treated it in a similar fashion. In both works the notes of the open strings of the violin – a cycle of fifths – play an important role, and by stacking these (G-D-A-E) de Raaff takes the interval of a sixth thus created (G to E) to derive much of the material for his piece. Open strings also play another important role in that he has the second violin section of the orchestra tune a semitone below the pitch of the first violins (F-sharp-C-sharp-G-sharp-D-sharp), giving eight (instead of the usual four open pitches) and increasing the overtone possibilities accordingly. Inspired by techniques from Gregorian Chant, de Raaff uses these overtones to create “angelic” countermelodies which seem to arise out of the orchestral textures. In another parallel to Berg’s iconic work – dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius – de Raaff uses his work to eulogize a close friend who died during its composition. Saxophonist William Raaijman is immortalized with the unexpected entry of two alto saxes towards the end of the concerto. Like its forebear, this is a gorgeous work, and beautifully played.

De Raaff has had an ongoing relationship with Tanglewood – the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – since his first residency there in 2000. There have been five subsequent visits, most recently in 2015. Symphony No.1 began as a single-movement work titled Entangled Tales, premiered by the BSO at Koussevitsky Shed, Tanglewood’s premier venue, in 2007. He later added an introductory prequel Untangled Tales in 2011 and ultimately a brief coda was added in 2016. The title refers to a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys, which he wrote while living in a cottage near Tanglewood in 1853. Hawthorne retells several Greek myths but de Raaff’s tales are more topical, depicting the site of the summer music festival before and during public performances. The quiet opening portrays the landscape of the estate during which we hear fragments from various rehearsal studios, providing a preview and in a sense an “untangling” of the material which will be developed in the second movement. The subsequent “tangled tales” are livelier, more energetic and complex. The coda returns to the overall sensibility of the first movement, but with a somewhat heightened sense of colour and light.

I treasure the time that I spent with Robin de Raaff during his recent visit to Toronto, especially an evening of socializing at which I got to share some of my own music-making. It was also enlightening to experience the extensive preparations involved in advance of the performance of de Raaff’s extremely complex Percussion Concerto with soloist Ryan Scott and the New Music Concerts Ensemble under Aitken’s direction. This work has had numerous previous performances and has entered the canon of contemporary repertoire, but de Raaff assured us that the Toronto performance was the best yet. Having had the opportunity to get to know one of his more recent pieces so intimately, it was a great pleasure to get to know some of his earlier work on this very fine CD.

02 UTS RemembersI Remember, featuring University of Toronto Schools Alumni Musicians and Friends (Cambia CD-1247 cambriamus.com), showcases performers, composers and teachers associated with the independent secondary school (Grades 7 through 12) affiliated with the University of Toronto. The music is a range of chestnuts by the likes of Scriabin, Brahms, Dukas and Dvořák, along with premiere recordings of original music by Canadian composers Alexander Rapoport (composer-in-residence at UTS), Ronald Royer (alumnus and UTS music teacher), Sarah Shugarman (UTS music teacher), Alex Eddington (UTS alumnus and TDSB teacher) and Billy Bao (who graduated UTS in 2014 and is now doing a major in Music Performance and a minor in Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University). Bao is featured as both composer and performer. Other performers include outstanding current UTS students and recent graduates, plus two of Canada’s most distinguished musicians, alumni James Sommerville (horn) and David Fallis (singer, conductor, and in this case, narrator).

I Remember is a charming mix of music new and old, performed with precision, passion and aplomb by these fine (mostly) young musicians. Of course the classical selections are beyond reproach, but the highlights for me are the new works: Shugarman’s Carousel, a canon-like piece for three violins, two cellos and bass; Rapoport’s dark but lush Walberauscht for horn and piano, which he says means “intoxicated by the forest;” Danzon by Royer, a movement from the larger suite Dances with Time in an arrangement for two violins, cello and piano; Eddington’s playful Bubblegum Delicious (on poetry by another UTS alumnus, Dennis Lee) for soprano and small ensemble with narrator; and Billy Bao’s virtuosic Dance, a brief but thrilling duet for violin and cello. Although there is nothing here that would be considered cutting edge or challenging new music, it is important that the curriculum at UTS is emphasizing to the students that “classical” composers are alive and well, and living in Canada!

I Remember provides not only a “reminder” but also ample evidence of the importance of inspiring and nurturing young performers and the efficacy of doing so within the school curriculum. Bravo to UTS. Let them be an example for us all, especially for the powers that be who make decisions about arts and education. I hope copies will be sent to all the MPPs at Queen’s Park.

As the editor of DISCoveries, I see all of the CDs and DVDs received here at The WholeNote – and believe me, that is quite a number, far more than we can cover each month. For instance, there are more than 75 discs covered in this edition, and that is only about half of the number under consideration. I have noticed in recent months an exceptional rise in the number of local and Canadian, mostly independent, jazz releases. In our last issue we covered 24 jazz titles and further on in these pages you’ll find another 17. And I still find a backlog of local content waiting for attention. With this in mind, and take it as a disclaimer if you like, as is occasionally the case I am about to venture outside my comfort zone and report on (an important distinction from reviewing) a few of these neglected titles. So with that caveat, here are some discs that I found of interest this month.

03 Jody ProznickYou will find Raul da Gama’s take on Laila Biali’s excellent eponymous disc in the Pot Pourri section of this issue, but she is also present on a very strong jazz release from stalwart Vancouver acoustic bass player Jodi Proznick, Sun Songs (Cellar Live CL010118 cellarlive.com). Biali’s vocals are supported by Proznick’s usual quartet, rhythm section partners pianist Tilden Webb and drummer Jesse Cahill, complemented by the melodic alto and soprano sax lines of Steve Kaldestad. The album features eight original Proznick songs, three with co-writers, and her arrangement of Stephin Merritt’s The Book of Love. The overall feel of this disc is gentle and melodic and with its emphasis on lyrical songs could be construed as an amalgam of jazz and pop, but to my ear this falls firmly in the jazz camp with no compromise to the world of popular music. Highly recommended.

04 Bethany ProjectThe Bethany Project (iliosjazz.ca) is the brainchild of Toronto-based drummer and composer Ilios Steryannis, who spent his formative years in Bethany, ON “where it snowed a lot, we had a big old fashioned radio, and I loved to gaze up at the stars in the beautiful night sky…” There are 11 original tunes which each have a particular focus and personal link for Steryannis. From the opening The Group of 7 which turns out not to have anything to do with the art collective of that name, but rather refers to the Afro-Cuban groove in 7/4 time over which its melodies soar, through to the closing Soledad, inspired by the Gabriel García Márquez novel 100 Years of Solitude, there are many moods and tributes along the way. The one thing that is consistent throughout is the funky sensibility. And consummate musicianship from contributors Sundar Viswanathan (alto and soprano saxophones), Kenny Kirkwood (baritone sax), Connor Walsh (acoustic and electric bass), Joel Visentin (Hammond organ), Scott Neary (guitar) and Adam Hay and Larry Graves on sundry percussion. While primarily Latin in feel, other influences include John Coltrane, John Scofield and Joe Henderson, music of Steryannis’ Greek heritage and African beats from Kenya and Cameroon. Hard to sit still while this CD is on the player!

Listen to 'Bethany Project' Now in the Listening Room

05 Terrry Gomes Tropical DreamAnother disc that lifted my spirits and kept me grooving through the bitterly cold days of early January was The Tropical Dream, a concept album from Ottawa guitarist Terry Gomes (terrygomes.com). With a degree in classical guitar and composition, Gomes is quite an eclectic musician, having worked in rock bands, a classical guitar/flute duo and as a singer/songwriter. On this outing he has surrounded himself with a host of diverse musicians playing a range of percussion instruments, horns, piano, Paraguayan harp, basses, cello, steel pan and vocalizations to complement his own guitars and keyboards. Gomes says “If you live all or part of the year in a cold climate, chances are that you have some sort of tropical dream. This one is mine.” This is music that keeps you moving, although not always at a frenetic pace – there are occasional respites and a beautiful bossa ballad. The Tropical Dream would be a perfect accompaniment to a pitcher of margaritas or your favourite umbrella drink. I for one was happy to be on board with Gomes on this island cruise.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor

01 James EhnesWhat more is there to say about James Ehnes? He’s simply one of the best violinists in the world, and an artist whose performances tend to leave you scrambling for superlatives. Not surprisingly, that’s the case with his latest CD release, perhaps rather surprisingly his first recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major Op.61, on Beethoven Violin Concerto, Romances; Schubert Rondo, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrew Manze (ONYX 4167).

It’s a quite sumptuous performance, with Ehnes’ complete technical and musical command and glorious tone fully evident throughout. In a work which mostly eschews technical fireworks and concentrates on linear writing, Ehnes makes every melodic line sing. It may be a performance somewhat less animated than some current approaches to the work, but it’s one of great beauty, silky smoothness and assurance. Manze, an early music violinist turned conductor, draws a stylistically appropriate accompaniment from the orchestra. The cadenzas for the outer movements are by Kreisler (not always used these days) and give Ehnes all the opportunity he could possibly want to display his dazzling technique.

The two Romances, No.1 in G Major Op.40 and No.2 in F Major Op.50, from around 1800, do not have the heft of the concerto, but are much more than mere lightweights. Either one may have been intended as a possible slow movement for a projected C-major violin concerto begun in the late 1790s, and they sound lovely here.

Franz Schubert’s Rondo in A Major for Violin and Orchestra D438 is one of only three works – all for violin – that he wrote for solo instrument and orchestra. Composed when he was 19, it is full of typical Schubertian melody.

02 Michel CorretteThere’s a simply outstanding new CD from the Canadian west coast duo of violinist Paul Luchkow and harpsichordist Michael Jarvis of the six Sonatas for Harpsichord & Violin Op.25 by the 18th-century French composer Michel Corrette (Marquis MAR 81475).

The works date from around 1742 and were published with the usual description for the period as Sonates pour le Clavecin avec un Accompagnement de Violon, although the violin’s role here is clearly not merely subservient. As the excellent booklet notes point out, the keyboard writing is more symphonic in scale than simply melody with accompaniment, with the violin sharing the melodic role and enhancing the harpsichord’s orchestral texture.

The violin playing is sensitive and warm, and the harpsichord playing bright, clear and beautifully articulated. There’s sensitivity in the slow movements, dazzling virtuosity in the fast outer movements and superb ensemble playing throughout. It’s thoroughly engrossing music, fascinating and inventive with never a dull moment, and recorded with lovely ambience. All in all, an absolute delight.

Listen to 'Michael Corrette: Sonatas for Harpsichord & Violin Op.25' Now in the Listening Room

03 Violin Cello HarpThere’s more fine Canadian ensemble playing on Trios for Violin, Cello and Harp, featuring violinist Antoine Bareil, cellist Stéphane Tétreault and harpist Valérie Milot in works by Jacques Ibert and Henriette Renié (Analekta AN 2 9888).

The Ibert Trio is a really lovely work dating from 1944, although it seems to inhabit an earlier French world than that of the Second World War. The equally delightful Trio by the harpist and composer Renié, an exact contemporary of Ibert, is firmly in the style of that earlier age, having been written in 1901.

A selection of shorter works fills out the CD. Renié’s Danse des lutins is a virtuosic piece for solo harp that showcases Milot’s technique. Bareil and Tétreault combine for their own fireworks in the familiar Passacaglia by Johan Halvorsen before all three players reunite for their own adaptation of Schubert’s poignant song Lob der Tränen.

Bareil and Tétreault in particular are in wonderful form here, but there’s a lovely sound quality throughout the disc, with fine ensemble playing and great balance. It’s another delightful CD.

04 PiazaollaThe Argentinian-born violinist Tomás Cotik received rave reviews for his 2013 Tango Nuevo CD of music of Astor Piazzolla with Chinese-American pianist Tao Lin (available on Naxos 8.573166), and the duo mark the 25th anniversary of the legendary Argentinian composer’s death with the release of a second outstanding tango CD, Astor Piazzolla Legacy (Naxos 8.573789).

This new disc is essentially the concert program the duo put together following the success of the first CD, and features new adaptations of some of Cotik’s favourite Piazzolla works. They are joined at times by Jeffrey Kipperman on bass and Alex Wadner and Bradley Loudis on percussion. Four of the ten titles are arrangements by Osvaldo Calo, but the other six are adaptations by Cotik himself, including the central work on the CD, the superb four-movement Las cuatro estaciones porteňas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires).

Cotik has a beautiful clarity and depth to his playing; Lin draws a simply gorgeous tone from the piano, and the bass and percussion contributions are used to great effect. Listening to Cotik brings to mind the saying about blues music: that you don’t play the blues, you live them. Cotik doesn’t just play tango music – he lives it. It’s absolutely captivating and intoxicating stuff.

05 American RomanticsAmerican Romantics II – Premiere Recordings of Turn of the Century Works for String Orchestra is a fascinating second CD in a series created by New York conductor Reuben Blundell promoting under-represented American music from the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th (New Focus Recordings FCR 166B). Blundell conducts the Gowanus Arts Ensemble, a group of NYC freelancers assembled specifically for the project.

The short works are all world premiere recordings, and for some of the composers it’s the first time any of their music has appeared on disc. There are 15 works here by 12 different composers: those represented are the English-born Félix Borowski; George Whitefield Chadwick; Arthur Foote; the German-born Paul Theodore Miersch; Ethelbert Nevin; Edgar Stillman Kelley; the Dutch-born Martinus van Gelder and Bernardus Boekelman; the French-born Louis Lombard; Arthur Bird; and Charles Wakefield Cadman. The Danish-born Carl Busch’s arrangements of two Stephen Foster songs open and close the CD.

The music is much of its time, as you would expect, but is no less accomplished and attractive for that; Lombard’s Puccini-esque Élégie is particularly lovely. The string ensemble is only ten players, but sounds much fuller and richer in simply lovely performances.

An extremely attractive digi-pak complements an original and highly satisfying release.

06 Serebrier GranadosJosé Serebrier leads the Concerto Málaga String Orchestra on Serebrier conducts Granados, the somewhat misleading title of a new CD from the SOMM Recordings Céleste Series (SOMMCD 0171).

Only five of the 16 short tracks are by Granados; the remaining 11 are by eight different composers, mostly emphasizing a connection with Barcelona, where Granados spent his entire working life. All five Granados tracks – Andaluza, Oriental, Pequeňa Romanza, El Himno de los Muertos and Intermezzo from Goyescas – are arrangements, as are Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Gran Vals by Francisco Tárrega and the famous Tango and Mallorca by Isaac Albéniz.

Nocturno is a lovely piece by Eduard Toldrà. Joaquim Malats’ Serenata Espaňola, Ruperto Chapi’s Nocturno and Enric Morera’s brooding Desolació are followed by the two earliest compositions on the disc, Jesús de Monasterio’s beautiful Andante Religioso from 1872 and Andantino Expresivo from 1881. Ricard Lamote de Grignon’s Lento Expresivo is a nice final track.

The playing is warm and idiomatic, although there’s not really a great deal for the orchestra to get their teeth into.

07 Ramon PausThere’s music by the contemporary Spanish composer Ramón Paús on Works for Viola, featuring the Israeli violist Yuval Gotlibovich, in the Naxos Spanish Classics series (8.573602). Paús, born in 1959, has worked extensively in the film, theatre and television worlds as well as the classical field.

Gotlibovich is joined by pianist Eduardo Fernández in Madera Ocaso (Wood Sunset) (2013), an extensive single-movement rhapsodic piece with modern touches and a very strong piano part. The Catalan Chamber Orchestra under Joan Pàmies form the accompaniment for the even more rhapsodic Cobalto azul, en tránsito (Cobalt blue, in transit) (2013), and the same performers are joined by violinist Raquel Castro and the ESMUC Chamber Choir male voices in the quite beautiful Elegía primera, la deriva (First elegy, the drift) (2014), an effective and moving work focusing on extreme loss. Gotlibovich displays a warm and beautiful tone throughout the instrument’s range.

Madera Ocaso was written for these two performers and Gotlibovich also gave the first performance of the other two works, the recording sessions for the Elegia primera beginning the day after its November 2015 premiere in Barcelona.

Listen to 'Ramón Paús: Works for Viola' Now in the Listening Room

08 Il RitornoMusic for violin and viola by American composer Michael Alec Rose is featured on Il Ritorno, with the English duo of violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved and violist Diana Mathews (Métier MSV 28574). There are two works for violin and viola and two for solo violin here, all of which were a result of the composer’s long friendship with the two performers. Mathews commissioned the opening work, Unturned Stones: Duo for Violin and Viola (2012), a three-movement piece that takes the study of landscape as a starting point but ventures much further afield, Rose’s extensive booklet notes quoting Talmudic study and Zen philosophy.

Mornington Caprice: Duo for Violin and Viola (2015) is the second caprice Rose has written for Mathews and was inspired by Frank Auerbach’s painting Mornington Crescent – Early Morning (1991). At under four minutes it takes longer to read and understand the booklet notes than it does to listen to the music.

By far the biggest work on the CD is the title track, subtitled Perambulation for Solo Violin (2013-2015). It was inspired and shaped by the composer’s obsession with Dartmoor in Devon, England, which he first visited in 1991 and which he describes as “the reigning metaphor” of his life; he has returned 18 times since then, hence the work’s title. The four pages of intense booklet notes make it clear that this work goes well beyond the purely physical appeal of the landscape suggested by the six movement titles: Preamble; Bearings; Silence; Water; Stone; and Song. Skærved is in quite superb form in a work which is certainly not lacking a tonal feel and that uses very little in the way of extreme technique; there is some remarkable playing here, especially in Stone.

The brief Diaphany (2016) for solo violin is a strong finish to the disc. It may be something of a challenge to fully understand the philosophical approach here, but there’s no doubting the strength and quality of the music.

09 Dorothy HindmanTightly Wound: Music for Strings is a 2CD set of works by the American composer Dorothy Hindman featuring 13 varied works played by a wide range of performers (Innova 965).

Hindman’s music is described as “a blend of punk/grunge with a spectralist sensibility,” although the differing styles of the works here would seem to suggest more; this is clearly music by a highly accomplished composer.

CD2 is by far the stronger of the two, with various pieces for guitar quartet (the terrific Taut), solo guitar, string quartet, amplified cello, and both solo violin and solo cello with fixed media. The exemplary performers include guitarist Paul Bowman, cellist Craig Hultgren, violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, the Corona Guitar Kvartet and the Amernet String Quartet.

01 Claude BakerMarc-André Hamelin’s new CD partners him with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for a world premiere recording of the Claude Baker Piano Concerto “From Noon to Starry Night” (Naxos 8.559804).

Based on a poem by Walt Whitman, Baker’s work is highly detailed with many linkages to the structure of Whitman’s poem. Baker several times quotes well-known musical material to emphasize the programmatic content of both his music and Whitman’s poem.

The five-movement concerto is complex and presents considerable technical and interpretive challenges for the pianist. Hamelin’s performance integrates beautifully into this demanding ensemble requirement. He is particularly potent where he dominates the orchestra in pianissimo passages. For all its beauty, the work is one of very high tension. Baker is a brilliant composer and has the perfect pianist to premiere this remarkable work.

Listen to 'Claude Baker Piano Concerto “From Noon to Starry Night"' Now in the Listening Room

02 PersichettiThe harpsichord has, of all period instruments, made the most successful transition to contemporary music. This is largely due to the extraordinary writing of American composer Vincent Persichetti. Christopher D. Lewis demonstrates why Persichetti’s music is so powerful, in his new release Persichetti Harpsichord Sonatas (Naxos 8.559843).

Five sonatas and the Serenade No.15 Op.161 sample the early period, mid-career and final year of the composer’s life (1915-1987). The growth and development of his language for this instrument is subtle. Always leaning toward melody and strong rhythmic elements, Persichetti became, if anything, more focused and incisive in his expression. The Serenade in particular, offers a splendid example of how Lewis grasps the composer’s idiom and conveys it convincingly. He’s clearly having a great deal of fun playing this music and relishes the extent of the technical challenge as well as the lovely melodic moments that mark all of Persichetti’s harpsichord works.

Well-programmed and wonderfully played, the disc delivers far more than a first glance might suggest. It reincarnates the harpsichord as a credible modern keyboard instrument.

Listen to 'Persichetti Harpsichord Sonatas' Now in the Listening Room

03 Ralph van RaatRalph van Raat is a pianist with a very catholic taste in music. His affection for rock, jazz, atonal serial music, and everything between them is accurately reflected in his decision to record Erik Lotichius: Anaitalrax – 25 virtuosic studies (Solaire SOL 1005 2-CD). Lotichius (1929-2015) was born in the Netherlands and composed in a style that was a deep fusion of seemingly countless influences. Traditional European classical voices and numerous American ones appear consistently throughout his very tonal and rhythmically driven music. Jazz, ragtime, blues, Broadway, Bach, Bartók, Debussy and Ravel are easy to identify, but it’s the amalgams that emerge as the unique voice of this little-known composer.

Van Raat performs these 25 studies as if they were meditations, sustaining the composer’s mantra-like phrases and hypnotic rhythms to great effect. Lotichius is a master at capturing more than just your ear, he wants your emotional attention and knows how to get it. This 2CD set includes an extensive and enlightening biography of the composer as well as some engaging thoughts from both the performer and the recording’s producer.

04 SzymanowskyBarbara Karaskiewicz has compiled a fascinating program in her recording Karol Szymanowski Piano Music (Divine Art DDA 25151). It forms a survey of the composer’s work covering nearly 40 years, beginning with Nine Preludes Op.1, written in 1900. The presence of Chopin is immediately detectable along with vocabulary reminiscent of some Brahms Intermezzi. There is a familiar fluidity and nostalgic ethos that pervades the music. Karaskiewicz plays these beautifully, bringing forward the composer’s unique voice. The Four Etudes Op.4 reveal the influence of early modernism, with some careful tonal experimentation that Karaskiewicz integrates quite naturally into the character of the pieces.

Szymanowski’s output is generally considered to fall into two periods, of which the second is strongly influenced by Eastern motifs and subject matter. The exotic elements of Scheherazade from Masques Op.34 take advantage of the angular melodies and dissonant harmonies of the period’s emerging contemporary music.

Karaskiewicz’s programming arch covers a considerable distance and concludes with Two Mazurkas Op.62 that reveal the fading but ever-present influence of Chopin in Szymanowski’s music.

05 Cloak with StarsThe Cloak with the Stars – Music for organ by Carson Cooman Vol.6 (Divine Art dda 25159) is a selection of works by this American composer and organist. Erik Simmons recorded several of the earlier volumes in this series and now enjoys an established reputation for a level of expertise with Cooman’s repertoire. Simmons performs using the Hauptwerk system digital sampling technology, and data from the organ of the Abbey of Saint-Etienne, Caen, France. The instrument was built by Cavaille-Coll in 1882-85 and despite its age, is the newest of numerous organs that have been in the Abbey since its founding by William the Conqueror in 1066.

One of Cooman’s strengths as a composer is his ability to use programmatic material. He remains free enough to create highly atmospheric works that deliver more of a feel about the subject matter than a linear storyline. Three St. Francis Legends is an excellent example. The disc’s finest track, however, is Diptych for a New Life, a tribute to the life-giving imagery of the sun. Cooman’s writing is colourful and highly effective.

06 Andreas WillscherAs an organist, Carson Cooman continues to add new recordings to his growing catalogue of “virtual” pipe organ performances. Andreas Willscher Organ Symphonies 19 & 20 (Divine Art dda 25162) is the latest and once again uses the increasingly ubiquitous Hauptwerk digital sampling system. The instrument captured on this recording is the 1868 Edmund Schulze in the Church of St. Bartholomew, Armley, Leeds, England. It’s a substantial instrument of 55 stops over five divisions. Judging from the acoustic space heard in the recording, the church is large and suits the instrument perfectly. A curious piece of history recounts how the organ was originally placed in a building too small for its size and volume, lasting only a decade there before being sold and installed in its present location.

Cooman’s program for this disc focuses on the work of German composer and organist Andreas Willscher (b.1955). His compositional language for the instrument is deeply traditional yet freely incorporates catchy contemporary rhythms along with carefully applied contemporary tonalities. The 1974 work Beatitudes is a remarkable piece for a then 19-year-old composer. The major works on the recording, the Symphonies 19 and 20, are both far bolder expressions. They also reflect Willscher’s lifetime experience writing for the organ, learning to exploit its vast range of colours and dynamics.

07 Lise de la SalleLise De La Salle has recorded her ninth disc, Bach Unlimited (Naïve V5444). Two of her previous CDs have included some Bach, as does this new one. Despite its title, the only Bach work is the Italian Concerto in F Major BWV971 that opens the disc. It’s a stunning performance; driven, flawlessly controlled, and fast. Really fast. The last movement just leaves you shaking your head.

To underscore the impact Bach’s music has had on her piano career, De La Salle performs several well-known works that use a B-A-C-H motif (B-flat, A, C, B) by Liszt, Poulenc and contemporary composer Thomas Enhco. She also includes Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne in D Minor BWV1004 and Albert Roussel’s Prélude and Fugue Op.46. Enhco has, however, written several works based on Bach’s Chaconne, the Italian Concerto and Goldberg Variations, and De La Salle includes all of these in her performance program.

It’s an eclectic approach that works well under De La Salle’s hands. She’s a powerful player, versatile and completely in command of whatever repertoire she performs.

08 Late BeethovenIshay Shaer has recorded his second CD in what should be the beginning of a very promising career. Late Beethoven (Orchid Classics ORC 10076) includes the Sonatas No.28 in A Major Op.101 and No.30 in E Major Op.109 along with the Bagatelles of Opp.126 and 119. Beethoven was never overly impressed with what he felt the Bagatelles had to offer, but we see them more charitably today and Shaer has a way of rendering them that advances our own desire to know Beethoven better.

The real impact of this disc is in the exceptional and sensitive performance that Shaer brings to the two sonatas. He plays from inside the works with profound affection. Both sonatas have a great deal of introspective opportunity and Shaer never misses the chance to explore a little deeper. He seems to have a vision of a vulnerable Beethoven we seldom see.

Shaer’s command of the powerful, explosive passages is entirely convincing. But perhaps his choice of these two sonatas, very much alike in their emotional content, says more about where this young pianist has the capability to go.

09 Belle EpochLeslie Howard and Mattia Ometto collaborate as duo pianists in Belle Epoque Reynaldo Hahn – Complete Works for two pianos and piano duet (Melba MR 301148-49). Howard steps away from his lifetime role a solo pianist to play Hahn’s repertoire for two pianos and piano four hands. His performance partner Mattia Ometto carries impeccable credentials and the pair have created a splendid two-disc set that opens with Douze Valses à deux pianos. These are pure period works just fizzing with ballroom champagne. The duo next move into more serious repertoire, some of which Hahn wrote before the turn of the century. The loveliness of Hahn’s writing makes an immediate impact, especially in Scherzo lent pour deux pianos. Disc 2 continues with ever more thoughtful writing and performance. The set includes three world premiere recordings of Hahn’s work.

As piano duos go, great value is placed on the merger of two artists into a larger entity that becomes the duo. While this is obviously true in the case of Howard and Ometto, there is, nevertheless, a wonderful element of individualism at work in this pair. It’s most evident when they’re each at their own keyboard and it breathes a fresh creative spark into their playing.

10 David CheskyDavid Chesky is a prolific composer with nearly a hundred works to his credit. He has written for every conceivable classical form and has made his reputation by doing it in studio with the aid of the latest technology, especially in his large-scale compositions. This recording, David Chesky Piano Concertos 2 & 3 - Orchestra of the 21st Century (Chesky Records JD404), is his remarkable foray into the piano concerto form. Inspired by the chaos of New York City, the concertos are extremely high-energy works written and played at an impressive level of excellence.

Composer/pianist Chesky’s style is a fusion of the many influences in his creative life. It’s all there: classical music, rock, jazz, Latin strains, traffic chaos, etc. The elements are beautifully conceived and drawn into a contemporary tapestry that incorporates many familiar threads. The result is a music that is at once recognizable yet exhilaratingly modern.

Chesky’s ability as composer, orchestrator, performer and producer are remarkable. It’s an incredible disc that makes a lasting impression.

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