Secret Agent: The Selected Journals and Letters of Harry Somers

edited by William Scoular

352 pages, photos; $30.00

available from the Canadian Music Centre

Three weeks before Harry Somers died, he wrote in his journal, "I list my occupation as secret agent. Whenever I've been caught & it's been frequently, I confess to anything & everything. ‘Yes, yes,' I confess, escaping all torture. ‘You are a traditional conservative composer?' ‘YES.' ‘You are an eclectic?' ‘Oh YES.' ‘You have been at times an avant garde composer?' ‘I'll sign the paper!' ‘You're old hat?!' ‘Yes. Yes. A beat up old hat.'"

No-one except Somers himself could have come up with this. That's what makes these journals and letters so remarkable. Somers always stood out for his elegance, wit, charm, forthrightness and passionate dedication. We now have a whole new dimension on him - his thoughts, his feelings, his worries, and even what he read and listened to.

Somers' wife Barbara Chilcott and the editor William Scoular have done a Herculean job of assembling and editing the diaries and letters, written on scraps of paper over a period of 30 years. Their importance makes it all the more desirable that the next step be taken to have them fully annotated and indexed.

Certain situations need explaining, such as what happened in 1965 that would provoke Somers to curse ‘the commonwealth', ‘the Queen', ‘Ozawa', ‘Walter Hamburger' (sic), ‘Bright's champagne', ‘the government' and ‘Irving Glick', all in one breath? Important figures like E. Robert Schmitz need to be identified. Names like ‘gord rainor', ‘Milhoud', and ‘Crumm', misspelled by Somers - whether inadvertently or on purpose - should have their proper spelling noted. What annotations there are, given in square brackets in the text, are not always accurate. The published journal reads, "I remember Krenek [president of the USSR's composers' union] referring to Copland as superficial." But here Somers is surely referring to the Austrian composer Ernst Krenek, not the Soviet composer Tikhon Khrennikov, who was Somers' dinner companion when he visited the USSR in 1976.

Somers' speculations about writing an autobiography come up constantly in these pages. "There are many sides of many things I've not spoken of," he wrote in 1995. Fortunately he left this candid, fascinating journal, and along with his letters, it makes an essential contribution to the cultural life of this country. A terrific collection of photos and a DVD containing clips of TV and documentary interviews give readers a sense of his physical presence.


The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years

by Simon Morrison

Oxford University Press

504 pages, photos; $32.95

If the secret agent who figures in Harry Somers' journal was a romanticized fantasy, the secret agents in Prokofiev's life were real, nasty, and dangerous - from the Russian émigré cellist in Hollywood who made sure Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union, to the malicious head of the Union of Soviet Composers, Tikhon Khrennikov, who Somers had found to be "terribly kind" when he met him in Moscow.

This brilliant chronicle of Prokofiev's final years focuses on why he returned to what was now the Soviet Union, and how that irrevocable move affected his life and music. "He thought to influence Soviet cultural policy," writes Morrison, "but instead it influenced him."

Morrison explores how Prokofiev's ambition, vanity, and naiveté led him to his fateful decision. It's clear from his diaries (now being published in English) that he missed his homeland. But he was lured by offers of performances and money. Morrison considers the influence of his fervent Christian Science spiritualism, which likely prevented him from seeing the repression, incarcerations and murders of artists that were occurring regularly in the Soviet Union under Stalin.Yet he shows that Prokofiev in fact had some sense of the personal and artistic freedom he would be sacrificing. In any case, as soon as he had moved his wife Lina and their two sons from Paris to Moscow, he could only travel abroad with Lina if he left his two sons behind. By 1938, neither he nor Lina was allowed to leave at all.

But as difficult as things gradually became for Prokofiev, they were far worse for Lina, who was not even Russian. First, Prokofiev left her for a young admirer, and then, when she tried to leave the USSR, she ended up spending years in Soviet camps on fabricated charges of treason.

Morrison is a Canadian scholar now teaching at Princeton. He has made full use of his unprecedented access to unpublished documents and scores now in the Russian State Archives. Morrison's meticulous endnotes and index makes this detailed biography accessible, and his elegant writing style makes it thoroughly engrossing to read.

 

 

Leonard Bernstein: American Original

edited by Burton Bernstein and Barbara B. Haws

HarperCollins

240 pages, photos; $31.95

For years, Leonard Bernstein's father Sam pressured his musically precocious eldest son to go into the family beauty-supplies business. Later he defended himself by saying, "How could I know he would grow up to be a Leonard Bernstein?" As his father had finally figured out, Leonard Bernstein was an original. But no-one could live up to the title of this book and be a "modern renaissance man" who "transformed music and the world" - not even this charismatic conductor, composer, writer and educator. Fortunately the ten essays in this book are less starry-eyed and more incisive than the title would suggest. Together, they offer a well-balanced portrait of a complex figure.

There's an eloquent memoir by music critic Alan Rich, who admits to often being hard on Bernstein, mostly for ignoring contemporary music. Historian Paul Boyer discusses how Bernstein added a political dimension to his role as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Like Prokofiev, he believed that art not only reflects but influences social reality. His outspoken support for issues such as civil liberties, environmental protection and world peace was considered so audacious at the time that he ended up with an FBI file almost 700 pages long.

Unlike the Soviet composer, he did achieve some influence. But, as his younger brother Burton Bernstein writes in one of his memorable chapter-by-chapter commentaries, he paid a price - in the press at least - for what his brother considers his naiveté. American composer John Adams offers the perspective of a young man first discovering Bernstein. "I thought I'd found the model for what the future of classical music in America would be," he writes.

The splendid photos and documents enrich the texts. My favorite photo, from 1970, shows Bernstein in leisure clothes coaching his baseball team, the Philharmonic Penguins. Beside him, watching intently in his baseball uniform and cap, is his protégé Seiji Ozawa, who would have just finished his stint as conductor of the Toronto Symphony.

The Toronto Symphony performs two works by Bernstein, Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, and Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, on May 13 at 8:00 and May 14 at 2:00.

Bernstein's West Side Story is on stage at the Stratford Festival from June 5 until October 31.

 

 Dowland - The Queen’s Galliard

(Lute Music Vol. 4)

Nigel North

Naxos 8.570284

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The fourth and final CD of a series devoted to John Dowland’s lute music, this disc’s program of galliards, corants and Elizabethan song tunes offers an affectionate and intriguing glimpse into the musical development of this brilliant composer. Though Dowland’s familiar pensive spirit is rarely out of sight, its reflection through the prism of dance and song makes for delightful listening of a more lively kind, especially in the expert musical hands of Nigel North.

This CD is replete with great tunes expertly played. Several of the composer’s earlier and less familiar galliards can be heard here, of which John Dowland’s Galliard is a particular gem; also included are some of his most famous, such as the Frog Galliard, which receives an elegantly spry performance. Also offered are various lute song and broadside ballad tunes set for lute alone, including Can she excuse, Lord Willoughby’s welcome home, Fortune my foe, Goe from my window and other Shakespeare-era chart-toppers. North also performs his own particularly beautiful version of Francis Cutting’s Awake sweet love.

Besides his exemplary playing, North’s readable notes provide much helpful and interesting information. And the recorded sound on this disc is beautiful.

Congrats to Naxos for their support of Dowland’s remarkable music, as played by one of his most excellent champions. 

Alison Melville

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 Telemann

Twelve Fantasies for Solo Violin

Augustin Hadelich

Naxos 8.570563

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Like a musical wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Telemann Fantasies lie in wait for the competent but unsuspecting amateur violinist searching for solo Baroque works less challenging than the Bach Sonatas and Partitas.

I’ve been trying to play these things for over 35 years - which probably says more about my reluctance to practise and the relative balance of “competent” and “amateur” in my technique than anything else - and while Telemann clearly intended them for amateurs and students the deceptively straightforward writing is often quite angular and strewn with technical pitfalls.

Composed in 1735, the Fantasies display elements of the Baroque sonata, concerto and suite, with limited two-part writing and less multiple stopping than the Bach; the 1968 Barenreiter edition, however - and with classic understatement - remarked that “the double stopping and chordal work can only be tackled by a competent player.”

Augustin Hadelich’s playing goes far beyond merely competent, making everything sound easy and natural without ever being trivial. The short, slow chordal passages could perhaps be embellished more - comparison with the solo Asseggai of Telemann's Swedish contemporary Johan Helmich Roman would certainly suggest this - but Hadelich's ornamentation is clean and unobtrusive.

These are not the Bach solo works in any respect, leaning more towards Corelli than to Telemann's German contemporary, but they still have much to recommend them.

Recorded in Newmarket by the regular Naxos team of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver the sound quality is, as always, impeccable.

Terry Robbins

 

 Haydn – La Passione

(Symphonies 41; 44; 49)

Arion; Gary Cooper

early-music.com EMCCD-7769

www.early-music.com)

Montreal’s Arion orchestra is joined in this recent CD by the English harpsichordist Gary Cooper in a program of three remarkable symphonies from Haydn’s so-called “Storm and Stress” period. What makes this recording unusual, aside from the highly contentious inclusion of a harpsichord continuo part, is the modest size of the 17 member orchestra, ostensibly modelled after the forces available to Haydn at the Esterhazy palace where these works were first heard. This recording claims to be a premiere of sorts, in that the performance of the Symphony No. 41 is presented, as Cooper explains in the booklet notes, “without the pomp and clatter of additional trumpets and timpani”. An admirable intent to be sure, but regrettably there’s clatter galore from the over-miked horns and an often relentless harpsichord part which contributes a considerable din of acrid overtones of its own. Though the virtuosity of the ensemble is quite evident, particularly in the hell-for-leather tempos of the 44th and 49th symphonies, Anton Kwiatkowski’s over-the-top sound engineering (or to be fair, perhaps it’s a distorted pressing of the album that’s at fault) inflates the modest ensemble to gargantuan proportions, undermining the very intimacy that was the stated intent of this small-scale performance. If heavy-metal Haydn is your thing you may enjoy these bristly, bracing interpretations.

Daniel Foley

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CLASSICAL AND BEYOND

 

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 Beethoven - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Mari Kodama; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestre Berlin; Kent Nagano

Analekta AN 2 9955

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I looked forward to hearing these concertos after Nagano’s Beethoven Fifth Symphony recorded with the Montreal Symphony (AN2 9942-3). That performance was a wave of fresh air in dynamics, phrasing and tempi and a welcome addition to the catalogue, holding one’s attention to the last bar.

Mari Kodama is endowed with astonishing virtuosity, self assurance and control. This reminded me of Glenn Gould when his limitless ability, boarding on arrogance, could stand in the way the music. As these performances unfold I was persuaded that she is offering genuine musical insights with a personal touch that is quite appealing.

About eight minutes into the first movement of the first concerto, Beethoven’s genius is manifested using simple means for the unfolding drama of the music. Descending scales, played 3 times, remind me of similar scales in Mozart’s Don Giovanni which portend the demise of the Don. How these simple passages are played is one of the critical measures of artistic insight. No reservations here nor with the inner world of the slow movement. The third movement, taken at a brisk pace, is exhilarating.

Kodama’s style is perfectly akin to the second concerto. Her no nonsense, clear approach suits this work perfectly. Sparkling throughout and as stylistically satisfying as any I know of.

The orchestra is just the right size for these works and Nagano, as expected, provides illuminating support, fresh and pointed beyond merely impeccable. The spacious recording is clean and well projected with a pleasing ambience.

It will be quite interesting to hear the other three concertos as they may require less of the sparkling pianism and more heavyweight musicianship. Odds are she’ll make it brilliantly.

Bruce Surtees

 

 Chopin

André Laplante

Analekta AN 2 9964

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We can only wonder why it took Andre Laplante – a pianist long renowned for his interpretations of late-romantic repertoire – until now to record an all-Chopin disc. But in light of the well-balanced program and superb playing, it was well worth the wait! Included on this Analekta recording are 2 major works, the Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35 and the Fantaisie Op.49, in addition to two early Nocturnes, (Op. Post. in C sharp minor, and Op.15 No.1), and the three Mazurkas Op.63.

The Sonata, the second of Chopin’s efforts in the form, raised more than a few eyebrows when first published in 1840. Schumann even went so far as to refer to it as a binding together of “four of his maddest children.” No matter, Laplante approaches the music with aplomb – this is powerful and noble playing, and my only quibble - and a minor one at that - would be the overly brisk pace he takes in the opening movement. Yet the familiar third movement “Funeral March” is treated with the solemnity it deserves, and the finale, with those fleeting octaves once described as “wind over church-yard graves” embodies a spirit that surely would have pleased Edgar Allan Poe.

The two nocturnes and three mazurkas which follow are miniature jewels, but to my mind, Laplante saves his best for last with the magnificent F minor Fantaisie, hailed by many as Chopin’s greatest work. I have heard many versions over the years, but I can honestly say this is among the finest I have encountered. His treatment is nothing less than sublime, from the ominous opening march, to the thrice-heard secondary theme, a veritable love-song. There is a world of contrasting moods in this piece, and Laplante effortlessly captures them all, thus bringing this most satisfying disc to a close.

Richard Haskell

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 Brahms; Korngold - Violin Concertos

Nikolaj Znaider; Wiener Philharmoniker; Valery Gergiev

RCA Red Seal 88697103362

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The young Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider appears in the august company of the mighty Vienna Philharmonic in this live recording from December 2006. The notoriously volatile Valery Gergiev provides an unusually restrained interpretation of the Brahms Concerto, well in tune with the beautifully honeyed tone Znaider draws from the Guarneri “del Gesu” violin once owned by Fritz Kreisler and now on loan to Znaider thanks to a Dutch foundation. It is a performance of striking intimacy, long on beauty though a bit short on the drama that other artists have found in this celebrated work. Though Znaider gives it his all, it seems Gergiev’s reticence in such familiar repertoire makes for just another day at the office as far as the orchestra is concerned. Gergiev and the Philharmonic seem much more engaged in Erich Korngold’s 1945 Violin Concerto, a work which is derived in large part from the composer’s Hollywood film scores composed during his decade of exile from his native Vienna. Attractively scored and direct in expression, it was premiered by Jascha Heifetz in 1947 and though it found little favour in European circles of the time it has never fallen out of the repertoire. All in all, a superb addition to Znaider’s discography.

Daniel Foley

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 Michael Rabin Collection, Volume 2

Live Performances

Michael Rabin

DOREMI DHR 7951-3

Not only violin fans but all music lovers will be delighted with this set of performances by the legendary Michael Rabin, a violin virtuoso and fine musician who, in his short life (1936-1972), generated explosive excitement and had, and still has, one of the most evident cult followings in classical music.

The three CDs, each of a little over 80 minutes duration, are fully loaded with live performances, all previously un-issued in any format, of concertos, solos and real showpieces for violin and orchestra. These were taken down at various stages of Rabin’s meteoric career, from his precocious teen-age years when he was a frequent and popular guest on The Bell Telephone Hour broadcast nationally on the NBC Network, to the fully mature, seasoned master delivering astounding performances of the Brahms, Bruch’s 1st, and Prokofiev’s 2nd violin concertos. We hear also his earliest known live performances of the Wieniawski first concerto, a work that to this day only Rabin plays with such finesse. He later recorded it for EMI, as authoritatively as if he owned it. Both Perlman and Shaham have recorded the concerto but neither approaches Rabin’s supremacy in this repertoire. Also included in this set are two ‘contemporary’ concertos apparently played only by Rabin: those by Richard Mohaupt (German-American 1904-1957) heard here with the Philharmonic-Symphony conducted by Mitropoulos (1954) and American Paul Creston’s Concerto no.2, commissioned by Rabin (1962).

A 1952 collaboration between the young Rabin and the mature and celebrated Zino Francescatti is heard in a scintillating performance of the first movement of Bach’s Double Concerto BWV1042, Rabin playing primo! Six of Paganini’s Solos Caprices (Berlin 1961) are wondrous.

Most of the repertoire presented here does not exist in Rabin’s commercial discography or in previously issued live performances. The informative and authoritative liner notes were written by Doctor Anthony Feinstein, author of “Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist” (Amadeus Press, 2005), the only biography of the late musician.

It is known that Michael Rabin wished to record the Brahms Violin Concerto. This set honours that wish with a breathtaking performance from 1967 with Rafael Kubelik in Chicago. The sound is of studio quality as are all the tracks except for the Mohaupt and Creston concertos which were rescued from contemporary acetates. The set helps to fill significant omissions in the catalogue.

Bruce Surtees

 

 

 

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Beethoven - Fidelio

Kennedy; Sherratt; Coleman-Wright; Kampe; Milne; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Mark Elder

Glyndebourne GFOCD 004-06

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Debussy - Pelléas et Mélisande

Roux; Duval; Reynolds; Hoekman;

Wilbrink; Bredy; Shirley-Quirk;

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Vittoria Gui

Glyndebourne GFOCD 003-63

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This year the Glyndebourne Festival in Sussex, England celebrates its 75th year. This is no mean achievement considering its survival depends entirely on private funds and donations. For any artist it has always been a great honour to be invited to be the guest of the Christie family, the founders and owners of this event. There have been many improvements over the years not the least of which is the magnificent new auditorium built in 1994. Glyndebourne has always been in the forefront of recording opera. As early as the 1930’s they were doing Mozart operas on EMI like the famous Don Giovanni with Fritz Busch. This year they have begun issuing recordings under their own label and this month we are presented with two of these: an inspired Fidelio from 2006 and from the archives, a 1963 performance of Pelléas et Mélisande.

Beethoven’s only opera embodies his innermost philosophy of life, the triumph of good against evil and the journey from darkness to light. This is what the Leonore Overture #3 does by compressing the journey into perhaps the most glorious 15 minutes of music ever written. With an emphasis on the symphonic nature of the opera, Mark Elder and his London Philharmonic, with excellent pacing and throbbing energy propel the music forward and yet illuminate all the nuances. Similar to the 9th Symphony the finale is truly an explosion and a culmination of joy.

The almost faultless cast deserves much credit. Soprano Anja Kampe as the heroine sings with heartfelt passion and tenderness and occasional outbursts of sincere indignation; Tornsten Kerl, the wrongfully convicted Florestan, has a shorter but no less gruelling role and his strong heroic tenor overcomes all the difficulties. The Glyndebourne Choir also makes a tremendous contribution.

At the end of the 19th century French music was under the heavy influence of Wagner and Brahms. A fervent desire for change was in the air and the young Debussy was the right man at the right time to bring it about. With new harmonies and translucent textures he brought in a breath of fresh air with a completely new approach, l’impressionisme. His sole opera Pelléas et Mélisande is a sublime masterpiece and a pinnacle of French art. It is totally different from anything written before yet, to be honest, still owes homage to Tristan and Parsifal which Debussy admired. Its long score is delicate but of the highest inspiration and every phrase is meaningful. It moves in the atmosphere of shadows, in and out of silence, generally quiet, rarely reaching a fortissimo.

This performance from 1963 is an inspired one from the beautifully poetic impressionistic sets by Beni Montresor, through the incisive and sympathetic conducting of Vittorio Gui to the faultless, impressive cast. French soprano Denise Duval is exceptional as the fragile, semi wild creature Mélisande. Dutch baritone Hans Wilbrink with his slow awareness to love and ardent declaration is most memorable. A worthwhile listening experience.

Last but not least, an A+ for presentation of these discs: elegantly designed hardcover books, with complete quattro lingual libretto. They will be a treasure for any collector.

Janos Gardonyi

 

Wales - The Land of Song

Shannon Mercer; Skye Consort

Analekta AN 2 9965

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In her fourth CD for Analekta, once again the lovely soprano voice of Shannon Mercer rings clear and true, this time in a most warm and heartfelt performance of Welsh songs. As the daughter of a long-time member of the Ottawa Welsh Society, Mercer well understands music and language as the cultural glue that binds people of Welsh descent. And what fond melodies they are. In fact, Mercer attributes her choice of career to the influence Welsh song had in her young life. The imagery inherent in the poetic language along with the sweet lyrical melodies chosen for this recording have quite an emotive impact on the listener, despite the fact that no translations are provided in the liner notes. Best-known pieces on this album are the well-loved lullaby Suo Gan, as well as the poignant Dafydd a Gareg Wen (David of the White Rock) and the unrequited Bugeillo’r Gwenith Gwyn.

In arranging the accompaniments and instrumental pieces, Sean Dagher has done a marvellous job of preserving traditional elements while melding them to a more contemporary aesthetic. The Skye Consort which includes flute, violins, cello, bass, cittern, accordion and percussion adds a 17th-century Italian harp similar to the Welsh triple-harp. Beautifully played, beautifully sung.

Dianne Wells

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My first encounter with minimalist music was a recording of Terry Riley’s In C – 53 short motifs, each to be repeated an indefinite number of times, as desired, by any number of performers until eventually everyone has worked through all the motifs in order. When I brought it home and put it on the record player it took my mother less than a minute to call out from the kitchen “The record’s stuck”. My first live exposure to the concept was a couple of years later at an Arraymusic concert in the late ’70s. There was a piece by Marjan Mozetich and as its patterns kept on repeating I found myself wondering if the instructions in the score were to keep hammering out the same phrase until everyone in the audience had given up and left the hall. Of course it soon became clear in both cases that the patterns were subtly changing and that there was indeed a musical progression under way. I grew enamoured of the form and although I seem to now have grown out of that phase I still consider works like Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, and for that matter, Laurie Anderson’s O Superman to be important and rewarding works. Over the decades Marjan Mozetich too has grown away from minimalism, at least in its more relentless forms, and has developed a style that can best be described as Lush.


01_mozetichA new Centrediscs release, Lament in the Trampled Garden (CMCCD 14009), presents a beautiful cross section of chamber works spanning two decades. The Penderecki String Quartet is joined by Erica Goodman, Nora Shulman and Shalom Bard (harp, flute and clarinet) for Angels in Flight, a 1987 triptych inspired by an Italian Renaissance Annunciation scene by Fra Filippo Lippi, and by Christopher Dawes (harmonium) for the contemplative Hymn of Ascension (1998). The title track was written as the mandatory piece for the 1992 Banff International String Quartet competition and as such entered the repertoire of 10 outstanding young ensembles, including that year’s grand prize winning St. Lawrence Quartet. In the intervening years Lament has enjoyed countless performances but I believe this is the first commercially available recording. It is a brilliant work that 17 years later is still fresh and exhilarating, especially in the hands of the consummate musicians of the PSQ. The final work dates from just 2 years ago and was commissioned by the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival for the Gryphon Trio. Scales of Joy and Sorrow is another triptych, with outer movements that respectively build from slow and expressive to fast and exhilarating and vice versa, surrounding a gentle and lilting Arabesque, making an effective A-B-C-B-A arc. The Gryphon Trio is in fine form as always, working together like a well-oiled machine.


02_leif_andsnesWhile Mozetich’s music is generally painted in pastel shades, that of Marc-André Dalbavie, while still concerned with colour, uses a broader palate. Since first hearing the music of this French “spectral” composer at a Continuum concert in 2005 I have encountered a number of his intriguing works, always with great appreciation. The most recent to come my way is a brilliant Piano Concerto commissioned and performed by Leif Ove Andsnes on a new EMI recording (2 64182 2) with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra under Franz Welser-Möst. While it seems to be central to the thesis of the recording, this disc is not devoted to music of Dalbavie. It also includes the powerful concerto of Witold Lutoslawski, whose music was in many ways a precursor to the spectral pioneers Grisey and Dufourt. While I would not recommend this performance over the 1992 DG recording (431 664-2) with dedicatee Krystian Zimerman as soloist and the composer conducting the BBC Symphony, I welcome this “second opinion” and am happy to be reminded what a striking work it is. These two entrées are book-ended by contemplative works for solo piano by Bent Sorensen and separated by selections from György Kurtág’s playful Játékok (Games). All in all a very well balanced and thoroughly contemporary disc.
Leif Ove Andsnes - Shadows Of Silence
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03_franck_lekeuWhile quite familiar with the career of Québec pianist Alain Lefèvre, I was not aware of his brother, violinist David Lefèvre, who has spent most of his career in Europe in the first chair at the Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse, and later the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, and as Guest concertmaster with the Lisbon Gulbenkian Orchestra. David returned to Montreal last summer, at least long enough to record a CD with brother Alain. The Analekta disc (AN 2 9982) features the familiar (and always welcome) Sonata in A by César Franck, along with a lesser-known G Major Sonata by Franck’s Belgian protégé Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894) and the Ballade-Fantaisie by André Mathieu. Lekeu lived a tragically short life and composed his sonata at 22, just two years before his death. The work was commissioned by Eugene Ysaÿe and thanks to him it “traveled the world” and was picked up by some of the greatest violinists of the first half of the 20th century. The dramatic, if somewhat melancholy, work has not stayed in the repertoire however and so we come upon it here as something of a hidden treasure. I expect this fine performance will bring some well-deserved attention to the near-forgotten gem. Alain Lefèvre has been instrumental in reconstructing and promoting the works of Québec child prodigy André Mathieu (1929-1968) whose European career was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War. Written at the age of 13, the same year Mathieu won first prize in the New York Philharmonic’s centenary young composers’ competition, this charming, if somewhat anachronistic, lyric piece is a perfect Canadian companion for the sonatas of these earlier European masters.

Alain & David Lefevre: Violin Sonatas Of Franck, L
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04_duo_concertanteThe final disc this month is also one of violin and piano duos, but this time more eclectic and somewhat lighter fare. Violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves, hail from Newfoundland where they are professors at Memorial University. They have shown a strong commitment to Canadian composers during the twelve years they have been playing together as Duo Concertante and a previous CD included works written for them by Chan Ka Nin, Kelly-Marie Murphy and Omar Daniel. In June they will record their fifth CD at Glenn Gould Studio, another all-Canadian disc, featuring a work by R. Murray Schafer which they premiered last year. Their current offering, It Takes Two (Marquis Classics 81401), is meant as more of a crowd pleaser, an album of encore-type pieces. With repertoire ranging from a medley of Gershwin tunes through Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia and de Abreu’s Tico Tico to classical show-stoppers like Rondo alla Turka and Sabre Dance and more melancholy fare such as Solveig’s Song and Valse triste, there is literally something for everybody. While thoroughly international in scope, even this project has a strong Canadian component. All the works were arranged for Duo Concertante by Clifford Crawley, a British-born Canadian who is Professor Emeritus at Queen’s University and now makes his home in St. John’s. In the words of the Duo, the title of this disc might more accurately be “It Takes Three”.

Duo Concertante: It Takes Two
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Concert Note: Duo Concertante will perform a free noon-hour concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre on May 5.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, www.thewholenote.com, where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels and “buy buttons” for on-line shopping.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com



01_heidi_langeLater

Heidi Lange

Independent (www.heidilange.ca)

Singer-songwriter Heidi Lange has flown in under the radar to drop her debut CD, “Later”. While Lange has spent most of her musical career teaching and directing musicals, her own solo performing career hasn’t been high on her list of priorities. But as a songwriter she felt compelled – by personal loss, as is so often the case with songwriters – to get these songs out. The disc has two handfuls of tunes, only a few of which are covers, and nary a done-to-death standard in sight. The genre is hard to pinpoint – cabaret and soul with a touch of jazz - seem to be the biggest influences. The original tunes have a certain comforting familiarity to them. Any Time Soon is an old school R&B lament for a lost love, with appropriately yearning sax work by Pat Carey, and My Own is a gospel-inspired anthem to female independence, with stately accompaniment by brilliant pianist Robi Botos.

Lange has a warm and expressive voice that is at its best on the quieter, more controlled pieces which are predominant here. So her cover of Stevie Wonder’s Tuesday Heartbreak, which calls for more freedom and funkiness, sounds strained and out of the comfort zone for her and some of the band – with the exception of Colin Barrett’s relaxed, solid bass work, which holds it together. While the other covers, Gloomy Sunday – complete with Hammond organ by keyboardist Peter Kadar – and Snuggled on Your Shoulder fit like a glove.

Cathy Riches


02_jaffa_roadSunplace

Jaffa Road

Independent JR0001

(www.jaffaroadmusic.com)

March 25 saw Toronto’s Lula Lounge at overflow capacity, a lively party atmosphere on the occasion of the release of Jaffa Road's first CD. While this band is relatively new on the world music scene, its musicians are not. Jaffa Road, a Jewish-pop band rooted in tradition, not only takes its place alongside the likes of Toronto’s other fusion groups, such as the Arabic–Greek ensemble Maza Mezé, and Indian–Jazz ensembles Autorickshaw and Tasa, it also shares some of their musicians. “Sunplace” opens with a tabla riff delivered by Ravi Naimpally, and the CD features other well-known guest artists or regulars, Dr. George Sawa (qanoon), Ernie Tollar (eastern flutes), Chris McKhool (violin), Chris Gartner (bass, guitar), Sundar Viswanathan (sax), Jeff Wilson (percussion, kalimba, etc.), and co-producer/composer Aaron Lightstone (oud, guitars, saz, synthesizers).

The star of this recording is however vocalist Aviva Chernick, who sings in Hebrew, English and Judeo-Spanish (Ladino). Also no stranger to Toronto's music scene, Chernick has previously released a CD with The Huppah Project, as well as her solo recording, “In the Sea” (see www.avivachernick.com). “Sunplace” is a collection of songs, either newly composed to traditional texts, or arrangements of traditional songs, and a couple of entirely new ones. The opening number is a call to peace, based on the phrase from Isaiah “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more”. The CD’s title track Makom Shemesh (sun place) evokes a desert landscape. Be’er Besade is a lively tune from 1950’s Israel. Im Ninalu, a traditional Yemenite melody, was first made popular (to my knowledge) by the late Yemenite-Israeli pop singer Ofra Haza; the version here opens with an introduction by Cantor Aaron Bensoussan. Love songs include the traditional Ladino Una Ora en la Ventana, and a new composition based on the Hebrew Song of Songs,

(open the night for me) which closes this recording. Chernick and the band give polished performances throughout.

Karen Ages




01_southamAnn Southam - Pond Life

Christina Petrowska Quilico

Centrediscs CMCCD 14109

(www.musiccentre.ca)

This disc features piano music by Ann Southam, one of Canada’s most important - and most interesting - composers. The titles of the works on this disc refer to natural bodies of water, not just ponds but rivers and creeks as well. So, while the ten movements of Soundstill capture the calm surface of a windless pond, Noisy River, Fidget Creek, and Commotion Creek ripple and dance along. But whether these exquisite compositions are smooth or turbulent on the surface, underneath they teem with life.

The distinctiveness of Southam’s sound world lies in her ability to create a sense of space around the notes. A simple motif can emerge from the layers of sound, and, with a rhythmic or harmonic twist change the course of the music. It’s moving, and it encourages contemplation of what lies beyond the sounds.

Most of these works were written for Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, who in 2005 recorded Southam’s Rivers (also on Centrediscs). Her virtuosic command of the keyboard brings these works to life. With theatrical flair she balances the fine gradations in pitch and rhythm to create subtle shifts in mood, from nostalgic contemplation to irrepressible joy.

The cover art is lovely. But a reproduction of the painting by Aiko Suzuki which inspired Southam to write Spatial View of Pond I and II would also have been meaningful. The recorded sound is clear yet resonant, helping to make this disc such a delight.

Pamela Margles

Concert Note: Christina Petrowska Quilico will launch this CD on Tuesday, May 12 in Glenn Gould Studio with performances of the music of Ann Southam.


02_sayFazil Say - 1001 Nights in the Harem

Patricia Kopatchinskaja; Luzerner

Sinfonieorchester; John Axelrod

Naïve V5147 (www.naiveclassique.com)

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The Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say has achieved great success in both classical and jazz fields, with frequent concert hall and jazz festival appearances and a discography ranging from Bach to Stravinsky. As an accompanist, he toured with Maxim Vengerov in 2004, and in 2006 formed a duo partnership with the Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja.

His violin concerto was written for Kopatchinskaja, and this CD is a live recording of the world premiere performance in Lucerne in February 2008. It is a very accessible and extremely satisfying four-movement work, the title of which suggests that in this particular meeting of East and West the ‘East’ is going to be the dominant partner, as indeed it is. Turkish percussion instruments add colour to a rich and warm orchestral score full of sensuous oriental sonorities that reaches its peak in a wonderfully lyrical third movement.

Kopatchinskaja interprets the music superbly, with great support from Axelrod and the LSO. This is one concerto I’ll be playing over and over again.

Three other works by Say complete the disc. Patara, a quartet for soprano, ney flute, piano and percussion that was originally a ballet, and Alla turca Jazz, for piano, are both built on material from Mozart’s A major Piano Sonata K331, while Summertime Variations is Say’s third arrangement of the Gershwin song, here conceived as a dazzling solo piece suitable for use in both his classical and jazz appearances.

Terry Robbins




sarah_vaughanSarah Vaughan Live in Japan:

The Complete Edition

Sarah Vaughan

Jazz Lips JL758

Sarah Lois Vaughan (1924-1990) branded a singular singing style that will never go out of style. Whether the song was traditional or modern, dramatic or humorous, at the core of each performance was an exquisitely controlled, astonishing voice that spanned over four octaves. For her operatic instrument she was called “The Divine One” whereas “Sassy” was a moniker for her personality before, during and especially after the gig. “Live in Japan” is a worthy re-issue which finds the Divine One in heavenly form, backed by her swinging trio: Carl Schroeder on piano, John Gianelli on bass and Jimmy Cobb at the drums. Pushing fifty, she was in supreme voice and apparently a jovial mood to boot. At the Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo in September of ’73, the audience ate it all up and craved more. The Nearness of You is a rare 7-minute treat with Vaughan accompanying herself on the piano, while Summertime is treated like a true aria and the last note of Over the Rainbow inhabits 17 seconds. Similarly, the ballad renditions of ‘Round Midnight, I Remember You and My Funny Valentine show off Sassy’s masterful approach to vibrato. Musically very savvy, Vaughan was a smart improviser: There is No Greater Love begins with three separate scat duets with drums, bass and piano; memorable wordless choruses make up I’ll Remember April, All of Me and The Blues which showcase the rhythm section. The requested encore Bye Bye Blackbird is a surprisingly joyous, swingin’ blast. In 2006, the Library of Congress honoured this album by adding it to the United States National Recording Registry. Formerly a costly ebay item, the complete edition retails for $40 including good liner notes, an interview, photographs and a bonus track. Alternately, one can find this concert on iTunes, issued under Mainstream Records.

Ori Dagan



Extended Play

Sampling Soundscapes

by Ken Waxman

Creating musical sounds without instruments has become widespread ever since the availability of first the portable tape recorder and then the lap top computer. Melding oscillations created with software plus amplifications of so-called found sounds, often re-mixed, these soundscapes are notable for their subtle mixture of foreground and background.

02_VictoSonoreCanadians – especially Québécois – have been particularly proficient in this sort of composing, as these CDs demonstrate. So have Europeans, which is why Habitat (Creative Sources CS 105 CD), by the German dis.playce duo provides an interesting contrast to the Canadians’ work. For comparison, both that CD and Victoriaville Matière Sonore (Victo cd 0113) created by eight sound designers – Francisco López, Louis Dufort, Chantal Dumas, A_Dontigny, Steve Heimbecker, Mathieu Lévesque, Hélène Prévost and Tomas Phillips – are audio portraits of specific places.

01_bagagesGeographical reflection is also involved in Bill Gilonis’ and Chantale Laplante’s Zürich-Bamberg (AD HOC 22) and Éric Normand’s Vente de Bagages - Volume Un (Tour de Bras TDB 3001), but these collaborations expose another electronic music variant. Montrealer Laplante and Londoner Gilonis, then living in cities which give the disc its title, collaborate on sound collages by tweaking individual audio files sent to one another. Rimouski-based Normand follows the collaborative pattern, although the found sounds he alters originated in different European cities and in Montreal.

Hélène Prévost, one of Normand’s audio pen-pals, is the only person represented on two CDs; and that’s appropriate. One of the doyennes of auditory creation, her contributions fit individual situations in which they are placed. Matière Sonore’s VSM for instance, suggest a story line with muffled male and female voices, a ticking clock and sirens intermingling with rumbling hisses, blurry rustles and reverberated intonation traceable back to computer programming.

On Vente de Bagages however (www.tourdebras.com), the bed track of static intonation and hiss from her side is reconfigured with audio effects and stutters created and equalized by the noises produced with a microphone held in Normand’s mouth. This overt physicality and evident sonic building blocks is what distinguishes Normand’s sound postcards from the other discs. On another track, his circular cackles, cries and cock-a-doodle-doos expand the quicksilver squeaks and tremolo flutters produced by the brass mouthpiece and valves manipulation of Toulouse-resident Sébastien Cirotteau.

Organized by Spanish sound artist Francisco López to create an audio portrait of Victoriaville, Quebec, Matière Sonore’s soundscape is more anonymous and selfless (www.victo.qc.ca). Sequentially panning across the aural landscape of the city which hosts an annual experimental music festival, private and public spaces are exposed and transformed. Particular starting points are mixed electronically and are simultaneously linked and divorced from sources. Louis Dufort’s materio _***, for example, features snatches of gull caws and dog yelps, followed by slithery organ-like riffs and otherworldly shrills, and preceded by ring modulator echoes, plus swelling blurry thumps. Meanwhile Chantal Dumas tells her story on s/t w/t 2 with intonation from spectral railway-crossing peals, thunder claps and people shouting, plus radio dial twisting that locates and loses snatches of recorded music. She ends with door slamming sounds.

03_zurichCoincidentally Zürich-Bamberg (www.chantalelaplante.com) begins with the sounds of a door opening, follow by quivering piano strings. Completed by a couple of tracks of solo Laplante that alternate prolonged silences with fortissimo, stop-time abrasions and echoes, the CD’s key manipulated collages are These 12 Minutes and the title track. Undulating, intermittent oral gasps top an undercurrent of foot steps on the former. Eventually the textures are redirected together as backwards-running beats. Slivers of English, French and German phrases stud the title track as these disembodied voices philosophize, hector and promote. Also audible are intercut disconnected waves of melodic, hard-rock and Arab music that occasionally reveal simple guitar licks or drum patterns. Surmounting this are further processed sounds which originate in falling rain, whistling birds, draining sinks and idling engines. The result is both descriptive and disconcerting.

04_habitatSo too is Habitat (www.creativesourcresrec.com). Created by German electronics manipulators Maximilian Marcoll and Hannes Galette Seidl to be site-specific, the tracks rely on recordings made in Frankfurt or Karlsruhe of the scratches, yowls, squeaks and cries that reflect those cities’ passing streetscapes. Panning across the sonic panorama, found sounds are captured at close range or at a distance, sometimes drawing away from the mikes as definition is established. As electronics distort the actualities with soothing watery squishes, flanged woodpecker-like clatter or rumbling cheeps and buzzes, the process becomes nearly hypnotic in its regularity.

Very much of its own place and style, this European CD confirms Canadians’ invention and pre-eminence in this particular version of sonic art.



01_concertgebouwLast December’s Gramophone magazine featured an evaluation of The World’s 20 Greatest Orchestras according to the World’s Leading Critics. Third was The Vienna Philharmonic, second was The Berlin Philharmonic and at the top of the list, The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Their chief conductor is Mariss Jansons who succeeded Ricardo Chailly. That orchestra has issued Volume 5, 1980-1990, of Anthology of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the penultimate set in their collection of a six decade’s worth of live performances (RCO 08005 14CDs and 84 page booklet). Conductors include Giulini, Kondrashin, Jochum, Haitink, Järvi, Sanderling, Chailly, Harnoncourt, Leinsdorf, de Waart, Colin Davis, Bernstein, Ivan Fischer, Dohnanyi, Dutoit, Albrecht, and others. One of the many highlights is Kirill Kondrashin with the most persuasive performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony ever. I have umpteen versions from Vladimir Sokoloff’s 1928 Cleveland to the new Ashkenazy from the Sydney Symphony’s 2007 Rachmaninov Festival, but Kondrashin surpasses them all in overall shaping and balance, with a luxuriously self-indulgent first movement. While there are several popular works included; Tchaikovsky’s Sixth and The Poem of Ecstasy (Dorati), Mozart 24th (Brendel/Haitink), Song of the Nightingale (Chailly), Sibelius Sixth (Colin Davis), and Schubert Fifth (Bernstein), there is also repertoire that is rarely, if ever, heard live. Certain works by Schreker, Escher, Webern, Schoenberg, Varèse, Keuris, and others may be new to one’s ears but well worth getting to know. There are 41 works in all and choosing from the wealth of repertoire and matching conductors available could not have been easy. What is included is, presumably, the best of the best. Other choices may have been different but not better. I am enjoying this set immensely. No complaints about the sound.


Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Anthology Vol.5
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Esoteric, the Japanese company that manufactures high quality CD players, amplifiers and speakers, is producing CDs derived from existing analogue masters that are, from the two that I have heard, quite astonishing! Incidentally, these two discs are superior to any of the Japanese XRCD discs from JVC that I have heard.

02_dvorakDecca’s Dvorak Ninth Symphony with Istvan Kertesz and the Vienna Philharmonic (ESSD 90015, SACD hybrid) never had quite this impact. The dynamics are true-to-life and the orchestra between the speakers has body, not just sound. This is what Decca’s team must have heard live in the Sofiensaal in 1961. Through the courtesy of American Sound in Richmond Hill, employing state-of-the-art equipment, I compared this SACD/CD to the original SXL LP pressing and found that the sound was remarkably similar, the CD sounding more articulate in the bass and more dynamic, with some finer details in the winds. The bottom line is that the Esoteric disc sounds very analogue, dynamic and a must-have for those for whom analogue is their raison d’être. Kudos to Esoteric certainly but also to Decca, whose exquisite technology produced the original master tapes that contained all this newly revealed information.

03_curzon_mozartMozart’s Piano Concertos 20 and 27 played by Clifford Curzon with Benjamin Britten conducting the English Chamber Orchestra recorded by Decca in 1970 also enjoy an Esoteric sonic renaissance. Because of the less expansive dynamic range there are no sonic fireworks but nevertheless the remastering reveals a subtly heightened sense of reality (ESSD 90014, SACD hybrid). There are two more discs in this first release from Esoteric, de Falla’s The Three Cornered Hat with Ansermet and Beethoven Overtures with Colin Davis. I look forward to hearing them. Beautifully packaged like a hard cover book, these discs sell for, gulp! $74.99 each. However, it appears that audiophiles who hear them are lapping them up.

04_amadeusThe DVD companies also have been achieving remarkable results as they, too, re-master for Blu-ray HD discs. I am deeply impressed with the director’s cut of Milos Forman’s 1984 masterpiece, Amadeus, based on Peter Shaffer’s play. There are 20 minutes of extra footage added to the original version and a substantial documentary involving all the principals, before and behind the cameras, on the making of the film. This two disc Blu-ray set from Warner Brothers is a treasure both visually and intellectually.

05_lorenzWagner’s Mastersinger: Hitler’s Siegfried is the intriguing if not provocative title of The Life and Times of Max Lorenz (Medici Arts, EuroArts, 2056928 DVD+CD). Born in 1901, Max Lorenz’s career is traced from choir boy to super-star in Bayreuth and elsewhere during the 1930s and beyond. Intriguing films of his Siegfried give credence to his reputation as the heldentenor of the era. Film and narration together with comments by his contemporaries describe his social life with the in-crowd in Bayreuth. His wife was Jewish and he stood with her, despite the Nazis. He was shielded by Winifred Wagner who used her influence with Hitler on his behalf. But fame is fleeting. Lorenz sang his last Tristan in Dresden in 1960. Waldemar Kmentt recalls that “After his final performance at The Vienna Opera they just let him go home as if nothing had happened. No one from the management came to give him a proper send-off. I felt deeply ashamed for the Vienna Opera.” There are trailers of scenes from four Wagner music-dramas on the DVD featuring latter day heldentenors in leading roles that, perhaps unintentionally, confirm Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s summing-up, “Today you won’t find anyone who could hold a candle to him. No one. Hot air, that’s all.” The accompanying CD contains a document of Lorenz at his best. Extensive excerpts from Siegfried are conducted by Erich Kleiber, recorded in the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires on October 4, 1938 with Max Lorenz, Erich Witte, Herbert Janssen and Emanuel List.



01_gould_macmillan_quartetsDo all good things come to those who wait? This month I really had no idea what I was going to write about until the arrival of two discs from ATMA which brought back musical memories from my formative years. The first was the Alcan Quartet performing string quartets of Ernest MacMillan and Glenn Gould (ATMA ACD2-2596). These two important Canadian works are rarely performed although there have been a few recordings over the years. MacMillan began work on the String Quartet in c minor while interned as a civilian prisoner in Germany during the First World War. He had been attending the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth at time the war broke out. Although the quartet shows some influence of Ravel and Debussy – MacMillan had been in Paris before heading to Bayreuth – it most firmly reflects the composer’s roots in the English school of the time. It is charming and well-crafted and ever since first hearing it some four decades ago on a Deutsche Grammophon recording by the renowned Amadeus Quartet I have wondered why it has not become a staple of the repertoire. The Gould quartet, completed in 1955, is a bit problematic. An extended single movement work lasting more than half an hour, it is a brooding backward-looking piece which reflects Gould’s interest in the early works of Schoenberg and the New Viennese School as well as Brahms and Richard Strauss. There are fugal elements, as we would expect from someone who spent his life immersed in the work of Bach, and occasional sunny bits, but for the most part this is a dark and at times troubling piece. The Alcan plays both works with passion and conviction. Their sound is captured in full fidelity by producer-recordist Anne-Marie Sylvestre in the warm acoustic of Salle Françoys-Bernier at Domaine Forget. The recording also includes MacMillan’s most frequently performed instrumental work “Two Sketches on French Canadian Airs” with the rollicking waves of “À Saint Malo” bringing the disc to a vibrant conclusion.

Glenn Gould/ Sir Ernest Macmillan: String Quartets
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02_schindlers_listOne of my most important early classical memories is from a rehearsal I was privileged to attend at Hart House back in my high school years. Walter Babiak was conducting a string orchestra in Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No.1. I’m afraid I can’t remember who the pianist was on that occasion (it’s an obbligato role rather than a virtuosic one) but the work was imprinted on my brain and left a lasting impression. Once again I cannot understand why this piece is not more frequently performed and so it was a great pleasure to find it included on the new CD Schindler’s List (ATMA ACD2-2579) featuring the Swiss Orchestre Symphonique Bienne. The title work is John Williams’ suite for violin and orchestra extrapolated from the soundtrack to “Schindler’s List”. Both that and Bloch’s “Suite Hébraïque” feature the outstanding young Canadian violinist Alexandre da Costa who is in fine form here. But the highlight for me is the performance of Bloch’s Concerto Grosso under the direction Thomas Rösner who captures the rustic energy of the dance movements and brings a driving force to the fugal finale without sacrificing any of the inherent stateliness of the work. And in this instance I can tell you the name of the pianist, Marc Pantillon.


Alexandre Da Costa: Schindler's List
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03_la_rencontreThe ATMA package also included an eclectic offering entitled La Rencontre (ATMA ACD2-2608) featuring Anne-Julie Caron, a young marimba player who won the Quebec Opus Prize for “Discovery of the Year” in 2007. The disc includes original works by American marimbist-composer Julie Spencer, Ukrainian-Canadian composer Oleksa Lozowchu, French percussionist Emmanuel Séjourné, Argentinean guitarist-composer Guillio Espel and Japanese marimba virtuoso Keiko Abe, along with Caron’s own transcriptions of works by Pat Metheny and Astor Piazzola. Many of the works show influences of jazz and folk-dance rhythms, but there are moments of contemplation and abstract expression too. The highlight for me is Abe’s complex depiction of “Wind in the Bamboo Grove”. Caron proves herself up for the challenges throughout this intriguing recording.
Anne-julie Caron: La Rencontre
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04_piccoloWhen I first saw the next disc I must admit I cringed at the thought of more than an hour’s music for just piccolo and piano. The piccolo’s register is so high and its timbre so often shrill that I could not imagine listening to the disc in its entirety. But I was amazed to find that after the first listening I went back and put it on again. National Arts Centre Orchestra piccolo player Patrick Healey (aided here by Montreal accompanist extraordinaire Brigitte Poulin) is a truly accomplished performer and the repertoire he has chosen to showcase his instrument is very effective. I was not previously familiar with any of the composers on this disc except Denis Gougeon whose Canto del Piccolo both concludes and provides the title for this disc (XXI-CD2 1620). Perhaps living composers Frank Hannaway, Cecilia McDowall, Michael Isaacson, Mike Mower, and the late Alan Ridout are well known in the flute world. They certainly should be if this disc is any indication.

Patrick Healy & Brigitte Poulin: Canto Del Piccolo
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05_soul_stewMy Guilty Pleasure of the month? Soul Stew Volume Two. Produced by bass player Roberto Occhipinti for Modica Music (www.modicamusic.com), this CD features covers of some of the most iconic R&B tunes of the 70s and 80s soulfully sung by Michael Dunston. Soul Stew was formed in 1990 and served as house band at the Bamboo Club and later at The College Street Bar. The current offering was recorded “live off the floor” at MacLear Studio several years ago, but mixed and mastered by John “Beetle” Bailey in February 2009 and launched at Lula Lounge last month. The disc proved to be the perfect soundtrack for a drive in the country recently, with its powerful rhythm section provided by Occhipinti and drummer Mark Kelso complemented by Matt Horner’s omnipresent Hammond organ, David Gray’s tasty guitar licks and John Johnson’s funky saxes. And if you think maybe you’d need a bigger horn section to do justice to some of Motown’s greatest hits, have no fear because the band was filled out by Dave Dunlop and Terry Promane on trumpet and trombone for this session. Dunston convincingly makes familiar songs by Sly Stone, Al Green, Billy Paul, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and even Stevie Wonder his own. The whole car was singing along.

06_la_nef_desertsI mentioned that marimba player Anne-Julie Caron won an Opus Prize in 2007. The 2008 Opus Prize for “Jazz and World Music Concert of the Year” went to Montreal group La Nef for the project Déserts, subtitled “creative music inspired by the deserts of the world”. La Nef is dedicated to creating and producing early, world, and original musics through collaborations with musicians from eclectic backgrounds and artists from diverse disciplines. “Déserts” will be released on CD in April by the Fidelio label (www.fidelioaudio.com). Concert note: You can hear La Nef at the Music Gallery here in Toronto on April 7 when internationally renowned tambourine virtuoso (?!) Carlo Rizzo joins Claire Gignac (Artistic Director and flutes), Patrick Graham (Musical Co-Director and multiple-percussion), Andrew Wells-Oberegger (oud, saz, guembri, zhong ruan and percussion) and Toronto-based Ben Grossman (electroacoustic hurdy-gurdy and percussion) for a program entitled “Skin – A Percussion Blitz”.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, www.thewholenote.com, where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels and “buy buttons” for on-line shopping.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com


 
01_john_stetch

TV Trio

John Stetch

Brux Records BRUX 14112

(www.johnstetch.com)

 

John Stetch was born in Edmonton, Alberta and was exposed to the sounds of jazz at an early age through his father's record collection. He began as a reed player before switching to piano, earned his Bachelor of Music degree in Montreal and built a reputation touring across Canada before re-locating to New York in 1993.

For this CD John has chosen a dozen themes from TV shows and transformed them into jazz performances. I have to make a confession. I was only familiar with six of them, (a prize if you can guess which six), but that certainly didn’t prevent me from enjoying the music.

John is extremely imaginative in his concepts of the various themes and has technique in abundance with which to express his ideas. Of the dozen titles only “The Flintstones”, which John chose to put into the minor, giving it a somewhat dark character, has been frequently played by jazz musicians although on listening to this album it seems to me that, for example, “The Waltons” and “Bugs Bunny” and “The Mighty Hercules” could well be adopted by others.

With the exception of “All My Children”, which is a brief but beautiful solo piano performance, Stetch is ably supported by Doug Weiss on bass and Rodney Green on drums.

Jim Galloway

 

 02_live_orbit_roomLive at the Orbit Room - The Ultimate Jam

Tony Monaco & his Toronto Trio

Chicken Coop CCP 7012

(www.b3monaco.com)

 

According to any dependable jazz cookbook, the recipe for a tasty live recording requires an appetizing artist, a hungry audience and a venue that allows for passion to sizzle. Established in 1994, the unpretentiously hip Orbit Room in Toronto’s Little Italy is a happening hang frequented by avid music lovers and musicians alike. The upper level performance space is armed with a B3 organ and offers nightly live acts including roots, R&B, rock and reggae, as well as jazz.

On June 22nd of 2007, critically acclaimed Columbus, Ohio native jazz organist Tony Monaco played the Orbit Room as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival, joined by two of our city’s extraordinary resident jazz musicians: guitarist Ted Quinlan and drummer Vito Rezza. Supported generously by both Torontonians on this particular night, Monaco’s playing is rich with meaty musical chops and incontestable enthusiasm. The sidemen consistently listen, react and enhance the musical experience. Quinlan is quintessentially on top of his game, delivering spirited solos that tell exciting stories and Rezza is not only supportive, but soulful. On every track, especially ’Sbout Time and Slow Down Sagg, the trio grooves contagiously and the audience eats it up. From appetizer to dessert, “The Ultimate Jam” follows the live recording recipe flawlessly. Let it be a model for capturing some of the delectable jazz entertainment served regularly in Ontario’s capital.

Ori Dagan

 

 03_TrovesiOperaAll’opera Profumo di Violetta

Gianluigi Trovesi

ECM 2068

 

Emphasizing the streak of romanticism which characterizes nearly every Italian instrumentalist – no matter how avant-garde – multi-woodwind player Gianluigi Trovesi interprets a series of familiar operatic airs. Backed by the wind and percussion Filarmonica Mousiké, the veteran improviser fashions an original take on 17th, 18th and 19th Century themes by Monteverdi, Cazzati, Pergolesi, Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Mascagni without jazzing up or burlesquing them.

Making full use of the luscious crescendos and cushioning timbres available from the 54-piece orchestra, the only additions are cellist Marco Remondini and percussionist Stefano Bertoli to enhance the rhythmic impetus. Taking the role of operatic vocalist, Trovesi produces a fantastic series of glissandi, portamento runs and just plain beautiful playing, using at different junctures all his horns – piccolo and alto clarinets plus alto saxophone. Nearly always playing legato, he emphasizes the emotional and melodic undercurrents of these pieces without ignoring their poignant roots.

Mixing world famous and obscure parts of the opera repertoire, these arrangements interweave the popular airs – which the clarinettist has loved since his childhood near Bergamo – with improvisational freedom. Listeners familiar with standards such as Verdi’s E Piquillo un bel gaglardo and Rossini’s Largo al factotum will marvel at how Trovesi’s re-interpretations refresh them. More remarkable is how well Trovesi’s own compositions – such as Salterello amoroso with him spluttering smooth Johnny Hodges-like timbres atop contrapuntal orchestra lines, or Vesponse, a big-band swing piece enlivened with reed split tones and shrills – fit among these traditional tunes without disruption.

Ken Waxman

 

 04_McBirniePaco Paco

Bill McBirnie Duo/Quartet

Independent EF04

(www.myspace.com/billmcbirnieextremeflute)

 

Anyone who has heard him knows that Bill McBirnie is a wonderfully gifted flautist. This CD finds him in the company of three of his favourite players on six of the twelve tracks, the others being duo performances with Bernie Senensky.

It is one of those CDs where I find it difficult to choose favourite numbers. The entire album is a joy to listen to, not only for Bill's beautiful playing, but, as one would expect, the musicality and sensitive contributions from pianist Senensky, Neil Swainson on bass and drummer John Sumner.

As is his wont, Bill has shown a preference for playing standards, ranging from Keith Jarrett's My Song to Bright Mississippi, Thelonious Monk's variation on the changes of Sweet Georgia Brown via the hymn Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus which becomes something of a march for Jesus! The one exception to familiar material, although fans of the Moe Koffman Quintet might remember it, is the album's title piece, a tour de force called Paco Paco, composed by Bernie Senensky.

I don't know how widely distributed this recording will be, but if you have trouble finding it you could send an e-mail to
billmcb@idirect.com. Say that Jim sent you!

Jim Galloway

 

 

 EXTENDED PLAY:

The “Other” Peggy Lee

By Ken Waxman

 

Established in Vancouver for nearly 20 years following extensive musical study in her native Toronto, Peggy Lee has become one of the most in-demand cellists in both improvised and New music. Occasionally working with her husband, drummer Dylan van der Schyff, but more frequently on her own, Lee’s string prestidigitation is prominent in meetings with Canadian, American and European musicians.

Recent discs show the range of her talents. Spiller Alley (RogueArt ROG-0016 www.rougart.com) features her as part of a trio completed by Bay area saxophonist Larry Ochs and New York koto player Miya Masoka. Meanwhile Escondido Dreams (Drip Audio DA00206 www.dripaudio.com), is a trio with other Lower Mainlanders guitarist Tony Wilson and saxophonist Jon Bentley. Wilson, Bentley and van der Schyff are also on the cellist’s New Code (Drip Audio DA 00318 www.dripaudio.com) along with other West Coast luminaries – trumpeter Brad Turner; guitarist Ron Samworth, trombonist Jeremy Berkman and electric bassist André Lachance. On Continuation (Cryptogramophone CG 140 www.cryptogramophone.com), percussionist Alex Cline gathered a similar group of California-based improvisers – violinist Jeff Gauthier, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Scott Walton to play his tunes. Lee is the only non-American.

01_AlexCline Alex Cline’s writing has an Asian feel to it. Scene-setting gong resonations color nearly every track, with Melford’s winnowing harmonium drone sometimes adding to the Far Eastern emphasis. Eclectic in execution, most of the compositions bounce from near-syrupy melodies usually advanced by the fiddler, to modern swing propelled by thumping bass and the pianist’s dynamic patterning. In between, Lee’s malleable timbres join with Gauthier’s brusque lines for thematic elaboration, or add staccato runs and spiccato jumps to advance the rhythm. On the Bones of the Homegoing Thunder is the most spectacular tune. It manages to wrap an exposition and recapitulation of temple bell peals and mournful cello runs around walking bass lines, kinetic piano runs plus string-clipping and triple-stopping from cello and violin.

 

02_PeggyLeeBand 

 Lee’s octet CD is less formalized, though no less eclectic, but democratic in its soloing. Both guitarists are partial to folksy twangs as well as Hard Rock-like distortions; the horns produce R&B-like vamps plus processional harmonies; Turner on flugelhorn is the languid melodist; and van der Schyff constantly pumps parts of his kit. Meanwhile the cellist personalizes the material. On Tug her angled sweeps tug apart into spikier runs the horns’ ceremonial grace notes. On Not a Wake Up Call flanged and distorted guitar licks shatter into jagged and ricocheting slurs as Lee’s spiccato multiphonics help gentle the theme so that it runs into the calming Floating Island – complete with muted trumpet – which follows. Dealing with a tune as familiar as Bob Dylan’s All I Really Want To Do, her mordant modal interjections halt a conventional, C&W-styled reading, and encourage agitato horn shrills on top of Byrds-like guitar strumming and a vocalized saxophone obbligato.

 

03_WilsonLeeBentley Bentley’s woodwind arsenal has more space on “Escondido Dreams”, proving adept at both speedy and languid tempi. Man and Dog plus Monkey Tree/Just Stories demonstrate this. On the first, the saxophonist defines the Impressionistic theme, along with Lee’s cello obbligato. After descriptive unison passages first with the cellist, then with the guitarist, sax trills dovetail into slurs as Wilson strums mandolin-like chords and Lee sweeps across the sound-field. Tougher and animated, the latter is a roller coaster of a tune built on contrapuntal reed bites and electrified guitar interjections. Following a raucous call-and-response section, the guitarist’s chromatic patterning and Lee’s spiccato runs reintroduce the note-dangling theme.

 

 

04_SpillerAlleyVeteran  Ochs uses more advanced techniques than Bentley on “Spiller Alley”, while the multi functions of Masaoka’s many-stringed koto negate the need for drums. Ironically, despite the textures of the venerable Japanese instrument, and unlike “Continuation”, this CD has almost no Asian reflections. Expert in rasgueado and chromatics, Masaoka treats her koto as if it is a combination harp, 12-string and six-string guitar. Bringing out node striations as well the sounds of the notes struck – as does Lee – the string duo attaches and detaches timbres to mutate the program as Ochs enlivens his work with wide octave jumps, staccato blasts and circular breathing. Climaxing the session during the 18 minute title tune, the three criss-cross each other’s lines and runs, off-setting or cushioning when needed. With Ochs peeping and shrilling arpeggios, Masaoka unleashes a torrent of cascading tones and Lee exposes multi-string runs. The cumulative consequence showcases imperfectly formed but not unpleasant, textures from each. Operating in triple counterpoint, blurry interaction comes into focus, with the end result trilled, swept and resonated into a stripped-down mutual rapprochement.

While each musician’s skill melds to produce these notable CDs, each would be unthinkable without Lee’s talents and interactive expertise.

bach_jesuBach - Jesu, Meine Freude

Agnes Zsigovics; Daniel Taylor; Benjamin Butterfield; Daniel Lichti; Ottawa Bach Choir and Baroque Orchestra;

Lisette Canton

Ottawa Bach Choir OBC2009CD

(www.ottawabachchoir.ca)

For this CD, which finds our column just in time for Easter, the Ottawa Bach Choir's conductor and founder, Lisette Canton, has chosen three works by Bach which focus on the theme of salvation through death and resurrection and which represent three distinct periods in Bach’s output. The first Cantata, BWV 4, Christ lag in Todes Banden is famous for its exquisite descending semitones. The ensemble artfully resigns itself to the recurring sighing motif and cascading counterpoint. Sandwiched between the two cantatas on this disc is one of Bach’s most famous motets, BWV 227, Jesu, meine freude.

The choir does a brilliant job with the starts and stops that represent the type of hesitant, breathless, yet joyful declaration reminiscent of someone recovering from long periods of weeping. Lastly is the Cantata, BWV 78, Jesu, der du meine Seele, the highlight of which is the soprano/alto duet sung with great agility and energy by Agnes Zsigovics and Daniel Taylor. Benjamin Butterfield and Daniel Lichti execute the dramatic recitatives and arias of this cantata beautifully. True to its name, this choir appears to make an annual pilgrimage to perform at Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig. I’m sure Bach would be pleased.

Dianne Wells

Concert note: On April 25th at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa the Ottawa Bach Choir presents “Prelude - Europe 2009”, a concert to launch the choir's third European tour to London, Paris and Leipzig.

The Ice Age and Beyond: Songs by Canadian Women Composers

Patricia Green; Midori Koga

Blue Griffin Records BGR173

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green_ice_age

 

green_unsleepingUnsleeping: Songs by Living Composers

Patricia Green; John Hess

Blue Griffin Records BGR177

(www.bluegriffin.com)

The songs on these two discs were all written in the last fifty years. Patricia Green, a Canadian mezzo known especially for interpreting modern music, does full justice to these always interesting, frequently moving songs.

The Ice Age and Beyond: Songs by Canadian Women Composers” presents new and rarely heard art songs by women composers. Why just women composers? To call a disc “Songs by Canadian Men Composers” would be laughable. But it would also be unnecessary, because almost all recordings - Canadian or otherwise - contain just male composers.

In the booklet notes Green writes that Barbara Pentland “laid the path for young women composers across Canada”. Pentland’s searing, gorgeous works are visionary, and she remains one of Canada’s most important, if under-appreciated, composers. What I like best about Green’s performances of her songs is that they capture Pentland’s fierce passion. In Ice Age, Green is especially sensitive to the mood of desperation summed up in poet Dorothy Livesay’s concluding question, “Who among us dares to be righteous?”

Shifting rhythms enliven Emily Doolittle’s charming Airs of Men Long Dead. The shimmering lyricism of Isabelle Panneton’s Echo reflects the colourful imagery of the text. In City Night, Alice Ping Yee Ho explores the more percussive qualities of voice and piano. Kati Agócs uses clarinet, violin and cello accompaniment to set the medieval texts of Imagination of Their Hearts so eloquently. This is the only work described in the booklet notes, but for every work there are song texts and biographies of all involved, including the versatile pianist Midori Koga.

Unsleeping” takes its title from Jonathan Harvey’s moving Lullaby for the Unsleeping. The highlight for me is R. Murray Schafer’s Kinderlieder, written to texts by Bertold Brecht as well as two German nursery poems. Green is terrific at colouring her voice to capture the irony in Brecht's lyrics. Each image takes on symbolic meaning, like the tree that survives war-time destruction in The Poplar in Karlsplatz. Pianist John Hess is an expert accompanist throughout.

In both collections, Green approaches each text with conviction, uncovering layers of meaning. She sings convincingly in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Hungarian, and even Latin, along with English. There is a great deal of beauty in her lower and middle ranges. Too often as she goes higher she gets louder – and shriller. But even then what stands out so effectively is her dramatic power.

Pamela Margles

 

bataclanBataclan!

Denis Plante; Mathieu Lussier; Catherine Perrin

ATMA ACD2 2581

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I almost fell off my chair when I began to listen to the opening track from this new release. Astor Piazzolla's Libertango is a familiar work – I've heard the late great bandoneonist/composer perform it, I own his recording of it, I've played it and a number of my students play it – but I have never heard it like this! Harpsichordist Catherine Perrin plays the familiar melody with such aplomb that my interest is tweaked though I'm a little confused about the instrumentation. Gradually the other two instrumentalists, bandoneonist Denis Plant, and bassoonist/early music specialist Mathieu Lussier join in, and the stage is set for some fascinating albeit at times totally odd tracks of Latin flavoured originals and covers.

The experimentation with instrumentation is the key here. Both Plante and Lussier are composers too. Their contribution of pieces here are the most successful tracks. Lussier's Fantaisie is a strong, wistful work that walks the thin line of popular and classical music in its contrapuntal writing. Tango a los Nisenson from Plante's “Le tombeau d'Astor” is a comically tongue in cheek take on tangos. Both composers act as arrangers too, with their takes on Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, Ayala and Falu respectable though not as intriguing as their own works.

Even though the performances and production qualities are superb, the instrumental grouping results in an odd timbre, and the occasional thin sound. This aside, “Bataclan!” is worth a listen to hear smart musicians experiment intelligently.

Tiina Kiik

Thanks to the readers who wrote about last month’s column in which I said WBEN-FM is the choice of musical lovers in our area. I meant WNED-FM at 94.5 or on their web site.

01_golden_ageA pleasant surprise on Great Voices of the Golden Age (Medici Arts DVD, EDV1333) was the opportunity to see Dutch soprano Gré Brouwenstijn (1905-1999) singing Wagner. Two songs from the Wesendonck-Lieder are followed by Isolde’s Liebestod, recorded live in 1969 during a concert in Paris conducted by Charles Bruck. She possessed a rich voice, an Ingrid Bergman-like countenance and a stage presence that together attracted conductors Klemperer, Karajan, Beecham and others. I wish there were more from her on this disc which includes Gundula Janowitz, Irmgard Seefried, Galina Viishnevskaya, Rita Streich and Christa Ludwig.

Great Voics Of The Golden Age
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02_christa_ludwigChrista Ludwig has an excellent DVD containing Die Winterreise and part of a Mozart Master Class (Arthaus DVD 102147). Schubert’s song cycle which is set to the two cycles by Wilhelm Müller is an astonishing realisation of the human condition. Traditionally sung by a male voice, it is no less poignant from a female voice, particularly from an artiste of Ludwig’s calibre. She had them transposed to her natural vocal range so that “... it was my voice and not an artificial voice created just so you can sing something in the original version… I maintain that this is the winter’s journey of a soul and not that of a man or a woman.” Recorded in Athens in 1994, this is an exceptional, devoted performance reflecting a total empathy with the thoughts and implications of the texts.

Schubert: Die Winterreise (ludwig)
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03_thomas_quasthoffFor those who wish a male voice for Die Winterreise, the DVD of Thomas Quasthoff with pianist Daniel Barenboim, issued a couple of years ago, is the finest I’ve ever seen or heard (DG 0734049). Filmed in the Berlin Philharmonie on 22 March 2005, the disc also contains some interviews and rehearsals. We are privy to singer and accompanist freely exchanging ideas and arriving at meaningful interpretations of matchless intensity.
Schubert: Die Winterreise
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04_beethoven_barenboimDaniel Barenboim is the conductor of his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in a new DVD of the Leonora Overture No.3 and the Beethoven Ninth (Medici Arts 2055528). This was a concert given in the Berlin Philharmonie on August 27, 2006 with soloists Angela Denoke, soprano; Waltraud Meier, mezzo; Burkhard Fritz, tenor; and René Pape, bass, and the State Opera Chorus. Barenboim assembles the orchestra every summer, bringing together young musicians from Israel and the Arab countries. They tour widely and Barenboim’s hope is that this orchestra is a visible and viable artistic link between their people. Here is absolutely inspired playing with each and every player giving it better than their best. So well rehearsed are they that Barenboim’s directions are fewer than one is accustomed to seeing. I have viewed this DVD several times and have not been tempted to skip forward or stop. These are stunning, professional performances, superbly documented. Viewing this concert and seeing the performers and conductor was a definite plus to the appreciation of the music. Seeing and hearing becomes one experience.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (barenboim)
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05_karajan_memorialA new DVD entitled Herbert von Karajan Memorial Concert features The Berlin Philharmonic, Seiji Ozawa conducting with soloist Professor Anne-Sophie Mutter recorded in Vienna’s Grosser Musikvereinssaal on the 28 January 2008. The program opens with the Beethoven Violin Concerto followed by an encore of the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita No.2 for solo violin and finally the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony (Medici Arts 2072514 for Blu-ray; 2072518 for DVD). All three works are in the stratosphere of superlative interpretations and performances, quite faultless, I thought. The deeply felt performance of the symphony, played without any histrionics, immediately joins the very short list of the greatest on record. Frankly, I didn’t believe that Ozawa had it in him. Mutter has never played better or more brilliantly than she does here, employing the Fritz Kreisler cadenza in the first movement. Her fans, as well as lovers of the concerto will be beside themselves. All are abetted by the best sound ever accorded these pieces. The camera work demonstrates how far the art has progressed over the years, in this case seen from the Blu-ray disc. If you are yet undecided about Blu-ray then this may well be the tipping point for you.

Herbert Von Karajan Memorial Concert(DVD)
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Herbert Von Karajan Memorial Concert(Blu-Ray)
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06_messiaenLast year was the centenary of the birth of Olivier Messiaen, the French composer whose music is still an enigma for the majority of world’s classical music lovers. He was also a teacher who led his pupils into the captivating and alluring, yet knotty ways of departure from the establishment. He was an organist and, more significantly, an ornithologist. Significant because he was fascinated by bird songs and believed birds to be natural born musicians. Maybe they are. He notated bird songs around the world and ardently incorporated transcriptions into his works as if were divinely obliged to do so. His best known work is probably The Quartet for the End of Time which he wrote while a prisoner of war for short time in 1940 after the fall of France in WW2. The combination of instruments was dictated by the available players; piano, violin, cello and clarinet. As an aside, during a conversation, an interview, I asked conductor Ricardo Chailly this question, “You work in a record store. A grandmother asks for a recording to introduce her nine year old granddaughter to classical music. What do you give her?” Without any hesitation whatsoever he answered, The Turangalîla Symphony. Not his recording, but the ‘definitive’ version conducted by Myung-Whun Chung is included in Olivier Messiaen Complete Edition issued by Deutsche Grammophon in France on 32 CDs in a very neat little box (DG 4801333), available in a limited edition. At a special low price, here are all Messiaen’s published works performed by a host of well known musicians, far too numerous to list here. Indeed, un vrai Banquet cèleste.
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Welcome to the Modern and Contemporary section of our DISCoveries reviews. To skip ahead to a review, simply click the album screenshot below of the review you'd like to read.

Shostakovich with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko

Symphony No. 11

Naxos 8.572082

01_shostakovich

Francois Houle; Turning Point Ensemble; Owen Underhill

Liquid

ATMA ACD2 2394

02_liquid


Gaito; Ginastera; Piazzolla

Quatuor Abysse

XXI XXI-CD 2 1589

03_quatuor_abysse


James Tenney - Arbor Vitae

Quatuor Bozzini

Quatour Bozzini CQB 0806

(www.actuellecd.com)

04_tenney_bozzini


Gallery Players of Niagara

Canadian Oboe Quartets

Gallery Players GPN09001

05_oboe_quartets

 

01_shostakovichShostakovich - Symphony No. 11

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko

Naxos 8.572082

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This is remarkably fine performance, superbly recorded.

The first performance one hears is often imprinted as the way to perform a certain work. I first heard the Shostakovich 11th symphony on an EMI recording by André Cluytens and the ORTF orchestra. Made in the presence of the composer on May 15, 1958, it is, by definition, unerringly faithful to Shostakovich’s wishes and is my ideal (available in stereo on Testament SBT1099). 1958 was a good year for the work as Stokowski made his celebrated recording for Capitol in Houston exactly 51 years ago this month and another Russian performance under Stokowski from 1958 was issued. Since then there have been a score or more versions that have been listened to and filed away.

Titled “The Year 1905”, this symphony depicts the events of Bloody Sunday when more than 200 peaceful demonstrators were massacred by Czarist soldiers outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. From the very opening bars, Petrenko perfectly shapes and balances the composer’s mood picture of the inanition of the multitude leading to the second movement during which the pregnant stillness is devastatingly broken by the deadly attack. All is quiet again and pain and sorrow lead to bitter resolution, presaging the revolution to follow 12 years later.

Petrenko does far more than get it right. From manifest compassion to total brutality, he conducts from the inside, exposing the composer’s sources of inspiration, his Muse.

The state-of-the-art recording is the best yet, making this CD a must-have for audiophiles and the composer’s following.

This is the first instalment of Naxos’s announced complete cycle with Petrenko and his orchestra, presaging an exciting project.

Bruce Surtees

 

02_liquidLiquid

Francois Houle; Turning Point Ensemble; Owen Underhill

ATMA ACD2 2394

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Canada has produced a vibrant cohort of clarinettists who specialize in new music; a short list should include Robert W. Stevenson, Lori Freedman, James Campbell, Joaquin Valdepeñas, André Moisan, Jean-Guy Boisvert and François Houle – the featured soloist on this recent disc by the Turning Point Ensemble, conducted by Owen Underhill.

First up is Vancouver composer John Korsrud’s Liquid. Houle’s virtuosic technique is highlighted throughout, from the opening highly rhythmic figuration, which gradually disperses into a more fragmented ensemble texture. It resembles a concerto grosso, with an extended slow section featuring a sparsely-accompanied solo clarinet - replete with the seemingly obligatory multiphonics - gradually returning to the opening rhythmic figurations.

Next is Schrift, by Quebec composer Yannick Plamondon. The liner notes inform us that Plamondon, like Eric Satie, has placed enigmatic texts throughout the score, such as “The mechanistic noise of a language that seeks itself.” Plamondon’s inventive use of percussion sounded “mechanistic” I suppose, but the piece ended before I finished puzzling over that one.

The third work on the disc – Concerto – features Houle as both soloist and composer. The title is in keeping with the original 18th-century convention of an opening section, or ritornello, introducing the soloist. Like Korsrud’s piece, Concerto is a three-part single movement: a slow meditative section framed by more vigorous opening and closing movements.

Kya (1959) by Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, is the earliest work on the disc, and one of the most intriguing, using texture and timbre as compositional determinants. Scelsi, an Italian aristocrat, lived in Rome, yet the piece seems more acquainted with John Cage, Harry Partch, Indian or even Nepalese classical music than the stylistic tendencies of Scelsi’s European contemporaries.

Overall, the sound is crisp, clean, and well-engineered. Underhill has done well guiding the Turning Point Ensemble – a highly skilled group of players on a par with Houle’s virtuosity - through some very complex instrumental textures.

Tim Buell

 

03_quatuor_abysseGaito; Ginastera; Piazzolla

Quatuor Abysse

XXI XXI-CD 2 1589

This is a fabulous recording showcasing the breathtaking emerging Quebec string quartet Quatuor Abysse. Simon Boivin (violin), Melanie Charlebois (Violin 2), Jean-Francois Gagne (viola) and Sebastien Lepine (cello) are four young string players who play with a sensitivity and maturity beyond their collective years and musical experience.

The cohesiveness and tonal magic they create in interpreting the works of Argentineans Constantino Gaito, Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla culminate in an unimaginable musical truthfulness. All three composers draw on both their European classical traditions and Argentinean folk music at different degrees. Gaito is more of the romantic stylist, though his String Quartet No. 2, op.33 draws heavily on the pentatonic scale. In contrast, Ginastera's String Quartet No. 1, op. 20 is more chromatic and rhythmic in nature. Piazzolla's work needs no introduction – L'Histoire du Tango is a string quartet arrangement by Jean-Francoise Gagne of the original flute and guitar duet. The four part work chronologically and musically outlines the transformation of both the tango as an art form, and Piazzolla as a composer.

If you listen to only one recording this year, let it be this one. I hope Quatuor Abysse continues to develop musically. Their astute musicality combined with an uncanny sense of respect for the compositions, the composers and themselves as performers makes for unequivocal and unforgettable listening.

Tiina Kiik

 

04_tenney_bozziniJames Tenney - Arbor Vitae

Quatuor Bozzini

Quatour Bozzini CQB 0806

(www.actuellecd.com)

This recording by the Quatuor Bozzini of the American–Canadian composer James Tenney is essential for anyone interested in experimental music of the 20th century. Superbly recorded at Radio Frankfurt by tonmeisters Christoph Classen and Udo Wustendorfer with the assistance of sound engineer Thomas Eschlen, the two CD set brings together all of Tenney’s music for string quartet, as well as works for string quartet and additional instrument.

James Tenney composed for string quartet throughout his life, and so this release provides an excellent overview of his compositional interests throughout his diversely productive career. From his lifelong interest in just intonation and other tunings, to his use of electronics and computers, his systems of stochastic development, his constant desire to engage in an exchange of ideas with other members of both the music community and the wider society of artists from all disciplines, this collection brings forward all of these interests with great clarity and passion. The playing is both accurate (and I can tell you that as a performer who worked with Jim for over twenty-five years, this is no small accomplishment), and sensitive to the sensuality of Tenney’s music. The Bozzinis are ably assisted by percussionist Rick Sacks, pianist Eve Egoyan and contrabassist Miriam Shalinsky.

Robert W. Stevenson

 

05_oboe_quartetsCanadian Oboe Quartets

Gallery Players of Niagara

Gallery Players GPN09001

James Mason, principal oboe of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony for the past twenty years, is joined by his distinguished colleagues Julie Baumgartel on violin, Patrick Jordan on viola and Margaret Gay on cello in this intriguing recording by The Gallery Players. The ensemble’s original concept for this project was to commission Canadian composers to create works derived from Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major K370 in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the divine Amadeus. Of the composers on this disc only Peter Hatch fully accepted this challenge, albeit in quite a perverse way. His Wiki Mozart superimposes a distracting tape collage upon what seems to be a quite sensitive performance of Mozart’s work, with the droning voice of Gertrude Stein thrown in for no good measure. You can replicate the effect quite easily in your own home by turning your television, CD, DVD and radio on all at once. James Rolfe’s Oboe Quartet, while not in the least bit derivative, echoes Mozart’s refined style in its carefully wrought artistry and exceptional architectural balance. Michael Oesterle’s Sunspot Letters finds its inspiration in the solar observations of Galileo Galilei, juxtaposing frenetic, highly ornamented oboe passages upon the inexorable cosmic pulsation of the string trio to great effect. The studied monotony of John Abram’s Oboe Quartet is derived from an earlier operatic project and while agreeably melodic is the least relevant and most woefully over-extended part of the program. The excellent acoustic of Toronto’s Humbercrest United Church is vividly captured in these exceptionally sensitive performances.

Daniel Foley

 

 

01a_daquin_noels

 Louis-Claude D'Aquin - Noëls pour orgue

Francois Zeitouni

XXI XXI-CD 2 1609

01b_violin_organOuvres pour Violon et Orgue

Anne Robert; Jacques Boucher

XXI XXI-CD 2 1626

 Two organ records arrive from Montreal, from the same label, and they could not be more different from one another! François Zeituoni plays the recently-installed Guibault-Therien organ at Le Grands Seminaire de Montréal. The specifically French voicing and registration give the recording an alarming immediacy, and D'Aquin's early 18th-century Noëls contain enough angular lines and fanfare-like passages to wake the most drowsy parishioner.

Violinist Anne Robert and organist Jacques Boucher work with the recently restored sprawling Casavant Opus 615 at Saint-Jean Baptiste, and this monster shimmers with a sublime delicacy that makes it a truly effective partner for violin, although the engineer exaggerates this equality by his microphone placement. Their disc runs through the work of seven different composers, including Canadian John Burge, who contributed a commissioned piece. Reger's short Romanze sounds almost as if it were written for these two.

Both of the CD's are well presented, with music superbly played and recorded. However, you need reading glasses to cope with the notes. Robert and Boucher's disc has the tiniest of type, white on black background, in both languages. The Noëls CD is particularly bad, with a compressed, ALL-CAPS FONT, ill-suited to body copy. Both organs are dissected in the usual way of listing, with full-frontal photos of each. Both CD's are suitable for serious collections, and enthusiasts will note that Karl Wilhelm (builder of Toronto's St. Andrew's Presbyterian organ) helped prepare the instrument for Zeituoni.

John S. Gray

Concert notes: The month-long organ festival Organix 2009 kicks off on May 1 at the Church of the Holy Trinity with a recital by Dame Gillian Weir and runs throughout May. See our current listings for two organ recitals on May 4 and a tribute to Felix Mendelssohn on May 6.

 

02_liszt_lare Liszt - Sonata in B minor

Patrice Lare

XXI XXI-CD 2 1533

Patrice Lare is a Paris born pianist who studied in Russia and came to Quebec in 1993. He is building an impressive career (see www.patricelare.com) and has already issued two CD’s with his cellist wife Velitchka Yatcheva. This is his first solo CD as a pianist.

Playing these ambitious showpieces of the great magician of the keyboard is no mean task. The pianist possesses an elemental, masculine force, lots of stamina and powerful hands to handle the thundering climaxes. His technical prowess is unquestionable and his playing is very precise. Note for example the fugato section in the Sonata where his skill in Bach shows up par excellance.

The Sonata in b minor is a titanic masterpiece, a milestone in the literature where Liszt experimented with changing the traditional form by compressing or ‘telescoping’ the movements. Although the form seems loose, there is an inner logic difficult to interpret. In Lare’s playing I feel the overall structure is too rigid and lacking the natural sweep of emotion, the ebb and flow that only the greatest pianists could achieve. At this point I couldn’t rightfully recommend this performance, but given time and maturity he will assuredly overcome this challenge.

The shorter, bravura pieces however generally come off very well. My favorite is the Mephisto Waltz, where his powerful hands build up a very effective crescendo right at the beginning and the transition to the lyrical mid-section is beautifully done. There are many changes of mood here but the structure is held together and the piece really becomes a brilliant mockingly devilish dance. In similar vein, the Rhapsodie Espagnole, a very colourful, challenging and enjoyable work is played to the hilt and the good old Steinway is given a big workout.

Janos Gardonyi

 

03_flute_sketches Flute Sketches - Mosaic of Flute Favourites

Samantha Chang; Ellen Meyer; Khai Nguyen; Amy Laing

Independent (www.samanthaflute.com)

 

Flutist Samantha Chang’s debut CD, “Flute Sketches” offers a variety of repertoire, ranging from Paul Taffanel’s Mignon Fantasy of 1866 to Tod Dorozio’s The Exodus Partita written just last year for Ms. Chang. From the one hundred and forty-two years separating these two compositions are works by Albert Woodall, Erwin Schulhoff, Carl Reinecke, Eugene Goossens, Astor Piazzolla and Mizi Tan.

Ms. Chang is at her best in the lyrical music she has chosen for the CD. She has a strong affinity, for example, to A Caged Partridge’s Longing, by Toronto flutist, composer and her first teacher, Mizi Tan, using a sound akin to that of a bamboo flute, entirely appropriate to the piece. Her interpretation of Schulhoff’s Sonata, especially the first movement, is very convincing, although I often wished she could bring to more of her playing the intensity of sound she produced about three-quarters of the way through Carl Reinecke’s late (1908) composition, Ballade.

The always confident but never intrusive piano playing of Ellen Meyer makes a tremendous contribution throughout. Amy Laing’s expressive cello in Piazzolla’s Oblivion and Khai Nguyen’s capable violin playing in the Piazzolla and in Goossens’ Romance and Humoreske add variety and interest.

Ms. Chang is a young and resourceful artist with a strong personal commitment to the flute. This CD is a promising beginning.

Allan Pulker

01_honens_sohn

Lizst 

Minsoo Sohn

Honens

 

03_honens_xu
Mozart

Hong Xu

Honens

(www.honens.com)

02_honens_alpers

Schumann

Hinrich Alpers

Honens

 

Named for Calgary philanthropist Esther Honens, the Honens Piano Competition is a unique Canadian musical event which began in 1992, and is held every three years. The competition’s unique approach takes as its premise that much of the learning process of a concert artist occurs outside the practice studio, and the focus is to discover those individuals whose talent both “inspires the heart and engages the intellect.” Indeed, a formidable pairing of both heart and intellect are clearly discernible on these three Honens label discs which I had the recent pleasure of auditioning, and which feature the respective first, second, and third Laureate prize-winners from the 2006 competition: Minsoo Sohn, Heinrich Alpers, and Hong Xu.

First Laureate Minsoo Sohn began piano studies in his native Korea and he later continued at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He admits he wasn’t entirely convinced he would eventually be a musician, explaining that for a while, he even dreamed of becoming a baseball player! Nevertheless, there is no doubt as to his prodigious talent in listening to this all-Liszt recording featuring the 6 Paganini Etudes in addition to transcriptions of music by Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Minsoo Sohn takes these pieces – surely among the most difficult in the repertory – in his stride, displaying a breathtaking technique and the relentless fortitude required of any Liszt player. Yet Sohn’s approach is not all bombast. In pieces such as La Campanella and La Chasse, he demonstrates a particular lightness of touch, his hands seemingly dancing over the keyboard with a shimmering delicacy.

German-born Heinrich Alpers offers an all-Schumann disc, featuring the Faschingschwank aus Wien, the Kinderszenen, and the less-often played Sonata in F sharp minor. Alpers studied at the Hanover Hochschule für Musik and later at the Juilliard School, and he currently teaches piano, improvisation, and music theory at the Institute for Highly Gifted Children in Hanover. He won rave reviews at his New York debut in 2008, and little wonder! Alpers’ playing is stylish and eloquent - and while his solid technique is evident at all times, it never becomes an end unto itself. Clearly this is music played by a musician rather than a mere technician, and one who displays an innate feeling for the repertoire.

From 19th century Leipzig we turn to 18th century Vienna for a recording of keyboard music by Mozart performed by third Laureate Hong Xu. Included on this disc are the sonatas K.282, 310, 332, and 576 as well as the Adagio in B minor K540. A graduate of Wuhan Conservatory and the Juilliard School, Xu admits a love for the piano works of Mozart, and this admiration is clearly reflected on this recording. The playing is polished and self-assured, while always demonstrating the subtle nuances so important in interpreting this deceptively complex music.

Three different artists, each playing very different repertoire, and doing it well, make for very satisfying listening – a perfect melding of heart and intellect!

Richard Haskell

 

 

FELIX MENDELSSOHN –

 A BICENTENNIAL SALUTE

 

Editor's Note: The Honens International Piano Competition and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate Mendelssohn’s 200th birthday with the North American premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 3 in E minor. The score was recently completed and reconstructed by composer/conductor Marcello Bufalini for exclusive performance by Italian pianist Roberto Prosseda. Julian Kuerti conducts the all-Mendelssohn program on May 11, 2009 at Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary, which also includes the Hebrides Overture Op. 26 (Fingal’s Cave) and Sinfonia for String Orchestra No. 10 in B minor. Roberto Prosseda will be joined by his wife Alessandra Maria Ammara (2000 Honens Laureate) to perform the Concerto for Two Pianos in E major.

 

01_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Complete works for cello and pianoforte

Sergei Istomin ; Viviana Sofronitsky

Passacaille 947 (www.passacaille.be)

During his short life Felix Mendelssohn composed five pieces for cello and piano, all remarkable for their perfect blend of Romantic expression clothed in classical language. That these pieces comprise exactly enough music to fill a single CD is quite a stroke of luck; that it has been recorded on period instruments by Viviana Sofronitsky and Sergei Istomin is not only fortuitous for us all today, but a posthumous stroke of luck for Felix Mendelssohn as well. Istomin, formerly with Tafelmusik and now resident in France, plays an 18th-century Widhelm cello here; and Sofronitsky, founder of Toronto’s Academy Concert Series and now living in Prague, plays a Graf copy fortepiano by Paul McNulty.

The ‘big ticket’ items on this CD are the three-movement sonata op. 45 and its later, larger counterpart, op. 58. The first movements of both are grand and dramatic, and brilliantly played. The sardonic quality of op. 58’s allegretto scherzando is delightful here, and the innocent ending of op. 45 perfectly concludes this program of rich musical chiaroscuro. Also included are the Variations Concertantes (op.17), premiered on Mendelssohn’s first trip to London in 1829; the short Romance without words, published posthumously in 1868; and a short Assai tranquillo, the ephemeral ending of which leaves us wanting just a little more…

This recording will no doubt come as a revelation to many. Here there is no struggle for a balance between the voices of cello and piano, a problem all too familiar on modern instruments. Istomin and Sofronitsky’s performance is a genuine and focused musical dialogue, full of thoughtful phrasing and a fluid and natural exhange of roles as the music requires. Both artists play with virtuosic flair, refined musical sensitivity, and an obvious affection for the repertoire. And their breadth of their tonal and dynamic palette is pretty astonishing!

On top of that, this disc is beautifully recorded and packaged. The cover features a Swiss landscape painted by Mendelssohn himself in his last year; the notes are informative and readable; and the CD’s program order is brilliant, highlighting the composer’s variety of approach to this instrumental combination. Buy this disc. You won’t be sorry!

Alison Melville

 

02_mendelssohn_violinMendelssohn - Violin Concerto;

Piano Trio No.1; Violin Sonata

Anne-Sophie  Mutter;

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig;

Kurt Masur; André Previn; Lynn Harrell

Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 8001

Anne-Sophie Mutter always manages to find something fresh to say with even the most familiar repertoire, and does it again with this brilliant performance of the Mendelssohn concerto, recorded in concert at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig with Mendelssohn's own orchestra.

Issued to mark the bicentenary of Mendelssohn's birth in February 1809, this CD/DVD package also includes outstanding performances of the D minor Piano Trio Op.49 and the F major Violin Sonata, the latter in the 1953 Menuhin edition.

All three CD performances were captured for the DVD, and the coverage of the concerto in particular is outstanding, with virtually every possible camera angle and distance showing soloist, conductor and orchestral players to great effect. Few shots last longer than 4 or 5 seconds, but the constant movement is never annoying or inappropriate; on the contrary, it serves to fully involve the viewer in the performance. Close-up coverage of Mutter's left hand, from behind as well as from in front, is particularly satisfying.

Much the same approach is used for the Piano Trio and Violin Sonata, recorded (without an audience) in the Musikverein in Vienna; again, these are very much internal views of the performances.

The DVD includes a fairly short documentary, “Encounters with Mendelssohn”, which features some interesting observations from Mutter and her chamber colleagues, especially about Previn's apparently effortless playing in the Piano Trio!

The CD sound quality is excellent, with no hint of an audience present in the concerto.

Terry Robbins

 

03_kuerti_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Piano Concertos

Anton  Kuerti; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Paul Freeman

DoReMi DHR-6606 (www.doremi.com)

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto remains a concert-hall staple – but the two concertos that he completed for the piano (an instrument on which he himself was a virtuoso performer) have fallen into relative neglect. Why did they vanish from the repertoire?

This recording of Toronto pianist Anton Kuerti’s performance of the concertos – and also the Capriccio Brillante Op. 22 – raises the question. The CD is a reissue from 1986, and Kuerti is heard with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Paul Freeman. While the sound quality is not quite up to today’s standards, the commitment of Kuerti and Co. shine through – illuminating both the strengths and weakness of the music.

The first concerto is unconventional: the three movements follow without a pause, and there is no formal cadenza. But there’s plenty of glittery pianism in both the first and third movements, which Kuerti renders with an admirable facility and evenness of tone. The second movement, by contrast, is more introspective. Kuerti’s approach is dreamy and tender – although, at times, his interpretation verges on the diffuse.

Like the first concerto, the second is also cadenza-less and continuous in its structure. It opens with a Beethoven’s Fifth-inspired movement that’s milked for every drop of drama. Kuerti’s handling of the transition to the slow movement is impressive, and what follows is probably the best playing on this disc. In the final movement, Kuerti and the LSO make the most of the music’s operatic ebullience.

Completing the disc is Mendelssohn’s Capriccio Brillante – which, as its title suggests, is a joyful single-movement romp. There are also moments of repose – and Kuerti takes full advantage of the opportunities for expressiveness that they afford.

I said something about strengths and weakness, didn’t I? To be sure, there’s much that is beautiful, and even sometimes profound, in this music. But there’s also an excess of “passage work” for the piano – and the naïve charm of the concertos’ final movements is sometimes more naïve than charming.

Colin Eatock

 

52_1_bookshelf

Sonic Mosaics: Conversations

with Composers

by Paul Steenhuisen

University of Alberta Press

344 pages, photos; $34.95

Canadian composer and writer Paul Steenhuisen surveys contemporary Canadian music – and contemporary music in general - by interviewing twenty-six of Canada’s most interesting compos-ers, along with six European and American composers like Pierre Boulez and George Crumb.

Steenhuisen shows an understanding of the work of everyone he interviews, no matter what their musical style. This especially pays off with an experimental composer like John Oswald, whose technique of plunderphonics challenges traditional approaches to composition. Things get lively when he asks Oswald whether his pieces have an expiry date. Steenhuisen’s questions are thought-provoking, and his thorough preparation allows him to follow wherever the subject takes him. A surprising answer can turn things in an entirely different direction.

One of the most engaging aspects of this book is the way Steenhuisen approaches the issues involved in being a Canadian composer, and whether Canadian music has “a certain sound, a unique aesthetic”. John Weinzweig can’t identify what the sound is, but insists that it exists. John Beckwith says, “There is a Canadian repertoire and it goes back further than most people are aware.” But later he says, “Your music doesn’t get played very much if you’re Canadian.” Gary Kulesha goes even further, saying, “At this moment there is no Canadian composer who has a substantial international presence.” Barbara Croall, whose mother is Aboriginal, adds a more positive dimension when she says that her identity as a Canadian lies in the intuitiveness of her creative process.

Almost all the interviews that make up this collection were originally published in WholeNote Magazine. Most of them relate to a particular performance or recording. In some cases, this means that the questions focus so narrowly on a single work that you don’t get a well-rounded picture of the composer’s musical personality, especially with someone as multi-faceted as R. Murray Schafer.

Steenhuisen makes no claims to have interviewed every significant Canadian composer, and, inevitably, a number are absent. But of the thirty-two composers interviewed, just five are women. In a country where women composers have always played a major role, this is a disproportionately small representation. But many things in this important book have been particularly well-considered, from the design, the photos and the cover art, to the discography, annotations, and index (which even has an entry for playfulness).


52_2_bookshelf

Moving to Higher Ground

by Wynton Marsalis

Random House

202 pages, photos; $30.00


Wynton Marsalis covered the same territory in previous books. But now he is not just describing the ways jazz can touch your soul and stir up your sense of beauty. What he’s saying is that jazz can teach concrete life lessons - to listeners and players alike. It teaches you to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, develop your own unique sound, and learn to work things out with other people. His explanations of what jazz is are as good an I’ve ever read, and his comments on musicians he has known, ‘Lessons from the Masters’, are fascinating. Mostly he is admiring, but, to illustrate his ‘Be true to your dreams, don’t compromise’ mantra, he comes down hard on Miles Davis for selling out towards the end of his career.

Marsalis, a well-known jazz and classical trumpeter, composer, and director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, offers an insider’s perspective, having known and played with almost all the great players of his time. He understands what makes them great. Sometimes he goes too far, writing that “jazz musicians get closer to expressing the actual diversity in the ways of love than any musicians before them.” But we get the idea nonetheless.

Terrific anecdotes illustrate his points. There’s the time, as an overeager kid, he first played for Harry “Sweets” Edison, and Edison said “Man, you just played more notes than I played in my entire career.”

Marsalis is fortunate in his co-author Geoffrey Ward.“One touch of his hand on the piano and the moon entered the room” is a lovely evocation of Ellington’s piano playing. A pithy comment about Dizzy Gillespie, “His playing showcases the importance of intelligence”, says much about this eloquent book as well.

 

52_3_bookshelfThe Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

by Eric Siblin

House of Anansi Press

328 pages; $29.95


An encounter with Bach’s solo Cello Suites at a concert in Toronto, a chance conversation in a Montreal café with an elderly cellist who turns out to be a “living breathing link with the past”, the opportunity to study the oldest existing score of the Suites in a Brussels library - all this spurs Eric Siblin to uncover the story behind the Suites.

Siblin never found Bach’s original score. But he did find a copy of the same edition of the Suites that Pablo Casals had discovered in 1890, which had lead the young cellist to perform them together for the first time in their history. “I had stumbled into my own prelude,” writes Siblin.

The former Montreal pop music critic is curious, resourceful and passionate. Even though this is a tale of personal discovery, Siblin knows when to get out of the way. So we get biographies of Bach, and Casals, as well as the performance history of the Suites.

Siblin is a skillful writer. His passion for the music and instinctive grasp of the issues comes through. He has done extensive research, although he gets a few minor things wrong. For example, the Berkeley Symphony, which Kent Nagano conducted for almost thirty years, is hardly an “amateur hippied-out” orchestra. The instrument that Dmitry Badiarov promotes for the sixth suite is the violoncello da spalla, which is held on the shoulder, not the violoncello piccolo, which is in fact held like a cello. He offers a reliable bibliography to back up his research. But, frustratingly, his endnotes are hidden at the back, with nothing in the text to indicate what they are annotating.

Siblin is right that the Cello Suites provide a perfect entrée into the sound world of Bach. He provides a delightful and illuminating journey into that world.



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