05_horwoodPercussionique - The complete percussion music of Michael S. Horwood

Toronto Percussion Ensemble

Albany Records Troy1122

(www.albanyrecords.com)

This disc of percussion music by American-born Canadian composer Michael S. Horwood (b. 1947) should attract both new music aficionados and others interested in revitalizing listening experiences. Superbly performed by the Toronto Percussion Ensemble (John Brownell, David Campion, Mark Duggan, and Beverley Johnston) “Percussionique” is beautifully recorded and presented by Albany Records.

The “spine” of this chronologically presented oeuvre is a series of Pieces Percussioniques dating from 1964 to 2008. Spanning various contemporary compositional practices, a consistent voice still emerges, refined yet playful. For example, in No. 3 a sensitive xylophone cadenza leads into a pensive slow section with exquisite, soft dynamics, followed by a rondo with a Monty Pythonesque march rhythm! Piece No. 4 is finely structured in four-parts; the fast sections have for me a hint of Horwood’s passion for roller coasters. A percussionist himself, Horwood writes idiomatically. Intricate divisions of the beat layered variously between instruments give an effect of luxuriant flourishing, without cluttering the texture.

Along with the Pieces Percussioniques, individual pieces showcase particular instruments: The Shadow Of Your Drum for bass drum with 2 players; Dynamite for piano and two suspended cymbals, composed for a noir-ish film scene; and my particular favourite - the vital, carefully structured Fragments (2006) delightfully performed by mallet specialists Mark Duggan and Beverley Johnston. In a noisy world we forget to listen truly: try letting Percussionique’s sound world beguile you!

01 ernesto_cerviniLittle Black Bird

Ernesto Cervini Quartet

Orange Grove Records OG-1104

(www.ernestocervini.com)

Another step forward in the career of Ernesto Cervini, “Little Black Bird” again demonstrates the high level of musicality possessed by this excellent drummer who incidentally is also no slouch on piano and clarinet. In other words, a very musical drummer.

The material on the album is original, creative and played with authority by four musicians who prove that the whole can definitely be greater than the sum of the parts. If you are into the more contemporary sounds of jazz, this is right up your alley.

In a nicely varied selection, for me one of the highlights is Nonna Rosa, a haunting ballad played with a sensitivity and restraint that show a high level of maturity. Indeed, Joel Frahm’s playing throughout the album is impeccable, which is not to take away from the telling contribution made by Adrean Farrugia on piano and bassist Jim Majaraj.

The title tune, Little Black Bird takes off into more esoteric territory as do Cerebrau and Seven Claps, while Coconut Bill shows that this group can really swing when it wants to.

Concert Note: The Ernesto Cervini Quartet will be touring to promote the new CD and you can catch them at The Rex on December 5 and 6.

02_manhattan transferThe Chick Corea Songbook

Manhattan Transfer

4Q FQT-CD-1819 (www.kochcan.com)

One of the hallmarks of a great musician is the desire to continually seek out new musical challenges. The temptation to please your fans and record company by sticking to the tried and true is ever present, so The Manhattan Transfer’s willingness to stretch themselves by tackling “The Chick Corea Songbook” is highly laudable. Not only are these songs incredibly difficult to sing, but many are revered by jazz fans, so any reinvention risks being viewed as musical blasphemy. But if any vocal group is up to the challenge it’s the eight-time Grammy award-winning Manhattan Transfer. Arranger Yousuf Gandhi has done marvellous things with these songs; interweaving multiple melodies, drawing on a variety of cultures for fresh sounds and alternating between a small army of musicians and synthesizers on some songs, and just stripped back voice and piano on others. Spain has been broken into two parts and while the Prelude is a bit strained, when it moves into the medium groove of the main song and is given a funky bhangra treatment, it feels completely right. Free Samba is a mini carnival with its clever evocation of a Brazilian rainforest and an electrifying solo by Corea himself, and Another Roadside Attraction is a complex marvel that could be a case study for aspiring vocal arrangers. This isn’t a readily accessible record, but for fans of the Transfer and Corea it is an adventure well worth taking.

03_buyvoronsky_bachInterventions into Bach & Mozart

Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky

Leo Records CD LR 534

(www.leorecords.com)

Resulting from a dream where he says the composers suggested to Russian trumpeter Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky that he write additional parts for two of Bach’s and one of Mozart’s keyboard works, these “Inventions” are as musical as they are memorable.

Guyvoronsky, who studied trumpet at the Leningrad Conservatory, is most audacious on Inventions II based on Bach’s Art of the Fugue. Partnered by violinist Vladislav Pesin, the players partially deconstruct and roughen the familiar composition. Leaving space for the violinist’s lyrical expansion, this interpretation uniquely bustles. Facing ascending grace-note smears and rubato abrasive echoes from Guyvoronsky, Pesin’s strategy is staccato and presto, encompassing angled spiccato and triple-stopping, with col legno sweeps so extreme they seem to be furrowing the fiddle’s wood.

Built on Bach’s French Partita, Inventions I is for flute, accordion, trumpet, bass and soprano voice. Singing in French, Ariadna Koryagina’s agile tessitura intertwines polyphonically with Grigory Voskoboinikov’s burbling bass line, Evelyn Petrova’s contrapuntal bellows pump and heraldic brass flourishes. Slightly cheeky, somewhat stop-time and always contrapuntal, the instruments add rococo detailing everywhere and swing at points, throwing into bold relief Koryagina’s subtle and supple interpretation. This half-hour-plus compositional re-think wraps up with a bass string slap. Inventions III, after Mozart’s Sonata C-dur, is a humorous bagatelle for violin (Pesin), cello (Vladimir Guyryushov), and piano, most notable for the light touch and sprinkled arpeggios of pianist Polina Fradkina.

The CD confirms that with skill, familiar compositions – especially Bach’s – can be distinctively re-interpreted.

01_jesse_cook_advanceThe Rumba Foundation

Jesse Cook

EMI 50999 698061 2 4

Jesse Cook can now add ethnomusicologist to his résumé, right under rumba flamenco guitar god. For his 7th album, the award-winning composer travelled to Bogota, Colombia to absorb the musical culture and integrate it into his unique style of nuevo flamenco music. And he’s done a fine job of it, too. Sometimes when musicians attempt to bring together musical genres the result is somewhat disjointed, with one style awkwardly inserted into the other, never achieving a true blend. But on “The Rumba Foundation” Cook and crew achieve an artful marriage of rhythms and harmonies. Several tracks have been recorded with Colombian musicians Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, and on Manolo’s Lament and Bogota by Bus the group has found the common ground between the musics and traditional Colombian instruments like gaita flutes are completely at home. La Rumba del Jefe’s medium groove completely hits the rhythmic sweet spot.

Cook’s writing and playing shifts easily between contemplative ballads and blistering guitar work. So although there are new sounds here, we also get treated to some of his trademark gorgeous ballads on Tuesday’s Child and Homebound (aided by Chris Church’s plaintive violin), while unleashing the million-note-a-minute runs on Paul Simon’s Cecilia. This, the only cover on the record, is completely appropriate as the rousing multicultural rendition is a great tribute to the man who was one of the first to bring “world” music to North American pop audiences.

02_tasaAlchemy

Tasa with special guests: Mark Feldman; Adrean Farrugia; Dhruba Ghosh;

DJ Olive Independent TASA004

(www.tasamusic.com)

Ten years ago Tasa’s founder, tabla player Ravi Naimpally, set out to realize his vision to create a new musical form out of the many cultures that co-exist in this country. True to form and mission, “Alchemy” delivers on all fronts.

The complete experience of the album leaves the listener feeling as if they had been traveling, shifting in and out of place, space and time. The “trippiness” of the music can largely be attributed to the soundscaping of guitarist Chris Gartner, and the intermittent scratching of guest DJ Olive. Fragments of electronica sneak up on you in a delightful and unjarring kind of way. If pressed to choose a favourite, it would be Boatman’s Song – an original and haunting arrangement of a traditional Indian folk song. The band collectively evokes mystic waters, complete with rain stick. I was mesmerized by the “other worldliness” of Tasa’s newest addition, Samidha Joglekar’s alaaps (extemporized free-form vocalizations), and I could lose myself inside the reverb and timbre of Ernie Tollar’s magical flute playing.

Dhurba Ghosh guests on sarangi, a stringed instrument akin to the violin considered by many as the closest acoustic reproduction of the human voice. Samudra, one of Naimpally’s originals, means ocean in Sanskrit. Ghosh’s sarangi and Tollar’s sax toss around their easy conversation like waves with the “voice” of Naimpally’s tabla. The song ends in a whirlpool jam session. The album’s last two tracks, Bija and Solar really showcase the band’s versatility and bring new meaning to the term World music.

Tales of big labels retrenching and jazz musicians struggling to finance CDs are legion today – but hang on, start cheering. Steve Bellamy, who’s been recording and producing jazz and classical music for 15 years, has started a Toronto-based label - Addo Records (www.addorecords.com) – with three splendid recordings of top-flight Canadians. Liner notes are by local musicians and planned 2010 releases are already in the can.

01_macdonaldSaxophone star Kirk MacDonald opens Addo’s account with Songbook Vol.1 (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR001) with seven of his own tunes and quality sidemen in pianist David Virelles, bass Neil Swainson and volatile drummer Barry Romberg. This adventurous music offers tuneful momentum, rhythmic flair and opportunities for bold contributions from bandsmen backing the leader’s warm, expressive and appealing sound – Virelles and Romberg are never still while Swainson’s lush-toned bass anchors proceedings. The opening, expansive New Piece features flowing ideas, and you understand how Kirk has embraced composition as well as stellar performance. There’s winsome balladry on Calendula, passion lamenting late saxist Glenn McDonald, plus fiercely restless work on By Invitation Only (no prizes for knowing the inspiration).

02_quinlanMega-versatile guitarist Ted Quinlan, equally comfortable with B3 banger Tony Monaco and string peers like Pat Metheny and Joe Hall, is up next with Streetscape (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR002) featuring nine originals, sterling support from bass Kieran Overs and drummer Ted Warren and his penchant for strong, attractive melodies flagging both old and new approaches. Notes are picked with care, yet there’s often unusual choices à la Bill Frisell. The trio fits seamlessly in an elegant atmosphere, creating mysterious note weaves that nonetheless deliver zestful, snaky improv - but overstatement never cramps finesse on Go West and Vibrolux. The pulse quickens on Speakeasy while Crowchild reveals deep emotional focus. This balanced offering swings breezily to the closing Block Party.

03_field_tripMontreal-based trio Fieldtrip, whose edgy self-titled debut stirred free jazz fans, pulls its horns in somewhat with No Destination (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR003), boosting the power trio of alto Colin Power, bass Patrick Read and drummer Mark Nelson with energetic tenor Kelly Jefferson and guitarist Jim Head. Most tunes come from Power and Read and you wonder, briefly, if this group has turned respectable. It’s cooler only in the sense there’s more melodic structure and harmonic nuance than before to accompany the imaginative elements of musical wanderlust. There’s good chemistry on Sounds On Silence and the surging I Am The Impostor, with each tune splashing a kaleidoscope of ideas that crash with ease through genres and approaches. It’s worth more than a second listen.

04_disterheftRising bass star Brandi Disterheft trolls new territory on Second Side (Justin Time Records JTR 8544-2 www.justin-time.com), adding vocals she surprised us with when opening for Dave Brubeck in the summer, but showing again that she’s in full control of her music, if not the photographers who’ve glammed her up excessively on the album sleeve. With a hand in 10 of the 11 tracks that she’s arranged, her concept is a musical journey entwined with love - but were guest singers Ranee Lee and Holly Cole needed as the boss fashions a classic pop, classic jazz mélange? Disterheft is backed by a bevy of striking players such as saxman Chris Gale, pianist Stacie McGregor and inevitably drummer Sly Juhas. The starter Sketches Of Belief has the magisterial air of a Miles Davis, there’s a neat Brazilian lilt to Twilight Curtain and some ‘outside’ horn rumbling on My Only Friends Are The Pigeons. I’d have liked more instrumentals with the basic trio such as A Night In Haiti that let Disterheft display her considerable bass chops, while her toying with kalimba hints at interesting future possibilities.

05_sigesmundTrombonist Darren Sigesmund is pursuing a somewhat similar course, bringing classical aspects – courtesy of European composers such as Rodriguez, and de Falla – and rock staples into a contemporary jazz mode, heading up a septet in which U.S. saxman Tim Ries has added colour to the leader’s eight thickly-textured pieces on Strands II (DS 09001 www.darrensigesmund.com). You’ll enjoy stuttering rhythms, florid outbursts and Sigesmund’s agile yet smooth-toned trombone. Horns drift sometimes but there’s always something happening, with guitarist Reg Schwager and percussionist Daniel Stone cutting through the forest frequently with ecstatic soloing. Vocal textures from Eliana Cuevas heighten intriguing sounds, and listen out especially for confident and committed playing on Dance For Leila, Castle In The Storm and the zippy El Inicio.

Concert note: This album will be officially released Nov. 6 at Hart House.

Ancient but apt, the saying “you can take a boy out of the country, but can’t take the country out of the boy” is more accurate if the country is Canada and the “boys” are male and female musicians in the United States. No matter how busy they are, improvisers are always ready to play north of the border. Last month, for instance, Toronto-born, Brooklyn-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt played two Toronto shows in one day before continuing an American tour.

01_eisenstadtBeing Canadian doesn’t mean cutting yourself from other interests as Eisenstadt demonstrates on Guewel (Clean Feed CF 123 CD www.cleanfeed-records.com). Named for the Wolof word for griots, the band – cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, trumpeter Nate Wooley, French hornist Mark Taylor and baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton – plays the drummer’s arrangements of West African pop music and ceremonial rhythms which he learned overseas. The tunes contain elements of southern dance tracks and brass band marches. Each horn man has the melodic smarts to meld with Eisenstadt’s multi-faceted drumming, producing catchy yet non-simplistic tunes. With his hunting horn sonorities, innate lyricism and pumping vamps, Taylor is a standout. The sympathetic arrangements stack horn parts atop one another in such a way that every solo becomes almost three-dimensional. Rice and Fish/Liti Liti begins mellow and impressionistic, then a drum beat signals a timbral shift with Taylor’s jujitsu tongue-fluttering matched with near Mariachi-styling from the other brass players. N’daga/Coonu Aduna transcends its marching band flavour as Sinton riffs harshly, accelerating to whoops and brays, while the meandering brass trill rococo detailing around him and Eisenstadt clatters, pops and ruffs.

02_bates_paperbackAnother notable reedist is Canadian turned Brooklynite Quinsin Nachoff, featured on bassist Michael Bates’ Outside Sources Live in New York (Greenleaf Paperback Series Vol. 4 www.greenleafmusic.com). Another Brooklyn-Canadian, Bates studied double bass at Banff Centre for the Arts and the University of Toronto. Other players are trumpeter Russ Johnson and drummer Jeff Davis. Playing all Bates compositions, the band is straight-ahead enough to maintain a swinging pulse, yet imaginative enough to give everyone free range for creative expression. Nachoff for example, punctuates one tune with gradually accelerating glissandi; Johnson another with high-pitched triplet tonguing. A bravura performance on Damasa finds everyone discovering theme variants. Johnson offers tremolo vibrations; Nachoff snuffled and exhaled split tones; Bates chiming runs and Davis opposite sticking plus blunt backbeats.

03_ridd_quartetDavis is also part of the RIDD Quartet on Fiction Avalanche (Clean Feed CF 121 CD www.cleanfeed-records.com), with CanCon provided by his spouse, pianist Kris Davis, who studied at the U. of T. and the Banff Centre. Outstanding on 10 group compositions, solos are weighed among Davis’ sensitive drumming, sweeping colours from distaff Davis, Reuben Radding’s tough, but restrained bass, and the kinetic runs of saxophonist Jon Irabagon. On Fiction Avalanche, the pianist percussively chords a counter melody that extends rasping bass slides and flattened reed vibrations. Monkey Catcher is a screaming blues expanded by Irabagon’s fortissimo split tones, yet tamed by Davis’ chord progression, key-clipping and flailing. Sky Circles is both atmospheric and lyrical. In unison the saxophonist’s buzzy trills and the pianist’s comping outline the theme. Segmented by winnowing squeals from Irabagon, the pianist moors the improvisation while advancing the theme chromatically.

04_milne_delbecqDouble the number of pianos appears on Where is Pannonica? (Songlines SGL SACD 1579-2 www.songlines.com). It was recorded at the Banff Centre by Paris-based Benoît Delbecq who also participates in Vancouver’s Creative Music workshop, and Torontonian Andy Milne, who studied at York and Banff before heading south. Delbecq admits that he couldn’t always distinguish his touch from Milne’s during the playback, but the usual division of labour finds him manipulating inside strings and using electronic loops, while Milne’s stays the acoustic course. Bouncing off each other’s ideas, the impression the two give is of subtle invention. Still each can surprise with the use of spiky patterns and percussive note clusters. Dividing the composing chores as well, the moulded and layered tunes are paced so that when they unwind the polytonal qualities available from the soundboard and other innards decorate the keyboard’s strums and resonations. Probably the best number is Milne’s two-part Water’s Edge. Demonstrating quick-moving, overlapping tremolo lines, the piece modulates from andante to allegro and is harmonized by default. Spacious with cascading portamento, sharpened key jabs glance off bell-pealing-like string plunks.

Fine efforts all, these CDs preview what you’ll hear next time one of these expatriates gigs in Toronto.

In the October column I incorrectly identified the Smithsonian Chamber Players’ performance of Verklärte Nacht as an earlier recording, previously issued elsewhere. This is a new performance. I remembered the earlier recording fondly and attributed the difference in the sound to new transfers a dozen years later. This and the overt absence of any recording dates in the new set led me to the incorrect assumption. My thanks to Daniel Shores, managing director of Sono Luminus/Dorian Recordings, for pointing this out. A revised version of last month’s column can be found at www.thewholenote.com.

01_rostropovichOver two and a half weeks during February–March 1967 Rostropovich, who was then at the height of his powers, presented in eight evenings 30 cello concertos accompanied by The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. Carnegie Hall audiences witnessed a sensational marathon of a depth and magnitude that had not been undertaken before, or since. Consider the logistics of the planning and execution of such a project involving 30 concertos, each to be played once only. About half the concertos were not standard repertoire and consisted of less familiar newer works and a few premiers of compositions written for and dedicated to him. Doremi has managed to access 22 of these performances in fine, naturally balanced sound and has accommodated them on six CDs, priced as five, of about 80 minutes each (DHR-7974-9). Rostropovich made studio recordings of several of these concertos but the vitality, inspiration and an unmistakable sense of occasion of these performances are unmatched. For example, Bloch’s Schelomo has searing outbursts with emotions bursting at the seams. The Elgar concerto and the Rococo Variations are, at the very least, equal to the best performances ever. An electrifying performance of Brahms Double Concerto with the 21 year young Itzhak Perlman has to be heard to be believed. This set includes works that Rostropovich never recorded commercially and can be heard only here. Of the new works I was particularly enchanted by the clever, innovative Partita by Boris Tchaikovsky (1925-1996) and the Suite by Yuri Levitin (Russia 1912-1993) which is unassumingly delightful. The sparkling and attractive Adagio and Variations by Respighi is immaculately scored and should be better known. This package documents a unique triumph and is happily recommended.

02_giesekingWalter Gieseking made lots of recordings before, during and after WW2 for Electrola and HMV including versions of the two major works included on a new Medici Masters CD, the Beethoven fourth and Schumann piano concerto (MM 017, mono). Gieseking, born in Lyon in 1896, was a star in the firmament of his generation, particularly lauded for his interpretations of French and German repertoire. His playing on this disc is characteristically crisp and articulate, energetic and secure with not one indecisive moment. Joseph Keilberth conducts the Cologne Radio Symphony in the Beethoven, from September 14, 1953 and everyone involved is on the same page in this decisive statement. Gieseking’s own cadenza in the first movement sounds as if it were Beethoven’s own. The tempi for the Schumann under Gunter Wand in Cologne on January 8, 1951 are refreshingly high-spirited and dynamic, creating in a showpiece for soloist, conductor and orchestra. To bring the listener back to earth, the disc finishes with some Debussy, Ravel, and Bach, live from Stockholm on October 23, 1948. Gieseking admitted, no, stated, that he did not practice! Not a hint of this is evident here with but a couple of wrong notes in 75 live minutes.

03_fleisherAmerican pianist, Leon Fleisher, born inSan Francisco in 1928, was a regular on the concert stage from the mid 1940s until 1965 when the problem with his right hand caused his temporary retirement. He successfully continued his career playing works for the left hand until 1995, when some new therapy, including Botox!, restored his right hand. Since then he has made recordings and resumed his public performances.

From the archives of the WDR, Medici Arts has issued a CD of the second and fourth Beethoven concertos from studio performances in 1956 (the 4th) and 1957 (the 2nd) with the Cologne Radio Symphony (MM036, mono). These predate the Cleveland/Szell Columbia recordings by a couple of years. I must say that it was a great pleasure to sit back and enjoy these gorgeous, fresh performances, the second concerto conducted by Hans Rosbaud and the fourth by Otto Klemperer. Klemperer also conducts the Overture to Iphigenie in Aulis. Excellent sound, as is the Gieseking above.

04_haendelFor decades, Ida Haendel made the Sibelius violin concerto her particular favourite into which she has particular insights which are clearly heard in the masterful yet unpretentious interpretation that is unique to her. She is heard with Simon Rattle and The City of Birmingham Symphony playing the Sibelius in a live performance from The Royal Albert Hall on September 7, 1993 (Testament SBT 1444). Happily Rattle is a sensitive and empathetic accompanist and together they turn in an especially splendid performance. The Elgar concerto follows from a concert in The Royal Festival Hall on 22 February 1984. Elgar’s musical language is different from Sibelius’s but, again, soloist and conductor are in tune with the composer and we hear a sterling performance.

05_lynnNovember 11th is Armistice Day, remembering the end of THE GREAT WAR aka THE WAR TO END ALL WARS aka WW1. During WW2 through radio and recordings songs of inspiration and hope were a universal morale builder. No vocalist, at least in Britain and the colonies and probably elsewhere, was as easily recognised as Vera Lynn. She was called “The Sweetheart of the Forces” and the songs she recorded were convincingly optimistic. Decca has issued a nostalgic CD entitled We’ll Meet Again – The Very Best of Vera Lynn with 20 of those important morale builders including The White Cliffs of Dover, We’ll Meet Again, Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, As Time Goes By, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, and Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye (2715983). A very pleasant collection I thought.

01_krenekI wonder if it is in the very nature of string orchestra music to be lush. A case in point is the otherwise austere music of Austrian 12-tone composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991). Ernst Kovacic and the Leopoldinum Orchestra of Wroclaw, Poland have just released Symphonic Elegy – Works for String Orchestra (Capriccio 5033), a collection of Krenek’s compositions from the middle years of his long career. Rather than the angular, atonal fare we might expect from a proponent of serial techniques of composition, to my ear the six works included here are all quite warm and lyrical. The earliest work is also the latest, in the form of a 1960s arrangement of the Adagio and Fugue movements of the sixth string quartet dating from 1936. The quartet was written at a time when Krenek was in close contact with Anton Webern, who he considered to be “one of the most important composers of all times: Music of a crystal clear perfection.” While strongly influenced by Webern, that master’s miniature approach is not in evidence here – with movements lasting about 8 minutes each. Krenek left Austria in 1938 and settled in the USA. It was there that he heard of Webern’s death in 1945 (fatally shot by an American soldier in the final days of the war in a tragic case of mistaken identity) and composed the Symphonic Elegy in his memory. The work is marked Allegro and is more of a celebration than a mournful cry. The disc includes two collections of short movements – Seven Easy/Light Pieces and Five Short Pieces for Strings – which are more akin to Webern’s architecture, if not his pointillist aesthetic. The final work is the Sinfonietta a Brasileira written on a visit to Rio de Janeiro in 1952. I found myself expecting to hear something reminiscent of the flamboyant music of Villa-Lobos, but other than a few moments of rhythmic motor activity which the liner notes tell us actually refer back to an earlier period of Krenek’s development rather than folk influences, there is nothing particularly suggestive of South America in this work. These fine performances present a very thorough picture of one aspect of this prolific and rarely heard composer, but although all of the pieces are worthy of note, at nearly 80 minutes I found a bit too much sameness in the CD when taken all at once.

02_alain_lefevreAlain Lefèvre continues to champion the music of André Mathieu with his latest release Concertino & Concertos (Analekta AN 2 9283) which also features music of Shostakovich and Mendelssohn. Mathieu’s concert career began at the age of six and at twelve he premiered his Concertino No. 2 (his Op.13!) with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. That work went on to win the New York Philharmonic Competition which led to Mathieu’s 1942 performance of the Concertino at Carnegie Hall. His star continued to rise throughout the 1940s but then waned. He had a tragically short and troubled life (1929-1968) and at the time of his death his creative triumphs were already long behind him. It is the abovementioned Concertino which opens this disc. The stunning virtuosic three movement work shows a maturity that belies the age of its creator. Lefèvre is accompanied by the London Mozart Players led by Matthias Bamert. The recording also includes brilliant performances of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto (with Paul Archibald, trumpet) - I had forgotten how the early Shostakovich concerto presages the final work in his orchestral oeuvre, Symphony No. 15 and its extensive use of quotation – and Mendelssohn’s rarely heard Double Concerto with the pianist’s brother David Lefèvre on violin. All in all an exhilarating addition to the catalogue.

03_brahms_symkjphoniesEMI has just released Brahms – The Symphonies, a 3CD set with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker (2 67254 2). Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, or as it is affectionately known, “Beethoven’s 10th”, is one of the pillars of the symphonic repertoire for me and I must confess that repeated listening to it is as far as I have got with this new cycle. While it will likely not replace my “desert island” pick of Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic on an old DG digitally recorded LP – I do hope there will be a turntable on that fabled isle - I find Sir Simon’s majestic performance well balanced and well paced. The sound of the orchestra is glorious, captured in its natural habitat of the Philharmonie last October and November. My resolution? One of these days to start at disc two of this set so that I may get past the fabulous first and explore the other three symphonies on offer here.

04_frienly_richOrchestration is a fine art and a piano piece which has tempted the hand of a number of masterful orchestrators since its creation in 1874 is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Wikipedia lists some 30 arrangements for orchestra and more than 80 for other forces thus far, and Ontario composer Richard Marsella – AKA Friendly Rich – has just thrown his hat into the ring (Pumpkin Pie Corporation PPCD006). Although I have obviously not heard all of the others, I can’t help thinking that this Looney Tunes-like arrangement for the forces of the Lollipop People (percussion; trombone & euphonium; synthesizer; kazoo; toy piano, piano & harpsichord; bassoon & penny whistle; clarinets; accordion; harp; electric guitar; drums and electric bass) must be among the most unusual. Particularly effective for me is the extensive use of bassoon (Jeffrey Burke), especially in combination with harpsichord (Gregory Oh) and accordion (Kimberley Pritchard). Friendly Rich certainly has an ear for remarkable tone colours and the instrumentation changes substantially from movement to movement. Perhaps the wackiest is the Cum mortuis in lingua mortu with vocalizations by guests Paul Dutton and Christine Duncan. I must confess however that I find the coarse surprise ending of the otherwise effective finale, The Great Gate of Kiev, disconcerting and a little disappointing. Concert Note: You can experience the full force of Friendly Rich’s bizarre interpretation of Pictures at an Exhibition for yourself at the CD launch at the Tranzac Club on Saturday November 7th.

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, , where you can find added features including weekly CD giveaways, direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional and archival reviews.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

60c_operaOpera: The Great Composers and their Masterworks
by Joyce Bourne
Mitchell Beazley/ Octopus Books
224 pages, photos; $27.95 US

Joyce Bourne, who wrote the delightful Who’s Who in Opera (recently updated as Who Married Figaro?: A Book of Opera Characters), has packed a remarkable amount of material into this attractive, intelligent survey of opera from Monteverdi to John Adams.

She doesn’t find much space for the operas of Lully, Vivaldi, or Haydn, whose operas are all being rediscovered today. The operas of Martín y Soler, Halévy and Ambroise Thomas, all hugely successful in their time, and presently finding their way back into the repertoire, are completely shut out. But I enjoyed her broad-ranging approach. Along with discussions of the operas themselves, she looks at the composers, librettists, performers, theatrical venues, stage sets, directors, the artistic milieus and political context. As well, she offers an excellent discussion of voice types and vocal production, along with a glossary of musical terms.

The best thing about this book is that one quarter is devoted to opera of the past century, right up to the present. Only Verdi and Wagner get more coverage than Britten.

What does not work, however, is the practical information. The list of “major” opera houses includes the State Opera of South Australia, but omits Rome Opera and the Teatro Real in Madrid. Virginia Opera is mentioned, but not Vancouver Opera, an older, more ambitious company. Sloppy captions on photos – Time Square for Times Square, and singers like Juan Diego Florez left unidentified – detract only marginally from the superb photos. The index is reliable, and the layout is extremely attractive, with an effective use of a variety of typefaces.

In her final chapter, called “The Future of Opera,” Bourne makes the simple but often overlooked point that “if the music is not good enough, the work will not survive for long, no matter how good the story.” Like Schwarzkopf, Bourne objects to director thrusting their own concepts of an opera down the throats of audiences, particularly when they contradict what the composer and librettist wanted. But this is not a desire for directors to honour tradition by avoiding innovation altogether, but rather for them to work with “respect for the work they are directing, consideration for the singers, and the knowledge that many people in this audience are seeing this opera for the first time.”

60b_schwarzkopfElizabeth Schwarzkopf:
From Flower Maiden to Marschallin
by Kirsten Liese
Amadeus Press
160 pages, photos; $27.95 US

During her recent recital in Koerner Hall last month, Frederica von Stade spoke about hearing Elizabeth Schwarzkopf sing over forty years ago, and what an impression it left on her. That made me think about the recital I heard Schwarzkopf give at Massey Hall in the early 1970’s. I can still picture her opening her arms like a butterfly spreading its wings – magnificent and unforgettable.

This large, lovely collection of interviews, testimonials and splensis photographs is not so much a biography as a tribute to the great singer. The only hint of controversy is when Schwarzkopf talks about how Karajan pressured her to take on roles that were too heavy for her, like Elizabeth in Tannhäuser. There is no discussion of her activities during the war, or her documented associations with the Nazi party. Instead the focus is on what her former student, American baritone Thomas Hampson, here calls ‘her passion, her sense of beauty and her singular sense of artistic purpose’ .

In Charles Scribner III’s moving interview with Schwarzkopf shortly before her death at ninety three years ago, she talks about her contempt for contemporary concept-driven productions and her intense dislike of updating the settings of operas. The word “criminals” comes up. Schwarzkopf realizes that she represents a vital tradition of singing, especially for the Viennese repertoire like Strauss and Mozart. “The fixed style of Mozartean singing has rules,” she tells Scribner.

Author and editor Kirsten Liese interviews Lillian Fayer, the photographer who took most of the stage and portrait photos included here. In these photos Fayer penetrates the artificiality of the costumes and makeup to reveal the extraordinary naturalness of the singer. So I was amused when Fayer tells Liese that she was always trying - unsuccessfully - to get Schwarzkopf to wear more makeup.

There are glamorous shots of her as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, which Schwarzkopf calls her most difficult role, and in her favorite role as the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier. In a few of the candid shots, we see her with her frequent accompanist, the legendary Canadian pianist Gerald Moore (author of a wonderful autobiography Am I Too Loud?). He is quoted here as saying, “Elizabeth hears things that nobody else can. She would hear the grass growing!”

60a_new_aldeburgh_anthologyNew Aldeburgh Anthology
compiled by Ariane Bankes
and
Jonathan Reekie
Boydell Press
360 pages, illustrated; $70.00 US

Ariane Bankes and Jonathan Reekie have compiled a dazzling collection of articles, poems, stories, photographs, paintings, set designs, memoirs, short fiction, to celebrate the Aldebugh Festival.

I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute to the festival that British composer Benjamin Britten, his partner tenor Peter Pears, and librettist Eric Crozier started in Britten’s native Suffolk over sixty years ago.

Expanding on the original Aldeburgh Anthology published in 1972, the editors have wisely followed their own “interests and inclinations.” The result is an evocation of the physical and poetic landscapes of Britten’s music, especially the operas, which are referred to throughout this volume.

Composer Hans Werner Henze describes the setting of the festival, where “ you can sense the vicinity of the sea; you can hear the facets of grey, silver grey, ash grey, white and mother-of-pearl of which the low-lying sky is composed.” Art historian Frances Spalding writes about the paintings and sculptures collected by Pears and Britten, including six Constables and a work by William Blake, whose poems Britten set. Art historian Kenneth Clark, who grew up across the river from Aldeburgh, writes, “My days were all pleasure… I loved the Suffolk country, the heaths and sandpits, the great oaks in Sudbourne wood and the wide river at Ilken.” Mezzo Janet Baker recalls singing for Britten, writing, “Ben was a king. When he walked into a room, the air began to crackle; everyone came alive, became more than themselves.” Journalist Tom Service writes about how composer, conductor and pianist Thomas Adès, just twenty-eight when he became director of the festival, continued the tradition of innovation and individualism.

So much to enjoy here. There’s a poem by Britten’s friend, colleague and librettist W. H. Auden, called The Composer, “Only your notes are pure contraption/Only your song is an absolute gift.” Another by W.G. Sebald, translated by poet Michael Hamburger, who’s represented here as well, closes with, “Whispering madness on the heathland of Suffolk. Is this the promis’d end?”

PERFORMANCE NOTES:

The Toronto Symphony under Peter Oundjian presents Britten’s War Requiem on November 11 and 12 in Roy Thomson Hall at 8.00. The Aldeburgh Connection presents Blessed Cecilia on November 22 at 2.30 in Walter Hall at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. And on Jan. 28 and 30 at 8:00 in Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony under James Gaffigan presents Leila Josefowicz performing a Violin Concerto, “Concentric Paths,” by Thomas Adès, who just completed nine years directing the Aldeburgh Festival.

01_dedicated_to_haydn2009 is the bicentenary of the death of Joseph Haydn and to mark the occasion the Haydn Festival Eisenstadt (seat of Haydn’s patrons the Esterhazy family) commissioned piano trios by 18 composers for the festival’s resident ensemble, the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt. While D2H -Dedicated To Haydn (Capriccio 7020) is described as a “global composition project”, it is in fact quite Euro - and more particularly - Austro-centric, with 6 composers from Austria, 6 more from Europe (U.K., Spain, Belgium, Germany, Hungary and France) and 6 from the rest of the world (China, Japan, U.S.A., South Africa, Argentina and Australia). Canada is included in a peripheral way – South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, who spent a number of years in Toronto as director of Musica Noir, contributed Two Nguni Dances to the collection. As well as geographical spread, there is also a broad spectrum of ages represented here with birth years ranging from 1926 (Betsy Jolas) to 1976 (Gernot Schedlberger). With almost three hours of diverse offerings, this multi-disc set kept me busy for most of the month. The range of styles is vast, from quite conservative works by John Woolrich and Xiaogang Ye to the thoroughly modern from José Maria Sánchez-Verdù, Màrton Illès and Elisabeth Harnik, with plenty of adventures in between. Although there is a dearth of biographical information, each of the pieces does have a note by the composer explaining the (sometimes quite tenuous) link to Haydn. But I also enjoyed listening “blind” as it were, trying to guess how the music related to the master, or which part of the world the composer was from, sometimes with quite erroneous results. For instance I knew there was a piece by an Australian composer, so when I heard something that to my ear was reminiscent of the Aboriginal-inspired music of Peter Sculthorpe I had an “ah ha” moment. It turned into a “ha ha” though when I checked to find I was actually listening to KAGETSU – Etude on the name of Haydn by Yui Kakinuma (Japan). Mind you when I did get to Australian Elena Kats-Chenin’s Calliope Dreaming its repetitive dance-like motifs again sent my thoughts “down under” notwithstanding the fact that all the themes were evidently drawn from Haydn’s “Mourning Symphony” and the composer spent the first half of her life in Uzbekistan. The music that is most obviously reminiscent of Haydn came from two composers known for their humour, American William Bolcom and German Dieter Schnebel. Bolcom’s HAYDN GO SEEK pays homage to some of Haydn’s famous rondos and in the words of the composer intends to “play a constant game of surprise throughout, in as Haydnesque a fashion as I could muster from two centuries remove.” Schnebel is known for his theatrics and in a reverse take on the “Surprise Symphony” the first sounds we hear are the footsteps of the musicians and a few offstage notes as they approach the performance area. What follows is a de-construction of the finale from Haydn’s string quartet “The Joke” (Op.33, No.2) replete with spiccato bowing in the violin, pizzicato from the cello, pointillist piano chording and intermittent hissing and shushing from all concerned. Other tracks of note include Lalo Schifrin’s lush and lilting (and somewhat deceptively titled) Elegy and Meditation and Ah Haydn by Betsy Jolas. This last was of particular interest to me as I had been impressed by several of this French composer’s works in my formative years, but had not encountered any of her music in more than three decades. I was pleased to note that she is still active and that her music has not lost its edge. The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt was founded in 1992 and the current membership has been in place for just over a decade. As well as their residency at the Haydn Festival they have a very busy and successful recording career, with complete recordings of Haydn’s folksong arrangements (18 CDs on the Brilliant label) and the complete piano trios of Haydn, Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven. “Dedicated To Haydn” is their second foray into the realm of the contemporary and quite an extensive one at that. Kudos to all concerned.

02_haydn_quartetsThe Capriccio label mentioned above is distributed by Naxos and it is to the Naxos catalogue that I tend to turn when I find a glaring hole in my collection. For instance although I have several dozen Haydn string quartets, when I wanted to listen to “The Joke” as referenced by Dieter Schnebel I found I did not have a recording. As I suspected it was easy to track it down. Haydn’s “Russian” String Quartets Op.33 are available in fine performances by the Kodàly Quartet on two CDs (Naxos 8.550788 & 8.550789) and once again I was able to fill in a gap in my collection without breaking the bank. It is not just the affordable prices and good to very good performances that make the Naxos line attractive to me, but even more important is the fact that their ever-expanding and ever-more adventurous catalogue is already complete when it comes to the standard repertoire and that everything stays in the catalogue and remains readily available. It is no wonder that Naxos has become the most successful purveyor of classical music of our time.


04_anderszewskiPiotr Anderszewski - Unquiet Traveller
Bruno Monsaingeon
Medici Arts 3077938
buy
@Grigorian.Com

Voyageur intranquille, Unquiet Traveller, opens with pianist Piotr Anderszewski boarding the train that, by choice, will be his home, complete with grand piano and a kitchen, until the end of this tour. So begins the documentary of an extraordinary musical figure.

During this winter’s journey across Poland we will listen in on his conversations about musical aesthetics, love, and the composers for whom he has a special affinity. He speaks about his personal journey and the decisions that have led him to this point in his life.

His profound favourite composer is Mozart and he is delighted to vocalise passages from The Magic Flute, reducing the orchestral accompaniment to some basic keyboard figures. We also hear him in various venues across Europe playing Bach, Chopin, Szymanowski, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann. The film ends with a most affectionate tribute to Lisbon, now his home.

Anderszewski has the rare gift of sharing every performance with his audience, conveyed by his sincere, overflowing personality. Incidentally, he plays only works he likes!

Born in Warsaw in 1969, Anderszewski is a pianist with ample technique and an intriguing personal philosophy, proof that there is true musical force in his generation.

01_francaixJean Françaix 1912-1997
Trio di Colore
XXI XXI-CD 2 1580

 

Nadia Boulanger pronounced to the mother of 10-year old Jean Françaix: “I don’t know why we’re wasting our time teaching him harmony, which he obviously knows already. How he became so proficient at it is a mystery; he seems to have been born with it. Let us rather do counterpoint.” That love of harmony persisted throughout his life and career. Françaix was criticized in the 1950’s for not moving ahead with the serialists and dodecaphonic composers. His reply was disarming: “I would gladly be the spiritual grandson to Grand-Papa Haydn. The limpidity, the calm and the humour of his art seem to me the antidote to the contemporary idiom.”

 

Despite his protestations that he never changed, Françaix obviously evolved. As the composers of the minimalist movement (most notably John Adams) re-discovered harmony, so did Françaix discover his own version of minimalism. The perfect example of that evolution is one of his late compositions, the 1990 Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano. Together with his compositions from the 1970’s, 1940’s and even 1930’s, this disc becomes a great Françaix primer, beautifully executed by Trio di Colore. This young ensemble, formed at the acclaimed Indiana University – Jakob School of Music, received the First Prize and Gold Medal at the prestigious 2004 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. The individual musicians are also winners of multiple competitions, guaranteeing an intelligent and beautiful reading of thes harmonic treasures by Jean Françaix.

 

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