01a_tennstedt1_fitznerWhen Klaus Tennstedt defected from East Germany in 1971 he was already an acclaimed maestro. He was granted asylum in Sweden and accepted engagements in Gothenburg and Stockholm and in 1972 he became general music director of the Kiel Opera. In 1974 he made his North American debut in Toronto conducting the TSO in Massey Hall. I remember to this day a gangly figure, singularly animated, who generated an unforgettable Beethoven violin concerto with Itzhak Perlman. Soon he was in demand worldwide and he followed Solti as conductor of the London Philharmonic from 1983 until 1987. He guest conducted the Berlin Philharmonic from 1977, leading 23 concerts over 14 years. Karajan, it is said, talked of him as his possible successor... perchance to keep pretenders at bay. Testament has licensed five complete Tennstedt/Berlin concerts in the Berlin Philharmonie between 1980 and 1984 recorded by Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg. The first CD (SBT-1446) contains an unusual and exciting 14 minute overture, Das Katchen von Heilbronn by Hans Pfitzner, followed by Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 with Babette Hierholzer and concluding with Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. Hierholzer was only 23 at the time of this concert, October 7, 1980 but had made her debut with the orchestra two years earlier. A critic at the time was impressed by the seamless give-and-take between piano and orchestra.

01b_tennstedt2_bachThe other four Tennstedt concerts are each contained on two-CD sets which are issued at a reduced price. Each concert features a notable soloist. The first concert dating from November 21, 1981 opens with Bach’s Second Violin Concerto BWV1042 played by the orchestra’s concertmaster Thomas Brandis and Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony (SBT2 1447). The Bach is elegant with Brandis reliably polite and solid. The Bruckner is a different story. The work was a Karajan specialty and it is quite illuminating to hear Tennstedt’s more personal vision: “less solemn, less calm, but more colourful than usual” according to one 01c_tennstect3_beethoven_brucknercritic. The second concert (SBT2 1448) dates from December 14, 1981 and features the Bruckner Fourth Symphony preceded by a very fine version of Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto joyfully played by Bruno Leonardo Gelber whom Arthur Rubinstein considered to be one of the greatest pianists of his generation. Schubert’s Symphony No.9 is the main work on the concert from April 19, 1983 which also featured American violinist Peter Zazofsky playing the Dvořák Violin Concerto (SBT2 1449). The concerto comes off very well but the Schubert is a different matter. Tempi are often quite different from those chosen by his peers and may, and in fact did to the critics, sound like a series of miscalculations. However, on second hearing it all sounds fine and of a whole and quite magnificent. Reviewers with deadlines at a live 01d_tennstedt4_dvorak_schubertperformance do not have the luxury of returning to that same performance and listening with new ears as we able to do listening to a recording. (Still, critics have their place... I know several regular concert-goers who express guarded opinions, or have none at all, until they read what the local pundit(s) declare.) The last concert in this Testament series (SBT2 1450) is an exciting one. 01e_tennstect5_prokofiev_dvorakMussorgsky’s original version of A Night on Bare Mountain sounds, as it should, lurid, threatening and scary. The Prokofiev Second Piano Concerto (my favourite of the five) is given a no-holds-barred performance by Cuban born Horacio Gutierrez. A great work and a superlative performance. Closing out this concert of March 13, 1984 is a beautifully balanced, dynamic Dvořák Symphony No.9, From the New World that, in earlier days would top the charts.

These five Testament releases are well timed as there is a growing interest in Tennstedt’s artistry, thereby generating demand for his live performances both on CD and DVD. The Testament recordings were re-mastered this year and the dynamics are accurate and the imaging has a believable depth of field in a sympathetic acoustic. Listening to them all was, and continues to be, a great pleasure.


One other 2CD release from Testament must be mentioned (SBT2 1456): a Mahler Second from May 18, 1951 conducted by Otto Klemperer with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Akademie Kammerchor, and Ilona Steingruber and Hilde Rössl-Majdan. Sound familiar? A performance involving all the above, recorded in the same month was issued by Vox in the early 1950s. Testament states that their performance is previously unpublished. This is a monumental realisation that 03_richterbelongs in the pantheon of Mahler performances. Disc one contains a 2010 meticulous remastering which sounds quite robust in clarity and dynamics. Disc two takes this new remastering and subjects it to “Ambient Mastering that utilises very small frequency delays to give a sense of space and width to a mono, or very narrow stereo.” I was rather doubtful about the efficacy of this process but there was now air around the instruments, tuttis were opened up and individual instruments were more discernable. The recording was easier on the ears and more immediate and based on this example, this is a very effective and worthwhile process. The 2CDs are issued at a reduced price.

hellmerGrowing with Canada: The Émigré Tradition in Canadian Music

By Paul Helmer

McGill-Queen’s University Press

400 pages; $29.95


• Between 1933 and 1948 a number of musicians came to Canada to escape persecution in their homelands. Most were fleeing the Nazis in Europe, but some were escaping the Communists within the constantly changing borders of the Soviet Union. Paul Helmer has identified 121 musicians among the 4000 to 5000 who came to this country seeking refuge during that period. Many, though by no means all, were Jewish. But Helmer’s investigation focuses less on why they escaped than how they got out, and what they achieved after they arrived in Canada.

Most landed in Canada with little more than their talent and whatever contacts they could come up with. None had willingly chosen to abandon their families, homelands, cultures, careers or schools to endure the dangers and humiliations that they endured. But Helmer, who taught musicology for many years at McGill, shows how these émigrés retained some control over their destinies.

The core of Helmer’s book is a series of interviews he did with some thirty of these émigrés or their surviving family members. Though it would be interesting to read these interviews in full, Helmer has put them to good use here, effectively building up a multi-layered picture.

The impact of these émigrés on the Canadian music scene was so profound, Helmer argues, that they managed to overturn the prevailing dominance of English musical culture and introduce their central European values and standards – not just in composition but also in music education and the then-developing field of musicology. Although Helmer himself is a pianist as well as a musicologist, he doesn’t devote as much attention to the influence on performance styles, although he does note how musicians like Greta Kraus and Mario Duschenes pioneered baroque performance practice in Canada. In any case, the result was the beginnings of musical independence, what could be termed a Canadian style, and international prestige.

“Once the émigrés had decided to emigrate to Canada,” writes Helmer, “they faced no real impediments because of race, religion or nationality.” Yet even if we accept Helmer’s controversial conclusion that the Canadian immigration department did as much as it could have to save lives threatened by the Nazis and the Soviets, we feel the loss of the millions who didn’t make it out, and what they would have further contributed to Canadian music.

This is a fascinating, provocative and important book (though it does deserve a more thorough index). Helmer’s celebration of the contributions of these émigrés to Canadian music resonates deeply when he writes, “We can only pay tribute to their accomplishments by continuing to welcome musicians who come to Canada from around the world to contribute to our unique musical tapestry.”

patti_lupone_cover_artPatti Lupone: A Memoir

By Patti Lupone with Digby Diehl

Crown Archetype

336 pages, photos; $29.99


• During a show Patti Lupone gave in Toronto last year with Mandy Patinkin, she asked the audience to suggest a title for her upcoming memoirs. The title she ended up with, Patti Lupone: A Memoir, sounds decidedly low-key. That’s surprising, because there is nothing low-key about Lupone.

In her memoir Lupone is feisty, funny and daring – just as she is on stage. Notoriously combative, she is at the same time willing to expose vast layers of vulnerability. More than once while reading this, I wondered why she was sharing a particularly uncomfortable bit of information.

As she details her struggles for good parts, favourable contracts, and positive reviews, she writes, “I truly believe you learn more from failure than you do from success.” I found her descriptions of the never-ending struggles to get into a character especially interesting. But the one thing she has never had to struggle for is appreciation from audiences. In fact, her main battles seems to be with herself.

Lupone’s initial big-time success came with the premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. But after premiering Webber’s Sunset Boulevard in London in 1992, she was dumped from the Broadway opening in favour of Glenn Close. Lupone was devastated – and evidently still is. It’s a messy story, with Webber as the duplicitous villain. But her career thrived with hit shows like Les Misérables, Sweeny Todd, and, most recently, Gypsy. Along the way there were small but special shows like her now-legendary Saturday midnight cabaret at a New York nightclub called Les Mouches while she was doing Evita on Broadway in 1980 (Ghostlight Records recently issued a live recording).

Webber gets top billing on her list of despised colleagues, but there’s also Bill Smitrovich, her co-star on a tv show she appeared in for four years, Life Goes On, and Chaim Topol, who was briefly – though none too briefly for her - her co-star in one of the many flops she was involved in, The Baker’s Wife. Her list of those she loves is much longer. It includes fellow Juilliard student and former boyfriend Kevin Kline, frequent co-star Patinkin, playwright David Mamet, teacher John Houseman, director Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for Gypsy and directed her in it, and her husband Matt Johnston, who sounds like a remarkably balanced, supportive guy.

Lupone can sound either self-deprecating or self-serving – or both, even in the same sentence. But what always saves her here is her ability to find something wonderful in every experience, good or bad. That’s one of the many delights of this revealing and thoroughly enjoyable memoir. Conversational in style, it reads like an extended interview. In fact, Lupone has recorded it for an audio CD. I haven’t heard it, but I imagine it would be terrific to experience this memoir with Lupone’s spoken voice.


Evita is completing its run at the Stratford Festival with final performances on
November 1, 2, 4, and 5 at 2:00pm, and
November 6 at 8:00pm.

01_scarlatti_vespersAlessandro Scarlatti - Vespro della Beata Vergine

Nederlands Kamerkoor; Harry van der Kamp

ATMA ACD2 2533

Whether or not younger composers in Scarlatti’s day described his music as boring or old-fashioned, Scarlatti’s abilities were acknowledged by no less than Pope Clement XI and Queen Christina of Sweden. For many years, Scarlatti was not well-paid and he moved from city to city before returning to Naples. This moving around is reflected in the selection of vespers on this CD; they were dispersed in several European cities and are also difficult to date. They can roughly be dated from 1703-1708 and 1714-1720 when Scarlatti’s age ranged from 43 to 60.


In the opening track, Dixit Dominum, soloists Barbara Borden and Margrit Stok add a celestial quality to Scarlatti’s setting. Barbara Borden’s name features throughout – she is a mainstay of this recording. Even the shortest and, dare one say it, hurried settings such as Laetatus sum and Nisi Dominus (Psalms 121 and 126) are infused with joy; the combined voices of the Nederlands Kammerkoor are given free rein. Perhaps most uplifting, however, is Ave Maria Stella, its verses with their intimate pleas interpreted clearly and intensely by smaller groups of singers.


All in all, this is an attractive and varied collection of Scarlatti’s settings of vespers. The criticisms made against him by his contemporaries are answered here, whether or not he is a fashionable composer nowadays or he preferred not to change his style.

02_rossini_italianaRossini - L'Italiana in Algeri

Jennifer Larmore; Bruce Ford; Simone Alaimo; Alessandro Corbelli; Orchestra and Choirs of the Opera National de Paris; Bruno Campanella

ArtHaus Musik 107 127

Rossini’s first major success in 1813, in Venice, an opera the 21 year old composer dashed off in a month, is now available in at least 3 video performances. Although the one from the Met in 1983 with Marilyn Horne is still a strong contender, this production in 1998 by Andrei Serban from the resplendent Palais Garnier opera house must take precedence with its imaginative new stage production and high musical values.


How to describe it? Certainly not ‘operatic’ in the traditional sense and perhaps influenced by Broadway with constant, sometimes acrobatic movement, dazzling primary colours and grotesque, oversize, cartoonish features that may overwhelm the audience at first, but will become hugely entertaining as the performance unfolds.


A comic masterwork through and through, it is in this opera that Rossini first devised one of his unique Act 1 finales “Pria di dividerci da voi, signore” where 7 different voices mix and create total pandemonium.


The superb cast includes the protagonist American mezzo Jennifer Larmore who truly inherits the role from Marilyn Horne with comic, spontaneous acting, a wonderful voice and a stunning stage presence. I am not saying she steals the show because bass buffo Simone Alaimo as the Bey of Algiers hopelessly pining for her is even more hilarious and the pair of them with a strong chemistry simply take the bit and run with it. Necessary to complete the triangle the tenor Bruce Ford looks refreshingly different from the typical insipid Rossini tenor with his bushy hair, a beard and build that makes him believable as a lover to the likes of Ms Larmore. Being a famous Rossini tenor he copes magnificently with the florid, high tessituras of his part. Italian conductor Bruno Campanella has the perfect feel for Rossini with ideal tempi and a light, sensitive touch. He outshines James Levine of the competing set.

03_verdi_radvanovskyVerdi - Arias

Sondra Radvanovsky; Philharmonia of Russia; Constantine Orbelian

Delos DE 3404

There is always a raging debate in the operatic circles, whether some voices are “composer-specific”. Well, according to credible sources, Ms. Radvanovsky is “a true Verdian, with a big, juicy, vibrato-rich sound” (The Times). While I am not sure one would want the singer to limit her repertoire to Verdi alone, it is true that her renditions of Leonora’s lament from La Forza del Destino or Elena’s Bolero from I Vespri Sicilaini sound spot-on.


Her career so far has made her a popular choice for the home stage of The Metropolitan Opera, but Covent Garden, Paris Opera, La Scala, Vienna State Opera and Lyric Opera in Chicago come knocking frequently. It is a daunting field of Verdi heroines that Ms. Radvanovsky has entered, but she manages to sound both impressive and entirely original. This is to say, while getting enraptured by her nuanced and powerful performances, one never thinks “She sounds just like…” The best news is that we will get to judge for ourselves, when Ms. Radvanovsky makes her COC debut this fall in Aida! In this upcoming test, of sorts, we stand a chance to cheer not only a great soprano, but also one of “Toronto’s own”, as Ms. Radvanovsky and her husband reside in the T dot. The CD made in the Mosfilm Studios betrays a bit of typical Delos “over-ambianced” recording, but this minor quibble should not deter opera lovers from picking it up – it may in come handy during the autograph-signing session at the COC.

Concert note: The COC’s Aida runs October 2 – November 5 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

04a_mahler_songs_mttMahler - Songs with Orchestra

Susan Graham; Thomas Hampson; San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas

SFS 821936-0036-2 (SACD)


Mahler - Lieder auf “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”

Christiane Oelze; Michael Volle; Gürzenich-Orchester Köln; Markus Stenz

OEHMS Classics OC 657 (SACD)

Michael Tilson Thomas brings the San Francisco Symphony’s decade long self-produced Mahler cycle to a close with a curiously low-key album of orchestral songs featuring baritone Thomas Hampson and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. Hampson, widely regarded as the leading Mahler singer of his generation, holds the lion’s share of this disc in concert performances of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer and five selections from The Youth’s Magic Horn, while the equally eminent Graham (though less familiar in this repertoire) contributes five of Mahler’s settings of the poems of Friedrich Rückert. Hampson has recorded Mahler many times before and has not particularity outshone himself in these performances, which strike me as conspicuously mannered – one might even say hammy – and not entirely accurate. Graham’s luxuriant interpretation of the Rückert songs makes a much stronger impression, save for a few nervous moments when she is forced into her upper register. Tilson Thomas and his engineers skillfully balance the orchestra in deference to the voices and, quite unlike earlier installments in this cycle, his tempos are leisurely and relatively rigid. Those looking for mere beauty in singing may be safely assured of a comfortable evening with the superstars.


I have nothing but praise for the latest Mahler recording by Markus Stenz and Cologne’s venerable Gürzenich orchestra. The third entry in the Oehms Classics projected Mahler cycle follows estimable performances of the Fourth and Fifth symphonies with Mahler’s orchestral settings of 14 songs from the 1808 folk poetry collection The Youth’s Magic Horn. Soprano Christiane Oelze’s laser-sharp pitch and purity of tone conveys the down-home sentiments of these rustic texts with a beguiling freshness, while Michael Volle is an admirable foil with his forceful yet flexible baritone in the recurring soldier’s laments such as Reveille and The Little Drummer Boy. While Stenz is rarely histrionic in the Bernstein manner, he has a way of gently molding a phrase or timing a silence that is equally effective. Stenz’s approach is in many ways reminiscent of George Szell’s classic 1968 recording, including the fact that both singers perform in dialogue in certain selections, an idea that evidently never occurred to Mahler himself. The sound of the orchestra, recorded in studio, is outstanding in both execution and recording, with the horns in particular sounding both youthful and magical.

05_in_good_companyIn Good Company

Canadian Chamber Choir

Independent CCCCD001


The Canadian Chamber Choir, under Artistic Director Julia Davids, have aptly named their first release “In Good Company”. Why? Really only a respectful musical environment can create the cohesive singing, beautiful tone, and intelligent musicality evident on this release. Even more remarkable is that this is even humanly possible considering that the members are spread across the Canada, and the group only gets together to rehearse in intense short duration workshops a few of times a year.

This all-Canadian ten composer release encompasses a variety of styles and vocal configurations. Especially glorious is Tawnie Olson's Chantez à l'Eternel for its ethereal quality. Allan Rae's Mvt #5 Allegro from Keltic Suite is a rhythmic departure from the usual lush choral sound. The hilarious Figures de danse by Lionel Daunais has the choir kicking up its heels. The choir's commission, At Sunset by composer and choir bass Jeff Enns is a tad lengthy but does utilize CCC's vocal ensemble strengths, while highlighting special guest soloist mezzo-soprano Christianne Rushton. The other special guests on the release, cellist Sehee Kim and pianist Joel Tranquilla, are also excellent on their respective tracks.

I was really surprised at the superb quality of the Canadian Chamber Choir. This group can sing lush harmonics and independent contrapuntal lines with equal expertise. Anyone even remotely interested in choral music will find “In Good Company” a welcome guest in their musical homes.

06_whitacreEric Whitacre - Choral Music

Elora Festival Singers; Noel Edison

Naxos 8.559677

This recording will appeal to admirers of well-crafted choral music that judiciously incorporates contemporary musical techniques. American composer Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) has cultivated a style where added notes and tone clusters are the norm in higher registers. With careful attention to pitch content, texture, register, and dynamics, seldom is an unattractive sound heard. Though based in innovations by other composers great and small, Whitacre’s music shows special artistry in focusing technique to ends. In Her Sacred Spirit Soars, simply thickening and thinning sonorities as pitches rise and fall conveys the sacred spirit of the music’s long-breathed motion. I particularly like the mystical sense in Lux aurumque (Light of Gold), about which the composer aptly speaks of spiritual processes: “blossoming” and “surrendering” to light.


There are effective piano-accompanied settings, of E.E. Cummings’ little tree with its ecstatic ending, and of Octavio Paz’s Little Birds which includes whistling, repeated consonants and quasi-aleatoric (random) singing. I prefer the sensitivity to mood in the short lyrical works; When David Heard and percussion-enhanced Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine have longer minimalist passages I find less convincing.


Noel Edison’s splendid Elora Festival Singers are up to Eric Whitacre’s every challenge. Perfectly pitched, vibrato-less sopranos in multiple parts produce sounds of wonderful life. All sections contribute to the tour-de-force with well-balanced sonorous blocks and long-decaying tones evoking reverberant space. Which brings me to close by noting the fine production and engineering by Bonnie Silver and Norbert Kraft of this important recording.

01_scarlatti_organAlessandro Scarlatti - Complete Keyboard Works, Vol.2

Alexander Weimann

ATMA ACD2 2528

Alexander Weimann, currently director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and an impressively versatile musician, has undertaken to record the complete keyboard works of Alessandro Scarlatti. So far, this survey has focused largely on toccatas omitting what Weimann deems as pedagogical works or what one musicologist has simply called “pupil fodder”.

These early 18th century pieces rarely specified the keyboard instrument for which they were intended and over the years performers have produced recordings for harpsichord, organ, piano and even arrangements for electronic keyboard with digitally sampled sounds!

The choice of pipe organ, however, does offer several strong artistic merits. This instrument in particular, with its Baroque voicing and tonal plan, gives Scarlatti’s music a degree of colour difficult to achieve on any other keyboard instrument. Its tracker action (direct mechanical linkage to the keyboard) also provides for remarkably fast single-note repetitions that are impossible on harpsichords and most lesser pianos.

All the tracks on these two CDs reflect Weimann’s fine musical decisions regarding tempo, phrasing and registration (tonal colour). Despite some very high speed passage work, Weimann maintains a clarity and crispness that delivers each note when it might otherwise be easier to drop a few. His playing uses the instrument to its greatest advantage.

ATMA cites the instrument as a 1993 Wilhelm at Église Trés-Saint-Rédempteur in Montreal but neglects to offer a complete “stop” list which most other organ recordings would do. Organ fans can be obsessively curious about these things and will hope for more information in Volume Three.

Overall Weimann offers a very listenable and fresh take on Italian keyboard music from the Baroque that is often overshadowed by the German school of the same era.

02a_mozart_barenboimMozart - Piano Concertos 22 & 23

Daniel Barenboim; Bavarian RSO; Rafael Kubelik

BR Klassik 900709


Mozart - Piano Concertos 20 & 27

Evgeny Kissin; Kremerata Baltica

EMI Classics 6 26645 2

Was it Anton Rubinstein who once said “Eternal sunshine thy name is Mozart?” Whoever it was would undoubtedly applaud the addition of two new Mozart piano concerto recordings to the already vast number available, performed by two pianists now considered to be among the world’s greatest.


At the age of 67, Daniel Barenboim may be considered one the veterans of the concert-stage, as both pianist and conductor. His newest offering, on the BR Klassik label, features performances from the archives of concertos No.22 and 23 along with the Bavarian Radio Symphony under the direction of Rafael Kubelik. Concerto No.22, written in Vienna in 1785, is a joyful and optimistic work, and here the music is treated in a fresh and engaging manner. The tempo of the first movement, while perhaps a bit brisk, doesn’t detract from the performance, while the second movement Andante and the exuberant Rondo finale constitute a perfect pairing between soloist and orchestra. Concerto No.23 from 1786, was recorded live, and once again, the fine performance is further enhanced by the excellent sound quality – clean and dynamic, it’s as good as you would find today. Recorded in 1970, it’s a mystery as to why it took so long to release these exemplary performances, but they were well worth the wait. This disc is a gem!


No matter what we may think of Evgeny Kissin’s personal eccentricities, there is no denying that he has long been regarded as one of the finest pianists around today. This EMI recording, with concertos No.20 and 27, marks his first in a joint role of pianist/conductor along with the Kremerata Baltica. Here, Kissin, who is more renowned for his interpretations of romantic-period repertoire, proves that Mozart, too, can be treated in a more passionate manner than is usually encountered. From the opening measures of the Concerto No.20 – one of only two Mozart wrote in a minor key - Kissin easily captures the dark and forbidding mood of this tempestuous music. His approach is bold and romantic – which may not be to everyone’s tastes - but Kissin makes it all sound particularly convincing. At the other end of the scale is the serene and ethereal Concerto No.27, Mozart’s last. While his treatment remains romantic, he demonstrates more restraint here, in keeping with the overall mood of the piece. At all times, the Kremerata Baltica provides a sensitive accompaniment, and it would seem that Kissin is as adept at leading an ensemble as he is with performing.


Two fine recordings featuring exemplary repertoire performed by outstanding artists – it doesn’t get much better than this!

03_beethovenBeethoven - The Five Piano Concertos
Paul Lewis; The BBC Symphony Orchestra; Jiří Bělohlávek
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902053.55

The field of Beethoven piano concerto cycles has reached a point of saturation. To stand out, the performers, especially the pianist must be utterly distinctive. Paul Lewis breaks out of the crowd providing a banquet for Beethoven lovers... even those with jaded ears.

I listened to this set in numerical order and I was initially conscious of some idiosyncratic phrasing from the soloist but that changed to total immersion in Beethoven’s genius.

On first hearing, the opening of Lewis’s solo in the first movement of the first concerto impressed me as rather less imaginative than I would have expected. The rest of the movement corrected this impression. The second movement, Largo, is disarmingly tranquil. Delivered as heartfelt poetry, “It floats”. In truth, all the slow movements to follow, whether Adagio or Largo, are played with the same rapt absorption. The third movement is exhilarating where in the joy, the pulse and the humour are clearly conveyed by soloist, conductor, and orchestra alike.

Of these concertos, the first two are “classical”, the third concerto has clearly has romantic buds but even being in a minor key, has an air of optimism throughout. Lewis’s performance reflects these characteristics most convincingly. Number four is a leap into the romantic and Lewis and Bělohlávek are well adjusted to the sombre and serious mood to the extent that their performance is as good as the very best versions I have heard.

The fifth concerto is the most celebrated, a festive work on a large scale that is heard here to be just that. The orchestral texture points to a large orchestra and leaves behind the “period” approach. Again a superlative, thrilling performance.

Bělohlávek and Lewis work hand-in-glove, completely in agreement throughout the cycle, achieving ideal balances between piano and orchestra. I have to mention that I have not heard a piano more faithfully reproduced than on these discs recorded by the BBC.

Without discounting any of the keyboard titans who has gone before, Lewis is much more than competitive. We all have our favourites whose performances, quite often, are imprinted as the touchstone by which to judge others. Let me just say that I enjoy these new performances immensely and, after returning to them often over the past few weeks, find them captivating.

01_mcintoshPinnacles - Music of Diana McIntosh

Various Artists

Centrediscs CMCCD 15810

The CD cover picture of composer/pianist Diana McIntosh standing on Ophidian Glacier says it all – she loves the great outdoors. Her compositional inspirations range from Canadian glaciers to the peaks of Kilimanjaro in this intriguing new release.


McIntosh evokes nature's wide open spaces through her use of her wide open melodic intervals. (An interval is the distance between two adjacent notes). Any listener still wary of new music's dissonant qualities will quickly be won over by her use of sound to evoke images of natural beauty.


McIntosh is also an excellent pianist who is continuing the centuries old tradition of the composer performing their own works. Like popular music's singer/songwriters, nobody really plays her music better than McIntosh herself. However, she has guided the other featured instrumentalists to interpret perfectly. Of special note is violinist Karl Stobbe in the opening chamber music track Approaching Kilimanjaro, and to no surprise, the composer's longtime collaborator, local percussion superstar Beverley Johnston in the duet Uhuru Kamili. Only McIntosh's spoken text/narration in From Wapta Ice is slightly over the top in its emotive qualities, and could be more understated to better fit in with her musical sensibilities.


The good people at the Canadian Music Centre’s Centrediscs have yet again produced a high quality release. “Pinnacles” showcases the music of Diana McIntosh at the pinnacle of her artistic career.


02_wild_birdWild Bird
Duo Concertante; Barbara Budd
Centrediscs CMCCD 16110

Violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves formed Duo Concertante in 1997, and have had over a dozen works for violin and piano commissioned for them from Canada’s leading composers. Three – R. Murray Schafer, Chan Ka Nin and Kati Agócs - are represented on this fascinating and beautifully-produced CD from the Canadian Music Centre.


Schafer’s works open and close the disc. His tremendous three-movement Duo, premiered in 2008, is a real gem, and the best work on the CD for me.


Chan Ka Nin’s Late in a Slow Time is the longest - and most immediately striking – work of the four. In 2001 the composer heard Nova Scotia poet Carole Glasser Langille, a friend of the Duo, reading from her book of poems of the same title, and was inspired to write a musical work that would incorporate the recitation of the poems. Barbara Budd is an outstanding narrator in a work that draws you in and doesn’t let go.


Kati Agócs’ Supernatural Love follows, but on first hearing suffers somewhat in comparison, being perhaps more in the expected style of a contemporary work. Difficult at first, it repays repeated listening.


Schafer’s Wild Bird, originally for violin and harp, was written in 1997 for Jacques Israelievitch’s 50th birthday. Timothy Steeves transcribed the harp part at the composer’s suggestion. It’s a wonderful piece, intended to “celebrate the violin’s versatility”, as the excellent booklet notes tell us. That it certainly does!


Kellylee Evans

Plus Loin Music PL4528


Recognized for writing and delivering songs of exquisite beauty and depth, Kellylee Evans is a perfect example of musical honesty in its purest form. Several years back, the sweet-voiced Ottawa-based singer-songwriter was summoned to France to record an album for the Plus Loin label. “They said I could do whatever I wanted as long as it was standards”, Evans recalls. She decided to dedicate the recording to Nina Simone, selecting a dozen songs famously cut by The High Priestess of Soul. Talk about a challenging undertaking! Simone – who began playing Bach as a toddler – was a legendary pianist, vocalist, composer and civil rights advocate, one of the 20th century’s most important (and arguably, underrated) musical geniuses; in her 70 years on earth she forged an unmistakable style fused with classical, jazz, pop, rock, folk and her own originals. The impressive results demonstrate Evans’ impeccable taste.


It was a wise decision not to include keys on the recording, as Simone was incomparable as a pianist. Instead, Evans is joined by shining Chicagoan Marvin Sewell on guitars and two of France’s finest sidemen, François Moutin on bass and André Ceccarelli on drums. What makes this recording shine is how freshly these songs are re-imagined. Whereas Simone’s gritty voice was dramatically fuelled by anguish, Evans’ interpretation of the same material scintillates with a pure, soulful optimism. Here’s hoping this outstanding effort earns new fans for both Kellylee Evans and Nina Simone.

02_emily_clare_barlowThe Beat Goes On

Emilie-Claire Barlow

Independent EMG445


With “The Beat Goes On” Toronto-based jazz singer Emilie-Claire Barlow has done what a few wise singers are doing these days, namely looking to more recent eras and songwriters for fresh material rather than the overdone American Songbook. This time out, Barlow has focused her considerable talents and jazz sensibilities on the 60s. The opening track sets the tone for the album as Kelly Jefferson provides nuanced sax fills on a swingy 6/8 version of Bacharach's Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. Barlow has written all the arrangements herself and the stripped down instrumentation that predominates fits her light, pretty voice like a Pucci print dress. We feel transported to a Yorkville coffeehouse as just bass and congas (Ross MacIntyre and Davide Direnzo) accompany These Boots Were Made for Walkin'. Very groovy. Iconic sounds of the 60s bubble up in the woodwinds on Soul Bossa Nova as it's mashed up with the classic Sonny & Cher title track.


An exploration of the 60s wouldn't be complete without a journey to that hotbed of musical innovation, Rio de Janiero, and the cover of O Barquinho (My Little Boat) featuring Reg Schwager’s nylon string guitar skills perfectly evokes a carefree Brazilian day. Barlow’s specialty is bossa nova (do yourself a favour and find her version of O Pato on YouTube) so when she surprisingly imposes that style on Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright it actually works.


“The Beat Goes On” will be released on October 12. Barlow is performing live to air on JazzFM91 October 21 at 7:00 PM and at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre May 14, 2011.

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