The teacher of Anne-Sophie Mutter and dozens of leading violinists, Aida Stucki was a brilliant artist in her own right during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Apart from a few LPs, there is a trove of broadcasts in the archives of various Swiss radio networks of hundreds of concertos, sonatas, and chamber music. Apparently she chose to shun the glamour of the travelling soloist, preferring to devote herself to chamber music and teaching. A few of her devoted students who discerned that her broadcasts revealed one of the greatest artists of the era approached DOREMI to issue some of these vault treasures. It was decided to initiate a series of CDs with performances of Mozart concertos and sonatas from 1951 to 1977 (DOREMI DHR-7964-9, 6 CDs). Anne-Sophie Mutter wrote to DOREMI that “Aida Stucki’s recognition as an artist is both inevitable and overdue. Her artistry is a timeless inspiration. Her interpretation incorporates bewitching sound, personal instinct coupled with great insight to the wishes of the composer. I admire this great violinist deeply. These recordings are a must for any string player and music lover.”

The late conductor/composer Igor Markevitch has ten different performances of Le Sacre du Printemps to be found on CD, in addition to a DVD with the Japan Philharmonic (1968). Stravinsky was antipathetic to conductors interpreting his works. His well known instruction was to simply play the scores as written because that is all there is to it. He endorsed only his amanuensis, Robert Craft, but had complimentary things to say about Igor Markevitch. An 11th CD of Le Sacre with Markevitch has appeared on the Audite label from Germany containing live performances from 1952 in Berlin (Audite 95.605). So what? Well, I’ll tell you what... Stravinsky’s shocker sounds unusually animated, lively and vibrant as Markevitch propels the now familiar score. There is a real sense of tense apprehension throughout, an atmosphere of inevitability absent from other performances. The RIAS Symphony Orchestra was a crack ensemble, comfortable with this complex score. Absolutely first-rate performances of the second suite from Daphnis and Chloë, another Markevitch show-piece, and the newly written Fifth Symphony of Honegger make this a CD worth owning. These were recorded by Deutschland Radio who made their master tapes available for the first time. The sound is state of the art for the time, far ahead of what was being achieved in North America... dynamic, transparent and finely detailed, leaving nothing to the listener’s imagination.
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Even though Tony Palmer’s film about The Salzburg Festival runs for 195 minutes there is not one uninteresting moment (TP DVD 032, 1 DVD). Personalities and related events from the first Festival in 1920 through to the post-war era when the American Occupation Forces aided and encouraged the return to its former eminence as a destination for music lovers is well documented. The Karajan years are well covered with interviews, mostly positive, with some footage of the building of the Festspielhaus. The post-Karajan era is also covered in this absorbing, entertaining and informative document.

Long before Fritz Reiner became “famous” in the middle to late 1950s he was not unknown to record collectors and music lovers via his all too few recordings for Columbia with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It was not until 1953 and his tenure with the Chicago Symphony and their recordings with RCA, starting in 1954, that Reiner was elevated to the hierarchy of Munch, Walter, Karajan, Klemperer, and the rest. Until that time Reiner was guest conducting, including five seasons at the MET, without having an orchestra of his own. RCA sent their best producer and engineer to Chicago to make those fabulous recordings which are still, 50 years later, in demand. West Hill Radio Archives has issued volume 1 of a collection of Reiner performances pre-dating the Chicago era (WHRA-6024, 6 CDs priced as 4) culled from performances with the NBC Symphony, The Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York, and The Cleveland Orchestra. An early entry is from 23 July 1944 in which Alexander Kipnis joins the Philharmonic in three scenes from Boris Godunov. Kipnis’s Boris was peerless and the three scenes sung here include the Death of Boris. Wisely, these end the CD because any next track would be an intrusion. A brilliant Don Quixote with the NBC features the orchestra’s three first desk men, Mischa Mischakoff, Carlton Cooley, and Frank Miller. Reiner was to meet up again with Miller in Chicago after 1954. The Cleveland entry is from pre-Szell days in 1945 playing Lieutenant Kije and the Shostakovich Sixth. There are 22 performances here, including the Brahms Fourth, Till Eulenspiegel, Mathis der Mahler and arias with Bidu Sayão. As we have come to expect from West Hill, the sound is exemplary, full bodied, very clean and devoid of any distracting artefacts. No caveats here. The enclosed 19 page booklet contains a longish appreciation of Reiner by Chicago music critic, Roger Dettmer. For copyright reasons, this set is not for sale in the United States and is distributed in Canada by SRI in Peterborough.

Menahem Pressler: Artistry in Piano Teaching

by William Brown

Indiana University Press

326 pages, photos; $24.95 US

Menachem Pressler is best known for his performances and recordings with the legendary Beaux Arts Trio, which just disbanded after fifty years. He has also maintained an active solo career. But in this biography William Brown shows him to be as great a teacher as he is pianist. Brown studied with Pressler at his long-time base at Indiana University. He uses interviews with former students, associates, family members, and Pressler himself, along with transcripts of lecture-demonstrations and Pressler's detailed commentaries on specific works, to create a vivid portrait of Pressler as a teacher.

By offering different perspectives on Pressler's teaching style, Brown offers a treasure-trove of musical insights. Above all, what comes through in these pages is the passion and commitment with which Pressler shares what really matters to him. "It's good, but it's not magic," he says after hearing a student play. "Play as if your life depends upon it," he tells a student. To another he explains that the function of music is "to make life worth living".

In a chapter called ‘Pressler's Humor', a former student recalls, "He was horrified with the whole notion of vacations. I'd come back, and I'd have a cold, and he'd say, ‘You see, you took a vacation, and now you're sick.' So, I couldn't win. It was impossible." Clearly he is not just trying to be funny. He is passing on

what it means to him to devote one's life to music.

The key to his interpretive approach is revealed when he tells a student, "If the choice is to take the excitement of the performance or the clean note, take the excitement. If you hit it clean, how great, yes?" He then relates that directly to his own playing, "That's terrible advice from a piano teacher, but it's the advice I'm giving myself when I perform. That's how I live my life in performance."

Menahem Pressler is in Toronto with Toronto Summer Music from July 20 until July 25, coaching piano and chamber ensembles. On July 23 he gives a concert with Pressler & Friends at 8:00 in the MacMillan Theatre.

Pressler performs with the Emerson String Quartet on October 2009 8:00 in Koerner Hall.

Never Sang for Hitler: The Life and Times of Lotte Lehmann

by Michael Kater

Cambridge University Press

411 pages, photos; $36.95

Michael Kater takes a different approach to his subject than Brown in this biography of the German singer Lotte Lehmann,. He acknowledges her ‘natural genius'. He appreciates, from recordings, the sweetness and purity of her voice, and her ability to convey emotion soulfully and sincerely. He admires her forthright personality, her charisma and her ability to captivate audiences. He readily documents her many acts of generosity.

But at the same time he portrays her as opportunistic, greedy, manipulative, naïve, materialistic, jealous, and, worst of all, untruthful. "Money and enhanced career opportunities seem to have been her only motivation," he writes.

Kater, who teaches history at York University, has written extensively on 20th German culture. Here his prime concern is to place Lehmann in the social context of her times - she lived in Germany and Austria until 1934, then in California until her death in 1976. His provocative study shines a disturbing light on the relationship between Lehmann's art and her political milieu.

During the course of his exhaustive, meticulously documented research, Kater discovered correspondence "in an obscure archive in Vienna" dealing with a meeting Lehmann had with Hermann Göring in 1934. For the rest of her life she painted herself as a fanatical anti-Nazi who bravely refused to sing for them.

But Kater reveals another story altogether. Lehmann wanted to sing for Hitler. The only reason she never did was because she couldn't work out a satisfactory deal with Göring for the Berlin State Opera, hard as she tried.

After that, almost everything she does is presented in the light of her duplicity. So she only started giving lieder recitals, which were unusual in America at the time, because she couldn't get enough opera jobs. And she only started teaching because her singing career was washed up.

Kater creates a fascinating portrait of a great singer and her times. Yet his approach is controversial, especially in his determination to set the historical record straight rather than explaining Lehmann's artistry. What bothers him most is not that she wanted to sing for Hitler, but that she took advantage of what were truly horrible circumstances for so many to falsely present herself as a heroic victim of the Nazis. "It should now have been clear to Lehmann," writes Kater, "that reaching for the stars, while making a pact with the devil, had its price."

Death With Interruptions

by José  Saramago

translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Harcourt

250 pages; $30.95

In this brilliant and very funny novel, the Portugese writer José Saramago imagines that death takes a holiday. But the citizens of the unnamed country where nobody is dying fail to appreciate the gift of eternal life. What's more, it's a disaster for undertakers, hospitals, life insurance companies, politicians and the military. Church officials worry whether people will start rejecting the resurrection and afterlife, and stop believing in god, if no-one ever dies.

After seven months, death - who is a woman here -goes back to work. This time she mails out warnings to those about to die, to give them time to prepare. But to her surprise this is appreciated even less than her holiday.

When one of death's violet-coloured warning letters is repeatedly returned to her, she visits the man who keeps failing to receive the letter and die. He turns out to be a middle-aged cellist who plays first chair in the national symphony. Death sees the score of Bach's sixth cello suite in d major - Saramago sticks to the lower case - open on a chair. "She didn't need to be able to read music to know that it had been written, like beethoven's ninth symphony, in the key of joy, of unity between men, of friendship and of love," writes Saramago. "Then something extraordinary happened, something unimaginable, death fell to her knees."

Death takes the form of an attractive young woman and goes to the concert where the cellist is performing a solo passage. "The cellist starts to play his solo as if he had been born for that alone," writes Saramago. "He plays as if he were bidding farewell to the world, as if he were at last saying everything that he had always kept unsaid, the truncated dreams, the frustrated yearnings, in short, life." The audience cheers, and death falls in love.

This satire on the worlds of politics, business and religion reveals Saramago's inventive imagination, as well as his cynical world-view. Yet there is profound humanity in his voice, a fact that was not unnoticed when he won the Nobel Prize in 1998. If death can be seduced by music, as happens here, then music - and, presumably, all art - holds the key to life after death.

01_simple_lines_of_enquiry

The first disc to cross my desk this month was one of a plethora of new releases from the Canadian Music Centre. Launched with a concert at the Enwave Theatre at the end of May, pianist Eve Egoyan's Simple Lines of Enquiry (Centrediscs CMCCD 14609) features a cycle of 12 interrelated pieces by Ann Southam. I had the pleasure of being at that concert and have enjoyed revisiting these works on the CD in the weeks since then. Unlike Southam's other piano cycles where we are presented with pieces of contrasting textures, dynamics and tempi, this evocative set encompasses variations on a single contemplative mood. The melodic material is likewise similar from movement to movement, all based on the tone row that has been the underlying cornerstone of Southam's music for several decades. While this might seem a recipe for boredom, if one is willing to relax and let the music take you away for an hour, there is a wonderful journey to be had here. With her patient attention to detail and willingness not to rush the space between the notes, Eve Egoyan is the perfect guide.
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02_22dollarfishlunchArriving too late to find its way into the hands of one of our more bona fide jazz reviewers, bassist Mark Zubek's twentytwodollarfishlunch (Fresh Sound Records FSNT 323) was such a treat that I decided to tell you about it myself. Zubek is a Toronto native who has recently moved back home after studies at Boston's Berklee College, 10 years in New York performing and producing recordings, a number of world travels and collaborations with the likes of Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. The quintet featured here includes Zubek on upright bass, Avishai Cohen trumpet, Mark Turner and Seamus Blake on tenor saxophones and Mark's brother Kevin Zubek on drums. All the tracks are originals composed by Zubek and original they are, notwithstanding the perceptible influence of Mingus, and perhaps surprising for a band without a keyboard, Monk and McCoy Tyner. The instrumentals are all hard edged post-bop compositions but there are three vocal tracks which show the influence of time spent producing singer/songwriters and rock recordings. But like the jazz tracks, there is nothing smooth here. The first time we hear Zubek's voice, it is through a megaphone in the song Paradox and curiously we are left with the impression of that distortion in the other vocals even in the absence of that mechanical device. Check www.markzubek.com for samples.

03_concours_molinariAnother disc with which I felt right at home was Concours Molinari 2005/2006 (ATMA ACD2 2368) featuring the winners of the Molinari Quartet's third international composition competition. Guest jurors joining the members of the quartet were composers Isabelle Panneton and Serge Provost. Their daunting task was to select four winners from the 92 string quartet entries by composers under 40 received from 32 different countries. As in past years the results were truly international, with the first prize ($3,000) going to Kazutomo Yamamoto (Japan), second ($2,000) to José Luis Hurtado (Mexico), and a tie for third ($500 each) to Luca Antignani (Italy) and Stephen Yip (Hong Kong). To my ears this is "good old-fashioned" new music, uncompromising stuff which doesn't bow to recent trends of trying to befriend the listener. Personally I would have awarded the prizes in the reverse order, with Yip's more abrasive Yi Bi my preferred work. Kudos the Molinari quartet for their dedication to expanding the string quartet repertoire, and for reminding us that Western Art Music is alive and well in just about every corner of the earth.


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04_yalla_yallaYalla Yalla is the latest offering from a different sort of string ensemble, Toronto's Sultans of String (www.sultansofstring.com). I won't say too much about this one because you can read all about a concert performance of the same material in Cathy Riches' blog. Produced by six-sting violinist (?!) Chris McKhool, the group which also features Kevin Laliberté and Eddie Paton on a host of guitars, Drew Birston on bass and Rosendo Chendy Léon on drums, effectively meshes traditional string-band sensibility with world music influences. Self described as "an energized adventure of Latin, Gypsy-jazz, Middle Eastern and folk rhythms, celebrating musical fusion and human creativity with warmth and virtuosity", the Sultans of String are all this and more as "Yalla Yalla" aptly demonstrates. McKhool and Laliberté share writing credits on most of the tunes, with a little help from Erik Satie and Pete Townsend along the way. Special guests in this eclectic mix include, among others, the vocals of Maryem Tollar, George Gao's erhu, Basham Bishara's oud, Andrew Collins' mandolin and a Cuban trumpet section. Evidently a good time was had by all!

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05_alice_hoThe last disc I'll mention is the latest addition to the Centrediscs catalogue. Ming (CMCCD 14409) features works for solo percussion by Alice Ping Yee Ho. Beverley Johnston is featured on marimba and vibraphone in the dramatic and virtuosic Forest Rain, and a full array of percussion instruments on the title track. She is joined by the University of Toronto Percussion Ensemble on Kami, based on Japanese mythology and involving a host of vocalizations, and by the Penderecki String Quartet for Evolving Elements, where at some moments subdued pizzicato strings and at others strident bowing blend with marimba to produce some surprising effects. Much of Ho's music finds its inspiration in her Asian heritage and this is the case with Ming. The extended work develops out of quiet with Buddhist-like chanting through a variety of increasingly enervated gestures using pitched and unpitched instruments, ultimately culminating in a dramatic Peking Opera style cadenza replete with characteristic caterwauling before subsiding again into the original calm. This is an exhilarating addition to the discography of both Ms Johnston and Ms Ho.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 - 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

01_furtwanglerMore than half a century has passed since the death of Wilhelm Furtwangler who was, as the saying goes, a legend in his own lifetime. His reputation around the world up to the early post WW2 years rested on word-of-mouth and the still incomparable HMV recordings with The Berlin Philharmonic of the Beethoven Fifth (1937), Music from Parsifal and Tristan (1938), and the Tchaikovsky Sixth (1939). Following the war his recordings, mainly with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics and the Philharmonia Orchestra, elicited critical acclaim and live on in CD catalogues. The recordings that exist of his concert performances are more representative of the energy and uniqueness of his interpretations than those from the studio. From 1947 until 1954 many of his concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic were heard on the RIAS, originating from the Titania-Palast in Berlin. AUDITE has acquired the original master tapes from Deutschlandradio and after expert remastering has issued 31 of these priceless (in the artistic sense) performances on a 12 CD set (Audite 21.403) together with a 13th disc of a 1951 colloquium, in German, with Furtwangler answering questions posed by an informed audience who all seem to be having a good time. As might be expected, there are some duplications of repertoire: from Beethoven two Eroicas, two Fifths and two Pastorales, along with two Brahms Thirds. The Bruckner Eighth from 15 March 1949 might seem to be a mislabelling of the 14 March 1949 performance on Testament (SBT1143). They are, in fact, different performances from different venues. The Testament is from The Gemeindehaus, Dahlem. They also offer quite a different sound picture. The Testament sounds less weighty and more detailed, the Audite is more opulent and ambient, a quality that characterises the sound on each of these 12 new discs. As expected, these are unashamedly Romantic performances of Mendelssohn, Beethoven including the violin concerto with Menuhin, Bach, Schubert, the Fortner violin concerto (Gerhard Taschner), Wagner, Hindemith, Gluck, Handel and Weber. Anachronistic? As there are no absolutes in interpretation, who's to say? These are organic performances that delve deeper into the various scores than is fashionable today. There is no shortage of Furtwangler CDs but these are unique in that, taken from the master tapes, we hear exactly what was fresh then. I found every performance, excepting Schumann's Manfred Overture, to be quite intoxicating. In the film "Taking Sides", expanded from the stage play about Furtwangler's de-Nazification, author Ronald Harwood has Furtwangler commenting on a live performance of a Schubert string quintet, "The tempos were a little too correct for my taste." "What does he mean ‘too correct?'" asks someone. "I don't know," was the reply. We know.

02_fricsayFerenc Fricsay (1914-1963) was well on his way to becoming a major conductor of international stature. Born in Budapest, he studied at the Franz Liszt Academy and was welcomed by the finest German orchestras with whom he made acclaimed recordings for Deutsche Grammophon who clearly saw his great natural ability and realised his potential. What we see in a new DVD from Medici Arts, Ferenc Fricsay - Music Transfigured (EDV 1333, 1 DVD) is a video biography with revealing rehearsal sequences which confirm his genius and music's tragic loss upon his early death. There are lots of observations, comments and reminiscences from his colleagues, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Performances of the Overture to La Scala di Seta and the Leonora III follow on this entertaining and informative DVD.

03_tennstedtKlaus Tennstedt (1926-1998) was a conductor who emerged from East Germany in 1971 and soon achieved international acclaim. His North American debut was in Toronto in 1974 with the TSO conducting the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Itzhak Perlman. I was in Massey Hall that night and that concert remains as one of my most electrifying evenings ever. He was associated with the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1980, first as Guest Conductor then Principle Conductor until 1987 when he stepped down due to ill health. The LPO has been issuing some live performances recorded by the BBC, the most recent being a blazing Mahler Sixth in stunning sound live from the Royal Albert Hall on August 22nd 1983 (LPO 038, 2 CDs). There are two other Sixths with the LPO, 1980 and 1991 but this one equals those and for its passion excels. It certainly would be an "if you have only one version" choice.

04_menuhinMENUHIN - A Family Portrait (TP-DVD120) is Tony Palmer's outstanding film about Yehudi Menuhin, his career, and most significantly his family and their dominating matriarch, Yehudi's mother. Originally issued in 1990, Palmer speaks at length with Menuhin's sister Hephzibah, also his son Gerard and others whose revelations of the Machiavellian, heartless manipulation of Menuhin's whole family by his mother help fill in the private life of one of, if not the, most prominent violinists of the 20th century. This is an astonishing document.

 

 

01_purcell_les_voix_humans Purcell - Fantasias

Les Voix Humaines

ATMA ACD2 2591

 

Henry Purcell composed his fifteen Fantasias and In nomines just after becoming the organist at Westminster Abbey. Composed for consorts of three to seven viols, they are remarkable in their contrapuntal fluidity and surprising in their occasional dissonance in even modern day terms. They are played with acuity and sensitivity here by the gifted Montreal viol ensemble, Les Voix Humaines, on historic instruments with a local connection.

 

Here's a bit of background on the instruments themselves. The Hart House Viols are one of so many hidden treasures lurking in the corners of Toronto buildings. Purchased by the Massey Foundation in 1929, Vincent Massey had the set of viols housed at U of T's Hart House and in 1935 they became the property of that illustrious institution. In 2008, in a stroke of musical brilliance, Susie Napper and Les Voix Humaines had the viols refurbished to playing condition for this wonderful release.

 

This winning combination of compositions, instruments and performers is breathtaking. Of note is Fantasia V in Bb major Z.736 for its twists of rhythm and tempo. In Fantasia IX in a minor Z.740 the aural colours are subtle and intriguing, especially in the slower sections. The treble viol holds middle C throughout the Fantasia upon one note in F major, Z. 745 creating a sonic foundation for the other viols to play around - a kind of early music forerunner of Terry Riley's In C.

 

Les Voix Humaines prove themselves yet again to be world class musicians. This is a very enjoyable musical experience.

Tiina Kiik

 

02_beethoven_horn 

 

The Beethoven Heritage (Romantic music for horn)

Louis-Philippe Marsolais; David Jalbert

ATMA ACD2 2952

 

The French horn probably isn't the first instrument that springs to mind when you think of solo sonatas with keyboard accompaniment, but this fascinating CD features duo works from a pivotal period - both physically and musically - in that instrument's history.

 

The hand-stopped natural horn was gradually replaced by the valve horn from about 1813 on, and the works here reflect the changes that were occurring in the instrument's solo repertoire around the same time.

 

Beethoven wrote his Op.17 F major sonata for one of the greatest natural horn virtuosi, Giovanni Punto, in Vienna in 1800; it was a significant event, as sonatas were new ground for an instrument traditionally featured as a soloist only in concertos.

 

The three other composers represented here were all pianist friends of Beethoven. Ferdinand Ries' Sonata in F was inspired by an 1811 visit to Kassel, home of the horn virtuosi Schunk brothers; Carl Czerny's Andante e polacca for natural horn was probably written for Eugene Vivier's Vienna visit in 1848, Czerny having written a work for valve horn some 18 years earlier. Both of Ignaz Moscheles' works for horn and piano are here: the Introduction et Rondeau Ecossais from 1821; and the Rossini-inspired Thème varié of 1860.

 

Performing these works on a modern horn, Louis-Philippe Marsolais shows complete mastery of a notoriously difficult instrument, leaving nothing to be desired in his technical assuredness, dynamic range, tone quality and expressive nuance. Pianist David Jalbert provides outstanding support. 

Terry Robbins

 

03_mendelssohn_trios 

 

Mendelssohn - Piano Trios

Newstead Trio

Prince Productions Prince 9809 P

www.newsteadtrio.com

 

To date, the Newstead Trio has released five CDs, mostly for the small Prince label, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Consisting of American violinist Michael Jamanis, Canadian cellist Sara Male and Chinese pianist Xun Pan, the group's recorded repertoire has ranged from Mozart to Piazzolla.

 

Just in time for Mendelssohn's 200th birthday, they've released a disc of the composer's two piano trios. This is well-trodden ground: the Beaux Arts, Florestan, Borodin and many other fine groups have recorded this repertoire - and in the face of such abundance the value of this recording is questionable. On the other hand, it can be argued that it's brave and admirable for a yet another ensemble to record such well known repertoire, as it invites comparison with the best.

 

With this in mind, I'm happy to say that with this new disc, the Newstead musicians have clearly demonstrated they can play this music as well as anyone. From the opening of the Op. 49 Trio in D Minor, it's apparent that they're at home with both the Classical and Romantic qualities that co-habit Mendelssohn's scores. Balance and ensemble are exemplary, and throughout the playing is marked by a strong sense of direction. Some of the most expressive playing on this disc can be heard in the second movement of the Op. 66 Trio in C Minor, which for some unfathomable reason remains the lesser known of these two works.

 

Unfortunately, there are a few flies in this ointment: a boomy murkiness in the bass, and also at times a glassy quality to Male's cello. Still, there's much to be admired - and the question of whether the world wants one more disc of the Mendelssohn trios will be answered soon enough by the CD-buying public. 

Colin Eatock

 

 

04_saint-lubin Leon de Saint-Lubin - Virtuoso Works for Violin, Vol.1

Anastasia Khitruk; Elizaveta Kopelman

Naxos 8.572019

 

Although born in Italy, the now-forgotten 19th century violin virtuoso and composer Leon de Saint-Lubin spent virtually all of his life in Austria and Germany, enjoying a highly successful career in Vienna and in Berlin, where he died at the age of 44 in 1850. His works mirror a period when German music was developing from the Classical to the Romantic style: there are echoes of Beethoven here, along with touches of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Spohr, and even hints of early Brahms.

 

It's difficult to make a definitive judgement from a few selected works - he also left unpublished operas, symphonies and concertos - but clearly Saint-Lubin was not only an outstanding violinist but also a more than competent composer, highly-regarded in his time and obviously capable of some excellent piano writing.

 

Khitruk is brilliant throughout this stunning CD, particularly in the unaccompanied Lucia di Lammermoor Fantaisie Op.46 and the Thalberg Theme and Etude transcription, and has a sympathetic partner in Kopelman in the duo selections.

 

A very few Saint-Lubin pieces have been recorded before, with mixed opinions regarding their merit, but nothing on this scale; I found it an absolute revelation.

 

The CD cover implies that this is only Volume 1, suggesting more to come; there are, apparently, five unpublished Saint-Lubin violin concertos - now there's a project!

 

Recorded in Newmarket and the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio by the usual Kraft & Silver team, the sound quality is exemplary.

 

 

 

Terry Robbins

 

01a_bamberger_sacreStravinsky - Le Sacre du Printemps

Bamberger Symphoniker; Jonathan Nott

Tudor 7145

 

 

01b_bamberger_mahlerMahler - Symphony No.4

Mojka Erdmann; Bamberger Symphoniker; Jonathan Nott

Tudor 7151

 

 

01c_bamberger_janacekJanáček - Sinfonietta; Taras Bulba

Bamberger Symphoniker; Jonathan Nott

Tudor 7135

Nestled near the remote eastern border of Bavaria, Bamberg is the home of an orchestra founded in 1946 from the post-war remnants of the former German Philharmonic of Prague. It was lead for many years by old school worthies including Joseph Keilberth, Eugen Jochum and Horst Stein. The English conductor Jonathan Nott, best known for his devotion to contemporary music through his work with Ensemble Modern and IRCAM's Ensemble Intercontemporain, assumed the directorship in 2000 and has since energized the orchestra, introducing more contemporary repertoire and touring with it throughout the world to critical acclaim. Recently the Swiss-based Tudor records, in conjunction with the Bavarian Radio network, began distributing recordings of the orchestra in the audiophile SACD format.

The orchestra ably demonstrates its prowess and keen rhythmic precision in a hard-driven performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, coupled with a surprisingly genial interpretation of that composer's Symphony in Three Movements. Nott seems to me to be less convincing in the Mahler disc (part of a projected complete cycle), where his use of rubato is not fully thought out, though otherwise quite engaging. The Janáček disc is the most problematic, largely due to the manipulation of the SACD soundstage by the producer of these albums, Bernhard Albrecht, whose stated intent is to produce a centred sound as heard from the conductor's perspective, with little sense of the ambience of the concert hall. Consequently the antiphonal effects of the eleven trumpets in the Sinfonietta, as well as the organ passages in Taras Bulba, fail to make much impact in conventional stereo. In addition, the close microphone placement and mixing-board manipulations consistently rob the performances of dynamic nuances. Fans of the SACD format (I'm not one of them) may be willing to trade these shortcomings for their surround-sound glories.

Daniel Foley

02a_somers_the_fool

Harry Somers - The Fool; Death of Enkidu

Various artists

Centrediscs CMCCD14209

 

02b_somers_pianoHarry Somers - Piano Works

Darrett Zusko; Karen Quinton; Jacinthe Couture; Reginald Godden; Paul Helmer; Andre-Sebastien Savoie; John McKay; Antonin Kubalek

Centrediscs CMCCD 14509

www.musiccentre.ca

Harry Somers is so often referred to as the leading composer of his generation in Canada that I have to wonder why his music is heard so rarely. But these new sets in the ongoing Somers Recording Project should help change that.

Somers was 28 when he wrote his opera The Fool in 1953. It is an eclectic work. But Somers was acutely sensitive to both the meaning and sounds of Michael Fram's text, so never let his various vocal techniques get in the way of the words. There's a great deal of earnest discussion about freedom, and the constraints placed on it by the rule of law. But for me the most effective passage occurs when the King and the Fool step aside from their conversation. Each admits to himself what he really wants to hear from the other about the Fool's plan to jump off a tower to his certain death. But they can't tell each other, and the results are tragic.

As the Fool, Darryl Edwards handles Somers' demanding vocal lines with charm and fluency. Gary Relyea brings much-needed warmth to his role as the King, his mellifluous bass-baritone managing to sound both authoritative and vulnerable. Tamara Hummel and Sandra Graham are terrific, and the instrumental ensemble under David Currie shines, with Roman Borys' cello a standout.

The Death of Enkidu was written twenty-four years later. Here Somers responds to the mythological story, based on the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, with colouristic effects. But Martin Kinch's libretto, set in both English and ancient Akkadian, fails to reveal the dramatic heart of the tale. In fact, Somers' score is at its most vital in the passages of wordless chant. David Pomeroy brings character to the role of Enkidu and Julie Nasrallah - familiar to CBC listeners as the host of Tempo - is a moving Old Woman. Les Dala leads the capable ensemble.

This series is being called "A Window on Somers", and indeed the collection of his solo piano music offers a view of the composer at his most personal. These nine works - even the grandiose Sonata no. 3, here stylishly played by André-Sébastien Savoie - all sound distinctly intimate.

At the same time they present a mystery. Why did Somers stop writing solo piano music when he was just thirty-two years old? Following the fifth sonata, there was nothing for forty years. Then two years before his death in 1999, Somers was enticed back by the young Canadian pianist Darrett Zusko, who gives a characterful performance of Somers' last piano work, Nothing Too Serious. Of the earlier pieces, Reginald Godden, who was Somers' own piano teacher, is represented here by an elegant performance of the virtuosic first sonata, Testament of Youth. Antonin Kubalek gives a memorable performance of the Sonata no. 5, conveying a keen sense of its dramatic momentum.

These two important new sets leave me hoping for the future release on CD of Somers' iconic opera Louis Riel - whether in a new performance, or even the original recording which has been unavailable for far too long.

Pamela Margles

 

01_black_flowersBlack Flowers

Sarah Slean; Art of Time Ensemble

Pheromone Recordings PHER CD 1008

www.pheromonerecordings.com

The Art of Time Ensemble has come out with an absolute stunner of an album. "Black Flowers" is a project spearheaded by piano virtuoso Andrew Burashko, featuring singer Sarah Slean. Burashko has a penchant for bringing together artists and performers from diverse disciplines and styles to present music in fresh ways. For this project, he and Slean pulled together an assortment of tunes written by some of this country's folk/pop heroes - Ron Sexsmith, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Feist and the master himself, Leonard Cohen - and enlisted arrangers and musicians from the jazz and classical world. The result is a collection of modern art songs rooted in diverse Canadian sensibilities.

While the players are top notch, the real stars of this recording are the arrangers. One might expect that having a different arranger for each of the nine songs would result in a random mishmash of styles, but this feels like a real collection with a cohesive theme running through it. The arrangers have taken songs that are, for the most part, harmonically simple and made them over into complex, multi-layered beauties. The arrangements demand a level of musicianship that this group more than delivers. Slean is the perfect vocal foil with her pure instrument and strong interpretive skills; unleashing emotion one moment then pulling back to lay bare the lyrics the next. John Johnson's impeccable reed work is wide-ranging and impressive, giving us moody, growly sax lines on Bruce Cassidy's arrangement of O'Hara's To Cry About, then delicate clarinet on Roberto Occhipinti's take on Sarah Harmer's Lodestar. Rob Piltch turns in an inventive, sensitive guitar effort. The superb strings are supplied by bassist George Koller, cellist Shauna Rolston and the aptly named violinist Ben Bowman. Visit www.artoftimeensemble.com for more detail.

Cathy Riches

02_royal city

That's A Plenty

Royal City Saxophone Quartet

Independent RCSQ2006

www.studiospace.com/rcsq

If someone were not familiar with the sounds and capabilities of a modern saxophone quartet, this CD would be an excellent starter to explore the many voices of such an ensemble. From Dixieland to Irish folk melodies, and from Bach to Thelonious Monk, this covers a broad spectrum of melodies and performance styles. The title track, That's A Plenty, starts things off with a rousing rendition of this Dixieland classic. Driven along by the solid, clean no nonsense bass line of leader Ernie Kalwa, we are treated to two more numbers in a similar vein before being introduced to a wide range of more soothing melodies. These range from Danny Boy, and other traditional Irish fare, through Over the Rainbow on to Bach's Air on the G String. In the more modern jazz idiom there is Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight and the well known Harlem Nocturne. In this latter number, and a couple of others, the addition of a string bass and percussion provides the extra drive required by these selections. One standout is the clever Bach's Fireworks Music (sic), composed in 1980 by Calvin Hampton. This jazzy number has much of the exuberant motion that characterizes the Brandenburg Concerti, but performed on instruments not yet invented in Bach's day. Had Bach been living today, one could certainly imagine him writing something like this. All in all this CD deserves a spot in the collection of anyone with eclectic tastes.

Jack MacQuarrie

 

 

01-live_in_rio Live in Rio

Diana Krall

Eagle Vision EV 30273-9

www.eaglerockent.com

 

When I first heard that Diana Krall had released a DVD of a concert in Rio de Janeiro, I marvelled at the chutzpah it takes for a girl from Nanaimo, B.C. to perform bossa nova for an audience in the country of its birth. Then I thought, if any non-Brazilian is qualified to sing the music known as "a whisper in the wind" it's Krall. With her laid-back, breathy delivery and ability to maintain energy and groove on very slow tempos, she seems born to bossa. And the Rio audience on the DVD apparently agrees, as it's the bossa standards like So Nice and Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado) that get the biggest response of the evening.

 

But "Live in Rio" is not all Brazilian beats, as it opens in full-on jazz mode with the quartet - long-time compatriots Anthony Wilson, guitar, John Clayton, bass, Jeff Hamilton, drums and Krall on piano and vocals - swinging hard through I Love Being Here With You. With so much attention paid to Krall's singing talents, it's great to see her stretch out on piano, since her first ambition was to be a jazz pianist, before she discovered she had a voice. A full orchestra conducted by Ruria Duprat joins the band on many of the down tempo numbers and with Claus Ogerman's arrangements the gorgeousness factor on those songs goes through the roof.

 

Masterfully shot and edited, the camera work allows long looks at Krall, mostly, but also frequently cuts to the rest of the band and lingers on the musicians' hands during solos. Footage of adoring glimpses of Rio - beaches, parks, mountains, with the grittiness and slums discreetly left out - are interspersed to break up the concert footage. At a little over two hours running time, with an extra of interviews with Krall and the band members talking about their affinity for bossa nova and Rio, this is a satisfying and intimate visit with one of the most deservedly popular and genuine jazz singers performing today.

 

Cathy Riches

 

02-gorman-brand new day Brand New Day

Kathleen Gorman

Independent KG0801

www.kathleengorman.com

 

The self-produced debut CD by Torontonian Kathleen Gorman is a polished gem that offers solid songwriting, thoughtfully presented. Plenty of dedication is on display here, from the catchy songs to their tasteful arrangements to the leader's strong delivery on both vocals and keys. If forced to categorize it, this is a poppy-jazzy-bluesy-soulful collection of songs, most of them about hard-learned lessons in life and common concerns surrounding love. The blues-infused No More Room is a strong opener, the tender ballad Far Too Late a memorable standout, while the optimistic title track is especially radio friendly. Brand New Day would fit well on a "smooth" jazz radio program because it is easy on the ears, light on the heart and an excellent showcase of Canadian talent. Aside from composing accessible songs, singing them and playing the piano, Gorman has also written some great charts for top-drawer Canadian players including Colleen Allen, Henry Heillig, Alan Hetherington, Rob Piltch and many more. In addition to Gorman's piano and Rhodes, the instrumentation includes basses, guitars, saxophone, Hammond B organ, drums, percussion, flute, and cello. On the two instrumental pieces, Gorman's fingers do the singing, especially on the radiant Rialto. The songs on "Brand New Day" appear to come from a deep place; thankfully, Kathleen Gorman has succeeded in conveying their universality.

 

Ori Dagan

 

03_JoelMiller Tantramar

Joel Miller; Mandala

ArtistShare AS 0072

www.joelmillermusic.com

 

Montreal-based saxophonist Joel Miller, a native of Sackville, N.B., succeeds by translating into sound the relaxed feel of the Tantramar marsh near his home town as well as other images. Aiding him is a quintet of top-flight multi-instrumentalists and a trio of guests. Miller, who composed the 10 evocative tunes, deserves kudos for his arrangements that not only take full advantage of everyone's talents, but also avoid the trap of using Amelia McMahon as a "girl singer" - instead harmonizing her lilting voice with his own soprano saxophone lines or grace notes from Bill Maher's trumpet.

With many of the pieces written in cannon form with folk music intimations, the most notable back-up player is Kenny Bibace on acoustic and electric guitars. Throughout, his contributions range from super-charged near-rock licks to light-fingered chromatic runs. More concerned with evocative scene-setting than extended soloing, Miller and fellow reed player Bruno Lamarche impress by ignoring solipsism for call-and-response obbligatos and riffs. Furthermore, although concerned with inducing traditional aural images, "Tantramar" doesn't ignore modern techniques. Miller enlivens a few tracks with understated electronics including sampled fowl sounds on Chickadee's Other Song.

If the CD does have drawbacks, it's that everything is too laid-back. Even Boogie Gaudet, a quasi-blues with snapping guitar runs, flying tenor saxophone honks and plunger trumpet lines only flirts with emotion. When it seems as if the band has worked up a full head of steam, the tune solidifies into restrained pleasantness.

 

Ken Waxman

 

 EXTENDED PLAY - Columbia's LEGACY 50 years on

By Jim Galloway

Three of the most important contributors to jazz in the late ‘50s are highlighted in a series of recent double album re-issues on Columbia Legacy. This was a very fruitful era of recordings and the music presented here represents pivotal works by Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus.

01_mingus_ah_um Mingus Ah Um (Columbia/Legacy 8869748010 2) gave us at least three compositions which stamped him as one of the most expressive voices in jazz - Better Git It In Your Soul, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, a homage to Lester Young, and Fables Of Faubus. Jelly Roll, a rewrite of Mr. Jelly Roll Soul, recorded earlier for the "Blues and Roots" album, is a nod in the direction of a perhaps unlikely hero for Mingus, Jelly Roll Morton. Fables of Faubus is an example of the Mingus who was also known for his activism against racial injustice. It was written as a protest against governor Orval E. Faubus of Arkansas. If you have the original LP it is probably well worn by now and in addition this CD has three numbers not included on the LP. An important aspect of the music on this album is the use of group improvisation which was an essential ingredient at the start of jazz in New Orleans but which had largely disappeared when the emphasis later switched to individual soloists.

Mingus Dynasty, the 2nd disc of this Legacy Edition, acknowledges his debt to Duke Ellington with the inclusion of very personal interpretations of Things Ain't What They Used To Be and Mood Indigo. There is a blistering version of Gunslinging Bird, the original title of which was If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats. The album as a whole has a more formal feel to it than the "Ah Um" collection but gives us further insight into the creative working of Mingus' mind. If you don't know this music, this is your opportunity to hear a great jazz original, one of the most important composers and performers of jazz, and if you do have the old LPs, there are enough alternate takes and unedited material (much of the original release was heavily edited) to make this a worthwhile purchase.

02_sketches_of_spain Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain (Columbia/Legacy 88697 43949 2) with the hauntingly beautiful arrangements of Gil Evans was almost like a new-found revelation for me. I have all the original LPs in this set of CDs but had not listened to the Miles album for years and from the opening bars of Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio) I was transfixed by the beauty of Gil Evans' orchestration. It sets the tone of an album which showcases Miles Davis at his creative best. There are very interesting and informative notes by Gunther Schuller in the accompanying booklet. The 2nd CD has eleven tracks consisting of alternate takes including a live performance of Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio) from a 1961 Carnegie Hall concert which Schuller considers to be superior to the version on the original LP. An added bonus is a quintet recording of Teo, originally from the "Someday My Prince Will Come" album of 1961.

03_time_out The Dave Brubeck Quartet was formed in 1951 and had a long residency at the Black Hawk club in San Francisco. Paul Desmond was in the original group and Joe Morello joined in 1956 followed by Eugene Wright who became a regular member in 1959. It is this formation which is featured in the Legacy Edition reissue of Time Out (88697 39852 2) whichhas, in addition to 2 CDs, an accompanying DVD of an interview with Brubeck explaining how the album came about and giving his insight into how the compositions, all originals, evolved. It is an educational and entertaining look behind the scenes of the album that introduced Take Five, which of course was to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. Blue Rondo a la Turk, Strange Meadow Lark and Kathy's Waltz are among the other treasures of this recording. The second CD is of previously unreleased music recorded by the quartet at the Newport Festival in 1961, 1963 and 1964 and has the group in full flight with some soaring playing by Paul Desmond in particular. In fact, the purity of sound made by the alto saxophone of Desmond is an absolute joy throughout the proceedings on both CDs. Dave Brubeck is the only member of that original quartet who remains active, but 50 years later he is still thrilling audiences - and still getting requests for Take Five.

 SPECIAL MENTION - Oscar Peterson's SONGBOOKS, 50 years on

By Bruce Surtees

01_petersonThe recordings by Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck reviewed above are not the only seminal jazz releases to be celebrating their half century this year. 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of Oscar Peterson's second set of Songbooks, available ina new boxed set from Universal (VERW3933072), exclusive to Canada, at $39.95. Peterson's earliest recordings were made in Montreal by RCA from 1945 to 1949 with a trio, not including Ray Brown but with one Bert Brown on bass. In 1949, impresario Norman Granz, on his way to the airport in Montreal, heard a live broadcast of Peterson playing in a local club. The rest is jazz history: Carnegie Hall, Jazz at the Philharmonic, etc., etc. The first group of "Songbooks" was recorded during 1952/53/54 in Los Angeles with Ray Brown and Barney Kessel. Some have been re-issued on Verve but all of them are available on Mosaic Records, priced at US$ 119.00 plus shipping, and duties. This second set was recorded during July and August 1959 in Chicago with Peterson in his usual (usual for him that is, unusual and impossible for others) freewheeling style accompanied by Ray Brown and an energized Ed Thigpen on drums. There are 108 tracks on five discs with songs by Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Harry Warren, Vincent Youmans and Jimmy McHugh. The original tunes are never obscured so that even if the listener has not heard them that shouldn't diminish the impact. This set is a must-have for just about anyone with a CD player.

 EXTENDED PLAY - 40 Years of MEV

By Ken Waxman

01a_ElectrnicaVivaConsisting of a nucleus of academically trained composers who promoted free improvisation and group interaction, Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV) was the sort of musical aggregation that could only have been born in the 1960s. MEV 40 (New World Records 89675-2 www.newworldrecords.org) is an absorbing four-CD set of MEV performances - from its beginning in 1967, to its 40th anniversary - which prove the group's triumphs are musically sophisticated as well as sociologically notable. Willingly subsuming the vaulted tradition of a single composer into group interaction, MEV's most notable pieces added the smarts of jazz improvisers and the sonic versatility of increasingly complex electronic instruments to the compositional stew. Furthermore, the group has survived all these years because it never allowed electronics to submerge its initial humanistic and populist approach.

01b_MEV1967Founded in Rome by three American composers studying in that city: Alvin Curran (b. 1938), Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) and Richard Teitelbaum (b. 1939), MEV members were at that time some of the few so-called serious musicians performing for young hippies and politicos in that city's coffee houses, universities, factories and open-air plazas. Audience participation in these free-form extravaganzas was a norm, although the first-class tracks on this set showcase only professionals. For more than 30 years, probably the most important MEV fellow traveler was expatiate American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (1934-2004). Paris-based Lacy's experience in first Dixieland and then Free Jazz not only added a lyrical construct to the group's performances but replaced a reliance on electronics with masterful acoustic techniques. Another valuable associate was trombonist Garrett List (b. 1943). An American though Belgium-based, List is more affiliated with theatre pieces and New music than jazz, but his erudite instrumental control strengthens the performances still further on the pieces in which he's featured.

Ironically, Stop The War, recorded in 1972 without Lacy but with percussionist Gregory Reeves and Karl Berger on marimba as well as List, Curran, Rzewski and Teitelbaum, is the most jazz-like - as well as the most programmatic - track. Commenting on the Viet Nam war, the output from the synthesizers used by Curran and Teitelbaum is almost visually descriptive. There are fortissimo allusions to explosions, jagged beeps, watery whooshes and short-wave-like static. Meanwhile List honks and slurs, Berger whaps his wooden keys to produce full-force reverberation, Reeves taps out an intermittent marital beat and Curran's piccolo trumpet asides add to the contrapuntal timbres that underlie the performance. Among the broken octaves and split tones, Rzewski provides his own commentary with metronomic piano chording. Among the recognizable melodies he plays are a sardonic When Johnny Comes Marching Home and a concluding Taps.

Lacy, who appears on tracks recorded in 1982, 1989 and 2002, gives even more focus to the proceedings. By that point the core trio had graduated from using such jerry-built instruments as a home-made synthesizer, a thumb piano attached to a motor-oil can and an amplified glass plate with springs, to using poly Moogs, modular synthesizers and microcomputers. Yet during a more-than 87-minute performance from 1982, stretched over the first tracks on two discs, the soprano saxophonist's straightforward acoustic exposition encourages everyone to substitute shape for self-indulgence.

Tentatively and authoritatively affiliated staccato timbres from saxophone and trombone (List) not only provide obbligato reflections of one another, but are captured and processed by the electronics. Added to this is Rzewski's processional prepared-piano chording. Eventually the aggressive thumps, clanks and pulsated textures from the blurry synthesized flutters are pushed to one side and the trombonist's braying plunger work and the saxophonist's concentrated split tones join Curran's rowdy piccolo trumpet for a definite, raucous finale.

Even more breath-taking is Lacy's final recorded appearance with MEV in 2002. By this time samplers and Max/MSP real-time digital manipulating programs were the norm for Curran and Teitelbaum. Yet the shimmering wave forms still don't dominate. The acoustic side, which includes Lacy's soprano, List's trombone and Rzewski's piano is further strengthened by the addition of George Lewis (b. 1952), equally proficient on trombone and computer. Meanwhile the other two use the electronic interface and programmed applications to create unique sampled and reprocessed sounds. At one point, dexterously harmonized horn parts share space with sampled snatches of cantorial chants and a loop of vernacular street phrases. Soon Lacy's discursive reed outlines the double-stopped theme as Rzewski kinetically vibrates cadenzas with sympathetic soundboard echoes. As the electronics shimmer in wave-modulated bursts, the pianist's burlesque arpeggios turn serious, backing up interaction among Curran's braying shofar tones, chirping soprano saxophone trills and arching trombone slurs. By the time the head is recapped at a slightly slower tempo, List has even movingly growled the lyrics of You Are My Sunshine.

Completing the set are a quiet, almost completely electronic track by the core trio from 2007 and a 30-minute free-for-all from 1967 that added a vocalist and tenor saxophone. Every track balances anarchy and formalism to create something more than improvised, electronic or so-called serious music. MEV performs sui generis modern music period.

 

 

01_il_pianto_di_mariaIl pianto di Maria - The Virgin's Lament

Bernarda Fink; Il Giardino Armonico; Giovanni Antonini

Editions de l'Oiseau-Lyre 478 1466

Bernarda Fink is a singer of extraordinary measure and a brilliant match for two rare settings of the Virgin Mary's lament: one originally attributed to Handel, but later discovered to be by Giovanni Battista Ferrandini, a composer in the court at Munich; the other by Monteverdi who took the music from his famous Lamento d'Arianna and inserted a sacred text. Rather than matching the impulsive fire of Il Giardino Armonico, Fink holds steady her natural grace and maturity, allowing the orchestra to express the undercurrents of torment and anger while she declares her sorrow with dignified acceptance. The effect is not diminished in any way, in fact, by maintaining her poise she resists all temptation to resort to showy hysterics; but at the same time there is an edge to her delivery that clearly informs us of the depth of her grief. Il Giardino Armonico performs with all the passion and vigour for which they are known, making for an exciting performance that keeps listeners on the edge of their seats during instrumental works by Vivaldi, Marini and Pisandel. In a world premiere recording of Francesco Bartolomeo Conti's Il martirio di San Lorenzo, Fink and the ensemble join together for a deeply moving aria that features a rarely-heard ancestor of the modern clarinet, the soprano chalumeau, which adds a most tender and plaintive note.

Dianne Wells

02_verdi_requiemVerdi - Messa da Requiem

Fantini; Smirnova; Meli; Siwek; Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; Symphonica Toscanini; Lorin Maazel

Medici arts 2072438

In 2007 for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Toscanini's death Lorin Maazel, his erstwhile protégé, gave a series of concerts in Italy. The former child prodigy who at the age of 11 conducted Toscanini's own NBC Symphony and was blessed by the ‘gran Maestro' with a kiss on the forehead is now in his 70s and is himself a gran maestro and one of the foremost conductors of the latter half of the 20th century.

The highlight of these concerts was this memorable performance, captured on DVD, of Verdi's Requiem from the San Marco Basilica where it was first performed in 1874 under the baton of the composer. Under the golden domes, half domes and pendentives of the 1500 year old Byzantine masterpiece was gathered Maazel's own orchestra that he organized for this occasion, with a magnificent choir and soloists of the highest order. Maazel is like a wise owl with hooded eyes, almost immobile, but with the merest flicker of his finger he unleashes these forces into a tremendous whirlwind of sound while another slight flicker silences it in a split second. Without much visible effort he achieves a beautifully detailed, heartfelt, thoroughly understood and perfectly paced performance.

The quartet of soloists, upon which many a performance has crumbled, is a tremendous asset here. Norma Fantini is a highly accomplished soprano with a wide range and great emotional involvement in the final Libera me section. Young Russian mezzo Anna Smirnova is very impressive in her lower registers and her heartfelt solos and Francesco Meli is a strong tenor who shines in the Offertorium prayers. Rafal Siwek, a stentorian basso-profundo, has a perfect voice for Mors stupebit and Confutatis, some of the most impressive moments in the performance.

Janos Gardonyi

03_cunning_vixenJanáček - The Cunning Little Vixen

Tsallagova; Rasilainen; Lagrange; Minutillo; Kuebler; Bracht; Gay; Opera National de Paris; Dennis Russell Davies

Medici arts 3078388

A mere 30 years ago Leos Janáček's operas were virtually unknown in the West, but today there is hardly a reputable opera company that hasn't performed some of them. The Canadian Opera Company, for one, can be proud of having performed five of the operas here in Toronto. Although Paris is just beginning to discover his greatness, this live performance certainly makes up for any lack of appreciation in the past. Apart from an interesting, novel concept, there is abundant talent and wit in the stage direction, sets, colour and costume design, not to mention singers and musical direction.

According to director André Engel, the stage is set as a bright sunflower field, representing nature, but bisected by a railway that shows mankind's brutality. Where the two meet is where things are happening, where indeed anything can happen. There is tragedy, but in Janáček's optimistic outlook it is followed by rebirth and the cycle of nature continues indefinitely.

One of Janáček's most beautiful scores, the story was undoubtedly inspired by his love for a much younger woman at the age of 70. The opera simply throbs with love and affection towards his young female protagonist, the vixen, in this case the ebullient Russian high soprano Elena Tsailagova, who simply radiates and dominates the performance. The three rather pathetic male figures are all well characterized and sung by Jukka Rasilainen (forester), David Kubler (schoolmaster) and Roland Bracht (parson). There is also a charming choir of children dressed in hilarious costumes representing the little animals.

Music Director Dennis Russell Davies' flawless and beautifully flowing conducting brings out the beauty and lyricism of the score and deserves much of the credit for this delightful performance.

Janos Gardonyi

 

 

01_the_queen The Queen - Music for Elizabeth I

Toronto Consort

Marquis 81387 (www.marquisclassics.com)

buy
At Grigorian.Com

 In light of the recent revival of popular interest in “The Tudors”, this is a most timely release for the Toronto Consort. Following on the heels of recent staging of this repertoire, the CD is beautifully performed with exquisite sound engineering by Ed Marshall. As ever, in the pursuit of historical authenticity, director David Fallis has been thorough in his research, to the point of engaging Professor David Klausner of the University of Toronto to assist with Elizabethan pronunciation, a feature that is most engaging in and of itself. The spirit of the Elizabethan court is recaptured with its love for music, dancing, playfulness and glorification of heroic exploits, realm and monarch, with selections by Dowland, Morley, Campion, Byrd and others interspersed with traditional English music in unique arrangements by Fallis and other members of the consort. Featuring a uniquely English combination of instruments called the “mixed consort”, consisting of lute, bandora, cittern, viola da gamba, flute and violin along with recorder and harpsichord, the accompaniments and instrumental selections are as hearty and multi-layered as the part-singing throughout. With too many wonderful solo performances to single out in these brief pages, let us simply praise the performance as being as glorious and as charming as Oriana herself!

Dianne Wells

 

01_schubert_death Schubert - Death and the Maiden;
Symphony No.8
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra;
JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.572051
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 Naxos brings us two ‘new’ symphonic works by Schubert: a transcription of a major chamber work and another attempt to solve the enigma of the Unfinished Symphony.

 American musician Andy Stein’s full orchestration of the Death and the Maiden string quartet is quite striking and works extremely well, supporting his view that the quartet is arguably Schubert’s greatest large-scale composition, and successfully realizes his desire to create a late Classical/early Romantic symphony out of it. The instrumental scoring is idiomatic and highly effective, and there is excellent balance and contrast between the strings, brass and woodwind.

 Less successful - or, at least, less satisfying - is the completed version of the Unfinished Symphony, perhaps because our familiarity with the original makes it virtually impossible to listen objectively to any additions. Over the past 140 years there have been countless attempts to complete the work. This version has a reconstruction of the Scherzo - based on Schubert’s own sketches - by the English Schubert scholar Brian Newbould, together with a Finale assembled by the Swiss conductor Mario Venzago which combines extracts from Schubert’s Rosamunde incidental music with the same work’s Entr’acte, which some historians believe may have been intended as the original Finale for the symphony. It’s an impressive and credible attempt at doing the impossible perhaps, but fails to address the fundamental question with projects like this – “Why even try?”

 Apparently recorded live in concert, the BPO and Falletta deliver performances full of passion and conviction.

  Terry Robbins

 

02_yuja_wang Sonatas & Etudes

Yuja Wang

Deutsche Grammophon 477 8140
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 Among those joining the line of gifted   young pianists emerging from China is Yuja Wang, a 22 year old from Beijing, now living in New York. A graduate of the Beijing Conservatory and the Curtis Institute, Wang made her debut at 16 with the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich with David Zinman - and this new CD, the first of five to be recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, is ample evidence of her talents.

 An eclectic collection, it features music by Chopin, Ligeti, Scriabin and Liszt. From the beginning, it’s clear that Ms. Wang possesses a dazzling technique – little wonder she chose such demanding repertoire! Yet at the same time, fast fingers shouldn’t be an end unto themselves. For example, I found the opening movement of the Chopin piano sonata in B flat minor a little disconcerting – never have I heard it played so briskly. Surely, a musical depiction of a race-horse is not what Chopin had in mind! On the other hand, the lyrical and introspective opening movement of the Scriabin Piano Sonata #2 is approached with great sensitivity. Two etudes by Ligeti may seem an odd choice on a disc of Romantic repertoire, but it is their very nature of contrast (#4 even hinting at the style of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk) that Wang decided to include them. Rounding out the disc is the great Liszt B minor piano sonata, a true tour de force. Not surprisingly, she has full command of this most challenging work – those thundering octaves and arpeggios roll off her hands with apparent ease.

 This is indeed an impressive first disc by a young artist to watch out for in years to come. But for her next recording, may I suggest a little less bravura and a little more poetry?

Richard Haskell

 

 

03_ravel Ravel - L’Enfant et les Sortilèges;

Ma Mère L’Oye

Berliner Philharmoniker; Sir Simon Rattle

EMI Classics 2 64197 2
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 The plot of Ravel’s “lyric fantasy” The Child and the Magic Spells involves a petulant boy who trashes his room, which then comes to life to haunt him. Chairs spring to life, teapots foxtrot, and cats come a-courtin’ in this beautifully orchestrated and endlessly imaginative work. Originally intended as a ballet, the scenario was first conceived in 1914 by the popular French novelist Colette following the birth of her only child. The vocal element only came into play later when she began to collaborate with Ravel in 1917. The score was completed in 1925. As it involves a large orchestra, 21 characters and extensive choreography and costuming, it is rarely heard despite Ravel’s otherwise solid presence in the standard repertoire. Sir Simon Rattle is fully in his element here (he first conducted this work at the age of 19) and the orchestra responds brilliantly. Magdalena Kožena as the Child leads an accomplished ensemble of singers ably backed by the outstanding contribution of the Berlin Radio Chorus. The recording is seamlessly patched together from live performances in September 2008 at Berlin’s Philharmonie Hall; an array of microphones suspended over the orchestra provides pin-point detail while sacrificing a degree of acoustic depth. The heightened sonic presence succeeds admirably in the accompanying Mother Goose, which features many gorgeous instrumental solos cushioned by the renowned deep velvet of the Berlin strings. Full texts and translations are provided in a 60-page booklet. An excellent release, not to be missed.

Daniel Foley

 

 

06_royal_regimentPromenade  

Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada and Guests

Royal Regiment of Canada RRC007

(www.band.rregtc.ca)

 As was the case with this band’s previous recording, this offering includes a potpourri of selections by the band and guests. In the limited space of a review it is not possible to discuss all of the selections included. For me, the highlight of this CD is the First Suite in E flat by Gustav Holst. Lamenting the dearth of major works for concert band, other than transcriptions from orchestral scores, officials of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall commissioned Holst to write two major works in the early 1920’s. Under the baton of Major Paul Weston, formerly of the Royal Marines, this performance of the first of these suites captures all of the many nuances the music requires.

 Compositions by both conductors are also included. Promenade, the title number on this CD by Music Director, Lt. William Mighton leads the listener along a number of light-hearted musical pathways. In contrast Defence of the Realm by Associate Director, Major Paul Weston, is a “Fanfare March” with a much stronger and determined drive.

 Two other numbers which particularly appealed to me were the traditional arrangement of The Holy City with a stunning euphonium solo by Roman Yasinsky and the superb Sammy Nestico arrangement of All Through the Night.

 Also included are a medley of Songs of the Forties featuring vocalist Danielle Bourré, the Alford march The Vanished Army and a variety other British and Canadian traditional and contemporary selections.

Jack McQuarrie

 

04_argerichMartha  Argerich and Friends - Live from the Lugano Festival 2008

Martha Argerich and Friends

EMI Classics 2 67051 2
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Ah, Martha! What an icon she has become ever since she burst onto the scene in 1965, her supreme musicality combining a flamboyant life both on and off the stage! (I well remember a Montreal Symphony Orchestra concert I attended years ago where she was soloist, appearing in a dress not in concert-hall black, but fire-truck red!)

 

The Progetto Martha Argerich (Martha Argerich Project) is an annual event now in its eighth consecutive year which runs for three weeks every June as part of the festival held in Lugano, Switzerland. As artistic director, Argerich gathers together some of the finest artists in the world for three weeks of superb chamber-music and what better way than to capture the magic from 2008 than on this 3-disc EMI recording? Indeed, the wonderfully wide range of material contained within is a treat! It includes piano duos, chamber trios, quartets, a concertino for 7 instruments, and even a short suite for two pianos and chamber orchestra by pianist Mikhail Pletnev. Composers range from Arensky (the Piano Quintet Op.81), and Dvorak (a set of 4 Slavonic Dances) to Ravel (an arrangement of his Introduction and Allegro for two pianos) and Piazzolla (two suites). Many of the performers involved are well-known musicians with whom Argerich has had long-standing professional relationships, such as cellist Misha Maisky and violinist Renaud Capuçon. Others are less familiar, such as clarinettist Corrado Giufreddi and bassoonist Vincent Godel. Not surprisingly, the level of performance is consistently high throughout, and despite these being live performances, audience noises are kept to a minimum.

 

In all, these three discs comprise some very fine music-making, featuring a worthy blend of well-known pieces with those which are decidedly less familiar. It’s almost as good as being there! Recommended.

 

Richard Haskell

 

 

01_bach_von_otter Bach

Anne Sophie von Otter; Concerto Copenhagen; Lars Ulrik Mortensen

Archiv Produktion 447 7467
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First loves are hard to live down – the memories linger and grow more beautiful with time, yet when confronted with reality they often seem puzzling. Such is the case with this recording. J. S. Bach’s music was the first love and first repertoire tackled by the young and promising and at that time completely unknown Swedish soprano, Anna Sofie von Otter. Now, years later, the promise borne out by a great career and international fame, von Otter returns to Bach – with mixed results. To be sure, Bach has not changed (beautifully played here by Concerto Copenhagen) – von Otter has. This extremely talented and versatile mezzo has travelled very different musical grounds over the years. So different, in fact, that the precise and unyielding music of the Baroque master, especially in the excerpts from the cantatas, presents an unexpected hurdle for von Otter. Her phrasing betrays her many years spent not singing the music of the Baroque. And yet, even in this suddenly unfamiliar territory, the beauty of her voice shines in the Magnificat, the Mass in B minor and the St. Matthew Passion. That last one was the music of her original breakthrough, a solo concert in Stockholm years ago. Listening to these parts of the album, one easily understands and appreciates the allure of the first love.

 

Robert Tomas 

 

 

02a_bach_goldberg Bach - Goldberg Variations

Chiara Massini (harpsichord)

Symphonia SY 06222 (www.chiaramassini.com)

 

 

 

02b_gould_tributeA Tribute to Glenn Gould

Magdalena Baczewska

holoPhon LC9112 (www.magdalenabaczewska.com)

 

Chiara Massini’s 2007 recording of the Goldberg Variations on harpsichord is a triumph on many levels. On the surface, the bravado of her playing surprises and delights at every turn, especially impressive in the strong drive of the left hand and exciting forward motion of each variation. Digging a little deeper, the care taken to present each variation as a unique entity reveals a great deal of thought and understanding of rhythmic and harmonic structure. Happily, she repeats each “A” and “B” section - I always wondered if Glenn Gould’s decision to play the aria and each variation “AAB” was in order to keep the length of the performance to within one LP (i.e. the market dictated). On the deepest level, her playing is disciplined, controlled and unromantic which is such a breath of fresh air. Her interpretation, as it were, is to present the piece as written, with exquisite ornamentation, brilliant sense of line and a deep understanding of the way the piece is put together.

 

In the liner notes to her tribute to Glenn Gould the gifted pianist Magdalena Baczewska makes clear her indebtedness to the recordings of the Canadian icon. She dedicates the recording to this “extraordinary musician and thinker” and urges the listener to “spend an hour with some of the most beautiful music ever written”. Her program – the Goldberg Variations and the Strauss Sonata op. 5 – leaves the listener no option but to compare her playing to Gould’s yet, not surprisingly, they are worlds apart. Gould described the Goldbergs as “unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved, and revealed to us here, as so rarely in art, in the vision of subconscious design exulting upon a pinnacle of potency”. Baczewska plays it all very beautifully, but with little regard for the structure, hierarchy or counterpoint of the piece, begging the question of what she learned, if anything, from Gould's playing. Her Strauss is lyrical, at times majestic, at others intimate and delicate. It comes off much more successfully than the Bach and redeems the “tribute”.

 

Larry Beckwith

 

 

05_spanish_brass The Best of Spanish Brass

Spanish Brass

Marquis 81505 (www.marquisclassics.com)

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Toronto record label Marquis has made a welcome addition to their fledgling brass repertoire offerings with this 2 CD compilation of tracks from the discography of The Spanish Brass, better known in Spain as Luur Metalls. Formed in 1989 and touring internationally ever since, they have released some nine albums on private labels over their busy career, assembled here for their 20th anniversary. A brass quintet of great virtuosity and a keen sense of ensemble, their repertoire features many arrangements of Spanish classics by the likes of Albeniz, Turina and de Falla along with original compositions by lesser known composers, represented here by the intriguing polystylism of the Suite Americana by the Uruguayan-American Enrique Crespo (who, incidentally, is the founder of the German Brass ensemble). The album gets off to a rather bland start with the inclusion of two lengthy Bach arrangements and ends quite disappointingly with a series of hackneyed Christmas medleys involving the Orfeo Valencia Navarro Reverter chorus, but fortunately the bulk of the program is quite invigorating and the performances throughout are excellent. I would have preferred to hear a few samples of the less commercial works in their repertoire, which according to their web site (www.spanishbrass.com) includes works by Berio and Lutoslawski. No information is provided for the sources or producers of the various tracks, though solid production values are quite consistent throughout.

 

Daniel Foley

 

 

 


01_langaardRued Langgaard - The Symphonies

Danish National Symphony Orchestra,

Vocal Ensemble and Choir;

Thomas Dausgaard

Dacapo 6.200001

At one time, many music lovers and record collectors, including myself, believed that the record companies were archivists who (I say who because we thought of them as people), from the beginning of the 20th century had recorded and preserved the art of both performer and composer for the present and for posterity. There were performers whose name on the label, regardless of repertoire, translated to money in the bank, particularly for EMI, RCA and Columbia who had just about everyone and everybody of significance under contract.

As CD sales diminish, the majors’ output is almost exclusively artist driven. Today, it is the smaller, lesser known companies that explore new repertoire played by musicians who know and illuminate the scores. Except for Naxos, Chandos, and some others who conscientiously record new repertoire, companies, by and large, are merely replacing familiar repertoire with new performances. To record and issue works by obscure composers amounts to artistic heroism, no matter how they are funded. Such an undertaking is this omnibus collection of orchestral works by Rued Langgaard assembled from performances recorded from 1998 to 2008.

The ninth edition of The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (1964, completely revised) has no entry for Rued Langgaard, the Danish composer who lived from 1893 to 1952. It does mention his father, Siegfried, a pianist and composer who had studied with Franz Liszt. Siegfried, it seems, was also immersed in Theosophy, a religious philosophy based on meditation and mysticism, which in turn was deeply embraced by Rued. His music attempts and, depending on the listener’s frame of mind, succeeds in conveying his belief in dimensional realities beyond empirical perceptions.

Langgaard was an ingenuously inventive and highly skilled composer and orchestrator. He was not a Stravinsky, a Schoenberg or a Shostakovich but his lack of originally is compensated by an ingenious and inspired invention within the established Late Romantic style.

His first symphony, written in 1911, was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Max Fiedler. This hour-long work is already indicative of his later symphonic development and his individual rhapsodic, drama driven output, sounding for all the world like epic film scores which clearly puts him ahead of his time. This is certainly not a deprecating characterisation but these are the impressions of today, not then. A group of five named orchestral pieces of special character, deeply moving in the Liszt-Wagner genre, round out the collection.

Will Rued Langgaard’s career now take off? Will his symphonies become standard repertoire? Will musical dictionaries now enlarge their coverage? Will we hear his tunes whistled in the subway? Not a chance.      But by the same token I commend the colossal and patient undertaking by DACAPO to bring Langgaard’s music to our attention in such superlative performances as these and their many other CDs and DVDs of the music of this undeservedly obscure composer.

This set is a generous appetiser. In addition to his symphonic scores, Langgaard wrote operas, music for the stage, chamber music including string quartets, etc.

I intend to explore his music further.

Bruce Surtees

02_ragomaniaRagomania - Music of William Bolcom

and Clare Fischer

Richard Stoltzman; Lancaster Festival Orchestra; Gary Sheldon

Marquis 81397

(www.marquisclassics.com)

William Bolcom, the eclectic American composer, is an enigma for me. Either I love his work or I just cannot fathom it. He draws on a multitude of sonic styles to construct his pieces, resulting in the ever present threat that a huge aural surprise is patiently waiting around the corner.

“Ragomania” features three works by Bolcom. The opening track of the same name is an interesting documentation of Bolcom’s musical experiments. Bolcom discusses his decision on a “heavy percussion part” in the liner notes. Buried in volume and sudden dynamic shifts, his music charm is sadly lost in the noise, in this first recording of the work. His Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra is a three movement, well constructed work played with passion by soloist Richard Stoltzman and the Lancaster Festival Orchestra under the direction of Gary Sheldon. Undoubtedly, Bolcom’s Commedia for (almost) 18th-century orchestra is the highlight here. Drawing on commedia dell’arte, the orchestration was limited by the quasi 18th century type ensemble of the work’s 1971 commissioner, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The snippets of ideas are fun and intriguing; there is never a dull musical moment here. No wonder Bolcom writes that is “by far my most-played orchestral work”.

The release is rounded out by Clare Fischer’s The Duke, Swee’Pea and Me. Using a number of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tunes as a basis, clarinettist Stoltzman gives a stellar rendition, whether playing his part or even more surprisingly, improvising.

Just like trying a new dish at your favourite restaurant, “Ragomania” is worth the effort of sampling the unique music of William Bolcom.

Tiina Kiik

01_coco_joyfulJoyful

Coco Love Alcorn

SOP SOP2009001

(www.cocolovealcorn.com)

“Joyful”, the latest disc by singer-songwriter Coco Love Alcorn is a fun, eclectic party. The record opens with the preachy funkiness of Compassion, switches gears to the cute pop of I Got a Bicycle — complete with the instrument du jour of many young singer-songwriters these days, glockenspiel — then ventures into an ode to science nerds everywhere with Intellectual Boys. All of the songs are written by Alcorn who on her My Space page cites some of her influences as “dark organic fair trade chocolate, robots and shade provided by trees” but from the sounds of this record I’m guessing Feist, Corinne Bailey Rae and the Andrews Sisters had a hand, too. Alcorn guides her pretty voice easily from a girlie whisper on the quirky pop tunes to a big, soulful sound on the funkier numbers. Producer, programmer and keyboard player Chris Gestrin is a strong presence on the album providing Wurlitzer, Moog and various synthesized sounds as the mood requires. Alcorn plays acoustic guitar, bass, trumpet and “high fives.”

Cathy Riches

Concert Note: Alcorn is touring Canada and lands in Toronto on June 14 for the CD release party at Hugh’s Room.

02_ahluwaliWanderlust

Kiran Ahluwalia

Four Quarters Entertainment

FQT-CD-1802 (www.kiranmusic.com)

Vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia is no newcomer to the world music scene. Born in India and raised in Toronto (now living in New York), she has made an international career for herself singing and developing the art form of ghazal (love songs generally depicting unfulfilled desires) and Punjabi folk songs. I first became aware of her while listening to Toronto violinist Parmela Attariwala’s first CD – “Beauty Enthralled” has one track featuring Ahluwalia, and I was totally hooked! “Wanderlust” is Ahluwalia’s fourth CD, featuring her own musical settings of poems from various sources. (Her second CD, “Beyond Boundaries” won the Juno award for best world music album of the year in 2004). You don’t need to understand Punjabi to appreciate this album – in fact, I dare you not to love this CD! The music itself is gorgeous, and somewhat beyond categorization – while certain traditional elements are present, for example the highly melismatic vocal style, use of tabla, sarangi and harmonium accompaniment, this is “modernish” music, but not to be pigeonholed as any one style or “fusion”. The use of other instruments not normally associated with Indian music, such as the Portuguese guitarra, adds a particularly nice touch on some of the tracks. The main attraction though is Ahluwalia’s voice itself – and here, words are not enough – velvety smooth, flowing like honey, impeccable intonation – but don’t take my word for it; buy the CD (or all of them) and hear for yourself!

Karen Ag

03_lhasaLhasa

Les Disques Audiogram ADCD 10222 (www.lhasadesela.com)

Lhasa de Sela fans have had a bit of a wait since 2003’s “The Living Road” and though “Lhasa” is a departure from her last, highly-praised disc, there is plenty here to enjoy. Lhasa’s gorgeous, plaintive voice and distinctive songwriting are the bedrocks and as usual she’s surrounded herself with skilled, sensitive musicians who bring a lot to the overall atmosphere. Recorded live off the floor, “Lhasa” is a much more stripped down recording – if you can call a record with harp, violin and several types of guitars, stripped down. Compared to “Living Road’s” multi-layered arrangements and inventive production, “Lhasa” is positively sparse. But it’s apt given the inspiration for the songs, the majority of which are fuelled by heartbreak and emotionally raw. The inventive musicians make the most of the spare arrangements, coaxing expressive sounds out of their instruments to bring appropriate mood to the material, such as Andrew Barr’s mallet drumming on The Lonely Spider or Joe Grass’s resonator guitar work on What Kind of Heart. The other major difference is that all the lyrics are in English, which is a bit of a shame since Lhasa writes beautifully in Spanish and French, growing up as she did in Mexico before settling in Montreal. But the songs don’t lose anything with the absence of a romance language. Lhasa still taps into her deeply poetic side, as in Where Do You Go with “Where do you go / when your tides are low / in the summer dress / of your drunkenness.”

Cathy Riches

02_schumann_lemieuxSchumann

Marie-Nicole Lemieux; Daniel Blumenthal

Naïve V5159

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What a treat to listen to a goodly measure of Schumann’s vocal music sung in full, rich and womanly contralto. Marie-Nicole Lemieux, though still in her early thirties, displays the maturity of tone and dramatic sensitivity demanded by this quintessential Romantic genre. Whether playing the young betrothed made breathless by the excitement of her approaching nuptials or evoking the first stirrings of motherly instinct or the grief of widowhood, Lemieux delivers a stunning and credible execution. And accompaniment by Daniel Blumenthal is most expressive whilst never overreaching the support role and yet is quite unique in its tone and pacing compared with other performances of this repertoire. In addition to Frauenliebe und-Leben, Lemieux and Blumenthal perform another of Schumann’s song cycles, Liederkreis, as well as five other Schumann lieder: Die Löwenbraut, Der Nussbaum, Er Ist’s, Lorelei, and Widmung. While Frauenliebe und-Leben and Die Löwenbraut work within a narrative framework, Liederkreis and other selections simply evoke the atmospheric qualities of Romanticism: nature, sentimentality and longing, alongside a most seductive fear of the dark and the unknown. The obsessive spirit of Schumann’s total immersion in lieder in 1840 along with his idealized perception of womanhood which drove his pursuit of Clara is well realized by these two exceptional performers.

Dianne Wells

03_handel_semeleHandel - Semele

Cecilia Bartoli; Orchestra La Scintilla; William Christie

Decca 074 3323

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Suspension of disbelief is one of the most important elements to possess when watching opera. You know what I mean - the middle-aged soprano singing of celebrating her 16th birthday (Madama Butterfly); the less-than youthful and not so slender Ophelia in Hamlet; the numerous “in trousers” roles…. That is the primary reason why for centuries now there is a tension between singers gifted with an incredible voice and not looking the part and those who only look, but don’t sound the part. Some of the greatest operatic careers were built mostly on the looks (Renée Fleming, take a bow!). Then there is Cecilia Bartoli. Years ago, her beautiful, but not very powerful voice was upstaged by her stunning looks. But as her voice has matured, no suspension of disbelief is necessary. Her performance as Semele is a case in point. The grasping, foolish Semele instead has a problem not of her own making - the minimalist production by Robert Carsen. The modern, Royal House of Belgium-like set and costumes do not convince as a dwelling of Jupiter and his favourite mortal. And yet, in the third act, both Bartoli and Charles Workman as Jupiter deliver a gripping, powerful interplay of love and misunderstanding. The human and divine emotions shine in their voices as they do in the voices of the other principals and the precise, if not very period-inspired playing of the familiar music of Handel. Although not a complete triumph, this is one DVD worth keeping – if you can suspend disbelief

Robert Tomas

04_puccini_butterflyPuccini - Madama Butterfly
Angela Gheorghiu; Jonas Kaufmann;
Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; Antonio Pappano
EMI Classics 2 64187 2 8

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In the DVD era it comes as quite a surprise that EMI is investing in a brand new CD set of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Especially Butterfly, an opera recorded umpteen times and favoured by some of the greatest conductors, most notably Karajan who probed the depths and unearthed so much beauty in this score much to the chagrin of its detractors who ridiculed it as shallow and sentimental. Favoured also by the great sopranos, Callas, Tebaldi, the unforgettable Scotto, Freni etc. who made the principal role their own over the years.

Yet it is still important to hear new artists tackling the score and this handsomely presented new set with demonstration sound does just that. From the first bar onwards we are instantly aware of the excitement and electricity of Antonio Pappano’s brilliant, empathetic conducting, turning the orchestra into a major dramatic role in an almost Wagnerian fashion. His feeling for detail is uncanny. Feel how he creates an almost unbearable and horrifying near silence just before final tragedy.

Jonas Kaufmann as Pinkerton is a strong ‘heldentenor’, singing out the notes, but I am missing the Italianate charm that I am sure Puccini intended. In the supporting roles, Fabio Capitanucci (Sharpless) and Enkelejda Shkosa (Suzuki) are not comparable to such past greats as Christa Ludwig and Giuseppe de Luca. However, the second major factor that makes this recording so extraordinary is famed Puccini heroine Angela Gheorghiu in the title role. It requires a singer-actress of the highest caliber to portray the development of a 15 year old geisha into a lover, a proud mother and later a tragic heroine. She accomplishes this daunting task beautifully with a memorable performance.

Janos Gardonyi

01a_mozart_magicTDK has issued a reasonably priced DVD package of Mozart operas recorded live at the Salzburg Festival, all with The Vienna Philharmonic, featuring distinguished soloists of the time (DVWW-GOLDBOX5, 6 DVDs). These were all recorded by the ORF and licensed by them and issued with the official Salzburger Festspiele Dokumente logo.

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01_mozart_box

We begin with Die Zauberflõte from 21 August 1982 conducted by James Levine with an all-star cast including Martti Talvela, Peter Schreier, Walter Berry, Edita Gruberova, Ileana Cotrubas, Edda Moser, Ann Murray, and Horst Hiestermann. From the very first bars of the Overture, there can be no doubt that this will be a towering performance... which it is. The sets, costumes, and stage direction are by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle who did not load the stage with Zeffirelli opulence but created striking and original sets that were ahead of their time with costumes to match. Mozart is well served and there no question as to the choice of singers who, even in the spoken dialogue are naturally convincing.


01b_mozart_cosi

Cosí fan Tutti, Mozart’s delightful comic masterpiece is conducted here by Ricardo Muti who maintains the giocoso spirit throughout. The pseudo-tragic moments are also depicted musically to good effect. This 1983 production has, as usual in Salzburg, an international cast with Margaret Marshall (Fiordiligi), Ann Murray (Dorabella), James Morris (Guglielmo), Francisco Araiza (Ferrando), Kathleen Battle (Despina), Sesto Bruscantini (Don Alfonso), and Gerhard Paul (a landlord). These seasoned and experienced Mozart singers who are veterans of the Festival for many years assume their roles with confidence. The staging of this opera is very critical in maintaining the comic aura but here it is rather two dimensional and surprisingly unimaginative. The acting is sometimes static, lacking vibrant direction in comparison with other productions. It is, however, useful and enlightening for listeners who have not seen this opera live. In spite these small reservations I am pleased to see this performance released.

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The production of La Clemenza di Tito from August 2003 moves Mozart’s last opera into the 21st Century. And it works to perfection. La Clemenza was completed in 1791 shortly before Mozart’s death and history has eclipsed the event with the stories of the commissioning of the unfinished Requiem. The opera was written for the coronation of Ludwig II of Bavaria and has always been controversial, deemed unperformable by many. I don’t believe this opera is mentioned, even in passing, in the movie Amadeus that so painstakingly dwells on Mozart’s last year. All misgivings have been removed since this spectacular staging in 2003 here presented in wide screen and surround sound. The cast will be familiar: Michael Schade brings Tito to life; Vesselina Kasarova, Sesto; Dorothea Röschmann, Vitellia; Elina Garanča, Annio; Barbara Bonney, Servilia; and Luca Pisaroni, Publio. None of these singers is less than astonishing and all are beyond criticism. Canadian Michael Schade needs no introduction and those of us who saw Le Cenerentola live from the Met recently will well remember Elina Garanča, here cast in a most unusual role. Nikolaus Harnoncourt keeps a steady pulse and succeeds in turning in a performance that, together with every aspect of this production, makes La Clemenza di Tito the most captivating of the three in this package.
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01c_mozart_tito



The first Mahler I owned on record, in fact the first Mahler I ever heard was Das Lied von der Erde. That was the still exemplary performance recorded live by EMI on May 1936 with Bruno Walter conducting The Vienna Philharmonic with Kerstin Thorborg and Charles Kullman. When it was first issued on 14 78rpm sides it was considered a risky proposition but this performance remains as a lasting monument to Bruno Walter at his most inspired. Recently I came across a CD in my collection conducted by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (ORFEO C494001B). The performance is the most meaningful and expressive I have heard. The music breathes. It discloses Fischer-Dieskau’s deep understanding of what the verses really mean. Both soloists, Yvi Janicke and Christian Elsner (who studied with Fischer-Dieskau), although not best in class, are in accord with the conductor. Beautifully recorded, with every nuance audible, I was taken aback when, many moments after the last notes fell away, there was applause. This was a live performance! It took place on 22 June 1996 at the Schubertiade in Feldkirch, Austria. Mahler lovers owe it to themselves to hear this unique performance. It’s a must.

02_mahler
Several important David Oistrakh editions were released over the last few months to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of his birth, mostly reissues of his studio recordings. A few were offering never-released-before performances and particularly notable of this group is the new DOREMI, the 13th in their ongoing series of Oistrakh Rarities (DHR-7950). This is the complete recital from January 1959 given in Paris with his long time accompanist Vladimir Yampolsky. Oistrakh was clearly at the top of his powers and this repertoire cannot be imagined in better performances, musically or technically. They played the Franck Violin Sonata, Ravel’s Tzigane, the glowing sonata in G minor by Tartini, and the Schumann Fantasia in C major, op.131. Collectors will know that Oistrakh never recorded the Schumann commercially, so that this is a real treasure. They will also know the significance of a bonus track on this CD. Oistrakh rarely performed any of Bach’s famous six unaccompanied sonatas and partitas, and recorded only the first, BWV1001. At the end of a Gala with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1965 he played the Andante from the second sonata BWV1003. A genuine rarity. Good sound.

03_oistrakh


 

 

 


 


 

02_tjoThe  Path

Toronto Jazz Orchestra

Independent TJO003 (www.thetjo.com)

The Toronto Jazz Orchestra’s third release coincides with the 10th anniversary of its existence. Founding Artistic Director and Conductor Josh Grossman’s baby initially began as a rehearsal band of friends and peers from U of T, Humber College and York University; the grown TJO has gone on to perform with numerous high-profile jazz artists including Phil Nimmons, Seamus Blake and Kurt Elling. While they have performed various tributes to big band heroes of American yesteryear, a great deal of the Canadian big band’s appeal lies in its decidedly modern arrangements, compositions and interpretations. One such example is the funky, futuristic Cereal Blocks by Finnish composer Johan Pyykkö; otherwise, “The Path” abounds with mostly home-grown compositions. The meticulously scored i love you on the microphone by Montreal-based composer Moiya Callahan is an intriguing, challenging commission.

Another outstanding track is The Call, an inspired composition by David Braid arranged by Andrew Jones. Grossman contributes three of his own, including the adventuresome title track, the sparkling Chazz and the comical TJO. The director’s intelligent arrangements of Amazing Grace and Vince Mendoza’s Esperanto are commendable for balancing freshness and accessibility; the latter is one of two tracks featuring immensely talented vocalist, Sophia Perlman. There are more than a few memorable solos, including wonderful reed work by Mark Laver and Terry Quinney and pianist Ali Berkok. The eighteen-piece ensemble breathes as one throughout. All in all, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra is on an admirable path.

 

Ori Dagan

01_borbely Hommage à Kodály

Mihály Borbély Quartet

Budapest Music Center Records BMC CD 155 (www.bmcrecords.hu)

 

Perhaps only Hungarians can capture the nuances implicit in the compositions of their countryman Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967). At least Budapest-based multi-reedist Mihály Borbély demonstrates that on this CD where he integrates Kodály’s themes with his own jazz compositions. Borbély, who also plays in the Magyar folk tradition that influenced Kodály, doesn’t imitate the composer. Instead the quintet which plays his themes extends the folkloric style while staying within the parameters of improvised music.

For instance, Balázs Kántor’s reading of Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello with double-stopping plucks and Roma romanticism foreshadows the contrapuntal Borbély composition which follows it. Tilinkós, Kodály’s own, features the reedman’s buoyant and lyrical soloing on tilinkós or shepherd’s pipe mixed with tremolo slides from Kántor, tough drum beats from Istávan Baló, high-frequency modal runs from pianist Dániel Szabó, and conclusive Orientalized trills from Borbély’s saxophone – which recall that the Turks ruled Hungary for centuries.

Similarly, the dramatic equal temperament Szabó brings to his playing on Kodály’s Sonatina is as kinetic as the cascading note choruses he displays on the saxophonist’s The Shepherd of Hope. Although Baláczs Horvath’s walking bass line plus the supple tongue-fluttering and aviary chirps from Borbély’s soprano saxophone may have disconcerted Kodály, he would have appreciated the lullaby-like finale here that reflects his own work.

With the band sounding like a swinging jazz combo at times – albeit one where Borbély’s strident extensions are sometimes also expressed on tárogato – and a sympathetic chamber ensemble elsewhere, this homage to Kodály impresses with originality as well as empathy.

 

Ken Waxman

 

 

03_mingus_epitaphCharles  Mingus - Epitaph

Orchestra; Gunther Schuller

Eagle Eye Media EE-39171-9

On June 3rd, 1989 New York’s Alice Tully Hall was the scene of a monumental tribute to the late, great Charles Mingus, who had died a decade earlier. 30 musicians, including the cream of New York’s jazz community directed by Gunther Schuller, gave the first performance of Epitaph, an 18 movement work composed over a number of years by Mingus which had never seen the light of day. Some sections, “Better Get It In Your Soul” and “Freedom” for example, are known in other versions performed by smaller groups, while some pieces were composed for a legendary disastrous concert at New York’s Town Hall in 1962. There hadn’t been a chance to rehearse it properly and the copyists were, indeed, even still copying some of the music – it wasn’t even fully ready and so eventually the concert was aborted when the union stage crew said, ‘It’s midnight, we’ve gotta stop this.’ The other pieces on this recording would seem to have been written for the full orchestra.

It can certainly be described as Mingus’ magnum opus and runs well over two hours. If you’re a fan this is not to be missed, but if you are not familiar with his music I would suggest that you listen to some of his albums – “Mingus Ah Um” or “Blues and Roots” - before plunging in at the deep end with this ambitious undertaking.

Composer and arranger Andrew Homzy who discovered the 500 page score, some of it in very poor condition, while cataloguing Mingus’ work, deserves a vote of thanks for his restoration of this significant aspect of the creative spirit that was Charles Mingus.

An interesting footnote is that the composition had no finale and according to Schuller he and the band improvised one, using Mingus as an inspiration.

Jim Galloway

 

 

04_sophie_milmanTake  Love Easy
Sophie Milman
Linus 2 7010 8
(www.linusentertainment.com)

buy
At Grigorian.Com

Following closely on the success of her Juno-winning “Make Someone Happy”, Russian-born Toronto resident Sophie Milman has released her third studio recording. In contrast to her previous albums that were mostly older standards, “Take Love Easy” is an inviting mix of covers by modern songwriting icons such as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon combined with tunes by the likes of Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. Milman has a warm, sultry delivery that is best on the moody down tempo numbers while on the few faster tempo tunes that call for more precision, she gets left in the dust somewhat. But the killer band is in complete control throughout, nimbly navigating through the various styles here. The rhythm section - Paul Shrofel, keys, Rob Piltch, guitar, Kieran Overs, bass and Mark McLean, drums – swings gently on the title track, stretches out on That Is Love, then eases their way through the bossa nova-tinged My One and Only Love, with sublime accordion playing by Tom Szczesniak. The whole ensemble, including lush horns, does a gorgeous rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.

Cathy Riches

Concert Note: Milman performs at the Montreal and Vancouver TD Canada Trust jazz fests in July.

 

 

05_terra_hazeltonGimme Whatcha Got
Terra Hazelton
Independent
(www.myspace.com/terrahazeltonandhereasyanswers)

Best-known for singing with Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards for 6 years, Terra Hazelton can today be found singing with Toronto bands such as The Hogtown Syncopators, The Jivebombers, and Jaymz Bee’s Royal Jelly Orchestra. Her sophomore release is a departure from the Healey-produced debut “Anybody’s Baby” which was recorded live-off-the-floor. “Gimme Whatcha Got” is a musical metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly, a product of Hazelton’s own musical vision guided by producer/pianist John Sheard and supported by a collection of this country’s finest jazz musicians. The benevolent rhythm section features Sheard on piano, George Koller on bass, Jesse Barksdale on guitar and Mark Mariash on drums. A welcome abundance of special guests include William Sperandei on trumpet, Shawn Nykwist on tenor, Ross Wooldridge on clarinet and Danny Douglas on trombone. Chris Gale’s spine-tingling solo on Julia Lee’s Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got is the kind that beckons to be transcribed; same goes for the five tracks graced by vivacious violin virtuoso Drew Jurecka. Tasteful duets with Alex Pangman (Don’t Let Your Love Go Wrong) and Russell DeCarle (Two Sleepy People) plus a trio with Jason and Sheldon Valieau (I’m an Old Cowhand) add some spice. Hazelton’s compelling delivery captures the essence of every song, whether it’s romantic (I Like it ‘Cause I Love it), naughty (Gotta Gimme Whatcha Got), droll (Ev’rything I’ve Got Belongs to You) or tragic (Smoking My Sad Cigarette). This radiant singer has never shone brighter.

Ori Dagan

 

 Extended Play:

Alexander Von Schlippenbach

and his band mates

By Ken Waxman

 

01_VonSchlippenbach A European jazz pacesetter since the late 1960s, German pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach’s groups showcase different aspects of his broad interests. Together for over 35 years, his trio with saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer Paul Lovens features improvisers attuned to each other’s thinking. Predating that, The Globe Unity Orchestra herds outstanding Continental soloists into cooperative big band arrangements. His Monk’s Casino quintet – filled out by German players about 25 years younger than Schlippenbach, 71 – offers a unique take on Thelonious Monk’s oeuvre. Its members also score on individual projects, like these CDs.

Able to display the quirky kernel of Monk’s moods elsewhere, on Friulian Sketches (psi 08.07; www.emanemdisc.com/psi.html), Von Schlippenbach personalizes jazz chamber music, seconded by American cellist Tristan Honsinger and Italian clarinettist Daniele D’Agaro. The 20 inventions are airy and pleasant, and never do the bel canto flourishes trump innate creativity. For example on Capriccio skewed Monkian tropes give way to broken-octave chording and strummed cadenzas from the pianist – both formalist and funky. In contrast the cellist’s tremolo squeaks open up into multi-string exhibitionism, while D’Agaro’s reed quivers with lyrical currents. Moderato throughout, tunes are frequently jolted by the clarinettist’s high-pitched glissandi or liquid portamento. Take Antifonia where D’Agaro’s tones are matched by the pianist’s organic patterning plus a stop-time interlude from Honsinger. Altering their instruments’ tessitura as they play, the three keep the restrained sounds from becoming simplistic by including rhythmic plunks from cello strings and key fanning from the piano.

02_Toot Simplicity doesn’t enter the equation on TOOT’s Two (Another Timbre At14; www.anothertimbre.com). Here the Bebop chops trumpeter Axel Dörner exhibits in Monk’s Casino are transmogrified into disembodied brass sound pulses, the better to meld with the quivering wave forms and undercurrents from Thomas Lehn’s synthesizer and the cries, retches and mumbles which make up the unconventional oralization of British vocalist Phil Minton. Minton’s style of anti-singing, which encompasses duck quacks, yodeling, basso growls and strangled yelps, reduces vocal expression to its most basic. So does the trumpeter, whose expression mostly consists of flat-line air forced through the horn’s body tube, reductionist breaths and circumscribed grace notes. Abstract on their own, Lehn’s sound envelopes hold the improvisations together with pulsating signals and electric-piano-like sprinkles. Evolving chromatically or contrapuntally, Toot’s soundworld is pointillist, but not cynosure. Despite Minton’s strident throat extensions, his gibberish spouting is put into context when mated with the others’ outpourings. Purring timbres and ring modulator-like whooshes from the synthesizer create a connective undercurrent, while Dörner’s excursions into muted grace notes confirm the in-the-moment status of the improvisations.

03_GoodBoys Even more instantaneous is Aki and The Good Boys’ Live at Willisau Jazz Festival (Jazz Werkstatt JW 049; www.records-cd.com). One “good boy” prominent on this CD by Aki Takase – the Japanese-born, Berlin-based pianist – is bass clarinettist Rudi Mahall, who shares the front line in Monk’s Casino with Dörner. Serendipitously enough, Takase is Von Schlippenbach’s wife. Looser than the other CDs’ programs, “Live” cannily subverts American jazz and German folksongs. Takase’s compositions are harmonically and melodically sophisticated. They also have sufficient space for her keyboard forays ranging from high-frequency tinkling, to metronomic pulsing. Added are flutter-tongued, altissimo and vamping exchanges between Mahall and Amsterdam-based reedist Tobias Delius.              Scattered among the tunes are four Mahall-composed miniatures which lighten the mood and extend the color palate. Dreimal Durch for instance, conflates an uneven pulse, spidery piano arpeggios and unison horn trills. The bass clarinettist’s reed bites, spetrofluctuation and tongue slaps help define Takase compositions such as Today’s Ulysses, which also showcases her metronomic patterning and contrasting dynamics. Here Mahall scooping concentric notes from his horn’s bottom causes Delius to unleash responsive honks and slurs.

04_JanRoder In contrast to these exercises in group interaction, bassist Jan Roder – whose solid rhythm is the rock on which Monk’s Casino rests – goes it alone on Double Bass (jazzwerkstatt JW 037; www.records-cd.com), unveiling multiple strategies as his modulated plucks alternate with metronomic inventions plus abrasive bow scratches. Nau captures slaps, pulls and thumps. Ses deals with staccato, strident and subterranean double-stopping – one texture resembles pooch barks, another is airily melodic. Then there’s Kvar, which uses crumpled paper placed among the strings to create rattling noises that upticks to sul ponticello creaks. The piece concludes with adagio note clusters executed with guitar-like facility.

 

Concert Note: Each musician excels as a stylist on his own. Toronto can experience them together as Monk’s Casino at the Church of the Redeemer as part of the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival on June 26.

 

 

01_bach_bminor Marc Minkowski first came to the attention of Toronto concert-goers through his highly successful collaboration with Opera Atelier of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas back in 1995. But he has been an important force on the “period performance” scene for much longer than that, having founded Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble at the age of 20 in 1982. With dozens of recordings under his belt it seems strange that Minkowski has waited more than 25 years to tackle any of the major works of J. S. Bach. With the recent release of the Mass in B-minor (Naïve V 5145) all that has changed and Minkowski has embarked on a long-term projected “Bach cycle”. In the Mass Minkowski uses sparse forces which he feels reflect those which would have been available to Bach, had the work seen the light of day during his lifetime. Instrumentally there are just thirteen strings, pairs of winds and trumpets, solo horn for the famous duet with the bass voice in the Quoniam tu solus sanctus, timpani and continuo alternating between organ and harpsichord. The ten vocal soloists do double duty as one-voice-per-part choristers as required, and we are presented with an intimate, crystalline performance lasting one hour and forty-one minutes. Recorded last July during the fledgling Via Stellae Festival (Festival of Music of Compostela and its Ways of Pilgrimage) in the gothic San Domingos de Bonaval Church, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the reverberant acoustic belies the small ensemble and we are treated to a glorious full sound without losing any of the intimacy of the performance. The predominantly young vocal soloists are all outstanding, with highlights for me being alto (and former soprano soloist in the Vienna Boys’ Choir) Terry Wey in the Qui sedes ad dextram patris with oboe d’amore provided by Emmanuel Laporte and in the duet Et in unum Dominum with soprano Lucy Crowe; and Canadian tenor Colin Balzer’s Benedictus with flute soloist Florian Cousin. Beginning the cycle with what has been called the culmination of Bach’s life’s work will prove to be a tough act for Minkowski to follow, but on the evidence of this maiden voyage there are future treasures in store. Packaged as a one hundred page, trilingual hardcover book (thankfully with CD-case dimensions for easy filing) including program notes, an interview with Minkowski, texts with translations and full artist biographies, this handsome set is a welcome addition the catalogue and to my collection.

Bach: B Minor 'Mass
buy
At Grigorian.Com

02_national_youth-orch Last month the National Youth Orchestra of Canada announced the 100 members of the 2009 edition of the orchestra selected from some 550 applicants across the county. If Selections from the 2008 National Tour (NYOC2008CD www.nyoc.org) is any indication, audiences have a treat in store in August when this year’s orchestra, under the direction of Alain Trudel, tours Ontario and Quebec with stops including the National Arts Centre and Roy Thomson Hall. Last year the baton was held by Trois-Rivières native Jacques Lacombe, who is currently making his mark on the opera stages of Europe and will make his debut at Covent Garden this summer. Lacombe leads the 2008 NYOC in very strong performances of late 19th, 20th and 21st century works. The two disc set begins with Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Through the Unknown, Unremembered Gate, a work which, as I suspected but is not attributed as such in the disc’s liner notes, was commissioned by the NYOC in which orchestra members are required to vocalize as well as play their instruments. It is quite an effective, dramatic work and Toronto audiences will have a chance to hear the TSO perform it during the New Creations Festival in February 2010. Murphy’s piece is followed by convincing performances of Mahler’s First Symphony “The Titan” (with my compliments to the excellent horn section) and Prokofiev’s “Scythian Suite”, but where the orchestra truly shines is in Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. Concertmasters Aysel Taghi-Zada and Kenny Wong turn in stellar performances in the solo roles, but the work, which leaves each section of the orchestra exposed in turn, is testament to the fact that there are simply no weak links in this well-oiled machine. These discs make it easy to see why a third of all the players in professional Canadian orchestras are alumni of the NYOC which next season will celebrate 50 years since its founding by Walter Susskind back in 1960.

A couple of months ago in this column I noted the 20th anniversary release by Catherine Wilson’s Ensemble Vivant. Not content to rest on their laurels, the ensemble has just released Fête 03_ensemble_vivantFrançaise (Opening Day ODR 9379 www.openingday.com). Over the years I must confess that I have tended to ignore the group’s recordings simply as bomboniere, collections of lighter fare, all dessert and no main course. I am very pleased to find their latest release contains a much more substantial menu, with little known works by familiar composers to which we have not been overexposed in the past. Of particular note for me is the Debussy Piano Trio in G Major, an early work which was suppressed by the composer and only came to light in 1980. Having had a go at this one with my own amateur trio I was very happy to find a wonderful performance of it on this new recording. Although Debussy decided that this was not something he wanted to send out into the world to represent him, it does provide a pivotal glimpse into his development and the world he was leaving behind with the new ideas that would lead him to Impressionism. The CD also includes two other rarities, a charming collection of Alsatian folk melodies set for piano, violin and cello by Charles-Marie Widor, a composer known to most only for his organ works, and a Septet by Camille Saint-Saëns. This latter is a backward-looking work which had it been composed 50 years later – in 1930 instead of 1880 – would have been called neo-classical, or more accurately neo-baroque. Scored for the unusual combination of string quintet (with double bass), piano and trumpet, it was commissioned by the organizer of a society of wind players called La Trompette, and consists of a suite of dance movements including a menuet and gavotte. Congratulations to Ensemble Vivante for uncovering these works and presenting them with their usual flare.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

 

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