05_musica_intimaInto Light
Musica Intima
ATMA ACD2 2613

The outstanding vocal ensemble Musica Intima is based in Vancouver, a city with a rich tradition of exploration in choral music. Musica Intima’s innovations are many. It is a youthful chorus of 12 outstanding professional musicians who perform without a conductor; instead, members have developed their own signals for musical intercommunication. They sing with pure, vibrato-less tone, and “Into Light” demonstrates their ability to sound effortless in the most difficult music.

There is much talk today of “spirituality in music” but do we know what we are talking about? For me, spirituality lies as much as anything in the way things happen musically, the processes in the work and how we experience them. At least, “Into Light” is to me a spiritual collection both in texts, religious or otherwise, and in musical settings by familiar and lesser-known Canadian composers. There is the sense of discovery, of seeing-beyond, in Three Hymns from R. Murray Schafer’s The Fall Into Light. And in the mystery of deep, dark, complex textures in Jocelyn Morlock’s Exaudi. Claude Vivier’s pleading, dissonant Jesus erbarme dich seems to come from a startlingly-evoked wilderness, while Imant Raminsh’s tonal, harmonically-subtle Ave Verum Corpus keeps settling in an uncanny way on the “right” added-note chords, inversions, and spacings as it builds to an ecstatic climax.

“Into Light” was recorded beautifully by the team of producer Liz Hamel, engineer Don Harder, and digital editor Jonathan Quick. A must-buy for fans of choral music and of all-around musical excellence.

04_wachnerJulian Wachner -
Complete Choral Music Vol.1
Elora Festival Singers; Noel Edison
Naxos 8.559607

Not quite a household name, American composer/conductor Julian Wachner is now in his early 40s and has built himself a stylistic reputation for eclecticism. This recording by the Elora Festival Singers is an example of just how broad Wachner’s stylistic embrace can be. It is also another example of the artistically tenacious style that has become the hallmark of the EFS.

Because we most often associate a composer with an identifiable vocabulary or language, it’s a bit odd to find someone so stylistically diverse yet so secure in his writing. Wachner’s command of choral techniques and effects is solid and polished. The EFS’s ability to meet the exacting demands of this music makes this recording altogether remarkable.
Wachner describes his choral writing as “text-driven”. How important and effective this is becomes evident as one plays through the 19 tracks of sacred and secular works. Poetic texts by E.E. Cummings and Rilke deliver fanciful, sensitive and experimental moments always linked to a detectably romantic undercurrent.

Wachner’s sacred music, by contrast, may appeal more to the structured expectations of its audience but is no less inventive than his art song. Perhaps the most colourful work on this recording is his Missa Brevis. Each of its four sections is clearly cast in a unique form with considerable variation in ensemble colour and tempo. Most importantly, Wachner never loses touch with the “other-worldliness” that needs to be at the heart of all sacred music.

Naxos has produced a fine recording with the EFS, which bodes well for their projected “complete choral music” series. ATMA plans a release in the fall of more Wachner music – for organ and orchestra.
Alex Baran

03_orff_antigoneCarl Orff - Antigonae
Martha Mödl; Marianne Radev;
William Dooley; Carlos Alexander;
Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra; Wolfgang Sawallisch
Profil PH09066

There’s a lot more to the Bavarian composer Carl Orff than the Gothic chorus of ‘O Fortuna’ that launched this refractory composer’s career in Nazi Germany in 1937 and has since reduced his reputation to a 15 second pop culture icon. The rowdy monks and easy virtues of Carmina Burana pale in comparison to Orff’s later, more demanding works which find their voice in the pre-Christian era.

Following his compromised war years Orff began a trilogy of tragedies with this setting of Sophocles’ Antigonae in the German translation by the Romantic poet Friederich Hölderlin. Much of the vocal writing is highly declamatory and unaccompanied, evoking the austere dramatic practice of ancient Greece. The drama is scored for a strikingly exotic ensemble of six each of trumpets, oboes, flutes and double basses, four harps, six pianos played by a dozen pianists and a panoply of percussion. Orff keeps these forces in reserve much of the time but when they weigh in the results are spectacular. In hindsight, the ritualistic character of this 1949 work presages the music theatre of contemporary minimalism.

The present recording features the commanding presence of contralto Martha Mödl as Antigonae and a stellar cast of male voices led by the great Wolfgang Sawallisch in a Bavarian Radio live broadcast from 1958. The early stereo tape, only recently obtained from the Mödl estate, is astoundingly well preserved and vivid and the performance, closely supervised by the composer, is consistently riveting. Sadly, no libretto is provided and the synopsis is quite useless.

02_meyerbeer_crocaitoMeyerbeer - Il crociato in Egitto
Teatro La Fenice; Emmanuel Villaume
Naxos 8.660245-47

A great deal of what is known as “French Grand Opera” has Italian (Verdi’s “Don Carlos”) or German roots. Case in point for the latter – the output of Giacomo Meyerbeer (born Jakob Beer near Berlin). Known to today’s opera goers from a handful of showcase arias (“Shadow Song” from Dinorah, “O Paradis” from L’Africaine), Meyerbeer was in mid-nineteenth century the king of the genre. A direct musical descendant of Rossini, an inspiration to Bellini and Verdi, Meyerbeer’s operas were extraordinary triumphs.

Much of the credit for the present-day obscurity of his work goes to the relentless campaign waged against him by Wagner. Motivated in equal parts by professional jealousy and anti-Semitism, Wagner derided and undermined Meyerbeer at every turn. It is then great to see the Master’s operas produced again. “The Crusader in Egypt” previous to its 2007 production at la Fenice was not staged for over 100 years. That alone would make this disc set worth owning, but then there are the performances. Even though Patricia Ciofi is a darling of the Venetian crowd, having heard her live in La Traviata, I have to admit I am not a fan. Her wobbly and frequently shrill soprano does warm up as the opera progresses, but the true revelation in this recording is Michael Maniaci. The role of Armano, once sung by the legendary Giuditta Pasta, offers him a great opportunity to showcase his unusual, beautiful voice. With a solid cast and great choral scenes, this disc set is highly recommended.

01_pollySamuel Arnold - Polly
Aradia; Kevin Mallon
Naxos 8.660241

This is a thorough and charming recording of the 50 rather slight musical numbers written and arranged for the little-known sequel to John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. The newly-published edition of the score is a labour of love by Robert Hoskins, a musicologist on faculty at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington. The opera follows Polly Peachum to the West Indies as she seeks out MacHeath and the score follows a similar “ballad opera” blueprint, offering famous tunes of the day paired with literal and sometimes clumsy lyrics describing the characters’ predicaments.

Polly is boldly subtitled “an Opera”, written by a learned English composer/scholar who was known for his mastery of providing incidental music for plays in the latter half of the 18th century. In the end, what makes opera interesting and compelling is thematic development and poetic imagery, both in text and music, and both are missing in this piece to a great degree.

In the latest addition to its extensive Naxos discography, the Toronto-based Aradia Ensemble, directed by Irish violinist Kevin Mallon, sounds warm and tidy in their accompaniments of the short songs, while in the instrumental numbers – the overture and dance suites of Pirates and Indians – they are given a little more opportunity to shine. The local singers turn in spirited and lyrical performances, notably soprano Eve Rachel McLeod, mezzo Marion Newman, tenor Lawrence Wiliford and baritone Jason Nedecky, all of whose diction paves the way to a greater understanding of the story.

TSO principal cellist Winona Zelenka has just released her recording of Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello (Marquis 81509). I don’t think it’s just because I am an avid amateur cellist that these pieces never seem to lose their vitality, no matter how many different versions I hear. From first exposure to Pablo Casals’ historic recordings in my formative years, through the thoughtful interpretations of Paul Tortellier, Pierre Fournier, Jacqueline Du Pré, Janos Starker and Yo-Yo Ma, to larger-than-life performances by Rostropovich, Misha Maisky and Yuli Turovsky and at the other end of the spectrum the historically informed approach of Anner Bylsma, Pieter Wispelwey and Sergei Istomin, there is always something exhilarating in hearing the suites anew. Like so much of Bach’s music, it never seems to get lost in translation – among my favourite transcriptions are Göran Söllscher’s for 10-string guitar and Marion Verbruggen’s for alto recorder and voice flute. And let us not forget Yo-Yo Ma’s multi-disciplinary approach “Inspired by Bach” which led to the creation of Toronto’s Music Garden, films by François Girard and Atom Egoyan, and collaborations with choreographer Mark Morris, skaters Torville and Dean and Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando produced by Toronto’s Rhombus Media.

01_zelenka_bachZelenka’s is not the first recording by a TSO principal – Daniel Domb’s 1993 Mastersound release is still among my favourites - and evidently this is not the first to be performed on this particular cello. Zelenka is playing an instrument crafted in Cremona in 1707 by Joseph Gaurnerius currently owned by Toronto arts patrons Edward and Amy Pong. It was previously owned by Janos Starker and although not identified on the Mercury Living Presence CD reissue of Starker’s Bach Suites, I think I do recognize the distinctive sound of the instrument as being the same Zelenka is using. In the extensive liner notes she shares with us her own personal journey through the suites which started around age 10 with lessons with another TSO cellist, Bill Findlay, and listening to Casals’ recordings with her father. She describes the different approaches of her later teachers, Vladimir Orloff, Janos Starker and William Pleeth and talks about her own path of balancing these influences and incorporating the “period” ideas she has encountered during her professional career. The result is a warm and invigorating treatment of these timeless suites in a full modern sound with clean lines and tasteful ornamentation. Concert note: Winona Zelenka will perform three of the suites in a matinee concert at Glenn Gould Studio on June 6.

02_greensleavesThe Polocki Manuscript was discovered in 1962 inside the covers of a Greek Catholic missal dated 1680. It is an invaluable documentation of popular styles in 17th century Poland containing more than 200 songs and dances, many of which had been previously lost in obscurity. It was published in a modern edition in 1970, a copy of which eventually made its way into the hands of Magdalena Tomsinska, lutenist of the Kitchener-Waterloo based Renaissance ensemble Greensleaves (www.greensleaves.com). The result is a delightful CD entitled Polish Popular Music of the XVIIth Century (Chestnut Hall Music CHM091115) which features Tomsinska along with core members Marilyn Fung (viola da gamba) and Shannon Purves-Smith (recorders and viols), with arrangements and additional instruments played by Michael Purves-Smith plus a quartet of guest vocalists. From slow and stately pavans to light and frolicking dances, love songs and sacred texts, the disc provides welcome insight into the culture of a bygone time and place. The disc was sponsored in part by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto. The Consulate is also involved in the presentation of “Polish Peoples’ Republic - so far away and so close by...” an exhibit commemorating another bygone era – Polish culture during the Soviet years - prepared by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance in cooperation with the University of Toronto. It runs until June 18 at the Vivian & David Campbell Conference Facility, Munk School of Global Affairs, 1 Devonshire Place.

03_kenediA Voice Not Stilled is the title of a Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra by Michael Easton. It is also the title of the most recent disc by Toronto pianist Mary Kenedi which features a live recording of the European premiere of the work (Echiquier Records ECD-010 www.MaryKenedi.com). Extensive liner notes tell the story of this programmatic composition, based on a melody written by a victim of the Holocaust, Gabriella Kolliner, as remembered by her survivor brother many years after her death and transcribed by a nephew who never knew her. Young Peter Kolliner hoped to one day compose a set of piano variations on “Gabi’s Theme” to honour his aunt, but later met Easton, a celebrated British-Australian composer, who was moved by the story and asked permission to use the theme himself. What he created was an extended homage to the composer-turned-doctor who perished at Auschwitz, integrating the theme in a number of dramatic and moving ways in the course of the four movements of the work: In the Beginning, Flight into Darkness, Music in the Silence of the Night and A Voice Not Stilled. “Gabi’s theme” is not the only musical reference here. The second movement incorporates the Jewish prayer Kol Nidre in a clarinet solo and the third movement makes very effective use of a hauntingly beautiful line from Schumann’s Piano Quartet with “Gabi’s Theme” interwoven as a counter melody. The final movement, which begins in calm reminiscent of a Grieg sunrise, gradually builds to ecstatic runs in the piano over rising orchestral accompaniment and then ends quietly, poignantly without a final cadence, after a number of iterations by the piano of the signature theme. Kenedi is in fine form in this live performance which was greeted by a standing ovation at the House of Culture in Teplice, in the Czech Republic on April 21, 2005 and the North Czech Philharmonic shines under the baton of Charles Olivieri-Munroe. The CD also includes Kenedi performing two rarely recorded piano concertos – Scherzo Fantasque by Ernest Bloch and Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra Op.1 by Bela Bartok.
We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, www.thewholenote.com, where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds
DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

lois_marshall_-_wholenote_resizeExcerpted from Lois Marshall: A Biography by James Neufeld.
Copyright © James Neufeld, 2010
All rights reserved.
http://www.dundurn.com/books/lois_marshall

 

MarshallPhoto1As an adult, Lois recognized that her childhood encounter with polio had had a fundamental influence on every aspect of her life, but she refused to dwell on it, be depressed by it, or feel sorry for herself. Like the little four-year-old with a new leg brace, she was much more interested in getting on with life, on her own terms.

But polio hadn’t finished with Lois Marshall yet. Public health concerns and a vigorous program of research into the disease kept polio at the forefront of medical attention. Lois was monitored regularly, and offered opportunities for treatment as they emerged. After a few years, when the restrictions of the leg brace began to outweigh the limited mobility it offered, the Marshalls’ orthopaedic surgeon suggested that Lois might consider a complicated and risky surgery to her left leg that, if successful, would enable her to walk without a brace. After much consideration, Lois and her mother agreed to take the risk, and Lois found herself back again in the Hospital for Sick Children.

Hospital protocol in the late 1920s and early 1930s was severely efficient, and strikes modern sensibilities as needlessly inhumane. Only parents, no other family members, were allowed to visit children who were patients, and then only for one hour a week, on Sunday afternoon. As an exception for children undergoing surgery, one parent was allowed to be on hand when the child came out of anaesthetic. Otherwise, the children lived in an enclosed, ordered environment, run principally with an eye to adult medical efficiency rather than a child’s emotional needs. When the weekly visiting hour was over, the silence in the ward seemed bleak, and the next week’s visit, to a child’s imagination, immeasurably far away.

These spartan regulations only increased the stress of recovery from surgery. Lois endured much pain, and a succession of heavy casts on her left leg. When the last cast was finally removed, and Lois was ready to attempt walking once again, she saw that her left leg, instead of being straight, was now bent at the knee, in a position intended to provide support as she transferred her body weight from the right side to the left while walking. But the bent knee made the body’s balance extremely precarious, and the left leg had no muscular ability to adjust for any miscalculation in the transfer of weight. It was still a passive partner in the exercise, the point of the surgery being to place the left leg in a position that could more efficiently be exploited by the working right leg. Lois tried to take her first step but miscalculated her balance and fell, crashing down on her left knee. The pain was excruciating, and the fall actually seemed to force the knee further out of its strange alignment. Over and over again she tried, with the same devastating results. Despite her best efforts, Lois could not learn to walk after the surgery on which she had pinned such hopes. As far as she was concerned, it was an abject, painful, humiliating failure.

After this terrible setback, she recovered her spirits slowly, but with them she gradually formed new hopes of finding a solution that would avoid returning to the dreadful brace, which would only become more uncomfortable as her body grew. The surgeon now proposed a series of operations that would permanently fuse Lois’s left knee and ankle, thereby providing rigidity and stability to enable her to walk without an artificial brace. There would be five operations in total, spread over a period of about three years, many more casts on her leg, and at the end of it all, Lois would never be able to bend her knee again. The choice was hers.

And so was the decision — at least that’s how Lois, as an adult, remembered her eight-year-old self. Her father kept his own counsel, and her mother simply did not know how to advise her. (Finances seem not to have entered into the decision. It was common at the time for service clubs to pay for surgery like this one for disabled children whose families could not bear the cost, and perhaps they did so in Lois’s case. Certainly David Marshall’s salary was too small for him to shoulder that kind of expense himself.) Lois brought a child’s intuitive responses to bear on this impossible task. After days of uncertainty, she woke up one morning simply knowing that she would go ahead. She acted on her feelings, and took responsibility for her own actions. Three more years of hospital life stretched before her.

If she never got used to it, Lois nevertheless got to know the medical round only too well. Leaving the family house, where she became an infrequent visitor rather than a regular member, she would be admitted to the girls’ surgical unit at the Hospital for Sick Children. There she was prepped and underwent each of the surgeries in the series. After she came out of anaesthetic, greeted briefly by one or the other of her parents, she would be transferred to the Round Ward, which housed other children recovering from the critical stages of their surgeries. From there, she would be moved to the Long Ward, a much larger unit, for prolonged convalescence, which, for Lois, always involved adjustment to the most recent cast on her leg. Eventually, she would be sent home, on crutches if she was lucky, until her cast could be removed and her leg had healed enough to undergo the next round of surgery. Five times between the ages of eight and twelve Lois endured this cycle, her childhood’s best years lost to interminable medical procedures.

MarshallPhoto13The intervals at home could be disorienting too, for Lois and for the rest of the family. On one of her earliest returns, Florence, sitting with Lois in the rocking chair in which she had nursed each of her children, faced some curious questioning. Rhoda demanded to know who that strange child in her mother’s lap might be. “Why she’s your sister!” Florence replied indignantly. The story became a funny anecdote in the family history, but it spoke less comically to the degree of disruption that polio could cause. Lois, who longed to return home after every operation, discovered that home felt strange and that she felt out of place in it, at least initially. Her sisters were strangers to her, but more than that, the crowded house was chaos. By now used to the order and quiet of hospital routine, she had trouble claiming her place in all the activity, bustle, and general noise that constituted life in the rambunctious Marshall household. On every return, it required a period of adjustment before the shy and slightly reserved child of the hospital ward could again feel comfortable in her own home. Her mother’s devotion provided the emotional constant Lois so desperately needed through these years. During the days, when the rest of the family was out of the house, Florence stole time from her own responsibilities to create a little private life, just for the two of them. The bonds created then lasted a lifetime. Though Lois’s career eventually separated her from her mother for long periods of time, she never forgot Florence’s patience and constancy.

Hospital life, though severe, was not cruel, and even had little pleasures of its own. Medical staff, like the young Dr. William Mustard, who was just beginning what was to be a brilliant career at the Hospital for Sick Children, took time out of their rounds to try to cheer the young patients up. Over the years, nurses at the hospital heard Lois singing to herself, and she eventually became known as “the girl who sings.” They made a pet of her, and regularly asked her to sing for a new doctor or a visitor to the hospital. If she felt like it, Lois would sit up in bed and oblige. But she didn’t always feel like it, and resented being coaxed and cajoled. She later remembered that when she did give these little impromptu hospital performances, she experienced an intense concentration and removal from the world of the hospital ward to one in which only the sound of her voice and the music itself mattered. “That probably sounds exaggerated for the reaction of a young girl,” she recalled, “but it was like that then and for most of my singing life, when I have relied upon this compelling urge to take me to a state of utter concentration where my awareness is of everything pertaining to the music and nothing else.”

Between operations, her intervals of recuperation at home gave her the enforced leisure to explore that inner life further. On one of them, laid up on the veranda to take advantage of the fresh air, she heard music drifting out from the family radio playing indoors. It was Schubert’s Eighth Symphony, the “Unfinished,” and she was hearing it for the first time in her life. Still less than twelve years old, Lois fastened on to this music with all the wonder and imaginative concentration of an impressionable, intelligent, and slightly bored child who had been denied the distractions of a normally active childhood. Her sister Rhoda recalled, “She said when she first heard that kind of music it was almost like it was all inside of her. She said sometimes she could hardly stand it, it was so powerfully uplifting to her.”

Lois poured all of herself into this encounter with Schubert’s Eighth, and it marked for her the beginning of her lifelong commitment to music. “I was affected by that more profoundly than by anything I ever heard and I knew then that some day and in some way I would be a musician.”

The decision to be a musician came first; the decision to be a singer sprang from her natural talents and from expediency.

Click here to read Pamela Margles review of this book

lois_marshall_-_wholenote_resizeLois Marshall: A Biography
by James Neufeld
Dundurn Press
352 pages, photos; $28.99

When Canadian soprano Lois Marshall first showed up at Sarah Caldwell’s Boston Opera Group to sing Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème, Caldwell took one look at her and blurted out, “This is wonderful. I’ve always wanted to have a Mimi who was really sick.” Caldwell was not known for tact. But her comment, as related in James Neufeld’s eloquent and moving biography of Marshall, suggests how much Marshall could have done in opera if more directors had been willing to work with her impairment.

Childhood polio left Marshall with a limp. But it certainly did not stop her from a busy career in recitals and oratorios, as a particular favourite of Ernest MacMillan, Beecham and Toscanini. Nor did it stop her from frequently touring Europe, Japan, and the Soviet Union, where she was adored.

But Marshall’s disability did prevent her from having an operatic career. Neufeld presents her as not just a great singer, but a convincing actress as well, who could interpret an operatic role as convincingly as a Strauss lied or a Bach aria. Neufeld makes a convincing case that, with her powerful voice, dramatic temperament, phenomenal memory and lovely stage presence, Marshall would have been a great opera singer, had she been given the opportunities.

Instead, starting from Arnold Walter’s refusal to admit her into the Royal Conservatory’s Opera School, “Canadian opera producers simply missed the boat.” If today Joyce DiDonato can give a convincing performance of Rosina in a wheelchair at Covent Garden, as she did last summer after she broke her leg on stage during the opening night of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, then surely opera directors could have accommodated Marshall’s disability.

Using his extensive interviews with Marshall’s family members, friends and fellow musicians, as well as his own experiences hearing Marshall live and on recordings, Neufeld conveys both the communicative power of Marshall’s singing and the “warmth and sunshine” of her personality. But Neufeld’s most revealing source is the unpublished memoir Marshall drafted at the end of her career.

Neufeld, who teaches English at Trent University, writes insightfully about Marshall’s accomplishments. With a novelist’s flair, he delves into Marshall’s complicated relationship with her long-time teacher and accompanist, Weldon Kilburn. Soon after they finally married in 1968 their relationship unravelled. As her musical partner, Kilburn had been supportive and sensitive, but as a lover he proved to be inconstant and heartless. “Though Lois seldom performed opera,” Neufeld comments, “her romantic life seemed to be caught up in one.”

Click Here to Read an Excerpt from this book

theloniousThelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
by Robin D.G Kelley
Free Press

608 pages, photos; $39.00

Herbie Nichols was the first to champion Thelonious Monk in print. Monk was two years older than Nichols, and like him, born in San Juan Hill in Manhattan. Robin D.G. Kelley quotes Nichols, who wrote in 1944, “Thelonious Monk is an oddity among piano players. This particular fellow is the author of the weirdest rhythmical melodies I’ve ever heard. They are very great, too.” Monk, of course, went on to become a giant influence in the history of jazz. His compositions like Round Midnight, Blue Monk, Ruby, My Dear and Straight, No Chaser are classics.

Kelley, who teaches history at the University of Southern California, is faced with a life so rich, a personality so complex, a body of recordings so important, and a character so legendary that his book is bursting at the seams with fascinating details about Monk’s life and music.

Kelley managed to gain unprecedented access to family members and their collections of long-forgotten documents. But even Kelley, for all his meticulous research, is unable to fully unravel Monk’s relationship with the intriguing Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who Kelley calls “the most significant relationship in Monk’s life outside his family.” She took care of Monk – and his wife Nellie – at her home (just as she had provided brief sanctuary for Herbie Nichols in 1961) from 1973, when he had almost given up playing altogether, until his death in 1982.

He portrays an engaging and witty, though moody and difficult, personality. But despite Monk’s success, things were never easy. He had problems with alcohol and drugs. Even more devastating were his episodes of manic depression, which account for some of his bizarre antics both on stage and off. Reading about his stony silences and vacant stares, especially late in his performing career, I now know why the performance I heard in Toronto at the Colonial Tavern in 1972 was so disappointing.

Enhancing our appreciation of the music, Kelley makes a point of underlining the influence of classical music on Monk’s playing and composing. He presents him as both a traditionalist and an innovator. “From the beginning of his musical life,” writes Kelley, “Monk had always epitomized the Janus-faced musician, looking simultaneously at the future and the past.”

herbie_nichols_coverHerbie Nichols: A Jazzist’s Life
by Mark Miller
The Mercury Press
224 pages, photos; $19.95


For all his brilliance as a pianist, composer and critic, Herbie Nichols spent his life in obscurity. Toronto-based jazz historian Mark Miller has produced an incisive and heartbreaking portrait of a deeply compelling musician. Today, Nichol’s few recordings are unavailable, and his writings remain uncollected and unpublished. But his song Lady Sings the Blues, written with Billie Holiday, has attained iconic status, and many of his other compositions, like House Party Starting, 2300 Skidoo, The Third World, and Love, Gloom, Cash, Love have become standards.

Miller has combed through the available documents on Nichols, which include autobiographical notes Nichols prepared for the day (which never came) when he would need material for publicity purposes. Miller has talked to musicians still alive who knew him, like trombonist Roswell Rudd, who along with pianist Frank Kimbrough has spearheaded a project to track down and record many of Nichols’ previously unknown compositions. By placing Nichols’music in the context of his relationship to what was happening musically around him, Miller shows how imaginative, original and advanced it was.

Miller portrays a gentle, self-effacing, introspective, and – understandably – fatalistic man. But while he constructs a coherent narrative for Nichols’ life, Nichols himself keeps slipping in and out of the story. It’s as though Nichols is as baffled by the events of his own life as everyone else.

Why was Nichols so utterly neglected? He told A.B Spellman, in the first, and up to now only profile of him in Four Lives in the Bebop Business, “It seems like you’ve got to be an Uncle Tom or a drug addict to make it in jazz, and I’m not either one.” He was rarely able to get jobs or recordings where he could play his own music in his own style. In 1956 Nichols had told the poet George Moorse, “Sometimes I may seem low...but really, I’m laughing like hell inside.” Yet, as pianist Don Coates told Miller, shortly before Nichols’ early death from leukemia in 1963 he said, “Music is a curse.” Miller has succeeded in rediscovering a visionary musical voice, and convincing us that it demands to be heard.

Since DISCoveries began in the summer of 2001 we have reviewed 3,300 CDs and DVDs in these pages, including literally hundreds of local and independent releases. The section has evolved over the past nine years from modest beginnings with a handful of writers reviewing 14 discs in our first issue to about twenty regular contributors, including mavens Bruce Surtees, Geoff Chapman, Terry Robbins and Ken Waxman with their wealth of experience and diversity of expertise, covering more than three dozen titles each month in recent years.

A quick check of my data base reveals Canadian classical labels have been very well represented by DISCoveries, with two Montreal companies leading the pack - ATMA (168) and Analekta (108) – followed by National contributors CBC Records (94) and the Canadian Music Centre’s Centrediscs (82) and the Toronto company Marquis Classics (42). Smaller classical and contemporary Canadian labels include archival specialists DoReMi (31), XXI-Records (24) Arktos (21), Empreintes digitales (20), Artifact (15), Opening Day (15), Skylark (12) and Phoenix (6). Canadian Jazz and improvised music labels are also found in abundance with Ambiances Magnétiques (39), Justin Time (31), ALMA (16), Sackville (14), Timely Manor (6) and local newcomer Barnyard Records (3). And this does not include more than 500 reviews of independent releases by mostly local and regional artists spanning all creative genres.

Of course we don’t ignore the “majors” and have featured countless reviews of Canadian and local artists on international labels big and small: The Artists of the Royal Conservatory (ARC Ensemble) on RCA; Measha Brueggergosman on DG; Angela Hewitt, Michael Schade, Marc André Hamelin and Gerald Finley on Hyperion; Denise Djokic on SONY; Diana Krall on Verve; James Ehnes on Chandos and Onyx; Jane Bunnett, Jesse Cook and the Saint Lawrence Quartet all on EMI; Louis Lortie on Chandos; Marie-Nicole Lemieux on Naïve; MC Maguire on innova; Molly Johnson on Universal; Naida Cole on DECCA; Les Violons du Roy on Dorian, and I Furiosi on Dorian Sono Luminus; plus dozens of Canadian groups and artists who have appeared on NAXOS in recent years (Joel Quarrington and Andrew Burashko, Robert Aitken, Amici, Aradia, Luc Beauséjour, Elora Festival Choir, Karina Gauvin, Mirage Quartet, New Music Concerts, Patrick Wedd, the Toronto Chamber Orchestra and the Toronto Wind Orchestra to name just a few).

As the world becomes more focused on internet services and digital downloading, we too are developing web-based features including additional new reviews, access to archival material, search functions, links to artists and “click through to purchase” options on our website. But for the moment our emphasis remains with the 30,000 copies of the magazine which are printed and distributed throughout the GTA each month. With that in mind we continue to give priority to Toronto and Canadian artists and labels and to international musicians who will be performing in the GTA in the coming months. Discs already under consideration for the June issue include Pepusch and Gay’s “Polly” – a sequel to The Beggar’s Opera which was suppressed at the time of composition for political reasons and later reworked by Samuel Arnold -  performed by a host of local singers and the Aradia Ensemble under Kevin Mallon’s direction (NAXOS); Margaret Little’s “Senza Continuo” – works for solo viola da gamba by Saint-Colombe and Marin Marais among others (ATMA); The ARC Ensemble’s third CD “Two Roads to Exile” – featuring rarely heard chamber gems by Walter Braunfels and Adolf Busch (RCA); Volume 1 of the “Complete Choral Music of Julian Wachner” - the 10th CD by the Elora Festival Singers under Noel Edison (NAXOS); local blues singer Shakura S’Aida’s second album “Brown Sugar” (on Germany’s Ruf Records); Vancouver chamber choir Musica Intima’s latest with works by Raminsh, Schafer, Lang, Morlock, Healey, Ryan and Sharman (ATMA); and a new release by Toronto pianist Mary Kenedi featuring concertos by Bloch, Bartok and Easton (Echiquier) which will be launched at a concert on May 9 at Gallery 345. As you can see our commitment to local and Canadian talent continues to be a top priority.

mather_thirds_sixteenths_tonesIn closing there is one recording I would like to tell you about - a long-awaited 2 CD set which documents some interesting experiments with microtonal divisions of the octave. It would be easy to think that it was only with the advent of the computer that it became possible to accurately divide the traditional 12 semitone chromatic octave into smaller parts. But there was a Mexican composer, Julian Carrillo (1875-1965), who in the middle of the last century commissioned Sauter, a German piano company, to manufacture instruments tuned in thirds, fourths, fifths and so on up to fifteenths and sixteenths of tones. Montreal composer Bruce Mather used the proceeds of his 2000 Serge Garant Prize to purchase a replica of Carrillo’s sixteenths of tone piano which he donated to the Montréal Conservatoire. The SNE release Music in Thirds and Sixteenths of Tones (SNE-667-CD) includes works written for this intriguing instrument by Gilles Tremblay, Jacques Desjardins, Michel Gonneville, Vincent Olivier Gagnon and Mather himself among others. In all, the keyboard of the Carrillo instrument incorporates 96 divisions of the octave. That is to say that the 97 notes on the Carillo’s keyboard span just one octave from top to bottom. It is intriguing how each of the composers finds ways to use these tiny intervals to best advantage. At times there is a wash of sound which totally immerses the auditor and at other times an abrasive juxtaposition of notes which sound convincing, but not quite right. Perhaps the easiest to grasp is Desjardins’ clever reworking of the folksong Où va Pierrot? The simplicity of the folk melody is subverted by the extreme microtonal possibilities of this unique instrument, but in a most intriguing and compelling way. Mather combines the Carrillo piano with the infinite possibilities of the ondes Martenot, one of the first electronic instruments, which like the Theremin is capable of glissandi and miniscule gradations of the octave. Interestingly, Mather chooses to use the ondes Martenot to give the tonal centre in his etudes. The first disc also includes works composed for Carrillo’s piano in thirds of tones by Wyschnegradsky, Mather and Jean Étienne Marie performed by Martine Joste. Not for the faint of heart, but an exquisite adventure for those who feel that “Eight is NOT Enough”.             

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_wuhrerFriedrich Wührer (1900-1975) was an Austrian pianist and academic, sadly almost forgotten today, who is possibly remembered only by collectors via his VOX recordings from the vinyl era. His forte was, as might be expected, Beethoven and Schubert but he played and recorded Chopin, Prokofiev, Schumann and others. Tahra has issued a four CD set of Wührer playing Beethoven containing the five piano concertos, the Triple Concerto and the last three piano sonatas (TAH 704-707). As I don’t recall listening to these performances before, there were no feelings of nostalgia or sentimentality attached. That said, I was totally absorbed into a world where musicians recorded those works that they understood and embraced, passing their pleasure along to the listener without the all too pervasive practice of “listen to me”. These performances unfold like a narrative, driven by Wührer’s joy filled playing. The collaborating artists in the Triple Concerto are Bronislaw Gimpel and Joseph Schuster; the orchestras are the Pro Musica groups from Vienna and Stuttgart, the Bamberg Symphony and the Württemberg State Orchestra. Conductors are Heinrich Hollreiser, Walther Davisson and Jonel Perlea. The surprisingly fine sound completely belies the dates of the originals, 1953-1957, being sinewy, lucent and free of artefacts. The booklet promises a further Wührer collection. Reviewing this set has taken far too long because instead of writing the impulse to simply sit back and listen has been irresistible as I’m sure it will be for many others.

02_mahler2The London Philharmonic Orchestra has been issuing live concerts by their late conductor, Klaus Tennstedt of music by Haydn, Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler, the latest of which is the Mahler Second. The performance dates from 20 February 1989 with soprano Yvonne Kenny and mezzo Jard van Nes together with the London Philharmonic Choir (LPO 0044 2CDs at a reduced price). Like Bruno Walter, Tennstedt took Mahler deeply to heart and his performances reflect his total absorption into the score, far beyond the usual technical matters. There is an uncommon but perceptible celebration of life as a fleeting experience in every movement. This is achieved in part because there is a pulse, either heard or felt, and by ever so delicate fermatas both in the music and the rests. All this is accomplished without any histrionics. Running 93 minutes, some 10 to 15 minutes longer than other versions, this is a glorious presentation of Mahler’s masterpiece by a disciplined apologist. The archive recording was engineered by Tony Faulkner and excels in every respect including dynamics and perspective. This is a remarkable document.

03_rabinDOREMI has issued a third volume in their Michael Rabin Collection composed of 14 more live performances (DHR-7970/1, 2CDs). The set opens with the Mozart Fourth Concerto, a work he never recorded commercially and only infrequently played in concert. Rabin may have thought that the strict classical repertoire was not suitable for his flamboyant virtuoso style in which he was a true champion. Nevertheless, he is graceful and stylistic. The next two concertos, Tchaikovsky and Glazunov, are works that he played frequently, heard here in performances appearing for the first time. Items from the legendary 1952 Australian tour were discovered only three years ago. The ABC hosted the tour but did not archive them and for over half a century they were considered lost. Rabin was a frequent guest on the Bell Telephone Hour and the June 18, 1955 items appear for the first time, including several gems with orchestra which he recorded later with piano accompaniment.

Universal continues to issue The Originals, re-mastered versions of critically acclaimed recordings from the DG, Decca, and Philips catalogues. Newly re-energised and dynamic sound make these much sought after by discerning collectors who look for the best performances in the best sound. From recent additions here are two that I remember being excited about when they were first published...

04_mahler9Mahler 9th Symphony played by The Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein (4778620). This prize-winning performance, live from the Philharmonie in October 1979, was seen on PBS-TV accompanied by Bernstein’s penetrating analysis of the work. From the opening there is a pervading aura correctly presaging a performance of uncommon perception and intensity. Karajan recorded the Ninth twice with his Berliners, in 1979-80 and then two years later an ardent live performance of September 1982 was issued. But neither of these could displace the transcendent Bernstein.

05_white_nightsWHITE NIGHTS: Romantic Russian Showpieces; Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra and Chorus (4782122). This material suits Gergiev to a T: a crack orchestra and the expertise to galvanise them to transparent perfection. Selections include Russlan and Ludmilla Overture; Sabre Dance and the Adagio from Spartacus; The Polovstian Dances; Baba-Yaga and Kikimora; and The 1812 Overture. These pieces demand little more than fervour and technical excellence to bring down the house and that they do. This brilliant CD is a model of its kind.

More an enhancement than a replication of Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), Toronto’s VTO2010 festival cherry picks some of FIMAV’s international performers, presenting them with invited Canadian musicians. As these CDs indicate, the improvisers are impressive no matter the location or formation.

04_ShamanOne of the most anticipated concerts is the Six at the Music Gallery May 26. An all-star European ensemble, one of its distinguishing characteristic is the supportive synthesizer work of Köln’s Thomas Lehn. Close Up (MonotypeRec. mono024 www.monotyperec.com) demonstrates Lehn’s skills providing the underpinning for Bertrand Gauguet, a technically adroit French saxophonist, plus Viennese quarter-tone trumpeter Franz Hautzinger. As with the Six, electronics are part of this trio’s mix. So on Close Up’s three extended tracks blurry intonation encompasses loops of granulated tones mixed with rumbles and pulses from Lehn, air burbled through the body tube of Gauguet’s saxophones and tremolo buzzing from Hautzinger. Building up in sonic fervor through the intersection of synthesizer pitch shifting, distortion and flanging plus wide-bore whizzes and echoing patterns from the acoustic instruments, the CD climaxes with the over 26-minute Close Up 03. Cricket-like reed chirps and hand-muted brass vibrations are put aside for spectral processing which adds the affiliated extensions of most timbres as they sweep by staccato or glissandi. While the electronics’ wave forms undulate symmetrically, they also output enough percussive drones to subsume technical flaunting. The trumpeter’s braying bell-like reverb and the saxophonist’s feral animal-like squeals consequently meld with thumping synthesizer pedal-point expressions for a satisfying finale.

02_AndyMoorColin McLean’s computer processing is also prominent on Everything but the Beginning (Unsounds U17 www.unsounds.com). But so is the prowess of British guitarist Andy Moor, a member of the EX. In Toronto his Music Gallery performance – also on May 26 – is as part of a long-standing duo with French poetess Anne-James Chatton. On this CD, his technical command of the six-string is showcased with McLean’s hardware usually confined to patched rumbles and processed burbles and rebounds. Moor often uses the laptop undercurrent as a click track, linearly exposing single-string snaps, rough twangs or chuffed reverberations. His improvising can be playfully decorative, as when he seconds the sample of a squeak toy on Delta Block. In contrast on The Flower of fixed idea it appears that piezo pickups multiply his twangs so that the theme is pulsed, pushed and twisted into voltage-shaking signals.

03_zachAcoustic interaction is also featured on May 19, with the Dans Les Arbes quartet at the Music Gallery. Consisting of one French and three Norwegian musicians, it offers the same sort of extrasensory perception its percussionist Ingar Zach brings to Mural Nectars of Emergence (SOFA Records 528 www.sofamusic.no). Interestingly enough Zach’s “Mural”-mates, Australian flautist/saxophonist Jim Denley and guitarist Kim Myhr, are at FIMAV in a different configuration. Minimalist and atmospheric, the CD’s seven tracks are built up from pointillist dabs of sonic colors, soaking together without abrasion. That doesn’t mean the performance is modest, just unshowy. Zach for instance use wood pops, bowl scrapes, chiming bells and drum-skin rubs to make his points. Meantime Myhr’s guitar preparations allow him to produce hefty church-organ-like chords in some instances, loops of electrified signal-processed clangs elsewhere and constant harsh strumming. Throughout Denley’s masticated split tones propel his saxophone pitches to the patchy edge of hearing with strident wolf whistles, tongue slaps and subterranean growls, while there’s nothing delicate about his buzzing flute expositions. Flash Expansion is particularly noteworthy. With Myhr’s rhythmic rasgueado meeting up with amplified drum-top rubs and harsh reed reflux, the processed loops bring the narrative in-and-out-of-focus, with the sound menacing and motor-driven one minute, the next as weightless as waves lapping against the sea shore.

04_ShamanA weightier Canadian balance to the international sounds is the exclusive-to-VTO triple bill at the Tranzac club May 14. The Rent and Hat + Beard are locals, while Shaman from Montreal is also on hand. Consisting of Jean Derome and Joane Hétu on woodwinds, voices and objects Nous perçons les oreilles (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 200 CD www.actuellecd.com) exposes Shaman’s strategy of D-I-Y ethnomusicology. Like ancient tribal healers the duo expresses itself through verbal screams, squeaks, murmurs, mumbles and cries as well as inchoate instrumental textures. The two recount 12 short narratives which are as much Dada as primitive, wrapped in onomatopoeia that bonds mouth expressions such as cheers, yelps and gurgles with slide-whistle peeps, unsequenced altissimo saxophone stridency, key percussion, clipping chromatic timbres and reverberating body tube echoes.

Bassist John Geggie is based in Ottawa but has achieved much in jazz and other art forms nationwide. Two new additions to his huge discography are of gripping interest.

01_geggie_project_across_skyHis Geggie Trio + Donny McCaslin - Across The Sky (Plunge Records PR00632 www.plungerecords.com) particularly emphasizes his compositional skills, seven of the 14 tracks here his, the rest collaborative contributions from the foursome with pianist Nancy Walker, drummer Nick Fraser and saxman McCaslin. The album is zesty, tunefully inventive, stacked with shifting time signatures and superior, finessed work on the bass. This is top-grade contemporary jazz, McCaslin often straying outside the mainstream with dramatically engaging work that has a meaty individuality to match the forceful leader and Walker’s ability to make surprise connections and balance lyricism with toe-tapping passion. Quick-witted and poised, the group creates playful experimental music though it’s anchored by restless, absorbing imaginations.

02_geggie_projectWith Geggie Project (Ambiances Magnetiques AM 179 CD www.actuelle.com), Geggie is in more avant-jazz heavyweight mode, with spacey Marilyn Crispell on piano and Nick Fraser drumming. Again there are 14 tracks, seven spontaneous appetizers by the trio and seven entrees from the leader - you get the idea with Geggie’s pliant and expressive if sober opening Credo with bass predominant, haunting colours and suggestions of anguished subtext and then the trio’s mercurial Ice And Meltwater. The album teems with incredible invention. Run-Away Sheep shows off superb bass craft and hints at Fraser’s pyrotechnic tendencies before gate-crashing Crispell-fuelled chords arrive. The threesome covers a wide swath of stylistic territory with lofty flights of notes yet remains very accessible compared to free skronk mayhem. The music’s impish and erudite, keeping the peace between energy and atmosphere, sometimes luxuriant, sometimes wallowing in dark sonorities and overall more melodic than impassioned. Especially attractive are the trio’s Weather Forecast and the leader’s Canon.

03_alex_bellegardeA third recording led by a bassist is also a great buy. The CD/DVD package is the Alex Bellegarde Quintet’s Live (Chien Noir 09-999 www.alexbellegarde.com) with the boss in virtuoso form at a Montreal Maison de la culture Mercier concert. He wrote the 10 cuts, including some with a global jazz viewpoint and an elastic pulse that’s underlined with the presence of Kiko Osorio on congas. Bellegarde’s other comrades - pianist Yoel Diaz, alto saxist Erik Hove and drummer Yvon Plouffe – are almost his match in versatility, with many tunes featuring unison leads, lucid soloing and passages that vary from church calm to bucolic celebration. This band plays with impetus and conviction, aided by miraculously layered textures and a sensitive range of inflections, with Bellegarde’s bass a brilliantly crucial inner voice.

04_chet_doxasMontreal is the base, too, for another rising star whose bold new quartet CD should fly off record shelves. On tenor saxist Chet Doxas’ Big Sky (Justin Time JTR 8558-2 8558-2 www.justin-time.com) he has the support of a close-knit, sympathetic team - Ben Charest (guitar), Zack Lorber (bass) and brother Jim on drums. The leader penned six of the eight lengthy tunes and from the opening For Jim games swiftly begin with time, harmony and undulating narrative themes, which leader Doxas attacks with confident tones and a breadth of ideas in the manner of Chris Potter, with Charest effectively counterpointing all the way. There’s delicate treatment for L’Acadie, off-meter challenges and twisting lines outside the melody on Sideshow and a melancholic farewell to Jimmy Giuffre with Goodbye, all of interest, and outstanding work on the title piece, a homage to guitarist Bill Frisell.

05_gale_rodriguezMontreal supplies half the Gale/Rodrigues Group in B3 organist Vanessa Rodrigues and guitarist Mike Rud for the quartet’s debut release Live At The Rex (Indie CGVR01 www.vanessarodriguez.com), a potent package that also features Torontonians in saxophonist Chris Gale, and drummer Davide DiRenzo. Here’s a bustling session that exploits the famed tenor-organ combos of yesteryear with great aplomb with a pleasing mix of standards and hard-hitting originals. Players take long, often bruising solos, notably the versatile Gale on the opening Wes Montgomery’s Full House with Rud in fine comping form as well as constructing clean lines. The big-hearted ballad Statement gets a searching reflection from its composer Gale while throughout the more-grounded Rodrigues ratchets up tension when needed to the level of bristling exchanges. The co-leaders have fun on the happy honker One-Eyed Monster while elsewhere the room’s full of quick turns of phrase, fierce careening solos and runaway grooves, with timely relief on calmer pieces such as Bye Bye Blackbird.

The Django Reinhardt tribute band Croque Monsieur has won the Canadian Collectors Congress annual album–of-the-year award given out at the organization of vintage jazz lovers’ 39th gathering in Toronto. The winner beat out four other finalists - the Happy Pals, Ron Joseph and friends, Dinny and the All-Stars and Braithwaite & Whiteley.

03_wm_parkerAt Somewhere There
William Parker
Barnyard Records BR 0313

An almost hour-long solo recital may seem daunting, but New York bassist William Parker easily impresses, as this bravura invention recorded at a local performance space attests. Cathedral Wisdom Light, this CD’s over-48-minute showpiece, is animated by his nearly limitless technique which prods, pulses, pummels and propels polyphonic tones and textures from the four-strings and resonating wood of the bull fiddle.

Resolutely arco – although sporadic plucks sometimes parallel the bow movement – the tempo is never less than andante or more than allegro. Within these parameters Parker layers phrases, note clusters and unexpected vamps, chafing wood and splitting string tones as well as agitato stops and chunky sul tasto expansions into the multiphonic narrative. As the shuffle-bowed fantasia evolves, taunt, creaking and swabbed timbres distend so that these pressured strokes shudder with affiliated partials as well as fundamental notes. Sometimes displaying portamento finesse, at points Parker mercurially showcases split-second variants on reveille, parallel bebop vamps and even a minor variant on legato chamber music.

With every part of the instrument in use, including the belly, waist and the strings beneath the bridge, the bassist is able to craftily shift the tonal centre throughout, introducing novel harmonies and rubato asides to the ongoing improvisation. A final variant drives the chromatic performance to a mellower low-pitched climax, before replicating the exposition with shrill sawing.

Short addenda on dousin’gouni and double flute complete the program, but after Parker’s exceptional bass solo, these are somewhat akin to hearing Glenn Gould’s harpsichord recording.

02_ellington_queenieDuke Ellington’s Queenie Pie
Carmen Bradford; University of Texas Jazz Orchestra; Huston-Tillotson
University Concert Choir
Longhorn Music LHM2010003

Originally envisioned as a television production, Queenie Pie was a work in progress at the time of Duke Ellington’s death in 1974. There were only lead sheets, lyrics and basic harmonic outlines to work from and the resulting arrangements were created in the style of Ellington, not by the master himself. The music does indeed capture the Ellington sound and at times even uses musical quotations from the Duke’s library. For example, the Duke’s intro for Such Sweet Thunder shows up in the middle of track 12, Commercial Medley. In this 2009 production from the Butler School of Music the orchestra plays extremely well throughout, but in the solo department one can’t help but wish for the warmth of a Hodges or the authority of a Jimmy Hamilton.

The principal vocalist on the CD is Carmen Bradford who has had a distinguished career. She was a feature of the Basie band for several years and has since worked with a very substantial list of great performers ranging from George Benson to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

I did find myself making comparisons with Duke’s A Drum Is A Woman which of course had the advantage of being genuine Ellington. It also had clever lyrics, some catchy melodies, although less than memorable, but there is no denying that the posthumous construction of Queenie Pie is indeed an ambitious project and worthy of a listen.

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