Solo performances are the true test of a musician’s mettle. If he or she can keep listeners’ interest throughout an exploration of an instrument’s limits, these skills can be utilized in any situation. Unaccompanied string recitals are as ancient as music itself, but only in the later part of the 20th Century did it become common for other instrumentalists to express their ideas singularly. Improvised music accelerated this process with significant solo saxophone recitals by the likes of Evan Parker and Anthony Braxton. Today seemingly every saxophonist records in a solitary fashion at least once. With these discs we note some of the better recent performances.

01_JD_ParranVeteran J D Parran has mastered most members of the woodwind family since the 1970s. On Window Spirits (Mutable 17539-2 www.mutablemusic.com), the American improviser plays unaccompanied alto flute, wooden flute, alto clarinet, clarinet and bass saxophone impeccably, with the last two particular standouts. Spearmanon and C80, for example, both enlarge the bass beast’s customary timbres upwards and downwards so that it sounds comfortable and cleanly melodic, expressing altissimo reed cries as earth-shaking blasts. On the former, constant flattement and an intense vibrato together smear tones all over the sound surface with the pulsating lines as balletic as they are elephantine. On the latter, as his clear-toned melodic extensions vibrate and rattle distinctively, Parran uses circular breathing to play entire chromatic runs in subterranean burps. Elsewhere, Emotions, a clarinet showpiece, expresses a gamut of moods with parallel lines vibrating in counterpoint with one another, congruent but varied in pitch, tone or rhythm. Balladic at times, the spherical lines become polyphonic, creating multiple sonic colours which eventually blend with the initial narrative as the exposition loops back to the beginning.

02_Ab_BaarsAnother reedist with extensive experience leading his own trio and as part of the ICP Orchestra is Ab Baars of the Netherlands. Time to Do My Lions (Wig 17 www.stichingwig.com) finds the Amsterdam-based improviser playing clarinet, tenor saxophone and shakuhachi (Oriental bamboo flute). Like Parran, he has a distinctive solo voice on each instrument, yet is easily able to transfer the techniques from one to another. Case in point is Watazumi Doso, named for a legendary shakuhachi player but played on tenor saxophone. Not only does he invest the sax with non-Western rhythmic pitch and a narrow nasal sound, but his abrasive split tones sound like what would be produced by a blend of Energy Music and Gagaku court music. At the same time Baars is versatile enough to invest The Rhythm is in the Sound, with a collection of abrasive multiphonics, dissonant plus inchoate squeaks, peeps and cries that are atonality incarnate. His clarinet lines are equally descriptive. Crisp reed bites and quivering, liquid runs blend on the title tune in such an unaffected manner that the piece advances linearly, despite the quivering altissimo screams punctuating the final section. A similar strategy appears on Rittratto dal mare a Anzio, where the finale of languid and breathy tones logically follows from the reed partials exposed as fortissimo squeaks and extended, quivering glissandi. Elsewhere shakuhachi lines are appropriately delicate and legato.

03_Jason_RobinsonSan Diego’s Jason Robinson introduces different textures to his timbral examination of alto and tenor saxophones plus alto flute on Cerberus Rising (Accretions ALP51 www.accretions.com). The 16 solo improvisations are frequently modified with effects and samples from musical software. Staying spontaneous, there are no edits or overdubs as Robinson alters his reed lines in real time. For instance the title track is quickly mutated from what could be the demarcated expression of a lone tenor saxophone to a variant of a saxophone choir, with the other overdubbed horns vibrating echo-chamber-like effects over which the first saxophone improvises. The reverberating reeds blurrily expose thematic variants sped up to cartoon music velocity, until legato sax timbres reappear and complete the narrative. Alternately, as on Serpentine Gaze, the saxophone’s wide vibrato is processed to such an extent that the higher-pitched results sound as if Ebb Tide is being played on a wind synthesizer. A genuine watery overlay is present on Rising Tide for Humanity as field recordings of thunderstorms and lapping waves share space with computer-processed buzzes, and then give way to staccato saxophone tones that reverberate on top of fan-belt-like clangs from the software. Syrynx at the Edge of Nightfall on the other hand frames a lyrical flute line with whistling, echoing and wobbly wave forms. These computer pulsations stretch time by not only bubbling underneath, but also by commenting discordantly on the initial exposition.

04_Linsey_WellmanThe preceding elaborate reed reconfigurations make Ottawa-based alto saxophonist Linsey Wellman’s Ephemera (www.linseywellman.com) seem almost quaint in its adherence to the initial unaccompanied saxophone strategies of the likes of Braxton and Parker. Unadorned except for his saxophone, Wellman uses repeated and carefully divided lines to vibrate split tones which are somehow both polyphonic and tonic. Using circular breathing he produces equivalent note clusters and glissandi that unroll as if his saxophone is a perpetual motion machine yet subtly vary in pitch, shading and emphasis. Systematically playing at a level of unabashed intensity, thematic variations aren’t neglected no matter how rough and staccato his performance. Moreover melodic inferences are never far from the surface, as on Track 9, where slurred textures and reed pressure quirkily hint at an atonal variant of Harlem Nocturne. As spectacularly, fortissimo and staccato cries, reed percussion and shaded multiphonics on Track 3, seem to be produced by sheer mouth, lip and breath control. Wellman’s unvarnished, understated, perhaps by definition, Canadian, extended techniques suggest that his saxophone skills could eventually reach Baars or Parran level. His CD certainly confirms that plenty of sounds remain to be exposed in solo saxophone sets.

01_gamelan_java _5Gamelan of Java - Vol. 5: Cirebon tradition in America
Various Artists
Lyrichord Discs LYRCH 7461 (www.lyrichord.com)

This is a unique album. Cirebon is an old city and cultural centre located on the north coast plains of the island of Java, Indonesia. This CD is the first commercial recording of all five types of traditional gamelan music still practiced in the courts of the Cirebon Sultans today. For most listeners it will be a fresh window on the aristocratic and ritual music of a 500-year-old culture little celebrated or known even in its own home country.

As we hear on this album, Cirebon gamelan music is made primarily by an ensemble of tuned and un-tuned percussion instruments, occasionally embellished by the suling, the bamboo ring flute. Vocalisations by the musicians also sometimes delightfully peek through and enliven the instrumental texture. Overall the voices of these gamelans are more intimate than either of its larger and better-known South Central Javanese or Balinese gamelan cousins.

The Californian musicians of Gamelan Sinar Surya under the skilled and dedicated direction of Cirebon gamelan expert Richard North (he has been playing this music for a remarkable 35 plus years) bring out the best in each type of repertoire. They provide a welcome variety in mood, emotional value, sound quality, tonal organisation, tempo, timbral texture and note density. More than providers of entertainment, some gamelan (sets) represented here are valued for their deep spiritual associations. Such sets include the Gong Sekati, the Gong Renteng, and the magically imbued gamelan called Denggung on which is played the outstanding track Wawa Bango.

If I were forced to pick a single favourite track, it would be Pacul Goang (Chipped Rice Hoe). It is full of the sort of vibrant musical life I associate with gamelan Cirebon performance, the hallmarks of which include the dynamic playing of the kendang and larger bedug (drums), the characteristically sweet suling riffs in the soft slower sections, and the alok vocalisations of the musicians imbuing life and special Cirebonese flavour to the instrumentals.

Being the first CD to lift the musty, dusty tarp off this special gamelan repertoire, it is a requisite for any world music course, world music student or casual enthusiast.


02_sounds_of_HIVAlexandra Pajak - Sounds of HIV
Sequence Ensemble
Azica   ACD-71260 (www.azica.com)

I have to admit – at first, expressing nucleotides of the genome of a virus as pitches of the melodic scale struck me as a gimmick. Yes, one could draw a connection between adenosine and A, between cytosine and C and so on, but to what end? Once the music started, however, this approach became much harder to dismiss. Applying scientific rigour to music is nothing new and has been done in the past with math (both Satie and Bartok used the golden ratio for their works), so why not with biochemistry? Alexandra Pajak, native of Athens, Georgia studied both composition and sciences and her work reveals a fascination with both subjects. Then there is a general sense of unease, creeping in. This undeniably beautiful music expresses HIV, a virus responsible for the destruction of much beauty and art. On one hand, it’s tempting to assume that nature’s creations achieve a high level of symmetry and beauty and a virus should not be exempt from that principle. On the other hand, what terrible beauty is there to be found should we glimpse inside the genome of the plague, syphilis, smallpox or even flu? These ruminations tend to accompany listening to this oddly-concordant composition, performed with aplomb by the Sequence Ensemble. A special mention goes to Timothy Whitehead, whose piano decodes the protein connections with an astonishing clarity. This strange and disturbing recording reveals itself to be much more than just a mere gimmick!

 


01_festspeilhausOver the years live performances from Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus have dribbled in from EMI, DG, ORFEO, and others depending on the artists involved. We can still buy several recordings of complete operas from the 1930s conducted by Toscanini and Bruno Walter. Some years after WW2 Salzburg became the destination of choice for the event-going Jet Setters who also frequent only the most fashionable restaurants. And a good thing too, because the most prestigious conductors, instrumentalists, singers and orchestras also wished to be seen and heard there. The house orchestra was the Vienna Philharmonic. It doesn’t get better than that. DG has issued a 25 CD set, 50 YEARS GROSSES FESTSPIELHAUS (DG 4779111) containing notable performances from 1960 thru 2009, 18 originating from ORF masters and 7 from DG and Decca. The first 11 discs contain five operas: Rosenkavalier (Karajan 1960); Idomeneo (Fricsay 1961); From the House of the Dead (Abbado 1992); La Traviata (Rizzi 2005); Eugene Onegin (Barenboim 2007). The next 10 CDs contain 8 concerts: Mozart 40 & 41 (Bohm 1966); Schubert 3rd/Heldenleben (Mehta 1967); Mahler 8 (Bernstein 1975); Haydn - The Seven Last Words (Muti 1982) and many others of equal merit. This is a rewarding collection and a welcome addition to the budget packages now available from all of the majors. Here are committed performances from all concerned in a wide range of works bound together only by the venue.

02_hohenriederMargarita Höhenrieder came to our attention playing the Beethoven First Piano Concerto with Fabio Luisi and the Dresden Staatskapelle on a Euroarts DVD (2057718). Here, for the first time in my experience we have a pianist who displays in her demeanour and playing unalloyed joie de vivre. A must–have DVD for Beethoven lovers. A new CD from Solo Musica (SM147) contains the Chopin Third Sonata Opus 58, recorded in 2010, and a well deserved reissue of Höhenrieder’s extraordinary 1986 traversal of the Liszt Sonata in B minor. Her playing exhibits an amazing transparency and flawless articulation in performances that maintain high electricity and momentum. Her palette of textures and nuances in both works was respected by producer and engineer who recorded her performances faithfully. The Liszt sonata is not played as if it were the hundred metre dash, instead Höhenrieder reveals both the poetry and power of Liszt the Romantic; serene, contemplative episodes contrasting with dynamic passages of great power and authority. A unique interpretation, I believe, and certainly memorable.

03_mahler_mackerrasThe late Charles Mackerras belonged to the handful of conductors who became internationally known as the leading exponents in classical music in the late 20th century. Although there are recordings of Mahler’s First, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and Das Knaben Wunderhorn, this is his first Fourth, recorded in concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra on 16 February 2006 (Signum SIGCD219). Mackerras dusts off the score and gets straight to the point with brisk tempos and an ingenuous, optimistic outlook. The second movement is light-heartedly eerie. The third movement is extraordinarily beautiful, one of Mahler’s most expansive adagios, which could be the best on record... it certainly is for the exquisite balances and impact and timbre of the bass drum. The childlike, innocent view of heaven, sung by Sarah Fox, closes Mahler’s joyful opus. Signum Records is a privately owned company founded in 1997 and now also issues new live recordings of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Respected engineer Tony Faulkner is responsible for the exemplary recording.

04_sternIn a recital given at the Edinburgh International Festival on August 28, 1960 Isaac Stern and Dame Myra Hess performed together for the last time. They played Brahms’ Second Violin Sonata, op.100; Schubert’s First D384; Howard Ferguson’s Second, op.10; and Beethoven’s Tenth, op.96. Dame Myra (1890-1965) was one of England’s best known pianists and was famous around the world. I have the feeling that she was not as flexible here as in the past. Certainly most collectors will be taking note of Testament’s new CD (SBT.1458) of this recital in order to hear the incomparable Isaac Stern. He is heard here in a period when his playing and artistry was truly second to none. In addition to his thorough understanding of Brahms, Schubert and Beethoven he had an individual expressivity and the noble dignity of his playing is unmistakably Isaac Stern at his best. This disc has found its way to my player many times over the last weeks. I like it a lot.

 

58_l_bernstein_at_workLeonard Bernstein At Work: His Final Years, 1984 – 1990

photographs by Steve J. Sherman

Amadeus Press

192 pages, photos; $34.99 US

• Leonard Bernstein was a trail-blazing conductor, a superb pianist, a composer of both Broadway hits and classical masterworks, a communicative writer, and an innovative educator. As his assistant Craig Urqhart says in this splendid book, “He was living five lives at a time.” Bernstein’s life and work have been well-documented. But Steve Sherman’s ability to capture Bernstein’s remarkable charisma, both on and off stage, makes this collection of photos taken during the six years before his death in 1990 especially powerful.

Bernstein was strikingly photogenic. The toll that his years of intense living took on him is evident here, especially in the casual shots. But the photos of him conducting reveal the spontaneity, intelligence, joyfulness, wit and intensity that made his performances so thrilling. They show how Bernstein became a conduit for the music, with his balletic body language and expressive facial gestures. “I’m not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself,” he is quoted as saying. “I want it to sound like the composer.”

Sherman’s photos tell stories that words can’t. In the stunning wide-angle two-page shot of Bernstein conducting the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1988, almost every member of the orchestra is watching the conductor intently. There’s a poignant shot of Bernstein with violinist Isaac Stern, taken backstage after a concert with the Israel Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall in 1985, each with his arm around the other’s shoulder. There’s an amusing photo of Bernstein showing up for a rehearsal for Irving Berlin’s 100th birthday gala at Carnegie Hall in 1988 wearing a purple feather boa and sunglasses. The most dramatic photo here is of Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in 1988, arms reaching out to the camera.

The texts include an eloquent remembrance from Bernstein’s daughter Jamie which makes clear just what his energetic commitment to whatever he was doing cost him. Comments from a number of associates of Bernstein, culled from interviews done over the years by the photographer’s father, writer and broadcaster Robert Sherman, complement this beautifully produced and well-priced volume.

58_ny_philharmonicThe New York Philharmonic: From Bernstein to Maazel

by John Canarina

Amadeus Press

495 pages, photos; $29.99 US

• In this engaging history of the New York Philharmonic, John Canarina relates how someone at a public forum in 1991 suggested that the orchestra should install a giant mirror at the rear of the stage so audiences could watch the conductor’s facial expressions. The orchestra’s music director at the time, Kurt Masur, responded, “When I conduct Beethoven, I wouldn’t like to replace Beethoven. He should be in your mind, not me.” Masur’s attitude is similar to that of another of the orchestra’s long-time conductors, Leonard Bernstein. In fact, the orchestra has consistently attracted principal conductors who, like Masur and Bernstein, are more concerned with letting the composers’ voices be heard than stamping their own personalities on the orchestra. This has allowed the distinctive sound of the orchestra – which Canarina characterizes by its openness and immediacy – to develop under a succession of conductors.

Canarina, who was an assistant conductor with the orchestra under Leonard Bernstein, starts his history with Bernstein, who took over from Dmitri Mitropoulos in 1958 amid concerns that he was just a “personality boy.” At 39 he was considered too young to lead a major orchestra, though today that doesn’t sound so young, with 29-year-old Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic and 35-year-old Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading both the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. In any case, the choice of Pierre Boulez sparked even more controversy, though it turned out to be just as visionary.

The conductors are quite properly Canarina’s main focus. But he certainly gives the orchestra players their due. He quotes his own interviews with orchestra members and highlights the work of legendary principal players like cellist Lorne Munroe, flutist Jeanne Baxtresser, (who came to the orchestra from the Toronto Symphony), clarinettist Stanley Drucker, and current concertmaster Glenn Dicterow.

Canarina also pursues his particular interest in how the orchestra has been treated by the press throughout the years, which leads to numerous quotations from past reviews. But far more interesting are the quotes from performers, composers and conductors, and especially his own insightful comments, which enhance this lively portrait of a great orchestra.

58_a_biographical_guide_to_the_great_jazz_and_pop_singersA Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers

by Will Friedwald

Pantheon

829 pages; $53.00

• This hefty volume certainly lives up to its title, with detailed biographies of more than three hundred of the twentieth century’s best jazz and popular singers. But it offers much more. In fact, this book contains some of the most astute, witty and stylish critical writing on singers since Whitney Balliett wrote for the New Yorker.

Instead of trying to define who is and who isn’t a jazz singer, Will Friedwald , a jazz critic for the Wall Street Journal, has based his choices on those who sing the standards of the so-called Great American Songbook. Though most of the singers he profiles were active during the last century, he does cover a number of contemporary singers, including Canadians Diana Krall and Michael Bublé.

Friedwald comes up with some surprising – and interesting – historical connections. “If you take [Dean] Martin’s usual singing,” he suggests, “and apply a little more vibrato to it, you end up with something that sounds suspiciously like Elvis.” For him, even an obscure singer like Rose Murphy is not just “one of the most distinctive, not to mention delightful, performers in popular music,” but also an important influence on Ella Fitzgerald.

One of the many things that sets this encyclopedia apart is the generous length of the entries, long enough to do justice to what these singers accomplished, and detailed enough to include discussions of their recordings. He sheds fresh light on well-documented singers like Frank Sinatra (the subject of one of Friedwald’s previous books), Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Alberta Hunter, Anita O’Day, and Mel Tormé. But he also re-evaluates lesser-known singers like Al Hibbler, Ernestine Anderson, Mose Allison, and Helen Humes. He admits to failing to be moved by Cleo Laine, yet still manages an appreciative portrait. And some of his most interesting comments are about those who are well-known, but not so much as singers, like Dean Martin, Doris Day, Fred Astaire, and Jimmy Durante.

Though there is a detailed list of contents, there is, unfortunately, no index. So unless you read this book from cover to cover, you are bound to miss some terrific writing, like the extra comments on Louis Armstrong which are found in Friedwald’s discussion of Durante. It’s especially frustrating because Friedwalds’s writing is so good that I wouldn’t want to have missed anything he had to say about a singer I was interested in.

Address inquiries to bookshelf@thewholenote.com.

As we enter the New Year you’ll notice a couple of new aspects to DISCoveries. “Strings Attached” is a column in which Terry Robbins will “round-up” recent releases featuring the violin family – concertos, sonatas and chamber music offerings from the international catalogue on a monthly basis. We also welcome Jason van Eyk, long familiar for his “In With The New” column in these pages, to our roster of reviewers. You’ll find his take on a new piano disc by Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa in the Modern and Contemporary reviews. As for my own column, as the snow piled up outside my window over the past two months, so have the mounds of CDs on my desk. I’ve had lots of listening time to explore innumerable new releases which only makes the task of selecting what to include here that much more difficult. Some of the highlights from my hibernation are included below.

01_oliver_schnellerIn my other life as general manager of New Music Concerts I have had the pleasure of being exposed to the music of some of the world’s most exciting compositional talents over the past decade. Last May, in a concert curated by Brian Current, Canadians Nicole Lizée and Analia Llugdar were featured alongside Frenchman Fabien Levy and Germans Enno Poppe and Oliver Schneller. Schneller’s delicate Trio (1998) for accordion, cello and piano was featured on that Toronto concert and I was pleased to find it on a new Wergo recording along with five more recent Schneller compositions (WER 6579-2). Trio and Aqua Vit (1999) for eight instruments are the only purely acoustic compositions on the disc, with all of the more recent works involving live electronics. Schneller’s fascination with the nature of sound itself is evident even in the instrumental compositions, as he examines textures and timbres as if through a microscope. This concern is taken further with his use of technology in the later works, most notably Stratigraphie I (2006) and II (2010), both for six instruments and live electronics. Also of note is his alluring addition to the two pianos/two percussion repertoire with Resonant Space, a compelling work which adds live sound manipulation to the mix.

02_larcherThe most recent New Music Concert featured Quatuor Diotima, a Paris-based ensemble whose repertoire spans three centuries with a particular interest and expertise in the work of living composers. Of the works they performed in Toronto, by far the most intriguing was Madhares, the third string quartet by Thomas Larcher, who was born in Austria in 1963. This extended work called upon the musicians to employ a number of extended techniques, including tapping on the strings with wooden mutes to make eerie pointillistic glissandi up the neck of their instruments. The dynamic range varied from sub-audible to shriekingly loud in moments reminiscent of the shower scene from Psycho. But the piece was also imbued with beautiful melodies harkening back to pre-classical times and moments of languid calm. You can hear the work for yourself performed by Diotima on an ECM New Series release (ECM 2111) which also includes Larcher’s Böse Zelten for piano and orchestra and Still for viola and chamber orchestra with soloists Till Fellner and Kim Kashkashian and the Munich Chamber Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies. Both of the concerted works have the intimacy of chamber music while exploiting the full resources of the orchestra. As with Oliver Schneller, the exploration of sound itself is paramount. The prepared piano is particularly effective in Böse Zelten whose title translates as Malign Cells.

03_berg_webern_schoenberg_diotimaOn the most recent release by Quatuor Diotima the group is joined by soprano Sandrine Piau and Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux in works by Berg, Webern and Schoenberg (Naïve V 5240). Piau’s impeccable vocals are expected in Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 where the third and fourth movements are settings of texts by Stefan George, but an unexpected treat is the sixth movement of Berg’s Lyric Suite where Lemieux sings the text inscribed by the composer in a miniature copy of the score sent to his “beloved” Hanna Fuchs. That only came to light thanks to Fuchs’ daughter after the death of Berg’s widow in 1976. I’m not sure if this is the first recording to include the sung text, but it is the first to come to my attention and Lemieux makes a convincing case for it. The quartet is impeccable in their interpretations of all the works, including the purely instrumental Sechs Bagatelles of Anton Webern.

04_inscape_trio_voceMieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1974) share a remarkably similar voice and seem to have influenced each other profoundly. It is thought that much of Shostakovich’s interest in Jewish music stemmed from his friendship with the younger Pole. Weinberg’s Piano Trio was composed in 1945, two years before the masterpiece in the same genre by Shostakovich. I am very pleased to find both works featured on a new recording by Trio Voce, an ensemble which includes American violinist Jasmine Lin and Canadians Marina Hoover, founding cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and Alberta pianist Patricia Tao. The disc, entitled Inscapes (Con Brio CBR21045, www.conbriorecordings.com), includes not only the Weinberg trio Op.24 and Shostakovich’s familiar Op.67, but also a rare performance of the latter’s early first trio Op.8. The performances are sensitively nuanced and dynamic and the recording, done at WFMT Studios in Chicago last May, is immaculate.

05_avant_garde_favouritesI’m not sure why, but it seems like kind of a “guilty pleasure” to revisit some of the masterworks of the past century upon which I “cut my teeth.” I tend to find it deplorable that so many of my generation never seem to get beyond the pop music they heard in their formative years, yet I also realize that the music which informed my own artistic development still remains my favourite. So it is with a grain of salt that I recommend Avantgarde Favourites of the 20th Century (Scandinavian Classics 220571-205) performed by the Arthuis Sinfonietta. But hearing Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto for Thirteen Instruments, Webern’s Concerto, Varèse’ Octandre, Lutoslawski’s Chain I and Takemitsu’s Rain Coming again after all these years was a real life affirming experience. To hear these seminal works so well performed in a new context was invigorating. And the addition of Harrison Birtwistle’s Ritual Fragment which I was not previously aware of was a real treat.

06_dudamel_riteAnother wonderful revisitation was an exuberant new recording of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (Deutsche Grammophon 477 8775). Although appointed Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, Dudamel continues to work with the outstanding young players of his homeland as these thrilling live recordings from Caracas in February 2010 attest. As always Dudamel brings the best out in the youngsters and one would not likely guess this is anything other than a fully professional orchestra just by listening. The Stravinsky is paired with La noche de los mayas (Night of the Maya) by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. Completed a year before the composer’s death in 1940 La noche had to wait twenty years for its first performance. Although not likely to replace Rite of Spring in the repertoire anytime soon, this is a dramatic, lyrical, colourful and powerful work that deserves to be much more widely heard. With Dudamel as its champion we can rest assured that it will be.

07_seeligOne of my finest musical experiences of the past several months was not a piece of music at all, but rather a book written by Toronto playwright and director of One Little Goat Theatre, Adam Seelig. Every Day in the Morning (slow) (New Star Books) is a novella crafted like a musical composition and typeset in a very graphic way – its very sparse text spread over the page like poetry, with far more white space than print. This affects, and effects, the way we read this monologue, with pauses built in as an inherent part of the process. Told alternately in third and first person, we are presented with the inner thoughts of a writer’s-block-ridden composer, railing against himself, the world, the classical music business, Steve Reich and the minimalists, his father and his childless marriage. It is effective and compelling. After my first reading I went back almost immediately and read the book again, aloud this time, and found it even more satisfying.

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







01a_duparcHenri Duparc - Intégrale des Melodies

Marc Boucher; Olivier Godin

XXI XXI-CD 2 1705

 


01b_duboisTheodore Dubois - Chansons de Marjolie

Anne Saint-Denis; Olivier Godin

XXI XXI-CD 2 1704

Henri Duparc, despite having been one of the first and possibly most talented pupils of César Franck, despite having been one of the founders of Société Nationale de Musique Moderne (with Saint-Saëns), despite having lived to the age of 85, left a legacy of fewer than 40 works. The shocking explanation is that Duparc, who stopped composing at 37 due to what was then diagnosed as “neurasthenia” (a type of mental exhaustion with elements of depression, anxiety and pain), destroyed most of his works, including his only opera. In a letter to Jean Cras, Duparc wrote: “Having lived 25 years in a splendid dream, the whole idea of [musical] representation has become – I repeat to you – repugnant. The other reason for this destruction, which I do not regret, was the complete moral transformation that God imposed on me 20 years ago and which, in a single minute, obliterated all of my past life. Since then, [my opera] Roussalka, not having any connection with my new life, should no longer exist.”

This album’s 17 songs have been called a perfect blend of poetry and music, in no small part because Duparc was inspired by the words of Gauthier, Sully-Prud’homme, Baudelaire and Cazalis. Marc Boucher and Olivier Godin, frequent collaborators on stage and on record, are delightfully matched and attuned to each other’s musical sensibilities. These eminently able Quebec musicians have successfully rendered songs requiring not just musical skill, but also a love of these texts. A great introduction to Duparc’s tragically small repertoire.

François-Clément Théodore Dubois was an almost-contemporary to Henri Duparc, their lives intersecting at many junctures, though his composing life was a much more fulfilled and happy one. Receiving the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1861, he also took over from César Franck as choirmaster at the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde and, in 1877, succeeded Camille Saint-Saëns as organist at the Church of the Madeleine. He served as director of the Paris Conservatoire from 1896 to 1905.

The true surprise is that his song cycles remain virtually unknown and numerous operas and ballets either have never been performed or have fallen into oblivion. The only work attaining some popularity is his oratorio Les Sept Paroles de Christ. In this recording, Dubois’ compositions prove a true epitome of French Romanticism. Though rarely indicating the type of voice that should sing them, they nevertheless follow faithfully the overall theme, using contemporary poetry and reaching for inspiration from the Renaissance and Middle Ages. Anne Saint-Denis is a revelation here: her voice is not really what one would call “beautiful,” with a somewhat over-pronounced vibrato and shallow tessitura, and yet it seems perfectly suited. This rare, perfect match of music and instrument deliver a true delight to the listener of this (most likely) unfamiliar music. The unfamiliarity passes quickly, as one feels compelled to listen again and again, soon humming along to the tracks.

François-Clément Théodore Dubois, vilified after his retirement from the Conservatoire for his part in the Ravel/Prix de Rome scandal, deserves a revival. This disc is a wonderful first step in that direction.



02a_gardens_of_spainGardens of Spain

Lyne Fortin; Esther Gonthier

Analekta AN 2 9972

 

 

02b_hugo_wolfWolf - Italienisches Liederbuch

Catherine Robbin; Daniel Lichti; Leslie De'Ath

Analekta AN 2 9956

Two recent Analekta releases feature the music of Hugo Wolf, the late 19th-century life-long composer of lieder. One recording focuses exclusively on one cycle by Wolf, while the other includes him in a collection of Spanish and Spanish-inspired pieces. While both song cycles are named for the countries the poetry originates from, Wolf's music itself is decidedly Germanic.

In each of the excerpts from Spanishes Liederbuch performed by Lyne Fortin, she certainly has the dramatic presence to handle the “Sturm und Drang” required by the constantly changing emotional content. In selections by Richard Strauss a garden flower is passionately compared to a girl or a woman whose nature reflects that of the blossom. Bizet and Delibes truly embrace the flavour of Spanish music with a dizzying flirtatiousness that Fortin delivers beautifully. Fortin conveys a fiery persona especially in the truly Spanish repertoire on this recoding. The cantos by Cuban composer Joaquin Nin start with an excitement and flourish that keep quite a pace until the third selection which slows but maintains the emotive momentum. In fact, throughout the CD, this singer sings as though always on edge, with smouldering moments juxtaposed with shrill peaks of high anxiety, keeping the listener thrilled with uncertainty. Pianist Esther Gonthier keeps the tension high throughout and especially shines in the Torroba, where her piano takes on the persona of a strumming guitar.

Hugo Wolf's Italienische Liederbuch is rarely performed in its entirety, consisting as it does of no less than forty-six vignettes. Having performed a few of them in a recent concert tour entitled “Songs of Venus and Mars”, mezzo-soprano Catherine Robbin and bass-baritone Daniel Lichti were inspired to record the complete cycle since the lieder neatly fall into categories suitable for both male and female singers. Again, in paying homage to the Tuscan folk poems and Venetian vilote, Wolf's music reflects his own nationality, but the translations into German still make for quite the range of emotion, from passion to reverence and playfulness to despair. Both Robbin and Lichti along with pianist Leslie De'Ath add a certain elevation to sentiments of romantic exploration in the same way that Wolf transforms the simplicity of the lyric to a more classical standard of high art. The singers, well known for their expertise in this repertoire, imbue the performance with superb tonal quality, warmth and grace.


01_salsa_baroqueSalsa Baroque

Ensemble Caprice; Matthias Maute

Analekta AN 2 9957

Matthias Maute’s notes explain salsa baroque as being 17th and 18th century Latin American and Spanish music with a diffusion of harmonies and rhythms of Europe and Africa blended with Amerindian nuances and styles. Hybrid must be an under-statement.

The choice of pieces is itself varied as Zipoli’s pastorales vie with his battaglias and in turn mingle with Gaspar Fernandes’ compositions with their unsullied pre-conquistador titles. The opening (anonymous) chaconne combines easily recognizable baroque music with spirited Latin American embellishments; Variations on la Gayta and the lively singing of further settings bring home the passionate nature of this fusion of music from Spain and her new colonies. Listen to Lanchas para baylar for further confirmation. Those looking for something more indigenous need only listen to the second piece, the definitely non-Hispanic Hanacpachap cussicuinin. It is incomparably Latin American, mainly because it is dated to 1631 in Cuzco!

Looking at the cover design of this CD with its electronically-drawn drizzlings of Latin American dressings and then translating its title (baroque sauce), you might get the impression this is one for the tapas-bar yuppies. It is, in truth, a valuable introduction to music created by Spanish and Portuguese composers who were assigned to Latin America and influenced by the music they found there.


02_vivaldi_oboe_concertosVivaldi Oboe Concertos

Alex Klein; New Brandenburg Collegium; Anthony Newman

Cedille FOUNDation CDR 7003 (www.cedillerecords.org)

One of the most prolific composers of his time, Antonio Vivaldi (1675-1741) wrote a total of 14 concerti for oboe, plus an additional three for two oboes. This sampling of eight of them, from one of the world's finest oboists, is a recent re-release of material originally recorded in 1993. Alex Klein is probably best known as a former principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony, a position he held from 1995 to 2004, when he left the job due to focal dystonia, a neurological condition affecting the muscles in some of his fingers. (He has since recovered, and I had the pleasure of hearing him perform live in Kitchener a couple of years ago).

In addition to composing, Vivaldi also taught music at the Ospedale della Pietá, an orphanage for girls in Venice. In the insightful liner notes with this recording, Klein suggests that these works were perhaps written for these girls, with their particular talents and personalities in mind. Given the technical challenges of these concerti and the limitations of the oboe of the time, if this is true, these girls must have been true prodigies! Speculation aside, this recording presents these works in their best light, played here by a true virtuoso. Klein's technical mastery of the instrument is staggering – even the most virtuosic passages are executed with flawless precision, giving an impression of total ease; and embedded within the most technically demanding sections, Klein manages a sensitivity and subtlety of expression that only a true master can convey. This recording deserves undivided listening attention to fully appreciate the complexity and nuance of both the composer's work and this first class performance.


03_bach_organJ.S. Bach - Organ Works

Nicolas-Alexandre Marcotte

XXI-21 Productions; XXI-CD 2 1713

Organist Nicolas-Alexandre Marcotte plays a magnificent organ built in 1973 by Karl Wilhelm for Église Saint-Matthias (Montréal). It is entirely mechanical (tracker action) and voiced in the very best Baroque style. Marcotte’s repertoire choice (some duets, a Fantaisie, a Trio Sonata, etc.) is far from standard Bach but carefully chosen to demonstrate the Baroque keyboard technique of note detachment, the very antithesis of the Romantic tendency for legato in nearly everything. The playing is brilliant and the acoustics perfect – an altogether outstanding recording achievement.


01_mozart_piano_sonatasMozart - Piano Sonatas

Robert Silverman

IsoMike 5602 (www.isomike.com)

If we accept Hans von Bulow’s decree to pianists that “Bach is the Old Testament and Beethoven is the New Testament of music,” where does that leave Mozart? As a kind of musical John the Baptist?

But if Mozart has been relegated to the role of a pianistic voice crying in the wilderness, it’s not the composer’s doing, but the fault of the musical world. Some pianists, such as Glenn Gould, have disdained his piano music as lightweight. Others, such as Alicia De Laroccha, have unwittingly given credence to this view by performing Mozart with a mannered superficiality. And then there are folks who feel that Mozart’s piano music needs to be performed on a period fortepiano – as if he can’t quite compete with “important” piano composers when played on a modern instrument.

Enter Robert Silverman, the Vancouver-based pianist who has earned a reputation as a Beethoven interpreter with a penchant for complete sonata cycles. Now, in this seven-disc boxed set on the audiophile IsoMike label, Silverman has recorded all 18 Mozart sonatas, and also the Chromatic Fantasy in C Minor.

What makes these performances so consistently engaging is the breadth he brings to his interpretations. He’s not out to directly overthrow traditional ideas about Mozart, but rather to enfold them within a broader vision: while there’s sometimes a “Mozartkugel” sweetness to his playing, there’s much more than that. In Silverman’s hands, this music is dramatic, humourous, effervescent, calm, blissful, tragic, and many other things as well.

For instance, there’s Sonata No. 15, which Silverman, in his notes, describes as “the most curious work in Mozart’s entire keyboard oeuvre.” In this recording, the first movement begins as a lively romp, but with the underlying strength of supple and flexible steel. The second movement is less complex, perhaps, but inward-looking and carefully shaped. And the last movement is pure innocence and charm – until the change from major to minor brings just a touch of wistfulness.

The only non-sonata on these discs, the C Minor Fantasy, is no less impressive. Contrasts are sharply drawn, intensity builds and recedes, colours range from light to dark, and the music is always going somewhere.

Sonically, these discs are as clear as a bell and as pure as the driven snow. And speaking of Glenn Gould (whom I mentioned four paragraphs back), can Silverman be heard very quietly humming in some lyrical passages? It sounds like he might be.


02_beethoven_symphoniesBeethoven - The Symphonies & The Beethoven Project

Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen; Paavo Järvi; Christiane Oelze; Annely Peebo; Simon O’Neill; Dietrich Henschel; Deutscher Kammerchor

SONY 86977814396 (4 DVDs)

“As long as we will be performing the Beethoven symphonies they will always be slightly different. There is no way of making an identical performance... it simply doesn’t work that way. One of the things that I value most by doing those cycles is that I feel that the next one can be a little bit better because I have learned something from the one before and I feel that I know how to do them better and I feel that the orchestra and I have a closer communication because we’ve been through this process.”

Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie had already recorded the Beethoven Symphonies for CD release over a period of four years from 2004-2008. Those performances had positive reviews and I was very impressed by the clarity and energy of the playing and the hard-edged recording.

The new cycle on DVD was recorded not in four years but four consecutive days, September 9-12, 2009 in the Beethovenhalle in Bonn. It is plain to hear that the ensemble has refined into a more personal style that is far more engaging and persuasive. The thrilling live performances are both inspired and inspiring, a tribute to Järvi’s panache and inspiration; they glow from within... a refreshing experience. The sound dynamics, whether heard in stereo or 5.1 surround sound are exceptional, as they must be here.

Play the extra DVD, “The Beethoven Project Music Documentary,” first as it tells how this event came together and also get to know a few of the players and experience the orchestra’s general camaraderie. More valuable are the rehearsal excerpts in which Järvi works with the players on matters of tempi, phrasing, dynamics, and balance and illustrates Beethoven’s sense of humour. Later, one of the players relates a conversation between players on the last day as to whether they should play it safe in the Ninth. They decided to go all out and hold back nothing.

I promise that even the most jaded listener will be listening with new ears.


03_widor_organ_symphoniesWidor - Complete Organ Symphonies

Jean-Guy Proulx, Gilles Rioux, Benjamin Waterhouse, Jacquelin Rochette,  Jacques Boucher

XXI-21 Productions; XXI-CD 2 1720

Organ recordings are as much about the instrument as they are about the performer and the repertoire, so it’s often hard to say what should really get top billing. XXI presents us with a complete set of Charles-Marie Widor’s 10 (Organ) Symphonies performed by five different organists on five different instruments built by Canada’s Casavant Frères of Saint Hyacinthe, Québec. This set is a substantial document. It illuminates a unique period of French music history in the early 20th century when advancing technology had a huge impact on pipe organ building. New materials, better mechanisms and electrification gave builders the opportunity to design “orchestral” instruments with broad palettes of colours. Moreover, a growing body of organ works in this “orchestral” genre was waiting to be heard and Widor’s 10 symphonies are among the best to illustrate this phenomenon. These six CDs offer many outstanding examples of how skilful organists can register (colour) the complex inner voices of Widor’s writing. Some remarkable highlights deserve special mention.

Symphony No.1 is a collage of contrasting dynamics and colour. Organist Jean-Guy Proulx plays the 1921 Casavant restored in 1979 by Guilbault-Therien (Cathédrale Saint Germain de Rimouski) and makes the Marche Pontificale the most memorable movement. Proulx also plays the Symphony No.4 in what is the most skilfully registered (tonally coloured) and virtuosic performance in the entire set. Superb.

Benjamin Waterhouse performs Symphony No.2 at Cathédrale Saint Hyacinthe on one of Casavant’s earliest instruments (1885, rebuilt in 1978). The fugal 4th movement Scherzo is a playful dance of solo reeds and the Symphony’s Finale is truly magnificent.

Symphony No.3 is played by Gilles Rioux on a 1964 Casavant, rebuilt in 1990 in the Basilique Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Cap-de-la-Madeleine. The 2nd movement Minuetto is an utter delight and the 3rd movement Marche is simply explosive!

Organist Jacquelin Rochette plays the 1943 Casavant (rebuilt 1995) in Église Saint-Roch, Quebec City. Her performance of the Symphony No.5 features the famous Toccata every organist either plays or wishes they played better. Her Symphony No.6 Finale is even more spectacular and shows Widor at his rhythmic and inventive best.

Symphonies 9 and 10 are both more compact works with fewer movements. Organist Jacques Boucher has the advantage of playing the 1995 rebuild of the 1915 Casavant in Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. Of all the organs this one seems most solidly in tune throughout its entire set of ranks. Most others show some minor tuning issues, though not serious enough to detract from their performance.


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