Bravo_high resBRAVO: The History of Opera in

British Columbia

by  Rosemary Cunningham

Harbour Publishing

208 pages, photos; $39.95

“Opera is on a roll in British Columbia,” writes Rosemary Cunningham in this rich historical survey of opera performance in British Columbia. It has been published to celebrate the anniversaries of the two most prominent opera companies in British Columbia. Vancouver Opera turns fifty years old, and Pacific Opera Victoria turns thirty.

To her credit, Cunningham manages to do justice to all the organizations that produces opera in British Columbia, from Modern Baroque Opera to Vancouver New Music. At the same time, she focuses on the individuals who have made opera happen there. These include the first artistic director of Vancouver Opera, Irving Guttman, and his equally visionary counterpart at Pacific Opera Victoria,  Timothy Vernon. There’s the controversial Richard Bonynge, who played fast and loose with budgets.
He is nonetheless fondly remembered by many for raising the international standing of Vancouver Opera, forming the Vancouver Opera Orchestra,  and bringing in his wife Joan Sutherland to sing. Cunningham also discusses other international singers  who visited, like  Plácido Domingo and  Marilyn Horne, as well as the Canadian singers nurtured by these companies, like Richard Margison and Judith Forst.

Cunningham has examined archives and  board minutes. These prove to be more revealing than the old newspaper reviews and box-office records she frequently relies on. Fortunately, she has, as well,  interviewed a number of people involved. These documents make interesting reading, but her reluctance to offer a critical response diminishes the impact of her descriptions. About the tenure of Robert Hallam as general director at Vancouver Oprera in the 1990’s, she comments, “Understandably, nobody wants to revisit this discordant period”.  Her conclusion? “It is best left in the past.”

Cunningham is at her best in her sympathetic descriptions of the more adventurous productions these companies have mounted in the face of the “conservative taste” of their audiences, like the First Nations-themed The Magic Flute at Vancouver Opera in 2004.

Bravo has been produced with care, beautifully laid-out,  with a reliable index and documentation,  lists of productions,  and lots of high-quality photos. It offers convincing evidence that opera has an important presence in the cultural life of British Columbia.

HL_colgrass_hiresAdventures of an American Composer:

An Autobiography

by Michael Colgrass

edited by Neal and Ulla Colgrass

Meredith Music Publications

231 pages, photos; US $19.95

Toronto-based composer Michael  Colgrass is a natural story-teller - and he has some terrific stories to tell. So the unusual format of this memoir,  a series of vignettes ranging in length from a single page to four pages, works  well here. Without disturbing the narrative flow, he can switch moods, locations, and time frames. And with eighty-nine chapters, he has lots of opportunities  to come up with colourful title like Tormenting My Band Teacher, Romancing a Spy in Bucharest, and Post-Humorous Works.

Colgrass describes his childhood, his education (mostly acquired out of school), his career as a percussionist, and his meetings with remarkable people like Gene Krupa, Louis Prima, Aaron Copland, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Partch, and Elliott Carter. He pinpoints crucial experiences, showing how they changed his life. It was after hearing Charles Munch conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a program of Brahms, he tells us,  that he realized he was going to be a composer. And it was after getting involved with theatre and the  techniques of Neuro-Linguistic Programming that he decided to give up his career as a percussionist and devote himself full-time to composing .

For me, the best anecdotes deal with Colgrass’s experiences performing and writing music. There’s his description of  an all-night emergency session to create a score for the Joffrey Ballet. He had to use exactly the same tempo and counts as the slow movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, in order to make it fit  pre-existing choreography.  Then there’s the recording session  for what ironically became a legendary recording of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The conductor, Stravinsky himself, was ailing, distracted, and slightly drunk. Colgrass describes how the remarkably skilled musicans in the studio orchestra, “hurtling forward like a Mack truck,” pulled him through.

Colgrass’s wife Ulla Colgrass, along with their son Neal, did the editing on this book. My own experience with Ulla Colgrass goes back to the 1980’s when I wrote for the magazine Ulla founded and edited, Music Magazine.  Her skills as an editor and writer leaves me unsurprised that this delightful memoir reads so well.

In his title, Colgrass calls himself “an American composer”. Colgrass has lived in Toronto for the past thirty-six  years, almost half his life-time. The Toronto Symphony is playing one of his best-known pieces, As Quiet As, next season. Yet he says nothing here about why he has stayed in Toronto all these years, and what impact living in Canada has had on him. Why the reticence in such an open-hearted and eloquent memoir?

01_karen_kieserOne of the most impressive discs to cross my desk this month is a private release featuring the first five works to win the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music. This prize was established in 2002 to honour the memory of one of the true, brave champions of the Western Art Music tradition in Canada. Karen Kieser’s long career at the CBC culminated in her appointment as Head of Radio Music, the first woman to ever hold that position. During her tenure she spearheaded programs for the commissioning and recording of Canadian concert music and later went on to become the first General Manager of Glenn Gould Studio. As a triple-graduate of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto it is fitting that the prize in her name, endowed by friends and colleagues following her untimely death, should honour a U of T graduate student in composition whose work is judged to be especially promising. As I mentioned, the CD includes the prize winning works from the first five years of the award’s existence: Abigail Richardson’s dissolve for harp, piano and percussion; Andrew Staniland’s Tapestry for clarinet, cello and tape; Craig Galbraith’s The Fenian Cycle for mezzo soprano, English horn and string quartet; Katarina Curcin’s …walking away from… for string quartet; and Christopher William Pierce’s Melody with Gesture for wind quintet, string quintet, celeste and percussion. I find the maturity of the works and the diversity of stylistic expression to be quite exceptional. The live performances were recorded during the Gala 5th Anniversary Concert of the Karen Kieser Prize at Glenn Gould Studio in January 2007 and feature distinguished artists including Gregory Oh (piano and direction), Norine Burgess (mezzo-soprano) and the Penderecki String Quartet, among a host of others. This limited edition disc, which provides an invaluable glimpse into the formative years of these aspiring composers on the brink of professional careers, is available by donation only.

The Karen Kieser Prize, which usually includes a $1,000 cash stipend and a CBC broadcast, is funded by the proceeds of an endowment fund which is normally sufficient for the purpose. Due to the exceptional market conditions of the past 18 months, the Faculty is seeking additional funding to ensure that this year’s prize can be awarded at its usual level. Once the prize amount is reached, any additional funds raised will be added to the endowment. I encourage you to support this worthy cause which fosters and rewards excellence in Canadian composition.

Contact Tyler Greenleaf at 416.946.3580 or to make your donation and obtain your copy of this excellent disc.

Concert Note: On March 19 in Walter Hall this year’s Karen Kieser prize will be awarded to Constantine Caravassilis for his work Sappho De Mytilère for mezzo soprano, flute and piano which will be performed by members of the gamUT ensemble under the direction of Norbert Palej. The concert will also include Three Songs of Great Range by Igor Correia, last year’s prize winning work. The concert is at 7:30 and admission is free.

Here is a brief mention of other discs that have piqued my interest this month:

02_violin_duosWhen approached by music publisher Erich Doflein, Bela Bartok embraced the idea of writing a graduated pedagogical series in which, in Bartok’s words, “students would play works which contained the natural simplicity of the music of the people, as well as its melodic and rhythmic peculiarities.” His 44 Duos for two violins could have been mere didactic exercises with little inherent musicality, but as evidenced in the fine and nuanced performances by Jonathan Crow and Yehonatan Berick on a new XXI recording (XXI-DC 2 1669), there is real music here, from the pieces for the most elementary performers to the most advanced. The 2 CD set also includes Luciano Berio’s Duetti per Due Violini, a set of teaching pieces inspired by Bartok’s duos but also intended for the concert stage.

03_schubertDo we really need another recording of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden or the C Major Quintet? After listening to these performances by the Belcea Quartet with Valentin Erben (EMI 9 67025 2) I am willing to answer in the affirmative. But another question is begging to be asked: Can there be too much of a good thing? I have often thought so after sitting through the almost hour-long string quintet or the forty-five minute quartet. But while listening to these warm and expressive performances I did not find myself checking my watch even once. Bravo to this fine British ensemble.

04_art_of_timeThe final disc I will mention is hard to categorize, although it is a logical extension of Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble’s recent forays into the world of Art/Pop song. A Singer Must Die (Pheromone Recordings PHER CD 1013) features the iconic voice of Steven Page in “arty” arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, Leonard Cohen, Jane Siberry, Radiohead and, of course, Page’s own Barenaked Ladies (I’m Running Out of Ink). Among the distinguished arrangers are Gavin Bryars (Cohen’s A Singer Must Die), Jim McGrath, Cameron Wilson and Rob Carli, who is also featured on sax and clarinet.

Concert Note: Steven Page and the Art of Time Ensemble will be touring this eclectic repertoire with dates in Kingston (March 3), Toronto (March 4), St. Catharines (March 5), Kitchener (March 6), North Bay (March 7), Brampton (March 10), Belleville (March 11), Barrie (March 12) and Peterborough (March 13).

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website,, where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds

DISCoveries Editor

01_presslerLast summer there was a memorable concert in Toronto featuring Menahem Pressler and friends. Now 86 years of age, Pressler retains his dexterity, musical sensitivity and perfect ensemble. Not many of his fans remember or even know that before the Beaux Arts Trio, Pressler had an illustrious career including numerous guest appearances with many of the world’s finest orchestras. Circa 1950, dozens of solo recordings and concertos were available on LP, including works by Mozart, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Shostakovich and others. DOREMI has begun restoring many of these early recordings to CD, beginning with an all Mendelssohn disc (DHR-7889). The Mendelssohn First Concerto in a vivacious, sparkling performance conducted by Hans Swarowsky, is followed by an enthusiastic reading of the Piano Sextet opus 110 where Pressler is accompanied by a string ensemble led by violinist Daniel Guilet, who was to become a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio. This performance foreshadows the emergence of Pressler as the consummate chamber musician. Delightful performances follow of the Six Children’s Pieces Op.72; the Variations Sérieuses Op.54 and the happy Rondo Capriccioso Op.14. Good sound.

02_beethovenAn impressive release from Archipel (ARPCD 0433, 2 CDs) features the complete Beethoven concert given by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan on August 27, 1955 with Wolfgang Schneiderhan playing the violin concerto. Schneiderhan, born in Vienna in 1915, was an all round musician; soloist, chamber musician and concert master of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1937 until 1951. Best known as a soloist via his many recordings on DG, his technical command of his instrument was blended with old time charm and on this live occasion he is in top form. Supported by Karajan he offers a most engaging and sweeping performance. The concert begins with the Coriolan Overture and concludes with an all-stops-out, energised performance of the Seventh Symphony. As a bonus Karajan and the Philharmonia play the Mozart 39th Symphony in Salzburg in 1956. Excellent sound and exciting dynamics throughout. A fine document.

03_milsteinThe French label TAHRA has a new CD, “Le Violon en Fête!” (TAH 692) featuring two fine violinists of the past. It opens with a sublime version of the Brahms Violin Concerto played by Nathan Milstein with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan, recorded live on 17 August, 1957. We find the great Milstein on ‘a very good day’. A sublime treat, not exactly unexpected from this legendary player, whose flawless playing is well supported by Karajan and the Festival Orchestra, an inspired, if not ‘perfect’ ensemble. The Sibelius concerto follows played by Bronislaw Gimpel with the Berlin Philharmonic under Eugene Jochum recorded live on 21/22 April 1956. Gimpel did not have as brilliant a career as Milstein but based on the evidence presented here, he should have had. This is an exciting performance exhibiting immaculate musicianship, lush sororities and perfect intonation. Jochum was not known as a Sibelius conductor but his support is echt Sibelius. The sound on this disc is clear, accurate and dynamic. A fine addition to the catalogue.

04_argerichBavarian Radio is opening their vaults and offering some remarkable performances, the latest of which features Martha Argerich playing two popular concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony (BR 403571900701). This 1983 Beethoven First concerto predates her commercial recording of 1985 for DG. Such splendid music-making could lead the listener to believe that this is the best concerto of the five. Guest conductor Seiji Ozawa’s support is wholly sympathetic, with an engaging freshness that is at a finer level of excellence than his average recorded legacy. He certainly benefited from fronting one of the very best orchestras, honed to the highest level by Jochum and Kubelik. Argerich’s Mozart Concerto No.18 KV456, conducted by Eugen Jochum from 1973, while a good performance, is a few rungs below the Beethoven.

05_ormandyThe “Philadelphia Sound” described the glorious sound of that orchestra during the reign of Leopold Stokowski and his successor Eugene Ormandy. A DVD from EuroArts (EA 2072258) of Ormandy directing sumptuous performances of the Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony were documented live in 1977 and 1979. What a mighty orchestra this was and their tonal richness and fullness of sound are something to hear. The 5.1 surround sound does full justice to these performances. Highly recommended on all counts.



Independent SACANA 001


I’ve discovered that there are two types of Brazilian musicians in our midst - those that are born in Brazil and adopt Canada as their home and those that are from here and become utterly smitten with this incredibly rich musical culture. And when the two groups of people come together the results can be marvellous, as traditional Brazilian styles are flavoured with North American sounds. Sambacana is just one of a number of examples of these hybrids in Toronto and the driving force behind the band is Alan “Canadense” Hetherington.

Hetherington is an in-demand percussionist, drummer, educator and leader of a number of groups including Escola de Samba de Toronto, a large percussion ensemble modelled after the massive bands that are prolific throughout Brazil and hit the streets at Carnaval time. The other core members of Sambacana - John Yelland, bass, Wagner Petrilli, guitars, Luis Guerra, piano and keys, Aline Morales, vocals - and a dozen guests bring a range of styles and skills to “Nos”. So we get what amounts to a sampler of Brazilian musical styles, mainly from the north east regions. Amor Transcendental is a gorgeous, meditative bossa nova written by Cibelle Iglesias; Dança de Vida, an instrumental featuring Bob Deangelis on clarinet, has touches of choro and jazz; Neve is a fun pagode lament about snow, and Molho de H.P. (HP Sauce) is a complex tribute to the genius Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. This beautiful disc and information about several Brazilian groups can be found on the website noted above.



Briga & Bahtalo Records


A product of Montreal’s multicultural music scene, and formerly with Les Gitans de Sarajevo and Rembetika Hipsters, Briga (Brigitte Dajczer), launched her debut solo project “Diaspora” in 2009, with recent performances in Toronto and Kingston. This accomplished violinist presents a lively and varied mix of Balkan pop/jazz, gypsy style violin, and song, on two CD’s with a back-up band of equally polished musicians on keyboards, accordion, drums, various traditional percussion, and bass. The first disc is completely instrumental, and here Briga shines as either composer or arranger of most of the tracks, as well as exuberant violin virtuoso, displaying extraordinary technique and passion. By contrast, the second disc is a collection of songs, all but one (Les Paul’s Johnny, Tu n’es pas un Ange) with lyrics and music by Briga, in English and French. While her singing is not as developed yet as her violin playing (her intonation is not always spot on), there is obvious talent here, both as singer and songwriter. And she still plays violin on the vocal tracks, though it’s not clear whether this is simultaneous or overdubbed.

One fault of this CD set is the lack of detailed liner notes; though the musicians and their instruments are named, and song lyrics are provided, there are no bios, nor any background information on the music itself, nor translations of the lyrics. Nevertheless, this is a praiseworthy first release by an artist worth following. Notable also is the stellar darbuka playing by Tacfarinas Kichou throughout.



Duo playing is probably the most difficult kind of improvising. Not only must each player depend on only one other to modify or accompany his ideas, but unbridled creativity has to be muted to fit the other musician’s comfort zone. As these CDs demonstrate, skilled improvisers aren’t fazed by the challenge; but the instruments they choose are sometimes unusual.

01_northern_dialoguesEver since his arrival in Toronto from Winnipeg 30 years ago, reedist Glen Hall has played with top local and international musicians. A few years ago he began noticing he was being confused with pianist Glen (Charles) Halls, who had moved to the city from Edmonton. Being equally sardonic types, before Halls relocated to Alberta, the two decided to compound the confusion by recording a duo CD, Glen Hall + Glen Charles Halls - Northern Dialogues (Quiet Design Records CD Alas 009 Still there are as many musical as jocular reasons for doing so. With Hall alternating between breathy bass flute pressure and sprightly tenor saxophone runs, the eight tunes rage from atmospheric and meditative to rhythmic and bluesy. More formalistic than Hall, Halls often appears to be playing a fantasia, mixing legato chords with downward cascading arpeggios. With the low-frequency curvatures of his flute moderato and pointillist to complement the pianist’s comping, it’s Hall’s explosive saxophone tones which make the greatest impression. After adding speedy excitement to the measured and nearly opaque pianism on Astral, with Anything Blues Hall’s flutter-tonguing encourages Halls to display varied keyboard strategies including tremolo strumming.

02_schick_tetreaultHall has organized the annual 416 Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival since 2001. Guests from the 514 area code were welcomed last year, with Montreal turntablist Martin Tétreault’s sounds most unique. Live 33 45 78 (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 191 CD, a duo with Berlin-based turntablist Ignaz Schick, provides examples of these jangling and ratcheting textures. Unlike hip-hoppers who use LPs to insert song snatches or scratch beats, the Canadian-German duo manipulate tone-arms and cartridges as additional sound sources, while pummelling electrified surfaces for distinctive timbres. In two suites they mix granulated rubs and rattles, sharp rugged smacks and motorized rasps with beneath-hearing-level clatter and hisses to reveal textures ranging from stallion-like whinnies to forte ostinatos replicating a dentist’s drill. By the climax of Cave 12 they create a double-counterpoint showcase. The piece weaves vinyl needle rips, frenzied buzzes, static vibrating, video-game-like clanking and near-human cries into a neat package of harmonic interface, as multi-textural as it is percussive.

03_martel_lauzierPierre-Yves Martel and Philippe Lauzier also mix electro and acoustic timbres – and more – on their CD Sainct Laurens (&records 06 Although Montrealer Lauzier confines himself to saxophone and bass clarinet, Martel, who lives in Montreal and Paris, suggests 17th Century music at points, since he plays the viola da gamba. He’s thoroughly modern elsewhere, preparing his instrument with speakers, contact mics and radios. The nine tracks range from lyrical showcases where Lauzier’s wide woodwind warbles brush up against sympathetic Renaissance-styled string vibrations; to abrasive and gritty scrapes, squeaks and flanges from Martel’s extended strings that contrast with intense, horizontal split-tones from the saxophonist. Defiantly multiphonic, the most characteristic track is Adda. It matches altissimo bass clarinet squeals with animal-like burrowing scratches plus droning oscillations from the plectrumist. Swelling into a cornucopia of stifled reed split tones and pinched string buzzes, the piece rends the sound space with both high and low-pitches before the distinctive parts meld.

04_control_thisSaxophonist Michael Blake’s and drummer Kresten Osgood’s Control This (Clean Feed CF 136 CD has a characteristic track as well, which is as post-modern as it is traditional. Duke Ellington’s Creole Love Call is re-imagined by the Copenhagen-based percussionist’s hand-drummed ruffs, flams and back-beat bounces complementing overdubbed soprano, alto and tenor saxophone timbres from the Vancouverite-turned New Yorker. Layering his output so each reed is distinctively harmonized – and simultaneously in focus – Blake’s overall thematic variation is grainy and tough, with one horn honking, another mellow and the third always in the altissimo range. Reed work on others of the seven tracks ranges from breathy and romantic to flat-line flutters to jolly dance-like, as Osgood’s patterning encompasses bass drum whaps and cymbal rattles. In sync throughout on Elephants are Afraid of Mice, the two demonstrate how the drummer’s rim shots and press rolls don’t disrupt, but extend Blake’s variants which encompass spetrofluctuation and body-tube echoes on soprano plus dense repeated tenor saxophone trills.

Two can be the most accommodating number in music as these discs prove.

04_maxine_willanTouching You

Maxine Willan

Independent MWCD-0002


Australian born, but resident in Canada since the early 70s, Maxine Willan’s second CD under her own name is an entertaining mix of standards and originals. There are some solo performances and on the other tracks an assortment of musicians including Kiki Misumi, cello, Jon Maharaj, bass, Ethan Ardelli, drums, Walter McLean, percussion and on one track the tenor sax of Kurt Lund who also co-produced the album with Maxine.

This is not powerhouse jazz that will forcefully remove you socks, but a light, easy-listening selection of well chosen melodic compositions, including the haunting Lost In The Stars by Kurt Weill, Oscar Peterson’s Love Ballade and Don Thompson’s Lullaby.

The CD is representative of the work Maxine has been performing over the years before audiences around the Toronto area and if you have enjoyed hearing her live, now you will be able to invite her into your home with this pleasant collection.

02_sophieYoung & Foolish

Sophie Berkal-Sarbit

Independent KEC-CD-5150 (

To have one CD under your belt when you’re only 19 is quite an accomplishment. For Sophie Berkal-Sarbit to be releasing her second at that age is a marvel. Berkal-Sarbit has a background in musical theatre that shows in her singing style, which has a gutsiness and assurance beyond her tender years.

Piano master Bill King produced and arranged the 12 covers on the album that opens with the heart-starter I’m Gonna Live Till I Die and moves through songs by a range of old and new composers including Porter’s Love for Sale and Strayhorn’s gorgeous, desolate Lush Life. Refreshingly, newer songs like Sting’s Until and Pick Somebody Up by Raul Midón also get reworked here.

King has assembled a roster of local luminaries like drummer Davide di Renzo and Duncan Hopkins on bass. As always, Rob Piltch brings much to the mix with his gorgeous nylon-string guitar work. “Young and Foolish” can be found on iTunes as well as in stores across Canada.

01_pj_perrynota bene

PJ Perry

Independent (

Take five great standards, a Charlie Parker blues and five originals, add PJ Perry - surely one of the best straight ahead saxophonists in the country, or any country for that matter - and a rhythm section that really knows how to swing and you have a CD deserving of a place in your collection.

The standards include the familiar Limehouse Blues and Georgia On My Mind along with Be My Love, The Gypsy and What’ll I Do. Add Parker’s Mood and the five interesting PJ originals and you have just over an hour’s worth of honest jazz. On one of the original pieces, Salsa Saxofono, the regular rhythm section takes time out in order to feature David Verelles on piano and Jalidan Ruiz on congas and timbales.

Recorded in August at Humber Recording Studios and October at Inception Sound, this recording shows that not only is Mark Eisenman an inventive soloist but also a sympathetic accompanist, adding just the right touches behind the leader’s forceful saxophone playing. PJ is a joy to listen to and bassist Neil Swainson and John Sumner on drums provide the icing on the cake.

04_fringe_percFringe Percussion

Fringe Percussion

Independent FP2009


From the first ten seconds of the first track of “Fringe Percussion”, I was held spellbound. The Vancouver group of the same name is able to hold their own in the diverse and talented pool of Canadian percussionists and percussion ensembles by performing an interesting program with consistent precision and musicality.

John Cage’s Dance Music for Elfrid Ide was an unknown work until its 2005 discovery in the Mills College archives. Composed for dancer/student Elfrid Ide, it is a charming three movement work. The performers capture Cage’s nuances with elegance, especially in the softer sections. Jocelyn Morlock’s Darwin’s Walken Fish Quartet is all musical fun and games, with a splashy percussive ending that contemplates what life would be like if fish were four-legged creatures. The Fringe Percussion recording of John Wyre’s Marubatoo is based upon the work’s unrecorded trio version. Composer Colin MacDonald’s contribution is Enginuity. This feels more like a work in progress, with the clever idea of having the vibraphone and marimba supporting the drumming really coming to fruition in the final third of the work. The energetic Latin flavoured Los Forwards by Graham Boyle completes the release.

What strikes me in listening to Fringe Percussion is the meticulous rhythmic ensemble playing which is overshadowed only by a formidable musical sense. Jonathan Bernard, Martin Fisk, Brian Nesselroad and Daniel Tones play together like lifelong friends. Here’s hoping that they continue drumming together for a long time!

03_creating_landscapeCreating A Landscape

Réa Beaumont

Shrinking Planet Productions SPP 0089 (

Sometimes the planets align, and fortune favours the bold. These sayings only partially do justice to Réa Beaumont, who takes command of the stage of Glenn Gould Studio with a stunning set of contemporary piano works.

Opening with Arvo Pärt’s groundbreaking tintinnabular work
Für Alina, the dynamic continues to remain below mezzo piano for an astonishing 13 minutes. Cage’s very early In a Landscape, played as it was written with no prepared piano devices, rounds out this episode. As you proceed through the works, the material grows gradually denser and more adventurous. Beaumont chose another early work, Colin McPhee’s Op. 1 Piano Sketches from 1916, showing the composer in great form before his exposure to the gamelan. Barbara Pentland’s relatively late (1983) Vincula is an adventurous bit of polyphony, and sensitively played. Chan Ka Nin cascades arpeggiated lines in Vast. Brent Lee’s Subjective Geometries restores the tranquility. The surprise ending is Anton Kuerti’s 6-movement Six Arrows (1974) in a thoroughly 20th century idiom, far removed from anything remotely related to Beethoven.

Beaumont handles all this repertoire with enviable ease. Glenn Gould Studio’s hand-picked Steinway D274 is sensitively recorded by the legendary team of Jaeger and Quinney, with help from Dennis Patterson. The recorded sound is not “in your face”, but nonetheless you can clearly hear subtle nuances of pedalling. You absolutely must hear this.

02_villa-lobos_symphoniesVilla-Lobos - Complete Symphonies

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra WDR; Carl St. Clair

CPO 777 516-2

The eminent Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) took as his model for symphonic compositions the cyclic approach endorsed by Vincent d’Indy, regarded in the conservative Brazilian musical circles of his day as quite innovative. Though Villa-Lobos was to discover on first visiting France in 1923 that he was a generation behind contemporary trends in this regard, he doggedly held on to this model for the remainder of his works in this genre. The 12 symphonies are almost entirely cast in four often quite lengthy movements with very few traces of the indigenous Brazilian characteristics for which he is best known. His symphonies have never been as popular as his celebrated Bachianas Brasilieras and Chôros cycles and the majority of them have not previously been available in recordings. Fortunately the American conductor Carl St. Clair began the project of documenting these works in Stuttgart in 1997 for the innovative CPO label and we now have the complete works in an attractively priced box set.

The early symphonies date from 1917 to 1920; symphonies 2-5 are part of a cycle documenting the course of the First World War (the score of the fifth symphony however is lost). The French influence is prominent, including Debussian whole tone passages, lush harmonies and programmatic quotations of La Marseillaise. The Stuttgart forces cope admirably with the often cruel string writing and congested scoring. The later symphonies date from 1944 to 1957 and were commissions from various orchestras; the most impressive of these, the grandiose “Amerindia” choral Symphony No. 10, was written for the 400th Anniversary of the City of São Paulo. The harmonic language of these later works is considerably more interesting and the orchestration marginally more concise, though there is sometimes a surfeit of counterpoint that suggests mere note-spinning.

Carl St. Clair is to be commended for his patience in deciphering the error-ridden manuscripts and contributing the essential interpretive decisions this notoriously prolific composer neglected to indicate. Though these self-consciously cosmopolitan symphonies may lack the charm of his overtly nationalist works they are typically impassioned, energetic, and well worth listening to. This is a well-recorded landmark set and a must-have item for aficionados of Latin America’s greatest composer.

01_frangSibelius; Prokofiev - Violin Concertos
Vilde Frang; WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne; Thomas Søndergård

EMI Classics 6 84413 2

I don’t know how to start... she’s too good to believe! Even though Vilde Frang is new on the recording scene, her debut CD has tremendous impact, driven by her talent and intelligence. This kind of supreme violin playing is rare.

Vilde Frang was born in Norway in 1986 and made her debut with orchestra at the age of ten. She concertizes throughout Scandinavia, Europe and the Balkan countries. She has shared the stage with such luminaries as Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer, and Maxim Vengerov. She toured Europe and the USA with Anne-Sophie Mutter (her mentor) and the Camerata Salzburg. The recordings heard here were made when she was 22.

There are several recent recordings of the Sibelius, both new and historic, re-issues and discoveries, but this one stands out. Not since Ivry Gitlis’ legendary recording from the mid-fifties (VOX) have I been so taken.

From the opening bars the mood is set and the heartfelt scenario unfolds. Her playing is not only beautiful, it is original with genuine style and personality... attributes that have characterized the greatest music masters throughout a century of recordings. From the lyrical first movement to the energetic frisson of the finale I was mesmerized. That she feels a close relationship to this concerto is unmistakable.

For the Prokofiev concerto, too, she plays with great authority. After the eerie opening, she introduces a measure of frivolity and rhythmic vitality, always with taste and respect for the composer. Altogether, another magnificent performance.

A compelling case is also made for the rarely heard Humoresques.

Throughout the coherence and rapport between soloist, conductor and orchestra is captured on a dynamic recording with a real-life balance between soloist and orchestra. I am certain that we’ll be hearing much more from Vilde Frang.

05_migotMigot - Suite à trois; Le livre des danceries

Robert Cram; Trio Hochelaga

ATMA ACD2 2543

Intense in his spirituality, drawing on the rich diversity of French music, and inspired by the Touraine landscape, Georges Migot (1891-1976) could not fail to achieve fame as president of La Spirale, the Parisian society dedicated to offering performances of new French works.

Migot’s Trio of 1935 commences with the Modéré, an intense - and clashing and disjointed - movement. It is almost a duel between piano and violin. It is followed by an Allègre. Both movements make great demands on the skills of cellist Paul Marleyn and violinist Anne Robert; their skills ensure that this recording matches up to the description of the Trio as one of the most arresting pieces of French chamber music.

Third movement is the Danse, where Stéphane Lemelin’s piano-playing comes into its own, as intense as the string parts, but more disciplined as the piano is denied the liberty that the latter enjoy as they invoke France’s varied heritage. Last is the Final: no instrument dominates and Migot allows each to test its player’s skill. This is an intense suite of chamber music, a challenge to preconceived ideas of classical ensembles.

In very different spirit is the Livre des Danceries where flautist Robert Cram introduces a sprightly quality which is eventually taken up by the piano part in the second - Gai - movement. At last, the CD’s pianist can relax! Next is Réligieux, longest of the four movements, drawing on melodic religious sources. And then Conclusion, from the earliest bars a celebration of the other movements and an exciting way to round off Trio Hochelaga’s vigorous interpretations.

04_english_violaEnglish Music for Viola

Eniko Magyar; Tadashi Imai

Naxos 8.572407

There is something about the viola’s tonal quality that makes it seem quintessentially English; appropriately so, given that it was an Englishman – Lionel Tertis – who almost singlehandedly established the viola as a legitimate solo instrument in the early 20th century. Tertis had connections with most of the music on this outstanding debut CD by the London-based Hungarian violist Eniko Magyar.

The Bliss Sonata is the most challenging of the works, with a turbulent, restless and dissonant start and a passionate third movement. It was written for, and dedicated to, Tertis, who gave the first performance in 1933.

A year earlier, Tertis had transcribed Delius’s Third Violin Sonata and had played it for the ailing composer at the latter’s home in Grez-sur-Loing. Written in 1930, it is Delius at his distinctively lyrical best.

The seven attractive miniatures by Frank Bridge date from 1901 to 1908, when Bridge was in his 20s. Most were originally written for violin or cello; only two – Pensiero and Allegro appassionato – were written specifically for the viola, Bridge’s own instrument, and were published as the first titles in the Lionel Tertis Viola Library in 1908.

Magyar plays her c.1700 Grancino viola (on loan from the Royal Academy) with warmth, sensitivity, and a superb technique, and is ably and sympathetically supported by pianist Tadashi Imai. The recording quality and booklet notes are both excellent.

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