03_fantasy_pahudFantasy - A Night at the Opera
Emmanuel Pahud; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
EMI Classics 4 57814 2

During my period in music retail many years ago, I was once asked by a customer, “I need a disc of operatic arias, but I don’t want the singing, only the music”(!). I’ve undoubtedly told this story before, and I repeat it now only because it ties in so well with this new EMI recording titled “Fantasy – A Night at the Opera” featuring flutist Emmanuel Pahud with the Rotterdam Philharmonic under the direction of Canadian conductor par excellence Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

As the name suggests, this disc comprises an attractive collection of opera arias as arranged for flute and orchestra. While the operas from which they are derived are familiar, such as Verdi’s La Traviata, and Bizet’s Carmen - the arrangers are decidedly less so, and contrary to what one might think, not all date from the 19th century. For example, the Fantasy on Mozart’s Magic Flute, was composed by Robert Forbes (born in 1939), and the paraphrase from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was written by Guy Braunstein, born as recently as 1971. Also included on the disc is a sensitive (and unarranged) performance of the lyrical Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s 1762 opera Orphée et Eurydice.

Not surprisingly, Pahud has no difficulty in meeting the technical demands of the virtuosic and high-spirited writing inherent here, while the Rotterdam Philharmonic, under Nézet-Séguin’s competent baton provides a tasteful and strongly supportive accompaniment.

While most of these arrangements wouldn’t really be classified as Great Music, the disc is nevertheless entertaining and diverting, a true showcase for Emmanuel Pahud’s talents, and proof indeed that Nézet-Séguin is just as at home with this lighter more flamboyant repertoire as he is with music of a more serious nature. Recommended.

02_liszt_laplanteLiszt - Années de Pelerinage Suisse
André Laplante
Analekta AN 2 9980

André Laplante by now can be referred to as Canada’s ‘national treasure’. He is a well established artist especially in the Romantic repertoire and has a worldwide reputation with critics comparing him sometimes to Richter and Horowitz. This new recording for the Analekta label tackles Liszt in an ambitious, rarely recorded program of the first book of the 21 year old Liszt’s romantic wanderings with Countess Marie d’Agoult.

Liszt met the Countess in 1832 in Paris, a married woman 6 years older, but this did not prevent one of the century’s most famous and productive love affairs from developing. Three years later Marie left her family and ran off with Franz to Switzerland, later to Italy. There were 3 children born out of this union, among them Cosima who eventually married Richard Wagner.

As we listen, the pieces vary in character from invocations of natural beauty (Lac de Wallenstadt), literary associations with Byron, Schiller, Goethe, Senacour (Vallée d’Obermann), to force of nature (L’Orage), pastoral melodies (Pastorale, Eglogue) and homage to Swiss history (Chapelle de Guillaume Tell).
Many of the pieces even appear improvised. We can just see after a day of admiring the majestic Swiss countryside, Liszt composing on the piano and playing to his object of affection. Often the quiet, self searching beginnings develop into passion with great intensity.

To capture the many layered complexities of this set, Laplante is the ideal choice and this recording shows it. Being an unassuming, introspective personality, his performances have insightful sensitivity, but never overt emotionalism, dazzling power and virtuosity that never is meant to show off and rich imagination characteristic of a great artist.

01_afiara_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Schubert
Afiara String Quartet;
Alexander String Quartet
Foghorn Records CD 1995
(www.afiara.com)

A debut CD is something like a “rookie year” hockey card. It makes you wonder where the talent behind it will ultimately end up – in stardom or in obscurity? Based on this disc, I’m prepared to go out on a sturdy limb and predict a bright future for the Afiara String Quartet.
In case you don’t know, the Afiara Quartet is a young group of Canadians: Valerie Li and Yuri Cho, violins; David Samuel, viola; and Adrian Fung, cello. From 2006 to 2009 the quartet had a residency at San Francisco State University (where they studied with the Alexander Quartet), and they were recently named the graduate quartet-in-residence at the Juilliard School.

For their debut disc, this young group has chosen to perform works by two composers in their teens and early 20s (indeed, neither composer ever got to be very old): Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A Minor Op. 13, Schubert’s Quartettensatz in C Minor D. 703, and Mendelssohn’s Octet Op. 20, written when the composer was just 16.
In this clearly recorded CD, the Afiaras have tapped into the youthful vitality displayed in these scores. Tone is bright and tempos are perky; intonation and balance are excellent. As well, in the more introspective passages (such as the second movement of the Quartet in A minor) playing is delicate yet warm.
In the Octet, the Afiaras are joined by their mentors, the Alexander Quartet, and the two groups merge seamlessly into one glorious ensemble. This is exciting playing – a rich performance that does full justice to Mendelssohn’s youthful masterpiece.

Editor’s Note: At a recent Mooredale Concert where they performed with renowned flutist Robert Aitken, the Afiara Quartet was presented with the $25,000 2010 Young Canadian Musicians Award. The quartet will return to Mooredale Concerts on October 31 to perform with co-winner of the award, pianist Wonny Song.

02_handel_darmstadtHandel in Darmstadt
Geneviève Soly
Analekta AN 2 9121

Researching the music of Christoph Graupner led Geneviève Soly to the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book, which features works by four German composers: Graupner, Handel, Telemann and Kuhnau. Twenty-nine works by Handel are found in the collection and Ms Soly performs twenty-one on this CD - plus a parody on Graupner.

Handel’s Chaconne in G major receives the lively interpretation from Soly that this varied and florid piece deserves. The CD-notes - by Soly - are right to stress Handel’s lyricism.

Some cynically note that Handel was England’s best composer between Purcell and Elgar. The Sonata del Signor Hendel (sic), published in London in 1720, can justify this view. The second allegro and adagio are both testing pieces for any harpsichordist, the former with its two-voice structure of soprano over bass, and the latter sounding as if it were directly transcribed from organ to harpsichord.

Ms Soly adores Handel’s music. As well as meeting the challenge of the adagio already mentioned, she tackles the traditional stylised Baroque dance movements (the sarabande, gigue, allemande and courante). For this reviewer, however, the really inspired playing comes in the Sonata in G major. A test on account of its complexity, its speed, and even its pure stamina, this is Geneviève Soly at her most driven.

Soly’s choice of compositions by Handel is varied to say the least. A traditional German air and variations make up eight of the tracks - Handel at his jolliest. There is even what appears to be a parody of Graupner by Handel, a marche en rondeau.

At the age of eight, Ms Soly knew she would become a performer of classical music. How grateful we are for her ambition.            

01_rameau_masquesRameau - Pieces de clavecin en concerts
Ensemble Masques; Olivier Fortin
ATMA ACD2 2624

No, Jean-Philippe Rameau was not a sympathetic man. He was a misanthropic individual who lost no opportunity to start arguments with Jean-Jacques Rousseau during the heated discussions on the merits of French versus Italian opera.

From its very first tracks, La Pantomine and L’indiscrète, this is mercifully not apparent on this CD. Both display the virtuoso techniques of the baroque harpsichordist, in particular that French operatic style which Rameau came above all others to dominate.

There is an element of caricature to most of the sixteen movements in the collection. Speculation about the intended target - if any - for La Laborde remains to this day, but it is still a highly charming if eccentric composition. Possibly composed, one pundit says, to honour the inventor of an electric piano in 1759...

Of course, the Pièces de clavecin are not just about the harpsichord. Spirited violin-playing gives L’Agaçante its name and places La Coulicam in its grand and exotic context. Measured flute-playing imparts a slightly sombre quality to La Livri, a lament on the passing of a musical patron.

To describe this CD as varied is a gross under-statement. Pieces are scored for harpsichord, strings and woodwind, for personal acquaintances of Rameau and for his musical friends - in view of his hostile opinions they could hardly be for his enemies.

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


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