EDITOR’S CORNER

01_petrowska_quilicoThe latest Centrediscs release, featuring works by Alexina Louie, Violet Archer and Larysa Kuzmenko, appropriately arrived on International Women’s Day. Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico is the soloist on 3 Concerti (CMCCD 15610), a disc which serves to remind us that there is a grand tradition of concerto writing in this country and begs the question – why are they so rarely played? According to the Encyclopaedia of Music in Canada, interest in the concertante form began in earnest in 1938 with Ballade for viola and strings by Godfrey Ridout and the following year with Violet Archer’s Concerto for the unusual combination of timpani and orchestra. Piano concertos came to the fore in the 1940s, with 13 premiered between 1944 (Healey Willan) and 1949 (Clermont Pépin’s second). The 1950s saw the focus turn to the violin concerto with particularly successful examples by Alexander Brott, Murray Adaskin and John Weinzweig, but as this disc attests interest in the piano never waned. We are presented with works spanning four decades, from 1956 (Archer) to 1996 (Kuzmenko). Of the three, Louie’s (1984) is the most exotic. Drawing on the composer’s oriental heritage both melodically and in some of the instrumentation in the percussion section, the work is a skilful and exuberant blending of East and West. Petrowska Quilico is in fine form with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under Alex Pauk. Interestingly, considering her first foray into the concerto form, Violet Archer’s Piano Concerto No. 1 opens with a flourish from the timpani before the piano enters in moto perpetuo mode. Recorded in 1981 by the CBC Vancouver Orchestra under John Eliot Gardiner, I am a bit disappointed with the audio quality of this transfer, but have no complaints about the performance. Somewhat reminiscent of Archer’s teacher Bela Bartok in its orchestration, melodically this is a bold and mature work reflective of its time. The final piece is the most recent but also the most old-fashioned. Kuzmenko is an unabashed Romantic whose model seems to be Rachmaninov, although here too I sense the influence of Bartok. The work is flamboyantly virtuosic and Petrowska Quilico takes full advantage of the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Recorded at the Massey Hall New Music Festival in 1996 with Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducting the Toronto Symphony, I am left wondering why this would be programmed as new music. It is a well-crafted, dramatic work that would be well at home on any mainstream orchestral concert and, like the others on this disc, deserves to be heard more often.

 

02_piano_atlanticaAnother Centrediscs release, Piano Atlantica (CMCCD-15210) is a marvellous collection of music by composers from across the country who now make their home in the Atlantic provinces. Pianist Barbara Pritchard, herself a transplant from British Columbia via Toronto, where she was a member of Arraymusic and Continuum and performed with New Music Concerts on several memorable occasions, now lives in Halifax and teaches at Dalhousie. The first notes we hear, in Jerome Blais’ Con Stella, are pounded chords at the extreme reaches of the piano’s keyboard. In his short piece Blais, originally from Montreal, also ventures inside the piano for Aeolian harp-like strumming of the strings, knocking on the inside of the instrument and employing a number of percussive “preparations”. B.C. native Ian Crutchley contributes a set of Variations based on an 11-note pitch series which holds our attention throughout its 20 minute journey. Another West Coast transplant, Anthony Genge’s Four Quiet Preludes offer a welcome respite from the drama of the first two pieces and Pritchard lingers lovingly over the long decays, never rushing to the next note. Maritime-born Richard Gibson is well represented on this disc, with a selection from his 25 Preludes - highlights include Hommage à Erik and Ricercare à 3 – and Variation, a short work in which the composer limits himself to a two octave range corresponding to the compass of a toy piano. A founding member of Toronto’s Continuum collective, Venezuelan-born Clark Ross is now the artistic director of the Newfound Music Festival in St. John’s. Ross’ at times rollicking and at times contemplative Last Dance brings this fine disc to a close. Recorded at the St. Mary’s University Art Gallery in Halifax, both pianist and piano sound exceptional.

 

03_armenian_amiciArmenian Chamber Music is the 10th release from Toronto’s Amici Chamber Ensemble and their first for the ATMA label (ACD2 2609). Pianist Serouj Kradjian, who recently replaced founding member Patricia Parr, brings a wealth of repertoire from his homeland as well as his own compositional skills to the mix. The other core members, clarinettist Joaquin Valdepeñas and cellist David Hetherington, are joined by violinist Benjamin Bowman in various combinations for works by Arno Babadjanian, Aram Khachaturian and Alexander Arutiunian. An unexpected treat upon listening without first checking the liner notes, was the warm and compelling voice of Isabel Bayrakdarian in Oror, a lullaby for soprano, clarinet and four cellos by Parsegh Ganatchian. Guests for this track are Hetherington’s TSO colleagues Winona Zelenka, Roberta Janzen and freelancer Amy Laing. Following Kradjian’s haunting and dramatic Elegy for Restive Souls the lullaby has a magical quality that leaves us regretting its brief duration. Khachaturian’s Trio for clarinet, violin and piano with it unusual Andante con dolore opening movement leads gently out of the lullaby, but is lively, playful and lyrical in the movements that follow. Arutiunian's 1992 Suite for the same forces provides a rambunctious finale for Amici's new disc.

 

04_pieta_partAngèle Dubeau & La Pietà’s latest, Arvo Pärt: Portrait (Analekta AN 2 8731), is a strong collection of the Estonian master’s works. A leading proponent of so-called Mystic or Holy Minimalism (not the composer’s terms), Pärt employs a self-made lush but austere compositional style called tintinnabuli. Several of his best known works are here, including Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra and bell, Tabula Rasa for 2 violins, string orchestra and prepared piano and Spiegel im Spiegel for violin and piano. Pärt is particularly noted for his choral writing, represented here by Wallfartslied (Pilgrim’s Song) for male choir and strings. First championed by Gidon Kremer, it is perhaps appropriate that Quebec’s own superstar violinist Angèle Dubeau should be bringing Pärt’s music to a new audience. If you are not already familiar, this would make a great introduction to his work.

 

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

BrunhildaBrunhilda and the Ring
by Jorge Lujan
Groundwood Books
96 pages illustrated; $24.95

This month Toronto-area audiences have an opportunity to experience the world of Wagner once again when the Canadian Opera Company presents The Flying Dutchman. Like The Flying Dutchman Wagner’s four-opera Ring Cycle, which opened the COC’s new hall four years ago, is based on ancient myths and legends. But it involves many more characters. Jorge Luján focuses his retelling of Wagner’s libretto on Brunhilda, interpreting it as the betrayal of a loving, loyal woman. He even switches the final sequence of events in the last opera of the cycle, The Twilight of the Gods, so that the ending belongs to Brunhilda instead of the triumphant Rhinemaidens.

Brunhilda’s father Wotan, king of the gods, sets off the endless cycle of betrayal by refusing to pay the giants for building his dream home, Valhalla. Her stepmother Fricka, the goddess of marriage, badgers her husband Wotan into abandoning his son, Siegmund. Brunhilda’s mother Erda, the earth goddess, tells Wotan, “Once more your wishes do not match your acts and are sure to bring catastrophe.”

 

Some acts are more excusable than others. Siegfried, for instance, is fed a potion that makes him forget all about his love for Brunhilda. Even Brunhilda, who disobeys her father and ultimately betrays Siegfried, though not without cause.

 

Luján’s text, given here in Canadian translator Hugh Hazleton’s smooth translation, is concise and clear in its story-line, and poetic in its telling. There are a few unfortunate phrases such as, “I am Siegfried! You are Brunhilda!”, which occurs during one of the most gorgeous duets in all opera. But Luján does remind us of the missing music when Brunhilda “intones a deep, sad funeral song.”

 

The illustrations by Austrian artist Linda Wolfsgruber create a vivid atmosphere, with muted colours set off by a subtle use of reds. Her detailed textures evoke moods like Brunhilda’s sense of vulnerability when Siegfried wakes her. I can imagine her settings and costumes working effectively on stage.

 

Whom this book is intended for is not stated. With illustrations covering each page, it could be seen as a children’s book. Yet the details of the story are sophisticated, and both text and illustrations will delight adults. For any audience this lovely makes a terrific introduction to a complex and important work.

 

 

 

parallel play_tim page_aspergers book (1)Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’s
by Tim Page
Doubleday
208 pages, photos; $32.00

When music critic Tim Page was forty-five years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Suddenly, problems that had plagued him since childhood became understandable. “My pervasive childhood memory is an excruciating awareness of my own strangeness,” he writes in this memoir. Page is an elegant writer, with a delightfully sardonic sense of humour. But it’s his probing honesty that makes Parallel Play so affecting.

At the same time, his memoirs provide insight into the relationship between talent and mental illness. As well as being difficult as a kid, Page had been precociously talented. He excelled as a pianist, composer, film-maker and writer, with a phenomenal memory and a disconcerting wit. Role-models like his grand-mother’s tenant, the music critic Alan M. Kriegsman, steered him into writing about music.

Some of the most interesting passages here deal with Page’s relationship with Glenn Gould, whose writings he collected after Gould’s death. He talks about their friendship. But he doesn’t discuss Gould’s own posthumous diagnosis of Asperger’s. I wonder whether Page and Gould ever recognized each other as suffering from the same condition.

Page, who now teaches journalism, is an uncommonly sensitive music critic, and his two volumes of criticism, Music from the Road (Oxford) from 1992 and Tim Page on Music (Amadeus) from 2002 are still worth reading. In sharing his experiences with Asperger’s, however retroactively, he opens the question of how much this syndrome affected his reviews. Discussing Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, he writes, “Today, I find myself wondering if I would have responded so profoundly to this starkly reiterative, rigidly patterned music had I not had Asperger’s syndrome.”

In any case, the role of Asperger’s in making him who he is simply cannot be determined. He writes, “I wouldn’t wish the condition on anybody - I’ve spent too much of my life isolated, unhappy and conflicted – yet I am also convinced that many of the things I’ve done were accomplished not despite my Asperger’s syndrome but because of it.” This is a brave book. I am looking forward to its sequel.

1 a MERCURY--TIMEANDANTHONYBRAXTON--COVER for wholenoteTime and Anthony Braxton
by Stuart Broomer
Mercury Press
240 pages, photos; $19.95

The influential American performer, composer and writer Anthony Braxton is best known for his work in experimental jazz. He’s one of the most recorded jazz artists around, and he has received many honours, including a MacArthur genius award, which he used to create his opera Trillium R: Shala Fears For The Poor. “Ultimately, we know more intensely how jazz works as a result of how his music works,” writes Toronto writer Stuart Broomer in this thoughtful study of Braxton’s music.

“There’s far more time inside a Braxton performance,” he suggests, “than might be measured by a clock.” Braxton’s explorations in the many applications of the concept of musical time provide Broomer with a viewpoint on the workings of Braxton’s compositions and performances. But this focus doesn’t stop Broomer from ranging widely. He even manages to work in a discussion of Braxton’s preference for wearing cardigan sweaters.

In his performances on saxophone, clarinet, and piano, Braxton plays the standard jazz repertoire as powerfully as his own compositions. While his mastery of jazz traditions keeps him in the continuum of jazz, his creative imagination takes him way beyond its outer limits.

Broomer reveals Braxton to be both a visionary composer and an imaginative improviser. Braxton is an exciting performer who plays as fast as – often faster than – anyone else around. Broomer describes Braxton’s music as “unusual collocations of floating time and abrasive sounds”. What concerns Broomer is to show just how important a voice in both jazz and classical music he is, and how he transcends the barriers between composed and non-composed music, working to keep both art forms evolving. Broomer goes a step further to make a case for Braxton as a classical composer as well, whose music should be performed in concert halls alongside composers he admires like Cage, Stockhausen and Xenakis

There are extensive notes, an index, and photos. I do wish there were samples of Braxton’s innovative scores here, to complement this fascinating perspective on Braxton’s music.

03_han_beninkHazzentijd             

Han Bennink             

Data Images 06 (www.toondist.nl)

 

Han Bennink’s art is intensely visual as well as musical, which is made clear on this excellent 70-minute documentary DVD. An un-self-conscious entertainer as well as a first-class drummer, the lanky, 68-year-old Dutchman – often decked out in shorts and a headband – coaxes swinging beats from floors, walls and other objects as easily as from his kit.

             

Director Jellie Dekker mixes 1960s black and white stills and footage of Bennink playing with established jazzers like saxophonist Johnny Griffin and questing Dutch improvisers, with a full-color contemporary portrait of the drummer at home, in his studio, on the road and in concert, not only playing, but – trained as an artist – creating distinctive drawings and sculpture.

             

Anchor of the Instant Composers Pool (ICP) orchestra, Bennink’s 50-year partnership with ICP pianist Misha Mengelberg is illustrated. So are other performances ranging from an Ethiopian tour with a rock band to an Amsterdam session with his trio, whose members are approximately one-third his age.

             

Bennink is as articulate as he is passionate about improvising. The film shows him fascinating Dutch school children with his play-anything style; plus a sequence at the Banff Centre where the veteran musician instructs young drummers in rhythmic versatility using only a snare drum. Then he studies birds and animals in the Alberta wilderness.

             

Besides Bennink’s own commentary, there are explanatory interviews with musicians such as saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and pianist Guus Janssen. Extras include seven full performances featuring Bennink solo and with different ensembles.

 

 

 

TheTorontoMusicGarden cover loThe Toronto Music Garden:

Inspired by Bach

by Julie Moir Messervy

Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio

61 pages, illustrated; $15.00

(available from: www.torontoparksandtrees.org, tel. 416-397-5178, the Toronto Botanical Garden bookstore or Bounty at Harbourfront Centre.)

Another celebration, the tenth anniversary of the Toronto Music Garden, provides the impetus for this book. Like the garden itself, this book is compact, clearly laid out, readily accessible – and lovely.

The Toronto Music Garden began to take shape  when cellist Yo-Yo Ma approached landscape architect Julie Messervy about creating a garden inspired by one of Bach’s cello suites. The garden was to be the subject of a film in the series Inspired by Bach, based on Ma’s performances of the six suites. The original plan was to build the garden in Boston, where both Ma and Messervy live. When that didn’t work out,  a group of local donors helped to get built in Toronto. Ma and Messervy were given a forlorn 2.5 acre plot wedged in between the Lake Ontario shoreline and Queens Quay West, and they turned it into a veritable jewel.   

In her text, Messervy describes the intricacies of  basing a garden design on a piece of music. She offers an interesting discussion of  the relationship between landscape architecture and music, although she misattributes the comparison of architecture to frozen music. It  was first made not by the late twentieth-century American philosopher Susanne Langer, as Messervy writes, but by the early nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich von Schelling (although Goethe often gets credit for it).

Photos reveal the garden in full bloom, but no fall or winter views are included.  Maps show the overall scheme of the garden as well as details of the six sections. Plant lists for each section identify some of the nearly 10,000 perennials,  1380 grasses, 40 varieties of trees and shrubs, and 420 butterfly bushes.   

Various contributors add their own perspectives. Ma describes how  Bach’s music has been “joyously and meticulously brought to life” in this garden. Tamara Bernstein, artistic director of Summer Music in the Garden,  shows how the park is put to good use by events like the series of concerts that she organizes. David Miller, soon-to-be-former mayor of Toronto, points out that the garden “has set the precedent for what is possible.” Yet Miller doesn’t mention how little has been done on the Toronto waterfront to build upon that precedent. During the past ten years the neighbouring forest of sky-scraping condos that blocks the lakeshore from the city has grown even faster than the plantings in the garden.  Nonetheless, as this book shows, the Music Garden succeeds in providing the place of “pleasure, sanctuary and delight” that Messervy and Ma envisioned.

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 tyler.greenleaf@utoronto.ca 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, 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

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.

02_sambacanaNos

Sambacana

Independent SACANA 001

(www.sambatoronto.ca)

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.

01_brigaDiaspora

Briga

Briga & Bahtalo Records

(www.brigamusic.com)

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 www.quietdesign.us). 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 www.actuelle.com), 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 www.etrecords.net). 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 www.cleanfeedrecords.com) 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

(www.maxinewillan.com)

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 (www.sophieberkalsarbit.com)

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 (www.pjperry.com)

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.


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