Let me begin by thanking David Schreiber for his feedback on Janos Gardonyi’s guest editorial about on-line shopping and digital downloads last month. Mr. Schreiber rightly suggests caveat emptor in regards to MP3s, which are compressed files with resulting loss of information. MP3 technology provides convenience and portability, but compromises sound quality, much the same way that cassette tapes did versus LPs, and will not likely satisfy the audiophile. A quick check with Wikipedia tells us that there are three basic kinds of audio file formats: uncompressed files such as WAV, AIFF and PCM; formats with “lossless” compression such as FLAC, MPEG-4, Apple Lossless and Windows Media Player Lossless; and formats with “lossy” compression such as MP3, Vorbis and Musepack. As always, the onus is on the consumer to do the research and decide to what extent to accept compromise for the sake of convenience and economy.
As the year end approaches and the holiday season along with it, rather than focus on just a few discs here I want to briefly mention a number of seasonal titles and other special gems which I think will be of interest. I expect you will see full reviews of the latter items in coming issues, but let’s begin with the seasonal releases. Top of the list is In Midnight's Stillness - St. Michael's Choir School (www.smcs.on.ca). This wonderful collection of Christmas fare is conducted by Jerzy Cichocki, Caron Daley and Teri Dunn and features guest performances by the True North Brass. The choirs are in fine and festive voice as I’m sure they will be at the annual Christmas Fantasy performances at Massey Hall on December 10 and 11.
On Noèl - Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà (Analekta) Dubeau and her wonderful baroque string ensemble provide a musical tour and celebration of the Nativity which covers three centuries and takes us to Finland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Russia, the USA, Mexico and Canada. Of special note is Kelly Marie Murphy’s lush and haunting impression of the Huron Carol.
On a completely different note, jazz pianist Oliver Jones, singer Ranee Lee and the Montreal Jubilation Choir provide a joyous and exuberant take on the season with A Celebration in Time (Justin Time). A highlight for me is the island rhythms of Gras Bondye/Seigneur J’élève Ton Nom featuring the Daphnée Louis Singers.
And there is one last Christmas disc to mention, which was not yet in hand at the time of writing, but I am going to go out on a limb and recommend it anyway, because how could you go wrong with Monica Whicher and Judy Loman? Lullabies and Carols for Christmas (Naxos) features Loman’s arrangements for soprano and harp of such traditional favourites as the Coventry Carol, In the Bleak Mid-Winter; Bulalow, In Dulce Jubilo, and the Wexford Carol along with seasonal solo harp pieces by Britten and Tournier.
We have recently received several boxed sets featuring Canadian artists that are particularly worthy of mention. The first is a six CD collection of the art songs of the late 19th century Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko. This is the second instalment of the Ukrainian Art Song Project (www.uasp.ca) following on the 2006 release of the songs of Kyrylo Stetsenko. The idea for the project dates back to 2004 when bass baritone Pavlo Hunka came to Toronto for the lead role in the COC’s production of Falstaff and was adopted as a native son by the Toronto Ukrainian community. Lysenko (1842-1912) is considered the father modern Ukrainian classical music and this impressive set, accompanied by a 200 page book of libretti, translations, biographies and notes, includes 124 of his 133 known art songs (the other nine have been lost). Recorded in Glenn Gould Studio the other singers involved in the project are all well known on the Canadian opera scene including Elizabeth Turnbull, Benjamin Butterfield, Michael Colvin and Robert Gleadow, with pianists Albert Krywolt, Mia Bach and Serouj Kradjian, flutist Doug Stewart and cellist Roman Borys. Mykola Lysenko’s Art Songs will enjoy a gala launch at Koerner Hall on December 5 for which Pavlo Hunka will be joined by Monica Whicher, Kristina Szabó and Russell Braun.
Robert Silverman’s most recent recording project is a seven CD set of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas for the audiophile isoMike label (www.isomike.com). These hybrid discs include CD stereo, SACD stereo and four channel surround sound capability. We’ll have a full review of this set in the February issue but I wanted to bring it to your attention in time for holiday shopping
The last set I will mention is a 15 CD collection of Angela Hewitt’s complete Hyperion recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. With almost 18 hours of music by this renowned Bach interpreter priced at about $100, this would make a great addition to anyone’s collection.
I have also elicited the help of several of my colleagues to bring to your attention a number of items we missed this year which had we unlimited space and resources would certainly have found their way into these pages. Geoff Chapman tells us that although his mandate is Canadian jazz, there’s a plethora of great jazz created elsewhere. Here’s a few titles that really caught his attention: Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green - Apex (www.pirecordings.com) - A brilliant alto sax collaboration between a hot newcomer and a hardy veteran with stellar band. Vijay Iyer - Solo (www.vijay-iyer.com) – An ace pianist pays extraordinary contemporary tribute to his inspirations. Jason Moran - Ten (Blue Note) – The best piano trio outing for eons in a crowded field. Wadada Leo Smith – Spiritual Dimensions (www.cuneiformrecords.com) – This double-CD illuminates the avant-garde trumpeter’s mastery of free jazz. Yehudi Menuhin & Stephane Grappelli - Friends In Music (EMI) – A delightful 4-CD reissue of virtuoso violinists covering the musical waterfront.
Terry Robbins found three titles of particular note: Beethoven String Quartets Vol.4 (Virgin Classics) - A mixture of early, mid and late quartets, including the profound C sharp minor Op.131, superbly played by the Artemis Quartet. Rodion Shchedrin - Chamber Music (ARS MUSICI) - Works by the contemporary Russian composer (who plays piano for two of them), highlighted by Dmitry Sitkovetsky's tremendous performance of the Bach-inspired Echo-Sonata for solo violin. John Corigliano - The Red Violin Concerto (Naxos) - Another superb disc in the Naxos American Classics series, with the terrific Michael Ludwig, concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BPO itself under JoAnn Falletta recorded in their Kleinhans Music Hall home.
Richard Haskell took particular delight in a new recording of Rachmaninov - Piano Concertos Nos.3 & 4 (EMI Classics) - The pairing of Leif Ove Andsnes with the London Symphony under the direction of Antonio Pappano is sublime. Andsnes’ performance is bold, expansive, and technically brilliant, while Pappano coaxes a warm and lyrical sound from the orchestra. And Daniel Foley found in Messiaen: Livre du Saint-Sacrement (Naxos) exceptional performances by Paul Jacobs of Messiaen's towering final contribution to the organ literature; a massive work that demands close attention to fully absorb its theological and programmatic intent.
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, email@example.com