Jacques Boucher

XXI-21 Productions XXI-CD 2 1718



05b_anne_robert_organMusique française pour violon et orgue

Anne Robert; Jacques Boucher

XXI-21 Productions; XXI-CD 2 1716


“Itinéraire” is really a sampler but still worth having for its wide content and overall substance. Drawn from organist Jacques Boucher’s large discography, these tracks present 11 composers whose excerpted works are heard on 11 different instruments ranging from a small chapel organ (1874 - Église-Saint André de Kamouraska) to the great giants of Quebec’s major cathedrals. Bouchard’s playing is scholarly, virtuosic and musical. His treatment of historical styles from Couperin to Dupré is fresh and exhilarating. The truly stunning track on this CD is the Dupré Placare Christe servulis from Le Tombeau de Titelouze op.38.

Collaborations between organists and solo instrumentalists are fraught with the difficulty of balance. Boucher and violinist Anne Robert avoid this pitfall by teaming up with a good recording engineer and using the natural acoustics of Église-Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal to produce a flawlessly balanced and artistically satisfying recording. Robert’s playing is intensely passionate whether nurturing the subtleties of a Guilmant Méditation or the angularities of contemporary works by Joubert, Reboulot and others. Boucher creatively selects various organ voices to weave around the violin line without detracting from it. The Bréville Prière is the best example of this and demonstrates the extent to which Boucher is a fully integrated duo partner with Robert making music on respectfully equal terms.

Anne Robert has another Duo CD with this label with pianist Sylviane Deferne (XXI-CD 2 1715), another recent release of French repertoire by Pierné, Tournemire and Franck. Here too, Robert shows her skill at knowing how to manage the dynamics of a duo performance.

06a_mahler_4_ruckertMahler - Symphony No. 4; Ruckert-Lieder

Magdalena Kožená; Lucerne Festival Orchestra; Claudio Abbado

EuroArts 2057988





06b_mahler_knabenMahler - Des Knaben Wunderhorn; Adagio from Symphony No. 10

Magdalena Kožená; Christian Gerhaher; Cleveland Orchestra; Pierre Boulez

Deutsche Grammophon 477 9060

These two exceptional performances can be counted among the crown jewels of the flood of recent discs celebrating the legacy of Gustav Mahler. The mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, an artist of exceptional intelligence and sensitivity well known for her artfully calculated interpretations, features in both of these items. Kožená is at her best in her performance of the Rückert-Lieder with the superb Lucerne Festival Orchestra. This hand-picked ensemble of Europe’s finest musicians meets each summer under Claudio Abbado’s direction and possesses a clairvoyant ability to respond instantly to his minutest gestures. Their stunning live performance of the Fourth Symphony captured here on a EuroArts DVD is a miracle of gracefulness, though the macabre sarcasm of this most accessible of Mahler’s symphonies is equally pointed. The highlight of this disc is the beautifully paced third movement, which flows seamlessly into the bucolic vocal finale.

Ms Kožená is joined by the admirable baritone Christian Gerhaher in twelve selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn song cycle on the Deutsche Grammophon label. This is a live performance with The Cleveland Orchestra and completes the cycle of Mahler’s orchestral works recorded by Pierre Boulez over the past 15 years with various orchestras. Unfortunately the rustic charms and barnyard humour of these early songs of Mahler’s do not seem particularly well suited to the über-urbane Boulez, who adapts some curiously strait-laced tempos and, with the exception of Gerhaher’s chilling account of the militant masterpiece Revelge, delivers a generally mundane though admirably dapper performance. Boulez redeems himself utterly however with his supple, near-ideal rendition of the posthumous Adagio from the incomplete Tenth Symphony. This highly chromatic, searching movement culminating in a shattering, ten-note dissonance points to the future and as such is clearly dear to his heart. The Cleveland Orchestra yet again distinguishes itself as the finest band in the land.


07_urban_variationsUrban Variations

The Junction Trio

Independent TJTCD201101 (www.myspace.com/thejunctiontrio)

In their cover photo they look gritty and hard-edged, staring expressionless into the camera, in the style of punk rockers.  A part of Jamie Thompson’s Urban Flute Project, which has a history of seeking out unusual urban performance spaces, where acoustics trump décor, this presentation of the Junction Trio seems appropriate enough. Even a cursory listening to the CD, however, reveals that art trumps the visuals, with accomplished readings of music by Bach, Borodin, Haydn and Vivaldi.

The highlights of the CD for me, however, were the two compositions by the trio’s violinist, Max Scheinin. The first of these is his arrangement of Radiohead’s song, Where I End and You Begin, which it is no mistake to refer to as a “composition.” In the tradition of so many composers, Scheinin has taken this piece from its over-amplified rock concert beginnings - contemporary “folk?” - and transformed it into an exquisite piece of chamber music, which, to my ears anyway, sounds more contemporary than the original! In his other work on the disc, Flutter, built on a repeated ostinato pattern introduced by the unaccompanied flute, he builds to a climax by adding the other instruments, including percussion, played by the ensemble’s versatile cellist, Lucas Tensen. Best of all in these two works by Scheinin, the players seem most at home and most able to find and convey the meaning behind the sounds. Kudos to the Junction Trio for bringing us something that is both classical and contemporary.

01_capucon_beethovenDespite his undisputed talents, I’ve always been a bit unsure of how I feel about the playing of the French violinist Renaud Capuçon. When I first started listening to his new 3-CD set of the Beethoven - Complete Sonatas for Violin & Piano with Frank Braley (Virgin Classics 9 64200 1) I didn’t think that was going to change, but I was wrong. True, the early Op.12 sonatas do seem to get off to a lacklustre start, but Capuçon and Braley have been working on this project for 14 years, and it soon shows. The second CD opens with a beautiful reading of the “Spring” sonata, and the quality never lags. There’s a terrific No.7 - the C minor - and a marvellous “Kreutzer”, with a particularly superb opening movement. Throughout, tempos seem perfectly judged, and there’s a wonderful range of dynamics. The balance feels a bit uneven at first, with the piano possibly a bit far back, but it actually enables the individual players to be clearly heard, and their obvious understanding to emerge. And what an understanding it is. I realized I didn’t know some of these sonatas as well as I thought; this outstanding set is a tremendous and welcome way to put that right.

02_mozart_divertimentoYou only have to listen to Mozart’s string quintets to appreciate that the string quartet does not have sole claim to the ‘perfect string family’ designation, and the same composer’s Divertimento in E flat K563, for Violin, Viola and Cello, proves conclusively that ‘one less’ can be just as satisfying as ‘one more’. Violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann only formed the Trio Zimmermann with violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Christian Poltera in 2007, but their playing on this Super Audio CD (BIS-SACD-1817) is simply remarkable; you would think they had spent a lifetime playing together. Despite its title, this Divertimento is a large-scale string trio. A mature work from 1788, its 6-movement structure follows that of the whimsical Divertimento popular in Vienna at the time, but musically and emotionally it’s in a different world. The Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein went so far as to call this work “the most perfect and the finest that has ever manifested itself in this world.” Listening to this enthralling and beautifully recorded performance, it’s hard to disagree. Schubert’s String Trio in B flat, D471 – actually a single Allegro opening movement for a work started and abandoned in 1816 – completes a marvellous CD.

03_ehnes_mendelssohnWhen I saw that the latest CD from Canadian violin sensation James Ehnes was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (ONYX 4060), my first thought was “Do we really need another recording of probably the most popular - and most frequently recorded – concerto in the repertoire?” Well as it turns out, yes, we do. The Mendelssohn is also probably the most perfect of all violin concertos, and simply can’t be avoided by any player who reaches the top rank. The real challenge, of course, is not to try to find “something new to say,” but to find the best way of simply letting the music speak for itself. This CD reunites Ehnes with the Philharmonia Orchestra, partners in his 2007 recording of the Elgar concerto, but this time with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting. The qualities most often mentioned in Ehnes reviews – his impeccable technique and sumptuous tone – are fully evident here in another top-notch performance. Ehnes joins forces with members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society for a terrific performance of the Octet Op.20, a simply astonishing work written for double string quartet when Mendelssohn was only 16. Both performances were recorded live in concert, the concerto – with an occasionally muddy orchestral sound - at the Warwick Arts Centre in the UK, and the Octet at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.

04_passion_ysayeIt’s somewhat surprising that the Ysaÿe Six Sonatas for Solo Violin Op.27 aren’t better known. Eugène Ysaÿe – a colossus of a performer, in all respects - is often referred to as the first ‘modern’ violinist, and the sonatas, written in 1923 when he was 64, not only summed up the polyphonic achievements of the preceding 200 years but also introduced new techniques that were to influence the solo works of Bartok, Hindemith and Prokofiev. Each sonata is dedicated to – and reflects the character of – a colleague of Ysaÿe’s: Joseph Szigeti; Jacques Thibaud; George Enescu; Fritz Kreisler; Mathieu Crickboom; and Manuel Quiroga. Consequently, they differ greatly in form and content, but this simply makes the startling originality and individuality of these remarkable works even more apparent. Perhaps surprisingly, given their fiendish difficulty, the sonatas have been well served on CD, albeit by few of the really elite performers. The Swiss violinist Rachel Kolly D’Alba provides all that you could possibly ask for on Passion Ysaÿe (Warner WCJ 2564 68385-5), combining a dazzling technique with a sensitivity and artistry that earned her the stamp of approval from Jacques Ysaÿe, the composer’s grandson.


Joseph Petric

ConAccord (www.josephpetric.com)

We've come a long way since Canadian scientist Hugh LeCaine (1914-1976) invented the “Electronic Sackbut”, the world's first voltage controlled synthesizer in 1945. Live electronic art was born, and the three electroacoustic composers featured on accordionist Joseph Petric's new release all play homage to LeCaine in their artistic manipulations.

Take a listen to current mainstream popular music on the radio – all the same tweaks, loopings and sounds can be heard on “Elektrologos” too. Bob Pritchard's Breathe on Me (O Breath of God...) is an ethereal soundscape. Larry Lake's early booming Sticherarion shows the composer experimenting with technology while his later work, Fractals is more of a techno-chamber work. Finally the great Orbiting Garden by Christos Hatzis is a sound explosion – Petric plays nonstop with florid musical rock star lines. This is the powerhouse performance and piece.

Accordionist Joseph Petric is an accomplished, sensitive and intelligent musician who has an international following both for his live performances and his prolific recorded output. He can play any style, but don't get me wrong, he is really in his element in the world of electroacoustic music. He absolutely shines – it is especially his impeccable bellows control that shapes the dynamic interplay between accordion and “sound machines” here.

A thousand raves to Joseph Petric and the composers. This is an accessible and culturally important aural experience to be heard time and time again.

02_scelsiGiacinto Scelsi - Piano Works 4

Stephen Clarke

Mode 227 (www.moderecords.com)

Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) was a remarkable Italian innovator. His music is dissonant, improvisational, and often unorthodox rhythmically. Stephen Clarke’s virtuosity and artistic sensitivity are both evident on this disc of 1930s piano music by Scelsi.

The triptych Hispania (1939) opens by evoking flamenco guitar as it fans out from the pitches E-F. Clarke handles the “thrums,” ornaments, and “damped” tone clusters with panache. The wonderful slow movement starts at a slow tread, like a quest in the dark, and then becomes more agitated. Contrasting white-note modality prevails in the finale where slow chords effect peaceful closure

I particularly enjoyed Suite No. 5, “The Circus” (1935). These miniatures are appropriately gestural, at times dance-like. The 5th piece has a profusion of acrobatic arpeggios, leaping up higher and higher until they cover the instrument’s full range. The 6th is a tarantella like no other that rumbles in the depths! The last piece to me has hints of fascist marches at a time when World War Two approached. Clarke captures well the work’s whimsical and sometimes childlike sensibility.

Suite No. 6 (1939) has intriguing moments, though Scelsi’s trademark fast repeated notes here seem excessive. Yet Clarke has mastered them, as well as fiendish leaps to note clusters that differ slightly each time. Recorded in Berlin and Toronto, the disc is a labour of love whose recording quality equals that of the performances. I look forward to more Scelsi as the Mode Edition unfolds.

Concert Note: Stephen Clarke performs the music of Giacinto Scelsi in a benefit performance for Arraymusic at Gallery 345, 345 Sorauren Ave. on February 12.


Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa

Redshift Records (www.cosmophony.com)


Canada is blessed with a remarkable roster of talented pianists who are dedicated to championing work by our country’s composers. We can add Vancouver’s Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa to that roster. As her bio says, she has “a shameless passion for contemporary music” and it shows on this solo debut for the Redshift Music Society. “Cosmophony”, as defined in the extensive liner notes, is a noun built on Greek roots and literally means “sound of the cosmos.” It is also the banner under which Iwaasa unites her favourite Canadian composers to create a recital album inspired by the planets. Completed over three years, “Cosmophony” starts with Denis Gougeon’s fiercely virtuosic Piano-Soleil and extends out across the solar system in a series of ten works from West-Coast composers, nine commissioned by Iwaasa expressly for this project. She has selected her contributors well, among them Rodney Sharman, Jeffrey Ryan, Marci Rabe, Jordan Nobles, Jennifer Butler and Emily Doolittle. They all use juxtapositions of science, mythology and astrology to depict their selected planets and amplify their individual voices. From Sharman’s truly mercurial Mercurio dal Ciel In Terra to Rabe’s intimate yet eerie Venus, and from Ryan’s scintillating Saturn: Study in White to Butler’s submerged sonics of Neptune, Iwaasa covers a range of moods and styles with great mastery. Noticeably absent is Pluto, which was delisted as a planet during the project’s development. It’s replaced here with Doolittle’s optimistic but ominous Gliese 581, evoking a distant planet we had hoped inhabitable. Matching “Cosmophony” with George Crumb’s ambitious Makrokosmos Volume II: 12 Fantasy Pieces after the Zodiac is a brilliant touch of programming, not only for its showcasing of Iwaasa’s full virtuosity – calling on a range of extended techniques – but also for its counterpoint to the more traditional technique required by the Canadian collaborators. Excellent recording quality and lovely packaging make this a strong release.

04_vienna_art_satieThe Minimalism of Erik Satie

Vienna Art Orchestra

hatOLOGY 671 (www.hathut.com)

Re-orchestrating the quirky compositions of Erik Satie (1868-1925) may seem peculiar, but that’s what conductor Mathias Rüegg and the 10-piece Vienna Art Orchestra (VAO) do with élan on this 75-minute CD. Over the past 33 years, the VAO has effected similar transformations on the music of other composers such as Strauss, Brahms and Gershwin, not to mention many of jazz’s greatest themes. Here the procedures emphasize the pared-down and folkloric tendencies found in the music of France’s Satie, a transitional composer, whose eccentric titles and cabaret influences presaged experimental sounds.

Recasting the music of a composer known for his piano works, Rüegg’s arrangements feature no pianist, instead relying on the VAO`s soloists to put a personal stamp on Satie. Reflections on Méditation for instance, revolves around Lauren Newton’s squeaky scatting and Karl Fian’s whinnying and slurry trumpet lines. Reflections on Sévère Réprimande, balances Harry Sokol’s languid soprano saxophone solo on an undertow of mid-range brass and vibraharp textures. More radically, a composition such as Reflections on Gnossienne No. 1 becomes a romping circus-styled exposition with joyful contrapuntal rhythms courtesy of Wolfgang Puschnig’s Arabic-sounding sopranino saxophone and the reverberations from Wolfgang Reisinger’s tarabuka or goblet drum.

Rüegg’s transformation of Satie’s works as pared-to-the-bone minimalism is most apparent on the three variants on Vexations which the composer wanted performed slowly with many repetitions. Since one track lasts more than 23 minutes and the other two either side of nine, the VAO adds needed emotion to these exercises courtesy of, in one instance Newton’s melismatic vocalese, and in another Roman Schwaller’s sensual tenor saxophone lines.

01_sophisticated_ladiesSophisticated Ladies

Charlie Haden Quartet West

EmArcy 2750816 (www.emarcy.com)

Grammy Award-winning bassist Charlie Haden and his singer/wife Ruth Cameron have married two of their loves on “Sophisticated Ladies” - classic songs by American composers and contemporary female jazz singers. These aren't so much the hard-core jazzers of today as they are the beautiful balladeers such as Melody Gardot, Cassandra Wilson and Diana Krall. Neither are these tired standards; Haden and Cameron have chosen some lesser-known but gorgeous songs with lyrics a girl can really wrap her voice around. An interesting addition to the roster is operatic soprano Renée Fleming. Her big, rich voice and ability to deliver a lyric, along with Alan Broadbent's lush yet restrained string arrangement and sax master Ernie Watts' plaintive tenor lines, turn A Love Like This into an ode to the beginning of a love affair that works itself all the way down into your chest cavity and won't get out.

Another standout on the disc is Ill Wind which Norah Jones' warm, throaty delivery imbues with just the right amount of fatalism to let us know things are going to get bad, but nothing we can't handle. Interspersed with the vocal tunes are instrumentals by the flawless Quartet West, Haden's band since 1986. To counterbalance the down-tempos of the ladies, the men give us some boppy stuff like Wahoo where they can stretch out a little but not as far out as they would have in the days when Haden played with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. The disc as a whole has an appealing 60s noir feel just right for a cool yet contemplative evening or as backdrop to a “Mad Men” style cocktail party with hipster friends.

01_fo_moOutstanding saxophonist and composer Quinsin Nachoff spends more time in New York than in his native Canada, releasing cutting-edge albums underlining the key niche he now occupies in contemporary jazz. His latest Quinsin Nachoff FoMo (Musictron, www.quinsin.com), with FoMo standing for ‘forward motion’, is just that, delivering almost 80 minutes comprising eight of his compositions that are splendid examples of imagination, wit and daring yet show keen understanding of jazz traditions. Big Apple trumpeter Russ Johnson is the bright foil to Nachoff’s tenor, while fellow Canucks (sinewy keysman Adrean Farrugia on Fender Rhodes and drummer Mark Kelso) alternately massage and bruise rhythms. The sound echoes provocative Ornette Coleman foursomes but with marginally softer surfaces and an inclination to sneak in pop-rock tags – and it thrills - the Rhodes surprisingly effective. On Devil’s Advocate the leader energetically tests new ideas alongside vigorous trumpet, Odyssic says soaring space flight over undulating beat, while the title track surges, its snaky lines urgently counterpointed. Mellow creations such as Three Trees and the surreal Astral Echo Poem allow dramatic contrast before the folksy rumble of African Skies concludes a session superbly shaping new musical scenery.

02_jazz_labThe diverse talents of elite Montreal jazzers is on show on Jazzlab - Octo Portraits (Effendi FND107 www.effendirecords.com), the octet’s fourth such outing featuring strong charts and stirring soloing. Power saxist Frank Lozano seems to lead with his assertive, technically accomplished work, but everyone deserves mention, each contributing a tune and solos – take bow. Saxmen Remi Bolduc and Alexandre Côté, trumpeter Aron Doyle, trombonist Richard Gagnon, pianist John Roney, bass Alain Bédard and drummer Isaiah Ceccarelli. Tracing The Chain is Lozano’s chance to wave the avant-garde flag before it retires to medium-pace thrust moderated by Doyle’s sunny tones, Bolduc’s Mrs BB has an intriguing narrative, Côté’s Phil’s Spirit is a bravura blast with sturdy trombone and tough tenor and the intense Roney revels in outside play on Trois Recits de Voyage.

03_playgroundDrummer Mark McLean could call Toronto home but seems permanently on tour performing with a multitude of music’s elites. His self-produced indie CD Mark McLean - Playground (www.markmclean.com) pictures an über-assured, relaxed jazzer who’s unquestionably the boss of a Hogtown band featuring guitarist-for-all-tastes Kevin Breit while also drawing on the considerable abilities of busy saxman Kelly Jefferson, bassists Marc Rogers or Pat Kilbride plus pianists Robi Botos or David Braid. Always controlled, all the way from cerebral to fierce, McLean makes jazz extremely appealing, his nine (of 10) compositions catchy and very much of our time, some obviously referencing his appearances with singers. Breit is a versatile force throughout, always in the middle of ominous rocking grooves and ruminative forays as McLean conjures rhythmic intricacies for every occasion with authority and flawless time feel. Lots to like here.

04_alex_deanToronto veteran Alex Dean has a deserved reputation as an exciting player on tenor who was most familiar romping through the changes with blistering phrasing, heated blasts and pinpoint timing. It’s been a very long time since he’s recorded as leader, and Alex Dean Quintet - At This Point (Cornerstone CD 134 www.cornerstonerecordsinc.com) comes up somewhat short on the fiery front. I miss his glorious over-the-top solos. Dean penned the attractive septet of tunes here, which benefit on three of them from immaculate, elegant work by guitarist Lorne Lofsky. There’s also predictably solid support from pianist Brian Dickinson, bass Kieran Overs and drummer Ted Warren. Mostly you hear warm, reflective tenor, the hard edges whittled away, the playing crafty as a fountain of ideas is explored – on the title track he bustles from mellow to meaty after offering charged-up swing, then shows more of his old self on Mr.B.C. and too-short vintage mayhem with Warren on Pat and Pat.

05_mr_marbleszMr. Marblesz is a quintet led by guitarist Tom Juhas with his brother Sly drumming, smart organist Daffyd Hughes, saxist Chris Gale and bass Tyler Emond. The self-titled debut release Mr. Marblesz (www.mrmarblesz.ca) shows jazz approaching à la burlesque, busy but uneven, rhythmically heady, with mercurial runs, unanticipated hairpin turns, a healthy appetite for innovation with unusual, inviting textures, yucky vocal background and an overall sound both retro and fresh. In other words, a bit odd – but not uninteresting.

06_spirit_dancePianist-composer David Braid is a huge talent, his resourcefulness front and centre on David Braid, Canadian Brass - Spirit Dance (Opening Day ODR 7383 www.davidbraid.com). Eight of his originals plus a clever theme-and-variations manufactured from the standard Yesterdays make enjoyable crossover fodder for the Brass, who’ve been around since 1970 and are six-strong here. The music embraces far places and many moods, from the serene Interior Castles to the seemingly simple, delightful Temple Heaven Walk to the contrapuntal trumpet-fortified Prelude for Two Voices to the spiritual, two-part Resolute Bay. Great stuff.

Globalization, mass communication and travel have created situations where standardized hamburger patties or drum beats can be experienced anywhere in the world. Yet increased mobility in the 21st Century also allows like-minded musicians who live in different cities, countries or continents to instigate regular working ensembles.

01_fernandezThis situation is particularly pronounced among improvising musicians. One top-flight instance is captured on Morning Glory (Maya Records MCD 1001 www.maya-records.com) by the trio of Augustí Fernández, Barry Guy and Ramón López. Although listening to the sensitive cooperation exhibited on the two CDS which make up this outstanding set suggests that the three members of the trio are inseparable, it’s not so. Pianist Fernández lives in Barcelona, bassist Guy in Switzerland and drummer López in Paris. Here material is divided among group compositions and those written by the pianist or the bassist. A prime example of López’s sensitive accompaniment occurs on Perpetuum Mobile where his press rolls back the pianist’s kinetic pitter-patter and tremolo chording which evolves in double counterpoint with Guy’s dobro-like twangs or bow taps against his instrument’s wood. Meanwhile A Sudden Appearance confirms the trio’s atonality, encompassing Fernández’s outlined single notes, Guy’s screeching sul ponticello sprawls and López’s rat-tat-tats. Other pieces such as The Magical Chorus and most of the second CD, recorded live in a New York club, redefine the trio, with splashes of pianistic color perfectly matched with vibrating cymbals, bowed strings or staccato plucks that presage cascading keyboard runs. Fernández’s Aurora suggests an Iberian take on Hispanic rhythms, with the tremolo patterns revealing keyboard notes in rapid succession, yet with the line stretched enough to keep the impressionistic narrative chromatic. Guy’s contrapuntal retort features scraped and stropped strings while the percussion undertow is mostly rim shots and the sounds of crushing crisp paper.

02_passionA similarly impressive global quartet is made up of Polish woodwind player Waclaw Zimpel, Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar, German drummer Klaus Kugel and American pianist Bobby Few. Undivided - The Passion (Multikulti MPI 011 www.multkulti.com) is literally that, a modern re-imaging of Christ’s suffering and death. Lacking vocals or religious motifs, the seven-part suite is not overtly spiritual but musically superlative. A veteran of playing in churches, nightclubs and with spiritual jazz avatar Albert Ayler, Few takes naturally to the theme and throughout lets his frenetic chording and dynamic voicing create fantasias of their own. Clustered notes cascade like waterfalls or singular timbres are starkly outlined. Kugel’s steady clanks and cogwheel ratcheting is added to regular cymbal splashes as well as drum drags and ruffs for versatile percussion backup. Tokar’s perfectly balanced string slaps are mostly in the background, except when marking theme variations and transitions. Whether it’s with two-fisted piano clusters, spiccato runs or door-knocking thumps, each of the three cleanly intersects with Zimpel, who is equally expressive on clarinet, bass clarinet and tárogató, a Hungarian-invented saxophone cousin. Appropriately intense, Way of the Cross/Crucifixion/Death finds the reedist spitting out pressurized glossolalia, reed bites and emotional split tones as his solo varies from stopped silences to shrill speaking-in-tongues. Around him in a broken-octave concord are buzzing bass lines, vibrating drum tops and gospel-inflected processional chords from the pianist.

03_ozoneOne important ingredient in Zimpel’s woodwind cornucopia is the unique timbres of the tárogató. Although French reedist Christophe Monniott doesn’t play it on This is C’est La Vie, the newest CD by his Paris-Budapest band Ozone (BMC Records BMCCD163 www.bmcrecords.hu) adds sounds from the equally indigenous cimbalom or multi-string hammered board zither, played by Miklós Lukács to those created by fellow Hungarians, keyboardist Emil Spányi and percussionist Joe Quitzke. Ozone’s CD is notable in its mixture of electronics and jazz standards such as Poinciana and Sophisticated Lady. With Monniott on low-pitched baritone saxophone the latter is treated uniquely as his smeary split tones and squeals brush up against reverberating arpeggios and string pops from Lukács. In contrast, Poinciana is backed into with keyboard splatters and signal-processed lines as the double-time treatment eventually encompasses Spányi’s multi-fingered syncopated runs and Monniott’s tongue vibrato on alto saxophone. It ends with vocoder modulations from the saxman and glissandi from the piano. More intriguingly, tracks such as the title tune welcome all influences. Here Monniott’s high-pitched, corkscrew-like vibrations operate alongside Lukács’ twanging harp-like arpeggios played andante and staccato, backed by jazz-grounded cymbal splashes and superfast piano comping.

04_subsurfaceCanadians are also involved in trans-border cooperation as demonstrated on Subsurface (Schraum Records 11 www.schraum.de) by the trio of Montreal-based bass clarinettist and alto saxophonist Philippe Lauzier, and two Germans, Berlin trumpeter Nils Ostendorf and Philip Zoubek from Köln on prepared piano. Here, the instrumentalists’ extended textures create a soundscape of buzzed and granular modulations as if electronics are involved. They aren’t. Instead, multiphonics arise from the piano’s stopped and striated strings, the reedist’s flat-line or pressurized vibrato and grace note flourishes from the trumpeter. On a track such as Spectral Radiance, Zoubek’s clipped and clanking chords are mixed with string pops that add wooden tones from then piano’s action, building up to a rough, broken-chord concordance with bubbling and buzzing staccato lines from the horns. In comparison, an interlude like Calm City lives up to its name as the pianist’s barely audible key strums accompany Ostendorf’s carefully shaped grace notes, as Lauzier’s extended reed puffs gradually swell in volume.

Unlike economic or political globalization, musical globalization is more benign. These sessions demonstrate the outstanding results when free-thinking musicians based in different locations are able to regularly create together.

01_moriniErica Morini was not merely one of the greatest female violinists but one of the greatest violinists of all time. Born in Vienna in 1905, her father studied with Joseph Joachim. Aged eight she was the youngest student and first female to enter the Vienna Conservatoire. Her artistic individuality, unique sonority and singing quality were frequently more evident than we heard from Heifetz and Oistrakh. Her playing was noted to represent the successful blending of the old-style charm (Kreisler, Elman) with the technical perfection that prevailed from the middle of the 20th century together with a good measure of her own individuality. Audite has released an excellent CD featuring the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D major (audite 95.606). She has other recordings of this concerto but here she is supported by Ferenc Fricsay and the RIAS-Symphony, live in the Titiana Palace, Berlin in 1952. Brilliant performances of shorter works by Tartini, Vivaldi, Kreisler, and Brahms, accompanied by Michael Raucheisen fill the disc. Great sound from Deutschlandradio’s archive tapes.

02_horensteinJascha Horenstein fans will be happy to know that hot on the heels of the Beethoven Ninth DVD, DOREMI has issued Volume 2 of their Horenstein series containing the Prelude and Carnival from Korngold’s 1916 opera Violanta, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1 and Hindemith’s Symphonie Mathis der Maler (DHR-7998). After a few bars of the Korngold Overture I saw, in my mind’s eye, a pastoral scene from the 1942 film, Kings Row. Of course! Korngold wrote the soundtrack score and expanded the 1916 overture to suit the 1942 film, thematically identical with characteristic orchestrations. Horenstein was one of the finest conductors of his day who, for some reason unknown to me, was never the chief conductor or music director of an orchestra. The Korngold and the Shostakovich are with the Royal Philharmonic, both in excellent stereo recorded in 1965 and 1970 respectively. The Hindemith with the Paris Radio Symphony is a live performance from 1954 that, although missing the refinement of the London orchestra, one senses that the players are doing their very best... Really quite inspiring.

03_boultFrom the early decades of the 20th Century Britain had an impressive array of home-grown, first class knighted conductors including Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood, Hamilton Harty, John Barbirolli, Eugene Goossens, Malcolm Sargent and, of course, Adrian Boult. Boult’s monumental recorded legacy was well captured by HMV and Decca but smaller companies, such Pye, Lyrita and Vanguard filled in the omissions. Such an undertaking was the Nixa/Westminster’s stereo sessions with the London Philharmonic Orchestra over a period of six days in August 1956. The second set of 3 CDs from First Hand Records contains the four Schumann Symphonies and eight Berlioz Overtures (FHR07). I was struck by the sheer energy and astonishing quality of the playing and Boult’s rousing tempi and revealing instrumental balances: the kind that brings a smile to your face. The digital transfers of the analog master tapes were done at Abbey Road Studios by Ian Jones and retain the full impact and weight of the originals, adding to the credibility of the performances. This is a superb set in every respect and an essential acquisition for Schumann lovers.

04_kubelikI compared this set to a reissue on DG Originals of the 1963/64 recordings of the Schumann Symphonies with Raphael Kubelik and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG 4778621, 2 CDs). Kubelik’s polished interpretations of the works differ from Boult in that they are quite stately with the conductor’s ear for orchestral balances putting a lie to the persistent but erroneous belief that Schumann’s orchestrations were dense and should be reworked. In fact, Gustav Mahler did do some re-orchestrations. The latest digital processing is impressive with meticulous details. But for me, the Boult set gets the vote for both performance and sound.

05a_dvorak_brahms05b_dvorak_esotericAnother Originals reissue comes from the Decca catalogue revisiting Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the Dvorak Eighth Symphony and the Brahms Third (Decca 4782661). These recordings of 1961/63 have justifiably remained in the catalogue for close to half a century. The new mastering is clear and fresh with a natural, pleasant stage presence, accurately conveying the original John Culshaw production. HOWEVER, Esoteric, the Japanese high-end audio equipment company, has issued a hybrid SACD which they prepared, using state-of-the-art technology, from masters supplied by Decca (ESSD 90036). Both sound very good but the Japanese is somewhat more clinical and seems to miss the natural acoustic of the Sofiensaal compared to the natural ‘feel’ of the European disc. The differences are small but telling. Small differences, in this case, come at a large price: $75 versus $16 for the European edition.

06_mahler_esotericAnother Esoteric hybrid SACD that can be unhesitatingly recommended is the Klemperer EMI recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Fritz Wunderlich, Christa Ludwig and the Philharmonia Orchestra recorded in February and November 1964 and July 1966 (ESSE 90043). This performance has been criticized by some for slow tempi but for those listeners who absorb the text of each of the six individual songs, Klemperer’s pulse and phrasing reflect total empathy. The original EMI recording is available on an EMI CD in their Great Recordings of the Century re-issues priced at around $15 (0724356694422) but for those for whom price is no object the spacious sound and refinement of the Esoteric SACD at $75 will be irresistible. American Sound in Richmond Hill (905 886 7810) has these and many others from Esoteric including the SACDs of Solti’s Ring Cycle.

07a_farrell107b_farrell2“There are three pianists in the world – Kapell, Farrell, and myself” said Arthur Rubinstein. Richard Thomas Farrell (1926-1958), born in Wellington, New Zealand was a child prodigy. He was taken to Australia in 1938 and studied at the Conservatorium in Sydney. In 1947 he met William Kapell who helped in arranging a full scholarship to study at Juilliard with Olga Samaroff who said Farrell was the best student she ever had. He played with major American orchestras and toured extensively before moving to London in 1951 where he gave recitals, played chamber music and played with the best orchestras, and the most prestigious conductors. It was a great loss to music when he died in a car accident in Sussex, aged 31. Unlike his contemporaries, Dinu Lipatti and William Kapell, memories of his career and recorded legacy have unjustifiably almost completely faded. He made a handful of outstanding recordings for Pye, some unissued until now. Atoll, an independent record label in New Zealand (www.atollcd.com), has issued Farrell’s complete recordings including the unissued ones on four CDs in two volumes. I’m afraid that there are not enough adjectives in the language 07c_farrell_alternateto fully describe the feeling of well-being and euphoria in Farrell’s music making which I believe to be peerless. The composers on these discs are all of the Romantic era, from Chopin to Rachmaninov. The sensitivity and clarity of his playing is immediately engaging, with the listener (this one) hanging on every note. He had a measure of personal touch which was always at the service of the composer, now delivering to the listener of these recordings music-making of the very highest order. Richard Farrell brings new excitement and insights to familiar repertoire making listening an experience of rewarding re-discovery. These recordings, all made by Pye between 1956 and 1958 are now owned by EMI who licensed them to Atoll. The excellent transfers from the original tapes were made at Abbey Road Studies in London by Ian Jones.

Volume 1 (ACD208, 2 CDs) contains the Grieg Piano Concerto, op.16 and the Liszt Piano Concerto no.1 in E flat, both with the Halle Orchestra under George Weldon. The solos: Brahms’ 4 Ballades op.10 and 16 waltzes, op.39; Grieg’s Ballade in G minor, op.24, 2 Popular Norwegian Melodies, op.66 nos. 14 and 17, and 9 Lyric Pieces. The Grieg works are monaural recordings.

Volume 2 (ACD909, 2 CDs) is a treasure trove of solo performances. Seven pieces by Rachmaninov include the Corelli Variations op.42 and six Preludes from Op.3, op.23 and op.32. There are 11 works by Chopin. The Brahms works include the Handel Variations, op.24, four pieces from op.119 and the Rhapsody in G minor, op.79 no.2.  Three pieces by Liszt include the Rigoletto Paraphrase. A special performance of Schumann’s Arabeske op.18 is followed by one piece each by Mendelssohn, Debussy, and Granados.

I purchased my copies from Presto Classical in the U.K. (prestoclassical.co.uk) but Atoll will ship direct from New Zealand (atollcd.com).

01_gounod_faustGounod - Faust

Angela Gheorghiu; Roberto Alagna; Bryn Terfel; Simon Keenlyside; Royal Opera; Antonio Pappano

Royal Opera House/EMI 6 31611 9

The story of Faust, an old man who trades his immortal soul for a second chance at youth, has fascinated artists for centuries. The opera composers were particularly impressed by it: there are at least a dozen works based on it, amongst them Louis Spohr's Faust (1816), Hector Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust (1846), Charles Gounod's Faust (1859), Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele (1868), Ferruccio Busoni's Doktor Faust (1916–25), Sergei Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel (1927; first performed 1954), Konrad Boehmer's Doktor Faustus (1983), Alfred Schnittke's Historia von D. Johann Fausten (1994) and Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951).


Gounod’s Faust is the most familiar work and this production features a stellar ensemble. As Faust, Alagna is in fine form, though his once–celebrated high end shows signs of strain. Gheorghiu shines as Margueritte, as does Keenlyside as her brother Valentin. Terfel infuses the role of Mephistopheles with the necessary malice. Finally, the orchestra under the skillful baton of Pappano does the score full justice. The production itself is another story. Messy and too literal (the drinking and carousing takes place under a giant neon Club l’Enfer, as if we did not get the connection), it does not help the principals either. Beautiful Gheorghiu here, for some inexplicable reason, labours under a mousy-blonde wig. The camera follows the singers too closely, revealing what we already knew – save for Keenlyside, they are not great actors. All in all, a wonderful DVD to enjoy with your ears (and heart) wide open and your eyes firmly closed.


02_verdi_rigolettoVerdi - Rigoletto

Diana Damrau; Juan Diego Florez; Željko Lučić; Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden; Fabio Luisi

Virgin Classics 5099964186894

Verdi was a revolutionary figure himself, often fighting authorities and even having a difficult time getting his Rigoletto performed. The original play by Victor Hugo caused such an uproar in Paris that it disappeared after opening night. Defiantly Verdi chose it as a perfect vehicle for his new opera but it was forcibly transferred to an obscure Italian principality to placate the Venetian censors. Revolutionary, avant-garde German director Nicolaus Lehnhoff was therefore an apt choice to create a new look for Dresden. His concept is good versus evil or tormentors versus victims merged into a surreal nightmarish dream, a dark void, sometimes stained in blood red, populated by scary weird creatures, like the duke’s courtiers all in black with devilish masks. Inside this void for contrast appears Gilda’s pure white bedroom, decorated with stars on its walls that come to shine at night to be backdrop for Gilda’s magnificent reverie “Caro Nome”. Worth going to Dresden for this moment alone.


Three great names in the forefront of opera today came together in Dresden in 2008 to bring this concept alive and throbbing with music of the highest quality. Diana Damrau caused a sensation not only with her thrilling radiant high soprano, but her exceptional portrayal of an innocent young girl who falls victim to the hatred and voraciousness of wicked and thoughtless people. The role of Rigoletto in which Verdi created a hero of heretofore unknown complexity is sung by Željko Lučić, now principal Verdi baritone for our time. Juan Diego Florez lends his exquisite bel-canto tenor voice to the hit studded role of the Duke of Mantua. Music Director Fabio Luisi’s direction has great rhythmic and dynamic drive and clarity, altogether a very sympathetic reading of the complete score. Not a note is missing.


03_marie_nicole_lemieuxNe Me Refuse Pas

Marie-Nicole Lemieux; Orchestre National de France; Fabien Gabel

Naïve V 5201

There are no surprises here. Contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux sings a number of famous and well loved French opera arias with passion, musicality, technique and a pitch to die for.


She is accompanied by the fabulous Orchestra national de France under the superb guidance of Fabien Gabel. The relationship between the singer and the “accompanist” is so intimate that the recording sounds like it took place in my living room! Unfortunately her performance (with the Jeune choeur de Paris) of Bizet's “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle” (aka “Habanera”) from the opera Carmen lacks the feminine vitality that makes the aria so intriguing. This is the only lapse however, and a listen to her ascending vocal line at the beginning of Massenet”s “Qui m'aurait dit la place” from the opera Werther is to witness a vocal genius at work – a spine-tingling example of Lemieux's artistry.


Alexandre Dratwicki's liner notes titled “the voice of romanticism” is a superlative exposé on the French art of singing during the Romantic era. Thankfully, Lemieux does not engage in the “French screaming” that the author amusingly refers to, but it really is an individual taste to either love or abhor the dramatics of the music and lyrics from this period. I greatly enjoyed this release – the music may not be completely to my liking, but Lemieux's brilliant performance sells me on its credibility.


04_duo_freyaDiamonds of the North - Songs from Scandanavia

Duo Freya

Independent (www.aspasiabooks.com)

This recording of Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian music for voice and piano is truly full of little musical diamonds – and a rich introduction to the world of Nordic art song.


Jean Sibelius and Edvard Grieg are the two most familiar composers represented here. Sibelius’s four dramatic songs with broad dynamic shifts and big piano parts are very impressive, but the transparent melancholy of the fifth, Hiljainen kaupunki (The Silent Town), makes it my personal fave. The composer’s own piano transcription of Finlandia receives an extraordinary performance by Saario, and to which Koistinen joins in for the national song – a much more intimate experience than the symphonic version! The seven Norwegian songs by Grieg are perhaps the most varied in mood, despite their relative simplicity and reserve; the little gems here are To Brune Øyne (Two Brown Eyes), En Svane (A Swan) and the hauntingly beautiful (and famous) Solveig’s Song.


Perhaps the most ostentatious compositions on this CD are two songs by Oskar Merikanto (1868-1924), which almost burst with drama and pride - no hint of Nordic understatement here. The one song by Finland’s Yrjö Kilpinen (1892-1959) is an appealing and beautifully crafted piece that makes clear why Kilpinen enjoyed great public popularity. Two of my personal favourites, with their broad palette of colour and texture, were the songs by Toivo Kuula (1883-1918), and Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) is showcased in four very charming songs.


Duo Freya offers this music up with obvious affection and thoughtful musicality. Though I wish the CD notes included some information on the lesser-known composers, Duo Freya’s spirited and expressive performance is an elegantly convincing introduction to what is, after all, the most important thing.


Back to top