06 ScriabinScriabin – Poem of Ecstasy; Symphony No.2
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.574039 (bpo.org/recordings) 

Will the compositional dust ever settle on the early 20th century? Let’s hope not. What a fascinating, tempestuous time it was, what madness emerged from the studied rebellion of the Romantic period! Who knew that Liszt, of all people, would be a kind of heroic model to Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), who tore up the book of common practice harmony and looked for colours that some would call garish, and others revelatory.

And the composers themselves, calling one another names or championing themselves and their cadre. (Okay, that sounds contemporary.) According to the liner notes on this beautiful rendering of his Poem of Ecstasy (1905-08) and Second Symphony (1901), Scriabin referred to Igor Stravinsky (ten years his junior) as “a mass of insolence and a minimum of creative power.” Dude, sour grapes? Stravinsky was calculating, but he also wrote The Firebird and The Rite of Spring.

Scriabin’s art has factions pro and con, and he probably had as much influence as Ravel did on insolent Igor. For my part, hearing the colours and wandering sensuality of phrase and gesture of the Poem, I’m back in the ballet pit, back in the 1900’s, grumpily wishing I were playing Afternoon of a Faun instead, because who is this upstart with the idea that sexual release and musical climax should be enjoyed simultaneously? At least Claude merely sought to depict it, not to have his listeners engage in it. (There is nobody more conservative than a ballet pit musician…)  

Scriabin’s tonal voice was amazing, his artistic trajectory heading into the ever-weirder, his fame unquestioned; and then he died in his 40s. Just a terribly sad fate. 

The playing is more than equal to the demands of the score, the direction sure and provocative, as the score also demands. JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic have every right to be proud. If the second symphony makes you think of César Franck, well, yes. But EVER so much better.

07 Strauss Debussy LSOStrauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra | Debussy – Jeux
London Symphony Orchestra; François-Xavier Roth
LSO Live LSO0833 (lsolive.lso.co.uk) 

The tone poem reached its pinnacle with the works of Richard Strauss. In fact, he once said braggingly that he could set absolutely anything to music and certainly this text that probes mankind’s place in the universe proves that point. The opening brass fanfare with the solo trumpet striking a triad C G C, (the tonic, the fifth and an octave leap) sets a tone, a motive that keeps returning and represents the big question mark, the question of existence for which there is no answer. The music then carries through all that constitutes life on earth but according to Nietzsche these are “false consolations,” distractions from the ultimate question, a “rope over the abyss” so to speak. Strauss’ melodic gifts and complex, modern orchestration shine throughout, each section different. There are some lovely highlights, like the solo violin representing Joy, but it all ends with the fatal bells ringing and everything quiets down. At the end two dissonant chords, ambiguity, tells us that there is no answer.   

The tremendous opening theme was made famous in 1968 by Stanley Kubrick in the film 2001 – A Space Odyssey, and since then it has become a favourite of conductors (notably Karajan). This latest issue is conducted by François-Xavier Roth, a very busy man all over Europe conducting several orchestras including the prestigious London Symphony, here most assuredly in top form. 

Roth is also a champion of French music, and he includes Debussy’s Jeux, a playful work which features, for example, a tennis game with the ball hit back and forth. Incidentally, the piece was a favourite of Pierre Boulez “who found in the quicksilver play of sonority, harmony and arabesque Debussy’s most sophisticated and far-reaching contribution to the artistic revolutions of the 20th century.”

08 Rachmaninoff 2Rachmaninoff – Symphony No.2
Sinfonia of London; John Wilson
Chandos CHSA5309 (chandos.net/products/catalogue/CHAN%205309)

Many music lovers are most familiar with Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but there was a time that the most often heard and performed pieces were his Prelude in C-sharp Minor for piano and the Symphony No.2 in E Minor. This newly released CD, with John Wilson conducting the Sinfonia of London, features outstanding recordings of these two old favourites. The first ever performance of the second symphony was conducted by the composer in Saint Petersburg on February 9, 1908 and it won the Glinka Award that year, one of five Rachmaninoff received in his lifetime. 

We all know how the symphony opens, usually with a full orchestra, but Wilson has chosen to interpret the score a little differently. Instead of the dynamic sounds we’re used to, he conducts it as a more Romantic piece; perhaps it’s the balance of the strings that gives it this quality. Regardless, it didn’t take many listening sessions before I thought it sounded natural and was very comfortable with this “new-to-me” version. In truth, it sounds perfectly correct, (no shade to any other version). A sumptuous performance of the Prelude Op.3 No.2 for solo piano orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski opens the disc.  

Wilson came to prominence conducting Hollywood film scores, most notably at the Proms in London and on recordings for Chandos with the John Wilson Orchestra. More recently he has revived the Sinfonia of London, an all-star orchestra of top London musicians and has branched further afield. He is in great demand as a guest conductor in the UK and Europe, but surprisingly has appeared scarcely at all in the United States or Canada. Hopefully that will change!

09 Sibelius 34Sibelius 3 & 4
Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA ACD2 2454 (atmaclassique.com/en) 

Whatever was eating Jean Sibelius, he managed to churn out a decent number of fascinating and varied symphonic works, some, more well known than others. The latter set includes the brief Third Symphony in C Major, Op.52, and the not quite as brief Fourth Symphony in (something like) A Minor Op.63. Fluid and diverse in character, they rush through a month’s worth of angst and elation in just over an hour TOTAL. None of his symphonies stretch beyond 50 minutes, and most are less than 40; it almost seems he was either too modest or too smart to restate all the moments in order, as might Bruckner or Mahler, or others adhering to classical structure without its restraint. Motif rules, but so does organic development.

There are the usual Sibelian tropes: jollity and delight in folk idioms, a sense of awe possibly induced by the Finnish landscape, grand builds to grander climaxes, and especially in opus 63, tonal freedom (not to mention dark explorations of the wandering soul). I never forget that the composer battled the bottle for most of his life.

Congratulations to the spirited and excellent Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, led by the supernova legend Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Were I prone to envy (yes) it would irk me to know that not only does Montreal have the Habs, but they also have two excellent symphony orchestras playing all the big repertoire, this one led by YN-S, and that other one with a similar name. The strings are particularly strong, as are the woodwind soloists, who are afforded many juicy moments. YN-S and his crew sweep us along the turbulent and gorgeous soundscapes. Bravi tutti.

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10 Coleridge TaylorSamuel Coleridge-Taylor – Piano Works
Luke Welch
Independent (lukewelch.ca) 

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor occupies an interesting place in British musical history. Born in 1875 to an Englishwoman and a Krio man from Sierra Leone who had studied medicine in London, he attended the Royal College of Music where he studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. By the 1890s, he was earning a reputation as a composer greatly helped by Edward Elgar – and his piece Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast premiered by Stanford in 1898, firmly secured his stature.

Included among Coleridge-Taylor’s extensive output are a number of compositions for piano and many of these are presented here on this recording performed by Toronto pianist Luke Welch. The disc is a delight!  

It opens with the five-movement Scenes from an Imaginary Ballet Op.74 (written in 1910) which immediately demonstrates Coleridge-Taylor’s affable and melodic style. These sprightly miniatures with their well-crafted phrases and inherent lyricism attest to their timeliness, as engaging today as they were a century ago.

The charming Three Humoresques Op.31 which follow are each slightly lengthier than the other compositions on the disc and demonstrate an intriguing use of harmony and chordal progressions. Throughout, Welch delivers a poised and elegant performance in keeping with the spirit of the music.

What is particularly appealing in this collection is the range of contrasting moods – for example, Intermezzo is a brief essay in pomp and ceremony while Papillon is all light-hearted exuberance demanding considerable technical skill from the performer. The Valse Suite Three Fours Op.71 from 1909 rounds out a most satisfying program.

Kudos to Mr. Welch for not only a fine performance, but also for bringing to light music that decidedly deserves greater recognition.

11 Haydn hereticalJoseph Haydn – Heretic Threads
Boyd McDonald; Joseph Petric; Peter Lutek
Astrila Records (astrila-records.bandcamp.com) 

Much like nature, music exists in a vast spectrum. Despite the apparently binary concepts of Historically Informed Performance for example, in which ensembles and their ideologies can be split into disciples and heretics, there are innumerable ways to approach the performance of older music. Heretic Threads, a new two-disc release from pianist Boyd McDonald, accordionist Joseph Petric and composer Peter Lutek combines several different approaches to the music of Haydn, resulting in a product that defies categorization.

The first disc of Heretic Threads explores three Haydn piano works, interpreted on a fortepiano that is a replica of Haydn’s own instrument. This performance by MacDonald is light and energetic, with the fortepiano facilitating both clarity and articulation, and removing much of the percussive harshness that can be inflicted upon such music by modern pianos. 

The second disc is a fascinating re-interpretation of the same three works by Petric, but this time on the concert accordion, an instrument that defies expectations when juxtaposed so closely with the historical fortepiano. Haydn on a fortepiano and an accordion? Only a heretic would consider such a thing! Despite the apparent heresy, Haydn’s music is surprisingly satisfying on the accordion, and the subtleties that Petric evokes from his instrument complement the fortepiano versions while being delightfully unique. 

The final track is Sintering, a 27-minute mashup of Haydn and digital electronics by Peter Lutek. This medley makes use of the previous harpsichord and accordion performances to create something new and old all at once, a perfect way to summarize the contents of this engaging and ingenious foray into Haydn, as well as the way we look at, listen to and think about music.

01 Lumieres nordiquesLumières Nordiques
Vincent Boilard; Quatuor Molinari
ATMA ACD2 2859 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Lumières Nordiques is the first solo album released by Vincent Boilard, associate principal oboe of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Featuring contemporary pieces for oboe and strings, Boilard is joined by the award-winning Molinari Quartet in his passion project to help elevate previously unrecorded Canadian works. These compositions are varied soundscapes using the full range of tonal colours and technical flourishes this group of instruments has to offer. 

Beginning with solo oboe, which is then joined by string quartet, Stewart Grant’s Serenata da Camera morphs into a set of variations that showcase each instrument, inspired by Musaeus, the original group (with Grant himself on oboe) – composed for their Belarusian tour in 1991. Boilard’s beautiful, soft tone is masterfully blended with the brilliance of the strings.

Originally a ballet, Elizabeth Raum’s Searching for Sophia was adapted to this three-movement piece for oboe and string quartet. The movements draw on sounds and harmonies from the composer’s childhood when her Syrian grandmother would sing to make her dance; a poem written by the composer about what she wishes to express in music; and traditional melodies that her mother sang to her as a child. Laced predominantly with a Middle Eastern colour, this piece uses all of the instruments equally, allowing the full range of the strings and the oboe to bring out the different characters of each movement.

Michael Parker’s Requiem Parentibus, Op.34 was written as a tribute to his father after his sudden death, exploring the emotions of incomprehension, sadness, anger and melancholy. These complex emotions are represented on the oboe with high shrieks followed by soulful lyrical playing while the strings are used mainly as an atmospheric colour.

Lastly, Brian Cherney’s In the Stillness of the Summer Wind was commissioned by his brother, oboist Lawrence Cherney, and the Hungarian String Quartet. Sounding as if inspired by summers spent in the countryside, this piece draws the listener in with various depictions of nature through the different tonal colours used by the strings as well as the four glass chimes used at the end to create the sound of a gentle, rustling breeze. 

Boilard’s virtuosity and supple tone is beautifully paired with the inspired playing of the Molinari Quartet throughout this album. Hopefully Boilard will continue this project of recording new works so that they are brought to life and appreciated.

02 Alfredo Santa AnaSounds of Time & Distance
Alfredo Santa Ana
Independent (alfredosantaana.ca) 

Born in Mexico City and working in Vancouver since 2003, composer/guitarist Alfredo Santa Ana draws on his experiences composing for television, film, dance, instrumentalists and orchestras in his self-described “hybrid” nine-track album for guitar, electronics and flute combinations.

Santa Ana does everything here with successful finesse, from performing, composing, recording, mixing, mastering and producing. Opening track Under an Orange Sky (2017), originally commissioned for 18 musicians, is a guitar duet here, performed with Michael Ibsen. Santa Ana’s musical depiction of the horrific BC fires and subsequent long periods of orange skies opens with exciting fast lines and accented single notes, followed by suspenseful longer lower-pitch held tones and occasional dissonances, and repeated midsection minimalistic lines with slower quieter sounds adding a reflective touch. More virtuosic well-thought-out guitar performances by Made in Canada Duo as Ibsen & Nathan Bredeson play Santa Ana’s interesting Foundation Visit High Scatter (2022) uninterrupted changing sound environments from slow strums to pitch slides to punchy rhythmic sections. Wave Remote (2022), performed by McGregor-Verdejo Duo, has flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor and guitarist Adrian Verdejo use loopers and electric guitar pedal technology to at times play above themselves in almost quasi rock and contemporary music improvisations. Steve Reich’s three track Electric Counterpoint (1987) receives a meticulous respectful performance by Santa Ana.

The musical world of guitar explodes with unexpected new sounds, flavours and effects in this fantastic release.

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03Tim BradyTim Brady – Symphony in 18 Parts
Tim Brady
Starkland ST-237 (timbrady.ca) 

One point that is often made about the electric guitar is that unlike the piano (Hanon Studies), the trumpet (Arban Method), or even its acoustic brethren (Complete Carcassi Classical Guitar Method), it does not have an established pedagogy of praxis. As such, and almost since its conception when Les Paul affixed a homemade tremolo and pickups to a pine log, the progenitors of blues, rock, jazz, funk, R & B etc. have thwarted the normative principles of the instrument in order to find a creative voice through bent strings, squelching feedback or one-hand legato fret-board tapping. Simply put, the pedagogy of the electric guitar is largely a performance practice of figuring things out on the instrument that were not intended for that instrument. And yet even within this instrumental history filled with novel approaches to the guitar, the adjective “ambitious” does not fully capture the eclectic range of creativity that, for over 35 years, has remained a hallmark of guitarist Tim Brady’s expansive output. 

Spanning genres, aggregation size and influence (from Norman Bethune to Charlie Christian!), Brady’s sprawling creativity is once again at the forefront on his most recent Symphony in 18 Parts for solo electric guitar. Take, for example, the album’s opening track, minor révolutions, as a stylistic explanation of Brady’s approach in miniature. Within this one three-minute tune, Brady alternates between “nails-on-a-chalkboard” distortion with a no less technologically mediated crystalline atmospheric timbre, putting these two sonically disparate approaches into conversation with one another while traversing rock, jazz, classic and “contemporary” music. Lots to like here for fans of “new” Canadian music, genre-bending sounds and, of course, the electric guitar.

04 Christopher ButterfieldChristopher Butterfield – Souvenir
Aventa Ensemble; Rick Sacks; Bill Linwood
Redshift Records TK538 (redshiftrecords.org) 

“Forget the gold watch,” read the University of Victoria’s press release, “noted composer and longtime School of Music professor Christopher Butterfield is marking his UVic retirement with the release of his latest album, Souvenir.” Each piece was commissioned by a different ensemble over a 20-year span. “It’s like I’m doing my own musicology here,” kibitzed the composer. The four Butterfield compositions on the album are spiritedly performed by BC’s Aventa Ensemble. Toronto percussion soloist Rick Sacks makes a virtuoso guest appearance. 

The works are as much permeated by the composer’s sure feel for classical musical architecture, 20th-century music idioms (turned sideways), colourful orchestration, quirky drama and textural variety, as they are by his off-centre, surrealistic sense of humour. For example, along with the 15-piece Aventa Ensemble, Souvenir also includes a “set of improvisations with undependable electronics,” while a field recording of Barbadian tree frogs chirps away in oblique counterpoint. Parc (2013) on the other hand, “tries hard to maintain some kind of organizational order but keeps falling off the rails.” In addition to the vibraphone solo, this percussion concerto also features a solo section for an unorthodox, organic instrument: pieces of wood.

Referring to Victoria BC’s rich musical and cultural environment, Butterfield notes it has “a reputation for composers who are looked at as rather remarkable… and nobody’s quite sure why. Is it something in the water? Is it island life?” Perhaps, the answer can be partly found in Vancouver Island’s geographic isolation, where composers “have to make everything up ourselves,” as in the case of Butterfield’s own uniquely drole musical voice.

05 SirventesSirventès – Iranian Female Composers Association
Brian Thornton
New Focus Recordings FCR367 (newfocusrecordings.com) 

Sirventès is a collection of new solo and ensemble works from Cleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton and the Iranian Female Composters Association, founded in 2017 and dedicated to supporting female composers from Iran through programming, commissioning and mentorship. The album, beautiful, warm and compelling, focuses on composers telling their own stories in their own voices, providing a perfect showcase for the six featured women, each accomplished and successful in her own right.

Beginning with a four-part work written for string quartet in 2017 by Tehran-born Mahdis Golzar Kashani, And the Moses Drowned is “Dedicated to Aylan Kurdi and all innocent children fallen victim to the war.” This is a beautifully descriptive work, the plaintive opening reminiscent of Arvo Pärt but quickly intensifying in modes, metres and melody. 

Nina Barzegar’s solo cello work Vulnerable is a delicate balance, expressed by the composer as, “By being vulnerable, I do not mean being in a position where one can be hurt easily. Instead, I mean experiencing great human emotions: feeling shame, sorrow, gladness, love, belonging, empathy, and embracing who we truly are….” 

Nasim Khorassani’s Growth for string trio (2017) focuses on a cell constructed by B, C, D and E flat, a deeply concentrated emotional journey that both moves and stays stagnant, almost as if describing the constraints under which it was composed. Niloufar Iravani’s 2017 string quartet The Maze is in three parts depicting the struggle to navigate emotions. 

A favourite is the title track by Anahita Abbasi, featuring Toronto’s Amahl Arulanandam, cello and Nathan Petitpas, percussion. The writing for both instruments calls back and forth between pitched and unpitched, responding without leadership but more as balanced characters in a story. It is raw, spacious and expressive, a delicate duo between the cello and percussion but also a duet between time and space.

Mina Arissian’s Suite for Cello closes the album and is beautifully played by Thornton, who never muscles in on the composers but remains committed to the most direct translations of these powerful works as possible. Some time with the enclosed information on each of these composers is well spent, getting to know just a few of the brilliant women in the Iranian Female Composers Association.

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06 Homage African DiasporaHomage: Chamber Music for the African Continent & Diaspora
Castle of Our Skins; Samantha Ege
Lorelt LNT147 (lorelt.co.uk) 

Boston-based Castle of Our Skins (COOS) was founded in 2013 “to address the lack of equity in composer representation on concert stages.” Happily, the past decade has seen dramatically increased attention to Black composers; this CD is an example.

Safika: Three Tales of African Migration (2011) by South African Bongani Ndodana-Breen (b.1975) is performed by pianist Samantha Ege and COOD violinists Gabriela Diaz and Matthew Vera, violist Ashleigh Gordon and cellist Francesca McNeeley. Its three movements offer yearning string melodies and percussive piano “drumming” evoking traditional African song and dance, “memories of lives left behind,” says Ndodana-Breen.

Pianist Ege solos in two works. Homage (1990) by Oklahoma-born Zenobia Powell Perry (1908-2004), based on the spiritual I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned, proceeds from childlike simplicity to searching, fragmented discord. Moorish Dance, Op.55 (1904) by Londoner Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), like others of his supposedly African-inspired compositions, sounds European, here emulating Liszt.

Soweto (1987) for piano trio by Virginian Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989) condemns apartheid in three terse movements featuring dissonant chaos, a melancholy cello solo and a spiritual-inspired dirge. At 23 minutes, Spiritual Fantasy No.12 (1988) for string quartet by Texas-born Frederick C. Tillis (1930-2020) is by far the CD’s longest and, for me, most rewarding work. In four movements, each based on a different spiritual, the music is wonderfully inventive and adventurous – harmonically, rhythmically, texturally and structurally. Where/why has it been hiding, and what of Tillis’ other Spiritual Fantasies?

07 Carlos SurinachCarlos Surinach – Acrobats of God; The Owl and the Pussycat
Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Gil Rose
BMOP Sound 1089 (bmop.org/audio-recordings) 

“My music, even the most serious pieces, all suggest, in some way, dance.” After emigrating to New York in 1951, Barcelona-born Carlos Surinach (1915-1997) was commissioned by Martha Graham to create three ballet scores, all presented on this CD.

In the 16-minute Embattled Garden (1957), flamenco-style melodies, rhythms and costumes support a scenario involving Adam, Eve, Lilith and the Devil. Brash, brassy, percussive tuttis are offset by plaintive solos for clarinet, English horn and bassoon in music that’s appropriately steamy, erotic and savage.

Graham called the 22-minute Acrobats of God (1960) “a lighthearted celebration of the art of dance and the discipline of the dancer’s world.” The circus-comedic Fanfare is followed by the first of four Interludes, three of them boisterously brusque, one satirically sentimental. The mock-Arabic Antique Dance spotlights three mandolins and a solo trumpet. Bolero is a halting, ponderous waltz. Flute, mandolins and low brass are spotlighted in Minuet, a parody reminiscent of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Spanish Gallop’s rapid urgency builds to a clamorous climax, then ends gently with a lyrical cello solo, floating flute and hushed string pizzicati.

The Owl and the Pussycat (1978), lasting 22 minutes, is filled with madcap, playfully pompous music, lots of heavy brass and percussion including a clavinet (electronically amplified clavichord). Aliana de la Guardia recites Edward Lear’s nonsensical poem, while conductor Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project animate all three scores to vivid theatrical life, even without their original visual accompaniments.

08 Danny ElfmanDanny Elfman – Violin Concerto “Eleven Eleven”; Adolphus Hailstork – Piano Concerto No.1
Sandy Cameron; Stewart Goodyear; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.559925 (naxos.com/featurePages/Details/?id=Danny_Elfman_Adolphus_Hailstork) 

This significant release juxtaposes two diverse, American composers and also celebrates multiple Grammy-winning conductor JoAnn Falletta and her 125th recording with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The two artists represented here could not be more diverse – Danny Elfman, known primarily as a film composer with an array of notable contemporary scores as well as creative relationships with brilliant writer/directors such as Tim Burton… and Adolphus Hailstork, who plumbs the depths of his potent African American heritage to manifest works embodying elements of jazz and blues, as well as motifs of indigenous West African musics. 

Lauded violinist Sandy Cameron is the featured performer in Elfman’s four-movement opus, while phenomenal pianist Stewart Goodyear propels Hailstork’s stirring concerto. Elfman’s Violin Concerto “Eleven Eleven” (2017) begins with a movement of stirring beauty, reflected in languid, dynamic bass lines and heart-stopping contrapuntal string work, all embraced in Cameron’s masterful, emotional and facile performance. The subsequent three movements, Spietato, Fantasma and Giocoso; Lacrimae also draw the listener into the miasmatic realm of the fantastic, manifested through the organism of the full orchestra.

Hailstork’s three-movement Piano Concerto No.1 (1992) is magnificently performed by Goodyear. At once delicate and percussive, Hailstork’s writing seems both luminous and yet deeply imbedded in the tangible human experience. His use of brass is incomparable, and although Hailstork and Elfman are two generations apart by birth, the creative output of these two gifted artists is conjoined by American viscera, without becoming static within linear time. The Buffalo Philharmonic continues to thrill as they skillfully move through these difficult pieces, and under the baton of the redoubtable Falletta, the large ensemble moves as one creature – embracing every dynamic, subtlety and nuance.

09 Joseph SwiftRoom to Breathe
Joseph Swift; Calvin Hu
Independent (swiftbassoon.com/roomtobreathe) 

Given the bassoon’s concise solo repertoire, each recording of new music has the potential to contain a gem that becomes a lasting addition to the canon. Such might be the case with Room to Breathe, featuring American bassoonist Joseph Swift with pianist Calvin Hu. The five young composers on this disc have all created thoughtful, colourful works inspired by the tumult of 2020-2021. 

Swift leads off with Dueling Realities by Chris Evan Hass: well-written in a lyrical, modernist style with nice rhythmic grooves in the outer sections and some beautifully expressive writing in the middle. Gala Flagello’s Mother Time, Father Nature features some extended techniques like inside-piano damping and pitch slides, but the overall effect is lyrical and engaging. Indigo Bunting by Brad Balliett opens with dark, Bartók-like piano chords, the bassoon replying with fistfuls of cascading 16th notes, dealt with expertly by the soloist. At just over 13 minutes, this is the longest piece on the disc, disturbing in its frenetic energy but given ample relief in its more cinematic middle section. I only wish its oddly abrupt ending were more satisfying. Swift by Brian Nabors is written in a rhythmic, modernist style, with hints of Hindemith, perhaps. 

The gem on this disc, for me, is Karalyn Schubring’s i.C.u: an improvisatory, impressionistic duo full of delicate expression. Swift’s playing throughout is articulate and commanding: plenty of technical mastery, with a warm tone and expressive vibrato.

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10 Chicago ClarinetChicago Clarinet Classics
John Bruce Yen; Patrick Godon; Teresa Reilly
Cedille CDR 90000 218 (cedillerecords.org) 

Clarinetist John Bruce Yeh is that rare member of the profession: a veteran enthusiast. Having played in one or another capacity as a member of the Chicago Symphony clarinet section since 1977, many of those years as assistant principal, he still found motivation to curate this entertaining and interesting collection of modern to contemporary works for clarinet: with piano, unaccompanied, and in one delightful segment, a duet. All the composers are or were, at one point in their lives, situated in Chicago. 

Best known, most often performed, and possibly the most well-crafted work presented is Time Pieces Op.43 by Robert Muczynski, which is the closing bookend on the disc; the opener is Alexander Tcherepnin’s Sonata in one movement, as obscure as the Muczynski is familiar. The material in between is of varied interest. Pride of place is occupied by neo-Romantic Leo Sowerby’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano H240a (1938). The piece lasts even longer than the title might suggest. It’s how Healey Willan might have written had he lived in Chicago instead of Toronto. Beautiful, if long-winded. In these three, Patrick Godon works wonders at the piano and has effortless musical rapport with Yeh.

Most interesting are the shorter contemporary works: Phoenix Rising by Stacy Garrop, Spirit by Shulamit Ran, both unaccompanied; and especially The Forgiveness Train for two clarinets by Teresa Reilly. Reilly supplies the other voice in her piece, which when it isn’t busy doing very cool things with bends and microtonal slides could almost be an homage to Francis Poulenc’s youthful duet from a century before; I can’t tell whether Reilly wrote one part for B-flat and the other for A clarinet, as Poulenc did. Her notes in the liner make no mention of the earlier work, so I may be imagining things. Anyway, it’s a confident work from someone who by her own admission received no formal training as a composer.

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