01 Bach Cello Suites for PianoBach – Six Suites for Solo Cello, transcribed for piano
Eleonor Bindman
Grand Piano GP847-48 (naxosdirect.com/search/747313984725)

For New York-based pianist Eleonor Bindman, Bach became her beacon at age ten, when she snuck a peek at her teacher’s notebook and saw the words “plays Bach well” under her name. Since then she’s never wavered.

Bindman’s intimate connection to, and study of, the music of J.S. Bach deepened over the decades. This lead to her 2018, one-piano/four-hands, transcription of all six Brandenburg Concertos, followed by several other Bach transcription projects, ultimately resulting in this transcription and recording of the six unaccompanied Cello Suites BWV 1007-1012.

Interestingly, in addition to the piano, the Cello Suites have been transcribed for numerous solo instruments including, among others, the mandolin, marimba, classical guitar, electric bass, flute, saxophone, trombone, tuba and ukulele. I can’t vouch for how successful each of these efforts has been, but I reckon it’s not an easy task, regardless of the instrument. (Even Robert Schumann, who wrote a piano accompaniment for all six Suites, had his arrangements rejected by his publisher.)

I can, however, vouch for the success of Bindman’s piano transcription, which is superb, embodying the true essence of the Suites, something she aspired to. As she states in her excellent liner notes, the “Suites didn’t need any improvement.”

Bindman maintains the majesty of Bach’s music, via both her transcription and her convincing command of the keyboard. Whether you’re a purist or a Bach devotee, this satisfying 2-CD set is worthy of a thoughtful listen.

02 BoccheriniMIR524Luigi Boccherini – Une nuit à Madrid
Les Ombres
Mirare MIR524 (mirare.fr)

If Boccherini had never moved to Spain – ultimately regarding it as his native country – the world might have been denied much of his fine chamber music composed for the brother of King Charles III, the infante Don Luis. His move wasn’t entirely smooth – he referred to local musicians as “inveterate barbarians” – but the Spanish influence on his musical style was not an insignificant one, evident in such pieces as the renowned “Fandango” quintet, one of five quintets presented on this splendid Mirare recording performed by the Basel-trained ensemble, Les Ombres.

Of those featured here, three are for flute and strings – Nos.2, 4 and 5 from the set of six quintets Op.19. These are remarkable not only for their brevity (each comprises only two movements and is less than ten minutes in length) but for their diversity. The second has a dark and impassioned mood, while the fourth begins with a solemn adagio followed by a gentle minuet and the fifth is all rococo grace.

Of greater scope is the four-movement Quintet G451 in E Minor. Despite the inclusion of a guitar, there is no Spanish element to this music, but the instrumental blend is an appealing one and Les Ombres perform with a solid conviction, at all times maintaining a delicate balance among the instruments. 

The highlight of the disc is surely the Quintet No.4 G448 known for its spirited Fandango finale. Performed with great panache – with the help of clacking castanets and Romaric Martin’s fine guitar playing – the movement is infused with Mediterranean exuberance – music that seems made for dancing!

Fine acoustics on this recording further enhance an exemplary performance throughout – bravo a todos!

03 Gretry LAmant JalouxAndré Grétry – L’Amant jaloux
Notturna; Christopher Palameta
ATMA ACD2 2797 (atmaclassique.com/en)

Among the most successful operatic composers in 18th-century France was Belgian-born André-Ernest Modeste Grétry (1741-1813). After studying in Rome, he arrived in France in 1767, and during the next 40 years, he enjoyed a career as a renowned composer and pedagogue.

Given the success of Grétry’s operas, and in keeping with the popular custom of the time, it was only natural that much of his dramatic music would eventually make its way from the opera house to both private salons and public gardens in the form of arrangements for small ensemble. It’s such an arrangement of music from his opera L’Amant jaloux (The Jealous Lover) that comprises the bulk of this fine ATMA recording featuring the six-member Montreal-based ensemble, Notturna, directed by oboist Christopher Palameta. The arranger is unknown, but it’s thought it may have been Grétry himself.

L’Amant jaloux was Grétry’s 23rd opera comique and met with resounding success when premiered in Versailles in 1778. While no doubt the score is unfamiliar to modern-day listeners, the music of this well-crafted arrangement is gracious and melodic, while maintaining the spirit of the vocal originals. Throughout, Notturna delivers a polished performance with a fine balance among the instruments.

Following the suite is a quartet for oboe, violins and bass by François-André Phlidor and a brief ballet movement from Grétry’s 1783 opera La Caravane du Caire. Palameta’s sonorous and well-rounded tone further enhances this brief chamber-piece from 1755, while the closing ballet is a fine example of French courtly dance music before the fall of the Ancien Régime.

Kudos to Palameta and Notturna not only for some fine playing, but for helping bring to light some music that otherwise may have been overlooked.

04 Beethoven Violin JorgensenBeethoven – Complete Sonatas for Piano & Violin on Historic Instruments
Jerilyn Jorgensen; Cullan Bryant
Abany Records TROY 1825-28 (albanyrecords.com)

This handsome and beautiful 4-CD set features Cullan Bryant playing five different keyboard instruments from the Frederick Collection of Historic Pianos in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, including an instrument built around 1805 by Casper Katholnig that had been part of the estate of the Esterházys in Eisenstadt and others by Joseph Brodmann, Johann Tröndlin and Ignaz Bösendorfer from Leipzig and Vienna. Jorgensen plays a violin built in 1797 by Andrea Carolus Leeb and employs a number of different historical bows. A great deal of care has been given to creating a specific sound world for the performance of each sonata and in all cases this produces an added element of a wide palette of aural colours that is missing from most modern instrument recordings of these brilliant works.  

Unlike Beethoven’s string quartet output, which stretches across all the periods of his remarkable career, his ten sonatas for piano and violin were written in a shorter span of time – between 1797 and 1812. There are two sets of three sonatas each – Op.12 and Op.30 – and single sonatas Opp. 23, 24, 47 and 96. As the excellent liner notes to this CD collection point out, what make these sonatas so interesting is that they feature the two instruments that Beethoven played exceptionally well. He was an active violinist in his early life in Bonn and, of course, played piano throughout his life. 

Each of these ten works is a strong, inventive, captivating piece that charts a growing independent compositional style, culminating with Op.47 – the most famous sonata, dedicated to the French violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer – and the powerful and unique Op.96 in G Major. Like the quartets, the early sonatas owe a great deal, formally and stylistically, to Mozart, Haydn and Antonio Salieri. As we move to the later works, Beethoven’s unique and original style – and all of those strong and contrasting voices that we appreciate so deeply – emerges. 

The performances of Bryant and Jorgensen are of a uniformly high standard; risks are taken and, as mentioned above, the musical colours are vibrant. The early pianos also remind us of the percussive nature of the instrument and give a picture of what Beethoven was seeking with his articulation and dynamic markings. Many thanks to these two fine musicians for a thoughtful and musically satisfying recording.

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05 Ozawa BeethovenBeethoven 7; Leonore 3
Saito Kinen Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa
Decca Records (ozawa-festival.com/en/news/2020/07/30/130000)

How wonderful that there is still a Seiji Ozawa! In celebration of the great conductor’s 85th birthday, here is a live recording of two favourites from the Beethoven shelf: the symphonic-sounding Ouverture to Leonore No.3, Op.72, and Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op.92

Wagner described this symphony as “the apotheosis of the dance.” (The question of what Wagner might have known about dance is for another time and place.) Having seen Ozawa rehearse the Vienna Philharmonic, I can think of no more fitting piece for a celebration of his own style of leading. He literally looked like he was dancing the cues, his entire body conducting. That was almost two decades past, but I hope this very senior, venerable citizen can still cut a rug.

This is a keepsake as much as a recording, certainly for thousands of Ozawa partisans. It was taken from a live performance, featuring the Saito Kinen Orchestra, a band who form once yearly in honour of their teacher Hideo Saito, co-founder of the Toho Gakuen School of Music. Naturally, then, one might not look so much for perfect ensemble unity, and more for enthusiasm and excellence on the particular level. While rhythmic and phrasing unity is certainly fine, and enthusiastic dynamics pervade, there’s a heavy feeling to the skipping rhythmic motif that should lift the first movement to terpsichorean apotheosis. I sense the age in the arms of this ageless master. A bit sad, but still a keeper. You can’t hear the marche funèbre second movement without thinking of inevitability. The tread slows slightly with each new iteration; is this mourning in advance? Not yet! The heaviness disperses in the second theme, the clouds part, the tread becomes a heartbeat.

Great playing throughout. Not such great recording values: live performance, whaddayagonnado?

Schubert: The Power of Fate06 Gaudet Schubert 3
Mathieu Gaudet
Analekta AN 2 9183 (analekta.com/en)

What simple, unexpected gifts we receive from the hands of Mathieu Gaudet. In May of 2020, this writer reviewed Gaudet’s disc, Late Inspirations, the second installment in a broad Schubert project from Analekta. Then in June, Gaudet went back into the studio to record two sonatas by his indelible muse, his wonderful counsellor, Franz Schubert. Dubbed “a lifelong vocation for Gaudet,” the music of Schubert yet radiates evergreen melody and benevolent light on this third record in the cycle. Themed The Power of Fate, Gaudet’s newest release features the little-known Sonata No.7 in E-flat Major, D568 and the seminal and nearly balladic Sonata No.25 in A Minor, D845.

Right from the first, open-hearted phrase of the E-flat Major, Gaudet warmly arrays us in a universe rich and rare. Herein, Schubertian laws of musical physics reign supreme and such unlikely sonatas as this are realized, beguilingly, with warty oddities explained and youthful charms celebrated. How marvellous that, even today, corners of the keyboard repertoire remain unfamiliar. Gratefully, Gaudet unearths gem upon gentle gem for our benefit.

The second work on the record opens a portal onto a shrouded musical garden, darkly glistening from a different sphere. The characterization of every last note is vividly, patiently considered by Gaudet as he soars yet loftier heights with the making of each new Schubert disc. I am reminded of Leon Fleisher – an important mentor of Gaudet’s – who once described this sonata’s second movement as “the fluttering of a songbird’s wings in flight.”

07 Karen Kei Nagano SchubertReincarnation – Schubert; Messiaen
Karin Kei Nagano
Analekta AN 2 8778 (analekta.com/en)

Musical programming can often be summarized as either contrasting or complementary, using the similarities and differences between two pieces to serve a specific purpose as outlined by the performer. Nagano’s Reincarnation attempts to do both simultaneously, drawing conceptual connections between Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major, D960 and Messiaen’s Première communion de la Vierge while clearly contrasting these disparate works from different times and places.

Schubert’s Sonata is a late masterwork, one of three large-scale sonatas written in the final year of his life. These sonatas were composed simultaneously, beginning with initial drafts in the spring of 1828 and concluding with final revisions in September, just two months before Schubert’s death; they share a number of musical similarities in both style and substance that continue to inspire and engage performers and listeners alike. Nagano successfully captures the spirit of this work that, far from being a self-obsessed elegy dwelling on the composer’s imminent demise, is primarily a calm, graceful and optimistic survey of early Romantic pianistic skill.

Over a century after Schubert’s death, Olivier Messiaen was finding new ways of expressing his deep Catholic devotion through stylistic syntheses, using modes and rhythms that could be transposed, used in retrograde, and combined in a unique and immediately identifiable musical language. Written in 1944, Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus is one of Messiaen’s most intense and spiritual scores, expressing and conveying the various contemplations of the child Jesus in the crib from the Father, the Church and the Spirit, among others. Première communion de la Vierge (The Virgin’s first communion) is, much like the Schubert Sonata, a calm reflection interspersed with moments of joy and exaltation, including an ecstatic middle section with pulsing rhythms and fleeting gestures.

Nagano’s Reincarnation is an exploration of deep profundity disguised in highly appealing, refined compositions. This is music with many layers, and the opportunity for listeners to continue to revisit and explore these works, drawing new discoveries and experiences each time, is one that should not be missed.

08 Bach chez MendelssohnBach at the Mendelssohns
Mika Putterman; Jory Vinikour
Analekta AN 2 9532 (analekta.com/en)

Historical flute specialist and music-history researcher Mika Putterman has investigated the musical life and culture of late-18th and early-to-mid-19th-century Berlin and the Mendelssohn family. Her research informs this recording, a re-creation so to speak of a musical soirée at the home of Sarah Levy, Felix Mendelssohn’s great-aunt.

According to the liner notes, “when 19th-century musicians performed Baroque music, they paid little attention to what performance practice norms of the Baroque period might have been and instead used the expressive devices of their day.” Her stated intention in this recording is to explore “new territory, envisioning how the Romantics would have played Bach.” 

The result is a kind of hybrid interpretation of three of the flute sonatas traditionally attributed to J.S. Bach, combining much that sounds like contemporary historically informed Baroque interpretation with moments of Sturm und Drang and others of heart-on-sleeve Romanticism. With the very able collaboration of fortepianist Jory Vinikour, she has put together an altogether convincing performance.

The cornerstone of the whole production is Putterman’s transcription of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F Minor, Op.4, in which the performance practices of the early 19th century make total sense. The extension of these practices into the flute sonatas, odd as it sounds on first listening, actually works! So, kudos to Putterman and Vinikour for opening at least my ears, and hopefully many others, to what might have been the sensibility of a long-lost time.

09 Aliya TuretayevaRomantic Fantasies
Aliya Turetayeva
KNS Classical KNS A/090 (aliyaturetayeva.com)

Schumann was the quintessential Romantic composer – a dreamer and idealist who particularly excelled at short forms such as art songs and piano pieces. Yet his symphonies and larger piano works attest to his proficiency with more extended compositions. This disc, with the young Kazakhstan-born pianist Aliya Turetayeva, portrays Schumann as both miniaturist and as a composer of larger canvases, presenting two of the most renowned pieces of the Romantic period repertoire, the Sonata in G Minor Op.22 and Kreisleriana Op.16.

The piano sonata – his last contribution to the form – was composed between 1830 and 1838 and has long been known for its technical demands. From the outset, it’s clear that Turetayeva is in full command of this daunting repertoire, but in no way is this empty bravura. The first movement is marked So Rasch wie möglich (“as fast as possible”) and while her tempo is brisk, it’s never frenetic, her phrasing carefully articulated. The second-movement Andantino is suitably lyrical and the fourth-movement Rondo: Presto demonstrates a bold confidence.

Schumann’s set Kreisleriana was written in 1838 but thoroughly revised a dozen years later. Inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann, it comprises eight highly contrasting movements. Turetayeva approaches the score with the same thoughtful intelligence, convincingly addressing the various moods throughout, from the gentleness of the fourth movement (Sehr langsam) to the agitated energy of No.7 (Sehr rasch). 

The gently rollicking finale, with its slight sense of the macabre, is never easy to bring off – but Turetayeva handles it adroitly, thus bringing the set, and the disc, to a most satisfying conclusion.

This young artist is on the brink of great success and here’s hoping we’ll hear more from her in the near future.

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10 Brahms RosenbaumBrahms – The Last Piano Pieces, Opp. 117, 118, 119
Victor Rosenbaum
Bridge Records 9545 (bridgerecords.com)

Often, there is a fetishization of the young in music. The prodigy, perhaps particularly so on the piano, presents a familiar trope in the literature of musical biographies, record reviews and concert journalism. It is, of course, easy to see why this is the case. Music performed at the high level of excellence and dedication to craft that classical audiences have grown to expect, takes time... often a lifetime of study. And when someone is stationed at the beginning of their career, rather than the end, the results can be all the more astounding. That said, as artists age, there often comes a sheen of introspective reflection (usually described as musical maturity) to their playing and composing that, while perhaps not as attention-grabbing as their earlier and more precocious work, can be soul-enriching for the attenuated listener. 

Such is the case here on Victor Rosenbaum’s wonderful new Bridge Records recording, Brahms: The Last Piano Pieces Opp. 117, 118, 119, where the acclaimed American pianist and educator mines, with aplomb, the expressive depths of the final pieces written for his own instrument by old man Brahms. The music is typical Brahms, filled with wonderful lyricism of course, but offering a career bookending meditative counterpoint to, say, the virtuosity of his Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 composed some 35 years earlier. Wonderfully recorded and played with tremendous attention to the subtle details of the work, Rosenbaum simply adds here to his fine reputation as a masterful pianist and interpreter. Even his reading of Opus 118: No. 3, Ballade: Allegro energico, which, as the title suggests, opens with an energetic G-minor clarion call, is handled with appropriate care and does not devolve into grandstanding. Instead, Rosenbaum plays up to the detailed richness of the German composer’s original intentions. As Rosenbaum writes in his self-penned and illuminating liner notes, “he [Brahms] is drawing our attention not to speed but to vigor.” An excellent recording to start 2021!

11 Mariss JansonsMariss Jansons – His Last Concert Live at Carnegie Hall
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
BR Klassik BRK900192 (naxosdirect.com/search/brk900192)

A great loss to the music world, one of the top conductors of our time, a great musical mind and a wonderful human being, Mariss Jansons passed away in December 2019. This concert was his last, November 8 of that year, a recording he regretfully will never hear. 

Jansons, as a baby and being Jewish, was smuggled out of Latvia to the Soviet Union to escape the Nazis: he grew up studying under the legendary Mravinsky in Leningrad and was discovered later by Karajan who invited him to Berlin.

I was lucky to have seen him conduct here in Toronto at Roy Thomson Hall. He did Mahler’s Second Symphony, commanding the vast forces of the TSO and the Mendelssohn Choir to a standing ovation. In the last 16 years he was chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony which he honed to perfection, a world-class ensemble as witnessed by this recording.

Music of Richard Strauss, Four Interludes from the opera Intermezzo, pieces of extraordinary bravura, provide a rousing start and show off the virtuosity of the orchestra. The music is full of spirit and beautifully melodic with a waltz sequence that rivals Der Rosenkavalier, but the harmonies and orchestration are far more adventurous.

What follows is a wonderful, idiomatic and highly personal reading of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. I must admit I’ve never heard it played as beautifully, Carlos Kleiber notwithstanding. From the soft, undulating haupttheme of the first movement through the second movement of pure beauty and the rambunctious, boisterous Scherzo (the first and only real scherzo Brahms ever wrote in a symphony) we arrive at the monumental, unorthodox Passacaglia with 30 variations on an eight-note ground bass, and a standing ovation. Then the encore, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5, the famous one, played with great gusto ends the concert. A recording to treasure.

01 Jeffrey RyanJeffrey Ryan – My Soul Upon My Lips
Various Artists
Redshift Records TK469 (redshiftrecords.org)

A labour of love by Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan, My Soul Upon My Lips is a collection of music for solo woodwinds ten years in the making. Two larger works with piano bookend eight short solo pieces for a full complement of instruments from the woodwind family. Ryan captures the essence of each instrument with the use of a variety of 20th-century techniques to masterfully explore a range of colours and emotion. Aside from the use of the usual winds from an orchestra, Ryan also employs the tárogató and the alto saxophone, adding a unique timbre not often showcased in classical music, making this albums’ repertory approach uniquely his own.

In close collaboration with individual performers, each piece has been tailored to play to the strength of their instrument and highlight its spectrum of possibility – ingeniously invoking feelings from haunting to celestial and everything in between. My Soul Upon My Lips is an emotionally inspirational collection of character pieces that gives first place in title to no one instrument, uniting all in a stylish reformation of 20th century form in a 21st-century embodiment. 

With a starry lineup of instruments and Ryan’s soaring imagination, these pieces are a welcome addition to any artist’s repertoire and would prove to be an engaging and exhilarating selection for a recital.

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Jan Järvlepp – Concerto 2000 and other works
Pascale Margely; Janáček Philharmonic; Zagreb Festival; Moravian Philharmonic
Navona Records nv6291
(navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6291)

Jan Järvlepp – Flights of Fancy: Chamber Works
Various Artists
Navona Records nv6323
(navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6323)

02a Jarvlepp 2000It is a pleasure to review two retrospective discs of music by Ottawa-based composer Jan Järvlepp (b.1953). Growing up, he played classical cello, popular music on several instruments and studied composition, then turned in a post-modern direction – incorporating influences from pop, jazz and Hispanic, Arab or Nordic folk styles. The disc Concerto 2000 includes orchestral music from the last 30 years while Flights of Fancy contains chamber music composed and recorded in the 1990s. Three orchestras, mostly Czech, were recorded for the former between 2017 and 2019. I am especially impressed by the title work, with outstanding flute soloist Pascale Margely. Each movement is characterized by a folk style: Caliente! with exciting flamenco rhythm, wood instruments and hand clapping is appealing; the atmospheric Nocturne, which evokes Arabic singing, is a deep, increasingly complex and tragic work. In Memoriam (2016) is a processional work for strings that I found solemn and dignified. Camerata Music (1989) is a highly successful minimalist composition, with a pentatonic string ostinato soon doubled at the fifth by a flute. This is an example of the pervasive parallelism that is a fingerprint of Järvlepp’s music. Here it produces interesting harmonies and occasional clashes with increasingly divergent motifs and phrases above, as the ostinato breaks up. Other instruments are added and the work builds well. The other tracks are more pop-influenced, including the recent Brass Dance (2018) in which parallelism applies to diminished chords and train-horn sounds. But though they are entertaining, for me the pop elements sound familiar and somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

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02b Jarvlepp Flights of FancyFlights of Fancy: Chamber Works is the other current release. It opens brilliantly with Pierrot Solaire (1994), an extended tour de force that is clearly pop in derivation, but with substantial smooth and contrasting interludes led by the violin. Later, there is cross-cutting between shorter music segments, and towards the end instruments become frenetic virtuosos. A three-movement Saxophone Quartet (1996) is played by the excellent ensemble, Saxart. The opening movement, Cadillac, is a perpetual motion piece, blues-evoking and witty with virtuosic solo turns by each saxophone for contrast. Space does not allow for every work on this disc, but we must note that the versatile composer has played with and composed for many musicians in the Ottawa area, establishing lasting connections. He appears as electric guitarist on Tarantella (1996) and as cellist on Trio No.2 (1997). In the latter, flutist Margely and violist Kevin James join with Järvlepp in a piece whose opening movement achieves unique and beguiling combinations involving string harmonics. Another aspect of these chamber pieces is the composer’s adeptness with instrumentation for many different instruments, something that has facilitated his orchestral composing. In fact, though the chamber works are earlier than the orchestral ones, these two CD’s belong together – the working out of a long and productive compositional practice.

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03 Taylor BrookApperceptions
Taylor Brook
Independent (taylorbrook.info)

Canadian-born, US-based guitarist/improviser/composer/lecturer and computer programming whiz, Taylor Brook, performs with a new “improvising colleague” in his self-described “music for human improviser with computer improviser.” He designed audio-corpus-based AI computer software which listened, analyzed and then improvised music to Brook’s preceding new music guitar improvisations.  

Brook tuned his solo electric guitar in a different just intonation tuning on each of the ten tracks. My skepticism vanished immediately as the slow reflective Track 1 E opens with held-note guitar string ringing being matched by the subsequent computer colours which develop into more dissonant intervals alternating with occasional guitar strums. Quiet, calming breaks, contrasting atonalities and surprising dynamic “duo” swells lead to a guitar and computer-generated blended final fade.  

Track 4 F#’s longer, faster guitar melody opening “inspires” ringing computer high tones matching the guitar’s lines which gradually unite to build musical tension. Attention grabbing guitar strums and repeated notes with computer echo ideas in the lower pitched intense Track 5 A+51 which are expanded with cymbal-like computer ringing in Track 6 Interlude

Track 8 G# is a welcome gentler contrast to the other tracks, as Brook’s virtuosic opening guitar playing is answered by high computer single notes and chordal rings. More guitar fun in Track 9 A as computer plucks match the real guitar ones!

As a free improviser myself, I am amazed at Brook’s fantastic creation of a computer program to interact with his live guitar improvisations. Looking forward to future duets expanding on these contemporary sounds.

04 Mirror Lysander Triomirrors – 21st Century American Piano Trios
Lysander Piano Trio
First Hand Records FHR11 (lysandertrio.com)

The formidable Lysander Piano Trio celebrates its ten-year anniversary with an attractive new disc, featuring music hot-off-the-press by living American composers. The trio is fervently committed to new music and to the commissioning thereof: no less than six world-premiere recordings populate this disc.

Ne’er to shy away from muscular playing and athletic feats of prowess, the members of Lysander crack on through these works (generally having been constructed with their triply impressive strengths in mind). The composers represented here do seem to ensure a freshness of concept, sometimes sojourning in new directions. Thankfully, the result is a 21st-century deliverance of the genre from the shackles of a 19th-century canon.

The extra musical inspiration throughout the record is notable. Reinaldo Moya’s Ghostwritten Variations has been inspired by four novels that highlight composers as protagonists, namely those of Thomas Mann, David Mitchell, Richard Powers and Kim Stanley Robinson. Moya’s piece offers a reimagining of what music by these four might sound like – a compelling conceit. The Black Mirror by Jakub Ciupinski turns to the visual arts for incentive, referencing a portable painting aid, curiously known as a “Claude glass.”  And Sofia Belimova’s brief, Titania and Her Suite, reaches our eyes by way of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Without doubt, a highlight of this release is Love Sweet by Jennifer Higdon, as sung by Sarah Shafer. The young soprano’s narrative abilities and refined vocal colour bring the new, five-song cycle to life.

05 Wang LuWang Lu – An Atlas of Time
Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Momenta Quartet; Ryan Muncy; Daniel Lippel; Miranda Cuckson
New Focus Recordings FCR277 (newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue)

Chinese-American composer Wang Lu’s works excite like a case of sudden-onset-fireworks display. Frenetic bombast prevails amid haunting breath-like interjections that induce enjoyable sonic nightmares of a welcome kind. This whirlwind of activity is ever-present throughout the composer’s latest release titled An Atlas of Time – a disc with recent orchestral and chamber compositions. 

The title track, performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, is modernist excitement at its finest. Set in five character pieces, this is the gem of the disc and provides compelling landscapes and novel environments for the ear. Another exemplary selection of the release is the solo violin work Unbreathable Colours, performed by Miranda Cuckson. This piece is Wang’s artistic response to the unrelenting smog encountered on a recent visit to China – her native land. The hesitant, yet sharp, plucks and swells in this work truly provoke a suffocating listening experience – one that brilliantly paints a simultaneously eerie and beautiful musical haze. 

Each piece on this release is an example of why Wang is one of the most original voices in contemporary classical composition, and each track unfolds with some of the most organic and strikingly enjoyable pacing in recent memory – I’ll be listening many more times!

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