More so than just about any other horn, the trumpet’s engineering makes it difficult to imagine as an unaccompanied solo instrument. Unlike woodwinds’ many keys, brass players have to make do with three valves, a mouthpiece and curved tubing. Yet increasingly in recent years, adventurous trumpeters have overcome these constraints to create notable sounds.

01 All the RiversDivergent players utilize various strategies to do so. Take Susana Santos Silva for instance. During the 42-minute piece that is All The Rivers (Clean Feed CF 458 CD cleanfeed-records.com), the Portuguese trumpeter not only adds textures from bells and a tin whistle to augment her brass tones, but uses the arched spaces and marble detailing of Lisbon’s Panteão Nacional to add spatial properties to her improvisations. Tentatively testing the space with a column of pure air, she soon expands her exposition with rubato growls, which echo back in the form of heraldic grace notes. Adding to the mesmerizing narrative, tinkling bells underscore sputters and bugle-like bites; then, midpoint, half-valve effects signal a detour into melodic melancholy characterized by antiphonal extensions of each rounded tone. Turning more upfront, as brassy patterns and their playful extensions sound over and over, Silva eventually expands the narrow peeps and brief chiming into an assemblage of dyspeptic snarls and resulting vibrations which define her journey while referring back to the introduction. When the climax is followed by protracted applause, you realize that an enthralled audience has been listening in rapt silence throughout.

02 ChimericAnother improviser who assuages brass singularity is Chicago’s Rob Mazurek, who on Chimeric Stoned Horn (Astral Spirits MF154/AS054 robmazurek.bandcamp.com) processes timbres from his piccolo trumpet and voice through a modular synthesizer and sampler. Created in tandem with an exhibition of Mazurek’s 3D lithographs, the 16 brief tracks don’t accompany the visuals, but amplify the artist’s ideas in an allied medium. Almost totally abstract from the start of the first track, Arrival from a Distance, Mazurek teases the brass instrument’s definition, by not only ringing bells and murmuring under his breath but constantly distorting the alternately sweet and sour textures with blurry processing. As sequences run into one another almost without pause, scratchy, intermittent buzzes as well as playful trumpet spurts, often with multi-part harmonies created by live sampling, judder every which way. By the time the midpoint Hollers Charged is reached, with its collection of heraldic and echoing tones that resembles guitar flanges, the preceding tracks have introduced unique palindromes ranging from stentorian blasts to echoing wisps. A similar assembly line of undulating mechanized drones moves almost without pause through the remainder of the suite until half-valve effects and triplet trills on Planets Lower Crust finally assert a rugged rhythm from the horn. Like two parts of an equation drawing together for a solution, on the penultimate three tracks the rumbles and drones from granular synthesis move closer to intermittent trumpet variations, so that by the final Swarm Hands, an interlude of through-the-horn humming plus intermittent bell ringing sets up a shamanistic and sophisticated conclusion.

03 FullMoonCheating slightly, Alberta-born, Brooklyn-based Stephanie Richards’ nine trumpet tracks inspired by moon phases on Fullmoon (Relative Pitch RPR 1066 relativepitchrecords.com) are given added verisimilitude by her own percussion playing and live sampling from a second musician: Dino J.A. Deane. Still, by treating the trumpet as both a brass instrument and a sound source, Richards’ improvisations are the dominant force here. Stripping her tone to its core, she determines the rhythmic and thematic essence of the suite by contrasting brass peeps and puffs plus percussion rebounds, as Deane’s machine simultaneously reconstitutes her original sounds. As the sequences move from the introductory New Moon to the final Full Moon (Part II), the most sympathetic and unique timbres are heard in the middle phases. That’s because the first track depends on low, then higher pitches that emphasize the brassy part of the horn’s output and are paced by Deane’s jiggling flanges. In contrast, the concluding lunar phase is notable not only for a multiphonic narrative elaboration, but also because the torqued air and grace-note puffs during the finale confirm the lead instrument’s brassy identity. Earlier on, the waxing of the cycle brings forth hefty puffs and pants which, aided by sampled oscillations, appear to accompany themselves with multiple asides that are simultaneously rough and smooth. Eventually passing through the two parts of Gong, resonations as muted airs are distorted with granular synthesis as the narrative toughens, so that the waning phases suggest bull elephant-like trumpeting. In truth, the piece climaxes during the penultimate Full Moon (Part I). As Deane’s crashing oscillations create sonic peaks and valleys on the lunar surface, Richards’ integration of dirty growls and ethereal puffs create an impressionistic tour-de-force that not only balances Deane’s electronics judders, but also cunningly relates back to the introductory lunar phase.

04 QuadrantsUnadorned solo trumpet playing can be spectacular as well, as Baltimore’s Dave Ballou proves on Quadrants for Solo Trumpet (pfMentum CD 113 pfmentum.com). Dividing his one-hour suite into four equally timed tracks named for the points of a compass, Ballou uses a particular pitch set as connective thread to turn technical virtuosity into continuity. Variety is provided as he moves without pause among trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn and an assortment of mutes. Sticking to hourglass-timed limits, the most surprising exposition occurs on South, the third quadrant. The preceding North and East tracks are awash with Morse-code-like brass spurts: abstract open-horn sound bursts, sour tones and wavering growls on the first; whiny puffs, unexpected hocketing phrases, fortissimo blasts and legions of tone patterns expressed in tremolo variations on the second. Putting aside bent notes and grating breath-draining blasts, Ballou on South expands on the few moments of melody in earlier tracks to create a beguiling line. Before capillary dissonance is introduced at the halfway point, Miles Davis’ mellow soloing on Sketches of Spain or a variant on Ol’ Man River is suggested. Maintaining the mood, Ballou speeds up the tempo in a variety of keys and pitches to adumbrate a second trumpet’s timbres as the underlying theme diminishes to moderato and finally to a breathy ending. With the praxis defined, West becomes the session’s coda, as Ballou summarizes the preceding sequences by alternating among spittle-encrusted skyward blasts, guttural growls and whimpering puffs. Precisely knitting chromatic runs and capillary trills, the resulting sound reflects both the session’s abstract explorations and balladic affirmation.

05 RefectionsA trumpeter who artfully illuminates the balladic, as well the boisterous underpinnings of unaccompanied brass creation, is Connecticut’s Wadada Leo Smith, who has released solo records since 1971. Distinctive, Reflections and Meditations on Monk (Tum CD 053 tumrecords.com) is notable because he assays four Thelonious Monk tunes with an equal number of his own compositions. Playing the more familiar material here doesn’t make the set conventional, though. While lines such as Ruby My Dear and the inevitable ‘Round Midnight are given respectful readings, with hesitant pacing and dissonant smears, Smith’s refined delicacy on Crepuscule with Nellie – which Monk wrote when his wife was undergoing surgery – implies tenderness, as the trumpeter chromatically builds up the narrative to reach the instrument’s highest pitches without distress, then smears the performance back to relaxed pacing for the finale. More crucially, Smith’s own Reflections manages to honour the pianist/composer without sounding anything like Monk’s work. The slyly titled Monk and Bud Powell at Shea StadiumA Mystery is the apex. Eschewing baseball and bop clichés despite the two obvious references, the trumpeter slyly starts breaking up the horizontal exposition into short bursts of vibrating and extended grace notes without strain, including note-flurry details to maintain motion. Eventually, the stretched-to-its-limits sequence turns whispery, but not wimpy, as Smith’s capillary slur gradually runs out of air.

Deep thoughts and even more profound playing ability went into each of these sessions. On its own, each proves that following an unaccompanied trumpet recital for a protracted period can be as fascinating as listening to any quality sounds. 

01 LarrochaMusic lovers may recognize the name of pianist Alicia de Larrocha and those who do might recall that she was a prime proponent of the music of Spanish composers such as Manuel de Falla, Rodrigo, Albéniz, Granados, etc. However, as we knew back then, she had a much more extensive repertoire, confirmed by Alicia de Larrocha, Complete Decca Recordings (Decca 4834120, 41 CDs deccaclassics.com/en/cat/4834120). This set presents it all, even adding the recordings for Hispavox, S.A. and her first recordings for American Decca in 1953-55 in New York City.

Alicia de Larrocha y de la Calle was born on May 23, 1923 in Barcelona. Both her parents were pianists and she was also the niece of pianists. She began studying with Frank Marshall when she was three and gave her first public performance at the age of five at the International Exposition in Barcelona. The following year she appeared at the World’s Fair in Seville and later made her orchestral debut at the age of 11. By 1943, her performances were selling out in Spain and she toured internationally in 1947. In 1950, three years after her first concert outside of Spain, she performed the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos with Poulenc at the second piano. The conductor was Carlos Surinach. In that same year she married her regular piano partner Juan Torro, who had been a fellow student of Marshall. In 1954 she toured with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 1969, de Larrocha performed in Boston for the Peabody Mason Concert Series. By 1966 she had already engaged in a first strenuous tour of Southern Africa, which proved so wildly popular that three further tours were undertaken. She enjoyed early encouragement from Alfred Cortot, Claudio Arrau and from her lifelong friend Arthur Rubinstein. She was considered one of the great piano legends of the 20th century. Reuters called her “the greatest Spanish pianist in history.” Time addressed her as “one of the world’s most outstanding pianists” and The Guardian declared that she was “the leading Spanish pianist of her time.” She won multiple Grammy Awards, a Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts and in 1995 she became the first Spanish artist to win the UNESCO Prize. Quoting from the enclosed booklet, “In the second half of the 20th century, if you wanted to witness a Who’s Who of New York City-based keyboard luminaries gathered in one place, you simply had to purchase a ticket for an Alicia de Larrocha recital.” De Larrocha retired from public performances in October 2003 and died in Barcelona on September 25, 2009.

Browsing through this box, wherein the discs are sturdily individually sleeved in reductions of the original LP covers, there were a few old friends but some were new to me. The 24 Preludes of Chopin are more than familiar and, as de Larrocha’s was new to me, that was the first dip into the set. Listening to her was a far different experience from other versions at hand, Pollini, Argerich and Ashkenazy. Alongside de Larrocha’s their readings now sound mostly facile. Music is a performer’s art and the score is a starting point, not the end. It is clear that de Larrocha sees the score this way and she passes on to an audience what the notes tell her.

There are three interesting Schumann discs, including two performances of both Carnaval (1978 and 1987) and the Allegro in B Minor, Op.8 (1971 and 1987). Also the Fantasie in C major, Op.17, Kreisleriana and four others, including the A Minor Concerto, Op.54 with the Royal Philharmonic under Dutoit. Listening to discs picked out at random have provided hours of hearing familiar and some unfamiliar repertoire in these treasured performances, including concertos and/or solo works by Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Bach, Franck, Ravel, Debussy, Fauré, Mendelssohn, Grieg, Chopin, Khachaturian, Liszt, Handel, Scarlatti and Tchaikovsky. Making this collection unique and doubly exciting are the compositions by her countrymen, performances and recordings that are authoritative for sure and may reasonably be regarded as yardsticks. Here are their family names: Surinach, Halffter, Nin-Culmell, Mompou, Montsalvatge, de Falla, Soler, Albéniz, Turina, Granados and Esplá.

Of all the big boxed collections issued for one reason or another, this one has the best reason to exist. It certainly will ensure the greatest return on investment.

02 MozartA recent addition to the reissue of important CDs on Blu-ray audio is the Karl Bohm/Berlin Philharmonic set, Mozart – The Symphonies (Deutsche Grammophon 4835174, ten CDs, one Blu-Ray disc deutschegrammophon.com/en/cat/4776134). The original recording sessions were in the legendary Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Dahlem, Berlin between 1959 and 1969 and issued as the Mozart 46 Symphonies. The extra five symphonies over the recognized 41 were works contemporary with the earlier numbered ones but not published as symphonies. The ten CDs in the new set are identical to the earlier issue. The Blu-ray is simply perfect! The performances are proven, the instruments are placed right where they should be, dynamics are right and the more convincing illusion draws one into the occasion. And they’re on one perfect disc… all 46!

03 OlevskyJulian Olevsky was one of the finest violinists of the 20th century. He was born in Berlin in 1926. His family fled the Nazis and moved to Argentina, where at age 12 he debuted with orchestra as guest soloist under the direction of Fritz Busch. Following a series of recitals and orchestral appearances throughout South America, in 1947 he immigrated to the United States, making his debut in Town Hall in New York to great success. In the 1950s and 60s he toured in many of the world music centres and appeared with many of the world’s finest orchestras. Doremi has issued Volume 5 of their continuing series of Olevsky recordings (DHR-8054/5 doremi.com, 2 CDs) containing all the violin concertos that Olevsky recorded: Mendelssohn, Bruch, Wieniawski, Brahms and Lalo. The original issue of the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole had only four of the five movements. The third movement, Intermezzo, was omitted as was the practice in those days, even with Huberman, Heifetz, Elman, Francescatti and Milstein. However, in the Olevsky, Westminster recorded it and didn’t use it but gave Olevsky a copy. Doremi has a copy and is able to release the complete five-movement work. Evident throughout these recordings is his silky, warm sound, a strong personality and a refined style. The sound of these Westminster stereo recordings is lifelike but dated.

04 ErlihIf you are one who appreciates absolutely impeccable playing and artistry from a violinist, you simply must hear the late French violinist Devy Erlih playing Bach Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin in a very rare Adès recording from 1969. Erlih was born in Paris to Bessarabian-Jewish immigrants. By his tenth birthday he was already a member of the folk orchestra in a French brasserie run by his parents. His father was a folk musician who played the cimbalom and pan pipes. Devy’s playing would reflect, of course, his strong Slavic roots but tempered by a French refined elegance. Initially he played by ear but he went on to win the Long-Thibaud competition in 1955 in addition to the coveted Paris Conservatoire Premier Prix. He toured throughout Europe, America and Japan. He was killed in a road accident in Paris on February 7, 2012. Volume One of a proposed Devy Erlih series contains those unparalleled Bach performances on Adès in immaculate transfers that immediately captivate the listener through to the very last note (Doremi DHR 8061 doremi.com).

epbannerThe WholeNote EP Review will be a new online series dedicated to the celebration of the EP, a release format that has seen an increased presence in the creative music community over the past few years. For myriad reasons – logistical, financial, artistic – EP production is booming, and we’d like to pay this welcome trend the attention it deserves.

In Volume 1 of The WholeNote EP Review, we take a look at two local projects: vocalist/composer Mingjia Chen’s recent release Feel Seen, and bassist/composer Mark Godfrey’s upcoming EP, Prologue.

(For details on what this series will cover, and how to submit an EP for consideration for review, read an introduction to this project here.)

Feel SeenFeel Seen - Mingjia Chen

Feel Seen, the debut EP from vocalist/composer Mingjia Chen, is a brief marvel, both for its technical sophistication and for its expansive, cinematic mood. Accompanying Chen on this EP is the Tortoise Orchestra, a thirteen-piece chamber ensemble that she leads (and which is conducted, for this session, by Tom Upjohn). Feel Seen draws strongly on a creative chamber tradition that limns the border of jazz and classical music, and which has been a significant part of the Toronto improvised/creative music scene since the early 2000s; fans of the work of Andrew Downing, or of Christine Duncan (with whom Chen has studied) will recognize some familiar influences. What makes Feel Seen so satisfying, however, is the way in which Chen is able to synthesize these influences into a unique, modern style.

“I had a mouth once,” the first track on Feel Seen, begins with an urgent, lush rubato section that rises to a dramatic climax before the pulse kicks in. Chen, whose voice is tracked multiple times in complementary layers that are panned throughout the mix, tends to favour a frank, unaffected delivery that allows melodic content to shine. This is not to say, however, that it lacks colour; Chen has excellent dynamic control, both as a singer and composer. “Floatwalking,” the EP’s second track, celebrates the excitement of adventurous travel, and, fittingly, begins with a melody whistled in unison with the piano. With overtones of Aaron Copland, “Floatwalking” alternates between sections of 11/4 and 5/4, with percussive, pizzicato strings providing a rolling moment throughout the arrangement. “Friends,” the third track, features over 20 distinct voices speaking in monologue about love and friendship; the piece is assembled as something of a collage, with short snippets of each vocal recording overlaid on top of one another. “Friend,” the fourth (and final) track, begins simply, with Chen accompanied by solo piano before other instruments gradually creep in. “Friend” is close to double the length of any other track on Feel Seen, and Chen uses the space to great effect, patiently yoking together rich orchestration and evocative lyrical narrative.

Feel Seen would be a noteworthy achievement in the career of any musician, but as a debut release it is remarkable. Beautiful, mature and exceptionally coherent, it is well worth the listen.

Feel Seen was released on August 23, 2018. Check it out and purchase it at the following link: http://mingjia.bandcamp.com. Learn more about Mingjia Chen at www.mingjiamusic.com.

ProloguePrologue – Mark Godfrey

Bassist/composer Mark Godfrey has been a fixture on the Toronto jazz scene as a sideperson for the better part of ten years. A regular performer with Barbra Lica, Teri Parker, Joanna Majoko, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and a host of other artists, he was awarded the Grand Prix de Jazz at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2014 as part of the co-led group Pram Trio. To those familiar with his credentials, it may come as something of a surprise that Prologue – a new EP featuring the talents of alto saxophonist Allison Au, pianist Chris Pruden and drummer Nick Fraser – is Godfrey’s debut release as a leader. The wait, however, is worth it: on Prologue, Godfrey presents a clear vision of communicative, modern jazz, which privileges melodic inventiveness and group interplay during even the most fiery moments (of which there are plenty).

Prologue begins with the title track, a solo bass piece that functions as an intro of sorts to the second song, “Scott’s Garden (Let Us Not Tarry).” It speaks to the nature of Godfrey’s project that the “Prologue” (the track) is an understated, melodic affair that patiently builds in intensity, rather than an unrestrained technical showcase. In a similar fashion, Au begins her solo on “Scott’s Garden” in duet with Fraser, further establishing a mood of exploration and creativity that runs through all of the music on Prologue. “La Lucha” features a beautiful solo from Pruden that begins in a sparse, impressionistic style, before building to a climax with Godfrey and Fraser before the transition to Au’s solo. “Departure,” a swinging, 3/4 song, is as close to a standard as Prologue gets; equal parts Bill Evans and early-2000s Mark Turner, it is also a tidy encapsulation of Godfrey’s compositional influences.

Prologue is an accomplished, well-balanced EP, with confident, generous playing from Godfrey, Au, Pruden and Fraser. Melodically and texturally captivating from beat one, it is notable both for its compositional inventiveness and for the high level of musical execution from all involved.

Prologue will be released on September 28, 2018, with an EP Release Show at The Rex. When the time comes, check it out and purchase it at the following link: https://markgodfrey.bandcamp.com. In the meantime, learn more about Mark Godfrey at www.markgodfreybass.com.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter. For EP-related pitches, email him at epreview@thewholenote.com.

As August gives way to September, change is in the air: students prepare to go back to school; t-shirts and shorts are replaced by sweaters and jeans; the grim spectre of responsibility, kept at bay by sunshine and patios, fixes its unforgiving grimace on us all once again. Here at The WholeNote, however, a new light has been lit to help you negotiate the coming months of darkness: The WholeNote EP Review.

“But what,” you might ask, “is The WholeNote EP Review?”

The WholeNote EP Review will be a new online series dedicated to the celebration of the EP, a release format that has seen an increased presence in the creative music community over the past few years. For myriad reasons – logistical, financial, artistic – EP production is booming, and we’d like to pay this welcome trend the attention it deserves.

“I’m confused,” you say. “I thought The WholeNote already did reviews, both in print and online. How is this different?”

You’re correct: The WholeNote publishes reviews of full-length albums, both in print and online. If you are releasing an album, please contact David Olds at DISCoveries (discoveries@thewholenote.com) and submit it for review. If you are releasing an EP, however, please submit it to me here, at epreview@thewholenote.com. Please note that your EP must be available online, in one form or another, for fans to purchase and/or stream.

“But,” you say, “My next project, while not a full-length album, is also not quite an EP. It may be a series of videos, or one long suite, which I have titled ‘Marigold.’ Also, what exactly does ‘creative music’ mean? It sounds deliberately vague.”

You’re correct again: the term “creative music” is deliberately vague, but only because we wish to cast a wide net. If you are releasing an EP or similar project featuring jazz, contemporary/classical, improvised music, new music, vocal, instrumental, electronic, or, really, anything that exists slightly left of the Billboard Hot 100, please send it in. All submissions will be considered, although not all will be selected.

“Excellent,” you say, beaming. “I will send in my project right away. What format do you prefer?”

Generally, we’d like to have a listen in advance of your release – though recently released EPs are also worth submitting! A private streaming playlist (on SoundCloud, for instance) works best; download links (on DropBox or other file-sharing services) can also work, although streaming is preferred. When in doubt, just contact us.

“Great,” you exclaim, smiling. “I’m excited, both as a musical artist and as a reader of The WholeNote.”

Glad to hear it! So are we.

Please send all submissions/questions/comments to epreview@thewholenote.com.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

01 French Moments Trio NeaveFollowing their 2016 release American Moments, featuring music of Foote, Korngold and Bernstein, the Neave Trio returns with an enchanting new disc entitled French Moments – Fauré, Debussy, Roussel (Chandos CHAN 10996 chandos.net). Formed in 2010 the trio is comprised of a American violinist (Anna Williams), a Russian cellist (Mikhail Veselov) and a Japanese pianist (Eri Nakamura). Based in the United States, they are currently on faculty of the Longy School of Music of Bard College as Alumni Artists, Faculty Ensemble in Residence. French Moments features youthful works by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918) along with one of Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) final works. Roussel’s Trio, Op.2 opens the disc with a barely perceptible rocking motif, waves gently reaching the shore, and gradually grows and swells into rollicking melodies and dramatic chiaroscuro. It was composed in 1902 while Roussel was still a student at the Schola Cantorum.

The charming Piano Trio in G Major was composed in 1880, begun when Debussy was just 17. At the time he was travelling as tutor and accompanist with the family of Tchaikovsky’s patroness Nadezhda van Meck. In her correspondence with Tchaikovsky she mentions Debussy’s criticism of German music as being “too heavy and unclear.” Although the trio does not have the impressionist sensibility for which his music would later be known, it “bears out this preference for lightness and clarity.”

Fauré had retired from a lifetime of teaching at the Paris Conservatoire two years before he wrote his Trio in D Minor, Op.120 and at the time complained to his wife that “The trouble is that I can’t work for long at a time. My worst tribulation is a perpetual fatigue.” This is not evident in the music itself however, which is full of life. A somewhat melancholy opening quickly dissipates into rising melodies and gently soaring spirits within the minor key context. There are moments of turmoil along the way, but the trio ends joyously in a lively scherzo-like finale.

The Neave Trio is in fine form throughout, obviously thoroughly at home in this repertoire. It is easy to see why they continue to receive glowing praise wherever they perform. As part of its mission to “create new pathways for classical music and engage a wider audience,” the Neave Trio champions new works and frequently collaborates with artists of all mediums, participating in multiple award-winning productions with dance companies and filmmakers. Evidently “Neave” is a Gaelic name meaning “bright” and “radiant” – an apt moniker for this shining ensemble.

02 VC2The February 2018 issue of The WholeNote featured an intriguing cover showing two young men seemingly playing hockey with carbon fibre cellos, and an extended article about the cello duo VC2 comprised of Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt (vc2celloduo.com). Sara Constant’s interview with the pair included discussion of their project Beethoven’s Cellists, which has now borne fruit in the form of a compact disc of the same name. The premise is that Beethoven’s colleagues were responsible for a number of design innovations for both cello and bow that have had a lasting influence on the instrument. Of particular note was Bernhard Romberg, and the disc opens with VC2’s very effective transcription for two cellos of Romberg’s Sonata No.1 in E Minor, Op.38. But the meat of the project is a number of newly commissioned works funded by Shauna Rolston Shaw, based in some way on Beethoven’s own writing for cello. The works featured on this disc are by Canadian composers Andrew Downing, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Fjola Evans, Matt Brubeck and Hunter Coblentz, and draw respectively on Beethoven’s sonatas one through five. All of the composers are accomplished cellists and so the music is very idiomatic, but that’s about where the similarity ends. Each has a very different style and approach to the challenge and the offerings really do run the gamut. Very exciting and innovative additions to the cello repertoire performed with panache!

Listen to 'Beethoven's Cellists' Now in the Listening Room

03 MeitarI have often mentioned my connection with New Music Concerts and the fabulous opportunity it has provided for meeting internationally renowned composers and musicians. Last year our season began with the presentation of the Meitar Ensemble of Tel Aviv performing works of Israeli composers and of their French, now Canadian, composer-in-residence Philippe Leroux. Another composer who has an ongoing relationship with the ensemble is the Boston-born Amos Elkana, who grew up in Jerusalem before returning to the USA at the age of 20 for studies at Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory. He later studied in Paris before finishing an MFA at Bard College, NY. The album Tripp, which features chamber and solo works by Elkana performed by members of Meitar, has been released on Albany Records (TROY1718 amoselkana.com). Elkana’s music is, for the most part, abstract. For instance, the title piece is based on a series of numbers which is used as a fractal to generate the structure and the proportions within it, so that “the macro and micro levels have the same proportions. Exactly as it is in fractal geometry where zooming into a part of the whole reveals that it looks exactly like the whole. While searching for a title I googled the number series… and a zip code of a small town in South Dakota came up… Tripp.” None of this is evident to the listener, however, and we are presented with a challenging and contrasted work where each of the flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano and various combinations thereof are featured in turn.

This is followed by an intriguing work for solo violin and computer called Reflections. The computer, acting like a very sophisticated looping device, records the live violin performance and plays back and layers various segments at specified moments of the work through four speakers placed next to the performer on stage. The violin sounds are rarely processed and in most instances are hard to distinguish from the live performance. The effect is at times that of an ensemble of live violins playing in intricate counterpoint. It is very effectively achieved by Meitar violinist Yael Barolsky, to whom it is dedicated. The other works are for solo piano, solo clarinet, cello and electronics (recorded and processed spoken word), solo flute, and a minimalist celesta solo. An intriguing collection of smaller works by an internationally acclaimed composer whose orchestral scores have been performed by the Berlin, Israel, Slovak Radio and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestras, as well as the Warsaw Philharmonic.

I recently read an article about the return of vinyl records and their sensual appeal – the physical pleasure of removing the large disc from its sleeve, the visceral appeal of dropping the needle onto the colourful vinyl platter, the warmth of the analog sound – and more or less dismissed it out of hand. I still have a functioning turntable, and several thousand LPs taking up space in my basement (and several dozen in more or less regular rotation in my living room), but I am not averse to digital technology. I don’t miss the clicks and pops so prevalent on vinyl recordings and I appreciate the high-end clarity of compact discs, and the convenient size and packaging of CDs. I suppose I will eventually come around to the convenience of streaming and download technology, especially as space becomes even more of an issue in my modest house – it’s already near the threshold – but I still prefer the full spectrum response of my stereo system over anything that my computer speakers or ear-buds can reproduce. 

04 Jonas BonnettaThat being said, it actually was a pleasure to open a parcel recently from singer/songwriter Jonas Bonnetta, driving force behind the folk-rock band Evening Hymns, and find a limited edition white vinyl copy of his latest project, All This Here (jonasbonnetta.bandcamp.com). It is lush, quiet and gentle music, to my ear reminiscent of Brian Eno’s ambient compositions of the late 1970s of which I was quite fond. So when combined with the technology, the music provided quite a pleasant nostalgic mood. And I was surprised to find how I was drawn in by the expanse of white revolving on the turntable, and by the fact that there were, at least thus far, no distracting surface flaws. Parts of the music were originally composed for the film Strange and Familiar: Architecture of Fogo Island produced by Site Media and we find pieces with titles such as Deep Bay, Fogo, Island Harbour, Little Fogo and Joe Batt’s Arm. Bonnetta combines subtle field recordings with haunting instrumental lines performed by Anne Müller (cello) and Mika Posen (violin), providing piano, synthesizer and electronics himself. It is a wonderfully warm and relaxing listening experience that I highly recommend. And by the way, the LP comes with a digital download card for those who prefer convenience.

05 Jason DoellProjecting a similar aesthetic, although coming from a different background, Jason Doell’s debut CD “…amid the cannon’s roar,” (jasondoell.com) presents a series of interrelated chamber and solo pieces which explore “the tensions of being a Canadian settler artist who has inherited the brutal legacy of the British colonial project.” Featuring mid-career artist Rob Macdonald on guitar, junctQín keyboard collective, and some of Toronto’s finest young musicians – pianist/harpsichordist Wesley Shen, flutist Sara Constant, violinist Aysel Taghi-Zeda and cellist Amahl Arulanandam – the album includes the works “Our Lovèd Dominion Bless…,” “…we’ll do deeds to follow on our words…,” “And let our Empire be” and “…long to reign over us…” separated by three interludes called “casualties.” Neither the physical package nor the information sheet on the composer’s website give more detail about the concept of the album or the source material. The cover art – black and white representations of fireworks – in conjunction with the title, would seem to suggest some bombastic aspect to the music, but in fact it is something of the opposite of that: slow and contemplative in what I have come to think of as the “Arraymusic School” as reflected in the work of composers such as Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold and John Mark Sherlock.

Within this context, this is very thoughtful and introspective music, but there’s obviously a programmatic aspect here that notes would have helped to elucidate. That being said, Doell, who was the recipient of the 2014 Toronto Emerging Composer Award, has found his own unique voice and this disc provides a welcome introduction to his vision.

Doell is currently the operations manager of Continuum Contemporary Music, an organization also known for fostering emerging composers. As we find out later on in this issue in Ted Parkinson’s review of the new Toronto Jazz Orchestra CD, Continuum’s former manager Josh Grossman, now the artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, is also an accomplished composer in his own right. This all bodes well both for Continuum, and for the well-being of the Toronto music scene.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, thewholenote.com, where you can find enhanced reviews in the Listening Room with audio samples, upcoming performance details and direct links to performers, composers and record labels.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor
discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 James Ehnes KernisWhat is there left to say about James Ehnes? Canada’s superstar violinist is back with another outstanding CD, this time featuring live concert performances of two recent violin concertos written for him. Ludovic Morlot leads the Seattle Symphony in a March 2017 performance of the Aaron Jay Kernis concerto, while Cristian Măcelaru is the conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the May 2017 performance of James Newton Howard’s work (Onyx 4189 onyxclassics.com).

Both concertos essentially follow the traditional form of extended first movement (in the Kernis it’s a Chaconne), contemplative slow movement (for Howard “the centrepiece” of his concerto) and a fast, dazzlingly virtuosic finale.

These are accessible, strongly tonal and highly effective works. Ehnes, naturally, is superb throughout, with terrific orchestral support. His regular recital partner Andrew Armstrong joins Ehnes for Bramwell Tovey’s Stream of Limelight, written for the violinist’s 40th birthday.

02 Sei Solo Thomas BowesEnglish violinist Thomas Bowes adds another outstanding set to the list of Bach’s Six Sonatas & Partitas with Sei Solo (Navona NV6159 navonarecords.com).

The recordings grew from a series of church concerts of the works that Bowes undertook across England in 2013. His insightful notes show how deeply he has thought about this music, but his performances make it even clearer. Tempos are predominantly relaxed and spacious but never drag, although even allowing for observation of all repeats the total time – 3CDs and 160 minutes – is by far the longest of my 12 sets.

Bowes uses gut G, D and A strings on his 1659 Amati and says that his approach to style and historical context “has been to acknowledge them but to move away from them when they felt limiting or too fixed. I feel that this music transcends limitations of epoch and style.”

Recorded on six single days between November 2013 and February 2016 in Abbey Road Studios, these are warm, contemplative and deeply rewarding performances.

03 Mystery Sonatas Christina Day MartinsonBoston Baroque’s concertmaster Christina Day Martinson is the outstanding soloist on a new set of Biber The Mystery Sonatas with Martin Pearlman, Michael Unterman and Michael Leopold the excellent continuo (Linn CKD 501 linnrecords.com).

This truly extraordinary work from the 1670s sets unique challenges for the violinist, with all but the first of the 15 sonatas employing scordatura; no two sonatas having the four violin strings tuned to the same set of notes. A final solo passacaglia returns to the original standard tuning.

The open strings are played here before each sonata, excellent booklet notes explaining the resulting issues and effects. Martinson’s faultless and sensitive playing shows just how powerful and emotional these astonishing works can be.

04 British Music for Viola and OrchestraHelen Callus is the outstanding soloist in British Music for Viola and Orchestra, a welcome reissue of recordings originally released in 2006 on the ASV label. Marc Taddei conducts the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.573876 naxos.com).

All four works are associated with Lionel Tertis, the player most responsible for the viola’s emergence as a solo instrument. The Vaughan Williams Suite for viola and small orchestra and York Bowen’s Viola Concerto in C Minor Op.25 were written for and premiered by him; he premiered Herbert Howell’s Elegy for viola, string quartet and string orchestra and was the dedicatee of the Walton Viola Concerto in A Minor, played here in the 1961 revised version.

Extremely attractive works, a lovely solo sound, fine orchestral playing and excellent sound quality make for a delightful CD.

05 Pierre Rode Violin ConcertosNaxos ends its five-volume series of the Violin Concertos of the French violinist/composer Pierre Rode with world premiere recordings of Concertos No.11 in D Major Op.23 and No.12 in E Major Op.27, with Friedemann Eichhorn and the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra under Nicolás Pasquet (8.573474). Two Airs variés complete the disc.

A pupil of Viotti, Rode eschewed mere virtuosic writing for a more idiomatic style, Eichhorn noting that for Rode virtuosity meant ease and sovereign control, his manner “honest and always musical; what he is aiming for is verve and brilliance.”

Those are just about perfect descriptions of Eichhorn’s exceptional playing here. 

06 Joshua Bell BruchHis father’s Scottish heritage adds to the strong personal connections Joshua Bell feels for the two Max Bruch works on his new CD Bruch Scottish Fantasy with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (Sony Classical 19075 84200 2
sonymusicmasterworks.com).

The other work here, the Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor Op.26, was the first major concerto the 11-year-old Bell learned; moreover, he first recorded the work over 30 years ago with this same Academy and its founder Sir Neville Marriner. In 2011 Bell was named music director of the ensemble, the only person to hold this post since Marriner founded the group in 1958.

It’s clearly a perfect match if this superb CD is anything to go by; there’s glorious sound throughout from soloist and orchestra, and a lovely recorded resonance.

07 Bartok concertosThe Austrian violinist Benjamin Schmid is the soloist in Béla Bartók Die Violinkonzerte with Hungary’s Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra under Tibor Bogányi (Gramola 99138 gramola.at).

The first of Bartók’s two concertos was written in 1907-08 and inspired by the composer’s feelings for the young violinist Stefi Geyer, to whom he gave the manuscript; it remained unplayed and virtually unknown until a few years after her death in 1956, although the first of the two movements was published – slightly altered – in 1912 as the first of Two Portraits Op.5. It’s a lovely work with a rhapsodic first movement and a second that shows the early influence of Bartók’s folk music studies.

The Violin Concerto No.2 was written for Zoltán Székely in Hungary in 1937-8, prior to Bartók’s 1940 move to the United States. The middle movement in particular has a wistful introspection that seems redolent of a beloved but changing country, soon to be left behind forever.

There’s suitably rapturous playing throughout from all involved.

08 Minetti quartetTwo works closely associated with death are featured on Mendelssohn Bartholdy/Schubert, a new CD from the Viennese Minetti Quartett (Hänssler Classic HC18021).

Mendelssohn wrote his String Quartet No.6 in F Minor Op.80 while in the depths of despair after the sudden death of his beloved sister Fanny. All the customary grace and brilliance is there, but with an ever-present sense of brooding and darkness, and a heart-wrenching Adagio third movement.

Schubert’s String Quartet in D Minor D810 “Death and the Maiden” may have been completed in 1826 when Schubert was in a healthier frame of mind, but the first two lengthy movements were written in 1824 when the composer was facing the prognosis of an early death.

From the nervous, unsettled opening of the Mendelssohn through to the final scampering Presto of the Schubert this is wonderfully nuanced, sensitive and passionate playing on a simply outstanding CD.

09 Mendelssohn concertosThere’s more Mendelssohn on Mendelssohn Bartholdy Double Concerto, with violinist Lena Neudauer and pianist Matthias Kirschnereit performing the Concerto in D Minor for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra and Neudauer taking the solo role in the Concerto in D Minor for Violin and String Orchestra (cpo 555 197-2 naxos.com). The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim under Timo Handschuh provides the excellent orchestral support.

The Double Concerto is an astonishing work from 1823, when Mendelssohn was only 14. It has a simply gorgeous slow movement and a dazzling Allegro molto finale.

His D Minor Concerto from the previous year lay unknown for 130 years until Yehudi Menuhin discovered and promoted it in 1952. The manuscript contains only sketches for the finale and the version recorded here is a later revision by Mendelssohn, making it difficult to know exactly how much of the original childhood work remains.

Neudauer’s playing is outstanding, with technical assurance and fluency matched with a warm, sensitive tone. Kirschnereit is an excellent partner in the Double Concerto.

10 HenzeFew violinists have greater experience in the contemporary field than Peter Sheppard Skærved, whose new CD Henze Violin and Viola Works features compositions spanning 53 years in the career of the German composer Hans Werner Henze (Naxos 8.573886).

The 1946 Violin Sonata is a lovely piece with a particularly attractive Nocturne second movement. Roderick Chadwick is the pianist for this and two works from 1979, the Pollicino: Violin Sonatina and the quite challenging Viola Sonata which Skærved describes as having an “emotionally shattering quality.”

Skærved worked with Henze on the latter’s Solo Violin Sonata, including the revised version in his 1999 recording of Henze’s unaccompanied works. Here, however, he reverts to the 1977 original, “rough, more violent” version of the work, which he admits to preferring.

Two short unaccompanied pieces for solo violin, both written as memorials to friends, complete the disc: Für Manfred (1989) and Peter Doll zum Abschied (1999).

11 Double Concertos Jan Vogler Mira WangThree concertos for violin and cello are featured on the excellent Double Concertos Brahms/Rihm/Harbison, with violinist Mira Wang and cellist Jan Vogler supported by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with conductor Peter Oundjian (Sony Classical 19075836752 sonyclassical.de).

Wolfgang Rihm’s single-movement Duo Concerto was written for Wang and Vogler in 2015, its strongly tonal opening setting the scene for a dialogue between the soloists that Rihm describes as a single voice singing to its heart’s content.

John Harbison’s Double Concerto was written for the duo in 2010 and has three movements of quite dissimilar musical language that work from “misunderstandings” to a final close accord.

The Brahms Double Concerto in A Minor Op.102 is the central work on the CD. It’s given a performance that is solid and thoroughly enjoyable.

12 Montenegran duo Bach English SuitesThere’s some superb guitar playing on J. S. Bach English Suites Nos.4-6 Arranged for Two Guitars by the Montenegrin Guitar Duo of Goran Krívokapić and Danijel Cerović (Naxos 8.573676).

The excellent transcriptions are an absolute delight; the playing is warm and bright, with accuracy, agility, articulation, definition and clarity, all beautifully captured by the top-level Naxos team of Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver at the St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket.

Volume 1 of this outstanding two-CD set is available on Naxos (8.573473).

13 Alan RidoutThe complete 6 String Quartets of the English composer Alan Ridout are available on a new CD from the Coull Quartet (Omnibus Classics CC5014).

Ridout was only 61 when he died in 1996. His quartets, from the last decade of his life, are well-crafted, attractive works with hints of the influence of Shostakovich, Bartók, Tippett and Britten, and more than support the description of Ridout’s music as “always playable, clear to listen to, beautifully fashioned and idiomatically written.”

The Coull Quartet, formed at London’s Royal Academy of Music in 1974 and with two original members still present, gives beautiful performances on a CD which is a significant addition to the 20th-century English string quartet discography.

14 Sarasate 1 4Finally, Naxos has issued the four outstanding volumes of the Sarasate Complete Works for Violin and Piano, featuring the remarkable violinist Tianwa Yang and pianist Markus Hadulla, as a box set (8.504054). The individual CDs were originally released in 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2014, the latter two reviewed in this column in May 2012 and March 2014 respectively.

With a retail price of around $32, this is an excellent and welcome opportunity to acquire a simply terrific series. Hopefully Naxos will do the same with Yang’s equally outstanding four CDs of the Sarasate Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra. 

01 Rea BeaumontCanadian pianist Réa Beaumont’s recording Timeless (Shrinking Planet Productions SP0093 reabeaumont.com) includes works by Philip Glass, John Adams, Srul Irving Glick and others, as well a couple of her own compositions. Beaumont’s program is designed to show how “music changes our perception of time.” John Adams’ China Gates, for example, is composed without a time signature and is one of several whose flow supports the recording’s “Timeless” title.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra affiliate composer Jordan Pal’s Study in White is the longest work on the program. Beaumont brings an impressive sustained energy to the gradually building intensity of this piece before ending it in the blaze of pianistic colour the composer intended. The six Glick Preludes are short. Beaumont plays them with great attention to the inner melodic material that Glick uses against his rhythmic elements. There’s some shared musical language between Glick and Beaumont that becomes evident on comparative listening. It makes her particularly adept at interpreting his music.

02 Brian Finley Preludes to CanadaBrian Finley spent nearly two decades patiently composing the 13 pianistic impressions that comprise his new recording Preludes to Canada (Booth Street Records BSR0002 brianfinley.ca). Experiencing the country from sunrise on the Atlantic coast to sunset on the Pacific, the pieces offer poetic and emotional portrayals of very specific places. Sometimes as localized as A Park Bench in Joliette and Victoria Harbour, the works focus intently on Finley’s personal experiences in these places. Even the more broadly conceived ones like North of 60 and Red River Dreams contain Finley’s unique language formed during many years as a pianist, composer and artistic director of the Westben Arts Festival. He writes with the simple yet mysterious introspection of Satie but is equally capable of enormously powerful orchestral gestures reminiscent of Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. Finley’s music can’t escape the reality that his Canadian experience has been principally shaped by the land. And he aptly opens his notes with words from Emily Carr that describe Canada as “something sublime that you were born into.”

03 Anderson Roe MotherAnderson & Roe are no garden variety piano duo. Their new recording Mother - a musical tribute (SWR Music SWR19058CD swrmusic.de) is ample evidence of their stunning ability to arrange and reinvent well-known tunes in ways that leave you breathless. Covering an established song or piano work always runs the risk of leaving the listener wishing you hadn’t tried in the first place. Anderson & Roe, however, possess the highest form of originality combined with a gob-smacking keyboard technique that reimagines Lennon/McCartney, Paul Simon, Louis Armstrong and Freddie Mercury with both skill and panache.
Their advanced understanding of structure and form in everything imaginable from fugues to gospel blues reveals their deep respect for the material as well as a womb of pure genius in which their arrangements are conceived. Grieg, Dvořák, Schubert and Brahms fare equally well in this duo’s creative hands. You should be running out to get this disc, right about now.

04 LeslieHoward LisztLeslie Howard’s 99-CD set of Liszt’s piano music released in 2011 to mark Liszt’s bicentenary included a three-volume “New Discoveries” series. Continuing scholarly research since then has turned up more manuscripts and other early editions, compelling Howard back into the studio to record a fourth volume for the series, Liszt: New Discoveries Vol. 4 (Hyperion CDA68247 hyperion-records.co.uk).

The disc’s program includes familiar titles appearing as early versions and sketches. Also, there are some tantalizing fragments listed simply as Album-Leaf that offer clues to the origins of some of Liszt’s later thematic ideas.

Leslie Howard writes superb notes for this series and explains why the very substantial opening track is, by far, the most important discovery in this set. Hungarian Rhapsody No.23 S242/23 appears to have been erroneously divided into two halves long ago, because of a formatting difference in the manuscript. Howard presents it in its original extended form.

Scheduled for release in late September, Volume 4 promises to be in high demand for serious Liszt collectors.

05 PavelKolesnikov BeethovenWith a mere handful of recordings in his discography, Pavel Kolesnikov’s regularly glowing reviews make his newest release, Beethoven (Hyperion CDA68237) a highly anticipated event.

Kolesnikov plays the Sonata in C Sharp Minor “Moonlight” Op.27 No.2 with a seductive intimacy that makes you strain to hear every note. Tempi and phrasings may be conventional, but the overall approach is rarely so subdued – it’s very effective. The second movement is quite relaxed before he bursts into blazing speed for the third. It’s an entertaining performance of contrast and high drama.
In the Seven Bagatelles Op.33, Kolesnikov exploits Beethoven’s whimsical technical devices by playing with exceptional lightness, separation and the sharpest staccato. He has a distinctive touch that lends a freshness to familiar repertoire. The program also includes the Piano Sonata in G Major Op.14 No.2, 32 Variations on an original theme in C Minor WoO80 and four unpublished works that will intrigue the curious.

06 HowardShelleyUlsterOrchestra DussekHoward Shelley appears as pianist and conductor with the Ulster Orchestra in his latest recording The Classical Piano Concerto Vol.5 (Hyperion CDA68211). The series is a companion to Hyperion’s earlier one, The Romantic Piano Concerto. You can expect to find all the usual works in this series but it’s interesting to find Jan Ladislav Dussek among the first recordings. As odd as it may sound, hearing music of the period that isn’t either Haydn or Mozart is actually refreshing, if not downright exciting. It sets aside the habitual assumption that those two composers had said it all. Dussek wrote with a natural clarity and showed a refined elegance in his orchestral scoring that comes across as a lightness of character lacking nothing in harmonic richness.

Shelley is a demonstrated master at this genre, having recorded most of his 150 discs with small ensembles and chamber orchestras. His performance of Dussek’s Concerto in G Minor Op.49 is utterly beautiful. The second movement, for example, is wonderfully conceived and emotionally planned, and Shelley’s unerring judgement makes it hard to describe the powerful, moving effect he creates with the ensemble. 

07 Steven OsborneSteven Osborne has a long relationship with Hyperion. After nearly two decades and 27 releases, his most recent, Sergei Rachmaninov Études-tableaux Opp.33 & 39 (Hyperion CDA68188), broadens his discography still further. The Études-tableaux are small compositions over which Rachmaninov admitted spending far more time and effort than his larger-scale works. The composer claimed that such concise expression required a higher degree of economy and precision. And although he discreetly admitted to having general programs in mind for these pieces, he deliberately never revealed them, leaving the music to be heard absolutely.

In this disciplined context, Osborne performs impressively. He’s a very direct player, moving straight to the emotional heart of any given phrase or thematic idea. Moreover, Rachmaninov packs his Études-tableaux with emotion, requiring dramatic changes in expression that Osborne manages masterfully.

08 Jonathan Plowright SukJonathan Plowright’s latest CD Suk: Piano Music (Hyperion CDA68198) features works from a ten-year period bridging the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Josef Suk may be a lesser-known composer, but Plowright shows his music to be of surprising substance. As a pupil (and eventual son-in-law) of Dvořák, Suk’s musical pedigree was superb, though somewhat overshadowed by the critical reception of contemporaries like Janáček.

Plowright understands Suk’s language, capturing his moods and characterizations in an articulate and playful way. Spring Op.22a and Summer Impressions Op.22b are an unfinished attempt at a “Seasons” set, yet reveal the composer’s remarkable gift for portraying time and place in music. Similarly, Plowright performs Piano Pieces Op.7 and Moods Op.10 beautifully, leaving the strong impression that there is an expressive kinship between Suk and his older contemporary Edvard Grieg.

09 Nicolas Horvath Satie 3Among the numerous ways Nicolas Horvath has distinguished himself is with his commitment to the music of Erik Satie. His latest installment in this series, Satie – Complete Piano Works Vol.3 (Grand Piano GP763 grandpianorecords.com) continues his 2014 project using the new Salabert edition. This edition corrects many errors by earlier publishers as well as others arising from Satie’s sometimes lax proofreading. Nearly half the disc includes world premiere recordings of the Salabert edition. Airs á faire fuir No.2, in particular, stands out as the first recording of Satie’s more chromatic revision of an earlier effort. Horvath plays Cosima Wagner’s 1881 Érard with its antique aural charm. In spite of the subtle technical compromises he is forced to make on this instrument, he nevertheless creates a sublimely haunting singing quality with his touch.

10 Alessio Bax Beethoven 5Alessio Bax’s latest recording Beethoven Piano Concerto No.5; Southbank Sinfonia; Simon Oliver (Signum Classics SIGCD525 signumrecords.com) proves how beautiful small can be. The Southbank Sinfonia is a small ensemble of 32 emerging young professionals whose performance with Bax turns the monumental Emperor Concerto into a private and intimate experience. Bax scales back his playing accordingly and brings out the hidden charm sometimes lost in recordings by larger orchestras. The collaboration is more a pas de deux than a traditional contest of strength. It’s an altogether beautiful interpretation.

The disc includes Beethoven’s Contredanses WoO 14, of which the seventh reveals a thematic source for the origin of the Eroica symphony. Bax also plays an early teenage composition (WoO55) deeply reflective of Beethoven’s admiration for Bach, as well as a delightfully crisp Polonaise Op.89.

11 Byron JanisHailed by music writer Harold Schonberg at the peak of his career as “one of the best pianists around today,” American pianist Byron Janis last year celebrated the 70th anniversary of his first recording for RCA at age 19 with the release of Byron Janis Live On Tour (byronjanislive.com). This disc is the first of three planned releases and covers American and European tours from the years 1978 to 1999. Most of the program is Chopin but it also includes some Liszt and Haydn – as well as a piano duo recording with Cy Coleman of Paganini Variations, which begin with the familiar theme but quickly evolve into a jazz and blues style that has the partygoers audibly excited by their originality and brilliance. Disc 2 of the series “Live from Leningrad” will cover the early 60s when Janis was a US Cultural Ambassador helping to start the thaw of the cold war.

12 Liszt 49 Goran FilipecGoran Filipec wears an impressive chestful of medals representing his pianistic achievements. Competitions, concert tours and recordings occupy much of his time and the laudatory reviews that follow him everywhere he performs explain why he appears as one of the distinguished pianists in the Naxos Complete Music of Liszt series. The new addition to this colossal project is Volume 49, Franz Liszt Dances (Naxos 8.53705 naxos.com).

The disc’s program offers an array of dances: valses, csárdás, a mazurka and more. Filipec’s playing is, of course, brilliant. He captures, early on, the mood that Liszt wants to establish for each dance. This is sometimes modal, sometimes purely technical but most often introduces itself as a lyrical idea. Filipec identifies and artfully exploits each access point to the spirit of these dances. His touch is generally light, somehow floating above the keys. But he convincingly delivers bravura and power whenever Liszt requires it.

01 Bach pour LutherBach – Pour Luther: Cantatas 76; 79; 80
Brunet; Taylor; Gagné; Blumberg; Montréal Baroque; Eric Milnes
ATMA ACD2 2407 (atmaclassique.com)

A glorious capture from June 2016 at the Église Saint-Augustin, Mirabel in Québec, this new ATMA Classique recording features some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most beloved religious work. Duke Ellington’s sacred output aside, this body of Bach’s work arguably presents the greatest blending of the artistic with the spiritual, wherein artistic intentions are done explicitly as an article of faith and a testament to devotion.

Bach’s music is simultaneously ornate with specific detail (representing his faith) and straightforward in its clarity of purpose and messaging. To translate these intentions with creativity and respect is no easy task, but Eric Milnes – period music scholar, performer and conductor – does that and so much more when bolstered by a supremely talented group of Canada’s early music performers (who often band together as part of Montréal Baroque for that city’s annual early music festival).

The decision to use four vocalists (Hélène Brunet, Michael Taylor, Philippe Gagné and Jesse Blumberg) to sing the chorus portions of these cantatas imbues a resonant tonal clarity to the recording, while representing an admirable blend of musicological scholarship and creative decision making. Well-conceived and creatively inspired, this disc is a valuable addition to ATMA’s goal of releasing Bach’s entire body of sacred cantatas – and one that maintains their high standard of recording.

02 Handel AcisHandel – Acis and Galatea
Lucy Crowe; Allan Clayton; Benjamin Hulett; Neal Davies; Jeremy Budd; Early Opera Company; Christian Curnyn
Chandos, Chaconne CHSA 0404 (2) (chandos.net)

Acis and Galatea is a masque in one act, first performed in 1718 at Cannons, the summer residence of James Brydges, the Earl of Carnarvon. The text is anonymous (it is generally thought to be by John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Hughes), but it is ultimately based on an episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Brydges employed a number of musicians, including five singers: a soprano, three tenors and a baritone. That unusual formation fits Acis and Galatea (a second soprano is needed for the initial and concluding choruses).

The work begins with a celebration of the pastoral life. The sea nymph Galatea loves the shepherd Acis. Their happiness comes to an abrupt end when the Cyclops Polyphemus, after a disastrous attempt to woo Galatea, kills Acis. After lamenting that death Galatea celebrates the transformation of the dead Acis into the living river flowing from Mount Etna to the sea. That of course represents the metamorphosis that completes the shape of the work.

There have been some successful earlier recordings. My own favourite has always been the Arkiv disc under John Eliot Gardiner, in which Norma Burrowes sings an absolutely luminous Galatea. On this new recording, Lucy Crowe is also very fine in the part. Orchestral accompaniment is excellent and special mention should be made of the sopranino recorder part (Ian Wilson) in Hush, ye pretty warbling choir!

03 Lili BoulangerLili Boulanger – Hymne au Soleil: Choral Works
Orpheus Vokalensemble; Michael Alber
Carus 83.489 (carus-verlag.com)

Although largely eclipsed by her older sister, the influential pedagogue, Nadia, composer Lili Boulanger produced a small body of astonishingly brilliant work in her tragically all-too-short life comparable to virtually anything written in 20th-century France. Such was the impact of her oeuvre that had she lived even a little longer than her 24 years, it’s almost certain that she would have become one of the century’s greatest composers.

The short choral works collected together on Hymne au Soleil present Boulanger – a devout Catholic – in a meditative and spiritual state, pouring a deeply religious intensity into this music. The crowning glory of this selection of 15 works is Psaume XXIV (Psalm 24), a declamatory cry of jubilation for multi-part chorus and tenor soloist (Davide Fior), in which powerful brass-like writing and modal harmonies provide a raw, primordial edge. Just as fine a piece is Soir sur la plaine, in which soprano Sonja Bűhler, tenor Joachim Steckfuß and baritone Christos Pelekanos solo as the chorus joins in this highly personal creation of great solemnity that resembles Fauré in its harmonies, if not in its music.

An overwhelming sense of mystery pervades this music – there are hints of plainsong – suggesting a deeply felt awe at the power of God’s presence. The Orpheus Vokalensemble, directed by Michael Alber – with pianist Antonii Baryshevskyi – create a dramatic atmosphere bringing out the richly varied sonorities of each piece with subtlety and restraint.

04 Faure IntegralGabriel Fauré – Intégrale des mélodies pour voix et piano
Hélène Guilmette; Julie Boulianne; Antonio Figueroa; Marc Boucher; Olivier Godin
ATMA ACD2 2741 (atmaclassique.com)

ATMA’s new set of Gabriel Fauré’s mélodies offers a fresh approach to one of the most glorious collections of songs by a single composer. These songs are – not surprisingly – frequently recorded. But this complete set is the first to pay particular attention to their historical circumstances. The results are illuminating – and gorgeous.

Each of these 108 songs has been recorded in its original key, by a singer with the voice type Fauré specifically had in mind. To hear the songs with the colour and pitch Fauré intended is, for me, revelatory. The piano is French, an Érard made in 1859, just two years before Fauré wrote his first song. The pitch has been lowered to A435, which was then standard. What’s more, the songs are presented in the order Fauré wrote them. This chronological pathway through these songs, following the lead of the still-wonderful landmark Ameling-Souzay-Baldwin set from 44 years ago, remains the most effective way to approach them. More recent collections tend to group the songs by theme, relinquishing an invaluable opportunity to show how Fauré’s music evolved throughout his long, groundbreaking career.

The five musicians here – all Canadians, all from Québec – capture Fauré’s idiomatic style in truly memorable performances. Mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne gives such a sumptuously nuanced performance of the early Au bord de l’eau (At the water’s edge) that when she sings “to feel love in the face of all that passes away,” you experience the lovers’ doubts just as forcefully as their longings. In Clair de Lune (Moonlight), the first of Fauré’s magnificent settings of Verlaine, tenor Antonio Figueroa finds just the right balance between ardour and serenity to evoke fountains sobbing with ecstasy in the calm moonlight. Pianist Olivier Godin elicits sublime colours from Fauré’s unsettling piano part.

Baritone Marc Boucher, artistic director of this mammoth project, suffuses the dreamy melodic lines of En Sourdine (Muted) with profound care for the text and elegant phrasing. His tenderness is utterly moving, even when his voice shows some unsteadiness. It takes a singer as expressive as soprano Hélène Guilmette to penetrate the recitative-like rhythmic patterns and distilled chromatic harmonies of Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in the water) and reveal the enthralling melodic arc of this late masterpiece.

The informative booklet notes by Jacques Bonnaire are given in French and English. But the texts, unfortunately, appear only in the original French (or English in the case of the rarely heard Mélisande’s Song), without translations.

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05 Cradle Will RockMarc Blitzstein – The Cradle Will Rock
Opera Saratoga; John Mauceri
Bridge Records (bridgerecords.com)

On June 16, 1937, the evening of the scheduled premiere of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Blitzstein, the producers, director Orson Welles, singers, musicians and ticketholders found the theatre padlocked, a reaction to Blitzstein’s anti-capitalist opera. Welles was undeterred: an unoccupied theatre and piano were rented and the opera, minus orchestra, sets and costumes, was performed with Blitzstein at the piano, the cast singing from the audience.

This, the first complete recording of Blitzstein’s original score, is from 2017 performances by Opera Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, New York. Blitzstein’s music for his self-written libretto, a bitter satire on America’s corruption by capitalism, was clearly influenced by Kurt Weill’s acerbic scores for The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the city of Mahagonny.

Set in “Steeltown, USA,” the arrest and court appearance of anti-union protestors, mistaken by police for pro-union activists, provides the frame for flashbacks revealing how Mr. Mister, the steel factory’s owner, controls all the city’s institutions, while ordering the fatal bombing of union headquarters. Union leader Larry Foreman, arrested for making a speech, sings that when organized labour’s “wind blows…the lords and their lackeys…in the nice big cradle” will find that “the cradle will rock.”

Conductor John Mauceri elicits exuberant, 1930s-style performances from the large cast and orchestra. The 2-CD set also includes an archival recording of Blitzstein (who died in 1964) recounting the events of that now-legendary opening night, adding significantly to the documentation of this iconic 20th-century opera.

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06 Notorious RBGNotorious RBG in Song
Patrice Michaels; Juang-Hao Huang
Cedille CDR 90000 178 (cedillerecords.org)

Marking the 25th anniversary of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, this recording honours an 85-year old champion of equal rights who continues to vigorously oppose injustice in an environment of increasingly reactionary conservatism. The title, Notorious RBG, a famous meme (and play on the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.), stuck to Ginsberg after her 2013 dissent in response to a rollback of voting-rights protections.

This recording features works by five American composers celebrating Ginsberg’s family and professional life. Family is, after all, at the heart of this project. Cedille Records is Ginsberg’s son James’ label. Soprano and daughter-in-law Patrice Michaels is the ardent album performer and composer of the nine-part cycle The Long View, which gives us a deeply personal glimpse into Ginsberg’s life as daughter, wife, mother, lawyer, academic and public figure. Composer Lori Laitman’s setting of Wider Than the Sky by Emily Dickinson, was performed as a tribute to Ginsberg on her 80th birthday. Canadian composer Vivian Fung’s Pot Roast à la RBG is a lighthearted play on the judge’s domestic life, while Stacy Garrop’s My Dearest Ruth poignantly recalls the farewell letter written by Ginsberg’s late husband. The final piece, You are Searching in Vain for a Bright Solution, is an aria from Derrick Wang’s comic opera Scalia/Ginsberg, celebrating the unlikely friendship of two colleagues able to find common ground despite oppositional viewpoints. A tribute to the intelligence and humanity of this phenomenal woman.

01 LachrimaeLachrimae John Dowland
Nigel North; Les Voix humaines
ATMA ACD2 2761 (atmaclassique.com)

Nigel North. To whom else would you turn to play the lead lute part in a Renaissance consort? Fifty years of playing and teaching, whether or not for solo lute, continue to enhance his reputation. And so it is that ATMA Classique has engaged North to perform alongside Les Voix humaines, themselves a group of exceptional viol players. 

This CD interleaves Dowland’s seven passionate pavans, those prefaced Lachrimae, with some popular pieces, e.g., Captaine Piper his Galiard. The latter features skillful treble viol playing, belying the idea that this piece can only be played by the Elizabethan consort of six instruments. However, this collection is centred around the pavans. The players’ interpretation of the “usual” Lachrimae incorporates every possible nuance that Dowland could have introduced, North’s lute playing adding to the treble line’s existing intricacies. The introspective Lachrimae is followed by the sprightly Earle of Essex Galiard, giving our minds time to refresh before hearing the next pavan; this model is repeated throughout the CD.

Of course, which pavan is the most meaningful must be in the listener’s mind. Lachrimae Gementes does indeed have a tortuous, drawn-out quality, as does Lachrimae Tristes. Perhaps these two pavans are even more thoughtful than the aforementioned usual Lachrimae. Finally, bear in mind that two of the viols in this recording were created by Henry Jaye in the early-17th and by Barak Norman in the late-17th century. We are in exalted company, not to mention local, as the Jaye treble viol was loaned from Hart House, University of Toronto.

02 Bach baroque flute harpsichordJ.S. Bach – Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord
Stephen Schultz; Jory Vinikour
Music & Arts CD-1295 (musicandarts.com)

Of the four sonatas on this disc, two are almost certainly by Bach: the B Minor and the A Major. The other two are given as “attributed to Bach.” The case of the E-flat Major is particularly interesting. It used to be attributed to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel but it has since been established that the work is based on a trio sonata by Quantz. The B Minor sonata is the finest work on this disc with its long-breathed melodies and its large intervals. Schultz and Vinikour are fine players and in the B Minor sonata they are at their best.

03 Beethoven TripleBeethoven – Triple Concerto; Trio Op.11
Anne Gastinel; Nicholas Angelich; Gil Shaham; Andreas Ottensamer; Frankfurt Radio Symphony; Paavo Järvi
Naïve V 5418

Like a stepchild, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C Major from his middle period (Op.56) is much underrated and seldom played – but it is in fact the most difficult and challenging of all Beethoven’s concertos. One of the reasons is that there are three soloists working almost independently and it is very difficult to find a balanced sound, yet they are still very much a team, like soldiers in a battle. My perennial favourite has been the Karajan on EMI (Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Richter), one of the great recordings of the last century, but this new issue with a stellar team of soloists and up-to-date sound on the French Naïve label is a worthy successor.

In the long and arduous first movement the cello is the real hero. French cellist Anne Gastinel leads all the charges, introducing all the new themes that are always different and very beautiful. Gil Shaham is one the world’s best violinists today and he is the star in the heavenly Largo. The Finale, in Tempo alla Polacca, is delightful and intensely rhythmical in 3/4 time, where conductor Paavo Järvi is full of good humour and jollity (a bit unlike his world-famous but rather austere father Neeme Järvi). The piano part here serves as a connective tissue rather than a leader, but blends in gracefully as played by Nicholas Angelich, the third soloist.

Rounding out the CD, a delicious early Clarinet Trio (Op.11) interestingly includes Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, and that’s no mean credit.

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