02 Forgotten OboeForgotten chamber works with oboe from the Court of Prussia
Christopher Palameta; Notturna
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19075821552 (naxosdirect.com) 

The Montreal-born, Paris-based musician Christopher Palameta is widely fêted for oboe performances that are suffused with equal amounts of aesthetic beauty and historical rigour. Working since 2007 to broaden world understanding and appreciation for the music of German Baroque composer Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, Palameta has mined Janitsch’s repertoire, finding rarely heard chamber pieces that are now welcome additions to the canon of Baroque works. Collaborating on record here with the chamber music collective Notturna – which Palameta directs – Janitsch’s music, along with selections by Johann Gottlieb Graun and the little-known Christian Gottfried Krause, are captured beautifully on this 2018 release. The recording is certain to expand Palameta’s reputation as a singular musician dedicated to 18th- and 19th-century period piece work that showcases the oboe, and should be greeted enthusiastically by fans of early music.

Although music from this era could certainly be opulent and regal – the decorative ornamentations of the melodic line mirroring the exaggerated royal lifestyle, dress and mannerisms –Janitsch plumbs a galant style that fetishizes authenticity and aims for a return to more simple music-making practices. In fact, blurring the lines between the professional and amateur, Janitsch led community-wide sessions for musicians at a variety of levels to perform together called “Freitagsakademien” (Friday academies).

Like many composers of the Baroque era, Janitsch was indentured to royalty (in this case Frederick the Great, King of Prussia) and while his compositional style reflected the changing aesthetics of this time period, his considerable output was well supported by Frederick’s strong patronage of the arts and music. Thanks to Palameta, Jan Van den Borre, Catherine Martin, Emily Robinson and Brice Sailly, this important and underrepresented music lives on for future audiences.

03 KruesserKreüsser – 6 Quintettos Opus 10
Infusion Baroque
Leaf Music LM223 (leaf-music.ca/product/lm223/))

Thanks to the Montreal-based ensemble Infusion Baroque, Georg Anton Kreüsser (1746-1810) joins the list of composers whose works were lost to us until diligent research brought them to light. Kreüsser himself did not deserve to be lost – his music flourished in Mainz while he was konzertmeister of its Kapelle. His musical education took in Bologna and Amsterdam and it was there that he met Wolfgang, Leopold and Marianne Mozart – and the admiration was mutual as Leopold noted, which makes Kreüsser’s disappearance even more surprising.

The Quintettos feature flute and the four instruments of a traditional string quartet, a rare combination as most similar works follow the flute, violin, viola, cello model of Mozart’s flute quartets. It is Alexa Raine-Wright’s flute-playing that dominates this CD: listen in particular to the Tempo di menuetto of the Quintetto in C Major and the lively Allegro moderato of the G Major. Strings do, for all that, enjoy considerable prominence. For example, the violin and viola playing of the Allegro moderato and Allegretto in D major are highly enjoyable.

Overall, the Quintetto in G Major is the most spirited of the six on the CD, whichever instrument is being played. For intensity and gravitas, however, the Adagietto of the E-flat Major is highly worthy of the music of this period. All in all, a spirited and successful attempt to restore Kreüsser to the ranks of 18th-century composers of note.

Péchés – Rossini Salons & Horn Virtuosi
Alessandro Denabian; Lucia Cirillo; Francesca Bacchetta
Passacaille 1039 (naxosdirect.com)

Luigi Legnani – Rossini Variations
Marcello Fantoni (guitar)
Naxos 8.573721 (naxos.com)

04a Rossini PechesIf you were an educated music-loving dilettante living in Italy during the early 19th century, musical evenings might well have been a primary source of entertainment. And if you happened to know a horn player, a soprano and someone adept at the keyboard, the pieces on the delightful new disc titled Péchés d’Opéra on the Passacaille label might well have been the type you would have chosen for an evening’s program. It features natural horn player Alessandro Denabian, pianist Francesca Bacchetta (performing on an 1823 fortepiano) and mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo in an engaging program of duets and trios. Sins of Old Age was the name Rossini gave to numerous compositions for small ensembles he created long after he ceased writing operas. The charming and lyrical Prelude, Theme and Variations for horn and piano is one of them, which not surprisingly, has a very vocal quality about it. Denabian handles the virtuosic melodies with apparent ease, no mean feat on a natural (i.e. valveless) instrument. Less well-known composers include Antoine Clapisson and Frederic Duvernoy whose duets are performed with a particular bravado with Bacchetta providing a stylish and solid accompaniment. The group expands to include a soprano soloist in pieces such as Fuis, laisse-moi by Donizetti and the most familiar piece on the disc, Una furtiva lagrima from his opera L’elisir d’amore. Cirillo delivers a solid performance with well-balanced phrasing, subtly nuanced. My only quibble is that at times her voice tends to overshadow the other musicians, but in no way does this mar an otherwise fine performance.

04b Legnani RossiniRemaining in the land of olive trees, a Naxos recording titled Rossini Variations presents music by Luigi Legnani, whose name is undoubtedly forgotten today. Nevertheless, during his lifetime, Legnani – an almost exact contemporary of Rossini – was famous as a virtuoso guitarist, composer and instrument maker. The disc features guitar transcriptions and variations on music from Rossini operas performed by guitarist Marcello Fantoni. To reduce full-scale orchestral works for a solo guitar would take considerable skill. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of this disc is twofold – not only are the compositions finely crafted, but they are also well performed. In Fantoni’s competent hands, the guitar becomes a complex and expressive instrument, whether in the familiar overture to William Tell or the more obscure Variations on O quanto lagrime from La Donna del lago. While he possesses a formidable technique, his performance is never mere virtuosity; rather, he lets the music speak for itself.

Two fine discs with music from sunny Italy to cast away the winter darkness – both recommended.

05 Dvorak TriosDvořák – Piano Trios 3 & 4
Christian Tetzlaff; Tanja Tetzlaff; Lars Vogt
Ondine ODE 1316-2 (naxosdirect.com/items/dvorák-piano-trios-nos.-3-4-467122)

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff (his sister) and pianist Lars Vogt are three of the most eminent and sought-after performers in classical music, gracing the world’s most prestigious stages, both as soloists and chamber musicians. They are the crème de la crème.

With their 2015 release of the Brahms piano trios having garnered a Grammy nomination, the Tetzlaff-Tetzlaff-Vogt (T-T-V) Trio once again dazzles in their new recording of two Dvořák piano trios: No. 3 in F Minor and No. 4 in E Minor. The latter, also known as the “Dumky Trio,” consists of six movements, each one a “dumka,” a musical term taken from the Slavic folk tradition. Under Dvořák’s treatment, each movement comprises alternating, strongly contrasting passages, from moody and melancholic to rhythmically exuberant.

These two Dvořák masterpieces are brought to extraordinary life by the consummate musicianship of Tetzlaff, Tetzlaff and Vogt. Their virtuosic playing is muscular, raw, dramatic, intensely expressive – ideal for the sweeping, rhapsodic and near-symphonic – Brahmsian – F Minor trio. Written a few months after the death of Dvořák’s mother, the heart-achingly beautiful third movement is exquisitely executed by the T-T-V Trio.

As for the “Dumky,” with so many recordings of this beloved trio available, one might think that nothing new could possibly be brought into the recording studio. But one would be seriously mistaken. In the impeccable hands of the T-T-V Trio the “Dumky” is revelatory: fresh and exhilarating, reflective, tender and radiant. This CD is a must!

06 Bruckner QuintetBruckner – Quintet in F Major; Ouverture in G Minor (Large Orchestra versions)
Prague RSO; Gerd Schaller
Profil Edition Hanssler PH16036 (haensslerprofil.de)

Featuring conductor Gerd Schaller’s new arrangement – the first for large orchestra – of Anton Bruckner’s String Quintet in F Major (1878), this disc counts as a major success. Already Schaller has recorded the Bruckner symphony cycle; here he adds the composer’s major chamber work, in orchestral garb. The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra’s immaculate performance is well-paced, the musicians rising to the technical and interpretive challenges of this premiere; they produce excellent tone quality at all dynamic levels. The string quintet was composed following Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony revision. Schaller’s well-informed arrangement really sounds like a Bruckner orchestral work of that era.

The pastoral first movement sets out the orchestral palette, with comforting strings followed by more varied winds, leading to brass climaxes at pivotal points. Then the Scherzo-Trio adds witty contrasts – pauses and harmonic surprises. The acclaimed Adagio makes a profound centrepiece, the organ-like orchestration reminding me that Bruckner’s genius in improvisation was legendary. Next comes Schaller’s interpolation of a shortened version of the Intermezzo that Bruckner originally composed as a simple alternative to the Scherzo-Trio. Although I don’t see the interpolation as necessary, it does serve as a transition in emotional terms from the Adagio to the Finale, whose charming opening alternates with knotty wide-ranging passages. In closing, the Quintet’s material is wonderful in both the chamber work and this orchestral arrangement; Bruckner’s early Ouverture in G Minor (1863) merely adds to the disc’s attractions.

07 Mahler 9 EssenGustav Mahler – Symphony No.9
Essener Philharmoniker; Tomáš Netopil
Oehms Classics ODC 1890 (naxosdirect.com/items/mahler-symphony-no.-9-467120)

The city of Essen is located at the heart of the industrial Ruhr area of Germany. Its rise to prominence is intimately tied to the fortunes of the Krupp family dynasty, who settled in this coal-rich region some 400 years ago and began building steel foundries mainly dedicated to the manufacture of heavy artillery. Gustav Mahler conducted the premiere of his sixth symphony there in 1906, prompting the Viennese critic Hans Liebstöckl to acerbically observe, “Krupp makes only cannons, Mahler only symphonies.”

Throughout the 20th century the orchestra maintained a low profile labouring under a series of provincial kappelmeisters. Judging by the present performance under their current director, the Czech conductor Tomáš Netopil, this highly capable orchestra makes a compelling case for greater international renown. Recorded in Essen’s Alfried Krupp Hall in April 2018 (from what I assume are edits of live performances), for the most part this rendition of Mahler’s Symphony No.9 is quite a revelation. Only the interpretation of the droll second movement Ländler shows a few interpretive seams, as Netopil sentimentalizes the structural ritardandos by consistently beginning them far earlier than indicated in the score. By contrast, the vehement pacing of the accelerandos towards the end of the subsequent daemonic Scherzo are electrifying. The cataclysmic first movement receives an immensely powerful performance, while the finale achieves a Zen-like transcendence superbly conveyed through the carefully modulated tone of the dark-hued Essen string section.

Too much is made in the liner notes of the allegedly “fateful” nature of this work, begun in 1909, two years before Mahler’s demise. Death, with few exceptions, was always a leitmotif in his works. It is not death, but life and love that make this work so exceptional.

08 No Time for Chamber MusicNo Time for Chamber Music
collectif9
Independent (collectif9.ca)

The title of this disc by collectif9, one of the most exciting string contemporary ensembles today, comes by way of that musical omnivore, Luciano Berio, whose Sinfonia uses texts from Le cru et le cuit (The Raw and the Cooked) by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. The sardonic cue from the title is given sharper angularity with the interpretation of Mahler’s profound music, which almost always expressed the composer’s innermost thoughts. These peremptory readings of Mahler’s portentous music are gaunt and shard-like.

Together with the oblique Fantaisie à la manière de Callot by Phillipe Hersant, contrabassist Thibault Bertin-Maghit’s imaginative arrangements create a new excitement around Mahler, a composer who received due recognition after many decades of proselytizing by conductors such as Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Mengelberg and later, Leonard Bernstein.

Although what we have here are vignettes of symphonies from Mahler, collectif9 has masterfully recreated the composer’s sound-world infusing much into the music. These suggest – even conjure – every Mahler-like spectacle from Marche funèbre from Symphony No.5 to the vast images of nature especially in Comme un bruit de la nature from Symphony No.1. There is also the extraordinary lyricism of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen that unfolds in J’ai un couteau à la lame brûlante and the eloquently wistful performance of L’adieu from Das Lied von der Erde. All of this repertoire by collectif9 is highly charged and intensely dynamic, making for a uniquely impactful disc.

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09 Schreker BirthdayFranz Schreker – The Birthday of the Infanta Suite
Berlin RSO; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos 8.573821 (naxosdirect.com/items/schreker-the-birthday-of-the-infanta-suite-prelude-to-a-drama-romantic-suite-466991)

Almost forgotten after the Nazis banned them in the 1930s, Franz Schreker’s feverish, hyper-romantic-expressionist operas have, in recent years, received welcome new stage productions and recordings. For anyone unfamiliar with Schreker’s gripping sound-world, there’s no better introduction than the first work on this CD, Prelude to a Drama, Schreker’s 18-minute elaboration of the Prelude to Die Gezeichneten (1914), incorporating themes from his operatic masterpiece. JoAnn Falletta, known locally as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, leads the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in a radiant performance of this gorgeous, numinous music.

The other works on this disc, from Schreker’s earlier years, present him in more genial moods. His 1908 score for The Birthday of the Infanta, a ballet-pantomime after Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale, was his first major success as a composer for the theatre. It obviously remained close to his heart, as he conducted the Berlin State Opera Orchestra in two recordings – an acoustic (1923) and a better-sounding electrical (1927) – of the Suite he arranged from his first hit. Falletta clearly delights in the scintillating sonorities and touches of sentiment in the ten-movement, 20-minute Suite.

Similarly, the 25-minute Romantic Suite (1903) by the then 25-year-old Schreker bathes in warm lyricism throughout its four movements, a symphony in all but its name.

Adding considerably to this CD’s appeal is the brilliant recorded sound and equally brilliant playing of the orchestra under maestra Falletta. Brava!     

10 Shulman GoomanSerenades & Sonatas for Flute and Harp
Suzanne Shulman; Erica Goodman
Naxos 8.573947 (naxosdirect.com/items/serenades-sonatas-for-flute-and-harp-466995)

Flutist Suzanne Shulman and harpist Erica Goodman are popular, brilliant and esteemed Canadian performers who, when asked to participate in a summer festival concert of music for an English garden, gathered pieces evoking an outdoor setting. Here they perform a selection of these compositions/arrangements with stellar ensemble and musical skills.

A single standing bird on the CD booklet cover sets the visual stage for joyous flute and harp garden sounds. The catchy opening of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves (arranged by Jennifer Grady) leads to the familiar melody on flute with harp accompaniment at a faster tempo than some may expect. A key change leads to a middle section based on the folk tune Lovely, and then back to the closing sensitive, musical lead section. Love the opening Prelude’s florid singing birdlike flute lines, and the lush Mists’ slow-moving flute and harp trills/flourishes in Paul Reade’s five-movement Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite. Alphonse Hasselmans’ technically challenging harp solo La Source, Op.44 features an arpeggiated harp part reminiscent of rushing stream water played with subtle tone choices. William Alwyn’s virtuosic Naiades – Fantasy-Sonata for Flute and Harp encompasses arpeggios, staccato jumps and florid runs, like running water and dancing nymphs, to trills and high-pitched garden-like sounds. Works by Couperin, Woodall, Marson, Chausson, Rota and Elgar complete the collection.

Listening to this luscious musical garden tended by two breathtaking musicians should help make waiting for springtime easier!

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01 Lands EndPulling the Light
Land’s End Ensemble; James Campbell
Centrediscs CMCCD 25718 (musiccentre.ca)

Calgary’s Land’s End Ensemble presents six Canadian works composed since the violin-cello-piano trio was formed 20 years ago. In Omar Daniel’s Piano Trio No.2, two heavily accented rhythmic movements precede two slow, misterioso-style movements, all highly effective thanks to Daniel’s knack for combining dramatic contrasts, piquant sonorities and constant forward motion.

Alexandre David’s Auprès et au loin takes its title from a description of Pierre Boulez’s music as “coherent, closely and from afar.” Composed while David was studying Boulez’s music, it begins with alternating agitato and ruminative passages, eventually gaining momentum and its own coherence. The next three works offer subtle evocations of nature and landscape. Allan Gordon Bell’s Markings depicts three states of water – clouds (wispy strings, piano tinkles), streams (string pizzicati, running piano arpeggios) and glaciers (rapid string figures, thumping piano bass notes).

James Campbell, Canada’s preeminent clarinetist, joins with the trio in Emilie Cecilia Lebel’s Navigational View of South Foreland Point and the Kent Coast, 1840, inspired by drawings from that year. The slow, moody music suggests a mist-shrouded vista lacking any sharply defined landmarks. Campbell also participates in Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Postcards from Home, tone pictures of a winter storm, sunrise and a rousing hoedown. Finally, Laurie Radford’s Event Horizon plays with acoustic space, squiggles of energy and textures enhanced by electronics and science-fiction colours, with section titles including Pulling the Light, Red Shifted and Escape Velocity.               

You’re sure to find something to enjoy on this disc; I did.

02 Jordan NoblesJordan Nobles – Rosetta Stone
Various Artists
Redshift Records TK461 (redshiftrecords.org/releases/tk461)

Prolific Canadian postclassical composer Jordan Nobles has won numerous awards for his scores, including a 2017 JUNO. He also serves as the artistic director of Redshift Music Society, among Vancouver’s most active contemporary music groups. In 2007 it launched Redshift Records, its own label, with an ambitious regionally rooted catalogue that today lists some 39 CDs.

Nobles’ minimalistic collection of nine works collectively titled Rosetta Stone: Music for Multiples is among Redshift Records’ latest releases, selected from the composer’s Open Score Collection of 25 experimental compositions for non-fixed instrumentation. In the liner notes flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor notes that the idea of multiples – musical works composed for several identical or like-sounding instruments – has been a decades-long preoccupation of Nobles. “Whether it’s eight saxophones, six harps, or 24 vibraphones, the monochromatic ensemble presents a creative restriction” capable of surprisingly complex and attractive musical results.

Using multitrack studio recording techniques Nobles opted to have each work on the album performed by a single musician, such as möbius (for ten grand pianos), or air (for 16 bass flutes).

The musical results are remarkably varied, ranging from the dramatically breathy, dense, natural harmonics-based stereophonic swirl of air to the plucked string overtone-rich sound clouds of ephemera (for four seven-string electric guitars).

Perhaps, like me, you’ll find the ever-modulating, plush but never saccharine bass-centric chords of still life (for eight five-octave marimbas) the peaceful six-minute soundbath you crave on a hectic day.

03 Transient CanvasWired
Transient Canvas
New Focus Recordings FCR218 (transientcanvas.com)

Wanna know two sounds I love? Marimba and bass clarinet. Wanna know how I know? This disc is how. Transient Canvas is the duo in question, and their recent release is Wired. Each track features the duo plus electronics, mercifully the latter enhancing rather than distracting from the acoustic sounds.

I’m writing in a manner as close as I can manage to their joyful goofy playing (clean and excellent goofiness, disciplined joy). This is like listening to two of your favourite flavours, say dark chocolate and roasted almonds, that go really well together. Or listening to two of your most beloved colours, say turquoise and deep brown, that set one another off, yet seamlessly blend. Much of the material is pop-sounding enough that the madness of the harmonies and jagged rhythms don’t jar the ear, they toy with it.

It isn’t because it’s all from one composer who gets them or caters to their strengths: each track is from a different composer. Maybe the two (Amy Advocat on bass clarinet, Matt Sharrock on marimba) are really good at commissioning only composers who get them, or maybe the composers themselves just can’t find a way to put them off their game. After three bouncy tracks, there’s a complete change of pace in Hyggelig (Danish for chillaxin’), by Lainie Fefferman. The longest cut, at almost 11 minutes, is the aptly solemn solm by Mischa Salkind-Pearl. The final track, Epidermis by Dan VanHassel, is the most hard-core progressive, yet kinda bebop. Peter Van Zandt Lane’s Exergy Bubblebath wins the Most Whimsical Title award.

04 Isang YunIsang Yun – Sunrise Falling
Dennis Russell Davies; Matt Haimovitz; Yumi Hwang-Williams; Maki Namekawa; Bruckner Orchester Linz
Pentatone PTC 5186 693 (naxosdirect.com/items/sunrise-falling-467137)

Isang Yun: Sunrise Falling is a centennial commemoration of the uncompromising life and music of Korean-German composer Isang Yun (1917–1995). Maestro Dennis Russell Davies, long a Yun collaborator and advocate, curated the program, ably conducting the Bruckner Orchestra Linz.

Born in present-day South Korea and later re-establishing himself in West Germany, Yun certainly has one of the most unusual biographies of any composer of Western concert music. His is an epic story of a lifelong fight for Korean national independence and unity, thwarted by exile, all framed by the creation of some of the most emotionally gripping and transculturally cogent music of the 20th century. After establishing an award-winning composing and teaching career in Korea after WWII, in 1956 Yun relocated to Europe to further study composition, settling in Germany. His idiosyncratic style fully emerged in Gasa (1963) for violin and piano, evocatively performed on this album by violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams and pianist Dennis Russell Davies. Its score overlays Schoenberg-derived 12-tone gestures with complex sustained tones imbued with high emotion, the latter, an essential quality of traditional Korean music.

On June 17, 1967 Yun’s life took an extraordinarily dramatic and life-threatening turn. He was kidnapped by the South Korean secret service from his West Berlin home. Taken to Seoul to face trumped-up charges, he was accused of being a North Korean spy even though he had only visited there as a tourist. Tortured in prison, he attempted suicide. He was forced to confess to espionage resulting in a death sentence, subsequently commuted to a lengthy prison term. Yun was eventually released in 1969, in great measure as a result of international outrage at his mistreatment and the injustice of the charge. He returned to a divided Germany never again to go back to his Korean birthplace.

Yun’s dramatic biography informs his mature music – a convincing blend of Korean and European musical instruments, idioms and sensibilities – accurately reflecting the human and political drama and intercultural fabric of his life story. The album’s key works are the full-length Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra (1976), and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No.1 (1981), both imbued with autobiographical allusion. Virtuoso cellist Matt Haimovitz assays Yun’s intense score jam-packed with despair, as well as exultation over personal tragedy, with deep musicality and passion. Innovative timbral textures, such as the use of a plectrum on the cello to emulate the kŏmun’go (Korean zither), delight the ear. That technique also adroitly bridges the composer’s mid-20th-century Korean and Central European classical music worlds.

The double album’s booklet concludes on a hopeful note. “100 years after Isang Yun’s birth, the two Koreas still teeter on a razor’s edge, with ever more global ramifications. His music opens the gate to a lost, united land, with Yun’s own heart bleeding but ever hopeful.”

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05 Piazzolla NeaveCelebrating Piazzolla
Neave Trio
Azica Records ACD-71324 (naxosdirect.com/items/celebrating-piazzolla-473444)

The Neave Trio, comprised of violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov and pianist Eri Nakamura, perform arrangements of Astor Piazzolla compositions in this new release without, in a refreshing change of musical pace, the composer’s ever present bandoneon. The resulting soundscape brings a new life to Piazzolla’s music. José Bragato is a cellist/composer who played in several of Piazzolla’s ensembles and here arranged the four-movement Las cuatro estaciones porteňas for the trio. Each movement is true to the Piazzolla sound, with the musicians playing abrupt tempo changes, rhythms, high pitches and mournful sounds with passion. Great extended solos showcase their commitment to the composer’s work in the final Invierno Porteňa movement.

The trio is then joined by mezzo-soprano Carla Jablonski in five Piazzolla songs arranged by Leonardo Suárez Paz, son of Piazzolla’s band member violinist Fernando. Jablonski’s voice captures all the emotive sentiments especially in the familiar Oblivion, where the vocals are surprisingly able to emulate the bandoneon sound, especially in the lengthy held notes, while the trio continues to create a larger band sound. Lyrics and translations would be appreciated.

The recording ends with a performance of Suárez Paz’s work Milonga de los Monsters. Though more atonal, touches of Piazzolla sounds surface in this technically amazing fun-filled performance. The Neave Trio is to be congratulated for their passionate fresh ideas of ensemble and instrumental performance. Their expertise in sound creation, playing and improvising create a new way to hear Piazzolla’s work.

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06 Tobias KleinTobias Klein – Chambery
Fie Schouten
Attaca ATT 2018156 (attacaproductions.com)

Tobias Klein looks out from the cover photo on this disc with an ingenuous expression of innocent gratitude that you might want to listen to his music. Don’t be fooled. He knows you want to dislike it and him and yet he still expects to win you over. His ally in the effort is bass clarinetist Fie Schouten, with accomplices too numerous to list.

As if to sucker the listener, he starts with Leichte Überlappungen (2018), a bass clarinet duet composed, according to his own words in the notes, using a rigorous mathematical method contrary to his normal practice of unrigorous, intuitive construction. Not a great opening gambit, it says here. I disagree with the composer that the result of his decision “sounds like it was composed with a lot of passion.” Still, the quality of performance and the interesting structure leave one maybe slightly more inclined to like the guy and his music. Then he whacks you with all the winning arguments to follow.

Far more successful, and interesting, is Kengboginn (2014), a lyrical conversation between bass clarinet and harpsichord, the latter somewhat overmatched in the mix. Back in time we go to 2009, a far more primitive time where drums, breaking glass, and bass clarinet dance about naked, without inhibition, in (deep breath) SteinHolzGummiWasser. Bogus Bogey, a trio with piano and flute (2005), is neither scary, golf-related, nor as far as one can hear, bogus; it’s just pretty cool, as in Mission Impossible (the television series) cool. Vermutung (2008) is a very hip pairing of accordion with bass clarinet (what could be hipper?).

Well played, Mr. Klein, well played. Extremely well played, Ms. Schouten et al.

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08 ElectroClarinetElectroclarinet
Jean-Francois Charles
Independent (electroclarinet.com)

I must say it’s refreshing to consider a CD that includes a poem instead of traditional liner notes. The untitled poem written in French, by Alice Gervais-Ragu, seems to refer specifically to the beast that is the clarinet (most especially the contrabass and the basset). Jean-François Charles has tamed these hounds, the whole pack in fact, who wag their tails with delight on this disc.

Clarinetist and composer Charles, whose series of six pieces titled ElectroClarinet make up the bulk of the disc, gives no other accounting for his work than the audible evidence: Ten tracks, recorded in Iowa City over a two-day period roughly one year ago. His métier is acoustic instrument with live electronics. He grapples with every member of the broad range of horns, from contrabass (an octave below the bass clarinet), through bass, basset horn, A, B-flat, and E-flat. Electroclarinet 1 dates from 2009; the latest and longest, Electroclarinet6, from 2014. The four in between are subtitled as Homage to… (in order) Debussy, Weber, Messiaen and Stravinsky.

Delays, reverb, and a variety of granulating effects create soundscapes distinctly unclarinet-like. Anyone so inclined is welcome to delve into how the homages relate to the various composers and the works they notably added to the repertoire. (There’s something reminiscent of L’Abyme des Oiseaux in number four and flat-out quotes from Stravinsky’s Three Pieces in number five.) I recommend putting these on and enjoying the path to wherever the pooch wants to go.

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