02 Toronto TablaBhumika
Toronto Tabla Ensemble
Independent (torontotabla.com)

Bhumika, a rich philosophical Sanskrit term, derived from bhūmi meaning earth or soil, can refer to a writing surface, receptacle, or an introduction to a book, among other things. Bhumika is also the title of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble’s sixth album and its first track. Composed by TTE’s artistic director and tabla educator Ritesh Das, the title track, featuring a chanted Sanskrit sloka, is dedicated to Ritesh Das’ brother the influential kathak dancer and teacher Chitresh Das (1944-2015). The liner notes also acknowledge another key artistic inspiration, Swapan Chaudhuri who is among today’s outstanding tabla masters.

Bhumika the album reflects the richness of the tabla’s extensive technique, repertoire and the complexity of Indian rhythmic practice: the album features talas (rhythmic cycles) of 5½, 9½ and 11 beats. It also speaks to Ritesh Das’ larger artistic ambition to engage culturally with his Toronto home and collaborate with other resident musical cultures and musicians. For example, instruments heard on the album include ritual Indian conch trumpet, finger cymbals, Hindustani tabla and sarod, Carnatic mrdangam, but also drum kit, violin, Chinese zheng, flute, and the Japanese taiko ensemble Nagata Sachu. Most of them are played by Toronto area musicians, some of whom are students of Das.

For me the strength of this album is the convincing argument it makes for the tabla forming the core of a musically compelling drum-centric ensemble in 2018 Toronto, far from its (first) homeland. Before Das dreamed it in 1991, that did not exist.

03 QSFA QSF Journey
Quartet San Francisco
Reference Recordings RR-143 (referencerecordings.com)

The boundaries between music genres are fluid and constantly moving these days, with many musicians experimenting and combining elements of different styles in both new compositions and interpretations of the traditional ones. Classical music seems to be an especially productive foundation for such crossovers, breeding many exciting projects. One of them is the latest release by Grammy- nominated Quartet San Francisco – A QSF Journey. Most of the tracks on the album are written and arranged by Jeremy Cohen (the first violinist of the quartet) and the album contains seven world premieres, making it an adventuresome journey into the chamber music of the 21st century.

While the album features arrangements of traditional folk songs (Chinese, Mongolian and African), many of the tracks are rooted in the tango tradition and, to some extent, American folk. Rhapsody in Bluegrass combines two vastly different works – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and bluegrass tune Orange Blossom Special. The result is a lively, toe-tapping, buoyant tune. Frederico II, written by Italian cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima, is a whirlwind piece with a constantly pushing rhythmical drive and strong medieval roots. I really enjoyed Cohen’s tango pieces as well – Al Colón, Francini, La Heroína and the opening Tango Eight – and their passionate, cheeky melodies. QSF members are true crossover stars. Their playing is effortless and entertaining, with just the right amount of classical touch, and with an abundance of beauty.

Listen to 'A QSF Journey' Now in the Listening Room

04 Tanya WillsIt’s Time
Tanya Wills Quartet
Independent (tanyawills.ca)

Carrying the DNA of an artistic lineage, it is no surprise that gifted vocalist, dancer and actor Tanya Wills would enter the family business and manifest an international performance career. With the release of her debut CD, Wills has drawn from her diverse career experiences and fashioned an eclectic, stirring and musically stunning recording – beautifully recorded by Bernie Cisternas. Acting as producer here, Wills has assembled the perfect musical complement to her smoky, substantial, mezzo-soprano: Jordan Klapman on piano, Bill Bridges on guitar (and also primary arranger) and Ron Johnston on bass.

A few of the sources of the intriguing material on this project come from the worlds of musical theatre, the European/American cabaret culture of the post-WWI era, American popular song, traditional folk music, a proto-rock ‘n’ roll contribution from Elvis and two original compositions, including Tony Quarrington and Klapman’s dark bossa, Rain on the Roof.

One of the many standouts is Wills’ performance on Lazy Afternoon. Her voice is exquisitely controlled, as she weaves a laconic, gossamer web of sensuality around the mesmerized listener, and Bridges’ guitar accompaniment is nothing short of luminous. Another track of note is Arthur Hamilton’s Cry Me a River – a passive/aggressive anthem made popular by the late Julie London. Wills puts her own contemporary stamp on the tune, cleverly morphing the intent of the lyric into a statement by a strong woman (rather than a victim’s lament). I would be remiss if I didn’t single out the joyous rendition of If I Were a Bell – Frank Loesser’s hit from the venerable musical Guys and Dolls. Wills imbues this tune with just the right amount of spice and sass.

Listen to 'It's Time' Now in the Listening Room

05 Anba TonelAnba Tonèl
Daniel Bellegarde
Independent (danielbellegarde.com)

Daniel Bellegarde has enjoyed a 35-year career as a freelance percussionist primarily in Quebec. As he explains, Anba Tonèl (Under the Arbor), his first album as a leader, primary arranger and composer, is the fruit of his research on the confluence of European and African musics in the French Caribbean.

In Anba Tonèl, with the aid of nine musicians and five singers, he explores – through arrangements and compositions – unfamiliar musical territory to outsiders: rural French Caribbean music, the result of that hybridization. Dance music represented includes the contra-dance (square dance), quadrille, minuet-congo, and Haitian twoubadou, a popular genre of guitar-based Haitian music. The album aims to evoke the music performed by Haitian and French West Indies slaves during the 19th century and field workers in the early 20th.

Not a synth or drum set to be found here, the lead French Creole vocals by Marco Jeanty are accompanied by all-acoustic instrumentation. We hear the prominent sound of the banjo (which appears to have been played in the Caribbean before mainland North America), violin, guitar, dobro and manouba (bass kalimba-rumba box), as well as percussion instruments from the French Antilles including tanbou di bass (large tambourine), ti bwa (small wooden slit drum), graj (metal scraper) and chacha (calabash rattle).

I’m no expert on the origins or development of this music. As presented here by Bellegarde however, it has considerable range of mood and is full of danceable musical energy and charm; plus it’s sung and played with authentic-feeling élan.

At least when it comes to exploratory music old definitions no longer apply. Only on the equivalent of a rigid Doug Ford-like populist disc will you find players insisting on one style, be it rock, noise, jazz-improv or so-called classical. Accomplished improvisers in contrast, draw on many sources to create unique musical programs, with sophisticated electronics regularly and effortlessly added to the mix.

01 OkkyungCase in point is Cheol-Kkot-Sae [Steel.Flower.Bird] (Tzadik TZ 4923 okkyunglee.info), by Korean-born, US-raised, Berlin-based cellist Okkyung Lee. Deciding to blend the Korean melodies of her youth with the spiky improv in which she now specializes, Lee was commissioned by SWR to create this CD’s music, performed live at the Donaueschingen Festival. Steel.Flower.Bird consists of textures that are neither wholly Asian nor Occidental, but variations on both genres. Lee’s cello strategy is aided by Korean folk opera vocalist Song-Hee Kwon and traditional Korean percussionist Jae-Hyo Chang representing one approach to the program; and experienced improvisers, saxophonist John Butcher and bassist John Edwards from the UK, American percussionist Ches Smith and Norwegian electronics player Lasse Marhaug embodying the other. No sooner are the first Korean phrases verbalized in a ghostly fashion at the beginning than they’re speedily joined by double-stopping string strokes, saxophone growls and droning electronic whizzes. Before this sequence is overwhelmed by a crescendo of rocket-ship-launching explosions from Marhaug’s knob-twisting, snarky kazoo-like tones from the saxophonist and string splaying, the narrative moves to a quieter place, where unhurried instrumental lowing makes the perfect accompaniment for Song’s bel canto warbling. Smith’s vibraphone ringing and Butcher’s swirling chirps create a connective intermezzo, which is also a prelude to a similar instrumental break that features a duet between Korean and Western percussion, showcasing a two-part backbeat rather than any exoticism. Building on a slinky counterpoint propelled by Smith’s vibraphone resonations and Edwards’ chunky thumps, the piece climaxes as tongue slaps and honks from Butcher sail on top of muted vocalizing and spiccato cello string pressure. When joined by tremolo percussion stops, the music continues to echo past as applause begins. Oddly enough the subsequent encore/coda includes dynamic chording from an un-credited pianist that puts into bolder relief shrill and strained strokes from the cello as both instruments join for a concluding melody that sounds like the children’s round The Worms Crawl In, The Worms Crawl Out.

02 CluttertonesEncompassing a five-part suite and shorter features, the array of musical paths followed on Toronto-based The Cluttertones’ Leeways (SnailBongBong SBB 005 robclutton.com) make the previous CD appear singularly directed. Tunes composed by bassist/leader Rob Clutton feature fine performances by the band – trumpeter Lina Allemano, guitarist/banjoist Ted Posgate, Ryan Driver on analogue synth and vocals plus Clutton – with pianist Lee Pui Ming joining for the title suite. Remarkably enough, Lee’s formalist/improv comping is no more prominent on those five tracks than the other players’ contributions. In fact it’s Allemano’s gritty, back-of-throat growls and rounded capillary exposition that make the greatest impression on Leeways Part 2, when backed by keyboard jumps; and a similar scenario unfolds on Leeways Part 3. Here Clutton agilely moves the tune forward with discursive-but-emphasized string drones, vibrating multi-string slaps and pinched sul tasto runs as Lee comps, the banjo twangs bluegrass-like and synthesizer tones tweet. Earlier on, the most fully realized group effort is Septiembre. Consisting of a slew of intermezzos, it highlights double-bass stopping, buzzing electric guitar licks and high-pitched trumpet slurs, with a conclusion that’s rhythmically solid and notably kinetic. Instructively Gull, the first track, effectively adumbrates what’s to come, as crackles and flutters from the synth underscore a near-vocalized, muted trumpet tone, sometimes harmonized with a walking bass line, spiky guitar flanges and Driver’s high-pitched scat singing. Unfortunately, it is these songs that undermine the entire disc’s effectiveness. Those times when Driver mouths the impressionistic folksy lyrics in a lachrymose fashion – almost halting the proceedings – are saved from stasis by pointed trumpet obbligatos. With the skill and sophistication displayed on the other tracks, it’s unfortunate that vocalizing prevents Leeways from reaching the highest musical rung.

03 Big BoldSubtract vocals, piano and double bass and add drums and In Search of the Emerging Species (Shhpuma SSH 032 CD shhpuma.com) provides a glimpse of how The Cluttertones would sound if tunes were trimmed even further to languorous microtones. Consisting of Swiss musicians, trumpeter/slide trumpeter Marco Von Orelli and Sheldon Suter, who plays prepared drums, plus Portuguese stylists, guitarist-object manipulator Luis Lopes and Travassos on electronics, Big Bold Back Bone (BBBB) creates a single slab of darkened calculations where undulating pulses and metal-against-metal buffeting underlie a hard drum beat and guitar string strumming, as distant brass puffs advance the theme. Collective in execution, BBBB links Immerge to some of Morton Feldman’s compositions which stretch out without climaxing, but this quartet reveals its jazz and rock roots by, for instance, reaching a crescendo of trumpet slurps and sighs two-thirds of the way through. With this breakthrough, the heart monitor-like pacing of electronics is further breached by drum clatters and a near solo from Von Orelli that speeds up into expressive whistles and buzzes, backed by ascending drum raps, until the entire performance dissolves into silence.

04 CarbonMuch more aggressive in performance with its mixture of improvised jazz, noise, heavy rock and notated music tropes is Elliott Sharp’s Carbon, whose five selections on Transmigration at the Solar Max (Intakt CD311 intaktrec.ch) could be mistaken for metal music until examination reveals that it’s head-expanding rather than headbanging. Sharp’s unrestrained and mangled expositions on eight-string guitarbass, soprano saxophone, electronics, samples and textures don’t mask his university studies in electronics and composition with Feldman and others. He manages to be both aggressive and accommodating in his solos, joined by Zeena Parkins on electric harp and Bobby Previte on drums. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Orrery, where backbeat drum rhythms and blips from electronic samples are transmogrified through tempo changes into a psychedelic blues. In similar fashion, while slurred guitar licks and irregular drum beats serrated by electric harp tension on Perihelion may resemble standard rock tropes, the conjoined patterns that slowly build up alongside them recall the perpetual drone-stretching in the works of notated composers like Charlemagne Palestine and La Monte Young. Not committed to any overriding style however, Sharp also ensures that his five compositions include contrapuntal challenges, with Parkins’ often bottleneck-style vibrations bringing in multiple note extensions, and his own flashing guitar excursions human enough so that his finger positions on the strings are almost visible. 

05 Pavilion RougeUtilizing the brass timbres advanced by The Cluttertones and BBBB and intertwining them with electronic processing common to all these discs is Solution n°5 (LFDS Records LFDS 006 lefondeurdeson.fr) created by the Paris-based Pavillon Rouge trio. With trumpeter Nicolas Souchal’s sometimes eloquent and sometimes expeditious flights, plus alternately growling and blasting tones from Matthias Mahler’s trombone, the acoustic improvising program is satisfied, while the wide range of Jean-Marc Foussat’s electronics that include sampling, signal processing and granular synthesis takes care of the computerized input. Not only do the stop-start loops of Foussat’s machine provide a continuous base on which the horn players can expose their sometimes brief improvisational forays, but his collection of tones and timbres balance, parallel and surprise with such interjections. Add ring modulator-like bell ringing, the replication of Jew’s harp twanging and time and pitch stretched verbalization that takes the form of blurry mumbled phrases or layered textures that build up to the breadth, but not the volume of a choir performing Gregorian chants. While some sections are obtuse and others nearly opaque, the tracks make room for fluid contrapuntal challenges among the three players, with brassy tones turning calliope-like or to atonal triplets before acceding to regularized pulses. Meanwhile, the effect of the electronic undertow is to reconcile all parts so that the sonic performance of these instant compositions is stretched to the absolute limits, without splintering, eventually wrapping up with a finalized hiss.

Each of these sessions could define modern improvising. All draw on electronic interface and nod to various strands of music without hierarchy. And except in high quality, not one resembles any of the others.

01 Abbado Claudio Abbado & the Berlin Philharmoniker: The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon (DG 4835183 60 CDs deutschegrammophon.com/en/cat/4835183) Claudio Abbado’s collaboration with the Berlin Philharmonic began in 1966 when he first stood before the orchestra. Born in Milan on June 26, 1933 he was just 33 years old at the time and his name was already familiar to music lovers and record collectors around the world. He had been principal guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra from 1975 to 1979 at which time he was named principal conductor, the post he held until 1987, having also been appointed music director in 1984. During his LSO tenure he made many exemplary recordings for DG, most of which are still in the catalogue. My favourite version of Le Sacre du Printemps was, and probably still is, his February 1975 spectacular recording made in Fairfield Hall, Croydon. From 1982 to 1985 he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra where DG produced many recordings. He had already recorded the Mahler Second Symphony with them in 1976 and it is the only Mahler symphony not in this new set of Berlin recordings. In 1986 he became the general music director of Vienna and at the same time music director of the Vienna State Opera. In 1988 he founded the music festival, Wien Modern.

Herbert von Karajan died on July 16, 1989 and in that same year Abbado was voted to succeed him as the orchestra’s new chief conductor and music director, a position he would hold from 1990 to 2002. Abbado had already done some recording with the orchestra but now what does a record company do? They record another Beethoven symphony cycle. So it began, not in Berlin but live in Rome in the Academia di Santa Cecilia. During February 2001 they recorded the first eight, returning to the Philharmonie in Berlin for the Ninth. The difference between the two conductors is apparent. Karajan always sought the most beautiful sounds, which had its rewards, but Abbado looks deeper and reveals the sinews that support the satin exterior. I played the symphonies right through simply for hearing these warhorses anew. Why didn’t I do that when they were issued on CD? Checking the original issue, the venue for the First through the Eighth is the Philharmonie with different recording dates starting in 1999. These are different performances, except for the Ninth and are not included in this edition. The five piano concertos with Maurizio Pollini are brilliant. They also collaborate on a disc of the Schumann and Schoenberg piano concertos. The Brahms Symphonies are equally transparent and most often sound freshly minted. As an example, the opening movement of the First has a very positive feeling, missing the lumbering juggernaut often heard elsewhere. There is a Mahler Symphonies cycle minus the Second. It sounds like everything Abbado touched he illuminated without lessening the impact. There are two Prokofiev Third Piano Concertos, with Evgeny Kissin and Martha Argerich.

Guest artists in various repertoire include Anne Sofie von Otter, Thomas Quasthoff, Karita Mattila, Michael Schade, Bryn Terfel, Christine Schafer, Lilya Zilberstein, Roberto Alagna, Alfred Brendel, Gil Shaham and many others including Viktoria Mullova. The repertoire includes Debussy, Dvořák, Hindemith, Janáček, Stockhausen, Berg, Mozart, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner and many others. No Bach, no Vivaldi. A most interesting collection indeed.

02 Leonard BernsteinLeonard Bernstein at Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival (Cmajor 746704, Blu-ray video cmajor-entertainment.com/movie/leonard-bernstein-at-schleswig-holstein-musik-festival-746704) is a captivating documentary of the “Teaching, Performing, Lectures and Master Course” in Salzau, south east of Kiel, to create an orchestra for the 1988 Musik Festival there. I should have written assemble, as create strictly means making something out of nothing. Not so here. The orchestra was composed of 120 eager young men and women from around the world chosen from the 1600 young musicians who competed in national auditions. In Part 1, the orchestra is working through various repertoire, particularly Le Sacre du Printemps negotiating tricky passages, working on ensemble, etc. Clearly these young musicians did not come here to learn to play. They have no technical difficulties. They are rehearsed and advised by various teachers including more than a few members of prominent orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic. In addition to the orchestral work there are times for get-togethers for duets, trios, quartets and the rest plus extra-musical frivolity and socializing. Eventually, they become an orchestra that can confidently play Le Sacre, the work from 1913 considered unplayable for decades. They are ready for the maestro.

In Part 2 Bernstein meets the orchestra and the first thing he asks is that they show him the entire orchestra playing a C-major scale from the lowest sounding C on their instrument, up and down. He is more than pleased. He guides them, always in good humor, through the thorny passages instructing them by example, often using similes and metaphors to illustrate a point. Absolutely fascinating. Watching all this, we can also learn a lot and may ourselves pay extra attention at these junctures at a performance. His last words to the orchestra, “I cannot do this to you anymore. You are fantastic.”

Part 3 is a record of the Master Course for conductors. They are there to better their ways of letting the players know exactly what they should be doing. There is some body language that we viewers in the audience can watch for, although some conductors do it mostly with their eyes. One of the conductors in the competition is Marin Alsop who was to later regard Bernstein as her mentor. There is a bonus. From the Musikverein in Vienna, Bernstein conducts the Schumann A-Minor Piano Concerto with Justus Frantz and the Philharmonic. Enthusiastically recommended to anyone with more than a passing interest in music.

03 Leonard Bernstein Vol.1Cmajor also recently compiled a set of their DVDs as Leonard Bernstein Volume 1 (Cmajor 743008, 6 DVDs shop.cmajor-entertainment.com/items/leonard-bernstein-vol.1-416692) containing extraordinarily powerful, over-the-top live performances of Symphonies 1, 2, 5 & 7 by Sibelius with the Vienna Philharmonic; Debussy’s Images, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and La Mer with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra; Beethoven’s String Quartet No.16 with the Vienna Philharmonic and Haydn’s Mass in Time of War with Judith Blegen, Brigitte Fassbaender and the orchestra and chorus of the Bavarian Radio; a documentary on Bernstein, Larger Than Life with interviews by scores of notables, and finally Tanglewood – 75th Anniversary Celebration. Avid collectors may already have one or two of these.

04 MozartI have long been a fan of the videos from the Royal Opera House making their release of the Da Ponte Operas by Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte a noteworthy event (OpusArte BD7251, 4 Blu-ray video discs naxosdirect.com/items/mozart-the-da-ponte-operas-458931). Don Giovanni was recorded in 2014 conducted by Nicola Luisotti with direction by Kasper Holton. Mariusz Kwiecien is Giovanni, Alex Esposito is Leporello, Malin Bryström is Donna Anna and Véronique Gens is Donna Elvira. The Commendatore is Alexander Tsymbalyuk. The costuming is contemporary, very natural and not at odds with the libretto and Mozart’s score. Le Nozze di Figaro from 2006, is conducted by Antonio Pappano with direction by David McVicar. Included in the cast we have Erwin Schrott as Figaro, Miah Perrson as Susanna, with Gerald Finley singing Count Almaviva and Dorothea Röschmann as the Countess. Cherubino is sung by Rinat Shaham and Philip Langridge is Don Basilio. Cosi fan Tutte from 2016 is conducted by Semyon Bychkov with direction by Jan Philipp Gloger. Daniel Behle is Ferrando, Alessio Arduini is Guglielmo and Johannes Martin Kränzle is Don Alfonso. Corinne Winters sings Fiordiligi, Angela Brower is Dorabella and Despina is sung by Sabina Puértolas.

Each of these productions is much better than average, being most satisfying on all counts wherein Mozart’s genius easily shines throughout. In sum, the staging for all three is creative and imaginative, with unfailing wit. The voices for the most part are perfectly ideal for the roles. The directing is inviting and the acting continuously convincing, enhancing the subtleties of both Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Everything works. A delight for Mozart lovers. There are lots of extras including the director’s voiceover commentary on Don Giovanni and more. Both audio and video quality are state of the art in this Blu-ray edition, sturdily slip-cased with a 70-page fine-art, four-colour booklet. 

epbanner2Volume 1 of The WholeNote EP Review covers guitarist/composer Kohen Hammond’s Fragments of Moments, and vocalist Laura Swankey’s Once More.

(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.)

Fragments of Moments

Fragments of Moments – Kohen Hammond

Fragments of Moments, the debut release from guitarist/composer Kohen Hammond, is another impressive recording to come out of the Humber College Studios in recent months. Fragments is similar, in a variety of ways, to Mingjia Chen’s recently released EP Feel Seen: both recordings are composition-led chamber-jazz outings that use a number of the same players. But, where Feel Seen is expansive and cinematic, Fragments is dark, introspective, and, well, also cinematic, albeit from a very different movie.

Fragments of Moments begins with “Serious Distance,” a contemplative, haunting piece, punctuated by dense chords and melodic cells, which are played in both the lower and upper registers (by reeds and strings, respectively). “Serious Distance” – with which Hammond won the Serge Garant 2017 SOCAN Young Composers Award – effectively sets the tone for Fragments’ six subsequent tracks, both in terms of mood and in terms of Hammond’s role throughout the proceedings. While Hammond is an accomplished instrumentalist, he only plays guitar on “Serious Distance” and “Haven’t Seen the Sunrise.” (On the latter, Hammond plays a lovely, ethereal introduction over a field recording of birdsong.) On the remaining five songs – the five-part suite “Used to Rhyme,” which uses text from the Toronto-based poet Nawi Moreno, whose words are spoken and sung by vocalist Mingjia Chen – Hammond contributes field recordings and electronics, though he doesn’t play guitar. The five sections of “Used to Rhyme” – “Play,” “Bridge,” “Language,” “Love,” and “Story” – are, like the first two tracks, assembled with a deft minimalist touch, eerily underscoring Chen’s evocative vocal delivery.

It takes remarkable restraint, as an instrumentalist newly graduated from a post-secondary music program, not to fill your debut release with all of the technical pyrotechnics you can muster; it takes something else entirely (maturity, confidence, a dedication to the craft of arranging) to allow your compositional convictions to dictate how much you will play, and not the other way around. (In this regard, a comparison can be made between Fragments of Moments and American guitarist Rafiq Bhatia’s recent release Breaking English, which affords a similar primacy to texture, orchestration, and composition over individual technical prowess.) On Fragments of Moments, Hammond has succeeded in creating a beautiful, cohesive artistic statement, by turns both ominous and comforting.

Fragments of Moments was released on August 23, 2018, and can be purchased at www.kohenhammond.bandcamp.com. To learn more about Kohen Hammond, visit www.kohenhammond.com.

Once More

Once More: for solo voice and electronics – Laura Swankey

Where Fragments draws on the capabilities of a chamber orchestra to create unexpected textural effects, vocalist Laura Swankey’s new EP – Once More: for solo voice and electronics – is, as the title suggests, an exploration of the depth and range of a single voice, and the expressionistic possibilities afforded by the various effects employed by Swankey over this EP’s 15-minute running time. Once More was recorded live-off-the-floor, which, for an improvising musician such as Swankey, who operates within an open, creative musical model, is perhaps not a surprise. What is notable about Once More, however, is that all of the sounds that the listener hears are being sung, looped, and otherwise triggered by Swankey in one continuous performance, rather than being overdubbed. This is significant for two reasons. The first: in much the same way that a straight-ahead jazz group might record live-off-the-floor, Swankey’s decision mirrors her live performance practice, giving a prominent place to spontaneity and improvisational subtlety. The second: it requires a high degree of technical sophistication – which Swankey has in no small supply, in both as a singer and as an effects operator – to pull off a performance of this type in a live setting; anyone who has spent any time with time-based effects knows how jarring it can be when a loop goes awry.

Once More’s first track, “You Need/ She Had A Garden,” begins with Swankey’s voice, reverb-soaked and on its own, singing a simple melody; the last note of the melody is then frozen, becoming a drone, as percussive elements are added in and the melody is restated. The song builds to a climax before quick, delayed sounds and ominous lower-pitched notes transition the listener to the next section, a rumbling, droning section featuring parallel vocal harmony over a lush harmonic backdrop. “Alone Now (liar),” the EP’s second track (but its third song – the first track really is two songs with an interesting transition) starts off with another percussive vocal part, before Swankey artfully layers in the melody and a variety of textural cells on top of the song’s stuttering 3/4 heartbeat. Although Once More is a project for solo voice and electronics, one of the EP’s most interesting features is that Swankey’s arranging choices are actually fairly traditional: melodies are stated and developed, harmony gradually becomes more complex, textures get denser, activity is balanced with passivity, and so on. What makes Once More special is that all of its musical features are being generated by one person – in a format that is both new and surprisingly accessible.

Once More: for solo voice and electronics was released on October 4, 2018, and can be purchased at https://lauraswankey.bandcamp.com. To learn more about Laura Swankey, visit https://soundcloud.com/lauraswankey.

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.

01 Marc DjokicI begin this month with a hot-off-the-press solo violin release on the ATMA label. Solo Seven (ACD2 2748 atmaclassique.com) features works by seven Canadian composers including several written for the soloist, young scion of one of Atlantic Canada’s most respected musical families. After initial studies with his father, renowned violinist Philippe, Marc Djokic continued his studies in the United States at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Young Artist Program, the New England Conservatory, and with Jaime Laredo at Indiana University. Winner of the 2017-2018 Prix Goyer, a Prix Opus and a former Instrument Bank recipient from the Canada Council, Djokic is currently artist-in-residence at CAMMAC (the Canadian Amateur Musicians association) and was recently named principal violin of the McGill Chamber Orchestra. Solo Seven marks his recording debut.

The disc begins with two virtuosic, moto perpetuo movements from Richard Mascall’s Sonata for solo violin & Digital FX. The first movement, Labyrinth for amplified violin and digital reverb, which Mascall wrote in 1992 at the age of 19 while a first year undergraduate student, went on to success at the CBC Young Composers’ Competition. In 1993 it was chosen to represent Canada at the International Rostrum of Composers and that same year Mascall completed the five-movement sonata. At The Corner House, a reference to a chic Toronto restaurant where the composer worked for a time, is the final movement and it culminates with a blazing cadenza-like “guitar solo,” actually a transcription of an infamous passage from Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Eruption. I must say that it translates effectively to violin, especially in the hands of this young master.

We are also presented with selections from Noncerto RR3, Noncerto Notre-Dame-de-Grace by Matthias Maute. I was familiar with Maute as the director of Ensemble Caprice and as a flute and recorder soloist, but this was my introduction to his work as a composer. The opening Sparkle – Andantino is a warm and gentle movement where the sparkle is more reflective than effervescent. Chopin – A tempo giusto juxtaposes ebullient arpeggiated sections with contemplative melodic moments. Casareccia – Chaconne Prestissimo, is as you would suspect, primarily boisterous although not without some elongated double-stopped melodic passages, providing an exciting finale.

Vincent Ho’s brief Morning Song, evidently begun and finished while watching a single sunrise, gives respite from the whirlwinds that precede it, somewhat reminiscent of The Lark Ascending. Serbian-born Ana Sokolovic is also represented by excerpts, in this case two movements from Five Dances for Violin Solo which the composer tells us, although modelled on the Baroque suite are actually imaginary dances based on the rhythmic improvisations that are characteristic of the folk music of the Balkans. There are echoes of the Baroque in Kevin Lau’s Tears as well, which he says draws inspiration from Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, “whose dramatic three-part arc influenced the architecture and tonal centre of my own piece”; but also from Berio’s Sequenza VIII, “whose searing narrative made a stunning impression on me as a student.” Lau wrote the piece while a student at U of T in 2006, but revised it in 2017 for the purpose of this recording.

Murray Adaskin’s Vocalise No.1 was composed for clarinet solo in 1989 and adapted three years later for violin and dedicated to Andrew Dawes, founding first violinist of the Orford Quartet. Throughout this work, the composer uses a melody which reoccurs in undulating variations, gradually rising in pitch and giving the impression of moving from darkness to light. Incidentally, it was Andrew Dawes who performed Mascall’s Labyrinth during the CBC Young Composers Competition.

This in effect brings the disc full circle, but wait, there’s more, in the form of an “encore” piece Dystopia by Christos Hatzis. Hatzis tells us that, “Hidden behind the hyper-virtuosity and relative brevity,

this piece is a meditation on the causes of religious intransigence, disenchantment and, ultimately, jihad. The literal meaning of the title (a ‘terrible plac’) refers to the current conflict between narrowly defined religious creeds, particularly the conflict between the Moslem world, and the so-called Western civilization, or modernity.” It provides a timely and fitting coda to this fine recording.

I look forward to further releases from Marc Djokic, and to hearing the other movements of Mascall’s, Maute’s and Sokolovic’s suites on some future occasion.

Listen to 'Solo Seven' Now in the Listening Room

02 Telegraph QuartetOne of the first works I ever heard that integrated electronics with live performance was American composer Leon Kirchner’s 1966 String Quartet No.3 with electronic tape. It was an epiphany for me and an introduction to a brave new world. On Into the Light (Centaur CRC 3651 centaurrecords.com), the Telegraph Quartet performs an earlier work by Kirchner, the String Quartet No.1 from 1949, a gnarly modernistic composition, that while lacking any electronic extensions of the sound world manages to push the envelope in its own ways. The third movement Divertimento seems to foreshadow the world of Schnittke’s “ghost waltz” and the Adagio final movement anticipates late Shostakovich. Another revelation to me, or more accurately a reminder, as I know I have this piece in my vinyl collection and first heard it nearly half a century ago, of how forward-looking Kirchner was in those early postwar years.

This new disc pairs the Kirchner with Anton Webern’s Funf Satze (Five Movements) for String Quartet, Op.5 from 1909 and Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimenti (1936). I will borrow from Kai Christiansen’s note about the Webern because “I couldn’t have said it better myself!” He tells us in part that the music is “atonal, exquisitely colourful, shockingly brief and so mysteriously evocative. Like five epigrammatic character pieces from outer space, they conjure eerie landscapes, fantastic atmospheres as well as ineffable inner spaces.” The Telegraph Quartet’s realization of these “jewels” (Stravinsky) is crystalline and thoroughly engrossing. The Britten miniatures – although relatively epic when compared to Webern’s haikus – provide a dramatic contrast: an angular and majestic March, lilting Waltz and playful presto Burlesque. All in all, a welcome addition to my string quartet collection (with apologies to Terry Robbins).

03 Douglas BoyceSome Consequences of Four Incapacities (new focus recordings FCR205 newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue/douglas-boyce-some-consequences-of-four-incapacities) features extremely esoteric – I would say old school new music – chamber compositions by American composer Douglas Boyce. The disc opens with 102nd & Amsterdam, performed by members of the Aeolus Quartet. The work honours the composer’s father and his love of New York City. It begins in near silence with nervous scratching and harmonics in the high strings. Ever so gradually, melodies emerge and a cello solo comes to the fore. Later the violin and viola join in a furious round of glissandi and dense choppy rhythms. Eventually the eerie atmosphere of the opening returns as “this portrait of an urban crossing beautifully captures how one spot in a city can contain an entire universe.” Members of counter)induction perform the brief but intense Piano Quartet No.1 which is a splendidly raucous homage to Boyce’s youthful love of Bartók and King Crimson.

The final work, filling more than half of the disc, is the intriguing Fortuitous Variations, in four movements performed by Trio Cavatina. There are literally pages of program notes about this piece in the covering letter I received from Boyce, on the one-sheet press release and in the extended notes on the new focus website (the disc itself has none). Boyce writes “The CD’s title is borrowed from an essay of C.S. Peirce, the inaugurator of philosophical Pragmatism and its particularly ferocious rethinking of the potential of thought in comparison to practice. […] There is a darkness here, as there is in so much of Peirce – a seeming submission to human finitude, to limits both cognitive and biological. And, I think, that gothic and mournful mood carries across all the works on the disc.” The movement titles – every deduction involves the observation of a diagram; the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another; so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless and the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement – presumably refer further to Peirce and his development of “America’s great contribution to philosophy.” The web notes tell us (in part): “Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) is a fascinating figure philosophically, historically, and biographically. [...] founder of an intellectual enterprise committed to disrupting all foundations. His most inventive work addressed language, communication, and symbology; the pure volume of his output on pretty much everything is quite belittling to one’s own sense of capacity – mathematics, mathematical logic, physics, geodesy, spectroscopy, astronomy, psychology, anthropology, history, and economics.” How this actually relates to the music and its composition is beyond me, but Boyce, who is associate professor of music at George Washington University, has found in it inspiration to create a compelling cycle of works. Recommended for those who are not concerned with finding hummable tunes in their craggy contemporary music. The performances are all outstanding.

04 Gaite ParisienneThe final disc this month provides a bit of a “guilty pleasure” or at least a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I believe I first heard Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne in my early teenage years on my mother’s Reader’s Digest collection of great classical favourites (I don’t remember the exact title, but it was about ten LPs and had more or less what you’d expect in a sampler). A new ATMA release by the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec under the direction of Fabien GabelGaîté Parisienne (ACD2 2757 atmaclassique.com) – features that cancan-filled work along with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and Poulenc’s suite from Les Biches in spirited performances. Paris-born Gabel, director of the OSQ since 2012, brings with him an innate love and understanding of French repertoire as witnessed in this, OSQ’s fifth ATMA, and 25th overall release, recorded live in Salle Louis-Frèchette, Grand Théâtre de Québec in May of this year.

Ravel’s love of the waltz, “You know my great liking for these wonderful rhythms,” resulted in a set of eight piano pieces in 1911, titled in homage to Schubert who had published two collections, Valses nobles and Valses sentimentales. Ravel orchestrated his set and in 1914 it was premiered under the direction of the legendary Pierre Monteux (who incidentally conducted the OSQ in 1962). Less well known is Poulenc’s ballet suite, but it provides an appropriate bridge to the final work that is the icing on the cake, Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne, created in 1938 for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo with choreography from Léonide Massine, one of the leading lights of the former Ballet Russes. We are here presented with a half-hour long suite arranged at Massine’s request, by Manuel Rosenthal drawing on the best of Offenbach’s operettas, although primarily La vie parisienne. It ends with the gorgeous Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann, and a good time is had by all!

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01 DohnanyiThe chamber music of the Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi is featured in outstanding performances by the Nash Ensemble on a new Hyperion CD (CDA68215 hyperion-records.co.uk).

Dohnányi was a central figure in Hungarian musical life in the 1930s, but unfounded Nazi sympathiser accusations by the post-war Communist government essentially destroyed his reputation. It was not until the 1990s that it began to recover.

The works here are from three periods of Dohnányi’s career. The Serenade in C major for string trio Op.10 is an early work, inventive, masterful and humorous. The String Quartet No.3 in A Minor Op.33 is a nationalistic and modernist work from 1926, the composer having returned to Hungary from Berlin at the start of the First World War.

The absolute gem here, though, is the Sextet in C major for piano, clarinet, horn and string trio Op.37 from 1935, the last chamber work Dohnányi completed. It’s absolutely stunning, with writing that’s brilliant and passionate throughout – at times overwhelmingly so. The incredible performance here simply takes your breath away.

02 Mozart Piano QuartetsPianist Joyce Yang joins members of the Alexander String Quartet – violinist Zakarias Grafilo, violist Paul Yarbrough and cellist Sandy Wilson – in Apotheosis: Mozart Vol.2 The Piano Quartets (Foghorn Classics CD2018 FoghornClassics.com). Volume 1 featured the Late String Quartets, and Volume 3 will feature the Late Quintets.

Mozart was not the first to write quartets for piano and strings, but his two contributions – the Piano Quartet in G Minor K478 and Piano Quartet in E-flat Major K493 from 1785 and 1786 respectively – are the first two great works in the genre. They are given simply beautiful performances here, with sensitive, expressive playing all round. The outstanding Yang plays with crystal-clear articulation and a fine sense of melodic line and phrase; the string playing – as one would expect from this ensemble founded in 1981 – is warm and stylish, with generous but never excessive vibrato.

The recorded sound, ambience and balance are all that you could wish for.

03 Kashkashian BachThere’s another quite outstanding set of the Bach Cello Suites in the version for viola on J. S. Bach Six Suites for Viola Solo BWV1007-1012 with American violist Kim Kashkashian (ECM New Series ECM2553/54 ecmrecords.com). The viola is tuned an octave above the cello, so this arrangement, while not altering the music’s physical relation with the instrument, creates a different range of tonal colour.

Kashkashian plays a modern viola by Stefan-Peter Greiner and – for Suite V – a 1989 five-string viola by Francesco Bissolotti. Both instruments have a glowing, lustrous tone.

Kashkashian plays these dance suites with an unerring sense of movement, with faultless technique, and with warmth, flexibility, smoothness and a controlled emotionality that mines the depths of these remarkable creations.

04 Benda ViolaThree viola concertos usually attributed to the 18th-century German composer Georg Benda but now believed by the soloist here to be by Benda’s nephew are presented on Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Benda Viola Concertos 1-3 (cpo 555 167-2 naxosdirect.com/items/benda-viola-concertos-nos.-1-3-455473). The Quebec-born violist Jean-Eric Soucy is the soloist with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiberg under Bernard Labadie, with whom Soucy was a co-founder of Les Violins du Roy.

Soucy’s excellent notes trace the intricate but fascinating research journey that led to his opinion regarding the true source of these concertos. They’re simply lovely works which Soucy rightly calls magnificent additions to the viola repertoire.

Concerto No.1 is in F Major; Concerto Nos. 2 and 3 are in E-flat Major. Soucy plays with a lovely warm tone, agility and clear articulation. Labadie creates a perfect setting for him, with the delicate harpsichord sound in particular adding to a transparent orchestral texture to create a perfect period feel.

05 IsserlisThe always outstanding Steven Isserlis plays works by Chopin, Schubert and Franchomme on Chopin & Schubert Sonatas with pianist Dénes Várjon (Hyperion CDA68227 hyperion-records.co.uk). Isserlis is one of the most insightful and intelligent cellists around, and his warm, expansive playing is evident from the opening work, Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C Major Op.3.

Chopin met the French cellist Auguste Franchomme in Paris and the two became close associates, the latter joining Chopin in the premiere performance of the Cello Sonata in G Minor Op.65, the last work published in Chopin’s lifetime. Isserlis, in his customary insightful booklet notes, describes Franchomme’s Nocturne in C Minor Op.15 No.1 as a nice bridge from the youthful Chopin to the inward-looking composer of the late, dark sonata. There’s impassioned playing by Isserlis and Várjon in the Chopin Cello Sonata, especially in the lengthy opening movement.

The Schubert work is the Arpeggione Sonata in A Minor D821. The arpeggione, sometimes called the cello-guitar, was a fretted instrument held between the knees and played with a bow. It was an awkward invention that would probably be forgotten by now were it not for this sonata; certainly its awkwardness isn’t reflected in Schubert’s music.

Two songs in transcriptions by Isserlis complete the CD: Chopin’s Nie ma czego trzeba Op.74 No.13; and Schubert’s Nacht und Träume D827.

06 Gerscheim CelloI don’t recall ever hearing any music by the German late-Romantic composer Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916), so the new CD of his Complete Cello Sonatas with cellist Alexander Hülshoff and pianist Oliver Triendl came as a welcome – and pleasant – surprise (cpo 555 054-2 naxosdirect.com/items/gernsheim-complete-cello-sonatas-455471).

This is the first recording of all three of Gernsheim’s cello sonatas, presented here along with two short pieces for cello and piano. The Sonata No.3 in E Minor Op.87 was a direct result of Gernsheim’s dissatisfaction with the Sonata No.2 in E Minor Op.79 from 1906, the composer reworking the finale in 1914 and replacing the original first two movements with completely new ones. The Sonata No.1 in D Minor Op.12 is an early work from 1868 that still inhabits the world of Mendelssohn.

That Gernsheim could clearly write beautiful slow movements is amply illustrated by the two short works here. The Andante in D Major Op.64bis from 1898 is a transcription of the Brahmsian slow movement from the Violin Sonata Op.64, and Elohenu – Hebraic biblical song from1881 was inspired by Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei for cello from the previous year.

Hülshoff is noted for his “great expressive force and a powerful, warm and nuanced tone,” says the booklet bio, and these works certainly afford him every opportunity to display those qualities. For his part, Triendl handles the ferociously difficult piano writing with a commanding assurance.

07 Goldschmidt ReizensteinVoices in the Wilderness – Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish Composers is the subtitle of another cpo cello CD, Reizenstein & Goldschmidt Cello Concertos, with Rafael Wallfisch and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin led by Nicholas Milton (cpo 555 109-2 naxosdirect.com/items/goldschmidt-reizenstein-cello-concertos-455472). The same performers were featured on an earlier release of cello concertos by Hans Gál and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Both Franz Reizenstein and Berthold Goldschmidt fled Berlin for England in the mid-1930s, but while the 32-year-old Goldschmidt arrived as a mature composer the 23-year-old Reizenstein was still keen to continue studying, which allowed him to find a place in British musical development that eluded Goldschmidt.

Reizenstein’s concerto was written in 1936, two years after his arrival, but not heard until its premiere in 1951 with cellist William Pleeth. In almost all respects – thematic material, harmony, orchestration – it absolutely screams Hindemith, with whom Reizenstein studied in Berlin, but there are also touches of Vaughan Williams, Reizenstein’s teacher in England.

Goldschmidt’s concerto was written for William Pleeth in 1953, using material from a lost pre-war cello sonata he had written for Emanuel Feuermann. Goldschmidt conducted the 1954 premiere with Pleeth as soloist.

Wallfisch has a strong personal connection to these works: his German musician parents also settled in England and knew both composers as well as Hans Gál. His performances of these two fascinating but rarely-heard works are quite outstanding.

08 Inbal SegevThe Chopin Cello Sonata comes paired with works by Robert Schumann and Edvard Grieg on a new Avie Records CD with Israeli-American cellist Inbal Segev and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen (AV2389 avie-records.com).

While all three works are by Romantic-era composers whose musical thinking was shaped instinctively by the piano, Segev notes that they “focus on the cello’s lyrical properties and I feel that here a beautiful tone is of paramount importance.” That’s certainly what we get from her 1673 Francesco Ruggieri instrument in a rich and passionate performance.

The Schumann 3 Fantasiestücke Op.73 were originally written for clarinet and piano and were transcribed for cello by the composer.

Grieg’s Cello Sonata in A Minor Op.36 is full of the folk-inspired melodies so typical of the composer. The cello writing is comparatively straightforward, but the sonata has a simply huge and challenging piano part that at times sounds like Grieg’s Piano Concerto. The Scandinavian Pohjonen is in his element here, and quite superb. Segev’s playing in the really beautiful slow movement is absolutely gorgeous.

A really nice ambience and instrumental balance complement an excellent CD.

09 Gounod BookletString quartets may not be what immediately spring to mind when you hear the name Charles Gounod, but he wrote five, two of which remained unpublished. All five are recorded together for the first time on the 2CD set Gounod: Complete String Quartets (Aparté AP177 apartemusic.com). The Quatuor Cambini-Paris performs on period instruments.

The quartets are: No.1 in C Major CG561, No.2 in A Major CG562, No.3 in F Major CG563, No.4 in A Minor CG564, and No.5 in G Minor CG565. They are very much in the Viennese tradition, and while perhaps not sounding particularly French, are clearly well-crafted and highly entertaining. Performances are top-notch, with a resonant recorded ambience.

10 MacMillanThe Polish ensemble the Royal String Quartet plays String Quartets Nos.1-3 by the 59-year-old Sir James MacMillan on a new Hyperion CD (CDA68196 hyperion-records.co.uk).

String Quartet No.1 Visions of a November Spring, written in 1988 and revised in 1991, is described as displaying a sense of lyricism in the face of aggressive turbulence; MacMillan calls it “sheer frenzy, craziness.”

String Quartet No.2 Why is this night different? from 1998 takes its inspiration from the question Jewish children ask on Seder Night. Running a fine line between elation and anguish, it creates a feeling of celebration against a perilous backdrop.

String Quartet No.3 from 2007 marked a return to absolute music – “Just the notes and nothing but the notes,” said the composer – but if anything is more approachable and effective than the previous two. The quite beautiful final movement marked Patiently and painfully slow ends with a high, quiet, ethereal and striking soundscape.

Performances and recording quality are all first class.

11 Dodgson TriosStephen Dodgson String Trios, which includes Works for Solo Violin, Solo Viola and Solo Cello, features music by the English composer, who died in 2013 at the age of 89 (Naxos 8.573856 naxos.com). Three members of the UK chamber ensemble Karolos – violinist Harriet Mackenzie, violist Sarah-Jane Bradley and cellist Graham Walker – are the excellent performers.

The two string trios, from 1951 and 1964 respectively, act as bookends on the CD around the brief Sonatina in B Minor for Solo Violin from 1963, the 1978 solo viola set of variations Caprice after Puck and the lengthy Partita for Solo Cello from 1985. These are all predominantly tonal works with fine writing, the slow movements of the two trios being particularly attractive.

All but the String Trio No.2 are world premiere recordings.

01 Southam SoundspinningChristina Petrowska Quilico’s new recording Soundspinning – Music of Ann Southam (Centrediscs CMCCD 26018 musiccentre.ca) brings her discography to nearly 50 CDs and adds another item to the Canadian Music Centre’s already enormous collection of recorded Canadian works. Petrowska Quilico and Southam were close friends and frequent collaborators. Their relationship has given Petrowska Quilico a unique point of access to Southam’s world and established her as a respected interpreter of Southam’s piano compositions.

The repertoire on the disc includes five cycles of miniatures, many of which are based on a 12-tone row that Southam used extensively. But the recording also includes two “Bluesy” sets, Three in Blue and Five Shades of Blue, that are particularly intriguing for their obvious reflection of jazz influences. All of them are delightfully playful creations that Petrowska Quilico plays with superb technique and unbridled joy.

The most substantial item is Altitude Lake, written in 1963. It provides a considerable contrast to the shorter pieces on the rest of the disc. As a larger conception it comes across as episodic and complex. Petrowska Quilico spends generous amounts of time exploiting Southam’s technique of sustained resonances and dramatic contrast. Remembering Schubert is of nearly equal length but more meditative. Southam uses a Schubert-like figure strongly reminiscent of an art song accompaniment to cycle through numerous tone row wanderings.

Soundspinning is an important recorded document in the compilation of Southam’s piano works and is masterfully performed by Petrowska Quilico.

02 Lucille Chung LisztCanadian pianist Lucille Chung has released her 11th recording, Liszt (Signum Classics SIGCD533 signumrecords.com), that includes a variety of short works before launching into the Sonata in B Minor S178. Chung writes a portion of the liner notes to explain her personal understanding of Liszt’s music as it has evolved over her career. The B Minor Sonata reveals, for Chung, the composer’s mature voice and dispenses with the extravagant scale of virtuosic pianism often found in his earlier writing. Her argument acknowledges that the sonata in Liszt’s hands is an evolutionary new form but also stresses that he is stripping away the “razzle-dazzle” in favour of his introspective quest.

Consequently, Chung takes every opportunity to explore the moments of repose with softer touch, intimacy and plenty of hesitation. She brings a different kind of intensity to the sonata than is usually heard, one with less bombast – but not less impact. She sets out to play the sonata with a different intent, to explore the depths rather than conquer the heights. Her playing is brilliant and entirely up to the technical demands of the piece. Her new appreciation of the composer’s personal presence in the music makes the sonata, despite her lifelong acquaintance with it, entirely fresh and alive.

03 Schumann PerspectivesLuisa Guembes-Buchanan’s new 2CD set Robert Schumann – Perspectives (Del Aguila Records DA 55312 luisagbuchanan.com) is going to attract a lot of attention for several reasons. Guembes-Buchanan plays with a remarkably wide expressive range. She embraces every opportunity that Kinderszenen Op.15 gives for imitate expression and pulls the music deeply into a very private place. It’s an amazing effect that’s supported by very close and clean recording. She performs on a Fazioli 228, which is a little smaller than a full concert grand. It has a harmonically rich bass and mid-range, and suits this repertoire and the performer’s playing style extremely well.

Guembes-Buchanan explodes into the opening segment of Kreisleriana Op.16 with breathtaking technique. She brings this level of energy to all the fast movements in this cycle, creating a stark contrast to the atmosphere of Kinderszenen.

The second disc includes the Sonata Op.22 in G Minor and the Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op. 26. In the latter, Guembes-Buchanan plays the Scherzino with an arresting lightness and the Finale with another demonstration of her raw keyboard power. She also includes some rarely heard fragments from Schumann’s papers to conclude the disc.

The whole package is set in a beautifully bound book with photographs of letters, manuscripts and other historical images along with quotes by prominent pianists, and pertinent liner notes for the program.

04 WeinbergMeiczyslaw Weinberg – Piano Sonatas Opp 8, 49bis, 56 (Deutschlandfunk Kultur CPO 555 104-2 naxosdirect.com/items/weinberg-piano-sonatas-opp.-8-49bis-56-448637) is the fourth recording in Elisaveta Blumina’s project to record the piano works of this Russian composer. Although Polish-born, Weinberg’s writing strongly reflects his upbringing and education under the Soviet regime. Centralized authorities are threatened by creative expressions that challenge broadly imposed norms on a society, and for Weinberg this meant finding ways to work within established constraints without drawing too much official criticism that might derail his career and livelihood. Consequently, Weinberg and other composers struggled to find ways of expressing their modernism that would sustain their efforts in the long term rather than jeopardize them. Weinberg’s music is a fascinating example of how this compromise was struck. His writing uses traditional forms with a strong tonal centre that includes some careful exploration of unconventional melodic lines. There’s a hint of atonality but nothing jarring. His rhythmic structures are largely traditional but open to extended experimentation.

Blumina chooses three sonatas that offer a clear picture of Weinberg’s development. The earliest is Sonata No.2 Op.8 in A Minor written in 1942. Its beautiful melodic ideas are plentiful and their development easy to follow. The latest in the set is from 1978. The Sonata Op.49bis shows a general disregard for the caution and compromise in the earlier work. Here, angular clusters of dissonant notes freely interrupt melodic ideas that themselves are only distantly related. Blumina plays this sonata with all the boldness and discontent that Weinberg wrote into it. Her performance is powerfully intriguing.

05 Shi An Costello Rounded BinaryShi-An Costello has a new recording that is more a concept than a performance. Rounded Binary – Preludes and Fugues of J.S. Bach and Dmitri Shostakovich (Blue Griffin Records BGR463 bluegriffin.com) finds relationships in works from very different historical periods and links them to explore that kinship. J.S. Bach is the launch point for the experiment and Dmitri Shostakovich is the destination. Costello first plays Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major BWV846 at a conventional speed, then repeats the Prelude at four times the speed and just a fragment of the Fugue at half speed. Here he makes the transition to the Shostakovich Prelude in A Minor Op.87 which uses the same rhythmic pattern as the Bach prelude and is now familiar because of the high-speed version of the Bach on a previous track.

Costello explores other linkages that include the shared emotional world of Schumann’s Träumerei and the Bach C-major fugue already heard. He also ties together another pair of works by Bach and Shostakovich. Mostly interestingly, he steps more fully into his role as composer/performer in a combination of the now-familiar Bach Prelude in C Major BWV846 and the Shostakovich Prelude in C Major Op.87, blending the harmonic progression of the latter with the rhythmic patterns of the former.

It’s a creatively curious exercise and should spark some discussion among cognoscenti.

06 Matei Varga Early DeparturesMatei Varga’s latest recording Early Departures (sonoluminus.nativedsd.com/albums/DSL92223-early-departures) pays homage to pianists who died young and whose potential remained unfulfilled. Not all the names in the program are well known. Varga’s performance of their work is a welcome document on great talents we might have watched grow into towering maturity. Tudor Dumitrescu, for example, killed at the age of 19 in the 1997 earthquake that struck Bucharest, was, by a few recorded accounts, another Van Cliburn. His 7 Preludes, Preludes in C Sharp Minor and B Minor are heartfelt works revealing a fluid writing style, and profound understanding of his instrument. His emotional maturity is striking. Regardless of whether his future would have evolved as a composer or a performer, the world is poorer for having lost him.

Dinu Lipatti lived to age 33. While he made his reputation principally as a brilliant performer, his deeper desire was to compose. His 15 works represent a variety of forms. Among his piano compositions are two works included on this disc as world premiere recordings: The Little Suite: Prelude, WoO B.35 and the Sonata Romantica, WoO B.13.

Another dimension of early loss is the grief of surviving parents. Hence Varga’s inclusion of Janáček’s In The Mists. The composer wrote this brief four-movement suite in the wake of his 21-year-old daughter’s death from typhoid fever.

Varga appropriately includes J.S. Bach’s serenely simple Adagio from the Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974 as the closing track in this homage.

07 Messiaen OrganOrganist Tom Winpenny plays the organ of Église Saint-Martin, Luxembourg in his latest recording, Messiaen – Livre d’orgue (Naxos 8.573845 naxos.com). The instrument dates from 1912 and is a synthesis of the German symphonic and French Romantic organ-building styles. It’s a big instrument with 85 ranks over 5 divisions.

Winpenny’s choice for the opening track is the Verset pour la Fête de la Dédicace. Messiaen composed it in 1960 as a test piece for the Paris Conservatory. While it opens with a plainsong Alleluia, the piece is intended as an essay in birdsong. Winpenny has a field day pulling the organ’s most colourful stops for the effects the composer wanted. This recording of it is a world premiere, as is the CD’s final track, the Love Theme from Tristan and Isolde which Messiaen wrote as incidental music for a play.

The Livre d’orgue is as challenging for the listener as it is for the performer. Its seven movements require more than just impressive keyboard technique. The registration demands (orchestral colours) are complex and nearly overwhelming. Computerized, programmable registration is a welcome feature and this instrument has it. Winpenny masters the technical issues as well as the intellectual ones. Multiple thematic lines of varying tempi, texture and structure challenge the ear, especially with music that is starkly out of its ecclesiastical context. Nothing here for the faint of heart.

08 Ukrainian RhapsodyAnna and Dmitri Shelest make a welcome return to this column with their latest recording, Ukrainian Rhapsody (Sorel Classics SC CD 011 sorelmusic.org/Sorel/Recordings). As a piano duo they occupy less than half the disc, giving the majority of the program to Anna alone for some rarely heard works by Ukrainian composers. Mykola Lysenko, an avid collector of Ukrainian folk music, wrote the Suite on Ukrainian Themes Op.2 on the model of the Baroque dance suite. Its Toccata and Scherzo are particularly impressive for the relentless energy and sparkle Anna Shelest brings to them. While more contemporary, Levko Revutsky’s voice is still post-Romantic with the exception of his highly attractive Waltz in B-flat Minor. Anna recognizes the modern twists in the piece and lets it lean a little in the direction of music theatre.

The really impressive tracks on the disc are the Three Extravagant Dances for piano four hands by Myroslav Skoryk. With fancifully cumbersome titles like Blues: Almost American, Can-Can: as from an Old Gramophone Plate, and Entrance and Dance: Almost Spanish-Moorish, these three pieces are huge. The writing is big, dense and loud – very loud. This is raw pianism and as thrilling as four hands performance can get. Be warned – it will knock you right off your seat!

01 Nesrallah LeonardelliUn Sospiro – Italian Art Songs
Julie Nesrallah; Caroline Leonardelli
Cen Classics CEN1469 (carolineleonardelli.com)

It is wonderful to hear distinguished Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah together with celebrated harpist Caroline Leonardelli perform the Italian art song repertoire. In this disc’s opening Bellini group, Nesrallah’s rich, secure voice brings ardent expression to these three love lyrics of which Lovely moon, you who shed silver light shines with melodic appeal. As with the disc’s other songs, the original piano accompaniments are replaced by fine harp arrangements, many by Leonardelli, that lend a dignified antique ambience. In Verdi’s setting of Gretchen’s prayer to the Virgin Mary (Oh, with mercy) from Goethe’s Faust, Nesrallah contributes dramatic power and vocal colour to the heartfelt plea. I particularly appreciate hearing both artists bring to life song groups by Puccini and Leoncavallo, each of which includes a mattinata (morning song). Puccini’s (Sun and love) is through-composed and has a gorgeous melody, while Leoncavallo’s cheerful romance, Mattinata, is in a more popular style with verse-and-refrain structure and conventional harmony.

Song composer Paolo Tosti is also known for his lighter style, and yet the two examples here make me wonder, especially his setting of d‘Annunzio’s Lasciami! It attains the peak of impassioned vocalism in Nesrallah’s interpretation, echoed by Leonardelli’s concluding harp solo. Following this work is Monteverdi’s well-known Lasciatemi morire (Arianna’s Lament), perhaps suggesting the high level of Tosti. Early songs by Respighi, including the uncanny Nebbie (Mist), are yet another revelation on this CD – highly recommended!

Listen to 'Un Sospiro – Italian Art Songs' Now in the Listening Room

02 Chansons d amourChansons d’amour d’Acadie et de France
Choeur Louisbourg; Skye Consort; Monique Richard
ATMA ACD2 2776 (atmaclassique.com)

New Brunswick’s Louisbourg Choir celebrated its tenth anniversary in this collaboration with the Skye Consort, a gifted early music ensemble whose mandate is to craft their own contemporary arrangements of seldom-heard vocal and instrumental pieces. For the first section of this recording, cittern-player Seán Dagher has arranged a number of charming selections from the Chansons folkloriques d’Acadie-La fleur du rosier and Chansons d’Acadie collections. Songs of love, travel, adventure and everyday life are delightfully and unreservedly performed by this accomplished choir, interspersed with spirited instrumentals by the ensemble.

The second half of the recording features chansons by little-known composer Jacotin Le Bel (1495-1556), who served in the royal court of France during the reigns of François I and Henri II. Here, the choir shines as director Monique Richard deftly leads them through the complexities of vocal polyphony and luxuriant voicings reminiscent of Josquin des Prés. In these renderings, one appreciates the small size of the chorus. With four or five to each vocal part, the singers are better able to navigate the fluidity of long melismas and realize greater clarity of text. Again, the Skye Consort intersperses with enchanting interludes.

04 BeardsleeBethany Beardslee sings Schubert; Schumann; Brahms
Bethany Beardslee; Richard Goode; Lois Shapiro
Bridge Records 9504 (bridgerecords.com)

The American soprano Bethany Beardslee, perhaps best known for her work with many of the major figures of 20th-century composition – most notably her interpretations of the work of the Second Viennese school and the American composer Milton Babbitt – tackles a decidedly Romantic compositional set on this 2018 Bridge release of a set of mid-1980s recordings. Although Beardslee is on record eschewing music that is simply entertainment and for the masses (articulating a similar proclamation to the 19th-century French slogan “Art for Art’s Sake” with her 1961 declaration, “Music is for the musicians”), Beardslee reveals herself to be a sensitive and appropriate interpreter of these Romantic-era masters.

Well accompanied by the fine pianists Richard Goode and Lois Shapiro, modernism be damned, as Beardslee teases out the subtle nuances and effervescent rhythmic feeling of these composers, particularly so on Franz Schubert’s bridging work between the Classical and Romantic eras. Of note here is the beautiful minor lied Gretchen am Spinnrade, which reminds listeners of the fact that the Faust legend remains relevant fodder for interpretation and exploration. With able accompaniment and clarity of recording, these compositions are not presented as ossified period-piece repertoire, but rather joyful texts capable of lifting the spirit.

01 Fantasia IncantataFantasia Incantata
Ensemble Libro Primo; Sabine Stoffer; Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM018 (veterummusica.com)

In the 17th century shortly before the unfettered Baroque genius of J.S. Bach began to unfold, the violin consolidated its position as expressively the most wide-ranging of non-keyboard instruments. In the age of the great violin makers – Amati and Stradivari – and performers such as Corelli, Italy was the centre of instrumental prowess and the art of improvising, referred to in the treatise Musurgia universalis by the highly respected pedagogue of the day, Athanasius Kircher.

And among the finest composers and virtuosos of the day was Heinrich Biber, with whose lesser-known Sonata IV the eloquent duo of violinist Sabine Stoffer and theorboist Alex McCartney close their remarkable Fantasia Incantata. Released both on CD and vinyl – an infinitely more rewarding experience for the audiophile – this album of Renaissance sinfonies, sonatas, aires, and other period songs and dances is a riveting account of music of the day, where improvisation was key to the prevailing sense of musical adventure and joie de vivre tempered by the amazing sonorities of violin and theorbo.

Biber’s Sonata IV is preceded by performances of music by violinists Giovanni Buonaventura Viviani, Nicola Matteis, Biagio Marini, Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli and theorboist Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger. All the works were written as vehicles for those instrumentalists’ own prodigious virtuosity. As treated here by Stoffer and McCartney, they are stunning, highly inventive and the finest examples today of technically demanding works played with ease. Both play as though they have this music in their veins, so assured and full of flair are these performances.

02 DevienneFrançois Devienne – Flute Concerto No.13; Symphonies concertante for two flutes; Giovanni Battista Viotti – Violin Concerto No.23 (transcribed for flute)
Patrick Gallois; Per Flemstrøm; Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Naxos 8.573697 (naxos.com)

Here are two composers who deserve a wide audience. Devienne’s training comprised service with a French army regiment, the orchestra of the Opéra in Paris and the chamber orchestra of a French cardinal. In 1782, aged 23, Devienne made his first solo appearance, probably performing his own Flute Concerto No.1.

It is this and Devienne’s 12 subsequent flute concertos that Patrick Gallois has undertaken and now completed with the current release. After a vigorous Allegro, Gallois interprets the Romance: Andante with a sensitivity enhanced by the accompanying strings. Another Allegro movement concludes this lively interpretation of Devienne’s final flute concerto.

At this point, Per Flemstrøm joins Gallois in Devienne’s Symphonies concertante Nos.3 and 6. This is bittersweet, as Flemstrøm died in 2017: the CD is dedicated to his memory and his spirited flute playing becomes apparent in the Allegro of No.6. More studied is his interpretation of the Moderato in No.3, played with thoughtfulness and feeling.

And then there is Giovanni Battista Viotti, back to Gallois as soloist aided by his own cadenzas. This is perhaps the most demanding composition on this CD, with its complex scoring in both the opening Allegro and the concluding Rondo: Allegro. It is, in fact, the string section that creates the more intense quality of this concerto as a whole.

All in all, a display of the overlooked talents of Devienne and Viotti – and a worthy tribute to Per Flemstrøm.

03 Mussorgsky Prokofiev Fort WorthMussorgsky/Gorchakov – Pictures at an Exhibition; Prokofiev – Cinderella
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra; Miguel Harth-Bedoya
FWSO ((LIVE)) (fwsymphony.org)

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is probably the most popular piece of Russian Romantic program music and nowadays one of the most often recorded. Initially written for piano solo, it is the orchestral version of 1923 by Maurice Ravel that made the big hit in the symphonic repertoire. Ravel by this time was a name to conjure with particularly in the field of orchestration, with his scintillating palette of French Impressionism. There were other orchestral versions, but the phenomenal success of the Ravel score overshadowed them all, including this particular one by Sergei Gorchakov. During the height of the Soviet era in 1955, Gorchakov aimed at a more Russian character by concentrating on the lower strings, deeper textures and sonorities, and heavy percussion, thus emphasizing the struggles of the working man. For example, The Oxcart (Bydlo) is far weightier in steady fortissimo than Ravel’s more subtle crescendo/calando line. This trend is consistent, culminating in The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba Yaga), a real blockbuster and more ghoulish then I’ve ever heard it. We get the idea fairly quickly but are we sure this would be an improvement on Ravel’s brilliance?

The Fort Worth Symphony’s enthusiastic and charismatic conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, however, was on the right track in showing the instrumental skills of his band by choosing a showpiece and being a bit different at the same time, proven by the enthusiastic ovation of the Texas audience.

A happier choice is Prokofiev’s radiantly beautiful Selections from Cinderella – partly because the selections are by the conductor and arranged in chronological sequence, following the story faithfully and illuminating the arch-like pattern of one of the world’s beloved fairy-tale love stories. The excellent acoustics of the concert hall make this CD an audiophile’s delight.

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