07 Voces8Infinity
Decca Classics B0034074-02 (voces8.com)

Trailblazing comforting online choral video performances at the outset of the current pandemic, VOCES8 presents Infinity, a new disc with a soothing, meditative space-inspired theme. Evocatively dubbed “the Rolls-Royce of British a-cappella ensembles,” this eight-voice choir with a 15-year international career enjoys transcending genres. On this record they render the scores of composers of alternative, film, electronic and contemporary classical music. 

The 15-track program includes arranged excerpts from film scores interspersed with a medieval song and eight commissioned works. Collectively, the music admirably showcases VOCES8’s clean, well-controlled, precision English vocal ensemble sound, yet one with character, personality and not without warmth.

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s A Pile of Dust is an example of what one can expect on the album. Driven by the ensemble’s vocal pacing, its climactic middle section miraculously builds relentlessly higher and higher before just as relentlessly slowly resolving, settling down in quiet half notes. Other highlights include In the Shining Blackness (2016), London composer Benjamin Rimmer’s searching, challenging-to-sing double-SATB score. In keeping with the outer space theme, Nainita Desai’s tonal My Mind is Still, for voices, solo violin, piano and bowed vibraphone, is apparently sprinkled with fragments of recorded sound from Sputnik, humanity’s first satellite.

I found singer-songwriter and electronic producer Kelly Lee Owens and Sebastian Plano’s Find Our Way, skillfully arranged by Jim Clements, particularly moving. Exquisitely sung by VOCES8, it was so reassuring after a rough day that it required a third listen.

08 Duo della LunaDuo della Luna: Mangetsu
Susan Botti; Airi Yoshioka
New Focus Recordings FCR 305 (newfocusrecordings.com)

A rare ensemble combination of voice and violin, Duo della Luna presents an album that is sonically beautiful and contextually adventurous. Mangetsu is dreamy and poetic yet cutting edge and experimental. The thread that connects a variety of compositions on this album is the unique ensemble sound throughout: deep, eloquent, potent. Susan Botti (voice/composer) and Airi Yoshioka (violin) venture into themes of life and creation, imagination, female power and love with a magical artistic rapport. 

The album opens with Botti’s dreamlike multi-movement title work. The wordless sections (“mangetsu”) are nested in between the movements with poems describing the moon and the ethereal world of childhood (Shikibu, Yeats, de Saint-Exupéry). The result is music that is willowy and sensual, a luring mystery. Botti explores the possibilities of voice and violin interactions to a great degree but always in the service of the poetry. Yoshioka’s violin playing is simply gorgeous, the colours and the precision equally alluring. 

The rest of the album consists of Botti’s innovative arrangements of selected Bartók Duos for Two Violins, followed by Kaija Saariaho’s intimate Changing Light. Linda Dusman’s Triptych of Gossips, incorporating a fancifully rhythmical poem by Serena Hilsinger, is a chamber of curiosities of extended techniques and a great sonic adventure.

There is a certain kind of magic that happens when the music is expressed in so few voices. The sound becomes unadorned and pure, and these two performers take full advantage of it.

Listen to 'Mangetsu' Now in the Listening Room

01 Joseph BoulogneJoseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges – Symphonies Concertantes, Opp.9, 10 & Op.11, No.1
Pavla Honsová; Michael Halász; Yury Revich; Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice; Libor Ježek
Naxos 8574306 (naxosdirect.com/search/+8574306)

An émigré to France, he was a brilliant swordsman, an accomplished musician and reputedly handsome – how could the French music-loving public not embrace such a well-rounded individual? Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint-Georges was born in Guadeloupe in 1739, the son of a wealthy French landowner and a Black servant. He was taken to Paris at the age of ten where he studied with Gossec and by age 30, he was leader of the musical organization Le Concert des Amateurs. Saint-Georges was also a fine composer, and among his prolific output are several symphonies concertantes – concertos for more than one instrument. Four of them, Opp.9 and 10 scored for two violins (plus a viola in the Op.10) and orchestra are presented on this splendid Naxos recording featuring the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra Pardubice conducted by Michael Halász.

In style, this music owes much to Haydn and typically, these works have only two movements – a spirited allegro followed by a gracious rondeau. All of them contain attractive thematic material and ample opportunity for the soloists to display their technical ability. The two violinists – Russian-born Yury Revich, playing on a 1709 Stradivarius, and Libor Ježek, deputy leader of the Czech Chamber Orchestra – are joined by violist Pavla Honsová and together they comprise a formidable trio, delivering polished and assured performances in solid partnership with the CPCO.

The Symphony Op.11/1 is the first in a pair of symphonies first published in Paris in 1779. Again, the spirit of Haydn is ever-present – this could almost be a precursor to the “Paris” symphonies, and the performance – like the music itself – is refined and elegant. 

A delightful recording of music deserving greater attention – Marie Antoinette would surely have approved!

02 Andrea BotticelliStimme aus der Ferne – A Voice from the Distance
Andrea Botticelli
Independent 01 (andrea-botticelli.com)

Canadian pianist Andrea Botticelli developed an interest in historical instruments early on, and since then, has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants for her work and research into early performance practices. In this recording, titled A Voice from the Distance, she again opens the door to the past, presenting works by Schubert, Czerny and Schumann on a replica of an 1830s Viennese pianoforte.

The disc opens with Schubert’s Sonata in A Major D664, music composed during the summer of 1819 when he was all of 22.This genial score is clearly that of a youthful composer and Botticelli displays particular warmth of tone and a fluid sense of rhythm and pacing. The music of Czerny is not often encountered today, but during his lifetime, he was renowned as a composer and pedagogue. His Variations on a Theme by Rode Op.33 is a fine example of his creative ability, the five variations a true study in contrasts and certainly not without considerable technical challenges. Schumann’s charming suite, Papillons Op.2 from 1831, is intended as a musical depiction of a masked ball. Once again, Botticelli demonstrates a real affinity for the music and throughout the listener is struck with the robust and full sound she achieves on the instrument. Added bonuses are Clara Schumann’s Notturno from her Soirées musicales Op.6 and the eighth movement from Schumann’s Novelletten Op.21 which bring the CD to a fitting conclusion.

This disc is a delight. Not only does Botticelli deliver a compelling performance – breathing new life into traditional repertoire – but she proves without a doubt that Romantic-period repertoire is as satisfying to the ear when played on an early pianoforte as it is on a modern concert grand.

Listen to 'Stimme aus der Ferne: A Voice from the Distance' Now in the Listening Room

03 Lisiecki ChopinChopin – Complete Nocturnes
Jan Lisiecki
Deutsche Grammophon 4860761 (deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/chopin-complete-nocturnes-lisiecki-12377)

Recently I watched an orchestral concert from Zurich recorded some years ago. The soloist was Jan Lisiecki. He played an encore, Chopin’s Nocturne Op.48 No.1 in C Minor. The piece begins with a deceivingly simple pianissimo melody, but soon another melody in a major key insinuates itself in the bass line, barely noticeable at first, but keeps mounting with tremendous chords. The pace quickens with a formidable crescendo masterfully controlled and developed into fortissimo. At that point the piano roars and seems to explode and Lisiecki becomes a lion, a total master of the instrument. When it was over, the audience, the orchestra and the conductor were spellbound, the applause deafening and for me Lisiecki then became one of my piano heroes.

Lisiecki was a teenager at that time, a lanky boy from Calgary, very tall with bushy hair. Now he is literally conquering Europe. Deutsche Grammophon picked him out very quickly at age 15 and this is his eighth recording for the Gesellschaft, having already recorded the Concertos and the Etudes of Chopin. Now he turns to the Nocturnes, the composer’s most intimate and some of the most beautiful and best-loved pieces ever written for solo piano. Perhaps his Polish origins give Lisiecki a natural affinity to Chopin; with his youthful energy, impeccable technique, exquisite touch and profound insight he certainly does justice to these masterworks.

Some highlights are of course the famous and popular Op.9 No.2 in E-flat Major, the Op.15 No.2 in F-sharp Major with its haunting, chromatic melody and agitated mid-section, the tremendous Op.27 No.2, in D-flat Major with a grand melody and passionate outbursts, and the wistful, yearning Op.37 No.2 in G Major with its barcarolle-like mid-section and more. Happy listening!

04 Brahms DespaxBrahms – Piano Concerto No.1; 16 Waltzes
Emmanuel Despax; Miho Kawashima; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Litton
Signum Classics SIGCD666 (signumrecords.com)

Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1 is a renowned masterpiece, frequently performed by orchestras and soloists since its premiere in 1859. Expansive and majestic, this work combines classical-period form with distinctly Romantic harmonies and progressions to create a captivating and large-scale concerto that ranks among the finest works of its time.

This recording, featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra and pianist Emmanuel Despax, acknowledges the weightiness of Brahms’ writing, choosing an approach to tempo and style that accentuates the depth and density of the concerto’s progressions and development. For example, the first movement, marked Maestoso, is performed in 24’28”, a minute or two slower than many modern recordings (but faster than Glenn Gould’s infamous 25’37” performance of the same with Leonard Bernstein), while the following two movements fit within the slower averages. 

Rather than coming across as drab and dull, however, the melodiousness that is revealed by this slightly lugubrious opening tempo is captivating and made utterly logical by the clarity revealed in the fleeting piano part towards the middle of this first movement – every keystroke is audible, resulting in gestures made up of distinct yet rapid notes rather than a murky approximation of the notated score. Expression is paramount in late-Romantic music, and Despax’s pacing allows for great clarity and sincerity in his interpretation.

Despax is joined by pianist Miho Kawashima for the 16 Waltzes, presented here in their original version for piano four hands. These are short works, the longest lasting only 2’01”, yet their beauty is remarkable. An essay in compositional dexterity, the diversity present in these 16 pieces, all based on the same form, is a delight for the listener; it is difficult to take in only one of these charming, bite-size pieces at a time.

Covering both the orchestral immensity of the Piano Concerto No.1 and the levity of the 16 Waltzes, this disc is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates Brahms’ music and the pluralities present therein: joyful solemnity and tragic sweetness.

05 MoszkowskiMoritz Moszkowski – Complete Music for Solo Piano Volume One
Ian Hobson
Toccata Classics TOCC 0572 (toccataclassics.com)

Moritz Moszkowski composed in all genres, but he’s remembered today, if at all, for his 250-plus piano pieces, still occasionally sourced for recital encores. This CD, the first in a projected comprehensive compilation, presents Moszkowski’s earliest piano works, all dating from 1874-1877, when the composer was in his early 20s.

The playful opening Conservatoristen-Polka, humorously labelled “Op.½,” and identified as composed by “Anton Notenquetscher” (Note-Squeezer), references a much-reprinted satiric poem by Moszkowski’s older brother Alexander.

Among the disc’s other 13 pieces, three are fairly substantial, at over nine minutes each. Fantaisie (Hommage à Schumann), Op.5, successfully echoes Schumann’s style and its extremes of assertiveness and tenderness, with lyricism prevailing. In Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op.6, warm, gently rippling melodies slowly build to a fortissimo climax, marked grandioso. Humoreske, Op.14, is a buoyantly cheerful, virtuosic essay in dotted rhythms and rapid runs.

Of the shorter pieces, I particularly enjoyed the reflective, Schumannesque Albumblatt, Op.2, the sentiment-laden Melodie (the first of the Skizzen, Vier kleine Stücke, Op.10) and, most of all, Con moto (the second of Trois Moments Musicaux, Op.7), in which episodes of urgent plaintiveness are offset by beautiful, serene, hymn-like reassurances.

Ian Hobson’s many recordings include all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas and Chopin’s complete piano works. He also conducted Moszkowski’s orchestral music on the fine CD I reviewed in the December 2020/January 2021 edition of The WholeNote. In Hobson’s very capable hands, future Moszkowski CDs promise many more hours of enjoyable discoveries.

06 Ravel Saint SaensRavel & Saint-Saëns – Piano Trios
Sitkovetsky Trio
Bis BIS-2219 SACD (bis.se)

The subtle colours and evanescent textures of Ravel’s piano music are often compared to those of his older contemporary Debussy, but, in fact, Ravel got there first. Like in Jeux d’eau from 1902, his Piano Trio in A Minor (1914) which features rippling liquid arpeggiated figurations derived from Liszt, is imbued with a singular new delicacy. The four wistful movements of the trio seek to convey an increasingly wide range of vivid sensations, aural and visual to create what is, in effect, a miniature tone poem. 

In one of their best recordings, the Sitkovetsky Trio interpret this piece with idiosyncratic brilliance. The variety of touch and the extraordinary control of dynamics that violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, cellist Isang Enders and pianist Wu Qian bring to this performance balance limpid tonal clarity and questing energy.  

The other work on this scintillating album is Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Trio No.2 in E Minor Op.92. A child prodigy with Mozartian potential, the composer remarked that he lived in music “like a fish in water.” That is eminently clear from this Piano Trio, which, like his concertos, is pleasant on the ear but murder on the fingers. Like their Ravel, the Sitkovetsky Trio’s Saint-Saëns sounds startlingly fresh. Qian’s enthusiastic pianism displays great technical assurance and a sense of tremendous forward momentum. Sitkovetsky’s and Enders’ playing is sinewy and dramatic. Together the trio also give this work a spirited reading.

08 Sibelius LuonnotarSibelius – Luonnotar; Tapiola; Spring Song
Lise Davidsen; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5217 (naxosdirect.com/search/chsa5217)

Jean Sibelius – together with Grieg and Dvořák – was largely responsible for the late-19th-century upsurge of musical nationalism. Sibelius’ greatest achievements were to reassert the Finnish ethos as something distinct from both Russia and Sweden – something that made him a cultural figurehead in Finland. This could be attributed to his splendid compositional technique, and a special skill that enabled him to unite the heroic imagery of the Finnish epic Kalevela and the sounds that characterized Scandinavia with the influences of the greater European tradition. 

Though Sibelius’ output is dominated by his seven symphonies, by the time he had written the first of these he had already honed his craft with a series of orchestral pieces on national themes written during the 1890s. This album includes two of these: Rakastava (The Lover) Op.14 and the tone poem Vårsång (Spring Song) Op.16. It also includes two other tone poems, Luonnotar Op, 70 and, arguably Sibelius’ greatest tone poem – Tapiola Op.112, Finlandia notwithstanding. 

The Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner’s account of these works has a truly magisterial authority; Gardner’s control of the imagery of the works – in fine gradations of mood and colour – is utterly convincing. Lise Davidsen’s luminous soprano is heard on Luonnotar and the album’s longest work Pelléas och Mélisande – incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck’s play. Orchestra and soprano have rarely sounded so beautiful and profoundly absorbed as in these stellar works. An album to die for.

07 Brian Wendelthis is home
Brian Wendel
Independent (brianwendelmusic.com)

For Brian Wendel, principal trombonist of the Vancouver Symphony and a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, the concept of “home” is as much spatial and geographic (now residing on Canada’s West Coast after having grown up in Massachusetts and having lived in New York City as a Juilliard student) as it is metaphoric (identifying repertoire so familiar and comfortable to be thought of as a musical home in which one is capable of expression, creativity and a mature statement of identity). For Wendel, This is Home, is just that; a thoughtful collection of music that includes J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, Enrique Crespo’s Improvisation and Scriabin. 

United not by era, theme or even tunefulness, the pieces chosen instead put forth a compelling statement of where Wendel draws inspiration and gives voice. Often presented in duo format with pianist Carter Johnson, Wendel also plays solo on the Bach and Crespo selections, a format that I do not associate with “classical” music (instead, the albums by George Lewis and Albert Mangelsdorff come to mind here), but would be intrigued to hear more of from this extremely capable and fine musician.  

Although a thorny and difficult instrument, in the right hands (such as Wendel’s) the trombone ranks among the most expressive instruments in music, underscoring and highlighting sublime passages of music heard many times before (such as Bach’s Cello Suites) while giving a unique voice and perspective to both the new and the less familiar.

09 Parker Quartet KashkashianKurtág – Six moments musicaux; Officium breve; Dvořák – String Quintet No.3
Parker Quartet; Kim Kashkashian
ECM New Series 2649 (ecmrecords.com/shop)

In a program of contrasts, the musically sensitive Boston-based Parker Quartet plays the music of György Kurtág with virtuoso panache, and are joined by their mentor, violist Kim Kashkashian, in an Antonín Dvořák work in their ECM New Series debut. Czech composer Dvořák’s easygoing late American period String Quintet No.3 is bookended by two of Kurtág’s tightly wound quartets. The latter’s Six moments musicaux (2005) and the Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky (1988/89) glitter jewel-like in their neo-expressionistic refinement.

Composed in three days in Spillville, Iowa in 1893, Dvořák’s lyrical work differs from his other quintets in his use of two violas and also in its formal straightforwardness: there’s little development of thematic material and extensive repetition. The Parker Quartet’s feeling for instrumental colour, texture and attention to detailed ensemble work is evident from the first measure.

The same can be said about the quartet’s performance insights into Kurtág’s scores, developed through extensive work with the senior Hungarian composer. I was particularly moved by the Parker’s riveting rendering of Kurtág’s brilliantly intense 15-section Officium Breve in Memoriam… Even as they mirror the concision of each miniature movement, paradoxically the music becomes even more static, timeless – and elegiac. 

A perceptive reviewer once wrote that his music was “like opening a trapdoor in your floor and dropping for a moment into the infinity of the cosmos.” Kurtág’s notes often seem unmoored from conventional function, freed to resonate in a much larger musical and emotional space.

01 Varese LutoslawskiVarèse, Ligeti, Lutosławski, Baldini
Miranda Cuckson; Maximilian Haft, Münchner Rundfunkorchester; UC Davis Symphony Orchestra; Christian Baldini
Centaur Records CRC3879 (naxosdirect.com/search/crc3879)

What to do when the music stops? If you’re Christian Baldini, music director of the University of California at Davis Symphony since 2009, you rummage through your archives, choose your best performances from the past and publish them with the caveat “unedited live recordings.” There are some real collegiate gems to be heard here, notably two of the finest violin concertos to have been composed in the late-20th century. 

Ligeti’s Violin Concerto from 1994 can be a challenge for all involved, but for the marvellous soloist Miranda Cuckson it’s a piece of cake. Most of these difficulties occur in the bizarre third movement, where the horns must do their best to perform solely on the overtone series (i.e. without the use of valves) and the wind players are compelled to hoot away on a quartet of decidedly screechy quarter-tone ocarinas. Fear not though, as the stylistic range of this five-movement work is captivating enough to appeal to many tastes. The concerto concludes with the insertion of a lengthy solo cadenza of unacknowledged origin; I for one would like to know its author (possibly Thomas Adès?) and, while we’re at it, the identity of the jackass whose hard-heeled footsteps break its magic spell on stage. 

Though Lutoslawski’s 1985 violin concerto is clearly less technically demanding than Ligeti’s, Maximilian Haft’s pugnacious performance of Chain 2 is nonetheless commanding and stylish and the orchestra is clearly much more comfortable and capable in this music. Two purely orchestral works are also on offer. A performance of Varèse’s 1927 version of his brutalist tone poem Amériques, while decidedly short on nuance, displays a youthful enthusiasm for the volcanic eruptions that pervade the work, though the 2015 pick-up of the gargantuan, screaming orchestra is lacking in depth and detail. It also has something unique going for it: midway through the printed score there is a trombone solo marked with the lyrics “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”; here, that text is shouted through a megaphone! No other recording I know observes this detail. 

A short work from Baldini’s own hand, Elapsing Twilight Shades, opens the disc with a rambling essay characterized by loud orchestral outbursts followed by quasi-improvised noodling and percussive rumblings in a performance by the very adult Munich Radio Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival in 2012.

02a CPQ Sound VisionariesSound Visionaries
Christina Petrowska Quilico
Navona Records nv6358 (navonarecords.com)

Retro Americana
Christina Petrowska Quilico
Navona Records nv6361 (navonarecords.com)

With over 50 recordings and a storied record of critical acclaim, veteran piano virtuoso Christina Petrowska Quilico delivers yet another reason why she is regarded as one of the most celebrated interpreters of 20th-century music. The listener is treated to surprisingly original interpretations of frequently recorded selections such as Debussy’s second book of Preludes and Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus. The pianist’s attention to detail and delicate approach to phrasing are unparalleled. 

The piano sonatas of Pierre Boulez are considered among the most difficult among the solo piano repertoire of the 20th century. In Petrowska Quilico’s recordings of the first and third sonatas of Boulez, the virtuoso’s dynamic command over this highly demanding music produces an assertiveness that undoubtedly will become compulsory atop the list of many recordings of this music. Incidentally, Petrowska Quilico was coached by Boulez before her performance of the first sonata at the presentation of the Glenn Gould Prize to Boulez in November 2002.

Listen to 'Sound Visionaries' Now in the Listening Room

02b CPQ Retro AmericanaOn her most recent release, Petrowska Quilico brilliantly tackles solo American repertoire from throughout the 20th century. With some rarely performed selections such as Henry Cowell’s Six Ings and Bill Westcott’s Suite combined with some more recognizable titles by Rzewski, Tatum and Gershwin, Petrowska Quilico is able to provide an impressive recital highlighting her technical command over varying styles. 

There are four selections by composer Meredith Monk – each unfolding as the true gems on the disc. These four pieces reveal the highly compelling originality of the composer – a voice that seems to lend itself to Petrowska Quilico’s performance sensibilities with a bewildering ease and effortlessness – an expressive attribute that will enchant the listener. 

This release is yet another statement from a restless virtuoso who has a seemingly inexhaustible ability to provide gripping interpretations of the music of our time.

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03 Frank Horvat Project DovetailFrank Horvat – Project Dovetail
Frank Horvat; Edwin Huizinga; Elixir Baroque Ensemble; TorQ Percussion Quartet; et al.
Independent (frankhorvat.com/discography)

Toronto composer-pianist Frank Horvat “has carved a niche for himself among today’s composers, wearing his fragile heart on his sleeve,” observed CBC music critic Robert Rowat. Project Dovetail, Horvat’s final release in an album trilogy spanning 2021, follows that emotional thread. Featuring some of Canada’s top chamber musicians, Project Dovetail has an intriguing synesthetic twist. Horvat has taken the art and artists that have inspired him and “dovetailed” aspects of them into his music. Among others, the works of two Canadian artists are featured: best-selling author Suzanne Desrochers and master printmaker Lorna Livey. 

Lorna’s Metamorphosis is a good example of the composer’s synesthetic dovetailing. In it, Livey speaks candidly about her passion for butterflies and the environment. Remarkably, Horvat has accurately scored the rhythms of her voice and then composed a dynamic instrumental counterpoint to it for vibraphone, two marimbas, piano and tympani. The composer notes that “it captures the Lorna I know: determined, honest and kind… compliment[ing] her driving, forward-thinking personality.”

The Sad Life of Laure Beauséjour for two violins, viola da gamba and harpsichord takes its cue from scenes in the novel Bride of New France by Desrochers. Horvat depicts the protagonist’s many hardships in music, choosing period instruments to evoke the novel’s 1670s setting. The Sad Life’s four slow movements are all intentionally similar in key, their melancholy melodies receiving straightforward accompaniments. In his program notes Horvat invokes the musical influence of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes in this work, and I can feel the emotional throughlines spanning a century and a third.

Newfoundout CoverNewfoundout
Nick Storring
Mappa Editions MZP027 (nickstorring.bandcamp.com)

Toronto Composer Nick Storring is a prolific artist. As a composer, writer, musician and arts curator he seems to be everywhere, and yet he managed to touch down long enough to complete his seventh solo album. Consistently surprising us with his dexterous layering and technology skills, Newfoundout is a perfect blend of Storring’s musical ear for raw audio beauty and his skillful sound assembly. A completely acoustic layering of curiosities – is that a vuvuzela in harmony? – the compositions are so deftly complete you will forget to keep asking what you are hearing. From the first track Dome, a full 12’41” piece that could have been presented in a concert hall, it’s nearly impossible to find the distinction between what might have been improvised and what might be composed. Each track is intentionally directed, spare and transparent, blissfully curious at times and at others suspended in outer space, swirling in dust and light. Storring ensures that there is nothing superfluous to cloud the beauty of the found sounds; drums dance, dog whistles sing, and the final mix is perfect. One is reminded of the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction.”

The album flows superbly as a whole. Never aimless, each piece weaves intentionally between composed sections and exquisitely layered psychedelia, anchored with an assortment of undefined instruments, plucked strings, pianos and drum rhythms. It’s like witnessing the mysteries of life on Earth. With tracks named after Ontario ghost towns, Newfoundout is a sublimely delicious curiosity. I lost track of the beginnings and ends of each piece and just enjoyed the entire album start to finish.

05 Felipe Tellez Songs of LongingFelipe Téllez – Songs of Longing
TakeFive Ensemble
Centrediscs CMCCD 28721 (cmccanada.org/shop/cd-cmccd-28721)

The TakeFive Ensemble (comprised of violinists Lynn Kuo and Csaba Koczo, violist Carolyn Blackwell, cellist Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron and pianist Shoshana Telner) have recorded two substantial works by Colombian-Canadian composer Felipe Téllez. The first – in three movements – titled Fate, is rather traditional in its language and form. This music cycles through a tempestuous first movement into a tender and lyrical second movement and finishes with a dramatic and sorrowful third and final movement. The composer describes fate as taking on many contrasting characteristics that may or may not be within our control. With the cheery punctuation heard in the final measures of this work, it is clear that fate has delivered a happy ending in this case.

The second work is a collection of songs without words in five movements that adopts a less classical treatment than the first piece on the disc. Titled Colombian Songs, it utilizes colourful gestures and clever twists of mood to provide a pleasing reaction to some traditional Colombian song sources. The musicians in TakeFive execute Téllez’s music with a shimmering brilliance. The expressive quality permeating from each instrument in the ensemble is at once individually impressive but also blends into an exquisite whole. Bravo to TakeFive on some superb performances – an ensemble I hope to hear much more from in the future.


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