01 Jordana TalskyNeither of Either
Jordana Talsky
Independent JT-17-02 (jordanatalsky.com)

Although Neither of Either is the second album released by Jordana Talsky, it feels a little like a debut, since this one is almost exclusively original songs. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter (and lawyer) teamed up with JUNO Award-winning producer, Justin Abedin. It’s a happy collaboration, for although the songs are harmonically and rhythmically straightforward at their heart, the textures added by the arrangements and production lend complexity and richness.

The predominant style of the album is indie-pop but there are touches of jazz and soul throughout, making it an interesting listen. It’s even a little bit country on Ways, which has a hook worthy of any Nashville hitmaker. Sick veers into fist-pumping rock-song territory except it’s done almost all a cappella, which gives it an unusual twist. The techno-tinged Bitter Sweet Heart (co-written with J. Gray) is another standout with its pretty chorus.

Talsky’s voice is warm and appealing – powerful when needed, at times pure and sweet – and her style is refreshingly free of artifice. Her singing and arranging skills really shine on the unaccompanied pieces (like her take on Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know, the only cover) where it’s all her – no other singers, no band – and it’s impressive.

02 WillowsTea for Three
The Willows
Flatcar Records FCR-005 (flatcarrecords.com)

There is a plethora of upbeat happy performances in the debut release by the vocal trio The Willows – Krista Deady (contralto), Lauren Pederson (mezzo-soprano, composer/arranger) and Andrea Gregorio (soprano). Their website bios state that they were involved in dance together from childhood, both in their hometown of Edmonton and here in Toronto at Ryerson University’s dance program. A chance public Ryerson music class vocal performance encouraged them to further explore the music world together. They are definitely dancers who can confidently sing with clear diction, colour, pitch, love of life and tight harmonies.

There is nothing really adventurous in the music – all the tracks have Pederson penning the songs either alone or with other composers. Her music is reminiscent of many female vocal trio jazz and ballad styles of past decades, with support from brilliant background musicians. Breakfast in Bed has a great upbeat sing-along melodic hook, while Dear Gussy is a klezmer-flavoured toe-tapping tune. Valentine is a mellower jazz ballad with storytelling lyrics that showcase their vocal nuances. All the string and horn instrumentalists are great, with special mention to George Koller (bass), William Sperandel (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Tom Szczesniak (accordion), and the recording/production teams.

Just like they buoyantly sing the words “never judge a man by his cover” in the closing track Never Judge, don’t judge The Willows by their self-proclaimed different hair colours but instead indulge in their exploration of easy listening jazz.

Tea for Three
The Willows
Flatcar Records FCR-005
(flatcarrecords.com)

There is a plethora of upbeat happy performances in the debut release by the vocal trio The Willows – Krista Deady (contralto), Lauren Pederson (mezzo-soprano, composer/arranger) and Andrea Gregorio (soprano). Their website bios state that they were involved in dance together from childhood, both in their hometown of Edmonton and here in Toronto at Ryerson University’s dance program. A chance public Ryerson music class vocal performance encouraged them to further explore the music world together. They are definitely dancers who can confidently sing with clear diction, colour, pitch, love of life and tight harmonies.

There is nothing really adventurous in the music – all the tracks have Pederson penning the songs either alone or with other composers. Her music is reminiscent of many female vocal trio jazz and ballad styles of past decades, with support from brilliant background musicians. Breakfast in Bed has a great upbeat sing-along melodic hook, while Dear Gussy is a klezmer-flavoured toe-tapping tune. Valentine is a mellower jazz ballad with storytelling lyrics that showcase their vocal nuances. All the string and horn instrumentalists are great, with special mention to George Koller (bass), William Sperandel (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Tom Szczesniak (accordion), and the recording/production teams.

Just like they buoyantly sing the words “never judge a man by his cover” in the closing track Never Judge, don’t judge The Willows by their self-proclaimed different hair colours but instead indulge in their exploration of easy listening jazz.

03 Two RoadsTwo Roads
Julia Seager-Scott
Pipistrelle Music PIP1706 (harpmusic.ca)

In her inaugural solo recording, classically trained local modern pedal harpist Julia Seager-Scott embarks on an adventurous musical journey performing/arranging on two new instruments for her – the Baroque triple harp and the clarsach or traditional Gaelic wire-string harp.

Handel’s Harp Concerto in B-flat Major, third movement, is the only non-arrangement performance here. Seager-Scott writes that she learned this staple of the pedal harp repertoire as a teenager but was thrilled to relearn and record it as originally written for triple harp. Her clear melodic lines against the lower contrapuntal notes are perfect, along with glorious Baroque ornamentation. Equally memorable is her performance of Monteverdi’s Pur ti miro from Poppea, which showcases her confident sense of Baroque tempo and style. Seager-Scott also experiments with improvisation in two tracks with Monteverdi bass lines, as one take in the opening track, and layered takes in Harp Party Improvisation.

Her numerous tracks on clarsach harp of the traditional Irish folk music of Turlough Carolan (also known as O’Carolan) are a welcoming musical contrast to the Baroque music. Planxty Burke/Planxty Drew features an uplifting melody against a toe tapping lilt. Equally memorable is the slower emotional and touching performance of Clergy’s Lamentation.

Production is clear and successfully captures the performer’s musical nuances. The detailed liner notes are informative though the tiny print may be difficult to decipher. Keep listening to the end as a secret track with harp and singing complete Seager-Scott’s multifaceted adventure.

Sympathetic dynamics and mutual compatibility are attributes ascribed to notable musical groupings. That’s why so many are made up of players from the same country or even the same region: think of the Budapest String Quartet, Liverpool’s The Beatles or the New York Jazz Quartet. But as music becomes more global this nationalism is increasingly rare. Here are CDs whose direction has been changed – or not – by adding a foreign player to an existing local combo, by creating a new entity with one expatriate element, or when players from various national backgrounds root themselves in one place.

01 Ghost LightsJudging from the results on Ghost Lights (Songlines 1621-2 songlines.com), French pianist Benoît Delbecq joining the Vancouver-based trio of clarinetist François Houle, guitar and oud player Gordon Grdina and percussionist Kenton Loewen was more like mixing two complementary compounds than introducing an unstable element to a scientific formula. That’s because the Houle/Grdina/Loewen trio has been together since 2014, while the clarinetist and keyboardist have worked as a duo since 1996. Delbecq’s familiarity with non-Western scales coupled with Loewen’s skill on the Arabic lute give pieces such as Ley Land and especially Soft Shadows an Eastern cast. Ley Land’s moody and crepuscule feel is further advanced by slurred string fingering and Houle’s chalumeau slurps. Meantime Soft Shadows’ Eurasian tinge is intertwined with minimalist tones as organ-like drones from processed loops create a continuum. Placing a wispy reed narrative atop sharp guitar lines, percussion shuffles and restrained pianism as on Ghost Lights only works for so long. Like a dainty tiara perched on a massive head of hair the wrong movement can upset the balance. Luckily equilibrium is maintained due to contralto clarinet cries matched with modulated piano tones. The CD’s most jazz-like piece is Gold Spheres which evolves into a suite of multicoloured, almost Africanized tinctures. Ghostly and atmospheric via reed snarls and plucked inner piano strings, the wavering theme is both percussive and succoring. Underlying harshness is relieved with slurred guitar fingering while the quartet demonstrates perfect control of the material, since neither this timbral softening nor the preceding firmness prevents the tune from attaining a notable finale.

Review

02 FillFreeA similar situation is delineated on the aptly-titled Everything is a Translation (Fiil Free Records FFR0916 larsfiil.dk); a suite composed by Danish pianist Lars Fiil and interpreted by the Fiil Free septet of five Danes, Swedish guitarist Henrik Olsson and Polish trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski. Composed so that each subsequent track bleeds into the next, the five sequences go through sections of speed and static, Arcadian lulls and aggressive outbursts. Symbolically the session also marks how completely Dąbrowski has integrated Scandinavian ethos. Unlike some showcases where the soloist seems to be jammed on top of the ensemble, the trumpeter’s muted grace notes are present from the first track Why Search for Common Ground, with textures reflecting back onto Fiil’s low-frequency, Lisztian chording and offhanded cracks and swats by drummer Bjørn Heebøll and vibraphonist Martin Fabricius. There’s such bonding that the tempo speeding up and becoming more swinging almost passes unnoticed. Later instances such as a blustering brass call plus piano pumps show how to fearlessly inhabit the groove between hard bop and cool. That piece fades seamlessly into the neo-pastoral title tune, where sour brass whistles in counterpoint to smeared reed lines also don’t upset the narrative flow or detract from the overall beauty. At the same time, since the suite is sturdy and organically constructed to highlight beautiful colours, it never lapses into mere landscaping. To demonstrate its modernity and the versatility of the players, a track like Is It Doubt includes brass shakes and mouthpiece kisses from the trumpeter that keep the relaxed piano and decorative vibraphone narrative from sounding too comfortable.

03 Clarinet TrioA distinct variation of this add-a-foreign-player appears on Live in Moscow (Leo Records CD LR 781 leorecords.com) where the 15-year-old Berlin-based Clarinet Trio – consisting of Jurgen Kupke (clarinet), Michael Thieke (clarinet, alto clarinet) and Gebhard Ullmann (bass clarinet) was joined by Russian alto saxophonist Alexey Kruglov. Recorded in real time, the CD initially showcases four instances of the trio’s near-telepathic interactions as the members build a collection of layered sonic edifices. In low- or high-frequency elaborations, the sense of perpetual discovery is obvious with Kupke’s bugle-call timbre-stretching, Thieke decorating the themes with jagged glissandi and Ullmann puffing along freight-train-like preserving the bottom. Adding the saxophonist turns the interface more dissonant, but without losing the connective thread. Collective No.9 (Part 1-4) intensifies the reveille-like yaps, squeaking bent notes and foghorn-pitched smears from the clarinets with the saxophonist contributing tongue slaps, reed bites, then builds to a cacophonous crescendo where all four explore the deepest regions of their horns. Yet not only do the four on Kleine Figuren No.2 immediately unite high-pitched glissandi to create peppy, yet comforting harmonies that are almost as tonal as a Christmas carol, the preceding sounds are prelude to the concluding 14-minute-plus News? No News! Perfectly harmonized as a Baroque chamber ensemble, but with finger-snapping energy, they take turns propelling the theme, taking it apart and reconstituting it. Furry slurs from linked alto and bass clarinets suggest a Romantic tone poem, while Kruglov’s jagged and jiggling split tones describe an alternate sound portrait. Finally, a melancholy crescendo of crackling tones is attained and regularized by Ullmann’s rhino-like snorts. The four’s interlaid harmonies end the piece without schism and without sacrificing its cutting edge.

04 DefibrilatorKruglov’s potential disruptive forces were actually melodiously linked to the Trio’s longtime sound strategy. But an additional element can also push an already dissonant game plan to a strident peak. Consider Conversations About Not Eating Meat (Border of Silence BOS 001 borderofsilence.com). Here the Basel-based Defibrillator trio, made up of Polish brothers Sebastian Smolyn on electronically processed trombone and Artur Smolyn on electronics, plus Berlin-based drummer Oliver Steidle, invite powerful German multi-reedist Peter Brötzmann to record with them. The result could be likened to an aural record of North Korea’s nuclear tests. While a true defibrillator uses electrical shocks to help control arrhythmias, and although Brötzmann’s reed blasts have usually been linked to power from the guts, it’s mostly the trio’s electronic boosts which pump out a blitzkrieg of themes so that obbligatos from the saxophonist sound almost moderato. This aural landscape of industrial noise also gains traction from the trombonist’s extended plunger forays. With the processed oscillations arriving as unexpected as a prolonged power outage in a city’s downtown core, on pieces such as The Man with One Ball and Fuckir Brötzmann’s doggedly straightforward improvising, trombone siren calls and drum bumps cut a path through the swooshing wave forms like a bowling ball scattering pins. Asserting the primacy of human lung power through a combination of multiphonic growls and altissimo screams is further proof of the saxophonist’s skill. In fact, by the climactic Cellulite Guru finale, many of the underlying drones and signal-processed timbral distortions have become so regularized and dampened that Brötzmann’s usual overwrought reed narratives seem as mellow as Sonny Rollins elaborating a tune backed by a conventional rhythm section.

Review

05 TernionThe final variant of our theme involves trombone, saxophone, bass and drums. That’s the configuration of Danish-born Anne Mette Iversen’s Berlin-based Ternion Quartet (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records BJUR 062 bjurecords.com). Iversen organized the group in 2015 with alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard, percussionist Roland Schneider (both German) and trombonist Geoffroy De Masure (French). Working in classic contemporary fashion with round-robin solos from the frontline firmly grounded by Iversen’s bass pulse and rattling drum beats, the four never stray far from swing. This emphasis on foot-tapping also means that except for the odd cymbal slap and snare clunks on tunes such as Trio One Schneider stays in the background, with the bassist. Overall, the quartet’s most notable work occurs on a trio of tunes placed in the CD’s centre. Debacled Debate gives the trombonist space for vocalized cries, which evolve to bel canto grace notes decorated with twisted trills from Eberhard and a squirming bottom from the rhythm section. Reversing pitch roles, the saxophonist and trombonist extend A Cygnet’s Eunoia by moving brass tones upwards and reed timbres downwards. Slippery smears from Eberhard and bottom burrs from De Masure result in harmonies that join to produce skipping swing. The trombone tone remains in the basement during Escapade #7. But before De Masure and Eberhard engage in some jaunty tune-ending call-and-response she constructs a Dolphyesque solo that’s harsher and more dissonant, but doesn’t upset the tune’s forward motion.

Such coherent playing is an indication not only of the band’s mutual musical understanding, but also marks an instance in which individual nationality is an invisible part of the performance. It’s this connection to which all these ensembles aspire.

02 FillFreeEverything is a Translation
Fiil Free
Fiil Free Records FFR0916 larsfiil.dk

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Something in the Air (November 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

A similar situation is delineated on the aptly-titled Everything is a Translation (Fiil Free Records FFR0916 larsfiil.dk); a suite composed by Danish pianist Lars Fiil and interpreted by the Fiil Free septet of five Danes, Swedish guitarist Henrik Olsson and Polish trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski. Composed so that each subsequent track bleeds into the next, the five sequences go through sections of speed and static, Arcadian lulls and aggressive outbursts. Symbolically the session also marks how completely Dąbrowski has integrated Scandinavian ethos. Unlike some showcases where the soloist seems to be jammed on top of the ensemble, the trumpeter’s muted grace notes are present from the first track Why Search for Common Ground, with textures reflecting back onto Fiil’s low-frequency, Lisztian chording and offhanded cracks and swats by drummer Bjørn Heebøll and vibraphonist Martin Fabricius. There’s such bonding that the tempo speeding up and becoming more swinging almost passes unnoticed. Later instances such as a blustering brass call plus piano pumps show how to fearlessly inhabit the groove between hard bop and cool. That piece fades seamlessly into the neo-pastoral title tune, where sour brass whistles in counterpoint to smeared reed lines also don’t upset the narrative flow or detract from the overall beauty. At the same time, since the suite is sturdy and organically constructed to highlight beautiful colours, it never lapses into mere landscaping. To demonstrate its modernity and the versatility of the players, a track like Is It Doubt includes brass shakes and mouthpiece kisses from the trumpeter that keep the relaxed piano and decorative vibraphone narrative from sounding too comfortable. 

05 TernionTernion Quartet
Anne Mette Iversen
Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records BJUR 062 (bjurecords.com)

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Something in the Air (November 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

The final variant of our theme involves trombone, saxophone, bass and drums. That’s the configuration of Danish-born Anne Mette Iversen’s Berlin-based Ternion Quartet (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records BJUR 062 bjurecords.com). Iversen organized the group in 2015 with alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard, percussionist Roland Schneider (both German) and trombonist Geoffroy De Masure (French). Working in classic contemporary fashion with round-robin solos from the frontline firmly grounded by Iversen’s bass pulse and rattling drum beats, the four never stray far from swing. This emphasis on foot-tapping also means that except for the odd cymbal slap and snare clunks on tunes such as Trio One Schneider stays in the background, with the bassist. Overall, the quartet’s most notable work occurs on a trio of tunes placed in the CD’s centre. Debacled Debate gives the trombonist space for vocalized cries, which evolve to bel canto grace notes decorated with twisted trills from Eberhard and a squirming bottom from the rhythm section. Reversing pitch roles, the saxophonist and trombonist extend A Cygnet’s Eunoia by moving brass tones upwards and reed timbres downwards. Slippery smears from Eberhard and bottom burrs from De Masure result in harmonies that join to produce skipping swing. The trombone tone remains in the basement during Escapade #7. But before De Masure and Eberhard engage in some jaunty tune-ending call-and-response she constructs a Dolphyesque solo that’s harsher and more dissonant, but doesn’t upset the tune’s forward motion.

Such coherent playing is an indication not only of the band’s mutual musical understanding, but also marks an instance in which individual nationality is an invisible part of the performance. It’s this connection to which all these ensembles aspire.

Carl Schuricht was an esteemed German conductor in the first half of the 20th century. He was born in Danzig into a dynasty of organ builders in 1880 and studied at the Berlin Hochschule from 1901 to 1903. During his first years as a conductor he was to be heard in Mainz, Kreuznach, Dortmund, Goslar and Zwickau. From 1909 he conducted the Rühl Oratorio Society in Frankfurt-am-Main. From 1912 to 1944 he was the chief conductor and general music director of Wiesbaden and was also active as a guest conductor. He was a guest of the St. Louis Symphony in 1927. After 1944 he conducted and recorded with the finest orchestras, the Vienna, Berlin and London Philharmonics, the Swiss Romande Orchestra, etc. In 1956 he returned to North America with the Vienna Philharmonic on a 12-city tour, appearing in Washington, New York, Cleveland, Cincinnati and elsewhere on the East Coast, and including Toronto’s Massey Hall on November 28, winding up before the General Assembly of the UN in New York on December 10. He continued to conduct concerts and record in Europe over the next decade. He died in 1967.

Today, as time and technology march on, his name is really familiar only to collectors such as those who support the long list of his recordings at amazon.com (far fewer at amazon.ca and elsewhere). Newer editions appear from time to time, the most recent from Audite and Decca which contain interesting and engaging performances reflecting his sensitivity and understanding of the composer’s intentions.

01a Schuricht DeccaDecca’s CDs are in a compact box, Carl Schuricht; The Complete Decca Recordings (4831643, 10 CDs). Part of this set is contained in Decca’s Original Masters five-CD set from 2004 with some interesting additions. There is a Beethoven Second taken from the 1947 78s with the Swiss Romande, produced by the renowned Victor Olof, who produced just about all the (then) state-of-the-art recordings in this collection, all of which, barring this one, sound very clean and dynamic. Another 1947 Swiss Romande recording features violinist Georg Kulenkampff and cellist Enrico Mainardi in the Brahms Double Concerto. There are many others worthy of attention leading to the tenth disc, an all-Wagner program played by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, France’s leading orchestra at the time consisting of professors from the Conservatoire and their pupils. Heard are the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey leading into Siegfried’s Death and Funeral March from Gotterdämmerung. Heaven only knows how many times I’ve heard these but I do not recall being so affected by the poignancy of the Tristan nor the sweep of the Siegfried. There is a wealth of superior performances here, sounding clean and dynamic, so do check them out at arkivmusic.com for complete details, except recording dates.

01b Schuricht LucerneThe Audite CD (Lucerne Festival Historic Performances, Vol. 11: Carl Schuricht Conducts Mozart & Brahms, Audite 95645) finds Schuricht joined by pianist Robert Casadesus with the Swiss Festival Orchestra playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.27 in B-flat Major, K595 on August 19, 1961. Schuricht had been appearing at the Lucerne Festival since the end of 1944 when he conducted Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. He was welcomed there as “the only representative, apart from Otto Klemperer, of the generation of old German conductors still remaining active.” The Neue Zürcher Zeitung later reported that “Even if the 81-year-old has difficulty walking to his podium, his music making has remained astonishingly young. His economical, precise beat and the security and suppleness with which he effects modifications of the basic tempo give no hint of fatigue or decline of mental or emotional faculties.” The second item of concerts from Lucerne is the Brahms Second Symphony from September 8, 1962 with the Vienna Philharmonic. A listener might care to compare this performance with the 1953 version also with the Vienna Philharmonic in the above Decca set. It certainly shows what this 82-year “old German conductor” could draw from an orchestra.

02 GiesekingI remember years ago collecting the recordings of Walter Gieseking, including the various Schubert shorter pieces that he played with such élan and affection that one would think that they were personal friends. Appian has released a four-CD set of Gieseking’s complete solo recordings of Brahms, Schubert and Schumann that he made for English Columbia in the 1950s (APR 7402, 4 CDs). After looking over the list of contents, I put disc two into my player to hear again Gieseking playing the eight Klavierstücke, Op.76; the Seven Fantasies, Op.116; the Three Intermezzi Op.117 and the six Klavierstücke Op.118. There were some disappointments but many more were just as I remembered. Perhaps the overload of hearing one piece and then another and another is not really an ideal way to judge a work, nor fair to the artists. An overload.

Of interest is that the above four works were recorded over three days, June 20 to June 22, 1950. Unlike many of his colleagues Gieseking enjoyed making recordings. He just sat there and played, so this must have been a treat for him. Also he claimed that he never practised as giving recitals was practise enough. He had the score clearly in his head. The third disc contains the two sets of Impromptus Op.90 and 142. The fourth and last disc with Schubert’s Six Moments musicaux Op.94 and Three Pieces D946 concludes with two Chopin pieces, the Berceuse Op.57 and the Barcarolle Op.60 and two Scriabin pieces, Poème Op.32 No.1 and Prélude Op.15 No.4.

A better way to clear one’s musical taste buds would be to return to disc one for Brahms’ Klavierstücke Op.119 and the Two Rhapsodies Op.79 followed by some music by Brahms’ close friend, Schumann. Here is a gentle reading of Kinderszenen Op.15 and an enthusiastic, at times passionate version of Carnaval Op.9; then a farewell with Schlummerlied, No.16 of Albumblätter Op.124 and some parting notes from the enigmatic Vogel als Prophet, No.7 of Waldszenen Op.82.

There was nothing pretentious about Gieseking’s playing. One gets the distinct feeling that he is sharing his thoughts. Simply, the art that conceals the art.

Review

01 Tafelmusik Beethoven 1 9Last month saw the release of a compiliation of recordings of Beethoven – Symphonies 1-9 featuring Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir under the direction of Bruno Weil (TMK1034CD tafelmusik.org). All of the symphonies, recorded live at the George Weston Recital Hall (Nos.5 & 6 in 2004, 7 & 8 in 2008, for Analekta) and Koerner Hall (Nos.3 & 4 in 2012, 1 & 2 in 2013 and No.9 in 2016 for Tafelmusik Media), have been previously available but are here collected in an attactively priced boxed-set. Here’s what our reviewers had to say of the original releases:

Symphonies 1-4: Bruno Weil, a longtime collaborator with the orchestra, draws a finely articulated and transparent response from the rarely seen Tafelmusik podium. The performances of the first two symphonies, though rich in detail, seem to take their time to fully blossom. […] though it gradually becomes evident that Weil is a master of the slow burn […] with a pair of powerful and scintillating finales. The renderings of the Third and Fourth Symphonies can be recommended without qualification; both are superb throughout. Daniel Foley, June 2014

Symphonies 5 & 6: Tafelmusik […] seem ever confident of bringing a revitalizing touch to works we’ve known intimately for a lifetime […] The strings are sparse and largely straight-toned, revealing surprising hues of colour in the wind parts. After years of big romantic orchestra performances this sound is wonderfully new, especially in the second and third movement of the Sixth Symphony. Their fourth movement “storm” is delightfully bad weather, reminiscent of The Four Seasons and the finale offers a slightly slower tempo than usually heard but works well nevertheless. […] It’s been a long time since Five and Six sounded so new. Alex Baran, May 2005.

Symphonies 7 & 8: Their bright and animated approach brings a breath of fresh air to these familiar pieces. David Olds, December 2008

Symphony No.9: Make no mistake – Tafelmusik sounds just as powerful as any contemporary symphony orchestra. It builds the momentum of the emotional narrative with conviction, starting from the solemn D-Minor theme of the first movement all the way to the jubilant ending of the fourth in D Major. Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and soloists – Sigrid Plundrich, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Colin Balzer and Simon Tischler – are all superb in bringing out the purity and drama of Beethoven’s music. Ivana Popovic, October 2016.

So all in all, reviews are favourable and at $40 for the complete set this collection should not be missed. The booklet includes bilingual biographical notes, an appreciation by conductor Bruno Weil, reflections on the journey with Weil during the more than decade-long project by music director Jeanne Lamon and extensive program notes by Allen Whear. As Tafelmusik launches its first season under the direction of Elisa Citterio this release provides a fitting monument to the orchestra’s first three decades under Lamon’s guiding hand.

While I’m looking into the past through rose-coloured glasses, here’s what I wrote about Toronto guitarist William Beauvais’ suite Appalachian Colours – Gold; Red; Green; Blue from his Old Wood – New Seeds when I reviewed it back in June 2016. “...evidently inspired not by Copland’s Appalachian Spring, but rather by that iconic American composer’s orchestral suite Rodeo. From the contemplative opening movement through the lilting second and the lullaby-like third, our attention is held by the lush colours Beauvais draws from his instrument. The gently ebullient final movement, glistening like sunlight off the surface of a rippling lake, held me wrapped in its thrall from start to finish.” In the program note in the version published by the Canadian Music Centre Beauvais says “This work is dedicated to Emma Rush, the very fine guitarist from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Upon discovering that we both had a great affection for Gerald Garcia’s Esquisse 17 - Tournesol – I felt a certain comradeship.”

02 Emma RushNow, just over a year later, we are presented with a performance by the dedicatee on Canadiana – Emma Rush, guitar (guitarhamilton.com), a disc supported in part by Hamilton’s City Enrichment Fund. Rush tells us that the suite “uses a partial capo to provide a sense of open tuning, along with employing elements of finger-style guitar playing, bluegrass, and ragtime music.” My initial impressions of Appalachian Colours remain unchanged with this new recording, which as you might expect from composed music does not differ much from the version presented by Beauvais. But Rush has obviously spent enough time with the luscious suite to make it her own. The tempos vary slightly, with the dreamlike opening movement just a bit slower and the tumbling finale a shade quicker.

The remainder of the disc is comprised of Floyd Turner arrangements of songs by iconic Canadian folk singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell (Blue and Marcie), Gordon Lightfoot (Pussywillows, Cat-tails and Canadian Railroad Trilogy) and Stan Rogers (Northwest Passage). All are beautifully crafted and masterfully performed, with Blue and the Trilogy being personal favourites. Rush’s technique is flawless throughout, with no extraneous finger noise and much attention to nuance. My only complaint is that from this evidence one might conclude that all Canadian folk songs are dreamy or introspective, written in a slow to moderate tempo, with an almost lullaby feel. I would have enjoyed the inclusion of something a bit livelier, for instance Mitchell’s Carey or Rogers’ Watching the Apples Grow.

03 Patricia CanoOne of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences I’ve had in a long time was Tomson Highway’s one-woman musical The (Post) Mistress last November at the Berkeley Street Theater. It featured Patricia Cano (patriciacano.com) who went on to win the Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best Actress in a Musical. On October 4 at Lula Lounge Cano will launch her multilingual new CD Madre Amiga Hermana (Mother Friend Sister). While Highway’s production was in French, English and Cree, in the current release the Sudbury-based Peruvian-Canadian adds the Spanish, and in one case (Terre Mère), Indigenous Quechua language, of her motherland. The overall mood of the CD is joyous, replete with samba rhythms, contemporary jazz and soul, plus a smattering of nostalgia and thoughtful ballads, culminating in the anthemic Woman on the Rise.

The welcoming opening track, Caminando, has a Spanish chorus and English verses telling a love story that culminates in the birth of a (we assume her) son, and the lines “I was so grateful for the fateful day back when / all the stars aligned and you and I / collided into love.” This is followed by the French-language Juana Guerrière, “an honour song for my great grandmother…a beautiful strong and resilient woman of Afro-Peruvian descent.” Over an infectious ostinato Cano tells the story of a decades’ long courtship – resulting in seven children – with an unscrupulous white man who eventually turns out to be already married with six “legitimate” offspring. Mi Maru is a beautiful Spanish ballad written “to record my son’s first words (water, owl, more, and his favourite word of all, ‘caca’).”

Featured prominently on the album is an awesome rhythm section comprised of longtime associates Kevin Barrett (guitar), Paco Luviano (bass), Luis Orbegoso (percussion and vocals) and Carlos Bernardo, a Paris-based Brazilian guitarist and composer. The booklet contains lyrics for the original songs – the three outlined above with words and music by Cano and six co-written with Orbegoso or Bernardo – although no translations are included except from the Quechua into Spanish. The two covers are the lyrical Bridges (Travessia) by Milton Nascimento (sung in English with words translated by Gene Lees from the original by Fernando Brant) and the gentle thanksgiving Gracias a la Vida by Violeta Parra (1917-1967), a Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist.

Cano invites us on a beautiful, and personal, journey; she is a wonderful guide and a wondrous talent.

There are likely many instruments in this world with which I am unfamiliar, but now I can scratch santur off the list. Wikipedia – and yes I do make a small monthly donation to the Wikipedia Foundation – tells me that “The santur (also santūr, santour, santoor) is a hammered dulcimer of Persian/Iranic origins” and that the term originally meant “100 strings.” I’m not sure that is meant literally, but the instrument does boast 18 bridges dividing a plethora of strings. I am more aware of the santur’s European counterparts the cimbalom (Hungary) and the hackbrett (Germany and Austria) used in concert works by Kodály, Stravinsky, Boulez, Kurtág and Eötvös, and with its American cousin, simply named the hammered dulcimer, heard in Appalachian folk music.

Review

04 Sina BathaieThis month I’ve become aware of a local santur virtuoso, Sina Bathaie, who plays the Persian version of this intriguing instrument. Ray of Hope (sinabathaie.com) is a (mostly) instrumental album which blurs the borders between Middle Eastern and Western popular musics, combining the santur with guitar (Alexei Orechin or Nima Ahmadieh), bass guitar (Oriana Barbato or Semco Salehi), cello (Raphael Weinroth-Browne), percussion (Siavash Sadr Mahdavi) and guest appearances by drummer Adam Campbell and vocalist Alireza Mahdizadeh.

Bathaie’s note tells us that the music is inspired by the verses of poems that “celebrate our timeless elusive pursuit for peace, hope and the most important of all these, love.” The texts, in Farsi, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Korean, are seen “tattooed” on Bathaie’s face in the CD’s cover image.

The disc begins with Rebirth, where a banjo-like bed track (shades of Appalachia) from santur, bass and percussion support a soaring melody from the cello. Ray of Hope opens ominously with the sound of jets, gunfire and sirens, overtaken by santur in both accompaniment and melody, gradually growing to include bass, drums and an electric guitar line that borders on feedback as it rises to a triumphant conclusion. Into the Sky brings back the cello in the lead role, in a quieter, but not subdued, flight. The disc progresses through Journey, Invocation (a solo for santur where we hear more clearly Bathaie’s ability to play melody and accompaniment at the same time), I Remember, Dance of Delight (with its long, languid opening that eventually gives way to the ecstatic feeling suggested by the title), the only vocal track on the album Lullaby of Spring and finally Light Like a Feather, with Orechin’s finger-style guitar setting the stage for a rousing finale.

I would like to say that Bathaie is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets, but I have a feeling it is just the sheltered life I lead that makes me think so. I learned from his website that he has been featured on CBC radio Metro Morning and at festivals such as Luminato, In/Future, Small World Music, Mundial Montreal, Open Mind, Quiet Strings, South Asia Calling and at the Aga Khan Museum. Shame on me.

05 DCXDo I have time for one quick guilty pleasure? I spent a marvelous evening a couple of weeks ago watching the DVD documentary included with the double CD DCX MMXXVI Live (Columbia 88985 46031 2), recorded during the Dixie Chicks’ (DCX) 2016 tour that culminated at the Forum in Los Angeles where the video was shot. The nearly two-hour performance was received with near-hysteria by the 17,000 standing-room-only fans in attendance. I never experienced live Beatlemania but I can’t imagine it would have been any more over-the-top than this. Whatever animosity garnered by DCX for their anti-war stance sparked by America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 seems to have been forgiven by their fans, at least the ones in this urban West Coast centre. Again resorting to Wikipedia, I note that “By December 2015, with 30.5 million certified albums sold, they had become the top selling all-female band and biggest-selling country group in the U.S.”

It was an energized performance from the trio and their five-piece band, sometimes fully charged and wall-of-sound, but with some intimate moments – including touching personal stories from lead singer Natalie Maines about their progress from no children to nine kids between them over the past 15 years – and some acoustic tunes (if you can still call them acoustic when they are amplified to fill an amphitheatre). The repertoire spanned most of what we have come to expect from DCX, with a few surprises, including covers of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U and (on the CD only) Thunderclap Newman’s Something in the Air. A highlight for me was the bluegrass instrumental medley with just the trio, Emily Strayer on banjo and Martie Maguire on fiddle, and Maines simply keeping time on a bass drum. Boy, can this woman play! I refuse to be ashamed of my absolute enjoyment of their high-energy, but thoughtful, performance.

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

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

01 Tafelmusik Beethoven 1 9Beethoven – Symphonies 1-9
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir; Bruno Weil
TMK1034CD tafelmusik.org

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (October 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Last month saw the release of a compiliation of recordings of Beethoven – Symphonies 1-9 featuring Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir under the direction of Bruno Weil (TMK1034CD tafelmusik.org). All of the symphonies, recorded live at the George Weston Recital Hall (Nos.5 & 6 in 2004, 7 & 8 in 2008, for Analekta) and Koerner Hall (Nos.3 & 4 in 2012, 1 & 2 in 2013 and No.9 in 2016 for Tafelmusik Media), have been previously available but are here collected in an attactively priced boxed-set. Here’s what our reviewers had to say of the original releases:

Symphonies 1-4: Bruno Weil, a longtime collaborator with the orchestra, draws a finely articulated and transparent response from the rarely seen Tafelmusik podium. The performances of the first two symphonies, though rich in detail, seem to take their time to fully blossom. […] though it gradually becomes evident that Weil is a master of the slow burn […] with a pair of powerful and scintillating finales. The renderings of the Third and Fourth Symphonies can be recommended without qualification; both are superb throughout. Daniel Foley, June 2014

Symphonies 5 & 6: Tafelmusik […] seem ever confident of bringing a revitalizing touch to works we’ve known intimately for a lifetime […] The strings are sparse and largely straight-toned, revealing surprising hues of colour in the wind parts. After years of big romantic orchestra performances this sound is wonderfully new, especially in the second and third movement of the Sixth Symphony. Their fourth movement “storm” is delightfully bad weather, reminiscent of The Four Seasons and the finale offers a slightly slower tempo than usually heard but works well nevertheless. […] It’s been a long time since Five and Six sounded so new. Alex Baran, May 2005.

Symphonies 7 & 8: Their bright and animated approach brings a breath of fresh air to these familiar pieces. David Olds, December 2008

Symphony No.9: Make no mistake – Tafelmusik sounds just as powerful as any contemporary symphony orchestra. It builds the momentum of the emotional narrative with conviction, starting from the solemn D-Minor theme of the first movement all the way to the jubilant ending of the fourth in D Major. Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and soloists – Sigrid Plundrich, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Colin Balzer and Simon Tischler – are all superb in bringing out the purity and drama of Beethoven’s music. Ivana Popovic, October 2016.

So all in all, reviews are favourable and at $40 for the complete set this collection should not be missed. The booklet includes bilingual biographical notes, an appreciation by conductor Bruno Weil, reflections on the journey with Weil during the more than decade-long project by music director Jeanne Lamon and extensive program notes by Allen Whear. As Tafelmusik launches its first season under the direction of Elisa Citterio this release provides a fitting monument to the orchestra’s first three decades under Lamon’s guiding hand.

04 Sina BathaieRay of Hope
Sina Bathaie
sinabathaie.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Editor's Corner (October 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

This month I’ve become aware of a local santur virtuoso, Sina Bathaie, who plays the Persian version of this intriguing instrument. Ray of Hope (sinabathaie.com) is a (mostly) instrumental album which blurs the borders between Middle Eastern and Western popular musics, combining the santur with guitar (Alexei Orechin or Nima Ahmadieh), bass guitar (Oriana Barbato or Semco Salehi), cello (Raphael Weinroth-Browne), percussion (Siavash Sadr Mahdavi) and guest appearances by drummer Adam Campbell and vocalist Alireza Mahdizadeh.

Bathaie’s note tells us that the music is inspired by the verses of poems that “celebrate our timeless elusive pursuit for peace, hope and the most important of all these, love.” The texts, in Farsi, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Korean, are seen “tattooed” on Bathaie’s face in the CD’s cover image.

The disc begins with Rebirth, where a banjo-like bed track (shades of Appalachia) from santur, bass and percussion support a soaring melody from the cello. Ray of Hope opens ominously with the sound of jets, gunfire and sirens, overtaken by santur in both accompaniment and melody, gradually growing to include bass, drums and an electric guitar line that borders on feedback as it rises to a triumphant conclusion. Into the Sky brings back the cello in the lead role, in a quieter, but not subdued, flight. The disc progresses through Journey, Invocation (a solo for santur where we hear more clearly Bathaie’s ability to play melody and accompaniment at the same time), I Remember, Dance of Delight (with its long, languid opening that eventually gives way to the ecstatic feeling suggested by the title), the only vocal track on the album Lullaby of Spring and finally Light Like a Feather, with Orechin’s finger-style guitar setting the stage for a rousing finale.

I would like to say that Bathaie is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets, but I have a feeling it is just the sheltered life I lead that makes me think so. I learned from his website that he has been featured on CBC radio Metro Morning and at festivals such as Luminato, In/Future, Small World Music, Mundial Montreal, Open Mind, Quiet Strings, South Asia Calling and at the Aga Khan Museum. Shame on me.

Concert note: Ray of Hope will be launched at a concert in the Lyric Theatre of the Toronto Centre for the Arts on October 13.

Review

01 Michael Kolk PerosThe outstanding Michael Kolk is the soloist in the world premiere recording of Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar by the Canadian composer Nick Peros (DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com). Peros has written numerous other solo works for classical guitar, including five Suites and a Sonata, and is clearly someone who knows and understands the instrument’s potential for tone and colour.

The short pieces here are predominantly quiet, slow and pensive – they are nocturnes, after all – 16 of them with subtitles like relaxed; atmospheric, mysterious; reflective; as a dream; with mystery and longing; peaceful, gentle. Only two are noted as with fire and passion. They appear to be centred on traditional major and minor keys, predominantly the open guitar strings of E, A and D, but it’s never that simple – there is actually a good deal of tonal ambiguity here, and an abundance of rich chromatic expression.

They are well-crafted, attractive and quite beguiling pieces, with the occasional faster numbers in particular much in the style of the standard 19th- and 20th-century guitar etudes. The final two Nocturnes in particular are really lovely.

One thing is certain: they couldn’t possibly have a better interpreter than Michael Kolk, whose playing, as always, is of the highest musical standard – technically faultless, with a clear, clean and resonant sound, and a complete absence of left-hand finger noise. The CD was produced by the composer, and it’s difficult to view these beautiful performances as anything other than definitive.

Although violinist Jacques Israelievitch was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer part of the way through the recording of the complete Mozart violin sonatas with Christina Petrowska Quilico, the duo did manage to complete the project before he passed away in September 2015.

02 Mozart Israelievitch QuilicoMozart: Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Violin Vol. II is the second release in the series (Fleur de Son Classics FDS 58040 fleurdeson.com), and features three of the sonatas from the group known as the Auernhammer set – the Sonatas No.24 in F Major K376, No.25 in F Major K377 and No.27 in G Major K379 – together with the Sonata No.33 in E flat Major K481.

When reviewing Volume I in June of last year I noted that these works are perfectly suited to Israelievitch’s distinctive style and sound, which was always warm, gentle and sensitive; it should go without saying that Petrowska Quilico’s playing is the perfect complement. Again, it’s obvious that the two are of one mind in their performances here.

It’s another volume in what will clearly be a series to treasure, and one that continues to be a wonderful tribute not only to a greatly missed and much-loved violinist but also to his companion at the keyboard.

03 True NorthTrue North is a new CD on the Canadian Music Centre Centrediscs label featuring the Canadian duo of violinist Véronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua (CMCCD 24417 musiccentre.ca).

Given the CMC’s outstanding promotion of contemporary Canadian composers and the booklet description of Mathieu as “an avid contemporary music performer” it’s no surprise to see that five of the six works are from the period 1996 to 2016; what perhaps is a surprise is the inclusion of Healey Willan’s Sonata No.1 in E Minor, which opens the disc. Written a hundred years earlier than the latest works on the CD (although revised in 1955) it is a solid work, firmly in the early 1900s tradition, which sounds decidedly anachronistic in this setting. Still, its appearance is welcome.

Gradual Erasures by the Toronto composer Adam Scime was written for the duo in 2016 and dedicated to them. Its two movements were inspired by the poem Water Island by Howard Moss, which was in turn prompted by the accidental drowning death of a friend.

Brian Harman’s Cherry Beach for violin, piano and field recordings from 2016 explores connections between music, the environment and the body by combining the musical material with the sounds of running footsteps and waves, all recorded on the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto.

Maria Molinari’s Danza is a short piece from her 1997 Tre Pezzi per Violino e Pianoforte. Heather Schmidt’s Adagio from 1996 and Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Éxtasis from 2012 complete a very interesting disc.

Mathieu has a sweet, delicate sound with a fairly slow vibrato and a tone that tends to sound a bit thin on occasion, but the contemporary technical and musical challenges as well as the Willan sonata are handled faultlessly. And let’s not forget the pianist, too often overlooked in duo recitals: Chua is terrific as well.

04 stephen NordstromIt would be difficult to imagine a recital CD more in contrast to True North than A Musical Portrait of the American Southwest, featuring works for viola and piano by the American composer Dominic Dousa with violist Stephen Nordstrom and the composer at the piano (Blue Griffin Recording BGR 429 bluegriffin.com).

Dousa has been on the faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso Department of Music since 2004, and has been fascinated by the landscapes of the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico since moving to the region from his native Minnesota. The works on this CD evoke the spirit of this land.

Reflections on a Desert Winter is a five-movement suite inspired by travels in the desert lands of southern New Mexico in the winter of 2014/15; with titles like On the Spirit Path, Desert Glow and The Rugged Pioneer Trail it puts one in mind of the works of Ferde Grofé. Musically they’re along those lines as well: completely and unashamedly tonal; full of constantly flowing melody; and beautifully crafted, with excellent piano writing.

Mountain Song, inspired by a day in the Rocky Mountains near Denver, is in much the same mould. The Sonata for Viola and Piano, “From a Land Wild and Free” was mostly composed in 2008, but the initial ideas and themes were sketched as a result of the experience of that 2004 summer journey from Minnesota to El Paso.

Nordstrom plays with a fine tone across the full range of the instrument, and certainly has more than enough melodic writing in which to immerse himself. Dousa is a fine pianist as well as a fine composer. If I have one quibble it would just be that the music could possibly do with a bit more contrast and fire.

Dousa’s own colour photographs of the Southwest landscapes complement the booklet.

05 4 Seasons 4 ViolesThe Four Seasons concertos appear in yet another re-worked version in Antonio Vivaldi 4 saisons, 4 violes, featuring the Canadian viol ensemble Les Voix humaines – Margaret Little and Mélisande Corriveau on treble, Felix Deak on tenor and Susie Napper on bass (lesvoixhumaines.org). Founding members Little and Napper made the arrangements, Napper transcribing the Spring and Autumn and Little the Summer and Winter concertos.

The resulting performances are much more effective than you might possibly expect, with a really nice period performance feel to the concertos despite the lack of a clear solo violin line. What you won’t be expecting is the interpolation of a short appropriate insert in each of the concertos – well, appropriate from a title viewpoint, that is, but not necessarily a musical one. The traditional En montant la rivière (with tenor Philippe Gagné) is inserted in Spring; Gershwin’s Summertime (arranged by Jay Bernfeld) in Summer; Autumn Leaves (jazzed up with a pizzicato bass) in Autumn; and Petit berceuse du début de la colonie in Winter. Corriveau plays recorder in the Gershwin.

It’s an interesting concept, but obviously raises questions: Are the additions enriching the concertos, or just an inappropriate distraction? Do these additions – especially within these specific arrangements – create new works, or do they merely compromise the original scores? And most important: Do they work? That will probably depend on your personal taste, and you may like to add a further question: Does it really matter? It does certainly make for interesting listening, and given that the movements are played without breaks, the inserts really don’t stand out as much as you would imagine; they’re integrated more than inserted.

The overall sound throughout the CD has a lovely resonance, with nice dynamics, superb definition from all four performers and a satisfyingly wide range – essentially that of a string quartet. The arrangements are extremely well done, and the playing throughout is really quite outstanding. All in all, a very interesting disc, and one that becomes more satisfying the more I listen to it.

Review

06 Roman MintsI don’t recall ever hearing any music by the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) before, but I’ve clearly been missing out on some strikingly individual compositions. Two of his works – Sketches to Sunset and Russian Seasons – are featured on a new CD on which violinist Roman Mints is the primary artist (quartz QTZ 2122 quartzmusic.com).

Sketches to Sunset from 1992 is based on music written for the film Sunset, about the lives of Jews in pre-Revolution Odessa. Written for violin, piano and orchestra and consisting of nine short connected movements, it also features pianist Alexey Goribol and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra under Philipp Chizhevsky. Mints is superb in this eclectic work that first introduced him to Desyatnikov’s music some 20 years ago.

Russian Seasons for Voice, Violin and Strings from 2000 has a quite different feel. There are 12 movements, three for each season: Spring, Summer and Winter each have two instrumental tracks and one vocal; Autumn has one instrumental and two vocal tracks. Yana Ivanilova is the soprano in vocal sections that are strongly reminiscent of Stravinsky of Pribaoutki and Les Noces, with the orchestra this time being the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. It’s difficult music to describe, but in his excellent booklet notes Mints says that “while the instrumental movements feature moments of joy and merriment, utter hopelessness dominates the five vocal movements, in which the composer addresses listeners directly in words.” Shades of Shostakovich, indeed.

Both works were recorded under the supervision of the composer, with the Sketches to Sunset being a world premiere recording.

07 Moscow Quartet clarinetThe Moscow String Quartet CD of the Clarinet Quintets of Weber and Brahms with the Russian clarinetist Alexander Ivanov is a bit of a mystery disc: apparently self-issued, there is no sign of any information regarding recording or copyright dates, and the CD does not appear on the ensemble’s website (moscowquartet.com) or on any independent CD sales sites.

Still, if you can track it down, the performances are excellent. Ivanov plays with warmth, agility and fluency in the opening movement of the Weber Quintet in B-flat Major Op.34, and with great expression in the slow movement. There’s more agility in the third movement Menuetto and some superlative clarinet playing in the final Rondo Allegro.

The string playing from the Moscow ensemble is in the rich Russian tradition with full vibrato, which clearly bodes well for the Brahms Quintet in B Minor Op.115. All the Brahmsian autumnal warmth you could want is fully in evidence, and Ivanov is again in top form.

01 Michael Kolk PerosNick Peros – Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar
Michael Kolk
DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (October 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

The outstanding Michael Kolk is the soloist in the world premiere recording of Nocturnes: 24 Nocturnes for Solo Guitar by the Canadian composer Nick Peros (DeoSonic Music DSM54536 nickperos.com). Peros has written numerous other solo works for classical guitar, including five Suites and a Sonata, and is clearly someone who knows and understands the instrument’s potential for tone and colour.

The short pieces here are predominantly quiet, slow and pensive – they are nocturnes, after all – 16 of them with subtitles like relaxed; atmospheric, mysterious; reflective; as a dream; with mystery and longing; peaceful, gentle. Only two are noted as with fire and passion. They appear to be centred on traditional major and minor keys, predominantly the open guitar strings of E, A and D, but it’s never that simple – there is actually a good deal of tonal ambiguity here, and an abundance of rich chromatic expression.

They are well-crafted, attractive and quite beguiling pieces, with the occasional faster numbers in particular much in the style of the standard 19th- and 20th-century guitar etudes. The final two Nocturnes in particular are really lovely.

One thing is certain: they couldn’t possibly have a better interpreter than Michael Kolk, whose playing, as always, is of the highest musical standard – technically faultless, with a clear, clean and resonant sound, and a complete absence of left-hand finger noise. The CD was produced by the composer, and it’s difficult to view these beautiful performances as anything other than definitive.

06 Roman MintsLeonid Desyatnikov – Sketches to Sunset; Russian Seasons
Roman Mints
quartz QTZ 2122 quartzmusic.com

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Strings Attached (October 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

I don’t recall ever hearing any music by the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) before, but I’ve clearly been missing out on some strikingly individual compositions. Two of his works – Sketches to Sunset and Russian Seasons – are featured on a new CD on which violinist Roman Mints is the primary artist (quartz QTZ 2122 quartzmusic.com).

Sketches to Sunset from 1992 is based on music written for the film Sunset, about the lives of Jews in pre-Revolution Odessa. Written for violin, piano and orchestra and consisting of nine short connected movements, it also features pianist Alexey Goribol and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra under Philipp Chizhevsky. Mints is superb in this eclectic work that first introduced him to Desyatnikov’s music some 20 years ago.

Russian Seasons for Voice, Violin and Strings from 2000 has a quite different feel. There are 12 movements, three for each season: Spring, Summer and Winter each have two instrumental tracks and one vocal; Autumn has one instrumental and two vocal tracks. Yana Ivanilova is the soprano in vocal sections that are strongly reminiscent of Stravinsky of Pribaoutki and Les Noces, with the orchestra this time being the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra. It’s difficult music to describe, but in his excellent booklet notes Mints says that “while the instrumental movements feature moments of joy and merriment, utter hopelessness dominates the five vocal movements, in which the composer addresses listeners directly in words.” Shades of Shostakovich, indeed.

Both works were recorded under the supervision of the composer, with the Sketches to Sunset being a world premiere recording.

Review

01 J P SylvestreJean-Philipe Sylvestre is the recipient of many prestigious Canadian and international piano performance awards. His new recording André Mathieu – Concert de Québec, Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2; Orchestre Métropolitain, Alain Trudel (ATMA ACD2 2763) is an important document for several reasons. It presents this extraordinary artist in an impressive light, revealing his technical power and profound musicality.

It also brings back to the Canadian recording marketplace the rare music of a young 13-year-old André Mathieu, trapped with his family in North America by the outbreak of the Second World War. The simple version of the story is that the young Canadian composer won the New York Philharmonic’s Composer Competition celebrating the orchestra’s centennial. His subsequent work fared less well, but his Piano Concerto No.3, written in 1942-43 and eventually renamed Concert de Québec so as to work better as a film score, is now winning renewed admiration. The score used for this recording is deemed fairly complete and authentic, based on the original score for two pianos. Still, a definitive final version is currently underway and is promised for a couple of years hence.

There’s no mistaking the affinity Mathieu’s music has with Rachmaninov’s. Mathieu’s mother long cherished and promoted the undocumented notion that Rachmaninov had seen young Mathieu’s scores in Paris and responded flatteringly to them. True or not, this music restores a creative work that brought musical life to an early French Canadian film. It’s big, gorgeous and so very Hollywood. Sylvestre and Trudel have produced a superb disc!

02 Schubert DuetsThe Goldstone & Clemmow piano duo have been performing together for more than 30 years. Their latest, and sadly final, release is Franz Schubert – The Complete Original Piano Duets (Divine Art dda 21701 divineartrecords.com). Anthony Goldstone passed away just as the packaging details of the current recording were being finalized. These two pianists created a remarkable four-hands keyboard presence. Unity was the hallmark of their playing. They shared every nuance of the music without hesitation, as though a single mind controlled all four hands.

Their playing has been utter perfection, with a pianistically Zen oneness to all articulation, dynamics and phrasing. It always takes a few minutes of wonder at the technical beauty of their performance before you can relax into what the composer has actually intended to say. All the more reason to laud this substantial seven-CD set as the pinnacle of their lifetime’s work.

Rather than organize the recording by genre or chronology, the duo has taken the complete Schubert piano duo repertoire and created seven recital programs, balancing key relationships, moods and artistic weight. The result is a wonderfully listenable collection that also includes a Schumann Polonaise for piano four hands, at the end of each recital disc. These date from 1828 and are believed to have been inspired by Schubert’s piano duets – a fitting match.

It’s a beautiful set, brilliantly assembled and as inspired as anything they have ever done. Goldstone & Clemmow’s final recording project is definitely an item to collect.

03 Nagano BachKarin Kei Nagano is the daughter of the conductor Kent Nagano and concert pianist Mari Kodama. Her debut solo recording J.S. Bach Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801 (Analekta AN 2 8771) presents a favourite and meaningful repertoire choice from her early piano studies.

The story is well known, of how Bach intended these two- and three-part exercises to teach his students the fundamentals of keyboard playing and composition. Equally important for him was that his pupils develop a true lyrical style to their playing. For Nagano, the connection to these early studies is their beautiful melodic potential. Whether Bach uses a short motif or a longer idea, Nagano is seized by the possibilities they offer. Consequently her playing goes far beyond meeting the technical requirements of counterpoint lessons and reaches for the beauty of what only a creative mind such as Bach’s could have placed there.

Nagano’s playing reveals a level of care and consideration that directs her inquiry into the pursuit of the art before the form, as if somehow the latter will look after itself. This characteristic is more evident in her treatment of the three-part Sinfonias, where the material is richer and offers a greater reward for the player’s attention to it.

Now embarking on her 20s, Nagano is off to Yale in pursuit of medical studies. Let’s hope this recording whets her appetite to do more before too long

04 Boris Giltburg RachmaninovBoris Giltburg is a profound thinker and an original artist. His new CD Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2, Études-tableaux, Op.33, Royal Scottish National Orchestra Carlos Miguel Prieto (Naxos 8.573629) proves it, once again.

Giltburg’s performance of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 demonstrates just how maniacally frenetic the opening movement can be. This kind of barely constrained raw energy has no match. It’s far more intense than it is fast, and it leaves a lasting impression. His approach to the second movement sets the expressive limits further apart than usual. The quiet moments, either solo or with a few wind players, are powerfully intimate. But he also injects a few surprising intensifications in unexpected places, consisting of a single line in the right hand. The effect is arresting.

The orchestra (RSNO) needs a laudatory remark here too. The guilty pleasure of smaller size is worth the indulgence; it lets us hear so much at a personal level. Closer recording gives us subtle sounds of bows, fingerboards and occasional wind keys. And then there’s the stunningly good horn section. Giltburg writes a little in his wonderful recording notes about the challenges of playing the Rachmaninov Concerto No.2. He cites examples of regular acoustic problems that challenge every performance and how they resolve them. It’s a brief but informative look into the dark art of recording.

The disc also includes the Études-tableaux, Op.33. Giltburg has included the missing three pieces that Rachmaninov mysteriously withdrew just before publication in 1914. The CD closes with a couple of Viennese flavoured tunes, of which the Kreisler Liebesleid is best the known.

05 Goldberg HuThe Goldberg Variations should always be a memorable experience. To that end, performers have, to be sure, taken some wildly differing approaches to them. In Goldberg Variations (Blue Griffon BGR423 bluegriffin.com), pianist Chih-Long Hu has chosen to be rather laissez-faire in his treatment, believing that the music benefits most when left largely as is. It’s certainly a legitimate approach and based on the results, a highly credible one.

This is a very contained performance. Hu is quite deliberate in adhering to the page and minimizing personally expressive deviations from the Baroque nature of the music. His most expressive playing occurs in the bookend Arias. Everything between them remains within these limits. His imposed discipline allows for interesting things to emerge. There is an immediate transparency of the forms Bach uses, a vision of both the near and the distant at the same time. Patterns begin to reveal themselves. The awareness of architecture emerges on its own without overt assistance. It’s as if Hu were an alchemist assembling elements and applying the incantation from the keyboard. After that, it just begins to happen on its own – a kind of musical chain reaction

I suspect what happens is that the ear adjusts to listening without familiar Romantic allusions to things, and suddenly new truths reveal themselves. In that vein, Hu’s own composition Afterthoughts on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, included as a bonus, is a complete table-turner. It’s his take on how the Goldberg Variations bass line might be treated by Mozart, Schumann, Bolcom and even as a deep Southern blues. It’s clever and brilliant, and sheds a revealing light on this gifted Taiwanese pianist.

06 Alfonso SoldanoAlfonso Soldano is the new champion for the music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – Piano Works (Divine Art dda 25152 divineartrecords.com), the young Italian pianist has expressed a deep urge to understand this composer of an earlier generation.

Transplanted from Italy to 1940s America, Castelnuovo-Tedesco ended up in the burgeoning music-film industry, where composers were churning out tunes daily under production-line expectations. Still, he never let go of the unique flavour that marks his writing. He always favoured the modernists and held a high regard for the French impressionists. Alt Wien Op.30 and Cantico Op.19 both make this very clear. Soldano captures the wisps of Ravel and Debussy that Castelnuovo-Tedesco threads through his work. The Sonata Zoologica Op.187 is uncannily similar in spirit to Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. It’s a brilliant character piece, very demanding, and Soldano plays it with an inner knowledge of exactly where the composer intended it to go.

The most substantial piece in the disc’s program is Rapsodia Napolitana, Op.32. It’s a five-movement work highly charged with direct but complex allusions to the place of its title. Landscapes, feeling, winds, emotions and otherworldly things drift across the pages of this remarkable piece. Soldano is very at home with this repertoire, revealing a connection far beyond what academic understanding alone can forge.

It’s a real pleasure to hear this music presented by an artist who clearly believes in its revival, and who perhaps would enshrine more deeply the reputation of this composer as a national treasure.

07 Eunmi KoPianist Eunmi Ko has released a new CD, She Rose, and Let Me In (Centaur CRC 3491 eunmiko.com), that offers a compelling program of contrasting repertoire. A pair of contemporary works balances the rarely heard Suk O Matince and the better-known Schumann Phantasie, Op.17. In this latter piece, Ko performs the final movement exquisitely. Schumann had intended the work to help with the fundraising for Beethoven’s memorial monument. After numerous refusals by publishers, the dedication was eventually changed to Franz Liszt. Still, the story helps explain the grandness of the work’s conception as well as the breadth and depth of sadness that pervades the final movement that Ko captures so unerringly.

John Liberatore’s title piece She Rose, and Let Me In is a set of variations and a fugue on the Scottish tune of that name. Liberatore explains his impulse to explore the intersections of the ancient and the modern. To do so effectively, he withholds the thematic material until the final movement. Consequently, listening becomes a guessing game in which you’re never quite sure if you’ve heard the old Scottish tune or not, or even a fragment of it.

Gilad Rabinovitch’s …star dazzling me, live and elate… is an extended series of very dense chords, mostly harmonic rather than clustered masses, that builds to a remarkably rich and dark finish. It’s technically demanding and Ko demonstrates both the stamina and intellect to perform it with conviction.

01 J P SylvestreAndré Mathieu: Concert de Québec, Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2
Jean-Philipe Sylvestre; Orchestre Métropolitain, Alain Trudel
ATMA ACD2 2763

Review

The following review is an excerpt from Keyed In (October 2017) which can be read in its entirety here.

Jean-Philipe Sylvestre is the recipient of many prestigious Canadian and international piano performance awards. His new recording André Mathieu – Concert de Québec, Sergei Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2; Orchestre Métropolitain, Alain Trudel (ATMA ACD2 2763) is an important document for several reasons. It presents this extraordinary artist in an impressive light, revealing his technical power and profound musicality.

It also brings back to the Canadian recording marketplace the rare music of a young 13-year-old André Mathieu, trapped with his family in North America by the outbreak of the Second World War. The simple version of the story is that the young Canadian composer won the New York Philharmonic’s Composer Competition celebrating the orchestra’s centennial. His subsequent work fared less well, but his Piano Concerto No.3, written in 1942-43 and eventually renamed Concert de Québec so as to work better as a film score, is now winning renewed admiration. The score used for this recording is deemed fairly complete and authentic, based on the original score for two pianos. Still, a definitive final version is currently underway and is promised for a couple of years hence.

There’s no mistaking the affinity Mathieu’s music has with Rachmaninov’s. Mathieu’s mother long cherished and promoted the undocumented notion that Rachmaninov had seen young Mathieu’s scores in Paris and responded flatteringly to them. True or not, this music restores a creative work that brought musical life to an early French Canadian film. It’s big, gorgeous and so very Hollywood. Sylvestre and Trudel have produced a superb disc!

01 Bach CantatasPour L’éternité: Bach – Cantatas 4; 106; 9; 181
Bilodeau; Lachica; Gagné; Santini; Montréal Baroque; Eric Milnes
ATMA ACD2 2406 (atmaclassique.com)

This CD contains recordings of four cantatas: two very early ones, composed when Bach was working in Mühlhausen (including the earliest one, the beautiful funeral cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, and two later ones which date from Bach’s Leipzig period. Two things stand out: firstly, that following the theories and the practice of Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott, the choral sections are sung by the soloists one to a part (which is probably historically correct and produces a real gain in clarity) and secondly, that the soloists are all young singers at the beginning of their careers; they were the winners of a competition held in 2014.

Tenor Philippe Gagné is the only one whom I have heard in concert. He is very good and so are the other three: Odéi Bilodeau, soprano, Elaine Lachica, alto, and Drew Santini, baritone. I found the baritone especially impressive.

In the 18th century it was expected that instrumentalists could play more than one instrument. Here we find that that practice is not entirely obsolete: Margaret Little plays viola and viola da gamba, Susie Napper plays cello as well as viola da gamba, Mélisande Corriveau plays cello and recorder and Matthew Jennejohn plays both oboe and cornetto.

There are now a number of complete recordings of Bach’s cantatas. Montréal Baroque has never presented their cantata recordings as a complete cycle but I hope that is what they will become.

Thank you for your interest in TheWholeNote.com Listening Room. If you have any techical questions, concerns or comments, please email systems@thewholenote.com. For inquries on how to get your WholeNote Review enhanced, please contact listeningroom@thewholenote.com.

 

Back to top