16 Cory WeedsWhat Is There To Say
Cory Weeds with Strings
Cellar Music CM110620 (cellarlive.com)

So much classical and contemporary music features strings in orchestras, quartets and many other formats. When added into other genres the “string sound” can become a delicious addition to a country, pop or jazz recording (think of Frank Sinatra performing arrangements by Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins). The Charlie Parker with Strings recordings are a milestone in jazz and were his best-selling albums. 

Cory Weeds’ What is There to Say continues this tradition by pairing a jazz quartet with an 11-piece string section playing standards and three Weeds originals (Waltz for Someone SpecialAlana Marie and Love is Wild). The overall sound and performances here are exquisite. Phil Dwyer must be commended for creating such engaging and articulate arrangements and playing some great piano as well. Weeds is well known as a producer and all round jazz entrepreneur (his good work includes founding and managing Cellar Live) but primarily he is an excellent saxophone player with many albums to his credit as leader. 

Throughout What is There to Say? Weeds illustrates how playing the melody, with his full and assured tone, is perfect in some spots while in others (like the moderately up-tempo There’s A Boat Leavin’ Soon for New York, or trading fours with Dwyer at the end of Love Is Wild), some great bop lines add zest to the proceedings. So really, What is There to Say? except, listen to this album for its elegance, fine performances and solid groove.

17 Anthony WonseyLorraine’s Lullabye
Anthony Wonsey
Cellar Music CM012421 (cellarlive.com)

Pianist Anthony Wonsey’s style consists equally of tastefulness and invention. His renditions of Richard Rodgers’ I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and It Might as Well be Spring are full of tunefulness and clarity, while still maintaining a distinctive group sound. In particular, the way in which he plays around with groove and contour alongside drummer Chris Beck gives these classics a reinvigoration seldom seen elsewhere. The central fulcrum of this album, however, is Wonsey’s own composing, in which he establishes his abilities as both a consummate songwriter and attentive facilitator of his rhythm section. The harmony itself is shimmering with assuring familiarity and yet there is an element of unpredictability that entices the listener. 

Rhythmically, the penmanship and improvisation seem to inform one another. On Blacker Black’s Revenge, Wonsey and bassist Dmitri Kolesnik’s phrasings are conversational yet serpentine, starting as abruptly as they finish, while seamlessly leading back to the primary motif. Wonsey’s own playing possesses key characteristics of control and range. More often than not his solos have the feeling of ease, leaving enough room to punctuate lines and accentuating the rhythmic pocket. His undying commitment to the cohesiveness of his ensemble makes those rare moments when he takes flight (see: Do You Remember Me) notably more impactful. Every track on here is golden.

18 ViO EquanimityEquanimity – A  Futuristic Jazz Tale
Viktor Haraszti (ViO)
ViO Music VM-0001-CD (viomusic.art)

ViO is the alter ego project of multi-instrumentalist Viktor Haraszti, in which he seeks complete creative liberation from jazz conventions. On ViO’s latest album, which self-categorizes as a “futuristic jazz tale,” it is safe to say that Haraszti realizes his vision, both in ambition and execution. Unlike ViO’s prior work, this is undeniably a Haraszti solo effort. With the exception of three spoken word passages courtesy of Lisa Marie Simmons, and occasional percussion courtesy of Dave King and Marshall Curtly, every single aspect of this music is dictated by Haraszti. He plays every instrument (one of his favourite moves being layering multiple reed instruments to create harmonic lattices), is responsible for the rich production, and composes/arranges each second of music. 

The stylistic qualities of Equanimity vary from enveloping ambient passages to solemn contemplations that soundtrack Simmons’ words while also giving them context. Between the heavier moments of the suite lie surprising instances of levity. Chapter Five is a change in pace and mood that I hadn’t realized the music needed. It retains the compelling spectacle of prior tracks, but creates an atmosphere of hopefulness by taking a turn into danceable territory. Haraszti introduces elements one by one throughout this masterfully paced experience, including successful flirtations with electronics, giving the overall sonic palette a new, unexpected dimension. The climactic Chapter Seven even borders on electro-pop at times.

Listen to 'Equanimity: A Futuristic Jazz Tale' Now in the Listening Room

19 Remy le BoeufArchitecture of Storms
Remy Le Boeuf’s Assembly of Shadows
Soundspore Records SS202101 (remyleboeuf.com)

I’ve been a fan of the Le Boeuf brothers (Remy and Pascal) since their concert at the Kitchener/Waterloo Jazz Room in 2017. Their music combines composed and improvised sections where the orchestration is as compelling as individual soloists. In 2019 Remy Le Boeuf released Assembly of Shadows which contained seven of his compositions for a big band. In 2021 Le Boeuf released Architecture of Storms billed (slightly confusingly) as Remy Le Boeuf’s Assembly of Shadows, signifying the connection between the two albums and the importance of the ensemble. In fact, four of these tracks were recorded in 2019 during the Assembly of Shadows sessions and three were recorded in 2021. 

Architecture of Storms is, again, an exciting contemporary big band album. Le Boeuf’s compositions are complex and utilize the full palette offered by almost 30 excellent musicians. Repeated listenings are rewarded by the mood changes, shifting melodies and invigorating solos over ostinatos and nuanced brass and woodwind orchestrations. This album includes an expansive arrangement of the Bon Iver song Minnesota, WI and The Melancholy Architecture of Storms is sung by Julia Easterlin with lyrics by the poet Sara Pirkle. With both Assembly of Shadows and The Architecture of Storms Le Boeuf has shown imaginative composition skills and should be commended for producing such a large collaborative work during a pandemic.

21a Wadada Billie HolidayA Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday
Wadada Leo Smith; Jack DeJohnette; Vijay Iyer
TUM Records TUM CD 060 (tumrecords.com)

The Chicago Symphonies
Wadada Leo Smith’s Great Lakes Quartet
TUM Records TUM Box 004 (tumrecords.com)

Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most important artists of his generation. Although functionally a trumpeter, his real instrument is his far-reaching compositions, the artistry of which is subsumed in worlds that are aural and visual. Moreover the eloquent narratives that propel the elasticized rhythmic units that make up his iconic Ankhrasmation Symbol Language are so intensely and eloquently poetic that a literary dimension may also be ascribed to his musical art.

Smith rose to eminence when he became a very early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founded in Chicago by Muhal Richard Abrams. Then, with reeds master Anthony Braxton and violinist Leroy Jenkins, Smith began to create music that soared, outward bound. It began with his concept of rhythm units born of a belief that every musician participating in a musical excursion was a singular inventor in the congregate setting of ensemble music. This led to a musical canon that grew spectacularly with every new work. 

More than 50 albums later and celebrating his 80th year around the sun, Smith has led various ensembles to produce three new releases – the 3-CD solo Trumpet, Sacred Ceremonies with Milford Graves and Bill Laswell (reviewed by Ken Waxman in The WholeNote Vol.27/1) and the 4-CD The Chicago Symphonies with Smith’s Great Lakes Quartet included below – plus a single album that brings together drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Vijay Iyer in a unique collaboration titled A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday.

Each of the members of this latter trio brought pieces to explore during this musical encounter. The uniqueness of Smith’s art is in what might be referred to as the small print – the intimate moments that only a genuine artist understands and has the ability to inspire in others. We experience majesty in his The A.D. Opera: A Long Vision with Imagination, Creativity and Fire, a dance opera (For Anthony Davis). Iyer’s Time No.1 and DeJohnette’s Song for World Forgiveness are also impressive. Throughout the album phrases are tellingly placed, every colour skilfully applied, whether with a subtle smudge of the thumb or the bolder stroke of the brush.  

21b Wadada Great LakesThe Chicago Symphonies box set comprises four separate extended works of epic length. Each symphonic work is unique; Black History lessons told in song. The significance and matchless nature of each orchestral work expresses the birth pangs and often painful nature of the African-American in history from Lincoln to Obama, steeped – and expressed – in the Blues. It is impeccably performed by Smith with Jack DeJohnette and Henry Threadgill, a titan of music expressed in woodwinds and reeds, together with bassist John Lindberg. Saxophonist Jonathon Haffner replaces Threadgill on Symphony No. 4. Each work is rendered with ruminative prayerfulness and unforced rhetoric. You’ll hear throughout – especially on Symphony No. 2 – the kind of textural complexity, intuitive pacing and abstract brilliance of melody, harmony and rhythm, grounded in piercing sunbursts of luminosity, that takes your breath away. 

22 and then theres this…and then there’s this
Artifacts: Tomeka Reid; Nicole Mitchell; Mike Reed
Astral Spirits AS129 (astralspirits.bandcamp.com)

The musical density and raw vibrancy, of the work by Artifacts – cellist Tomeka Reid, flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Mike Reed – often sounds as if it has sprung into being from a point before time as we know it, as well as from a future way beyond time. It evokes elemental human or natural forces from the rhythm of the natural world, sculpted in short and long inventions, by the joyously pendulous swing of time.  

…and then there’s this owes much to being formed in the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians. Black to the Future Afrofuturism is in the spine of the trio’s wondrously dark, vivacious musical palette. Homage is duly paid to Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell on Soprano Song and No Side Effects. The rest of the music comprises originals by the trio – Reid, Mitchell and Reed – and is made in the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic image of gleanings from (to coin a phrase) the Tao of AACM, But each song embodies the unique personality of the composer and the collective

Reid’s voice is loose, joyously effusive, and redolent of soaring pizzicato leaps and capricious arco shrieks. Mitchell’s is magical, more tightly informed but with a similar depth of feeling and abounding in contrapuntal vigour and strange harmonies. Reed is a percussion colourist par excellence, tempering the rattle of drum skins with provocative hissing of cymbals. In Response, Blessed and Pleasure Palace are the album’s high points.

Listen to '…and then there’s this' Now in the Listening Room

01 Charlotte MooreSome Comfort Here
Charlotte Moore; Mark Camilleri
Independent (open.spotify.com/album/0BnDapG1mPFfKfCUZhwLfI)

If, like me, you know Charlotte Moore as one of Canada’s top musical theatre performers, this new album is a fun window on another side of her performing personality. And yet, though the songs are more pop than theatre, they still display her signature ability to get to the essence of a song – making it seem she is making up both words and music on the spot. 

The intimacy created by this ability is inviting and the choice of often wistfully melancholic songs  of love and friendship from Joni Mitchell’s Help Me (I think I’m falling in love again) to Tom Waits’ Rainbow Sleeves and Old Friend (from the musical I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road), is cathartic listening material after almost two years of living through this seemingly unending pandemic. 

Moore also lets loose in a couple of much more lighthearted jazzy numbers that suit her voice brilliantly: Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida’s 2006 hit All I Can Do, and the 1932 classic Hummin’ to Myself (Sammy Fain et al).

Moore’s voice is at its best when relaxed in her lower register where tears and laughter can hover near the surface. When she aims higher into a belt her voice loses some of its rich quality and yet the very rawness of this “almost live-to-tape” recording of Moore’s voice backed by the masterful piano of Mark Camilleri is attractive and pulls us into the mix offered up of tears, hope and laughter.

02 Canadian BrassCanadiana
Canadian Brass
Linus Entertainment 270596 (linusentertainment.com)

One of the most iconic instrumental ensembles in Canada has just released its tribute to fellow Canadian musical icons, Canadiana. Given the theme, it’s unsurprising that the covers should include Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Cockburn. What is surprising – and entertaining – is the presence of songs by Drake, Shawn Mendes and even EDM artist, Deadmau5.

Although the Canadian Brass is an incredibly prolific ensemble, having released 137 recordings since its inception in 1970, there’s been a hiatus of several years since their previous CD. The driving force behind Canadiana is trumpeter Brandon Ridenour who first joined the Brass when he was just 20 years old. He moved on to other projects and a successful solo career before returning in 2019 and conceiving, co-producing and writing all the arrangements for this project. Recorded during the pandemic, with the musicians working individually in their home studios, the album is a marvel of engineering and mastering.

Canadiana fittingly opens with Je Me Souviens, the song by Lara Fabian which became a Quebec anthem of sorts, and the mix of melancholy and triumph of the original are captured here. The standout tracks for me are the surprisingly gorgeous Deadmau5 song I Remember (I’ll take tuba over a drum track any day), the playful Best Part by Daniel Caesar (the young R&B singer-songwriter is being hailed as the Next Big Canadian Thing) and Rush’s Overture 2112, which is a complete gas. This version of Shawn Mendes’s hit Senorita just makes me wish piccolo trumpet was used all the time in pop music. Although additional instruments like percussion and electric guitar were enlisted to beef up the brass on a few of the tracks, the closing tribute to Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah, relies sparingly and beautifully on just brass.

03a JesseCook LibreLibre
Jesse Cook
Coach House Music (jessecook.com)

Matt Sellick and friends
Independent (mattsellick.com)

Two Canadian guitarists, renowned for their flamenco-based music that incorporates other musical influences, both have exciting new releases.

My online research shows that flamenco guitar music originated in Spain and is comprised of singing, dancing, guitar and percussive rhythms enhanced by hand claps, foot stomping and the like. Musician/composer/producer Jesse Cook performs his Spanish guitar stylings with amazing Algerian multi-instrumentalist Fethi Nadjem, modern trap rhythms and 808 beats in ten tracks, exploring new sounds based in flamenco tradition with touches of jazz, pop and world music. Seven tracks are composed by Cook. Number 5 has the repeated distant spoken words “number five” as Cook’s mellow single line guitar transforms into virtuosic melody with runs.

Nadjem’s entry adds a different colour to the guitar lines leading to tight violin and guitar improvisations above the rhythms. Love the traditional palmas hand-clapping rhythms with the guitar/violin playing in the upbeat Jaleo. The title track has more radio-friendly tonal singalong guitar above simpler drum grooves. Three Cook/Nadjem co-compositions here include Hey! featuring more rock music sentiments with flamenco flourishes, dance-along rhythm grooves and ascending violin lines. Guest performers also appear on select tracks. Cook’s and Nadjem’s sky-high precise conversational playing, and Cook’s musicianship and technical/production expertise, make for outstanding original music.

Listen to 'Libre' Now in the Listening Room

03b Matt SellickYounger flamenco guitarist/composer Matt Sellick’s fourth solo album is also superb. Having moved – aka uprooted – to Toronto from Thunder Bay, Sellick builds on his own original intense flamenco sound in collaboration with some of his favourite Toronto musicians here, including Jesse Cook with whom he tours internationally. Sellick plays solo on the opening Quiet World highlighted by technically challenging fast runs with slight spaces between phrases, as if two musicians were playing. Upbeat High Park is a happy-fast flamenco guitar walk/dance in the park grounded by electric bass (Dan Minchom) and rhythmic cajón and palmas (Matias Recharte). Cook is featured on Soot and his characteristic guitar strums and fast melodious solo lines add his personal touch to Sellick’s rocking earworm flamenco sound. Full-band sound is surprisingly created with just Sellick’s guitar and Marito Marques’ percussion in the faster duet Going Home. Colourful high- and low-pitched guitar alternating melodic phrases and strums above drums build intensity to the accented closing. Saxophonist Chelsea McBride is also featured on one track.

Thank you to Jesse Cook and Matt Sellick for admirably expanding and recording their uplifting flamenco guitar sounds during these difficult COVID pandemic times.

Listen to 'Uprooted' Now in the Listening Room

When Toronto trumpeter Lina Allemano recently set up shop part of the year in Berlin it wasn’t much of a surprise. She joined other musicians from Canada and around the world who have made the German capital arguably second only to New York as a place to perform creative music. Cheaper living accommodations and efficient travel links to other areas of Europe are part of the appeal. So is the welcome given to new ideas in all the arts. Whether COVID, gentrification and evolving political currents will change this, as it did for Paris in the 1920s, is an open question. But right now, the situation remains stable.

01 Julie SassoonManchester, England’s loss was Berlin’s gain years ago when pianist Julie Sassoon moved across the channel. Voyages (Jazzwerkstatt JW 218 jazzwerkstatt.eu) is an ample exhibition of her talents as player and composer. With her quartet of Dutch saxophonist/clarinetist Lothar Ohlmeier, Austrian drummer Rudi Fischerlehner and German bassist Meinrad Kneer, the half-dozen tracks reflect moods from buoyant to bleak. The first adjective introduces the set on Missed Calls as stop-time pulses from the bassist and drummer undergird Ohlmeier’s snarly then stuttering tones, as the pianist’s rolling glissandi boost intensity that eventually turns to moderated and impressionistic vamps. Cymbal etching and reed whistles confirm the second sentiment on Jerusalem, as a buzzing arco bass line and fragmented slurs and slides from the saxophonist swirl through multiphonic vibrations to eventual reed/keyboard harmony. Each composition is geared to individual quartet members’ skills, with tracks fully defined when all kick in after an individual’s introduction. Distinctive motifs like the drummer’s sophisticated slapping, the bassist’s double-stroking ostinatos, the reedist’s outputting of gentle or strained tones and piano motifs that can be delicately cooperative or contrapuntally challenging, are all part of the mix. It also means that Sassoon has created a spectrum of group music that highlights her writing skill. 

03 GRIFFIf Sassoon had to cross the Channel to establish herself in Berlin, other Berlin improvisers come from even farther afield. Vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa is Mexican and the cooperative GRIFF trio (Inexhaustible Editions ie G25 emiliogordoa.com) features Danish bassist Adam Pultz Melbye who also resides in Berlin and Austrian pianist Ingrid Schmoliner, who so far, still lives in Vienna. With the pianist mostly dedicated to plucking, pinching or stoppering the instrument’s internal strings and Gordoa clanking, rasping or slapping his instrument’s metal bars, the harmonies produced are, in the main, percussive. Currents of sound refract among all three when the bassist adds string pops so that timbres become threatening rather than tuneful. Yet when bell-pealing-like vibraphone tones and dynamic keyboard patterning intersect, reflective lyricism is also present. Making effective use of silences – there’s no sound on the concluding Moss Rock until keyboard chops and vibe reverb are heard two minutes in and the exposition still proceeds with many pauses – the unique set-up also infers extended sound colours. This occurs when Schmoliner’s assembly line of echoes and clinks meets up with equivalent patterning from vibe reverb with the motor switched off. While some sequences are taken staccato and allegro, coordination is most notable on Bell Skin, as a polyrhythmic climax is attained by blending metal bar thwacks, double bass string buzzing and prepared piano string shakes and clatters, completed by a coda of paced ringing of single vibraphone notes. 

03 Talatsuki TrioAnother Berlin-based international group is the Takatsuki Trio of Finnish bassist Antti Virtaranta, German string player Joshua Weitzel and Japanese pianist Rieko Okuda. On At KühlSpot (577 Records 5874 577records.com) the trio is joined by Berlin alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard for a single, almost 39-minute improvisation. Without needing a percussion instrument, Virtaranta’s authoritative string pulse and Weitzel’s creation of dobro-like clanks from the three-string shamisen or authoritative guitar strums, provide enough rhythmic frails to back the pianist’s metronomic rumbles and staccato stabs as well as the saxophonist’s inventive trills, squalls and flutters. With bass strokes keeping the exposition linear, Okuda has latitude to circle in and out of supplemental melodies and occasionally strum internal strings. Meanwhile Eberhard’s theme reconstitution sometimes takes the form of aviary peeps, flutter tonguing or altissimo split tones. At points these unroll in one direction as the pianist moves in another. With concise snatches of reed lyricism sometimes bubbling to the surface, uncommon connections are made between them and bass-emphasized piano pulses. Doubling the tempo at the halfway point with galloping piano lines and crammed reed note spewing, variations solidify and return to the initial theme. Timbres from each quartet member then subtly combine for a formal ending signified by a thick double bass thump and guitar clanks.

04 Das KondensatNot all Berlin improvising is acoustic as Das Kondensat 2 (Why Play Jazz WPJ 057 whyplayjazz.com) shows. Created by three veteran German players, who now live in Berlin, Gebhard Ullmann soprano and tenor saxophones, looper and sampler; Oliver Potratz, electric bass, bass synthesizer and analog effects; and Eric Schaefer with drums and modular synthesizer, multiply the number of sound sources available. During 2’s 11 tracks, the trio members are able to straddle the boundaries among solid beats, adept electronica and free improvisation. While a couple of the tracks vibrate with atmospheric buzzes where voltage overlay leads to crossover shakes, alliances with tougher material is evident from Pendulum, the second track, on. As the bassist and drummer actualize a tough funk beat with string buzzes and solid cymbal taps, the saxophonist barks and bites wavering reed elaborations as circular tongue fluttering and irregular vibrations validate a link to energy music. That connection is proven on the separated I Was Born in Cleveland, Ohio (Part 1) and I Was Born in Cleveland, Ohio (Part 2), where the voice of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, the Ohio city’s most famous free jazzer, introduces the music and is heard faintly in the background as Ullmann’s tenor saxophone spews a variety of altissimo screams, triple tonguing and choked vibrations, while the others create a churning backbeat. Although (Part 2) adds higher-pitched reed squeaks and programmed wiggles beside percussion snaps, a calmer interlude on (Part 1) references Ayler’s spiritual side. Most of the other tunes migrate to a sophisticated form of fusion with designated bass thumb pops and fuzztones and a resonating backbeat. Yet Schaefer’s skill at switching to Latin rhythms or propelling tunes with only drum stick whacks, plus Potratz’s single string emphasis and broken chord advances negate any resemblance to heavy metal. Similarly, while the band’s use of swirling electronics adds a layer of oscillating textures that thicken the narratives, Ullman’s insertions of nasal slurs, tone flutters, whistles and squeaks roughen the expositions enough to confirm the non-simplicity of the playing and writing.

05 Swinging at TopsisWhile improvisers keep arriving, Berlin has been attracting musicians from elsewhere for decades. But now players who are more recent settlers get to exchange ideas with older residents who they may formerly have only known by reputation, even if they’re from the same country. That’s the situation on Swinging at Topsi’s (Astral Spirits AS 176 astralspirits.bandcamp.com) which assembles three Swedish improvisers. One of the pioneers of free jazz, drummer Sven-Åke Johansson has been a Berliner since 1968. Bassist Joel Grip made the move early in this century; while guitarist Niklas Fite, who is also 52 years younger than Johansson, was only visiting. Transparently descriptive, the CD title reflects exactly what transpired on this club date. As a coda to their extended improvisations, the trio members take on two familiar standards in full, lilting swing-era mode with Johansson vocalizing on Isn’t It Romantic and Out Of Nowhere. Jumping forward eight decades, the group adapts the flow that comes from consistent rhythm guitar strums, forceful double bass thumps and subtle percussion chromaticism to make the two extended improvisations cadence carefully as well as highlight exploration. Resounding drum rattles and cymbal swishes allow Grip to explore below-the-bridge thwacks when he isn’t timekeeping and Fite to insert unexpected frails and runs when he isn’t fastened on a rhythmic function with flat top twanging. Interestingly, Set 1 is tougher and livelier than the second one, as the guitar moves between spidery and solid comping and the percussionist alternating between barely-there drum top rubs and sudden rumbling explosions. While he has his share of lyrical pulses and lacerating string set probes, Grip maintains the pulse that logically bonds the improvisations and bleeds their textures into those of the subsequent pop ditties.

Over the years Berlin has been the centre of many, mostly political situations that have drawn it in many directions. The direction it has established now though is as a haven for improvised music.

02a Mariss JansonsOpening the newly released Mariss Jansons – The Edition (Chor & Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks BR Klassik BRK900200 naxosdirect.com/search/brk900200) was like opening a jewel box of wonderful gems. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering all of them, both performances of repertoire with which I was already familiar and newly discovered works. As we have come to expect from this source, the sound quality is astonishingly good. Audiophiles will be especially pleased. 

Mariss Jansons was born in Riga, Latvia on December 1, 1943 during the time of the Nazi occupation. His mother, Iraida was Jewish and had been spirited out of the Riga Ghetto for the delivery of her son. As the Nazis had murdered both her brother and her father, leaving the ghetto was a necessary precaution. 

Jansons’ first violin teacher was his father, Arvids, who played in the Riga opera and was also assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra to Evgeny Mravinsky and Kurt Sanderling. Jansons also studied piano and conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory, and later in Austria with Hans Swarovski. He studied with Karajan in Salzburg in 1969 and two years later won second prize in the Karajan Conducting Competition. Karajan later invited the young Jansons to become his assistant in Berlin but the invitation was intercepted by Soviet authorities. Jansons did not become aware of that missed opportunity until many years later.

In 1979, Jansons became music director of the Oslo Philharmonic where he remained until 2000, despite a near fatal heart attack in 1996 while conducting La Bohème. The orchestra and conductor finally parted company over his long-running dissatisfaction with the poor acoustics of the Oslo Concert Hall. He was principal guest conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1992. He was appointed director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1997 with a three-year contract to be renewed yearly, but instead in 2002, he gave two years notice. He followed Ricardo Chailly as music director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in 2004. Jansons inherited a flawless orchestra, admired around the musical world from the reign of Willem Mengelberg (1895 to 1945) and continuing through those who followed. Jansons’ refinement of their sound was subtle but noticeable to the extent that Gramophone magazine’s international panel of music critics declared that this orchestra was now “The World’s Greatest.” 

Jansons had also been associated with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bayerischen Rundfunks) in Munich, founded by Eugen Jochum in 1949, now one of the very best orchestras anywhere. When he decided to cut back his conducting commitments due to age and ill health, he was forced to choose between the Concertgebouw and the BRSO. Surprising some observers, he chose the Bavarians. In retrospect, and based on this new 70-disc set, his years in Munich amounted to his Golden Age as one magnificent performance followed another.

The box contains 57 CDs, 11 SACDs and two DVDs. That’s a lot of music that would take more than two 40-hour weeks to hear and see just once. As to be expected in collections such as this, there are acclaimed performances of all the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, Bruckner’s numbers three to nine and Mahler’s one through nine. The performances chosen are as fresh as paint and the result is often to take pause and play it again.

As an example, Beethoven’s Third Symphony is no stranger to these ears and hearing it is not the experience it once was. However, hearing the Eroica from this set was an unfamiliar experience akin to synesthesia. I was drawn in and somehow was among, but not one of, the players. Upon replay there was still the persuasive illusion of being there.  

Richard Strauss is well represented with thrilling versions of Don Juan, and fresh sweeping performances of the suite from Rosenkavalier, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Heldenleben, not to mention Burleske, Tod und Verklärung, Four Last Songs (with soprano Anja Harteros), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche and the Four Symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo.

Tchaikovsky has six works in the big Jansons box: Symphonies Four, Five and Six; Francesca da Rimini, Overture to Romeo and Juliet and a complete performance of his opera, Pique Dame. Not related to Pyotr Ilyich is Alexander Tchaikovsky, a Russian composer born in 1946 whose Symphony No.4, Op.78 for tenor, choir and orchestra provides a workout for everyone, particularly the percussion. This could be a new modern favourite. 

Another perfect example of new life in old favorites is Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No.3, the “Organ Symphony.” From the exquisitely hushed opening to the grandeur that follows, one’s attention never wanders. Throughout the rest of the recording the organ does not dominate but is omnipresent. In the last movement, where the organ can often swamp the other instruments, there is beautiful restraint and space to appreciate the rest of Saint-Saëns’ famous score. The organist is Iveta Apkalna who is also the soloist in the impressive Poulenc Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani. Another welcome work by Poulenc is his Stabat Mater for soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra along with Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe for chorus and string orchestra and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. The Stabat Mater by Dvořák is also included. 

The Symphonie fantastique would seem to be a natural for Jansons. We are gifted with excerpts of rehearsals for the enormously powerful performance of the complete work to be found elsewhere in this collection. Jansons addresses the orchestra in German only but there is no mistaking what he is telling the players, and exactly what he wants to hear from them. On the second of the three rehearsal discs we hear the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony and on the third, Jansons at work on Till Eulenspiegel. I believe that listening to these rehearsals before the complete performances may well enhance the pleasure in hearing how the passages undertaken fit into the whole. 

Of course, in a collection of works by 42 composers there are more treasures that require an honorable mention, including a video of an in-concert Gurrelieder with my favourite Wood Dove, Mihoko Fujimura, who is also heard in other works in this set. Other astonishing performances include the Verdi Requiem, Rite of Spring, Petrouchka, Firebird Suite, Rhapsody in Blue and a powerful Pictures at an Exhibition.

This unique collection includes a 72-page LP-size fine-art booklet containing details on every recording and tributes from Jansons’ colleagues. It’s a really beautiful addition to this very impressive package. In all, this is a thoughtfully curated selection that highlights the great conducting performances with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus spanning Jansons’ distinguished career with them between 2003 and 2019, the year of his death (br-so.com/cd-dvd/mariss-jansons-the-edition).

01 BR Jansons Edition Box Packshotsleeves

01 Roswell RuddLive
Roswell Rudd; Duck Baker
Dot Time Records (dottimerecords.com)

A master of blues, ragtime and folk idioms, Duck Baker has long applied his fingerstyle acoustic guitar skills to modern idioms as well, from recording the compositions of bop masters like Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols to free improvisation. This CD pairs him with a musical hero of his youth, Roswell Rudd, the first significant trombonist of free jazz but also a throwback who restored his instrument’s traditional jazz voice, with all its burps, smears and bellows along with its legato sweetness as well. Assembled from club recordings in New York City in 2002 and Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2004, these performances range from broad entertainment to high art.     

Jelly Roll Morton’s Buddy Bolden’s Blues exemplifies Rudd and Baker’s shared joy in roots jazz, with Rudd’s vocalic expressionism and Baker’s crisp blues phrases coming to the fore. Melancholy People is just that, the lachrymose Streisand anthem drenched in as much excess sentimentality as can be dredged up for the occasion. There are a few Monk tunes in versions that are both expressive and precise with the two dedicated interpreters managing that fine balance on Well, You Needn’t and Bemsha Swing. Baker’s long solo stretch on Light Blue is a joyous account of a lesser-known Monk composition. 

The duo is capable of playfulness and genuine sentiment, creating a sense of authentic dialogue on Going West, while the extended Church is lifted by Rudd’s exuberant use of mutes.

02 Sharon Lois BramBest of the Best Live
Sharon, Lois & Bram
Elephant Records CAS-CD-42150 (sharonloisandbram.com)

Award-winning Canadian children’s/family entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram toured and performed extensively for decades since their founding in 1978 to astounding success with their generations-spanning fans and audience members. They also had their own television shows. After Lois retired in 2000 and then died in 2015, Sharon and Bram continued as a duet. This is the trio’s first new album release in 21 years, featuring 22 unedited live tracks recorded during their North American performances in different venues from 1989 to1995.  

Listeners will not be disappointed with the choice of songs, the trio’s verbal banter, the performances and the quality of the recordings. The tracks are seamlessly connected in attention-grabbing sequence. Classic song versions like She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain and Alphabet Song feature them encouraging audience singing and movement participation, to backing band upbeat accompaniments. The witty How Much is that Doggie in the Window? has Bram barking and teaching the audience to sing as violin countermelody, waltz tempo and closing harmonies drive the song.

Sharon, Lois & Bram’s signature song Skinnamarink is a (to be expected) highlight, replete with audience singing exchanges and a background rocking-band closing. The included (and well-deserved) audience cheers and applause make one feel like you are live in the audience.

The respectful performing relationship between Sharon, Lois & Bram and their band flourishes in tight harmonies, changing tempi, and dance and singalong moments, making this a “greatest of the great live” collection for fans of all ages!

01 kloeckner bach 53yjaFor the past month or so I’ve been immersing myself in new cello recordings. Some of the repertoire selections are old friends, some new to me and some new to the world. Benedict Kloeckner: J.S. Bach – 6 Suites for Cello Solo (Brilliant Classics 96403 naxosdirect.com/search/bri96403) encompasses the old and the new brilliantly, with striking performances of the suites interspersed with miniatures he has commissioned that “can be seen as a response to the challenges of the present [pandemic] in interaction with the Bach suites.” Kloeckner’s Bach, idiomatic contemporary interpretations on a modern instrument, ranges from breakneck speed such as in the Prelude of the first suite to thoughtful and contemplative pacing in the Sarabande of the second; sometimes playful, but always carefully considered, with tasteful ornamentations and occasional surprising rubato passages, such as in the Bourée of the third suite. What makes this 3CD set special though is the new works and how they bridge and complement the original suites. The composers represent an international spectrum: José L. Elizondo (Mexico), Elena Kats-Chernin (Australia), Bongani Ndodana-Breen (South Africa), Éric Tanguy (France), Geoffrey Gordon (USA) and Dai Fujikura (Japan).

My first few times through the set I simply let the CDs play and enjoyed the commissions as interludes, kind of palette cleansers, before rushing into the next Bach suite. Sometime later however, I listened to the six miniatures in isolation and was pleasantly surprised to find that they made a satisfying suite themselves. Elizondo’s Under the Starlit Sky of the Rhine specifically references the sixth suite, albeit in passing, and pays tribute to the landscape of Kloeckner’s home region, the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. In I Am Cello, Kats-Chernin compares the slow opening to the blossoming of a flower and describes the lyrical miniature as “almost a song.” Ndodana-Breen, who had an active role in Toronto’s contemporary music scene in the early 2000s, says that Soweto Cello Riffs combines elements of Afropop and South African jazz, although not overtly. Tanguy’s In Between “addresses how emotions during the pandemic have vacillated constantly between uncertainty and hope.” In Gordon’s Nes qu’on porroit, from Machaud’s song “It is no more possible to count the stars […] than it is to imagine or conceive of the great desire I have to see you.” The composer says he was thinking of past pandemics – Black Death, Italian Plague, Spanish Flu – in relation to COVID-19. Although most of these new works make little direct use of Bach’s material, coming full circle Fujikura’s Sweet Suites opens with echoes of the prelude of the sixth Bach suite, but in a minor key, and after brief hints at other movements, dissolves into a quiet and lyrical coda which rises and fades away into the ether. Kloeckner and his colleagues have provided a beautiful new take on Bach’s masterpieces.

02 jonah kim fpvg5Young South Korean-American cellist Jonah Kim begins Approaching Autumn (Delos delosmusic.com/recording/approaching-autumn) with what I feel is the most important solo cello work of the first half of the 20th century and perhaps the most significant contribution to the genre since Bach, Zoltan Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello Op.8 from 1915. In his very personal introduction to the disc, Kim tells us that he considers Janos Starker one of his biggest musical influences. He started corresponding with Starker when he was seven years old after hearing Starker’s Delos recording of the Kodály sonata and later was able to study with him. Starker had impeccable Kodály credentials having first played the solo sonata for the composer when his was 15 in his (and Kodály’s) homeland, Hungary, and then again in 1967 shortly before Kodály’s death. After that performance Kodály told Starker: “If you correct the ritard in the third movement, it will be the Bible performance.” Starker recorded the work four times, the last in 1970 and it is this one that later appeared on the Delos release. So may we assume the correction was made? At any rate, Kim’s own performance is outstanding – big, brash and gritty as called for in the outer movements; sensitive and lyrical in the Adagio (con gran espressione) – and his technique in this extremely challenging work is impressive. Kim is joined by pianist Robert Koenig for the remainder of the disc; the one-movement post-Romantic title work by American Mark Abel (b.1948) providing a kind of a bridge to Grieg’s Sonata for Cello and Piano Op.36 which concludes this excellent disc.

03 hannah collins resonance lines 6uuxgBach was not the first to write for solo cello and Hannah CollinsResonance Lines (Sono Luminus DSL-92252 sonoluminus.com) opens with a Chiacona by Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694) which predates the Bach suites by half a century. This sets the stage for a recital of mostly contemporary works: two by Kaija Saariaho, the brief Dreaming Chaconne and Sept Papillons; in manus tuas by Caroline Shaw, which draws on the Thomas Tallis motet of the same name; and Benjamin Britten’s Sonata for Solo Cello No.1, Op.72. The last track travels across two and a half centuries: Thomas Kotcheff’s Cadenza (with or without Haydn), a 25-minute work written in 2020 meant to serve (or not) as a cadenza for Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major from 1761.

Listening to this piece led to the realization of how a cadenza – traditionally a composed or improvised interlude in a concerto giving the soloist an opportunity show off – differs from a stand-alone work that needs to provide its own context and development. Collins tells us that “Kotcheff’s work contains musical nods to the other works on the album and ties everything together in an energetic and surprise-filled adventure.” It certainly does that. When listening to the disc before reading the program notes, one of those surprises was hearing Britten’s solo sonata, which I consider another milestone in the solo cello repertoire, quoted in a work “about” Haydn. The notes also give this a context however. It seems that Britten wrote a cadenza for Rostropovich for the same Haydn concerto and the result can be heard in a 1964 recording with Britten conducting “Slava” and the English Chamber Orchestra (it’s well worth searching out on YouTube). Collins rises to all the various challenges of the diverse repertoire on this collection, especially those of the “cadenza” which requires everything from virtuosic bombast to the most subtle intimacy. 

04 norgard saariaho cello w1kbmIt is fitting that Collins’ disc ends with a contemporary cadenza inspired by one of the first great cello concertos because that leads us to Remembering – Nørgård & Saariaho Cello Concertos (BIS-2602 bis.se) featuring Jakob Kullberg. Kullberg (b.1979, Denmark) has worked extensively with both these composers and all of Per Nørgård’s cello writing in past 20 years has been dedicated to him. The two works by that Danish master recorded here, however, were written more than three decades ago when Kullberg was just a child. Between (1985) is a three-movement work in which the cellist begins in isolation, “unable to unite with the orchestral sound,” but is gradually able to integrate with the larger group with the help of four solo cellos from the orchestra. At one point the din from the larger group even includes the sound of car horns reminiscent of the prelude to Ligeti’s Grand Macabre. The second movement sees a gradual integration of the cello into the slow-moving textures of the orchestra. In the extended third movement, the cello takes a more traditional role but with a twist: the solo line is based on notes from the Javanese pentatonic scale slendro, giving it an exotic edge. Remembering Child was composed as a viola concerto in 1986 but is presented here in Kullberg’s adaptation for cello, including a new cadenza of his own design. The work honours Samantha Smith, an American schoolgirl, peace activist and child actress famous during the Cold War, who was killed in a plane crash at 13 in 1985, although Nørgård says the piece isn’t intended as a requiem.

The two works by Nørgård provide bookends for Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s Notes on Light written two decades later (2006). The first movement, Translucent, secret, takes place as if under water, picking up where her previous work for cello and orchestra Amers left off. After a “heated debate” between cello and orchestra in the second movement, On Fire, the gentler Awakening, which draws on material from Saariaho’s oratorio La Passion de Simone, includes a quiet two-minute-long cadenza in the higher reaches of the cello composed by Kullberg. It’s becoming obvious why these composers are happy to work with this creative soloist. As Aleksi Barrière’s detailed program note points out, at this point we might think that the concerto is over, as an inversion of the tradition three-movement form, here slow-fast-slow, has been completed. But there are two more movements to come. Kullberg gets a rest though in the shimmering fourth movement Eclipse, and then re-enters quietly for the final, Heart of Light, which glimmers and gradually builds, only to subside into quietude again. That’s actually how all three of these concertos end, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” There are more than enough bangs along the way however to hold our attention and make for a satisfying disc.  

05 margaret maria b5iddSometimes I wonder if it is possible to write for solo cello without referencing the iconic Bach Suites. Certainly Margaret Maria, in her most recent release Where Words Fail – Music for Healing (margaretmariamusic.com) does so in the opening track with arpeggiation reminiscent of the first Prelude, but it feels natural and is only one of its many dense layers. As with previous releases, Maria’s music is lush and melodic, using many overlaid solo cello lines to create an orchestral atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. The current offering is the result of personal trauma, a response to almost losing her sister, who was on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma for more than two weeks as a result of COVID-19. The resulting compositions bear such names as Blessing of Awakening (written in advance of, and in hope for, her sister’s return to consciousness), Raindrops from Heaven (with an ostinato reminiscent of Pachelbel’s Canon) and From the Brink (with a fluttering bed track and eerie harmonics ultimately resolving into peaceful pizzicato under a gentle rising motif that resembles a hymn of praise). The disc (actually a digital release) concludes with the gentle Turning Broken into Beautiful, a meditative wash of soothing colours over Pachelbel-like pizzicato bass, providing a joyful resolution to this healing journey. Maria provides real comfort for these terrible times.

Listen to 'Where Words Fail' Now in the Listening Room

06 del sol dust in time cn13wThe next work, which I would also consider healing music, is a string quartet that starts with an extended, somewhat melancholy duet between cello and viola. Chinese-born US-based composer Huang Ruo composed A Dust in Time (Bright Shiny Things brightshiny.ninja) as a response to the worldwide COVID pandemic. It is a meditative and cathartic work written in collaboration with the Del Sol Quartet who first performed it using the labyrinth of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco as its stage, livestreaming the premiere from the empty church. In the booklet notes – the booklet is actually a colouring book featuring stylized mandalas created especially for this project by high school student Felicia Lee – we learn that the first performance was preceded by an open-air rehearsal for a few friends in the park across the street from the cathedral. “Soon we were joined by passersby who paused with their dogs and strollers to listen as Huang Ruo’s hour-long palindromic passacaglia grew from silence to euphoria and then faded back into the wind, sirens and jackhammers of the city.” Listening to this recording in the relative quiet of my home I have to imagine the Cage-ian ambience of that experience, but the arc of the music is immersive and compelling, and indeed cathartic. The Del Sol Quartet are tireless champions of contemporary music and in the last three decades have commissioned or premiered literally thousands of works from such composers as Terry Riley, Chen Yi, Mason Bates, Pamela Z and Gabriela Lena Frank to name just a few. You can find excerpts on YouTube of another project Huang Ruo has been working on through the pandemic – a production of M. Butterfly in collaboration with playwright Henry David Hwang for the Santa Fe Opera.

07 winterreise hilary demske njzjeMany readers will be aware of my affection for Schubert’s Winterreise in its many and varied interpretations, including Hans Zender’s contemporary chamber orchestra setting, replete with bells and whistles, and Philippe Sly and the Chimera Project’s reworking with klezmer ensemble. All of the versions I have encountered maintain the melody line more or less intact, and feature a voice of one range or another. When I encountered Richard Krug’s transcription for string quartet and baritone, however, I found myself imagining a rendition in which the soloist would be a cellist. I haven’t found a cello version yet, but this month I did encounter another purely instrumental adaptation. Pianist Hilary Demske, creator of Journey for One: A Winterreise Fantasy for Solo Piano (Navona Records navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6370) is quick to point out that it was not her intention to “arrange or improve the original work but to offer a different lens and add my individual perspective […] to an intimate glimpse into grief, the simple story of a young man rejected by love [that] conveys the universal experience of searching for peace.” She goes on to say “Foremost in my mind was the text and meaning of Müller’s poetry. I built many pieces around individual lines that resonated with me and reflected the overall poem, leading to increasingly dramatic compositions and unusual techniques.” The booklet includes the German titles and English translations of Müller’s poems (something that even some vocal versions neglect to do) and lists the piano preparations and other instruments employed on each track. These include such extraneous materials as timpani mallets placed on the piano strings, castanets, aluminum foil, drumsticks wedged between piano strings, xylophone mallet on wood block and rubber floor mat on strings, among others.

Devotees of traditional lieder and fans of Schubert may not get much out of this quite extreme interpretation of Winterreise, but I found it quite satisfying. Rather than a transcription per se, it’s an exploration of the poems themselves in Demske’s personal voice, during which Schubert’s melodies and rhythms occasionally shine through, glistening like familiar gems. A particular highlight was the antepenultimate movement Mut (Courage) which in Demske’s percussive performance (drumsticks on woodblocks and strings) I found reminiscent of the Baby Shark song that my young neighbours Henry (five) and James (two) take endless delight in exuberantly declaiming. 

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor

01 marie nadeau tremblayh ef7k3On Préludes et solitudes the Quebec violinist Marie Nadeau-Tremblay provides one of the best CDs of Baroque solo violin works that I’ve encountered (ATMA Classique ACD2 2823 atmaclassique.com/en).

There’s a lightness of touch in the idiomatic playing, with a rhythmic freedom which adds character to the music and which, far from weakening the sense of line or structure actually enhances it. It’s perfectly illustrated in the Telemann Fantasies Nos.7 in E-flat Major and 9 in B Minor but is never absent in short works by Pedro Lopes Nogueira, J.H. Roman, Nicola Matteis Jr., Torelli, Thomas Baltzar and Purcell, and a terrific performance of the Passacaglia in G Minor from Biber’s Mystery Rosary Sonatas. 

Nadeau-Tremblay adds her own brief Prélude improvisé to complete an outstanding disc.

Listen to 'Préludes et solitudes' Now in the Listening Room

02 jansen cover 89tu1On 12 Stradivari, violinist Janine Jansen – who herself plays the 1715 Shumsky-Rode Stradivari – experiences a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a ground-breaking project devised by Steven Smith of J & A Beare that brought together in London 12 of the best violins of Antonio Stradivari, some not played for many years, others having belonged to the likes of Fritz Kreisler, Nathan Milstein and Ida Haendel. This resulting album, with pianist Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, captures the individual characters of each instrument (Decca 4851605 deccaclassics.com/en).

Unfortunately, there’s no information identifying the individual violins. Still, no matter; Jansen’s inspired and ravishing playing of well-known short pieces by Falla, Suk, Clara and Robert Schumann, Vieuxtemps, Tchaikovsky, Szymanowski, Ravel, Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, Heuberger and Jerome Kern takes your breath away.

The entire project has been captured in the documentary film Janine Jansen: Falling for Stradivari

There have been three recent CDs of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas, two of which complete a three-CD set of the entire canon:

03 wan beethoven muk7lBeethoven Violin Sonatas Nos. 4, 9 & 10 with Andrew Wan and Charles Richard-Hamelin is the third issue in their Analekta series (AN 2 8796 analekta.com/en).

Wan’s warm, smooth and expressive playing is well-matched by Richard-Hamelin in lovely performances of the Sonatas No.4 in A Minor Op.23, No.9 in A Major Op.47 “Kreutzer” and No.10 in G Major Op.96. There’s excellent balance in a crystal-clear recording that completes a highly satisfying set.

Listen to 'Beethoven Violin Sonatas Nos. 4, 9 & 10' Now in the Listening Room

04 zimmermann cover cfhtkThe last two sonatas are also featured on Beethoven: The Violin Sonatas Nos. 8-10, with which Frank Peter Zimmermann and Martin Helmchen complete their series for BIS (BIS-2537 bis.se).

 A lively and dazzling reading of the Sonata No.8 in G Major Op.30 No.3 opens the disc, with the Op.47 “Kreutzer” and the G Major Op.96 receiving equally animated and high-octane performances, although sensitivity and nuance are never lacking when needed. 

05 tetzlaff cover je58vThe Sonata No.8 in G Major, along with Sonatas No.6 in A Major and No.7 in C Minor, is also featured on a CD of the three Beethoven Sonatas Op.30, the latest release by Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt on the Ondine label (ODE-1392-2 ondine.net).

The publicity blurb says that these relatively early but completely original sonatas belong to the artists’ favourite works by Beethoven, and it shows in every bar of beautifully judged and nuanced performances, with the Adagio middle movement of the A Major Sonata in particular drawing breathtakingly beautiful playing from Tetzlaff.

06 remembering russia 2xqzzOn Remembering Russia the Spanish violist Jesús Rodolfo, accompanied by pianist Min Young Kang makes his Pentatone label debut in a recital showcasing three 20th-century Russian composers all of whom left their homeland (PTC 5186 287 naxosdirect.com/search/ptc5186287).

Six selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, arranged by the Russian violist Vadim Borisovsky make a strong opening to the disc. Borisovsky also made the wonderfully effective 1950 transcription of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor Op.19, a work perfectly suited to the viola’s tonal quality and range. Rodolfo’s own transcription of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne “Pulcinella” completes the CD.

Rodolfo is a terrific player with a gorgeous tone. He is fully matched here by Kang, with the Rachmaninoff in particular drawing quite superb playing from both performers.

Listen to 'Remembering Russia' Now in the Listening Room

07 heritage cover 3kmqvHeritage, another CD celebrating mid-20th-century Russian composers, sees the French-Russian violinist Fedor Rudin accompanied by pianist Boris Kusnezow in a recital of works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich and, in particular, his own grandfather Edison Denisov (Orchid Classics ORC100183 orchidclassics.com).

Denisov’s rarely heard Three Concert Pieces Op.15 from 1958 opens a CD which also includes his short 12-tone Sonata from 1963 and the unpublished 1972 Sonatina that marked a return to more melodic tonality. In between are Prokofiev’s Sonata No.1 in F Minor Op.80, the incomplete Moderato con moto movement rom Shostakovich’s unfinished 1945 Sonata in G Minor and Rudin’s own transcription of Denisov’s orchestration of the Prelude and Duo from Debussy’s unfinished opera Rodrigue et Chimène.

Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Hopak completes a terrific CD.

08 schubert late quartets vhpnuIt’s difficult to imagine better interpretations of Schubert’s last two string quartets – No.14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden” D810 and the quasi-symphonic No.15 in G Major D887 – than those by the Aviv Quartet on Schubert: The Last Quartets (Aparté AP266 apartemusic.com/?lang=en).

The two works were composed during the final years of the composer’s life as he struggled to come to terms with his own mortality. I can’t do any better than quote the publicity release, which says that the Aviv Quartet “brilliantly illuminates the elegiac and tragic melodies in which Schubert wrapped his torments.” That they certainly do, in stunning performances that grab you from the opening bars of No.15 and hold you enthralled until the last note of the great D minor. 

09 brahms asq 8i1ukThe Alexander String Quartet marks its 40th anniversary as well as the departure of founding violist Paul Yarbrough with Brahms: String Quartets, the final volume in the ensemble’s series of the complete string chamber works of Brahms (Foghorn Classics FCL2022 foghornclassics.com).

Yarbrough notes that the ASQ took decades to feel ready to record these quartets, and they certainly get to the heart of the music in powerful performances of strength and depth in the String Quartets in C Minor Op.51 No.1 and in A Minor Op.51 No.2. The String Quartet No.3 in B-flat Major Op.67 – Brahms’ favourite of the three – is bright and playful.

A transcription of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major Op.118 No.2 by the ASQ’s first violinist Zakarias Grafilo completes a fine disc.

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10 mendelssohn takacs ltuy0Works by the brother and sister Mendelssohns are given committed performances by the Takács Quartet on Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn String Quartets (HyperionCDA68330 hyperion-records.co.uk/a.asp?a=A1355).

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel`s String Quartet in E-flat Major from 1834 was her only work in the genre and may never have been performed in her lifetime, the score and parts not being published by Breitkopf & Härtel until 1988. It`s now favourably compared with quartets by her younger brother, Schubert and Schumann.

The central work on the disc is the String Quartet in F Minor Op.80 from 1847, written by Felix in the closing months of his life and into which he pours his grief over the death of his sister in May of that year. His String Quartet in A Minor Op.13 from 1827 completes a lovely disc.

11 dover beethoven 2 x9y7eThe high standard set by the Dover Quartet with its first volume of Beethoven Complete String Quartets continues with the 3CD set Volume 2 The Middle Quartets (Cedille CDR 90000 206 cedillerecords.org).

This release covers String Quartets No.7 in F Major Op.59 No.1, No.8 in E Minor Op.59 No.2, No.9 in C Major Op.59 No.3 (all commonly referred to as the Razumovsky quartets), No.10 in E-flat Major Op.74 “Harp” and No.11 in F Major Op.95 “Serioso.”

My December 2020 review of the previous volume described the performances as being full of conviction and depth, and noted that this promised to be an outstanding set. There’s certainly no reason to change those opinions.

12 rhythm cover 8cmxtRhythm & the Borrowed Past features violinist Daniel Kurganov and pianist Constantine Finehouse performing world premiere recordings of works by Lera Auerbach and Richard Beaudoin, along with works by John Cage and Olivier Messiaen (Orchid Classics ORC100182 orchidclassics.com).

Auerbach`s Sonata No.3 for violin and piano and Beaudoin`s In höchster Not (in deepest need) were both written in 2005, the former a powerful and striking work that makes an immediate impact and the latter described by the composer as being marked by a constant evasion of stabilities, the contrapuntal lines in all three movements not necessarily coinciding.

Cage`s very effective Nocturne from 1947 is written in fluid notation, resulting in some performances being twice as long as others. An outstanding performance of Messiaen`s Thème et variations from 1932 completes a top-notch CD.

13 crossroads cover ruyvvOn Crossroads, the Duo Dramatique – violinist Dominika Dancewicz and pianist Donald Doucet – presents a recital of modern American works for violin and piano (Navona Records NV6380 navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6380).

Arthur Gottschalk’s Sonata pays homage to the jazz violinists Stephane Grappelli, Johnny Frigo and Joe Venuti in a delightful work with echoes of “Bluesette” and “When Sunny Gets Blue,” and a Bebop last movement.

Karl Blench’s Sonata “In D” (a reference to the performers’ names) uses extreme contrasts in music meant to depict sarcasm, humour and quiet serenity, with a virtuosic moto perpetuo Finality last movement. Erberk Eryilmaz’s terrific Insistent Music draws on Eastern European folk music, with percussive patterns and explosive melodic lines.

Both players are quite outstanding in a CD simply bursting with life and energy.

14 reger s1u2uThe recent pandemic has provided the impetus for numerous solo recording projects, the latest of which to reach me is Reger Three Suites for Solo Viola Op.131d played by violist Tonya Burton (Tōnsehen TSN-009 tonsehen.com).

Reger wrote the suites in 1915. They are short four-movement works (total CD time is only 30 minutes) which look back to Bach, whom Reger idolized, but also forward with early-20th-century traits. Each movement is written in Baroque or Classical form, with Reger’s usual chromaticism balanced by lyrical melodies.

Burton calls the suites “enticing, expressive and dramatic, all the while full of humour and charm,” qualities amply displayed in her excellent performance.

15 adam levin 98gc5With the 2CD set 21st Century Spanish Guitar Vol.4 the outstanding guitarist Adam Levin completes his 13-year commissioning project that produced more than 30 new works (Frameworks 793888175143

CD1 is the brilliant and striking Concierto de La Herradura by the Cuban composer Eduardo Morales-Caso, with the Orquesta de Extremadura conducted by Álvaro Albiach.

CD2 features world-premiere recordings of four solo works: Leonardo Balada’s Caprichos No.14; the bluegrass-influenced Portraits from the Heartland by Jorge Muñiz, written in 2015 for the bicentennial of Indiana and built on the state anthem On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away; José Luis Turina’s Arboretum; and Salvador Brotons’ Sonata Sefardita Op.143, a gathering of songs in the Sephardic tradition.

16 david tanenbaum ho7gdMusic written specifically for the guitarist, in this case David Tanenbaum, also features on As She Sings, a CD showcasing works created for him during the past five decades (ReEntrant REN01 newfocusrecordings.com).

Sérgio Assad’s Shadows and Light is followed by Ronald Bruce Smith’s fascinating Five Pieces for guitar with live electronics, in which different playing styles combine with a range of electronic processing.

Music for Guitar is an early piece by Tanenbaum’s father Elias Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum is joined by mezzo-soprano Wendy Hillhouse, flute, bass and ceramic gongs for Dušan Bogdanović’s Games, seven short settings of poetry by the Yugoslavian poet Vasko Popa.

John Anthony Lennon’s elegiac title track completes an intriguing and sometimes challenging disc.

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01 grazia delle donne 5qsixLa Grazia delle Donne
Miriam Leblanc; Ensemble La Cigale; Madeleine Owen
Analekta AN 2 9159 (analekta.com/en)

Eight books of compositions? Little, if any support from the Church? Or from a spouse? And a woman? This was Barbara Strozzi, understandably the best known female composer of her time (1619-1677).

It is her compositions that occupy pride of place on this CD. Lagrime mie combines the passion of Myriam Leblanc’s soprano singing, the anguished lyrics of Pietro Dolfino and the supportive yet inspiring playing of Ensemble la Cigale to form a masterpiece of the Italian Baroque. Masterpiece, too, is the deserved description for Strozzi’s other piece on the CD, Hor che Apollo, as the same musicians master perhaps even greater achievements with this latter text and score. 

It is clear from the very first two tracks, Isabella Leonarda’s Purpurei flores and Sonata prima, that this CD brings together the best in female Baroque vocal writing along with one instrument in particular which is at last allowed to display its versatility – the Baroque recorder. Full credit, indeed, to Leblanc and recorder-player Vincent Lauzer. 

The prominence given to the two composers above should not detract from the others’ contributions. Prodigiously talented, Vittoria Aleotti mastered the harpsichord at a phenomenally early age. The results are very apparent as Leblanc interprets three of her songs, all very short but all very moving in their musical and lyrical context.

This CD proves the presence of female singers and, above all, female composers in the Renaissance. It challenges preconceptions.

Listen to 'La Grazia delle Donne' Now in the Listening Room

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